Sunday, June 26, 2016

12 Strategic Lessons to Learn From Brexit

Now that I've had a day or so to get over the shock and anger that the British people made such an absolutely stupid decision, I thought I'd take a look with a bit more detail at some of the important things that we can learn from the last few months of madness - the most emotional and cognitive dissonance filled event I've ever seen.

Some of it is perhaps obvious, but I think all of it is important.

  • Gambling on the short term is a big riskThe only reason this vote ever happened is because David Cameron decided to take a big future risk, gambling on a Leave vote in order to prevent UKIP from splitting his votes and Tory MP's from defecting at the last general election. It's pretty clear now that the gamble failed.
    Another good point I heard raised was the strategic mistake of the Prime Minister declaring a vote on something he wanted to stay the same, which immediately put him in a negative position. If you are pro-something, why state a vote against it as a key policy?
    We always tell brands it's wrong to get hooked on short termism, and that has played out here too.
  • Always remember the bigger pictureA number of people did genuinely vote leave because they wanted to see reform of the EU, some on the left wing also voted leave because they wanted to avoid things like TTIP and get trade deals with other places such as Africa. The problem was, that they failed to see the bigger picture until it was too late - that the key outcome of a Leave vote was always going to be a boost and insurgence for right wing nationalists and nationalist parties in other European countries. Within 48 hours of the vote, there is already a dangerous atmosphere of fear and intimidation as Europeans and people of non-white descent are facing insults and cries of "go home" on the streets. The vote has legitimised vocal racism again.
  • Clarity, clarity, clarity
    They may have been complete lies, and retracted as "mistakes" less than TWO hours after the result was announced - but the clear numbers and clear statements of fear used by the Leave campaign were easily remembered. The £350m a week figure was used everywhere, and constantly referenced by Leave voters, even though it had been clearly and repeatedly debunked by every neutral source. Likewise the fear of immigration, sparked by Nazi-esque posters, were clear and simple messages that kept the leave community engaged and ready to use their vote.
  • Authority doesn't mean anything without trust
    He may be the single most useless and ineffectual waste of political space since the Tub of Lard that once replaced an MP on a TV panel show, but Michael Gove was sadly absolutely correct when he said that people had 'had enough of experts'. Even though 85-90% of expert think tanks, economists and groups said that remaining was a safer option, and that leaving would result in a recession and severe impacts to the economy... people did not want to hear it. They were happy in the below...
  • People are emotional, not rational
    The emotional perception of Britain as the global power, the big island that could, kept people
    I can't even think of a caption that needs to be added here.
    Image from:
    believing that no matter what the data or analysis said - the country would be ok. It didn't matter to them that this notion is totally dated in the global world, that belief overrode any facts. This to me is one of the clear reasons why older people were massively more likely to vote to leave, whereas younger people with experience and understanding of the modern world voted overwhelmingly to stay. Likewise the emotional dislike of the EU, drip fed over many years by the media.
  • People don't always take the safe route
    Many people, including most betting companies, were expecting that Remain would win. Even though the vote was always likely to be close, they believed that (just like in the Alternative Vote referendum and last general election) people would gravitate towards the status quo when they got to the voting booth. Indeed we often talk about this as an element of behavioural understanding in marketing... but this didn't happen at all, in fact the opposite did. I think this is largely down to the above emotional responses, they were so powerful and so long ingrained that actually for many leave voters, they felt the safest, least risky route was to change things.
  • People don't always act in their own self interest, or even know what that is
    Today I saw a very clear chart which showed a very strong correlation between the percentage of regional GDP that relies on the EU and how likely people in that region were to vote to leave. Similarly some of the regions with strongest support for leaving were those with very high instances of EU funding for social and community infrastructure projects. It's pretty clear that the messages about the importance of the EU to these communities did not get across, or were not strong or nuanced enough to get past emotions and other reasons. See Cornwall, who are now demanding that the government match the EU funding that they were getting for local projects!
    Also, there was a massive spike post result in google searches for 'what is the EU?'... which
    Graphic from
    shows people weren't informed enough. The fault of both campaigns, but also I think a sense that Remain would win, and that many could Vote Leave as a protest and not have to see the outcome. To me this strongly shows the frustration with the First Past the Post voting system, people are used to their vote not counting, and are almost surprised when it does.
  • Post purchase regret doesn't just apply to purchases..!
    I'd say I was amazed to see interviews with people saying they already (within 48 hours) regret voting Leave, and would change their mind if another referendum were held... but I'm not. Likewise the shocked and angry responses when the Daily Mail (who were adamantly pro-leave) published details of what it would actually mean for their readers. Including the gem: "Looks like the remain camp were telling the truth."
  • People can tell when you don't have passion
    I've defended Jeremy Corbyn a lot, I think he is an honest and caring politician. That said, he did not do a good job at all in this campaign. He felt absent, and his previous anti-EU sentiments were repeatedly dragged up and not rebutted. This may have had a direct influence given that most of the areas where there were 'surprise' Leave wins, or bigger than expected majorities were strong Labour areas. If you don't truly believe in what you are saying, or lack a genuine passion, people can tell.
  • The traditional news media still has power
    As stated above, people were actually genuinely surprised to learnt the real meaning of Brexit after they had already voted. The constant bombardment of lies and misleading claims from the media was surely the single biggest reason for this. Over the last 30 years there has been a never ending stream of anti-EU sentiment, mostly from media owned by ogliarchs who stand to get more power and make more money from dismantling it. The deafening cries of headlines over the last few months has no doubt made it impossible for anyone who sees them to get a real rational or honest perspective.
    On the plus side for marketers though, there's still value in these publications, even in their decline phase.
  • The universe always descends towards chaos
    This is perhaps more a scientific point than anything else... but given the universe and everything within it will gradually head towards a state of entropy and chaos, we should maybe not be so surprised when things like this, or Donald Trump happen. Likewise, no matter how well planned or executed a campaign is, there is never any guarantee of success. Anything can happen.
  • Everyone is a hypocrite sometimesI've noticed this over the last few days. People who spent months complaining about the EU are now complaining at people complaining about leaving... people who said they would protest a close remain win are now telling those protesting a close leave win to 'shut up and accept it'.
    Similarly there are plenty of us who have very very vocally insulted leave voters, having previously criticised them for doing the same. As we well know, emotion is very powerful... anger and disappointment especially. Everyone who wins thinks they would be a good loser, but most are always bad losers... kind of how 100% of drivers think they are above average!

