A Response To: Ads Don’t Work That Way

Kevin Simler recently wrote a very thought provoking piece about the mechanisms, intent and efficacy of advertising, that I enjoyed reading. This piece is not a refutation nor a bitchy ‘kick in the crotch’ piece that is not uncommon  in academic circles. I do believe that Simler overlooked one key component of the mix.

The concept of Emotional Inception – if I understand it correctly – whereby we are manipulated by images of situations/states that we aspire to doesn’t go into the required depth. It is true that the initial premise is correct, though there is a much deeper psychological explanation underlying this. The understanding of this state also helps to explain why we do not act in an economically rational way, something the behavioural scientists have also long challenged. See this (now older but still excellent) TED Talk on apparently irrational consumer choices.

Simler goes further with an example of a Corona beer ad, remarking how it is devoid of any information, instead it seems to be designed to associate the product with an ideal relaxation scenario. Whilst this is not wrong in and of itself, it isnot so simple. Advertising people would argue that such an ad cannot exist on its own but as part of a larger campaign, often running over many years, likely comprised of television, billboards, bus stops, targeted digital advertising and a variety of print mediums. Therefore, looking at it to serve as a stand-alone explanatory piece is unsatisfactory.

More importantly, what is being overlooked are the concepts on consumption developed by the recently deceased Sociologist and Philosopher Zygmunt Bauman. He writes of Liquid Modernity (2002 Polity Press). One of several areas addressed is the discussion of shopping (consumption) as a liquid modern rite for exorcising uncertainty. The concept that to ease the cognitive dissonance of realising where you are (not close enough) and where the ‘ideal’ is (beach, beer, new car, new phone etc) one has to constantly consume and consume again, merely to keep the gap at a minimum. Bauman contends that in the post post-modern (he refers to it as liquid modernity) times we live in the pace of everything is higher. Electronic communications and social media facilitate a much greater rate of information transfer. As a slight aside this has increased our fear (unsurprisingly, called liquid fear by ZB) of the world we live in. In general the rates of bad things happening hasn’t risen (proportionally) but the speed and ease with which we hear of them has.

Advertisers need also to create the feeling in consumers that there is always a new ideal. Fashion is the epitome of this as it is ever-changing, liquid. One has to invest so much time absorbing what is the latest ideal, then resources to consume to conform – or even come closer – to it. Only by engaging in this constant quest can the cognitive dissonance be kept at bay, made tolerable. Effective advertising relies on the consumer never questioning why but merely striving  to avoid the deep rooted mental discomfort.  Little wonder that the personal borrowing rate has rocketed in the UK

Having a teenage daughter is an excellent way to observe this at work. It is a constant challenge, as whilst empathising with her feelings (I was a teen too once upon a time) of the need to conform or, even better, to be ‘fresh everyday’ (her phrase!), trying to highlight the absurdity of chasing a moving target that can never be caught is the really tough thing to do. And, that is the point, it can never be caught. It is an unobtainable goal regardless of the resources at one’s disposal.

 

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When Britain Lost a Leg

It is gone now and never coming back.

To be crystal clear: the UK is in an appalling state of disarray as a result of Brexit. The entire circumstances surrounding the run up to the vote, the vote itself, the result ,and the turmoil and pain that it has created are bad, and the more I think about it and the more manoeuvring I see from both sides the more I am pained. However, it has and is happening.

The Brexit result is akin to losing one’s leg in a terrible accident. An accident so bad that the limb is destroyed. There is no hope of ever getting the leg back. Ever. There is a time and a place to forensically unpick  the reasons for the accident. However, no amount of protest or analysis nor recognition of the terrible circumstances that led to the loss of the leg will ever get the leg back. The UK is a political amputee.

Our country is puzzlingly stuck at the point of pre-Brexit, where arguing about the circumstances leading up to the result could actually change anything. Those fights were fought, court cases lodged and lost, votes in parliament and the Lords fought over and eventually lost. Article 50 was enacted. We are leaving the EU.

