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Things that caught my eye this week

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Dove #washtocare advert focusing on cleansing. We’re so used to seeing Dove and have a strong beauty and softness association. But it is challenged in landing a cleanliness message. At least in comparison to other bar soaps. The coronavirus offered an opportunity for them to re-emphasise the cleaning aspect of the product with #washtocare.

One interesting aspect of this is that the ad doesn’t run to the 20+ seconds needed to comprehensively clean hands but a six-second format. Dove seem to have paired it with a paid influencer placement via a platform that pairs social media users with brands and gives the consumers a ‘challenge’ to complete. Unfortunately for a lot of the material, the Dove brand got lost in it, this post below was about the best one that I saw.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAcF1-PF9c6/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

I suspect so they can put the budget into landing and repeating the messaging. More FMCG related content here.

Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe shows were only of interest to me for the Adam Curtis films that he featured in the shows. This film about the growth of paranoia in society seems to be very in tune with the current zeitgeist.

Unlike many other magazines, Monocle does a good job of showing the ‘sausage factory’ of how their magazine is made. There is a huge amount of pride in the effort they go to get a quality product out the door. This isn’t just from a design and content point of view, but in the tactile magazine experience. I couldn’t think of any other publication that would do a feature film about why they were moving printing press, paper stock, design and content tweaks.

Wired US would have a bit of editorial comment when they have banged it out of the park on design and typography – something that tragically hasn’t happened in years.

All of these changes for Monocle’s print edition has happened in the midst of early coronavirus Europe. The design tweaks aren’t jarring for the experience, with just enough changes to keep things fresh.

The change seemed to be partly driven by Brexit, but also an apparent desire to get a quality step change that they didn’t seem to think would be possible with UK printers. Tyler Brûlé’s comments on the German apprentice system, for instance, shows that taking back control won’t change the perception of relative quality in UK manufacturing versus Europe.

Canvas8 tries to read the tea leaves on likely changes in consumer behaviour due to the coronavirus lock-in period. Tom Doctoroff was the guest speaker in this episode and wrote the great book ‘What Chinese Want‘ which I reviewed a number of years ago.

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ICYMI | 万一你错过了| 당신이 그것을 놓친 경우에 대비해서

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Adult entertainment transforms during pandemic – Axios – accelerated move towards interactive and custom adult entertainment production. But US legal issues are getting in the way – Is OnlyFans Deleting Sex Workers’ Accounts? – Rolling Stone 

Publishers and journalists on TikTok – Google Sheets – in case your dystopian life needs more dystopia

Decoding Xi Jinping’s Speech at the World Health Assembly – The DiplomatThe main target of Xi Jinping’s speech is the “global South” and, more specifically, the African continent. The terrain lost in Western democracies amid the pandemic will be hard to win back. However, in terms of global influence, the role of the global South and Africa is vital for China. There also, the image of China has been severely damaged. For the first time, African ambassadors to the PRC had to write a joint letter to protest how African residents were being treated in the PRC

Investigating China: COVID-19 and the CCP – The Diplomatcapitalizing on the growing crisis in the United States and Europe, the official media in China has been trumpeting China’s purported success in controlling the disease. China has also sent medical missions to countries such as Italy. Sending medical missions abroad had been a strategy the PRC used during the Cold War to promote a new international order: a “people’s revolutionary movement” against colonialism, imperialism, and hegemonism

The Chinese luxury market after COVID-19 | Daxue Consulting – interesting how the retailing experience is being adversely affected by COVID precautions

Mixed reactions to current brand comms | YouGovWith the large number of brands clearly defaulting to the ‘all in this together’ message, it’s worth asking: ‘How well does this actually align with their brand values and how they are responding to the current crisis?’ Our research shows that 43% of Brits agree that brands/companies’ current messages and advertising are inauthentic. This figure increases to 52% of males (vs 35% of females). Furthermore, half of respondents (50%) disagree that brands/companies are putting their employees and their customers first and before the company and its profits.

