BOBT review: Coming up with big ideas is difficult, but isn’t that our job?
I tweeted like an idiot yesterday at Battle of Big Thinking, the APG event. I was trying to record the ideas that had salience as they were delivered. There’s a great collection of people’s opinions on twitter here. Looking back there were nice nuggets. But what do I remember from the event the day after, without needing my memory jogged? What can I take away and use, mull-over, critique?
Sadly, surprisingly little.
I was disappointed by the lack of insight in the 25 presentations. Only a handful were based on an idea with substantiated evidence or a truly new way of looking at things. Most were the same regurgitated en-vogue arguments. Few featured lateral thought, or smart new combinations of seemingly unrelated insight. Few amazed. So I guess few were ‘big’?
My takeout? Most planners are reading the same stuff and thinking the same stuff. And it’s boring.
Age seemed to matter. The most insightful thoughts came from the older guys and the youngest guys. In between (apart from Peter Sells of BBH talking about mobile), there seemed to be a lot of repetition and recycled subjective beige.
I will take away the following ideas:
Guy Murphy won overall with some thinking based on research into brand perceptions amongst the populations of about 15 countries worldwide. What JWT have concluded is that as markets mature, consumer’s interest (measured by ‘time’ spent with or thinking about a brand) declines.
He then compared the creative approach of brands across the world and concluded that a lack of playfulness in mature markets was hampering the efficacy of communications. His Brand Toys application helps companies visualise and explore their potentially playful identity.
This was insight rich thinking which made the audience re-appraise first, their cynicism to emerging markets in terms of creativity, and second, their own strategies for the tired old brands in the West. It also made you want to work overseas. Solid work from a pro!
Justin Basini introduced a proper big thought – that business and therefore marketing must move away from the consumption based economics that is driving us into a resources-battering Matrix-style nightmare, and instead focus on ‘conservation economics’.
A handful of changes to our practice was recommended:
1. Encourage punters to value what they have, rather than value what they don’t have. Demand for services/products can be based on building on what people do/own/use already rather than promoting a disposable culture.
2. We should move from mass marketing to mass interactions as the Cluetrain Manifesto was right and conversations will guide consumer behaviour.
3. We should seek to extend the life of products with additional services. For example, the App store and Nike+ provide added value with few resources being used up.
4. Corporations who are ‘too big to fail’ must now appreciate their role in society beyond making profit. A new obligation to create on social good should be introduced. Marketing can play a critical role in this.
Peter Sells from BBH used his experience as a cognitive psychologist to align mobile technology with human needs. He talked about the core needs we’re driven by:
Satisfying these needs leads to a sense of happiness. Happiness as seen through ‘flow‘, or a frictionless ‘optimal experience’, can become a worthy goal of any service a company might deliver to customers. As a fundamental requirement for the most timely, proximal channel currently existing, happiness is a neat aim for mobile activity.
He pointed out that there is a massive market for happiness. So alongside Guy’s playfulness and another speaker’s reference to VW Fun Theory, a trend to use smart behavioural planning to create contentment and happy people emerged from the day.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Patrick Cairns from Plum Baby made the simple and refreshing point that, contrary to most large companies, those organisations with innovation naturally at their heart are driven by a vision and by a leader’s instinct. Instinct rules when it come to innovation it seems. Innovation is about opinion (which is future orientated vs past orientated fact). Patrick told us to ’embrace outsiders’ in order to find new ways forward, ‘fail quickly’ and make an idea ‘personal but solidly managed’. And it should be quick otherwise everyone loses. See Nonsense’s 24 start-up idea as an example. In 24hrs they’ve created Dr Hue. And it works!
So while I was disappointed by the lack of new thinking led by research or real insight during the day, Patrick’s opinion was a powerful one. He suggested we find ways to help people who express a fresh new vision (as opposed to a recycled one). We should support and explore their instinctive belief, unfettered by committees and what Malcolm White called ‘Premature Evaluation’ (Number 3 of 15 ideas in 15 minutes).
The most fun part of the day was from the new ‘Open Mic’ section – 5 young planners from places like Fallon, Naked, Grey and Carlson fought it out for 3 mins each. Considering the quality of the content, 3 mins seemed an unfairly short amount of time. Indeed more came from their punchy ideas in 15mins than from almost the entire morning.
The winner was James Mitchell who dared suggest that BOBT’s promise that it would offer ‘a year’s worth of ideas in one day’ might be a bad thing, and that information overload was our biggest threat. It was simple, entertaining and heartfelt. Like Jon Alexander’s sustainability themed talk, James’ vision was Utopian and therefore extremely compelling. The audience was lifted and post-lunch blues dissipated. I think the success of this section pointed the way to the evolution of the BOBT concept.
Robin Wight used the podium to launch an impassioned demand that we must Save Advertising. He argues that market research has failed to evolve since the 60’s when Account Planning was born. A wrong assumption about the way the brain works has led us to rationalising, Link-testing madness.
He argues that brain science has helped us understand that the primal instinctive brain makes most of our purchasing decisions (we don’t like to work hard thinking about less important things as it uses up too much of the body’s energy), while the rational mind justifies it.
We are truly in two minds with tricky decisions (such as moral issues), but for most consumption needs, we think very little. So asking us why we made a choice is a complete waste of time, as we don’t know (at least we can’t tell you accurately). Robin used new norms from brain science to discount the use of norms from Link tests and other rationalising research methods.
The danger inherent in this approach is that brain scans and the assumptions being made around them are a) new and b) themselves little understood.
So while Robin will receive much support from planners weary of models that claim to uncover truths that often go against our creative instincts, he has yet to propose a new methodology to replace the old model. I hope a new agreed upon research model emerges from science and psychology soon. ‘Till then, we have what we have. But good on Robin for getting the debate started.
So what should we do next year?
As an APG committee member, I could propose a few tweaks to the format. So ideas are welcome!
Katy from Naked, John from PHD and I thought perhaps a ‘Planning’s Got Talent’ format could work for an entertaining day! A speaker has to make their point and is allowed to continue only if the audience is suitably impressed. Audience voting during the speech however can force the speaker offstage.
A less aggressive version could simply see the BOBT format condensed and the battle elements increased. I do think shorter speeches are needed. But if people like the idea, perhaps longer versions of the ideas could be prepared for further debate later in the day.
Either way, quality control should be excersized and speaker briefings must be thorough. To avoid articles like this one from Matthew Taylor of the RSA.
I have been to good events. I’ve even hosted them — times when the speakers have been well briefed, the event has a clear purpose, the questions addressed have been relevant and engaging. But to be honest they are the exception.
Links to blogs and presentations from the day are being uploaded here. Well done to everyone who took part. It has certainly generated plenty of positive buzz, despite my cynicism.
Here’s a list of the presentations (thanks to @yodanny for compiling)
Guy Murphy – “Brand Play”
Justin Bassini (ex-Capital One) spoke about brand responsibility. Here are a couple of his follow-up projects:
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