the problem with procurement and how to fix it


These days, we spend more and more time negotiating terms of business with the Procurement departments of clients and potential clients. These negotiations are more protracted and more contentious than used to be the case in my experience.

Increasingly, Marketing is disconnected from conversations about terms of business and Procurement seeks to impose standard terms across all suppliers and to bring any agency that seeks different terms into line. A prevalent approach is simply to say that these terms are ‘company policy’ and not open to negotiation. This can lead to discussions lasting for months, often long after work has started, or even finished.

This is no doubt part of the reason why the IPA and ISBA have been meeting recently (at The Performance Adaptathon) to discuss whether and how to remunerate agencies for value creation. As observed by Claire Beale in Campaign, “Let’s hope that, while they’re at it, they make a fresh stab at positioning marketing as an investment rather than a cost.”

This the heart of the issue – not just positioning marketing as an investment, but agreeing remuneration terms that are based on that principle.

How to avoid the Marketing Procurement dilemma

In the interests of understanding both sides of the debate, this week I have been reading ‘Buying less for less. How to avoid the Marketing Procurement dilemma’ by Gerry Preece and Russel Wohlwerth.

Amazon says:

Authored by Gerry Preece, ex-head of marketing procurement for the world’s largest advertiser and by Russel Wohlwerth, an ex-agency executive who is now one of the industry’s most respected consultants, this book hits the “marketing procurement dilemma” head on. Preece and Wohlwerth deliver a punchy, concise, clear-minded assessment of the problem and offer straightforward solutions. If you’re an agency leader, a CMO, or a brand marketer, this book will empower you to influence how procurement approaches the space, thus enabling you to deliver better marketing work. And if you’re a Chief Procurement Officer or a marketing procurement professional, you’ll discover a powerful road map that will maximize your bottom line performance and results.

One of the Amazon reviewers commented, “If there was a "beach read" for Procurement within the marketing space, this would be it.” So I took the book on holiday with me and can now offer you this summary to help you decide whether it’s your sort of a beach read or not.


(Good news: it's a much slimmer volume than Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and much easier to read than Edmund Gosse’s Father And Son, my other summer 2014 ‘beach read’ selections.)

The background to the current situation, say the authors, is Procurement’s success in the 1980s and 1990s in buying marketing materials like printed materials. They were able to deliver measurable savings. So, over time, Procurement began to get involved with other marketing spend areas: telemarketing services, mailing lists and, bit by bit, Procurement started to deal with agencies, and areas in which not all value arrived in the form of price. This is where conflict started to develop. Marketers accused Procurement of failing to understand marketing and undermining creative relationships, Procurement accused marketers of feeling threatened by their superior buying skills, and accused agencies of fearing accountability. Agencies accused Procurement of heavy-handed fee-slashing that made it hard to do the job properly and profitably.

Well, yes, that does all sound pretty familiar.

Cutting agency costs may reduce the value of the services being purchased

But, say the authors, these complaints about procurement not understanding marketing and agencies being overpaid and complacent are not getting to the root of the problem, which is this:

“Marketing dollars are limited. They are finite. There is a broad, universal need for every CMO to become increasingly efficient with the limited resources that are available, and that translates into an undending pressure to do more with less. The real problem is that we have to increase marketing ROI.”

This, I think, is the “marketing procurement dilemma” referred to in the book’s title: the problem caused when Procurement wants to buy more marketing services for less, but – because they’re focusing on price, not ROI – they end up getting less for less. Because, if agencies are forced to cut costs, they can do so, but the ways in which they do so will affect the value delivered – putting cheaper, less experienced people on the client’s business, spending less time thinking about strategy, cutting creative development time, presenting fewer options, attending fewer research groups, reducing the number of face-to-face meetings, etc. In this ‘less for less’ scenario everyone loses.

