Mental – the new normal

As an extra curricular brain stretch, the enigmatic Suj coordinates a regular event for the iris Planning department at a local pub. He presents on a topic outside of the navel-gazing world of advertising in order to kick off a confab.

In the most recent of the series, I collaborated with Suj to co-present on the topic of mental health.

In a fit of extremely ugly Powerpointing, I have put my notes over the top of each slide.

10 things I learnt when I ran the iris Indonesia Planning department

As someone who had never been further east than Greece and had never touched on the southern hemisphere, I found myself on my way to spend two months in the capital of the world’s fourth largest nation (¼ billion people), Indonesia. It offered me the chance to experience a totally new culture as well as to mentor a small team of local planners. I jumped at the chance to travel with work.

Jakarta is not a city for the faint hearted however, and required a lot of patience and acceptance. As part of an archipelago of over 17,500 islands, I managed a few weekend trips during my rotation, a welcome break from the…


  • Because they all drive wildly. There’s no road rage. I spent every day in traffic and only saw one stern stare, which could have been to do with anything. Honking isn’t aggressive but it does have many other uses: “I’m here”, “I see you”, “I’m about to do something” etc.
  • The hard shoulder appears to be a legitimate lane
  • Even on a sunny day you only see a morning’s worth of sun before the smog takes over and it’s overcast again. Recycling is simply not a thing there; there is a common belief that climate change is God’s will and that humans can do nothing to stop it
  • You can’t estimate a time of arrival based on distance; it’s pure luck of the draw, meaning that punctuality is the exception not the rule


  • The prolific use of the words “can” and “cannot” in the office served to remind me of the very apparent divide between the haves and have-nots in Jakarta
  • Indonesians as a whole are the friendliest nation I’ve ever encountered. This secondment would have been infinitely more difficult had everyone I met not been so kind and generous
  • Indonesia is 90% Muslim and religion noticeably plays a role in everyone’s lives; I was something of an anomaly as the atheist in the room but the motto of unity in diversity (Bhinneka tunggal ika) is never more apparent than when a group of Indonesians come together (usually over food)

Indonesian Millennials

  • Martin Weigel made a lovely observation on his trip to India “Empathy and insight depend on understanding technology through the lens of people. Not people through the lens of technology.”
  • What interested me most was observing the differences between Indonesian Millennials and the traits that we commonly associate with this group in the UK. They have the aspiration to be part of the current global culture, but at the same time they want their indigenous identity and culture recognised
  • Research studies often sub-divide into ‘single’ and ‘married’ Millennials. Most people live at home until they are married
  • What I was surprised to see, given the way it’s reported in the world news, was how out and proud young gay Indonesians are. There are also plenty of young female Indonesians wearing the hijab. Some do, some don’t but everyone mucks along


  • The odd opposite of advertising cigarettes but not alcohol and the challenges of advertising alcohol in a “dark market”
  • Happy aspirational faces with offer messaging still appear to be the lead output of Indonesian advertising, even if it is in the more modern veil of a KOL (key opinion leader) on social
  • Beyond the pleasantries, my Bahasa remained non-existent (catch up Duolingo) but there is comfort to be found seeing communications in the alphabet that you recognise. I expect this would be a noticeable difference, and would potentially offer a different perspective, in another busy Asian city


  • Indonesians over-index on smartphone usage compared to the rest of the world. It is their primary screen and many have foregone the desktop entirely, opting solely for mobile. A behaviour almost unique to Indonesia
  • The on-demand economy has taken Jakarta by storm. Companies such as Go-Jek enable you to order anything from your ride to work, to your groceries, to a massage, to a cleaner, to your prescription (the list goes on) at the tap of an app
  • Despite this, you have to appreciate the small miracle that has taken place when something “just works” in Indonesia, which leads me to:

Ways of working

  • Use of Whatsapp over email. Each new project had its own Whatsapp group
  • Few people in the office before 11 but they then stay until 1am
  • I remember more than one instance of an account handler picking up their phone, which wasn’t on silent, during a client meeting and stage whispering “I’m in a meeting”. It was also common for conversations to be taking place while people were presenting
  • Another nuance was making a room booking request, I was told “I’ll write it down and get back to you tomorrow”. Things just operate at a different pace to London and you have to account for that rather than letting it frustrate you; I wasn’t going to change the system in two months, who was I to try and do so anyway?

