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Now That’s What I Call…Planning Books

I get the occasional email from grads keen to get into planning. Rather than telling them what I think (well, I can’t resist doing a bit of that), I usually point them in the direction of the books and blogs that have had the most impact on my understanding of people, brands and advertising.

If you’re new to Planning I’d start with ‘How Brands Grow’, ‘Truth, Lies & Advertising’ and ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’. If you’re not, read on and hopefully you’ll find something newish nestled alongside the Greatest Hits.

Marketing Fundamentals

How Brands Grow – Byron Sharp

This book has had more impact on my understanding of marketing and the way I approach my job than anything else. Before you start talking about planning or advertising, you first need to understand the fundamentals of marketing and consumer behaviour and what it is that really makes brands grow. This book draws on decades of empirical data to bust many common myths about loyalty, targeting, ‘engagement’ and persuasion. Dr Byron Sharp’s cynical tone also manages to make potentially dry subjects feel quasi-revolutionary. Essential.

Planning Fundamentals

A Master Class in Brand Planning – The Timeless Works of Stephen King

No, not the Stephen King that ruined clowns for a generation of children. This Stephen King was one of the founding fathers of Planning, introducing the discipline to JWT in the 1960s. An essential look back at where planning came from, outlining the fundamental principles and advice that is still as relevant today as it was. Intros from today’s heavy hitters keep things feeling contemporary.

Truth, Lies & Advertising: The Art of Account Planning – Jon Steel

If Stephen King laid the foundation, Jon Steel is the one who showed many aspiring Planners how these principals should be applied in a real world setting. Steel manages to make topics as seemingly dry as research, creative briefing and copy testing entertaining, using famous campaign examples such as ‘Got Milk?’. Don’t be put off by the rather dated cover. Essential.

Creative Effectiveness & How Advertising Works

Exploding The Message Myth – Paul Feldwick

An article rather than a book, the good news is this one is free to access on the Thinkbox website. This is the best analysis I’ve read of how advertising actually works, and how our understanding of advertising has evolved over the last century or so. Feldwick questions a lot of conventional wisdom on the subject, reinforcing the importance of context and emotion above rational persuasion. Famous examples like the PG Tips Chimps and Rowan Aktinson’s Barclaycard classic ads bring things to life.

Marketing In The Era of Accountability – Les Binet & Peter Field

Along with Paul Feldwick, Binet & Field have been very influential on my understanding of advertising effectiveness and are a must-read for anyone working in the industry. The pair analysed nearly 1,000 effectiveness case studies from the IPA databank to prove a clear link between creativity and effectiveness and the power of emotionally-driven ‘fame’ campaigns above rational, message-driven advertising. This video on the Thinkbox website offers a good taster if you don’t want to shell out a hundred-odd quid for the book.

The Long And Short Of It – Les Binet & Peter Field

A recent update to the IPA databank analysis found in ‘Marketing In The Era of Accountability’, this time with more of a focus on the difference between short and long term effects of advertising. A wake-up call to those obsessing over big data and ‘real-time’ marketing, this analysis shows the importance of taking a longer term view and the enduring role of ‘fame’ media like TV. I wrote more about this here. Again, if you can’t get your boss to pay for the book, check out the free Thinkbox video instead.

Approaches to Planning

Eating The Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders – Adam Morgan

An analysis of what made challengers like Avis, Absolut and Swatch successful. Not just for people working on challenger brands – rather an inspiration to think and behave differently from the competition.

Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies To Build Breakthrough Brands – Douglas Holt & Douglas Cameron

The central point is that brand success has more to do with perception and cultural context than functional product innovation (what they call ‘better mousetraps’) or redefining the category (so-called ‘blue ocean strategy’). While some of the examples might feel a little post-rationalised, on the whole it’s a thought provoking book that chimes with a lot of the creative effectiveness stuff above. I wrote more about ‘Cultural Strategy’ here.

