Myth Busting #4

Not sure if this is really a myth, it’s more of something I hear way too often. That people are more stupid than they used to be. Bullshit!

I can see how tempting it is to say that but older generation have always been disparaging about the younger ones.  It’s pretty much a rite to passage I think. You’ll eventually find yourself saying “God people are stupid today!” or “Kids today!” etc. Well, they’re not stupider/ I’ll grant you that they’re frustrating sometimes.

Much of this evidence comes from The Flynn Effect named after none other than James Flynn who is essentially a moral philosopher who gives the TED talk in the above clip.

What is interesting is how exactly we are smarter than past generation.  We are smarter in the sense of general knowledge and fundamentals like maths, english and science.  Daniel Dennett notes that if you ask someone a question today you are more likely to get a scientific answer than past generation would have given.

Which reminds me of the idea that in the future everyone will understand complex ideas like E=mc(squared) and probably know the short cut of how to do the proper square symbol too. In the say way many people know Newton’s three laws of motion. or at least the 3rd one – ‘for every action there is an equal an opposite reaction.’

We’re also better today at dealing with logic and hypothetical abstractions or what you might call thought experiments.  We are more philosophical than pragmatic when compared to older generations. Is that a good thing? Hard to tell isn’t it? Lots of navel gazing seems to occur these days if you ask me. Hs that lead current generation to be very risk-averse, verging on dull?

The area we have become less advanced in some way Flynn notes is the political arena and the understanding of  history. So we lack moral reasoning based on political and or historical understanding of situations. I wonder if this will be corrected in some way or will continue to deteriorate?

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Myth Busting #3

This is one of my favourites bit of bunkum. I particular like it because an amateur took down the establishment.

And that establishment was American new-age psychology and if ever there was a world of bullshit that is it.  This post is a precis of the Guardian’s article on the matter here.

The myth was that to flourish as a person, be happy to you and me, rather than languish, be sad to you and me – there is a magic ratio of happy or positive thought to negative or sad ones.

No shit Sherlock you might think.  Are ‘they’ saying that you are happier when you have happy thoughts?  You are sad when you have sad thoughts?  Pretty good those psychologists aren’t they? Seneca would turn in his ancient grave – the way you think about an event determines how you feel about that event. Keep up psychologists!

What was far worse that the truism was that the psychologists behind it got the ratio down to 4 decimal places.   Barbara Fredrickson and Marcial Losada paper entitled Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing, stated that one should have 2.9013 positive thought to 1 negative one.

Of course it became known as the 3 to 1 rule and often drifted in to sales training manuals including Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. In fact it has been cited in 350 academic journals and rarely had it been questioned. And formed the basis of many a self-help book.

Then up steps a 53 British amateur psychologist Nick Brown. He’s ex IT and taking a post grad course in psychology in East London (boredom no doubt) and he sits through the lecture on the 3 to 1 rule and thinks errr… I can smell something.. I smell bullshit.

Brown had a hunch that many psychologist would not be great at maths, most aren’t even all that good at psychology and their must be some complex maths behind this idea, four decimal places and all that.   Although Brown didn’t really rate himself at maths, despite having a degree in Engineering and Computer Science from Cambridge.

He picked through the maths and found that it contained no data it was simply self-referential. Stay with me. He struggled (who wouldn’t) with some of the maths so sent his thinking on this matter via e-mail to a larger brained person called Sokal. His biog is worth reading.He’s a bit of a bullshit spotter and hoaxer himself.

Anyway eventually Sokal looked at Brown’s e-mail on the 3-1 theory and the maths behind it and in 10 seconds smelt the same aroma Nick had.

Over time the pair worked on a paper dismissing the evidence of the 3-1 theory and after some issues getting it published because this theory was such a big deal to the Positive Thinking brigade led by psychologist like Martin Seligman President of the American Psychologist Association.

So there you have there is no magic ratio of positive to negative thought that determine whether you will ‘flourish’ as a person or not.  So don’t beat yourself up – some days we is happy other we is not. Worrying about happiness I think is pretty futile anyway. I agree with John Stuart Mill who said “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

Happiness is a by-product not a goal.

