Category Archives: cloudiness

Cloudy Advertising, embracing the new complexity in brands, agencies and consumers

Geico_insurance_geckoOnce upon a time, an ad was about a company’s unique selling position. But people can now accept more complex brands, and I thought we might be able to build a deeper relationship if we built on multiple fronts."  Mike Hughes, president and creative director, The Martin Agency

Complexity used to be the signature of bad advertising.  Now, it’s a competitive opportunity.

Hughes has run several campaigns running for GEICO at the same time:

1) The GEICO gecko.
(Too well known to need detailing.)

2) The "Good News" campaign. 
(This is the campaign that features a faux news report and the punch line "But the good news is, I just saved a lot of money on my insurance.")

3) Cavemen
(Tischler describes them as "a clutch of metrosexual cavemen, having somehow eluded extinction while developing a taste for racquet sports, plasma TVs, and ‘duck with mango salsa.’")

4) Testimonials
(Customer endorsements with interpretations by celebrity pitchmen, Little Richard, Burt Bacharach, and Peter Graves.)

This is noisy advertising.  There is no internal logic here, no secret strategy that makes all these campaigns go together.  In fact, to grasp this work, we have to "shift frame" entirely, by which I mean, we have to give up the assumptions and the meanings cultivated by the last campaign to make sense of the present one. 

This means the brand is now filling up with a certain internal inconsistency.  And in the old days, this would have been grounds for shooting the creative director, and moving the account.  What we need is a little research.  It would be very interesting to see whether and how these campaigns interact with one another.  It is almost as if The Martin Agency has undertaken a "transmedia" strategy within a single medium.

But I think it’s fair to say that consumers are amused and engaged by this approach.  Our simplest guess might may that there are many messages for a rich and complicated marketplace.  I mean, everyone buys car insurance, and these days "everyone" is a very diverse group.  Perhaps this is a grab-bag approach.  There are lots of creative strategies here, and maybe the idea is that GEICO has something for everyone. 

On the other hand, we are learning, or should be learning, to segment each consumer as we once segmented the marketplace.  We know that every consumer contains quite a lot of diversity, of noise, within. Perhaps consumers find in this GEICO advertising something that speaks to the world of complexity within themselves. 

But there is a last point to make here: that GEICO complexity comes in part from the internal complexity of The Martin Agency.  Mike Hughes decided some years ago to create multiple creative teams and to "turn them loose to tell multiple, distinct narratives designed to highlight various aspects of the brand."  As Tischler puts it, Hughs has transformed Martin "into a confederation of mini agencies, rather than a single midsize one."

That makes three: the brand, the consumer and the agency, all with the same structural property.  All are complex where once they were simple.  All are noisy where once they were quiet.  All are cloudy were once they were clear blue.  Something is happening, and we’re not sure what it is. 


Jenkins. Henry.  2007.  Transmedia Storetelling 101.  Confessions of an Aca-Fan.  The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins.  March 22, 2007. here

McCracken, Grant.  2004.  Complexity on TV.  This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. September 15, 2004.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  Gaga Over Geico.  This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  March 08, 2007. here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  Noise.  This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  March 06, 2007.  here.

Tischler, Linda.  2007.  Clan of the Caveman.  Fast  Issue 116, June, p. 104.  here.

The BBC discovers cloudiness

Montreal_by_woolford Thanks to PSFK, I am reading Bill Thompson’s recent account of life online. 

Transparency, he says, that’s the key.  Bill’s Facebook account exposes his friendship networks to public view.  30Box gives away his calendar.  Twitter advertises his location.  Flickr reveals his photographs which in turn reveal much more.  Bill has alternative selves on evidence on Second Life, and accounts at Orkut, LiveJournal, and Bebo. 

As he says, "…there’s little of me left to expose," and so confirms Piers Fawkes argument that privacy may prove something treasured by the 20th century only, perhaps, to be forsaken in the present one. 

But what really got my attention is Bill’s conviction that his life has assumed a certain cloudiness.

As I spread myself around over the network, updating my Facebook profile, commenting on MySpace, flying through Second Life, blogging, twittering, updating my calendar and posting photos and videos and audio I am finding a new way to be Bill Thompson.

We have yet to glimpse the consequences of cloudiness.  Bill, for one, isn’t sure what will become of him,  and resorts to the third person to ask, "I wonder what he’ll be like?"

I think Thompson has it right.  The issue here should not be restricted to the intellectual’s traditional lamentation that old categories are at risk.  The issue is to ask what must happen to identity and human nature in the new regime. 


Fawkes, Piers.  2007.  2007 Trends: Privacy Epiphany (Red coat, Black coat).  PSFK, January 4, 2007.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  Cloudiness: of selves, groups, networks and ideas.  This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics.  January 31, 2007.  here.

Thompson, Bill.  2007.  Finding myself through online identities. BBC News.  May 14, 2007.  here.


This would be a good place to notice that PSFK is holding its London conference on June 1, see and for more details

Speakers and panelists include: George Parker, Russell Davies, Johnny Vulkan (Anomaly), Martin Cole , Jessica Greenwood (Contagious Magazine), Iain Tait (Poke), Dan Hon (Mind Candy), Jeremy Ettinghausen (Penguin), Beeker Northam (Bloom), Faris Yakob (Naked), Simon Sinek (Sinek Partners), Steven Overman (Lowe Worldwide), Justin Quirk (EMAP), Niku Benaie (Naked), John Grant, Diana Verde Nieto (Clownfish), Tamara Giltsoff (OZObrand), Stan Stalnaker (Hub), James Cherkoff, Regine Debatty (WM$NA) and Mike Butcher.

Dopplr takes a lead in social networks

Dopplr_logo_3 The thing about traveling a lot is that friends cease to believe in your existence.  In the 1990s, I would meet someone in the street in Toronto (then my home town) and they would say, "Hey!  Grant!  What are you doing here?"

It’s no good saying, "I live here," because your friends have hard empirical evidence that this is not true.  They haven’t seen you in a month or so.  They haven’t seen anyone who’s seen you.

Networks take renewal.  And the node that’s you on the net…it stopped blinking some time ago.  The vibrations that eddy back and forth are now quiet. 

Your friends can see you standing there before them, but they prize their network intelligence more surely than the evidence of their senses.  Their eyes might deceive them.  The hum of the network, never!

Saved by technology.  Now, Dopplr gives us a way to keep track of one another on line.  If you give me permission, I can see the map that describes your movements for the next 30 days or so.  If we are going to be in London at Russell Davies’ Interesting2007 in June, it will tell me so.

So far, Dopplr maps show only one person on the map at once.  But eventually, when capacity ramps up, the Dopplr map will show me everyone in my network, all those people engaged in all those projects skipping about the globe, color coordinated for easier management. 

And yes, it will make a difference to those face-to-face encounters in the streets of my home town.  I will see "Richard" standing there before me, but unless I have been tracking him on line, he will be a pale and ghostly presence, the poor man who exists only in the real time and space.

There are lots of social networking plays out there at the moment: Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, to name a few.  I believe that the first one to create a really good "cloud" that gives us a way visually to monitor and manage our connection wins.  Advantage, Dopplr. 

Post script:

Dopplr is pretty new and it is for the moment a "by invitation" network only.  But hey, you’ve got to someone who belongs.  Use your network.   (Hillary is right: It takes a network to build a network.)


Thanks to Pip Coburn and Jerry Michalski for the head’s up.