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.









On Writing

This post was prompted by reading A Time To Write by Wadds, open it in a new tab on your browser and give it a read.
Cover on my old book
Given Wadds’ post I thought I would reflect briefly on my own process.

Why I write?

Wadds describes his writing as a kind of mindfulness.  For me writing serves a number of purposes:

  • It cements things in my memory, a bit like revision at school
  • It helps me work out ideas and my stance on them
  • Its a good platform for experiments. I started off my blogging to work out how it could help clients that I couldn’t get media coverage for. This was back before social media was a thing. At the moment I am using this blog  as part of an experiment on LinkedIn Pulse as a source of traffic. More on that when I have a decent set of data
  • Occasionally decent conversations spark of these posts, some of my good friends are online
  • There is a more talented fighter than I, also called Ged Carroll. I like to have a clear differentiator from him
  • My blog is also a marketing calling card, I have got jobs from it over the years.

Wadds talks about why people don’t write, he describes it as effort and bravery. I suspect its a bit more complex. Yes life does get in the way for many people, but many of my friends have their own creative outlets: painting, photography, the art of social conversation, mastering video games to name but three.  For me writing extends out of curiosity, it is a natural progression – otherwise ideas would vanish into the ether.

In terms of bravery, Wadds talks about the willingness to share private or personal subjects. I generally don’t, the reason is quite simple. Growing up in an Irish household, my time was predominantly spent in the UK during The Troubles, I grew up with the idea of the pervasive, invasive surveillance state. I grew up with a personal perception of what could be called ‘operational security’ (Op-Sec). The future has finally caught up.


You can break my workflow down into four sections:

  • Ideation.  Ideas broadly come from reading something or the world around me. If it is something on the world around me, I will make some bullets in the notes application of my iPhone.  If it is a talk I will have likely recorded it using Olympus’ free dictation app for the iPhone. If it is from reading a book, I am likely to put post-it notes on the relevant pages with some notes and then flick back through this as I write a post. I have aversion to writing on the books themselves. I have found that I don’t get much out of reading on a Kindle, so only use that for leisure reading now. If  I am inspired by something I have seen, there will be a picture on Flickr, which also serves as the image hosting platform for this blog. I have about 46 GB of images in my Flickr account – it would take a major tectonic event to persuade me to move to another platform like 500px. I have a Twitter account with a set of lists that provide inspiration and use Newsblur as an RSS reader as well. Newsblur is invaluable. I am currently trying Breaking News, an app recommended by Richard Edelman and occasionally dip into Apple’s own News app. When I have online content that has spurred a writing idea I will notate it in my bookmark service
  • Writing. My writing method varies based on two criteria; the regularity of the post and the length of the post. If you’ve read my blog for a length of time you will see that there are repeating themes. Every two days is a collection of interesting links from around the web. These posts are based on content that I bookmark. There is a post on Friday for interesting creative or useful things, again this pretty much writes itself based on my bookmarks as I ingest the web. At the moment I am publishing slides of data that I have collected on a monthly basis, I usually write a bit of analysis on the some of the data that I have surfaced. This just flows out easily. For short irregular posts they are often a stream of consciousness with minimal editing directly into WordPress. Longer posts are often mind-mapped onto engineering squared paper and then written into Hemingway
  • Editing. Unlike Wadds, I don’t have an editor. I use Hemingway app as a machine-based editor. My fact-checking happens before words are committed to the posts in my reading around
  • Syndication. I syndicate my content using plumbing that I have put int place using IFTTT and WordPress’ own JetPack plug-in. When I syndicate to Medium and LinkedIn this is done manually.

Wadds’ talks about mindfulness in writing. I don’t necessarily think that its the same for me.  That feeling of being in the zone is something I get more from DJ’ing ironically, or focusing on a mundane task. Writing is more about making fleeting ideas permanent. It is also written with at least half an eye on my work.

More information
Olympus Dictation app
Twitter lists
Breaking News app

How the #PanamaPapers story broke online

The Panama Papers are 2.6 TB worth of documents provided to German paper Sueddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source in August 2015. The documents cover 40 years of work by a Panamanian corporate law firm Mossack Fonseca on behalf of clients around the world.

The documents detail corporate services provided to the rich and powerful around the world. The first stories from the data trove were published on April 3, 2016 with more expected by early May 2016.
Mentions by medium
Looking at social media listening services we can see how the story rolled out online.
Forums gave an early ‘canary in the coal mine’ for the story, but Twitter was a massive accelerant.
Mentions over time
Mentions over time
A secondary effect was the way the story cemented Edward Snowden’s place as a media brand specialising in privacy and transparency – he was the most retweeted commentator in the first 24 hours of the story being out there.
The story in one tweet
Understanding the retweeters
About me
More on Slideshare

#VS250 – Inside Virgin Atlantic’s online racism crisis

Virgin Atlantic had a tough finish to the week as Chinese social media users and their overseas counterparts united to hit the airline hard. The problem had percolated for the previous two weeks on Chinese social media as netizens fumed at the way cabin staff had allegedly treated a Chinese woman traveller.

