Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo & Doug McMillon, Walmart talk about the intersection between brand and product

This is from last year and there is a lot of filler but interesting discussion about the intersection between brand and product.

The sublime world of machine learning

Scott Galloway talks about the way brands are using AI (machine learning) and the examples are very much in the background so that the impact on the customer experience won’t be apparent. In many respects this is similar to how fuzzy logic became invisible as it was introduced in the late 1980s.

The Japanese were particularly adept at putting an obscure form of mathematics to use. They made lifts that adapted to the traffic flows of people going in and out of a building and microwaves which knew how long to defrost whatever you put into it. Fuzzy logic compensated for blur in video camera movement in a similar manner to way smartphone manufacturers now use neural networks on images.

The Japanese promoted fuzzy logic inside products to the home market, but generally backed off from promoting it abroad. The features just were and consumers accepted them over time. In a quote that is now eerily reminiscent of our time a spokesperson for the American Electronics Association’s Tokyo office said to the Washington Post

“Some of the fuzzy concepts may be valid in the U.S.,”

“The idea of better energy efficiency, or more precise heating and cooling, can be successful in the American market,”

“But I don’t think most Americans want a vacuum cleaner that talks to you and says, ‘Hey, I sense that my dust bag will be full before we finish this room.’ “

More information
The Future of Electronics Looks Fuzzy | Washington Post (December 23, 1990)

Marketers: you are not a goldfish and neither is anyone else

I have grown tired of a ridiculous statistic being used so frequently that it becomes marketing truth. It’s regurgitated in articles, blog posts, social media and presentations. The problem with it is that affects the way marketers view the world and conduct both planning and strategy. The picture below is a goldfish, his name is Diego. If you’ve managed to read this you aren’t Diego.


I realise that sounds a little dramatic, but check out this piece by Mark Jackson, who leads the Hong Kong and Shenzhen offices of Racepoint Global. It’s a good piece on the different elements that represent a good story (predominantly within a PR setting). And it is right that attention in a fragmented media eco-system will be contested more fiercely. But it starts with:

Over the course of the last 20 years, the average attention span has fallen to around eight seconds; a goldfish has an attention span of nine! The challenge for companies – established and new – is to figure out how to get even a small slice of that attention span when so many other companies are competing for it.

Mark’s piece is just the latest of a long line of marketing ‘thought leadership’ pieces that repeat this as gospel. The problem is this ‘truth’ is bollocks.

It fails the common sense test. Given that binge watching of shows like Game of Thrones or sports matches is commonplace, book sales are still happening, they would have to be balanced out with millisecond experiences for this 8-second value to make any sense as an average. The goldfish claim is like something out of a vintage Brass Eye episode.

To quote DJ Neil ‘Doctor’ Fox:

Now that is a scientific fact! There’s no real evidence for it; but it is scientific fact

Let’s say your common sense gets the better of your desire for a pithy soundbite and you decide to delve into the goldfish claim a bit deeper.  If one took a little bit of time to Google around it would become apparent that the goldfish ‘fact’ is dubious. It originally came from research commissioned by Microsoft’s Advertising arm ‘How does digital affect Canadian attention spans?‘. The original link to the research now defaults to the home page of Microsoft Advertising. Once you start digging into it, the goldfish wasn’t actually part of the research, but was supporting desk research and thats when its provenance gets murky.

PolicyViz in a 2016 blog post The Attention Span Statistic Fallacy called it out and provided links to the research that they did into the the goldfish ‘fact’ in 2016 – go over and check their article out. The BBC did similar detective work a year later and even went and asked an expert:

“I don’t think that’s true at all,” says Dr Gemma Briggs, a psychology lecturer at the Open University.

“Simply because I don’t think that that’s something that psychologists or people interested in attention would try and measure and quantify in that way.”

She studies attention in drivers and witnesses to crime and says the idea of an “average attention span” is pretty meaningless. “It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.”

There are some studies out there that look at specific tasks, like listening to a lecture.

But the idea that there’s a typical length of time for which people can pay attention to even that one task has also been debunked.

“How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation,” explains Dr Briggs.

“We’ve got a wealth of information in our heads about what normally happens in given situations, what we can expect. And those expectations and our experience directly mould what we see and how we process information in any given time.”

But don’t feel too bad, publications like Time and the Daily Telegraph were punked by this story back in 2015. The BBC use the ‘fact’ back in 2002, but don’t cite the source.  Fake news doesn’t just win elections, it also makes a fool of marketers.

This whole thing feels like some marketer (or PR) did as poor a job as many journalists in terms of sourcing claims and this ‘truth’ gradually became reinforcing. Let’s start taking the goldfish out of marketing.









Vape Nation?

My exposure to electronic cigarettes (or vapes) was with seasoned smokers looking for a healthier opportunity, or a path to help wean themselves off nicotine all together. I had seen some research that suggested teen trial of vaping was growing – this was from E-Cigarettes: Youth and Trends in Vaping – Journal of Pediatric Health Care, volume 29, issue 6, pages 555 – 557 (November – December 2015)

Among youth in the United States, e-cigarette use rose from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012 (Grana, Benowitz, & Glantz., 2014). This increase resulted in an estimated 1.78 million middle and high school students having used e-cigarettes (CDC, 2013). The trial and use of e-cigarettes have been higher among youth in Europe and Asia. A recent study on Korean youth found the trial use of e-cigarettes rose from 0.5% in 2008 to 9.4% in 2011 (Lee, Grana, & Glantz., 2014), and among youth 10 to 15 years of age in Poland the rate of those who had ever used e-cigarettes was 62% in 2014 (Hanewinkel & Isensee, 2015).

Now what I don’t know is how good the research quoted actually was, or the factors in ‘trialling’.

You also have to remember that there is a big health research grant eco-system that depends on tobacco control which has sprung up over the past 40 years which will affect the framing of the data.

I am not saying tobacco isn’t harmful, but it is useful to understand the likely factors framing the presentation of information.

I was surprised by this video from the Shanghai Vap Expo in China. It was more like going to a skateboarding convention back in the day:

  • Lots of independent resellers from around the world for vaping liquid – mirroring the variety of skateboard parts makers. Many of the formulations on sale had no tobacco
  • Vaping tricks and demonstrations
  • Clear tying of vaping to sub-cultures: hip-hop, race-girl type outfits. Pretty much any ancillary activity would expect around a Red Bull event or the X-Games

Vaping is clearly being positioned as a central part of a youth sub-culture in China.

Christina Xu on Chinese user experience and consumer behaviour

I’ve been a big fan of Christina’s work for a while and this presentation is a great example of his work. Bookmark it; watch it during your lunch break its well worthwhile.

Great examples of online to offline (O2O) interaction in processes and services that are continually expanding.  Interesting points about the lack of social norms or boundaries on the usage of online / mobile service in the real world. I’ve seen people live their online life in the cinema there are NO boundaries as Christina says.