Guinness’s ‘Surfer’ ad didn’t do that well in research ‘but we ignored it’ – In defense of research….

February 7, 2019

This post was prompted by this article I saw on Linkedin, I had lots to say on it but the word limit on the comments box would not let me say everything I wanted to say, so here goes…

Just because an ad does not do well in research, does not mean that the outcome of the research is to say “it is not a good ad” or indeed that “the idea should not be used”. As someone who has done a wealth of research into communications testing and development, I have seen lots of ads / concepts that did not do well that went on to be incredibly successful ads. That is because the job of research is not to ‘kill the idea’ it is to tell you how to make the idea be the very best is can.

This works best when as researchers we are working in partnership with both the client and the agency (not brought in at the 11th hr to test an idea). This enables all involved to foster a more collaborative process that get the best result out of the research.

When it comes to researching ads the starting point should always be that every concept has a chance of success and our role is not to kill them off, but to understand their potential. A researcher’s job is not to ‘beat-up’ on the ad, as a researcher I want a successful outcome for all involved and as such we approach the evaluation of any communications with an open mind. Our task is to look for constructive ways to improve on the possible success of the communications being tested. In order to do this, context is important, we have a much better chance of understanding how people react to a concept if we have a deeper understanding of their overall attitudes to the category say.

Also the way in which we evaluate ads if paramount, first impressions are key (and more closely mirror real world exposure) so we should focus on initial reactions and not allow people to spend too long talking about a concept to the point where they are just looking for things to say or critique. The gut feel viewers have is often the most powerful insight we get about what’s working and what’s not.

In addition, people don’t always say exactly what they mean and we should look beyond their verbal messages to ensure we understand the meaning behind what is being said (or not). So although consumers will often tell us what they “think” of an ad we should not expect them to always automatically identify the factors which are “influencing their thinking”, this is where the researchers expertise at understanding what is often left unsaid is critical to interpreting how the communications are working (or not).

As research I also often hear “the ads are not is a format ready or best for testing”, however an ad does not need to be in its final polished format in order to test the ‘idea’ or ‘concept’. There are all manner of ways to use stimulus to stimulate a conversation with consumers about a communications idea. Not only that, but consumers are far more marketing savvy than we sometimes give them credit for and if we take the time to explain the stimulus at hand they get it and are willing to ‘work with us’. On the topic of consumers being more marketing savvy now than ever before we should never underestimate their ability to understand the ‘idea’ behind the ad being tested, they often provide us with the ‘gem’ that gets the idea across the line.

Anyway, the main point I want to make it that ultimately as researchers we are hired to have an opinion and should avoid ‘sitting on the fence’, but this opinion should always be well-informed and constructive and when it is, this helps ensure ads that don’t do well in research have a chance to go to become award winning ads.


Why I got naked today…

July 17, 2016

tribeWell, it has been a while since I last muttered away about anything. In fact since my father passed away last year I seem to have had very little to say on here, or in life for that matter. It has been a strange time, life goes back to normal, you go to work, you eat, you chat you move on, but something inside you does not, it stays stuck. I guess that is why I have not blogged, I have been feeling stuck, stuck in this well of emotions that I feel like I am drowning in, but doing nothing to really help myself. Close friend and family have said I should ‘talk to someone’, and they don’t mean the postman. I know I ought to, but I am not really one for doing that, I seem to find it easier to mutter away at a keyboard to no one in particular. I think this way I feel safe that no one if going to challenge me about what I am thinking and why.


Anyway, why am I posting this now? Well this morning I took off all my clothes and let someone take nude photos of me…. I did it for something called My People | My Tribe, which is a community group focused on telling and sharing LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and diverse sexualities and genders) stories that educate, enlighten and inspire. The group aims to shine a light on a variety of LGBTQ+ areas of interest including a focus on topical issues, history, sexual and mental health.

They recently, had a call out to the Sydney LGBTQI+ community to take part in a photoshoot that tells the stories of 100 locals. Titled #BareNakedTruth, participants are photographed by well know photographer Brenton Parry who said it’s time to showcase we are all more alike than different. “By photographing 100 people from a diverse cross section of the community, stripping them back and telling their story I’m hoping we can see that for all of our differences we have more similarities.”.

Some of the stories that I have read associated with some of those taking part have really inspired me. By participating in it myself it has in fact made me think about my dad a lot.  I came out at 18, around the height of the AIDS epidemic which fed fear and prejudice against homosexuals, and I was not living in some cosmopolitan city like I do now. I did it because I knew that if I could not be honest with others about who I really am and know that by doing so they would love me for who I really was, not who they thought I was, then I could never truly be honest with myself about who I am and grow to love myself. Back then I was gripped with hate and disgust for what I was, and I desperately wanted to not be gay.

