February 24, 2016

VR – Tomorrow’s World or Yesterday’s News?

Although I’ve been working in “digital” for 20 years now, I still try to maintain a level of cynicism when it comes to the next big thing. It’s that little devil’s advocate sitting on my shoulder that tempers my natural enthusiasm for all things tech. But I’d like to silence him for the moment and look ahead to where VR might go in terms of being a powerful marketing tool. Just think, when Facebook appeared nobody, guessed that it would become the advertising powerhouse it is today. When I was getting “poked” by people in the early days of the platform, I didn’t say to myself “this is going to transform the ad business”. Facebook wants to make VR a social experience, even though slapping a headset on is possibly the most anti-social thing you could do. But I won’t listen to my internal naysayer. As they said in the X-Files… I want to believe. So even though VR is a novelty right now let’s fast forward five years and imagine what it might become.


Welcome to 2021 –the age of VR. Just like the early days of the internet, the biggest success stories of VR are porn and gaming. Being able to immersive yourself in the thrill of the moment has become the key selling point for VR. But brands have had to work harder to capture people’s attention in this VR future. Way back in 2015 we had already seen some early attempts at using VR as a marketing tool. Google’s Cardboard VR was used by Volvo to deliver an amazing Virtual Driving Experience.


Another brand that created some early buzz about VR was Marriott with their Oculus powered teleporter that gave a full sensory travel experience.



We’ve come a long way since then. Here, in good old 2021, VR has become mainstream. It has helped Facebook become the most valuable company in the world and every home has at least one VR headset. Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Apple along with Facebook are dominating the VR industry. Brands have discovered how to connect with consumers in new ways, delivering compelling experiences that capture the attention, are highly social and personally relevant. OK, enough marketing blurb. What does that mean from an end-user point of view? Many of my favorite brands are offering what has become known as ARX – Alternate Reality Experiences. I get to be hang out with celebrities as if they are right in front of me. My friends are there too, they look real thanks to high definition 3D avatars that are totally lifelike. Yes, these spaces we visit are full of product placement but these are brands I actually like. They are there if I’m interested and can interact with them, but otherwise I can just enjoy the moment, as a member of Beyonce’s band or helping Sherlock solve a crime. This isn’t storytelling – it’s storymaking. I’m amazed how personalized these experiences are. But then again, Artificial Intelligence is an everyday thing in 2021, so if it wasn’t tailored perfectly to me then something would be wrong. I spend hours wearing my VR headset since this reality is much prettier than the “real” world, especially now there are no more trees or wildlife in the city. I do all my shopping in the VR mall and my handy tactile orb gives me the sensation of touching (or even smelling) what I want to buy. It uses microjets of air to project sensations onto my hands so it feels like I’m holding that pair of shoes, those headphones or touching that self-driving car.

If I get bored of being myself I can step inside the head of any of my friends. See and hear what they are experiencing, reliving their (or our) best moments in full 3D video. If they’ve bought something new then I get to try it too, all thanks to the hyper-realistic experiences that VR brings.


Back to reality now. It’s 2016 and VR is still in its infancy. For it to become mainstream and for brands to find it worth the investment it has to do several things:

1 – Be affordable (Samsung Gear VR is being given free with their new S7 phones)

2 – Be worth people’s attention (because there are plenty of other distractions)

3 – Be socially engaging (otherwise it will become a platform for loners and perverts – remember Second Life anyone?)

The geek in me hopes that VR will take off in a big way. After all the investment and excitement it would be a shame if it simply fades away and ends up forgotten in my drawer alongside my Minidisc player.

See you in five years…


June 20, 2012

Cannes Outdoor Grand Prix – it’s invisible

This innovate idea drove off with the Cannes Lions Outdoor Grand Prix and nobody saw it coming. To communicate a car’s zero-emission technology agency Jung von Matt focused on its “invisible” impact on the environment by making the car itself invisible. Using LED lights and a camera which reflected a live feed, an invisible Benz took to German streets to wow onlookers.

March 16, 2011

Augmented Angels

Great example of digital provoking physical reactions (some a bit rude but hey it’s England). Lynx Excite generated a lot of buzz with this augmented reality angel using a digital billboard London’s Victoria station.

January 13, 2011

Intel and Adidas score

There are more and more amazing examples of digital retail experiences. Intel and Adidas have teamed up with Start Creative to create this virtual wall of shoes, which the companies demonstrated at the National Retail Federation convention in New York.

U.K. based Start Creative designed the touch screen wall which allows customers to see 3D views and information on shoes. It is also social connected so you can see what people are saying about each model. The video below was shot at the event by ZDNET.