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Myth Busting #2


This is one of my favourite myths, trainers and the like often like to talk about how important tone of voice and body language is.  And to prove their point they drag poor old Albert Mehrabian into to do their heavy lifting.

Lots of current myths that enter marketing agencies are backed up by the bastardising of a quality piece of work. Its they rise of scienticism in some form or another.

And we are all susceptible to them but to my mind being gullible to people trying to fox you isn’t the end of the world.  In fact it’s the most forgivable of traits in my book. So if you’ve been tricked just shrug it of, don’t cling to it, simply move on. We all believe things that aren’t true that’s just the way it is.

Anyway back to the myth – it originates from Albert’s book written in 1971 called Silent Messaging and it is all about non verbal communications.  How much of communication is determined by tone of voice and body language?

The part of the analysis that is seized on is that in certain situations non verbal communication is the most important part by miles and Albert wrote the split as 55% / 38% / 7% = body language / tone of voice / actual words.

Now this is where we have to tread a tad carefully and the video by creative works above does go a tad far to prove its point. Because there is value on non vernal communications but the ratio split will vary widely depending on so many factors like do you know the person and the emotional volatility of the situation.  Which is why Joe Navarro who is often considered the world authority on reading body language was so successful. He was interviewing people (spies) in very stressful situations on behalf of the FBI. And so in many of these situation non verbal comms were more telling than verbal comms. And who’d argue with Joe? Don’t lie now!

It is the volatility or emotional pressure that someone is under that will often determine how important the non verbal cues are.  They are always some what of a factor but when the body langauge is in conflict with the words than this is the only time that non verbal communication trumps the verbal by miles. The classic I asked him if he still loved me and he said “yes” but his body and tone said “meh”.

That’s the Mehrabian message:  we get most of our clues of the emotional intent behind people’s words from non-verbal sources.  And when the two are in conflict, we believe the non-verbal every time.

But much of our everyday communication is with words so we have to remember content as well as style when presenting for example and of course we can cope perfectly well without non verbal when we read blogs for example.

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Myth Busting # 1

So there you have it, you can fold a piece of paper more than 7 times. Err brilliant.

I am starting a new series of blog posts because there are some many annoying myths circulating our business these days or BS as I like to call it.

I’m going to pretty much plagiarise others hard work to be fair that debunk some of these myths. My goal is to make you worry a little bit less about not being a neuroscientist, psychologist or mind reader – which it feels like are the required qualification to work in advertising, marketing or new business these days.

I am going to cover the work by Albert Mehrabian which is  often interpreted as 7%-38%-55% Rule, for the relative impact of words, tone of voice, and body language when speaking.  

Also the myth that to be happy you need to have a certain ratio of positive thoughts to negative ones if your ratio was greater than 2.9013 positive emotions to 1 negative emotion you were flourishing in life. If your ratio was less than that number you were languishing. Often referred to as the 3 to 1 ration.  

I’ll have a little poke at left side and right side brain thinking. One side of the brain is creative and the other side is logical bunkum.

I am sure I will find plenty more along the way. There is neuro-bollocks everywhere these days and their dubious findings seem to have upgraded from trickling into agency life to pouring in.

Myth #1 – VAK learning styles.

I am going to start with Visual, Audio and Kinesthetic (VAK) learning styles.  This is the idea that people have learning and communication styles and they learn quicker or take in information if they are taught or talked to in they chosen communications style.

As you’d expect Visual style is learning by seeing information, Auditory is hearing information and Kinesthetic is feeling. This is often short-handed in sales training langauge to listening for the prospects language i.e. is it V, A or K, e.g do they say ‘I see what you mean’ or “I hear what you’re saying or “I have a feeling you may be right.’  Once you have established they leaning style, V, A or K you should stick with speaking in those metaphors for example or showing work if they are auditory. And more to the point one communication or learning style will not work for others. It’s as if they can’t hear you if you use the wrong style.

