About Omaid HIwaizi

Omaid Hiwaizi, Chief Strategy Officer, UK at Geometry Global. Previously Planning Director at SapientNitro, Planning Director at Chemistry, founder of Crayon Direct Advertising and of Hubbard Hiwaizi McCann (HHM).

Is There a Terminal Velocity for Youth and Digital?

A canter through the research on the effect of ubiquitous digital technology on the young and some perspectives on what digital agencies can do to create enriching and rewarding digital experiences.

The seed for this idea was planted when I attended a talk about the effects of social media on the young, at my children’s Steiner school. A teacher remarked that he believed the onslaught of digital was creating a burnt-out generation. Working for a digital agency, I naturally objected, but later thought, what if the continuing increase of speed and intensity of modern life driven by technology was somehow hitting a physiological or psychological barrierA terminal velocity where they can go no faster, instead heating up and burning out? I decided to look into the published research…

Various studies have shown that medical students, mathematicians, jugglers, multilinguists and musicians all increase the volumes of specific parts of their brains as they practice their particular skills. A famous UCL (University College London) study also showed this is true for London taxi drivers, whose hippocampi, responsible for navigation, grow in proportion to the time they spend on “The Knowledge”.

Therefore, it appears that our brains are like a ‘muscle’ – the more we use a particular part of the brain, the more neural pathways we develop and the better we get at that particular skill. We can, therefore, rewire how our brains operate by practicing particular actions throughout our lives, but the effects are most profound before the age of 30.

MRI scans of the brain ranging from those aged 4 to 21 show clearly how the frontal lobes, responsible for reasoning and problem solving, are established. The process appears to follow the principle of “use it or lose it” – neural connections that get exercised are retained while those that don’t are lost. (National Institute of Mental Health and University of California Los Angeles)

Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, asserts that by their 20s, today’s youth will have spent more than 20,000 hours online or playing video games. This coincides with the period when their brains are developing most, and has the effect of changing mental reflexes, habits and the way they learn and absorb information. Playing action video games, for example, helps people process visual information more quickly (Nature, 2003). Internet users develop new skills in scanning content quickly – the ability to read in different directions and are more sensitive to visual information. This is  particularly profound, given Malcolm Gladwell’s hypothesis that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be exceptional at something.

The powerful influence of digital is demonstrated by “The Google Effect” – documented by Betsy Sparrow at Columbia University – a shift away from retaining primary facts, towards a skill for knowing how to search for them. On the face of it, this is an example of our profound adaptability, outsourcing a skill we’re not brilliant at (remembering lots of facts). But are we in danger of creating a society of amnesiacs? And given that what we know forms our framework for thinking, could this have a negative impact on our ability to conceptualise?

Heavy use of digital communications also has a measurably negative impact on tweens’ social cognition: their ability to read subtle communication clues gained from face-to-face contact is diminished (DANA foundation). Also, Robin Dunbar (famous for having defined his number) has measured increased satisfaction from face-to-face communication over other forms – and interestingly Skype conversation beats telephone, which beat email, texting and social networking. The more human the communication is, the more it makes us feel good – with text-based communication scoring higher when emoticons are used. 

However, getting the right balance is key, as has been evidenced by a University of Lausanne study of teens, with heavy users of the internet (>2 hours/day) showing a considerable increase of incidence of depressive illnesses – perhaps due to lack breadth of real world experiences and deep friendships. The study also indicates that non-internet users show a similar increase – perhaps because of feelings of exclusion, as social conversation, content and experiences have increasingly moved online. Moderate internet use appears to correlate with better mental health.

Reviewing all the data, I conclude that we have indeed hit a terminal velocity for youth and digital. Historically, as technology has evolved, so too has the rate of human cognition. But we may now be at a point of inflexion where these human limitations can result in challenges for people, like a loss of connection with friends, with the real world and themselves. Brands can provide the solutions.

