Of time and networks

Communities have marked time in different ways. It used to be marked by the bells of a church or the clock on a local factory. At that time, it didn’t matter that the clock told the precise time, but that it was consistent. This meant that different ‘time zones’ existed in areas separated by little distance.

The amount of reference time pieces expanded as mechanical clocks were installed in churches, farm estates and early factories. In the case of factories the change of shift was often punctuated by the blast of a fog horn.

I can remember this being the case even during my early childhood at the nearby Unilever factory. The change of shift signal marked my walk to infant school.

Over the centuries canals sprang up throughout the country as the first mass transport link, facilitating the movement of heavy goods such as coal and iron ore in a more efficient manner. Canals were transformative, but the boats still only moved at the speed of the horse. Railways broke the ‘horse speed’ barrier. This was transformative because it suddenly shone a light on inconsistent time keeping across the country. Railway timetables couldn’t incorporate all the variations in time zones between stations, so it became the arbiter of accurate time.

Over time radio and television played their part, audiences could set their watch by the start of key news programmes, for instance the time pips in the run into BBC Radio 4’s today programme or the Angelus chimes on RTE Radio  1.

The telephone came into play when looking for an exact time (to reset a watch or alarm clock) outside the broadcast schedule.

The popularity of mobile phone networks didn’t have as much of an impact as one would have thought. NITZ (Network Identity and Time Zone) was an optional standard for GSM networks. It has an accuracy in the order of minutes. A competing standard on CDMA 2000 networks used GPS enabled time codes that were far more accurate.

Modern timekeeping for the smartphone toting average person goes back to NTP; one of the earliest protocols in for the early internet that was created some time before 1985.


Back in 2001 when I installed the earliest version of macOS (then known as OSX 10.0 ‘Cheetah’) the date and time settings made reference to Apple owned NTP servers that were used to calibrate time on the computer. This infrastructure has since provided time to Apple’s other computing devices such as the iPhone and the and the iPad.

We are are now living on the same time. Time synchronisation happens seamlessly. We tend to only realise it when there is a problem.


Links of the day | 在网上找到

Korean Analysts Tracking Samsung Smartphone Sales Report that the Galaxy S8 is Selling 20% below last year’s S7 – not terribly surprising, the market is mature and Samsung will be losing sales to the Chinese Android players like OnePlus, Huawei and ZTE

Malaysia Airlines ties up with LINE | Marketing Interactive

Twitter lets you avoid trolls by muting new users and strangers | TechCrunch – interesting implications for trying to grow account follower numbers organically

Bell Pottinger Dismisses Lead Partner & Apologises For Gupta Scandal | Holmes Report – At various points throughout the tenure of the Oakbay account, senior management have been misled about what has been done. For it to be done in South Africa, a country which has become an international beacon of hope for its progress towards racial reconciliation, is a matter of profound regret and in no way reflects the values of Bell Pottinger.

Facebook Slashes Oculus Price For Second Time As World Refuses To Adopt Virtual Reality | Zero Hedge – the problem is supporting hardware and content. Oculus requires way to high a spec machine and there isn’t compelling content

The real fight in the TV streaming wars is not over you. It’s over your kids. | Quartz – its the medium rather than the content in reality

Conference speakers are now presenting during attendees’ flights to the events | Quartz – why not just stay at home and watch it on YouTube in this case

A bank replaced a fax machine with blockchain. Was it worth it? | Quartz

Distributional National Accounts: Methods and Estimates For The United States by Piketty, Saez and Zucman – interesting data on economic distribution

Google’s research chief questions value of ‘Explainable AI’ – Computerworld – but that won’t deal with the legal and regulatory challenges

What NASA Could Teach Tesla about Autopilot’s Limits – Scientific American  – “What we heard from pilots is that they had trouble following along [with the automation],” Casner says. “If you’re sitting there watching the system and it’s doing great, it’s very tiring.” In fact, it’s extremely difficult for humans to accurately monitor a repetitive process for long periods of time. This so-called “vigilance decrement” was first identified and measured in 1948 by psychologist Robert Mackworth, who asked British radar operators to spend two hours watching for errors in the sweep of a rigged analog clock. Mackworth found that the radar operators’ accuracy plummeted after 30 minutes; more recent versions of the experiment have documented similar vigilance decrements after just 15 minutes. – human factors 1, technology nil

Why Some Men Don’t Work: Video Games Have Gotten Really Good – The New York Times – this is frightening

A new candidate for world’s worst media law – Columbia Journalism Review – reputatiion management must be a doddle in Myanmar

Making media fun again: why we must free our industry from outdated models | Campaign LiveThe threat to agencies is not the ANA or procurement or consultants, it is their own addiction to dated models and an inability to conquer the three rants and create something new.

