Failure to Communicate

June 18, 2012

I read recently in Campaign about how the British Government have restructured what was the COI (Central Office of Information) into the Government Communication Centre.  It all sounded quite dull actually and seemed to get a qualified acceptance from Ad land that if nothing else “the new system can’t be any worse than the chaos we have at the moment”. This side of the Irish Sea we have our own version of organised chaos I suppose, so on one level we can congratulate ourselves that our approach appears to be no worse than anyone else’s (and in fairness this can be an intricate and complicated space) but like any other system certainly has room for improvement.

What frustrates me as someone who plies his trade in Ad land is the failure of successive governments in embracing the advertising community in trying to solve some of our country’s ills. Most government interaction with the advertising community appears to be at arm’s length, is infused with a lack of understanding (often on both sides) and is largely confined to an exchange of written submissions around the pros and cons of advertising regulation, the most high profile of which, alcohol restrictions, is a case in point. I don’t think you’d find many people in Ireland who argue that we as a nation have a dysfunctional (he said politely) relationship with alcohol. We frequently read about the negative knock on effects be it societal violence, the  impact on the health of our nation and when the two come together the ability of our health service providers to do an already difficult job in the most testing of conditions. Imagine what it would be like trying to do a simple task like typing an e-mail with a drunkard shouting abuse at you, let alone attempting to provide medical assistance. The health debate rages further as my radio tells me this morning that most of us are overweight and alcohol plays a significant role in the reasons why. Then there is the counter argument that alcohol is part of who we are, the fact that we are the land of the ‘Cead mile failte’, that we can have the ‘craic’ and that despite Roy Keane’s aspersions any football tournament in the world is very much the better for the performance of Irish fans, if not necessarily our teams. That’s before we mention the positive impact of sponsorship revenues from the alcohol companies that touch most sporting organisations in the land. The debate can and does rage on, far beyond my own rambling paragraph above.

To me, the knight in shining armour for Ireland and our dysfunctional relationship with alcohol is communication. But not through curtailment and regulation (these have a role, don’t get me wrong, but the impact of regulation only goes so far). It is through engaging the advertising community to do what it does best. Influence long term habitual change. Guess what? This doesn’t happen overnight. This won’t happen by accident. This won’t happen when the responsibility for relaying the message lies with the drinks industry. The government need to get together a crack team of communication experts who can devise a long term strategy (and I mean long term). A strategy that evolves over the next 20 years that helps us as a nation grow up. We’re doing it the hard way at the moment filling the holes that the banks left behind.  Next up should be our relationship with alcohol. If governments looked beyond their own twitter accounts and trying to mimic Barrack online to get re-elected and looked at how they communicate our stance on some social ills, our country would be the better for it. The government and it’s agencies spent around €50 million on advertising last year.  We can all pick holes in the way any sum of money is spent. Guess what? A lot of it was spent really well, led by great marketers within the state sector. Give some of this people a brief and  budget , sit back, enjoy your next pint in the knowledge that our children and grandchildren will enjoy their future relationship with alcohol in a collectively more considered way that we are currently collectively all guilty of.

Tim

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Something happened somewhere along the line that we all missed.  We missed that meeting, we slept through it.  We meant to spend a bit of time getting our heads around it, but somehow it kept slipping off the urgent list.  I remember when there was no Google and I know that it’s everywhere now.  It’s just the in-between bit that I’m sketchy on.

I’m also convinced that there’s nothing we can do about it.  So, really, questioning the rights and wrongs and moralities of it, whilst it might be interesting (or not?) is kind of an irrelevance.  It rains a lot in Ireland.  In some ways I wish it didn’t, it’s pretty annoying.  In other ways I’m glad that it does, the green landscape is really beautiful.  But I’d never sit around debating whether or not it should rain so much here or not.  What’s the point?  There’s no ‘should’ about it – it just does.  Rainfall is up to God, Superman, ComReg, the BAI, ClearCast or whoever it is that regulates our weather.

 

Back to Google.  They’re on the cusp of being the single biggest ‘media’ vendor in this market and beyond.  As I asked at the beginning, when the hell did that happen?  It doesn’t matter when it happened.  How did it happen?  Doesn’t really matter either, it just did.  So what are we going to do about?  Well, nothing we can do about it.  They went straight to the client on this one – that is the consumer, the public, the people using the world wide web.  They voted with their traffic and that’s the way it is. 

