Tuesday, 17 November 2009

From Survey To Server

When you look at the shape of most media plans, they all look remarkably similar. This is largely because media choice is led by what data are most available. And by what data planners are most comfortable with.

But there is a fundamental change taking place with regard to 'media' data, in line with the changes taking place as a result of the new digital world. The sort of data we are most comfortable with as planners and strategists are gold standard media currencies. These are long established, committee led, peer-reviewed, stable (mostly), trusted sources. I'm talking BARB (TV), RAJAR (radio), NRS (print), and so on. You can also include TGI in this as it has almost become a currency in itself.

Whether they are accurate or not is another point. And to be honest it doesn't really matter that much. It's more important that they are stable, to allow trading to take place. When you lift the lid on some of these they are in fact creaking under the strain and almost quaint in the way they measure media. However, measuring media is a huge challenge and they are the best we've got (I wouldn't knock things like BARB, they are very professionally run).

However, the internet and mobile can offer a different type of data. Instead of measuring them via surveys, we are starting to see data emerge that is closer to a census, in other words just counting what happens. There has always been a discrepancy between web measurement surveys (ie Comscore, Nielsen) and server data. But these issues (around things like cookie deletion) are slowly being resolved so the two are starting to align. Comscore is now integrating the two with their web measurement and their mobile measurement is purely server based.

Of course the downside of moving from measuring the person to measuring the device is that you don't know much about the individual, or at least you have to make an educated guess.

The other problem with server data is that there is too much of it. It's bottom up, not top down. You get everything, when in fact you only want some simple metrics. And that is the stage where we are now. The data are there, but no-one has yet figured out a way to make sense of it. Interestingly, this also happened with cable TV in the UK. Everyone thought that measurement would be simple using set top box data. I remember a project with Videotron to try to make sense of their set top box data. It was killed-off as unworkable as there was too much data in too many different places. Looking back this should have come as no surprise - they couldn't even issue their customers with correct bills.

So we need to bring in some different skills to reduce this mass of data to something that a planner can use alongside the other media data they already know so well. Comparable metrics that allow a mobile app to be judged alongside a full page ad in The Times. Traditional research companies with skills in sampling and survey design might not have the ability to do this. On the other hand the tech guys don't understand what metrics are needed. Some hybrid of the two is going to be required. A sort of techy researcher - a genuine nerd.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The 'TV Is Dead' Argument is Dead

Data from Nielsen on US TV viewing puts the nail in the coffin of the TV is dying argument. Viewing in the US is up 20% in the last ten years and now stands at an all time high. Given the growth of web usage, games playing and the perceived decline in quality, how many people in 1999 would have predicted that?

Americans now spend a staggering four hours and 49 minutes a day watching the box. And this pattern is being repeated in other markets. Looking at the change in individuals viewing over the last 5 years France is up 6%, Spain up 11%, India up 7%, Brazil up 5%.

So what are the drivers? It could be the growth in choice, although households with lots of channels don’t necessarily watch more than those with a few. And as Barry Schwartz pointed out just because you can buy twenty flavours of jam doesn’t mean you eat more jam. More likely it’s the introduction of new technology such as PVRs. Most of us thought that giving viewers the power to schedule their own TV would mean that they were more selective in their viewing and therefore the amount of time they spent watching was more likely to decline than increase. We were wrong. People are now squeezing more value out of their TV’s, both in terms of content and the quality of the experience. And it will only continue with the growth of HD and then 3D.

And these viewing numbers don’t even take into account the use of new platforms such as mobile and online. Compared to viewing on a TV screen these are still tiny, but they are only going to grow as smartphone penetration increases, broadband speeds get faster and wireless technology takes hold.

So, the world loves TV more than ever.

And yet the channels are in such a pickle commercially. It’s clear now that they should have been investing all along in what people love about TV (the programmes, the talent, the shared experiences), rather than finding new and exotic ways to deliver them to people.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The C Word

Moderating focus groups is a bit like going for a bike ride. It’s not necessarily something that you look forward to with relish, but once you’ve started you’re usually glad you made the effort.

