David Bowie’s Laughing Gnome: Would today’s music business have killed his creativity?

One of the quirkiest songs that David Bowie ever wrote was Laughing Gnome (1967)

“Ha ha ha, hee hee hee I’m a laughing gnome and you don’t catch me”

You can hear him sing it here Laughing Gnome video

Now as you can see it is almost like a nursery rhyme and definitely not rock or pop. So would the suits in today’s music business have given it the time of day? I doubt it. 

Too arty, too commercially risky, not good television. 

How else do we push the boundaries though if everything we do is with half an eye on the commercial outcome? It’s a perennial business problem. 

Where is the difference between astounding originality and commercial insanity? I guess it’s in the mind of the person who has the power to decide. 

So does this mean that the music industry is simply a social construction of the powerful? The people who say what goes and what doesn’t?  Isn’t it the same for any proposed concept? New rocket launch system, new taxi ordering service, new food retail outlet.

What do you think – would The Laughing Gnome have secured a recording contract in 2016?

Donald Trump, demogogues and propaganda inoculation theory 

Donald Trump is not unique in US politics. Back in the 1930’s and the time of Franklin D Roosevelt there were several populist politicians who tried to roust up public opinion on the economic and political issues of the time.

So called Demogogues perhaps the most notorious was Father Charles Coughlin whose anti Jewish rhetoric was used to drum up support for the Nazis.

Like them Trump grossly over simplifies the issues and attempts to polarise opinion. Most thoughtful people would cast Mr Trump as a dangerous meddling buffoon.

Or is he?!

What if he is actually working for the US government as part of a sophisticated propaganda communications exercise?

In 1961 social psychologist William McGuire came up with a notion of persuasion he called  Inoculation Theory. The basic idea is that you get people to come round to your way of thinking by giving them a mild dose of the argument you want to defeat.

What happens is people start thinking through the counter arguments and take up a very strong position against the propositions being put forward.

So imagine…Trump is putting forward some extreme ideas but the US government want him to do that because it starts the inoculation process. The public react with counter arguments and then end up taking the tolerant open minded position the government wanted in the first place!

Et voila instead of being told to appreciate diversity you reach that conclusion for yourself. Job done and Mr Trump does his bit for the cause.

Don’t believe me? The UK’s Daily Telegraph headlines this morning with British Backlash Against Trump after previously describing him as Worse than Voldemort.

What do you think?

And it appears that I’m not the only one who smells a rat (no hairstyle pun intended). Some people think that Donald Trump is actually a Democrat Agent intent on destroying the Republicans from within.

The Perils Of Brand Invisibility

I think I have discovered a new Marketing phenomenon. As all great discoveries seem to happen it came about purely by chance.

When my father passed away I inherited his Toyota Avensis.  It looks just like the one pictured here. They say every cloud has a Silver Avensis don’t they!

I have been using the ‘Les Mobile’ as it is affectionately known for a while,  frequently driving along the A52 in Nottingham to get to the train station and I have noticed a very consistent thing. I seem to be regarded as invisible to other road users!

Our other car is a 2 litre VW tdi and I often drive the same route in that too but other drivers behave completely differently when I’m driving that. Typical behaviours when I’m in the Toyota include, seriously close tailgating, undertaking and cutting up braking distance and verbal abuse such as ‘out of the way old man!’ combined with the regulation gesticulations.

So as a student of Marketing Management I thought ‘what’s going on here?’ and it seems to me that it is a manifestation of the very deep motivations and values that car brands tap into. As Volvo allude to in their recent advert,  cars are symbols or ciphers of ourselves, they signify who we are and what we stand for.

Cars  proclaim to universe our sense of self esteem and our relative status in the social traffic jam. Drive an old Toyota and you are instantly stereotyped. As Bob Cialdini says  – click – whirr! Avensis – click – Mr middle aged, grey anonymous nobody who is in my way! – whirr.

I wonder if there are stats that correlate Brand Invisibility to car accidents and anti-social car driving behaviour? Maybe the military should re-think their investment in cloaking technologies and simply kit out the army with a silver Toyota Avensis, just think of the money they’ll save!

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Christmas Sentiment

Christmas is a time full of signs and symbolism. The same goes for any profession and Marketing management is no exception.

Marketing buzzwords are a sign. A sign with many meanings. They can signify ‘I’m in the know’, they can signify ‘the deliberate exclusion of the unknowing’, they can signify ‘the fudging of plain English’.

