IPA Excellence Diploma: Distinction essay - By Bryony Fox - Act natural

An economy has been shown to work like an organic system. Isn't it time brands embraced this new thinking and looked to nature for inspiration on how to communicate, Bryony Fox asks.

Throughout history, man has looked to nature for inspiration and understanding: Art Nouveau, the Wright brothers, Velcro (based on burrs caught in dogs fur), Egyptian gods and the Eiffel Tower (based on the load-bearing structure inside the thigh bone) - all were inspired by nature.

By looking at familiar problems from a new angle we can come up with new insights and ways forward. In recent years, there has been a revolution in economics publicised by the likes of Paul Ormerod and Alan Kirman in The Death of Economics, Butterfly Economics and Ants, Rationality and Recruitment.

The traditional mechanistic way of looking at economics, input X and get Y out, just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. There always needs to be some "get out" clause about how people really behave, which makes rather a mockery of the whole thing.

These pioneers in economics show that the apparent unpredictability and seeming irrationality of economics makes perfect sense once you understand that the economy works like an organic system.

As this new surge of thinking spreads across the sciences and the arts, it is time that we in our world of communications and branding caught up. With its limited resources and constant struggle for survival against the competition, communications isn't as far away from biology as it might seem.

Many concepts can be carried over to inspire how we work. In this essay, we will explore three examples: 1) Applying analogies from genes to help us understand how brands work and how to build successful communications, 2) Drawing creative processes from how nature creates, and 3) Looking to termites to inspire a vision for the future of channels and how to survive in a world of increasing media fragmentation.

I will only begin to touch the surface of what this vast and interesting new field of exploration can offer us.

PART 1: MEMES - A WAY OF LOOKING AT BRANDS

I believe a brand is ...

The terms brand and branding are used in such a carefree way they have lost some of their usefulness. This matters because without a clear definition of brands you cannot think clearly about them.

John Grant defines brands as "free-standing ideas that take hold and spread", "a popular idea or set of ideas that people live by" and announces that "brands are the new traditions"1.

This is an inspirational way of thinking about how we might achieve success for our brands, but it is a lousy definition of a brand. It would mean that "honour" is a brand, "reality TV" is a brand and "being nice to your neighbour" is a brand.

No-one owns "being nice to your neighbour" so we have no basis to do business on. The trouble with this definition is that it is missing the important part about trade and provenance. If we do not have that we are just talking about creating and spreading ideas, which is part of what brands are about, but not all of it.

Paul Feldwick's clear thinking is a more useful definition: "A brand is simply a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer", "A brand is fundamentally a promise, rendered credible by law and by experience".2

I believe the role of brands from a consumer's point of view is to simplify their decision-making process and to enhance their experience of the product or service or whatever it is. From the brand owner's point of view, branding is about manipulating people's perceptions of the brand so that their behaviour towards it changes to the brand owner's advantage.

Whatever definition you prefer, and whatever brands do for the different interested parties, one thing everyone seems agreed on is that brands are something that only exist in people's heads.

As brands only exist in people's heads, we need to find a way of getting into people's heads and staying there. It is important not just to be in our target audience's mind, but in as many minds as possible. In the words of Jeremy Bullmore: "Fame is the fundamental value that strong brands own."3

In his controversial book The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins4 coined the term "meme" for ideas that get into people's minds and spread like viruses: "I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate which leaves the old gene panting far behind ...

"The new soup is the soup of human culture ... Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catchphrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process, which in the broad sense, can be called imitation.

"If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain ...

"When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitise my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitise the genetic mechanism of a host cell ...

"The meme for, say, 'belief in life after death' is actually realised physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over."5

Not every idea is a meme - only those that spread by imitation. Memes vary slightly in the copying and some get more frequently copied than others; in this way they undergo evolution. All of human culture is made up of memes competing for survival.6 Memes are how culture evolves, ie. through the spreading and mutation of ideas.

Think, for example, of all the stories people tell. Stories are copied from person to person and stored in memories, books and computers. The stories vary as they are retold and some variations spread more easily than others. There is selection for them to be retold and stored. Only a very few ever reach the status of urban myths and these few spread not because they are true but because they have the qualities it takes to win in this competition.