Being white

  • Aside from 4 days in Morocco, this was only the second time I have ever been a minority race. This was never problematic but did not go unnoticed
  • I lived in the same area where the embassies were so I wasn’t short of an expat face or two but go even to get an internal flight and you’re suddenly having stealthy photographs taken of you
  • One of the first words I learnt was “bule”, literally meaning “red hair” but any comments I did receive were said with a smile and meant with all kindness; “I like your face” and one girl, while putting her arm against mine said “Like milk and coffee”

But still being female…

  • Six weeks into my secondment, my boyfriend came to visit and despite me being the guide it was suddenly “Sir. What will she have Sir?” “Thank you Sir”.
  • I rode every day on the back of the scooter of a male stranger and didn’t once feel in anyway compromised. Until the occasional message afterwards (Uber and Go-Jek don’t mask your phone number)…

What I learnt for work

  • Global strategies need to not rest on Western truisms
  • Your media plan will be wrong. Snapwhat? Path FTW

What I learnt for me

  • The history, geography and culture of a country I was ignorant of
  • My previously unacknowledged ability to make the most of any experience

A presentation on architecture

As information architects, I believe that there is a lot that strategists can learn from designers. I gave this presentation to the Planning team at iris as part of our McPhilo sessions; a bi-monthly initiative overseen by Suj Summers where we take a topic that’s not directly related to advertising and give a 20 minute presentation. It was also an opportunity for me to have a bit of a rant about the working environment at iris Towers…

Putting the Long & Short of It through the Mum Test

a.k.a. Why does John Lewis keep trying to make me feel all the feels?


So Mum, just so you don’t get caught out on the ever-important topic of brand equity, here goes:

In advertising, we often need to show how the communications we put out into the world relate to the amount the company has spent on this work and the profit they make or sales of their product or service that arise off the back of it.

A couple of highly regarded consultant strategy types; Les Binet and Peter Field, wrote a seminal document called Marketing in the Era of Accountability, where they analysed hundreds of case studies of different advertising campaigns in order to create a definitive, industry standard for evaluating the effectiveness of campaigns.

Through this paper, they advocated that brands need both short-term objectives, in order to get people to buy now but also longer-term objectives that focus on building the positive perception people hold of the brand. Knowing that successful brands show a balance of both, they wrote a new paper called The Long & Short of It, which explores how companies can balance these two objectives in order to increase revenue.

Short-term & Long Term

The growth of the internet has meant that there are a lot more ways in which businesses can talk to potential and existing customers. They can also get instant feedback on how these communications are received and with a ‘Buy Now’ button that’s active 24/7, they can sell to more people than ever before. This has led companies to focus their attention on short-term results. Promotional offers (e.g. buy one get one free) are the easiest way to achieve these short-term results.

However, it is important to understand that all brands, not just the biggies, are now able to create a whizzy website, so businesses must not forget the importance of building the appeal of the brand in order to differentiate from their competitors and so that it comes to people’s minds quickly, or becomes the automatic choice at the supermarket shelf.

This is why, as well as focusing on the short-term results, we shouldn’t lose sight of the long-term results whose impact won’t be evident until later (a matter of years rather than a few months).

Brand Response

Unfortunately, most companies divide each year into quarters and have to reach targets at each of those four-month increments. They also have to show improvements year after year. So what to do to meet both of these objectives?

Well, by analysing around 1000 effectiveness case studies of advertising campaigns, which is the most reliable way of measuring cause and effect, Binet and Field discovered that the most effective way of making a profit was to balance short-term ‘activation’ with long-term ‘brand-building’ to create, what they call ‘Brand Response’.

Brand Response campaigns prove to be almost as effective at activation (sales) in the short-term as those campaigns that only focus on activation and almost as effective at brand-building in the long-term as the campaigns whose sole objective was building the brand. Best of both worlds.

