Are You An AI-Proof Marketer?

We who embraced technology may end up being eaten by it.


I often wonder what it must be like living through the past few years for marketers who can remember operating in a pre-internet era. The fact that we can put live thousands of creative variants, let a machine decide the best performer and upweight it accordingly. That we can optimize a media mix using real conversion data within days, if not hours. In fact using programmatic, we don't even need to optimize it ourselves. The fact that we can reach more people on earth than God with a smartphone and a Facebook Ads Manager log in. (credit to Scott Galloway for that last one).

No doubt, technology has made both the art and the science of marketing exponentially more efficient. But it has also made it more complex. A proliferation of media options, managed via complex interfaces such as Adwords (although the UI has simplified recently). An ocean of data to analyze and pore over in the pursuit of optimization. All this has created jobs and skill sets that simply didn’t exist prior to the late 90s. PPC manager, Email marketer, Display marketer, SEO Manager, App Install Marketer – the list is large. In fact, the breadth of skills required to be an effective integrated Marketing Manager these days is incredible. 

Because of the continual increase in complexity and fragmentation, I’ve always felt fairly confident that Marketing was a profession which was quite safe from being replaced by AI in the short term. There's plenty of simpler jobs to automate before you get to us, right?! But it seems that was naïve.

Google Lead The Charge

Recent news of Google doing away with all Adwords app install formats in favour of Universal App Campaigns signals a concerning trend. No more will a human have to analyze keywords, select behavioral targets, test copy variants, organize campaigns, ad groups and bids. Simply plug in creative (or let it auto-create your creative), select your geo targeting and bid preference – and put it live. Google will do the work of optimizing between search, display and video ads for you. All at the expense of transparency and control, mind you.

This shows us that much of a PPC manager's role in general may soon go the way of the dodo if such automation spreads throughout the Adwords suite.

Just this week I was introduced to a company who specialize in retention marketing. Their system allows a marketer to design creative, set cohort logic, and press send. The system will optimize subject lines, day of week, days lapsed, time of day and more according to a success metric. Much of the role of Email Marketer evaporated before me.  

Even customer service and social media managers are under threat from Facebook Messenger bots. So it seems even the most highly skilled technical marketing roles are far from AI-proof.

How To Become an AI-Proof Marketer

I think it helps here to think about the skills a robot would find hard to replicate or usurp. More crucially, which combination of skills would AI find difficult to combine?

Think about this for long enough and you may wind up back in the smoke filled Mad Men-esque offices of yesteryear and the skills which were coveted back then. Segmentation. Brand positioning. Tone of Voice. Understanding your audience. You know – the 'boring' stuff. The strategic stuff. The hard stuff. Skills and experiences which have been derided, undervalued and replaced by ‘spreadsheet jockeys’ (as Mark Ritson would call them) in recent years. More generally, leadership and people skills are going to become more important and sought after than ever as well. 

I believe the human marketer of the future is T shaped. The horizontal bar of the T represents an understanding of technology adept enough to choose the right tools for each task, and construct a solid ecosystem of automation. The vertical of the T represents a deep experience and understanding of those core strategic decisions and behaviors a machine cannot replicate (at least not for a few decades).

The abstract thinking that tends to be required to solve creative and strategic problems is something marketers should be cultivating to become robot-proof. So my advice to young marketers would be to step away from the spreadsheet every now and then – and start learning the basics of Strategic Marketing and Leadership. 

Think about your role, your skillset. Are you an AI-proof Marketer? Can you become one?


8 Simple Reasons You Need Content Marketing


There's so much talk about Content Marketing these days, and undoubtedly it can be a powerful weapon in the marketer's arsenal. Surveys suggest everyone is doing it! But it remains a poorly understood area, so if you're thinking about how a content strategy can benefit your business, or maybe you instinctively know it can help but are struggling to articulate the benefits to your stakeholders, this post is for you! Here's eight concise arguments for investing in Content Marketing. 

What Is Content Marketing?

Content Marketing: a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs, and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services, leading to desired business outcomes over the medium to long term, such as new user acquisition or sign up conversion improvements.

So in a nutshell, Content Marketing is about creating assets which you then use to improve business performance, primarily attracting your target audience in a softer, non-interruptive, soft sell fashion.  

What Are The Benefits?

  • Ultimately increase enterprise value by creating a diversified business unit which also feeds growth of the main business unit. A specific example could be display revenue earned in and around your content impressions. 

