Once you’ve developed a creative strategy, written a brief, got a concept and sold it in… there’s still plenty to be done. The next stage is a comms strategy – finding the best way to spread your idea to the right people through the right channels. More often than not, you do this with media.

And it’s rare these days to see a media plan which doesn’t include Facebook. Facebook’s revenue grew 62% in the US last year. Between them and Google, they receive 85 cents of every $1 in digital growth.

Which is problematic when it doesn’t work.

The above error message is what a client of mine saw the day they went to push a major campaign live. No context, no means to solve and no help anywhere online. Especially not on launch day.

This is a pretty standard level of service. Facebook are notorious for giving little support unless you spend big each month. If you do manage to track someone down, there’s usually nothing they can do except escalate, whatever that means. And conversations with online support yield little, to a point where you wonder if you’re talking to a bot.

In the end there was nothing to be done except for my client to wait it out. Six days later it was fixed. And the only reason they knew was because we were checking daily, not because we were notified.

That’s six days a client wasn’t able to be in market. Six days of opportunity missed and sunk production and resource costs.

With any other media owner, it would be completely unacceptable. You’d remove them from all future media plans. At the very least they’d work with you and your client to make the rectify the problem, or give bonus value. You’d definitely get a response to your emails.

More than ever media owners need to do everything they can to win and keep your media custom. (Although to be fair some of them are hopeless too. Last week I reached out to two sales reps for a client looking to spend $50k with each of them. Neither got back to me.)

The sad part is, despite the huge fuck up, Facebook’s monopoly means they’ll still be on the media plan next time. Probably with a 62% increase in budget.

Unfortunately I’m yet to see a brave media planner tell a client they’ve removed Facebook because it’s not in the industry’s best interest long term. And margins are so thin it’s in the agency’s best interest to avoid fragmentation anyway.

We’ve shifted an awful amount of spend and therefore power to Facebook and Google. And in doing so we’ve painted ourselves into the corner of a seller’s market. Which is very problematic, but no one seems too worried because we’re losing our ability to think long term.

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… we need television?

2. Banning Plastic Bags
One lever you can pull to influence behaviour is to remove barriers. Make something easier and they’re more likely to do it.

Or in the case of getting people to stop using plastic bags, add barriers and make it harder. That’s the focus of the Ban The Bag movement. Recognising that charging people for bags (in some states they’re no longer free) hasn’t had enough of an impact – to properly address this problem we need to go harder. The answer seems to be adding the biggest barrier of all: making plastic bags flat out illegal.

3. Killing Coffee Cups
Another tool for behaviour change is adding incentives. Coffee cups are a problem in Australia because their plastic lining can’t be recycled. As a result they end up in landfill. To address this, some cafes are leading the charge by offering discounts to customers who bring their own cup.

This issue has an interesting secondary problem too – people think coffee cups can go in the recycling bin, contaminating whole containers. Yet again another problem we can fix with awareness (although this one could be more tactical, with messages on bins or the cups themselves).

At work we’ve taken the barrier approach. Our coffees are ordered through an automated Facebook Chatbot (advertising, amirite!?). We’ve made it harder (actually, impossible) by removing the option for a paper cup from the system altogether. Problem solved.

4. Slowing Fast Fashion
Another issue highlighted in the show is the ‘fast fashion’ trend and the six thousand kilograms of clothes we toss away every ten minutes in Australia.

H&M and other retailers are doing their bit, offering vouchers for returned items to recycle and reuse them for those in need. But as host Craig Reucassel points out, this strategy really only makes things worse, incentivising fast fashion to be faster. No solution to this one yet.

Man it would be fun to write strategies for any of these problems.

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 […] as a result, the fare was not adjusted”. Their algorithm supersedes the fact a driver cost me a few dollars. When I question this, the loop of automated incompetence begins again.

It was not their sexist culture or deceptive arrogance that stopped me using Uber, but an awful customer experience. Over only a few dollars they lose a loyal customer.

While it’s fun to invest in activities that generates media buzz (like Uber bringing puppies to workplaces) you can’t overlook the importance of customer experience, which always trumps perception.

Anyone got a Lyft promo code? (Who interestingly are also using media stunts wrapped in activism to drive growth, although only after another blunder by Uber of course.)

