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How a regular person like you can defeat the greatest chess player alive

What are the limits of self-improvement – and of the human mind?

Here is a Wall St. Journal feature about a very intelligent young man who went about testing the limits of that question. Max Deutsch is a casual amateur chess player who used AI to try to train his mind to play chess at the highest level. His goal was to train for one month, and then defeat the top chess-player in the world, Magnus Carlsen.

In the Hollywood version of this, Carlson is probably some evil guy who gets his comeuppance at the hands of this young upstart. In the real-life version, Carlsen is pretty likeable and accommodating – and he wipes the floor with this guy.

If you’re into chess the move-by-move visuals that go along with the story are pretty neat. Also if you know anything about chess you will also realize that the writer’s claim that Deutsch was “winning” the match early on, although it adds dramatic tension to the story, is a stretch. Stillit makes some pretty interesting statements about the capacity of the human mind.

(If you don’t have a WSJ subscription, or if you are in TLDR mode, you can watch a video summary of the story.)

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No brand wants this

Olson Zaltman has just published an article on Medium about the perils brands face when wading into political issues.

Exhibit A: Papa John’s. Its CEO John Schnatter has been quite vocal about his opposition to NFL players kneeling before games, going so far as to blame the league for his company’s falling stock price. Now the white supremacist publication The Daily Stormer has claimed Papa John’s as the “official pizza of the alt-right.”

Schnatter has been forced to come out and condemn white supremacists and urge them not to buy his pizza. Nevertheless, no brand wants to find itself in this position – and it seems like it all could have been avoided pretty easily.

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Curiosity > Conviction

Nothing breakthrough here, just a primer on confirmation bias.

In short, we see the world not as it is, but as we think it is or as we want it to be. This particular bias affects how we seek information, how we interpret that information, and how we remember that information.

Interestingly, one study reveals that exposing people to information that runs counter to their existing political beliefs activates parts of the brain associated with physical pain – which may explain why, at least in the US, we seem to be increasingly trapped in partisan information bubbles.

Perhaps we would be a in a much different place if everyone just cared about politics less – or if we had more boring candidates. If I am lukewarm about a politician, I will more willingly receive information that counters my perceptions of that person. But if I am deeply committed to that politician, and my belief in him/her is part of my identity, then I shut down.  As the author suggests, we should “approach life with curiosity, not conviction” if we are to overcome confirmation bias – not just in politics but in everything.

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The Toyota Camry through the prism of ethnicity

The New York Times features a set of ads for the new Toyota Camry – same campaign, same car, but different ads depending, in part, on your race and ethnicity.

There are four ads targeted at African American, Hispanic, Asian American, and general market media consumers, respectively.

The article breaks down each ad, and includes comments from the four different agencies explaining what they were trying to achieve with each storyline – boldness for the African American audience, rebelliousness for the Hispanic audience, togetherness for the Asian American audience, and excitement for Gen Pop.

What do you think of this approach? Does it target each segment in a meaningful way? In trying to do so does it dilute the image of the Camry brand? Is Camry such an established model that it is immune to any such dilution?

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Identity

Insightful column in the New York Times about why the National Rifle Association holds such powerful emotional sway over its members – and why gun control organizations do not.

In short, the N.R.A. appeals to people’s identity and sense of belonging. It attracts people who are not always, at the beginning, fervent gun right believers.  People join gun clubs not necessarily because they are rabid Second Amendment believers; they join because they just want somewhere to shoot their guns. And in those places they meet friends, and many of those friends happen to be members of the N.R.A.  So for many, membership starts as a social connector.

From there, a sense of identity builds.  As the author writes, “The gun-rights groups were not just persuading [my friends] to support gun rights; they were also helping [them] rearticulate their own lives in terms of a broader vision of the future. They were no longer just hunters. They were protectors of a way of life.”

This is in marked contrast to gun control groups, which bring people together around a shared ideology, not a shared identity.  And power is held very close to the vest, not distributed among members. The author experienced this firsthand.   “After Sandy Hook, I joined several gun-control organizations…none introduced me to anyone else in the organization or invited me to strategize about what I could do. Instead, I felt like a prop in a game under their control. I eventually asked to be taken off their lists.”

