SKIP AD: Beyond the Death of Advertising

Advertising is dead. It’s game over I’m afraid and it’s all our fault. As soon as we’re empowered to switch it off, we do. It’s pretty much as simple as that. Our petulant Gen Z’ers are apparently the worst offenders as a recent study revealed that 69% of them block ads altogether as well as ‘skipping’ three seconds sooner than those in their thirties and forties. Don’t you think the very concept of being gently seduced by a glossy sixty second production, to buy a pair of jeans or a bottle of perfume, all seems rather quaint and nostalgic now? A throwback to the days when we awaited the ads between Cheers and The News. The heyday of advertising coincided with the heyday of TV and for obvious reasons. TV watching was a family sport and squeezed together on the Draylon sofa we would laugh, coo, sing-along or take the Michael out of every single image the bulky cathode ray tube delivered. The Guinness surfing horses, the Oxo Mum, the Hamlet cigar man, the Cadbury’s Smash tin aliens, the Levi’s launderette strip and the Lloyd’s Bank slo-mo horse were central to our evening’s entertainment. Yes, there were a lot of horses back then but we loved it. We were force fed a regular diet across three and a bit channels and we were happy.

Today an entire universe of entertainment has opened up for us and the freedom to block or skip advertising is part of the deal. Advertisers have a couple of seconds, max, to grab us before we skip on our way. The creative art of storytelling has been replaced by shouty and intrusive snippets. Building an emotional connection to a character or creating any sense of irony, subtlety, nuanced symbolism or artistic reference has been jettisoned for split second gags and slapstick visuals. Hands up all those who don’t hover above the countdown to exit the Youtube ads. Precisely.

Our attention spans are shrinking in direct response too, demanding faster and faster access to our personal choices, skipping past intro theme tunes and credits, surfing across content to get a gist, because a gist is enough now. As audiences shrink along with their attention spans, so too have the budgets. The slo-mo horses have been put out to pasture, replaced by dancing typography and hurried sound-bites. If we so much as click on, say, a new camera we know we’ll be incessantly drip fed Nikon ads for the next month in the vain hope we’ll succumb just for the irritation to cease.

Today’s ad execs hang out with a bad crowd, the freak show, click-bait salesmen who beckon us behind the marquee to witness ‘celebrity facelift disasters’ and ‘top ten red carpet fails’. Flashing boxes masquerading as ‘next’ buttons lead us down yet another dirty cul-de-sac to show us rude pictures. How on earth did it come to this?

Back at the West End ad agency the turtle-necked creatives are jittery and water cooler talk is of jumping ship and opening bars to test their skills in the real world. They know they missed the heyday by a generation or so, and it wrangles. They sense the sadness at the annual Webby awards, knowing their stiff grins and fleeting accolades are no match for the pride and status of their predecessors. They may as well be at a TUC conference. Don’t get me wrong. There’s some very clever stuff to be seen at the Webbys, it’s just that so very few of us could spare the ten seconds to watch.

Meanwhile, on the high street, retail CEOs lead posses that march the aisles in search of something that will turn their tankers around. A gaggle of merchandisers and marketing managers frantically scribble down the words of wisdom on product density like it’s the sermon on the mount. ‘Increase the size of the ticketing and re-merchandise that back wall.’ Everyone nods in agreement way too vigorously, but no one believes it will change a damn thing.

Are we to simply stand back and allow the high street to wither and die too, then return home and live the rest of our lives via Amazon and Deliveroo?

The answer is obvious. We must round up our army of frustrated ad creatives and let them loose in the centre of town where they can unleash their powers of persuasion in the stores that have forgotten how to engage us. The good news is that a new high street is emerging. ‘Stores’ as we know them are dying because they ‘store’ things and we have little interest anymore in wandering around neat and tidy warehouses. Brands, on the other hand, know they must keep us interested, entertained, educate and surprise us in order to stay on our radar and make us feel a part of something. Creatives need to focus on the exciting real world revolution that is happening out there. I call it the rise of the ‘brand playground’ and this is exactly where our bored ad execs should be playing today.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Apr 22, 2017   advertising, Blog, clickbait, Future, Levi's, Retail, shopping   0 Comment   Read More

THE SELF-PHONE part 2: Bedside Manner

So now that we’ve established the smartphone is the greatest and most disruptive innovation since fire, the wheel, the computer and even sliced bread, we can begin to plot its true potential.