Anyway it’s a myth, its BS,  or at least there is no evidence that this is true yet an outstanding 82% of teachers in some studies believe it to be true.  Here is a serious paper on the subject by Paher, Mc Daniel, Rohrer and Bjork. And an easier one here  and for those of you that are visual learners here is a youtube clip of Dr Daniel Willingham, see what I did there?

So let’s stop with this nonsense – do you hear me ?

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A headless chicken wearing rose tinted spectacles


New business programmes can be destabilising for agencies.  Quite often new business programmes are put into action because a client has been lost, targets have not been hit and someone upstairs is not best pleased or perhaps it is your personal bank account that is getting upset and tired.

Agencies chose different methods to go about new business and this is where I believe many agencies make bad choices that will cost them money, time and destabilise their agency system.

A system in short is the relationship between all the parts of the agency and the written and un-written rules of the people in that culture that keep the agency working in the same way it always has done. What system thinkers would call homeostasis.

Systems often try to get back to homeostasis when they are altered, challenged or changed in some way.  In short systems and the people in them often prefer to stay dysfunctional or not behaving optimally than change the system, similar to cognitive dissonance. We are all a bit dysfunctional, don’t you know.

I believe that some unlikely aspects of new business programmes  are more destabilising than others. That doesn’t mean they shouldnt be done or they don’t work. It means that you need to go into them with your eyes open.  If you are to employ someone to start prospecting for example by phone, DM and e-mail whilst dealing with incoming RFIs you need to be aware of a few things.

You are going to have to get a few things in line first – like your website, your blog, creds and so on. So you are most likely going to need some time from the creatives for example. Not to mention meeting after meeting talking about the agency positioning, elevator pitches and the like. I’ve seen this topic drag on for 2 years.

Then you may need a data base / CRM system and data, right? So thinking you will short cut the process by just employing one person is far from the truth. The system will be affected much more than that.  And you can’t start the process until collateral etc are in place. However, many do start without it with the old ‘we’ll get you that stuff asap, just crack on’. If ever there was a set-up to failure that is it.

Then once your prospector / new business person is in place (that a few people in the agency had to take time out to find whether it was via a recruitment agency or a selection process of  lead generation agency) and of course contracts had to be checked and altered by HR and POs raised with accounts and so.  All this before we even start!  The system is pulled in all directions and people have already began to neglect their duties to clients.  Let’s hope it’s worthwhile aye!

The prospecting begins in earnest, working through the data base, sniffing out the mythical low hanging fruit and easy meeting takers.  Status meetings are held to discuss what is and what isn’t working, taking more people away from their client duties and what have you.

Eventually meetings are set. And so the agency now needs to get time from the suits be it the new business director , CSD or MD to attend them, maybe two people go.  Then when they return from said meetings they may then go into ‘we need a proposal or a presentation‘ mode,  which then takes more time from creatives and or planners etc. Perhaps there is a standard one that can be rehashed to suit the purpose? That will work , won’t it?

And who knows eventually there is brief or a pitch. How much does a pitch cost and how many people in the system will get pulled in for that – and what if you are in dreaded columns C or D rather than A or B.  Column A typically consists of the incumbent and the favoured agency – either a referral or the agency bought with the in-coming Marketing Director or the hot agency of the moment and they share a 85% win rate in my experience. So C & D share 15%, so 7.5% each – so a long shot at best.  All that time and money pulling the system hither and tither to win 1 in 12 times. Can you face doing that 12 times?

Cold leads generated by e-mail and DM close roughly 1 in 12 although you’ll soon add up those hours and distractions. And as people get pulled out of their client roles to aid new business so client servicing attention can slip and the situation can get worse rather than better. So it doesn’t take long for people to want to return to old ways and drop the programme and return to homeostasis. “We’d rather have no new business than go through that regularly.” My point is not that you shouldn’t start – it is to take a long-term commitment to changing the system and making sure the system has enough slack in it to give the new business programme a chance.

So what new business programmes can be put in place that is less stabilising and has a higher chance of winning new clients. Well referrals of course.