Some will try to wind back the clock and pull the young out of the digital torrent by limiting access – this is certainly the solution that the Steiner school teacher would recommend. I disagree, I think the data also gives us a few clues about how to productively move forwards:

  • Firstly, ‘normal’ behavior has moved online (remember that non-internet users have a higher rate of depressive illness)
  • Secondly, people desire human-style and social connection through any channel and which are nuanced and create deep ties with others – ideally offline.
  • Finally, people want real world utility – useful experiences embedded into the world around them.

Digital experiences, if appropriately engineered, can connect us to those things that matter, giving us enriching and rewarding connection.

In conclusion, the research indicates that technology has indeed outpaced the abilities of human physiology. However, as much as technology presents a challenge it also presents an opportunity. An opportunity for clever brands to use digital to help overcome the chasm between technological possibilities and human capabilities. Clever brands are starting to use digital to help people overcome these limitations through creating experiences that solve these emerging challenges at the increasingly complicated intersection between life and technology, and thereby creating real and enduring value.

We have already seen some brands begin to realise this new opportunity to reconnect with customer in meaningful ways. For example, in a world where there is less physical human contact, Unilever developed an interactive, smile activated vending machine, helping to bring back the personal and powerful touch of human body language and of the smile, to help make people happier. In a world where people get together less often, Sneakerpedia created a global community platform around people’s passions to drive connection and collaboration that is just not possible in the real world alone. In a world where there’s more bad news than good, Coca-Cola extended moments of jubilation around the 2010 World cup into a global party. And in a world most where people don’t connect with nature or venture off the beaten track, Mamut used online communities to create 150 teams and inspired them to scale 150 mountains, all over the world, sharing their experiences as they go. Finally, in a world where people just don’t connect with the mechanics of their bodies or understand how to achieve well-being through a the right balance of physical behaviour, NikeFuel builds feedback loops which gamify daily life, giving us more self-awareness in a fun way.

Idea engineered by Omaid Hiwaizi, Planning Director, with particular thanks to Harvind Bhatti, and Robert Oliver, Andrew Gregoris, Nathan Flowers, James Buchanan, Chris BakerPete (and Charlie) Trainor.

There’s no standard approach to Social RoI

There’s no standard ROI model that works across Social campaigns. Partly because objectives vary and partly because there’s usually more going on than just Social, and isolating the Social activity (and linking it to sales) isn’t easy.

When measurement is tied to sales… it’s best to use a promotion or something that makes the activity measureable in social channels. The RoI is based on money spent vs. promotional participation/purchases.

When RoI is tied to Media Value, we can compare reach numbers, which we get from the insights section of Facebook vs. standard media prices. In these cases we say… We got X amount of media for Y price, therefore saved Z.

When RoI is tied to awareness. We need to benchmark what the current level of awareness is. There are usually costs associated with benchmarking studies, which is one reason why we haven’t done awareness based RoI.

When RoI is tied to engagement. We look at clicks, likes, comments, posts reactions and anything else we can measure. Engagement is the easiest thing to measure in the Social space, but assigning it a value is where it gets tricky. We usually tell our clients how much engagement they got for a particular social communication and that is usually enough. Ideally, we should be assigning the engagement a value in order to input that value into an RoI model, but it’s difficult to predict engagement before launching a piece of comms without guessing.

The RoI question is the holy grail of Social. A question we can only ask if we’re sure of our objectives.

Will Facebook’s EdgeRank make people ration their brand interaction?

Here’s a really interesting blog post on how the Facebook Newsfeed works, and how the new EdgeRank algorithm is changing what content appears http://brandsavant.com/attention-rationing/

In outline…

  • The ‘Top news’ wall view only shows content based on what FB thinks you’re interested in – based on past interaction – this is the EdgeRank algorithm
  • Most people never switch to the real time ‘Most recent’ view which shows everything.
  • This may cause people to be cautious about what they interact with, as they will learn that engaging in brand content will cause your Wall to fill up with stuff from that brand
  • If you don’t concentrate on producing the right content at the right frequency, it’s best not to invest anything in Facebook at all, as the content will be invisible.

