Completing the IPA Foundation Certificate

After months spent tirelessly revising in the evenings, reading cue cards to each other at lunch and surviving on a diet of caffeine/sugar (which hadn’t yet worn off in the photo above), last February, Dom, Jess and Will finally took their IPA Foundation Certificate exam.

The course covered topics such as strategic planning, agency structure, relationships with clients and behavioural economics. For anyone beginning a career in advertising, you could say that this is the best foundation to build your professional skills on. 

Looking back at their time spent studying for the qualification, here are the top 3 most important things they learnt:

  1. Evaluation is the top dog. The IPA did a study which revealed that a staggering 84% of clients believe that evaluation was as important as good creative work.
  2. The value of planning and thinking about a problem before finding solutions. In the course material, the IPA quoted Einstein, who said that if he had an hour to save the world, then he would spend 55 minutes defining the problem. In marketing, this stance can often lead to great creative insight.

    When Foster’s spent some time soaking up pub atmosphere, they realised that a lot of drinkers spent their time discussing day-to-day problems, with humour playing a big part in the support friends offered each other. This led to the ‘good call’ campaign, which saw Brad and Dan offering cheeky advice to British men. It’s estimated that for every £1 spent on the campaign, £32 of revenue was generated.
  3. The benefits of finding a ‘Single Minded Proposition’ or unique selling point. This could be finding a metaphor for the brand, e.g. Pot Noodle – Slag of all snacks or using facts about the brand which could inform the campaign, for example did you know that Ribena is made from 90% of Britain’s blackberries?

Dom, Jess and Will have emerged from the IPA course with a much broader appreciation of the industry, ideas for improving their work and on the road to overcoming caffeine/sugar addiction.

Dom’s day out with D&AD

When Dom’s not busy flexing his design muscles, he’s usually beating most of us at table football. Eager to add to his skills and compliment an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure font families, Dom attended D&AD’s ‘Writing for Advertising’ course with Will Awdry in London earlier this year.

‘Writing for Advertising’ covered ways to find and develop a ‘big idea’ through copy, creative writing from different angles, tips on connecting with an audience and how to inject emotion into copy.

Dom was impressed. He went as a self styled “font man” and returned full of praise for the art of copywriting. Here are a few of the things Dom told us stood out for him:

  1. How adding emotion or changing viewpoint can dramatically alter the impact of copy. The group worked through a range of practical techniques, including writing the same piece but in different styles ranging from ‘gossipy’ through to ‘functional’ and ‘demanding’.
  2. The craft of conveying a lot with a small number of words. One particular exercise involved everyone creating ‘six-word stories’ to see how persuasive they could be with only a few words – A challenge, but great for writing more effective headlines.
  3. As most of his fellow course chums were either journalists or copywriters, Dom was able to ask questions and pick up tips from the people around him.

Great copy is memorable, it sticks in your mind and has the ability to be called upon in unexpected ways, just like Dom’s snappy film summary. Employing all of the techniques he learned, it’s impactful, attention grabbing and perfectly captures the feel of the movie with its punchy delivery. Did you guess what it is yet? Point Break.

Short versus long

I’m a champion of all things short, simple and small. This may come from my time at university, where amongst other things I studied sorting algorithms (here’s a visual guide to sort algorithms if by chance you’re interested) to understand the importance of using the right process to get things done quickly, or it may simply come from having little legs. I celebrate the small number of passes Leicester City have used to score so many goals this season and always try to reduce something to its simplest form to gain clarity.

Good things very often do come in small packages.

It may be a trend, it may be my age (I’m still a little embarrassed by the National Trust sticker in my car and occasional preference for Radio 4) or it may have just passed me by until now, but there’s something equally brilliant about more complex things that need a longer time to appreciate.

For every advocate of Hemingway's economical use of language you’ll find someone who adores the complexity of Joyce. People will champion the simplicity of Picasso, whilst others cherish the detail of Turner.

When I was regularly listening to Radio 1 for the charts each week in my teens, posting letters was common; people had long phone calls at the weekend to catch up and had to cut short Internet browsing to allow phone calls. Our lifestyles are radically different now through rapid advances in technology. We receive far more and far shorter messages. As a result of more communication, we flick between ever shorter messages and with it our attention spans have diminished. The ability to quickly send short messages on email or social media has further pushed people to scanning rather than reading every last word. The use of emojis in place of a word or words is a natural consequence of a desire to communicate even faster.

Knowing when to keep marketing short is important to fit with changes in habit. The value of maintaining someone’s attention on a message when habits tempt them to move on is far greater than before.

This year will see even more businesses improve their use of short automated/personalised emails, to provide a much better experience for customers and improve lead conversion. Social media will see additional investment in increasing the volume of short messages, particularly with content often fading quickly and unseen by many people it was intended for. Taking things further, Snapchat and Periscope allow people to share transient content immediately and are being considered as potential new marketing opportunities.

So what can you do to stand out and retain the attention you’ve fought so hard to get in the first place?