Memes are a cornerstone of the philosopher Daniel Dennett's theory of mind. As he puts it: "Thousands of memes, mostly borne by language, but also by wordless 'images' and other data structures, take up residence in an individual brain, shaping its tendencies and thereby turning it into a mind."7

The psychologist Dr Susan Blackmore even goes as far as to argue that we humans are "meme machines" - evolved from two replicators, genes and memes. She suggests that this explains why humans are so different from other species and why humans alone have language and elaborate cultures.8

What do brands and memes have to do with each other and what does this mean for agencies?

I believe that brands are meme-plexes - conglomerations of mutually beneficial memes that go round together because they can survive better together than alone. They are little machines for replicating themselves. A successful brand is one that spreads and survives.

Branding is about propagating memes that are beneficial to the brand and that attach onto its memeplex, so that the brand flourishes in people's heads and on the asset sheet.

We seldom pass on a meme unaltered. It is these mutations and the crossing and conglomeration of memes in the mind that create new ideas, or new memes. It is by this process that brands grow and take on a form far bigger than the brand owner themselves could ever create.

BRAND COMMUNICATIONS BY MEANS OF SPREADING MEMES

"Memes now spread around the world at the speed of light, and replicate at rates that make even fruit flies and yeast cells look glacial in comparison. They leap promiscuously from vehicle to vehicle, and from medium to medium, and are proving to be virtually unquarantinable."9

Never before in the history of the human race has there been such a well developed communication network between people across the planet. Never before have so many messages been transmitted each second. We are living in a world where we are competing not just against our competitors but against all the ideas and messages out there.

We can use research on memes to better understand how the human mind works and what makes ideas form, grow, change, spread and die. What will it take to be a successful brand in future? The question we should be asking is what makes for a successful meme? The purpose of our communications is to 1) mutate the brand memeplex in people's heads to the brand owner's advantage and 2) to get passed on.

There are seven key learnings from memes which we can apply to brands:

1. You have less control but more power than you think

- because memes spread primarily through others.

Paid-for communications is only a tiny part of our involvement with brands. Many factors - accidental and planned - shape the meaning of the brand and our behaviour towards it. This is backed up by recent studies by Kamins which suggest that word-of- mouth accounts for more than 80 per cent of the influence on an individual's actual purchasing behaviour, with only 10 per cent due to the direct impact of marketing activity on the individual.10

An example of this happening can be seen in Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty". Dove's alternative depictions of beauty touched a nerve - both women and journalists responded well. The campaign has been particularly efficient in generating awareness and PR.

Most of the PR was positive, but some of it was negative, questioning whether the Dove women really were beautiful, or whether they were really real women. Or whether the debate should be about women's bodies at all, asking why it couldn't be about their brains instead. This sort of coverage Dove couldn't control, nor did it need to. The important thing was that Dove had started a debate and was getting talked about.

The resultant PR amplified the message twofold, making the advertising more efficient, as well as making the brand feel bigger and more famous than it had done before. It was this that enabled Dove to exceed its objective to grow value share from 7.4 per cent to 12 per cent in 2004, achieving 13.5 per cent across its six biggest European markets.11

2. It's important to be liked

Blackmore explains how reciprocal altruism is a big factor in making memes successful:

"People imitate people they like more than people they do not. Imitating people you like should be a good way to become liked yourself and being liked should ensure that people are nicer to you."12

Memes are passed on by imitation. If a brand wants its associated memes to be passed on it has to be liked. It's been proven that liking a brand means that we notice it more, are more likely to use it to make a quick purchase decision, and are more likely to become advocates for it.13

This is supported by Biel's macro study of pre-testing measures which concluded, unexpectedly, that "scaled response about likeability of a commercial was the best predictor of sales effectiveness (more so than measures such as day-after recall, content recall, persuasion, communication, overall commercial reactions and other diagnostics commonly found in many pre-testing systems)".14

As advertisers and agencies, we need to ensure that our measurement tools take proper account of this so that it's given the priority it needs to make for more successful brand communications.

3. There is no reason to believe

Memory and decision-making rely on emotions. Religion and love are two types of very successful but irrational meme. Untrue and irrational memes can be very successful if they are routed in a rich emotional territory. I believe it's not about "reasons to believe" but "feelings to believe".

People believe because they feel something, not because of rational argument. Belief is an act of faith. As GK Chesterton puts it: "You'll sooner catch Leviathan on a hook than convert a soul with a syllogism."

Another example is Sarah's confession in the end of Graham Greene's The End of The Affair: "I caught belief like an illness." The rational arguments that the atheist Richard puts forward to convince her of the non-existence of God only serve to have the opposite effect, i.e. to cement her belief in God.