This is all further strong argument for consumer Passion Points driving Content Threads – and the consistent delivery thereof. Of which, more soon…

The future of agency/client relationships according to Forrester

I recently came across a hugely insightful report from Forrester predicting how agency/client relationships will develop. The focus is on what they think agencies will need to offer in the future and advice on to clients on how to choose agency partners. They’ve invented ‘Adaptive Marketing’ as a term for how marketing has to shift from

  • ‘Outbound’ to ‘Surround’
  • Campaigns to Experiences
  • Segments to Individuals

In many ways it describes where Chemistry is headed, which is great – my takeout is that the agency of the future is strong in three areas

  • “Mad Men” big ideas
  • digital and direct rigour
  • social media propagation

If you’ve not seen it, you can get a copy here.

The Social Media effect on the General Election

I’ve been fascinated watching what’s been happening in social media around the General Election. In the post “Rage Against the Machine for No 1” era (when a couple launched a Facebook campaign and knocked the default X-Factor Christmas single off the top spot), people understand that they can build a movement and many know how to do it (Forrester’s Groundswell research shows an increase in ‘Creator’ behavior – 24% of people create and upload content).

Its effects are already visible in a number of ways.

For instance, I’m writing this 24 hours after Gordon Brown called life-long Labour voter Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman”. And #bigotedwoman is massively trending on Twitter and there are new Facebook groups popping up – the chatter is loud and constant. The Labour machine is trying to move the agenda on, and what’s really interesting is that the opposition doesn’t really need to stoke the fires, as the voters are doing it themselves.

During the leaders’ debates there was a huge amount of real time discussion on Twitter (via the #leadersdebate hashtag), with Social TV type commentary, which made it seem like a sporting event. Searches for ‘Quango’, ‘Jobs Tax’ and ‘Trident’ peaked within 30 minutes of the broadcast showing that people were engaged and wanting to know more.

Jon Morter (The Rage Against the Machine instigator) has launched the ‘We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office!’ Facebook group and currently has 157,807 members. It’s an interesting thought, and with things so finely balanced, it could give the middle party enough scale to actually make a difference.

Groups of people and organisations are also producing useful applications to help voters navigate through the Parties’ impenetrable policies. For example Voteforpolicies (voteforpolicies.org.uk) has helped 203,534 people understand which party has which policy, pushing the charisma of party spokesmen into the background. 10 Downing Tweets (www.10downingtweets.co.uk) aggregates Tweets of the parties and leaders and presents them in real time, with some trend statistics to show how sentiment is shifting.

The parties have also (of course) been jumping on the social media bandwagon too, Tweets a plenty. They’re adding to the noise with a suite of entertain-and-share content ranging from the Labservative from the Liberals, the CameronGirls rapping for the Tories on their YouTube channel and even the Greens with their personalised policy videos. Some of the leaders are on the scene too, Nick Clegg having exceeded his Friends quota on Facebook now has 49,695 fans – not quite on a par with Barak Obama’s 8.2 million – but 18,000 more than David Cameron. Gordon Brown seems not to have bothered.

And so in some ways, most appropriately, it’s Gordon Brown who’s the subject of a charming social happening-come-flashmob. ‘Gordon Brown’s Leaving Pressie’ is a Facebook group dedicated to ideas for what to give him at his leaving do, which they’ll host at The Red Lion opposite Downing Street on May 7th.

Minority Report comes to posters

Innovation in marketing is often driven by the cutting edge of what’s technologically possible – many brands and reputations have been built off the back of being first to embrace a new platform and disrupt a marketplace using it. Here’s one that’s straight out of Minority Report, ripe for the right brand to implement a playful and insightful idea.

Japanese billboard manufacturer Comel, backed by Yahoo Japan, have produced some electronic signage that photographs passersby, analyses it using NEC’s facial analysis technology, and guesstimates a viewers age and gender.

