October 19, 2016

Hit the auto-disrupt button


Business disruption is high on the list of hot topics being discussed in boardrooms around the world. After seeing the effect that innovations made possible by the internet have had on certain industries (from music to movies, travel to takeaway food), many companies are looking at how to disrupt themselves before the dirty deed is done to them. In this recent Fortune article, How the Best Business Leaders Disrupt Themselves, we read how Netflix CEO “Reed Hastings knew that online streaming would disrupt his successful DVDs-by-mail model. He committed to streaming in 2011—and Netflix’s stock plunged 76%. Wall Street called for his head. But Hastings pushed on, and today DVDs are just 7% of the company’s business, while the stock is up 150% from its pre-plunge peak”.

For those business leaders looking to disrupt themselves, the big consultancies are there to hold your hand (and take your money). Just last year Accenture published a Guide to Self-Disruption with a focus on “Driving Growth through Enterprise Innovation in the Digital Age”. It includes some compelling arguments for disruption such as a recent Accenture survey which showed that 93% of enterprise-level executives said they think innovation is critical to their business, but only 34% said they believe they have a well-defined innovation strategy in place.

One of the “digital” agencies that I most admire is R/GA. They have baked disruption into their DNA from the beginning. In a recent speech in London at a Guardian event, founder Bob Greenberg had this to say: “We’ve never been disrupted – we’re really thankful for that – so we create our own disruption every nine years”. He went on to say that he thinks the next version of R/GA, which is due around 2021, will be the ‘Agency for the Intelligent Age’. That means mixed reality, artificial intelligence and robotics.

So with all this disruption going on, why do so few people apply this to their own lives or careers?

The truth is, we set ourselves on a career path that can be very linear, determined to make it up the ladder but rarely questioning if that ladder is really right for us. Working in the advertising business for so long, I often wonder why in such a creative industry people tend to put themselves in the very box they encourage their clients to think out of. You’re an art director, you’re a planner – and so on. Stick to your chosen patch and wear the right shirt. But what if we could disrupt ourselves a little more? Maybe we would discover a whole new talent. In this 2012 article in Harvard Business Review, Whitney Johnson gives some examples of people that took a left turn and found exciting new opportunities. She writes about “Martin Crampton, a former research scientist and math teacher from Australia. He parlayed a stint as a developer and demo specialist for a software company in Melbourne into a decade-long marketing career, first at the software firm and then at two multinational manufacturing companies (Bic and Stihl), before starting his own consultancy. In 1993 he leapt into another profession and, with his partner, created Australia’s first national real estate portal (before Realtor.com)”. Being open to disruption can have a hugely positive impact on your life. It might not lead to dotcom fortunes but it always opens up new doors. More than anything, it stretches you, challenges your own set ideas and you always end up meeting some inspiring people along the way.

I’ve been disrupting myself since I was 20 years old and decided to overcome being an introvert and bought the loudest shirt I could find. Disruption seemed to be instinctual. Yes, it has been very hard at times and hasn’t always led to success. From mounting an exhibition of modern art in a Paris gallery (and not selling one item) to producing an electronic music soundtrack for a Chinese photographer’s slideshow at UNESCO, to moving into digital marketing in 1996 when it was still in its infancy or shifting continents more often than most people change hairstyles, it has been and incredible journey which hasn’t always been comfortable. You’d think by now I’d want to settle down. If anything, I’m being more disruptive to myself now then ever before. A year ago I decided to do something I’ve never done and write a book. It’s already published and helping me shift my career into a whole new area – including making the decision never have a permanent job again. Disruption became a way of life for me and I realise that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I do believe that we can all benefit from a little auto-disruption in our lives. They say “change is good”, but I’d go one step further. Change that you actively choose can be a truly liberating experience.

Go on, be brave – hit that auto-disrupt button…

Check out my latest disruption on my book website – www.theuxofme.com

June 8, 2016

The Sponge Advantage


In a recent keynote speech, the controversial and celebrated architect Rem Koolhaas (who’s company designed the infamous CCTV building in Beijing) complained that far too many architects only talk to other architects and share the same views. The negative result being that they were becoming increasingly irrelevant and architecture as an industry is not keeping up with the “revolutions” that are shaping the modern world. Koolhaas said that “architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate, I’m actually more interested in communicating with people I disagree with than people I agree with. We’re working in a world where so many different cultures are operating at the same time, each with their own value system,” he added. “If you want to be relevant, you need to be open to an enormous multiplicity of values, interpretations, and readings.”

