IPA Excellence Diploma: DDS award for outstanding body of work - by Alex Dunsdon

Beware the age of conversation. Embrace the age of osmosis

'The big idea' is outmoded, Alex Dunsdon argues. Marketing's future success lies more with developing the associations that consumers can make with brands.


It's said we're entering an Age of Conversation where people have active dialogues with brands.

This desire to "engage more" is symptomatic of the industry's response to consumers not listening.

We're hopeless optimists.

The vast majority of brands simply aren't that important to people.

In an era of time famine where people organise their lives around just-in-time information this piece suggests the most effective brands will be those that demand the least of us.

We need to shift our focus by losing our ideas obsession and helping people retrieve brand memories.


"It is a profoundly erroneous truism ... that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilisation advances by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking about them."1 Alfred North Whitehead.

The Age of Conversation reprised

It is said that we are entering an Age of Conversation because communication has been one-way for too long and no-one is listening anymore.

This is a brave new world which portrays us all as eager participants, laptop in hand, co-collaborating on ads, e-mailing our latest product designs, blogging with brands and welcoming them into "conversations" with our mates on social media.

It's breathlessly hailed as the next big thing. A new way for brands to communicate. The future. A phenomenon so patently upon us that the subhead on "The Age of Conversation 2" book simply wonders: "Why don't they get it?"2

Well, this paper explores whether consumers don't in fact have better things to do than talk to brands. It wonders whether, conversely, the most important role brands play is in helping us not to think and whether, in an era of time famine, some of the most effective brands will be those that demand the least of us.

The problem with exciting new toys

The theory of conversations emanates from the possibilities opened up by the internet, and in particular Web 2.0. When such technologies emerge, the tendency is always to explode the possibilities into the next big thing, often killing or destroying what's gone before. But as Russell Davies notes, advocates get "carried away with rhetoric and enthusiasm, (forgetting) that the likely scenario will be that everything will be a blurry munge like it was before, with this new element added in".3

Beware the source

Moreover, we should perhaps retain a healthy dose of scepticism over the source of these "brave new world" proclamations as they tend to mostly be comms planners in some guise. These people are very much immersed in the technology. They blog. A lot. Far more than Joe Public does, and the "thirst for newness" in their DNA engenders an insatiable excitement which is seemingly in excess of that felt by the vast majority of people. Indeed, it's perhaps revealing that the vast majority of blogs are based on two subjects that are of little interest to the average consumer: marketing and technology.4

The point here is to question whether we're extrapolating genuine long-term trends or simply responding to the new. An extreme view would have it that the "planning blogosphere" creates a kind of insular world where such technology-based hypotheses become both self-confirming and self-perpetuating.5

We need a sense of perspective

There's no certainty that conversations with brands will become a mass activity. Technology writer Nicholas Carr is one such sceptic. He believes that "there's a certain faddish quality to what's going on".6

The impression created is that everyone's at it, but Forrester's latest report on social media users tells a slightly different story. It shows that only 17 per cent of people in the UK watch user-generated content and 10 per cent of people in the UK read blogs.7

Moreover there's evidence that the "excitement with the new" is reaching a peak. The latest "blogosphere" statistics tell an interesting story. They show that overall growth, rate-of-posts-per-day, and number of active blogs are all stalling.8

To compound this, the number of blogs we actually read has been shown to be "statistically insignificant", with a median readership of one.10

The danger is that the industry lives in a "Soho bubble" where we over-project the "new" and "novel" into the next big thing. It's part of a wider trend to throw all our eggs into one big digital basket when perhaps we should take a more holistic view and consider the internet as simply an additional touch point to the myriad already out there.

Do people want to talk to brands?

Even assuming a widespread eagerness for interaction, it seems odd that people would choose to spend their time talking with brands rather than their family, friend, favourite band or football team. Malcolm Gladwell has identified that we are only capable of maintaining 150 relationships in our lives at any one time11 - are brands really going to become one of them?

Having said all that, it would be foolish not to accept that there are brands - such as the Nikes, Apples and Amazons of the world - that are interesting to people. The issue is the inevitability with which the behaviour of these loved brands is projected as the future model for all brands.12

This piece takes a more pragmatic view.

Conversations will be the exception rather than the rule

There are billions of brands out there and it seems perverse to assume that people care enough to have a dialogue with the vast majority of them. Do people really want an active relationship with Sure deodorant, MFI or Always sanitary towels?

In practice, it's simply not conceivable (nor right) for most brands to have the kind of "trusted friend" relationship that gives you a permission to have conversations.

Recognising the brands that can have conversations

It's important for each brand to work out their relationship with consumers. This piece believes that the brands capable of having conversations will fall into the following broad categories:

1. Brands that share a passion for an interest you have

Bands, football teams, news providers and photography are examples (Radiohead, Chelsea FC, BBC and Nikon)

2. Brands whose essence is fundamentally related to a cause you believe in (Innocent, Cafedirect and Greenpeace)

3. Brands that have an extreme point of view on life and make you feel like part of an exclusive "club" (Death Cigarettes, Vice magazine)

This paper believes that advising brands to embark on a platform of "conversations" when they don't have such pre-existing relationships is, quite simply, bad advice. Indeed, at its most extreme, it can be viewed as a self-fulfilling conceit designed to make our lives more interesting.

So, if not conversations, where next?

In truth, the Age of Conversation is symptomatic of any number of "engagement" theories that typify our industry's response to consumers not listening.13

They all have a fundamental assumption at their heart - that people want to actively engage with what brands have to say.