Here’s a chart that explains that:

L&S chart01

These clever chaps even discovered the optimum ratio between brand-building and activation: Ideally you should aim for a 60:40 split. That’s 60% of communications focused on brand building and 40% on promotions to make the perfect ‘Brand Response’ campaign.

L&S chart02

Brand Response is ideally 60% brand-building, 40% promotions

Does that make sense?


Another very trendy topic to talk about in advertising at the moment is whom you should be aiming your communications at. Do you:

  1. Go after your existing customers and try and keep them loyal
  2. Cast your net wider and talk to a broader mix in the hope of acquiring new customers

The answer is B. Although existing customers are seen as highly valuable, it is in fact those that sought new audiences that benefited from greater sales. Again, these effects tend to show more slowly so the received wisdom was to opt for A.

Book name to drop on customer loyalty [or the non-existence of]: How Brands Grow – Byron Sharp

This chart shows how going after your existing customers is great in the short term but when it comes to getting bigger paybacks, you need to be casting your net much wider.

L&S chart03

The perceived familiarity and popularity of the brand amongst the many enhances its appeal to the one

Still with me?

Tugging at the heart strings

Ever wondered why car adverts are all slick and shiny on TV but the campaign takes on a more factual, car lingo, tone when it comes to other types of advertising? This is because the commonly held understanding is that cognition merely rubber-stamps our emotional decisions. We are led by our hearts, often referred to as our System 1 brain, only taking the time to rationalise our decision with the hard facts that come through System 2 (slow) thinking. Why do we do this? Because thinking is hard! We tend to avoid it wherever possible; and that’s not just you and me, Mum.

Book name to drop on the subject of balancing head and heart: Thinking Fast & Slow – Daniel Kahneman

The effects of emotional campaigns build slowly but last much longer than rational campaigns, which are inherently unmemorable. As with promotions and brand-building, they both serve a purpose but to achieve best overall results, a combination of the two is required. Oh look, another chart:

long & short

The principle of the aforementioned Brand Response effect is that emotional priming has the benefit of making people more receptive to rational messages and less sensitive to price in the long run, meaning that companies don’t have to resort to ‘timely offers’ (when the purple line gets higher than the greeny-yellow line).

Shouting, Fame & Creativity

A couple of points to finish on, that may seem like no-brainers to you; the first is that if you spend more on advertising than your competitors, even the really big’uns (proportionately), you will see growth over the long term. Final chart to express that:


The second, and final point is that fame and creativity have a positive effect on advertising campaigns. The campaigns that make people feel differently in a way that inspires them to share their enthusiasm (making it famous) are usually surprising in some way. Embedding surprise into a campaign requires creativity and that, Mother, is why I have a job.

Any questions?

Placing Value on your Data


What is the purpose of market research? To gain a deeper understanding of the audience in order to make products and communications that are more desirable and relevant to them. However, the limitation with market research is the fact that it’s only selecting a small sample group; it works in a controlled environment and doesn’t account for our human imperfections. This requirement of people’s time and mental exertion would be financially compensated.

Data capture on the other hand, which for brands has the same objectives as traditional market research, often asks very little of people, as little as clicking ‘Accept’ at the bottom of reams of terms and conditions. Indeed it is often information of seemingly little personal value. But how much is little? What is little worth?


The first thing to make clear is the fact that privacy and data are not synonymous. You can share your data with brands without compromising your privacy. I strongly believe that it is the brand’s responsibility to ensure that the data [you have so kindly shared with them] remains safe. Fear that the limited information you can provide will somehow open the portal to evil brand mind control is fruit loops.

Even hacking and spying fears are, in my opinion, mostly unfounded. Aside from wanting your bank details (high-value data), hackers tend not to be stalkers. The fact is; if it’s of no financial gain (i.e. you’re not Jennifer Lawrence), the bad guys have no interest in you as an individual. I believe that, what I see as an irrational fear comes down to people’s over-inflated sense of self-importance.