  • SEO benefit by ranking for longtail keywords and also generating inbound organic links (white hat links) to your main power domain (your url).

  • Provides something meaningful to share on your social channels such as twitter and facebook, which can generate engagement with comments, organic shares and so on.  

  • Influence and engage prospects who are 'ad immune' or use ad blockers. 

  • Deepen relationships with existing users by meeting other needs such as education, entertainment, or information with your content. 

  • Content on owned media (your website or app) can complement and amplify Public Relations (earned) efforts. 

  • Scale and grow your UMV footprint more quickly, and create pools of users for retargeting. For one client I was able to grow UMV by 500K within 6 months of launching a content offering. At another client, I observed a 40% reduction in paid Facebook ad CPA when users had previously engaged with our content. 

  • Build your brand's authority in your chosen verticals, whether mobile, technology, consumer affairs, business, etc. 

How To Get Started

Before you do anything, you need a Content Strategy and some expert advice from someone who has done it before and learned the lessons first hand. Although it seems everyone is doing Content Marketing these days, 57% of B2C marketers say they have no documented strategy. Like any endeavor, a lack of strategy is setting oneself up for failure. If you'd like to discuss how content marketing could benefit your brand, get in touch. 

Five Of The Worst Marketing #Fails In History

Everyone can get it wrong sometimes. But there's failing and then there's epic failing. Presented here are some of the worst marketing #fails of all time and the lessons we can learn. No, I'm not including 'New Coke' as that's been done enough, plus I'm still not sure if it was such a fail after all. They got a LOT of coverage during that. Cringe or laugh your way through some of these and tell me some of your favorite fails! 

1. The Jagermeister Pool Party

Jagermeister, the shot of choice for Germans and pissheads of assorted nationalities, decided it was would be a great idea to throw a pool party. The idea of mixing high strength liquor, college students and swimming pools already sounds like an accident waiting to happen, but the brand found a way to make it even more awesome. What if the pool had liquid nitrogen in it, to create cool misting effects?!



What they didn't realize was that when you mix liquid nitrogen with chlorine, you create a military grade chemical warfare agent: nitrogen trichloride. That'll break up even the best pool party in Vegas in a hurry.  Partygoers began coughing and passing out almost immediately and one ended up in a COMA for 18 days. Imagine a scene from a World War I trench during a mustard gas attack, but with techno music and bikinis.  

Ultimately, the result was a waste of money, bad PR and the potential for lawsuits (though as far as I can tell surprisingly no damages were awarded). Jagermeister really dodged a bullet on this one. 

Marketing Lesson: Don't cut corners, especially with experiential activations. DO YOUR RESEARCH and work with reputable events planning companies. 

2. 'Pepsi Stuff'='Pepsi Bluff'

Back in 1995, Pepsi came up with a new way to encourage consumers to buy their sugar filled cans of diabetes. 'Pepsi Stuff' rewarded consumers with items like sunglasses and leather jackets (XXL only judging by the TV ad) in exchange for them collecting ring pulls. Here's the amazingly 90s TV spot showcasing one of copywriting's weaker moments: "Drink Pepsi, Get Stuff". Well, comprehension should be high I guess.  

Cute right, the harrier jump jet at the end? That plane was valued at around $50M back in 1995. It's obviously a little joke right? Not a funny joke, but a joke nonetheless. The problem was, hidden in the terms and conditions, consumers could buy Pepsi points for 10 cents a piece. So 7 million Pepsi points could be bought in cash for just $700,000. That's exactly what a 21 year old John Leonard, a business studies student who had studied flawed promotions, did. He raised $700K and sent a letter to Pepsi asking when to expect delivery of his Harrier. 

Pepsi refused and 3 years later in federal court a judge ruled in their favour, concluding "no objective person could reasonably have concluded that the commercial actually offered consumers a Harrier jet". But I'm not so sure....let off for Pepsi I reckon. 

Marketing Lesson: Check your terms and conditions carefully and try to hack your own contests. Are there any loopholes? Don't sign off on any creative which makes any claim or offer you can't fulfil - even in jest.  

3. Idiotic Client Tries To Save Money With 'Guerilla Marketing' - Loses $2M

In 2007 the Cartoon Network hired a PR firm to promote their upcoming full length movie based on the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Whether the brief asked for 'guerilla' tactics or the agency went in that direction of their own accord is anyone's guess. Well, it was 2007. Around that time I was asked to pay students to put stickers on toilet doors in student unions. I was working on a national multi million dollar brand. One of the most idiotic suggestions I've ever heard, and I have heard some zingers.