And why does all this remind me of my dad, well at the time, we might not have had the best of relationships, it was a struggle for both he and I to accept my sexuality, but he sat me down one day and said he admired me for coming out. He said it was one the bravest things he had ever seen someone do and no matter how difficult things might be or what challenges I might face in the future, he said he knew I would have the courage to face anything after having witnessed me coming out to the world.

It took me a long time to come to terms with who and what I am and many years to truly feel proud of who I am. Today I stripped back my clothes and stood there proud and loving my father for the kindness of acceptance that made me feel loved and cherished for who I really am.

I feel a little less stuck today.

The books I read in 2015

February 10, 2016

Ok, so normally I would have posted this already but 2016 has had a busy start so only just getting round to it now. In fact 2015 was a busy year all up and i can tell that by the number of books I read, just a paltry 27. My biggest disappointing of the year was Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee, but then To Kill A Mocking Bird is one of my all time favourate books so i had very high expectations.

There are lots of 4’s but interestingly not one of them got a full 5 out of 5, but one did come close…

  1. Faggots by Larry Kramer = 2.5
  2. The final confession of Mabel Stark by Robert Hough = 3.5
  3. Small crimes in an age of abundance by Matthew Kneale = 3.5
  4. They came like swallows by William Maxwell = 3
  5. The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and David Mann = 4
  6. So long, see you tomorrow by William Maxwell = 3
  7. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout = 4
  8. Geek love by Katherine Dunn = 2
  9. The two hotel Francforts by David Leavitt = 3.5
  10. Coming up trumps by Jean Trumpington = 3.5
  11. The girl on the train by Paula Hawkins = 4
  12. We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen J.Fowler = 4
  13.  The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer = 4
  14. The silkworm by Robert Galbraith = 4
  15. The end of Alice by A.M. Homes = 2
  16. Red Hill by Jamie McGuire = 3
  17. Wold Winter by Cecilia Ekback = 3.5
  18. Mislaid by Neil Zink = 3
  19. Revival by Stephen king = 4
  20. Vanished Years by Rupert Everett = 3.5
  21. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell = 4
  22. In the unlikely event by Judy Blume = 4
  23. Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child = 3
  24. Go set a watchman by Harper Lee = 3
  25. Hiroshima by John Hersey = 3.5
  26. Queen Victoria’s youngest son by Charlotte Zeepvat = 3
  27. Career of evil by Robert Galbraith = 4.5

How well do you think these powerful brands address today’s participatory culture?

November 6, 2015


Every year, Brand Finance puts thousands of the world’s top brands to the test. They are evaluated to determine which are the most powerful, and the most valuable. have listed the following as the 10 most powerful brands in 2015…

Lego 93.4

pwc 91.8

Red Bull 91.1

McKinsey and Company 90.1

Unilever 90.1

L’Oreal 89.7

Burberry 89.7

Rolex 89.7

Ferrari 89.6

Nike 89.6

In order to determine the most powerful brands in the world, their team examines factors such as a company’s investment in marketing, equity as measured by goodwill of customers and staff, and the impact of marketing and goodwill on the company’s “business performance.” All well and good but as a researcher who does a lot of work in this space I am curious to know more about what these brands do to actually engage with their customer base. We know that engaged consumers tend to display greater levels of loyalty and I don’t see this as a measure, good will is there yes, but this does not always equate to loyalty.

In my opinion (and it is just that an opinion nothing more) not all of the 10 brands listed appear to be particularly strong thought leaders in addressing todays participatory culture, something that is becoming more important as a tool to engage with customers. It is true a lot of these brands aim to engage consumers on a deeper level to foster long-term loyalty and if you spend a bit of time online it is easy to see how they are tapping into this participatory culture to foster this loyalty.

Many brands do this, but not all with a clear strategy as to how they want this to add in a positive way to their brands narrative. In addition without a clear social media management strategy in place, many are in danger of having little control over how customers add to their brands narrative (good or bad).

A social media strategy needs to go beyond simply embracing the creation of ‘brand engagement campaigns’ aimed at generating shareable experiences, and these need to be done in a way that are not evidently commercials which gets harder and harder as consumers become more and more marketing savvy.  Often a campaign’s success is measured using social media engagement metrics, but as a qualitative researcher I am often asked to explore the ‘meaning’ behind these metrics and more often than not just because a campaign goes viral (a benchmark for success) this does not always result in a positive impact on the brand narrative, in fact it can have short term positive impact but a longer term negative one.

The growth in participatory culture by consumers has actually been fed by brands embracing this as a tool to engage with consumers, but said consumers now believe their voices are more valuable than ever before and  as a consequence brands are in danger of losing ‘control’ of the narrative that they wish to stimulate.

It is true that in today’s society social media has facilitated a two-way connection with consumers like no other. However, a conversation is only as good or interesting as all its participants make it, and that requires paying attention at all times, but how many brands are truly embracing that idea and paying attention to everything that is being said on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook?