It may be a sweeping statement but it seems that a lot of the concerns surrounding sharing personal information lie with older generations. The sense that there’s no such thing as a free lunch implies that whatever you’re exchanging must be worth something, even though in your pocket, it’s worthless. Or maybe they’re just more private people generally but that feels more like fluff than fact.

The importance of ethics and transparency is far from lost on Millennials; the feeling that something is mutually beneficial is of great importance, even if they are less guarded when it comes to sharing.


Transparency is key for all business-to-people relationships in this day and age. It’s through transparency that trust is built and this is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Without trust, you cannot relax and be truly happy. In a brand sense, this means that you don’t have to be worrying about what may or may not be going on and the brand can continue to occupy the tiny fraction of brain space that it does, possibly wrapped in slightly warmer sentiment.

Balance of Exchange

Transparency extends to clarity around what you will be getting in exchange for your information. Exchanging information before buying something online is the norm. Often, having a good reason for needing the information is the strongest pre-requisite to sharing, especially when it comes to low-value data like contact information.

The question that brands seem to have presumed the answer to is: Is targeted content (Google Now) enough of an incentive? Does it give people the social currency they require to part with their browsing history and other data gleaned from the digital detritus of modern life? Or would a financial incentive drive more accurate customer data?

In the age old adage of making things people want, not making people want things, I would argue that the most effective exchanges take place when brands can guarantee the best information at the right time and place in return, à la Citymapper. This, or simply giving people the power to affect change. Financial drivers, especially for low-value data, are likely to result in a high volume of inaccurate or irrelevant data.


The fact is that we attach different levels of value to different sets of data. The commercial value of our data only exists when the people sailing the sea that we’re creating are able to understand the data. We’re only able to see this understanding when they find insights and use these insights to communicate more effectively.

If something purportedly has no value to you in your hands but could lead to the greater good, why would you not?

Improving Mental Hygiene

A couple of weeks ago I went to hear the Dalai Lama speak at the (relatively) intimate setting of London’s Lyceum Theatre. The event, hosted by Action for Happiness, saw his Holiness take to the stage for a two hour Q&A followed by other influential speakers and a panel discussion.


Science is Universal

In a previous post, I spoke about the importance of searching for health rather than happiness. As someone who was brought up agnostic, I believe we all examine our stance on spirituality at some stage in our lives. There are so many external factors in life that are out of our control. What we can control is what we allow inside; both physically and spiritually.

Mental health issues affect nearly every person in Britain and there has been a noticeable shift seeing discussions around physical health expand to that of mental hygiene. More and more people are not only showing an interest but trying to implement a better system of care for themselves and others.

Neuroscience has shown us that our brains are not rigid, they change. This plasticity is proof that we should take more responsibility for the shape they take by engaging in mental hygiene. Neuroscientist Richie Davidson gave a helpful breakdown (!) of what constitutes mental hygiene:

  • Resilience – How quickly we can recover from adversity
  • Outlook – Savouring positive emotions
  • Attention – A wandering mind is an unhappy mind
  • Generosity – Being kind to others


You learn swimming by swimming

As with any workout, it is unrealistic to expect big changes in a short period of time. We should instead be thinking about the mid and long term benefits. There is no task that cannot be broken into lots of smaller tasks and we should act now, even if we do not see the (immediate) fruits of our efforts.

Creating habits make it much easier to make changes and there are numerous great mindfulness techniques out there. Though it may sound overly sentimental, a point that really stuck with me from the day is that it’s not about becoming something we’re not, it’s about remembering what we truly are.


Know thyself, love thyself

From a young age I have taken an interest in examining my own mind and the often unhelpful patterns it creates. I have reached a stage in life where I feel that I know myself. I see myself for who I am and am beginning to understand my place in the world.

“The difference between strong silence and weak silence is whether it is imposed or not”

The ultimate goal, following Buddhist principle, is to reach a state of compassion and I believe that there are three key levels in life that we need to reach in order to become a compassionate person. It begins with self awareness; an ability to take stock and be present in the moment.