Of course, some purely rational advertising does work, but when it comes to building brands (and brands as the biggest thing on the asset sheet is what we should be concentrating on), emotional engagement is essential. "Reasons why" mainly serve the purpose of helping people explain why they bought/did something after the act.

This is backed up by Damasio and Franzen: "Emotions constitute an integrated element of the seemingly most rational decision-making. Wherever thinking contradicts with emotions, emotions win."15

The most successful brands will be the ones that forge the most powerful emotional connections with people.

4. Great music, great art and great psychological appeal get you selected

"Consider the idea of God. We do not know how it arose in the meme pool. Probably it originated many times by independent 'mutation'. In any case, it is very old indeed. How does it replicate itself? By the spoken and written word, aided by great music and great art. Why does it have such high survival value? Remember that 'survival value' here does not mean value for a gene in a gene pool, but value for a meme in a meme pool.

"The question really means: What is it about the idea of a god which gives it its stability and penetration in the cultural environment? The survival value of the god meme in the meme pool results from its great psychological appeal. It provides a superficially plausible answer to deep troubling questions about existence ... God exists, if only in the form of a meme with high survival value, or infective power, in the environment provided by human culture."16

Great music, great art and great psychological appeal. If it's good enough for God it's good enough for our brand communications.

To be really powerful, branding should work like poetry and change the way we look at things. As Don Paterson explains:

"Poetry is a form of magic, because it tries to change the way we perceive the world. That is to say that it aims to make the texture of our perception malleable.

"It does so by surreptitious and devious means, by seeding and planting things in the memory and imagination of the reader with such force and insidious originality that they cannot be deprogrammed. What you remember changes how you think."

5. Provoke a response

"Memes that provoke no response fare poorly, while those that provoke emotional arguments can induce their carrier to pass them on."17

"Certain memes are particularly easy to say, or almost force their hosts to pass them on. These include bits of juicy scandal, terrifying news, comforting ideas of various sorts, or useful instructions.

"Some of these have their 'spread me' effect for good biological and psychological reasons. Perhaps they tap into needs for sex, social cohesion, excitement, or avoiding danger. Perhaps people pass them on in order to conform, to be better liked, to enjoy the other person's surprise or laughter. Perhaps the information will be genuinely useful to the other person."18

It's not just about being useful or entertaining, brands can tap into any of these psychological needs. As advertisers and agencies, we need to strive for communications with strong psychological appeal. To achieve this there is no substitute for human insight and good judgment.

When faced with a new piece of creative work, the most critical question is no longer "is it on strategy?" but whether it can provoke a response. Without that, the strategy, the branding and the ability of the big idea to work across media are nothing. Is it in some way entertaining, interesting or useful enough to provoke a response and get passed on?

Dove shows how this can done. With its "Real Curves" campaign and subsequent "Campaign for Real Beauty", Dove changed the rules of the beauty game. Not only did it go against its category, but it also went against the grain of the wider culture in which we live. Dove produced work which was both provocative and purposeful. People hadn't seen real curvy women in beauty advertising before. It stopped them in their tracks and got them talking.

6. Ideas that become "my" ideas or "my" opinion are winners

"A piece of information on its own may be passed on if it is relevant to a particular conversation, or useful for some purpose, but it is just as likely to be forgotten.

"On the other hand, people will press their beliefs and opinions on other people for no very good reason at all, and on occasion, fight very hard to convince others about them.

"By acquiring the status of a personal belief, a meme gets a big advantage. Ideas that can get inside a self - that is, become 'my' ideas, or 'my' opinions, are winners."19

Advertisers could do well to follow Dove's lead. Dove has a point of view on beauty and a mission - to make more women feel more beautiful every day by widening today's stereotypical view of beauty and inspiring them to take great care of themselves.

Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" became Oprah Winfrey's opinion on beauty, and elicited a wide range of opinions on beauty, both agreeing with Dove's viewpoint and otherwise on television discussion shows and in the press, helping success.

Honda's "Hate something, change something" campaign for its new, quieter diesel engine is another example of a brand's outlook that can easily be adopted by people as their own.

7. Evolution is essential to survival

Consistency is one of the long-held principles for building successful brands, but memes warn us not to be so consistent that your brand cannot evolve. It needs to evolve to survive.

I believe it is the ability to keep finding solutions that is important; any one solution is temporary.