Why marketing is different

The reason for the dilemma is that marketing is different from the other goods and services purchased by Procurement. The authors cite several reasons for this. They include:

– Marketing is an investment not a cost. (Nothing is easier than cutting marketing costs – if you don't believe it’s adding value, just stop spending.) Nobody makes an investment decision based solely on price. (Who buys a share in Microsoft because it’s cheaper than a share in Coca-Cola?) Marketing Procurement should not be about minimising costs, it should be about maximising the value of the investment.

– Specifications are fluid and quality is variable. £1m worth of campaign A is not worth the same as £1m worth of campaign B.

– Because of this variation in quality, the consequences of choosing one apparently comparable proposal over another may be substantial. Good marketing can drive significant uplifts in profits. Bad marketing can lead to a decline in profits.

– Agency differentiation lies in people and processes, not equipment and technology. Obviously, it’s hard to benchmark the talent of one agency against that of another.

– Measuring Procurement performance in marketing is imperfect and complicated. If you’re buying materials, you can quantify volume, quality and cost paid and benchmark this against what was spent before. But in marketing, specifications are hard to quantify and no two proposals are of the same value, so cost saving alone is not a relevant metric.

How do you get more for less?

Okay, marketing is different. Now, how do you get more for less?

Preece and Russel Wohlwerth suggest that this can be done by following four principles. On your Procurement team you need:

1. people with the right mindset (maximisation of value, not cost-cutting)

2. measured by the right metrics (value-add, not savings. Marketing and Marketing Procurement should be tasked with the same metrics.)

3. applying the right skills (strategic sourcing and good interpersonal, trust-building skills)

4. in the right assignments (long-term, ongoing assignments that enable people to learn the area and build trust)

Some companies do employ procurement people who fit this description, and we’ve been lucky to work with them. But not all do.

Putting this into practice

The book suggests four steps when sitting down with Chief Procurement Officer / financial decision-maker:

1. Confirm mutual understanding that marketing is a good investment

2. Explain in detail why marketing is different (as seen above)

3. Describe the implications (right mindset, metrics, skills and assignments)

4. get agreement and get going

Sounds simple. And the book is definitely a concise, clear and well-argued case for the basics of how to solve ‘the dilemma’, which makes it a useful beach read, but a less entertaining one than ‘The Goldfinch’.

The lesson for agencies is that we need more than ever to be focused on accountability for what we do, so that we can prove the value we are providing. We must do this in close partnership with client marketers, who share our interest in accountability. Without this, the debate will only ever be about cost.

Is there such a thing as brand loyalty?


I have recently been reading Byron Sharp’s ‘How brands grow – what marketers don't know.’

The book aims to debunk the received wisdom of marketing via the appliance of science (to use a phrase made popular by marketing).  Author Professor Byron Sharp is the Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia, which sounds fairly impressive, particularly because it has ‘science’ in its name. The book is a thought-provoking read that starts with a checklist of common strategic assumptions / misconceptions. Like, for example:

-       differentiating a brand is a vital marketing task

-       customer retention is cheaper than acquisition of new customers

-       buyers have a special reason to buy your brand

-       your buyers can be defined as a particular type of person

-       the top 20% of your buyers deliver 80% of your sales

(Yep, those do sound familiar.) The book then sets out to disprove these tenets of conventional wisdom one by one, citing evidence-based research to prove its points. The author proposes a set of empirically derived ‘scientific laws’. These ‘laws’ are based on recurring patterns across multiple examples, from which he argues that a general rule can be inferred.

For example:

The double jeopardy law: brands with a smaller market share have fewer buyers and those buyers are less loyal. (Fewer and less – that's the double bubble.) This means that market share increases depend on growing the size of your customer base, not on getting your loyal customers to buy more.

Retention double jeopardy: all brands lose some buyers. This loss is proportionate to market share. So, big brands lose more customers, but these losses represent a smaller percentage of their total customers.  Because all brands are always losing customers, you need to win new customers just to stand still.