The Crypto Price-Innovation Cycle – Andreessen Horowitz – crypto winters tend to indicate that like AI approaches before it, its not ready for adoption as a technology / use case. Success hasn’t really been in banking or logistics, where’s the adult entertainment play (which drove a lot of other technologies from 16mm cinema film to VHS and web video)

Norske offiserer og soldater avslørt av mobilen – Norge – Norwegian military personnel location data found to be for sale

Why Luxury Brands Are Raising Prices in a Pandemic | BoF Professional, This Week in Fashion | BoFTop-tier brands like Chanel and Louis Vuitton are hiking prices in what looks like a bid to pad margins, cushion the impact of lower sales volumes and capitalise on the China rebound.

Electric Vehicles Continue The Same Wasteful Mistakes That Limit Longevity | Hackaday – interesting meditation on software, hardware, design, complexity and quality. Or why a Tesla isn’t as great as Elon makes out

Thailand’s travel industry readies for relaunch | Financial Times – really interesting design hacks being deployed by the Thai tourism industry. It would be great if this positively moves the needle on Thailand’s reputation as a destination for miserly backpackers and adult entertainment

Millennials stand out for their technology use | Pew Research Center – Millennials stand out for their technology use, but older generations also embrace digital life

China’s ‘OK Boomer’: Generations Clash Over the Nation’s Future – The New York TimesChina’s boomers, who were born in the 1960s and 1970s, are as lucky as the American baby boomers born after World War II. China was opening up after nearly 30 years of political turmoil and economic mismanagement under Mao Zedong. Jobs were plentiful. Housing was cheap. And while the party kept an iron grip on political power, society began to open up to new ideas. Before they were blocked beginning about a decade ago, we could use Google and Wikipedia and read The New York Times’s website. The future seemed bright. China is a very different country now, especially for Chinese people born after 1990, or China’s Generation Z. Its economy in recent months shrank for the first time since the Mao era as the country grappled with the coronavirus. One estimate put the unemployment rate at 20 percent. At the same time, housing in major cities is as out of reach for members of Generation Z as it is for their contemporaries in New York and San Francisco.

Merkel cites ‘hard evidence’ Russian hackers targeted her | AFP.com“I can honestly say that it pains me. Every day I try to build a better relationship with Russia and on the other hand there is such hard evidence that Russian forces are doing this,” she told parliament. Calling such cyber attacks “more than uncomfortable,” Merkel raised the spectre of sanctions if such rogue activity did not stop. Germany’s intelligence service has repeatedly called out attempts by Russian hackers to spy on lawmakers or leading politicians.

Troy Hunt: The Unattributable “db8151dd” Data Breach – interesting, looking at the headers, it looks like a wider scrape from multiple sources. It connects multiple social platform profile IDs alongside real world address data. Possibly a large CRM breach???

Exclusive: As China Hoarded Medical Supplies, the CIA Believes It Tried to Stop the WHO from Sounding the Alarm on the Pandemic CIA believes China tried to prevent WHO from sounding the alarm on the coronavirus outbreak in January—a time when Beijing was stockpiling medical supplies from around the world. A CIA report, the contents of which were confirmed to Newsweek by two U.S. intelligence officials, said China threatened the WHO that the country would stop cooperating with the agency’s coronavirus investigation if the organization declared a global health emergency. It was the second such report from a Western intelligence service and is likely to further inflame tensions between the United States and China over a pandemic that has killed 280,000 people worldwide—more than a quarter of them American. – even if this isn’t true, its pushing China US relations into a dark place

How to arrange the perfect bookshelf – probably the most cynical depressing thing I’ve read in a while

Wendy Carlos on her production process that pioneered electronic music as we now know it.