Good/Bad Strategy: The Difference & Why It Matters – Richard Rumelt

The focus here isn’t marketing or advertising, rather how to approach strategic thinking generally. Former NASA-engineer turned business strategy guru Richard Rumelt highlights some of the typical mistakes people make when trying to develop strategy and offers some good pointers and examples on how to put things right. His cutting tone and refreshing disregard for the usual business bullshit keeps things interesting.

 Psychology & Behavioural Economics

Thinking, Fast & Slow – Daniel Kahneman

Along with ‘How Brands Grow’, this provides the scientific foundation for effective advertising. Kahneman was the first psychologist to win the Nobel Prize for Economics and this book draws on a lifetime of research in behavioural economics. It explains how, while we like to think of ourselves as rational beings, in fact much of our decision making is emotionally driven and prone to relying on heuristics and bias. It might not be beach reading, but interesting from both a personal and professional point of view. Essential.

Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature – Mark Earls 

While I don’t necessarily agree with all the ideas in the book (namely the suggestion that all brands need to become ‘passion brands’), the central premise at the heart of ‘Herd’ is sound. Mark Earls argues that ‘social proof’, or the people around us are the primary influence on how we behave. That might not sound like news, but the book raises some major question marks over marketers’ obsession with one-to-one marketing and data-driven personalisation.

China

What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China’s Modern Consumer – Tom Doctoroff

I read this when I first moved from Sydney to Hong Kong. Tom Doctoroff has been running JWT in China for over a decade and while I’m sure some people will argue that China is too big and diverse to make these sort of generalisations, I found this a helpful introduction to doing business in the region. The observations and anecdotes are probably more interesting than the marketing recommendations though, which can seem a little prosaic.

Hope you enjoy some of the above – let me know what you think?

The real Mad Men Christmas party: pretty dull actually

Droga 5’s recent full page ad in The Australian confirmed what we all already knew. Despite telling everyone who’ll listen that ‘the old agency model is broken’, most people in advertising still prefer the idea of a Sterling Cooper-style long lunch to a four-hour workshop on cross-media integration.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. Except that according to the BBC’s Adam Curtis, the reality of sixties adland was actually a bit less glamorous than Don Draper and co would lead us to believe.


Spot the difference

On his blog ‘The Medium and The Message’, Adam’s posted a fascinating, if slightly dreary, documentary about the 1969 Christmas party of London ad agency Davidson Pearce Berry and Tuck.

26 year old Media Director Allan Rich is pure gold – he puts an upper limit of ten minutes on festive socialising and shuns alcohol for a cheeky glass of bitter lemon.

Check out the video footage here.

[This post also appears on Amnesia Blog]

Stuck for Christmas gift ideas? How about some Scampi Fries?

Attempting to clear some of my Christmas shopping on Amazon, I noticed a rather curious new section under my personal recommendations – English Cuisine Bestsellers.

Currently sitting at number one is a family size consignment of Scampi Fries. It’s great that an artificially flavoured wheat-based snack has been recognised as a leader in the world of English cuisine. Other top sellers include Cheese Moments, catering packs of PG Tips and Buxton Still Water. Who’s buying this stuff?

[This post also appears on Amnesia Blog]

How to win friends without influencing people: a Facebook farce

When much of the internet seems dedicated to earnest posts detailing ’10 ways to double your blog traffic in five minutes’, it’s refreshing to hear an example of someone whose online popularity was completely accidental.

Gregory Levey’s article on The Nervous Breakdown (thanks to Big C for this) explains how he created a Facebook group to promote his book “Shut Up, I’m Talking”, a memoir about his time as a speechwriter for the Israeli government.

Levey saw his Facebook fans grow from about a hundred friends and family to over 750,000 – significantly more than better known authors such as JK Rowling (95,000) and Dan Brown (499,000).

The source of this new found popularity? Unfortunately for Levey, it wasn’t an explosion of interest in his book. Rather, it was his choice of title:

Even though the fan page shows the book’s cover and its synopsis, and informs visitors that it was published by Simon & Schuster, the vast majority of these supposed “fans” were somehow totally unaware that it was referring to a book at all. They had simply joined because they were fans of the phrase “Shut Up, I’m Talking.”