Chinese social media users are known for their direct co-ordinated action such as the ‘human flesh engine’ in a way that is similar to Anonymous or Reddit readers – but at a greater scale.

Looking at the social data we can see that there were two concerted pushes on social media. The first one happened on Twitter at 4am – 5am and then hours later it landed on Facebook. The surge post volume would be enough to stress even the largest and most sophisticated customer services team.

Key lessons for brands:

  1. A Chinese market problem has the potential to be an international one. The Virgin Atlantic team had a good two weeks to either shutdown the protest through a quick resolution or prepare for the Chinese netizen onslaught
  2. The Great Firewall will not keep the protest isolated
  3. Expect a more co-ordinated approach if the protest jumps the firewall. It can be diagnosed by looking at realtime data
  4. Chinese netizens can effectively drive international media coverage, despite western scepticism or possible concerns of state collusion. (They often give the Chinese Communist Party too much credit, and not enough credit to effective adhocracy Chinese netizens create)
  5. Sentiment analysis doesn’t seem to be a good trigger / escalation vector in this incident as the tweets mostly seemed to register as neutral based on the analysis tools that I used. On their own it wouldn’t indicate anything untoward – which negates some of the pretty command dashboards you see

More information
Trail of conversations on Sina Weibo – you need an account to log-in and see the content
Virgin Atlantic targeted after racism accusations | Global Times
Woman Was Called “Chinese Pig” on Flight by Passenger, Only to be Threatened by Crew to Leave the Plane in Mid-air | People’s Daily – probably the best write up of the incident by Chinese government’s paper of record
Virgin Atlantic investigates abuse case as story goes viral | China Daily – London bureau breaks the western social media debacle for English language readers
Chinese woman claims flight attendants ignored her after man called her ‘Chinese pig’ | asiaone – asiaone is a Singaporean news aggregator owned by SPH who own The Straits Times
Richard Branson sends apologetic tweet after woman claims she was called a ‘f****** Chinese pig’ on Virgin flight by fellow white passenger… but cabin crew threatened to kick HER off the plane | Mail Online – the Mail Online piece is particularly importance as it validates the story for western audiences and other media such as The Metro
Richard Branson apologises to woman called ‘Chinese pig’ on Virgin flight |

Revisiting The X-Files twenty years later

I discovered The X-Files at college. I had just purchased a Casio TV with a screen the size of a postage stamp from a pawn shop in Huddersfield. I bought a power block from Argos to save on batteries. The internet was only available for me during college time, so destination TV was a thing. I would tune in without-fail to watch the show.
I want to believe
The X-Files was of a time and a place. The Berlin Wall had some down and the military industrial complex still existed. It existed without a wider purpose. The Thatcher years seemed totalitarian at the time in the way that Teresa May does now. Area 51  was the home of stealth planes. Nuclear annihilation was as much a part of society as terrorism is now.

The six episode relaunch caused me to revisit the show. It was interesting to see who it felt current and still had changed. Mulder and Scully used mobile phones, email, the internet and databases. From a technical point-of-view it feels current. Japanese technological skill now feels like a hangover form the 1980s. The use of optical media feels equally dated. The authors understanding of technology and the online world is more muddied. Series 7 episode First Person Shooter muddles online computer gaming, virtual and reality.

The storytelling definitely hit a low in series 6. Series 7 saw some interesting series mash-ups and changes:

  • Lance Henriksen from Chris Carter show Millennium appears in one episode as a plot crossover
  • There is a special episode of COPS (X-Cops) where the show format changes to ‘reality TV’
  • The Smoking Man becomes a trickster character like Loki than the sinister hand of the military industrial complex

The Lone Gunmen seem quite niave and childish in their quest for the truth. A failed effort to crack a Las Vegas convention where banal details of black ops discussed over poker. It would be interesting to see what they look like in a post-Snowden world.

Series 8 seems to be a self conscious effort to re-inject tension into the franchise. Robert Patrick joins as a by-the-book FBI agent dealing with shape-shifting bounty  hunter aliens. This is an interesting juxtaposition as he was previously best known for his role as the liquid metal policeman T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It was Mulder’s turn to get abducted by aliens.

Series 9 loses something in the awkward working threesome of Scully, Reyes and Doggett. There is something fitting about the final episode which features black helicopters and the smoking man.

The Truth Is Out There was the oft-repeated mission statement in the show. Now it really is out in public and profoundly depressing. Despite this, I found re-watching the first five series of The X-Files very rewarding.

Jargon watch: McRefugees

McDonalds Restaurants in Hong Kong is famous to Economist readers for consistently providing the best value in the publication’s ‘tongue-in-cheek’ ‘Big Mac Index’ McDonalds Chinese sign

The restaurants are ubiquitous, offering cheap consistent food. And many of them remain open 24 hours a day, which contributes to Hong Kong’s ‘up all night’ lifestyle alongside the ubiquitous convenience stores. They are a neighbourhood haven to office workers, students and those on shifts. Their relative low costs mean that they prove attractive to homeless people. McSleepers and McRefugees were the interchangeable labels given to the homeless people sleeping in McDonalds to escape the oppressive heat of summer or the cold around lunar new year. It became a thing in the media last year when a woman lay dead in a restaurant for 24 hours before being discovered. The tragedy masks the unintentional social role McDonalds is playing for the poorest in Hong Kong society.