We're hopeless optimists.

We expect people to fit around us. Instead we should fit around people.


If there's one thing to keep front of mind throughout this paper it is this: we need to get a sense of perspective on the role that brands play in people's everyday lives.

Brands simply aren't all that

An illustration of how important they are is provided by Russell Davies' neat, if rudimentary, metaphor (using dolls lying around the kitchen).

His video14 makes clear that, without perspective, we're in danger of overstating the scale of brands and becoming disconnected with consumer reality.

Consumers don't want to spend time thinking about brands

We welcome brands precisely because we don't have to think about them.

This is entirely consistent with our make-up because, as a species, we are programmed not to think. This is summed up perfectly by the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead: "Civilisation advances by extending the number of important operations we can perform without thinking about them."15

Indeed, it's estimated at least 95 per cent of human activity is performed without thinking16 - breathing, moving your hands and brushing your teeth are just a few examples which highlight that to be human is to be unconscious.

Helping us to not think is the raison d'etre of brands. They help us navigate our complicated lives by acting as "heuristics" - rules of thumb for quick decision making when choosing products. Indeed, in a world where psychologists have demonstrated the paralysing effect of too much choice17, and studies confirm the extent to which we're suffering from time famine18, the ability of brands to make choice habitual and automatic has never been more important.

But we expect people to think about our brands

We bombard them when they don't want to be bombarded19.

And expect them to spend their time engaging with us. But we're not that important. This piece of graffiti20 (overleaf) acts as a sobering reminder.

This has been exacerbated further by information ubiquity

We live in a world where - no matter where we are - we're only a simple text, click or phone call away from finding out anything we want. In a very real sense, it's a just-in-time information culture21 where the need to learn and retain information is replaced by an expectation that all the information we need is constantly accessible to us.

Accordingly we're far choosier about the things we do take in. This extract from Nicholas Carr in "Is Google making us stupid" sums it up: "My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."22

Indeed it's a world where we're now relying on brands to make brand decisions for us, as seen with the Moneysupermarket.coms of this world.23

All this means that it's simply not a realistic, nor sustainable, scenario to expect people to spend time thinking about brands. We need a new way to communicate.

Enter the "Age of Osmosis".


"Consciousness is the exception, not the rule."24 Roy Lachman.

"Our biggest mistake as brand managers is believing that ... customers care a lot about our brand."25 Patrick Barwise.

The Age of Osmosis

Osmosis is defined as the "gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation or absorption".26

In biology we learn that it's possible to speed up the process of osmosis. That's what this piece is all about.

It takes its start point from Heath's Low Attention Processing theory by embracing our capacity for passive learning27 and proposes a model where clients and agencies will shift their mindset from "please remember" to "help retrieve".

This means demanding less of people by making brand memories easier to absorb and, more than that, helping people retrieve them.

The Five Commandments in the Age of Osmosis

- We need an antidote to brands' increasingly desperate attempts to engage us.

- We need to let go of the idea that people spend time thinking about brands and squarely assume they don't.

- We need a much simpler communications model that fits around people's lives.

- We need a model that works for the majority of brands people are indifferent towards, not just the minority that people adore.

- We need to seek lessons from the past and, at times, be unapologetically backward-looking.

i. Thinking holistically

Our system of advertising is geared around transmitting messages to people. We then make these messages "engaging" to people through our ideas.

At its heart is an assumption of conscious engagement (that people will put something in to get something out). Of course such active cognition is ideal but, as we've seen, increasingly expects too much.

Fitting round people's lives: a more iterative, less intrusive approach

Current thinking is almost invariably based on the shiny new power of the internet. But there's a myriad of touchpoints out there that we haven't even come close to using effectively yet. This piece thinks holistically about utilising the morass of channels available, without intruding on people's lives.

Media fragmentation continues apace and technology is rapidly turning everything into media.

We encounter it everywhere we go - we carry it on our iPods and mobile phones, and see it on buses, taxis, the underground and even pub toilets.30

The upshot is that a long-tail media landscape will develop.31 A few media will still reach a mass of people but we will need to be better at properly utilising the "fragments" - the morass of touch points along the consumer journey.

Communicating in this world

The utter ubiquity of screens in Minority Report will therefore likely prove prophetic; however, it seems insane to assume that people will accept the feeling of bombardment epitomised by the gaggle of brands incessantly talking at Tom Cruise.33

Instead, it will be more helpful to think of media as a set of signs that fit round people's lives.

In this world, the best brands will help people retrieve the right memories at the right time. In research circles, the momentum is behind recognition-based (over recall-based) methods. Applying this principle to comms is what this piece is about. We need to give people the right triggers to retrieve memories rather than expect them to "just remember".

ii. Brands as 'clusters of associations'

We need to make it easy to trigger brand memories. This piece believes brands should organise themselves as "clusters of associations". In essence, this means providing a raft of shortcuts which both:

i. make it easier for people to encode brand memories; and

ii. make it easier to retrieve those memories (by "triggering" these at point of decision making).

Those that do this effectively will have a greater chance of being remembered where it matters most - the point of decision making.

We need to assume society is illiterate

Of course, utilising associations is not a revolutionary thought. Indeed they are the very basis on which many successful brands from the past have been built.34

But this piece believes that they have more relevance than ever.

At the turn of the century, brands were forced to communicate associations to societies that were largely illiterate.35 They relied on simple, visual shortcuts in order to communicate to people.

