Book Review: The end of Advertising by Andrew Essex

About a third of the way into this book I was wondering why am I reading it. I had only 3-4 lousy notes added to my arsenal and a lot of information seemed to be redundant and uninteresting. However, my patience has been rewarded because after this desertified region of the book came some really nice bounty.

The advertising model as we know it is changing. The author was shocked to find out in 2015, from a radio show, that there is a thing called Ad blocker. And the author was at that time the CEO of the most renowned advertising agency in the world. “Well, that’s how dinosaurs die, they never know what hits them” I thought.

Let’s see what the author thinks about how proper advertising should be done.

Great storytelling still sells:

“Interesting times, yes. And a time to be interesting. In the age of the Feed, the age of infobesity and Peak TV, one was compelled as never before to be entertaining and authentic, to tell a good story, the key to being interesting. This was something that human beings and marketers alike could agree on: the power of a good story. Now that would always be welcome; good stories were something we could never have enough of. This was the sentiment uttered by the chief marketing officer of GE, at a recent industry conference. “Nothing,” she said, “will take the place of great storytelling.” “

Don Draper would have a hard time competing nowadays with a lot of attention merchants:

“Were he toiling on Madison Avenue today, Don Draper would have a hard time navigating the complexity of the current advertising landscape. Beyond the aforementioned array of blocking technologies, advertising must now compete with, in no particular order, massive media fragmentation, mobile mass adoption, cord cutters, self-quantification, selfies, podcasts, a million apps, a zillion video games, endlessly proliferating social media platforms, the golden age of TV (made bingeworthy, as noted, by the absence of ads), the hegemonic power of texting, the chimerical pursuit of “inbox zero,” and dozens more dopamine-stimulating bits and bobs that drive the economy of unprecedented abundance that is modern life.”

The human mind constantly seeks novelty so creative approaches are still winners:

“The irony is that the Super Bowl approach actually provides a useful lesson: In a world in which we are drowning in noise, any content, whether it’s advertising or serial crime dramas, must be qualitatively superior to be appreciated, and that doesn’t always require a huge budget. The most important thing is to be excellent, interesting, authentic, or useful. To be the thing, not the thing that sells the thing. That’s fantastic news for creative people, who specialize in the stuff. Thanks to toomuchness, creativity, once exclusively the province of poets, has suddenly become a business imperative.”

Some creative advertising models, Dunkin Donuts partnered with Waze:

“Dunkin Donuts’ CMO said the company was now all about value and utility; for example, it had recently partnered with the social navigation app Waze, using location-based marketing, to offer discounts based on a traveler’s proximity to a store.”

Advertising has to add value, it has to be the thing, not the thing that sells the thing:

“Among the more pleasing by-products of the coming end of advertising is a heretical realization among some industry thinkers: the idea that for advertising to survive, or rather to thrive, it must add value to people’s lives. In a world in which lazy, superfluous, and stupid no longer cut it, advertising will have no choice but to compete as primary content, not secondary intrusion. It will become the thing, not the thing that sells the thing.”

Old, traditional advertising was quite high quality:

“In many homes, early “chromolithographic” ads torn out of magazines became the closest thing the average American family came to owning art, “the chief means of brightening a dreary visual environment,” according to Lears.”

Creative advertising from Lego. Fortunately, I didn’t saw the movie.

“This is why The Lego Movie is so significant. A brand made a brilliant, well-executed movie. The movie was a hit. The movie also happened to be an ad, one that people were willing to pay to see.”

Zappos put their logo inside the plastic trays you use to pass your shoes through security:

As I mentioned earlier in the Citi Bike story, Zappos once ingeniously put their logo inside the plastic trays you use to pass your shoes through security at the airport. They’d found virgin white space that was also contextually connected to their business, and decided that this was the ideal place to put their brand name.

The author proposes the rebuilding of dilapidated infrastructure as a creative and value adding form of advertising:

“Our roads and bridges are falling apart. Forget soda cups and brown paper bags—America’s interstates, airports, and railroad stations are the new white space. We don’t need the thousands of tiny, inconsequential ads that currently blight our transit hubs, we need a big-thinking brand to literally repave the road.”

Even though it has a slow start, there are other bits and pieces that make this book worth reading.

Book Review: How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil

I’m always on the lookout for new discoveries in the neuroscience field and to understand and learn more about the synergy of the  human mind, brain and consciousness  and this book by Ray Kurzweil, one of the leading figures in Artificial Intelligence, proved to be quite enlightening in this regard.