You could say that the advertising industry suffers from a similar problem. Too many people looking for inspiration from what other agencies are doing. Creative teams scouring the award annuals to see what the best work is right now and looking for ideas how to do even better. If we could be more like sponges then perhaps our work would be more relevant and more innovative. I’m not talking about the kitchen or bathroom sponges but those still alive in the wild where coral has not yet been totally bleached.

According to Wikipedia, sponges “are multicellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them.” We should try being more open minded and let all kinds of elements flow through us. From pop culture to the high arts, youth movements or culture trends, science, politics etc. – the more we are aware of what’s happening out there the better we’ll be at transforming this information into communication strategies that will truly connect with the people we want to reach.

Another aspect of sponges that we can inspired by is their wide range of collaborations with other organisms. Shrimps set up whole colonies on the surfaces of sponges while green algae acts as an endosymbiont organism to help feed sponges in exchange for providing shelter. Before you sound the geek alert, consider how being much more collaborative could feed your agency with new ways of thinking or new technologies that will allow you to evolve, changing with the times.

The advertising industry is becoming increasingly competitive so we have to find a competitive advantage. Just battening down the hatches and protecting what we have might not be the best solution. It might be just the opposite. Being open, collaborative and adaptable to the sea of change could be the answer. Sponges have been around for at least 580 million years so maybe they’re doing something right!

This post was inspired by reading this article on Dezeen. Thanks for the (non-advertising industry) inspiration.

March 19, 2015

Better and Faster

Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of Trend Hunter, has an inspiring new book called Better and Faster. To quote Guy Kawasaki, Former Chief Evangelist of Apple, the book will “teach you neurological habits that can accelerate your success and make you into a fire-breathing, game-changing innovator of epic proportions”.  You can download the first chapter for free by sharing a tweet. Details on this page.

In this first chapter we learn how many people fall into the same old patterns of behavior that are instinctive to the farmer mentality. This is how the human race evolved after first being hunters. Yet in todays rapidly changing business world we need to reignite the hunter instinct to stay ahead. Jeremy Gutsche talks about the three hunter instincts being insatiability, curiosity and the willingness to destroy.

Meanwhile, enjoy the top 20 trends predicted by Trend Hunter at the start of this year. Probably some of them are already yesterday’s news!

November 15, 2013

It takes two

Two design giants, Marc Newson and Jony Ive, put their heads together for a good cause. The results are stunning. Read this article and see some of the items they chose and designed together.

August 21, 2012

The UX of campaigns

A few years ago Josh Porter and Josh Brewer launched a site called 52 Weeks of UX. It was, and still is, an invaluable resource for anyone creating meaningful and effective user experiences for the web, mobile and beyond. Recently I’ve been approaching the development of advertising/marketing campaigns from a UX mindset. I’m not talking about the generic user journeys with multiple touch points but something bigger and deeper. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes, seeing things through their eyes. By treating a campaign, on or offline (or both) as a user experience we approach everything from a different perspective. So let’s look at some of the rules of UX from Porter & Brewer to see how they can apply to marketing campaigns:

1. The Experience Belongs to the User: “Designers do not create experiences, they create artifacts to experience”.

In 52 Weeks of UX the authors say that we need to “design the framework within which people experience our product/service. If our framework is solid, then great experiences will be a common occurrence”. When planning out an idea it’s good to use diagrams to map out the campaign framework. You will see where the dead ends are and how doing one thing can lead to another. Your idea will become multi-dimensional.

2. UX is Holistic: “The experience is not just the product anymore. It is made up of all touch-points of a larger system, from the product to the support to the way your neighbor talks about it”.

Porter & Brewer use the word system for good reason and campaigns can also be designed with this systematic approach. Only by mapping out the connections of every part can we expect our audience to be able to fully engage and have a meaningful experience.