The Remainer camp are obsessed with the minutiae, the unfairness, the damaging effects that will undoubtedly occur and all the other reasons why Brexit should not have happened. In the meantime, the Leavers are grinning, crossing their arms and sticking with permutations of, “You lost. Get over it.” They don’t need to explain why, justify the result or even come up with a plan for the process when faced with the style of opposition presented by the Remainers. The Remain obsession with the past plays right into their hands.

The complete lack of political realism, seemingly driven by a complete refusal to acknowledge political realities in the hope that if something is wished for hard enough it may become true, is exacerbating the damage as we tumble unchecked towards the exit date. Each camp is as guilty as the other with regards to the past. It is like watching two bald men fighting over a comb.

The leg is gone. There are only two options now. The first is  is tantamount to wishing the leg back, which is wishful thinking. The second is to engage fully with our new one-legged reality. In these terms it means attending to the wound and engaging with the physiotherapy.

If there were fewer egos, on both sides, that needed salving I daresay we could manage a better outcome. Finger pointing and engaging in endless permutations of “he said she said” achieves nothing. It is little wonder that the rest of the EU and many other countries are looking at the UK with a mixture of bewilderment and exasperation.

If all the brainpower and effort that was devoted to picking over the legitimacy of  the amputation were to be redirected towards making us the best one-legged country in the world, we could become a top-notch one-legged ass kicker. Instead, we seem to be collectively determined to make us the hobbling cripple of Europe.

 

In Which I Volunteer

I applied for and was accepted by Shift.ms to be their monthly blog post editor. I am very flattered. The network is primarily for younger people who are newly diagnosed with MMS. However, it is open to all to participate.

When I was diagnosed with MS nearly 30y ago there was no social media and the Internet was in its infancy. I was young, it wasn’t really affecting me and I was unwilling to participate in the established sort of drop-in type centres. For one, I was working and actively denying I had MS so it wasn’t convenient to be reminded of it.

I have been very fortunate as I have not been affected too badly so far. I was talking to a Neurologist the other day and he said that when looked at in totality it is usual to need a walking aid after ten years. Having studied stats, take that with a huge dollop of context. I have just finished a BA (Hons) and an MSc as I simply refuse to give in to anything. Oh, and I am getting married this summer.

These days things are very different as it is quite possible to be a lurker, an active participant or anywhere in between.

After following Shift.ms on Twitter for a while I responded to the request to take part. It is my aim to collect interesting information on MS. Be it vloggers, bloggers or the medical side, with issues ranging from employment to mental health to treatments, I will try to highlight the interesting ones, cast a critical eye over them and share them with you.

If you’d like to suggest something to cover or ask about the coverage then please drop Sarah at Shift.ms a brief note. Thank you.

 

Nothing Is Free

The media is alight with Facebook, Google, Amazon etc. Data, data, data. My data, my personal data, not ‘your’ data to have available for third parties like, say, Cambridge Analytica. There is a huge amount of shaming of the data collectors going on and some of it is just not accurate, nor correct.

There is a glaring issue here, so stop, take a deep-breath and unpack this a bit.

  • Present Currency

We are accustomed to exchanging money for goods and services. These days we do a lot of electronic transacting and when it came in (and credit cards too) it was the devil’s work. We were all going to be swindled, indebted and generally life would end as we know it. Some of my more socialist friends may already argue that that has happened. Not the fault of the method of money transmission though.

  • New Currency

There are two predominant forms of currency that have emerged from the connectivity given to us by the Internet. Crypto-currencies and Personal Information.

1. We can get our heads around the first as it is a new form of the old. We can gauge the value  and understand it because it is pegged against things we understand in language we are accustomed to.

2. Data as a form of payment , personal data to be precise, is a new thing entirely. The vast majority of which we’d be happy to share in a conversation. Where did you last shop, when, for how long, what did you spend, was it the first store you went into, did you intend to buy anything, have you gained weight, what did you pay with etc etc. A good research study would ask such things. A good conversationalist could probably winkle it out of you. If it is a conversation, then there is a slim chance you’d stick your hand out and say, “Now I’ve told you that, it’s £4.99.” Even studies give a flat fee regardless of how you answer.