More information

Hong Kong ‘McRefugees’ up sharply, study shows – Hong Kong Economic Journal Insights

Save our McRefugees: Woman’s lonely unnoticed death in Hong Kong McDonald’s highlights need to help homeless | SCMP

Hong’s Kong’s lack of affordable housing fuels ‘McSleeper’ trend, where the homeless sleep at McDonald’s | SCMP Homeless woman found dead at Hong Kong McDonald’s 24 hours after she sat down as unaware customers ate | SCMP

‘McRefugee’ reunites with son in Singapore through media report on Hong Kong’s McDonald’s sleepers | SCMP

The lonely life of the McSleepers, the poor who call McDonald’s home | SCMP

The #piggate post

In case you’ve lived under a rock for the past few days, Piggate is something you will want to be over by now.

A couple of thoughts on Piggate

  • David Cameron lived out his childhood and young adult life in a world without social media. There will be countless people of his generation thinking ‘there but for the grace of God go I‘ due to the youthful high jinks in military barracks, schools and sports clubs around the world. It’s not pleasant to think about, but it doesn’t surprise me
  • Lord Ashcroft has deliberately burnt bridges with this book and it would be more interesting to find out what persuaded him to take such drastic action. It’s the kind of story worthy of House Of Cards

Finally, how did CassetteBoy manage to put together Getting Piggy With It so fast?

The not-so-secret internet diary of a gen X man – the directors cut

Stephen Waddington’s daughter Ellie posted about her media consumption with a guest post on his blog, go and have a read of it. This snowballed into what is likely to be a series of media diary posts by different people. My contribution was published on his blog this morning. I penned the original as a stream of consciousness whilst laid up. I have cleaned up a few typos and expanded on a few bits for clarity, hence the director’s cut comment.

I wouldn’t say my media diary is that of a typical consumer, I have lived inside the technology-media industrial complex since the late 1990s and worked in the scientific side of the UK’s now largely defunct industry prior to that. I am steeped in counter-culture since the mid-1980s and spent a fair bit of time in Hong Kong – which changed my outlook somewhat. I am also unencumbered by family life at the moment.

The reaction so far to the posting has been interesting:

  • I was amused at being called a mature hipster, which I guess goes to prove that geeks are the new cool. I always thought of myself closer to the comic store owner in The Simpsons
  • The last part of the article was called out by a few people who got in touch, my comments on privacy seemed to touch a nerve in a way that my concerns about innovation didn’t. The UK economy is not going to get saved from going a bit Greece with just a few blockchain start-ups

Messenger for keeping in touch and on track

Over a decade ago I used to use Adium X, a multi-service instant messaging client for the Mac to keep in touch with a wide range of friends, colleagues, suppliers and clients. Each client was like hitting a different layer of clay in an archeological dig, indicating when I knew them.

People on ICQ where the longest held contacts, then Yahoo! Messenger (I even ended up working at Yahoo!), Windows Live messenger was purely about my time at Waggener Edstrom and GoogleTalk became de-rigeur when the bots on Yahoo! Messenger came too much.

Now I use WeChat, LINE, Signal, Skype and Telegram. Like IM platforms before it each messenger platform fits a segment of friends, colleagues and clients.

Flickr is an archive

I have friends that are talented photographers and you can’t convince me that some nice filters and a square picture adds up to the pretentions of photographic art that many people seem to feel it has. I have been on Flickr for 11 years and 18,345 photographs later, it would have to be a really compelling service that would get me to move. Flickr is my stock image library,it is my visual diary, image hosting for my blog and my mood board for when I am looking for inspiration at work.

I think it has a better community than Instagram because it isn’t ubiquitous, it still has that early web 2.0 smell to it, though my heart is in my mouth every time Yahoo!’s finances take a wobble.

Facebook is utilitarian

I use Facebook in a similar way to developer friends using Stack Overflow or other forums for professional social discourse on a couple of private groups. I don’t even bother with cognitive dissonance type of posts of it always being sunny on Facebook. I know it’s crap; in your heart-of-hearts you probably know it too. Facebook events are often used, alongside and Eventbrite. For loose network contacts, Facebook acts like a poorly designed phone book.

Twitter: I have a bot for that

Twitter is used as a messaging service for some of my friends, but mostly I use it to passively consume content like breaking news in lists and syndicate content that I find interesting. I do this syndication through various ‘recipes’ set up in IFTTT.

Media content

Steve Jobs talked about the only way to fight music piracy was to have a better idea. So for a number of years I have bought my music on iTunes, Bleep and Beatport alongside my love of vinyl records. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the record labels as they have consistently focused on short term blockbuster hits at the expense of slow and steady selling artists – which is especially retarded when you think about the long tail model of media consumption. They need to evolve their business model to become cheaper and more efficient in their A&R processes in order to do this. I have recently started ripping CDs into my music library again as an arbitrage play (these are often cheaper than digital downloads) or offer back catalogue content that digital services don’t.

