And the ads for the girls?

I went to a movie this weekend, a movie that featured a lot of sparkly shoes, pretty clothes, champagne parties and a predictably happy ending. A movie some would call a chickflick. The few men in the audience were on dates, at a guess the audience demographic was female (80%) and young (18-35). So the movie had found the right target.

The ads presented before the movie were interesting.

Ad 1: Grolsch
It’s a beer I like, but this particular ad features a famous architect (Roberto Meyer) and a famous rockstar (Barry Hay) discussing blueprints. Two middle-aged guys making witty comments about architecture and sharing a beer.

Target audience male, 30+.

Ad 2: Killzone
Killzone is a playstation multiplayer game. It’s a particularly violent game, you can get a taste of the ad here.

Target audience: male, 30+

Ad 3: Adidas
One of the “houseparty” advertisements from Adidas, with shots of skateboarding, tagging, dancing, painting, swimming… all young and happy people. Ratio of men to women = 3:2

Target audience: both sexes (more male?) under 30,

Ad 4: Axe
This is an ad for male deodorant, set in a caveman village. Where the caveman wearing axe gets to wear leather, ride a bison, and of course – get the girl. The ads can be seen in its entirety here.

Target audience: male, 30ish

There’s not really anything wrong with the ads per se, but they’re missing their demographic. Women do drink beer, play online games and wear sports shoes. Potentially they may buy deodorant for their boyfriends or partners. But none of these ads really targetted women. None.

Why is that?

A similar line of ads could have included Coke, WiiNike, L’Oreal. All of whom have products that suit women and produce ads that are more relevant for women.

The media sellers from the movie theatres are not smart about their sales strategy. They’re lazily selling in bulk avoiding all the tools marketers should use. If they used market segmentation tools to understand to whom the movies are targetted they could sell the advertising space to the right companies at a premium.

The Crisis Explained

There are lots of videos on youtube trying to explain the crisis, 275 results for “financial crisis explained”, most of which are talking heads – watching them generally makes my eyes glaze over. There are some attempts at cartoon style simplifcations – most of which display get distracted by the narrators anger at the banks/regulators/government.

But there is one that stands out, it’s the rather brilliant work of Jonathan Jarvis. It’s clear and simple, but not over simplified. There’s not too much attitude in it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Crisis of Credit Visualized on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod


I went to a seminar today given by C.K. Prahalad, author of “The New Age of Innovation“, discussing innovation and strategy. He’s an entertaining speaker, stimulating and teasing the audience.

Much of his speech focussed on the two big insights from his book, summarised as N=1 and R=G.

One consumer at a time
This encompasses the idea that successful, innovative businesses will customise the consumer experience to an individual level. He pointed to examples such as NikeID, iPod.
Resources are global
Few companies will have all the resources within the company to create these individual experiences so will rely on other companies and form partnerships

None of this felt new or startling to me, the book was published a year ago – but that’s not it. We’d discussed the same sort of concepts in a class I took at Nyenrode almost 10 years ago.

I found the question session more interesting; when asked about the current crisis his reaction was that we’re seeing a “fundamental reset of the finanical systems” adding that a year ago “no-one would have predicted you’d be able to buy a cup of coffee for the price of three GM shares”. He advised that the only certainty he could see is that we will be doing things differently “you can’t do more of the same to get out of this”.

As with any seminar we were anxious to know what was the takeaway – and the presenter obliging asked him “what should we be doing tomorrow?”

C.K. Prahalad’s answer was “Don’t do anything tomorrow morning”

There’s answer I can use I thought, but he explained that to act without understand was doomed so time needs to be spent analysing, reflecting, thinking. And then when we do act we should “Think Big”, “Start Small” and “Scale Fast”.

Digital Is Forever

What happens to your web presence when you die? Does it hang around forever? With much of our personal administration done online how do our families handle those accounts? And now that we have “virtual” friends and relationships online, does a withering avatar inform them of our demise?

digital_tattooThere’s a new service to be launched next month, called Legacy Locker, which provides storage of all your online profiles, logins and passwords and will release them to a family member in the vent of your death (and on provision of a death certificate and other documentation).