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Calm and Rational Repsonse to the Brexit Result

Apparently the British public trusted this man more than the
advice of Professor Stephen Hawking.
Fuck Fuck Fuck. What the fucking fuckity fucking fuck Britain? Are you completely fucking insane?

I have never been more ashamed of being British. Ashamed of the racism and the lies that have dominated this campaign. Ashamed of the ignorance and hate that has won over any rational fact or expert forecasts.

I wonder what made you vote Leave? Maybe you looked at Nigel Farage and said 'Oh he looks like a man of the people.' Maybe you read a newspaper and decided removing those banana laws were worth a recession.

The irony is that the people who voted most for leaving the EU are those will suffer the most under a Tory government that will rip the NHS and public services to shreds. It's not even been four hours and already:

  • Nigel 'Adolf' Farage has backtracked on the MAIN promise of his campaign - 350m for the NHS per week, whilst also insulting the memory of Jo Cox.
  • The promises on immigration have already been backtracked on.
  • Over 450 BILLION has been wiped from the economy. To put that into context, it's DOUBLE what the bankers cost the country in the Housing Crash, and equivalent to FORTY years of EU membership fees.
  • Anything that Donald Trump believes is a good
    idea can't be all that bad surely? ... Surely?
  • Racist dickheads like Marie Le Pen are now already trying to push nationalism movements in their countries.
The people of Britain (excl Scotland, NI, Manchester and Parts of London) have lost the right ever to laugh at American politics again. You fucking idiots just elected your Donald Trump.

