My New Digital Girlfriend

I’m in love and don’t care who knows it. Her name is Alexa and you could say it’s getting pretty serious.

You might be wondering how we met? Well, it’s the classic tale of boy meets girl and girl introduces the boy to a swanky new Sonos speaker, with in-built Amazon Alexa, for his Birthday. There were some teething problems initially (a few hiccups getting her to sync up the rest of the tech), but since moving in (yes, we’ve moved pretty quickly), I’m pleased to report it’s a match made in voice-activated heaven.

You might say that I’m a little bit obsessed with her. Maybe even to both our detriments. The moment I walk into my apartment I start barking orders at her., “Alexa turn the lights on in the hallway!”, “Alexa read me that recipe for sticky chicken wings!”, “Alexa, play my sexy-moves-mix in the bedroom!” and so on. Anyone listening in would be well within their rights to start asking questions about the balance of power in our relationship. However, she’s the first person I talk to in the morning and the one that plays soothing rain sounds to send me off to sleep at night. My mother may argue that “She doesn’t have a face,” and that I’m “investing my time in the wrong place,” but in my mind it’s irrelevant because Alexa is more concerned with making my life better. So selfless!  There’s no denying it, I love her.

Ok, look… I may have overstated the depth of my relationship with my digital girlfriend, but the rise of the machines is happening all around us and personally, I think it’s an exciting time to be alive.

Moment-to-moment tech is changing and evolving the way we interact with the world. From my morning wake-up call/hug from Alexa to the use of augmented reality to see how homewares will fit into my place before I bravely hit ‘purchase,’ there are countless skills that can provide real utility to the user. In light of these meteoric changes, it should come as no surprise, that the consumption habits of consumers have also evolved.

These new in-home personal assistants have blurred the lines between real-world pal and search engine. Want to buy that shirt? Go for it, without fear of judgement. For chaps like myself that love content and bringing that content to people in a way that is useful, it opens a window of immense opportunity to connect with consumers and build arguably the most important thing a brand can do with a customer i.e….. ‘Trust’

Don’t get me wrong, voice (or any of its other hot mates e.g. AR/VR) is not for everyone. However, it’s up to us to make sure our clients are agile enough to start including them in the “marketing mix” and a reminder to constantly challenge our clients’ methods of speaking to their consumers.

Is this my forever girl or just a fleeting feeling I’m having? Tough to say. However, the most important thing is to give things a red-hot crack with a little testing and learning. Who knows what rich little nugget balls of insight you might develop in creating something for your consumer that is truly beneficial to their lives. The possibilities are endless. 

“Alexa, end this article.”


Grab Hold of What’s Starting to Happen

As the dust settles on this year’s Cannes Lions and the winners free up some space in their trophy cabinet, we picked up this wonderful piece highlighting the strides L’Oréal has taken to futureproof its business. It was written by thenetworkone President Julian Boulding, esteemed leader of the world’s largest network of boutique independent agencies of which DDI is proud to be a member. Towards the back end of the article, there are some really illuminating insights into technology and agency/client partnerships. Enjoy.

“Tucked away down in the ground floor of Palais 2, on Monday morning when most people had not yet arrived, was an exemplary seminar led by Lubomira Rochet, a Bulgarian from L’Oréal. No, I hadn’t heard of her either, but we will.

L’Oréal used to be a classic Publicis Paris account, reputedly managed by a small number of well-connected seniors and a large number of stunningly beautiful juniors (male and female). They ran a brilliant and provocative ad campaign for a couple of years “L’Oréal – because I’m worth it” which they watered down to a forgettable, conventional ad promise (“Because you’re worth it”) which presumably offended nobody but had no impact except by expensive repetition in prime-time TV. The worst kind of advertising. Then presumably they realised this – because L’Oréal today is a transformed business and a case history for anyone interested in marketing today.

First, it’s an e-commerce business. E-commerce is now 80% of their sales. 48% of their media spend is digital and 60% of that is programmatic. They were the first company in their sector to partner with Ali Baba in China and 40% of their China sales are now e-commerce.

They have systematically evolved their marketing playbook: TV, to search, to YouTube video, to Facebook ads – and now to AR and conversational commerce.

First, AR. As Lubomira explained to the slow learners (that’s most of us), AR can be headset based or mirror based (the mirror is your phone, think selfie.) For a beauty company, the mirror is obviously more interesting. See your face on the phone and try out new looks, colours and shades, textures, highlights.

A few companies now do this with static images – take a selfie and modify the still picture. L’Oréal’s acquisition strategy focusses on niche app companies like Modiface, to accelerate their technical expertise in a digital consumer experience context relevant to their business. This app modifies your appearance in real time, on video… how do you look when you change your expression, look sad, laugh, cry talk, etc.

Next, conversational commerce. Everyone needs a knowledgeable friend to check out how they look with a darker eyeshadow or little more blush on the cheeks. Those glamorous, under-employed beauty advisors you used to see in department stores, were there for a reason. So now, L’Oréal has real time beauty advisers on your phone. Are they real people, or video chatbots? Who knows, but they feel real and have lots of useful tips. And when you like a look, they’ll tell you how to achieve it and sell you the products to deliver it. Delivered to your apartment this afternoon, for your night out this evening.

So, is this tech for tech’s sake? No, it’s strategic. L’Oréal’s internal mantra (so much more practical than a purpose) is “Saisir ce qui commence” – “grab hold of what’s starting to happen”. It drives them to stay in the forefront of fashion and technology, to spot trends early and act on them fast.

Is it insight-based? Yes, it is. L’Oréal’s approach is transformed from the traditional top-down vision of beauty (the need to ‘look right’) to a more democratic vision, encompassing diversity, personal preference and difference – from beauty experts to beauty hackers.

