Brand loyalty is an actual thing. Who knew?

I’ve been in advertising my whole life. Even when I was teen, I worked part time at a local sign-writing company designing and also mounting the shopfront signage for local brick-and-mortar businesses.

Ever since then, it has always been me – and them. Me being the advertiser trying to get noticed and sell my stuff, and them being the people who need to be coerced, manipulated, persuaded and even scared into buying it.

Throughout all of my meandering through agencies big and small, in all these different countries, I always had the belief that advertisers were their own breed – incapable of themselves being affected by advertising messages of any kind. Because, after all, we are on the inside and know exactly the game that is being played with the minds of the public.

I’ve never gone as far as installing an ad-blocker on my browser, because I still want to be exposed to what others are doing – but never did I stop to wonder what it must be like to truly be “them”. All I know is that advertising works, and people do look at them, respond to them and act on them and that’s why I have a job.

But then, recently discovered to my shock, what I thought was indifference to the fruits of my own craft turned out to be simply that I don’t really care much about stuff. I realized that if I did care about stuff, I would be just as affected and influenced by even my own advertising as the next consumer.

I love SkechersThis epiphany all started with a pair of shoes. Skechers to be exact. I put them on for the first time and not only did I feel better than James Brown, but I could also see more clearly than Johnny Nash. All the science I had learned about consumer psychology, brand loyalty and customer retention suddenly emerged from the dusty bookshelves of theory and I could feel what it was really like to be the primary focus of my clients’ hefty annual media spend.

Skechers are right in every way. I am someone with little time, little care for self expression and little patience for airport security. I despise laces with a passion; because they’re stupid, time consuming, old fashioned and also people hang themselves with them in prison.

I travel a lot, and if you added up all the minutes I’ve saved not having to bend down at airport security untying and tying my shoes while my name is being yelled over the PA system for last calls, you would have by now about 3 months. Ok, I’ve not used that saved time for anything constructive, but that’s not the point.

The black slip-on “Mens Work” ones I wear can easily straddle between casual, smart casual and formal (depending on the lighting at the place) so now I have a standing order with Skechers to get the same pair, over and over again every 3 months and that’s all I ever need to think about when it comes to footwear.

Now I get weirdly excited when I see a Skechers store and also a little disappointed that it’s not 3 months yet. I watch the Skechers online banner ad rotate a few times before getting back to my article – maybe just out of pure appreciation. If they did YouTube ads, I wouldn’t click skip. I’ve also joined the very generous loyalty club that gives you a whopping $10 back for every $100 spent. Skechers, you do too much.

Maybe it’s sad that I’ve never liked a consumer product as much (except for my Gibson Les Paul, but that’s my child, not a thing), but at least it proves that there’s a real point to my craft, and that advertising really is just a spotlight on what the people actually love.

Media dollars are best spent when we can predict with some certainty whether the consumer who views it will actually care about what’s being sold.

Touch, taste and feel: the estranged senses

Sometimes I like to get physiological when describing new marketing techniques. Brands always talk about driving engagement, or creating a connection with consumers or whatever, but what does that really mean? You could say it involves showing them something they enjoy seeing, and if your brand is in the picture then the positive connection is made.

But that tactic is at risk of being exhausted, and the perpetual desensitization of consumers to everything that you throw at them forces us to remain chained to the tactical drawing board.

musicMedia has shifted towards online because of the perceived advantages in measurement, but it has done so while shortsightedly sacrificing the many pleasure sensors consumers possess other than sight and sound. You can’t invent an 8th color in the rainbow, or a new musical note past G.

But the way to truly connect with a consumer has and always will be through our most primal vessels. That is our senses and instincts. We see colors that indicate the presence of food, and we become excited. We hear the sound of rain and are soothed because of what it means for our crops. There’s the sensory reward from sex because our species needs to bribe us with pleasure to propagate itself. When we taste sugar, we get an endorphin release notifying us that a rare ingredient in nature that boosts energy has been found and we should covet it. (Unfortunately for the nation’s health, that ingredient is not quite so rare anymore.)

So how can we start tapping into some of these senses and achieve the same direct association with the brand that is strived for with an amazing TV ad? Well, there are some companies who I think are doing that in an interesting way.

Vengo Labs is an innovative new approach to the ancient art of product dispensing. There’s a satisfaction like little else when a few quarters are flicked through a slot and the turny thing ejects a candy bar into the waiting bin below. Even though you scrape the skin off your wrist reaching into its bowels to retrieve your item, it is pain you barely notice because of the irresistible magic just witnessed. The connection we just made was between ourselves and a locked cabinet with a glass front – not a brand. Even the candy branding itself is lost because the wrapping has faded into the amorphous white noise of our daily surrounds.