In a society of time famine where we're bombarded by 3.125 messages a minute36, would it not be better to borrow from these simpler communication techniques from more illiterate societies?

How associations will work in the

Age of Osmosis

Derren Brown provides a good analogy. In a past series, he got two admen to write an ad for a taxidermy firm which - unsurprisingly - turned out to be the same as the one in his pre-sealed envelope. Brown claimed to do this by "seeding" a series of associations that were absorbed on the men's journey to the briefing without their noticing. These would have lied dormant unless they were unlocked by a series of "retrieval cues" (or triggers) given by Brown.37

The brand to emulate: Coke

For illustrative purposes, Coke provides the clearest demonstration of how associations should be deployed in the Age of Osmosis.

But associations are accidental

Of course many brands already use associations well. But crucially, in our process of creating advertising, they are little more than an afterthought. Sometimes creatives will develop strong associations, but very often they won't.

The point is that they are adhoc, accidental and subsumed under the primacy of the idea.

We need to put them at the heart of the process.

iii. Helping encode brand memories: losing our ideas obsession

Advertising people are obsessed with the idea of the idea.

Our whole system of advertising is geared towards their primacy - it's how we judge, evaluate and sell work. Indeed, ideas are considered so sacrosanct that it's almost heresy to question the mantra that ideas are king. John Grant is one such ideas advocate; he puts them at the centre of the brand universe by actually defining brands as clusters of ideas.38

However, this piece believes that our ideas often expect too much of consumers and aren't in fact the key thing they respond to in communications. It contends that we reframe ideas as vehicles to communicate "brand associations".

This is not about losing ideas completely but ensuring that associations are put to the top of the creative agenda.

Ultimately, as we see later, it will necessitate fundamental changes to the creative process.

Associations are more important than ideas

Grant's idea-centric theory encounters few dissenting voices as we're all convinced it's ideas that make a brand's message interesting enough for people to engage with.

However, Paul Feldwick recently questioned the very basis of our ideas - the "message model". He believes that relying on message transmission is not the important part in communications and instead ... "What people (experience and respond to is) a wealth of material, visuals, music, dialogue, timing, colour, entertainment, emotions. We've got used to somehow sidelining all this as if any ad could somehow be summed up in a couple of words."39

The danger is that most of our thinking is going into the wrong bit. Instead of fixating on making messages engaging through ideas, we need to get this "wealth of material" to the top of the agenda.

Examples of ads that do this successfully (possibly without realising)

Although it's impossible to reliably pick apart the elements that make ads work (otherwise we'd have answered Lord Leverhulme's apocryphal quote years ago) this piece argues that many brands derive their strength from the associations they create rather than the ideas they transmit.

The power of associations

Where ideas often rely on conscious evaluation (epitomised by the long-build-up-to-reveal technique), associations demand little of consumers. They're both simple to encode and aid hardwiring.

i. They're easy to encode

This is explained better than I could by brain scientist Dr John Medina:

A brief exercise also helps to demonstrate their usefulness:-

1. Spend 10 seconds trying to remember these letters (no cheating ... don't look ahead):


Most people can't do this. It's too complicated to take in.

2. Now spend 10 seconds trying to remember these:


Most people can do this. It's because I've given you a pattern to encode it easier.

This is an advantage associations have in an era of time famine. They enable quick assessments of the brand message rather than expecting the consumer to process information and evaluate it.41

ii. They aid hardwiring over time

An unfortunate by-product of the industry's ideas obsession is that we're always looking to the next one. We get bored quickly. However, it's difficult not to agree with Young & Rubicam's executive creative director, Adrian Holmes, when he says that "we jettison campaigns at the very moment the public begin to get used to them".42 The importance of sticking with memorable associations is backed up in psychology. The "exposure effect" is a well known, but little heeded phenomenon where a number of studies have demonstrated how people express undue liking for things merely because they are familiar with them.43

Associations - almost by definition - require nurturing over long periods. Indeed, most experts estimate that you need three to five years to build it to where the people can mentally retrieve the memory and connect it to your brand.44

A quick note on that Gorilla

This could have been another great association for Cadbury but it got rid of it. Were consumers bored, or is it truer to say that the agency was bored? Was "trucks" really better? If Cadbury's really is a production company of happiness45, it seems crazy to jettison the very thing which made the whole nation smile. Perhaps Drench will decide consumers are bored and jettison "Brains" for its next ad?

iv. Retrieving brand memories: shifting from 'please remember' to 'help retrieve'

"The palest ink is better than the sharpest memory." (Chinese proverb)46

Associations will mean our comms are easier to encode. However, crucially, in a just-in time-information society they also provide shortcuts to "trigger" at the point of decision making. The importance of this shouldn't be underestimated. To use a retail example, it's an oft-quoted fact that "in-store" is where people make 70 per cent of their purchase decisions.47

The importance of triggers for memory

Daniel Schacter has shown that all memories depend on the right "triggers". He gives the example of someone being asked to remember a game of football. Asking them to recall "that match they played on 7 December 1982" versus "that match when that winger broke his leg"48 makes a massive difference to their ability to draw on the right memory. Indeed, the importance of the right trigger has been shown beyond advertising. New software which mutates holistic faces - rather than "piecing" them together - has proved twice as effective at triggering memory of criminals.49

Brands will use triggers better

The purchase decisions consumers make are dependent on the triggers brands provide. This makes sense as part of engram theory50, but desk research helps suggest the extent to which this is important. Respondents were asked the "first things that came to mind" when provided with different images associated with the brand. Each evoked very different memories, for instance on Cadbury's the "top two" evoked by "glass and a half" (dairy, quality) evoked a quite different set of memories than the Gorilla (funny, drums) and the colour purple (indulgence, smooth).51

Multiple associations. Multiple triggers

This piece believes brands should provide multiple triggers for consumers - the more the better. This is right for the time, as any concept of brands having a USP has faded with the loyal monolithic consumer. Instead, our repertoire behaviour reflects the fact that, in a very real sense, we are different people with different moods at different times.52 The ultimate aim for brands is a rich world of associations to hit different people, in different mindsets at different times.