The clients don’t want a world that dwells solely in the lower funnel. Any new business model embraces both upper and lower funnel, both brand and demand. It is both about the big idea and the 1,000s of iterations of that big idea – it’s just that the vast majority of clients aren’t doing that very well or systemically. They don’t want us building a data monster dwelling in the lower-funnel data lake. (paywall) – well worth a read

Brandon Beck of Riot Games on eSports

Beck is the co-founder of Riot Games (best known for League of Legends) on the rise of eSports and what its future looks like.

Interesting that Riot are trying to give players a better base to build their careers, but how long is their professional life, when do they burn out?

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Jaw-boned: Wearables biz Jawbone shuts down | The Register – pretty sad end for the wearables company that pioneered noise cancelling Bluetooth headsets. With the rise of AirPods, surely this should have been Jawbone’s time to own BlueTooth headsets?

Nokia Branded Phones to Get Zeiss Branded Cameras | Fortune.com – Nokia’s handset business getting the gang back together

Hong Kong women spend over HK$4,000 on beauty products | Marketing Interactive – I guess it depends on how you define beauty products

Nokia, Xiaomi sign patent sharing agreement | ZDNet – Nokia and Xiaomi will work together on optical communications solutions for data centers, IP Routing for the Nokia FP4 processor, and a data center fabric solution

Staring down internet trolls: My disturbing cat and mouse game – unremittingly grim

Alibaba Challenges Google, Amazon With New Echo-Like Device – Bloomberg – Interesting that they are using the Tmall brand rather than TaoBao

China Is About to Bury Elon Musk in Batteries – Bloomberg – what’s this going to do to the price of lithium?

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Back To The Future with pugs

Winston and C-Milk currently live in Southern China and put out regular content on live in China. Their video discussing China’s ecosystem of fake Nintendo Famicom (NES) machines. Video games were banned for 15 years in China, so piracy stepped in to fill the vacuum. Check out the clone of Nokia’s Snake but with NES vibes.

Or Super Mario 10 featuring Confucius

I’d also recommend their perspective on China’s role in VR. President Xi Jin Ping said that VR was the cornerstone of development, and that China would pursue VR with everything it’s got. Gadget makers have piled in to make Samsung Gear-like googles.

Social Cooling – really interesting hypothesis on how social platforms are changing consumer behaviour over time.

Finally feast your eyes on Per Eklund’s record breaking ascent of Pikes Peak back in 2001 in a car that looked superficially like a Saab 93. It weighed just 1,000Kg and had 850BHP and four wheel drive. Eklund was 55 when he did this and still drives today alongside peers like Stig Blomqvist.

Here’s a documentary (mostly in Swedish) about how they did it. It’s a surprisingly basic effort

Three takeaways from Cannes and VidCon

I had the chance to read around a lot of the stuff that happened at Cannes and listened to Ogilvy’s webinar on VidCon. Here were the key things that struck me.

There is blind faith amongst brand about the benefits of influencers and social.  I find this particularly interesting because it represents a number of challenges to the status quo:

  • This first struck me when I saw Heather Mitchell on a panel at the In2 Innovation Summit in May. Mitchell works in Unilever’s haircare division where she is director, head of global PR, digital engagement and entertainment marketing. I asked the panel about the impact of zero-based budgeting (ZBB) and the answer was ducked. ZBB requires a particular ROI on activity, something that (even paid for) influence marketing still struggles to do well
  • The default ethos for most brand marketers is Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know. Most consumer brands are in mature categories, engagement is unimportant; being top of mind (reach and repetition) is what matters
  • Brands were looking to directly engage with influencers at VidCon with trade stands and giveaways at the expo. This was brands like Dove. Again, I’d wonder about the targeting and ROI

Substitute ‘buzz marketing’ for ‘influencer marketing’ and this could be 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong I had great fun doing things like hijacking Harry Potter book launches when I worked at Yahoo!, but no idea how it really impacted brand or delivered in terms of RoI. Influencer marketing seems to be in a similar place.

Publicis and Marcel. Well it certainly got them noticed. There has been obligatory trolling (some of which was very funny). I tried to make a sombre look at it here: Thinking About Marcel (its about a nine minute read) – TL;DR version – its a huge challenge that Publicis has set itself. One interesting aspect to point out is the differing view point between WPP and Publicis. WPP has spent a lot of time, effort and money into building a complete advertising technology stack including advanced programmatic platforms and analytics.

