Digital innovation: some reading

Serendipitously I stumbled across a couple of great articles about digital innovation in the advertising space recently which dovetail neatly with some of the thinking and writing I’ve been doing.

Following on from Adam’s comment about the diffusion and adoption of innovation within the PR sector (which warrants some analysis and a further blog post in its own right) it’s equally interesting to see how the same issues are being played out in the advertising space.

According to Digital Planning Director at BBDO/Proximity, Vincent Teo:

“This shift toward creative innovation and product development will be a continuous evolution in the agency space and one in which I believe will form the foundation of the digital agency of the future. There is a real synergy between product innovation and what agencies are currently doing and this looks like the next evolution in extending what agencies can offer to their clients.”

What this looks like in detail can found in Vincent’s great survey of the current ad/digital/innovation landscape, The Digital Agency of the Future. And following Vincent’s vision and line of questioning, a number of other posts and article’s further explore the same issues, including Rei Inamoto‘s Why Ad Agencies Should Act More Like Start-ups and .net magazine’s Inside the Labs of the World’s leading Digital Agencies.

Although there are some distinct differences between the ad and PR industries, both are rapidly converging around digital. Some level of comparative analysis will undoubtedly be useful to see where each industry is succeeding (and not succeeding) and looking for clearer paths to innovation, adoption and sharing/commercialisation. Hopefully more to come on this.


Future of PR: We’ve been here before

VCCP’s Jed Hallam offers a meaty blog post about the ongoing debate as to the relative strengths and weakness of the advertising and PR industries when it comes to taking ultimate ownership of social and/or digital. Although, of course it’s much more nuanced than that.

Jed appears firmly on the side of advertising as eventual winner – while nodding to the reality that the way we consign certain agencies into industry types is largely flawed as whether an agency is an ‘advertising’ or ‘PR’ agency is increasingly blurred in today’s socially mediated landscape. And moreover, who wins will be ultimately determined by the clients who will want the best work regardless of a perceived historical and industry legacy.

Anyway. This perennial debate reminded me of another great post by Anthony Mayfield on similar issues. Except his post was made in November 2007. That’s nearly five years ago. In his post Anthony argues not so much that advertising will win the digital battle royale, but rather that the PR industry had structural and legacy issues to overcome if it was to succeed in a digital-led world.

Here’s the quotation:

PR agency models may be less able to assimilate than be be assimilated: One of the curiosities of the PR agency business is that aside from the very largest agencies (and even including a few of them) most are businesses comprised of generalists, with business development, marketing, HR, client management, creative, copywriting, event management, media relations and measurement all done by the same people. I’ve never met the PR agency that has a project manager or a quality assurance person. This makes it hard to scale these businesses and it also means than they are perhaps less able to bring in new disciplines and approaches than businesses that are structured like, well, businesses.


Of course, you could argue that PR agencies can restructure to accommodate new models, but compare this to big agencies in comparable sectors who already operate in this way. Compare this to smaller, more nimble social/digital-first agencies (not unlike my old brethren at We Are Social) who are growing and building their structure in this way from day one.

Just sayin’.


Is the ASA’s new online remit a missed opportunity?

As has been widely reported, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has extended its remit to include online marketing communications.

While an argument can be made for a need to extend the ASA’s remit to cover websites as well as online ads I’m not entirely convinced that the attempt to pin down marketing communications is the best approach to regulating social media.

The ASA's media release tells us that their new remit will cover:

  • Advertisers' own marketing communications on their own websites and;
  • Marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under
    their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and

Journalistic and editorial content and material related to causes
and ideas – except those that are direct solicitations of donations for
fund-raising – are excluded from the remit.

There are two things that need clarifying here:

  1. what exactly is marketing communications
  2. how does it differ from editorial?

Ask any PR professional how marketing communications differs from editorial and the they'll tell you that the two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

Possibly, the ASA has taken marketing communications as overt communications marketing products, services or brands, e.g. "Buy this cream and it'll make you thin!" but then that risks taking a very narrow definition of marketing communications.

Further evidence for this comes to life in the IAB's FAQs on the ASA's new remit. They state that the guidelines won't cover "press releases or other PR material" – a notion that at best shows some vagueness about what PR is and does, and at worst reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the industry.

Even if the ASA has somewhere unpicked the finer points of PR then how can marketing communications (regulated) be adequately differentiated from 'editorial' (not regulated)?