April 20, 2010

Great digital creative

At the recent AdAge Digital conference, Ashley Ringrose (one of my ex-colleagues from Sydney), did a great presentation about how to develop great creative online display ads. As reported in AdAge, the “co-founder of Soap Creative and curator of Bannerblog, had a few ideas. Among them: A truly interactive ad must have an interactive idea. That, and it should be useful, not annoying, to consumers”.

Below is his presentation of six rules for making great web ads. You’ll find lots of examples of great work from the likes of Crispin Porter & Bogusky for VW, Bridge Worldwide for Pringles, Glue UK for Coke Zero and Grand Union for the U.K.’s National Health Service. Click on the banners to see them live. Inspiring stuff Ashley!


December 30, 2009

Digital in 2010

Everyone is busy making their predictions for digital trends in 2010. Mostly what we all know already. I’m interested in what will surprise us in 2010. Will it be tablet computers changing how we consume digital media at home? In the meantime here is a look ahead from the guys at Soap Sydney. As always, with their unique perspective…

December 11, 2009

How to build great (digital) campaigns

under-constructionChapter 5 in David Ogilvy’s book, Confessions of an Advertising Man (the inspiration behind this blog), talks about the discipline needed to create truly successful campaigns. He believed that good advertising “sells the product without drawing attention to itself. It should rivet the reader’s attention on the product”. It should never say “what a clever advertisement”.

How does this apply to today’s world of digital media? Many “viral” campaigns are all about being clever while the product is almost invisible. Ogilvy was all about results and was obsessed with the performance-driven disciplines of mail-order, retail and consumer research. He talked about data years before it became part of the fabric of everyday life.

Ogilvy wrote his recipe for advertising campaigns that made “the cash register ring”. Let’s see how his “eleven commandments” work today:

1 – What you say is more important than how you say it.

“The content of the advertising, not its form” makes someone buy your product according to Ogilvy. In the world of print or TV advertising this may be more true than in the area of digital where brand experience is becoming more important. Form and content become blurred.

A great example is the Doritos Hotel 626 where the product makes way for an entertaining, branded experience that probably does more for the product than a site telling you about the way it’s made.

2 – Unless your campaign is built around a great idea, it will flop.

The face of advertising may be changing with new agencies springing up that offer new models and ways of thinking… but there is one thing that will never change. The power of the idea. Technology can support a great idea but not replace it. Campaigns built on a gimmick won’t have the legs to last very long.

Build your campaign around a bad idea (hello Windows 7 party) and you might end up with the wrong kind of publicity.

3 – Give the facts.

Here digital comes into it’s own. Where space was limited in print ads or 30 seconds on TV could only contain so much information, the internet allows people to dig as deep as they choose. Check out the Dove US website. With different levels of information and opportunities to engage, it really allows you to experience the brand philosophy and products in a tangible way.

4 – You cannot bore people into buying.

Ogilvy wrote that “the average family is now exposed to more than 1500 advertisements a day”. Imagine what that figure must be like today? It’s harder than ever to cut through the clutter and get the attention of your potential customer. Some of the best digital campaigns of the past year are definitely not boring. They even merit their own “making of”.

5 – Be well mannered, but don’t clown.

David’s comments are a definite throwback to the Madmen era of good manners and etiquette. Today “clowning” around online seems to be a required feature of most campaigns. What would Mr. Ogilvy think of it all? Even footballers are happy to be silly in this new campaign for the Fifa 10 game.

6 – Make your advertisements contemporary.

This is surely not what Ogilvy had in mind but being contemporary online means tapping into all the current digital trends. From crowdsourcing to social networking – the Public Polo campaign by Achtung captures the spirit of now.

7 – Committees can criticize advertisement, but they cannot write them.

A single-minded vision cannot be delivered by a group of people making decisions. The best online campaigns have clearly had a very brave client that is confident in a great idea.

Someone at McCann Erickson Israel came up with this original idea and the client went with it. Maybe because it also cost so little.

8 – If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops pulling.

In advertising history there have been many campaigns that have continued for years, constantly being updated but with one strong concept. The Louis Vuitton Journeys campaign is a great example of a good idea that travels far – and works equally well on and offline.


9 – Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your own family to read.

The Burger King Subservient Chicken was a great idea that didn’t offend anyone. But have they gone too far with the Shower Cam? Trust the British to risk offending consumers with a site where each morning a shower babe “shakes her bits to the hits at 9:30 a.m. every morning”. All to promote the BK breakfast.

10 – The image and the brand.

The internet throws up a big problem. How do you control all that is being said about your brand? Even if you have a consistent advertising and marketing message with a strong, identifiable style… someone somewhere online will upset the apple cart by trashing your carefully constructed image. This might be through an angry blog complaining about customer service or via someone mashing up your ads on YouTube.

11 – Don’t be a copycat.