WPP hoped that this would provide them with an unassailable competitive advantage. The challenge is that the bulk of growth in online spend is going to Facebook and Google – who also happen to have substantive advertising technology stacks.

I can’t help but wonder if this shaping is Publicis’ top line thinking? Scott Galloway posted a very sombre chart about this. If Google and Facebook hit their combined revenue targets this year, it will have a dramatic effect on the number of people employed in the major advertising groups.

1707 - ad industry

To put Galloway’s numbers into context, the projected number of jobs lost in the advertising industry  this year would be roughly the equivalent of every man and woman around the world currently employed at vehicle maker Nissan. And that’s just 2017.

If you paid attention to the Marcel concept film you would have noticed that the client service director is partly displaced when a client uses Marcel to directly reach out to Publicis experts.

If Marcel, just makes information easier to access internally; it could save the equivalent time  equating to almost 1,600 employees (out of Publicis’s current 80,000 around the world).

People equate to billings as these marketing conglomerates are basically body shops in the way they operate. So it will adversely affect the value of the major marketing groups.

If that isn’t grim enough, Galloway doesn’t even bother to take into account the Chinese ecosystems which is digitising at a faster rate than the West. China also has a longer history of platforms and clients being directly connected – cutting out the media agency.

These changes in the advertising eco-system has huge implications about the erosion in brand equity over time. Amazon’s move to surpass other retailers also is about the erosion of brand power. Combine this with the increasing ubiquity of Prime and all brands start to look the same as private labels.

Thankfully the disciples of Byron Sharp still realise that there is power (and lower CPMs) in using television as a mass-advertising medium which is why FMCG product still spend 90% of their budget offline.

The best thing IPG, WPP, Omnicom and Publicis could do right now is spend a lot of money ensuring that every marketing and MBA student have copies of Mr Sharp’s books. If they haven’t been translated into Chinese, that might be an idea as well.

SnapChat is in its difficult ‘second album’ phase. Back when music came on physical media and record labels invested in developing artists as a longer term proposition than a reality TV series there was the ‘second album’ phase. Artists often struggled to bottle the lightning that gave them a successful first album. They usually had the money and resources to throw at it, but it was hard to be a consistent performer.

For example Bruce Springsteen only really became successful in the U.S. with his third album Born To Run – that level of record label support wouldn’t happen now.

On one level SnapChat has matured. It had a big presence at Cannes and its Snap glasses displaced VR technology as the worn product. It has been under assault. Major content providers like the BBC are choosing Instagram’s stories over SnapChat’s offerings. Even Twitter is getting back in the picture. Ogilvy’s team at VidCon talked about how Twitter had been successfully engaging with influencers and offering them support and attractive content monetisation offers.







Links of the day | 在网上找到

Instagram and Nike Want to Show Fashionistas How to Shop – Bloomberg – really soon after the deal with Amazon

Amazon Launches Customized Kindles With China Mobile | China Tech News – interesting deal with China Mobile. Jailbroken Kindles have been going around in China for years

It’s the end of an era: Channel 18 cancels international format that served generations of L.A. immigrants – LA Times – a sad indictment of media economics

发现新大陆 – amazing marketing for McDonalds’ spicy chicken wings

North Sea becomes burden on taxpayers | Business | The Times & The Sunday Times – this is down to lower oil prices and tax relief against investment (predominantly decommissioning platforms) which will accelerate over the coming years. This will squeeze the UK government hard in the face of Brexit

Why the Future of Stuff Is Having More and Owning Less | Singularity Hub – but all the wealth will flow to the suppliers ie generation rent – its the first step on the way to serfdom

How AI Boosts Industry Profits and Innovation by Purdy & Daugherty – Accenture white paper looking into the machine learning crystal ball and what it means for businesses (PDF)

Azeem Azhar, entrepreneur | China will win AI race – China are also more focused on pragmatic usage of machine learning rather than flailing around like western startup eco-systems

Crypto Miners Hated by VR Players as Graphic Cards Sold Out in China | NEWS.8BTC.COM – which gives you an idea of how much crypto currency mining happens in China now

Chat app Kakao raises $437M for its Korean ride-hailing service | TechCrunch

The Japanese Company Betting Billions to Prepare for the Singularity | Wired – I think that Softbank have overreached on the vision here

Apple is suspiciously interested in Fisker’s electric car – BGR – the Fisker Emotion appears to be a technical marvel, with a fast-charging system that enables the vehicle to charge up in just nine minutes. As we noted a few weeks back, the Emotion’s impressive battery system is based on supercapacitors using graphene as opposed to the more traditional lithium-ion batteries used in vehicles like the Tesla Model S

