A whole freaking bunch of good stuff

Normally I try to have this blog match the curmudgeonly and defeatist mood of the ad industry at large.

But every so often I get inspired by something and my mood temporarily lifts.

The annual Contagious review of the year will always lift my spirits – but by definition this is only once a year so it doesn’t have a huge impact on my general tone of voice.

Which is that of Eeyore who’s stubbed his toe coming down off coke.

The review highlights the smartest off-piste thinking of the past year and it always makes me reflect on how marketing can actually be an incredibly interesting industry.

Despite the dross on TV every night, and the soul-mangling meetings.  Here’s my subjective precis of it:

M-Pesa, a mobile money transfer service in Kenya, set up Daktari 1525  to improve access to expert medical advice in rural areas. It generated 2,000 calls a day.

(They should bring it to Hammersmith.)

Tata Docomo the telecom giant in India set up the Blood Line club – linking donors with hospitals and even victims …

Renault in France are turning themselves into the good guys of the car industry – they set up a whole string of initiatives including community transport and low cost car hire. And affordable repair schemes for those on low incomes.

Compare this with a scheme Unilever set up with Brazilian cleaners – I love it when the ad industry deigns to turn its attention to some people other than the stereotypical and practically non-existent high-income anxiety-free cool people it usually populates its world with.

Those people don’t even exist in the advertising industry anymore.

In Gothenberg the local transport authority turned everyday trams into a version of high-price tourist buses by providing an app which gave a commentary on the journey. The agency Forsman & Bodenfors said they wanted to produce “advertising that didn’t feel like advertising.”

I.e., giving customers the sense that they are not being sold to, but instead being  offered something genuinely helpful or useful.

In a similar vein in Brazil, Chevrolet offered test drives in its Rescue Drive campaign, aimed at people whose cars had just broken down. Genius.  Just when people hate their own cars the most, they get rescued by a shiny new better model.

It’d be like having Ashley Roberts as your divorce lawyer.

BUPA in Australia launched an app which dealt with the hideous and cynical world we now live in – by exposing the saturated fat, sugar and salt content in supermarket foods. Which is more or less 100% in all of them.

It became the most downloaded free app in Australia on iTunes.

On a similar kick of helping its customers, Nike produced the awesome Fuelband.  Stefan Olander, Nike VP of digital sport,  said: “We don’t start with the technology or the potential profit, we always start with the athlete”.

Something I talked about in a recent blog.

Glad someone’s paying attention.

Now if just one brand in every sector did that it would probably kill the need for marketing in 6 years.

UK insurance broker Motaquote linked up with TomTom to create a new data-driven policy – i.e. it offers better deals to safer drivers and you can monitor your points as you go. How clever is that ?

And while we’re on data, David Axelrod, chief strategist for Barack Obama, said: “I would invest in people who understand where the technology is going … (particularly) mining data.”

Not surprising considering that Nate Silver, a stats junkie working in New York, correctly predicted the electoral race’s outcome in all 60 states.

Data, said Daniel Stein of EVB, is the new creative brief.

But let’s not forget that Obama won the election because his team painted a more personal picture of their candidate.

The brief is still just the brief.

Disney Research has created a wearable system called Revel that can add tactile textures to almost any object. So your ice cream tub could feel like fur and a t-shirt could feel like naked skin.


This is the turning point where digital takes over irrevocably. When technology can offer tactile choices, the game’s over.

Another story tells us that something called Smart Sand will self-assemble to copy certain selected objects. “Passing messages between grains to create structure”.

Right we’re actually IN a science fiction novel right now. We’ve left planet Earth.

And EVRYTHNG has created a technology whereby each object can be given its own unique digital identity.

Objects become subjects. That’s a pretty fundamental shift in a lot of shit.

Epistemology, for one thing, is now buggered.

Coke created a building you could play with in the Olympic Park. And Israeli designer Izhar Gafni made a bike out of cardboard. Apparently it’s waterproof and fireproof which helped my cynicism a bit. But I just wonder if it’s strong enough to keep Boris upright.

And Dominic Wilson designed a pair of shoes that find their own way home. Think Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz meets Britain’s binge drinking culture.

Iceland invited people to submit suggestions on a new draft constitution via Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. This is the country not the supermarket and I wonder how they’ll fare with a nation run by ping-pong-playing cats, plugs for stand-up gigs and spoof Gangnam videos ?

Sweden handed over its official Twitter account to ordinary citizens, giving visitors to the country recommendations on what to do.

“Leave Sweden” was high on the list.

I’m joking, but given Sweden’s high ranking for general gloominess, it might be tricky.

Finland, between the months of October and April, would consist of two tweets – “drink lots” and “kill yourself”.

Magazina Luiza in Brazil set up a platform for friends to sell store merchandise to other friends – commission rates were between 2.5% and 4.5%. This is brilliant, and will pave the way for the future – although the sheer commerciality could actually kill social networks stone dead.