I have a lot of notes and Kindle highlights on this book and here are some of them:

  • There are no images, videos, or sound recordings stored in the brain. Our memories are stored as sequences of patterns. Memories that are not accessed dim over time.
  • The human mind is capable of recognizing patterns even if they are altered:“This represents a key strength of human perception: We can recognize a pattern even if only part of it is perceived (seen, heard, felt) and even if it contains alterations. Our recognition ability is apparently able to detect invariant features of a pattern—characteristics that survive real-world variations.”
  • We are constantly predicting the future and hypothesizing what we will experience.
  • Unused pattern recognizers (the authors thinks that our mind contains about 300 million of them) get reassigned to other more-used pattern recognizers:

“That is why memories grow dimmer with time: The amount of redundancy becomes reduced until certain memories become extinct.”

  • DNA doesn’t determines how the neuronal connections work:

“There are on the order of a quadrillion (1015) connections in the neocortex, yet only about 25 million bytes of design information in the genome (after lossless compression), so the connections themselves cannot possibly be predetermined genetically. It is possible that some of this learning is the product of the neocortex’s interrogating the old brain, but that still would necessarily represent only a relatively small amount of information. The connections between modules are created on the whole from experience (nurture rather than nature).”

  • Four items of working memory at a time:

“We are apparently able to keep up to about four items in our working memory at a time, two per hemisphere according to recent research by neuroscientists at the MIT Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.6 The issue of whether the thalamus is in charge of the neocortex or vice versa is far from clear, but we are unable to function without both.”

  • The brain is wired to seek novelty:

“Each brain hemisphere contains a hippocampus, a small region that looks like a sea horse tucked in the medial temporal lobe. Its primary function is to remember novel events. Since sensory information flows through the neocortex, it is up to the neocortex to determine that an experience is novel in order to present it to the hippocampus. It does so either by failing to recognize a particular set of features (for example, a new face) or by realizing that an otherwise familiar situation now has unique attributes (such as your spouse’s wearing a fake mustache).”

  • There is a struggle between the old reptilian brain and the neocortex, but the neocortex has the last say:

“There is a continual struggle in the human brain as to whether the old or the new brain is in charge. The old brain tries to set the agenda with its control of pleasure and fear experiences, whereas the new brain is continually trying to understand the relatively primitive algorithms of the old brain and seeking to manipulate it to its own agenda. Keep in mind that the amygdala is unable to evaluate danger on its own—in the human brain it relies on the neocortex to make those judgments. Is that person a friend or a foe, a lover or a threat? Only the neocortex can decide.”

  • There are medical cases in which a hemisphere was removed from a  patient’s brain and the patient continued to function properly (and even to have an above average IQ):

“While these observations certainly support the idea of plasticity in the neocortex, their more interesting implication is that we each appear to have two brains, not one, and we can do pretty well with either. If we lose one, we do lose the cortical patterns that are uniquely stored there, but each brain is in itself fairly complete. So does each hemisphere have its own consciousness? There is an argument to be made that such is the case. “

  • Ultimately most of our thinking will be in the cloud:

“What I believe will actually happen is that we will continue on the path of the gradual replacement and augmentation scenario until ultimately most of our thinking will be in the cloud.”

 

 

 

Thought of the Day: On Success, Personality Types and the Personal Mission Statement

I noticed a common pattern among the people I’ve been communicating with lately: even though they all are successful in their own ways they still think that they haven’t achieved many things. In the following lines I will attempt to explain my idea of success. It’s not bad to want to achieve more and be more successful but this modern prevalence seems to be the effect of the availability heuristic of success and survivorship bias. The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that returns a fast example in one’s mind when he/she is thinking about something or deciding. When not engaged in cognitive demanding processes the mind tends to wander off and a frequent subject of its ruminations is the status of one’s life. Am I happy? Am I successful? Am I doing something useful with my life? Do I feel like I have a purpose in life? There is also the tendency to compare ourselves with others, to assess our socio-economic hierarchy and the availability heuristic serves us immediate examples learned, usually, from sources like the news and social media. The news tend to present only the most successful companies and on social media people tend to “cheat” by presenting themselves only in positive contexts. So, in appearance, there might seem like a lot of success is going around us and we might feel left out.

Survivorship bias: “Survivorship bias or survival bias is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways. Survivorship bias can lead to overly optimistic beliefs because failures are ignored, such as when companies that no longer exist are excluded from analyses of financial performance”. In other words, humans have an innate tendency to see only what worked, what succeeded.