Amazon releases Kendra to solve enterprise search with AI and machine learning | TechCrunch – interesting that Amazon is not offering Kendra in a box like Google did its enterprise search appliance. I suspect this about moving file servers on to the cloud rather than Amazon into the enterprise

The VR winter — Benedict Evans – we haven’t worked out what you would do with a great VR device beyond games (or some very niche industrial application), and it’s not clear that we will. We’ve had five years of experimental projects and all sorts of content has been tried, and nothing other than games has really worked. Hell, even adult entertainment has worked as a driver

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Generations or life stages?

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Generations or lifecycles? – Why am I asking this as a question? I’ve had a bit of time to think about consumer behaviour. At the moment you can’t throw a stick without hitting ‘an’ expert in at least one of three generations:

  • Gen-Y or millennials
  • Gen-Z
  • Gen-A

There are older generations that also exist but are mentioned in passing:

  • Gen-X
  • Baby-boomers
  • Silent generation
  • Greatest generation
  • Lost generation

The principle behind this is that each generation would relate to the world in different ways. The implication is that each would require different marketing considerations radically different to anything that has come before.

This lens has a number of results:

  • It encourages marketers to segment markets in certain ways. This facilitates marketing assumptions that are unhelpful
  • It continues marketing focus on a set age group, rather than mining a portfolio for lifetime spend
  • It feeds into a wider marketing culture of ‘disruption’ that can be unhelpful

A history lesson in generations

Generational labels seems to have been started in journalistic essays. These essays tried to convey common experiences. For instance, the sense of loss and dislocation that many felt after fighting in World War 1.

The massive scale of the war meant that armed service touched more people. Over time they have been used to illustrative effect by governments, media and business.

Generations

This has meant that generations varied in length. I reviewed a raft of reports and media coverage and found that from Gen X onwards there has even been an variation in definition of what the generational length was.

Over time an industry of journalists and consulting firms has been built up. They point out the various flaws that are supposed to characterise each generation. They point out to company boards how their businesses will be disrupted if they don’t change the way they do business to meet the needs of a generation. This consulting mirrors the way consultants have preached a similar disruption message around different aspects of digital transformation and requires a regular cyclical refresh.

Is this a deliberate ruse? Probably not, but book publishers need books and consultants need to bill. Both of which are insatiable machines that require a ‘new, new thing’.

A final factor to consider in defining generations. Historically the definition of generations has been done with a global north, western-centric lens. If you look at markets like China the differentiation tends to be done in decades: post-90s generation, post-80s generation and so on.

Now, we’re in a time period where the bulk of young people are going to be born in the global south. There is likely to be emigration north for economic opportunity. There is likely to be a corresponding need due to population decline in developed nations. A trip to Tokyo or London already shows the impact of this. From nurses and care home workers to combini staff and baristas; many of the workers are young and foreign. A global north, western-centric lens makes even less sense.

Period trends and generation trends

One of the things that the generations stereotypes can blind marketers to is cross-generational trends within a period of time. One of the stereotypical characteristics that Gen X was labelled with was cynical. Researchers found that Gen X did exhibit higher levels of cynicism than previous groups of 18 – 29 year olds.

But Stanford University took the research one step further and looked the accuracy of this cynical label. What they found was that all generations at that time were exhibiting higher levels of cynicism. It was a period trend rather than a generational one. As a marketer, that might have a huge implication in the way you deliver messages beyond Gen X.

What are the causes of this increase in disaffection? “Media commentators may be right in emphasizing the malaise-inducing effects of ‘historical underdosing’,” the researchers said. The term refers to the belief that history has come to an end, with such institutions as the family and government becoming ever more corrupt and exhausted. It suggests that the great regenerative struggles of the past, such as civil rights and feminism, have already been fought, and all that is left is the winding down and decay of present institutions. “Generation X commentators have, however, glossed over the possibility that such disaffection can just as easily affect older folks as younger ones. If anything, older individuals are especially vulnerable to romanticizing the past and thus becoming disaffected and disengaged with the present,” Grusky said.

