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A show all marketers should see is Martin Parr’s photos at the National Portrait Gallery

If only to see the original artwork for the excellent “Oneness” idents for BBC 1, a  fine example of that classic thing – a great creative idea executed in a fresh way.

The idea – like the best ideas – is uplifting and inspiring. “Oneness” is about the joy of  getting together with like minded souls who share the same passions,  and how this dissolves differences between people through shared experiences and common humanity. It is also an timely idea- a big spirited riposte to the narrow mindedness engendered by Brexit

But there is another lesson. It is difficult to create something fresh and distinctive by sitting in your London office and just doing data analytics.  Martin Parr travels all round Britain looking, really looking hard, and capturing the sheer diversity and quirkiness of people.

We used to call this “insight”. A vital stimulus to ideas that I fear might not come from staring at a screen.

Don’t get me wrong. I used to work at Google and I know how rich data analytics can be. But if everyone is using the same data to “optimise their message” then all the work will start to look similar.

Parr’s work for BBC 1 is a reminder of what you have to do to be fresh and different.

Get out of the office and look really hard at people and how they live


What do all the following have in common ?

Love it or hate it (Marmite)

Probably the best lager in the world (Carlsberg)

and this famous ad for VW:


They are all highly successful examples of the pratfall effect   

which is this:-

Displaying weakness increases empathy and like-ability.

Imperfection and making mistakes are the stuff of our daily lives – and so we are more likely to identify with the person or brand that says, well, I am prone to error too.

The real-life sense of contingency in the word “probably” makes Carlsberg’s line effective. If the line had been -” The best lager in the world” that would be  merely boastful and unrealistic – the sort of thing that a pompous corporation might say rather than  tongue in cheek line that you might hear in a bar

Perhaps some errors are too big to admit, which might explain why Tony Blair won’t do so about WMD and the Iraq war. His god complex stops him from doing so. He is never never wrong. (Nor is Jeremy Corbyn – another man with a god complex)

But it might also explain why people are not prepared to listen to Blair about Brexit – even though he is the most coherent politician on the topic I have heard so far.




I have spent about a decade working on the application of BE to behaviour change/running courses on it ( since doing work for UK govt via the late lamented COI). This piece (published first in Aurora) offers a basic briefing on its application to communications.

Key thought in a 100 words or less: we delude ourselves, because we are able to develop verbal arguments, that we are mainly rational/considered in our decision making. Yet much of our thinking is fast, instinctive and informed by visuals rather than words. You can see the results everywhere- not least in the high value that brands place on developing instantly recognisable visuals (The insurance market is probably the most extreme example).

For practitioners (rather than academics) I have two must read book recommendations :- 1) Decoded by Phil Barden and 2) The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton ( the first of these has the best summary I have read of Daniel Kahneman great book Thinking Fast and Slow

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Programatic trading of media is clever automated technology that is spawning (AI enabled) services which will automate the creation of ad messages as well – more efficiency and cost reduction then. (This does not matter a lot as most ads- online- are fairly formulaic response/offer type stuff already)

But Programatic also attacks one of our most important beliefs in brand building – that it matters where you are seen not just what you have to say.

Stripping communication of its context is not good from a psychological point of view – we know that the human brain has evolved to notice context ( see Kahneman et al). Indeed all judgements that we make about people and brands are contextual.

Brands are now being drawn (by the lure of cost effective sales) into an online version selling out of the back of  a van on a rainy trading estate. What to do ?

Well two answers

-When buying programmatic, cost effectiveness can’t be the only metric – a smarter programmatic is needed that controls for quality too. Brands need to demand this – and not merely the reassurance that they will not appear in some tawdry click baity site ( or worse)

-Control your own context by becoming a publisher online. This difficult for brands and not for everyone. This piece (just published  in Aurora) explores how, why it is difficult and some of the insights into how to do it well from a really useful new book by Laz Dzamic ( declaration of interest- i worked with him at Google)


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So many useful business books and so little time – was the thought that occurred to me as I was teaching this week. Here are my top tips for students in extracting the useful knowledge in these books with minimum cost and maximum ease.