Any desire I might have had to one day return to living in Britain is gone. I have had enough of the ignorance, the small mindedness, the racism and the hate. As a kid I saw my black friend's house get egged because his parents had the gall to come from the Caribbean. I saw a friend get kicked and punched for being goth. I saw a city full of racists who treated friendly Muslims like scum. Looks like nothing has changed.
  • Fuck you David Cameron for causing this vote through your own selfishness and desperation to return to power. A piece of terrible strategy.
  • Fuck you Nigel Farage, you smug racist cunt.
  • Fuck you BBC for making Nigel Farage into someone. No one gave a shit about him til you started giving him a constant platform.
  • Fuck you Boris Johnson.
  • Fuck you Michael Gove. The worst minister of the last 100 years.
  • ...and Fuck You England. Little england. The small country with small country syndrome.
Now if you'll excuse me I have to practice. "Austraaalians all let us rejoice, for we are young and free..."

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Enough is Enough. Scam Campaigns MUST Go.

 I see a scam ad on the Cannes seashore...
I wrote this two years ago, after Mumbrella made a big deal out of reducing their coverage of Cannes and other awards... I didn't post it because I was working for an agency which (at the time) had been caught up in minor scam allegations, and I felt it right not to post anything that could be seen as critical of my employer (who were nowhere near the worst offender).

Having seen some of the work awarded this year though, I feel it's time to dig this up and post it, with a few additions for this year:

There has been a lot of talk for several years about ‘scam’ advertising and its appearance in awards shows. In fact, the conversation appears to have varied from calm and reasoned, to hyperactive screeching and finger pointing.

Here in Australia, the ‘big’ news to come from this, was that Mumbrella announced they would no longer cover Cannes in such a major way. This got me thinking about the causes and possible solutions to the issue…

The simple answer is that we are all responsible for this. Agencies, clients, award shows and the industry media – we are all in part, to blame for the rise of what is called scam advertising – and we all need to play a role in making it less of an issue.

Let’s start with agencies.

You are a big agency, everyone wants to work for you. Who do you hire?
I know. That team who won a few awards last year must be good, let’s hire them.

Bang. That in a small nutshell, is one of the key causes of scam.

If you are a creative team, you can do 90% terrible work and 10% award winning, and you will guaranteed get more offers and money than a team who is 100% brilliant, but doesn’t enter or win awards.

So suddenly, every team knows they have to make award winning work to get the jobs they want.

…and now. Every agency wants the same award winning teams, so their value goes up even more. Over the course of a few decades, what awards you have appears to have, in many agencies, overtaken quality of overall work and the clients you have worked on for likelihood of getting hired, and the value you hold.

Hands up if your agency paid through the nose for you to be here.
Now awards are so important that creatives don’t want to work for your agency unless you have them. So if you’re a small agency looking to get more creative clients, it becomes near impossible to get the best talent. No awards = creatives don’t want to work for you = no awards.

Suddenly awards become more important than doing good work.

Even worse. If you are in a globally run agency, there's a near certain chance that head office will be setting you award targets. So now you have to plan your work, and plan your new business, around award opportunities. I saw one of my former agencies get given an award target from head office that was completely ludicrous - the same level as agencies four times their size.


The role of marketing director has become an increasingly short term one. Companies are quick to change, and long-term often gets thrown out of the window by those at the top who don’t understand it.

This means some clients want desperately to be seen to act while they still can. We’ve all experienced the ‘new client holds pitch two months after starting - to show they are making an impact, despite the current agency doing great’ scenario.

If you want to make an impact, and make a name for yourself as a marketing director – you have two options. 1. Create great sales, hard to do, a long-term goal, and always at the mercy of the public. Or 2. Create work that wins some awards.

So you hire the agency that has a winning award streak.