Oldsters Get The Gen X Feeling | Sci Gogo

David Grusky, one of the two Stanford sociologists who conducted the study highlighted some great actionable insights that marketers at the time could have used when targeting older market segments. Unfortunately, the Gen X = cynical impression stuck, marketers failed to ask the right questions and got the wrong heuristic.

Grusky’s work and the rise of social media adoption across all age groups does make me wonder about Gen Y’s reputation for narcissistic behaviour – when we could be living in a more narcissistic time.

Unhelpful stereotypes

Stereotypes are heuristics that help us make sense of the world. If we constantly had to analyse everything, we’d have been eaten by large predators whilst in a state of analysis paralysis. In a resting state our brain accounts for 60 per cent of our body’s glucose consumption. So anything that can drive energy efficient actionable insight would make evolutionary sense.

It is unlikely that the modern marketer will be eaten by a pack of ravenous wolves. Yet stereotypical heuristics will make their way into the decision making biases of marketers and their management teams.

Generational labels lend themselves to stereotypes and some of the biggest of them are questionable at best.

  • Boomers are selfish and don’t care about the planet. The publication of Silent Spring by biologist Rachel Carson, could be considered the point at which the modern environmental movement was born. Counterculture figure Stewart Brand lobbied for the release of the iconic ‘blue marble’ whole earth in space photo by NASA which galvanised the environment movement. His Whole Earth catalog series also went on to influence the ‘back to the land’ counterculture movement that sprang out of hippydom. It is no coincidence that groups like Greenpeace and Friends Of The Earth were founded around this time. The first Earth Day happened in San Francisco in 1970. As the counterculture movement went around the world in the early 1970s, so did green-orientated political parties. Without Boomers there wouldn’t have been an environmental movement. Extinction Rebellion (XR) stands on the shoulders of direction action groups like the Greenham Common women and Greenpeace. There is however, anecdotal evidence to suggest that public interest in environmental issues dips during an economic recession and this seems to have been the case after the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Gen X are slackers. They came into a world that had much less economic opportunities than their parents generation. The lack of balance in corporate culture was as unattractive to young Gen Xers as it was to Gen Y and Gen Z first jobbers. As outlined earlier, the move to deregulation and globalisation led to increased cynicism thoughout generations at the time when Gen X entered adulthood. Yet on the flipside, their entrepreneurship has been lauded over the years. Though often that entrepreneurship was forced upon them as industries globalised
  • Gen Y are tech savvy, demand work life balances and are narcissistic in nature. Pew Research indicates that Gen Y do indeed adopt smartphones and tablets, but despite the research article headline of Millennials stand out for their technology use, but older generations also embrace digital life – the difference with Gen X is just three percent in terms of smartphone usage and tablet usage is broadly comparable across generations
  • Gen Z are digital natives and are socially conscious. A classic example of how the truth is more complex and nuanced than this is a recent Kings College London research done into UK attitudes and behaviours towards COVID-19. In it is a group called resistors. They buy into the fake news around the virus, are more likely to violate the lockdown regulations and the majority are in the 16-24 year old category.

Massively parallel cultures

Cultural movements used to align in a serial manner to moments in time and space. There was a serial progression as one cultural movement was created in reaction to; and on the legacy of another.

The nature of media and connection changed with technology. Cheaper air fares mean’t that the world has become much more accessible. I am not saying that it is cheap to fly to Australia, Japan or Brazil – but it is cheaper than it was. In my parents life time in Ireland, families and friends used to hold a wake for members of the community emigrating to the United States or Australia.

The reason for the wake was that the distance was only likely to be bridged by the occasional letter and post-departure it was unlike that they would be seen again.

Media is no longer something that has a time slot like the morning paper, drive time radio or prime time TV; but a membrane that surrounds us. It is in our pocket with us everywhere. We are the media; we have a portable broadcast studio of sorts in our pocket and the means of transmission.

