October 2017

Without intending to, I wrote a three-parter on the current state of uselessness of brands on social media. I took umbrage at: Brands using memes Brands 'hijacking the conversation' Brands masturbating with product shots   These are lazy strategies. They are easily copy and pasted (and often are), lack insight and usually lead to work that is generic and uninspired. Unfortunately, they often work. At least in the short term, in so much as bullshit metrics like Engagement Rate. If you do the above, it will get you a handful more likes. Even a lift in ad recall. But this is not how you win. (In same cases it may even do harm.) This is what happens when you give the kids a seat at the grown up's table. (I know, I'm one of them.) In the past it didn't matter because social and content had little impact. You'd joke saying it was a good job for the intern. But now, rightly or wrongly, brands are investing more time, effort and spend. Suddenly this activity is being seen and heard, with scale. Yet it's still the same unexperienced marketers behind the wheel. They're just not driving go karts anymore. Michale Goldstein compares it to fishing with a line or fishing with a net. To bastardise his analogy, line fishing has an immediate return but it's one fish at a time. Net fishing is a long game, with no quick wins or visible short term result. But they haul more fish eventually. And have the infrastructure to keep hauling every year. Brands on social have forgotten how to fish with their net. Peter Field has proven brand building drives long term growth. And everyone's favourite marketing academic Byron Sharp says "Most of your sales this year come from work that was done in the previous twenty." Do we honestly believe the Bachelor reference you tweeted last week is going to impact your customers' buying behaviour in 2037? We need the grown ups back. The ones who have been around long enough to understand how to build brands and think long term....

Today Pigs Don't Fly turns 10. From the very beginning it was naive and too often arrogant. But my early writing is a good reminder to voice a opinion, especially when it's controversial. And don't do too much self censoring - it's okay to piss people off occasionally (especially when you're right). I certainly write far less than I used to. In 2008 I wrote 153 posts (most of which were rubbish). In the last twelve months I published 15 (still mostly rubbish). What started as a side project at university quickly sparked an interest in writing. It became somewhere to explore digital marketing, and later brand, communications and entrepreneurship. It got me a foot in the door to advertising and helped build my personal brand, for want of a better term. In many ways it's come full circle, back to being a side project. In 2009 I did 45k pageviews, this year I'd be lucky to reach 10k. The once-thriving Australian marketing blog scene is largely dead. If I was smart I'd probably be publishing on LinkedIn or Medium. And I'd definitely have migrated from Blogger to Wordpress (which has been on the To Do list for about eight years). Most recently, Pigs Don't Fly has become the banner under which I freelance. We (read "I") just had our first project signed off that requires people other than me. I guess it's an agency now? Above all, it remains a place to think out loud, collect my thoughts and occasionally write something people read. Thanks for being one of them....

Product shots have became a default strategy on social media. Especially for brands in FMCG, alcohol and retail. And it's a sign we've hit rock bottom. We've regressed into the lowest cost, lowest common denominator approach to social. We've forgotten comms need a strategy and an idea. And how to think long term. Somewhere, somehow, we convinced ourselves flatlays would create meaningful business impact. I mean, you wouldn't even use a product shot in old school media without a price point. But I guess if you animate it as a boomerang that makes it better. Not to say there's not a role for them. Product shots might be the reinforcement a person needs to convert further down the funnel in your content marketing engine. But you're not going to change behaviour with just a well-lit cinemagraph. Even worse is the approach of reposting user-generated content. Usually as a product in some punter's hand. No concept. No strategy. Not even some art direction. If you think anyone's being persuaded by this except marketers you're delusional. (Nothing against driving UGC. It leverages the real power of social - the network. It creates social norming and reach with advocacy. But that doesn't mean brands create value in broadcasting it.) And it's not just social publishing either. We pay "influencers" to take photos of our products. Even better if they're holding it! (Note the deliberate use of quotation marks. Read any number of articles on bots which generate fake interactions or the concept of an 'engagement pod'.) Or the epitome of modern advertising, paying six figures for your product to replace someone's head as a Snapchat lens. But if you open your mouth it animates so I guess there's that. It's usually the Strategist who wants to shoot the Creative or visa versa. But we've watered down social so heavily they probably both want to put guns to their head. How did we get here? Definitely a lack of experienced marketers and advertising folk making decisions. More on this in another post/rant. We're also lazy. You don't need an insight or a concept for a product shot. And the margin's healthier because of it. It's easy to get your hands on product and shoot something with decent production quality. Especially when most agencies look like converted warehouses. Fortunately within every problem is an opportunity. The very last brief I wrote before leaving my previous agency turned into a series of product porn piss-takes: Don't forget kids, product shots don't build brands. And you're not going to win the battle for attention without an idea....