Sorry to mention you again Microsoft but this was too late too lame…

November 18, 2009

Fish food


How do consumers engage with brands in an increasingly digital world? That’s the fundamental question Razorfish set out to answer with this year’s FEED report. Download the Razorfish Digital Brand Experience Report 09 here. Great stuff and very amusing illustrations.

November 12, 2009



Last week I participated in an event organised by IPAN (Interactive Professionals Association Netherlands) about Traditional vs. Digital Agencies. It seems to be a common topic at the moment and is guaranteed to get the blood boiling in people who believe that one side is better than the other. Microsoft’s Consumer & Online Marketing Officer Jacqueline Smit hosted the evening at the Flex Bar in Amsterdam. As usual there were opinions flying around about how “traditional” ad agencies don’t get today’s digital consumer. To be honest there is equal arrogance from some “traditional” ad people who don’t believe digital agencies understand brands. It’s a little like far right Christians and extremist Muslims wanting to bomb the hell out of each other. Personally, I prefer to take the Buddhist route – can’t we just all get along?

I think there is an interesting parallel with the movie business. Before Pixar all feature-length animated movies were drawn by hand (sometimes with a little digital magic added for extra sparkle). Toy Story opened the floodgates for 3D animation and before long there was nothing but computer animated movies out there. Were they all good? Anyone with a small child will know that there is a lot of truly horrible movies out there using 3D animation. When Disney bought Pixar it wasn’t just for their technical skills. It was for their storytelling abilities and craftsmanship. At the end of the day it is ideas that win out – not techniques.

A couple of years ago a so-called “surfer dude” came along with a unified theory of everything that seemed to solve a problem that had trouble physicists for decades. His theory was illustrated by the E8 eight-dimensional mathematical pattern. We need a universal approach to advertising and marketing that connects all the points in an equally elegant way. At King Arthur’s round table everyone was equal. Surely we can do the same with traditional, digital, social, below and above the line, word of mouth, viral and all other types of advertising. Peace.

October 27, 2009

How to be a good (digital) client


In his book “Confessions of an Advertising Man”, David Ogilvy devotes chapter 4 to the subject of clients and gives them some advice about how to be a good one. He says that bad advertising can unsell a product but often this catastrophe is the fault of clients (sorry). Ogilvy said “some behave so badly that no agency could produce effective advertising for them”.

The book lists 15 rules that David Ogilvy would obey if he were a client dealing with an agency. Do these rules apply to clients dealing with agencies in our digital world? Let’s check…

1 – Emancipate your agency from fear.

Ogilvy said, “frightened people are powerless to produce good advertising”. The digital revolution in advertising has generated more fear than empty pizza boxes after late night deadlines. Everyone has been afraid. From the early days of “if we build it will they come?” to the current extreme of all traditional media being on its deathbed (it isn’t). As a client of agencies developing digital campaigns you should be able to trust their knowledge and abilities to execute an idea flawlessly. This is no longer a new media. You don’t need to be afraid so there is no need to make your agency afraid either.

Of course the digital medium is still evolving and new techniques are appearing all the time. Clients could insist on following tried and tested paths but if you really want to stand out you need to put aside fear and take the leap with your agency. As Alex Bogusky of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky said, “if you have to be afraid of something, then fear mediocrity”.

A great example of fearlessness? Philips Carousel >

2 – Select the right agency first

In his book David Ogilvy suggests that clients find out if they like the people at the agency as the relationship “has to be an intimate one, and it can be hell if the personal chemistry is sour”. He also looked at the pros and cons of big agencies vs. small ones.

The Cannes Cyber Lions this year has shown that the “traditional” agencies have caught up with the pure digital players in their ability to deliver amazing work online. As the playing field becomes level clients will find it harder to judge agencies by their technical or creative skills. More agencies are spending time expressing their individuality by how they project themselves online. The new site from Crispin Porter + Bogusky brings to the forefront what the world is saying about them and the work they do. Even the opinion of the interns is used to show how different the agency is from anyone else.

In the same way that the “traditional” advertising industry had its stars we now have the digital celebrities who play a key role in making clients feel confident about their agency choice. All this adds up to the chemistry clients are looking for today.

3 – Brief your agency very thoroughly indeed

“The more your agency knows about your company and your product, the better job it will do for you” said Ogilvy. In the digital world this is more true than ever since a client might brief his agency to create a campaign but, knowing the client’s business, the agency could come back with something radically different. Maybe they’ll respond with a service like Fiat’s Eco Drive or a platform such a Nike +.

