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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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Name ownership

Is being referred to by a single name the ultimate recognition of cultural primacy?

When I was at ITV, all the main bosses were simply referred to by their first names (though the sales floor had the problem of the “Three Garys” – not dissimilar to “The Four Marys“)

Reading several tech blogs where the head of Apple was just referred to as “Steve” prompted me to consider who else “owns” their name – not just internally in an organisation but in the wider world.

So I turned to Google.

And then, not wanting to be totally biased, I also turned to Bing.

Below are some of the results (NB: I signed out of Google, so the search results shouldn’t have been personalised. I don’t think I have a Microsoft account to sign into anymore)

It is as evidently hard to get a single name association, because there are a lot of people – many extremely talented – and not as many names. So, unless you are blessed with something as unique as D’Brickashaw you are going to struggle for that primacy.

There are options. Nicknames, for one. Neologisms or contractions (such as J-Lo) assist uniqueness.

But does a single name title actually matter? “Steve” might imply familiarity but this shouldn’t be assumed. Specificity is preferable. Context may imply which Ronaldo is being referred to, but implications are weak and thus not as memorable.

This is why I prefer multiple word names. They’re even better if they can juxtapose alternative meanings, or fuse something together for the first time. I chose Curiously Persistent for that reason. Similarly, many of my favourite blogs have unique, memorable names – borrowed or repurposed from other contexts. Only Dead Fish. Feeding the Puppy. Quaint Living. Six Pixels of Separation. And so on.

I’m not striving to be “Simon” – which would cause confusion with Simon and Simon on my blogroll, let alone the wider environment. Simon Kendrick (or Curiously Persistent) is just fine with me.



Twitter and Mad Men

dondraper_twitterPaul Isakson has revealed himself to be the brains behind the Don Draper profile on Twitter (for those unaware, Don is the central character in the AMC drama Mad Men – set at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in 1960). Its popularity inspired others, and before long virtually the entire roster of characters (if not all) were Tweeting away.

Paul has said that he will be transferring control of the account over to AMC for them to use it as they wish.

Will AMC make use of it? Should they?

Back in the Summer, AMC asked Twitter to shut down these user accounts due to copyright violation – although after a groundswell (another buzz word du jour) the profiles were reinstated.

I can understand their reasoning behind it, even if I don’t agree with it. Traditionally, branding was about central planning and pushing a clear and coherent message to current and potential users.

But the nature of a brand is in the eye of the beholder. Faris has a great post where he riffs on Paul Feldwick and socially constructed reality to postulate that

A brand is a collective perception in the minds of consumers

This is why UGC and social media is so scary to some people – they can’t control how the message gets reformulated and reconstituted as it passes from person to person and perception to perception – each new thought predicated and built upon the previous.

And as Heinz found out when they asked consumers to submit videos of Ketchup to be used in an advert, people don’t always say or think what you would like them to.

If a brand is to be successful on Twitter or within social media in general, they have to accept this and roll with the punches.

Will AMC? They would obviously prefer it if they could control all Mad Men Twitter accounts. But if they can’t? That depends on how far they are willing to engage with their fans and perpetuate the mythology. With long-running scripted shows, this can be a difficult prospect.

As the comic book world shows, the problems with multiple storylines, continuity problems, canon vs. non-canon, retcons and so on are legion. At the moment, these Twitter accounts are a bit of fun but if AMC get involved, they are given the aura of legitimacy.

Personally, I think that AMC should take the plunge. People are invested in the show and immersed with the storylines – social media offers fantastic options to deepen that engagement further. This in turn creates loyal advocates who will religiously watch the show and expound the benefits to their peers. A few nitpickers aside, this will be a positive step for fans.

But problems can be caused as social media encourages an insider-outsider effect. I have felt first-hand the issues of being an outsider.

A while back, I tweeted that Mad Men makes me want to drink whisky. Presumably through a Twitter search, two of the fake characters promptly added me as contacts. I am only halfway through the first series and by browsing their feeds I quickly saw things I wish I hadn’t.

Social media activities tend to be run on the premise that people are au fait with all the characters and their developments.