I picked up this example in a business article from The Independent about Thornton’s the chocolate retailer. Referring to recent poor sales the company said one cause was “continued weakness in customer sentiment”. What on earth is the meaning of that! The sentiment refers to something so ‘that something’ must be poor not the actual sentiment.

Interestingly for me it also seems to imply that the ‘sentiment’ is something that is being done ‘to’ the business. Something outside of their control. Poor sentiment is portrayed in the same way as poor weather. Its come our way and we’ll be through it soon. This is a dangerous mind set that focuses attention on PR and wordsmithery rather than the real issues that must be facing the business.

Sentiment is marketing communications latest buzzword. It is next in line to become reified by marketing acolytes.

Sure sentiment matters and tools like Radian6 are helpful and powerful, and it also risks becoming a fudge. A gloss over what matters, an arcane marketing short hand that skates over commercial issues that need to be communicated plainly.

I can hear it now ‘we have a sentiment crisis’, ‘101 ways to make your brand sentimental’, ‘sentiment sentience – how knowing what your customers feel about your products matters.’

All of sudden marketing has a brand new issue, something marketers can get concerned with, and something that diverts thought and energy from the fundamental issues. So in the grand tradition of Semiology perhaps being clear on the distinction between the sign and what it represents is a vital marketing capability. In this way we can ensure that Marketing is not dismissed as a fudge-box.

Camera Brands To Die For-A Photo Shoot With A Difference

Think again when someone says they would like to take a shot of you with their new camera this Christmas.

In the quest to grab our attention and make sure that brands stand out from the crowd creative people certainly come up with some amazing ideas. I reckon that has to be the case in the following YouTube.

For me its either one of those full of deep meaning metaphorical stretches that supposedly wheedles away at your sub conscious and modifies your buying behaviour or it is simply so self-referential as to be meaningless for most of us. What do you think?

Would you die for a digital SLR brand?

Thanks to Adrian Wood Photography for sharing this.

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Customer Complaints At The Speed Of Light

Word of Mouth no longer travels at the speed of sound. It travels at the speed of light. There is a lot of talk across the internet and in marketing meetings that focuses on the question ‘what can social media do for me’? Track any marketing blog and it will often contain lists of helpful suggestions about how your organisation can leverage (did I really use that word!) social media to benefit your business.

Country music singer Dave Carroll reminds marketing executives used to focusing on pushing what they want to say onto customers that another key social media question they need to ask themselves is ‘what can social do to me’?

There is often more than one version of the truth when it comes to a Brand. There is often a difference between what what the brand owner would like you believe about the brand and the reality of the experience. There is often a story of bad service experience waiting to be spread around the globe at the speed of light. It seems that bad service experiences aren’t called ‘moments of truth’ for nothing.

As Tim Weber BBC Business Correspondent points out:

“These days one witty Tweet, one clever blog post, one devastating video – forwarded to hundreds of friends at the click of a mouse – can snowball and kill a product or damage a company’s share price.”

Businesses need to be mindful that a powerful combination of sociological and technological change is occurring. The norm for customers and consumers is going to be complete and comfortable familiarity with social media, high quality video production tools, use of sophisticated instant communications applications and an increasing sense of realisation that they can and will have an effect. The fundamental difference is that these are personal skills, not team, departmental or organisational skills, not skills that only geeks and the I.T. department have. These are skills that customers of future are learning at elementary school, skills that will be learned long before they attend a high school or graduate business studies course.

Taylor Guitars certainly ‘get it’.

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Event Management: The Essentials

One of the most high profile aspects of an enterprise’s customer facing activity is Event Management. I remember going to the Paris Air Show once and being amazed at the scale and size of the exhibition stands, some of which included a full sized Patriot Missile system! Get an event right and it makes a huge contribution to the reputation of the organisation and it serves as a platform for making and reinforcing relationships. Given the importance of Events it is often surprising how the responsibility for their management is delegated (dropped on?) members of staff who have limited experience and expertise in really leveraging the event opportunity.

Philip Crowther and John Perry colleagues of mine at Sheffield Business School have developed a short two day course on Event Management Essentials. Whilst events, as we all know, might be a fun day away from the office, they have a serious and important role in the overall competitive strategy of any enterprise. They cost alot of time and money and a return on that investment is required. For some that might mean quick win sales, for many the returns are likely to be less to instantaneous and perhaps more qualitative. Either way understanding more about how to make your event more effective has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

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