Right-of-center organizations in the US often are much better at selling their ideas than organizations on the left, simply because they don’t try to persuade people with bullet-pointed lists of policy initiatives. They tell stories, use language carefully, and tend to their followers’ emotional needs quite effectively.

Photo by Michael Locke

Photo by Michael Locke

A beacon in the night

Legendary architect Gin Wong died earlier this month. One of his landmark creations is the Beverly Hills Union 76 gas station, pictured above.

This got us thinking more generally about Union 76. Gasoline is the ultimate commodity – each brand claims to have its own additives but gas is pretty much gas. So how do you stand out in a space like that?

Union 76 does so with a piece of iconic visual branding – its orange 76 ball.

It was originally created in the early 1960s to draw attention to a Union 76 sponsored ride at the World’s Fair.  By the end of that decade there were 7-foot orange balls looming over 18,000 gas stations in 37 states.

About 10 years ago the brand’s owner, Phillips 66 Company (then known as ConocoPhillips) began replacing the balls with more traditional signage, but after a public outcry they backtracked, installed new and slightly more red-colored balls in high-traffic areas in California, and donated several of the old balls to various museums.

Of course, any brand could have done something like this, but Union 76 did it first and really made an imprint in the minds of consumers.

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The changing face of women -- as seen by Getty Images

What does the depiction of women in stock photos mean about how we, as a society, think about the role of women?

This fascinating article in the New York Times’ Upshot section analyzes the top-selling pics on Getty Images for the search term “woman” from 2007 through 2017.  The image above on the left is the top-seller from 2007.  The one on the right is the top-seller from 2017.

Sheryl Sandberg worked with Getty in 2014 to develop the “Lean In” collection, designed to “seed media with more modern, diverse, and empowering images of women.”  Some interesting trends in that collection:

·         Among the most downloaded images from that set of images in 2017 are women working in science and engineering, but they typically run in stories specifically about women in science, rather than general stories about science or tech.

·         The most common image shows a Caucasian woman in her 20s with long brown hair

·         Images of non-white women tended to appear in stories about race and ethnicity

·         Popular this year are images of women who have dirt on them – apparently symbolizing the idea that women have grit.

The article is a feast for those of us who love to analyze image trends. If Getty Images existed in 1987 -- or 1967 or 1937 -- I wonder what the most downloaded images of women would have been then?

(Both images above ran in the New York Times online edition on September 7, 2017.  Image on left courtesy of Stephan Hoeck/Getty Images.  Image on right courtesy of Jordan Siemens/Getty Images)

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The End is Nigh!

A dispatch from the cultural front from science fiction author William Gibson, who discusses our current societal obsession with dystopia and the apocalypse.

A few of his insights:

·         In the 1920s, people frequently wrote about the 21st Century.  Today, virtually no one is writing or talking about the 22nd century, which Gibson finds “ominous.”

·         “We have very little control over anything…Fantasies of staving off the end of the world are fairly benign fantasies of increased agency.”

·         Many people today – in the US and around the world – live in conditions that could be considered dystopian.

Great brands often tap into threads that run through the culture.  What might this bleak view of the world mean for marketers?  Should brands try to make consumers feel more optimistic about the future or should they explore this wellspring of cynicism and gloom?

Rhyme Time

In presentations, I occasionally use the O.J. Simpson murder trial as an example of how our mind creates meaning through mental shortcuts.  In closing arguments Simpson’s attorney, Johnnie Cochrane, famously declared to the jury, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Whether Cochrane knew it at the time or not, there is actually a large body of research that suggests that phrases that rhyme are deemed more credible than similar phrases that don’t – in one study rhyming statements were judged as 22% more accurate than their non-rhyming counterparts.  So if Cochrane had said, “If he can’t get the glove on his hand, you must acquit,” that statement would not have been nearly as memorable, and likely not as persuasive. (This is actually part of an academic field of study, cognitive poetics.)

Thanks to OZ's Randy Adis for sharing this article about the use of rhyme in advertising.  It is diminishing, despite its potential power.