Today is my last day at Cummins&Partners. I'm closing what has been an excellent chapter in my career. For five years I've worked on some outstanding brands and business problems. I got the opportunity to build and manage a content department. And I learnt from some of the best (and funnest) in the business. As of Monday, I'm a freelance digital thinker. The plan is to dust off a few side projects too and write a bit more. So if you need a problem solver who understands how brand, creativity and media engage consumers through technology - buy me a beer. I promise I'll make things much simpler than that last sentence....

When brands 'hijack the conversation'. Hijacking the conversation. Culture-jacking. Real time marketing. Whatever you call it, it's a social strategy too often abused by brands. As a strategy it's a first thought and generic. It's usually poorly executed, where quality is sacrificed for speed. Most importantly, it almost always forgets to build brands. As social media seems to regress in its creative sophistication, apparently now we're just doing things for the sake of it. Oreo is largely to blame. Their Dunk in the Dark post "won the Superbowl" in 2013 and has been thrown around content meetings ever since. Kristina Halvorson has a fantastic take down of the work, describing it as hitting "peak derp" in her excellently titled presentation Go Home Marketing, You're Drunk. I'm less critical but only for one specific reason - the work aligns to broader comms strategy. All case studies analysing the stunt (both positively and negatively) overlook how six months earlier Oreo ran their Daily Twist campaign - 100 days of 'real time content'. Their Superbowl activity wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision. It was a considered and deliberate approach to build relevance for their brand. They planned for it, which yes means they have the right people and processes in place, but more importantly they identified the role it plays strategically. Some brands do it even better. Specsavers have a brand platform built on it, which allowed them to capitalise on the mistake at the Oscars. Likewise Nando's have been doing cheeky takes on culture in print for years. Neither of these brands are fast for the sake of it - they understand the role it plays in growing or changing the perception of their brand. While it's fun to present strategies and setup processes for 'planned spontaneity', too many businesses overlook long term impact and relevance. A bit like those who post memes. (I should mention, for a much better articulation on the problem with real time marketing, read Jon Burkhart's chapter in Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief, which I saw while drafting this.)...

I bloody loved ABC's War on Waste. So much so I wrote 1,000 words on the potential impact of a petition to relax cosmetic standards on bananas. Apparently it wasn't enough. The show dives into a range of issues in sustainability - each one an insightful look at different strategies to change behaviour (or at least tries to). Here's four ways governments, business and individuals are attempting to influence our decisions and how we act: 1. Recycling Soft Plastics Did you know you can recycle soft plastics? Waste like glad wrap, bread bags and chip packets can be taken to most supermarkets and recycled along with your plastic shopping bags. The primary challenge here is awareness. As we see on the show a whole street of families change their behaviour once they become aware of the solution. My household did too after watching. Our industry tends to get caught up in whatever's trendy at that moment sometimes overlooking the simple answer - in this case: good old-fashioned awareness building. Particularly with so much data on our hands now, we're increasingly spending time looking at the conversion end of a funnel and not the top. Dare I say, to efficiently address this problem on scale with speed...

