During the 1980s with the rise of the video cassette recorder (VCR), the reduction in costs of the devices due to the VHS vs. Beta war and an uncertain economic climate consumers started to stay at home in what was later called cocooning. The internet extended this as a trend as community interaction increasingly happens online. Local is wherever you meet your friends and community are those fellow travelers that share the same interests as you be it in the real-world, particularly at work, or online through various social software services.


I have noticed on the tube how the isolation of cocooning has been extended through smartphones and personal media players like an iPod or iPhone to previously public places. My colleagues use the iconic earphones to screen themselves off from each other, even in the most open plan of office environments. During my commute to work the flow of people around me going through the turnstiles is disrupted as earphone equipped wander through as in a trance with disregard to the crowd around them. It’s not because they’ve all turned into type-A personalities, but that they are unaware of their immediate surroundings. This is about building a private world in even the smallest of personal spaces, what I think of as ‘micro-cocooning’.

Music players that can keep going for a whole working day, inner ear headphones and overear noise reduction headsets that don’t ‘fizz’, have helped facilitate this boom.

From a media and marketing point-of-view this is also a great opportunity to get content in front of these consumers at a time when they can immerse themselves in it. Applications on your phone don’t require real-time internet connectivity, if you have all the content that you want to provide pre-cached on the device making it ideal for rail commutes with dodgy phone signals.

How would you target the micro-cocooners?

The basics

The current economic climate will help re-define the basics for many people.

Since I was a child supermarkets and shopping experiences have been richer and presented consumers with progressively more choice. During the last recession of the early 1990s supermarkets created own brand products that offered cheaper alternatives with the exact same quality as own brand products.

No Frills

A second own-brand phenomena was own brand products that fulfilled basic needs but did away with superfluous packaging and were best seen as ‘fit for purpose’: the No Frills supermarket own brand pioneered by Kwik Save is a classic example of this category. Sainsbury has their version called Sainsbury Basics. So by the time the economy picked up again choice had been increased even further. These brands moved away from, or redefined the bare essentials, for instance recently in Sainsbury’s I have noticed basics including filter coffee and Jaffa Cakes.

SuperValu Nice Price Jaffa Cakes

When I left university in the late 1990s, I got a jump on other candidates that worked for the same temping agency as me by having an alphanumeric pager that allowed me to be more responsive to the agency – getting better roles because it was easier for them to find me. Over the next ten years mobile phones became ubiquitous to the point where even homeless people and crack addicts have one.

It is pretty much the same story with internet access. I used to go over to a cyber cafe in Liverpool near James Street station to check the email in my Yahoo! account every Saturday. Although I had bought shareware Mac software online via Kagi whilst at university, I made my first modern e-commerce purchases via Boxman during my lunch break in the office when I moved down to London. It is hard to imagine that prior to Freeserve in the UK, even dial-up home internet access was largely the preserve of the middle classes in the UK. In contrast, now fixed and mobile broadband has become ubiquitous with mobile broadband connections costing as little as 5GBP a month at the time of writing.

I get the sense that we have reached a golden age of what basics means, and that golden age will last an uncertain amount of time as environmental and resource concerns kick in. Resources as diverse as food products, oil, copper and water are all under pressure; together with rise of a huge middle class in the developing world basics are going to be more expensive and some items will come off the list as compromises are made. Globalisation will no longer just be about competition to supply products and services, but also about consumer competition to demand goods.

What does the basics look like to you? How will it change by economics, increasing awareness of personal carbon footprint and environmental impact?

What’s so high about high technology?

Information technology has been called high technology for years in a reverential way. Lots of smart things have happened in the computing field over the past three decades. Computers have become our constant companions as smartphones, netbooks and laptops.

Internet access is now a necessity rather than the luxury it was ten years ago.

However most of the major innovations that facilitated these changes come from the late 1960s and 1970s. Operating systems and computing paradigms owe a lot to Doug Engelbart, SRI, Xerox PARC, Bell Labs work on UNIX and the DARPA investments in packet networks. With the exception of MapReduce and Hadoop facilitating cloud computing for the likes of Google and Yahoo! pretty much everything else were systematic iterative improvements or if you want to be less charitable window dressing on top of these innovations.

So why is IT treated so reverently as being a more innovative, more worthy technology: high technology? The ironic thing is that some of the deepest areas of research are going into surprising low-tech areas. Nano-technology into sun screen, or materials science innovations in the food and consumer packaged goods industries. A great example of this is Procter & Gamble.