 

As long as they have a monopoly on the audience, we haven’t a leg to stand on.  Imagine a world in which the biggest media vendor doesn’t give you a percentage of discount, a percentage of media commission.  No volume deal, no share deal, no early payment deal, no annualised incentive.  Even talking to them is on their terms.  Depending on which of their client categories you fit into, you get to speak with a specific layer of their sales organisation.  Thanks for your business.  Paulie in Goodfellas had a similar service ethos.

 

And yet, and yet, and yet…  Flip this on its’ head and is this not the best thing to ever happen to a media agency?  We don’t want to be commoditised, we don’t want a race to the bottom, we want to add value and be rewarded for more than just bulk buying media space as if it were paper clips or ink cartridges, right? We said that, didn’t we?  Alright then, let’s get on with it.  Google is a level playing field for every agency, every client, everyone who wants to do business with them.  The only differentiator is how well you use their products and services.  In other words, the only differentiator is you, the agency, through your people.  Which is what we said we wanted all along. 

 

So get out there and start differentiating, get a competitive advantage and leave the moral navel-gazing to someone else.

John Clancy.

Creative Destruction

September 27, 2011

I first came across the term Creative Destruction when I read Alan Greenspan’s memoir, The Age of Turbulence (a quick Google tells me it was actually Karl Marx who came up with the term). The former Chairman of the United States’ Federal Reserve used the term to hypothesise that for economic markets to grow, existing trading methods need to be broken down and then rebuilt in new improved forms. Reading the book back in January 2008 it felt like reading the blueprint for financial success. I’m sure if I were to revisit the book now it would feel more like a blueprint for financial disaster. Context is everything.

I came across the term recently again as I dipped into John Hegarty’s book, Hegarty on Advertising. He defines Creative Destruction as the breaking down of old habits and practices that, in turn, create new and more powerful means of expression. He sets it in the context of various cultural revolutions through the ages, from Caravaggio to Elvis, from Michelangelo to punk, and applies it to modern day advertising, which he encourages to embrace technology and the new branding techniques and audience landscapes that come with it.

Last week announcements in the world of social media, were I guess, the latest form of Creative Destruction as both Facebook and Google moved to the next steps of their evolutionary processes. Indeed Facebook spell it out to us with the introduction of Timeline. And while a lot of the debate has focused on the corporate power plays of both of these organisations, the more fundamental point is that of John Hegarty. People, our consumers in marketing speak, are changing their behaviours every day and some companies adapt quicker to them than others. I’m told that Google+ has made 91 documented changes in its first 90 days of existence.  Now a breakfast cereal mightn’t be able to do that, but it can evolve its communication because if not, relevance can be lost in this modern world very quickly.

I read yesterday that in the world of marketing, Google is currently the most desired company to work for and on some levels one can see why.  Yet their world, all encompassing in so many ways, is only part of the picture in others. There have been more water cooler conversations about Downton Abbey in the office this week than Google and it’s the skill of understanding how all consumer touchpoints come together that give a broader perspective and understanding of the world that makes media the intellectually challenging and fun environment of which Google and Facebook are but an important (if rather sizeable) part.

Tim

I haven’t seen the movie Killing Bono, but having watched the trailer, I love the conceit: “I was nearly in the best band in the world but fate dictated otherwise”.

I’d love to be able to say the same is true of me and how close I came to being Liverpool’s centre forward, but if Killing Bono is a ‘true-ish’ story, any claim to me having a fledgling football career would be a downright lie.

What are the near misses of the marketing and advertising world? What left turn did Harp take that only those of a certain age have fond memories of Sally O’Brien and “the way she might look at you”, whatever happened to the Radion family and their stain busting washing powder, and more recently what caused Bebo to be overrun by Facebook and why does Nokia look like it’s once unassailable position in the handset market is crumbling before their very eyes.

I guess the truism that the only constant is change plays its part. Harp, once part of an (un) holy trinity of Guinness, Smithwicks and Harp suddenly found itself fighting against the Americans and Nordics as Budweiser, Carlsberg et al entered the scene with seductive allure of unconquered worlds on their side. Radion fell to a combination of multi-national rationalisation and the ever evolving technological advances of its stable mates and competitors. Facebook garnered the momentum of the adult social network that it has become and Nokia came face to face with the genius of Steve Jobs and the creative positioning of Samsung and HTC in the android world. There are hundreds of other examples one could choose.