Add to this the convergence of media in online social spaces and there's even more complexity.

For example, what happens when the public starts engaging with brands and discussing products or services on brand owned spaces? And then when brands respond with neither editorial or marketing communications – e.g. general conversation on Twitter – and what about passionate members of the public that are brand advocates and start evangelising about a brand or product – is that marketing communications?

The ASA's new remit, it could be argued, is a missed opportunity to truly understand and attempt to strengthen regulation of marketing activity in the online space – a worthy initiative given they claim websites were the second most complained about marketing channel last year.

Brand Republic says that the new guidelines are a "fudge". But it's a fudge that could have potentially been avoided – or at least – addressed directly.

Back in May, the Chartered Institute of Public RelationsSocial Media Advisory Panel [Disc. I'm a member] approached the IAB which is represented on the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to request that the PR industry be involved in development of the new code.

Given the centrality of ‘editorial’ and ‘marketing communications' in the new regulations we felt it was appropriate, if not essential, to input and have the vice of the PR industry.

While we were given the undertaking that the views of the PR industry would be heard it seems that this wasn’t to be the case. Of course, we could have gone direct to the ASA but a dialogue had already been opened.

The CIPR has issued a statement which articulates some of its major concerns, which I've pasted below.

But to me it seems that the ASA has missed an opportunity to think coherently about social media and implement an effective regulatory approach to the online space, not to mention a potentially naïve assumption by the ASA as to the role of PR, marketing communications and editorial in contemporary society.

Here's the CIPR's statement in full:

Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR) policy statement on the proposed regulation of social networks/media by the ASA

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) recognises the importance of protecting the online public from unscrupulous businesses and organisations, however the Chartered body representing the PR profession has concerns regarding the planned extension of the remits of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to cover online communications.

The advertising industry is concerned with advertising messaging that is one-way.  Social networks involve dialogue and frequently ‘editorial’ content.   

We believe that the ASA's remit does not extend to moderating the freedom of speech so closely associated with social media such as Twitter, Facebook and websites   Any definition of advertising should be scoped so as to avoid censoring the ability of citizens and consumers to enjoy the free on-line dialogue they have come to expect.

The CIPR also has reservations about changes to the CAP Code and the way the ASA's new and extended remit has been planned. Any changes to the UK's current regulatory frameworks affecting how the public relations profession conducts its business should be developed through close consultation with the chartered body of the public relations profession. Given the significance these proposed changes will have for public relations, marketing and social media professionals, the CIPR believes that the ASA should be working together with the CIPR to develop fair and workable regulations that work with and supports broader, existing frameworks such as the CIPR Code of Conduct and social media guidelines.

The CIPR approached the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) which is represented on the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) in May of this year and were given the undertaking that the views of the PR industry would be heard.  "We are disappointed this action has been taken without our involvement.”  

MyDavidCameron: some post event analyses


With the buzz about the remixed Conservative Party election posters and Clifford Singer’s MyDavidCameron website a few days old I thought I’d reflect on the debate and offer up some analysis about what might be going on here and what it means for political parties ahead of the election.

But before I can do that I need to jump back to September last year when I discussed Manuel Castell’s theory of networked power and suggested how it could be applied to the UK’s political blogosphere.

In a nutshell, Castells argues that power in networks is fundamentally about the ability to establish and control particular networks.

This can be achieved by one of two ways:

  1. the ability to constitute network(s), and to program/reprogram the network(s) in terms of goals assigned to the network (largely by setting and controlling the way we perceive issues and information)
  2. the ability to connect and ensure cooperation of different networks by sharing common goals and combining resources (i.e. identifying like-minded networks with which you can work to challenge the dominant program)

Castells calls actors in the first mechanism ‘programmers’ and those in the second mechanism, ‘switchers’.

I argued that Conservative and right-wing blogs were successful because they had programmed the UK’s political network by a) adapting early and b) creating a broad anti-government debate which resonated with the media and wider public.

This meant that left and liberal bloggers had to find common issues and threads with each other and the public with which to try and switch the dominant power in the network away from anti-government/right-wing debate.

So what does this tell us about the MyDavidCameron success? Firstly, I think it supports my original hypothesis. That is, Labour have identified a wider – albeit smaller – network outside of the UK political blogosphere with a shared value (mocking David Cameron/the Conservatives and graphic design).

