Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Friday, February 29, 2008

Commercial: What freeconomics means for brand

Chris Anderson has done it again. After coining the previous neoligism du jour, ‘the long tail’, he has once more identified a tangible change in the emerging economy.

His article in this month’s Wired, ‘Free! Why $0.00 is the future of business’ is of course absurdly over-stated, and doesn’t – yet – apply fully to the wider economy. It has attracted opprobrium already, most slyly at AdLab who have pointed out the similarities between what Anderson is saying and communism.

(In passing, Anderson is also the first person to try, in a more accessible way, to integrate theories of the gift economy and the economics of attention into wider mainstream business thinking. Expect to see these two terms increase in prominence in the next few years.)

But in the areas where digitisation is a fact of life – software, music, media etc – the case is persuasive. ‘Free’ in these economies means that marginal cost has fallen to an effective zero. At this point, at the minimum, new business models (in the main, yet to be defined) will start to kick in.

What does this all mean for branding and advertising? Lots:

1. Anderson argues: “Thanks to Google, we now have a handy way to convert from reputation (PageRank) to attention (traffic) to money (ads).” So reputation matters. Which means brand matters. (The more you are heard of, the more people are likely to link to you, and hence you are likely to rise in PageRank.) And brand is another way of saying reputation.

2. How are people going to hear about you? Well, through advertising (as Anderson says, “In a sense, what the Web represents is the extension of the media business model to industries of all sorts.”) It just won’t look like advertising. Messages will be delivered in mass and personalised media, through existing and new channels, both big, lowest common denominator messages, and highly targeted, directed messages that are only relevant to you. As a brand owner, you’ll need to use every tool at your disposal.

3. As things move towards being ‘free’, you as a brand owner will make money through the premium that your brand will allow you to charge. This will be based on the quality of the product and service you provide and/or the emotional reaction your brand causes.

Which is obvious. More directly, to charge a premium, a brand will have to get better at doing customer service, developing sustainable products, building personalised, intangible services (the branded utility, as Anomaly christened it), and providing customers with unexpected delight.

Do all that, and a brand might be rewarded with loyalty. And you have to keep doing it, again and again and again. As a ‘free’ economy also means that, in part, barriers to entry in your industry are likely falling too – which means more competition.

And yes, the cost of building, developing and launching a brand should fall too. Which should cause some worry here, here, here and here.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ask an adman

Ever wanted to ask a leading ad industry luminary a question? Well, now (indirectly) here's your chance.

Next Monday, the IPA's 44 Club is hosting an discussion with Sir Martin Sorrell, Sir Frank Lowe and Lord Tim Bell. Chaired by Peter York, the event is called 'The rise and fall of the ad man'. York will also be premiering his documentary of the same name, focusing on the myths and legends of the UK industry. (All of this effort is part of the wider PR push prior to the UK terrestrial TV debut of acclaimed US drama Mad Men).

Beta, along with most of the rest of the industry, is going, and is willing to be your interlocutor on the evening. So, post your suggested question(s) below, and I will do by damndest to get called, short of stripping - sorry, but I'm not going to commit career suicide on your behalf. There may even be a prize for the question that makes me laugh the most.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Comic stripped-out

Garfield minus Garfield. Exactly what it says on the tin. Existential angst genius. Finder's fee: Major domo at Ironweed.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

26 recommendations

for February are available here.

Recommendation to note: that of the Paris Review interviews vol 2 v2, and this gem:

INTERVIEWER: How did you arrive upon the image of a toad for work or labor? LARKIN: Sheer genius.


Monday, February 25, 2008

One in two

There is now one mobile phone for every two people on the planet, reports the Washington Post.

That strikes one as being simply incredible. Not just a testament to the power of a technology, its usefulness, the speed of diffusion, the ability of the market to find and satisfy needs previously unthought of, but also for the potential it heralds.

Of course there are problems with the use of phones, their manufacturing and recycling. And that other things - like sanitation and clean water and regualr food supplies - should perhaps be more important and higher up in the list of what is needed to alleviate poverty.

But if we believe that all tools are useful part of this process, then the mobile perhaps has the most promise of all. And the fact that people want one, before even adding to their shelters, tells you all you need to know about the mobile's liberating potential.

(Finder's fee: Putting People First at Experientia)


Sunday, February 24, 2008

On marketing and democracy

At the IPA's 44 Club last week, we had a presentation from Professor John Quelch of Harvard Business School outlining the main arguments in his new book Greater Good.

It sparked the response below, which in the main came from the fact that there appeared to be a shallow understanding of what is actually meant by democracy. The fact that noted marketeers such as Rory Sutherland appear to be falling into the same trap suggests that there's some way to go before we as a profession should pronounce on those thorny issues surrounding the social contract.


