Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Emergence of Brand Philanthropy

[I prepared this for a talk at the PICNIC: Urban Futures conference. If you’d rather see me talk, go here. I think there's something in this idea but it hasn't really had the benefit of being discussed robustly in public so I'd love to know your thoughts.]

I believe that successful brands need to behave more like philanthropists. In the next few years brands will have to place a blend of Branded Utility and CSR at the heart of their marketing activities.

Let’s start with an understanding of philanthropy. The first philanthropist was Prometheus (a Titan of Greek mythology). Known for his wily intelligence, he stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity. Greek playwright Aeschylus coined the word Philanthropy (meaning “a love of humanity”) to explain Prometheus’s actions. Since his gift of fire represents knowledge, science and technology, the myth attempts to explain how man went from a pre-conscious, pre-animalistic state to one of culture and society. His gift of fire was the ultimate act of empowerment - giving humanity the tools with which they could fend for themselves.

Jumping to the Modern Era, philanthropy seems to appear at times of rapid urban expansion. From the industrial revolution (with Lord Shaftesbury and Elizabeth Fry); to the great philanthropists of the US Gilded Age (Carnegie and Rockefeller); to the members of The GivingPledge in today’s “Urban Age”. This makes sense since the expansion of cities is accompanied by a widening gulf between the urban super-rich and the city's poor. It is this gulf that spurs the well-meaning super-rich on to do "good works".

There is an important distinction between charity and philanthropy. Philanthropists usually have grand designs to improve the welfare of human society. This is partly due to self-interest – industry-leaders appreciate that an empowered population is a wealth-generating population. It means that their solutions normally involve big projects to create infrastructure that empower individuals through education, human rights and technology. Selfless charity, on the other hand, has in the past cared less whether its actions might fuel an economy. [I make a slightly different distinction in the Picnic talk which, for obvious reasons, I no longer agree with.]

It is this self-interest, large-scale ambition and the desire to empower individuals that makes Philanthropy a useful lens through which to view brands and marketing. We are currently experiencing one of the fastest expansions of city dwelling in the history of man. This time brands will join the super-rich (and governments) in helping to create infrastructures that empower the burgeoning throng of city-dwellers. By providing tools and services that improve the experience of living in cities, brands can make the necessary evolution from interrupting to engaging consumers.

Here are a few examples. They may seem flippant but I have purposely tried to avoid the more worthy  CSR-style examples in order to make the point that brands can empower people in a wide variety of ways. Each of the examples show a brand improving the experience of living in a city while receiving benefits itself. 

Improving the commute – Barclay’s London Bike Scheme

It clearly works for commuters – it has had 6 million journeys and in over 110k subscribers in the year and a half since launch. It seems to work for Barclays, too – the estimated ROI from its £5m investment is 300% and they have just signed for another 5 years.

Enabling shared experiences across cities – Heineken Starplayer
The insight behind Starplayer was that Champion’s League games, which usually happen on busy weeknights, are solitary affairs for viewers who don’t have time to meet up with friends to watch them. The desire to share the experience is still strong however, as seen by the amount of online banter around the games. So Heineken created something that would socialise the experience while at the same time increase brand salience.

Re-connecting with nature – Wiekse Zonneradar
Similar to the Pimms campaign in London - this service told people where, in their close vicinity, there was a beer terrace in the sun. This way they could get the most out of the sun in their city while the brand benefited by being front of mind when people arrived at the terraces.

Turning the city into a playground – Bing’s promotion of Decode by Jay-z
 By embedding the book's content in relevant places within the city, Bing and Jay-Z turned the urban landscape into a massive treasure hunt. Allowing people the opportunity to chance upon the content created value to the experience of living in the city while Bing benefited from being the search engine people used to find the content. 

So what is the benefit of thinking about brand activity in this way? What does it add rather than using the term Branded Utility?