3. Great User Experiences are Invisible: “When people are having a great experience, they rarely notice the hard work that has been put into place to make it happen”.

Same goes for good campaign planning. Nobody should feel that a brand is forcing them to do something that isn’t a natural response. When a person engages with your campaign their next action should flow naturally. They should not feel like they have to jump through loops.

4. UX is a Lifecycle: “People experience the world over time…nothing happens at once”.

When we create campaigns there is often a sense of panic that we have one shot to get the attention of our audience or else they will be lost forever. But if we can create an idea that is not just big but also long then we give our audience time to be drawn into our message.

5. Context is King: “In an age when it is easy to create products and content quickly, the missing piece becomes context: how does what we create fit into the lives of the people we create it for?”

Just like in UX design we need to fully understand our audience, how they behave and what influences their decisions. If our campaign fits the audience mindset like a glove they will be more likely to take the step to engage. Make sure you have real insights as a solid foundation to build your ideas upon.

6. Great Experience is about Control: “The worst feeling in the world is to feel out of control. When people feel out of control, they simply don’t have a good time”.

Porter and Brewer make a great point that is totally valid when it comes to creating effective marketing campaigns. Make sure your audience feels like they are the ones making a decision. Ask their permission, make them feel enabled or (better still) give them a sense of ownership as participants in the campaign.

7. UX is Social: “Time was when a person’s experience with a computer was a solo affair. The most they did was to email someone and get a response. Boy have times changed!”

It’s just the same with a marketing/advertising campaign. Social media will influence their opinions and actions. It also gives people great power of influence over others. The success or failure of your plan could depend on positive word of mouth so this must be built into your framework. It means listening as well as communicating.

8. Psychology is Primary: “Software is getting easier to use all the time. The one with the psychological edge will win. This means that we have to dive deeply into the psychology of use, play, product adoption, and social interaction to create the best experiences”.

Sometimes when creating campaigns agencies can be a bit superficial when it comes to deeply understand their target audience’s psychology, their motivations and triggers. Take time to truly understand who you want to engage with so your campaign has the best chance to succeed.

9. UX is a Conversation: “UX, like marketing, is a conversation. As UX professionals we are creating a dialog with users in which the goal is to find out how we can best help them do what they want to do”.

The authors of 52 Weeks of UX see the relevance of this point to marketing and how it applies to UX. Marketing as a conversation has been a hot topic at award festivals these past few years but it isn’t easy to get it right. Who is in charge of managing the conversations? Not just between a consumer and the brand but between groups of consumers. It can easily get messy so plan for all contingencies.

10. Great Experiences are Simple: “Simplicity is much more than the trite “less is more” we so often hear. Simplicity is not about volume; it’s about clarity”.

Watch a few case study videos and you’ll soon see which campaigns didn’t fully succeed because they were so complex. Our target audience is bombarded with brands trying to get their attention. We need to find a way to stand out with a campaign idea but keep it so simple that people just get it. It’s clear what the message is and how we want the “user” to engage. Brilliant but simple.

Check out the 52 Weeks of UX as it’s full of great thoughts that go beyond building websites or software. As we see these tips can be applied when it comes to creating effective marketing campaigns. You could even apply UX thinking to the internal process of a company. Or maybe to your own career path or personal life. For creative people like myself it’s never a bad thing to bring some order to the chaos.

May 2, 2012

iPhone 3D

No, it’s not the next version of iPhone but a project from 3D artist Mike Ko. Beautiful work.

February 24, 2012

Your best shot

Every agency is furiously working to finalize their award entry videos for Cannes. Recently Faris Yakob, chief innovation officer at MDC Partners, gave a presentation for the Clio Awards giving some tips on how to make awesome case study videos, from the POV of the judges. Inspiring stuff.

