Idea of the day: context is everything

It seemed fitting for me as a planner in a global role to write something about understanding people & brands across different countries. However, the idea of thinking about context – cultural, social, political – is of course more personal than just looking at an entire country level.

When it comes to planning communications, we obviously understand that the context within which a message is delivered is central to making an impact. In the world of content & connections, this context is doubly important because it defines what shape the message should take and what links to other parts of the system should be prioritised.

As we see from recognition such as last night’s MediaTel Connected Agency of the Year, we’re pretty good at understanding the context as defined by someone’s purchase journey. Another opportunity to bring context to bear is in terms of the culture within which that journey is taking place.

You don’t have to be concerned with delivering strategy across lots of different countries for this to be interesting; we don’t think about the actual characteristics of our country very much, we just think we’re British. If any further introspection of this cultural credo occurs, then it might be something like “avoid embarrassing others at all costs, even if it means allowing someone to call you the wrong name for 4 years. Simultaneously hate them for it, all without their knowledge. This is normal.” (FYI, other countries think we are insane for doing this).

But actually a bit of an independent POV on why certain things work well in the UK and others don’t is worth having. Something we’re looking at is called Hofstede. Professor Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social scientist who has broken down cultural differences into something measurable, definable. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s definitely interesting.

He & the institute that bears his name have defined these axes of difference as follows (full details here):

  • Centralised power vs decentralised. This means to what extent do the less influential members of society accept that power is distributed unequally amongst a few elite.
  • Individualism vs collectivism. This means the extent to which people are expected to take care of themselves – but also be free to do so.
  • Feminine vs masculine. This doesn’t mean literal gender, it means to what extent is society competitive, success-oriented and macho. Femininity means more instinct for cooperation  & consensus.
  • High uncertainty avoidance vs low. This means, as you would expect, to what extent society is comfortable with future uncertainty – with less comfort implying stricter rules.
  • Long term vs short term orientation. This means how traditional in outlook a society is, and therefore how suspicious of change they are. Pretty similar to the above axis.
  • Indulgent vs restrained. I can’t summarise this one better than them: “restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms”

Let’s look at the UK. Let’s compare it to… oh, I don’t know, say Germany.

UK vs Germany

We see that the UK is about as equal in power distribution terms, but substantially more individualist, and substantially less cautious about the future.

No colossal surprises perhaps, but i think it’s interesting to think about the background competitiveness and permission for individual indulgence of the UK culture for the next stretch session or pitch idea.

Also: in this increasingly borderless world, got a client from another cultural background? Maybe worth looking at what his or her perception of these same factors might be, before presenting another competition or cooperation idea.

This dataset is multi-national, but what other sources are there that could enable you take this kind of look at cultural values between segments within the UK? It might mean your connections system and therefore social strategy or emphasis on paid media needs to flex regionally or by interest group. Just a thought.

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Write it out

It actually makes me squirm remembering long days turning into nights sat in front of PowerPoint trying to make a presentation into a story.  It seems like madness to me now.

The writer Cheryl Strayed – who wrote the book Wild that is also an excellent film starring Reese Witherspoon – captures perfectly why writing something out longhand should always be the first step:

“[I often think about] the impossible question of whether the labours of the first draft or the seventh (or 17th) are more important in my work.  Each is essential in such equal measure that it’s impossible to separate them in order to single one out.  Like a great mental seesaw, every thought in one direction is immediately counterbalanced by a thought in the other.

I write to find what I have to say.  I edit to figure out how to say it right.

There would be nothing to revise if the initial prose didn’t exist.  Without revision my work would be too ridiculous to bear, a pile of almost-good pages I’d rather burn than publish.  The truest thing I can say about either one of them is, like the mother who loves her offspring beyond measure, I dislike them both equally.”

Drafting and revision are the ways to organise thoughts and hone exactly what it is you’re trying to say.

Yes, this is incredibly basic advice, but I’ve been caught in the trap of trying to start a presentation before writing down my thoughts longhand in the false belief that this will solve time.  It rarely does.