There is just no substitute for talking face to face with real punters (you can always tell which people on an account attended the groups because they speak with such authority about how real people think). However, you tend to come away with a bit of a flea in your ear about the subject of brands, ads and marketing in general. The usual take-out as you finish off their half-eaten sarnies is something like this:

a) people don’t consciously think about brands as brands, they just buy stuff they like

b) they haven’t seen your ads

c) in fact the only ads they can remember are those ones with Michael Winner about car insurance, which they hate

d) they like eating crisps

Let’s add to this list the insight that Consumers Don’t Want Any More CONTENT.

I don’t run many groups these days (I don’t go out on my bike much either) but at some recent groups exploring a territory that involved some branded content ideas it became all too obvious that one of adlands new fascinations might not be all it’s cracked up to be. The belief that ‘if people don’t want the ads anymore let’s give them more of the bits in between’ is built largely on a false assumption.

The start point for many a strategy is a place where people are hungry for content and have an unlimited appetite to consume more and more of the stuff. Therefore all you need to do is produce some content (not exactly sure what it will be, but it will be really cool), sprinkle it liberally around the web and people will seek it out, consume it and love without question whatever brand it is that attaches its logo to it.

In reality of course most people have more content than they know what to do with. Their Sky boxes are full of programmes they haven’t watched, their shelves full of books and DVDs from last Christmas that they haven’t touched, their phones give them access to hours of fun, but do they really want to watch anything decent on a screen the size of a post-it. Their Facebook pages are now full of videos and games. They don’t need or want any more content.

Charlie Brooker’s piece on this feeling of content anxiety is typically biting. Describing how he bought a book for the second time, forgetting that he had it already, he said that he now “hadn’t read it twice”. Read it here – if you have the time of course.

Remarkable content will always rise to the top, just like remarkable ads, design, art, cheese, etc. If you have six minutes to spare watch this. No-one knows or cares if it’s an ad or a piece of branded content, it’s just my favourite thing from this year.

Link here

(Note: you need to fill in your age, etc to get in, then click on "The Man Who Walked Around The World" in the bottom right corner of the home page)

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Wired Breakfast

Apologies for the longer than usual post.

This morning I was at the Wired Intelligence Briefing. There was the usual mix of people in the audience, plenty of Shoreditch techies with their beards and blazers, a smattering of suits (Conde Nast luvvies), a few journos and agency types, and so on. However, I was sat next to someone who was there not because his job title meant that he could get away with a few hours out of the office to scoff some pastries like the rest of us, but because he liked reading the magazine. He was a NORMAL person. I stared at him vacantly and couldn’t think of anything to say to the poor chap.

Anyway, the bulk of the morning was a presentation on coming trends from Wired’s creative agency Hurrel Moseley Dawson and Grimmer. It outlined ten trends, which I list here and give my two pence worth on.

Trend: Individuals vs the corporation

In other words: People will organise themselves to apply pressure on companies to sort out their act and become more transparent in their ways of working

Is it real? It’s already happening (take Starbucks and their taps) but mass media still play a role (Starbucks only really took notice when the Sun, BBC and CNN started running the story)

Trend: The media are unpoliceable

In other words: You can’t regulate or control the internet which is increasingly how people access news and opinion.

Is it real? Yes, it’s like herding cats

Trend: Google’s achilles’ heel

In other words: Real time search could undermine Google’s dominance (ie if you want a plumber isn’t it better to read local people’s experiences in the last few months rather than see a bland list of local plumbers)

Is it real? Real time search sounds like a winner, but Google are smart enough and rich enough to work out a way to cash in on it

Trend: New types of abundance require new types of scarcity

In other words: We have access to tons of stuff and attention is the substance that is now scarce

Is it real? Perhaps, but there are also signs of content becoming scarce again (ie Murdoch’s plans for paid-for content)

Trend: Local Local Local

In other words: Local

Is it real? The idea of communities coming together online to improve their lot, share and discuss sounds great and happens in some places. But it only really works when there is a real shared threat, like someone wanting to build a runway through the school playground. Apart from living in the same place you probably have very little in common with your fellow town folk and some of them will be the type who litter the streets with empty bottles of Lambrini and wear Crocs.

Trend: We are entering a new era of etiquette

In other words: With so much personal info online there are some behaviours that are just not cricket

Is it real? I suppose so, brands can easily screw up by not following the unwritten rules (ie Habitat and their Twitter faux pas). But did everyone stop buying cushions?

