Monthly Archives: September 2015

What My Disdain for Grateful Dead Can Teach About Branding

Music has played crucial part of my life. It started with hiphop and heavy metal and has throughout the years expanded to almost every possible genre. One cult band that I have however never truly understood has been Grateful Dead. The hippy band is know for their marathon gigs like this:

I am not the biggest fan on The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa or Bruce Springsteen, but I still can get why people love them so much. I noticed that Grateful Dead was doing their farewell gig (to celebrate their 50th anniversary) on this July and that prompted me to again test some of their material on Spotify.




I totally fail to realize what makes people to devote a cult following to band so bland. Maybe it is because I don´t do drugs or have not been part of the hippy movement. On the other hand I don´t gangbang, but I still truly enjoy and find resonance in N.W.A.´s music. Grateful dead remains as a big enigma for me and to many others as well.

Grateful Dead

Some old hippies

“We’re like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”
Jerry Garcia

But why would I care about Grateful Dead? Or why would Grateful Dead care about me? I am not their core audience. If you are selling licorice, you don´t need to care about people who don´t like or licorice. This is the fault that many marketers have. They mistakenly believe that their target audience is everyone, which is hardly ever the case. If your target audience is everyone the individual purchase is small. When you have focused audience, you can ask for premium price.

Brands get super touchy-feely when blogger outside their target audience says something negative. It does not matter at all. Focus on your cult following. If you want to create a cult around your brand, you have to also alienate the non-brand followers. For deadhead, there are only “we” and “they”. If your product is only meant for alpha-male blokes, why should you worry about offending women ot vice versa?

“In the 1960s, Grateful Dead pioneered many social media and inbound marketing concepts that businesses across all industries use today.
Brian Halligan and David Meerman Scott (Marketing Lessons From Grateful Dead)

Although listening to Grateful Dead is equivalent of water torture, I have to applaud their business acumen. They were never high on the charts, but were able to focus on small devoted and lucrative audience. They kept the loyal customers happy and did not waste their efforts on trying to get new and fickle customers. Funnily enough, there are at least two books dedicated to business lessons from Grateful Dead.

Brands spend much of effort on parity. They want to make their brand easy to compare with other brands. That is the main fault. If you create your own category, the customer has only two choices: either buy or not. Love it or hate it. Ambivalence is not an option.

“They’re not the best at what they do, they’re the only ones that do what they do.”
-Bill Graham

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No Sympathy For Stress

“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” 

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile)

I don´t believe in stress and you should not either.

When you have lots of things on your plate, it is always interesting to see what is on the menu. If you have time to worry, you have enough time for your task. If you would be truly busy, you wouldn´t have time to worry about how busy you are. If you need to get something done, give the task to the busiest person on the office.

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Sydney J. Harris

Some people are always stressed out. I don´t have sympathy for them, because that stress is never reflective to their reality. Those people get stressed out of small and big things. They stress about strategy and the execution. They stress about the past and the future. They also let you know that they are stressed out and try to elevate themselves as martyrs of the workplace. They are also not effective people, because they loiter all their time at work. Truly effective people have life outside their jobs and are doing multiple things. Those people are working but not stressing out.

“My characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn’t introspect, doesn’t exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the “victims” of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.” 

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile)

Stress is a symptom of helplessness. It is giving up to the idea that you are not responsible for your own decisions and your own life. If you have too much work, you should be able to delegate. If you cannot delegate, prioritize. If nothing else helps, resign from your job. Not all the solutions are always easy, but there are always solutions to your life. Stress is about blaming others and utter fear of failure. If you approach things following Murphy´s Law, you will not get stressed out. Because usually things neither go as planned nor they go as bad as they could have gone.

“How do you innovate? First, try to get in trouble. I mean serious, but not terminal, trouble. I hold—it is beyond speculation, rather a conviction—that innovation and sophistication spark from initial situations of necessity, in ways that go far beyond the satisfaction of such necessity (from the unintended side effects of, say, an initial invention or attempt at invention).” 

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Antifragile)

One of my friend argued that children should be subjected to stress at young age, so they can cope with the future stress. Not only this stupid argument is not supported by research, but also the whole thinking is wrong. We should raise our children so that they don´t even know the concept of stress. They should embrace the chaos, hustle and bustle of the modern world and take responsibility of their own actions.

So don´t complain about stress, hit it in the face.

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Why Advertising Still Matters?

Just when you thought that all the advertising is lacking the feeling, media innovation and overall passion, you come across to this fine out-of-home execution from Sheffield.


I assume that Lisa did the strategy and concept for this. This has important lessons for us professionals as well:

  1. Content: Don´t write for the masses. Write for the one person in mind. The succinct and sharp message trumps the visual gimmicks.
  2. Context: Know your audience behavior and habits and tailor your message according to that. Do not only generally target traffic, know whether your audience is on their way or way back from work.
  3. Go big or go home: With small media budget, it is better to invest in one big thing than to spread yourself too thin.

Great example that even traditional advertising can still move and surprise.