So next time you take a brief, take a blank piece of paper and write it out.  The thoughts you flush out will be invaluable as you craft your response, and you’ll probably save a proportion of your sanity too.

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The Sharing Economy

In last month’s budget, George Osborne announced a raft of initiatives designed to help the UK become a global leader in the fast-emerging ‘Sharing Economy’.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is how the government defines it: “The sharing economy allows people to share property, resources, time and skills across online platforms. This can unlock previously unused, or under-used assets – helping people make money from their empty spare room and the tools in their sheds they use once a year. It allows people to go from owning expensive assets, such as cars, to paying for them only when they need them. Individuals can make more from their skills, and work more flexibly.”

Measures to support the sharing economy announced were announced by Osborne following a report by Debbie Wosskow, founder and CEO of LoveHomeSwap and Chair of the newly formed Sharing Economy UK trade body, on the sharing economy in a bid to better understand the economic potential and social issues that are generated when people share products and services over the internet.

Osborne’s announcement included the launch of two pilot ‘Sharing Cities’ in Leeds and Manchester.  The two cities will be encouraged to trial local sharing initiatives in the areas of public space, health & social care and transport.  The government also said it plans to introduce legislation that will make it easier for individuals to sub-let a room and for non-residential properties to rent out their existing parking spaces.

It’s clear then that this peer-to-peer ‘revolution’ is well underway – there are already a huge number of companies working to connect people with assets to share, be that your driveway, your house, your car or your time – airbnb, blablacar, Amazon’s MechanicalTurk , Zopa and JustPark to name a few.

And it’s not just these organised ‘exchanges’ that are booming.  You only need to search for your local area on Facebook to find numerous community networks swapping, buying and selling everything from houses to baby clothes, and all without the added fees from the more organised players in the market.

It strikes me that somewhere in this there must be a number of great opportunities for both our industry and many of our clients. And alongside that presumably a fair few risks also – just take a look at how London’s black cab drivers have reacted to Uber’s arrival on the scene, driving down costs with a technology-led model and seriously under-cutting the market.  Great for consumers, but not so brilliant if you are at the sharp end. It just goes to show that in this age virtually anyone with a good idea, some drive and a few useful connections can take on the big boys.



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its been over a year

Really, i checked. well kind of – i opened the blog because i was in at a vaguely respectable time this morning and its suggests that the last time i posted was jan 2014 . . . about total AV. It has some interesting stuff in it, although it is a laboured analogy. Anyway. I’m going to try setting aside some time to write thoughts down again stimulated in part by these two posts from richard h over at adliterate from 2006 and this from pete b over at mec

at least one of which sparked some internal debate about the idea of planners being people get things done vs blogging about it. but i’m in the camp of writing helps you create shape from ill-formed thoughts, its like talking to someone when there (often) is no-one there but you don’t feel like you’re going loco.

So, i’m going to start laying down what i think again. it will include a move on from the tortuous total AV analogy, some versions of presentations i’ve given to some of our tech giant friends recently and other daft meanderings.

So, here is the first of those. a talk from google’s #futureofdata series which i would link to but i can’t find a home for it all (if the guys who run it have one, i will link later) . . . they are lightly held views. Of course data is important, but not without empathy, of course there is some executional impact, but not consistently. Should there be ? well, what do you reckon ?

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Total Audio Visual – Towards a system of thought for AV through the lens of a football team

So i’m playing around with an idea … i wouldnt mind some thoughts, builds ideally rather than something which pulls apart the very fabric of my self confidence . . .


I’m going to make a slightly shady football analogy. There I’ve said it, its out there. The evolving world of AV content consumption and AV media planning and buying is a little like Total Football. In fact it probably needs to be viewed more in this way than is currently happening. So I’m going to suggest we should start talking about TAV (Total Audio-Visual), TAVRs (Total Audio Visual Ratings) and most (more) importantly TAVB (Total Audio Visual Behaviours).


