Clever Marketing From Marlboro

Smoking is bad. Even most smokers will agree that it’s expensive and has a range of negatives even aside from the massive increases in health risks. That includes everything from nicotine stained skin to the potentially risk of setting your own hair alight during a student event at a nightclub in Hull. While the last example may have just applied to me in the 1990s, generally most people have been in favour of increased restrictions on cigarette sales, advertising and marketing.

But the flip side is that it has forced cigarette promotions to become more interesting and innovative. The strong, iconic branding allowed variations on brand names to get around new rules on sports sponsorship. For instance, the Jordan F1 team was sponsored by Benson & Hedges for around 10 years, but switched to variations including Bitten & Hisses, Buzzin Hornets and Be On Edge where cigarette sponsorship was banned.

There are also plenty of examples of product placement, including paying stars like Silvester Stallone directly to use particular products in films. And books like Buyology by Martin Lindstrom suggested how brand associations like cowboys, camels and less obvious examples including colours etc can trigger us into craving a cigarette as much, if not more, than a direct advert would have done.

Which is why I admire the skill of those promoting smoking, and look to learn from them to better promote less harmful products (We work with a wide range of brands, but have turned down offers from companies we believe offer products or services which aren’t beneficial to customers).


Clever Marketing From Marlboro

A new law was passed in the UK in 2016. From May 2016, all cigarette packets will be a standard green colour, logos will be prohibited, menthols are being banned, and 10-packs of cigarettes have also been withdrawn. But there has been a year’s grace period for companies to adjust and sell old stock.

So in reality it means we’re going to see branding and packets of 10 cigarettes disappear from shelves by May 2017. And that’s why I have to admit some admiration for what Marlboro has done when I visited the shops…

Clever Marketing From Marlboro. 10 pack tin packaging

It looks like a normal packet of 10 Marlboro Lights and costs the same as it did last week. But rather than being the standard cardboard packaging, it’s a durable tin packet.

And I suspect many of the marketers reading this will have already guessed why.

From May, the company will lose all their iconic branding. And anyone who previously bought a pack of 10 might well give up, rather than double their daily expenditure on a packet of 20. For instance, when I’ve cut down by smoking before eventually quitting, I found buying a pack of 10 meant I definitely tried to make them last longer.

Without that option though, I might have just gone cold turkey.

So now they’ve taken a probably marginal hit in their profits in the short-term to provide smokers with a way to continue to share their branding, and to potentially still provide that 10-pack limit.

And while for many it’s an addiction with well-known health risks, most smokers will still feel slightly cooler taking out a branded Marlboro tin and refilling it from the non-branded packs than having to take out a dull green pack with a large diseased lung on it.


Marketing Under Restrictions Promotes Creativity:

Would Marlboro have done something like this to promote their brand without the upcoming regulations and bans? I highly doubt it.

I’d imagine most people reading this don’t have an unlimited budget or freedom. But if you did, the danger is that you’d simply pile much more money into doing the same things. And you’d have no incentive to optimise your Adwords spend or paid Facebook content if you could just double the budget instead.

Whereas the most creative marketing often comes from constraints. Whether that’s from laws, budgets or other restrictions, it’s something that can result in far more interest and impact. I’ve just been reading ‘Things A Little Bird Told Me‘ by Biz Stone, and in it, he talks about his time designing book covers. When a brief insisted a particular photo had to be used, other designers would avoid taking that work. Instead, Biz Stone would rush to grab that job, take the photo, and then do something like blow it up 2000 times to use the massively pixellated version.

Employees are often advised ‘Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions’.

Perhaps our marketing motto should be ‘Don’t complain about constraints, bring me creative innovations’?

The importance of beating your own drum…

There are certain people I follow on social networks who tend to share things outside of the normal technology, social media, marketing echo chamber, and one of them is Stuart Witts, who’s as likely distribute bizarre Lego creations as digital insight. He recently shared the following video, which sparked some thoughts…

Firstly, that video has been watched almost 10 million times since June 2010 as I write this. 32,000+ people have left comments and 64,000+ people have liked it – and it’s been featured on sites such as the blog of Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet.

So whether or not you think the drummer is talented, funny, or making a fool of himself, it’s proved popular. And you’ll certainly remember him far more than the rest of the band…

Right about now, I’m guessing a fair number of you are thinking about this from a marketing or advertising perspective and wondering ‘How could we do something like that and go viral?’

That’s not the point!!!

Don’t get inspired by that video.

