First World Problems – coffee

I reckon if half the ingenuity that currently goes into designing golf equipment and skiwear went into addressing poverty and hunger, perhaps we would’ve made bigger inroads than we have.  The creativity and general brilliance dedicated to solving ‘first world problems’ is mind blowing.  My agency has just released an iPhone app which allows me to order a coffee (free, naturally) remotely from our barista.  He runs a kiosk  twenty paces or so away from my desk.  I tap once to open the app and once to choose my preference then I receive a notification a few minutes later to tell me it’s ready.  I’m loving it, as the  saying goes.  Admittedly I do have to go and fetch it – but I’m working on that.

More woe for Coe


Big sponsorship news today is that, according to reports, Adidas is withdrawing its sponsorship of the World athletics governing body IAAF, because of the recent doping scandals.  That’s quite interesting.  Adidas, who are the first name on IAAF’s list of global partners, appear to have broken their ties three years before their fixed term contract expires.  What’s more interesting is that this is the same Adidas who still sponsor FIFA to the tune of much larger sums, despite the fact that most of FIFA’s executive committee is either under arrest or under investigation for corruption.  How damning is that?  IAAF is now a more toxic brand than FIFA.  Wow.  That’s damning.

It does give an insight into what it is the sponsor is actually buying with these partnerships.  The difference here is that FIFA may have become a byword for malpractice, but football itself is still a hugely attractive proposition.  Nobody supported their team any less enthusiastically this weekend because of the governing body falling ever further into disrepute.  In contrast the doping scandal in athletics calls the sport itself into question.  If your favourite athlete won a medal at the last Olympics or World Championships, you may now be wondering whether that was actually legitimate – or was it drug-fuelled?  Some athletes are calling for their performances to be upgraded retrospectively because they were beaten in major championships by ‘drug cheats’ – even though the cheating only came to light later.  It’s all up in the air.

Add to that the fact that athletics is nowhere near as attractive as a commercial proposition as football, in any case, and you can see why Adidas has concluded the positives no longer outweigh the negatives to justify a marketing investment.

What a tragedy after the sport was in the ascendancy after the fabulous London Olympics in 2012.   Lord Coe, the new President of the IAAF, will need all his powers of resilience to get back into credit. For the moment, the future looks bleak.

Told you so

This blog has previously celebrated the marketing genius of Protein World.  Last year they harnessed the outrage of the chattering classes, shooting from obscurity to become a household name on a marketing budget of five and a half pence .


It’s debatable whether they actually set out to achieve any of this with their fabulously outrage-ready poster on the London Underground – ‘Are you beach-body ready?’

Either way, they were laughing all the way to the bank and very sensibly, they’ve followed up by building on the theme.  This year they will be sponsoring Geordie Shore and Ex on the Beach.  I’m not a regular viewer of these series but I do have teenage children so I’ve picked up the basics: I’m assured that hot women (and men) wearing very little figure prominently.  Bikinis?  Tick. Flesh?  Tick.  Sexual tension?  Tick Tick Tick.  Outrage? Meh.



When does a tragedy make you more popular?


Today’s  scariest news item concerns a clinical drug trial in Rennes, NW France.  One of the subjects has died and five more are seriously ill, after volunteering for a trial to assess the safety profile of a cannabis-based pain killer.  This brings to mind two crucial points about the pharmaceutical business:

  1.  This is a tragic story.  But ironically it underlines the need for clinical trials to establish the safety and efficacy of new drugs.  Most of the drugs which have transformed life expectancy over the last century have been developed through this process of clinical trials.  Stage 1 trials – like this one – involve a small number of subjects to test the safety of the proposed compound.  There comes a point in a new drug’s development when you have to see what happens when someone takes it – and this is it. With the inevitable risk of tragedy we see here.  Stage 2 and 3 trials recruit larger numbers of volunteers to evaluate the effectiveness of the drugs, compared with existing treatments or protocols or sometimes compared to a placebo.  The process takes many years and costs a fortune – which is why pharmaceutical companies need to charge a lot (or what appears a lot) for those drugs (a tiny fraction) which do eventually make it to commercial production.  This is essentially how medicine moves forward.  If there’s a better way, we haven’t discovered it yet.
  2. Last time a trial went wrong and created headlines was in 2006.  In what became known as the Elephant Man trial, six men were treated for organ failure after suffering a serious reaction to taking a new drug at Northwick Park Hospital in North London.  Perhaps surprisingly, the number of trial volunteers trebled in the next three years.  How can this be?  A disaster leading to increased recruitment?  Clinical trials are clearly essential, but they are kept safely under the radar most of the time.  When our attention is drawn to them, we are reminded of just how important they are.  Seemingly, that’s still the case if the news that draws our attention is a tragedy.

So it will be interesting to see if the response to this story goes for or against the recruitment of volunteers.  Let’s hope history repeats itself and the awareness created outweighs the fear.  Because we can’t afford for these trials to stall, if we want the next generation of medicines.

Death, taxes and market research

It is with some sadness that I have to report the imminent death of sensible market research.  take a look at this article from The Drum – a reputable advertising industry publication (or so I thought) and see if you can spot the flaw:

Dim Drum

I hardly know where to begin in describing how daft this is.  Suffice to say, if you want to know if your advertising is effective, you don’t just ask people if it’s effective.  Duh.  You could observe what they do and you ask them how they feel about your brand – which allows you to draw conclusions about effectiveness.  None of us is likely to say to a survey that advertising makes us behave differently – we’d look silly.  But guess what?  John Lewis sales are up 5% over Christmas suggesting that their emotionally charged advertising approach, far from squandering their budgets, has delivered very nicely thank you.

It’s a bit like asking people whether we should raise taxes.  The fact they will inevitably say ‘no’ tells you nothing about the wisdom or otherwise of raising taxes.  So when 78% of people say advertising hasn’t influenced their shopping habits, this tells us precisely nothing about whether it really has.

But it’s worse than that.  This sort of incompetent ‘plain man’s view’ approach to market research is becoming increasingly common.  The idea that you can just ask the public to answer the question you have in your head is seriously misguided.  Research involves experimental design. It is a skill.  Sadly, Survey Monkey, bless them, have made market research surveys accessible to anyone and everyone.  Including those who have no idea how to do it.  That’s democratisation for you.

Worst of all, I came across this nonsense originally through WARC – normally a genuinely useful and authoritative portal for accessing  marketing intelligence.  Nonsense gets everywhere nowadays.

Pay peanuts, get monkeys?