Anyway, problem was the creative they used and the fact they decided to stick these things to prominent buildings and public structures in a post-9/11 world, without consulting police or authorities. Cue a full on city-wide bomb scare in Boston, resulting in a fine of $2M for Cartoon Network not only for their initial idiocy, but also the fact even after the bomb scare was in full swing they didn't notify authorities

Marketing Lesson: Don't try and do 'cool' campaigns which are 'free' because you're cheap. If it was that easy to market stuff for free everyone would be doing it. If you insist on doing 'guerilla' type nonsense, always, always get permissions and licenses from local authorities first. 


4. 'Just for feet' go nuclear fail

Of all the fails featured here, this one is probably my favourite. A monumental fuck up on so many fronts: taste, ad planning, creative logic, legal nous, it's all in here. Shoe superstore Just For Feet were doing so well in the 1990s that they decided it was time to go big. Superbowl big. Their $7M promotion would feature a 30 second TV spot during the 3rd quarter of Superbowl XXXIII in which viewers were invited to call a hotline for a chance to win a Hummer. Pretty standard, if uninspiring, stuff. Here's the first logic fail. Why did they want people to call in? Of what benefit is that to a shoe superstore? Why didn't the ad encourage them to go buy a pair of shoes within 3 days to win the Hummer? Anyway, that was the least of their worries. 


Ever seen the Jean Claude Van Damme film, Hard Target? Well, the creatives on this brief at Saatchi & Saatchi had. In the movie, rich psychopaths pay to hunt human beings - like, properly hunt them with rifles, as if they were wild game. 


Yes indeed, they created an ad with some guys in a Hummer hunting a man running across an African plain. White guys. Hunting a barefoot African man running away from them. (This is the taste fail part, btw).

Well, these guys didn't have rifles at least, but they did poison the runner's water. This is the logic fail part I. Who is handing out cups of water in the African Savannah? Why? If the guys in the Hummer know they've poisoned his water, why are they chasing the runner at top speed? Who is this Kenyan man who can outrun a Hummer if only his water wasn't spiked? Just.....  Dafuq?

Incredibly, it gets stranger. The Just For Feet hunters, it turns out, actually only wanted to equip him with some running shoes and then 'release' him back into the wild. He awakes, to discover his new shoes and screams "Noooooooooooo!". Much like a horse which is forcibly shoed and then trots away trying to shake off the horse shoes until it gets used to them. Really. The ad closes with the Kenyan runner trying to 'shake off' the running shoes. So, a guy would rather run barefoot than in your shoes? Logic fail part II. Taste fail part II. 

It gets worse. The ad aired in the 4th quarter, not the third as planned.Viewers were asked to call in and answer how many times 'Just For Feet' was shown on screen during the 3rd quarter. The correct answer was zero. But the contest didn't allow zero as an answer, so entrants were left feeling like it was a scam. Ad planning fail.

Yet, it got worse. Just For Feet attempted to sue Saatchi & Saatchi for malpractice, claiming that they were 'forced to run' the spot. In turn, S&S and Zenith sued Just For Feet for the unpaid $3M media bill. 

You may not be surprised to hear Just For Feet are no longer in business. 

Marketing Lesson: Good God, where to start. I mean just don't be a total clown in every aspect of campaign management would be the main lesson. 


It's often said that brands should stay out of politics. On average, taking a political stance will endear you to 50% of the audience, and piss off the other 50%. Unless you target demographic is actually people with one persuasion or the other. Pepsi however pulled off and amazing feat by alienating both sides of the aisle and 100% of people. In their shameless attempt to virtue signal and jump on the 'zeitgeist' of demonstrations and protests, they made a spot in which sharing a can of Pepsi heals the world's ills. Insensitive, poorly timed, virtue signalling crap. 

They pissed off people who support the protests because they trivialized some very real issues and tried to use real social unrest to flog cans of liquid diabetes. Many of these people dislike capitalism and Pepsi's response seems to be "We're one of you, we hate 'the man' too! Now STFU and buy a can of Pepsi will you".

They pissed off people who don't support the protests because they made all the protestors seem like young, attractive, friendly fun lovers just out to protest for peace. Who doesn't want peace? If you don't support the protests WTF is wrong with you? It's just light hearted fun! Even though many of these protests have actually featured some pretty choice violence and chants. Really, a drastic over simplification. 