To give you an idea of how revolutionary this concept is, here’s a clip from Back To The Future which was released as a film in 1985. Note the sense of wonder that the 1950s era Doc Brown has when confronted with a 1980s vintage JVC camcorder.

Victor legendary video camera
The iconic JVC GRC-1 camcorder. It is branded Victor for the Japanese domestic market.

The Victor / JVC GRC-1 camcorder had been launched the previous year and was the first all in one VHS camera and recorder – so at the time of the film release this was still cutting edge stuff.

The ‘Mondo‘ series of documentaries shocked and thrilled audiences with practices from around the world that would have seemed fantastical. At least to the average member of the public in the Italy of the directors, or mainstream audiences in the US. As the introduction to the English dub of the film says:

Intro to Mondo Cane

By comparison e-commerce and websites allow us to sample culture and products from around the world. You have access to Korean dramas and beauty tips, vintage Hong Kong movies, Brazilian funk carioca music from the ghettos of Rio De Janeiro or Chinese rap. The web isn’t a perfect memory, content disappears or often never gets seen.

Content is often mediated through algorithms governing e-commerce, search and social platforms. But despite those impediments; culture evolves and morphs in a massively parallel way. Which makes a mockery of generational stereotypes.

Consumption is becoming an attenuated concept

Part of the focus on generations is due to a focus on grabbing early life time spend. Brands want to get consumers as young as possible. An oft-mentioned heuristic was that half a consumer’s spend was done before they reach 35. There are a few things wrong with this approach:

Marketing science research has shown that consumers are brand promiscuous. Light consumers are more important for brand sales than heavy consumers. So an exclusive brand building focus of going after young consumers like a game of capture the flag isn’t the most effective approach.

We also know that there are a number of factors attenuating consumption patterns and spend along the generations so a youth focus makes less sense:

  • Older people tend to have more assets and the ability to spend. This is due to property prices, historic performance of pension investments, life insurance policies and a lack of student loans
  • Earning power in real terms has been declining over time. Taking into account a parity in education and inflation; boomers earned more than gen x, who in turn did better than gen y. Gen x managed to keep ahead of boomers only by having both partners in a marriage go out to work, to compensate for the man’s reduced earning power
  • Younger people are having to spend a larger degree of their income on somewhere to live. Student loan repayments creates an additional drag on their income
  • People are delaying life stages like marriage later due to the financial burden and have been having less children in most of the world
  • People are acting younger for longer and this reflects in their consumption patterns. Part of this is down to ageism in the employment market and part of it is down to them continuing to do what they love. I know Dads of college age kids who still skate or do martial arts. I know pensioners who love to buy lip gloss. An exception to consumer attenuation is the luxury sector. Luxury consumers have become younger, but that is also because the centre of gravity in luxury has shifted from US consumers to east Asia. Scions of first generation entrepreneurs from China, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia are not afraid to embrace their affluence

Life stages rather than generations

Culture is very important in making brand messages resonant. Culture is also adrift of generational labels. It is ethereal and finds its way to people, now more than ever. Being massively parallel in nature has made culture more democratic.

Thinking about the brand challenge in a consumer life stage way allows us to build strategic rather than short term communications. It allows to think about meaningful brand propositions across price, place, promotion and product. And then manifest it in a way that resonates culturally over time.

In an industry when marketing effectiveness is failing and campaigns are taking an increasingly short terms approach. Peter Fields’ report The Crisis in Creative Effectiveness for the IPA highlights the dangerous position that marketing is in. It’s a big hill to climb, but a good first step would be to ditch ineffective stereotypes as part of an effort to improve the quality of long term thinking and ideas.

More information

From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner

Generation X not so special: Malaise, cynicism on the rise for all age groups | Stanford News Service

Gallup Historical Trends | Environment

Living: Proceeding With Caution | TIME magazine

X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking by Jeff Gordinier

Creative effectiveness is collapsing, claims new IPA report | Contagious