The Awful Truth Behind the Glamorous Facade of the Chinese Live-Streaming Host – not that different to modern record label practices or the Hollywood (and Hong Kong) studio system of the past

Bidders gear up for Li Ka-shing’s fixed-line network business | South China Morning Post – interesting no bit from China Telecom or any of the other Chinese SOEs

Cision IPO – Great guns for brand situational awareness | Forrester – but it needs to do a better job with its brand and PR people

I Cannes | No Mercy No Malice | Scott Galloway | L2 – so much to read about here

US army spin-off GPU database bags $50m Series A funding • The Register – interesting use of GPU technology

How (FMCG) markets grow | Kantar World Panel – interesting read

Chinese site Weibo to ban ‘bad talk’ about Chinese affairs – CNET – not clear if this is an addition move on top of the recent regulations to clean up the web

My decade of the iPhone

Last week has seen people looking back at the launch of the iPhone. At the time, I was working an agency that looked after the Microsoft business. I used a Mac, a Nokia smartphone and a Samsung dual SIM feature phone.  At the time I had an Apple hosted email address for six years by then, so I was secure within the Apple eco-system. I accessed my email via IMAP on both my first generation MacBook Pro and the Nokia smartphone.

Nokia had supported IMAP email for a few years by then. There were instant messaging clients available to download. Nokia did have cryptographic signatures on app downloads, but you found them on the web rather than within an app store.

At the time BlackBerry was mostly a business device, though BlackBerry messaging seemed to take off in tandem with the rise of the iPhone.  The Palm Treo didn’t support IMAP in its native email application, instead it was reliant on a New Zealand based software developer and their paid for app SnapperMail.

Microsoft had managed to make inroads with some business users, both Motorola and Samsung made reasonable looking devices based on Windows.

The iPhone launch went off with the characteristic flair you would expect from Steve Jobs. It was a nice looking handset. It reminded me of Palm Vx that I used to have, but with built in wireless. Whilst the Vx had a stylus, I had used my fingers to press icons and write Graffiti to input text. It looked good, but it wasn’t the bolt from the blue in the way that others had experienced it.

But in order to do work on the Palm, I had a foldable keyboard that sat in my pocket.

By the time that the iPhone launched, I was using a developer version of the Nokia E90 which had an 800 pixel wide screen and a full keyboard in a compact package.

Nokia e90 and 6085

I had Wi-Fi, 3 and 3.5G cellular wireless. I could exchange files quickly with others over Bluetooth – at the time cellular data was expensive so being able to exchange things over Bluetooth was valuable. QuickOffice software allowed me to review work documents, a calendar that worked with my Mac and a contacts app.  There was GPS and Nokia Maps. I had a couple of days usage on a battery.

By comparison when the iPhone launched it had:

  • GSM and GPRS only – which meant that wireless connectivity was slower
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth (but only for headphone support)
  • No battery hatch – which was unheard of in phones (but was common place in PDAs
  • No room for a SD, miniSD or microSD card – a step away from the norm. I knew people who migrated photos, message history and contacts from one phone to another via an SD card of some type

I wasn’t Apple’s core target market at the time, Steve Jobs used to have a RAZR handset.

As the software was demoed some things became apparent:

  • One of the key features at the time was visual voicemail. This allowed you to access your voicemails in a non-linear order. This required deep integration with the carrier. In the end this feature hasn’t been adopted by all carriers that support the iPhone. I still don’t enjoy that feature. I was atypical at the time as I had a SIM only contact with T-Mobile (now EE), but it was seemed obvious that Apple would pick carrier partners carefully
  • There was no software developer kit, instead Apple encouraged developers to build web services for the iPhone’s diminutive screen. Even on today’s networks that approach is hit-and-miss
  • The iPhone didn’t support Flash or Flash Lite. It is hard to explain how much web functionality and content was made in Adobe Flash format at the time. By comparison Nokia did support Flash, so you could enjoy a fuller web experience
  • The virtual keyboard was a poor substitute for Palm’s Graffiti or a hardware keyboard – which was the primary reason that BlackBerry users held out for such a long time
  • The device was expensive. I was used to paying for my device but wasn’t used to paying for one AND being tied into an expensive two year contract
  • Once iPhones hit the street, I was shocked at the battery life of the device. It wouldn’t last a work day, which was far inferior to Nokia

I eventually moved to the Apple iPhone with the 3GS. Nokia’s achilles’ heel had been its address book which would brick when you synched over a 1,000 contacts into it.