View more presentations from Faris Yakob
September 21, 2011

Spikes Asia part 2

What have the Simpson’s got to do with Spikes Asia? Well Simpson’s scriptwriter Joel Cohen was the speaker invited by DDB to talk about “Lessons in Creativity and Innovation from the Simpsons”. Easily the most entertaining speaker at the event, Joel explained how the writing team managed to stay original after 22 years on the air. He talked about some of the crazy scenarios that have appeared on the show and made a connection between that and innovation in our own industry. Joel explained how vital it is to connect with the audience before you innovate. What you say has to be relatable. At the same time big ideas don’t always fit into the context of the story so you have to filter. Joel had a few suggestions for anyone that hits a creative roadblock. Sometimes you just have to suggest the opposite of what you were thinking. But the best solution is jamming together with others to get more diverse ideas.

Laurie Coots, Chief Marketing Officer at TBWA did a seminar on the Gamification of advertising. With a stock photo heavy Powerpoint she said that gaming techniques drove participation leading to engagement and interaction. This leads to greater meaning and behavior change. In the attention economy we had to find greater brand value. The Starbucks app with its reward system was mentioned as one great example. However research shows that 80% of apps are downloaded less than 1000 times.  If you are using an app as part of your marketing campaign then gamification can help make participation addictive. Laurie shared an interesting case study for New York Library where gamification was used to get kids interested in books as a source of information that you can’t find through Google.

Wunderman US CEO Daniel Morel had the misfortune to speak first on day 3 meaning that the room was half empty. He presented a lot of statistics overlaid on stock photos and built his case around the need for Context, Community, Commerce and Creativity. With a big focus on mobile he presented cases from Austria airlines with their Red Guide, UrbanDaddy and HomePlus from Korea who saw sales go up by 130% and an 76% increase in members with their virtual stores in the subway. He was skeptical about co-creation saying that there was very little talent out there but that brands should listen to customers to get real insights. After showing the Decode with Jay-Z case (pronouncing the rapper’s name Gee Zay) he showed the Land Rover Mobile Fair Stand from Austria – a great example of how you can get your brand noticed and generate real results with some left-field thinking.

Jeff Benjamin from Crispin Porter + Bogusky was up next with a much more inspiring talk called Invent or Die. Ironically he opened with the example of Gutenberg who didn’t become rich with his invention of the printing press but died broke.  He said that only later did we realize what he had invented. Culture just wasn’t ready for it at the time. Jeff told us that it was the same for the steam engine and electricity. In a similar way it has taken 15 years for culture to finally catch up with technology and the internet. Not so long ago online dating seemed bizarre, online commerce seemed risky yet we now buy TVs from Amazon and even our notions of what friends are has been redefined by social networks. Digital technology is now an essential part of our lives and the public now expect innovation. Jeff said that the current creative revolution is being fueled by technology. If a brand is not inventing it isn’t going to be around much longer.

He gave a few tips for surviving:

Everyone can be an inventor – it isn’t just the creative department. Burger King chicken fries were invented by an account service guy in their agency.

Fill the void by working out what the consumer needs. The Pizza Hut pizza tracker came from the insight that ordering online is great but then you wonder where your pizza is at for the time it takes to arrive. The technology already existed within Pizza Hut to track employee efficiency. They just repurposed the data.

Prototype fast and often. Inventions don’t live on paper so take action to test your ideas.

Have fun – A great example is the Pringles Crunch Band app that came from their Sweden office.

Fail First. Fail Harder. It’s important to embrace failure and clients need to allow agencies to try things out that might seem risky.

Collaborate. It isn’t easy as many people don’t like sharing before an idea is fully formed. You need to be bold enough to bring in other opinions.

He showed some great examples of the agency inventing new things based on a simple brief. Small Business Saturday was not a campaign. They invented a day to help answer a need for the smaller companies that missed out on the retail frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday that occurred every year after Thanksgiving.

Be fast and nimble, daring and relentlessly scrappy. You need to participate in technology to be able to invent new ways of using it. Be on Facebook and Twitter. The Whopper Sacrifice came about because the team were exploring what could be done with it.
Don’t stop – keep making it better. The Jello pudding face idea was a cool way to read the mood of people on Twitter. But rather than just use it online they came up with a giant pudding face billboard. Always ask what else you can do.

Be an entrepreneur. Pretend your client’s business is your own. What would you do? When the carrot farmers came with the brief they asked how the public could eat them as naturally as they eat junk food. So the carrots were packaged like packets of crisps (chips if you’re not English) and sold in vending machines.