Half a brand’s sales come from its top 20% of customers.  This contradicts the oft-quoted “80/20 rule”, which says that 80% of sales come from the most loyal 20% of customers.  Loyal customers account for a much smaller proportion of sales than is usually believed. The other half of sales comes from the 80% of less loyal, infrequent buyers.

It’s interesting stuff and while at W+K we are familiar with many of the arguments in the book (see Martin Weigel’s widely circulated presentation on How To Fail) Sharp presents them in an interesting and apparently thoroughly validated way.  I found the section on brand loyalty particularly thought provoking. The desirability of turning ‘customers’ into ‘fans’ is often discussed in marketing circles, and brands like Nike and Apple are frequently lauded for their ability to inspire passionate devotion.

Sharp seeks to debunk the very idea of passionate loyalty to brands and suggests that those passionate loyalists who do exist are commercially unimportant.

He argues that brand loyalty exists but that it is divided and strongly influenced by opportunity. Loyalty is more prosaic than it is passionate and is mostly due to habit, availability and indifference.  Sharp wryly suggests that marketers want not just to sell products but to foster brand love because,

“Merely selling things sounds crass…(but) this makes the marketing profession seem so much more honourable… The idea that consumers have ‘relationships’ with brands is an old idea, which is routinely repackaged by marketing consultants.  Kevin Roberts’ Lovemarks website is a classic and quite humorous example. To quote, ‘Lovemarks are brands that create an intimate emotional connection you simply can’t do without’… The Lovemarks website lists thousands of brands that have been nominated as Lovemarks by visitors to the website. These are brands that some people feel passionate about (or at least feel so some of the time)… This shows that any brand can have a few fans… but it does not show that some brands are special or that these fans are of any financial or strategic consequence to marketers. These make for an entertaining story and that’s all. Advertising agencies, who in general know very little about buyer behavior, love these stories.”

Ouch! Cheers, Professor. Sharp goes on to suggest that, contrary to received wisdom, the buyers of Apple and Harley Davidson are not unusually loyal. He says, in somewhat self-consciously fusty academic tones, “I’m sure that tattoo engravers (if that is the right word) receive more requests for Harley Davidson tattoos than they do for Kelloggs Cornflakes tattoos… but this says more about the respective product categories than it does about brand purchasing behavior.” In other words, the sort of people who love Harleys are just more likely to get a tattoo than the sort of people who love Kelloggs.

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 09.35.49

His conclusion on loyalty: “We try to bring our attitudes in line with our behaviour.  Since brands aren’t very important to us, brand buying tends to have a strong effect on our rather weak attitudes – we like what we buy… Within every brand’s customer base there are a few people who feel much more emotionally committed to the brand… But the marketing consequences of these brand fan(atic)s turn out to be very limited. Most of a brand’s customers think and care little about the brand, but the brand manager should care about these people because they represent most of the brand’s sales.”

So, don’t worry about your fans – they’re not important. To grow market share, you need to increase brand popularity; that is, get many more buyers, most of whom are light users who occasionally choose your product. Growth comes from a combination of physical and mental availability. Brand that are easier to buy – for more people in more situations – get more share. So marketers need to make sure that their product gets noticed and they need continuously to reach large numbers of light buyers cost effectively.

Or, as Martin W puts it:

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 09.39.26

And this thought should inspire us as marketers to aim for the extraordinary.

The book also contains some thought-provoking ideas on how advertising "really" works. I’ll come onto those in a subsequent post.

how to write a persuasive message

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, jacket cover
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is an interesting book that examines how and why we make the choices we make. It argues that we are not as reasoning and rational as we like to believe.

Some of the content is interesting for those working in marketing communications. Here's one example – from a section in the book about how to write a persuasive message.