I use a late model iPod Classic because of its 160GB storage. For streaming music I listen to mixes, mash ups, edits and remixes on Soundcloud and My current favourite remixer is Luxxury. I use the online radio channels (not Beats 1) in iTunes to have as relaxing background music prior to turning in at home.

I watch live news on television as the broadcast network is better for supporting big audience numbers in comparison to the infrastructure of the internet. We have more bandwidth at the edges, but still the same bottlenecks I experienced some ten years previously during the July 7 bombings in London.

I have an Apple TV box that I use for Netflix, internet radio and iTunes store content. Out of the terrestrial channels I tend to only use iPlayer as it is so much better designed than 4oD, ITV Player or Channel 5’s offering. I stream RTE News, Bloomberg TV and the BBC World Service. My favourite news content comes from Vice – it feels like the channel that CNN should have been and is less shaped to meet the norms of the establishment, though this will undoubtedly change in the near future.

News is apps and RSS.

My RSS reader of choice is I was a minority amongst my peers in that I never trusted my bookmarks and OPML data to Google’s Reader, instead using Bloglines and then Both of which where driven out of business by Google prior to them closing Reader.

Instead bookmarking is done with I also get news from the RTE News app, a breaking news list I built in Twitter,, and the South China Morning Post mobile app. If you’d asked me this ten years ago then The Economist would have been on here, but its been replaced by and Monocle magazine.

When I get to read a newspaper; it is the FT and the Wall Street Journal on the way home from work as a way to decompress, or the weekend FT for a mellow Saturday morning. I still read the US edition of Wired magazine in a print copy as the accompanying digital subscription has somehow become borked on my iPad. My media indulgence would be occasionally rifling through the pages of Japanese style magazine Free & Easy.

I subscribe to a number of email newsletters for specialist analysis.

Brands that cut through

The brands that cut through for me are ones that cut their own path. I don’t wake up in the morning and think:

hell yeah I want to engage with a brand on a social channel

With people like Carhartt, Gregory Mountain Products, Canon, Nikon, Mystery Ranch, Barebones Software, Apple, S-Double Studios, Porter Tokyo and IWC Schaffhausen the product is the marketing – the online marketing efforts of these brands are coincidental. I do know that many of these brands do spend a good deal of effort to influence the kind of publications that I read. Monocle magazine does a really good job of integrating marketing and content.

I buy much more online now, the high street has become quite bland, especially after having lived in Asia. I use trans shipment company to buy items in Japan and has replaced many of the none-impulse purchases that I would have made at Argos.

Challenge for brands, media and life itself

The internet has come to mirror the wonders, banalities and horror of everyday life. As I write this Ellen Pao had resigned as CEO at Reddit. Reddit is a poster child for all of these categories from organising gifts for the poor to water cooler chatter, racism and death threats against Ms Pao.

Culture has now been made massively parallel by the internet. As an 18 year old, I remember having to get a train down to London to go trawling through specialist shops from Camden to Soho  looking for Stussy clothing and records on the Japanese Major Force label. Now everything is up on YouTube or Soundcloud for you to enjoy.

Making a difference is a work in progress

Like Ellie, I am not that optimistic about aspects of the world. In many respects the concerns of gen-y&z mirrored concerns of a young gen-x. I held McJobs and had a constant fear of unemployment over my head, was concerned about nuclear holocaust, economic meltdown and an environmental dystopian future – concerns that I still have today. There is an anti-science bias and a lack of hard innovation coming through that will fuel the next forty years of innovation. The current outlook reminds me a bit of the film Interstellar where the lack of willingness to focus on anything but on our own small plot was killing humans as a species. The current political climate with regards to privacy and digital services indicates a luddite and megalomaniac political tinge, where freedom is being sacrificed for the illusion of safety from extremism. The only thing that actually offers that freedom is a better idea, not an Orwellesque vision of privacy.

About Ged Carroll

Ged currently works heading up digital services at Racepoint Global in London. He lives in the East End and spends a lot of time in Hong Kong. You’ll find him online at renaissance chambara.

More information

Luxxury on Soundcloud
RTE News Now
South China Morning Post


2015: just where is it all going?

It’s become a bit of an annual tradition on this blog for me to put together some guesswork on what is likely to be coming down the pipe over the next 12 months.

Sony Corp. cleans house with the management teams of its US businesses. One of Sony’s start-up bets (the e-ink watch, smart locks etc) comes good. Sony will still be supported by its Japanese financial services business.

For years IBM has charged Huawei a fortune for consulting, telling Huawei the IBM way. In 2015, I could see the student becoming the master as Huawei sells into IBM enterprise markets in the developing world and possibly Europe.