  1. Firstly, I think it is a case of ambition. Like the great philanthropists, brands should be aiming to create enduring infrastructures that change consumers’ experiences.
  2. Secondly, I think that a wider set of brands should consider this sort of behaviour. Branded Utility has more often been applied by premium brands but the ideas behind Brand Philanthropy makes it more important for brands to create stuff for the less economically empowered urban groups.
  3. Lastly it is worth bearing in mind the fate of the original philanthropist who, for his efforts, was chained to a rock by Zeus for an eagle to eat out his liver for eternity. Making sure any philanthropic activities are rooted in consumer research and linked in some way to business results should mean that brand’s efforts don’t get punished in the same vein.
As I said at the beginning, I'd love to know your thoughts on this. Am I bonkers or is this a useful lens to look at brand activities in cities? Let's see...

Slideshare charts here.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The 3 Stages of Planning

All of a sudden, I'm having to re-learn what it's like having other planners around me. After about a year of Xavi and me making do with only each other to tackle all those knotty planning questions, we now have a department. And long may it continue.

The main implication of this is that I have to start thinking less of myself and more about others. Within less than a week I've realised that with more young planners around we have to create at least some structure/ process to make sure everyone continues to enjoy themselves.

An obvious part of this is making it clear to everyone what is expected of them. I have painful memories of this not being the case for me when I first started out in Planning. As I mentioned to Ashly and Ben for their fantastic junior strategy site, when I first started as a planner I felt completely at sea. It seemed as though there was an uncross-able chasm between my snotty-nosed, proto-planning and the seasoned mega-brains I saw around me. It took a move to a new agency (DDB) and finding myself a fantastic mentor in Lucy Jameson, to start to see how I might progress.

A few years later, when I was helping to run DDB's grad training scheme, I became determined to make sure that other new planners didn't suffer in the same way I did. It was at this point that I created the "Planner's Guide to the First 3 Years". This aimed to provide a benchmark for new planners on what was expected of them at the end of each of the first 3 years. This meant they need not fret whether they were behind the curve as they had a ready-reckoner for the skills and experience they should have at any given stage.

When I moved to BBH a year or so later I discovered that Matthew Palmer (who became another mentor of mine) had created a similar thing for all stages of a planner's career. To this day I have found it a useful tool. I hope Matthew doesn't mind me sharing it with you. I've made a few additions based on what was in my original guide but the credit for this should go squarely to Matthew.

So here is is in 3 parts. First up is the basic knowledge required to do the job.

Next the guide covers craft skills;

And lastly it gives you a sense of the relationships you should have built;

Useful, I'm sure you'll agree.

When I get a chance, I'll upload it in a format that is easily edited so that people can evolve it as they see fit. In the meantime, I would love your feedback on it.

N.B. This is the first blog post I've written in quite a while so apologies for the shambolic state of my blog. I promise to try harder.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Planning Jobs going at AKQA Amsterdam

I'm on the hunt for awesomeness. If you are hyper-curious, confident and adaptable I'd love to meet you.
If you are excited about what the future holds for brands and communications, AKQA might just be the place for you.

If you are interested, email me on Thanks.

1) Senior Strategic Planner

  • Senior Strategic Planner (6-8 years) to lead on the global digital strategy for the world's most fun car brand 


  • Proven experience in strategic planning within a digital or integrated agency environment, working with blue-chip clients and leading brands. 
  • Experience of the automotive sector with some multi-channel media experience (e.g. digital advertising, websites and digital outdoor).
  • German-speaking

  • Sell in the value of strategic planning internally and to clients. 
  • Be accountable for managing internal resources and strategic deliverables. 
  • Integrate with other disciplines within AKQA, including Client Services, User Experience, Measurement & Evaluation and Creative.
  • Work with Client Services to identify opportunities to grow the account, and liaise with Resource Management to coordinate resource for each project. 

2) Strategic Planner

  • Strategic Planner (4-6 years) to help form digital and social strategies on multiple brands

  • Strong strategic planning experience within a digital or integrated agency environment. 
  • Experience delivering strategy projects on blue-chip clients and influential brands.
  • An interest in gaming and sport is essential


  • Deliver strategic value and develop insights for clients. 
  • Conduct and manage research and performance evaluation programmes, develop strategic responses and value-add thought leadership to clients. 
  • Act as the lead moderator and analyst for group sessions. 
  • Manage client and internal brainstorms, from preparation to idea generation and application of results.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Is this the worst piece of propaganda ever?