It is not just about ‘listening’ to what consumers saying, attention needs to be given to everything a brand intends to ‘say’ to consumers and this needs to ladder to a clear social media strategy. So many brands are trying to hold conversations with consumers today which means they are being blitzed with more branded messages on a daily basis than ever before. Think of it this way, we all know how we hate to be interrupted by someone else when we are having a conversation and we have ways in which to deal with this, online consumers have more control over which messages or conversations they see, hear, and ultimately choose to engage with, so pay heed to what it is you want to say and the manner in which you intend to do it.

To bring this back to my earlier point around engagement, I see in the work that I do that relating with consumers on an individual, personal basis is often the piece of the jigsaw that is missing in the engagement puzzle, where I see this is not the case is with brands that have moved towards a more human or humanistic connection in the way their brand attempts to build relationships and therefore loyalty among their customers. This I like to call ‘the rise of human’ but that is another story all together.

My Mo will grow and my Moves will motivate me, will you sponsor me?

November 2, 2015

A previous years effort

A previous years effort

Yes it is indeed that hairy time of year again, Movember, and I am again going to do my bit for the cause. Keep an eye out for those moustaches, and feel free to let me know how I ought to style mine over the next couple of weeks, and no shaving it off is not a styling option.

I actually love a bit of facial hair, and do not mind how silly I look, so this year I have decided to make it more of a challenge for myself and I am not only growing a Mo but I have signed up to Move in Movember too. This requires doing some form of physical activity every day for the month of November, and that really will be a challenge for me, given my aversion to physical activity of any kind (expect tearing it up on the dance floor).

As with every year the Mo has a job to do, those growing the Mo will also be raising vital funds which will be used to make a global contribution to men living happier, healthier, longer lives. This ambition underpins everything the Movember team does. Since 2003, they have raised $685 million and funded over 1,000 programs focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity

If you would like to sponsor me you can do so here:

As well as keep up to date with the daily move activity that I will be doing.

Five years as an Australian citizen and still have questions about nationality…

October 28, 2015

At my citizenship ceremony

At my citizenship ceremony

Five years ago I became an Australian citizen, after having lived here for five years, at the time it made me questions, or at least reflect on what this meant to my sense of identity. As an expat with many friends who are in a similar situation the topic of one’s nationality is often a discussion that comes up and I still have a fairly fluid sense of who or what I am.

For example on Saint George’s Day I still wear my England football top in honour of the day, for those of you that don’t know this is the feast day of Saint George, patron saint of the English. Also I found myself incredibly engrossed by the debate around Scottish independence and I felt oddly engaged in a way that really surprised me. I felt like I ought to have some kind of a say, or at least a right to an opinion, but am I Scottish?  As mentioned in this blog before I was born in England, but spent some of my early years living in Africa, but I have a very Scottish surname, my grandfather on my father’s side was very much a Scott. My father died recently and in an odd way I felt more of a connection with my Scottish roots as a result, because I wanted to feel a closer link to my dad’s history and sense of belonging.

However, I now have two boys who are both Australian and British but primarily Australian really (their mother being Australian) and I feel more connection to Australia via them, and their extended family they have here.

So who should I cheer for in international sporting events like the Rugby World Cup? Well clearly it is Australia at this stage given they have made it to the finals, and for now I’ll worry about the conundrum of should it be England or Australia should they ever be going head-to-head in the final someday, till then my sense nationality shall remain in flux.

Dealing with my fathers death…..

October 1, 2015

Now you all know where my love of sweet things comes from

Now you all know where my love of sweet things comes from

I have felt the need to write this post for a little while now, but have had no idea where to start really or what to say so I thought I would just type away and see where I land up. The key thing that was blocking me is that I have had no idea how to process my thoughts.

It’s been a few weeks now since my father passed away and now that my life is starting to get back to what I suppose you would call normal, or at least my routine is back to normal, the calm that I had felt since his passing seems to be going away. I knew at the time when I was back home in the UK that I was not really going to even begin to process the magnitude of what happened and that certainly seems to be the case. However, an hour into my flight back home to Sydney the enormity of what just happened hit me like a brick. I had to call on all my available willpower not to just sit in my seat on the aircraft and blubber like a baby.

Since being back home and trying to get back into my routine it seems to just hit me out of nowhere at times. I don’t even think I’m aware of even thinking about what happened, and I find myself welling up. It is a strange feeling because I don’t feel like his death is present and at the front of my mind yet from nowhere waves of emotion just strike me. I know I should just let it happen and not fight those waves but the daft Englishman inside me says to be stoic and not let them carry me away. Out of the blue, the thought will just pop into my head that he’s gone, he is actually gone. I won’t speak to him again or see him again, we won’t share a beer, and I won’t unburden my worries on him. He is no longer there to guide me on the right path. I hadn’t realised how much guidance I taken from him over the last few years.