Be consistent enough that people recognise your brand, but not so consistent that you stop being interesting. As Don Paterson puts it: "Consistency - whether of argument, opinion or 'voice' - is only a virtue in the individual opus. Only sentimentalists and the terminally insecure demand that oeuvres or lives should aspire to it."20

Just as living organisms rely on the capacity to keep changing, to keep adapting to the environment to survive, so brands need to be nimble and have the capacity to evolve.

Dove began in 1957 as a bar of soap. Over the following 40 years, it expanded into other "personal care" categories, and by 2001, soap represented less than half its sales.

Dove could have stayed consistent with it's tried-and-tested "before your eyes" proofs and testimonials, but times had moved on, consumers felt that Dove was old-fashioned, wet and housewifey. Dove had to evolve to survive. What had been a soap needed to become something else. Dove needed to start thinking of itself as a beauty brand. Dove is now recognised as an energetic brand with a strong point of view on beauty.

Dove needs to continue evolving to keep the "Campaign for Real Beauty" fresh, interesting and relevant for consumers.

MEMES AND BRANDS - SUMMARY

A successful brand, like a successful meme, is one that spreads and survives - whatever its other objectives, a brand needs to do this.

There are no all-purpose rules for ensuring a brand's success. Above all, there is no substitute for human insight, creativity and good judgment, but memes can provide us with inspiration:

- Memes are ideas that get into people's minds and spread like viruses.

- All of human culture is made up of memes competing for survival.

- Brands are memeplexes - conglomerations of mutually beneficial memes that go round together because they can survive better together than alone.

- The purpose of our communications is to 1) mutate the brand memeplex in people's heads to the brand owner's advantage and 2) to get passed on to other people.

- We can draw inspiration on how to create successful messages to help our brand by looking at what makes for successful memes. There are seven key learnings from memes which we can apply to both brands and communications:

1. You have less control but more power than you think

2. It is important to be liked

3. There is no reason to believe

4. Great music, great art and great psychological appeal get you selected

5. Provoking a response is a prerequisite for being passed on

6. Ideas that become "my" ideas or "my" opinion are winners

7. Evolution is essential to survival

PART 2: ORGANIC CREATIVE PROCESSES

New forms of brand require new creative processes. So how do we go about coming up with good talking points as memes to help our brands?

Again we can draw inspiration from how nature creates. Nature has no designer but creates by trial and error.

I believe in trial and error and hunches. I believe in learning by doing, abandoning what doesn't work and expanding what does.

The insight for Dove's "Campaign for Real Beauty" came from a hunch. There was a sense among the agency and client team (all women) that the last thing the world needed was another beauty brand. Beauty brands, they admitted to each other, with their images of physical perfection, just made them feel inferior.

On further exploration, they discovered that their hunches were proven right as the feelings they'd discussed were backed up by research by academics and counsellors working in the area of self-esteem and the damage done by the media culture we live in.

Nike famously has no brand pyramid, no brand architecture, no pre-testing. True to their slogan, they just do what they feel is right.

I believe that playful and creative businesses are messy and redundant. As Wheatley explains in A Simpler Way: "Our fears about redundancy developed from the belief that organisations work best when they mimic machine efficiencies.

"What is efficient for a machine - simple, stepwise operations, maximum outputs from minimum inputs, non-repetitive parts and processes - has little correlation to the way the world explores itself.

"Bacterial colonies successfully locate food by sending out 'random walkers'. Each walker is a cluster of 1,000 bacteria. Exorbitant numbers of these walkers - about 10,000 per colony - go off simultaneously, searching in all directions. Billions of years ago, bacteria discovered the real efficiency of random and redundant behaviours."21

While the Ogilvy team who produced the much-loved campaign on Dove followed the traditional creative process of "planner writes a brief, creative produce great work, client buys work", in actual fact, the process was far from smooth. The team went through months of creative development and research and had nothing to show for it.

Coming up with the creative work was a long and tortuous process, with lots of setbacks and doubt on the way. However, the end result was well worth all the pain. We can kid ourselves with our beautiful processes and timing plans but secretly we all know that it's much more messy than that. I believe we should embrace the real efficacy of random and redundant behaviours in creativity.

As Wheatley puts it: "Fuzzy, messy, continuously exploring systems bent on discovering what works are far more practical and successful than our attempts at efficiency. Such systems are not trying to reduce inputs in order to maximise outputs. They slosh around in the mess, involve many individuals, engaging everyone in finding what works. The system works because it involves many tinkerers focused on figuring out what's possible."