Shareholder activists don’t take a run at Google. Google is moving from a growth stock to value as search advertising revenue growth is declining. However the structure of Google makes life very difficult for the activists to gain leverage. Any activist that does take a run at Google would need to go to court to help dismantle the two-tier structure that handicaps the shareholder voting structure. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be shareholder grandstanding and public letters to the board. Google’s privacy and antitrust regulatory woes will continue to fester outside the U.S.

As Fred Wilson over at A VC put it, the sharing economy is actually the rental economy, the digital economy equivalent of bulk breakage: breaking a larger container down to sell smaller, more manageable pieces to consumers for a profit. It’s disruption usually stems from breaking regulations: labour laws, public transportation regulations, laws governing guest house and hotels rather than innovation. It is likely to prey on the have-nots and is likely to see increased resistance. For me it is indicative of a move in founder culture, from the counterculture influenced start-ups of Apple’s era to a yuppie Patrick Bateman-like culture today. Expect more societal push-back as geeks become the new investment bankers in terms of being societal punch bags.

IoT / wearables
There won’t be an over-arching XML type bridge for the IoT. Battery life will limit the fantastic visions that pundit have for wearables and the internet of things.

I would be surprised if we didn’t see some devices trying to power themselves by scrounging energy from wider electromagnetic spectrum (wi-fi networks, cellular devices, radio, TV etc).

Consumer electronics
We are going to continue to see baby steps towards more immersive experiences, as VR glasses slowly make progress in the marketplace. OLEDs would be an ideal application for VR glasses, particularly if they want to hold off smartphones in a frame. Content is likely to role out in a similar way to IMAX – visually stunning documentaries about space and nature alongside computer games. It will be interesting to see what James Cameron does with VR. There will also be some baby steps towards haptic feedback (think a better Nintendo PowerGlove).

Despite The Interview, Hollywood still won’t do cinema / digital simultaneous releases, or global simultaneous releases for any content that wouldn’t have been direct to TV/video in an earlier age.

The YotaPhone2 won’t get the customer base it deserves as it struggles against the superior marketing muscle of Samsung in the premium Android segment of the market.

The Cyanogen distribution of Android won’t go anywhere fast due to its geographic exclusivity agreements with the likes of OnePlus and MicroMax cramping the style of handset manufacturers with global ambitions. This offers an opportunity for Jolla’s SailfishOS.

Google revamps the resources and process to get more Chinese smartphone manufacturers going through its official channels for compatibility (CTS) and have a Google Mobile Services (GMS) license. At the moment there are a number of Android handsets going into developing markets without these, which means Google is losing out on incremental licensing revenue.

There is a change of emphasis in business, social is no longer well, social. Businesses start to pull ‘social’ media back into business functions. An increased emphasis on paid media over earned engagement / community management and marketing automation makes social look more like electronic direct marketing.

Asian platforms WeChat, LINE and KakaoTalk have led the way in both consumer and brand adoption. They will continue with a relatively slow international rollout. Facebook Messenger doesn’t seem to fill the same user context as these applications, is this an opportunity that a SnapChat or new player can fill?

Things could get very interesting if WeChat or LINE professionalise their international marketing and start rolling out some of their more advanced features internationally such as integrating payments and m-commerce. They can’t do it by going alone, they would need to be good partners and deals like that take time to negotiate.

I suspect that international e-commerce will have breakout years., Rakuten and Aliexpress have been percolating for years. Combine this with the valuation put on Asian e-commerce outfits, it would be quite easy to see how cost-conscious consumers in economically challenged Europe and the developing world may appreciate a new Amazon. Secondly, Chinese purchases of foreign goods are likely to expand further due to a rapidly developing logistics network within China, increasing international acceptance of UnionPay and a rein-in on more ostentatious tastes due to Mr Xi’s anti-corruption drive. Consumers will be looking for quality less overt luxury and premium products. Foreign travel for shopping will start to be scrutinised by the government and foreign shopping through intermediaries will become professionalised by the Rakutens of this world.

We’re likely to see European states take a similar stance to India and China and more widely blocking sites for security considerations and media IP enforcement. Expect the UK and Australia to lead the way in terms of site censorship.

More information
Who is behind the e-paper FES watch? | WSJ
Sony Qrio smart lock crowd funding page
What Just Happened? AVC

2014: crystal ball gazing, how did I do?

For the past few years I have been thinking about where digital is going and what it all means. At the end of last year here were my projections

Amazon won’t do drone delivery in 2014 – Whilst trials of drone deliveries have been ongoing and drones seem to be getting more mainstream thanks to companies like DJI Amazon hasn’t done deliveries yet. In addition, the FAA in the US started to regulate commercial drone usage, which is likely to slow down adoption in the short term, while providing a stable legal framework of operation in the longer term.

Small data – Not so much an explicit interest in smaller data sets for meaningful things, but the Hortonworks IPO had an almost Netscapean quality to it with shaky revenue streams and a healthy share price bounce when it came to market. It also made Silicon Valley nervous as companies were concerned about negative perceptions toward the big data ‘sector.