I am fortunate that I knew my time with him was limited, him having been diagnosed in November last year and we knew then that it was terminal. I know I should be grateful for the fact that we had time to say the things we need to say to each other, that I could express love to him in a way that I may not have done in the past.  I could tell him how proud I was of him and I was able to realise that he and I had got to a point in our relationship that I had so wanted to be. I am grateful but at the same time I’m angry that he just went to soon really. I thought that we would have had more time to talk, I thought I would’ve had time to bring him to Sydney to meet my boys. I think even though I knew that he was dying, the enormity of that, I just pocketed into someplace in my brain. It was simply too difficult to process or to comprehend and so although I was aware that I was about to lose him I didn’t really know what that actually means until it happens.

Losing a parent is different from losing a friend or some other loved one, a parent is part of you, they are fundamental to the person that you are, you’re being here, the life you have lived, is because they were part of a couple that made you. That connection you have with a parent, regardless if it was a good, bad or indifferent relationship you had, is a connection you have with no one else. I am feeling lost without it. I’m lucky because I’m surrounded by love, having an amazing partner, wonderful friends and I have two really beautiful sons that just fill me with love, but there is a shadow over all of that at the moment. I know it’s a shadow that over time will lift and pass but meanwhile it to seems like it covers everything.

I’ve dealt with grief before and I know that life moves on, as it should, but this grief is like no other I have experienced in the past. But at the same time, in the initial weeks of his passing I didn’t really feel anything, I was numb, and I feel guilty now that I didn’t feel this grief so raw before now, I feel the need to hold onto it as a way of demonstrating how much I love and miss him.

I am so very proud of my father, for much of my life the choices I made were to make my father proud of me. Moving forward the choices I make will be made in order that my sons will one day be proud of me and love me as much as I love my father.

Introducing the Chocolate Solace Cake…

July 26, 2015

photoI was feeling a bit eeeerm….. despondent today and decided I need a distraction. I thought I could work on a report for work that needs attention, but quickly decided against that and decided to bake. No not just bake, but to ‘invent’ a cake. I am not a great cook, in fact I am a real stress bucket in the kitchen if making a meal, but when it comes to baking I am not that bad, and I love the process. I don’t have a food processor so make all y cakes by hand and find the process nice and cathartic, oh and I loooooove cake too so the end result is always worth the effort. How things have moved on since I set myself this challenge back in 2010: Cake Challenge

Anyway, I thought I would limit myself to the ingredients I had in the cupboard and make something using those only, no shopping allowed. Turns out I was not that limited and had heaps of ingredients to pick from. So I put out loads of stuff on the kitchen top, put aside the basics to create the basis of the cake and then thinking about the cakes I have made in the past and what I thought might work I pulled out a few more.

It turned out rather well if I do say so myself and I have christened this cake the Chocolate Solace Cake, and thought I would share it with you, well not the actual cake because that is for me to eat, but how to make it….

Chocolate Solace Cake:


  • 140g butter (at room temperature)
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 75g coconut sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 250g self-rising flour
  • Dash of milk
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 2 tea spoons of baking powder
  • 100g desiccated coconut
  • 2 large table spoons of golden syrup
  • 275g dark chocolate

Pre-heat oven to 200c (turn down to 180c when placing cake in oven). Grease with butter and line a 20cm cake tin.

In a large bowl beat together the butter caster sugar and coconut sugar till light a fluffy, then add the eggs, beat these in one at a time. Put all the flour, baking soda and cocoa powder into a bowl together than sieve into mixture a bit at a time, fold into mixture and add a dash of milk once it begins to thicken. Stir in the desiccated coconut and golden syrup.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a simmering saucepan, do this gently will all the lumps have gone and you have a nice smooth chocolate sauce, then add to mixture and stir in.

Add to cake tin and use back of metal spoon to even out the mixture and tap the tin a few times in the kitchen top to help settle mixture.

Place in oven (remember to turn down to 180c) and bake for about 45mins, check it with a skewer at 40mins, if it comes out clean it is all done. Then let it sit in tin for about 5 to 10mins before turning out on rack to cool.

Decorate as you wish, I dribbled some icing and grated some chocolate over the top.

RIP Burt Shavitz and thank you for such a wonderful product

July 23, 2015

burts-beesI have always been a big fan of Burt’s Bees, so it was sad to hear that the original Burt died earlier this month. Burt Shavitz was one of the founding partners of Burt’s Bees back in 1984, along with his partner at the time, Roxanne Quimby who he met by picking up as a hitchhiker. The brand has been owned by Clorox since 2007 (who paid US$ 925m for it). Burt himself had previously been bought out of the company for $130,000 by Quimby, but apparently she did later give him $4m after she sold it to Clorox.

