Tuesday, October 6, 2015


A black olive-gruyere dip and Greek’s economy. Sardines and New Delhi’s population density. Sausages with potato-salad and gender inequality in restaurant kitchens. These unusual pairings were just some of the  menu items at events hosted by Susanne Jaschko, Moritz Stefaner and Schott Ceran, whose initiative Data Cuisine explores ways to approach data differently rather than in the form of a graph: They visualize data with food.

Jaschko’s and Stefaner’s argument is that you are more likely to remember a data point when you are actually eating it. “Data is often said to be abstract and ‘dry’, unemotional, non-tangible and non-sensual.” They make a good point. Most people don’t find data and statistic graphs that exciting. Data Cuisine’s food creations, however, are.

Their black olive-gruyere dip for instance visualizes the amounts of money Greeks have stashed away in Swiss bank accounts (the Gruyère cream) as well as the number of Greeks that “fail to report income” (the chopped black olives beneath the cream).

We are constantly bombarded with stats and data, especially in business - to a point where people tend to only briefly look at graphs or numbers. There are obvious benefits to traditionally presented data. It is structured and usually straight forward but there is not a lot of room for interpretation or imagination.

Data Cuisine isn’t just visualizing data and making it look less boring. There are no pie charts created of pasta – their visualizations are more than that. The aim is to “create a culinary experience where taste, texture, and even smell convey their own data points”, according to an article Fast Co. Design.

Interestingly, consuming a meal slows data consumption. “I found it really interesting to watch how deeply people meditate on very simple data points when they think about turning them into food experiences,” says Stefaner in WIRED magazine. “This is a much needed counterpoint to the current trend of consuming lots of data in a very quick and superficial way.”

We are constantly bombarded with stats and data. Computer servers around the world process the “digital equivalent of a 5.6-billion-mile-high stack of books from Earth to Neptune and back, repeated about 20 times” in a year,” according to scientists at UC San Diego. That is a lot of data to digest in a year. What is wonderful is that there are just as many possibilities to create delicious data visuals with taste, texture, temperature and food presentation as there is data in our world. Bon Appétit.

Monday, October 5, 2015

DMA15 &THEN Conference

Today I spoke to 3,000 highly energized people at the Direct Marketing Association’s &THEN conference in Boston. It’s a great event with fantastic presenters including award-winning musician and entrepreneur John Legend, Blake Mycoskie – Founder and Chief of Toms shoes and Jon Iwata – Senior Vice President Marketing and Communications at IBM.

&THEN was all about the new digital data-driven marketer. We live in the ‘Age of Now’ where the number of mobile devices exceeds the number of people. Our old rules don’t apply anymore. It might be all about big data, but to delight customers in our VUCA World we need to lead with emotions.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Feel the Fear

I’m not a fan of fear. I do fear once in a generation. Fear about the future of advertising and agencies led me to create Lovemarks as the new point of emotional relevance. I once picked up Susan Jeffer’s classic title Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which was a big hit in the self-improvement aisle at bookstores when it came out in the late 80s and is still selling today. The book says that experiencing fear is natural and that people have the power to grab hold of their fears, move past them and move on with their lives.

Now there’s a different kind of conversation happening around topic around fear which has been introduced by Tara Mohr, an author and coach who encourages women to ‘play big’ in business and in life.

In a blog post Mohr shares what she learned about fear from the late Rabbi Alan Lew, who explained that in biblical Hebrew, there are different words for fear. The first, ‘pachad’ is projected or imagined fear. The kind that torments us with worst-case scenarios and threats that aren’t really there. The kind that makes us want to play it safe and stay within the confines of our comfort zone. It carries a sense of threat and panic. The second, ‘yirah’ is fear that makes us feel like we’re inhabiting a larger space, or possessing a greater amount of energy than we’re used to. The kind that is often aligned with matters of the heart, when we feel inspired to pursue an idea or to follow our dreams. It carries a sense of exhilaration and awe.

Mohr makes the important distinction between these two types of fear, pointing out that we often confuse the two and therefore fail to respond appropriately. “Pachad-type fears are irrational,” says Mohr, and we should remind ourselves that they are just imagined. Yirah-type fears, on the other hand, we should capture. “Lean into – and look for – the callings and leaps that bring yirah.” Her advice suggests applying a degree of reflection, but with a focus on action – facing the fear.