Offline to online integration – O2O seems to be a bigger thing in China and other east Asian markets with ‘mobile search keywords’ put into adverts and TV programmes for years. The QRcode seems to be a uniquely Asian form of integration largely abandoned by western developers – mainly because they didn’t seem to use them in as imaginative a manner compared to Tencent et al. Lower power Bluetooth beacons are still experimental. Weve the joint company set up by the UK wireless carriers to provide contextual data about consumers to integrate online and offline marketing is running at a loss and has abandoned peripheral business opportunities in mobile wallets/ m-payments.

Algorithmic display advertising – there are a number of ways in which greater data is being brought to bear on programmatic ad spend but algorithms weren’t the biggest thing shaping the market this year. Major brands seem to have developed a distrust of the agency trading desks and the lack of transparency into market data. Instead of giving agencies an unfair advantage and allowing them to play both sides of the trade, they are bring the trading desk in-house.

Mobile display advertising gets a radical reduction in formats – at the time I wrote this prediction, I had been concerned about clickthrough rates and mistaken clickthroughs, so I considered a reduction in mobile formats to just the ones that worked best like the page takeover. I didn’t forsee a bubble economy driving mobile display revenues around games apps. This may come to a head soon as western consumers seem to be less open to downloading to new apps according to research by Deloittes.

Content marketing on OTT platforms – WeChat has evolved in leaps and bounds with some amazing campaigns coming out in China, Burberry has worked with Tencent to push the envelopes on their campaigns and have included live webcasts. We haven’t seen so much of this happening with campaigns aimed at western consumers, but one brand springs to mind Vivienne Tam who ran a super model contest on the platform including a voting function and a special blog covering activity around New York Fashion Week as a separate tab on the account – all in English.

Chinese technology brands will finally be successful outside China – It’s still early days, but we’ve seen Lenovo and other Chinese brands demolish Samsung’s share of the smartphone market in the developing world. WeChat has expanded into India, Spain and South East Asia. OnePlus and Xiaomi have started selling direct in Europe, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Alibaba had a monster IPO and Baidu bought into fast start-ups like Uber.

Privacy issues won’t change much with consumers – Back at the end of last year I didn’t expect the Snowden story to continue to echo onwards. On the surface things didn’t seem to change with consumers, but there has been sufficient consumer interest that technology vendors are addressing (some) consumer privacy needs much to the chagrin of the law enforcement/military industrial complex. This privacy experience hasn’t been universally enjoyed (depending on country regulations) but things are changing.

Technology company workers are the new bankers – the tech worker bus protests that started at the end of December 2013 mushroomed, so by August 2014 Westboro Baptist Church got involved. Uber’s surge pricing and Snapchat’s frat boy CEO were just some of the lightning rods that made the tech sector look like vintage Wall Street.

The rise of immersion – When I wrote my predictions I felt that I had been cheated out of the cyberpunk future that I had been promised and saw it as a major opportunity. Virtual reality had lost out in the 1990s when cumbersome helmet displays would disorientate you and cause you to throw up as the visuals and movement created dissonance partly due to a lack of computing power. Now we’ve seen cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson the chief futurist at one VR company, Facebook own another and companies like Zeiss and Samsung enter the fray. Together with advances in AR post-Google Glasses we are likely to see major innovations beyond gaming in the web-of-no-web.

Machine learning will threaten to disrupt programming – while machine learning is making an increased amount of noise in the tech media it is being seen as a leap forward in artificial intelligence rather than as an alternative strategy to traditional application programming. Skype adopted for their latest language training.

A race to the bottom will bring out hyper-competition in mobile semiconductor suppliers – the mobile market did race to the bottom which has made a major dent in Samsung and Huawei’s marketshare. Mediatek and Hi-Silicon are producing innovative silicon that has pushed phone performance forward. However rather than being a race to the bottom on pricing, Qualcomm has been taken to task by the Chinese government and Qualcomm admitted in its own financial documents that there at least some partners who weren’t paying them licence fees.

More information
2014: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara 

The ALS ice bucket challenge post

I was going to write a post on the ALS ice bucket challenge but Thomas Gessemer said pretty much everything that needs to be said on this Bloomberg video.

I am waiting for this to start appearing on agency presentations trying to seduce clients with promises of free advertising.

Key takeouts

  • To allow organic opportunities to engage
  • Have a real-time relationships with supporters
  • Don’t get obsessed with the numbers
  • Social is key to spot opportunities ‘white swan’ rather than ‘black swan’ events and then rallying followers around it. Which is tough when you work in an area where this is hard to justify. Don’t expect to see it happening around prisoner rehabilitation for instance


Five for Friday (I actually mean Sunday) | 五日(星期五)

A rather late edition of things that have made my day this week, in a break from the norm I thought that I would focus on just one thing, mainly because I can’t shake it from my head.

The Chopstick Brothers are a comedy duo with a film out in Chinese cinemas called 老男孩之猛龙过江 (Old Boy The Way of The Dragon).

In order to promote the film they released a single called 小苹果 (Little Apple).

Little Apple is an annoyingly catchy melody with simple chords and its own dance designed to appeal to plaza dancing ‘aunties’ (middle-aged women).

