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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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Honda – Difficult is Worth Doing

As everyone is now aware, Honda successfully ran its 3 minute live advert – the first UK advert to be completely live, rather than broadcast as live (EDIT: In recent years) – during Come Dine With Me on Channel 4 last Thursday

I have mixed feelings over this campaign.

Successes of the ad:

  • It continued Honda’s strong tradition of technically difficult adverts. Continuity is always good
  • It was executed near flawlessly. Check out the comments here for the full technical breakdown
  • An event was successfully created around an advertising campaign. With multimedia fragmentation and time-shifted viewing, TV’s main draw is that ability to create those must-see moments that are instantly digested and talked over. Few advertisers are able to translate this watercooler effect from programming to advertising. Honda succeeded
  • The amount of PR generated is quite astonishing
  • As well as being an event, it has achieved a viral effect. 60,000 plays in a day and a half on YouTube isn’t record-breaking, but it certainly isn’t bad going

Doubts over the ad:

  • While it is a technical achievement, the ad contrasts with the previous campaigns in that their post-production values were extremely high. Even with all of the skills necessary to shoot the live ad, the shaky cam can’t help but look amateurish at times
  • It is a one-off (and if it isn’t, it should be). Cutting it into a 10 second, 30 second or 60 second spot won’t have nearly the same impact, and I believe it will diminish the overall effect. Press ads using stills of the jump may work, but I’m not totally convinced
  • This also means that the frequency of seeing the ad will be, for most, once at best. While engagement with the Honda ad will undoubtedly be greater than other ads, many believe that people need to be exposed to adverts at least four times for them to have an impact
  • While it generated a huge amount of PR, £500,000 on one spot is still a lot of money. While other ads may cost more, production costs are split over more spots, with their coverage and reach will be far higher
  • The above doubts can be condensed into questioning the longevity of the ad. If it is a one-shot, how long will people remember it for? Cars aren’t a spur of the moment purchase. If the ad were for an FMCG brand, we would probably see an immediate sales uplift. But how many people will remember the ad when they come to buy a car in the coming months or years?

So, overall I am conflicted. I think the ad is a great achievement -and kudos to Wieden+Kennedy for yet another fantastic execution – but I’m not convinced it will work as a long-term campaign and keeping it as a one-off will reduce the sales uplift that it could achieve. Though as people (myself included) are still talking about the Cog advert even now, who knows how long the actual impact will last for…



Extraordinary, eyecatching titles: How to make your blog stand out

My previous post, notes on Jon Steel’s book The Perfect Pitch, garnered a personal best for syndicated views. Rather than ascribe this to a sudden surge in my popularity, I believe it is due to the eye-catching title. “The Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas & Winning New Business” is intriguing, seemingly useful and appears to successfully stand out from the surrounding noise.

This corresponds with some research that my colleagues in Programme Research recently shared with us. They commissioned some title tests on potential shows, using theory rooted in neuro-linguistic programming to inform their naming.

With 90% of the population now with multi-channel TV, more people than ever are using their Electronic Programming Guide. It is then of increasing importance than a programme is able to stand out in the schedule.

In many ways, an EPG is like an RSS reader (I know there are programme such as Netvibes and iGoogle but I don’t find them practical to track a three figure number of feeds).


Google reader

And so, many of the lessons for programme titles also apply to blog posts. These lessons include

  • Certain words are more striking than others. The more descriptive and enticing *and hyperbolic) the better. Disastrous, secret, celebrity and killer all scored well in the title tests
  • As a counterpoint to the first bullet, certain programmes (or blogs) can own certain words, and so these should be avoided. Therefore, if someone read a title with the first word Dragon, they would be more likely to think of Dragon’s Den than the Arthurian adventure you have created. So, if a dozen new programmes all began with the word “Secret”, their effectiveness would diminish
  • People read from left to right and so the first word needs to contain as much impact as possible (this is especially important if there are space restrictions and the title may be truncated)
  • Titles need to be clear – both in their flow and their description. One may think abstract or unusual titles, but if there are no clear connotations then it will wash over the prospective viewer/reader

The title is the thing that markets your creation in its most blandest form – a list of names. For maximum effectiveness, a title needs to be able to traverse from the unconscious to the conscious, where its stickiness can maintain awareness over time. TV programmes can achieve this through marketing,

But for blogs? The marketing is the product itself. Leave interesting and useful comments elsewhere, and this will hopefully drive traffic to your site. If your copy is impactful, then the positive associations can emerge.


Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business

The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New BusinessI’ve recently been re-reading my notes from Jon Steel’s book Perfect Pitch and am reminded of what a great resource it is (incidentally, Seth Godin has some typically insightful tips on getting the most out of business books).

The central argument of the book is an obvious but often overlooked one – using your content to engage with the audience. The book is written in a compelling manner with some fantastic examples. For me, the litmus test of a good business book is whether it provokes me into not only considering or approaching an issue differently, but implementing the tips. This book passes the test with flying colours. I would highly recommend it.

Jon works in fives (as another sidenote, the book I am currently reading would have a theory on that). He sees a pitch constituting five jobs – those of researcher, writer, producer, director and performer – and there being five distinct stages

  1. Grazing, and gathering raw materials. We should combine research, general knowledge and learned knowledge. He uses a Post-it note for every bit of relevant information and then re-organise it into themes.
  2. Looking for meaning. Drawing everything together and looking for connections
  3. Dropping it. Rather than working 24/7, we can let our subconscious work on the problem while we take our conscious mind off it by doing other things
  4. Adapting and distilling. There should have a central theme that could be repeated in 2 minutes. With the full presentation, each part should engage and surprise. It can be broken down into an inciting incident, progressive complications, a crisis, a climax and a resolution
  5. Writing the presentation. Jon believes the script should be written down to the last apostrophe. It gives control – both in terms of content and timing. If you know the content inside out, you can deviate from it if necessary

And adapting Jon’s method, here are five elements to his thesis, with five nuggets under each heading

1. Prepare

  • People work better on one task than several at once
  • Work in a small, tight, committed team
  • Take control. Taking control means keeping work and social life separate, not allowing interruptions, having space for thinking, treating others as you would like to be treated and looking after your brain
  • Start quickly and devote equal time to each aspect
  • Practice makes perfect

2. Recognise the competition

  • The focus should be on beating the competition and not finding the perfect answer
  • Belief has to be turned into action – this is done by persuading that your idea is the best
  • Save energy for the big issues rather than proving the obvious
  • Either say something different or say the same thing better
  • But a USP of some description is needed to stand out and plant doubt in the competition

3. Ensure a narrative

  • The best speeches are done using the simplest language
  • Presentations should tell stories
  • A good presentation has a start, a middle and an end
  • A few well chosen questions can be a powerful tool
  • Use minimal slides with a prose leave-behind

4. Keep the tone engaging

  • The five key elements are truth, beauty, excitement, significance and persuasion
  • Communicate; don’t lecture. The best presentations are question marks; not full stops
  • Communicate one idea at a time
  • Be inclusive as the audience doesn’t listen to what you say but what it means to them
  • Passion breeds success. When you believe, giving ground is tantamount to failure

5. Connect with the audience

  • Own the room
  • Minimise space between the presenter and the audience
  • Give a sense of what it would be like to work with you
  • If one answer is given, don’t give a second if it involves repetition
  • Keep consistency of message and openness of mind and manner

The above is just a small extract of the wisdom encapsulated in 288 pages. I would recommend reading every last page.


How representative are Online surveys?

To answer the above question in three words: I don’t know.

Generally, I have been sceptical about the relative veracity of Online surveys. Working for a media owner, there is a general concern that moving surveys online may reduce the strength of TV and increase that of the Internet. But I am being won around.

After all, no methodology is perfect. In fact, it could be argued that all are inadequate. Even if one were able to take a census of the entire population (even the UK census only has a 94% response rate), how accurately are people able to express their unconscious thoughts, desires and opinions?

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to read that YouGov correctly predicted the results of the London Mayoral election. Accurate polling always requires a bit of luck. When I worked at a research agency, the weighting factors for the forthcoming election were changed at the last moment, and fortunately improved the prediction. But even when considering the fluctuations, it does represent a significant victory for the online method.

There are far better resources than this blog debating the relative merits and drawbacks of research methodologies, but my softening of opinion has come about for two main reasons that I have recently given more thought

Societal changes are making the traditional methodologies less accurate over time: The rise of the one person household makes it more difficult for face-to-face interviewers to catch people at home at a time where they are willing to participate. Telephone research is becoming less representative thanks to the rise of mobile phones at the expense of landlines, and the popularity of the TPS. Even if mobile numbers are included in the sample, people are far less willing to participate, since mobile phones are more personal and the call is therefore more intrusive. And while the TPS doesn’t cover market research, some companies voluntarily clean the sample of TPS numbers, since the public perception is that research is no different to telemarketing. And as online penetration increases, one would expect survey representativeness to follow suit.