The way success is commonly portrayed is by achieving a high socio-economic status: money in the bank, an expensive house, expensive car(s), expensive traveling in exotic places and so on. If money, fast cars, a big house and a trophy wife truly motivate you than great for you, go for it! but it should be noted that not all people are motivated by the same things, different personalities are motivated differently but unfortunately many tend to acquire and internalize the notion that success = money&high status. Albert Einstein is considered to have said the following quote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Let’s change it a bit: If you judge yourself by your ability to become a multimillionaire even though you don’t really want to or don’t need to but everything around you makes you believe that, then you will live your life thinking you are a failure. The word millionaire can be replaced with whatever notion of success that doesn’t really motivate you.

Update: meanwhile, I also came upon the concept of Strain Theory.  Strain theory states that this kind of pressure from the society to achieve the “American Dream” can lead to nefarious consequences. From Wikipedia:

Strain theory is a sociology and criminology theory developed in 1938 by Robert K. Merton. The theory states that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (such as the American dream) though they lack the means, this leads to strain which may lead the individuals to commit crimes. Examples being selling drugs or becoming involved in prostitution to gain financial security.

.thinking intp

According to the Myers-Briggs personality test my personality is INTP-A also known as the “Logician” personality type. INTP’s are introverted and thinking types, shy in social settings, need intellectual stimulation, love patterns, constantly come up with ideas and solutions, are inventive and creative. Given this short description is not hard to infer that a lot of money in the bank and/or a high social status is not something that really motivates this personality type but rather what motivates them are ideas, discoveries, exploration. Money should be seen as a means to an end not an end in itself. My definition of success is tightly related to my Personal Mission Statement. I first learned about the concept of the Personal Mission Statement about 3 years ago while reading Stephen Covey‘s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

What is a Personal Mission Statement?

“In ones life, the most effective way to begin with the end in mind is to develop a mission statement one that focuses what you want to be in terms of character and what you want to do in reference to contribution of achievements. Writing a mission statement can be the most important activity an individual can take to truly lead ones life. Personal mission statements based on correct principles are like a personal constitution, the basis for making major, life-directing decisions, the basis for making daily decisions in the midst of the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives. Your mission statement becomes your constitution, the solid expression of your vision and values. It becomes the criterion by which you measure everything else in your life.”

For example, this is part of my personal mission statement:

Live free and exercise the right to be free, be the master of my own destiny.

Learn about my self, my family, my peers, my surroundings, nature, the universe.

Experience the best that humanity has to offer: it’s beauty in all of its forms, architecture, events, art, movies, literature, music, its emotions, culture, history, languages.

Experience the best that nature has to offer: scenic places with mesmerizing beauty.

Challenge myself, grow each day, learn each day, experience each day, connect each day, test myself, get out of my comfort zone.

No day goes to waste.

Influence and make a difference so my existence is not meaningless.

Add value. Don’t forget to smile and laugh.

The founder of the universe, who assigned to us the laws of life, provided that we should live well, but not in luxury. Everything needed for our well-being is right before us, whereas what luxury requires is gathered by many miseries and anxieties. Let us use this gift of nature and count it among the greatest things.
—SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 119.15b

flying

 

Like I was saying, my idea of success is strongly intertwined with my personal mission statement. I am practicing my personal mission statement on a daily basis and thus I consider myself to be a successful person given this criteria. It can be clearly seen that it doesn’t take a lot of money in order to achieve most of the things in my list. Now, obviously, this is not a one-size-fits-all solution, each should take some time off to figure out what they truly want.
I was stating that each day I am practicing my personal mission. How do I know that? Today, at the end of the day I will know it because I just recently did it, the memory of doing it is fresh. How will I know it tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow? How will I know it decades from now or if I get Alzheimer’s disease or another memory related disease? The answer is that I also keep track of what I do on a daily basis, it’s a very basic journaling system: I have a file where I write down the current date and what I have achieved that day on a personal and work level. For example, if I read from a book, I just put in its title, nothing more or nothing less, or if I go for a run I just write down “run”, sometimes “run (6)” to hint out the number of kilometers even though I don’t usually do that now, if I read from Wikipedia some articles I put in Wikipedia and the titles of the articles in parenthesis like this “Wikipedia (Unconscious thought theory, Unconscious cognition, Attention restoration theory)”. It doesn’t take a lot of time to put down these short notes and this system makes it very easy to keep track of what you do daily, your achievements. I check this file daily and I also do some quick checks from time to time on what I did for the past week, the past month or year and so on. Each year has its separate file, now I’m taking notes in 2017.txt. This process really helps me to strengthen my memory. I might hear about some important concept or theory, read about it on Wikipedia or some other place, close the tab and one week after I might forget about it already. With this system, I am reminded again about it and if my memory doesn’t do very well I will just check the article again. I also have a separate file in which I note down just my better-than-usual or first-of-the-kind achievements like the title of a book I just completed reading, a semimarathon I managed to run or a new personal best in speed or distance, a new skill that I learned like skiing for example, a new experience and so on. I write down all these thing because they are important to me. I have another file in which I write the most significant achievements of my life like writing a book for example, obviously, I rarely write in this file. Some of my bucketlist items also go into this file. I find this 3 level system very useful in tracking out how I exercise my personal mission statement and thus my success. Our memories are usually bad, mine included, and we tend to forget what we did a few days ago or a week ago including our achievements of various degrees.