The authors claim this is because clients and agencies aren’t thinking about advertising in the right way:

"I think it depends on what end of the process you start from: Broadcast or Receive. If you start from the “Broadcast” end you start with what you want to say. You then execute that in a way that pleases you. You then sit back and wait for the response from the audience. If you start from the “Receive” end you start with the person you want to reach. They will be on the end of about 2K advertising messages a day. Most of it they automatically just block out, so it’s invisible. So the brief is how to break through into their mind and become one of the very few they notice and remember."

The authors suggest that rhyming, alliteration, and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words, like “The crumbling thunder of the seas”) will increase the odds of an ad being noticed in such a crowded marketing landscape.

For the O.G. in all of us

Although it is rather ironic for the tech industry to be marketing nostalgia…here it is.

In November, Nintendo released its Classic Edition, a 1980s throwback design. Two buzzworthy phones recently introduced are the Nokia 3310 and the BlackBerry KeyOne, which incorporate “old” features from phones that captivated us a decade ago. The KeyOne is an android phone that boasts the old-school BlackBerry keyboard.  The Nokia 3310 is basically a 17-year-old phone with a camera added to it.

The CNET article above also describes how Leica, Fujifilm, and Kodak are going retro with their new products – including a new 8mm film camera from Kodak.

Equal time

A couple of weeks ago I discussed Sir Kensington’s ketchup.  Now equal time for Heinz.

This is a clever little piece of content creation. In Chicago, as you may know, putting ketchup on a hot dog is a sin.  (As the guy in the linked video says, “If you still have training wheels on your bike, you can put ketchup on your hot dog.”)

So Heinz surreptitiously put its ketchup in a blue container labeled “Chicago Dog Sauce” and recorded the surprised reactions of Chicagoans. 

This guy wasn’t amused.

New ketchup in new bottles

You may have read a Malcolm Gladwell essay in which he compared the markets for mustard and ketchup.  There are all kinds of competitors in the mustard space. Ketchup?  Not so much, because Heinz produces a ketchup with pretty close to a perfectly-balanced taste.

That article inspired a couple of guys to see if they could prove Gladwell wrong. And they have, to some extent. In April, Unilever purchased Sir Kensington’s, the brainchild of Scott Norton and Mark Ramadan.  Sir Kensington’s doesn’t really try to compete on taste. But they do have a couple of things that set the brand apart.  One is a wide-mouth jar that lets you scoop out a perfectly-sized dollop.  And second is the brand identity and packaging, built around a charming old chap who looks like he just walked off the set of Downton Abbey.

A great example of the increasing importance of design in building a brand. (For the complete story of Sir Kensington’s, check out this NPR interview with one of the founders.)

2017 Cannes Lions Awards

The 2017 Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions have been announced.  The Grand Prix Winner is the Art Institute of Chicago, and its “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” campaign.  

The Art Institute ran an exhibition last year that marked the first time in North America that you could see three paintings Van Gogh made of his bedroom in one place.  It teamed up with Airbnb to allow art-lovers to stay in a life-size re-creation of the bedroom for just $10/night. It created quite a buzz in Chicago and led to an incremental attendance increase of 133,000 visitors.

Other interesting gold or silver winners include:

Here is the full list of winners.  

A snapshot of racial bias in Europe

Courtesy of Mindhacks…a new map that shows racial bias throughout Europe as determined by Implicit Association Testing (IAT). 

In this map, the red countries show higher levels of bias against black faces, the bluer countries show lower levels of bias.  A key takeaway is that no country is near zero, meaning that residents of all countries in Europe show some degree of racial bias.

Something similar was done to illustrate racial bias in different states across the US.

(A significant caveat is that this is a self-selected sample consisting of people who have chosen to visit Harvard’s Project Implicit website and take an IAT.)

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Act your age

Thanks to Jerry Olson for sharing this article about marketing to seniors.

The author makes an interesting point – that efforts to combat the negative perceptions of aging can backfire in unexpected ways.  For example, we can now join AARP at age 50.  I am sure in the minds of the AARP, opening membership to younger people was meant to “de-stigmatize” aging and shift the image of the brand.  However, a possible unintended consequence is, does 50 now seem older than it did before?