Here is a video of Little Apple plaza dancers, see the age range of the participants and how seriously this is taken

As the Australian news video  alludes to, these groups dance to music played on a booming system built into a porters trolley that seems to be accentuated by the hard concrete and glass surfaces surrounding ‘private public’ spaces where they perform.

Little Apple has an almost EDM quality so that it reproduces well on the these systems. Because of these characteristics Little Apple is similar to one of the annoyingly catchy summer pop records that tend to break in the west: Shanks and Bigfoot – Sweet Like Chocolate, Los Del Rio – Macarena, Henry Hadaway’s version of Chicken Dance credited as The Tweets – The Birdie Song etc.

And like Psy’s Gangnam Style before it, it has morphed into a number of parodies and became a meme in its own right – with brands getting on board. At the moment the People’s Liberation Army are encouraging different provinces to create their own recruitment video based on the song.

My favourite version was shot in Liverpool by Shaun Gibson who uses the video to tell a tale from Journey To The West (the video is on Chinese site so you need to be patient in allowing it to load).

40 blogs that inspire me in work and publishing here

Despite the fact that blogs are considered dead in some quarters and RSS is considered by some people to be an obsolete format; they are still a source of inspiration to me and my RSS reader Newsblur pulls them together in a coherent format for me. Here are some of the blogs that provide the most inspiration.

Name / Category Description
Wall Street Journal Corporate Intelligence blog Looks at a range of different business sectors and is issues rather than scoop-driven.
Edge Perspectives with John Hagel – I am not too sure how to categorise this blog as it leaps around so much, sometimes I don’t particular agree with the posts, but they force me to think and question
Monocle Monocolumn Imagine if the late great Alistair Cooke’s Postcard from America had been global in nature and the writing crowd-sourced from a number of correspondents – this is the best way I can think of how to describe the Monocolumn. It is also interesting in that it represents Monocle magazine’s solitary concession to online social media.Tyler Brule once described it this way:

Good conversation and a glass of white wine – that’s our type of social networking

Organizations and Markets In their own words:‘Organizations and Markets focuses on academic research in economics and management, the authors also comment occasionally on other shared interests, such as classical liberalism and cultural conservatism’
Analects The Economist’s China blog which looks across business, society, culture and developments within the CPC regime. They usually have some interesting data points
Asia blog The Asia Society have a blog which alternates between amazing photography from the region and analysis pieces with an academic / think tank type feel
Asian Security Blog Written by Robert Kelly a Korean-based professor of international relations, it has some interesting posts analyzing the complex relationships across APAC
Bytes of China Ethnographer Tricia Wang’s blog where she occasionally posts insights on Chinese consumers and how they use technology. I also recommend checking out her speaking presentations, a number of which are available on YouTube
China Real Time The Wall Street Journal’s blog which has an eclectic mix of posts on all aspects of Chinese life including business and culture.
ChinaTechNews All things information economy related in China from social and mobile platforms to devices and legal changes
Hong Kong Hustle A Hong Kong-specific blog on culture and all things ‘cool’
Jing Daily All things luxury sector related in China.
Jottings from the Granite Studio Written by Jeremiah Jenne, a PhD student studying in China covering a wide range of subject areas including popular culture and everyday life
May Daily Popbitch for east Asia, handy for having enough celebrity gossip to make conversation with colleagues. Much of the content comes from the Hong Kong equivalent of the Daily MailThe Apple Daily and is then summarized in English. They seem to have stopped posting in late December, I hope to see them back on form after Chinese New Year
Scene Asia A Wall Street Journal blog that covers all aspects of culture, lifestyle and topical affairs across Asia
Andy Kessler Blog of the business author and former Wall Street analyst, mostly just posts the copy from his Wall Street Journal articles there now.
Bronte Capital Australian authored blog with some interesting analysis on some of the business stories of the day with a very strong focus on US companies Pretty much as the name implies. A blog written by seven professors who specialise in business strategy
Union Square Ventures A mix of curated content and original analysis by staff from a New York-based
Cool Tools Kevin Kelly’s website which is a spiritual successor to the Whole Earth Catalog.
designboom Great new product site which cover product design to architecture products, handy to look through for inspiration
Dezeen Similar to designboom but more focused on architecture
IDSA Materials and Processes Section Materials and processes for the manufacture of products, it includes selected teardowns
Thinking and Sharing Design related blog that is occasionally updated by digital agency ustwo when they aren’t busy building stuff for their big brand clients
BBH Labs Random assortment of posts from the innovation team at BBH, always something to think about
Excapite Ideas of exploration in the network economy
PARC blog A blog detailing the events and discussions hosted by Xerox PARC research center focused on the cutting edge of the technology sector
CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights Blog Posts based on the consumer reports that they are doing
Creative Culture International Nuggets of consumer behaviour insights from around the world
GfK Insights Blog Global market research agency posts based on some of the research they carry out, has a mixed bag of content
The comScore Data Mine Infographics based on online data
WPP Reading Room Aggregation of research and whitepapers put out by companies across the WPP Network
China Internet Watch Think Techcrunch for China
China Social Media blog A good source of data-points and infographics written by social branding agency Resonance China
Facebook Developer Blog Less of a pleasure, more of a professional necessity to try and keep with up with the latest developments on the Great Satan of social
Fluxx A product and service design agency in London who write some nice trend pieces
Infinite Loop Ars Technica’s Apple-focused channel, quality analysis
Michael Geist Canadian expert on intellectual property and online privacy. Blogs analysis with a North American focus
Tech-On! Nikkei authored blog on Japanese technology
The Wirecutter A ‘best of ‘ website that looks at different technology categories


2014: just where is it all going?