Burt himself was something of a hermit in his later years, living in rural Miane in a converted turkey coop with no TV or hot water (by choice).

Even though the brand is now owned by a major producer of bleach, they still only use natural ingredients. They also demonstrate their commitment to being environmentally responsible, via packaging which is recycled or recyclable.

I am hoping to raise funds while abstaining…..

June 29, 2015

dry july

It is that time of year again when I give up alcohol for a month and all for a couple of good causes, the first is my general health and waistline the other is a worthy charity.  Yes that is right my July is going to be Dry as I participate in Dry July again. Oh and having just purchased a very special limited edition bottle of Jura Whiskey this is going to be more challenging than others years.

I am sure most of you know by now that Dry July is an organisation that aims to improve the lives of adults living with cancer, it does this through an online social community of likeminded individuals giving up booze for the month of July (and ideally raising money as they do it). So for the 31 days of July, I am hoping to raise funds while abstaining.

Like previous years I have chosen The Chris O’Brien Lifehouse at RPA as my chosen beneficiary for all the money I raise. Professor Chris O’Brien was an incredible man who had tremendous vision and courage.  He was inspirational in both the work he did as a cancer specialist and through his own three year battle with an aggressive brain tumour, a battle that he sadly lost in 2009. His name lives on in the very good work that this organization does. The Lifehouse is an integrated cancer treatment center, one where that patients would longer have to navigate their way through all the different elements of dealing with their illness alone.

You can see more about this place here:

If you would like to sponsor me you can do so here or you could always take part yourself 😉

“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” so said John F. Kennedy.

May 7, 2015

Today is my last day in my current role, one which I have had for almost four years and in a month or so I start a new job and a new chapter in my life. On my walk into the office this morning I thought about how life, if you let it, can be a constant teacher that we can learn and grow from. I learned at an early age to embrace change, as a child my family lived overseas and at times we might only have been in one location for a year or two at most. Not only that we went from liberal UK society to the rigid apartheid society of South Africa and then back again all in fairly formative years of mine.

If I look back over the past twenty years or so I have gone through some fairly major changes, some forced on me by circumstances out of my control others instigated by me. However, but all of them have made my life richer, even those that were part of fairly traumatic experiences.

Perhaps one of the biggest life changes I made was the decision to move from London to Sydney some ten years ago. At the time I had a great job, wonderful network of friends and was able to see more of my family than I had in a while. I knew I was taking a huge risk by coming here, but I also knew that in the past when I have had the courage to step outside of my comfort zone the risk has almost always paid off. I knew it could all have gone wrong but at the same time I said to myself, “What is the worst that can happen? If it all goes tits up you just move back home again”.

The only thing that was holding me back was the fear that it might go wrong. But more often than not fear is the main reason people stay in their comfort zone, and the move was about getting out of mine. I had to remind myself that when it comes down to stepping outside of my comfort zone, there are two things that could happen: success or failure, but no matter which of these happens I always learn and grow from them.

Changes will always happen in life and I am on the cusp of some fairly big changes that are going to happen in mine, these could overwhelm me or I could see them as a new chapter in my life. I hope that is exactly what I do; I see them as they ought to be seen, as a new chapter in my life, presenting new opportunities to gain knowledge and experience. Life has thrown me some real curve balls over the years and each time I have been given a chance to discover new people, new places and new skills.

Bring on the next chapter….

Playing tourist in Sydney reminds me why I call this place home…

March 6, 2015

IMG_5293[1]Last weekend I had a day to myself, a rare event, and I was at a loss for what to do. I could sit on the sofa and do nothing, I could lay on the ned and read all day or I could lay about by the pool, but no I thought to myself, I will get up and do something. That something turned out to be a walk around my neighbourhood…

Ok, so that does not sound too exciting I know, the walk was actually a way to discover some of the cultural history of the area I live in that I might not have taken notice of before. I downloaded an app “Sydney Culture Walks” and off I went. I live right by The Cross, or Kings Cross as it is officially called, in fact it was first called Queens Cross to celebrate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria (Victoria road being one of the main roads here), and is the site of the now heritage listed Coca-Cola sign which is now the key landmark of this area. I then walked down Victoria Street (Potts Point section) to 202 which is where Juanita Nielsen, the heiress used to live; she was so much more than that though. She was a publisher, activist for conservation and community issues, and very anti-development campaigns. She disappeared in Kings Cross in 1975 in mysterious circumstances and her remains have not been found and those who killed her have never been identified. It is thought her refusal to sell her house to make way for development is why she was murdered.

IMG_5285[1]It is thanks to Juanita Nielsen and her legacy that many of the very grand buildings along Victoria Street still exist, and a slow walk down here taking the time to really take in these building is worth it. A little way down this street you will find The Butler Stairs, these were built in 1870 to link Woolloomooloo and Potts Point, they are beautiful sandstone steps and will give your gels a real work out (these are not to be confused with the wider, less pretty, McElhone stars which are further down the street).