4 – Do not compete with your agency in the creative area

“Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” Ogilvy complained about backseat drivers and while this may be true things are less clear in digital realm. Creativity and technology have merged so much that the traditional idea of “creative” is less distinct. Yes, clients should let agencies do what they know best – come up with great creative solutions. But a client that comes along with a smart technical innovation could be helping to spark an idea for campaign that the agency may not have explored otherwise. For me the best clients are collaborators.

5 – Coddle the goose who lays the golden eggs

As David points out many clients spend years developing a new product but give their agency just a few weeks to put together a campaign that will present it to the world. In many ways the way a product is marketed owes as much to its success as the product itself. If clients could involve communications agencies soon enough in the process then perhaps the product launch could stronger. Bring the agency into the loop earlier and they might lay a golden egg that shines a little brighter.

6 – Don’t strain your advertising through too many levels

Committees do not make for powerful ideas with a single-minded vision and executed in a creatively unique way. It was true then and it is still true today. As Ogilvy said, “hydra-headed clients present insoluble problems.

Within a client organization there should be one clear leader who can cut through the crap and give the agency one voice. The digital world makes it too easy to share work in progress with every stakeholder from Tokyo to Texas. Input can be useful but there comes a point when you need to ask if too many cooks are watering down a big idea. Being bold is always better than appearing mild.

Take a break from this long blog post and watch this parody video about designing the stop sign shows what happens when too many people throw in their opinions:

7 – Make sure that your agency makes a profit

While advertising spend online may even be overtaking TV in some countries it doesn’t always mean that agencies are seeing the benefit. There is still a problem convincing some clients about how much it costs to develop online communications. Their kids know how to build a website so this somehow makes them believe it is a piece of cake.

Building complex campaigns costs money and unless clients understand the work involved and the value agencies bring the results will suffer. Hopefully the days are over when clients blindly accept a million dollar budget for a TV spot but question just a fraction of that being spent online. When agencies make a profit and can afford to hire talented people clients will see their campaigns improve in creativity and effectiveness.

8 – Don’t haggle with your agency

David Ogilvy suggested that clients trust their agencies about the cost of projects and not haggle. Just like old-school advertising, digital is not an exact science although it is getting there. If your agency recommends testing then take their advice. Digital campaigns are much more complex than traditional you need time to fix problems. Skip that to save money and it could end up costing a lot more in lost customers and reputation.

9 – Be candid, and encourage candor

“Don’t beat around the bush” as Ogilvy said. Clients need to speak their mind without being so brutal that they “paralyze the troops”. Be clear about what your expectations are or otherwise the agency will be playing a guessing game. With all the tools available to us today there is no excuse for poor communication between clients and agencies.

10 – Set high standards

Expect more and you’ll get it. Don’t forget to praise your agency when they do well but always ask them to do even better next time. When you can access all the best campaigns online (with sites like Contagious, AdAge or Campaign) it is even easier to find examples of what your agency needs to beat. Hopefully your agency would have seen them already too and are already pushing themselves to do better.




11 – Test everything

Digital advertising and marketing is data driven so it’s easy to know when something has worked or not. Ogilvy was a great believer in testing. Testing promises, media, headlines, frequency, images… One of his most famous quotes is “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving”. Today we can test while a campaign is running online and adapt it as we go. We can test multiple versions, change a call-to-action on the fly… a campaign never needs to be finished. It may always remain in perpetual beta.

12 – Hurry

No worries there. Very early on it seemed that clients felt that because it was digital it took less time than traditional media. While sometimes it can be a bit rushed there is a real need for speed in our industry. If your agency has a great idea then help them get it out there quickly. That includes the internal approval process clients go through. If you are not quick someone else will steal your thunder and do something online that makes you look more like a follower rather than a leader.

13 – Don’t waste time on problems

In his book Ogilvy advised clients to “concentrate your time, your brains, and your advertising money on your successes”. Even though digital media is no longer a new kid on the block there is still an element of experimentation. If you invested in Second Life then take what you learned and move on. Not all developments pan out. Watch the video of George Bodenheimer,
President of ESPN speaking at the 2008 Verge conference and see how his approach to leaving failures behind helped ESPN be a digital leader.

genius14 – Tolerate genius

Yes, they can be disagreeable as Ogilvy pointed out (he wouldn’t use the word assholes) but they can lay golden eggs. There are not that many around but if you can tolerate the ones you find then what they come up with could put your brand on the digital map.

15 – Don’t underspend

The last point in the book’s chapter urges clients not to skimp on budget. David said that “it’s like buying a ticket three-quarters of the way to Europe; you have spent some money, but you don’t arrive.” Great ideas don’t have to be expensive and digital campaigns often cost a fraction of the budget of a traditional media campaign. But if an idea calls for a higher investment then try to find the money. The results will be worth it.

Want to read the book that inspired this blog? Click below to buy from Amazon.

Confessions of an Advertising Man