  • Something for something

Everyone is comfortable with the idea of exchanging goods for services. Our labour for a paycheque, our hard-earned for some food. That sort of thing. You can’t go to the pub, order a pint and offer to tell the barman your reading habits in return. It has no value to them.  Google on the other hand? What a search engine. I say this coming from the days when Alta-Vista was considered good but required a lot of finagling. Now, in Chrome (the free browser) I just type my query in there. Where is Buxy, how do I make chipotle paste, when is the next train due and so on.

The hours and hours of my life that have been saved from mundanity, the paper saved, the brain space saved etc. However, may people do not put a price on their time. The things that Google and Facebook allow me to do without having to send them money in exchange just beggar belief.

This DOES NOT come free though. Land, salaries, server farms and the like cost old-fashioned real money. That doesn’t materialise out of thin air, these companies have an intrinsic value, reflected in their very high share prices and huge wealth because they have something. That something is you. As much about you as then can tell and the cleverest people to extract the maximum value from everything about you.

EDIT: This video is excellent and I have added it to the post.

  • In conclusion

No one forced you to join Facebook, no one forced you to use Google. There are ways around this if you feel that strongly. Tor browser, secure and untrackable email, cash under the mattress (better yet, go for gold and salt). Expect to pay for the privilege.

Criminals are criminals. Data firms are not automatically criminals. The real criminals want to get their hands on currency – cash, gold, your password, they don’t care – Whether it is swindling you out of a pension or using your reading habits (or lack thereof) to target you in an election. These days they only want your data if it is to get to the other things. Stop blanket-blaming the collectors and, instead, see who is being a criminal.

There is a quid pro quo for all the ‘free’ stuff on the Internet. It is you. You are not the customer, you are the product.

The data genie is well and truly out of the bottle: it won’t/can’t be stuffed back in. Think large-scale environmental disaster as you can’t wish it away or legislate it into not happening. It is done, so consider what you are getting, what you are paying and make the choice yourself, stop blaming other external forces. You chose to participate, and it is not without cost.

When Should The Consumer Take Responsibility?

For some time I have been perplexed at the idea that the consumer cannot bear any responsibility for what happens to them. If there is to be a relationship – so striven for by brands – between a service provider and a service user it must be balanced.

A relationship where one side constantly supplicates themselves to the other in repeated displays of weakness, is not healthy. A relationship where one party bullies the other because they are weak, is not healthy. A relationship founded on mutual respect and trust, is healthy.

Surely it can’t be right that the providers of services to be responsible for ALL the bad things the consumer experiences? For example: I heard today that the broadband suppliers are being censured over their claims regarding broadband speed. Whilst I agree that the basis for some of the claims is too flimsy I was perplexed by the idea that consumers are incapable of finding out some of the background themselves. I also recall the petition that the banks are liable to recompense victims of fraud where the people themselves divulged the information that the fraudsters required.

In both of these instances the consumers could easily have found out more. With broadband it is a bit of reading as it is with the methods employed by fraudsters. The information is readily available.

Here is a radical idea: consumers ought to take some part in their consumption choices and/or things to do with the security of their money. Advertisers will almost always work within the rules and banks really don’t want their customers to be defrauded.

If you got this far you too are using the Internet to find out information. What is to stop others? Neither of the examples I have used involve hidden information. If you are willing to transact then you ought to take a degree of responsibility for your actions. Look up the broadband provision in your area, understand how people try to steal from you. Do not expect that everything is the fault of someone else.

Putting the burden entirely on the service provider weakens them and people will try to take advantage whilst refusing to take responsibility for their own actions. Equally, a provider of services ought to take all reasonable measures to ensure that their customers are not exposed to unnecessary risk.