I then made my way to Embarkation Park, a park I did not even know existed! You get great views of the city and the wharfs of Woolloomooloo from here, this is actually a park built on top of a multistorey carpark. St Vincent’s College is right by the park, The Sisters of Charity acquired what was an old residence on this site, for a convent. They established a free hospital in 1857 (which is now the more modern hospital near Oxford Street) and a school for the local children in 1858, the college now has about 700 students, with 160 boarders in what must be one of the most regal buildings in the city. The college itself is on Challis Avenue, which is named after John Henry Challis, who arrived in Sydney in 1829 and became a successful local merchant. The Challis Bequest was his way of leaving all his property to the University of Sydney on his death. The street has some amazing town houses built in Greek Revival style, as well as Romanesque style terraces with elaborate colonnaded verandas, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Europe.

This was about halfway through my walk and it was a warm day so I decided to sop for some refreshment, and what a coincidence once of the spots on my walk was Yellow House, which just happens to be a very fine restaurant now. This 1897 terrace was once owned by Frank and Thelma Clune, who were patrons of the arts. In 1957 it became the Terry Clune Gallery, and artists who exhibited there included Russell Drysdale, John Olsen (whose work I know from staying at the Olsen Hotel in Melbourne) and John Perceval. For a short period in the 70’s it was an ‘artist community’ and in this time nearly every surface was painted with images inspired by the Surrealists and Van Gogh, which is where the modern name comes from, being named after Van Gogh’s Yellow House in Arles. In 2003 it was reinvented as apartments, with a restaurant space on the ground floor.

After my refreshment I walked on to Elizabeth Bay House, a place I have often walked past but never entered, if I remember correctly it was only $8 to get in and worth every cent. I went to the cellar, as instructed, and started my tour there buy watching a short vide that gives you a nice introduction to the house and its history. It was originally the home of Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay from 1839. The design is attributed to John Verge, who also designed Tusculum (anther spot on my walk) and Rockwall. It is a little bit crazy to think when originally built this was surrounded by lush bush land and was about a mile and a half from the nearest building of Sydney, given that it is now overlooked from behind by high-rise apartments. Before being subdivided into different lots it was a 54 acre (21.8 hectare) estate. Between 1928 and 1935 it became a squat where some of Sydney’s Bohemian artists lived rent-free with beautiful harbour views. The NSW Government finally restored and opened it to the public as a house museum in 1977. I love this kind of place, it is a real eye into a world from the past, and it is worth going in just to see the wonderful oval, domed saloon with its curving, cantilevered staircase, this is said to be one of the finest interiors of a 19th century Australian building and I am sure it is.

I then made my way up Greenknowe Ave to make my way back to The Cross and passed the Kingsclere Building on the corner with Macleay Street, now I have always loved this building, I would live in it in a shot. What I did not know was that it was built in 1912 and was designed by Halligan and Wilton, and was the first block of high-rise apartments built in the area and indeed was among the first in Sydney. They were the height of luxury when built, aimed at an exclusive market, with not just one but two balconies and two bathrooms for each flat (not so common back then), the apartments also included luxurious wood panelling and get this, automatic passenger lifts!!!!

I then made my way to Tusculum house on Hughes Street, when the first land grants were made in this area houses had to meet several conditions — they had to cost at least £1000 (see Sydney property prices have always been crazy), they had to face the city, and be approved by the Governor. Tusculum, as mentioned, was also designed by John Verge for the merchant Alexander Brodie Spark in 1835. It is very imposing today but was typical of the houses that once dominated this area. Since it was built it has been through many uses, becoming almost derelict before being restored in 1988 to house the Royal Australian Institute of Architects.

I then took a walk down Orwell Street, if you like Art Deco buildings, this is a must. The Metro building, designed by Bruce Dellit in the 1930s is a near perfect example of this style of architecture. Another great Art Deco building nearby is what is now the Kings Cross Neighbourhood Services Centre (No.52 Darlinghurst Rd), be sure to look up above street level away from the sex workers and drug addicts and you will see a beautiful façade.

IMG_5313[1]And I ended my little walk at the El Alamein Fountain, designed by Robert Woodward, and built in 1961. The dandelion effect of its bronze pipes has become a emblem of Kings Cross, this is on the site of what was Maramanah House, once occupied by eccentric aunts in Robin Eakin’s book Aunts up the Cross (1965). The house was sold to the City Council in 1945 and demolished to build Fitzroy Gardens.

Who would have thought I had so much to learn on my very own doorstep, playing tourist in my own city reminds me why I call this place home.

The books I read in 2014….