With our GODs (Great Overlords of Data) clutched to our breasts we are more empowered today than at any time in history. The question is what will we do with such immense power, or perhaps more importantly, what wonders will the power of data bring us that we haven’t even conceived of yet. Evolutionarily speaking we’ve only just been granted such privileged access to all human knowledge and, in turn, we have barely begun to upload our own data: our personal preferences, tastes and medical histories. This is where it gets really interesting. GOD’s thirst for ever more knowledge is unquenchable and you can be sure the size of his file on you will grow exponentially over the coming decade.

One of the consequences of this is surely the demise of your friendly GP. She may be in fine fettle, if a little stressed, so I’m sorry to report her job will become redundant long before your London cabbie hangs up his tweed cap and an autonomous vehicle whisks you off to work.

The driverless car has become the Kardashian of technology, grabbing all the headlines, full of promise as it flaunts its rotund posterior on California’s six lane highways. Terrified of missing out, every motor manufacture worth its salt is clamouring for a slice of the sexy autonomous limelight, whilst poor millennial geeks are tasked with the impossible job of plotting every gutter and manhole cover on London’s knotted streets. It’s not easy.

But meanwhile, quietly in the background, Google is working on another AI project, but one that is far more life changing than a car whose steering wheel you don’t have to touch. Google’s Deepmind Health technology uses machine learning to analyse medical data and, although it’s very early days, the speed and accuracy of the diagnoses is impressive. Microscopic discrepancies in eye scans, for example, can pinpoint the early stages of a multitude of diseases. Currently Deepmind is partnering politely with the NHS on a few pilot schemes, but just consider what happens when this technology comes directly to us.

At the same time, Apple is working on monitoring technology that makes your Fitbit look, well…like a Fitbit. Apple’s ResearchKit program hoovers up data from its enormous pool of global iPhone users, on an hourly basis if necessary, to build apps that know more about specific conditions and diseases than any doctor could dream of in a thousand lifetimes.

When Steve Jobs launched the App Store, on July 10th 2008, he had just 552 apps for download. By 2013 a million apps were available. This is exactly the level of growth we can expect for wellness, and medical apps too. If the sharing of information is ultimately what makes our species so powerful, then just imagine how far the access to all this knowledge will propel us. It is truly exciting.

The iPhone is a fast learner. It can diagnose early stage Parkinson’s by analysing balance, gait and memory with data collected from its inbuilt gyroscope. Using the camera, facial recognition algorithms can diagnose autism in children as young as eighteen months. Conditions such as asthma, concussion, diabetes, melanoma and hepatitis C can all be better managed by patients armed with apps that can advise on a minute by minute basis. Add all this to a phone that will, more than likely, carry a map of your entire genome and we will have a clearer picture of ourselves than has ever been imagined.

Contrast that with the hurried consultation from your overworked GP who got a 2.1 from UCL in 1983. The best we’ve come to expect is some hasty keyboard rattling as she attempts to access your files and, if you’re lucky, a little eye contact too. This will all seem rather quaint very soon indeed. In a few short years we will have the greatest medical consultant of all time in our pockets during the day, and on the bedside table every night.

The Luddites that resist this change, that prefer to see ‘a real doctor’ whether from a sense of loyalty or from fear of privacy breaches, will soon succumb once they watch their friends flourish as they take control of their lives.

So relax. The great disruption has arrived. Dr Google, Dr Apple and Dr Watson will see you very shortly.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Mar 15, 2017   face recognition, Future, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

THE SELF-PHONE part 1: Political Meltdown


Be honest. To say that you’re addicted to your mobile is a gross understatement. It’s the first thing you squint at in the morning and the last thing you see before you fall asleep. You check it in the middle of the night when the bathroom beckons and check it at the traffic lights between depressing the clutch and engaging neutral. This is no faddish obsession with new technology. It’s goes much further, much deeper than that.