In this context, this quote by the late Dale Carnegie seems apt: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

Image source: emergingwomen.com

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Farmer Commits Manslaughter

What’s the difference between a war and a massacre? Madison Avenue Manslaughter (LID Publishing, Inc., Sept. 2015), a new book from Michael Farmer, paints a dark picture of today’s advertising industry. In the view of the author, a business strategist with 25 years’ experience of consulting to the advertising industry as Chairman of Farmer & Company LLC, today’s agencies are in a “strategic trap, caught between fee-cutting clients and profit-hungry owners.”

Farmer describes how the industry has changed from the heady days of the 15% commission system of the 60s and 70s to fees managed by procurement executives who too often consider agencies high-cost suppliers and question advertising’s value-add. Competing pressures of remuneration, globalization, new ownership, shareholder value, and digital and social media, according to Farmer, have brought about a decline to agency life.

“Returning to their daily routines,” Farmer writes, “ad agency people put on a brave face, struggle with increasing workloads and demanding clients, and feel like players on a losing team, unable to break out or at least pull even with their clients as respected, secure partners. The advertising business, which was once one of the most fulfilling and glamorous of industries, has become a grim sweatshop for the people who do the work.”

Now, I’m a radical optimist. I look at the work coming out of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, I see new technology emerging from Silicon Valley, I experience daily how social media has made direct marketing a true reality, and I think there’s never been a better time to be in the creativity business. We live in a VUCA world—one that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous—and a VUCA world needs leaders who are radical optimists. I once asked a group of 20-something students at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University what they thought VUCA means? Their response was Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy, Astounding. Welcome to the SUPERVUCA world! And that’s the kind of energy and vitality I expect to see in our profession.

His book pulls no punches, and the 10-step transformation program Farmer suggests agencies adopt to bring renewed strategic vigor and relevance to their organizations is a clear-headed one.

If I differ with Farmer in tone, I agree with his larger point that the industry is experiencing seismic change and now is the moment to embrace wholesale transformation. Madison Avenue Manslaughter is a smart, tough, and valuable book.

Image attribute/source: Michael Farmers / Squarespace.com/ LinkedIn.com

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Joining the Dots O2O

‘Online-To-Offline’ (O2O) refers to a growing trend in e-commerce that sees customers from online channels being connected with physical spaces. This is counter to the fears that traditional retailers have been harboring about their lack of relevance in a digital market. Nowadays, companies can successfully leverage an online and offline presence if they treat the two channels as complementary rather than competition.

It works because ultimately, people want to connect in real life – chat rooms or e-commerce platforms simply don’t cut it when it comes to experiences. People expect more. They want an experience they can’t get when they’re sitting in front of the computer, at home in their pyjamas. So why not join the dots?

The O2O phenomenon can be seen among private members’ clubs, with proprietary apps offering exclusive access to groups and chatrooms in the digital world, as well as in the real world. In a physical sense, the attraction of private clubs has a long history, having been formed in the late 17thcentury. Traditionally they were open to members of the aristocracy (gentlemen only), however nowadays they’re typically more cosmopolitan, “courting women members and seeking creative members for an edgy atmosphere.”

One element of tradition that they continue to retain and share is the promise of exclusivity. For example, when The Groucho Club was established its membership committee selected members according to two simple ‘rules’: “The applicant would have to be proposed and seconded by two members ‘in good standing’. The other being; does anyone know this person and would you like them sitting next to you at the bar?”

But it’s not just about being surrounded by like-minded people. These days, private clubs like SoHo House offer socializing, networking and office space. Work spaces are precisely that, but “their real product isn’t so much an office as it is interconnection, a sense of belonging.” In a physical sense, Kyle Chayka notes in the Pacific Standard that these spaces are “a kind of real-life Facebook, where all your friends hang out, but with pools and free cocktail hours.” Camaraderie is important, and will continue to be important, in physical spaces and on digital channels alike.

Image source: weforum.org

Monday, September 28, 2015

Forget what everyone has been saying: TV doesn’t have a ‘terminal disease’ — it’s still number one

“Here’s an op-ed I wrote for Business Insider a few days ago. For a deep dive, go to the New York Review of Books essay by Jacon Weisberg TV vs. the Internet: Who Will Win? Reviewing Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digital Age by Michael Wolff and Over the Top: How the Internet Is (Slowly but Surely) Changing the Television Industry by Alan Wolk. KR

Four billion TV watchers can’t be wrong. I’m in the UK right now attending the Rugby World Cup, the third most-watched televised sporting event on earth, behind only the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, with international potential viewership estimated by host broadcaster ITV to be nearly 60% of the global population.