They are then co-opting this network, forming a strategic partnership but letting the idea and content go where it goes, as opposed to trying to centrally plan and control what happens with the David Cameron imagery.

In my opinion, a political party having the foresight and ability to spot an opportunity like this and use it to help try to ‘switch’ the dominant discourse in the political blogosphere is smart.

Yes, there may be those that say: “well, who wouldn’t jump on an opportunity if it arose?” But I’d argue that the traditional approach to this kind of online meme would be to try and own it: take it in-house.*

I think Labour have deliberately avoided doing this, having learnt the lesson from last summer’s #Welovethenhs grassroot campaign that which Labour co-opted, arguably tried to centralise and quickly destroyed the value in the network. Compare how they're currently using a Labour Party version of MyDavidCameron (i.e. becoming another node in the network) versus their mini-campaign site for #Welovethenhs which argubly tries to own the decentralised campaign network.

But thinking logically about the MyDavidCameron campaign: would Labour seeking to ‘own’ the network really kill it in the same way that it killed #Welovethenhs?

I’m not so sure for two reasons:

  1. Firstly, the #Welovethenhs campaign was not a pro-government campaign; nor was it an anti-tory campaign. It was a pro-public healthcare system campaign. It’s an issue that traditionally has a shared value for with liberal/left networks but not solely. Labour arguably killed this campaign as it tried to go further than switching and instead reprogram the networks’ values as pro-government/pro-Labour.
  2. Secondly, network alignment based on shared opposition to David Cameron and/or the Conservatives is one thing, but the reality is that only Labour can defeat the Conservatives at an election. Therefore, Labour trying to reprogram the goal of the networks driving the MyDavidCameron campaign to be pro-Labour is actually a smart move.

What this says to me is that now we’re entering the run up to an election, the political discourse is no longer split broadly between anti-government/right-wing ideology and pro-Government goals (that were largely indistinguishable form Labour policy).

Instead, Labour is starting to reprogram the UK’s political networks through creating a discourse of Conservatives vs Labour. It’s early days and the Conservatives still have the upper hand but I’d argue that the MyDavidCameron campaign plus the recent emergence of distinct left and Labour-aligned voices is starting to re-balance the pro-right-wing goals of the UK’s political networks.

* What this reveals is Labour’s ability to switch between a traditional command and control political party and a node in a fluid, participative network. Something Andrew Chadwick has defined as “organisational hybridity” – the internet driven phenomena that enables organisations and institutions to switch between being member-led hierarchical institutions, single-issue campaign groups or temporary, loosely joined networks of like-minded individuals. I believe this is what political parties of the future will look like: political parties in all but name, But that’s something for another post.

Crowd-sourcing the future of media

One of the things I [heart] about the internet is its ability to totally democratise the production and distribution of knowledge and information.

Reading George Monbiot's (somewhat difficult to follow) analysis of the relationship between the media, editorial independence and advertising in a recent Guardian column, I thought: "Wow. Well, that's complicated. What's the solution?".

Well, it turns out the solution wasn't too far away. Several comments down in fact. By a man called Graham Wayne.

I won't try to summarise or precis his response. I'm just going to re-post.Lazy, you say? Well, it's too good not to. 


am moved by your candid argument to respond – and we should acknowledge
the Guardian for giving you the space – and yet for the first time in
many threads I am, frankly, quite perplexed by the commercial paradox
you identify.

There are some alternatives, but none of them are
entirely satisfactory or perhaps commercially practical. Some are not
consistent with the ethical requirements you describe and with which I
broadly agree. But in the first place, let us enjoy for a moment the
irony of taking money from the airlines, the automotive industry and
their ilk, in order to sponsor an MSN outlet that consistently
criticises them and pays for people like you to do so. It does sweeten
the pill a little, but perhaps not enough.

Some suggestions then
– not so much as things I think can be done, but as catalysts that
might lead to constructive discussion and better solutions than I can

1) Recent news suggests that some quality MSN websites
will attempt to institute subscriptions. If the Guardian moved in that
direction but limited advertising according to content that met
published ethical standards, it would make subscription more
meaningful. I would pay to support a news site that placed ethical
behaviour at the core of its business model, because that is exactly
what I find is virtually absent from commercial concerns, and much to
our detriment both as consumers and members of society.

2) Try
such a scheme as an alternative site and trial it for a reduced sub in
the first year. If it took off, move the enterprise in that direction
and reward those early supporters with a discount on the second year –
or something.