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Will Ad Blocking Be The New Napster?

Apple has basically failed at the ad business and they are trying to ruin it for everybody else.

– Jeff Jarvis

Google owns the web. Facebook owns the social. Apple owns the phone. That has been the technology world order for a while.

Now that order is about to shake.

The discussion about ad-blocking has been a hot topic, because the new iOS 9 has ad-blocking features for Safari mobile browser. The strategy for Apple is simple. This is full-frontal attack towards Google. Google hosts majority of the ads in “the normal web” with other Apple rivals like Facebook and Microsoft. Apple does not play the browser ads game. However they are serving ads in iOS applications that they not “surprisingly” block. Also conspicuously Apple launched their news service at the same day as it allowed ad-blocking.

It remains to be seen how things escalate, but the following three things are certain:

  1. Widespread ad-blocking will kill publishers

The casualties of war between Apple and Google will be the content publishers. They are already losing $22 billion of revenue this year because of blocking of the ads. If content publishers are not serving the ads for the content you are consuming, they are not getting paid. If you are not getting paid eventually you go bankrupt. As the piracy shows people do not really want to pay for content, so advertising has been the only way to bankroll the content production. Only 11% in US and 6% in UK have paid for online content. So subscription model online does not really work, although people are advocating for it. Even creator of popular ad-blocker Peace, pulled the ad-blocker from App store because he had regrets:

Achieving this much success with Peace just doesn’t feel good, which I didn’t anticipate, but probably should have. Ad blockers come with an important asterisk: while they do benefit a ton of people in major ways, they also hurt some, including many who don’t deserve the hit.

Marco Arment

Not all of the creators of ad-blockers have surely similar regrets. Even without Peace, ad-blockers have been the most popular paid apps in the new iOS 9.

  1. Generally online ads have been of bad quality

Ad-blocking is already more prevalent than ad-skipping on television. Ad industry should take some responsibility of the horrible, low quality and invasive display advertising as well. Advertising in web is democratic, which is great to certain extent but also has been the core problem. When amateurs do, it is quite often amateur quality. In TV there has at least been some quality (of varying degree and based on channel).

As people have not noticed online ads, they have become more and more invasive and making the user experience worse. Even people from the industry are skipping the ads. Therefore I actually believe more in longevity of pre-roll advertising format than the banner on the long run (although I still think there is much room for creativity when doing banners). Nevertheless, both of these can be blocked so you don´t need to necessarily endure either.

  1. Traditional online ad industry will face the same future as music industry

If ad-blocking will become the norm that will essentially kill the display advertising, as we know it. We can debate whether it was good or bad, but essentially Napster and then after the legal counterpart iTunes and Apple Music killed the music industry, as we knew it. Today´s music business is much more nimble and record labels are playing lesser role than before. Music has not disappeared anywhere though.

Killing the category is only lucrative for the killer. Apple has been the giant killer many times (helps when you are giant yourself), so I doubt that they are hesitating in trying to bring competitors (namely Google) down by any means necessary. For the consumer the fall of online ad industry does not really sound too bad. Generally all of the people (hell, even publishers) find ads annoying. Expect that those annoying ads pay for the content production online like mentioned above (and print media is almost dead already). In every change there is opportunity for innovation. Pagefair is actually serving “non-intrusive ads just for your ad-blockers”. Talk about contradiction in terms.

Modern digital marketer has to follow closely how the situation with the ad-blockers will evolve and act accordingly with your media mix. Native advertising will seem likely winner in this new era. Will that result in better content or just more bad editorials? My fear is the latter.

By the way, I don´t block ads. Maybe just to show solidarity to publishers and to be true to my profession. On the other hand I don´t tolerate sloppy and invasive ads either. We need to improve so that people would not want to block those ads on so alarming pace.

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Anatomy of An Insight: Sakura Water Heater Share A Shower

A little bit of Chinese weirdness for this hazy Tuesday:

Insight: Back to the advertising basics with this campaign. Sometimes all you have to do is to make the product benefit really tangible. Even by using naked men.

The whole campaign case study is worth a watch.

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When Ad Makes You Feel Something

Contrary to the ad I trashed yesterday, this is awesome:

When ad gives you chills, you know it is good.

Rugby is not that popular in Finland and we have not been any good at it either. So ever since the days of Jonah Lomu my team of choice has always been All-Blacks. I will be rooting for them also in the upcoming world cup.

Full disclosure: This ad was done by R/GA London.

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When Advertising Just Makes You Angry

When you work in advertising, you mostly become numb to advertising. Occasionally you are awed of great executions and seldom something makes your blood boil. There are two reasons when advertising makes you angry:

  • The execution is so shitty, that it is disgrace to our whole profession.
  • The product is immoral and the whole belief behind it is faulty and harmful.

This ad falls into latter category.