Now of course Nielsen are trying to drag people (some of them not very happily it would appear) into a world of Total Audio Visual Ratings with their XCR measure(s). That will be helpful in a number of ways, but I’m actually more interested in the simple TAV concept and the TAVB idea, here is why.


So, Total Football, according to Wikipedia (that denizen of precise, clear and correct definitions) is:


Total Football (Dutchtotaalvoetbal) is the label given to an influential tactical theory of football in which any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team. It was pioneered by Dutchfootball club Ajax from 1969 to 1973, and further used by the Netherlands National Football Team in the 1974 FIFA World Cup. It was invented by Rinus Michels, who was the coach of both Ajax and the Netherlands national team at the time.


The theory is “any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team”, the reality was somewhat different. Whilst playing for two of the key proponents of Total Football in the 60’s & 70’s Johan Cruyff scored 190 goals in 240 appearances for Ajax and 33 goals in 48 appearances for the Netherlands. Why? Because he was a great attacking midfielder or forward (in fact European Player of the Century in 1999). It wasn’t the centre back that scored those goals, it was the person best placed to score the goals based on his skillset. So yes, there was a (fairly high) interchange between positions, but there was also some pretty clear precision about what those players interchanging were really skilled at. The same is true of the Barca teams of Pep Guardiola who played a version of Total Football called Tikka-Takka.


So here is where the analogy matters: Total Football was a system. It viewed the whole and made decisions about where best to deploy resources on the basis of what it saw happening in front of it at the time (so on the basis of actual human behavior, so it had a reason Why). Communications and within it Total AV are systems and we need to start applying systems thinking to them all, to understand the behaviours around the system and how they effect each other and inter-relate.


In AV terms (the total system is for another time) this starts, but certainly doesn’t finish with a total view of screen consumption. Now this can be quantified. There are tools to do it. You don’t need these to be single source – use BARB, along with clickstream, comscore, whatever. The actual key here is NOT looking at platform based consumption but starting to ask the behavioural question of why. People don’t watch VOD. They choose pull a piece of content down from “the cloud” for a reason, people don’t watch YouTube, they amuse themselves with skateboarding cats one minute and educate themselves with TED talks the next, they listen to music videos and get make up tips. Each of these is a very different behavior. Possibly (I shudder to suggest) there is an archetype-based approach to this, which may help. Either way, some codification is important. Lean back vs lean forward isn’t clean enough (and it isn’t quite behavioural driver oriented).


Once you start looking at the why of content consumption you start to much better understand the brand communications opportunity (or lack of one). One of the many reasons for the vast sums of money spent by brands ending in invisible YouTube videos is because they aren’t asking themselves “why, in what mode, for what reason, would anyone be interested is consuming this amazing edifice” (that along with the fact that the assumption is people can find it, organic video discoverability being a huge myth).


You also start to understand the role for brand content in its broadest sense (ie the church that ranges from advertsing to AFP via SEO and Facebook video uploads). When you can sense the role for brand & branded (different things) content then you can start to unpick the system that your brand needs to deploy.


Why does this matter? Two reasons, one intrinsic to our roles moving forward, one an extrinsic force, which has been central to our roles for at least half a decade now:


The extrinsic force is that the great media behemoths of the twenty first century (Facebook, YouTube (&Google)) are audio visual businesses. They are a key component of the system, and they are about to get really serious about their role. Yes it does matter whether teens are moving away from Facebook in their droves right now, but what arguably matters more is the business Facebook looks like it is in. Increasingly that is the broadcast AV business.


Finally back to the Dutch football analogy, this matters because you can’t effect a system you don’t understand. To understand a system you need to understand what creates the flow through it. To understand what creates flow you have to understand the “Why” of human behavior. You don’t understand human behavior until you ask questions beyond media intensity and start codifying those behaviours in a human manner rather than a “time spent” intensity manner, which is an interesting fact, but a shonky argument for anything.



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