I believe in a creative process that offers not a single-minded proposition but multiple ways in which to inspire the creative work. There is not always "an answer", but sometimes there is. For example, Dell found that consumers were going into shops to buy Dell computers and came out with a Toshiba, unaware that you can only buy Dell computers direct. The answer was plain as day - tell people that you can only buy Dell computers by phone or online.

However, most often the things we are trying to communicate are tonal things, not discrete pieces of factual information. Mostly we're trying to raise saliency and likeability.

This view is supported by the "Advertising as Publicity" model developed by Ehrenberg which suggests that "advertising is rarely directly persuasive but merely something that draws attention to a brand and thus prevents the brand being forgotten."22

And most often we are dealing with messages that aren't particularly novel and it is the creative bit that is going to get the ad talked about. This is backed up by Earls, citing Jones and Robert Heath to explain that: "The most important factor in determining the success of a piece of advertising is the creative element (what civilians call the interesting bit), and not the fine- tuned strategic message."23

Instead of the "single-minded proposition" that we traditionally pursue, I believe we should be looking for talking points about the brand. And that's where the "multiple ways in" approach comes in. I believe there should be no single-minded proposition on the brief just "multiple ways in". For example, for Dove, ask questions about what it means to beautiful (Can fat be beautiful? Can old be beautiful? Can lop-sided be beautiful? Can bald be beautiful? Can self-confidence be beautiful? Can you see it in someone's face when they are in love?).

It's up to the creatives to pick the thing they feel is most interesting to talk about. Marmite is another example. There was a single-minded proposition on the brief (long since forgotten) but it was the little nugget in part of the description somewhere else on the brief that said "you either love it or hate it" that the creatives picked up on and that led to years of fantastic and effective creative work.

By acknowledging upfront that there are multiple ways in, we free ourselves up to experiment more. Multiple ways in are an example of the real efficiency of random and redundant behaviours in creativity.

ORGANIC CREATIVE PROCESSES - SUMMARY

Nature teaches us the true efficiency of messy and random behaviour in creativity:

- I believe that playful and creative businesses are messy and redundant.

- I believe in trial and error and hunches. I believe in learning by doing, abandoning what doesn't work and expanding what does.

- I believe in a creative process that offers not a single-minded proposition but multiple ways in to inspire the creative work.

PART 3: TERMITES AND THE FUTURE OF MEDIA

Memes rely on interactions, they thrive in the conversations individuals are having with each other. As Ridley points out, "memes need a medium to replicate in. Human society works quite well; the internet works even better."24 Blackmore takes this further: "We were the first meme machines. but we are not the last. Newer meme machines include printing presses and telephones, cameras and computers, web servers and the internet - and they are still evolving."25

What termites and neurones have to do with media

When individuals connect together they become something different. The skills that termites have together do not exist in the individuals. Nor is there any leader termite who directs the building from on high. All go about their business, bumping into each other and responding to what they observe happening around them. Acting locally they accomplish something amazing - they build enormous complex structures which last for centuries.26 It is an achievement that none of them could pull off on their own.

Out of unplanned and messy local activities a mesmerising efficient system of a higher order emerges. The same thing is going on between the interacting neurones in your brain. Billions of interacting neurones work together and something mind-blowing happens - the brain begins to think. I believe this holds the key to the future of media.

Both are examples of emergent behaviour. Adaptive emergence is the term used to describe self-organising systems that learn: systems that are made up of many interacting agents who are individually not very smart, but who collectively come up with intelligent higher-level behaviour.

The world is full of such systems, not only in the way termites work together, or the neuronal connections in our brain, but also in the development of a zygote into a person and in the way our immune systems learn.27 But now for the first time we are learning from the termites and beginning to create emergent systems on the internet.28

Amazon, eBay and Yahoo!'s Social Search are leading the way with their recommendation systems and collaborative filtering. The rise of emergent online systems will create new environments for brands and consumers to interact in, it will change the face of traditional relationships between brands and media and it will pose new challenges for us as advertising agencies.

In his visionary book New Rules for the New Economy, Kelly outlines how bottom-up swarm thinking will transform the way we do business, but what he does not go into is what this means for media owners, brands and advertising. How do brands need to behave to succeed in this self-organising environment? How do we ensure our brands thrive in these new bottom-up systems?

