Someone scanning a QR code using their mobile phone

The return and rise of the QR code

After a long drawn out lockdown where businesses and communities alike have felt the strain, stress and instability of our globally shared reality, it comes as no surprise that the UK’s dubbed ‘Super Saturday‘ saw restaurants, pubs and hair salons reopen en masse up and down the country, some with more success than others.

Already many pubs have had to reclose due to outbreaks of coronavirus, and the government's inability to get anywhere with a track and trace app has forced business owners to come up with their own solutions for data capture, tracking, tracing and adapting to a socially distanced service. This brings with it complications for the less tech savvy, and opportunities for the more future thinking, all brought to you by the humble QR code. Let’s go back a bit.

The QR code is nothing new. Barcodes have been around since the 1960s when Japan entered its high economic growth period and developed the POS system, the beeping machines we now take for granted in every retail store. In 1994 the Quick Response (QR) code evolved from the initial 20 digit reading capacity of the original barcode, to a new 7000 digit reading capability, ten times faster than its predecessor. But it wasn’t until 2002 and the marketing of smartphones with a QR code reading feature that the use became widespread among the general public in Japan. What once started as a free app on smartphones became a built in feature, much like the torch, and by 2012 the QR code had been standardised and developed into a variety of evolutions, growing more effective with every annual tech update and widely used around the world.

Fast forward to 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic. After entire sectors have reopened with strict social distancing guidelines, the QR code has gone even more mainstream. Restaurants looking to protect their staff are using QR codes driving to websites for customers to order their food directly to their table. Workspaces are using QR codes to book hotdesks, and a vast amount of public venues are using QR codes to build their own CRM for track and trace purposes in the event of an outbreak. Post GDPR, restaurants and pubs are having to be careful of what data they capture and how they use it, and many venues are falling short.

In Luton, a local pub took no data when they reopened, other than keeping a counter to keep the numbers down, a vastly missed opportunity to protect, better serve and better market to their most loyal customers. In Brighton, a local coffee shop took down peoples names and mobile numbers on the back of receipts. At Westfield Stratford, individual restaurants used QR codes for menus and table service, but no data was captured by Westfield upon entrance to their indoor/outdoor supermall. These seem like massively missed opportunities for customer relationship management, safety, service, marketing and advertising, but not all hospitality venues missed out on the opportunity provided by QR codes.

At Bistrotheque, a restaurant in Hackney, their booking service was powered by RESY, which captures data ahead of customers' arrival. At POP Brixton, QR codes are being used to drive to a simple Google form for track and trace purposes (with a 21 day data deletion disclaimer and an option to subscribe to their mailing list), as well as another QR code driving to website GoodEats.io to power their multiple restaurant menus and internal table service. In gastropubs from Cornwall to Manchester, QR codes have been used for similar purposes, in some cases failing and reverting to pen and paper to take down customer details.

Many missed opportunities are occurring, even for those with slick and simple uses of QR codes and customer relations management. The vast majority of consumers now have smartphone technology and are familiar with scanning QR codes to get to a digital location, which is why there has never been a better time to adopt a new form of CRM and systematically change the way customers and businesses communicate with each other.

Imagine a world where EVERYTHING has a QR code, a physical-digital portal that not only gives you access to more information, exclusive content, or juicy discounts from your favourite brands. Imagine you’re a Marmite fan, you scan the code on the jar and you’re taken to a digital destination for people like you. Imagine you’re a music fan of a specific artist or record label, you walk past their billboard or come across a flyer, scan the code and are taken to their latest music video before it has officially dropped. Imagine you’re a sneaker head and the latest Yeezy’s are all but sold out, you scan a code from an Adidas advert and are added to a waiting list with an additional 20% discount to reward you for your patience. From a consumer POV it’s a no brainer.

Now look at the same examples from the opposite side. You are the chief marketer of Unilever and want to run a new campaign for Marmite lovers in order to gather better, first party data. You are Ed Sheeran’s record label and despite being able to sell out stadiums by sending an email blast out, you’re looking to innovate your approach in order to gain further understanding of your audience and get better quality data, more than just an email address. You’re the CMO of Adidas and you want to cross pollinate your new found audience from the Yeezy campaign and re-target the most engaged fans to similar campaigns, to further drive ROI.

All of these ideas are entirely possible with a fresh approach to CRM. A post GDPR, post cookie future where data is leveraged by the consumer as much as the brand, restoring the balance of marketing in favour of both parties. This new app based CRM platform is called BLiX, a Brand and Lifestyle Information Exchange. It’s a military encrypted app, dashboard and QR code combination that delivers a fresh perspective for marketers and consumers navigating a new normal, together. Of course I would approve of such a product as the head of business development at BLiX, but I was originally sold on the idea as a consumer and appreciator of powerful marketing done well. I really can’t stand the opposite, and as our chief strategy officer Craig Wills has said: “There’s never been a modern economic climate more in need of an effective, efficient accountability solution like BLiX”.

QR codes are the new normal and they need a verb. To ‘BLiX’ is to scan, engage and exchange. To ‘BLiX’ is to receive high quality content from a brand in return for opt-in sharing. To ‘BLiX’ is to imbue press, packaging and outdoor with the digital means to drive relationship marketing. To ‘BLiX’ is to interact directly, safely, securely with a brand. To ‘BLiX’ is to nurture sincere, post-doubt relationships between Brands and consumers.