After the removal of Stamp Duty in the budget  yesterday people who had completed the day before were being interviewed and demanding a refund. Who completes the day before a budget from a weak Chancellor in a weak government and the financial pundits were suggesting that the stamp Duty changes were a definite probability. If they want someone to blame then how about looking to their professional advisors?

I fear that consumers are starting to believe that they have little or no responsibility and the providers should be entirely responsible. When did the concept of taking any responsibility for one’s own actions change?

Praise For The Polymath

I recently read a very thought provoking post on LinkedIn by Alberto Brea (a v. senior bod at Ogilvy NY) that made a compelling argument for depth.  It got me and many of the other readers reflecting, as I view myself, and pride myself,  on being a polymath. Doing my degree as a mature student has been an illuminating glimpse into subject focus and the super-smart wonks you come across in good universities.

Knowing a lot about a lot of things means that it is very difficult to be perceived as a subject matter expert on any one particular thing. No single thing has been a life’s work. The most I seem to know is about the construction of identity and how that can/may be changed.

To be clear: a polymath does not mean that the person is a chronic bulls****er. The fact is that I like knowing stuff. Lots of stuff: how a jet engine works, a clutch, the reasons for weather, some of the law, drug metabolism, the eye, how to make a golfball, etc etc. Not to lord it over others (as tempting as it can be when you hear someone talking rubbish about something) but because I hate the feeling of weakness that accompanies the situation where a power imbalance can be created by a knowledge imbalance.

Sure, it lets you bluff at times and I happen to think that in some circumstances it is a very useful skill. To bluff to intentionally deceive to gain an unfair advantage for purely personal gain at the expense of the other is wrong. However, to be able to credibly bluff when you are at risk of being dominated and weakened by someone who is using their in-depth knowledge of a topic to run roughshod over you is something else entirely. It is is how to deploy ones intellect in a different way.

Recently, I compiled a list of all the jobs I have done and the significant experiences I have had, to read it as if another was listening to me warble on. If someone else bought the same to me my initial reaction would be extremely sceptical, it reads as fantastical invention in places. It makes me alternately proud and horrified. The fact is that all these experiences haven’t killed me and I have used them to learn from and strengthen myself.

At the risk of sounding like a personal puff piece I am using myself (for I can hardly be alone in the 11 schools, multiple industries and some cool pick-up roles along the way) as an example that those of us who have had interesting and varied careers/lives are not automatically flaky and dangerous to have in an organisation. On the contrary, if we are employed in the right role we can tolerate some sameness and routine. What makes the polymath thrive is being able to constantly learn and to be able to share their experience for the benefit of others.

When is comes to decision making, the person that is super-knowledgeable on a single topic can add valuable context through their knowledge. But, and it is a big but, the polymath can see the issue from angles that the depth person simply cannot conceive of doing. Yin and Yang I guess.

There is no doubt that a polymath can cause a subject-matter expert to feel very uncomfortable. They may seem shallow and flighty and for a person that defines themselves by their in-depth expertise this often causes significant cognitive dissonance. To assuage this one often sees  employers and clients shying away from the polymaths instead of asking themselves why they feel uncomfortable and then trying to see if they can use the polymath as a useful addition to a team. Asking the oddball questions and saying the strange things. Not for the hell of it but to add to the effort and make the output a better thing.

 

In case you missed it, Alberto’s article, a nice short and snappy piece for LinkedIn, is here.

Thinking The Unthinkable

A brief recap of the political landscape sees us in an unaccustomed situation. May screwed the pooch and lived up to her internal nickname of “Submarine” by saying something, disappearing and resurfacing going another way entirely. It seems this wasn’t as carefully crafted a plan as we all believed. According to Guido Fawkes, she caught Tory HQ on the hop. It seems she believed her own PR a little too much and now she is so power hungry and desperate she wants to risk derailing the Northern Ireland peace process by cosying up to terrorist sympathisers/supporters, despite the brickbats hurled by her lot at Jezza for saying some pretty commonsense things about trying to achieve a resolution to a conflict. Not the way I’d do it but he has been resolutely consistent, something you can’t say for many politicians.