The inspiration comes from the approach of the drummer. He probably didn’t start playing drums with the dream of wearing a gold suit jacket and playing in a cover band. It’s also pretty unlikely that anyone taught him to drum the way he does in the video. And most importantly, he’s not doing it at the expense of the song – he’s hitting all the right beats, and providing the right backing for what is meant to be the chance for the guitarist to shine.

But he’s doing it in his own way, and that’s what makes him worthy of conversation and sharing.

Now picture your industry, content, and marketing:

If those band members were representating your business competitors and their marketing strategies, one brand may have secured the traditionally starring role of the singer/guitarist.

And the rest are probably much like the bass player in the video. Doing the basics, fitting into the perceived look and feel of their industry and peers. Occasionally giving a little flourish, but generally plodding along.

Neither is particular memorable.

But certain brands are able to use their passion, belief and drive to stand out far more than anyone thought possible by doing things in their own way. And that’s what makes a brand memorable, allows people to share it without shame, and encourages people to interact and purchase from it.

But what if they don’t like us?

Now, you may think that the drummer looks like an idiot, and I’m mad to suggest your brand should be twirling drumsticks when it could be providing a nice safe steady beat. Like any £100 drum machine could do.

But that assumes that bland tolerability drives purchases and sharability more than actively loving or hating something.

Far better to have a growing army of people who love what you do, and will passionately hoover up everything you can offer.

Being actively disliked by a large number of people hasn’t stopped the Daily Mail from being the second most popular newspaper website in the world, as sad as that makes me. And it’s built a large number of people who not only like what it does, but pay money to it for that product.

Being actively disliked by some people means that they might be driven enough to explain why they don’t like you, which lets you decide whether to do something about it. And just by responding to them, you can increase your business.

If you don’t run the risk of some people disliking what you’re doing, you’ll never run the risk of being able to be loved by people who are willing to part with their scarce attention and money.

Here’s to the mad drummers.


When novelty becomes necessity

When technological advancements such as the printing press, telegraph or the car were invented, it took a while to get going. Even something as simple as sliced bread took a good few years before becoming widely adopted.

And yet the increasing pace of change means what seemed a novelty just a short time ago soon becomes expected.

The free wifi on National Express trains is one case in point.

When it was first introduced, it seemed like a minor miracle that I could now access the internet and get work done whilst travelling, for no extra charge, even in standard class.

But within a couple of years I’m amazed that other trains don’t have it, and I’m immensely frustrated and disappointed that the speed and reliability hasn’t improved. In fact it’s got much, much worse as more and more people are using laptops and netbooks on the train.

Mobile broadband is similar. It took a while for the mobile phone to become widely adopted, but now mobile internet access is becoming a standard and expected part of any new mobile device. And it’s data costs and anything less than 100% access that become the talking points, rather than the fact I can access the web from something in the palm of my hand.

And that frustration we feel is because we don’t just become accustomed to this access.

We come to rely on it.

For work, home, and everywhere in between.


Just remembered that apparently, 53% of British mobile phone users suffer ‘no mobile phobia’, or nomophobia, ‘with 48 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men questioned admitting to experiencing feelings of anxiety when they run out of battery or credit, lose their phone or have no network coverage.’ (HT

New business strategy for the networked world

Dave Cushman has written an interesting starting point for locating the differentiating value your business brings to a networked world (Build on what the networks can’t touch), but while I agree with the general sentiment, I wanted to post about the theoretical problems I’m having with some of the specifics.

Dave writes:

‘Ask yourself which element of your business can NOT be disrupted as the network touches it.

Which element cannot be made more efficient, done more cheaply – done better when integrated with and disrupted by the network?’

He suggests that this element is the kernel of your business (Or Community of Purpose)

The problem is that I’m not sure there’s any part of a business that can’t be touched, disrupted or improved by the network in some way – which Dave also believes (“pretty much any process, any value chain you can think of, is awaiting disruption”)

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is place for distinct businesses.

I think it’s a case of modifying Dave’s approach.

There are possibly two elements I can identify which would point towards the kernel of your business:

1. The element of your business which is difficult or almost inaccessible for the network to currently disrupt.

2. The element of your business which turns the crowd/network into a Tribe or Community of Purpose with definition and leadership.

1. For instance, the cost of building a manufacturing plant is currently prohibitively expensive. It’s feasible that a network could bring together the finances required, which would remove it from Dave’s theory. But the difficulty of doing it means that the disruptive effect of the networked world has been to allow smaller manufacturers the ability to co-operate globally and to pool smaller runs of specific components into one product. If you have the resources to combine everything into a doohickey, or the pat you create requires tools which aren’t cheap and widespread, then there’s a kernel.

The same is also true online – plenty of people have ideas which will never exist because they don’t have access to developers or funding. These types of resources are essential to your business.

2. The networked world disrupts, innovates, improves on a daily basis. But there’s a big difference between crowds, Smart Mobs, and Tribes. In the comments, Dave writes that if using the network is all you have, perhaps you don’t have a business – but I don’t believe it’s about using the network at all – it’s about providing the means for the network and your business to co-create something which provides a return.

It’s the bit that turns the information within 5000 individual brains into the core of Wikipedia, or £35 donations into ownership of a football club.

I think essentially it comes down to the fact that any business is a network of people. The difference between a business and a network, is in the resources and strategy the business has, rather than seeing itself as holding a Holy Grail which will never be disrupted.

I’m not claiming for a second that you shouldn’t try for first mover advantage or use patents etc. I’m just not sure the anti-disruption field holds the answer quite yet.

I’d love to have some conversations about this, as I definitely think it’s a hugely valuable discussion – either here, or on Dave’s original post.

Scolari sacking shows short-term stupidity

I’ve been a football fan for as long as I remember, which is around 28 years – and for that whole time I’ve supported the same team through victory and defeat. The first 20 years or so were mainly defeat, with the last eight actually having some notable victories.

Scolari by toksuede (CC licence)

Scolari by toksuede (CC licence)

But being a Chelsea fan is becoming increasingly embarrassing as despite massive funding, they seem to be ignoring examples of lasting success to always focus on the shortterm. Since the three-year reign of Jose Mourinho included winning the Premier League, we’ve had Avram Grant, who lasted one season, and Jose Felipe Scolari who lasted about half a season.

Yet look at the other leading teams in the Premiership: Alex Ferguson has managed Man Utd for 22 years. Arsene Wenger has managed Arsenal for 13 years. Rafael Benitez has managed Liverpool for almost five years. Martin O’Neil has managed Aston Villa for two-and-a-half years.

There’s a bit of a pattern here.

I’ve written before about the value of belief – and it’s something that requires constant work and attention. If you’re a manager or player who has seen little loyalty or time given to your colleagues, it’s going to affect your belief, no matter how much you’re paid.  That’s not to say pressure and competition aren’t useful, and disastrous results shouldn’t be risk-free, but it’s useless having a stick without a carrot.

And I firmly believe it applies to business, or any organisation.

People need to feel secure enough to be able to take risks and try new ideas, or you’re left in a business where innovation is stifled, and that will lead to a steady and slow decline… One which will takes more resources and effort to change, the longer it continues…

The Christmas wishlist

Letter to Santa Clos by The Jamoker on Flickr (CC Licence)

'Letter to Santa Clos' by The Jamoker on Flickr (CC Licence)

Normally the list of what I’d like for Christmas would be a 50-50 split between technology and entertainment, but the responsibility of being a new homeowner and a new parent in the current financial climate means the end of the gadget list.

Instead, I want to list some of the things I’d like to see happen – some of which I could actually play a part in catalyzing. (Although, if you do want to gift me a gadget, I’ll accept: smartphones,laptops,netbooks, a flip mino, digital slrs, or digital video cameras!).

  • Health and financial security for my family – One most parents would subscribe to, and why I’m quitting smoking right now.
  • Increased speed and data limits for UK broadband without raised costs – Everyone loves the BBC iPlayer until they realise going over their limit cost them £200 last month. And everyone would love to download a good film quickly. But unless you’re with a decent ISP (I’m with Zen Broadband – 20GB limit per month), you end up with enough to watch one video. Slowly. If the Government wants technology and innovation to help get us out of a recession, superfast broadband is an essential resource.
  • More innovation in the media and entertainment industry – It’s starting to happen, but only in isolation. If not, the music industry might as well bow to Steve Jobs now, whilst text, image and movies will be the toys of Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
  • Successfully quitting smoking: After about 14 years, I think it’s long enough – at least until the child has left home and I’m too old to worry about impotence or my breath smelling. (Can’t wait to see the ad google places next to this post!)
  • More success for my friends and people I respect: My social networks really have made true the idea that the success of my friends benefits me in some way – better quality back links if nothing else!
  • Twitter monetisation: We’ve talked about it for long enough, and all I want to know is how the plans will affect my usage of Twitter.
  • Developers who have spare time/desire to do new things: Like most people in digital, I have various ideas for services and applications which may be successful. Also like most people in digital, I’m not in a position to pay for development work, and although I know that a developer working for a revenue share shoulders most of the work and risk if it fails, I’d love Santa to find me one or two who fancy risking some time and effort.

There’s probably more, but that will do for now! I’m quite intrigued to see what some other people would wish for, so I’m asking Dave Cushman, Chris Brogan, Jonathan MacDonald,  and Neil Perkin.

Will this be the Christmas of the MP3? Or could convergence save record shops?

With some time to kill before a meeting, I took the chance to browse round the Oxford Street branch of HMV, looking for inspiration for what to buy with a gift voucher I’ve had kicking around, and also to get ideas for Christmas presents.

Aside from reminding me how difficult it can be to find unusual items in even the largest stores (in fact it’s usually easier in the small secondhand record shops I spent much of my music budget in), I also felt something a bit different about the experience. I’m not sure whether it’s the credit crunch, the success of online retailers or the rise of the MP3 but the shop felt slightly emptier than I’d have expected – and the average age seemed slightly older than usual.

The only major exception was the ever-expanding videogames section. Could this be the fact full console games are still viable as a physical product? (Not many options to download a full game, and the filesize would be bigger than the monthly data allowance for a lot of people!) Certainly I got the anecdotal impression that without the videogame section, the average age of the shoppers would be 10 years higher than I’ve ever seen – or maybe I’m just noticing more…

Coincidentally, via PaidContent and Media Guardian comes the news that 32.1 million MP3 players were sold in the UK last year. Jemima Kiss points out, quite rightly, that the title is a bit misleading – 75% of the sales included were MP3 capable mobile phones – but the important point is that 90% of mobiles sold last year were MP3 capable. Whether or not they’re actually being used for MP3 consumption is almost secondary – the point is that a huge mass of people now have the opportunity to be converted at any moment.

I’m not sure that CD player sales dropping to 8 million last year is necessarily related – after all, CD players have been around long enough to have reached saturation point – but if the money drops out of manufacturing CD players, and sales are growing in those little devices that make phonecalls, take pictures and video, surf the web and play MP3s, it’s another challenge to providers and retailers of physical content.

Why would I pust through a packed Oxford Street to experience agoraphobia in a massive store populated by those 10+ years older than me, and then fail to find my ideal purchase without ordering it – particularly when its so closely linked to lifestyle?

Funnily enough, I have seen a packed record shop recently – in Malmo in Sweden. And I wish I’d grabbed a picture, because it wasn’t just records – it was the 50’s style in store cafe.

I realise this has been a bit of a meandering post, but perhaps the takeaway conclusion is this:

Mobile phones are a triumph of convergence to provide value. Convergence is also increasingly happening with living room technology and online applications. Perhaps in a time-starved culture, more retailers need to look at how they could use convergence to build engagement and loyalty in the real world, as much as online? After all, it’s a reason why supermarkets and department stores have continued to have cafes instore. So why can’t record stores look at food and drink, live events, introducing art, photography, specific genre nights, or other ways to hook into the tribes who don’t have a reason to support them anymore?

A good plan these days is hard to find…

Apologies for the title, which references Feargal Sharkey’s 80’s pop hit – I couldn’t face linking to it, so I went with the most famous track from his days with The Undertones.

Much better than reading his thoughts on stopping music piracy reported by the BBC, where his thoughts as Chief Executive of umbrella organisation Music UK made me wonder if he’d had a Teenage Kick to the head at some point.

“Who would have ever predicted five years ago that there would have been such a thing as iTunes, which now has an 80% global share of all downloads,”

Well, since MP3s became widely available in the early-to-mid 1990s, I’d have said it was pretty obvious it would become a dominant force in changing music distribution. And having witnessed how record companies responded (e.g. Jammie Thomas), I’d have also put my life savings on a tech company becoming the dominant solution.

“The music industry is often having to wait and see what works,”

No it isn’t. The music industry is choosing to wait and see what works because it’s scared of innovating and changing in the face of losing the reason for existing – physical distribution. Radiohead weren’t waiting to see what works, and neither were Nine Inch Nails.

“At some point, our song writers and musicians have to be treated with enough respect that they can at least carry on with some basic quality of life that will allow them to carry on creating and performing year after year.”

I’d suggest reading Kevin Kelly’s excellent post on how artists can exist with financial success in The Long Tail – 1000 True Fans. I’d also ask when respect started directly relating to being paid a living wage? And why my respect for a musician should be risked by a record company getting my Internet Service Provider to cut me off from what I consider a basic living requirement in the modern age?

Just like a Good Heart is Hard to Find, so is respect, because it is something which is earned – not an entitlement by releasing a record. If an artist earns my respect for their talent, then I’m happy to pay money directly to them – by going to their gigs, buying their T-shirts, buying their cds and constantly mentioning them. Like this chap for example.

And for some further reading, here’s my previous posts on the music industry: Behind the Music, More fuel for the record company bonfire, and Record companies are really screwed.

If the record industry wants to survive in one form or another, there are plenty of people who could lead it forward. Lawrence Lessig, Chris Anderson, or even someone with some professional musical experience as well as the vision needed, Jonathan MacDonald. Christ, offer me enough money, unlimited downloads and some gig tickets and I’ll come and sort it out for you. It’s pretty simple.

  1. The current model will not be saved. Use the remaining profits to find the new model.
  2. The size and power of record companies will never be the same. You screwed up by waiting this long. Get over it. I lost sympathy for you as a child when I read about how Stax was bludgeoned out of existence in the 1970s. Record companies will be much smaller, with fewer employees, and they’ll need to work harder. Like everyone else.
  3. Innovate like crazy. Use the money you still have to throw 1000 quick and easy ideas out there. Give music away. Create better opportunities around live events and merchandise. Use ways to reach the truly passionate fans.
  4. Embrace people that are pirating and sharing your music. They’re doing the same job John Peel did when he played an E.P made by The Undertones just as they were about to split up, and made them famous. If I found someone who was sharing music from artists with 1000s of people worldwide, I’d make him Head of Distribution!
  5. Start hooking up with the people doing cool stuff without you – and hope you can bring something to the party to let you join. SliceThePie, Amie Street, Sellaband, Sonoma Wireworks, Blip FM, TheNextBigSound.

If I can find these sites as a music fan with a tenuous relationship to the music industry, what on earth are the people in your offices doing with their time?

Why I don’t have much sympathy for traditional media…

The reason I’m increasingly lacking sympathy for the problems of traditional media is that the online world is still one of almost infinite possibilities. And yet the hand-wringing fear of not clinging onto the old way of doing things is what is hurting traditionalists – even when they’ve got access to funding, developers and research that should put them in a better position than a bedroom or garage start-up.

Take music an an example.

I’ve written before about Nine Inch Nails making themselves available via the internet and reaping the rewards. The free download of the previous album, Ghosts had already made $1.6 million.

Then you have technology like Songsterr, a great online resource for guitarists. If you don’t read a traditional music score, as a guitarist, you rely on ‘tablature’ – numbers and lines to allow you to play music, generally available in books and magazines. Songsterr not only displays the tab as music plays, but even allows you to slow it down to half speed, which is incredibly useful for the tricky bits. (Hat tip to Jonathan MacDonald). You can subscribe to new song updates, and see what else is happening on the Songsterr blog.

And to round off, what about a musician like Ben Walker, whose ‘Twitter Song’ has been viewed 209,201 at the time of writing, and who ended up on BBC Radio 5 due to his newfound fame. Handily, he’s blogged a lot about why the song was created, and also what has happened since it was noticed. It hasn’t made him rich, but it’s led to offers of collaboration, offers to appear at public events, and offers to write about how musicians can use social media.

Now Nine Inch Nails may be established, but they’re a band not a record label. Songsterr doesn’t seem to have any big backing, and Ben Walker is an individual bloke.

Now why can’t big traditional media companies find the time and resources to experiment, and be able to soak up the inevitable failure rate to find success through big ideas? One successful new media boss quoted me a 1 in 10 success rate for ideas, but said that 1 success generally pays for the other 9. If you can’t do that as a big, established company now, things are only going to get worse.

The Snarkiness of social media

There’s a growing recognition that social media is still evolving from a fairly early stage of development, and there’s a way to go before it gains mainstream adoption and recognition – certainly something I agree with.

A great post by Will McInnes explores this idea with the Age of Control (the past), the Age of Dialogue (the future), and the current age, which he’s named the Age of Snark.

I think he’s correct from a business perspective, and from the perspective of people of a certain age. I think anyone of the infamous Generation Y is already well on their way to the Age of Dialogue without even thinking about it. They already gravitate to the conversation, without the hang-ups of the Age of Control. The limiting factor comes from the older generations, which still control larger businesses and strategies. But as the younger generation start to infiltrate the boardroom, they’re bringing the Dialogue with them, whether as a conscious revolution, or just something that makes sense. The only speed bump is how much of it survives the challenges of a structured, institutionalized business.