I had a great idea.

Based on an old blog post, I intended to remove all unnecessary uses of the word “that” from Wikipedia.

I created an account called removesthat and got started. Using the random page feature I spent an hour finding dozens of inappropriate uses of “that” and deleted them.

He was dismayed to discover that his granddaughter did not know what coal was.


He was dismayed to discover his granddaughter did not know what coal was.

It makes the writing more concise and saves five bytes of bandwidth on every page load.

Once I’d done a few thousand I was going to write up the stunt and see if it could get some traction in PR. It was going to be a fun side project to kick off the year.

But less than an hour after my first edits, they were reverted:

I attempted to point out Mean as custard‘s arbitrary decision making and the irony of indiscriminately reverting all changes, but ultimately I ended up dealing with a troll. And you shouldn’t feed trolls. (Interestingly the Washington Post has covered this user before!)

I guess not every idea is a good one. All I got out of it was this crappy blog post!

I do not like junk mail.

Which is why I have a No Junk Mail sticker on my letterbox. It’s meant to stop catalogues and flyers, although is frequently ignored by businesses big and small. Last year I got six from one pizza shop who each time assured me it wouldn’t happen again. They always blame the distributors.

It’s difficult to find research on how many Australian households have these stickers, so I conducted my own with a sample of 500 properties. (Happy to admit this was not random, but based on the first 500 mailboxes I came across in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.)

30.4% had No Junk Mail signs.

I wondered, what would be the impact if the junk mail system was opt-in, instead of opt-out? As behavioural economist Dan Ariely tells us, the default option in a system has a significant impact on how we make decisions.

We see this most dramatically in organ donation around the world, where countries similar in culture, religion etc. have very different outcomes. The critical factor is opt-in versus opt-out.

The difference between opt-in and opt-out of organ donation.

A month later I measured how many had been removed and how many remained. 61.3% of the No Junk Mail stickers were still on the letterboxes.Applying this thinking, I conducted an experiment by printing 150 No Junk Mail stickers and placing them on letterboxes around the neighbourhood.

Imagine our junk mail system was opt-in instead of opt-out, where people would put a Junk Mail Please sticker on their letterbox if they wanted to receive catalogues. We’d shift from 30.4% of households not receiving junk mail to 73.6%.

The difference between No Junk Mail and Junk Mail Please systems.

The industry would more than halve over night. And so too would the landfill.And this doesn’t account for how much harder it would be to source a Junk Mail Please sticker than taking off one of my homemade ones. Nor does it account for the social norming which would shift perceptions once it had a majority.

Of course, the marketer in me knows the channel is an effective one. Retailers invest in catalogues because they work. I have a client whose most successful marketing activity to date was a fridge magnet drop.

Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind seeing the end of junk mail though!

Kittens (or memes) aren’t a social media strategy.

Our Global Chief Strategy Officer says “Everything communicates.”

Not just your communications. Your product, your customer service, your price point. The perception of a brand is informed through experience, not just ads.

Your social media strategy communicates too. Obviously the content itself, but so too does the way you approach the channel, where you invest your time and money. Everything communicates.

And these days social isn’t a single line item on the bottom of a media plan. Bigger budgets every year support the channel which is long over due – too many brands over invest in production relative to distribution.

As the channel matures, so too must our approach. Unfortunately brands still think the answer is memes – attempts to ‘hijack the conversion’ with reactive content. Now, armed with a media budget, they have reach.

In two days I’ve seen half a dozen attempts by local brands to jump on the salt bae and jacketgate memes (don’t worry, I had to look them up as well). And there’s more every day.

Please, stop doing it. Far more often than not:

  1. It’s too niche or early for people to have context (so much wastage)
  2. It’s off brand (and it’s not distinctive if everyone is doing it)
  3. It’s off strategy (if you even have one)
  4. You don’t own the image/video rights or talent usage (ask your legal team)
  5. It’s lame (especially when you PR it in trade press)

No doubt it’s more engaging than the shitty content you put out every other day. But if you wanted to be popular, you’d just post photos of kittens.

Just because it’s getting lots of likes doesn’t mean it’s working.