3 pillars

The Dalai Lama stated that altruistic love is the best thing you can do for yourself and for others and this sits within this first pillar for me. It was stated: “Love is the will for the other to be happy”, I firmly believe that and know that I need to love myself in order to be able to love and receive love from others.


Take a more holistic view

As social beings, it is important that we find our place within the world, accepting our tiny part within a much wider ecosystem. This is not to say that you are a trivial cog but rather that one should balance their consumption with their contribution. Even selfishly, helping others can help one’s own mental health. You can be mindful without being caring but you cannot be caring without being mindful.

Asked by Richard Layard how he was able to keep so cheerful despite the many difficulties he experiences in life, his Holiness replied, “Look more holistically and you’ll see that the bad thing also offers an opportunity.”


Global responsibility & compassion

This thought carries through to the fact that our individual problems feel very small when compared to the global responsibility we have. Our future is that of the whole of humanity, the mentality that says “destroy your enemy”, “we vs them” etc. creates a gap that is not reflective of the reality of modern society.

I was reading an article about Japanese children, as young as 5, travelling alone on the Tokyo metro, the societal reasons for this are symptomatic of a compassionate culture.

I have long been inspired by the Mayan greeting, which translates to:

“I am another you”

“You are another me”

This iteration of the Golden Rule shows the affection that comes through empathy (and affection is something that every human needs). However, the key difference between empathy and compassion is sustained care. Striving to be a more consistently compassionate person in turn improves our mental hygiene.

You don’t need a crisis to have a plan

We talk enough about brands in crisis, we advocate honesty and showing a human-side. I put a presentation together on that very topic:

However, this is not the main focus for this blog post.

I’ve dealt with depression from my early teens but have been lucky enough to only experience three crippling lows in that time. If it’s a part of us it will find its way into our working lives at some point or other and unfortunately my most recent dip occurred only earlier this year.

According to our Human Resources department, depression is abundant within our industry, which begs the question; why aren’t we talking about it? Supporting each other? Sharing our coping strategies? I’m assured that it’s no longer the taboo topic of yore but all signs point to the fact that it is.

Inspired by the articles that former BBH colleague Shadi writes for the Huffington Post but lacking the same journalistic talents, I’m using this space to explain some of things that have helped me.

Warning Signs

Prevention being better than cure, the most important thing to know is when you’re slipping. Unfortunately, it’s minor things that add up or the extremes of quite normal emotions, they also differ from person to person, making them all the more difficult to spot. I’ve listed mine:

  • Wanting to get away/go somewhere new – We all fancy a holiday more often than not but this is a strong desire to pack it all in and be somewhere anti-Cheers; where nobody knows your name
  • Over-eating at sporadic intervals – Like preparing for hibernation this may be my body anticipating the fact I’m about to enter into a state where I won’t be taking care of myself. Or it could be a comfort thing. Or I could be reading too far into it
  • Putting myself down, feeling that everyone is better than me
  • Over-reaction to trivial things – Having certain thoughts that I obsess about
  • Wanting total silence both around me and in my mind – Probably as a response to the previous point
  • Paranoia – reading too far into the nuances of conversation – It’s very difficult to step back and see yourself as being irrational

Most of these points are examples of ‘unhelpful thinking’. CBT is a great way to try and break these habits and, though hideous (clipart alert), this was a handy link that I was given.

Feeling Wafty

A ridiculous word that a family friend uses to describe that sinking feeling.

It tends to start with exhaustion and a complete lack of motivation. This often leads to guilt for me; wanting to give my life to someone who could use it better.

The best thing is often to ride it through. Keep busy but pace yourself. Step back but don’t retreat. Stick to a light routine, easing up on the workload where possible and alerting your line manager that things may not have the same rate of productivity that they usually do.