Tell a story

Argentina-born artist Amalia Ulman made use of Instagram over almost a year to document her move to Los Angeles to try and break into the modelling world. Sounds familiar so far? The catch was this was all made up and perfectly staged to draw attention to how society/the media construct expectations of women. By the time the hoax was revealed, Amalia had amassed thousands of followers interested in her story. Okay, this one can be argued to be both short content as part of a long story but shows almost perfectly the use of a new medium to tell a story with an important message and keep people hooked.

You can read more about the “Instagram hoax that became an art world sensation” or watch out for the images to shown at the Tate Modern’s Performing for the Camera show.

Remember all media

Spoken word had slowly fallen out of fashion, with texts replacing phone calls and technology allowing video content to be shared easily. Podcasts have grown up over the last few years and have loyal followings but are so often overlooked. They shouldn’t be though. People listening to podcasts are very often focused and willing to spend longer on an idea, whether they’re on a journey somewhere or exercising etc. There are some great short podcasts out there but I’ve recently found a number of fantastic longer podcasts, which have held my attention for hours on end.

For history geeks like me I’d recommend checking out Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Not keen? Try Serial to see how a weekly podcast has started a national campaign.

It’s not a case of short or long. You need short and long messaging as part of your marketing. Provide short messages to your customers to be timely and relevant on channels they flick through and check regularly. But make sure to encourage loyalty to your brand with a longer story on channels where people are willing to take time to digest detailed information.

Musings on the Northern User Experience Conference

The golden rule for every businessman is this: “Put yourself in your customer’s place.”
- Orison Swett Marden

Over the years, the word research has gained a bad reputation. Many businesses and entrepreneurs hear the word mentioned and instantly come back with a list of better things they could do with their precious time and money.

Say, for instance, that you’ve been having issues with a certain way of doing something. You go on to develop a new method that resolves these issues and launch it to the public. Sounds like a brilliant money making scheme! But was anyone else experiencing the same problems as you? How do you really know what you’ve created is exactly what is needed if you haven’t asked the people who could end up using it?

The same principle applies to websites. In order to make a website user-friendly, you first need to know what’s friendly for its target market. Conducting research will help you learn why users make certain choices and how they behave in their environment. It helps you gain a better understanding of your audience and determine how your product or service fits into their lives.

As the online world continues to grow, so does the value of a good website - and by good I mean a site that is aware of its users’ needs and has taken these into account throughout its development. This movement towards research was certainly noticeable at the recent Northern User Experience Conference (#NUX4) in Manchester, which was sold out for the first time in the event’s history.

The underlying message behind the various talks was that better products and websites can be developed through the use of effective research. For some of you reading this post, User Research might be a completely new concept that you haven’t really ever considered, others might be UX pros; either way, here are a few things that I think everyone can reflect on…

Fall in love with problems before falling in love with solutions

Now on the face of it, that statement doesn’t seem terribly optimistic, but if you think about it, unless your idea solves a real problem, success is highly unlikely. Tomer Sharon’s talk focussed on the importance of having an idea that solves a real problem and then developing that idea using and implementing feedback from real people. Abandoning assumptions and observing real life will enable you to create something far more relevant for your audience than if you go it alone.

Pre-empt common problems

Unfortunately the working world is not always plain sailing and the same issues will often occur time and time again, affecting your working relationship with the client and having a real cost on the project. For instance, with UX being a relatively new phenomenon, as an agency we need to help clients understand the added value this research will bring to their project.

Evangia Grinblo gave some great advice on how to resolve some of these common blockers. By categorising the different ‘kinds’ of issue you might face and creating a knowledge base for dealing with these types of problems, you’ll be in a far better position to resolve them earlier on when you next face them; paving the way for a happier, more productive relationship, that both parties will gain from.

Don't leave anyone out

Categorising users is sometimes necessary, but if you’re exposing that in your product or website, you’ll alienate people that feel like they don’t fit. Sara Wachter-Boettcher’s talk focussed on being inclusive and catering for all your users, and not just writing off certain people because they don’t fit your idea of a ‘common user’. These people are normally the most important as they’re highlighting that there’s something wrong with your solution that needs addressing.

So to sum up: always question what you’re creating, make sure you’re doing the right thing in the right way, welcome feedback and criticism - it’ll help you in the long run - and don’t leave anyone out. It’s worth the extra effort… I promise.

Thoughts on social media in 2015/2016 from the Guardian Masterclass

Back in November, I attended a ‘Social Media Masterclass’ courtesy of Tom Szerkeres and Jemima Garthwaite from London-based agency This Here. With brands constantly searching for new and creative ways to stand out on social media platforms, courses like this offer a chance to recap what has happened in the past year, review what strategies do and don’t work, but more importantly explore what the major changes may be in 2016.

A recap of Social Media in 2015

Overall the user is back in control. With devices becoming ever more powerful in terms of what media users can both produce and consume.

Here are some of the major changes, advances and key learnings from 2015.