ABC's War on Waste is a fantastic series that explores how we're fucking up the environment. Once you get over your guilt, it prompts a lot of conversation on how we need to change to reduce our impact. It's even more interesting through the lens of behavioural economics. One of the show's major focuses is food wastage. Annually we throw away $8 billion of food, having produced enough to feed 60 million people (nearly two and half times our population). And it's a huge problem, not just in wasted resources for production but in disposal. When food rots in landfill with other organic matter it releases a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than the carbon dioxide from car exhaust. It's not just household behaviour to blame, in many cases food becomes waste before it leaves the farm. War on Waste hones in on bananas, our number one selling supermarket product with five million purchased daily. That's a lot of bananas. The banana grower highlighted in the show, the third largest in Australia, produces 1.4 million boxes a year. In some cases up to 40% can be put straight into landfill. Again, that's a lot of bananas. Why? It's not because they're bad. Our supermarkets have strict cosmetic standards on what is acceptable. Bananas can't be too long or too short. They can't be too fat or too thin. Too marked or too ugly. Craig Reucassel, the host of the show, gets particularly frustrated that one of type of straight banana can be thrown away because it's too bent, while another bent breed can be too straight. That's really fucking bananas. These, he points out, are arbitrary rules defined by the supermarkets. The supermarkets blame consumers (of course!). And while they make token efforts through initiatives such as Woolworth's Odd Bunch - they state it's consumer demand that drives decisions on what makes a banana too straight or too bent. Thankfully, a generation of slacktivists responded (I'm not actually that skeptical, it's a really good thing people give a shit). 136,000 supporters signed a petition announcing we don't care what size and shape our fresh food is. And those poor Community Managers running the Facebook pages for Woolworths and Coles have been flooded with messages. But I don't believe it's that simple. Or that people realise the potential consequences of their actions. Inspired by years of the Freakonomics podcast, I started thinking how this could actually play out. Sometimes we appear to be doing more good than we actually are. And in some cases we make it worse (see the Cobra Effect). Take the recent changes for first home buyers here in Australia. In an attempt to increase home affordability, the government has added incentives for people to buy their first property. But when you increase the market's buying power, demand goes up. And homes will be more expensive, not less. Humans are also really good at exploiting systems, which is why you'll often see properties sold for $600,001 - $1 over the threshold for stamp duty savings. This is why we need economist-thinking on what happens if Coles and Woolies relax their cosmetic standards. I'm by no means educated enough to think this out a loud, but sometimes that's what blogs are good for. If we relax our cosmetic standards for fruit, more bananas become available. Less bananas leave the farm for landfill and instead end up on supermarket shelves. But demand won't increase overnight. Australian's aren't suddenly going to start eating 40% more bananas. Allowing more bananas through the system will make farmers more efficient, but the supermarkets don't have a need for the surplus bananas. With 60% of the land and resources now supplying 100% of Australia's banana needs, it opens opportunities for farmers to diversify the remaining 40% into alternative production. Even if the land can be used for something else, it requires capital and knowledge. Not to mention the inefficiencies in managing two different products. I'm no farmer, but I imagine it's not simple to turn a banana plantation into an apple orchard. Instead, farmers will lose jobs (and likely farms). If the supermarkets only need six farms to supply them instead of ten, four go out of business. It's cheaper to deal with fewer suppliers. That's a tough outcome for a country who's been hearing about the struggling farmers for the past decade. But that's the free market and while we'll ultimately be better off, there's hardship to be had in the process. There is another factor: price. You learn in the first week of Economics 101 that an increase in supply lowers price. And there is some evidence to suggest bananas are quite elastic, meaning price movement impacts sales. 2006's Cyclone Larry saw almost 90% of Australia's banana supply wiped out, with prices up 500% leading consumers to seek fruit alternatives. But can a 40% demand gap be utilised by dropping the price a dollar per kilo? How many bananas can we eat? If it happened, it would be a great outcome - particularly if Aussies were to consume in favour of cheaper junk foods. Health, unfortunately, is not really the concern of supermarkets. The one place there is actually a supply shortage is feeding those in need. But based on the same episode of War on Waste the issue here is not in food donation - it's logistics and storage which are most problematic (and expensive). Ultimately if you remove what is essentially a tariff for something to become more efficient, it will be better for the market long term. But it means farmers might lose jobs. Of course, it's not really that straight forward. And I'm not nearly clever enough to talk about it as much I have - but I do wonder if 136,000 people who signed the petition thought about its impact....

The most effective content marketing strategies are also the most mundane. Often too in execution.Our approach to content nurtures leads through a conversion funnel based on their behaviour. Dry! And this might be executed through assets like articles that teach someone how to use the product. Yawn!It works, but wow it's boring compared to a big idea. Especially in an advertising agency.Content marketing also suffers through a lack of industry visibility. A consumer isn't exposed to content unless their behaviour indicates they are a potential lead. Most of the content engine sits beneath the water line. A bit like Facebook where the good stuff happens in dark posts, not on the wall for all audiences to see.There's little wastage as a result but it means marketers often don't see it out and about either.It also doesn't usually have a million views. Unlike, say, the viral marketing fad where everything you saw was popular (hint: you only saw it because it was popular), content marketing isn't a numbers game. We create things for very niche audiences, sometimes designed not to be seen by many. Through targeting it reaches few, but conversion is amazeballs.Because content marketing is boring, hidden and not trending - it's not sexy enough for trade press. Instead it ends up in long case studies full of tech stack jargon and media acronyms. More yawns!Unfortunately all of this makes it harder to sell. Even though it's more effective than viral marketing. So if you're doing content work that works, tell the industry about it. And if you have something that's not boring please share so I can stop putting people to sleep trying to fight the good fight....

Uber had a rough month in the media. A former female engineer exposed their culture of sexual harassment and Newsweek best highlights a dozen other problems with the company.Rationally, knowledge of these might be enough to impact one's use of the app. Much of their behaviour is really not cool.But I continue to ride with them. I can't really justify it, but Uber retains a high enough level of motivation and ease - the two factors you need to impact in behaviour change.That is, until this week. An Uber trip that was fine until I got out of the car, when the ride wasn't terminated by the driver. I realised five minutes later, took a screen shot and cancelled the trip (automatically paying the full fare as it was at the time I cancelled).A disappointing experience, but one that could be easily corrected when I sent Uber the screenshot.Sadly, more than a week and eight emails later, as well as several attempts on social media - I still have not been refunded that portion of the trip.Here's how a driver's mistake becomes an incompetent company cheating a customer.An infuriating loop of scripted responses quickly shows how poor their system is. Particularly when none address my actual problem, and are always condescendingly signed off with how much they appreciate the time I've taken.When I finally get through to a human, I'm told "the fare you were charged is within our estimate for the trip [...