A shift in thinking

Traditionally we've dismissed the "back-end" of the comms process as somehow slightly dirty. In the Age of Osmosis, we need to put triggers to the front of the process - working out how we can help people retrieve memories will be at core of our thinking.

v. Changing the way we work

The four key steps

Step 1: Identify territory

Brands will pick territories to translate into associations. They'll do this using the "Mallet's Mallet"53 principle of word association.

Benefits, propositions and messages overcomplicate the process. Instead we will simply pick the most relevant words that best represent the brand in people's heads.

Brand tags are one tool we could use to get the truest instinctive reaction from consumers.

Brands can create as many associations as they can realistically support. The ultimate aim, over time, is to create a rich brand world in people's heads.

Step 2: Create association

Associations are shortcuts that express brand territories. Examples include one of - or a mixture of - icons, music, song, character, a "look", voiceover, celebrity, colour or shape. Celebrities are a very relevant example - it's no coincidence that their use in advertising has grown over the years as their use both delivers powerful shortcuts to brand values and provide multiple triggers (ie. each time you open Heat they should help trigger the brand in your memory).

We need to put "association creation" at the heart of the process as, at present, it's utterly at the behest of the "idea".

Challenging the primacy of the idea is no small tweak; instead it's fundamental to how all creatives think. We need a new structure.

New roles: Identity Creators + Creative Realisors

The creative task will effectively be split into these two parts - the "Identity Creators" develop a set of associations for the "Realisors" to bring to life at a later stage.

A typical "Identity Creation" team will consist of a comms planner, creative and graphic designer. They will develop associations with the triggering process "front of mind", as this will influence their choices to a large extent. The comms planner's knowledge of media opportunities and insight on the customer journey will prove invaluable in this respect.

An aside on semiotics: there may be an increased role for semioticians in this world; indeed, some agencies may choose to bring them into this team. However, they're not considered a fundamental part of this process, as this paper believes there's too much complexity and intellectual rigour required for a widespread adoption of this discipline. This is reflected in a paper by one of its leading exponents, Ginny Valentine. In identifying the above obstacles - among others - she stresses that there's no credible way for the discipline to be dumbed down.54

Creative realisors

These creatives will be more like "ad producers" than "ideas machines" with the emphasis firmly on assimilation skills.

They'll resemble a mix of creatives, directors, art buyers and cool hunters. They'll be production-savvy (like the team referenced in the box, above), and far more executional in their thinking. Their role will be the apotheosis of the it's-not-what-you-say-it's-how-you-say-it phenomenon that's already evident in the YouTube generation's increasing reliance on execution to salvage mediocre ideas.

The zenith will come when our awards system puts a premium on realisation over ideas. Basically, the more inventive they are at putting associations together, the better.


The fear is that putting "associations first" would be a creative mire as it restricts creative freedom and relies heavily on the much maligned concept of consistency. John Grant provides a memorable attack - claiming "only liars need to be consistent".55

It's really not that desperate ...

Associations liberate creativity

First, Y&R's Adrian Holmes - as part of his thinking "inside the box" theory - believes that providing parameters "has an extraordinarily liberating effect on the way people think". He uses a neat analogy of a tennis court to show how important these are to feed off.56

Moreover, we can throw off the straitjacket of linear comprehension

"Somehow 30 seconds of entertaining nonsense leads to a situation where people pay 35 per cent more for (PG Tips) ... but we're not very comfortable with this."57 Paul Feldwick.

An exciting consequence of losing reliance on "message transmission" is freedom from logical linear narratives and the ensuing dependence on "being understood" in measurement (comprehension is a staple of pre-testing, for instance).58 This creative freedom will manifest itself in two ways:

i. The freedom to create lateral associations

The only criterion is that they communicate the territory required. They do not have to be logical - would associating a gorilla with chocolate brand get through any logical linear research, for instance? In the Age of Osmosis, almost anything can become an association.

ii. The freedom from linear narratives when assimilating associations

This is all about committing emotional shortcuts to memory. The fact that we make decisions emotionally is well established and is eloquently described by Erik Du Plessis and Giep Franzen, among others.59 Comprehension becomes superfluous to creating emotional "markers" in people's minds via the associations we create. Classic cigarette advertising provides a good example (see below).

As does Flat Eric. Bartle Bogle Hegarty chose a yellow puppet to make jeans cool. Then they made him sit in a car and head bang. This makes no logical sense, but it was (and still is) loved.

Step 3: Seeds

These use media away from the point of decision making to hardwire brand associations in the memory.

The key here is that seeds work in conjunction with triggers. This helps negate the need to be remembered. As Franzen shows, the brain is capable of holding 10,000 memories.60 The job of seeds is to hardwire these markers in people's minds.