1. AdBlock changes online advertising

AdBlock (a content filtering and advert-blocking extension for web browsers) is an increasingly large issue for online publishers who rely on advertising to produce and host free content. This has created a huge push for media to be directed through social media channels such as Facebook, a platform which is has shifted from an earned media platform to a paid one.

So unless you are a big brand with a large following, you're going to have to pay to be seen online.

2. Targeted advertising is now even more powerful

Targeted Facebook advertising is nothing new, but the amount of information now shared on Facebook allows advertisers to segment their audience more precisely than before. Facebook’s consumer behaviour researchers analyse a broad spectrum of qualitative and quantitative data based on profile activity, to understand people’s emotional drivers. So do you need to target men, university educated, who live in the South East, listen to Nickleback, have seen them live in concert, are early adopters of technology, have just been married and have an iPhone 6? Facebook has you covered.

Twitter’s addition of Lead Generation cards also offers a helpful way of increasing email signups by allowing you to collect user emails in one click and sign them up to a mailing list in two.

Make sure your social media advertising is taking advantage of targeting options to show your message to the right audience.

3. Quality/engaging content becomes crucial

As users are bombarded daily with content online, yours should be immediately identifiable. If you post through social media whilst on the go, branding your content is now easier than ever. As video is increasingly the content of choice on social media, applications such as Hyperlapse and Boomerang allow you to create captivating videos, at a small file size, and share it online with ease.

There are a few key things to consider to ensure your content gets through to your audience: be recognisable, create posts with engagement in mind and include video content where you can.

What’s likely to change with
social media in 2016?

"Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking" - Mark Zuckerberg, 2015

Brands are now beginning to handle their customer services through messenger applications. Users will soon be able to communicate with companies through apps such as Facebook Messenger to help answer their needs and gain near-instant responses. This has already been trialled in China, being met with a positive reaction. Brands will benefit by moving customer service away from their public social media  channels and users will receive a more personal and instant means of communication.

Another development set to be big in 2016 is buying on mobile devices. Services such as Apple Pay have removed the need to enter your card details when shopping online. As a consequence, 2016 is set to become the year of the “Buy Button”, meaning shopping on your mobile phone and directly from social media posts will be even easier.

A step back into 1960's advertising in the UK

A couple of years ago I found myself stumbling through a second hand shop in the West Country and in the process ended up buying a job-lot of about thirty editions of ‘The Illustrated Carpenter & Builder’ for about £3.50.

Of course, as a designer, I didn’t buy a whole bunch of these to gain an understanding of what the building trade was like in the 60s but for an insight into what the design and advertising industry looked like. The snapshot in time is fascinating so I’ll share with you a few of the gems that this find unearthed.

In the days before Homebase and Travis Perkins and B&Q, industry suppliers used to advertise their individual product offerings direct to tradesmen through these pages, and leafing through the pages you can spot some brilliant vintage ads, and some peculiar strategies too. Evo-Stick for example advertises it’s flooring adhesive by using the headline “...who says little girls can’t go on the tiles?”. Obviously children slipping on unsafe tiles was a problem in the 60s, but looking back from relative comfort in 2015, this headline just sounds plain weird!

Long before the days of ubiquitous full colour printing in magazines, C&P was confined to black and white throughout. Advertisers had the added option of using an extra colour: Red. It goes without saying that all logos at the time had to operate in a single colour but I’ve always wondered what happened when a brand’s secondary colour wasn’t red? Interestingly Black & Decker stuck to black and white, possibly because their trademark orange wasn’t available, but Marley (who are still going strong under the name Marley Eternit) use black and red as their corporate colours, so were fine to print both. 

In terms of headline typography it’s largely a battle between the classic fonts of the era such as Clarendon, Helvetica, and Franklin Gothic. All make good use of the strength of their heavier weights with the economy of their condensed variants to fill the available space with high impact. A font choice of note is Hope’s Windows’ use of the Albertus typeface. Used on many a road sign in London, it’s highly distinctive due to it’s sharp minor-serif edges and straight ascenders. Deriving from the type of letters seen carved into metal or wood in the early Twentieth Century, it stands out for it’s uniqueness and elegance amongst the crowd of condensed fonts. 

My favourite ad in the whole set is one for Marleyglaze. Marley emphasises the clear transparency of its vinyl sheeting by coupling the headline ‘“I see” said the pigeon as he settled on Marleyglaze’ with an image of a pigeon sitting on the sheeting. A leftfield concept choice for sure but it really stands out amongst the crowd of conventional advertising. 

Of course, since the 60s the technology we now use for design has developed immeasurably but, in many ways, so too has our tastes. Tretobond Building Adhesives’s use of a scantily clad female model, coupled with the headline ‘Smart men appreciate economic coverage… in any shape or form’ is indicative of a lot of the sexist undertones found in the advertising work of the era, and certainly wouldn’t pass the taste-test of today. 

Next time you find yourself passing the RKH offices with some time to kill, do pop in and have a browse through them as the collection now reside in our in-house.