February 19, 2015

I would normally post this first thing in the new year but time ran away with me, there were only 27 this year compared to 33 last year ! I blame The Gold Finch for taking up so much of my time, and alas I was somewhat disappointed with it. If I had to recommend any overall it would be The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling and Stoner by John Williams.

Listed in chronological order of having been read, and scored out of 5 where 5 is the highest score. A few got close to the top marks, but again no 5 this year:

  1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt = 2 ½
  2. Spin by Martin Sixsmith = 3
  3. May we be Forgiven by A.M. Homes = 3 ½
  4. Present Danger by Stella Rimington = 4
  5. My Policeman by Bethan Roberts = 3 ½
  6. A Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling = 4 ½
  7. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter = 3
  8. A Song for Achilles by Madeline Miller = 3
  9. The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham = 4
  10. The Report by J.F Kane = 3
  11. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid = 2 ½
  12. Jack by A.M Homes = 3 ½
  13. That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo = 3
  14. The Mistress’s Daughter by A.M Homes = 3
  15. Smut by Alan Bennett = 3
  16. Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham = 4
  17. The City of Devi by Manil Suri = 2 ½
  18. Stoner by John Williams = 4 ½
  19. Mr Mercedes by Stephen King = 4
  20. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent = 4
  21. Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham = 3 ½
  22. The Empress Lover by Linda Jaivin = 2
  23. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
  24. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King = 4
  25. Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes = 3
  26. Burr by Gore Vidal = 4
  27. Red Moon by Benjamin Percey = 3 ½

Engaging with 18-24’s: Stop asking them to take selfies

February 3, 2015

Spoiled, selfish, ambitious, connected, immature, tech-savvy, demanding, open-minded, fame-seeking, over-sharing.

These are just some of the words that are commonly used to describe young consumers, (the so-called ‘Gen Y’ or ‘Millennials’).  And there is a perception amongst some marketers that this target audience is particularly enigmatic and hard to connect with.

With little understanding, the default marketing approach is often to just ‘do something online’ or ‘create a social media campaign’. Unfortunately it takes more than the inclusion of a hashtag, video, Facebook page or consumer-with-brand-selfie request to drive engagement with young people today.

In 2007, Jigsaw conducted a qualitative study into young Australians aged 18-24.

At the time, the issue of local youth identity was particularly hot, following the aftermath of the Cronulla race riots and the cultural cringe from Lara Bingle’s ‘Where the bloody hell are you’ campaign. The objectives of the study were to expose what young people were really thinking and explore the defining traits of this generation.

Seven years later, we have refocused on this audience; with the challenge of getting beneath current media rhetoric and stereotypes. Having previously conducted a similar study helped us pull apart ‘coming of age’ characteristics vs. traits which are a by-product of 2014’s unique technological, political, cultural and environmental landscape. This time we could also employ fresher methodologies (e.g. online communities, tasks involving Spotify, Tinder etc).

So what’s changed? Here are a few of the shifts we discovered.

Big goals vs big fails

2007: ‘No one wants to do something they don’t enjoy.’

Back then, we found that success for young people was defined by their own goals. The older stereotypes of success (e.g. high paying job, big house, flash car) no longer applied and instead success largely equated to personal happiness i.e. doing what you want and then making a living from this.

2014: ‘The voice in the back of my head says not everyone can be the next Zuckerberg.’

Fast forward and 18-24-year-olds are still rejecting their parents’ definitions of success. However what’s changed is that there is phenomenal pressure to not just do what you want, but to do it in a BIG way.

There are so many high profile young entrepreneurs, bloggers and vloggers who have changed lives, made millions/billions or simply become celebrities. So young people currently find it hard to justify doing things in an ‘average way’. They therefore appreciate anyone who can support them as they strive towards achieving their large-scale dreams.

Tweet, pray, love

2007: ‘I get stressed by how much there is going on.’

Young people told us that they were being buffeted by an accelerated culture in which everything seemed fast paced e.g. trends coming and going, new technologies, news stories constantly breaking. They also felt that their personal (uni, work, social) lives were too hectic. Incidences of depression and anxiety were becoming fairly prevalent amongst friends.

2014: ‘I find the Dalai Llama and his mind so fascinating. He can deal with whatever situation the modern world throws at him.’

Today there are similar gripes, however there seem to be more tools in their toolkit (e.g. yoga and exercise, healthy diet, socialising and sharing) for becoming more resilient to everyday stresses. It was also heartening to hear words like ‘wellbeing’ and ‘mental health’ being more openly discussed.

The e-tox challenge

2007: ‘It’s great being connected, I couldn’t imagine what it was like before the internet.’

Young people were fully embracing of online media for information, shopping, entertaining and connecting e.g. messaging platforms, social media, gaming.

2014: ‘Although it’s easy to Snapchat, nothing beats a drink at the pub.’