It will certainly easier to go through this process once, rather than multiple times with each social networking/blogging/email/service website.

They’re not the only ones to contemplate this issue, a Dutch networking site Mediamatic has been contemplating it more from a philosophical point of view. They’ve created an exhibition “Ik R.I.P” (Ik = I in Dutch), which is billed as “an exhibition about death, internet and self-representation”. There’s a matching website where you can leave a sort of digital will, linked to one of several online profiles. The focus here is more on the social aspect of what happens after your death, whereas Legacy Locker looks at the very practical problem of your personal information and services online.

Given how much of my life is now online, it makes sense to plan for aspects of my death online.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

There’s a law in the Netherlands regarding temporary contracts, it says that you cannot have three consecutive temporary contracts with the same employer. The third one should be a permanent contract with all the rights that that entails.

It sounds great in theory.

But the very practical result is that low cost companies simply give two long-term temporary contracts and then don’t renew. However good the performance of the person. This is especially true of call centres and other “low-skilled” work areas.

So rather than protecting workers the law means that many people are now let go, with no redundancy package, into the worst economic climate for finding work in a decade, while the company will recruit new blood and will receive a subsidy to train them.

There’s something wrong there.

Who stays, who goes, who decides.

The news is full of financial woes, failing companies and bailouts. Many of the company recovery plans include layoffs, in the thousands – and representing 5-10% of many companies.

So far the focus has been on the “big picture”, and as the decisions are being made we’re starting to see the effects – on our colleagues. For most it sucks, for a few – a very few – it’s a welcome relief and they can fund a big change.

Who goes?

Who goes?

But how is the decision made?

  1. First in, first out
    It has the advantage of being easy to decide, but may be expensive;
    – long service people will receive higher redundancy packages
    – your company loses valuable experience
    – you may put the company at risk of an age discrimination case
  2. Last in, first out
    Again this is relatively easy to decide, but also has some costs;
    – some of those new people are talents, and you spent time and money hiring them into key positions, presumably because the skills did not exist within the company.
  3. Bottom 10%
    Using the lowest performers based on their recent performance review, it’s seductively simple; but
    – good managers will retrain, change roles or remove the worst performers every year so by removing 10% across the board you may punish efficient (and money making) business units more than inefficient ones.
  4. Who wants to go
    Making those redundant who do want to go has the advantage of removing a lot of personal anguish for both managers and employees however
    – it’s unlikely to be in large enough numbers to meet cost cutting goals (and if it is you may have other, unconsidered problems.
    – if the “volunteers” are in key positions you may struggle to find a replacement internally, or make a case for external recruitment
  5. Anyone the boss doesn’t like
    While I suspect that this is a factor on occasion – perhaps when distinguishing between two otherwise equal candidates for a layoff- it’s not a useful, fair or legal strategy.
  6. Structural
    By analysing the work done in the department/business unit or company, including prioritising tasks you can assess which roles are less critical and make a decision on that. This has the added advantage of removing the analysis of performance or personalities for at least the first steps.

So what is the best answer?

I think a combination; the structual approach to make the high level decisions, possibly inline with any strategy changes that are also required. This will generate a list of positions that need to be removed. Then within each position chose the person who must leave based on a combination of “who wants to go?” and performance analysis.

Short Attention Span

I can’t watch MTV, and my younger colleagues find long movies which rely on story rather than action impossible to watch. So I’d already suspected a shortening of attention span that was due to a “generational” difference rather than aging.

But the newest tools may shrink that even further, and limit the emotional developments of future generations according to an Oxford professor, Lady Greenfield. She points out that our emotional involvement in online entertainment is low, we receive instant gratification, and because everything is reversible we need fear no consequences. Although there are social activities online the sense of anonymity reduces the natural inhibitions that preserve social interactions.

Her presentation has led members of the government to admit that internet regulation is still too limited and doesn’t take broader implications such as the impact on children’s development into account.

But it’s not quite the whole story. For one thing many social networks echo networks in the real world. For example I’ve met and worked with almost all of my LinkedIn colleagues – I choose these criteria for connecting I realise that others are more open.