Vengo have created a generic product dispenser with an engaging and interactive digital screen on the front. It’s fairly compact and designed for small stuff like candy, cosmetics and small consumer electronics. The interface for browsing and selecting your product can be completely bespoke, and allows brands to create a much deeper link between themselves and that primal joy of getting something tangible in return.

Online engagement and social experiences have traditionally been leveraged by brands to create meaningful connections with consumers, but this can only ever go skin deep. The idea of delivering this same engagement but with the immediate payoff of something real and satisfying is a sensible way to tap into new and, I think, even more potent sensory channels.

Vengo is not just a vending machine, but a powerful new way of engaging with consumers, and explicitly linking a brand with the primal instincts that govern our choices on a daily basis. It seems no matter how smart we get, it’s still sight, sound, taste, smell and touch that dictate our decisions in life. When brands get on the good side of these senses, it results in a rather well spent media dollar.

Digital Signage Expo 2015 Roundup. #DSE2015

Las Vegas, Nevada. Home of the Digital Signage Expo 2015.

It’s the world’s largest and longest running trade show, exclusively dedicated to showcasing innovative digital communications and interactive technology solutions. Launched in 2004, DSE was the first event dedicated to the digital signage market and has been a significant contributor to the growth of this fast-paced industry.

With the world of Out of Home media being gripped by the rise of digital, in both large and place-based formats, the DSE was a great place to see emerging technologies and learn about how marketers are taking advantage. Every kind of screen was on show, as well as more niche forms of signage such as holographic displays, transparent LEDs and some rather interesting configurations.

Aside from the impressive and engaging possibilities of multi-touch displays, allowing up to 10 fingers at one time, or the mesmerizing effect of transparent hi definition digital glass, there were also some really cool demonstrations of interactive 3D projections that had me captivated for quite some time.

An interesting outfit: Screenfeed. They are a comprehensive one-stop curator of live data-feeds that I’ve seen and an excellent facilitator for digital place-based campaigns – which are made ever richer and more relevant with live updating content. They have all the weather, stocks and news as you would expect, but also infotainment, sports, local events and an amazing variety of health and illness related content.

There was an impressive Smart Shelf branded by book company, Harelquin. Each product has a mini digital screen beneath which can be used for special offers or just to attract attention. But each product also has a motion sensor which detects when it is lifted off the shelf. The digital screen beneath it flips over to some more detailed information about the product, like a book synopsis or nutritional information in the case of a confectionary item.

The shelf is equipped with a camera sensor that tracks all manner of the customer’s positioning in front of the shelf, whether they walked past or stood for a while examining the products.

As you would expect, there is a comprehensive dashboard showing all of the customer activity during the day. Realtime stats tally up which products are being picked up and who is nearby. Then as if that wasn’t enough, check out this really neat heat-map showing which product are most popular and were picked up the most during the day. This gives insight like never before into precise consumer behavior and how they are interacting with your products.

Check out the interactive clothing mirror from Memomi. Stand in front of it, wave your arms to select colors. Try on different outfits, and even turn from side to side to see how they might look on you. I would imagine this is good for the clothing retail space, but you could get creative at a special event and make people look like superheroes.

The rest of the vast Expo floor showed off a wide variety of digital screen suppliers, each boasting an ever-increasing pixel resolution, and some or other improvement on the year before.

However, as marketers and advertisers, we’ve come to expect that screens will always improve in quality, that touch will become more responsive and that prices will eventually fall down. So what does all this really mean for us, and do we even need to care about the advances in digital signage?

The answer is very much a resounding YES. Ever since the first digital sign appeared, the media-buying world was only ever concerned with where it was placed, who owned it and how much it costed for the duration of a campaign.

LED boards are now flexible, and can be built to any size. It is now possible to place large format, immersive and interactive digital experiences in some of the world’s highest traffic and most populated places – but do so in the same manner as we would traditionally for a special build or experiential event.

What’s great about this is that we can spend more time dreaming up amazing experiences to interrupt, surprise and delight consumers on the go, and less worrying about whether the ideas are even possible in our market.

Thanks to the rapidly evolving world of digital signage, the sky is not even the limit.

We are all creative – we just don’t know it.

Here’s a talk I did at CES 2015 in Vegas. The transcript is below it.

People think that you get creative people, and you get non-creative people. That the best ideas are generated by people with the word “creative” or “conceptual” in their title.

Most of us are familiar with that feeling of drawing a total blank when we are challenged with coming up with an idea, especially when we are busy with the daily grind of buying OOH media. When this happens, we excuse ourselves by saying: “I’m not a creative, I’m a suit”. When we are given a request to “come up with something innovative” without anything to go on, it can be daunting.

Derren Brown, a magician TV host from the UK who specializes in the power of suggestion, did a great episode which I think proves how everyone can be creative. It is only what we start with that determines how good our ideas are.