There will be an emphasis on iteratively building associations over time. Key media trends include:

- Frequency. Frequency. Frequency: Without the "big bang" of conscious engagement, the emphasis will be on hardwiring these iteratively but frequently.

- Shorter time lengths will become popular: At its most extreme, blipverts will be used as an efficient means to seed associations. Tachistocope studies have shown the power of this; one demonstrated how 2,000 images were rotated too quickly for the brain to consciously perceive; they were later recognised with 90 per cent accuracy.61

- Experiential marketing will boom: Used properly as an enjoyable (non-intrusive) part of people's leisure time, this is perfect for the Age of Osmosis as it opens up opportunities for powerful and differentiating brand triggers.

Step 4: Triggers

The associations that are "seeded" will be used to provide just-in-time information to consumers.

The exciting thing here is the potential on offer, as the technology is not yet close to being fully realised. (Who'd have thought ten years ago that advanced technologies such as face-recognition technology would exist, for instance.) The box (left) provides some examples.

Follow the money ...

The opportunities afforded by triggers will be music to the ears of clients. Figures on "in-store" spend shows the extent they're already shifting money to places where people make brand decisions; the Grocery Manufacturers Association reports that spend has doubled since 2004, and forecasts annual growth of 21 per cent until 2010.68

Seeds and triggers working together

To illustrate how these could work together, we've taken a few examples from Cadbury.

Of course, in reality, there'll be a certain blurring of roles between seeds and triggers. For instance, every exposure will prove mutually reinforcing by hardwiring memories over time. Therefore, to an extent, these should be regarded as a "rule of thumb" split.

NB: A note on distribution

There will be great demand for an effective means of distributing material to the morass of touch points available. To be sure, the complexity in distributing range of materials is part of the reason we're currently bad at utilising multiple touch points. Someone will make a lot of money as a disseminator of triggers across media channels.

Part 4: Final considerations


Brands will be judged on the strength of the associations they build in people's minds. Below are some key implications:

1. We'll ask better questions

The "brand name" will simply be one of a number of stimuli - these won't even necessarily be static and visual, as we could test smells, for instance. We'll test and refine the strongest associations. For instance, using the Kronenbourg example, we could test whether chefs or bubbles or French accents provide the best triggers.

2. We'll test below the conscious threshold

Tachistocope research - where key associations are rotated too quickly for the mind to consciously perceive them - would be one way to do this.69

3. We'll be better at testing instinctive emotion

We're currently bad at testing emotional responses to brands. We fall back on words and their meanings. But these are blunt tools which force people to rationalise non-rational responses. The emotiscape from Ipsos is one possible tool.

4. Pre-testing will be less reliant on comprehension

At the moment, ads basically fail if they are not understood. We need a model that doesn't rely on comprehension and the rational take-out of messaging.

But what about ... ?

What about ... smaller brands?

All the above principles will apply, but with a couple of key caveats. First, they'll need a more targeted approach by attaching themselves strongly to a core audience. Second, they should more carefully consider making their associations memetic.70 Setting out to create provocative and infectious associations will help get traction quicker ("Whassup", and 118118's runners are the classic examples).

What about ... when "purchase" isn't required?

This is about using triggers at the right moment to produce maximum impact. Transport for London's anti-social behaviour campaign is a good example where seeds and triggers work in harmony and the triggers use touch points most likely to affect behaviour change.

What about ... new news?

Associations would be used as vehicles to carry the "new" information.

Moreover, brands could create shortcuts specifically designed to carry new news. For instance, brands that do frequent promotional campaigns can create associations to signpost offers (the way Asda used rollback to communicate price messaging is one example).

What about ... the power of the retailers?

At present, retailers have shown little willingness to move on from the "cardboard clutter" when it comes to in-store material. But it's hard to believe that the non-intrusive technological improvements won't encourage retailers to embrace the mutual benefits, just as they've done in America.72


In a world where people are "no longer listening", we will stop trying to force our messages onto people.

We're just not that important to them.

We'll stop expecting them to remember all we say and instead we'll help them trigger the right brand memories at the right time.

In a world characterised by time famine and just-in-time information, brands will be forced to communicate to an audience that is much less Rain Man than Leonard (from Memento).


i. Time-based triggers

Chris Kamara (one of the associations seeded in Ladbroke's TV ad) could be used to trigger real-time bets on interactive shop windows. These can tailor messages to the second, if needs be.62

The Carphone Warehouse could trigger their brand when people's phones are up for renewal. There would be no words, no "persuasion" and no message evaluation. They'd simply cue the brand memory through an image using the "simplicity" look and feel they've established in their TV ads.

ii. Audience-based triggers

Puma could seed associations that change according to the gender and age of each passer-by, (such face-recognition technology exists).63 Shopping mall screens could tailor triggers accordingly - a performance association for men, a fashion-based one for women and fun for kids.

... brands could also simply use packaging better to more clearly communicate audience-specific messages.

iii. Season-based triggers

Coke could change digital vending machines seasonally.

Cold messages would be most relevant for summer, when Xmas associations could be employed in winter.

iv. Location-based triggers

GPRS systems on mobile will mean brands will have the ability to deliver comms when you are in vicinity of a shop.