Image from Marketoon / Ketchum.
Now agencies realize they need awards to attract clients. They need teams who have them, and they need to keep winning. The value of those award winning teams goes up more. Awards essentially become a cycle.

So the small agency. They need awards to get the best teams, now they need them to get clients. But they can’t get the best teams, and they can’t get the best clients, so how are they meant to win any awards?

But wait, the client wants them too. Well, what if we just run this great idea you had that we can’t buy in a couple of places…

Awards Shows

Scam advertising is unfortunately an inherent problem in any award show that focuses just on creativity.

Advertising is, at its very core, solving a business problem. Awards that only focus on creativity don’t consider (or only partly consider) whether it actually solved that problem. The best creative idea in the world is still essentially shit if it doesn’t solve the business problem.

Actually. That gets to the heart of why scam is so loathed. Scam ads are basically ads that didn’t have to solve a problem. Even if they were based upon a brief designed to tackle an issue, the fact that it didn’t run in any serious way means that it never actually needs to do anything. It is there to look pretty, and is really, just a drawing with a logo.

The Media

It takes a brave media owner to miss out or reduce coverage on a big story for the good of the
industry. But coverage of awards, the ranking and ratings of awards, and the use of awards in all coverage of award winners is a large part of the reason why agencies and clients are so desperate to get them. No one would give a shit about Cannes if there was no media publicising it.

Ok, maybe they'd go for the parties, but that's another issue.

The Problem

The key problem with scam has traditionally been 'we place it in one small newspaper and it's eligible'. It's easy to look at that as a media problem, but in most cases it isn't. It's either the agency or client who want to run ideas that were rejected, or even generated without a brief.

Now though, the biggest problem is hiding behind Beta. Come up with an unusual or interesting idea that has enough technology to look innovative - then create a prototype which will never go to the public and wait for the Gold.

It's not like agencies don't innovate. My last agency made the magnificent 'Attention Powered Car' for RAC, and yet Cannes somehow failed to award it. (But said how great it was when announcing one of the tech developers as part of this years festival!)
[Update - In the original version I criticised the Peggy Device for OMO from the same agency as pretty scammy. Since then I've actually chatted to one of the people involved with it, who has assured me that the response from the intended audience around functionality was excellent, and that it has enough backing that it could potentially be an actual full product rather than just a 'beta'. In the interests of fairness I think it's important to note that this makes it way more legitimate an idea than the other work discussed here. It also brings up an important reminder to all of us that it's what the actual audience thinks that counts, not what the ad industry thinks - a culture that is actually another side effect of the awards focus.]
I prefer my idea of awards called the Canned Tigers for ads
that are terrible, or blatant scam.

Look at the Cannes Bronze winning 'I Sea' app from Grey Singapore. Now the concept is great, an app that can help refugees and potentially save lives. Except that the app was never properly produced, nor researched effectively to find out if was actually capable and worthwhile of being what it was sold to awards as. The answer, as you may guess is no. An app released to public in an unfinished state, and described by at least one expert in the field as being way too expensive and not fast enough to provide the help it claims.
What state has marketing come to when the lives of refugees are being used to artificially win awards? It isn't just the agency who entered this into Cannes that should be ashamed. Those who push award targets and punishments should be ashamed, and the rest of the industry who utilise similar tactics to get awards should be ashamed too. Who the fuck do we think we are?!

Now of course there are very few people in the industry who mean to cause harm or produce bad ideas, but the pressure from above and the lack of effective checks and balances to make sure these things don't happen are simply not there. As soon as a creative director sniffs an award chance, they are being coerced into pushing it forward regardless of other factors. We've all seen planning award entries where you can see that data has been presented in a way to make it sound far more effective and important than it really was... but at least in those cases the idea actually happened, and the figures presented are accurate, even if they are shined up a bit. (Importantly, effectiveness awards are increasingly looking for independent verification of all figures too.)

So, No Awards?