It’s important to remind ourselves from time to time that even though we don’t live in a castle or traveled in space we still achieved plenty of smaller but meaningful things.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look
back and realize they were the big things.” 
Robert Brault

Days 2&3 – Building my new personal branding oriented start-up

What am I doing? Short recap: I am doing 3 days long sprints, 2 days allotted for picking up an idea and building a product/service around it and 1 day to promote the minimum viable product that results from the first 2 days. In the first day I settled on an idea based on online personal branding and to offer a service consisting on creating profiles on more than 50 social media sites.

What a beginning today: went to Namecheap in order to buy a new domain but their service was lagging and throwing 502 errors towards my way. As for the name of my new domain, playground for my experiments, I settled on 72startups, it’s pretty clear why 72, 72 hours duh. I did an internet search and got to https://status.namecheap.com/. From that page it seems that today 24 October there is an “NAMECHEAP.COM EMERGENCY MAINTENANCE”:
“Dear Customers,

Our site namecheap.com is currently undergoing an emergency maintenance to upgrade our systems in order to better serve you.
You may receive Cloudflare or 500 errors on the site.
We apologize for any inconvenience during this short outage and thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.
Our development team is working on addressing this issue.
Once we have any news we will update this status post.

Kind regards,
Namecheap Support Team”

Not a good start. The problem is finally solved and I start working towards the goals of the day with a detour first: I have to buy new domains and hosting ($30), to install WP and setup my main domain stefantesoi.com and to do my first blog post. This took me more than I thought and should be a lesson for me to learn to plan things better next time so I can fully concentrate on the days’ goals. The next step was for me to sign up and add my info on a bunch of social media in order to have a good estimate on how much time this process would take and thus to have a good estimate for the price that I will charge for the service, this step should also help me build the value proposition that I’m offering to my customers. I got a bit carried away in completing this step, I ended signing up on 60 social media sites and the process took me longer than I expected, part of the reason being that I didn’t had any previous experience with most of the sites so I had to go through a learning curbe and to learn each site’s intricacies and quirks. The fact that most of these sites are optimized to keep you hooked also contributed to my distraction, in some cases I had the tendency to check out more of what they had to offer rather than just creating my profile and running away. Once this step was completed I started towards the next one: setting up the site and the landing page. As a software developer I have the tendency to start from 0 and to throw a bunch of code at a problem but I decided that in this case it would be wiser to just go with existing solutions, there is not point in reinventing the wheel, what is needed is a only a landing page, nothing too fancy. So I just installed WP and searched for a nice theme and found it: Illdy.

night

Day 3
Time to customize the WordPress theme and whip it into a decent landing page. This too proved to have a learning curve with a higher time cost than I thought. The problem is that once you settle on a ready made solution you also have to face its issues as well, in this case the theme being no stranger to bugs. No matter what I would do, the theme would show the footer section and I considered it to be redundant, I didn’t need links again to the homepage, FAQ or to the blog, they are already shown in the top of the page. I get my hands dirty and edit the script files that were causing the problem. I get into the software developer thinking mode again when trying to install the Paypal button, the theme is not properly showing it, it shows it either too small or too big, so I try getting my hands dirty again by editing the script files responsible with showing the section in cause. The editing turns out to be problematic, I’m not getting the results that I want but fortunately I snap out of the developer thinking mode and realize that there must be some plugin out there that should do what I want to do. I find the plugin with ease and solve my problem. This concludes Day 3. The plan was to have some time left, at least one day in order to do some marketing but things turned out more time costly than I thought. It’s not all that bad, at the end of 3 days I have a new domain and a personal blog, managed to do some personal branding on 60 social media sites, and I also have transformed an idea into a domain with a landing page ready to take orders.