Too late, I can’t get out of bed. Short term next steps (N.B. You won’t want to do any of these):

  • Speak to someone – I’m lucky enough to have 3 people who I know I can call on no matter what state I’m in and I hope they feel they can do the same with me. You don’t have to engage in a high level of conversation but just alerting someone to how you’re feeling really can help. They may also be able to help you with some of the other steps
  • Open the curtains and switch the light on
  • Have a shower – My friend describes it as being like a re-boot

Changing thinking patterns is the most difficult part of recovery but there are two other areas that can help you get there:

  • Go for a walk – Endorphins, you know this
  • Cook something – Maybe a personal one but making something (however slowly) puts my mind into a manageable task

Rather than striving for happiness, it’s more realistic and beneficial to strive for health

Finally, know that it will get better but be prepared for it to get worse before it does. It sounds trite but you’ll look back on an episode and find it hard to understand why it seemed so insurmountable.

My hope is that this will be useful, not only to people who are fighting depression but to their friends and colleagues who care about them.

Who is the creative brief for?

It may seem like a simple question to answer and before working in an agency (and for a time whilst working in an agency) I would have answered; “the creatives!”. However, being “the most important piece of paper in the agency”, the creative brief does more than it says on the tin i.e. brief the creatives.

1. Planning Tool

Depending on the level of complexity contained within an agency’s creative brief template, a planner often finds themselves filling out a five page document full of everything from the business objective through to prescribing the distribution channels. These are all factors that need to be considered but could these not be worked through in a Response to Brief or another separate document that doesn’t have to be there at the brief clinic or briefing itself? Would it not improve our storytelling ability and raise the interest of the creatives if we had to condense each brief into a PechaKucha or had a written word limit of 20?

2. The Client Contract

This is a particular bug bear of mine. I do not believe clients should sign off on the creative brief. A response to brief to their brief yes but for a client to muscle in and change the proposition to a end line or call to action defeats the point of having a planner in the mix to begin with. The clients should be happy of course; they’re the client but they should also have enough faith in their agency to not need to micro-manage to the nth.

3. An Inspiring Trigger for Making Great Work

My ideal agency would see creative teams of three; comprised of an art director, a copywriter and a planner.
The best briefs I’ve seen are not only built on an ‘Ah ha’ human insight but have usually had input from the creative department at the earliest possible stage. This is not to say that I in any way advocate brief writing by committee but if you are all (literally) on the same page from the get go, surely it will result in better integration within the agency and better work as an outcome.

I’ve always found creative brief writing (and briefing) to be the most enjoyable part of my job and coming from a creative background I suppose it’s only natural that I would want to be more involved with the creative department. This may not be the case for the whole of planning but imagining a collaborative utopia can’t hurt.

N.B. Not to say that the planner shouldn’t have contact with the client and everyone should have input into identifying a business need

What structural changes (if any) would you make if you had your own agency?


This is a summary of Martin Lindstrom’s Buy-ology. I’ve picked out the key lessons for marketers but if you need more information around the experiments that led him to his findings I recommend reading the book.

Digital doesn’t have to have a #

One of the main roles of a strategist within the advertising mix is to maintain a strong sense of who we are talking to. Yes, we need to meet the business objectives and yes, having the opportunity to produce revolutionary ideas is exciting but both of these factors will fall perilously short if the people that we are trying to communicate with cannot relate to the piece of navel gazing that the creative agency have produced at the client’s expense.

Never has this pitfall been more apparent than since the advent of digital. Being a new medium, it was primarily used to target a younger audience. This quickly expanded to a wider demographic when it was astutely noted that the population of the internet expanded beyond the 18-24s. However, whether through habit or laziness, the strategy used to launch a new range of glitter lip balm often finds its way into the brainstorms and discussions of the products and messaging of an altogether disparate audience.

A digital brief is not a pre-requisite to a pop up shop in Shoreditch with its own hashtag that can be reverse graffitied on a treasure hunt along Brick Lane. This solution is not going to make Kirsty in Sleaford any more likely to switch the kids’ packed lunch choice.

We are of course jumping ahead to media, which should never be the approach to producing a strong idea and digital is at its strongest when integrated into part of a wider campaign. It just strikes me that the responsibility of ensuring that the right message gets to the right audience lies in the hands, not of the media agency, but of the strategists. This should be viewed as an exciting opportunity that allows us to implement some real human insight and understanding.

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