So I read, in NMA, Bruce Daisley (Head of Youtube UK) quoting  an "independent Ipsos study" that claimed "YouTube is the most engaged brand in TV entertainment". Oh goody, I thought, some stats to help my case about the importance of uploading brand content to YouTube. I did some digging about found this one of the Google blogs. So far so good until I realised that the engagement score that youtube apparently beat BBC1 on is actually a composite score across a host of measures (and therefore fairly meaningless).

And then, I discovered the chart above. despite all its caveats about the data being generated separately, Ipsos still proceeded to show the data clearly comparing YouTube favourably on almost all metrics against its terrestrial competitors. But frankly this chart, in the words of our digital creative director, is horse-shit.

The YouTube figures are gernerated compared to its online competitors rather than in relation to the  terrestrial competitors shown here. So why show the data clearly inviting a comparison to the media executive short of time and attention. There's no need to over-egg the pudding, it just gives luddites further ammo to fuel their "it's all an internet conspiracy" theories. Ipsos, shame on you.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Battle of the Behemoths

The fight between the internet's Leviathans is getting interesting.

Google has for a few years now felt like the undisputed king of the internet castle but a few months ago Hitwise reported that  Facebook finally overtook Google for US web traffic. This is no small thing given how much of the internet economy is focussed on traffic.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, it was reported in NMA that facebook and Google are extremely close in terms of unique visitors to their mobile sites. These figures didn't include people visiting apps which would surely tip the balance in facebook's favour. This is an area of particular importance given the popularly held view that mobile will eventually take over the PC as the most popular route to the internet.

And this month is hit mainstream media that Google was plotting a direct facebook competitor called "Google Me". It would appear that Google are keen not to let facebook continue stretch its lead.

I am torn between celebrating the fact that facebook may, at last, have some healthy competition and mourning the period of time when brand involvement in social networking was relatively straightforward. Mind you; I probably shouldn't worry too much given how lacklustre Google's previous activities in social networking were (Google Buzz and Orkut).

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Get a free TV ad-spot for your business

I'm all for supporting visionary people with dreams of creating something new. Which is way I have really enjoyed working on the online business-to-business marketplace Alibaba. This amazing company links small businesses with the suppliers they need to make their vision manifest. Continuing the brand's desire to champion small companies, they are offering people that have used them the opportuntity to appear in their national TV ad campaign.

So, fancy getting your small business on TV for free? Alibaba is about to make a TV commercial estimated to reach around 20 million people and it wants small businesses that have used the site to create a video of themselves to audition to appear in the commercial.

If you’ve used Alibaba or know someone that has, this is your big chance for some free exposure, so visit for more.

Criteria from the website:
1.  Video yourself telling a favourite story about a supplier you found through (You can use a mobile phone or webcam – the quality’s not important.)
2.  Be sure to include details of your business, what it is you buy, who you buy it from and why it’s been good.
3.  Keep it short but sweet – the more entertaining, the better.
4.  Upload it here.
A team of Alibaba judges will then watch your videos to pick the four most interesting videos.

Monday, 7 June 2010

New Engine practice takes the piss

I've been telling a variant of this story for years. It came up again at the weekend when my friends were bitching about the little poems people write in toilets to try to influence how people act. You know, those rhymes that sounds sweet but are a little bit disgusting (like "If it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down"...). I found myself announcing that not only did these ditties destroy the image of your host, they also didn't work. Rather than annoying people with worthy, gently berating orders; far better to apply behavioural sciences and create rewards for people taking the desired action. For example, the old "cork-in-the-toilet" scheme which gets men to try to hit the cork thereby stopping them from peeing anywhere else except the toilet bowl.

Now I know there is actual proof of this scheme thanks to the Dutch. And this is exactly the sort of creative thinking inspired by behavioural sciences that Engine Decisions has been set up to help clients utilise. I, for one, am personally looking forward to Engine Decisions providing me with many more dinner party conversations as a side-effect of creating value for clients...
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