"Suppose you must write a message that you want the recipients to believe. Of course, your message will be true, but that is not necessarily enough for people to believe that it is true…

"The general principle is that anything you can do to reduce cognitive strain (extra effort required to understand something) will help, so you should first maximise legibility. Compare these statements:

Hitler was born in 1892

Hitler was born in 1887

Both are false (Hitler was born in 1889), but studies have shown that the first is more likely to be believed. More advice: if your message is to be printed, use high-quality paper to maximise the contrast between characters and their background. If you use color, you are more likely to be believed if your text is printed in bright blue or red than in middle shades of green, yellow or pale blue.

"If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do... (research suggests that) couching familiar ideas in pretentious language is taken as a sign of poor intelligence and low credibility.

"In addition to making your message simple, try to make it memorable. Put your ideas in verse if you can; they will be more likely to be taken as truth. Participants in a much-cited survey read dozens of unfamiliar aphorisms such as:

Woes unite foes.

Little strokes will tumble great oaks.

A fault confessed is half redressed.

Other students read some of the same proverbs transformed into nonrhyming versions:

Woes unite enemies.

Little strokes will tumble great trees.

A fault admitted is half redressed.

The aphorisms were judged more insightful when they rhymed than when they did not.

"Finally, if you quote a source, choose one with a name that is easy to pronounce… if possible the recipients of your message want to stay away from anything that reminds them of effort, including a source with a complicated name.

"All this is very good advice but we should not get carried away. High quality paper, bright colours, and rhyming or simple language will not be much help if your message is obviously nonsensical, or if it contradicts facts that your audience knows to be true… How do you know that a statement is true? If it is strongly linked by logic or association to other beliefs or preferences you hold, or comes from a source you trust and like, you will feel a sense of cognitive ease. the trouble is that there may be other causes for your feeling of ease – including the quality of the font and the appealing rhythm of the prose – and you have no simple way of tracing your feelings to the source."

If you accept the argument, this would suggest that bold, simple ads, from familiar brands, executed in colour, are more likely to be believed. Especially if your message rhymes.


progress and the unreasonable man – thoughts on Steve Jobs


I finally read the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It's a heavy tome (I'm sure Jobs would have specified a slimmer design), too big to carry about, and I generally read when I'm travelling, so it wasn't until I downloaded an electronic copy that I got stuck into it. I can recommend it for anyone who's interested in business, tech, the creative industries or Jobs himself.

Jobs comes across as an obnoxious, perfectionist weirdo who managed, in his own words, to 'put a dent in the universe', seemingly by sheer force of will. He was an unusual combination of hippy drop-out, inspired creative thinker and business mogul, with an obsessive compulsion for everything around him to be 'just right'. A revealing incident in the book relates how he was under sedation while being treated for cancer and the doctors tried to put a mask over his face.

Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the
design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered
them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a
design he liked. . . . He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his
finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.

Yeah, I've worked with some designers like that.

Jobs's perfectionism and need for total control led him to create a completely self-contained system in which software and hardware were integrated and even the retail channel was owned by the brand. He specified everything from packaging to the colour of the walls in the factory and even deliberately had the products engineered so they couldn't be opened without specialist tools, to prevent people from so much as changing a battery. Once perfection had been achieved he didn't want anyone to tamper with it. When working on the specifications for Apple's new HQ, the architects wanted the windows to open, but Jobs rejected this. He “had never
liked the idea of people being able to open things. ‘That would just
allow people to screw things up.’ ”

At times in the book he appears to be a visionary genius who can anticipate what people want before they know themselves, transform whole industries in a matter of months and push his people to perform seeming miracles of engineering in products that astonish and delight the world. And at times he's a self-centred pain in the arse, who will simply ignore the facts if they don't suit him. He abuses, cheats and lies to those around him, apparently with no remorse.

The book touches on Jobs's approach to advertising and branding at a number of points.

It relates that in briefing Chiat/Day for the launch of the Macintosh, he demanded something as revolutionary as he believed the product itself to be. "I want something that will stop people in their tracks," He said. "I want a thunderclap."

A thunderclap is what he got.

Here's Jobs previewing the ad to the Apple sales force at an internal event in 2003.