Jeff talked about how the first 15% of work you do is 90% of the effort. That’s because you need to evolve your idea, experiment and keep changing it until it is right.

You need to invent where people are. That was the driver behind the Whopper Lust idea that ran on cable channel Direct TV.

Above all he said that we have to be delusionally positive. When you are asking yourself “how are we going to make this” and when you’re scared that’s when you find that positive energy breaks down walls.

Later I saw an inspiring talk by Mark Holden from PHd about 2016 – Beyond the Horizon. He started by talking about the famous IBM 1401 computer that is now in a museum. It filled a room but we have more computing power today in our mobile phones. The world is changing fast. Right now one in two people on earth has joined a social network. Indonesia has the second largest presence on Facebook with over 40 million users. If we consider the 1.2 billion social network members globally as “independent media owners” we can see the power of influence they have. He showed how in the UK 44% of mobile phone sales are influenced by online comments. In the next 5 years the true driver of business will be us – the people. But what drives us. It is the desire for abundance – everything, everyone and everywhere. He said that the future depends on Infrastructure, Interface and Internet.

Looking at Infrastructure & interface he predicted that by 2016 the cloud will be default. We’ll be using ultra HD connected TVs. Watching will be a social experience like we can see with HBO Connect.

You’ll be buying through your TV screen with t-commerce being worth 15 billion dollars by 2016. Embedded content will be accessed through natural user interfaces that will work like Kinect and use facial recognition to personalize information. Meanwhile mobile phones will be made with flexible graphene, maybe transparent with NFC, audio spotlight technology and use advanced augmented reality. The world will be seen through the “looking glass” of your mobile device with the internet smeared across cityscapes. Instore you can see instant user reviews while even your friends’ faces will launch augmented reality content.

The internet will continue to harness HTML5 so the web becomes one big app. We’ll see an increased socialization of the web where links become likes, vertical searches mean you can buy straight from search results and you’ll get direct answers to complex questions through AI. Social commerce will dominate and we’ll see an increase in gamification of the web to drive deeper engagement.

For medial planners there will be a social dashboard that will allow everyone to be tailored – even TV ads. There will be a need for audience management platforms where every aspect of brand communication can be optimized. The biggest threat will be social contagion since the power of consumer influence will be even bigger than today.

So what will the agency of 2016 look like? Creative will be more like a technology industry while media will be a data industry.

For the full story buy the book.
2016: Beyond the Horizon

In my next post I’ll share some of the award winning work from Spikes. As usual the Japanese dominated but Australia and New Zealand gave everyone a run for their money.

September 19, 2011

Welcome to Spikes Asia

I haven’t been to Singapore in over 10 years. What a difference a decade makes. It’s become like physical manifestation of the internet. Overblown, full of ways to spend money and geared for entertainment. Spikes Asia 2011, like every other advertising festival today, has digital on the brain. Every speaker and panelist says that the industry has dramatically changed. So how come the work submitted in the digital category was not hung on the wall with the other categories? Some things never change.

The first seminar off the block was brought to us by Coca Cola and crowdsourcing platform eYeka. The title – Is tomorrow’s agency the consumer? With panelists from both Coke and eYeka along with agency folk from Draft FCB and BBH plus someone from Diageo there was a lot of debate. The featured project involved co-creation with the public for a Coke competition called “Energizing Refreshment”. Some amazing figures were mentioned such as the 1.6 million submissions within China when Coke launched a previos crowdsourced campaign. The challenge was to sift through all of that to find the “diamonds in the shit” as one panelist put it. Would agencies become curators rather than being the sole producers of the creative ideas? The panelist from eYeka suggested that crowdsourcing accelerates innovation for brands. Co-creation questions the role of agency. The public now competes with agency creative departments. There are “millions of talented people out there” so why restrict yourself to an agency? Clients like Coke are looking for creative collectives rather than agencies where you might mix up “teenagers with professionals” as one speaker suggested. It was pointed out that the most popular Superbowl ad in 2011 was a $500 film created by a member of the public. It had “authenticity and simplicity”. Co-creation is “not about changing advertising – it’s about creating an environment where public gets involved with the brand”. One panelist said that the role of agencies needs to change for co-creation – but can they? Many agencies “missed the boat with the internet revolution and are still trying to catch up”. During question time I pointed out that the best work submitted in crowdsourced projects was most likely submitted by moonlighting agency creatives rather than the public. The speaker from eYeka admitted that a number of participants are from agencies but over 60% are non-professionals from the general public. Then they showed the winning entry for the “Energized Refreshment” competition… who just happens to be a motion graphics designer based in Brighton UK. Say no more.