Here is a video which shows two creative executives being challenged with a task. They have to come up with branding, name and a new logo for a taxidermy business.

Derrin places his own designs on a piece of paper in a sealed envelope in plain view and he gives them 30 minutes to do their ideas.

They start their designs, crumple up a few and get busily to work. It’s tough even for them, a creative director and conceptual designer respectively. But eventually something starts to form.

Then the big reveal. Derren lifts the paper to show a bear playing a harp, and a logo with zoo gates surrounding by angel wings, and the name “Animal Heaven”.

They try to justify how they came up with this out of the air: “Well, we came up with this idea of Zoo gates, sort of like all the animals are in a zoo but like a zoo animal heaven.”

But then Derren takes out the envelope and shows them his design. They are shocked. Inside is almost exactly the same design. A harp playing bear, zoo gates, angel wings and his name “creature heaven”.

Then it shows their journey to the brainstorm room. They drive past the London Zoo gates. And past a bunch of kids wearing the logo on their shirt. Angel wings drawn on a sign outside a coffee house. Irish harps in window displays.

The point of all this is that all of the best ideas that we can remember from 2014 were not the result of highly talented creative people, but a single spark that allowed them to build on for the right idea.

Getting practical, I found this tiny chip on Kickstarter. It detects wetness. That’s all it does. Apply it to one of our clients and you have this concept: an app that lets you know when your baby is wet and needs changing.

Then I found some technology in the form of a tiny piece of microfilm. You stick it to your smartphone which then detects your blood/alcohol level.

One of our clients are doing a campaign to raise awareness about DWI. (Driving while intoxicated). Here, you can approach a screen, breathe on the circle and see a result.

The result is your blood alcohol warning and a number to get an UBER to collect you from the bar. A very good idea – if I do say so myself – but the point being it’s not because I am super creative, just that I took something that was already there and applied it to our business.

These sparks are everywhere, all we need to do is look at them and go through a simple exercise of applying it to our medium. Therein, the best ideas will come.

Instant Free: just add ads.

One of the things I noticed after arriving in America from the UK was that ATMs charge you a fee, and not a small one either. If I want $20, I have to pay $3. In Vegas recently, I had to pay $6!

Annoyingly, even your own bank stings you with the very card they issued you – without any goodwill for their loyal customers. That’s very unusual in the UK where most of the ATMs are free, except for a few private ones in convenience stores.

American banks complain that their overhead for providing the privilege of easy cash to their customers is simply too high to offer it for free – yet ATMs play a crucial role in the circulation of currency, which rolls up to the greater health of the local economy. So important is this, in fact, that UK banks underwrite the fees so as not to deter customers from making impulse withdrawals.

Held to ransom for unnecessary ATM fees that other countries do not charge.

Held to ransom for unnecessary ATM fees that other countries do not charge.

In the meantime, back to America: where I have found it to be lagging behind other countries as far as the variety of available payment options is concerned. Americans love their cash, and also that magnetic strip on their ATM cards just won’t die even though the UK has had contactless debit cards for years and chip-and-pin for several more.

Well, I recently met two passionate young entrepreneurs who hope to put a stop to this opportunistic fleecing of the public. Their name? You guessed it, “FreeATM“.

Founders Clinton and Eric challenged the necessity of these fees, that everyone else had just accepted, and decided to apply the age-old freemium model to the machines – that is offer the service for free but show ads on screens.

It’s not rocket science; the ATMs display ads on them. From the advertising revenue, stores take a share and FreeATM takes a share. But what Clinton and Eric have done superbly is apply their appreciation for slick technology. Here are some of their approaches:

  1. A crisp hi-res screen on top. This screen is roughly at eye level, in front of your face, when you approach. You can’t miss it. Full color video ads are displayed. You can see them when you walk by even if you’re not getting cash, and this equates to added impressions.
  2. Ads built into the ATM interface itself. If you’re looking for cash, you will be staring at this area for a majority of the transaction. Ads are strategically placed at the start and during the momentary wait for the cash to be dispensed.
  3. The receipt comes out with ads or coupons printed on the back.
  4. NFC and QR code integrated into the physical unit to enable the scanning of devices for content or special offers – and these are built on a platform to always ensure the content you receive is linked to the ad playing.
  5. They’ve integrated with the Kinetic Active Exchange meaning that advertisers can now include them in programmatic audience digital out-of-home media buys.

Probably most valuable of all is the data they have access to. FreeATM are among the few folks who get to see how much cash is being drawn, what denominations, near what stores and how frequently. With studies to show that a majority of cash drawn from ATMs is spent almost immediately, it can offer day-parted insights into what kind of customers are shopping, and how much they are spending.

Not to mention impressions and dwell time that are measured more accurately because we know precisely how many transactions were made. I am attracted to good data like a moth to a flame, and am always excited to find companies who innovate here.