So how do we protect ourselves from ending up being the second best band in Artane? To use another marketing cliché, stay in touch with our audience. More than ever consumers can garner information, move quickly and switch loyalties. We need to stay in touch, stay relevant, engage and at times entertain. Bono once claimed that U2 were re-applying to be the biggest band in the world. I think he wouldn’t make a bad marketer if the music thing doesn’t work out. The McCormack brothers are waiting in the wings, only to eager to fill his shoes.

 

Tim

Inspiration

January 11, 2011

Sometimes the established experts, the industry moguls, the figure-heads are inspiring.  Sometimes it’s the other end of the spectrum that’s inspiring.  The people just starting out in our business, trying to get their careers going, full of enthusiasm and passion for their future.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work in some successful companies who’ve experienced rapid growth and had to take on a considerable number of new staff – often at entry level.  And for me, these are the inspiring people.  At OMD we took on some graduates during 2010 and the process of recruiting – gathering CVs, calling people for interviews, talking to them about why they want to get into advertising – reminded me of the depth of talent out there.  There are so many smart, motivated, interested and interesting people out there.

It’s inspiring and energising to meet these people.  It reminds you how lucky you are to be doing a job you like and that lots of others would love to be doing.  Nobody wakes up in the morning with a smile on their face, leaps out of bed and skips to work humming a tune.  But now and again it’s good to be reminded how much we’ve got to be grateful for.  It also kind of reminds me why I wanted to get into advertising – and God knows I wasn’t half as savvy and prepared as graduates seem to be now.  It gets me to see our business with fresh eyes again.

We’re actually recruiting for graduates at the moment and I’ve been in touch with the likes of Ciaran Doyle in Smurfit and Rosie Hand in DIT.  They’ve been extremely helpful and as ever there’s a supply brilliant people out there.  Yes, recruiting can be a chore, particularly when you’re looking for experienced people and they’re just using you to leverage more money where they are.  But it can also be pretty inspiring sometimes.

Please spread the word that we’re recruiting – if you’d like a job spec or want to apply drop me a mail at john.clancy@omd.com or tweet us at @omdinfluentials

Education

December 2, 2010

Education has been on my mind of late. I’ve been exposed to some different elements of our approach to education recently. The highlight of these was Mary Gordon’s fascinating talk at Trinity College about her ground breaking approach to teaching socially challenged primary school children called Roots of Empathy . The programme is a great testament to lateral thinking where the gathered pupils are introduced to an infant with its mother and asked to interpret what the baby is thinking. The baby can’t talk for itself so they are challenged to see themselves in the baby’s shoes. This programme has had outstanding success around the world and is currently being piloted in Ireland. Back at Trinity, we concluded with a subsequent round table discussion about the challenges of teaching within a curriculum orientated framework.

Harry Eyres touched on this last point recently. Our education systems are more and more driven towards grooming qualified individuals whose sole function is to generate income. Where is the place for culture, what about the empathy that Mary Gordon believes is essential to rounding off our more troubled youngsters? Surely this quality is just as important for our business leaders who have to set the tone for the organisations that they run.

On a more practical level, I met with Rosie Hand from DIT who is doing great work (with great input from Jonathan Forrest at Cybercom) about developing a third level syllabus that delivers graduates into the advertising sphere that are properly groomed to meet the communication needs of advertisers today. A tough ask to say the least in such a fast moving environment, but one Rosie is certainly committed to solving. We’re doing our bit to help.

Communication plays such an important role in education, if even at the most obvious point on how we impart our knowledge to others. It strikes me that our education system has become so convoluted that it needs a vision and simplification overhaul to breed our coming generations. Remember the Celtic Tiger wasn’t all bling and incompetence but in parts delivered sustainable areas of economic development, much of it fuelled by an educated and erudite workforce.

I had the privilege of meeting up with Mary Gordon the day after her talk with some of our friends from Ashoka. We had a fascinating and at times challenging discussion. One of Mary’s seven year old charges once highlighted to her: empathy itself is not enough, it has to be coupled with the courage and conviction to address issues and see them through. A simple practical example might be Claire’s great suggestion for toilet signs. If our politicians had communicated to us with similar refreshing empathy over the last few years, I have no doubt our country would be in a far better place.