On the other hand, Momentum seems to have spiked Corbyn’s tea with something strong that worked to jolt him into towing the party line. Albeit for a short time.  Labour  is attempting to spin this momentous second place loss – trailing by 56 seats – as the second coming of Christ. Corbyn hailed this as, “an amazing response from the public…I think it is pretty clear who won this election”.  One ought to recall a certain person writing in The Morning Star in 2010 decrying the 48 seat difference as, “disastrous for new Labour”. It is funny how power changes people. Nonetheless, he has a messianic following so one can’t ignore that.

Both parties want a hard Brexit for different reasons. Now Labour think they may have a sniff at actual power they are softening their stance somewhat. May hasn’t got the mandate she sought so she can’t just bundle the country over the nearest cliff as planned. In the meantime the EU are doing good cop bad cop with the chief negotiator making withering remarks whilst the new centrist president of France (Macron) smiles sweetly and alludes that the door to EU membership hasn’t slammed fully shut. That combination of Michel Barnier and Macron will have sowed enough doubt in the minds of sensible people in the Lords and Civil Service that we may be able to wriggle free. The nerves will be getting frayed. Although, there is no doubt that any re-entry will come at a considerable price, both in pride and money.

But back to my party of choice, the Liberal Democrats. The  wailing and gnashing of teeth over the departure of our once glorious leader won’t last long. Many nauseatingly sycophantic comments along the line of, “Tim walked on water and people just need to see what an incredible human being he is”, type thing. There is a recurrent theme here of people having so incredibly strongly held personal viewpoints that they are unable to step back and take a bigger view. Many, in the party rank and file LibDems, seem to function with no distinction between a Parish Council style mentality of ‘dog fouling on the green has to stop’ compared to  National Government issues. There remains a depressingly recurrent theme of trying to blame electoral failure/Farron’s departure or anything else  they don’t like on anything other than themselves. It is the Orange Book believers, the bitchy sniping fringes, Clegg, tuition fees, coalition and so on and so forth.  (Caveat – I am, apparently,  one of the bitchy sniping outsiders. Though, in my defence, I and others are devoting time to try and think how the dire state of the political centre ground  can be fixed.)

Those of us that don’t think the purity of the political soul comes just from the hard graft of pushing leaflets through letter boxes as the answer to every setback are not just corporate bully-boys/girls. We just take a more businesslike view of things. Measuring output and not input is how we look at things.Tim Farron has resigned as leader and that is a very good thing. He singularly failed to get any traction with the press or the electorate regarding Brexit,arguably the most important issue of our time. Say what you like about Corbyn having the air of a divorced geography teacher, at least he has stuck to his guns. I find him deeply distasteful but I respect him nonetheless. People knew who he was and if they had even heard of Farron it was usually because of one thing. Just prior to the election I was at a function and fell in to chat with a retired Brigadier General. Not that old and still very sharp. The talk turned to politics and parties. I told him I was a LibDem and he thoughtfully replied that they were an ok bunch but, and I quote, “I am not keen on that poof-hating god botherer you lot have let into the driver’s seat”. And that, ladies and gents pretty much sums up the public perception of Farron.

Given his voting record, Farron clearly isn’t a homophobe, but try telling that to people who consume mainstream media. He was incapable of deconflicting his personal views and political stance and had had two, count them, two, years to put this to bed and yet he couldn’t. Couple that with external appearance of the cheery carer to Corbyn’s miserable old man persona and he really didn’t cut it. This weekend gone he was obviously handed a loaded pistol, a shovel and told to take a solo walk into the woods, make peace with his god and do the decent thing. And so he did. Kudos. All told, a very liberal regicide.

The Liberal Democrat party is such a big church of conflicting viewpoints that it is too overweight with competing opinions to ever get airborne. By contrast, we make the Tories and Labour appear as ideologically tightly knit units. I think that we try too hard to accommodate too many different positions and it just doesn’t work. Our poor results speak directly to being overweight on too many different opinions and underweight on slick electioneering.