3) Ban only the ads that meet the ethical standard.
This is not a moral exercise but a commercial one, but where virtue is
rewarded. Ethical standards should be applied to products or services,
not companies per se, and when certain products enjoy more ad space
than their counterparts, their importance to the companies that produce
them shifts in their favour, simply because they sell more. Advertising
usually targets the consumer, attempting to modify their behaviour;
here advertising could target the companies and do the same. It is in
the boardroom that this message needs to be understood – the market is
changing and ethical behaviour will be rewarded by consumers. (And when
it's all hat and no cattle, you have new fodder for the column).

Develop more flexible price strategies and find more innovative ways to
deliver the adverts. Perhaps a rate card with weighted price bands
depending on gross revenue, where smaller and more ethical concerns can
also take some space in the paper or the site, thus increasing
opportunities for ad sales. I suggest this because I think taking the
ethical stance will cost the Guardian some revenue. Quite how much it
loses is in part dependant on the ad sales team, because there is also
a strong marketing advantage in the ethical stance, especially if the
Guardian is the first to adopt is. Very newsworthy, and worth
trumpeting in any ad campaign. It must also be true that properly
exploited, there may be some additional market share to be gained
through it, so it's not all downside.

5) Keep discussing the
option of going completely digital. I'm sure this is discussed and the
Guardian management understand this much better than I, but there are
important implications for the environment as well as the economics. It
must include a subscription, but that has benefits since it would
probably be annual or semi-annual, which is more reliable income than
variable sales of print copies. (I'd like to see the management's
thoughts on this. Things change, as the Guardian demonstrates with this
very site. Where are they now on this?)

Prudence would dictate
money will be lost, so the Guardian must ask the same question it does
over page 3 girls: what is it prepared to do in service of Mammon
rather than its founders like Scott? Tits are out of bounds, yet they
would bring in more money, as would the sex trade ads, but the Guardian
has taken a moral stance at the expense of profit. Morality cannot be
parcelled out or striated by expediency. Either the Guardian is wholly
responsible and doesn't want to assist in destroying civilisation, or
it may as well start looking for busty women and brainless men to leer
at them, since that readership will always put their hands in their
pockets – if you know what I mean.

Good isn't it? I hope the Guardian's Emily Bell sees this and takes some of Graham's points further.

Tags: Guardian, George Monbiot, future of the media, Emily Bell, advertising

People think adverts are misleading, it’s official

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) publishes its annual complaints report today and according to this story in the Guardian and it shows that the regulator received the highest number of complaints from the public last year.

This got me thinking: is this evidence of the public's continuing dissatisfaction with shouty, uninteractive advertising?

Well, at first glance no. the Guardian's lead is that complaints over violent ads are at an all time high with the most complained about ads involved cruelty to children or animals and the top 10 most complained about ads did not have the complaints upheld.

But right down towards to the end of the story is the finding that the biggest reason for public complaints was…. wait for it….."allegations of misleading claims" which accounted for 45% of all complaints.

Although complainees are a self-selecting cohort I read this as the mjority of people objecting to adverts objected on the grounds that they were misleading i.e. equivocation and half-truths spun to a gullible public hoping they wouldn't look too closely at the survey results or spurious claims.

This for me is more evidence that Cluetrain was right and companeis are still failing to take heed of its anti-BS rhetoric. And of course, this is where social media comes in – listening to people; treating them as valued customers or citizens; helping or empowering them achieve what they want to achieve.

(OK. So I probably mis-represented the statistics in the story in an attempt to
make a point as any good ol' advert would but, hey, isn't that what
statistics are for?)

Tags: advertising, ASA, lies

Friday Fun – New Video from The Research

So it’s Friday everybody and this week saw the first release of new material from Wakefield’s finest trio (and friends), The Research.

The single, I Think She’s The One I Love is an absolute gem of a track. Full of sacharine misanthropy (although that doesn’t do it justice), a catcy melody and all of it backed up with classy arrangements and fabulous harmonies.

But don’t just take my word for it….


The Research – I Think She’s The One I Love from This Is Fake DIY Records on Vimeo.

The ‘Search had one of the most critically acclaimed albus of 2006 (4/5, Mojo; Album of the Week, Sunday Times) but owing to record label hiatus it’s taken this long and a complete re-record of the second album to get here.