Communication plays such an important part of our everyday lives: from news and views, to advertisers selling products, to grooming our leaders of the future. In many ways it’s the most important skill we have. Now there’s a challenge for us who make our living out of communicating!

Tim

Product Benefits

September 28, 2010

In September 2009, I posted here that I was sceptical about 3D, particularly about 3D TV. By January 2010, fresh from seeing Avatar, I claimed to be converted. Now, a year after my first post on the topic, 3D is making its way into homes around the country.

For me, 3D had to be experienced to be loved. People could tell me how great it was all they wanted, but I couldn’t really grasp it until I had experienced it myself. The same, I would imagine, has been true for many people.

Until this weekend, I had only seen 3D in cinema, not on 3D TV, but on Saturday, I was given the oppurtunity to do so at an event set up for that purpose. 

We see experiential marketing all the time, brands looking for extra ways to engage their customers and allow them to interact with the brand. Often, it is done very well indeed, but it’s not so often that we see it in its purest form – experiencing the actual product that the company sells.

This was example of a brand understanding exactly what they needed to do and say to reach their customer, making the appropriate investment, and executing it perfectly. We know that the thing that makes a product new and unique from a producer’s point of view might not be what makes it special for their customer. All too often, still, brands start with what’s important to them rather than to their public.

In this case, I was given the opportunity to do the necessary; experience the product and its benefits. I wasn’t told about the technology that allowed it to be brought to me. That wouldn’t have meant anything to me at all. But after experiencing it, I fully understood the benefits it would bring to my television viewing, and there was the win for the advertiser.

Claire

Happy New Year

September 19, 2010

Happy New Year.

September kind of is the real new year anyway.  Resolutions?  We certainly don’t need sunscreen, so I’d just say, don’t do interviews when you’re hungover, still drunk, bunged up or any combination thereof.

I was reading through the IMJ Annual Agency issue the other day and I thought I’d do a blogpost of my own predictions for the year.  A kind of unasked-for rallying call for the 12 months to come.  I thought I’d flick through the pieces written by agency bosses, and give my own take.  But holy hell – I’ve just flicked through the issue again – there were about 65 of them!  Where did they all come from?  Disappointingly, they’re all well written, articulate and reasonably coherent.  Don’t know what to add to that.  Except that maybe in a blogpost, I can be a bit less corporate, and a bit more personal. 

We were all flat out busy in the boom, we’re all flat out busy in the bust.  We worked harder than ever trying to catch up with our billings and now we’re working harder than ever to hold on to them.  What have I learned?  You’d better like what you’re doing, be passionate about it, enjoy it or move on.  Aidan Greene talked about the ‘curse of interesting times’ – bloody right.  Ciaran Cunningham said ‘it’s about the people, stupid’ – doubly right.

We don’t live in hard times.  I read Orwells Road To Wigan Pier recently.  Them was tough times.  Miners worked 12 hour shifts on their hands and knees, like underground chain gangs, suffering respiratory illnesses, all sorts of cancers, not to mention shaft collapses and zero workers rights.  Back when Unions meant something, they were the injustices they fought against.

We’ve just gone from being fabulously wealthy, to slightly less fabulously wealthy.  The only thing that matters right now is de-coupling bank debt from our national (and therefore personal) debt.  Hungover interviews are a trivial distraction.  Every single business, whether it be service oriented (like advertising) or otherwise, will sink or swim on the resolution of our debt crisis.  Remember the thick, luxurious property-porn newspaper supplements of the noughties?  When propertypapers came with a news supplement?  Well this is the era of debt-porn.  Remember we used to talk in millions?  Not anymore – a billion is the new million.

I spent some time yesterday in the company of someone who enjoys what he does, is passionate about it and is therefore, of course, brilliant at it.  Colin Harmon is a world Barista champion and has set up his own cafe in Dublin where he does coffee appreciation classes.  If we all cared this much about our own work, invested as much of ourselves into it, we’d be fantastically well rewarded, whatever the billings.

I hope you like what you’re doing. 

Happy new year.

John Clancy.

Let Them Be Kids

August 24, 2010

I had a nice chat with an eight-year-old on Sunday. She was showing me her REAL baby, a doll that ingests, digests, and cries, the doll on which this child spends all of her pocket money – buying clothes, nappies, and the all-important ‘accessories’. Our discussion took place at a Christening, and she had dressed her baby for the occasion, in real clothes, no less. She force-fed it water all afternoon, prompting numerous nappy changes, (lest the child develop a rash).