If everyone in the system was trained to ask for referrals which close 50 – 85% of the time no big changes need take place.  The system functions as normal just with people with more skills – i.e. knowing how to comfortably ask for referrals.  In fact if anything the system improves because your ability to ask for referrals and receive them is dependent on doing good work. What is good work? Well of course we all know that but if we client service in an organised and systematic way we get to know what is and what isn’t according to the client.

Here is the article I wrote last year for the IPA on how agencies can client service their way to referrals and easier new business wins.

Then add to those the trained skills to win business without a pitch (that are getting noticeably more common these days) the system barely shudders to win a piece of new business.  If you don’t have those skills which will help the agency deal with staying functional then you may end up losing to your competitors who do – while you are running around like a headless chicken wearing rose-tinted spectacles.

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In defence of reason.

This is brilliant – Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in conversation with her husband Stephen Pinker on the power of reason. And why moral reasoning has been so successful at moving humanity in a forward direction and I believe will continue to do so.

This is interesting to me because advertising often fails to grasp reason today. Instead it seeks to appeal solely to our emotions. Advertising commentators and the like often tell us that people are emotionally driven and without reason and seem particularly keen to suggest that this is proven by neuroscientists.

It is as if nobody was aware that people had emotions until we were able to put people’s heads in fMRI scanners. Plato way back understood that people were both emotional and rational. As did his pupil Aristotle who believed that in discourse the most persuasive argument would contain, ethos (credibility), pathos (emotions) and logos (logic) and he knew nothing of fMRI scanning.

The idea that we are moved emotionally to make decisions is as old as the hills. We didn’t need neuroscience for this. And as Rebecca remarks “I am all for empathy, who isn’t. But on its own it’s a feeble instrument for making moral progress.”

The question to be asked do we make good decisions emotionally. There is no easy answer to that. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. I am sure everyone has made a bad decision due their emotional state or ego.  I am sure everyone has made a good decision instinctively which is often cited as a kin to an emotional one.

I am sure everyone has thought through a decision and in analysis paralysis watched the terrible outcome ensue.  And we have all thought through a problem to great effect at some time or another.

My strange and maybe rather lofty question is – Would the world (yes the world) be a better place if resource allocation and policy was based on reasoning or emotional decision making? Sometimes we see how funds are allocated to causes that we feel empathetic towards where in fact the funds are ore needed elsewhere in causes that we maybe not feel so empathetic about.

I have seen article where we are more likely to give to animals than people and more likely to give to people who suffer from certain disease over others and so on.  Paul Bloom wrote an amazing article on this for the New Yorker last year and the story about  the charitable  giving of others to the resident of Sandy Hook after the massacre there is fascinating.

I think you can see this advertising and marketing where budgets are piled in to the latest trend or craze see here rather than thought through or in the agency selection process where today an over-weighting is given to chemistry say over talent or quality of working processes.

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The Relationship is king. King annoying.

What is ‘the relationship’? Why do people use the phrase so tediously often? As tediously often as those articles that tell us it is all about people, lest we forget.  “Don’t forget it is all about people at the end of the day Jim.”

“Okay I won’t. Err thanks for the great tip. I’m sure it’s gonna be a big help to me.”

I bet it is the same people, that when challenged on their ideas, say ‘it’s complicated’.  You know the ones – you have a little friendly debate and someone pipes up with “yeah but the world’s a complicated place, Jim.’ Thank heavens they were there, else I’d have never known.

I think we can do better than this.

The world of advertising seems to be convinced that the relationship is the most important thing today in business. More than creativity? More than talent? More than money?

Today it is said that ‘it’ is all about the relationship. So much so people repeat it over and over, and pluralise it – if you remember one thing Jim remember –  relationships, relationships, relationships.

Both parties (clients and agencies) are demanding that relationships get better and that both parties are committed to working harder at their relationships.

But what is it?

Let start at the beginning. Clients hire agencies, which means paying them money for their services, right?

In return the agency creates some advertising.