By comparison Apple’s contacts application just as well as Palm’s had before it. Despite the app store, many apps that I relied upon like CityTime, MetrO and the Opera browser took their time to get on the iPhone platform. Palm already was obviously in trouble, BlackBerry had never impressed me and Windows phone still wasn’t a serious option. Android would have required me to move my contacts, email and calendar over to Google – which wasn’t going to happen.



Links of the day | 在网上找到

The Beautiful, Impossible Dream of a Simpler Smartphone | WIREDThe Apple Watch’s purpose (at least at first) was to quieten the demands of the iPhone

Ends, Means, and Antitrust – Stratechery by Ben Thompson – worthwhile reading with regards Google’s EU antitrust trouble

Apple Should Buy IBM | Forrester Blogs – Forrester seems to have a far higher opinion of Watson than many people I know in the industry. This comment from Max Pucher shreds Colony’s argument: As an ex-IBMer, Apple afficionado and Machine Learning expert I could not diisagree more. Apart from the immense cultural clash there is no need to buy IBM to get Watson. Watson is a marketing stunt that sells a consulting package to create a custom ML setup. What won Jeopardy was a glorified full text search engine that can’t be used for anything else. Siri is not grand but a lot more powerful than Watson.

With ML-Kit in the next Apple software releases it will empower the Apple ecosystem to use machine learning extensively and widely. With Watson ML needs 50 IBM experts to do some pattern recognition application. At Apple a million creative developers will jump at the opportunity to use the embedded power of audio, image and video recognition in the platform.

Apple’s GPUs will play a significant role in that.

IBM is all AI hype and no substance snd while buying IBM would possibly be good for current IBM customers, Apple would not gain anything. But it shows how good IBM is in that form of marketing. IBM did the same stunt with Deep Blue when Joel Benjamin won against Kasparov with the help of a machine … that wasn’t AI either …

The iPhone Was Inevitable – The Atlantic – interesting how much testing of concepts went into the iPhone

London Luxury Home Values Fall 6.8% in Year Since Brexit Vote – Bloomberg – by the looks of this the luxury home market is splitting. The track funded by banking and related professions is in decline. But luxury homes funded by inward foreign property investment seems to have suffered less, if at all

Moore’s Law’s End Reboots Industry | EE Times – really interesting analysis of slowing process in semiconductors

American Chipmakers Had a Toxic Problem. So They Outsourced It – Bloomberg – technology’s tabacco moment is already upon us

Internal Memo: Sir Martin Assures WPP Staff That Everything Is Fine in Wake of Cyberattack | AdWeek – WPP’s love of Windows left so many people exposed. Insistance on proprietary encrypted USB sticks would make working from home harder

The global ransomware attack weaponized software updates – The Verge – this is epic

Activist investor calls Hong Kong market rout | Reuters – network of mainland business people running a ‘pump and dump’ scheme on Hong Kong small caps market

Tencent OS Ceases Services This Week | ChinaTechNews – Tencent finally wrapping up its distribution of Android. With WeChat’s dominance the OS has become a burden rather than an asset

Facebook video ad viewability rates are as low as 20 percent, agencies say | Digiday

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

What a week we’ve had, I was thankful that I wasn’t affected by the latest hacking which took out WPP’s agencies around the world. It would have been an unproductive week.

Let’s get on with the things that have made my day this week:

Ten years of the iPhone. The iPhone was announced ten years ago this week. This has been reflected on in the technology press. More about my thoughts and experiences on this in a separate post. Here’s Steve Jobs’ introduction of the device. It doesn’t feel like this was a decade ago now

Cumulative iPhone sales over the past 10 years via Statista

Infographic: 1.2 Billion iPhones in 10 Years | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

How the iPhone affected Apple’s finances

Infographic: How the iPhone Changed Apple in 10 Years | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Part of the innovation was hardware, part was software and the third part was getting carriers to allow iPhone users to consume much more data than handset manufacturers had been previously allowed.

This month also marked 20 years since the first camera phone. Conscious Minds put together a great documentary featuring the inventor Phillipe Kahn about how he developed the first cameraphone as a kludge to share the birth of his new child.

Kahn founded Starfish Software with his wife. Starfish pioneered device and data synchronisation that underpinned smartphones. They were founding members of the SyncML standard, which underpins the modern smartphone address book to this day.