Lessons learned:
1. Better organization before an operation begins, I should have information and the tools I need to complete a task more readily available.
2. Planning fallacy: “is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed.” I’m now aiming for a 3 day build sprint during which I will build a Minimum Viabil Product (MVP) followed by a 3 day promotion sprint. 2 days of building and 1 day of promotion seems unrealistic and limitative.
3. The KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid! I tend to overthink and not see that are already-made solutions to my problem or to see the simpler solution, there is no point in reinventing the wheel each time.

Day 1 – Online Reputation, Personal Branding

I finally decided to take action so today is day one of my startup blitzkrieg.

I didn’t have any clue with which idea to start this morning so I just quickly went over my list of ideas (about 90+ ideas strong) and decided to go with something related to online reputation and personal branding. It should be noted that I already had an attempt at it a few years ago, the project was called Webhance.me . Once I settled on the idea I realized that I have no clue about what to do next and more importantly, what to build, so I started researching and documenting by reading articles and one particular long guide on personal branding. This took me about 3 hours. While reading, ideas started to pop up, I took notes, bookmarked some links, learned about some new tools and also added 5 more ideas for 5 potential startups to my ideas file. After reading I had 5 ideas about what the product/solution might be and after some thinking and elimination only two potential ones remained: an alert system for Q&A sites, forums, blogs, video sites and so on and an online availability checker and securer of usernames on social media. One of the rules of the game is to automate as much as possible so the second idea didn’t seemed viable enough, it would take me more than 3 days to automate the process of registering and editing of profiles for a bunch of sites, so the next best solution would be to do them manually.

So an alert tool it is then. Got on Quora, checked the source code, noticed some patterns and then fired up a Python script with Beautiful Soup. The script didn’t worked, it couldn’t read the DOM responsible for the question links and apparently Quora likes to do some obfuscation so then I tried with Mechanize and Beautiful Soup altogether. Mechanize emulates a browser. This too didn’t worked, got an 403 error message, something about the robots.txt file. Checked on the internet, got over the error but it still wouldn’t work. After some quick internet search I get to a question posted on Quora about how to scrape Quora. Well, it seems that Quora doesn’t like to be scraped and this is against the ToS. Quora was an important piece in my value proposition, the idea was to notice the customer when a relevant question comes in so he can hop in and answer it and prove his mastery and expertise. There is also the fact that Talkwalker.com offers this type of service for free. There is also Google Alerts. I don’t like to compete with free, it’s hard to compete with free. And there is also the fact that this kind of solution is not necessarily only for personal branding, it can be used in other ways too so this kind of chips away at the whole market segment intended for personal branding. Alright, I will ditch this idea.

Even though it would require some intense manual work at first, the idea of creating profiles by hand seems better now, I can at least compete against some expensive services out there and I also feel like I can provide some real value, this solution can save a lot of time for the customers. I’m thinking that I can “automate” the process by outsourcing the creation process to a cousin who doesn’t have a job right now, to Mechanical Turk or even Fiverr. If my service gets really popular by some weird twist of fate than I can take steps to automate the whole process. This solution also spares me of the need to create a custom website, I can simply slap a WP blog and then a membership plugin to it and save a lot of time. I always have to remind myself to keep things as simple as possible and to not try to reinvent the wheel.

I wish I could have done more but I felt a bit tired at the end of the day – those 3 hours of reading and brainstorming where quite intense, tried to focus 100% – and decided to pursue other activities. I’m at the beginning of my journey and I don’t want to get burned out, yesterday, while reading from Deep Work by Cal Newport, I found out about the Attention Restoration theory. Apparently we have a limited time, about 4 hours top in the case of “experts” and only one hour in the case of “newbies”, in which we can do intense cognitive work aka deep work; we are not machines so we need to restore our attention from time to time by taking a break and watching nature because this is what the theory recommends: “people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature.”

The plan for tomorrow would be to create the website, do the copywriting, landing page, calls to action and all of that stuff and to manually create profiles for myself on a bunch of websites to see how much time it takes (and in order to estimate a proper price for the service).