Professor Quelch’s presentation of the argument in his and Katherine Jocz’s new book, Greater Good, at the IPA in London last week, was certainly (as he claimed it might be) stomach churning.

Less so for the broad thrust of what he was arguing – that ‘marketing is more democratic than democracy’, which can only be viewed as a provocation – but more for the fact that the claim appeared to be made on a narrow assumption of what democracy actually is.

On this basis of the presentation, and not the book, there are five broad critiques of it that can be made:

1. There was no definition of democracy given, not even a narrow one. Instead there was an assumption that democracy was merely ‘voting’, with the act being analogous to making a purchasing decision. But most political scientists will tell you that democracy is far, far more than just the expression of a preference. At a minimum, and definition of democracy worth the name must also include:

· The rule of law
· An independent judiciary
· A free press
· An unfettered legislature
· A restrained executive.

If one starts to explore the relationship between marketing and democracy from this wider vantage point, however, one starts to see that the claim that the former is more democratic than the latter is mis-stated. What is being claimed is actually that ‘marketing makes firms that supply markets more accountable than democracy does for politicians supplying the political market’. Which is a different, and more defensible claim. But one that’s not as catchy or attention grabbing.

2. ‘Marketing’, for want of another term, has had some sort of relationship with modern politics (and therefore democracy) for the best part of the last 50 years, if not longer. From Bernays to Saatchi, to name to high-profile marketing practioners, the idea that marketers have not offered advice nor had it taken by politicians is wrong. If, as Quelch claims, democracy is in such a dire situation, marketing has a greater share of the blame than just an ‘unintended’ one. And saying more marketing will solve the problem is merely a circular argument.

3. Quelch claims that marketing, through its ability to help consumers sift information, express choice and so on, helps people to become better citizens too. If so, does this therefore mean that we were ‘less good’ citizens before this point? How is this provable? What is the metric?

What appears to be happening here is a conflation with the idea of being a consumer with that of citizenship, which in reality shrinks the possibility of what citizenship can be. It becomes merely the claiming of one’s rights while holding others accountable while expressing the claim to those rights.

But this is a shallow vision of what citizenship can be – what of patriotism? Community? The common weal (to use a term that has fallen out of favour amongst social theorists of all stripes)? – and makes the citizen’s relationship with the state not only to be the most important aspect of citizenship, but reduced to one being the provider of services, and the other recipient of them.

However, the state does – has to – do more than merely provide. Protect for one, as well as do what the market won’t. Which, it should be remembered, is a lot.

4. There are many models of democracy available to us too, not just the US and UK one that Professor Quelch appears to have based much of his analysis on. Are his claims re marketing and democracy testable against other democratic models – a system of proportional representation for example, or the German Länder system? It would be hard to claim that the latter system is one where there is not enough accountability, for example.

Not acknowledging the variety of democratic systems out there lets down Quelch’s argument.

5. Missing – most damningly, perhaps – from Quelch’s presentation was the recognition that the political world is acutely aware of the failures of accountability that compares marketing too. Most politicians are aware of emerging democratic deficits; hence one of the solutions is to ask the marketing world for its help.

And, bluntly, the political market is always imperfect, and known to be imperfect, as this quotation shows. It’s lengthy, and old but still is acute in summing up the limits to what democracy can achieve when thought of in a ‘market’ framework:

Free elections are created by free men, not vice versa. The machinery or election will not call up, establish, or guarantee political freedom. The belief that it will reveals our trust in ‘the market’, our belief that competition of itself makes excellence prevail. Our faith in the electoral process is based entirely on myths of the market. We think we can be ‘open’ to all political alternatives (we cannot). We think we welcome all competitors for power (we do not). We think this will give us the best rulers available (it does not). We think the freedoms we possess were wrought by this process (they were not). We think the process will work automatically for others (it will not). If our freedoms are impaired, we think… this comes from some failure in the voting process (it does not). And we hope to cure all such discontent by repairing, restoring, or improving the process (we cannot). We think that voting is freedom’s ‘invisible hand’.

Garry Wills, Nixon Agonistes, p 455

The clear implication is that it is not, and that freedom’s source is not derived merely from the expression of preference in a voting booth.

While the general idea that marketing should go on the front foot to protect itself, and remind the world of the benefits that it brings is right, not defining the terms that are being used in the arguments that are being made ultimately weakens the arguments. If we want ‘democracy’ to take our concerns about the freedom to market and sell products freely seriously, we should do the political system the respect of understanding it fully and properly and not reducing it to the lowest common denominator. Or people will know us guilty of the sins they already think we are guilty of.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Listorama: Mob nicknames

as sourced from this Economist story:

Thomas Caccipoli - “Tommy Sneakers”
John Pisano - “Johnny Red Rose”
Michael Urciuoli - “Mike the Electrician”
John D'Amico - “Jackie the Nose”
Domenico Cefalu - “Italian Dom” or “the Greaseball”

and consigliere Joseph “Miserable” Corozzo.