When I started working in London, I worked with an agency called The Weber Group. We were considered to be a PR agency, but in reality the role we played varied enormously. For some clients we helped them define market size, opportunity and strategy. For others we were a press release factory. I used to sit in a row of account managers – people who where the day-to-day client contacts and drove accounts along. I worked alongside a lady called Heather; between us Heather and I were responsible for looking after some of the key companies in the genesis of the modern smartphone:

  • Starfish Software
  • Palm – the Palm Vx PDA was like non-wireless prototype for modern smartphones
  • PalmSource / Access Software – Palm’s unsuccessful effort to build a modern iOS-esque operating system on top of Linux
  • Vindigo – a turn by turn navigation app for the Palm. This was pre-GPS, but did on device route plotting for major cities, in many respects a prototype of what Google Maps looks like now

Jed Hallam’s Love Will Save The Day is another music experience I’d recommend, sign up here.

Luxxury dropped an ideal playlist for summer via  radio station KCRW Santa Barbara’s website

Finally, I dipped into Google Talk for the first time in ages and came across Joel Primack’s presentation on galaxy formation


Links of the day | 在网上找到

We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned (New Research) | Buzzsumo – probably the most depressing post on data driven content strategy in a while. (Rocks with head in hands whilst having no respect for audience)

Nestle Targeted by Dan Loeb in Activist’s Biggest-Ever Bet – Bloomberg – Third Point up to its usual tricks, or something more?

Where Technology Meets Culture: Week 1 of Living in Beijing – not news to readers of this blog, but a great summary of the WeChat economy in action

The Vault Of The Atomic Space Age – amazing 20th century tech photography

China’s New Cybersecurity Law: The 101 | China Law Blog – interesting requirements laid down for data protection including use of encryption

North Korean Restaurants in China Close Amid Regional Tensions | Radio Free Asia – quality of food or politics?

Twist is Slack without the annoying distractions | TechCrunch – more of a feature that Slack can replicate rather than an alternative app?

Coffee Ripples – Home of the Ripple Maker – there is something soul destroying about this product

WeChat Developer Error Codes | Grata – so handy for English-speaking  developers

Thinking about Marcel

Publicis Groupe announced two things in the past week that caught the attention of the industry:

  • Withdrawing for 12 months from all promotional activity spend including the Cannes Lions awards
  • A Groupe-wide 12-month digital transformation fronted by a personal assistant app

You can’t look at either in  isolation, they are both linked together.

Why the withdrawal from promotional activities?

There are various speculative takes on this:

  • Other groups doing better at Cannes Lions this year had caused them to ‘take their toys to go home and sulk’. I hadn’t looked at the Lion awards scores, but I wouldn’t think that this is the reason. Clients would react negatively to it. Clients have egos too
  • Cannes Lions have gotten too expensive. Running events on the Côte d’Azur has never been cheap. The hotels can charge premium rates, due to demand being greater than supply. The GSMA World Congress moved to Barcelona in 2006 for this reason. Cannes can still run a good event and the infrastructure is ideal for advertisers. Other groups like WPP have pared back their spend but not cut it completely
  • It’s designed to focus spend on the things that matter for the next 12 months. This was one reason articulated by Publicis. The spend involved isn’t going to make a significant difference. At least, not on a project of the scale outlined by Publicis
  • It’s designed to focus staff on the things that matter over the next 12 months. I think that this is a key factor. Marcel is a software layer for a wider culture change the ‘Power of One’. Forcing the agencies to work together to provide a full deep offering for the client. This creates an internal market for services, skills and knowledge. There is no use having a development team if you can tap into Sapient. This also leads to a de-duplication of capability, increase in efficiency (% billable time).  It also reduces duplication of knowledge creation – tap into it wherever it is. You would need to balance this against client confidentiality
  • It’s a PR stunt. If handled well Publicis could gain a lot of positive coverage from this. It’s a classic example of what Sun Tzu called ‘The Void’. It’s also a bloody expensive PR stunt – so one would have to presume this is a collateral benefit. What happens if Sapient doesn’t match what’s in the concept video 12 months from now? If it does succeed then Publicis ends up with a solution would help market their business – business eating its own dog food, as advertisement

Let’s move on to Marcel itself

It’s hard to deconstruct a corporate video to get a firm idea what the underlying form might be. The truth is that the underlying form may not even exist yet as a product brief. It takes time to coalesce an offering from high concepts to prototyping these concepts with a sampling of users. From then on you go to mapping out the functional requirements of the product and build it in a series of short sprints. Once you have a minimum viable product and tested it, you may want to tweak your project direction further.

However, when you dig into it, Marcel isn’t only about an app, but re-engineering most of the IT infrastructure as well in order to support the machine learning capability. Marcel will find it harder to learn if the data is fragmented in drives with different permissions, online services or even offline.

Carla Serrano describes Marcel as:

A professional assistant that uses AI machine learning technology across our 80,000 people in 130 countries to connect, co-create and share in new and different ways.