Kids should play and not drink brain-enhancing snake oil. This advertising underlines what is wrong with the education at the moment. The idea of success is really narrow-minded, only celebrating white-collar specialists. When you prepare your whole life to be a banker, it is highly doubtful that you will suddenly become Steve Jobs. It is also sad that only occupations in the list are really boring ones. What kind of sadist wants their children to become IT manager or accountant? Children should dream of becoming astronauts instead of dentists, for goodness sake. For kids to practice sports and participate in cultural events would be way more helpful than the strenuous tuition and placebo drugs.

I spent my childhood and early teens (what the hell; pretty much whole my life) listening to hiphop and playing basketball. That did not prevent me to get in to good university, graduate and become “respectable” contributor to society. I did not need to take performance-enhancing study drugs to achieve this and I doubt anyone else really needs either. Although my background on paper looks the typical business school born and bred planner, I have found all the extra-curriculum activities being much more helpful in my career than my actual studies. And I truly focused on my extra-curriculum activities. But I work in advertising, which hardly constitutes as a real work. At least it is not as desirable job as engineer to put to your Omega-3 oil advertisement.

Learning things by heart is easy and therefore excelling in school does not require extraordinary talent. When we force our children to conform early on, they will never regain their curiosity. Without curiosity there is no new ideas and without them there is eventually no growth in society. When there is only one right and very narrow view of success, we will just grow a generation of dull robots.

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Even Blank is More Interesting Than Your Brand

Above video generated over 100k views with a shy $1400 investment. About 46 percent of viewers watched it for at least 30 seconds. The “creator” of the video Solve Agency says that on average people watched over 2 minutes of this totally blank video and 22% watched the whole thing through. Maybe there are some hypnotic traits in this blank video or people are just generally slow to understand that the blank section does not belong to the video they are intending to watch. Or maybe people are just stupid.

This was an experiment to showcase that views don´t necessarily mean anything in YouTube (and to promote the agency with the white paper). What I think was the most interesting part that the blank video performed better than many traditional pre-rolls. As the digital industry is becoming more and more video content production relying heavily on paid push, we have been devoutly following the YouTube recommendations for the video content:

  1. Get to the point fast
  2. Brand immediately
  3. First five seconds are the most important

What if it would be more effective to do completely opposite?

  1. Start slow
  2. Brand later
  3. Brand only at the very end

We are not currently leaving any room for imagination or curiosity for our viewers. In this fast paced world if you get the point in 5 seconds why bother for the next 25 seconds to see more of the same. Currently we are designing our pre-rolls for the users with default action for skipping the ad (which is probably the right approach in majority of cases). While we force-fed our message we miss the opportunity to find people who are truly interested in what we say. Of course there are not necessarily any people who are truly interested in what we say. Then I would assume that mastering your pre-rolls is the least of your brand´s problems.

We should experiment more with our video content as well. We are wasting money on researching imaginary consumers in hypothetical situations, when we would have awesome opportunity to test different approaches on real marketplace. Leave five minutes blank to your next pre-roll and see how it works compared to your normal approach. If it would work, maybe you are on to something. If it does not, try something else. The Mountain Dew case study I shared earlier found that the longest version of the ad worked the best. Everything is guesswork until you really test it with real consumers in real situations.

When everyone is doing the same thing, no matter if it is principally right, the one who does something different, whether right or wrong, will be noticed.

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Vertical Videos Are Here To Stay

“It’s not necessarily that vertical is better, it’s just that it’s how cellphones are commonly viewed.”
– Shaun McBride, Snapchat celebrity

Human behavior is interesting. You would assume turning your phone to watch a video on optimal size would not be too hard task, but it is. Based on my anthropologic research on trains in Singapore practically everyone is looking videos having the phone on vertical position. Mobile phones are designed to be used vertically and we spend already 30% of our screen time in vertically oriented devices. It is just natural that majority of videos are watched on vertical position as well.

How brands should address the rise of the vertical video?

1. Start native vertical video production
We will see a rise of vertical-first video production. Snapchat has already been advocating the brands to start create video content vertically. In Snapchat vertical videos are more effective, portrait videos have up to 9x more completed views than landscape ones. Will this create some kind of new way of video storytelling? That remains to be seen, because we have not yet realized all the possibilities of vertical video. Could the story be different from horizontal and vertical point-of-view?

Portrait is definitely not the best format for longer-form content as our eyes are aligned horizontally, but majority of the content consumed on smartphones is already short-form. There are certain apps like Vervid, which are designed to bridge the gap or more traditional horizontal video production and the snapchat generation. When YouTube and Facebook will introduce vertical video ad units, it really starts to make sense to start creating vertical-first content.

2. Enhance your horizontal videos to fit the vertical ad formats
More interim solution would be to create horizontal content, but utilize the blank spaces to showcase display ads or maybe offer promotions. This works especially when you have horizontal asset, no money for vertical-first production but still want to engage audience in Snapchat. Here is a demo of that approach:

94% of website visits in smartphones starts in portrait mode, so it only makes sense that brands take advantage of vertical video. Changing behavior is hard, tapping into existing behavior is easier and usually much more lucrative as well. Popularity of portrait video is another example on how you cannot separate the technologic shifts and media behavior from your creative thinking.

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