The salesforce get it. But when he showed '1984' to the board of Apple, "Many of them thought it was the worst commercial they had ever seen." The board tried to pull the campaign but Lee Clow claims that Chiat/Day lied and told them they couldn't sell the 60s Superbowl slot. (That's such a great story that I really hope it's true.) The screening caused a sensation and '1984' has been described as the greatest TV ad of all time.

The concept (1984) captured the zeitgeist of the personal
computer revolution. Many young people, especially those in the
counterculture, had viewed computers as instruments that could be used
by Orwellian governments and giant corporations to sap individuality…
The ad cast Macintosh as a warrior for (personal empowerment) – a cool,
rebellious and heroic company that was the only thing standing in the
way of the big evil corporation's plan for world domination and total
mind control. Jobs liked that. He fancied himself as a rebel and he
liked to associate himself with the values of the ragtag band of hackers
and pirates he recruited to the Macintosh group.
..The ad was a way of reaffirming, to himself and to the world, his desired self image.

If Jobs identified himself with the message in '1984' then 'Here's to the crazy ones' must have seemed like a personal manifesto.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the
only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things.
They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy
ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

You get the sense that this is exactly how Jobs saw himself – a rebellious genius who pushed the human race forward, despite the carping of critics. People talk of Jobs's 'reality distortion field'; when
reality didn't suit him he ignored it, or sought to overturn it, or persuaded others that they could do so.

Here's Jobs in 1997, presenting 'Here's to the Crazy Ones' in another Apple keynote speech, when he had returned to the company as interim CEO. At this point Apple sales had slumped, their product line-up was weak and they had yet to launch the iMac or iPod. He needed to remind Apple fans and employees what Apple stood for, at its core and how they were going to return to those values. It's interesting to hear one of the world's great marketers speak about branding and marketing in such clear, simple terms.

 The book goes on:

Starting with the 'Think Different' campaign and continuing through the rest of his years at Apple, Jobs held a freewheeling three-hour meeting every Wednesday afternoon with his top agency, marketing and communications people to kick around messaging strategy. "There's not a CEO on the planet who deals with marketing the way Steve does," said Clow. "Every Wednesday he approves each new commercial, print ad and billboard." At the end of the meeting he would often take Clow and his two agency colleagues Duncan Miller and James Vincent, to Apple's closely guarded design studio to see what products were in the works. "He gets very passionate and emotional when he shows us what's in development," said Vincent. By sharing with his marketing gurus his passion for the products as they were being created, he was able to ensure that almost every ad they produced was infused with his emotion."

Jobs was responsible for some amazing work, but he was a demanding client. He responded to the first draft of 'The Crazy Ones' with the words, "It's advertising agency shit and I hate it!' He told copywriter James Vincent that he hated the iPad launch work.

"Your commercials suck," he said. "The iPad is revolutionizing the world and we need something big. You've given me small shit."
“Well, what do you want?” Vincent shot back. “You’ve not been able to tell me what you want.”

“I don’t know,” Jobs said. “You have to bring me something new. Nothing you’ve shown me is even close.”

Vincent argued back and suddenly Jobs went ballistic. “He just started
screaming at me,” Vincent recalled. Vincent could be volatile himself,
and the volleys escalated.

When Vincent shouted, “You’ve got to tell me what you want,” Jobs shot
back, “You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see

The book explains how the agency presents twelve different campaigns, from inspirational and stirring to humorous, to celebrity endorsement. Further campaigns are developed and produced, but Steve still isn't happy. 

He had been asking for ads that were different and new but eventually he realised he did not want to stray from what he considered the Apple voice. For him that voice had a distinctive set of qualities: simple, declarative, clean…And so they went back to a clean white background, with just a close-up showing off all the things that "iPad is" and could do.

IPad ad

Not so much the creative visionary, more the client who doesn't know what he wants until he sees it and makes you do a ton of work before he decides he liked the first thing best.