This won’t be like Alexa Home managing your calendar and your Spotify playlist.

AI is put in there for audience members who wouldn’t know what machine learning is. A nice succinct definition below via TechTarget:

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. … The process of machine learning is similar to that of data mining.

Let’s tease out the functions

  • Connect – could be anything from an intranet directory to a social network a la Facebook Work. The key element for success would be to get people to complete their profile and for the content to be validated. From personal experience, it is best if you get people to do this right at the point that you are on-boarding them. Getting a mass-push on employees doing this would be a campaign of attrition since there is always a client call to do, pitch to write or creative concept to develop. The information could be pulled across from HR systems, business planning, time-tracking / accounting systems and scraping LinkedIn profiles but all the data will be sub-optimal. How do you ensure consistent quality data on staff expertise? The key benefit of machine learning would be pulling information capacity and personnel career ambitions alongside mining the profiles.  What I’ve talked about in this paragraph is a major undertaking of data integration in itself

I’ve ignored messaging as a function as most agencies use multiple channels for messaging including Slack, email, Skype/Lync or SMS. A messaging service might be built in, some of the interfaces could be ‘call-and-response’ chat bot style interactions.

  • Co-create – Co-creation could just be building a virtual team through the connection functionality, if its a platform in its own right what would that mean? Google co-creation platforms and you get 14,900,000 results. There are lots of options, opinions and descriptions of how to implement a platform to do it. Publicis could use some of these commercial off-the-self platforms. Decisions would have to be made if the co-creation would facilitate synchronous or asynchronous co-creation. Where do you want to have it involved in the process? Discovery, strategy, creative briefing, ideation, concept development? Is bolting Box.net accounts, Basecamp or Jira co-creation and where would the co-creation process benefit from machine learning?
  • Sharing – Back in the mid to lated 1990s knowledge management was a thing for technology marketers selling into enterprises. The idea was that a mix of data mining software (Autonomy or SAS Institute) would allow you to tap into the written knowledge across your company. Of course, it didn’t work out that well. Google tried a similar thing with its own Search Appliance hardware sold to enterprises. For a business like Publicis whose product is data, insights and ideas, the potential implications are huge

Based on Google’s Return on Information: Improving your ROI with Google Enterprise Search white paper here are some rough numbers that I came up with.

1706 - Marcel

The notional productivity gain is worth well over $400,000,000 in additional billable time, or like having almost 1,600 additional staff at little additional cost. The key word in all this is ‘notional’.

So what’s the downside to the factors outlined in the top-level view of Marcel?

  • Client confidentiality – imagine if you’re a client and you realise that your documentation within an agency can be searched for beyond the account team and could be used in ways that you don’t know about? This isn’t an unsurmountable problem, but it is something that I am sure Publicis would be thinking about
  • Changing working habits and culture – the most valuable files will be spread across Dropbox-like services, in email exchanges, on file servers, personal computers (Mac and Windows), USB sticks and optical media.  Software can look at unstructured data to try and make sense of it. But it needs access to the files first. As a manager how would you feel that you lose control over work assigned to your staff. How would you assess their work for their appraisals?
  • A marathon of sprints – this a huge IT undertaking across hardware infrastructure, networks and access. That’s before you’ve considered software development. On its own it would weighty task – in reality it will be a large amount of iterative tasks, any number of whom could delay or damage Marcel

Understanding the context for Marcel

The second half of the video is concept film of how Marcel would work in practice. It was likely put together to give voice to functionality rather than also thinking about tone. I would not be surprised if this was reused from an internal presentation to showcase the vision of Marcel to key stakeholders. The film has tonality in it is a bit concerning, I suspect it’s unintentional. If Marcel works as promised we would be in new territory for corporate culture however.

Having watched it reinforced to me:

  • The technical scale and ambition Marcel represents. It is a huge undertaking from a technical point-of-view
  • Marcel is just the start of the hard work for Publicis.

How do you ensure a culture that continues to attract and retain the top talent as the organisation gets Marcel operational?

  • What does it say to women (or men) who might want certain amount of work life balance due to family commitments or a desire to upskill?
  • How would it handle organisational politics?
  • Lesley might be requesting talent for his energy client but how would his demands be balanced against those of their line managers or other people in the business?
  • How might it redefine the role that line managers play for colleagues?

The partial removal of client services as a gate keeper between Jamie the client and Publicis talent was interesting. It would make client services job to get their arms around all the business opportunities in the client much harder. It would also be more attractive to certain clients who would feel more in control of their account.