If you are not – BEWARE OF SPOILERS


Links – 11th August 2008

Yes, still tardy

Blog-related links

Rejuvenating dead brands (NY Times) –  I found the bit about repeated fake-ad exposure leading to higher false-memory rates fascinating yet unsurprising (from a research perspective)

Excellent analysis on the faults with Microsoft’s Vista campaign (Wilshipley) – anyone that paints current/potential customers as stupid is asking for trouble

Jeremiah Owyang on the many challenges of social media – a well-thought out and well-reasoned analysis

A reason that large businesses falter is that they fail to create a sense of urgency (Michael Hyatt)

Wired looks at Gemini Division and video distribution online

“Shockvertising” for series 2 of Dexter (Guardian) – what is ironic is that the advertising for both series has sought to subvert expectation, yet the actual plot of the show is signposted so obviously

Interesting debate on the future of online panels (MRSpace forum topic) – my predictions are on the post. Incidentally, those interested in research should have a look around the entire network

How to be a self-funded anthropologist (Cultureby) – interesting reading, and not just for those interested in being the next Gladwell

Series of papers from the MCPS-PRS Aliiance (the body that identifies and distributes royalty payments for music in the UK) – my attention was piqued by the recent look at In Rainbows

Using Happiness as your business model (Slideshare presentation)

When logos look alike (Logo Design Love)

Random links

Extinction timeline 1950-2050 – awesome graphic

Quiz testing your knowledge on the hundred most common English words – I scored a rather poor 38

Mindmeister is a fantastic tool for creating and sharing mindmaps online

And Evernote looks like a rather splendid tool as well – bookmark and annotate pretty much anything

Lifehacker editors’ favourite software and hardware

Profile on Sheldon Adelson – possibly the richest person I had never heard of; odd considering his high profile in both Israeli politics and gambling (New Yorker)

Great British gameshows (Guardian)

Rather sniffy look at how hipsters represent the end of Western civilisation (Adbusters)

Jump the shark has passed. Nuke the Fridge is the correct terminology now, thanks to Indy 4 (NY Times)

Profile on Rush Limbaugh (NY Times)

The police were less than friendly to peaceful Climate Camp demonstrators (Comment is Free)

Retro posters (Bob Staake) – I love the sort of aesthetic displayed here

The Nazi-descended Jews living in Israel (Guardian)

Recommended reading would be

Blog-related: Excellent analysis on the faults with Microsoft’s Vista campaign, Jeremiah Owyang on the many challenges of social media and  Interesting debate on the future of online panels

Random: Extinction timeline 1950-2050, Mindmeister, Evernote and Profile on Sheldon Adelson


Links – 13th June 2008

Due to the two ATP festivals last month, I made a conscious effort to take a short break from my link updates. Once the habit was broken, it inevitably became difficult to get back into the groove. Grand Theft Auto and Euro 2008 have not helped matters.

I did toy with the idea of dispensing with them altogether, but I like the idea of this blog as (partly) a repository of all the great thinking, reporting and happenings out in the wide world.

And so I present the highlights of my web reading from the last 6 weeks or so. I’ve included the news items as although they will have dated, they may have slipped through the net.

Rather than dump the hundred or so links into one unwieldy post, I’ve cut them up into manageable themes. I will split the themes up into one post a day over the coming 4 days. By which point I should be fully up to date and in a position to get back into the habit of weekly updates. Well, until I go on holiday in um… 3 weeks.

The first theme I present to you is…

Marketing links

Creating fast strategy (Adliterate) – excellent post on quick strategic planning/thinking

What every good marketer should know (Seth Godin) – originally written 3 years ago but recently updated

A day mapped out by brands (Jane Sample)

Ten ideas for conversation (Conversation Agent) – tips on how to create compelling content, with example links to some great blogs

Can there be too much of a good thing? – Academic study by Sheena S. Iyengar and Mark R. Lepper showing that people were more likely to purchase jam when there were 6 choices than when there were 24

Planners are adventurers (I’m Only Doing This Because I Have To)

Interesting look at the Net Promoter Score (CNN) – Personally, I like the NPS as it indexes a factor that can both be rationalised and be genuinely insightful. I’ve seen other indexes either based on emotional scales, and on self-evident truths that completely fail to convince

Billboards that look back (New York Times) – as mentioned, the lack of an opt-in may be an issue. See phorm.

Bookmarkable Advertising (Adverlab) – very thought-provoking

What makes an idea viral? (Seth Godin)

Is the Surface Unsigned new bands competition a scam? (Pete Ashton)

Very good review of the 4 hour work week (W+K London)

Why marketers shouldn’t create campaigns around fear or disgust (Fast Company) – I agree. No matter the product, the positives should always be highlighted. In my eyes, Obama did a better marketing job than Clinton (aside from the fact that he won)

Why Zappos pay new employees to quit (Harvard Business Leader) – a stroke of genius

Starbucks rolls out energy drinks (Seattle PI) – this seems like a rather ill-conceived brand extension to me

50 greatest commercial parodies (Nerve)

Portrayals of George Bush in international advertising (Creative Bits)

Email checklist (Seth Godin)

Expansion pack for an advertising spoof of World of Warcraft (Creative Beef) – very funny

Product placement rose 6% in Q1 in the US (Nielsen)