Nintendo Wii could use this non-intrusively to play its two-second sonic trigger when you are near one of its outlets.

v. Mood-based triggers

Marmite could communicate love, strength and authenticity by using packaging more inventively. Packaging will prove a crucial media in the Age of Osmosis. Brands will use different associations on different packs to trigger different need states.

vi. Sense-based triggers

Martin Lindstrom's brand sense study has demonstrated the power of brands thinking more holistically about the senses they hit.64 To give just two examples:


This is the most subconscious of the senses. It's also remarkably effective at evoking memory - people remember up to 50 per cent more of a movie when the smell of popcorn is wafted into the air.

Brands can be creative in how they use this. Companies such as ScentAir can replicate these at the point of decision making. Birkenstock's sandals could own the smell of sunscreen. Perhaps the Red Cross could trigger sympathy by owning the smell of dirty water?65


A recent analysis found brands that use music that "matches their brand identity" are 96 per cent more likely to be recalled than those which don't.66

Brands will have their own sounds to trigger. Nescafe could play its sonic trigger on enhanced supermarket trolleys (the picture is an early prototype). The point is to keep the triggers non-intrusive - studies have shown how shoppers are programmed to keep moving, not "stop, look and listen".67

vii. Occasion-based triggers

Carling could prompt relevant drinking occasions very specifically around football grounds by using moving digital screens.

viii. Experiential triggers

Beck's could build the ultimate pub. It would have the best freshly brewed beer, served by beautiful waitresses and have great brands playing. Basically, it would provide the ultimate sensory experience. This would create an emotional marker to trigger every time consumers see or hear anything relating to that experience.



Advertising Works 16: IPA Effectiveness Awards 2007, edited by Richard Storey (2008).

Always On: Advertising, Marketing, and Media in an Era of Consumer Control: The Future of Advertising and Marketing by Christopher Vollmer (2008).

BRAND sense: Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound by Martin Lindstrom (2005).

Brands & Advertising: How Advertising Effectiveness Influences Brand Equity by Giep Franzen (1999).

Complicated Lives: Sophisticated Consumers, Intricate Lifestyles, Simple Solutions: The Malaise of Modernity by Michael Willmott and William Nelson (2003).

Creating Powerful Brands by Leslie de Chernatony and Malcolm McDonald (2003).

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers by Seth Godin (2002).

Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind and the Past by Daniel L. Schacter (1996).

Simply Better: Winning and Keeping Customers by Delivering What Matters Most by Patrick Barwise and Sean Meehan (2004).

The Advertised Mind: Ground-Breaking Insights Into How Our Brains Respond to Advertising by Erik Du Plessis (2005).

The Age of Conversation by Gavin Heaton and Drew McLellan (2005).

The Brand Innovation Manifesto - How to Build Brands, Redefine Markets and Defy Conventions by John Grant (2006).

The Hidden Power of Advertising by Robert Heath (2001).

The Mental World of Brands by Giep Franzen and Margot Bouwman (2001).

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz (2004).

The Business of Brands by Jon Miller and David Muir (2004).

Wendy Gordon, "Brands on the brain: new scientific discoveries to support new brand thinking" in Brand New Brand Thinking: Brought to Light by 11 Experts Who Do by Merry Baskin and Mark Earls (2002).


"10 things your blogger won't tell you" by Daniel Cho at http:www.smartmoney.com.

"50 years of using the wrong model of TV advertising" by Robert Heath and Paul Feldwick.

"A century of change: Trends in UK statistics since 1900" by Joe Hicks & Grahame Allen at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf.

"Ambient signifiers. How I learned to stop getting lost and love Tokyo Rail" by Ross Howard at http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/ambient_signifi.

"Audio branding in the retail environment" by Craig Cesman at http://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/87/12649.html.

"Cues, The Golden Retriever: How our natural responses to stimuli can inform the design process" by Jamie Owen at http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/cues-the-golden.

"Digital Essays: Free the B word" by Trevor Chambers in Campaign, 30 June 2006.

"Exploding the message myth" by Paul Feldwick at http://www.thinkbox.tv/server/show/nav.1015.

Futurelab report, "Ideas trends brand futures and intelligence" (January 2007) at www.thefuturelaboratory.com.

"In-store advertising: Coming of age?" Marc E. Babej and Tim Pollak at http://www.forbes.com/opinions/2007/10/29/ unsolicited-advice-supermarkets-oped_meb_1030advice.html.

"Is Google making us stupid? What the internet is doing to our brains" by Nicholas Carr at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google.

Marketing, 27 August 2008.

"Semiotics, what now, my love?" Market Research Society, Annual Conference, 2007 by Virginia Valentine at Warc.com.

"Total recall" by Gary Marcus at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/magazine/13wwln-essay-t.html.

"TV and the brain" at http://www.thinkbox.tv/server/show/ConWebDoc.959.

"Your unconscious is making your everyday decisions" by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak at www.usnews.com.


"The future of Media: Mass Media, New Media and Television" by Tamme de Leur at http://www.slideshare.net/tammeppt/the-future-of-media-mass- media-new-media-and-television-3.

"Visual and Creative Thinking; What we learned from Willy Wonka" by Kellsey Ruger at http://www.slideshare.net/themoleskin/visual-and- creative-thinking/.

"Brain Rules: what all presenters need to know" by Garr Reynolds at http://www.slideshare.net/garr/brain-rules-for-presenters.

"Thinking Inside the Box" presentation by Adrian Holmes given to M&C Saatchi on 24 July 2008.

"Moods, Minds and Motivations. Measuring Emotions for Advertising Results" at http://www.ipsos-asi.com/pdf/Global_Ideas_vol7.pdf.

http://www.aglassandahalffull productions.com/.
personality-and-associations per centE2 per cent80 per centA6.