Online research is more conducive to considered opinion: Online surveys produce more honest responses thanks to the anonymity provided. Without an interviewer waiting for an answer, the respondent can also give a more considered answer (if they so desire). Combined, these will produce more accurate data.

Of course, these points aren’t uniformly positive. Even though Internet access increases, the proportion of those actively on a research panel will still be quite small. Gritz (2004) achieved an 8.4% sign-up rate for an online survey and I wouldn’t be surprised if this figure would be lower if the experiment were repeated now. And Online surveys may allow for more considered responses but without an interviewing probing, the answers may be ambiguous and thus meaningless. But, for me at least, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

I do still have one major concern with online surveys. Without any proof, I have the perception that the attitudinal differences between those that take part in online surveys and those that don’t is greater than the differences between those that do and don’t respond in different methodologies. Those that join online panels are self-selecting, and will tend to spend more time online than the average person.

Sticking with YouGov, their Brand Index (which, in general, I like) ranks Google and Amazon as the top 2 brands in 2007. Would they still come out on top in an offline survey, factoring in the third that don’t use the Internet and those that spend more time with traditional media? I’m not so sure.

But for me at least, I have far less reservations with moving research online than I had a year ago.

I’d be interested in hearing other people’s thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of the shift. Am I late to the party in accepting online, or do others still hold reservations?


Three lessons from ATP: Explosions in the Sky

ATP Explosions in the Sky flyer

Lesson #1: Pick the right environment

The environment is a hugely important factor in consumer enjoyment. Design, location, time and atmosphere all affect our consumption and they should be managed as closely as possible to maximise the experience. 

Good practice: Scheduling Jens Lekman‘s sunny, infectious indie-pop to open the afternoon on a glorious day (admittedly, the weather can’t be predicted)

Bad practice: Scheduling Stars of the Lid‘s neo-classical orchestrations at midnight while a room of inebriated patrons restlessly await the opportunity to dance to Battles

Lesson #2: Accurately gauge demand

Too much of something and you have wasted resources on surplus inventory. Too little and you alienate potential advocates. Supply needs to be accurately forecast, or at least flexible enough to meet any unanticipated changes.

Good practice: The bar staff – seeing the number of people getting hot at the front of the audience – preparing a load of glasses of water in preparation for the onslaught of dehydrated fans at the end of the set

Bad practice: Not having a coloured wristband system in place for Battles (where a different colour signifies which set you can go and see). The resultant debacle meant that on Saturday, demand far outstripped capacity. Priority wristbands for the Sunday performance were handed out to those that failed to get in but this then meant the entire venue had to be emptied in advance of the second performance, and people without wristbands could not be admitted until the set started

Lesson #3: Over-deliver on expectations

Experience dictates expectations to an extent. But they can still be managed through providing the customer with additional, up-to-date information. Making a realistic promise and then exceeding it will stand you in good stead for repeat business

Good practice: Our car broke down on the journey back to London. The repair service said a technician would be with us in 30 minutes. He showed up in 20. We were impressed.

Bad practice: The problem with the car was critical, and we needed to be towed. We were told a tow truck would be with us within the hour. Three calls and two hours later, it showed up. Our goodwill had completely evaporated.

A fourth – personal – lesson would be to extend forward planning from the immediate to the longer term. With particular reference to the amount of sleep required to sustain oneself for the week ahead.


Classic blog posts #2

Seth Godin on really bad PowerPoint.


Ubiquity is not a strategy

Ubiquity is not a strategy.

A great quote from a talk I saw earlier by Martin Thomas from Snapper Communications at an MRG/IPA event, the originator of whom I missed.

Brands like Crazy Frog, PC World and Cillit Bang may bludgeon us into submission with a massive, ongoing campaign, but something has got to give. Once the optimal point of investment has been surpassed, minimal increments in coverage and frequency of eyeballs are being exchanged for annoyance and dread among those that have been exposed to the same advert 30+ times.

This is why careful targeting works. Find a value, or a pursuit, or a space, or a time, and own it.

Some examples Martin gave:

  • Stella Artois focused purely on film for 13 years. Their move away from this strategy has coincided with Carlsberg overtaking it to be the largest selling beer brand
  • Absolut centred their creatives around art and fashion. From people laughing at a Swedish vodka to being sold for nearly $10bn in the space of a couple of decades
  • Lynx/Axe have the central theme of men being irresistible to (objectified) women worldwide, though the specific creatives are different in each territory

Ubiquity means nothing if there are no associations. Identification is what is needed.