Despite all this, I have to say I would have jumped at the chance to work with the obsessive, perfectionist weirdo that was Steve Jobs.

In the words of George Bernard Shaw, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress
depends on the unreasonable man.' Jobs was clearly unreasonable: he succeeded in adapting the world around him to fit himself. He couldn't have achieved so much without being unreasonable; the interesting question is whether he could have done it without being so unpleasant.

I've heard people in this business say we should "tolerate genius". (I think David Ogilvy said it first.) I've also heard Dan Wieden say, "Life's too short to work with assholes." There are few geniuses in advertising, no Lennons or Picassos or Dylans, but there are plenty of assholes. I've been lucky enough to work with some exceptional talents who are unreasonable enough to achieve greatness in our field, without being unpleasant in the process. Wieden is one of the few. Those people are never easy to work with, but they are crazy enough to believe they can make a difference. And the ones who are crazy enough to believe that are the ones who do.

you have to be able to tolerate weirdness


I recently picked up a copy of this book, Imagine. How creativity works, by Jonah Lehrer.

The blurb on Amazon says:

The profound mysteries of creative thought have long intimidated the world's finest brains. How do you measure the imagination? How do you quantify an epiphany? These daunting questions led researchers to neglect the subject for hundreds of years. In Jonah Lehrer's ambitious and enthralling new book, we go in search of the epiphany. Shattering the myth of creative 'types', Lehrer shows how new research is deepening our understanding of the human imagination. Creativity is not a 'gift' that only some possess. It's a term for a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively.

It's an entertaining and sometimes enlightening read for anyone interested in the creative industries. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on Bob Dylan's creative process – like writing a "long piece of vomit" – and that of Pixar. "Talent is not enough. Talent fails every day…But no-one ever said making a good movie was easy…If it feels easy then you're doing it wrong…We know that screw-ups are an essential part of what we do here. That's why our goal is simple: we want to screw up as quicky as possible. We want to fail fast. And then we want to fix it. Together."

There's also a section in the book on Wieden + Kennedy. It's always a little weird to read about your own workplace in a book like this. "Can that really be us?" You wonder. Anyway, here's some of what Lehrer says about us:

Dan Wieden is cofounder of Wieden + Kennedy, one of the most innovatve and honoured ad agencies in the world. Wieden's firm has a reputation for designing unconventional campaigns, from the Levi's commercial featuring the voice of Walt Whitman to those yellow rubber bracelets that support Lance Armstrong's foundation.


I met Wieden at the W+K headquarters in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon. The building is a former cold-storage factory that's been hollowed out. This means that the interior is mostly empty space, a soaring lobby framed by thick concrete walls and weathered pine beams. Wieden gives me a tour of the building as he explains his unorthodox approach to fostering group creativity…

While Dan believes in the virtue of such events (as team building exercises, pie-making competitions and pub crawls) he thinks they only work if the right people are present. For Dan. this is what creativity is all about: putting talented people in a room and letting them freely interact.'It really is that simple,' he says. 'You need to hire the best folks ad then get out of the way… What I've learned to look for is the individual voice. It might be an aesthetic, or a sentence style, or a way of holding the camera. But havung that unique voice is the one thing I can't teach. I can teach someone to write copy. I can show someone how to crop a photo. But I can't teach you how to have a voice. You either have something to say or you don't."

Wieden describes the challenge of advertising as finding a way to stay original in a world of cliches, avoiding the bikinis in beer ads and the racing coupes in car commercials. And that's why he's so insistent on hiring people who don't know anything about advertising. 'You need these weird fucks,' he says. 'You need people who won't make the same boring, predictable mistakes as the rest of us. And when those weirdos learn how things work and become a little less weird, then you need a new class of weird fucks. Of course, you also need some people who know what they're doing. But if you're in the creative business, then you have to be able to tolerate a certain level of, you know, weirdness.'

There's much more in the book.