NB: Images are from Google images unless referenced.

1. Alfred Mann Whitehead quoted in Simply Better by Barwise and Meehan.

2. Although the second book hasn't yet hit the shelves, the cover design is revealed at http//www.ageofconversation.com. See also The Age of Conversation by Gavin Heaton.

3. russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/thinking/index.html.

4. The top 100 blogs as ranked by technorati are indicative as they show 25 are marketing-based and 22 are technology-based. See http://technorati.com/weblog/blogosphere.

5. Even an avid "conversationalist" like Richard Huntingdon acknowledges this. He says: "We can overstate the importance of blogs simply because we (the planning community) use them much more than the majority of the public." www.adliterate.com.

6. Technology writer Nicholas Carr quoted in "10 things your blogger won't tell you" by Daniel Cho.

7. http://blogs.forrester.com/groundswell/2008/05/data-chart-of- t.html.

8. See http://technorati.com/weblog/blogosphere for its quarterly "state of the blogosphere" reports. See also "10 things your blogger won't tell you" by Daniel Cho. All this excitement is symptomatic of all kinds of hype around "digital". For instance, Second Life has died down to the extent that it has a maximum of 40,000 users at a time and brands are leaving in their droves.

9. http://valleywag.com/tech/notag/expanding-no-more-255660.php.

10. "10 things your blogger won't tell you" by Daniel Cho. He uses stats from 2007 and views that we're probably "at or near the peak of popularity of writing blogs".

11. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, quoted in Beck, Conversations.

12. Theories such as "transmedia planning" and "branding as a new religion" are two apposite examples from last year's course where brands are elevated beyond their station. Perhaps this all makes us feel better about the difference we can make when it - as Campaign recently speculated - could merely be "rearranging the deckchairs".

13. The industry is awash with engagement theories - "buzz metrics" and "return on involvement" are just two examples.

14. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DqKkWM60lk (removed).

15. Alfred Mann Whitehead quoted in Simply Better by Barwise and Meehan.

16. According to neuroscientists, we are conscious of only about 5 per cent of our cognitive activity. See "Your unconscious is making your everyday decisions" by Marianne Szegedy-Maszak.

17. The psychologist Charles Schwarz even correlates it to the increase in suicide in the US in the past 30 years. See The Paradox of Choice, Schwartz, Barry, 2004. For a more concise summary, see http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choi ce.html.

18. Of course, this is something we can relate to in our everyday lives. However, studies have shown 67 per cent of employed parents say they don't have enough time with their husbands or wives, and 55 per cent say they don't have enough time for themselves. These figures have more than doubled from a decade ago. See http://www.doubletongued.org/index.php/dictionary/time_famine/.

19. http://farisyakob.typepad.com/blog/2006/08/are_all_ads_spa.html.

20. http://henrychilcott.typepad.com/henrychilcott/2008/02/index.html.

21. The trend towards just-in-time information is identified in a Futurelab report, "Ideas trends brand futures and intelligence" (January 2007).

22. "Is Google making us stupid? What the internet is doing to our brains" by Nicholas Carr at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google.

23. We also are now relying on brands to make brand decisions for us. Moneysupermarket.com, confused.com and gocompare.com are the three most visible examples.

24. "Cognitive Psychology and Information Processing: An Introduction" by Roy Lachman, E. C. Butterfield quoted at http://lbtoronto.typepad.com/lbto/2008/06/what-is-your-br.html.

25. Simply Better, Barwise and Meehan.

26. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/osmosis.

27. We take in things in without paying attention. See 50 years of Using the wrong model by Heath and Feldwick.

28. Engram image taken from www. aqr.org.uk/indepth/summer2005/engram.gif.

29. The Mental World of Brands by Giep Franzen. These rich, complex associative networks are capable of holding as many as 10,000 brand memories. These are in constant flux - some die slowly while others become "hardwired" through repetition.

30. See the video presentation, "The future is now" from Scala digital signage for the extensive and ubiquitous role digital screens will play in our lives: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_oTvZxtG94.

31. http://www.thelongtail.com/. Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory has a seemingly endless array of application in society.

32. http://www.slideshare.net/tammeppt/the-future-of-media-mass-media- new-media-and-television-3.

33. Russell Davies has a wonderful quote for this: "We'll end up with Blade Runner directed by the people who brought you Orangina and Cillit Bang." See http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2008/08/eat- eck.html.

34. Heath is an advocate of associations. He talks about some of the key ones over time in The Hidden Power of Advertising by Heath.

35. The 1876 report of the Registrar General noted that 16 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women could not sign their name in the register with a mark. Even in 1974, around 2 million adults (6 per cent of the population) had insufficient literacy skills to cope with everyday life (http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf). When we speak of literacy here, it's not just the technical definition, it also applies to being "advertising illiterate".

36. This is calculated from the oft-quoted figure of being exposed to 3,000 messages a day http://dc-strategic.com/2006/07/13/3000-every- day/.

37. www.youtube.com/watch?v= ZyQjr1YL0zg. The V/O at the start of the piece is interesting: "Those who work in advertising are masters of persuasion. They weave their images and slogans into our daily lives knowing that we will register so such unconsciously, then we will walk into a supermarket with a sense of familiarity. Its brilliantly calculated and we all fall for it." It gives us way too much credit, but is not a terrible summary for how we take in things without noticing.