Particularly if you reside in New York, keep a look out for these free ATMs around town, now nearing 50 and growing rapidly. See their locations here: http://www.freeatm.com/#!locations/c1mm5

Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens are where they are now, but expect a rapid expansion across the country in the months to come.

Hey airplane wifi, 1995 called and asked for its download speed back

I’ve just come back from CES: mankind’s celebration of the gadgets that prove how much better we are than apes.

So in the spirit of evolution and human self-betterment, I thought I’d start the year with a list of things that desperately need to get with the times:

1. In-flight wifi.

Gogo in-flight WiFiThere. Has anyone ever actually had a good experience with this? The revolutionary airplane Wifi service was supposed to feed our insatiable appetites for an internet connection – even on that rare occasion when you used to be able to just sit still and contemplate what really matters in life.

Yes, I’m writing this on a plane, with the Wifi icon showing that comforting state of full bars – but the browser is spluttering out an entirely different tale, I assure you.

I have tried to use it countless times to no avail and yet keep coming back (like the battered wife who thinks she is to blame). I’ve spent probably hundreds of dollars in all but the experience is just like the slot machine I pumped $40 into this morning at the airport (against every bit of good judgement I’ve ever had).

The service is an alluring box you put your hard-earned money into hoping for a return, with a few glimmers of hope like a Facebook notification or a single email alert. But dare you open that email to read what it contains, or even more hopelessly try to retrieve the 1mb powerpoint file attached to it, and you soon see why the airplane wifi service has no place in our technologically optimistic year of 2015.

As CES just proved, we have Tesla cars with radically enhanced battery life making them cheaper and longer lasting on a single charge, huge 4k curved TV screens that you don’t need a mortgage to afford, and every conceivable connected object to help you float through life without the nightmarish inconveniences you grew up with (like having to set your thermostat manually).

In-flight wifi. You need to stop talking about an upgrade and do it. Stop whining about how the Pentagon refuses to open up their military satellite bandwidth for civilian use. Stop apologizing on your chat support while toying with us as we spend the whole flight begging for a refund.

I usually write my blogs directly into WordPress. Today however, with my last $10 gambled away in a final scramble for some Vegas luck, I’ve instead excavated Notepad from the bowels of my Macbook to publish when I touch down in Minneapolis.

The metrics of piss

No medium can offer people the kind of fascination and delight as can be achieved in the physical world. It is no wonder then that the most memorable displays of advertising theatrics occur where people can see and touch the experience up close.

But, this medium also suffers from the glaring inability to offer the same kind of measurement and analytics that have drawn advertisers online like moths to a burning bar-chart.

So I am always excited and grateful for those innovators who have not only found ways to augment everyday facilities with brand messaging, but who offer unique and interesting means to measure how many have actually come into contact with it.

There are two particularly interesting outfits who I’d like to bring some credit to. One is called Barule Media. It’s a fairly simple invention comprising of a waterproof digital screen fitted neatly above bathroom faucets. You can’t miss ’em – that is unless you are one of those hygienically challenged individuals who think their hands will melt off like the Wicked Witch of the West if they touch water.

weeThe other is as remarkable as it is amusing, and also a bit genius. They’re a Scottish outfit called Captive Media. I’m sure they could have come up with a more descriptive name, like The Pee Network or Leak Media or something, and that is because they are a digital screen above a boy’s urinal which is connected to sensors that detect the angle of your wee wee. When you direct your stream to the left, the character in the game moves left, and same the other way. Yes, you heard that right.

Don’t you dare ask me how it is possible to have any kind of meaningful game in the few seconds it takes for your bladder to fully dispense its laser-pointer of glistening yellow. Why don’t you just drink more beer and save it up or something.

But the mechanics of these two lovely slices of digital out-of-home innovation is actually not the point I’m making here. It is the realization that if you can come up with something that can record an interaction, regardless of what that physical action might be, then you are onto something. In the case of Barule Media, every time you turn on the faucet, an impression is recorded. We then time how long the water stays on, and that’s the engagement time. We don’t need fancy Nielsen algorithms to tell us that.

Similarly, Captive Media takes so much interest in what happens when your zipper comes down that they too record the moment the piss hits the bowl, how long you managed to keep it going and even what your score was in whatever game was playing.

Don’t get me wrong, let’s not knock Nielsen On Location and friends who have taken great care to make sense of an otherwise almost impossible to measure world. But exact numbers are always better than guesses, no matter how sound the logic.

So kudos to these two startups who have considered these problems and produced such fine solutions. I sincerely hope they are able to find the funding to achieve the kind of scale that I need in order to recommend them to my large brand advertisers.

Look at Barule Media here: www.barulemedia.com
and check out Captive Media’s urinal thing: captive-media.co.uk