What does this mean for brands, advertising and media?

Ehrenberg shows that an individual's next purchase is largely determined by his/her previous purchases. Earls asks: "What if a large part of an individual's purchasing behaviour is determined by what other individuals do (or are thought to do), both now and in the past?"29

This is the premise that adaptive emergent systems on the internet are built upon. They take this as a starting point to build a whole community on and thereby amplify the truth of this fact. Collaborative filtering, like on the Yahoo! LAUNCH music site, relies on this transferability of taste: it assumes that people who have some interests in common will also share others.

What will happen when our media experiences are largely shaped by bottom-up forces, rather than top-down ones?

Basic bottom-up intelligence, for example, in the form of user participation such as phone-ins, votes and letters has existed for some time and has given the consumer a voice. Most brands today seem to satisfy themselves with this first-level interactivity, if anything.

The difference now is that the intelligence of adaptive systems endows software with a formidable ability to recognise our habits, anticipate our needs and preferences and make personal recommendations.

In the future, I believe these tools of self-organisation will take this one step further to build models of our mental states, "these programs will make the media experiences we've grown accustomed to seem autistic in comparison. They will be mind readers."30 Computers are venturing into the "murky, psychological realm of taste and desire"31, where the voice and behaviour of each consumer influences the voice and behaviour of others.

Imagine when television is fully digitalised and works like a combination of Amazon, eBay and Yahoo! LAUNCH: A massive hard drive of all the films and songs in the world with the programs rated by hundreds of thousands of users.

The TiVo's progeny will look for interesting overlap between your ratings and viewing habits and those of the larger community of television- watchers worldwide. From these self-organising filters, clusters of like-minded TV-watchers will appear. You could have a selection of clusters you regularly tap into: Ibiza clubbers, DIYers, Bedford residents, Smurf fans. These clusters will be the television networks and record labels of the future.

With the rise of emergent software, a new variable has come into being that adds a new dimension to communications alongside the medium and the message. This new dimension is "the rules", or the algorithms that provide the organising structure for information, the filter that is used to present the information to the end user.

What if you could adjust the "rules setting" of a TV site? Johnson speculates on how you could design a system to track both popular and polarising programmes, enabling different views, so you could switch between viewing the site through the "average user" lens one day and from a more diverse point of view the next.

"Adjust the feedback loops, and a new type of community appears on the screen ... one setting gives you an orderly, centrist community strong on shared values, another gives you a multiculturalist's fantasy."32 Different feedback routines can be used to promote different values.

What form will advertising take in this new world?

Communications that resorts to trolling33 and spamming will quickly be filtered out by the community. In a world where users become the broadcasters and choose what they watch, how will advertising get a look in?

Johnson suggests three possible routes advertisers can pursue in this new environment: Firstly, product placement, secondly, making ads so engaging they are indistinguishable from the content and lastly, making advertising smarter by tapping into the same feedback routines and self-organising clusters that the content providers use, so that the best ads will come to the top of the clusters that are most likely to respond well to their message.34

The thought of putting advertising through the content providers' feedback system so that they find their way to their rightful viewer, sounds like a wonderful idea from the consumers point of view, but would leave marketers more than a little nervous as they wait to see whether any of their ads get picked up by his target audience.

To succeed in this system, the ads would need to be as good as the content, just as in the second route. There is no getting away from this.

To succeed in the bottom-up marketplace, we need to create communications that consumers want to engage with because they are interesting to them in some way - either because they are really entertaining, because they are really useful, or because they have some other appeal.

I believe there are three additional routes that advertisers can follow in this new world:

Firstly, we can follow Grant and Heyer's lead35 and switch the relationship between brand and media over, so the brand becomes the media owner.

This can be done either using existing touchpoints between the brand and the consumer (for example, Dove could make more of their vast square-kilometres of packaging to communicate content of interest to consumers that they might pass on - such as beauty tips) or by launching your own media, which might be a self-organising system itself (for example, Dove could launch a collaborative filtering site that brings women of all ages together to help promote self-esteem.

This could encompass its work with eating disorder charities and to encourage mums and daughters to take part in its "BodyTalk" body image programme for schools. It could also seek content from celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, who have shown a personal interest in what Dove is doing and chosen to give it airtime.

To be a true emergent system, it would need to gather sufficient members to create the critical mass to become intelligent, it would need to encourage neighbour interaction between group members, and use pattern recognition and feedback to intelligently suggest television programmes, products and events likely to be of interest to different members.

Finally, Dove will need to accept that its control of this system is indirect and allow users the freedom to focus on what they think is important, as the memes showed us, paradoxically, less control can mean more power).

Secondly, we could extend the idea of controlling "the rules" of the new emergent systems, so that brands own a certain type of filter, a set of feedback routines with certain values. For example, perhaps Tango could build an algorithm to run on any site that brings the subversive and anarchic to the top. The Economist could plug into quality ratings from trusted moderators and create a filter that brings the most informative analysis to the fore.

Thirdly, advertisers could tap into clusters as seeding beds for word of mouth. To avoid being rejected as spammers and filtered out, this would need to be done in a sensitive way.

Microsoft's seeding programme with early adopters and P&G's Tremor programme, where groups of early adopters are given exclusive access to NPD36, are good models to follow, as consumers perceive a real benefit from this type of interaction with the brand.

As word of mouth effects purchase behaviour more than direct advertising37, far from building a personal relationship with individual consumers as Seth Godin advocates38, I believe we need to encourage relationships between people with the brand acting as a facilitator or fodder in their interactions.

Will bottom-up systems change what we want to watch, listen to, ignore and block out?

No. People will continue to be interested in and motivated by the same things, the seven principles of successful memes will still apply - this is the stuff of conversations.

Emergence will change only the setting for our conversations and transactions, the computers will not interfere with what we do with recommendations they bring us: "An emergent software program that tracks associations between websites or audio CDs doesn't listen to music; it follows purchase patterns or listening habits that we supply and lets us deal with the air guitar and the off-key warbling."39

TERMITES AND THE FUTURE OF MEDIA - SUMMARY

Termites and neurones tell us how interactions between individuals create bottom-up swarm-thinking. I believe this will be an important part of channels in the future. I believe that in the future, bottom-up media channels will recognise our habits, anticipate our needs and preferences and make personal recommendations. I believe that communications will need to adapt to this new world, for example, in the following ways:

- Product placement.

- Communications so engaging you can't tell them apart from the content.

- Brands become media owners.

- Build brands to own the filter through which information is viewed, pulling out opinions and content that fit with the brand's values and tone of voice.

- Use the self-organising clusters as seeding beds for word of mouth.

I believe that media owners, brands and advertisers need to understand how to turn local knowledge into higher-lever intelligence. They also need to understand that while media may fragment and become intelligent, the consumer does not change. I believe that what these new emergent systems demonstrate is that brands and advertisers need to move away from the top-down broadcast thinking, where they lecture at consumers, telling them what to think and do. Instead, we need to realise that what matters is the interactions between consumers (and how we get our brand memes to become part of this).

As Sutherland puts it: "We need to realise that, as advertisers, we are no longer initiating the conversation with consumers - we're trying to become part of the conversation they're already having with each other."40

It is these conversations that will enable us to learn from each other to create new ways to make sense of the reams of information available to us, to share our tastes and desires and to build a fluid and nuanced collective wisdom.

CONCLUSION

There is a new wave going through the sciences, the arts and economics, discovering the huge advances that are possible when we take inspiration from living things. I believe it is time the world of communications and branding caught up.

There are many concepts from biology that can be carried over to inspire how we work. In this essay we have explored just three examples.

Firstly, we have applied thinking on memes to help us understand what brands are and how to build successful communications. A successful brand, like a successful meme, is one that spreads and survives (whatever its other objectives, a brand needs to do this).

There are no all-purpose rules for ensuring a brand's success. Above all, there is no substitute for human insight, creativity and good judgment, but memes can provide us with inspiration:

- Memes are ideas that get into people's minds and spread like viruses.

- All of human culture is made up of memes competing for survival.

- Brands are memeplexes - conglomerations of mutually beneficial memes that go round together because they can survive better together than alone.

- The purpose of our communications is (1) to mutate the brand memeplex in people's heads to the brand owner's advantage and (2) to get passed on.

- Our communications are fighting for survival, competing not just against competitors, not just against other brand messages, but against all the other thoughts and ideas out there.

To survive in this competitive environment, we can draw inspiration on how to create successful messages to help our brand, by looking at what makes for successful memes. There are seven key learnings from memes which we can apply to brands and communications:

1. You have less control but more power than you thought

2. It is important to be liked

3. There is no reason to believe

4. Great music, great art and great psychological appeal get you selected

5. Provoke a response

6. Ideas that become "my" ideas or "my" opinion are winners

7. Evolution is essential to survival

Secondly, we have looked to nature to inform our creative processes. Nature teaches us the true efficiency of messy and random behaviour in creativity:

- I believe that playful and creative businesses are messy and redundant.