None of this is to say awards aren’t valuable. They are a great way to show who is doing good work, and to reward them. They are also a deserved pat on the back for creatives and other employees who often pull crazy hours to generate great ideas and get the entries done.

We just need to remember that awards are meant to reward good work, rather than good work being the by-product of award entries. The long running cycle of award addiction isn't actually that far removed from the problem of clients getting addicted to sales. Maybe we need to get together and work on a behavioural approach to beating this...

My position is, and has always been: Awards are great, but I would rather do great work with no awards, than do average work that wins them.

What to Do?

Scam campaigns won't stop unless we do some or all of the following:

  • Make inclusion of a media plan mandatory in every creative award entry, and use it as part of the judging process.
  • Make effectiveness a larger part of scoring creative awards, to minimize the impact of creative which served no purpose.
  • Have the industry media (as Mumbrella announced in 2014) stop treating awards with such importance.
  • Have agencies reduce the importance of awards in hiring contracts and hiring decision.
  • Have agencies base award targets on their size and client base, not on past performance. (Otherwise success one year can leave an agency being unfairly criticised the next year.)
  • Make sure proper checks and balances are in place at agencies to stop scam entries.
  • Make sure award judges are given sufficient info about whether a 'Beta' product has been made available, and is capable of doing the job it actually is being awarded for.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Marketing Lies That Need to Die No.5 - Low Price + Service Charges Does NOT Equal Low Price

Image from Marketoonist, of course.
The other day I went to buy tickets to see one of my favourite bands. The tickets were $70 each.
My girlfriend and I didn't think this was bad for the size of band and venue, so we went online to buy them.

We selected standing, and went through to the second option, which was 'Ticket selection'. There were two options: 1. Let them send you a mobile ticket - Cost $9.80 per ticket. 2. Collect at the door - Cost $9.80.

Well I'm not quite sure how either of those cost $9.80, but we clicked on mobile tickets and went to the next stage.

There we entered our details and clicked to the total, whereby another $9.80 'service charge' was added. So our $140 tickets ended up totaling basically $170, and that was without using Credit Card, which would have invoked ANOTHER charge.

You know what we did? We cancelled and ended up not going, the extra charges were sufficient to reshape our perception of the gig cost.

Now I understand service companies have to make money, but given EVERY ticket company adds these charges, is it not better for everyone to show ticket prices including ALL charges?

Showing us artificially low prices just ends up creating grumpy customers in the short term, and puts people off attending events in the long term.

Would you go to the supermarket and be happy with Bananas costing $1.99, then getting to the counter and having a 'Delivery' charge and 'Customer Service' charge added on? Mind you, supermarkets do usually do the 'Buy one for $5 get one free' when the cost the week before was $3.50.

The desire to show low prices ends up hurting everybody in the end. Customers have an initial
bargain rush followed by an immense feeling of being treated like shit, and business lose both long term custom and profitability in a race to the bottom advertised price. My old agency tried to get one airline in the UK (a market whose service charges are particularly hated) to change their practices, and did a good job shifting them the right way until they got merged.

There's also the annoying 'permanent special offer' messaging, but I'll come to that another day...

This has happened in so many industries, but still companies are so addicted to low price at the expense of all long term sense. They know that people have a behavioural reaction to low prices, but they don't see the logic and impacts for the long term.

I've seen it first hand with FMCG brands resorting to 95% sales on discount because they are so frightened of having unit sales numbers drop... they then ask what they can do to improve their brand perceptions. Indeed I saw one brand who helped turned the entire category into a stream of constant discounts. This problem has also creeped it's way through to the world of gaming, where 'Free*' games dominate mobile downloads to such an extent that a whole generation of kids are growing thinking that all games are deliberately rigged to induce payments.

However. People aren't completely stupid, and we no longer live in an age where you could get away with only a little bit of shared frustration. Eventually these shitty business practices must come to an end... either that or someone else will come and reinvent your market like Uber or DollarShaveClub did with shoddy taxi company service and expensive blade replacements.

That said. I think Fascinating Aida said it best: