Monthly Archives: November 2014

Robots Should Drive My Taxi

During my three years in Singapore, majority of things have improved.

Trying to get taxis and travelling with them is however becoming more frustrating every day. I mostly use public transport. Both bus and MRT lines work perfectly (at least in my routes). Usually when I select taxi, the selection is based on urgency instead of convenience. Quite often the service experience is not really pleasant.

The rise of the taxi apps has been double-edged sword. On the other hand they have enabled you to get taxis to areas where you could not really wave a cab before. On the other hand every taxi driver is now just circling areas and waiting for pre-booking fees from the apps. Also apparently some taxi companies try to force their drivers not to use the best app (Grabtaxi) and to use only their own apps.

Taxi booking apps and arrival of Uber in Singapore are hopefully just a start in Taxi revolution. I am waiting for the time that the robot cars will revolutionize taxi industry:

Singapore would be a perfect place to test self-driving taxis: small area which is mostly documented in GPS, not many cyclists, predictable traffic, predictable weather, good roads, etc.

Here are six reasons why I would select robot over human driver any time:

1. No mistakes

Google´s self-driving cars have crashed twice. First time a human was driving the car. Next time a human rear-ended Google´s car. I would feel much safer with robot driving my taxi, than have my human driver watching Korean drama from his iPad and fixing his smartphone while speeding on highway (real story). Airplanes are majorly automatically flown nowadays which has reduced the accidents. Majority of the flight crashes are caused by human error. Comparing the

2. No explaining routes
“PIE or ECP*?” was my crash course to Singaporean acronyms. I thought that the driver was referring to some part drugs. Taxi driver should better equipped as a professional to select the right expressway. Especially compared to me, as I am still occasionally thinking that traffic goes to wrong direction.

The point of taxi service is that client needs to only know where he wants to go. Driver should know how to get there. Quite seldom that is the case. I have realized that I am actually checking the routes before hopping into taxi to instruct the drivers. This is waste of my time. For some odd reason majority of taxi drivers do not use GPS maps in Singapore.

Getting from point A to B is not rocket science. Google Maps gets you quite far. Waze gets you even further (both owned by Google though). Robot-driving car would utilize these tools with ease.

3. No shift changes or general laziness
Nothing frustrates more than seeing green cabs refusing to take you where you want to go because it is not on the right direction for the driver. Taxi should be a service business.

There is something fundamentally wrong with incentive system for cab drivers in Singapore. Drivers can just cherry-pick easy drives and even stop driving if they feel like it.

Robot driver does not need sleep, go to toilet or have any of other hindrances human drivers have. It would just keep on driving. Self-driving car would not discriminate depending on where you are going. Or throw tantrums at you because you just happen to live close to the airport.

4. No hiding in the rain
Whenever it starts to rain, taxis disappear. Based on the studies many taxis don´t pick up passengers during rain. They are afraid of accidents, because taxi companies will deduct them 1000 SGD immediately after accident. You will get it back, if you are not to blame of the accident. Again that is fault of the system, but eventually consumers will suffer. You usually need taxis more when it rains and not the vice versa.

Driving in rain, even heavy rain is not even that difficult. People are driving in snowstorms and icy roads all the time in Nordic countries. Robot drivers would not have extra jinx because of the conditions and could automatically adjust their driving style to any weather.

5. No annoying bantering during your trip
From planner perspective talking to taxi drivers is always beneficial.

You get answers and firm POV on about everything you could even think of. I can also understand that quite many people do not necessarily want to hear driver´s view on air pollution, politics or prostitutes in Geylang. Instead you could tune your favorite playlist in Spotify and enjoy a smooth ride from place A to B.

6. No obstacle to card payment
Paying with card in Taxis is a troublesome experience. Despite the card stickers on windows, majority of the drivers try to avoid card payment by any means.

Therefore you try to always pay with cash. Even then you are scolded by paying with too big notes (usually 50 dollars, which just happens to be the standard note from ATMs). Automatic cars could just take your card without complaints and no worries when they will receive the money to their bank account.

Don´t get me wrong. There have been awesome taxi drivers who have saved me multiple times by getting me on time to the airport. Still I am firm advocate of constant development. Currently the service level you get from human drivers would easily be matched and improved by self-driving taxis. I am definitely the first one testing the driverless car.

*These refer to Singaporean expressways (East Coast Parkway and Pan Island Expressway).

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Why You Should Still Care About Banners?

No one likes banners.

They are not as sexy as “native advertising” opportunities. Although native advertising is a little bit like gluten, no one really knows what that means.

Banners are not as effective as search marketing. And when we rave about social media and mobile, display advertising is seldom part of that equation (although they are present in both).

Display ads are more of an afterthought. Sausage factory agencies churn mediocre banners out to keep junior designers busy.

But here is the disturbing thing:

Banners still account for 32% of online ad spent. Over one-third of online media investment is going to a format no one could care less. How can that be?

Main reason is laziness. Lazy marketers substitute lack of great idea by producing mediocre or lackluster display advertising to just fill the media space. Lazy agencies do not put any creative thinking behind banners and just do the bare minimum standard static formats.

So banners are not really dead, majority of them just looks really bad.

In last couple of years there has been plenty of innovation within online display advertising. Unfortunately many still live in 90´s banner advertising and have not really recognized the opportunities banners have. NEWSFLASH: banners can and should still play a role in your online advertising. Here are three reasons why:

1. Banners can be more relevant & effective

Thanks to real-time bidding and retargeting, we are able to catch the user based on their behavior. Within right amount of video, search, social media and display advertising we can have relevant message to our audience at the right time throughout their whole digital journey. Banners are not anymore random colorful announcements to buy Viagra, but can truly add value to the consumers based on their online usage.

There are naturally still some growing pains within some shady ad networks and disturbing retargeting, but mainly the future of online display looks more optimized and effective.

2. Banners are now more flexible

Thank you HTML5.

It used to be pain-in-ass to do really kick-ass rich media banners. They cost a lot and needed extra work and multiple rounds with media outlets. You had to mess with Flash and eventually they would not work in mobile devices. Nowadays you have highly innovative ad units straight off the shelves, which work in any device. You do not need to limit yourselves only standard formats anymore. You can innovate more, while still being able to use the reach of ad network.

3. Banners are now more innovative

At the end of the day, it is the creativity you put onto the table, which separates the great brands from mediocre ones.

I agree that banners are the print ads of the digital.

Good creative print ad still works. It gets noticed. It sparks emotion. It makes you think.

That is the first goal for banner as well. With digital you can take it to the next level. You can surprise, delight and interact with the consumer in a way that static ad never can. Just because majority of banner ads are done really badly does not mean they could not be done well. For passionate creative display ads provide great opportunity to flex creative muscle. Just look at this example connecting banners to real-time:

I also recommend watching this “behind-the-scenes” clip about creating the above Nike Phenomenal Shot. Important quote is that you can create “app-like experiences within the ad”. Quite seldom that is the way we approach display advertising, although we probably should.

Online advertising is not a zero-sum game and wise marketers use multiple channels to get results. Brands need to be digital-first and comparing different formats in isolation is not really beneficial. It is about how they work together.

For example, it is not surprising in the studies that pre-rolls work better than traditional display. Pre-rolls are highly forced one-way interruption and also cost more than display (in terms of media and production). How can you compare interactive display ad unit with high engagement rate to just forcing your TVC as a non-skippable pre-roll? Well, you can´t. Pre-rolls play a role in digital marketing mix. And so do banners. And as long we spending shitloads of money to do and show them, could we make them count?

Digital-savvy brands have first and foremost strong creative ideas to catch the attention and interest of their audience. These brands are also fast to adapt and optimize their online media mix to make every dollar count.

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Anatomy of An Insight: Mulberry #WinChristmas

“The worst gift I was given is when I got out of rehab that Christmas; a bottle of wine. It was delicious.”
-Craig Ferguson

While John Lewis and Coke do the sentimental sugarcoated Christmas ads, it is Mulberry who does the most authentic and snarky Christmas ad. It is done by adam&eve, who have also done the John Lewis ads. This is a great manifestation that great agencies are not just one-trick ponies (or unicorns):

Insight: Christmas is a material holiday.

Yes, there is some religious aspect to it for those who are into those things.
Yes, it is nice to spend time with your family
Yes, it is awesome to eat all those weird Christmas foods you would not eat any other time of the year.

But, at the end of the day, the Christmas is about presents. It is unadulterated celebration of capitalism and consumption. Forget all “the thought behind the gift is what counts” –bullshit, the greatest gifts are well-known brands with good resale value. Actually based on the studies people appreciate more presents they have asked for instead of surprises. Like my good friend summarized it couple of Christmas ago:

“This year we should buy some proper presents and not any of those self-made ones”

 I have once bought Mulberry bag as a present and I have probably never gotten such a good response for a gift. Not even when I tried to top it up next year with unicorn.

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Behind Every Brilliant Brand, There is A Brilliant Person

“When you have found a good client, do not let her go even if she switches a company”

This advice struck me early in my advertising career. Every time I meet a person who impresses me, I make a mental note to follow her career and to keep in touch (at least add as a LinkedIn contact). Mainly it is to test my judgment of people and you never know when your paths cross again. Generally it is also more pleasant to work with brilliant people than mediocre ones.

Great people tend to do great things whenever they are. They make strong brands stronger and can uplift the more tepid ones. If you have a strong brand, the occasional assholes cannot generally ruin the legacy. The rotten apples can permanently damage the weaker brands.

Advertising business is a people business. Being happy and successful in your work is relatively easy if you follow the following five steps:

  1. Maximize the amount of time spend with brilliant people.
  2. Minimize the time spent with idiots, bullies and psychopaths (unless latter ones are really brilliant).
  3. Stay in touch with the great people you have met during your career.
  4. Avoid the horrible people you have met during your career.
  5. Constantly meet new people. It is like shooting in basketball: The more you meet new people, the more opportunities you have to meet great people as well.

Your success seldom is about what you know but whom you know and with whom you have the opportunity to work with.

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#OperationAirKangKang: Why You Should Not Hustle People in Internet Age?

Internet has not made us safe from con artists. However, thanks to Internet, it is harder to keep scamming people. The frauds are exposed and shared faster. The backlash for them is also fierce.
On recent days the whole Singapore has been buzzing about one fishy store in Sim Lim Square (famous mall in Singapore for buying electronics and getting conned). The shop called Mobile Air first refunded $1000 dollars in coins to Chinese tourist:
Refunding with coins
Then they scammed Vietnamese tourist of his two-months worth of salary and made him beg and kneel with the refund:
Begging for refund
These are not isolated acts and the store has gotten over 25 complaints in just three months. Mobile Air is also not the only shady operator at the same venue as news about other cheats has been reported.
Previously these outrageous acts would have been forgotten and maybe addressed by officials later or not. Enter the Internet. Now thanks to certain anonymous individuals this thing has been exposed and “the justice” is served.

There four important lessons to be learned about the whole incident:

1. If you have deal too good to be true. It usually is.
This serves as a reminder for all of us consumers.
If you are sold brand stuff (iPhone 6, Rolex Watches, etc.) at below the market prices, they are either fakes, stolen or there is some string attached. According to former Mobile Air worker, the scam with Mobile Air was to lure person with the best price. Then you sign a contract, which forces you to take an extra $1000 warranty. No one reads the fine print, but it still is a binding agreement. When you demand refund you are bullied to not get on it.
Mobile air supervisor compared these totally unforgivable tactics to chicken rice price difference in high-end hotel and food court (as if stall in Sim Lim Square is comparable to high-end hotel). In desperate attempt to justify this scam he likened it to upselling you jeans if you buy a top.
Pardon my French, but bitch, please.

2. Clever scam artists don´t draw attention to themselves
Mobile air is not the only dubious merchant in Sim Lim Square. If you want to keep doing your dirty deeds you better do it smoothly. If you refund 1000 dollars with coins and publicly humiliate people you are just begging to get caught eventually. Best (or worst depending on your viewpoint) deceptions are the ones you do not even realize that you are have been scammed.

3. Citizen punishment can be harsher than the capital one
The owner of the Mobile Air has been thoroughly exposed thanks to the troll site SMRT Ltd (Feedback). Basically they have collected enough info on him to do an identity theft (address, phone number, email, etc.) To see the whole scope of the activities, I recommend reading this full lowdown.
The guys (I assume they are guys) are really ripping him apart and based on their latest post, they will just keep going:


Citizen vigilantism is a double-edged sword. At its best it helps to bring justice to people when official organizations have failed the individual. At its worst it will activate Internet lynch mobs with incomplete information but a lot of hatred. With Jover Chew dude though, it reminds me of the old saying: you reap, what you sow. You can check how things unfold by following the hashtag #operationairkangkang.4. It is now easier to be involved
Searching for dirt on wrongdoer is quite extreme way to find justice. What has really delighted me though is that Singaporeans have pledged over 10k for that poor Vietnamese guy to get him an iPhone 6 in Indiegogo.

I just hope that this fundraiser is not a scam as well.

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Anatomy of An Insight: Netflix GIF Campaign

Using technology is not an idea.

However, when you do something as cool as this you do not really need to unearth some deep insightful human truth. Sometimes it is just enough to surprise and delight your audience with that technology:

Insight: People are already making shitloads of gifs about TV series. Why Netflix would not use gifs about TV series in their advertising?

That insight itself is quite bland so we need couple of twists to make this interesting. This is what many people in agencies don´t realize. Advertising seldom is doing something completely new. It is adding new twists to proven tactics. Therefore we don´t necessarily need to do different things than our competitor, we just need to do it

Twist #1: Put gifs in outdoor. Internet is full of GIFs, your nearest MRT station not necessarily so. I deliberately exclude the fact this was “the first time outdoor ad that was done entirely with GIFs”, because that is just typical case study hyperbole. There is first time for everything. The first times are not necessarily relevant, pleasant or something you should have done in first place. Like having first soda ad in space. Why?

Twist #2: Make them contextually relevant*. Make the ads react to their surroundings (weather, location) and make them real-time.

So there you have it, a recipe for success:

Fairly OK insight+2 twists+ Nice technical execution=Really Great Campaign!

*Planners should deliberately stay away from jargon as majority of the advertising problems are translation problems.

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What Does Gluten-Free Craze Tell About Human Behavior?

“We have undergone what amounts to an attack of evil spirits: gluten will destroy your brain, it will give you cancer, it will kill you. We are the same people who talk to shamans.”
– Nathan Myhrvold (from New Yorker article “Against The Grain”)

It seems that everyone is currently at gluten-free diet.

By no means I am immune to participate in different fads, but this has been bandwagon I am not intending to hop in. Mainly because I cannot think anything I love more than having pizza, drinking beer and finishing it off with big fat donut. I worship gluten in every size and shape. Also there is not currently any compelling research for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Why still so many advocate the gluten-free diet and even feel it works for them?

Answer lies in the following three behaviors that are common to all of us:

1.The law of least effort
“Laziness is built deep into our nature”
– Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, Fast and Slow)

If there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will select the least demanding (whether cognitive or physical) route. Being gluten-free is a shortcut compared to having balanced diet and moderate exercise. People attribute gluten-free to healthy which is not necessarily the case.
According to the latest research, the problems related to gluten might actually be attributed to FODMAPS. For those who have not heard about them, here is short explanation (courtesy of Wikipedia):

FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates (oligosaccharides), disaccharides, monosaccharides and related alcohols that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine. These include short chain (oligo-) saccharide polymers of fructose (fructans) and galactose (galactans), disaccharides (lactose), monosaccharides (fructose), and sugar alcohols (polyols) such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol.

My head started throbbing when I was just reading this. Everything is branding and gluten-free is helluva catchier title than FODMAP (in capitals). No wonder that Gluten-free (not FODMAP-free, mind you) is expected to be more than 15 billion business in 2016. That is not necessarily such a bad thing as it increases the choices for those with celiac disease. Unfortunately many of the gluten-free products are basically just unhealthy junk food.

2. Placebo effect
“The physician’s belief in the treatment and the patient’s faith in the physician exert a mutually reinforcing effect; the result is a powerful remedy that is almost guaranteed to produce an improvement and sometimes a cure.
-Petr Skrabanek and James McCormick, Follies and Fallacies in Medicine

Just because something works for you does not mean it´s true.
I am firm advocate of positive thinking (although this cynical blog might suggest the opposite). I truly believe that positive attitude has an effect in your life. I also truly believe that my new weightlifting shoes make me a better athlete.
However I would not attribute anything scientific to these beliefs.

3. Cognitive dissonance
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Lots of religions have predicted doomsday and luckily all of them have been wrong. For example Jehovah’s Witnesses have predicted end of the world already three times (1914, 1925, 1976). Despite these failed predictions the amount of their members has been on steady increase. It appears (and also is studied) that contradictory evidence just strengthens the belief.
It is funny how gluten-free believers are so fast to debunk the more recent study that there is no such thing as gluten intolerance (celiac disease being totally different thing). Gluten-free advocates did not have any problem to embrace the previous study though, which was done by the same author (Peter Gibson). It is a human trait to put more emphasis on views that strengthen our existing point-of-views and neglect all the opposite evidence.

It is great to believe in something. I applaud that. Everyone should have right to believe in what they will, whether it is gluten intolerance or impending doomsday (as long as you do not hurt other people).
Believing becomes problematic because it is quite often connected to converting. It is not enough for people with crazy beliefs to praise them solitary; they want to get others behind their insanity as well. The crazier beliefs the more forceful are the tactics of converting.
Gluten-free craze is relatively harmless phenomenon. Still when you try to advocate gluten-free diet for me, don’t be offended by me ordering the cronut.
I just happen to hate converting.

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