You can read about how I got on last year here. This year’s predictions in no particular order:

Amazon won’t do drone delivery in 2014 –  The reasons for this are many. Drones are limited by payload, to ability to land, the amount of energy they can hold for flight time and piloting. It is no small feat to fly a single drone let alone a parcel carrying fleet of them. Secondly, what do you do if the recipient isn’t at the landing zone? And we haven’t addressed ill-defined regulatory issues.

Small data – at the end of last year I ended up speaking to a retailer who wanted to do something with their customer database. Looking at it was underwhelming. Just over 200 customer records with only a fraction of them having email addresses. This was an extreme example, a large part of their problem was that data acquisition was done through the till, whilst customers would be paying for goods. Retail staff would then be torn between dealing with customer queues and trying to capture customer data.  Hadoop is now bandied around like it is a common tool when in reality it only benefits the largest data sets. 2014 could benefit from a renewed focus on delivering value by sorting out the small data first.

Offline to online integration – companies like, Verifone and Brightmove media for cinema and taxi advertising respectively are symptomatic of a wider move that integrates online and offline media. The holy grail would be a multi-channel customer journey with correct levels of attribution of sales. We are starting to get there with the right context data sets: location-based weather forecasts, geo-fencing and Apple’s iBeacon

Algorithmic display advertising – Greater cross-media integration would require a greater degree of sophistication in media buying, moving towards algorithm-driven purchases within a real-time scenario. The challenges will be in ensuring artwork is appropriate, rendering formats, transmission; building algorithmic models themselves and demonstrating advertising effectiveness sufficiently well.

Mobile display advertising gets a radical reduction in formats – I had been looking at the different advertising options on mobile platforms and page takeovers seemed to make the most sense, which begged the question why have other inventory options. I suspect that other advertisers may take a similar stance.

Content marketing on OTT platforms – at the moment OTT platforms like WeChat are used predominantly as electronic direct marketing pushing out regular promotions or coupons to the audience. But the platforms also the opportunity to measure the impact of storytelling by weaving the platform into a multi-channel programme alongside video and websites. For the right brands special edition stickers offer an opportunity as well.

Chinese technology brands will finally be successful outside China – Xiaomi’s vertically integrated model of hardware, software and services is looking to expand outside of China to reach a larger Southeast Asian audience. CyanogenMod-based smartphones provide other manufacturers to follow a similar model. Oppo’s N1 was recently launched CyanogenMod edition phone gained Google certification, paving the way for other integrated offering like Xiaomi, so expect software and service innovation.   Tencent’s WeChat will break through, based firstly on foreign brands looking to engage with Chinese consumers within and outside the country – expect a bridgehead to be built by the hospitality industry.

Privacy issues won’t change much with consumers – Whilst legislators may wring their hands and engineers build new products consumers won’t do much mainly because of inertia and a sense that it’s just way things are. Don’t believe me? Case in point, how many people do you know have moved their bank account, despite the UK government legislating that can now be done with just one form?

Technology company workers are the new bankers – protests in Oakland over Google commuter buses, technology sites giving Hello-esque coverage of staff canteens and luxury office and East London warping into something similar to Notting Hill a couple of decades ago, coupled with a growing army of working poor is going to create a heady mix of jealousy and the inevitable backlash similar to the student bashing that used to go on in Leeds. Expect some Hoxton twits to get twatted.

The rise of immersion – From the Oculus Rift glasses to a creative agency in Argentina using haptic technology to allow fathers to share with mothers how their child is developing as part of a marketing campaign for a babycare brand – immersive technologies are once more on the ascendancy for the first time since the mid-1990s.

Machine learning will threaten to disrupt programming – The current most popular computer science course at Stanford is machine learning, Qualcomm is looking to make machine learning based processors in 2014, this will disrupt computer programming and the schemas created by programmers across a wide range of applications from enterprise processes and workflows to consumer services like search. Whilst this won’t develop commercial applications in anger in 2014, developers may start to develop distinctly luddite tendencies.

A race to the bottom will bring out hyper-competition in mobile semiconductor suppliers – players like Qualcomm will come under price pressure from the likes of MediaTek and Spreadtrum who will provide high-quality and performance silicon at bargain basement prices to match the needs of Chinese OEMs living on razor-thin margins. Expect new operating systems and web services to take advances of these high performance bargain basement price devices.