They were the sort of people, I soon discovered, who were also fans of such inane but popular Facebook fan pages as “Punching Things” and “I hate it when I get fingerprints all over my phone.” But each time one of them would become a fan of Shut Up, I’m Talking, their circle of Facebook friends would blindly do the same – causing its frighteningly viral spread.

If Levey were to message his 750,000 fans via Facebook, he’d surely pick up some extra sales. However, given that few expressed any interest in middle eastern politics, his conversion rate would probably be fairly low.

Levey’s experience is a great example of how, contrary to the claims of viral agencies and e-book peddlers, building a following can be a pretty unpredictable affair. Furthermore, a successful online community has more to do with quality than quantity.

On the plus side, the popularity of Levey’s Facebook group highlights how readily people identify with an insight that rings true – however trivial it might seem. In fact, maybe we’re all missing a trick – sounds like the smart money’s in fingerprint-resistant mobile phone covers…

Seagull Vs chip – Google Street View’s accidental heroes

If you live in the UK you may have already seen this, but I thought it was too good to ignore…

Last week I stumbled across this superb Google Street View image capturing an audacious seagull making a quick getaway after stealing a chip in John Street, Brighton.

As a former Brighton resident, I think it provides a great insight into what it’s like to live there. If you were to scroll round to the right you’d notice that the theft occurred right outside Brighton Police Station – I assume the police were too busy dishing out ASBOs to intervene…

For more of Street View’s accidental heroes check out this collection from the Huffington Post.

UPDATE 14/05/2010: Interestingly Google (under pressure from Brighton & Hove City Council?) seem to have photoshopped out the offending seagull from StreetView, so I’ve replaced it with a screenshot.

Flavors.me – bringing together your content from across the web

UPDATE 18/12/09: Get your free Flavors.me invite code here:
Just go to flavors.me/signup and enter invite code ‘nextlevelideas’ to try it out for yourself.


In the spirit of seamless segues, I’m kicking off the new blog design by mentioning a forthcoming social media enterprise that is also all about the content – Flavors.me.

Currently in beta, Flavors.me is a surprisingly simple way to create a homepage bringing together all the stuff you’ve created on blogs and social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm etc.

The Flavors.me page of co-founder David Marcus
The Flavors.me page of co-founder David Marcus

Other than the Americanised spelling, what stands out about Flavors.me is its Apple-inspired design philosophy. The antithesis of MySpace, its strict but stylish templates ensure a consistent look and feel and keep the emphasis firmly on showcasing content from elsewhere. While sites like FriendFeed have covered similar ground, flavors has a greater emphasis on creating a personal web presence than simply aggregating feeds.

Does anyone really need yet another social media presence? Maybe not. But if you’re looking to create a simple homepage or microsite that easily integrates Twitter, Flickr etc, Flavors.me is worth checking out.

See what flavors dragged up on me.

Redesigning the blog around the content

Like many people with a blog, I don’t update it as much as I’d like.

Recently I’ve been trying to convince myself that this was not a result of my own laziness. Rather, I concluded that my previous image-led, magazine-style design was better suited to long-form articles than short posts and links. Predictably, this realisation resulted not in hard-hitting features but deliberation and inactivity.

The old site
The old site

The obvious conclusion was to go back to basics and redesign the blog. So here it is, hopefully with the help of Thesis, unmissable regular content will become the norm.

Half Naked Kangaroo Hero: Is Bonds on the PR offensive?

The Sydney Morning Herald cemented its reputation for hard-hitting reportage on Tuesday with the story of the ‘Ninja’ Kangaroo who was wrestled out of a Canberra home by a man in his undies.

What caught my attention was the final few lines of the piece, which manages to namecheck Bonds’ undies twice.

Given the backlash resulting from its parent company’s decision to cut nearly 2,000 Australian jobs and move manufacturing offshore, this publicity couldn’t have come at a better time for Bonds…