The reason for this is because of a long-held belief that advertising helps brands sell more stuff, get more revenues and profits. It’s business as usual right?

So the relationship at a very basic level is a business one. I need your skills and I’ll pay for ‘em. I can’t do these things myself else I would have.

Sure I’ll interfere a lot and give you the full breadth of my understanding of design, (wouldn’t that  look better in yellow etc) whilst you do the hard stuff but essentially the clients wants what the agencies have.

So when I see in trade press a call for better relationships. Be it for them to be more transparent, open, honest and so on, do they actually mean they want better business relationships?  Does the agency wants to be paid more or the client want to pay less. Or is this a call for people being nicer and more pleasant to be around?

Or is it that the client wants or expected their advertising to work better i.e. have a higher ROI.  Or does the agency feel ripped off when their advertising results in a higher ROI than their normal stuff?

My point is that relationships are really about cause and effect. If you want something to change you need to identify what is most likely to do that. Once you can work out what causes what – you then know what is what.

It is all very good asking for transparency and honest and trust. But what the relationship really needs is quality advertising that works over time. If you could change one thing in the relationship shouldn’t it be – get me ‘better advertising’?

You have to change something in the relationship ‘a cause’ – it doesn’t make sense to say lets change the relationship does it? As the relationship is a way of describing cause and effect.

Once we know what we want – better advertising – we can they start to talk about who makes better advertising and how they do.

The relationship between advertising and agencies and client is still at its heart I believe a business relationship.

And so it should be too. Too much time and effort today is put on softer skills in new business of being able to shake hands well, how to dress, how to sit, how to nod, how to fake sincerity etc.  Where as the real skill is to be challenging and understanding the business goals of brands and why they aren’t achieving those goals..

At least I thought. Until I recently realised that clients are looking for some of these softer skills too which is why agencies attempt to enhance them so much. If clients think the problem is lack of soft skills and agencies can provide them, why not? Cheaper I am sure and probably easier to train. Nod, nod, yes, yes, pass the teas and so on.

So is it any wonder that most advertising sucks. It is because the buyers and the sellers are more concerned about their personal relationships rather than business ones and so agencies and clients don’t seek to find out cause and effect and what makes better advertising but instead what makes buyers and sellers get on better – which is good manners in short. We made a shit ad but everyone got on famously.

The strange thing is people will get fired for making that shit ad but the press release will say the relationship failed, which it kind of did. But it is the business side of the relationship which really failed because it was distracted by the call to politeness.

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Ever had a duck as a prospect?

Ever had a duck as a prospect?

We sell X.
Oh we want Y.
Okay, shame, bye.
Couldn’t you do Y for us this once?
No not really, no.
Oh please, it will only take you 5 minutes
Okay then just this once.
Humm… we don’t like Y could we have X now?

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Oh how times have changed. Merry Christmas.

I thought I’d share some Christmas TV commercials from ages ago.
Oh how times have changed.  Enjoy your Christmas whatever you choose to do.

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Do Marketers buy Playboy burgers?

Yesterday I was kindly taken out for lunch. We went for burgers.  A gourmet burger from Byron Burgers,  I expect you’ve been. It’s a tasty burger and the service is great.

The growth of US style food joints is of the recent trends that actually pleases me, against the flow of eating healthy. About time you could get a decent burger in the UK , where you can actually state how you’d like the burger cooked. If you can’t get it done medium rare why bother. Seriously why? And with a beer at hand is a must too.

It got me thinking on the way home about where are the best burgers to be found, who makes them and how much they cost? In fact it’s something I consider a lot.  The search for the best cheeseburger continues and I am not alone.

There are quite a few blogs dedicated to advise you on your search. See Burger Addict here, Young and Foodish with their Burger Monday here, Burger me here and Shortlist here.

What’s noticeable from these lists is who is not on there? No prizes for guessing.

So I began to think about the cheapest burgers in town and who makes them and what they are like compared to the best ones (according to these blogs and my experience) and who makes them.  And is there a comparison with agencies?