The Social Liberals are perceived as the left wing and the Classical Liberals as the right. I have formed the view that many at the extremes of the Social Liberal position are just Labour supporters in Liberal clothing, scared of the big bad Labour party. The Classical Liberals are definitely just right of the general centre ground and I heard them described as Tories who aren’t bastards. Either way, the tension between the two seems too high. They spend their time arguing amongst themselves rather than winning power.

The wider electorate do not perceive the Liberal Democrats as having a defined leader and nor can they repeat any policy much past the legalisation of cannabis. Corbyn is someone to get behind and to some extent May is the same, though wounded and about to be dispatched soon. It doesn’t matter if you are economically illiterate, do not realise how illiberal both are, you can just be tribal and support a team. Part of that is slavish and unquestioning support for the team when the chips are down. Hell, even the latest Panorama about what happened in this debacle of a General Election never mentioned or showed the LDs at all. Caroline Lucas even got a 10sec slot. Us, nothing. If the LibDems are to ever prosecute a liberal agenda they need recognition and media, however distasteful they may find it.

I think that we may need to do a reverse ferret (apologies to Private Eye for I dip liberally – geddit? – into their terminology) and consider another centre party. At this point many people recoil, gasp and point to the failed SDP-Liberal Alliance that preceded the LibDems. To successfully form a new party one would have to discard convention and do it differently from how it has always been done. Additionally, you need at least three other things for a successful party – good candidates, a good team and money, lots of it.

To take the last one first: Money. Political donors may claim their donation is ideologically driven and altruistically motivated, though that is a little dishonest. We all want something, be it a warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting a shared ideology or  the time-honoured belief that donating to a party buys you influence. A new party needs to be treated like a start-up business with a great idea. Potential investors need to see a return. Their will be a period of burning cash, just like a start-up. When it succeeds you have to pay the piper so investors need to be chosen wisely because they will be microscopically scrutinised and require their return. Again, this needs to be carefully planned.

Whilst on the topic of scrutiny, any new party will need to have candidates.  Not in every seat but 5-10 (max) and targeted, mostly on LibDem seats. This may sound cruel, it ain’t personal, just business. Early successes are needed so that investors need to see the idea working, within the predicted timeframes.  There is a ripe pool of centrist candidates; from Chuka Umunna to Ken Clarke to Ruth Davidson and (gasp) George Osbourne. As an aside, no one seems to be enjoying May’s discomfort more than George. None of the aforementioned are in politics because they love campaigning in the rain, they are in it for themselves as much as anything else. A new party would need an attractive proposition, a plan even! If you ask a successful politician to give it all up and defect they need to see what is in it for them and their constituents. This proof of concept will work if we can back to the hilt a chosen few. The “Full Macron” will have to come later as we run a fundamentally different electoral system here.

Finally, planning. This is not about traditional reactive behaviour, it is treating the enterprise like a start-up business with big investors and lots at stake. A goal, a strategy, tactics and many what-if contingencies. Politics is a brutal pastime, the knives will be out. No planning equals no nothing. A blend of commercial, technical and political talent, people with contacts, people with a clear agenda for themselves. Being in at the launch can make or break them. No namby pamby clockwatchers. If the investment is right and the founding candidates are few then decent salaries can be paid to tempt the best talent away to the start-up. This is how business works. We are not creating a new market but rather trying to introduce a vastly improved product into an established and crowded market. We’ll need to test policy, cost policy, recruit, win backing and be pragmatic while all the time be mindful of our goal to introduce a purer liberal party that is unencumbered by the baggage of the existing one.

PS: This will take time. 18 months minimum to launch. Done under a decent cloak of secrecy. FWIW, I don’t think people have the stones to make this happen. This post is to just put the idea out there and get people thinking and talking. Perhaps it will, who knows.

UPDATE: Perhaps the Liberal Democrats need their own WtF? Rethinking the Democrats from within.