- I believe in trial and error and hunches. I believe in learning by doing, abandoning what doesn't work and expanding what does.

- I believe in a creative process that offers not a single-minded proposition but multiple ways in to inspire the creative work.

Finally, we have drawn a vision for the future of media based on how termites interact with each other:

- I believe bottom-up, swarm-thinking will be an important part of channels in the future, and that media owners, brands and advertisers all need to understand how to turn this local knowledge into higher-lever intelligence.

- I believe that in the future, bottom-up media channels will recognise our habits, anticipate our needs and our preferences and make personal recommendations.

- I believe that what these new emergent systems demonstrate is that brands and advertisers need to move away from the top-down broadcast thinking, where they will lecture at consumers, telling them what to think and do. Instead, we need to realise that what matters is the interactions between consumers and how we get our brand memes to become part of this.

Whether it's the memes in your brain or the termites in their mound, nature teaches us that it's not about getting people to have a conversation with your brand, it's about your brand being part of the conversation they'll already having with each other.

The battlefield of advertising is littered with the corpses of people saying AIDA or DAGMAR or Persuasion is the way communications works. We need to recognise that we are only on the beginning of the journey to understanding the human mind and how communications work.

What we do know is that it is a messy and fuzzy business. We should embrace this rather than trying to push against it.

What we're continually looking for in the world of communications is new illumination and new ways of thinking. We often turn to television and magazines and the arts for inspiration, but biology is the place where the big innovations and breakthroughs in human understanding are taking place.

Writers such as the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the neuroscientist and philosopher Daniel Dennett, the zoologist Matt Ridley and the evolutionary psychologist Susan Blackmore can provide more inspiration and excitement. This is just the start.

Nature is messy but it works.

Act natural.

REFERENCES
1 Grant, The New Marketing Manifesto.
2 Feldwick, What is Brand Equity Anyway?
3 Bullmore, Posh Spice and Persil.
4 Dawkins, R. (1976), The Selfish Gene.
5 Dawkins, R. (1976), The Selfish Gene.
6 Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine.
7 Dennett, p254, Consciousness Explained.
8 Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine.
9 Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained.
10 Kamins, M et al (1997), Consumer responses to rumours, Journal of
Consumer Psychology, in Earls' Herd Instinct, Atticus Magazine, Vol 10.
11 Dove Euro Effies Paper Pearl 2005 - Beautiful Curvers, Beautiful
Results.
12 Susan Blackmore (1999), The Meme Machine.
13 Wendy Gordon (2006), Out with the New, In with the Old.
14 Alex Biel (1990) Love the ad. Buy the product? in Gordon, Out with
the New, In with the Old.
15 Franzen, G. and Bouwman, M. (2001) The Mental World of Brands. Mind,
Memory and Brand Success. Henley-on-Thames: WARC.
16 Richard Dawkins (1976), The Selfish Gene.
17 Susan Blackmore (1999), The Meme Machine.
18 Susan Blackmore (1999), The Meme Machine.
19 Susan Blackmore (1999), The Meme Machine.
20 Don Paterson, The Book of Shadows.
21 Wheatley, A Simpler Way.
22 Earls, Herd Instinct, Atticus.
23 Earls, Herd Instinct, Atticus.
24 Ridley, M. (2003), Nature via Nuture: Genes, Experiences and What
Makes us Human, London Fourth Estate.
25 Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine.
26 Wheatley, A Simpler Way.
27 Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy; Johnson, Emergence; Ball,
Critical Mass.
28 Johnson, Emergence.
29 Earls, Advertising to the Herd.
30 Johnson, Emergence.
31 Johnson, Interface Culture.
32 Johnson, Emergence.
33 Trolling = the irritating posting of sensationalist, controversial or
stupid messages just to get a reaction.
34 Johnson, Ibid.
35 Grant, The New Marketing Manifesto, Heyer, Keynote Speech at 'Madison
& Vine' Conference.
36 Marsden, The Tipping Point - From Dream to Reality.
37 Kamins et al (1997) in Earls, Advertising to the Herd.
38 Godin, Permission Marketing.
39Johnson, Emergence.
40 Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman, OgilvyOne.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).