Some links and some book recommendations!

Antonym No. 15: The oh-he's-still-doing-these edition

Dear Reader

I’m talking about personalisation later in this letter, so here’s the most impersonal intro ever.

I hope you’re well.

Please find enclosed below a bunch of links from the last week and some notes on books I’m reading.

Sincerely

Antony

News

Mammon Shrugs: The markets didn’t worry too much about the G7's pledge to tax big tech companies

Multinationals shrug off G7 tax assault | Financial Times

“The market has come to the conclusion that it will not come to pass,” said Margie Patel, a senior portfolio manager at Wells Fargo Asset Management. “It’s wishful thinking by some of the larger countries but it’s going to be a really tough sell to some of the smaller economies that have to maybe lose their attractiveness as a tax haven.”

One part of the package, a minimum 15 per cent tax rate on corporate profits, will only be effective if enough countries adopt it — otherwise companies can continue to sidestep the rules by relocating to friendlier jurisdictions.

You Can’t Teach a Brew Dog old…

A week's such a long time in the slow-moving frenetically fast world right now that I'd almost forgotten about Brew Dog's troubles at the start of the week when a group of former staff published an open letter describing bad working conditions at the company which prides itself on its BCorp credentials (which are also being reviewed).

Someone asked me why tyrannical leaders like Steve Jobs get away with it while these guys are having to eat humble pie. Thing is, Jobs made the product and the customer need his virtue. Brewdog has made a huge amount of reputation/awareness based on its social good / conscious business stance. They were heroes of the Meaning / conscious business movement. It’s this hypocrisy that means this criticism is most-read on The Guardian [last Monday] morning, trending on Twitter and prominent in the FT.

Jobs was obnoxious in so many ways. But not a hypocrite (which we instinctively abhor and react against - see the excellent The Righteous Mind for more on this).

For what it’s worth, Ed Catmull thought the idea of a tyrant Jobs was untrue. He described him as being obsessed with effective teams. 

Anyway, Brew Punk did the deft thing and made a massive apology to suck the air out of the scandal. We’ll see if it comes back to haunt them or if consumers care at all enough to dent sales. 

: : Bonus fun link: This hilarious video was re-shared a lot in the wake of the Brew Dog scandal.

Bottlegate

Ronaldo gave another demonstration of much more powerful the biggest sports stars have become  in recent years (because of direct access to fans via social media) by removing some Coca-Cola bottles from in front of his eerily un-aging person at a press conference: 

Ronaldo’s drive remains undimmed: every defeat is a personal insult, every teammate’s failure to supply him a tragedy. He is equally perfectionist off the field: he helped get his brother Hugo off drugs and gives quietly to charities. Three of his four children were born to surrogate mothers, who are not involved in the child-rearing, as if no mere partner could meet his parental standards.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s removal of two Coca-Cola bottles during a press conference at the European Championship has coincided with a $4bn fall in the share price of the drinks company.

“Ronaldo is right at the top of social media earners,” says PR expert Mark Borkowski. “It is about the rise of the personal brand, the personal channel, it gives so much bloody power. That’s what has allowed Ronaldo to make a point [about a healthy lifestyle].”

Now 36, the world’s most famous footballer has built an empire that has seen him make more than $1bn (£720m) in football salaries, bonuses and commercial activities such as sponsorships. What is crucial is the global platform social media has given him – half a billion followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – which has freed him from following the commercial rules of clubs, tournaments and their sponsors. He is the highest earner on Instagram, commanding $1m per paid post, and with more than $40m in income from the social media platform annually he makes more than his salary at Juventus.

Elsewhere, the FT’s Gideon Rachman has written a thoughtful piece on politics and football at the Euros. 

At the last European football championships in France in 2016, the ugly tradition of English football hooliganism re-emerged. When I remarked to another fan that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed being caught up in a near riot outside a bar in Marseilles, I was told curtly: “If you don’t like it, you should stay at home and watch the game on television.” 

Football grounds in the 1970s were also where I saw the most overt racism that I’ve ever witnessed in Britain. It was routine to see black players barracked by boos and monkey noises. The football authorities and commentators were silent about this for many years.

So if the current national side feel they want to make a statement about racism, it is hard to accuse them of bringing politics into an apolitical space. The politics — particularly the racial politics — have always been there.


Stream on, you crazy diamonds

This week in the music streaming wars, Apple’s gone for tech features and Spotify’s gone for personalisation and shareable content. 

Apple Music launched its spatial audio feature. I think it sounds fantastic, but I still can't tear myself away from Spotify – which knows me better and easier to organise the huge number of playlists I compile compulsively and don't like to delete. The Verge was less impressed:

Eddy Cue is Apple’s senior vice president of services and the person who oversees Apple Music. He didn’t mince words when he told Billboard that the sudden proliferation of lossless audio isn’t going to significantly evolve or change how we listen to music. “There’s no question it’s not going to be lossless,” he said when asked what technologies will bring about the “next-gen” of music streaming. Cue firmly stands on the side of the crowd that argues most people can’t hear any difference between CD-quality or hi-res tracks and the AAC or MP3 files that’ve been filling their ears for so long now. He did acknowledge that the higher-bit rate tracks might matter to music lovers with particularly sharp hearing or premium audio equipment, but he was also direct about how niche that group is.

Meanwhile Spotify’s got more of our data about more of what we listen to than Apple does and uses to great marketing effect with algorithm-driven marketing that feels intimate instead of creepy. Every year people enjoy and share their “year in music” content from Spotify. This week I – and probably millions of others – got an email with a “why you’re so special” breakdown of our unique playlists along with.