This allows tailoring of both brand message and tone of voice – a great creative opportunity for many categories – you sell insurance to people in their 30s very differently to those in their 60s, and products for reducing wrinkles are usually of little interest to 20somethings.

The actual face image is then erased, saving only a record of the passerby’s age and sex. It’s a little big brother, but no more than cookies in web browsers, I think.

There’s a piece in The Sun about it here (with a quote from yours truly).

Measuring the value of social media investment

NMA have published some of my thoughts building on the DMA Digital Measurement insights about new metrics for social media measurement – the article is here.

It refers to my colleague David Carr’s thinking – which is summarised here.

There’s more analysis and opinion here from Philip Buxton, who came to the DMA event and asked some pretty fare reaching questions of the direct marketing community.

If we laugh at Starck’s students, are we just laughing at ourselves?

Like many of us, I’ve been avidly following Philippe Starck’s reality show ‘Design for Life’. If you missed it, in the programme British designers vie for the work placement in a million – working in Starck’s Paris studio. But were the candidates for real? Is that really the best we have to offer? Or were they just picked for us to laugh at? This is, afterall, entertainment

Looking beyond the game show, it occurs to me that the programme reflects much of what goes on in everyday agency life. More importantly it highlights some of the basics which are so easily forgotten.

Firstly, Starck used an internet competition to select the participants, only meeting them once they’d arrived. This seems to have been an extremely unreliable indicator of talent – perhaps one of his goons could have sifted out some chaff (a dud on TV makes funny TV, one in an agency makes work clients won’t buy). In our agencies, how often do we rush in new recruits, waiving more rigorous testing, only to rue our choice?

Next, his briefs seem to consist of a few disconnected words and thoughts, and nothing else (eg “A product for daily use which is Democratic, Ethical and Ecological”) – and that describes the bulk of the responses he’s getting. How often do we all write unclear briefs which confuse rather than inspire?

I do, however, like the way Starck crits the work, though – passionate, instinctive and decisive – everything’s either ‘ok’ or ‘shit’. He speaks with his heart first, then post-rationalises his feelings. His sixth sense finds potential in work that’s now just mediocre, and so he doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Could we all learn to see with our heart before we think the ideas into the wastepaper basket?

The students’ presentation skills are judged as lacking and I can’t disagree – Starck kicked out the one who could sell his work in the first round for being a smartypants. Maybe our schools and colleges could teach young people to express themselves rather than nurture a fear of public speaking?

What’s really clear is that the ones who do their homework come up with better ideas – insights from the coal face beat random thoughts every time, and give the context required to sell the ideas.

But for me, the cherry on the cake was that Liverpudlian designer Ilsa Parry finally won through because of her energy, passion and belief in her idea while he pressed eject on others for not going the extra mile. Belief is a quality I think we easily forget in these times where we bend over backwards to keep and please.

So, what can we take from our Philippe’s game show? Do our homework to really understand the task, then write a clear, inspirational brief, use our heart when we develop the work, passionately follow through on our ideas and communicate them well. If we’ve been laughing at the programme, have we just been laughing at ourselves?

Is digital delivering what it promises?

I’ve been involved in conceiving a digital event for the DMA which is on the subject of measurement for digital and offline campaigns.

The context is that more and more money is being spent on digital channels because they are perceived as effective (better targeting), efficient (cheaper) and more measureable.

The question we ask is: Is digital delivering what it promises?

What’s important about this subject is that it’s very current and an its something on which the DMA should have a point of view.

We’re conducting a survey which should give us the insight we require to both PR the debate and introduce it on the day.

Its here – please could you ask people in your organisations and also colleagues in other agencies to complete it. We need a few hundred responses, and time is of the essence, as ever!

The date they’ve provisionally booked for the live debate is after work on Thursday 15 October – its at the DMA.

Many thanks, and see you then, hopefully!