In one entirely virtual network that I belong to I have ended up meeting some of the people. This has led to some linguistic torture – we tend to date our first meeting to the online event not the “real life event”, and tend to refer to other people in the network as “friends” in discussions with friends in the “real world”. It’s become a strong network, offering support, humour, wise words and occasionally “virtual coaching”. I’ve edited thesis projects for others in the network, and canvassed their opinions on work issues.

Lady Greenfield does acknowledge that legislation isn’t enough, and that the answers lie in education and culture.

I’m somewhat more optimistic, I suspect our human need to connect will beat the potentially isolating effect of technology. It’ll just be faster than I’m used to.

Predicting Success

Looking back at the members of my class at business school it’s not those who were most successful at university who are now most successful in business. Which raises a question; “what was the point of going to business school?”

If business schools are supposed to be fitting us for the business world does that mean they’ve failed? Or did we the products of the school somehow fail.  The skills rewarded by an academic system are not always the skills rewarded in real world business. It’s something also highlighted in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, where he discusses research into the effect of intelligence on success. He finds that there’s a level of “intelligent enough” above which more IQ points don’t have a correlated effect on success. This is what got me thinking.

I recall that some of the students who turn out to be very successful in business weren’t worrying about being “best” at school, although they’re very competitive now that they’re in business.

students may have a different focus

students may have a different focus

They had a clear purpose, to learn “enough” for the real business world, more than that wasn’t a priority – and to be fair some of them were already running businesses on the side. Or perhaps I should say they were running businesses and studying on the side.

The students who did well in the academic system, have tended to move into larger companies, where the environment is more stable (questionable just at the moment!) where there is an established system in which they can work, where following the “rules” is rewarded.

The whole class was intelligent enough, and knew enough about business to be very successful. Both groups are creative, both are a mixture of introvert and extrovert, both contain groups who are good at maths, and not so good at maths. Both groups want to succeed and both work hard. So what was the differentiator?

An article by Kevin Cashman posted at Change This suggests it’s agility; the ability to accept and respond to change easily that is a predictor of success, certainly a better predictor than intelligence. They describe it as an

“integrative ability” to weave together and make sense of apparently disjointed pieces, crafting novel and innovative solutions. At the same time, we need the self-confidence to make decisions on the spot, even in the absence of compelling, complete data.

Looking back this also makes sense, the more successful students did seem to have a higher ability to handle complex and contradictory information – essential in running your own business. They also had the confidence to decide and didn’t look for some external rule. Or as my former boss used to remind me “it’s easier to apologise occasionally than to ask permission constantly”.


Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 14.16.56Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book Outliers: The Story of Success investigates the real reasons some people become successful and others remain average.

His first conclusion is that sometimes success is an accident of birth – mostly because it means you reach the right age at the right time to take advantage of opportunity. He cites a range of evidence from hockey recruiters to the great industrialists in the US.

He also shows that success is a matter of hard work; he quotes Daniel Levitin‘s work “The emerging picture … is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything”. Which means I’ll never be a concert pianist, or an Olympian, or a world-class programmer.

It’d be tough to look at success without also looking at failure, and he looks at some aircraft accidents and finds that the cause is sometimes cultural – related to how conversations work with figures of authority. Culture plays a part in failure, and success, particularly related to work ethic.

It turns out to be exactly as your mother told you – some people are born lucky, some people are born talented, but the really really successful people work incredibly hard.


I work in financial services, and my company is going through a tough time, with divestments, cost cutting and redundancies announced already. In talking to colleagues I’ve heard some interesting comments.

This was much more fun when we had money to spend.

Too true. Some of the fun projects I had scheduled (involving developing social media for use within the company) are on hold.

It’s easy to look good when you’ve got a big budget; now’s the time the really smart people shine.

True, I’m taking a hard look for where we can combine budgets to get some results – Marketing and HR have some budget if we co-operate we can still get some stuff done. There are some needs from other parts of the company where we can share technology and content. This has to be good for the company.

If I’m smart enough, I’ll shine.