This eight-year-old speaks with an American accent. Really. I took a while for me to place it, but there it was; that undeniable, slightly Southern, but fairly neutral, Disney twang. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but you see, she has lived in Dublin her whole life. So, there were only really two possible explanations; too much Hannah Montana, or too great a wish to be like Hannah Montana. Probably both, I fear.  

So I ran a few questions by her, while I had her attention.

Q 1): “Which company has a ‘tick’ on its stuff, like the one a teacher gives you?”

A: (tut) “Easy….Nike!” (pronounced like ‘Bike’, but full marks all the same)

Q 2): Which one has three stripes close together?

A:  Adidas (2 out of 2)

Q 3): Which has an apple with a bite taken out of it? (Ok, so that one was pretty simple, a bit obvious, even to an eight- year old, but the answer astounded me)

A: iPhones

This is a sample of one, so I’m loathe to read too much into it. But there is very little atypical about this child, so I can only think she must be reasonably representative. She is from a very regular, suburban, nuclear family, who are neither rich nor poor, and she goes to an ordinary National School.

I recently caught myself, and then berated myself for, lamenting the fact that we don’t have more insight into children’s attitudes and opinions about products and services. Probably time to step away from the computer screen, you say.

So much is being taken away from children, especially urban/ suburban ones. For a multitude of reasons, they have so much less freedom than in times gone by. They are bombarded with messages from brands, and as a result are much more commercially aware than previous generations. Amongst even very young children, most have their own cash and many have the power to choose where they spend it. They are constantly being stimulated by TV, Video Games, play dates, playgrounds, websites, basically, organised fun of all kinds. I remember when playing meant running around. Whatever happened to going out your door at 9am on a summer’s day and being told not to come back until lunchtime?

Leave them alone I say, return their freedom, let them be children and protect their imaginations at all costs. After all, if we kill their creativity completely, who will come up with the killer campaigns of the future?

Claire

(check it out – no exhausts)

Yesterday I had the privilege of being one of the first people in Ireland to test drive the new range of electric vehicles from Renault.  The test vehicles are proto-types, not yet factory produced and are therefore one-offs, worth about a million euro each.  The event was out in Carton House and we got to drive through the estate, out onto the public road, up to a roundabout and back again.  The two vehicles they had were the Kangoo (van) and the Fluence (an executive saloon).

What are they like?  Long story short, they’re just cars, with a different engine.  Driving-wise the biggest difference was they’re left hand drive (weird enough) and they’re set up like an automatic, with just drive, park and reverse (which I’ve never driven before).  Those differences were much more noticeable to me than the difference between a petrol and an electric engine.  Which probably says it all. 

They’re also silent.  Can you imagine a city centre, like Dublin, without the roar of traffic?  I was going to say it’d be like going back to pre-combustion engine days, but actually, there were noisy, smelly horses clip-clopping around and relieving themselves all over the place back then.  This would be a breath of fresh-air and completely noise-free.  In fact, that’s one of the challenges of electric vehicles – they’ve to put an artificial noise into them for pedestrian safety.  Who’d have thought we’d have been trying to make cars noisier? 

The Gardai and Emergency Services were also out there getting training on how to deal with any potential road accidents involving an electric car (tip: don’t try putting out fires with water…).

Yesterday was a glimpse of the future.  Electric Vehicles may not be mainstream, mass-produced, today, tomorrow, next year, in the next 3 or 4 years.  But in 5, 10 or 15 years time, we’ll all be driving them.  And I wish that was now, because it’d be a far better place.

In other respects, we’ve already arrived at the future.  Car companies like Renault are now inviting as many bloggers and online publishers as traditional journalists to these kind of things.  I was sitting beside the blogger behind a new motor site called http://smokerspack.com/ (@smokerspack).  He’s a micro-blogger who reviews individual cars that individual dealers have for sale.  So for example you could look up a second hand Golf on his site which he’s reviewed and then call down to the dealer and try it yourself.

Then when I got back to the office I tweeted a few photos of the electric vehicles and hash-tagged #Renault and #Fluence.  2 minutes later I got a direct message from @RenaultZE complimenting me on my pictures.  Now I’m following them so I get to hear the news and developments around their ZE. 

Good to see some brands trying to get to the future first, both with what they do and how they talk to you about it – after all, first tends to get all the credit.

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