The best burger in London is often claimed to be a Lucky Chip burger or a Bear burger. You can buy the former in a burger van in a pub car park in E2 here, or the Bear burger found here in a food stall nr Old Street some days and others else where.  You have to check their twitter to be in the know, in fact the man behind them Tom, flips around and has great trade where ever.

So what is procurement and marketing heads looking for in burger terms, a gourmet £6.50 – £1o one? Or a Mc D’s cheeseburger at 89p or  £3.79 Big Mac? And which are they buying? Maybe they want the gourmet one at the cheaper price.

Is there a site where you can truly compare people’s experience with agencies? Do procurement solely buy on price?  Is the quality analogy even fair?

There are anomalies here and one that suits the advertising world better, because in fact brands appoint agencies that don’t deliver.  We know this because of the poorest record in history for retention see my article here.   Someone must be hiring badly right?

Else why the hire and fire every 2 years 6 months? But they are not hiring cheap necessarily.  It’s not like they are buying the cheapest burger and suffering the consequences, it maybe worse than that.

Enter Playboy’s Hef  burger at £40 before toppings, it could fetch £45 , you know after more post production, adapts and research, sorry I mean cheese, bacon or avocado. See the review here from probably the best food blogger around Cheese and Biscuits, he wrote –  “Now, I hardly need to say, the Hef burger is not the greatest burger in the world. It’s probably not even the best burger at the Playboy club. ” (1/10)  Just for comparison the same reviewer on Lucky Chip was 8/10 review here

Okay, so you get bragging rights that you had a burger at Hef’s place but at £40 plus,  you have paid circa 5 times more than the best burgers in town.  Is this merely speculation, I am not convinced it is, are you?.  Like the big agencies you are paying for ‘other activities.’ i.e. experience. Which is all well and good to some extent. But style over content?

What Playboy Club do is give you an experience that has no purpose to the goal, make the best burger.  You instead get and pay for bunny girl waitresses, nice environment, bar service and a choice of other food stuffs. Also not very good I might add, see C&B’s review.  When you don’t specialise you get dross, they don’t do good starters, main courses or desserts. They do smiling and looking pretty. Their purpose is to make money largely from gambling I might add rather than cooking food. And so in lies the issue.  What is the purpose of their restaurant?

Who runs the tastiest burger stalls in town? Burger makers that’s who.  Who runs the largest agencies in town? Accountants that’s who.

Is Playboy Club and it’s burgers like big agencies today?  They have the atrium, with comfy chairs and break out areas for ideation.  Do everything. You are pampered. They’re too often run by bean counters. And yet it misses purpose – creative advertising.

Lets suppose for a second there are some gems of agencies out there that can produce superior work to the larger agencies with out the falafel (couldn’t resist), how would marketing directors find them?

I’ve met plenty of great small agencies that punch way over the weight that are run by creatives.  They are like gourmet burgers, and actually don’t charge enough in all honesty.  In fact they maybe putting marketing directors off who are used to buying Hef’s burger. Because they charge Burger King prices for Gourmet.

Some research here from The Art of New Business tells us that marketers don’t like receiving cold calls and they bin most DM and delete prospecting e-mails. At previous TAONB events we have heard that many marketers don’t even find time to read trade press. Which hardly shows them in a favourable light does it? How will they find the tastiest burgers in town? It’s off to the Playboy Clubs I expect.

I think there needs to be a trend change.  The tasty burgers exist I am convinced of that.  The marketers have to be prepared to go look for them because they can’t come to you it seems.

The brokers are unlikely to put gourmet burgers forward (although a few do sneak through) because they are owned (sponsored) by the big burger makers and make more money when relationships break than work. At least they come back every 2 -3 years.

Procurement rarely have a real interest in doing the leg work, they deal with what is put on the plate in front of them. And often they think it’s all about either relationships  i.e. the experience or chemistry and not the meat (the purpose) else purely money So bring in the smilers, bunny girls and client services.

If you want to find the best burger in town you got to go look for it and ask around. If you want to be the best burger maker in town you have to keep making them, if you make them they will come.

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