Rule one of marketing content in the many-to-many social media age: make the story about them. I was revealed (to myself) as someone who listens to the theme from Blade Runner on loop to try and get focused in the mornings, and then asked multiple-choice from most-listened artists to pick my ideal dinner party companions. 

Rule two: make useful content – apart from content about ME that is totally unique and that I can share with people to show the interestingness of ME Spotify’ gives a bunch of playlists mixed around my preferences. It does this every day, sure – but these were really good lists and I saved a load of them straight away. Apple Music’s curation is fantastic but is more about great taste from experts than specifically what the user wants.  

Stats! 

Ofcom's Online Nation report was published on June 9th. UK online use stats a-plenty. Spoiler: everyone’s using the internet a lot more since lockdown and it’s not going to change. 

Facts to make the mind boggle

The dog had previously been used by the force to go into schools as part of outreach work, but has been promoted to the role of therapy dog for “post-incident support”.

  • That “we only use 10% of our brains” line? Utter nonsense, in case you hadn't realised. 

[Eagleman:] There’s this myth that we only use 10% of our brain that, of course, is not true. We’re using 100% of our brain all the time. But the way information can be digested and fed to the brain can be very different. I think the next generation is going to be much smarter than we are. I have two small kids, and any time they want to know something, they ask Alexa or Google Home, and they get the answer right in the context of their curiosity. This is a big deal, because the brain is most flexible when it is curious about something and gets the answer.

  • The English Zeitgeist in a 5 second clip of the week: Q: “Are you hopeless, Mr Hancock?” A: “I don’t think so.”

Books!

The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, by Blair Enns

I joined a book group for marketing agency leaders. (It’s much better than that makes it sound.) The group is working its way through The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, by Blair Enns (who I imagine never has to pitch for work after writing this). This is the kind of book title that I usually avoid, unless, as in this case, forcibly recommended to read. I’m so glad I’ve read it now. 

Essentially, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto is an intervention for creative professionals, or “anyone who sells ideas for a living”, designed to get them out of the trap of pitching and proposal writing as a default way of winning business. 

Other professionals are taught to drive the diagnostic process or risk their professional credentials. When they become the client in the practitioner-client relationship they do what they always do: they attempt to take control. And we let them. The result is usually an engagement gone awry. 

This is essential at the moment as the marketing services industry is like many other sectors, being rocked by the economic shocks of the pandemic. Sharp practices by buyers or their agents to drive down prices create a race to the bottom. The advice is straightforward and obvious – make sure you’re differentiated, don’t work for free, etc. – but delivered in a clear and direct style that demands attention and then action. 

It was written in 2010, which may be an excuse for the exclusive use of male pronouns throughout. It’s surprising how much this jars, reading it in 2021. I think the practice might have been a bit old school even then, but now it is slightly embarrassing and rightly objected to by more than one fellow reader. 

A redeeming feature is its brevity – at 78 pages it wastes no words and can be read in an afternoon. I read it slowly, as I was taking notes and highlighting constantly. 

If you want a copy, the Kindle and Audiobook versions are the ones to go for – hard copies are expensive. 

Framers: Human Advantage In An Age of Technology, by Ken Cukier et al

I’m three quarters through this book, but loving it so much that I have already bought it as a gift and will likely do so again. Cukier and Mayer-Schoenberger wrote the definitive book on big data (which sold two million copies worldwide, apparently) and now turn their hands to the way that we think. 

It’s a practical way of thinking about how we think, and about how we can sometimes change the frames we see the world through to great effect. 

I love concepts like “cognitive foraging” – making a constant effort to spot and understand different frames for thinking: 

Another strategy for increasing mental diversity is to whet our appetite for new ideas. Call it “cognitive foraging”: the pursuit of new ways of thinking and seeing the world without the specific aim to acquire frames. One swoops in hither and thither in pursuit of new ideas, experiences, and ways of seeing. Think of it as curiosity taken seriously. The aim is to be exposed to a plethora of perspectives, a variety of viewpoints, a cornucopia of concepts, all outside of one’s domain. This helps us become more open to seeking and finding new mental models when we need to. It accustoms us to the task of being a hunter-gatherer of ideas; we exercise our inquisitiveness. By constantly looking, we’re better at seeing.

Once I’ve finished I’ll write a more considered review, but for now it’s a strong recommendation. 

Two quick fiction recommends

  • The Lonely Man, by Chris Power. I have been very fortunate with my fiction reading this month. If you enjoy psychological thrillers or spy novels The Lonely Man is excellent. An English writer living in Berlin meets someone telling tall tales about Russian oligarchs’ conspiracies and decides to steal his story. The trick it pulls off nicely is to find put you convincingly in the space between the normal everyday world and the dangerous undercurrents of of bigger, badder world. 

  • An Artist Of The Floating World, by Kashuro Ishiguro. I’d not read any Ishiguro, but after reading his latest, Klara And The Sun, and watching the BBC Arena documentary about him, I can tell I’m going to be reading everything he’s written in the coming months. Set in the reconstruction of Japan after the Second World War, the main character is an artist whose career was made during the nationalist terror that preceded its empire-building. In his retirement he is coming to recognise and trying to rationalise his association with great wrongs. Beautifully written, kind of goes without saying – they don’t give out those Nobel prizes to just anyone, you know. 

That’s it for this week – who knows, maybe this month. If you have read all the way through this, I hope it was worth it and THANK YOU.