Now I work for a PR agency so what would I really know about innovation? Prior to working in PR, I helped develop four commercially successful products that were subsequently patented. One of which was for a plastic that laminated toughened glass sheets together making this glass sandwich bulletproof. It frequently saved lives, occasionally when it failed we were sent samples of the glass back for us to find out what went wrong.

Contrast this with if your computer fails, you can’t get into your email account or Twitter goes down. Ok, that’s a bit trivial: computing also keeps us alive with it allowing a mass-market audience for anti-lock brakes and defibrillators.

That doesn’t take us away from the fact that we accept a lower standard of relability in IT. Thinking about other technologies, we turn on a tap and expect clean water under an appropriate pressure come out, or switch on lamp and expect the darkness to disappear immediately. Contrast this with the reliability we accept from computers: rebooting after a freeze, the blue screen of death or the experience of the Thai government minister held hostage in his bullet-proof limousine by computer failure.

IT is important, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves that innovation is purely about the computer. If you have an open and enquiring mind it can be found everywhere from potato chips and other consumer-packaged goods to heavy industrial plant. A great example of this is the occasional ‘What’s Inside’ section that Wired Magazine does each month. After reading about what goes into simple household times like contact lens solution even a crass simpleton should be able to start and appreciate the innovation all around us.

The Age of The Commons: Authority Trumps Leadership

I had been thinking about this for a while and my interest in it got reignited over lunch with Wadds just before Christmas. We were discussing the pros and cons of sharing expertise on a blog or other social media, particularly when it comes to marketing and marketing communications disciplines.

On the one hand, its giving your competitors (in the professional and the career sense) a leg up. That expertise could be used for competitive advantage so I may want to hide my light under a bushel. I could then enshrine this expertise as a business process or service mark and leverage this in competitive situations. This assumes that I am smarter than everyone else online, which of course is complete hogwash: Mrs Carroll didn’t raise no fool, but she’s also aware of my limitations.

The secondary consideration is that if I have this business process or service mark, how would the man in the street know the real power of it vis-à-vis competitor offerings? You are are in a ‘he said. she said situation’.

Chances are I am not that much smarter than everyone else, but considerably smarter than some people (yeah and modest too.)  So kicking out ideas via this blog or other channels is way of having them picked, poked and prodded: kind of like peer review in academia but with only ten per cent of the politics and none of the corduroy jackets with leather patches or the reek of cheap pipe tabacco. Sharing ideas negates any leadership advantage that I may have, but does help to build authority.

Authority is about trust which is more substantive than anything competitive leadership could have given me. Trust would be further enhanced by successful delivery.

In addition, sharing ideas freely means that I don’t need to think about all areas all the time because I can build upon the thinking that other people have done elsewhere; I benefit from reviewing and critiquing commons content as well as adding to the body of the commons.

Moving thinking forward allows the industry as a whole to grow and helps spur demand in clients once they understand what is possible.  At a time when over half the clients for online PR choose agencies from other disciplines to develop strategy and execute campaigns growing the collective opportunity has never been more important.

Cadbury’s Dairy Milk advert: the eyebrow ad, or the sinister children ad – take your pick

Fallon’s latest work on the Dairy Milk brief is clever and has a nicer backing track (ok I am biased in my opinion as an aging B-Boy). One element of the campaign which seems to have slipped through the cracks however is the integration of on-demand printing service Photobox.

Cadburys eyebrow ad

In the past, the brand would commission merchandise to be made and have it fulfilled against an expected number of redemptions which required submitting coupons or tokens to a postal address. In the early 1990s Tango took it up a notch by using premium rate numbers (0898 numbers) where the consumer left their contact details, the call paid for the cost of the merchandise and then fulfillment took place as usual.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Photobox integration

Cadbury, Photobox and Fallon have designed a portal that creates on demand mugs with a picture of the consumers choice. This reduces the cost to Cadbury and possibly may make the coding effort completely self-liquidating. There should be no fulfillment difficulties because of the on-demand nature of the Photobox business and the consumer has a deeper one-on-one engagement with the Cadbury brand.

The only downside on this is that Cadbury is losing an opportunity for potential data capture, however this is unlikely to be the case. Consumers generally wouldn’t be willing to give Cadbury the same level of information that they will give Photobox for an e-commerce purchase. And if consumers are engaged enough to the Cadbury Dairy Milk brand, they are likely to have already signed up on the A Glass And A Half Full Productions website anyway, so Cadbury will at least have their email address.