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Lessons from Coca-Cola

October 18, 2010

Coca-Cola can save lives. Not because of the medicinal powers of its recipe at the origin of its invention, but because it is ubiquitous globally, and as a result, it can act as a case study for marketing social causes. At the latest New York TEDxChange, Melinda French Gates asked what Coca-Cola can teach non-profits. If Coke can be found in the most remote corners of Africa, why can’t NGO’s and governments aiming to distribute medicine or condoms do the same? In addition to harnessing real-time data and local entrepreneurs, the key is aspirational marketing. Current health and development campaigns are all about avoidance (ie “Use a condom, don’t get aids”), but even when communicating about something that people need, you have to make them want it. And to do that, there are two tricks: create an emotional connection, and embed it into popular culture. Both of which Coca-Cola masters.


It’s not the first time that the tools of behaviour change marketing are sought for public health initiatives. Proctor & Gamble is another company whose tactics are used as case studies for social good. A couple of past issues of IDEO’s Patterns also provide useful food for thought: how can public policies be designed to ensure private individual action? And how can social taboos be transformed into design opportunities? Both discussions hold lessons that, like Coca-Cola, non-profits could benefit to learn from.


The world is full of interesting things…

October 13, 2010

… and many of them (specifically, all things creative and digital) are gathered together in a resource put together by Tom Uglow at Google Creative Labs. Spanning categories of audio, film, art, politics, visualization, technology, etc., and brimming with inspiration. First spotted on Only Dead Fish.

Journalism in the age of data

September 30, 2010

Another great video on visualization that summarizes some thoughts from previous posts. Thanks to Only Dead Fish.

Ads Worth Spreading

September 29, 2010

Today, during his New York AdWeek address, TED curator and Wired editor Chris Anderson announced the Ads Worth Spreading Challenge.

“An open invitation to the global advertising community to reinvent, inspire and engage audiences with a new definition of what advertising can mean in the digital age, using as its platform.”

It makes sense, and it’s a welcome wake-up call for global advertising. TED is partially supported by advertising, and recognizes how as a medium it is not just about consumption, but also about “inspiring and motivating beneficial action”. But it doesn’t reach that level nearly enough, especially on the web. Chris Anderson aptly asked ‘If advertising is so great, why the hell is it largely failing on the web today?’.

So, the business community is invited to submit their best new campaigns, to premiere at TED2011 and be shown on for one week in March for free. Considering the 290 million (and counting) global audience, that’s quite a prize. It’s a chance to prove the value and potential of the ad industry at large, and raise the creative bar.

What’s surprising though is that submissions are in video format only. A shame that the criteria is limiting – why not encourage the possibility of say interactive usage of video, like Google’s Chrome FastBall or Tip-Ex’s YouTube bear hunting phenomenon? I’m sure for practical reasons this might have been difficult. But what makes great web advertising is often work that goes beyond the traditional formats of video and banners (essentially TV and press adapted for the internet), and instead harnesses the creative potential of a medium which in many ways has no boundaries, and can therefore lead to a greater consumer engagement than otherwise. On the other hand, it means that brands will have to focus on their core ideas rather than creative fireworks: as much strategy as show.

Nonetheless, TED’s challenge is necessary and exciting. Bring on the ads worth spreading.

Image from the TED blog.

This dataset will change your mindset

September 28, 2010

Building on yesterday’s post, visualizations can do more than strengthen a message. They can also make you see things in an entirely new light. This is captured in Hans Rosling’s talk about stats in one of TED’s most popular talks. It’s nothing new, but worth seeing if you haven’t already:

Four years after this talk, echoes of Rosling’s belief in the beauty of stats are clear. In partnership with the Gates Foundation, The Guardian has developed a series of truly beautiful interactive infographics based on the latest Millennium Development Report card to mark the ten years since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals and track progress so far. This project aims to change perceptions, and is just one example of how visualizations are powerful and universal.

Considering how Generation Y prefers visual and symbolic information above the textual and verbal, it’s especially relevant today.

Let me see

September 27, 2010

RSA animates shows that there’s more to a talk than its words. Each speaker’s message is brought to life by witty illustrations that make even the most intellectual subject seem like cake. Behind the drawings is company Cognitive Media, who specialize as visual practitioners. They’re part of a larger trend that acknowledges the power of visualization. Infographics are widely circulated throughout the web to describe say the years’ most viral brands, while the New York Times website has won numerous awards because of its graphics team, whose members are interviewed in a neat video here.

What makes seeing an idea even more powerful than hearing it? The theory about working memory in cognitive psychology can help explain. In 1974, researchers Baddely and Hitch suggested that working memory, the capacity to hold information in the mind during the complex tasks of learning and memory, is governed by distinct components. One is a system that processes the sound of language, while the other main system processes visual and spatial information. The sound system is thought to have evolved from human’s capacity of speech perception and production. Meanwhile the visual and spatial system is believed to be more primal, being intimately related to the processes of visual perception and action – both innate human functions. Additional systems direct attention, and integrate the components together.

In our context, a visually stimulating talk triggers not only the sound but also the visuo-spatial processes. Both key components of the working memory system are mobilized. Although there is little research examining exactly how the two subsystems work together, I predict that an illustrated talk maps an integrated message into your mind and embeds it more deeply in your memory that otherwise.

So imagine if this methodology were employed more widely in education, for example: science classes animated with visualizations would become fun and not forced.

Image from CognitiveMedia’s blog here.

It’s not about the bonus

September 25, 2010

How do you stimulate creativity? Great work doesn’t come from the financial motivational carrots you’d expect. Instead, it’s all about understanding what underlies human drive. Companies like Google got this from the start. Daniel Pink explains this in engrossing RSA animate video above. IDEO’s Tim Brown’s thoughts about work go along the same lines:

But it’s not just about play. Good management comes also from knowing how to control play. Pixar, one of the world’s most creative companies, is a perfect example. Although employees navigate through the building on scooters and work in offices of their own design (including wooden huts), there are a set of processes that gently direct the progress of the work. All explored in an interview with President Ed Catmull here:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A recent Economist article though questions whether sometimes play at work goes a little too far. Its perspective is that fun at work is nothing but coercion, and that in fact it brings employees further away from the Mad Men days where work-day drinking and smoking were the norm and no one had even heard of the term sexual harassment.

But I think it misses the point. Granted people during Mad Men’s time had a freer reign, but did it really stimulate work-place satisfaction and innovative thinking? And the motivational factors, including play, that are being embedded into modern companies aren’t designed to force fun per se, but instead to nurture creative thinking simply by having the right kind of environmental cues. Of course initiatives should not be empty efforts: they should not impose nor should they be considered sufficient alone. Having a slide in the middle of the office will be meaningless if the mentality that it suggests does not permeate through every other level of the company.

So it’s important and relevant to rethink how companies are managed, and to adjust existing models accordingly. This means it has to be holistic – from the very top of management hierarchies to the architecture of the office space. Considering changing expectations from Generation Y, individuals who themselves will become the future leaders of these workplaces, it’s not only necessary but inevitable.

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