And what about “senior discounts” that are available at restaurants and other places?  Is this respectful or patronizing?  How would we react if a retailer offered an African American discount or a Latino discount?

The author points to a campaign from Asbury Communities in Maryland called #ActYourAge that he thinks addresses aging in a more respectful way and works hard to break stereotypes. But it does beg the question – is any overt attempt to appeal to seniors going to come off as patronizing, almost by definition?

What is the secret to a turnaround?

A once iconic brand, Victoria’s Secret is really struggling – getting weaker by the day, as one analyst puts it.

L Brands eliminated Victoria’s Secret’s swim wear and apparel lines, and since then total sales have been down six percent.  The brand’s move into lower-priced segments has hit some speed bumps, too, namely competition from rivals like Aerie.

Moreover, the store experience may be something less than optimal. Also, for various reasons, the brand may be losing touch with Millennial women.

Sounds like a bit of a mess. So if you are Victoria’s Secret, what do you do to regain your footing?

The Greenest Brands in America

In recognition of Earth Day, Brand Keys has released its list of the greenest brands in America

Being seen as green is much more difficult because so many brands are trying to send that message.  Therefore, consumer expectations are much higher. Indeed, last year 40 brands qualified as “green” according to Brand Keys.  This year it is just 25.

The list includes a lot of familiar names, but one that many may be unfamiliar with is the cosmetics brand Kiehl’s.  (They have been part of the L’Oreal Group since 2000.) 

The imagery on their website and the very simple, almost retro packaging (Kiehl’s began as a homeopathic pharmacy in 1851 and much of its packaging looks like it came out of time capsule from that era) may help to explain their inclusion on this list.  The brand is also known for its philanthropic activities, including support for HIV/AIDS research and environmental causes.

Feminism for a new generation?

This article from the New York Times this weekend was a bit unfocused, but it touched on two different trends among teenage girls – girls who, in a decade or less, will be adult consumers.

The first part of the article centered on YouTube star JoJo Siwa, who is promoting what one might call a new flavor of young feminism:

“In a world where parents of children ages 8 to 14 have long been concerned about hypersexualized clothing, early puberty and overly sophisticated media messages, JoJo is part of a growing group of girls documenting routine, age-appropriate behaviors and activities such as being nice, doing their choresdivulging what’s in their backpacks, making dresses out of garbage bags and working to pay for their own clothes.”

The article then meanders into a deeper discussion of the young female stars of YouTube.  Older people always worry that new trends herald the end of civilization as we know it, and the presence of young girls crossing over from YouTube to mainstream stardom is no exception.

 ‘”It’s troublesome to me when I see this being celebrated as the herald of what our young girls should aspire to,’ Ms. Long said. ‘That you, too, can go from being a YouTube star to having your own deal on Nickelodeon.’”

How do these trends compare or contrast with those of past generations when those generations were in their teen years?  What does this suggest for how brands can reach these girls, not only now but also down the road?

(photo: Ryan Henriksen for The New York Times )

"Take on TJ" takes the prize

The Advertising Research Foundation announced its 2017 Ogilvy Award winners this week and the Grand Winner was Nike’s “Take on TJ” campaign.

This campaign was in support of Nike’s “Gear Up “ initiative, which encourages teenage athletes to stock up on the equipment they will need for the coming sports season.

The key insight was developed around social listening and Google search trends. Teen athletes spend their summers the way most teenagers do – going on vacations, working, partying, and hanging out.  But when fall sports season approaches, they start to freak out, wondering if they’re going to be in good enough shape to compete.

This campaign highlights the fictional but yet all too real “TJ,” the adversary who is always just a little better than you.  The one you always want to beat but can’t.  They launched the campaign on Facebook and YouTube and it blew up. They created a humble-bragging Twitter account for TJ and had NFL star Richard Sherman at the customer service center answering all TJ-related calls.

According to the case study linked above, typical Nike seasonal campaigns generate 10,000-12,000 website visits in a month.  TJ generated 1.5 million visits and Nike considers it one of its most successful social campaigns to date.