This time we noticed a stronger desire to grab opportunities to switch off and have more offline experiences. However the convenience and affordability of online often made it harder for young people to disconnect. For example, music festivals could set them back hundreds of dollars whereas YouTube offered alternative access to free performances. As such, young people told us about seeking out cheap and cheerful reality fixes e.g. hanging out in parks, crafting, dumpster diving.

Just do it, don’t just ‘like’ it

2007: “I don’t like how Australians come across as racist and behind the times. We need to change this.”

Back then, 18-24-year-olds were passionate about driving societal change. Although these are typical traits of young people across the eras (e.g. student protests in the 60s and 70s) 2007’s hot topics were uniquely focused on driving acceptance and tolerance (post race riots, post 9-11).

2014: ‘Occasionally you see friends going to protest marches on Facebook, but most people just ‘like’ stuff and don’t do anything real.’

Youthful passion is still simmering today. However simultaneously there is growing cynicism towards activist behaviour on social media, an environment which fosters ‘support’ but does not necessarily generate tangible real world changes. For example Michelle Obama’s push to get people behind #BringBackOurGirls brought to life the ‘slacktivism’ complained about by young people who were starting to rally against online talk, by walking the walk with physical change actions e.g. using apps to find ethical/enviro products and shopping in stores with socially aligned purposes.

So now what?

The 18-24s of today are clearly a unique product of their environment and their age/life-stage. In order to connect with them, marketers need to look past the stereotypes and into their motivations and tensions.

This can be achieved in a variety of ways.

Firstly there are opportunities to inspire and support young people in achieving their dreams. Red Bull does this via their sporting ambassadors (e.g. Ellyse Perry, Sally Fitzgibbons) who share their journeys towards success, including the wins and fails.

Then there’s providing consumers with tangible ‘real world’ experiences. The inner city precinct Central Park helps young people switch to offline with their physical hangout spaces surrounded by mirrored light wells and tactile green life walls. This shopping destination also strikes a chord with young consumers by supporting up and coming artists in galleries.

The Swisse Colour Run is another experiential example that young people talked positively about. The event which involves runners being pelted by coloured powders, not only addresses the e-tox challenge, but also sparks greater wellbeing as an outlet for fun, release and face-to-face connection.  Although social media (including runner selfies snapped and shared) is observed to extend the impact of the campaign, this appears to be just one part of the marketing strategy.

Lastly, there is the opportunity for brands to demonstrate commitment to real social change. American Apparel and Cotton On earn love through their support of social campaigns and charities. In the latter’s case, young people told us that staff can talk knowledgably about the Cotton On Foundation’s efforts in Africa and some have even donated salaries and volunteered, thereby enhancing the clothing label’s social cred.

In sum, requesting #SelfiePhotosWithYourBrand are great but they’re just one marketing tactic and let’s face it, they’re a pretty superficial way of connecting.  We need to tap into the insights hidden much deeper beneath the surface to truly engage with 18-24 year olds.

NOTE: This post was originally published in the December 2014 edition of Research News

The films I saw at the movies in 2014 and how I rated them…

January 13, 2015

So the Golden Globes are all over and the Oscars nominations are now just around the corner so what better time than to give a rundown of the movies I was last year. There 39 this year, that is 1 up on last year.

Listed in chronological order of having been watched, and scored out of 5 where 5 is the highest score…

  1. August: Osage County = 5
  2. Philomena = 4
  3. The Book Thief = 3
  4. Saving Mr Banks = 5
  5. Twenty Feet From Stardom = 5
  6. Last Train to Lisbon = 2
  7. Her = 5
  8. 12 years a slave = 4
  9. Wolf of Wall Street = 4
  10. Dallas Buyers Club = 4 1/2
  11. Grand Budapest Hotel = 4
  12. Other Woman = 3 1/2
  13. Fading Gigolo = 3
  14. The Finishers = 4
  15. Belle = 3
  16. Bad Neighbors = 2
  17. Chef = 4
  18. Godzilla = 4
  19. The Edge of Tomorrow = 4
  20. Maleficent = 3 1/2
  21. Under the Skin = 3
  22. Grace of Monaco = 2 1/2
  23. Broken Circle Breakdown = 5
  24. The Two Faces of January = 3 1/2
  25. 22 Jump Street = 3 1/2
  26. Dawn of Planet of The Apes = 4 1/2
  27. A Most Wanted Man = 4 1/2
  28. Lucy = 4
  29. Calvary = 4
  30. The Keeper of Lost Causes = 4
  31. Begin Again = 5
  32. Equaliser = 4
  33. Gone Girl = 4
  34. Boyhood = 4 1/2
  35. Skeleton Twins = 5
  36. Pride = 3 1/2
  37. Interstellar = 4
  38. Whiplash = 5
  39. Hunger Games: Mockingjay = 3 1/2