You turn to your mobile for literally, everything and it would be easier to list the things you don’t use it for, than do. You ask it everything too, from the dates of sixties number ones to the height of the actor you’re semi-watching on TV. So used to instant answers are we, that pub based disputes are now limited exclusively to opinions of Trump and Brexit. Yes, the drinking man’s unique ability to recall trivial statistics has been emasculated by Google. Yet another blow for middle aged men.

When your house is burning, of course, the iPhone must be saved before you struggle with pyjama bottoms. When your daughter sits down to break some serious news, there’s still a couple of free micro-seconds, as she takes a deep breath, to sneak a peek at your Samsung smartphone (sorry guys, a Galaxy will always be a chocolate bar) to see if somebody else out there needs you. ‘Are you listening to me or what?’ ‘Yes, yes, I’m waiting to hear from the bank, sorry darling.’ The love affair is complete: it’s turned us into compulsive liars too. It’s as if we’ve all regressed into needy six year olds, in constant need of attention and affirmation of our existence. ‘Mummy, Mummy, look at this.’ ‘What is it dear?’ As we grew up it slowly dawned on us that Mummy wasn’t really that interested in the microscopic details of our existence after all. She was pretending. But now we all have a friend that really is.

The cellphone has become the self-phone. It’s a part of us now. When we reach into a pocket or purse to press the tiny touch button with the tip of our finger, we are connecting to all human knowledge from the Great Overlord of Data, to GOD himself, just as Michelangelo depicted Adam. The screen lights up to tell us we are alive and at the centre of the universe. There’s no going back now.

Incidentally, how many times have you glanced at your GOD since you started reading this? Two, three maybe? You are not alone.

Without question, Steve Jobs’ legacy is the iPhone. Not anything else beginning with a lower case i. I have the extreme condensed version of man’s evolution in front of me. It reads: Fire, Wheel, iPhone. (IBM can just shut up about Simon)

Seriously though, Mankind was the ape that mastered communication. It’s how we learnt to build fires, wheels and smartphones. But now that we are finally all connected on this planet, we are only just beginning to witness the almighty power that will be unleashed. News organisations struggle to keep pace with Twitter feeds. The leader of the ‘free world’ demonstrates his true strength with 140 characters, not via mundane press conferences. Much as this may be unpalatable, you must know this is the start of something big. If you think Uber upsetting a few cabbies and AirBnB aggravating the tax man is troublesome, then you’d better hold tight for the political revolution that is surely coming.


If the rise of populism is a slap in the face for the establishment, the angry reaction from the overlooked and the ordinary, then the only question we must ask is whether they will happily return to their quietly submissive roles of letting government get on with the complicated business of running the country. Judging by the yards of Twitter vitriol I read every morning, I think not. The disengaged are now fully engaged. Forever.

A handful of years ago we would have muttered our discontent as we turned the page to the sports results. Today’s leaders can only dream of such a remote and disinterested populace. So hear this Trump, Netanyahu, Merkel, May, even Putin, Assad and Erdogan. We’re all watching you now.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

 

  Howard Saunders   Feb 20, 2017   Apple, big data, Future, me, me age, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS


Oh dear reader, I know you are a decent and upstanding citizen, that much is unquestionable. You consider yourself honest and good, for you have, these past dozen or so years, served your customers well, with consideration, loyalty and appropriate grace. But this past year has been particularly testing. The twist and turn of events has taken you by surprise and set you somewhat adrift at sea. So much so, it would seem, that fear, it is fair to say, has settled like ash in your heart. Don’t get me wrong, a casual observer or, say, a brief encounter with a would-be client would pass without undue comment or any sense of unease on their part. A prolonged and more intimate social interaction, however, is sure to uncover a whole host of demons that you can no longer conceal.