38. The Brand Innovation Manifesto by John Grant (2006).

39. "Exploding the message myth" by Feldwick (http://www.thinkbox.tv/server/show/nav.1015). He views our fixation with message transmission as a comforting construct that fits the cultural myth of "rational man".

40. Advertising Works 16, edited by Richard Storey (2008).

41. http://effectsofnewmediaadvertising.blogspot.com/2008/05/overview- how-advertising-has-changed.html.

42. Adrian Holmes, taken from his presentation to creatives at M&C Saatchi, 22 July 2008.

43. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposure_effect. Simply exposing experimental subjects to a picture or a piece of music briefly led those subjects to later rate it more positively than other, similar stimuli which they had merely not been shown earlier. In another experiment, students were shown a Chinese character on a tachistoscope faster than could be perceived consciously. Later, students were asked to say whether they thought specific characters were positive or negative adjectives. Those characters that had been previously subliminally exposed to the students were rated more positively than those that had not. When asked, the students were able to cite specific and detailed reasons why they preferred the characters that they did.

44. http://mojolocoblog.com/wordpress/2008/07/other-core- brand-drivers- personality-and-associations%E2%80%A6.

45. See http://www.aglassandahalffullproductions.com/.

46. http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/cues-the-golden.

47. It has also been shown that 53 per cent of those are on impulse. C Vollmer, Always On Marketing.

48. For more information, see Searching for memory by Schacter.

49. "New photofit 'evolves' a suspect's face", New Scientist, 19 March 2005.

50. See The Mental World of Brands by Giep Franzen. If you take the 7Up engram example from earlier, a trigger of thirst would link to a different set than citrus.

51. Respondents were shown an association with the brand name and simply asked "what are the first things that come to mind". This exercise was repeated with a number of brands including Sainsbury's, Morrissons and Levi's. An extensive list of brand associations were used for each. These included endlines, colours, celebrity spokespeople and music.

52. For more on the demise of the loyal consumer and how we are different people at different times, see The business of brands by Miller and Muir (pp75-76). See also Creating Powerful Brands by L de Chernatony and Malcolm McDonald (p84-85).Wendy Gordon demonstrates how we are different people at different times in Brands on the brain by Wendy Gordon.

53. In case you're not familiar, this was a classic word-association game from Saturday-morning TV.

54. Semiotics, what now, my love? by Virginia Valentine.

55. http://www.brandtarot.com/blog/?p=28.

56. Quote from Adrian Holmes during "Thinking Inside the Box" presentation given to M&C Saatchi 24 July 2008. Holmes' presentation shows how great campaigns from Smirnoff, "inside the bottle" and Heineken's "water from Majorca" help illustrate.

57. Exploding the message myth by Paul Feldwick.

58. Millward Brown's link test is a classic example of testing systems based on communicating messages. They rely on messages being understood. "Do the ads communicate the intended message?" is the classic question in Link tests. http://www.millwardbrown.com/Sites/MillwardBrown/Media/Pdfs/en/Services/ Link.pdf.

59. As Franzen says, "our emotions see to it that we are convinced of certain views, regardless of whether they are true or untrue". See The Mental World of Brands by Giep Franzen and The Advertised Mind by Erik Du Plessis for excellent summaries.

60. See Footnote 29.

61. The Mental World of Brands by Giep Franzen.

62. See the demonstration video for interactive shop window technology at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJbb1v0Kkdo.

63. Engineers at Microsoft have developed a prototype system that uses a small video camera and facial-recognition software to try to determine a viewer's gender and select an appropriate ad to display. The system is intended for use with large video screens in public places. See http://adverlab.blogspot.com/2007/01/billboards-with-face-recognition- from.html.

64. Brand sense by Lindstrom. His 5-D BRAND sense study demonstrates its potential. For instance, it shows that one-third of customers distinguish between cars simply by the sound of the door closing, and more than half of people associated Nokia's ringtone with positive feelings.

65. See http://www.brainrules.net/sensory-integration for the power of smell. Additionally researcher Dr Alan Hirsch (1991) has shown that even weak concentrations below the conscious threshold affect people's moods subconsciously. ScentAir is one company that replicates smells at the point of decision making. Its "dry air" technology blends easily into displays and fixtures; it has an ever growing library of more than 1,000 scents. For more on all of this, see http://www.scentair.com/.

66. Study by analysts at Leicester University who tested brands that "make use of irrelevant music or no music at all". More details at "Audio branding in the retail environment" by Craig Cesman.

67. Nielsen recently conducted a supermarket-behaviour study which identified the existence of a "supermarket autopilot" where "... people grab and go without reading the label or reading the price". www.nielsen.com.

68. It reveals that in-store growth is on pace for compound annual growth of 21 per cent through 2010. In-Store Advertising: Coming Of Age? Marc E. Babej and Tim Pollak.

69. Tachistoscopes present moving pictures by use of a rotating glass plate with images attached to it.

70. Memetics were first made famous by Richard Dawkins in his 70s book The Selfish Gene. Robin Wight from WCRS is a big advocate of this technique.

71. Photographs sourced internally.

72. PRN (the firm responsible for the Wal-Mart in-store TV network) is being acquired by media conglomerate Thomson Worldwide to the tune of $285 million. About 84 per cent of American households shop at Wal-Mart, many on a weekly basis, with an average annual trip rate of 16 times per year. With more than 2,650 Wal-Mart Stores, PRN is reaching about 85 million shoppers a week. See www.prn.com.