Update 01/08/12:

I see here that the author has resigned from his job at The New Yorker and that the book is being withdrawn by its publishers following Lehrer's admission that he falsified quotes attributed to Bob Dylan. As far as I know, the quotes attributed to Dan Wieden above are accurate.

the billionaire’s nine point plan for personal success


Currently reading "What they teach you at Harvard Business School" by Philip Delves Broughton because it's much easier and quicker than actually doing a Harvard MBA. Interested to learn that if you get in to Harvard it's actually quite hard to fail an MBA. Also quite liked this simple nine point philosophy for personal success, as laid out by visiting speaker/billionaire Meg Whitman, then CEO of eBay. (Now in the same role at HP.)

1. Do something you enjoy, because if you don't enjoy it you're unlikely to be much good at it.

2. Deliver the results whatever you're doing

3. Codify the lessons learned – what worked, what didn't and why.

4. Be patient and stick around good people and good things.

5. Build a team and share credit

6. Be fun to work with.

7. When there's something you don't know or don't understand – ask

8. Don't take yourself too seriously

9. Never, ever compromise your integrity

She had one further point: "Remember this. And this is something I have not been particularly good at. You probably won't look back and wish that you'd worked harder… In the end your family and friends are the most important thing."

The author then wonders if the speaker regretted her choices and whether, given the option, she would give up her fortune in return for getting back the years spent working. "What then? Almost everyone listening to her (at Harvard) was contemplating a future of ninety-hour work weeks, personal sacrifice in return for professional success. Could Whitman have done more to change their minds?"

Anyway, still working hard. Still haven't cracked that first billion.

chekhov (not the Star Trek one) on walking in stupid

Not this one:


This one:

Chekhov on 'walking in stupid':

"It is time for writers to admit that nothing in this world makes sense. Only fools and charlatans think they know and understand everything. The stupider they are, the wider they conceive their horizons to be. And if an artist decides to declare that he understands nothing of what he sees – this in itself constitutes a considerable clarity in the realm of thought, and a great step forward."

Anton Chekhov, as quoted in Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.

Wise words from our Russian friend.

jedi mind tricks and how they apply to advertising


bought this book on the basis of its promise to explain ‘the art of split-second mind control: flipnosis. It has an incubation
period of just seconds and can instantly disarm even the most discerning mind…
Flipnosis is black belt mind control… Kevin Dutton’s brilliantly original and
revelatory book explores what cutting edge science can teach us about the
techniques of persuasion.


the job, I thought. There are certainly many workplace situations in which it
would come in handy to know how to employ the mind-tricks of a Jedi master,
combined with the irresistible persuasiveness of a Don Draper. Our job
is all about persuasion: encouraging colleagues to achieve a goal; convincing
clients that a strategy or execution will be successful, or that a fee proposal
is good value; influencing an audience to change their opinion and/or


for the benefit of W2O readers, can this book really show you how to bend
others to your will? Er, no. But there is some interesting stuff in there.


a populist science book (written by an academic but an accessible read for
non-boffins) containing a number of entertainingly explained examples of
stories and experiments relating to surprising feats of persuasion, from
talking a would-be jumper down off a ledge to persuading a burglar not only not
to burgle your house, but to give you his contact details so you can send the
police round to pick him up. These stories are interesting but difficult to
turn into any practical application.


not until page 215 that we get to the general theory of Flipnosis. This is it: there are five major axes of persuasion.



Perceived self-interest





acronym: SPICE.



brain prefers to process simple information. In flipnosis, only information
essential to the communication of the message is included in the message. Key
example given in the book is the way that when politicians are running for
election their policies become more basic. 

The book quotes Professor of
Psychology Luke Conway: “Simplicity sells. No-one marches to rallying cries
that say, ‘I may be right, I may be wrong, let’s dialogue.”