Trend: Social networks have a half-life

In other words: there is a cycle of boom and bust as people move on, a bit like the cool kids leaving town when the first Fresh & Wild store opens up.

Is it real? It has been (Friends reunited then Myspace then Facebook). But times are changing and Facebook Connect (where you carry your profile around with you to other networks) could break the cycle.

Trend: There will be an explosion of UK political activism

In other words: Squillions of people are becoming more involved in Politics online

Is it real? Not really. Signing some online petition or joining a Facebook group is a bit of a hollow commitment.

Serendipity and shared experiences

In other words: Despite hyper targeting there is still huge demand for shared experience and discovering new things

Is it real? Obviously yes

Trend: Watch out, sport

In other words: Sport will be the next target for piracy on a mass scale

Is it real? I doubt it. There is only so much sport that people want and it’s already available for a few quid a week in HD surround sound 5.1 stereo with Hawkeye and expert opinion from Warney

Friday, 18 September 2009

The Ultimate Shit Ad

This is not an ad blog. There are lots of ad blogs out there, mainly because it's so easy to write one - there are new ads breaking virtually every day. And it's all too easy to criticise other people's work.

But, on this one occasion, I'm going to discuss an ad. And it's a real stinker. It's the new TV brand ad for BMW.

Watch it here (warning: there are scenes of sickeningly happy and tanned Europeans that will make you want to smash their smug faces in)
Twenty years or more of brand equity that has been carefully constructed and curated through powerful, elegant and understated BMW brand communications, all destroyed by one short film. Strategically and creatively it must rank as the most tragic piece of advertising I have ever seen.

To make things worse, there are print ads too.

How about this for a piece of copy...
"We [BMW] are the creators of emotion"

It gets better...
"We are the guardians of ecstasy, the thrills and chills"
"Innovation is our backbone, but joy is our heart"
"We will give the world the keys to Joy and they will take it for a drive"

Hopefully Joy will crash into a ditch before the brand is ruined beyond recognition.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


There is no doubt that the social side of media is changing the way that people communicate and as a result gives brands new opportunities to engage with consumers. And Social refers to much more than just social networks. It could be anything that gets people talking.

There is one thing though that might hamper the growth of Social as a form of brand communication. And that is the very people who claim to be expert in its application. The hype, mis-information and general bunkum surrounding Social is astonishing. There is no better example than this film from Socialnomics.

Some of the stats in this film are true. Some are laughable.

But it's the arrogance that really comes across. The sooner they grow up and put this stuff into perspective the better.

...And they used Fatboy Slim for the soundtrack!

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Future of Data Visualisation

Earlier this week my agency hosted a small gathering of geeks, techs, nerds and strategists to hear from data visualisation pioneer Manuel Lima. Manuel is the curator of the site visualcomplexity.com that brings together stunning examples of data visualisation from around the globe. His talk was a re-run of his slot at the recent TED global event in Oxford.

He began by discussing the reasons behind the growing fashion for ‘data vis’, the key ones being:

- the never-ending growth of computing power

- the increasing availability of large data sets from all areas of life in a digital world

- the mainstream exposure of data vis given by the likes of the New York Times

- the availability of tools to create visualisations, such as Processing

He then talked us through some beautiful examples, all of which you can find on his site. The emphasis was more on the types of visualisation that he is finding rather than the meaning of the analysis that was being conducted. Data was as diverse as tourist routes in Barcelona, email traffic within Enron and friendship groups within a classroom of school children.

And this is where the debate really takes off. Are these visualisations useful? They can undoubtedly be beautiful - it can’t be long before a gallery exhibits a collection of them (they will be jaw-dropping on a bigger canvas). And I suppose any analysis is only going to be relevant to those that commissioned or undertook it. But if the discipline remains primarily an artistic one then I think it will remain marginal.

Thankfully Lima is aiming higher. His stated aim is to nurture what is currently a pastime for a few tech geeks and digital artists into a fully fledged academic discipline. A discipline that can be truly useful to business and government and one that brings clarity and insight from the tangled mass of data that is being accumulated in every area of modern life.

I also wonder if any research agencies (the experts in bringing clarity from data?) are tapping into people like Lima? If they’re not, they should.