You can listen to more tunes on The Research’s MySpace page and buy the current single and album from Fake DIY.

Technorati tags: The Research, music, I Think She’s The One I Love, Fake DIY

Phatic Communciations and other interesting ideas from Grant McCracken

I came across an interesting interview with the advertising anthropologist, Grant McCracken, the other day.

I recommend taking a read, but here are a couple of stand out points for me:

Firstly, Grant (prompted by the interviewer) talks about ‘phatic communications’:

"those little murmurs, exclamations, grunts and sighs with which we communicate our emotional condition."

I like this idea. It is essentially how social tools like Twitter and Facebook capture and share meaning without using explicit information.

Secondly, Grant also points out that:

Consumers are no longer one set of tastes and preferences. They are bundles of tastes and preferences.”

This means that dividing people into one market or demographic doesn’t work; we need to recognize

an individual’s “multiple selves” and appeal to them accordingly.

Grant doesn’t discuss this phenomenon directly in relation to the Internet, but for me the power for people to explore different desires, needs and wants that are all traditionally tied up in conventional marketing terms such as ABC1, 22-34 has been awoken and opened up by the Internet.

I believe this isn’t just the ‘alter-ego’ scenario displayed by tools like Second Life or WoW, but is in fact more basic and everyday. We are all complex characters; the Internet simply allows us to realise this more adequately than the physical environment.

I tried to explore this idea in more depth with a post last year invoking Jean Baurillard and online identity.

Technorati tags:

Grant McCracken, phatic communications, online identity

Spot the difference: academic theory or marketing concept?

Ian Delaney has a great quotation from Lincoln University’s Dr Brian Winston from the MediaFutures08 conference the other week:

"We are in a condition where we conveniently forget the years of discovery, exploration and mistakes that lead to whatever is in today’s headlines. We’re also conditioned into accepting the rhetoric of marketing as fact. Web 2.0 favourite theories like ‘the wisdom of crowds’, ‘the hype cycle’ and ‘crossing the chasm’ are actually commercial products, not independent academic studies."

This is something that a lot of digital, marketing, PR and advertising types should really take into account – and I mean *really*.

We all need a reality check from time to time and this is the best I’ve read for long time.

The significant point here is that we are all quick to grasp concepts that shore up our prespective on the marketing and communications industry, but how often do we check to see whether what we evangelising is 100% proven.

I’m not suggesting that there is no truth behind the Wisdom of Crowds or The Long Tail. However, I am saying that empirical evidence can easily be misunderstood or misrepresented to make an argument. This situation is compunded where there is a financial or commercial imperative for specific results or results that support a particular world view.

UPDATE: On looking up the Wikipedia entry on Wisodm of Crowds I discovcered the following Wiki-warning:

"This article is written like an advertisement. Please help rewrite this article from a neutral point of view."

Which seems to me a clear enough reminder – if one was needed – of the theory’s commercial purpose.

Technorati tags: Ian Delaney, Dr Brian Winston, marketing theory, PR, Wisdom of Crowds, The Long Tail

Twitter case studies: Bad and er… bad


This isn’t a particularly constructive blog post, but I thought I’d share two great examples of bad Twitter use.

The first one I didn’t even bother clicking to view their profile page, because frankly why would I want to having received the notification email pictured left?

I mean, that’s not even trying is it? It’s not even setting up a Twitter stream as an affiliate link farm and pretending to be a real person.

It’s just doing what it says on the tin: Top Affiliate1. Still, I suppose it’s at least ‘authentic’.

The second example of Twitter abue is slightly less forgivable. I received a notification that Coca Cola Zero was following me on Twitter (albeit in Portuguese) so I took a look at their profile thinking how interesting it would be to see what the brand was doing on Twitter.

Amazingly (and presuming it is an official Coke branded site – although I have no reason to think otherwise) the Twitter feed is more or less being used as a spam site. Take a look at the screenshot below:


You should be able to make out that the user is following about 5,000 people (me included despite not speaking Portuguese) while only having 200 followees. Also, although you probably can’t make it out, they have only posted two tweets in over two weeks. That’s a FAIL in my books.

As a footnote, I was in Brazil last week speaking to PR professionals – so I wonder if someone I met works on the Coke Zero account and has added me. If it was – feel free to drop me an email and I’ll tell you where you could improve 🙂

Technorati tags: Twitter, FAIL, Coca Zero