Incidentally, he also mentioned that for all the technological advancements in toothbrushes, they are redundant as people are unwilling to decode all of this information and make their choices in simpler terms – the colour, or the price, for instance.

This got me thinking. If a dental hygiene company offered a web service where I could sign up, give my preferences and be sent a new toothbrush every 3 months, I would definitely sign up.

I don’t think I’ll be quitting the day job just yet though.


Los Campesinos! show they care

los campesinos!
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomvu/

ATP vs Pitchfork was predictably awesome. One of my highlights of the weekend was the Los Campesinos! set on Saturday evening. The reasoning for this is a pertinent topic for this blog.

This set was the 5th or 6th time I’ve seen them, and it was easily the best. Their proficiency has improved dramatically, and their sets have become really tight. But what takes them to the next level is their overt enthusiasm. Showing how much they care makes us care.

As Gareth Campesinos! mentioned on stage, playing at ATP is their “Wembley stadium, Knebworth, Pyramid Stage…”. The entire band looked like they could combust with sheer excitement at any point during their set, and this only enhanced their performance.

Passion, pride, enthusiasm, enjoyment, gratitude. These are emotions that create bonds between the band and the audience (ignoring the fact that the band are massive fans of the festival anyway, and formed part of the audience for the remainder of the weekend). It makes them human, and enables a connection. We as the audience feel complicit in their success, and this makes us support them louder and longer than ever.

To use Saatchi & Saatchi’s terminology, Los Campesinos! are a lovemark. “Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately”.

An example of a lovemark brand would be Innocent. They have shown the benefits of stripping away the corporate jargon, and being real. Conversational copy, grass-roots events, open AGMs and a very obvious passion in their smoothies. This can connect the consumers to the brand, and inspires them to become devotees.

Like Innocent, Los Campesinos! have a stellar product underpinning the emotional bond, and there is absolutely no reason why they cannot replicate Innocent’s success in their indiepop/tweecore sphere. They come with my highest recommendation.


Housekeeping – 8th May 2008

Due to various commitments this week, I haven’t managed to collate my weekly links updates.

There won’t be an update for a while either as I will be spending 8 of the next 11 days at or travelling to/from All Tomorrow’s Parties, and so my presence here over the next couple of weeks will be quite sparse. For those in need of web miscellanea, please go directly to my del.icio.us page.

A shame as I have some thoughts bubbling around my head that I want to formalise, but I will at least try and post a few links or classic posts in order to keep the blog ticking over.

And for those that view this through a reader, you may not be aware that I recently updated my blogroll. There are some great sites listed, and they are well worth a look.


Giving it away for free to earn your keep

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/vanessao/

Brian at Copyblogger rhetorically asked if one could make a living from publishing white papers for free, mass consumption online. His answer was (of course) yes, and he made reference to a former colleague who makes $300,000 a year from doing so. As one would expect, his tips for success are freely available from here.

This business model is described as content marketing. Earlier this week, Joe of Junta 42 once again practiced as he preached by releasing an updated version of his 42 top Content Marketing blogs. A fantastic resource linking to some great blogs; the original release was how I heard about his blog. And since then I have become an avid subscriber (if not paying customer).

One blog currently not on there is Jonny Bentwood’s Technobabble2.0. He has just followed up his white paper on social media with an analysis of the quality of other analysts’ Twitter/microblogging usage. Go check it out.

So, is this the future of content creation? The free distribution online sets the brand up and creates buzz, and a (possibly supplementary) living can be earned from speaking engagements and corporate training sessions.

The basic content is therefore free, with the revenue coming from incremental business based around that – books (special editions) and face-to-face sessions (live events). Now where have I heard this before?

Since some critics argue that what works for Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails (the link takes you to their brand new free album – The Slip) doesn’t work for Joe Average, is this a model that all bloggers can aspire to?

My answer is yes; if the quality, the luck and the will to succeed are there. Like I hadn’t heard of Joe before someone linked to his blog, I hadn’t heard of Black Kids before I saw a Pitchfork article and a link to their free EP. And now they’re on Universal. Ticket sales and merchandising, rather than CD sales, is how they will be getting paid.

And as a final point, it is interesting to note that the material I linked to from Joe and Jonny takes publicly available knowledge, adds some special sauce, et voilá. An original, insightful piece of work. Remixing, in other words.