You did not ask for these demons to visit, but visit they surely did. Each morning, without fail, you awake to the daily news, the doomsayers and gloom-mongers, the relentless hum that, though alluring in its strangely seductive tone, is the unmistakeable voice of impending disaster. If not the promise of immediate calamity, then always the gentle, incremental steps that certify the world is headed toward the fiery gates.

Then, one fateful night as you laid in your bed, covers stretched tight to the moustache, the ghost of Christmas past took you gently by the hand and led you to the window. Whereupon you were whisked away to a snow laden world where grandparents smiled on warmly as you hastily unwrapped wooden puzzles and gender specific dolls. Oh what innocence! And who is this young gun, you enquire, as a tousle-haired youth bounds for the bus, briefcase swinging like a wrecking ball, chest puffed up with crisp winter air? Why, he’s off to change the world for good, of course. Ah yes, for he is the man you left behind. The man you forgot to be.

Ghost number two was very matter of fact showing you, without judgement, exactly what your life has become. There you are at your glowing screen, for twelve hours a day and more, poring over the intricacies of Excel like it’s a medieval tapestry. But it’s clear your eyes have become dulled by the burden of verisimilitude, for only you can fully understand the pressures on contemporary business. Only you can see how stark and stony the road ahead will surely be.

And so you are left to quake in your bed in dread of the third and final visitation: the ghosts of Christmas yet-to come. The room fills with a piercing chill. The shadows on the wall roll like pipesmoke into the form of a hand, its long bony, brexity fingers beckoning you toward the unknown. It’s grotesque and chinless visage made all the more bloodcurdling by the way it chortles as it sups from a ghostly jug of ale. You scream out loud for it to stop but your cries unleash another swirling, more terrifying phantom. Its wrinkled face emits an eery orange glow that lights the room. With its hair piled at an angle like a ghastly golden haystack it shouts in staccato, trumpet-like rhythm in tune to the chants of a baying mob of ne’er-do-wells and deplorables.

As if the nightmare could get no worse our dreadful duo is joined by a host of dancing spectres each bearing a ghoulish gift from the future: individual parcels clearly labelled with ominous monikers: ‘Isis’ ‘Climate’ ‘Amazon’ ‘Railstrike’ ‘Millennial’ ‘AI’ ‘AR’ ‘VR’ and ‘Big Data’. Oh, what a terrible, terrible omen is upon us!

The next morning you forego the news, kick back the covers and tear apart the curtains to flood the room with blinding sunlight. Yes, another day is here and what a wonderful day it is! No mist, no fog. Today you know you’re alive for you can feel the blood pumping through your tangled veins. ‘Today’ you vow ‘I shall eschew the spreadsheet and instead I shall shake the hand of each and every one of my beautiful customers. Yes, that’s what I shall do! I will thank them for everything they have done for me. Nay, I shall hug them, kiss them even!’

And so, dear friends, fear not the future as it will be what we shall make it. Free yourself from the festive fug, shake off the cloak of despair and join me on a whirlwind journey through the very best of Yuletide London. And what better place in the world to soak up the Christmas spirit?

God bless Us, Every One!

If you enjoyed my Christmas tale and shopping trip, please pass the link on to friends and colleagues. Oh yes, and join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

Happy Christmas!

  Howard Saunders   Dec 14, 2016   Future, shopping, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More

THE DEATH OF THE DINOSAURS


We awake to a dose of rotten retail results every morning, and it seems as if the high street (main street) has become one long, painful car crash that we’re watching in slow motion between fingers clasped against our foreheads. Bad results are usually followed by an interview with a cheery CEO who puts the ‘blip’ down to hot weather, cold weather, humidity, the Olympics, Brexit or Donald Trump. (Personally, I think it has to be Trump)

The CEO assures us that these figures were for the last quarter and already out of date, as this was way before they appointed the bright new CMO and launched the funky new range, which incidentally, is going down a storm with millennials.