Another interesting seminar was hosted by Yahoo and covered emerging markets such as Vietnam, Philippines and Indonesia where 6 out of 10 people that access the internet do so via mobile phones. There was a lot of discussion about the internet not being the same there than in other countries – especially the west. We should not try to impose a western way of thinking on these new markets. We need to bring “5000 years of experience and knowledge” to whatever we do with digital.

There followed an inspiring presentation from JWT about breeding creativity with cultural diversity. Shame all their links to sound and video failed as it was a thoughtful and well put together seminar. They began by showing how Picasso did not find his path until he saw an exhibition of African art while the architect Frank Lloyd Wright was highly influenced by Japanese design. Special guest Gilles Peterson is a DJ that has spent his career exploring the cultural exchanges that can make music so diverse. In his words, to be “truly creative you need to get out of your comfort zone”.
Havana Cultura: Remixed // Gilles Peterson Bonus DJ Mix by gillespeterson

Matias Palm-Jensen, formerly of FarFar but now chief innovation officer at McCann, presented his pinball approach to advertising. The old way was more like bowling where you sent your ball down the alley hoping it will knock down as many pins as possible – then you turn your back and walk away. Now things are a lot more dynamic with assets, stories, formats, vehicles, destinations, conversations that then create more assets… and the ball keeps moving. Today every creative idea “needs a digital/social platform”. Fascinating guy with a big job ahead of him at McCann.

This post is getting a bit long so I’ll follow up with a second one featuring Microsoft Advertising, TBWA and Joel Cohen – one of the writers for the Simpsons who showed everyone how to make an entertaining presentation.

August 25, 2011

Greetings from sunny South Korea

Welcome to AdStars, an advertising festival in Busan, South Korea that desperately wants to be Cannes. The organisers are certainly doing everything they can including inviting a big name chairman of the jury like Neil French along with other creative stars (then people like me) to be judges. But they cannot bring the South of France sunshine, the arrogant waiters serving overpriced croque monsieurs or the sheer style of the Cannes sea front.

During his opening speech at an Irish bar called O’ Kims Neil French lived up to his reputation of insulting more people than Ricky Gervais with the organisers, the location and Jay-Z getting a good roasting. At the moment it is free to enter AdStars which meant that the submissions would be numerous and the quality questionable. But we were all there to help make the festival a success.

Looking at some of the digital finalists there were a few projects that have not had such high profiles at other award festivals. Let’s take a look at a few…

Directing Shadows is a website developed for Japanese sculptor Moto Waganari. His wireframe sculptures were brought to life when using a PC with webcam that followed the movements of your iPhone or a lighter.

The next project was created by a Japanese web development company One to Ten Design to showcase their abilities. Rather than just show their work they built a 3D Flash gaming engine so site visitors could battle their way to learn about the challenges faced by the agency on high-end projects.

Next up is 3D projection mapping video for Hyundai which involves a real car attached to the side of a building.

Another charming project from Taiwan was for a Dr. Milker called the Daily Life Exhibition. A team of animators would create amazing short sequences each day for 10 days based on photos and stories submitted by the public. These were shared on Facebook. Check it out here.

Finally a weird and wonderful piece of work from Japan. The younger generation were not interested in going to see the horse racing as they felt it was for older people. So an online experience was developed in a Nintendo style where people could bet on imaginary races. Each race was unique and could be shared on YouTube. Below is one of the races.

Neil left the festival early (maybe before he insulted the entire population of South Korea) but it was quite an experience being on the jury with him. Oh, and if you don’t know what the Canada reference is all about in the photo you can read about it all here.