List of product placements in Sex & The City (Vanity Fair) – I assume this includes prop placement as well as paid product placements

Yet Andy Burnham indicates the government will block the loosening of product placement laws in the UK – while I am biased (working as I do as an advertising researcher for a commercial broadcaster), I think this is a terrible decision. It underestimates the intelligence of the general public, it ignores that we are generally exposed to it as it is (through US imports and the cinema), assumes that production teams aren’t capable of subtly integrating brands, and stifles a potentially new revenue stream that would provide funds for investment in quality programming

I feel quite strongly on this and may revisit it in a future post, though for the time being I am fully occupied with fleshing out a few different ideas in the limited “free” time I have

Of the above links I would particularly recommend Creating fast strategy, Interesting look at the Net Promoter Score, Why Zappos pay new employees to quit, What every good marketer should know and the comments on Product placement not coming to the UK though they are all worth reading, given that they represent the best of what I have read on the topic for the past 6 weeks

The remaining themes and the days I plan to publish them are (Hyperlinks will be included as they are published)

Saturday: Trivia, and Interesting/thoughtful articles

Sunday: Interesting websites, and useful tips

Monday: Technology and web2.0 links

Tuesday: Miscellaneous random links

I’m also planning to write another post during this time, but this will depend on how distracted I get by other events


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.


Cadbury – Trucks

The “difficult second advert”. And well, I don’t like it. The gorilla worked because it was so random, so unexpected. And that makes it a nightmare to follow up. Plus of course, it could be easily mimicked, repeat and spoofed. I’m not someone that thinks advertising needs clear branding messages, but it at least needs to contain something that people can talk about. I don’t think that this contains that.

And the fact that the song was used far better in Shaun of the Dead a few years ago also works against it.

Conclusion: Disappointing


Image conscious

nike or adidas?

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

I’ve had the same haircut for about 8 years. Some of my clothes are nearly as old. While I don’t stand out like a sore thumb, one could say that I am quite distinctive. Hence I was not surprised when I was spotted from distance in a club last week by someone I had not seen for over a year.

That got me thinking. How distinctive are research companies? If I saw a research paper or presentation, could I accurately guess who conducted it? The answer, in 95% of cases, would be no. While a few methodologies – Link or Worldpanel for instance – are immediately identifiable, the vast majority could have been carried out by Generic Research Company.

Obviously the client’s aims and objectives are going to factor into how research is presented. But it is my belief that the industry has an image problem. Some small agencies/boutiques/consultancies that specialise in a particular field or discipline excepted, agencies tend to look the same to me. It is my experience that agencies try and swallow up as much business as possible. By trying to be everything, they don’t become anything.

This needs to be changed. To my mind, there is little difference between competitor agencies. Only a few companies can be invited to tender each time. I find that companies tend to get selected from personal experience or recommendation. Company image or perceived expertise rarely seem to factor.

From my experiences when I worked agency-side, I have encountered several explanations for a lack of brand differentiation or product innovation. These have been both explicit and implicit. The one thing that unites them is that they are myths. Below are six examples that I have experienced.

Business to business organisations operate under the radar

Research agencies may not get the same level of exposure as consumer brands, but marketing departments still have the trade press, press releases and the company website with which to reach potential clients. Company blogs can also be a great way to define an identity, but few companies seem willing to devote the necessary resources.

Clients only want an affirmative answer to their hypothesis

There are many routes to an answer. And if a client is that inflexible, is the business margin on that job worth it, or can resources be better utilised elsewhere?

Clients only care about price

There is a vicious cycle where innovation in research design is omitted because of the cost – monetary cost, the cost of trial by error, the opportunity cost of resources. Cost is obviously a factor in competitive tenders, but it only becomes so important when there is so little to tell between pitches. When there is no innovation. We rarely go for the cheapest option; we choose the agencies with the best ideas (within our budget, obviously)

Clients don’t want to experiment in case something goes wrong

Some clients are like this – not all. But few can resist the PR from a paper resulting from a successful innovation. Personally, I would like to see more papers detailing the tribulations of experimenting in the unknown, but understandably few will be willing to divulge such information.

Pitches are won and lost by the people, not the agency

Pitches are very much an idiosyncratic endeavour – the team in place will have certain skills and experiences, and this will naturally influence the response. However, no person is bigger than the organisation and individual preference should be no obstacle to instilling an overarching philosophy.

The industry is too preoccupied by consolidation

Surely this is the perfect time to forge an identity. It will be occurring inwardly – why can’t it be extended externally?

These are by no means representative views of the industry, but they are views that I have personally encountered. The theme for the forthcoming MRS conference is “Changing business through better customer understanding”. It is my hope that part of the debate will include branding and distinctiveness, and that this can provoke agencies into action.