And really I suppose the heart of it is, everything they are showing in the ad has ZERO to do with Pepsi and Pepsi has ZERO authority to be making any kind of social comment. 

Lastly they chose to use Kendall Jenner in it. Nuff said. The ad was roundly slammed and pulled off air almost immediately. The only thing mildly amusing about the ad is that in the full length version the song appears to be saying 'fail' over and over. The online backlash featured some hilarious zingers.

Marketing Lesson: Brands, stay the fuck away from politics, please. It's a needless, kamikaze risk. If you're going to go there, go there like Heineken. DO NOT venture your own opinion. A brand is not a person and has no right to do so.  



The Best Christmas Ad 2016 & Why - IMHO

Christmas is quite the event for advertisers. Consumers throw caution to the wind and there's lots spending going on, so it's a logical time to get into market and make a splash. In the UK for example, the annual Christmas production budget ad war between John Lewis, Sainsbury's and M&S raises the bar every year.

These ads are all beautifully produced and masterfully written, my personal favourite so far being The Bear & The Hare by Adam&Eve/DDB for John Lewis in 2013. Haunting Lily Allen track - check, cute animals, check, illustrated in a way that makes us feel nostalgic - check.

Oooof! Right in the feels, eh?

I wonder what the unaided brand attribution would be though. It cuts through and the audience remember their emotion, perhaps associating John Lewis with those feelings, all good brand stuff. But I find these ads a bit disconnected, almost as if the ads have become more important than the brands they represent. The John Lewis logo enjoys 2 seconds of screen time. Quite missable. 

Anyway, this is why my favourite ad of Christmas 2016 was Coca Cola's effort. Why? It gets all the brand response and emotions flowing, but it does so while showing the product and the branding throughout the entire ad. The Coke is the hero. Not an animated hare. This i quite unlike John Lewis whose branding enjoys less then 3% of the media time bought.

Being able to illicit a strong emotional brand response whilst keeping the core offering front and centre and with branding littered throughout but in an appropriate way necessary to the narrative? Masterful stuff. IMHO, anyway.


Three Simple Steps To Great Leadership (aka Stay Out Of The Kitchen)


Leadership is one of the most common words to be found in job descriptions, management seminars, resumes, and Linked In Profiles the world over. Leadership and its derivatives are such common words in fact, that they often go by unnoticed, we assume others have the same definition of leadership as us. But often they don’t. We all interpret ‘leadership’ in our own ways.  

I see it so often: “I’m a proven leader”. What do people mean by this? Did you organise the work of a few people, who were being paid to be there, who didn’t want to lose their job, and were fairly capable of carrying out their duties competently? Perhaps you approved their vacations and took them out for dinner now and then. To some, that’s a great leader.

Still, to others it is someone who empowered and engaged their people to go above and beyond the minimum. Someone who creates a distinct culture among the people they lead, simultaneously being a part of, but different to, the wider company or industry culture. Or perhaps the company culture is toxic and the leader saw that they had to create a ‘siege mentality’ to keep their team performing at full mast and keep the toxins at bay. To some, that’s the bar for a great leader.

What constitutes a great leader remains ambiguous as far as I can see.

As someone who has managed teams for over a decade in various countries and businesses, I should be no stranger to leadership. But, sitting here, after countless leadership training seminars, countless reflections on what I should do or should not do in a certain circumstance, and countless times I have been let down or frustrated by those leading me, I still find that it’s hard to form a coherent answer to the popular interview question “What is leadership to you”?

With that in mind, I spent some time thinking about it, and I present here my thoughts on what great leadership is and what it means. Broadly speaking, it’s about three things; direction, inspiration and liberation.


I think the most basic function of good leadership is direction. Letting people know what they’re supposed to be doing, the best way to do it, and how that ladders to the broader organisational goal. Since it’s nearly Christmas, let’s think of it as a team making Christmas dinner. At a basic level, as head chef, you should be putting one person on Turkey, one on potatoes, and so on. Telling them what is expected of them and helping them if they get stuck. This is not hard to achieve. Most people are fairly content in their jobs and will perform tasks you ask of them to the best of their ability, which by and large is satisfactory. So long as you are in the kitchen telling them what to do and when by, keeping an eye on things, lunch will be a success.