Friday, February 15, 2008

London, by Woody Allen

Well, not really: it's actually by Lorelei Mathias, in an trailer for her novel Lost for Words. Strangely, even Gershwin over the Thames seems to work. Maybe that NY-LON thing isn't a myth.


One for the reader

Which is, The Brand Union's blog, Ammo. Sarah, who runs BU's knowledge centre in London is a fount of wisdom, and can be relied to turn up interesting ads, brands and stories from around the world. A must-read, I'll wager.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Commercial: Electronic beats

Electronic beats
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333

The rush by mobile phone brands, both network operators and handset makers, to try and claim ‘the music space’ - as poncier people in the marketing industry might say -has been one of the more marked features of popular culture in the last few years.

Whether its O2’s Wireless and The O2, or Vodafone’s Live Music Awards, it seems that much pop music in the UK these days cannot be delivered without the impramateur of someone who’s also trying to flog you a new mobie.

This is not without its drawbacks, for example the fact that Channel 4 seemingly cannot broadcast any music without some form of commercial tie in. So much sponsorship of music is out there now that it is hard to stand out.

So it is refreshing when one of those mobile brands takes a different tack with its music sponsorship. Step forward then T-mobile, and its Electronic Beats magazine.

The publication, both a website and hard copy (the latter was found in Howies on Carnaby Street in London the other day while I was buying yet another one of their products (this time, the brown headland scarf)), levers the brand’s German roots by trying to claim some sort of ownership of electronic music (primarily techno), most of which now emerges from Germany, and Berlin in particular. The sponsorship also encompasses a DVD magazine, Slices.

EB is positioned as a trendsetting title. The list of stockists for both the hard copy and DVD reads like a shopping guide to the coolest record shops across Europe. And while the writing in the magazine itself is of the ‘tell us why you’re so great’ school of music journalism, it is attractively designed. As a calling card for the T-mobile brand, it’s great.

What makes it better is precisely the subtle nature of the call being made. The references back to T-mobile are small, precise and hard to notice: the masthead being in the same shade of pink as the brand; a flytitle on the back cover; a few adverts inside.

Sure this is not mainstream music, but that makes the achievement of the sponsorship all the greater. Electronic Beats has allowed T-mobile to claim a stake in a difficult, fast-moving arena of pop culture.

The lesson is that a brand can do this if it – counter-intuitively – turns down the brand volume, while not denying who it is.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 5

BetaRish is...


looking for comrades to keep him warm

reversing. Beep beep!

will probably still be laughing tomorrow, after seeing Josie Long and Stewart Lee

probably like the lamb he’s just consumed, is lying down

troubled by the difficulties of efficient resource allocation in a market economy, is vowing to buy only one book tonight

thinkin’ ‘bout a revolution

wearing a tyre

woke up half an hour early, and is grumpy because of it

the loveable desi, according to that app. Eh?

really should go running more often. Or is that less?

appears to have completed his Christmas shopping

loving Common’s ‘Be’

wishes everyone a tremendous Chrimbletide

steeling himself to go shopping

still a bit woozy from giving blood yesterday. The run this morning didn’t help either

avoiding tasks, but finding words

drinking pink on the first day of the year

has that back to school feeling…

kwik-sotic. An unsayable word, according to some, eh Hol?

and a sore throat are friends once more

slightly concerned that sore throat has moved his friends, blocked nose and headache, in without asking

has just about got his new toy up and running

struggling with the flow of a prose poem

wondering where those bags came from

would like some unbroken sleep at some point, like, ever

slightly startled that he wandered round Borders for an hour last night, and only bought 1 book. I must be ill

using his iPod Touch to play with facebook. It feels a bit odd

cursing; weather, dampness, alarm clocks, everything really

a fact. And that’s a fact.

avoiding reading

woke up, dreaming another poem into life

dreaming of a land that isn’t damp

thinks the novel is making him angsty

raising sand, with the help of Robert and Alison

: a man, a plan, a canal – Panama

still slightly stunned from meeting Gordon Ramsey at lunch

thinks back pain and lack of sleep are quite enough, thank you

on the way to Staffordshire. Looks damp out there

feeling The Feeling

but a ripple on the pond of time

wondering where the native British genius for creating and curating pop culture comes from

rueful after one of the more expensive nights of his life

a wee bit irritated that the wi-fi doesn’t stretch to the kitchen. Grrr.

tired of Gordon Smart’s sexist, inane prating

all eh? what? that? nooo…

thinks Robyn Hitchcock is a reasonably amusing chap

reckons the last day of the month has come around too fast, and is all ‘Whither January?’