I wouldn’t vote for anyone who used ‘dialogue’ as a verb, regardless of their
policies. Pedants unite!)

also suggests that aphorisms and slogans are memorable and persuasive for this
reason. Research conducted in Texas showed that people found rhyming statements
more likely to be perceived as true and accurate than ones that didn’t.  e.g. ‘Caution and measure will win you
treasure’ researched as more genuine than ‘Caution and measure will win you
riches.’ Hence, one assumes, ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’ and ‘Don’t just
book it, Thomas Cook it.’


Perceived self-interest

order to do what you want, people need to see what’s in it for them. So couch
your argument in those terms. Dutton quotes a number of experiments to show how
people tend to act in what they believe to be their own interest. He also cites
the way in which Terry Wogan rebutted criticism of his £800,000 salary –
‘That’s only two pence per listener’ as a way of reframing the number to
benefit his detractors.


the unexpected, works in persuasion because it distracts us from what we should
be focusing on. It is, apparently, the psychological equivalent of a magician’s
misdirection of the audience’s attention. A bizarre experiment was conducted
that suggested people were more likely to buy cupcakes from a market stall if
the vendor described them as ‘half-cakes’ and followed this up with the
tag-line, ‘They’re delicious!’ While the brain is confused by the incongruity,
the ‘confident, empathic nano-hypnotic suggestion’ can be introduced to win the
sale while cognitive resistance is disabled. ‘Half cakes? Wha-? Oh, they’re
delicious – I’ll take two.’

book also cites  ‘Avis – we’re
number two so we try harder’ as an example of an ad campaign that employs a
counter-intuitive approach to ambush expectations and take the emotion hostage.
I’m wondering if we should go further and recommend a campaign along the lines
of, “The new Honda brillig and the slithy toves. It’s a great drive!”  Anyone know whether the Stella
‘Reassuringly elephants’ execution was actually more effective than conventional
‘reassuringly expensive’ ones?

Screen shot 2010-06-19 at 14.40.17

you don’t trust someone, if you don’t have confidence that things will turn out
as they say, then what’s the point in listening to them? Apparently this is why
TV experts often appear against a backdrop of books – to lend authority to
their opinions. And I guess it’s also why cosmetics ads often feature
scientific institutes, 'laboratoires', 'the science bit', people in white coats and testimonials from
self-evidently beautiful celebrities.



bizarre exeriment here: people who were (falsely) told they shared a birthday
with mad monk Rasputin were likely to be more lenient in their judgement of his
misdeeds than respondents who weren’t.


is the reason why, if we feel strong political allegiance to a certain party
for emotional reasons, it’s very hard to use rational arguments to get us to
change loyalties.

a highly effective tool in getting aging Afghan warlords with many young wives
to cooperate with the CIA is to make them a gift of a case of Viagra. I also
expect it’s why, when you’re trying on clothes in a shop, the assistant will
pay you compliments – you feel good, you’re more likely to buy.

that’s Flipnosis. ‘Persuasion as nature
intended it. Before language dumbed it down.’

not convinced these principles are going to turn me into the Obi Wan Kenobi of
agency management  – "These are
exactly the concepts you are looking for” – but I think there's some
interesting stuff here to consider next time you’re trying to persuade a client
to consider your point of view, or wondering how to create an effective campaign.

Obi wan
And the next time a shop assistant says to you, as you try on a shirt, "I love your shoes, where did you get them?" you can think to yourself – I know your game, pal! Your Jedi empathy trick won't work on me! (Unless, of course, he's already disabled your defences by describing it as a 'half-shirt'.)

twin peaks

09102009199Picture 1

Today The Sun ran an article featuring a series of natural objects that look like breasts. A year after they ran a similar article about my book 'one-trackmind' - a fun xmas stocking filler, with profits going to breast cancer.  Coincidentally today is ' Pink Friday' in the office.  Holly asked everyone to wear pink (well remembered Danny Wallace) and contribute a pound towards breast cancer research. So get your spare change out now, fill Holly's pot and buy my book you tight lot!