90% of people trust peer recommendations, as against 14% who trust advertisements. But what happens when the two are one ?

On more secure ground, the wonderful Unilever crowd-sourced ideas to bring safe drinking water to the world’s poorest people.

As Nietzsche said, God is dead, which means there’s a job vacancy.  And it looks like Unilever is applying.

Barclaycard set up a community-driven credit card called Ring in the US and opened up its profit and loss statements to its customers.

You probably knew that 10% of all the world’s photos were taken in the last year. But did you know that Pinterest went from 1.3 milllion users in July 2011 to 25 million users by November 2012 ?

And given that the average spend from retail shoppers was $169 from Pinterest and $95 from Facebook and $71 from Twitter, this shows the need for all marketers to have a distinct VISUAL social media strategy.

Moving to music, Coldplay’s 2012 world tour had Xylobands, wristbands that turned the audience into a visual extension of the show.

Felix Baumgartner stepped off a platform 24 miles up in space and kicked off the smartest bit of marketing of the whole year. Maybe of the decade. It took Red Bull 7 years and tens of millions of dollars, but it caught everyone’s attention. And it brought tons of research benefits.

Advertising which doesn’t feel like advertising, again.

90% of marketers agreed that content marketing would become more important next year – but only 38% said they had a content marketing strategy in place.

There you have it.

Rabbits, headlights, normal scenario.

Coca-Cola (through the always brilliant Wieden+Kennedy) created 2 animated polar bears who reacted in real time to events happening in the Superbowl. When a Pepsi ad aired, they left their seats.

The Californian Milk Board developed a campaign called Time to Go to Bed, featuring the benefits of a glass of milk and a bedtime story for kids at bedtime.

The Australian Defence Force had interactive posters which allowed passers-by to diagnose and treat virtual patients using real medical tools. A recruitment poster which was also an entrance exam.

The IKEA catalogue had great AR features, ASOS had a brilliant Scan to Shop app, and Shortlist used Blippar to feature a computer game on their cover.

Meat Pack, a sneaker retailer in Guatemala, offered huge discounts but the discount diminished rapidly over time – the customer had to run to the store to get the best deal.

Meanwhile Nieman Marcus designed a smartphone app that allowed its super-rich customers to see which staff were on duty at any one time, allowing them to pick their favourite brown-nosers.

Burberry – always ahead of the curve – set up a flagship store in Regent Street which had RFID tags triggering multimedia content and mirrors turning into screens in changing rooms.

Axe created an online graphic novel starring you.

P+G spoke compellingly of mass personalisation.

In Brazil, people purchasing Hellman’s Mayonnaise received a till receipt which used the other contents of their trolley to suggest a recipe enlivened by said mayonnaise.

Jesus I love that.

I want to go there with 3 tins of cat food, some toilet cleaner and a bottle of anti-dandruff shampoo.

Or just a trolley full of other mayonnaise jars.

Ford partnered with Roximity in the US to offer their drivers a satnav-based system which alerted drivers of nearby deals that tallied with their particular interests.

If this is based on web-surfing, expect alerts like “50% off hard-core German porn in Jim’s Bookstore for this week only”.

But these deals are personal to you, and you’re close, and you’re mobile … so they’re triple-smart.

Shopkick rewards people for pre-shopping activity like browsing. It is now the third most-used shopping app after eBay, Amazon and Groupon – but I wonder if this is a bubble which could burst.

Rewarding browsers strikes me as one of those “just-a-bit-too-smart-for-its-own-good” ideas.

Browsers aren’t giving you anything.

By contrast, Nike rewarded customers for posting stuff on social sites. Again, blurring the line between social and commercial – but at least it did have a more obvious commercial application.

Who Gives a Crap is a toilet paper brand in Australia which donates 50% of its profits to help build waste facilities in the developing world.

Of course, profits can be mucked about with. If the board of Who Gives a Crap pay themselves a million bucks a year, the developing world won’t see much change in its waste.

Steve, stop being cynical.

Let’s finish on education because we all need that on an ongoing basis (and this is where I plug Decoded, of course – we’ve got a bunch of new courses, including  social networks in a day).

Contagious gave Decoded a nice plug last year – and we were at their recent event in Kings Place – but this year they discovered Coursera, an organisation which partners with 33 universities to offer a selection of courses online – “we had a million users faster than Facebook, and faster than Instagram;  this is a wholesale change in the education ecosystem”  said Daphne Koller.

And goddamit I think she may be right.

Keep learning, folks.

  • Emily Hare

    So glad to hear you enjoyed Most Contagious and it lifted your spirits a bit Steve. 
    If anyone else would like to read the report, and see links to the work that Steve picked out, Most Contagious 2012 is available free here: http://www.mostcontagious.com/2012/
    Emily (editor, Contagious)

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