Themes in the film:

  • Marcel is being used at night or in the twilight – usage massively extending the working day. Agencies aren’t really a 9 – 5 lifestyle at the best of times, but this video implies even less work-life balance as standard working practice. The introductory dialogue is shot at twilight and Alex the Asian American strategist, sits in an empty office at night time. Lesley is in the artificial time of an subway station and even the Arc de Triomphe dropped in is shot in twilight
  • Marcel is mobile – and being used out-of-the office in most of the film. This implies that the work day has no boundaries. Does it imply that mobile devices are no longer for reacting to urgent emails, has the balance of work expectations changed to zero-downtime always on proactive working? How would an agency team be able to keep their thinking fresh over the medium and longer term?
  • Marcel is desktop – Alex uses Marcel on a desktop computer and the web service provides a Statista like set of visualisations for data. The implication being a large amount of research source integration (social insights, market data, Kantar media data???). This would also affect third party licenses as information is pooled
  • The dialogue implies a ‘Siri’-like experience on the mobile app, except that it understands what you’re saying. Marcel is far more articulate conversationalist than Siri, Google, Alexa or my banks interactive voice system. He’d probably score highly on Tinder due having a personality. I suspect most of this is a plot device for storytelling. Alex gives voice to his key strokes and Marcel is manifested as a search box rather like Bing using a desktop computer. Lesley the South African client service person is not talking to his phone as he moves up the escalator – he is literally giving voice to his thoughts. He sounds stressed.
  • Jamie the client from a bank is an interesting vignette. She has direct access to Marcel as a client facing tool and it is suggesting Publicis contacts to her, normally you would expect a client services person to be that interface.
  • Ines, the copy writer in Brazil has the most positive experience portrayed. Marcel understands her complex career aspirations and offers her opportunities to work on an Indian project. It looks as if she is doing this work at home, again reinforcing ambiguous message on work / life balance?
  • All of the people are alone, Marcel is not shown being used in a normal office environment. Marcel becomes your team?


Marcel is the business equivalent of playing high stakes poker. If it is pulled off successfully it would put Publicis in an excellent position versus it’s competitors. However there is a lot that can go wrong from a technological and organisation perspective.

I don’t know how much of this can be realistically achieved in the 12 months that Publicis seems to have given itself? It strikes me that this is likely to be a transformation that would require much more time in order to fully match the vision outlined.  From a cultural perspective the challenge of ‘break, build, bond’ hides the level of complexity and change going on.

The biggest risk is what happens if Publicis doesn’t meet the wider industry expectations of success with Marcel? How will that affect client perceptions of them, or their ability to hire talent? How would it affect Sapient’s standing as a technology company?








I like: Dave Finocchio, CEO of Bleacher Report on media and sports business

Great points on Facebook through to sports team owners

No surprises on what is said about Facebook. The fickleness of millennials with regards sports is interesting, it did make me wonder if this also plays through for supporters of English Premier League teams.

Fantasy sports leagues aren’t engaging as it had been for older generations. Younger people struggle to get 12 of their friends on board to participate with them.

E-sports has a really small overlap with existing sports fans. E-sports players burn out too fast. It needs to address this to blow up as big as mainstream sports.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

Harbin beer and Starcom join hands to push China’s e-Sports | Marketing Interactive

Brands are learning millennials’ language for luxury: “organic,” “sustainable,” “ethical” — Quartz – oh god

Owl Labs Meeting Owl – cute product design for… – I am reminded of the wood cut faces on the beneath the facias of old Nokia 5110 handsets

Macron wants limits on Chinese investments, takeovers in Europe’s strategic industries – smart move, there is a strong case for a ‘China reciprocity law’ forcing technology transfer to the EU and restricting investment in strategic industries

Unstoppable at home, Ramdev’s Patanjali gets a reality check in Nepal | Quartz – Ramdev’s products have given the likes of Unilever a scare in India, interesting to see his brand has limits

Inside Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence Comeback | WIRED – interesting article on two levels. Firstly, Microsoft’s approach and direction on AI, secondly the classic approach to storytelling from a PR perspective. Not surprisingly they are focused on Facebook and Google

Group M downgrades UK ad growth forecast in part due to brand safety fears | Campaign LiveAdvertisers are increasingly taking a more measured view toward digital as they grapple with developing data strategies; setting more coherent objectives; attribution considerations; increased brand safety and accountability expectations and the appreciating trade-off between risk, price and performance

Americans won’t wait more than four minutes for a slightly less disgusting hamburger | Quartz – which funnily enough was the time that the McDonald’s restaurant I worked in for six weeks at the start of my working career aimed to surpass