The next level involves inspiring your people to think for themselves, be engaged, and ‘own’ their responsibilities. It’s more than being told what to do and by when, it’s them taking ownership because they want to. So back to our lunch analogy, perhaps at this point you just tell them what time lunch needs to be ready for, and that you want a festive meal. They choose the ingredients and their own methods for cooking them. They will experiment and you can feedback on how they’re doing, but they are evolving processes and tactics on their own. If you are doing this part correctly, and you have developed the right abilities in your team to be self sufficient, you need only pop your head in the kitchen every now and then to see how they’re doing. You may also notice at this point, their confidence is so high they resent you ‘being in the kitchen’ too often. I’ve worked for at least one company where I’ve told VPs, “I wish you’d get out of the kitchen!”. It’s like a restaurant owner watching a guy chop carrots. If he’s previously been given the direction, has proven he can do it, and now has the inspiration to do it himself and improve on the way he was originally shown, then he can chop carrots, leave him be.



This is the third level of leadership and can only be achieved once the first two have been achieved. This is about providing your people with freedom to operate. Making sure they have the resources and support they need, and clearing roadblocks in front of them. This is when you become the restaurant owner. Your job is to make sure the supplies arrive in the morning and tell the team what time lunch is. Then leave them to it while you see to guests, and set the table. You stop others from going into the kitchen and disrupting the team. If you are truly at this stage, you can trust your team to deliver lunch. Check in if you want, but if they have been properly directed, inspired and you have liberated them, they will always be on course.

So in summary, my definition of leadership comes down to three levels. Direction, inspiration, and liberation. Easy to remember and easy to understand.

Which level are you at as a leader? Is it time to get out of the kitchen?


Stop Thinking Platform, Start Thinking Need

I think a lot is made these days of ‘mobile’ and ‘desktop’. We create different departments, different budget lines, different product experiences and I’ve seen the emergence of the ‘mobile specialist’ in recent years. We spend a lot of time as marketers and product developers obsessing over platforms and how we can utilize the nuances of each to create complimentary experiences.

Example of presumptuous service tailoring

Here’s a common example: When I search for a movie title at home, I probably want to read message boards, view trailers, write a review, do something involved and deep. When I search from a bar, it’s because I want to know which theatres are near me and when the next showing is. a site like IMDb offers me a pretty unusable message board experience via their mobile app. Pretty fair assumption I guess. The problem is that the assumption is made on the basis of device. What if I’m at home and I pick up my phone instead of my laptop. Are my tasks or needs different? Then why should the experience presume that I’m out of my home just because I’m on a phone?

Assuming needs based on device is wrong almost half the time

I’ve been conducting some primary research lately into Canadian use of mobile devices in the car buying process. Something that really caught my eye was how much usage of mobile occurs in the home. Note I’m not including tablets which you’d expect to be used at home, I’m talking specifically phones here. I’d be willing to bet that the stat is about the same for most buying journeys and tasks, not just cars.


A lot of product strategists are trying to develop their apps and mobile sites to make use of the nuances and benefits of portability which makes perfect sense on the surface, like in my movie example. Phones are portable, so they offer lots of opportunity to enhance user experience using the phone’s capability. Things like mapping functionality and proximity alerts. Meanwhile the desktop is thought of as more fixed, that location is less relevant, and so these sites are being developed to conduct different types of tasks.

But as we further evolve platforms in these distinct ways I sometimes feel an assumption is being made. The assumption that a mobile site or app is always used out of home, and a desktop site is always used in the home or office. My research above confirms this assumption is dangerous.

Just as 41% of phone usage is in the home, how much use of desktop occurs out of home? That I don’t know, but how often do we see people using their laptop in Starbucks and aren’t these individuals just as likely to benefit from locational services as someone using their mobile phone in the same setting? Why should brands assume user A, B and C in the image below all have different needs just because they are using different platforms?

Are the  needs  of user A (tablet) any different from user B (phone) or user C (laptop)?

Are the needs of user A (tablet) any different from user B (phone) or user C (laptop)?

Let user need dictate functionality, not user platform

This is leading me to increasingly class users as ‘fixed location’ (home or office) and ‘temporary location’ (on the bus, the street, in the bar), regardless of what device they are using. Because I believe that need or goal is more likely dictated by this state rather than device. Maybe thinking of users in these scenarios is more appropriate than assuming that a mobile user is always on the move and a desktop user is always at home. Certainly as devices proliferate a more advanced level of thinking and accessibility options is required. I know that functionality is heavily influenced by device, but we as marketers shouldn’t let devices dictate how well we deliver on a user’s needs and goals, which are dictated by situation, NOT device chosen