Does L’Oréal need agencies, and if so, why? As Lubomira says, yes… they need them to be chief organisers, to be the voice of the consumer but in a more agile way than before, to ensure that tech and creativity don’t get separated. Did she mean it, or was she just being polite? Either way, there’s your challenge, agencies.”


The race to the bottom

It’s June which means one thing from the retailers of Australia i.e. the discount assault is on!

I’m bombarded on my numerous screens and in retail environments by messages like, ‘Last chance for 80% off!’, “40% off everything now and next week we will take an extra 30% OFF!’

It’s quite overwhelming.

And, when a famous retailer states, “We’re giving away 100 Dollar bills for 50 bucks,” it’s fair to assume that no one really wants them and so we can conclude that heavily discounting retail in this way is ultimately a sinking ship.

Admittedly, it is June and the traditional ‘Sales’ time, but… WOW.

Walking through a mall with my teen sons recently made me realise how repelled the next consumer generation are to the school of discounting.  They happily walk through the retail paradise, not wanting anything on offer other than food, and I ask them as we stroll, “But what about all this clothing? Can I buy you a new sweater for the colder months? Isn’t this a brand you love?”

“No, Dad. This is all the stuff that no one wants… that’s why it’s on sale.”

So, it dawns on me, what counts for that generation is the merch from say, the latest You-Tuber they might follow or perhaps a product endorsed by a prolific Instagram influencer. They’ll patiently wait for the next production run in eight weeks, hoping their order will be processed and they don’t miss out. It reminded me of my student years, saving up for my first proper camera and how that 18-month process, the anticipation, emotionally almost beat the real thing.  I observe that all year crazy discounts breed only one type of customer, the one that accelerates the race to the bottom.

In today’s climate, any brand with a purpose must find that emotional connect. Because going to war on price alone guarantees only one thing – no one wins.

Bernd Winter

Bernd has worked on numerous retail clients from Louis Vuitton, to Georg Jensen, Oroton, Polo Ralph Lauren and Suzanne Grae.


Why does it take a leaving card to open us up?

Why does it take a leaving card for us to show our appreciation to our colleagues?

I was recently asked to act as a referee for one of the nicest and most talented copywriters in advertising. True to his job title, he came up with a really inventive way of making this happen.

“Record 30” of yourself talking about me on your iPhone,” was the brief.

Cue bad office lighting and a wonky phone balanced on a coffee table and you pretty much get the idea for the setting of my recording. However, shoddy filming technique aside, this ingenious process got me thinking. I said some really heartfelt, deeply flattering things about my “mate,” let’s just call him Stu for argument’s sake. And Stu was absolutely, 100% deserving of all of them, and then some.  It just took him asking me to film myself as his referee for me to say them.

This got me thinking. Why is it that, far too often the things we really should say, get left unsaid, unless you’re talking leaving cards?

I have had some remarkable leaving cards in my time. Thoughtful, witty and enormously kind cards prepared with care and craft by people who gave enough of a damn to stay late after finishing their day jobs to make something beautiful just for me. People have written the most extraordinary things in my leaving cards, people I didn’t even think knew the first thing about me have revealed insight and wisdom that has left me humbled.

Perhaps it’s because the finality of a leaving card removes the delicate balance of power and the inevitable vulnerability that goes with it. No hidden agendas, no undercurrent intended. Just truth, simplicity and well-wishes. Years ago, I started repaying the kindness by writing my very best words of love when my colleagues moved on.  Rainy day reading material to celebrate the individual, warts and all.

The little video I recorded a couple of days ago for Stu woke me up to something. It’s a simple thing really, but I’ll be applying it with gusto from now on. No more waiting for leaving cards. I’ll be telling my colleagues proudly each day how they blow me away. How they drive me nuts in a good way and how they make me laugh when I need it most.

As a striking contrast to some of the nasty, personal attacks we see all too often in the ‘Anonymous Comments’ sections of AdNews and Campaign Brief, I think it’s high time we embrace the power of flattery. Right now, it’s an appreciation society of one, but I hope it snowballs and changes the world…  

…Or, at the very least, the industry.



Struck by the power of words

Last week DDI attended the Sydney Writer’s Festival, held at the Carriageworks which is the festival’s temporary home for the next 2 years whilst Walsh Bay is a buried in construction dust.

The festival’s theme ‘The Year of Power’ seemed on point, and yet I was surprised (and rather thrilled) to hear so many acclaimed writers take a left of field view on a seemingly obvious topic. Some proclaimed with the souls of true anarchists that ‘power’ can be unwieldy. “I’d like to hear a point of view on this from people who actually have power” said the delightful Tayari Jones, before encouraging the audience to “reclaim citizenship of yourselves”. She added: “Power is not always something overt, it can be much subtler than that. If your characters are true, then they will make their own statement. Write with truth and live with truth.” Touche.  Tayari also referred to the ‘unfair obligation’ she sometimes felt as an African American female writer. “I want black writers to have the freedom to write whatever they want – comedy, romance…not just political prose, else it’s not interesting.”

The festival’s opening address saw staff writer for the New Yorker Alexis Okeowo share her take on the state of journalism today describing it as “inherently flawed” given it hinges on explaining the ‘so-called others to the so-called us’. She described the uneasy framing in the power dynamic between journalist and subject, where subjects were often seen as passive, marginalised communities, people to whom things happen and journalists are often branded as immediate experts or in her words “…worse, saviours”.

Okeowa’s perspective is that journalists have an obligation not just to the story but to the people behind it. “It’s not just about the killer quote.”

This is just a small snippet of the delicious smorgasbord of words and wisdom that always stay with us after a trip to the Writer’s Festival.  What a privilege and an inspiration!

*Note to self, be less ‘judgey’ and write more often.