(Publishers should avert their eyes at this point)

Google- “title of book PDF”.  For the really successful business books, someone has often made a summary of the key ideas and saved it as a PDF. So if you are working on a challenger brand you will want to get Adam Morgan’s ideas, Google “Eating the Big fish PDF” and and you get this

Or if you want one of the the foundation texts of marketing effectiveness try googling “how brands grow PDF” – and you get this

Google “title of book PP.” And the chances are you will end up on slideshare where someone has made a PowerPoint of the Key ideas. Take, for example, Daniel Kahnemann’s great book “Thinking Fast and Slow” which is a must read for all people in communications but , let’s be honest,  hard work to get through. Well there are two PowerPoints covering the key ideas on slideshare

Slideshare and Amazon are useful search engines in their own right so it can be useful to go straight too them and have a browse

30 minute summaries. You have to pay for these but they can be worth the money if you want to know a bit more. Go to Amazon and search “title of book 30 minute summary” . There is a good one of Kahnemann’s book 

Youtube it – Youtube is also a search engine in its own right.Writers of the really good books (and even the not so good) go in the speaking circuit and their talks often get videoed and shared. For example the most powerful brands of our day sit as apps on our smartphones- they are in the business of habit forming. Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked” has insightful explanations as to how they do this. Here he is doing a TED talk 

My review of Sean Pillot de Chenecey’s new book on the marketing society website – a book to dip into but don’t attempt to read it. Here is my text:-

The author attacks his topic on page 1: –

“A weakening of the vital trust connection between brands and consumers is causing enormous problems for businesses around the world. Linked to this something has gone very wrong with a vital element of consumer engagement: authenticity seems to be evaporating as a core brand pillar”

Phew! I am not sure what that last bit means but it is obviously very important.

This is a book where the volume is turned up to 11- things are “deeply serious”, trust has been “catastrophically devalued”, emotion is “incredibly powerful”.

There is much eye watering hyperbole, as well as sentences that wander on for several lines in search of syntax. I blame the publishers- Kogan Page- who should have afforded the author an editor. I have written some flabby prose in my time and always benefited from the gimlet eye of Judie Lannon and Elen Lewis at Market Leader. My first drafts were not worth publishing, my third drafts sometimes got into print. I reckon a good editor would have helped the author cut this book from 263 pages to under 200.

Now I have got that bit of pedantry out of the way – what about the substance of the book?

Having stated his topic, I expected the next section to substantiate it with credible quantitative research. Instead what we get is a very well-informed discussion of issues arising from the digital revolution. The first chapter is an excellent precis of how fake news and disinformation warfare have degraded politics. Sure, this is important context but there are other books on it by the likes of Evan Davis and Robert Peston.

So, should you buy this book? You might be surprised to hear my answer is yes. And the way to read it is to turn to the contents pages, which are detailed and clear, and use them to dip into topics

Take the section: “Blockchain- the benefits are hard to exaggerate” 

We know about blockchain from the fame of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. But there are bigger implications for rebuilding brand trust because it offers unimpeachable proof provenance in the supply chain. As the author explains well- “You can see exactly what happened when and who handed over to whom via a series of interlinking digital handshakes.” Brands are using block chain to embrace transparency – like “Wholefoods who have 100% traceability for every single albacore tuna”. Expect this to be a rising trend in branding.

The author tackles important topics, covers a lot of ground and much of it addresses his central idea about rebuilding brand trust. The final pages offer a checklist of his key themes

1)Be Authentic

2) Be transparent

3) Respect privacy

4) Demonstrate empathy

5) Be Trustworthy,

which is not a bad checklist.

But I don’t think it fully explains the evident trust in the first two trillion $ valued brands – Apple and Amazon- whose success is built on those old fashion virtues – brilliant products, value and service.