It’s a phenomenon that demonstrates the commercial, cultural, and societal reach that only TV can offer. Broadcast events like this, with their multi-layered sponsorship and social media extensions, are the kind of grand canvas that brands seek to wrap their marketing messages around.

Sport now accounts for nearly 40% of U.S. broadcast TV ad spending ($8.47 billion in ad sales for the big four networks.) While some say it’s sports viewership that’s been driving this infinitely resilient medium, there’s no denying that ours is also TV’s Golden Age of storytelling (witness Sunday’s Emmy nominations list). Recent landmark shows — my favorites being: Justified, Blacklist, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Game of Thrones, House of Cards — would make Dickens blush and put Hollywood movies to shame.

Meanwhile, televised news is white hot! The first Republican presidential debate in August made history for Fox News as the most-watched live broadcast in cable news history. The second Trump & Co. show last week scored nearly as well with an average of 22.9 million viewers, shattering CNN’s previous ratings records. And TV continues to lead US market share of advertising in 2015, with nearly 42% total spend, followed by internet with 28%, and newspaper ads with 15%.

The premise of Michael Wolff’s latest state-of-the-media manifesto, Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media in the Digital Age (Portfolio/Penguin), is one that has profound implications for both content creators and the advertising industry. Wolff’s contrarian conclusion — that “the Web, social media, and various mobile platforms are not the new television. Television is the new television” — is something I’ve been espousing for years.

A decade ago I published Sisomo: The Future on Screen— a book about the glorious future of television in the screen age. “Si-so-mo” stands for sight, sound, motion. That’s still what we look for from our content. It’s my deeply-held belief that people need stories — whether they take the form of long-form narratives, news debates, or sporting events. Since the beginning of history, making sense of experience through narrative has been as instinctual a human need as seeking food, clothing, and shelter.

The ways in which we tell stories change — technology improves and platforms multiply — but what people need from stories hasn’t changed at all. If anything, competition from digital insurgents has forced broadcast and cable to up their game. As New York Times reporter Emily Steel wrote in January: “The demand for original scripted television series is white hot … Television executives could not remember a time when the competition for breakthrough concepts and creative talent was fiercer.”

Every year, telly is diagnosed as having a terminal disease. It doesn’t matter whether the thing that’s come to kill the business takes the form of cable TV, video on demand, social media platforms, or the latest streaming device. Great content is the business model. People will always be drawn to compelling stories. If you’ve got a great story to tell in a compelling way, you’ll have an audience—and revenue. And great content is not only addictive, it’s additive.

In a terrific interview with New York Magazine earlier this month, CBS chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves was asked about competition from a 500-channel cable world and a billion-channel Internet universe. “At the end of the day, this gives me comfort,” said Moonves, who for the past 20 years has led TV’s most-watched network. “There are more places doing original programming, but … it is still about who has the good programming.”

Using the moderately performing broadcast show Elementary as a case study, the CBS chief went on to explain how the different ways networks get paid for programming have dramatically changed. “Overnight ratings are virtually useless now,” Moonves said.

Once CBS adds C3 and C7 forms of Nielsen ratings [when TV ratings are measured three days and seven days after the show was first broadcast,] DVR ratings, SVOD [subscription video on demand,] cable, and international sales, the Sherlock Holmes series suddenly “becomes a remarkably successful show in our eyes.” Moonves’ point is that while TV still reigns supreme, it is no longer a stand-alone medium. Brands need fully integrated web, mobile and social programs to complement and even lead all television initiatives.

Content is king, but Marshall McLuhan said it best: “the medium is the message.” TV is not merely a content delivery system: it is a way of watching, a shared experience, a memory-making machine, a third parent, the voices in the room, a piece of household furniture as well as familiar content on your mobile device.

TV is YouTube programming and high-end period drama. It is part of the very fabric of our domestic lives. The big, bad [Michael] Wolff is right: Reports of television’s death have been greatly exaggerated. The TV antenna points one way — and it is up!

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Image source: Richard Wigglesworth