Bullshit, and we all know it. News that Macy’s plans to close a hundred stores is just the start of it. The list of high street woes just gets longer by the day: Gap Inc, Debenhams, Walmart, Asda, Sears, Nordstrom, Marks & Spencer, JC Penney, Tesco, Morrison’s, Kroger, Target, Kohl’s…isn’t it bleedin’ obvious? We are witnessing the death of the dinosaurs. And while we’re on the subject of dinosaurs, I’d like to put in a good word for Philip Green. He didn’t kill BHS because it was moribund anyway. He just raped it.

Beneath the valiant attempts to brush off the hurricane as a gentle breeze, there’s the chatter as to the cause of retail’s problems being Amazon and those disinterested millennials, who’d rather spend money on experiences, whatever that means. But CEOs aren’t stupid. Just look behind the media smile. They know the ride is coming to an end. They’re simply doing what’s expected of them: positive spin and a brave face. They know they can’t blame Amazon. For all its monster power it actually has the same root problem as BHS: it stands for absolutely nothing. Amazon is fully aware this is its Achillies heel, but is too busy counting money to do much about it. Perhaps Amazon is partly to blame in the sense that it made retailers focus on price and ‘frictionless’ shopping, rather than making their stores nicer places to be.

It’s been eight years since the meteor hit planet earth, or since the financial crash, as it’s more commonly called, and we are only now starting to realise the long term consequences. The truth is, it changed everything: we are all millennials now; we all reach for the phone before our eyelids have properly parted in the morning, lest we missed a life changing Facebook post whilst unconscious. We’ve all become tired of the same old: the same old politics, the same old superhero movies, the same old brands on the high street. Is anyone really that surprised? Is there anyone out there who seriously enjoys the Walmart, Tesco or Sears experience anymore? We’re just bored with you all.

Meanwhile, the retail press on both sides of the Atlantic remains religiously obsessed with supermarkets and out of town sheds as if nothing has changed. They act like tin shed groupies, hanging around in the car park, at some godforsaken place, for a titbit of news. Usually something earth shattering like ‘Doberman’s profits down 15%’ As if anyone other than Mr Doberman gives a shit. Imagine the NME still filling its pages with Genesis and Yes stories week after week. Precisely.

The dinosaurs maybe dying but the planet is still teeming with life. We are at the beginning of a renaissance of street markets, ‘hipster’ food halls and the burgeoning rise of street food generally. There’s a slew of eager beaver entrepreneurs selling artisan everything that could do with a bit of positive press right now. Then there’s the satisfying surge of small, niche food producers; café culture has taken off like a rocket ship recently while bars and small batch breweries are absolutely revelling in their heyday. The lunch time food market is more lively and imaginative than it has ever been, and rich, clever brands such as Samsung, Nike, Adidas, Dyson, Lululemon and even Moleskine are inciting FOMO (fear of missing out…for all you who don’t reach for their phone first thing) with flagship stores that do so much more than just sell stuff.

There are also, I’m pleased to say, two great British dinosaurs that we can all learn from: Selfridges, maybe part of a dying breed but it will continue to thrive because when we spot its fluttering flags at the top of Oxford Street, like a cruise ship waiting for us to board, it lifts our spirits. Its commitment to an innovative and engaging calendar of events makes it our ‘day out’ in the centre of London.

And just down the road there’s John Lewis. Now John may be no party animal but he has spent the last 150 years building unrivalled trust with his customers. He brews a quiet, softly spoken form of FOMO, that is nonetheless just as powerful.

So, whilst most of the dinosaurs are beyond help there are ways to turn things around if they really want to and, I’m sorry to say, toying with a bit of omnichannel ain’t gonna cut it. Department stores and supermarkets need to give us reasons not just to go there, but to be there. Restaurants, bars, events, markets, launches, link-ups, competitions, festivals and exhibitions can ignite FOMO, drag us out and stop us staring at our phones for fifteen minutes. Let’s start with that.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Aug 31, 2016   Future, Retail, shopping, smartphone, Uncategorized   2 Comments   Read More