Silas Armstrong, head of business development for MarTech BLiX.

  1. Article as first appeared in The Drum
Lady wearing a face mask looking through shutter

Times like these: the good and the bad of Covid-19 responses

During the current climate of COVID19, panic buying and herd mentality, there are two types of people showing their true colours. Regardless of age, race, colour or creed, humanity is coming together and breaking apart simultaneously.

Take a supermarket as a physical example; hundreds crowd as the store opens and slowly begin to push their way in. Some people push harder, some shout and become rude to anyone in their way. Others seek to be polite, help others in need, work together to reach a common goal. The same characteristics are seen in a digital landscape across social media. Trolls take to strangers like the coronavirus itself, poisoning everything in their way.

Others spread peace and love through the medium of motivational quotes, disseminating useful or positive messages of hope to anyone who might care or benefit.

Now think about brands, businesses and corporates. They come in all shapes and sizes, some clearly good, some rather bad. The good companies seek to disrupt the bad, tip the balance and create change for the better. Better for the planet, for their customers, for their staff.

The bad dodge taxes, lure people in with small hits of dopamine in return for harvesting data, more valuable than oil. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, supermarkets, social media platforms, businesses and people from all walks of life are coming together, and breaking apart. World leaders are showing their true colours.

Companies are taking their own action, regardless of governments' advice, deciding what's best for their own staff.

But what about their consumers? What about us? Different demographics broadly behave differently. The young are exhibited as casually reckless, with many Gen Z’s more worried about their own mental health deteriorating (from not being able to see their friends) than they are worried about the wider impacts on society and those outside their immediate circles.

We’ve all been 18 and felt indestructible, but this selfish streak arguably seems to be stronger with Gen Z than previous generations. The elderly are locked up in self-isolation, implored by the government to stay indoors at all costs whilst their loved ones panic buy and panic plan for worst case scenarios and attempt to educate their technologically disabled to communicate in a new, virtual world.

Generation X, the most recent of the baby boomers (until 9 months from now), take care of their children, their parents, their jobs and their friends all simultaneously, whilst tightening their purse strings in preparation for what comes next, and celebrating another week survived with a boozy Zoom party once the kids are in bed.

Millennials on the whole are behaving more admirably than not, taking care of themselves and others, acting responsibly and sincerely, offering themselves up to help the NHS and their local communities, making sure to exercise daily, embracing the change and adapting quickly to the new digital dimension and joys (even) of working from home. Half of millennials — versus 38% of the population — consider themselves content creators, and 75% share content online. They are all about creating, sharing, and capturing memories. In the United States alone, 3 millennials account for 30% of all retail sales, a figure of $1.4 trillion in spending (pre-pandemic).

In the current climate of self-isolation and rolling lockdowns, every generation is behaving more and more like millennials. We all now have more in common with millennials and more in common with each other due to this global health and economic crisis.

Demographic band or appointed societal descriptor aside we all crave and welcome a better, more sincere and legitimate ways to interact with each other, physically and digitally. In a post-GDPR, post-cookie, post-COVID-19 world, we will all need to take more responsibility for how we interact with each other, how we impact the planet, and how we approach our physical and digital environments.

This applies to the human race as much as it does to brands – but where brands reflect and moderate to the changing swells in our individual and collective moods and needs. 'Millennial-grade' sincerity from brands will mean there’s nowhere for them to hide and no way they can fake it to millennial audiences. Some brands will get left behind – they will not be equal to these new rules and expectations – but other brands will flourish and lead the way to a new world where sincerity and shared responsibility is recognised and honoured.

As a wise man named Dave once wrote, “It’s times like these we learn to live again”.

Silas Armstrong, head of business development, BLiX

  1. Article as first appeared in The Drum
Chinese wet market

Coronavirus: We can't just blame a bat baguette

A by-product of being an apex predator is this: you’re never short of arrogance or hubris. You know there’s no ‘sharp-toothed anything’ going to descend from above – because you are that sharp-toothed something.

The true apex predator bends the world to his will. He doesn’t fit in with his surroundings, but changes them. He destroys, flattens and builds. He makes in his own image. “Man… made”. Ego, in physical forms. Rules ignored. Criticisms shrugged.

But hubris aside, even apex predators know deep down they’re not absolutely invincible and wholly untouchable.

There’s stuff out there. Stuff you can’t see. Stuff you didn’t see coming. Even if you did kind of sense it.

Corona, not the beer

COVID-19 has become a “life-imitating motion picture” reminder that apex predation can come in all shapes and sizes. If big was always best, there’d still be dinosaurs skulking around. Sometimes the real bad ass is micro-biotic.

In the months ahead, many of us will continue to rightly ask, “To what degree have we brought this on ourselves? Did we invite this to our door? Did we see or sense this coming?"

And of course, for decades gone by, the “Not-If-But-When Global Pandemic” has been a focus of speculation, prospection and vivid imaginings.

Our pop cultural fixation with Zombie apocalypse always felt like so many codified premonitions. Hollywood channeling its inner Nostradamus. Fevered dreams that reflected a collective underlying anxiety.

Ever since the last one, it’s natural to wonder “when’s the next one?” If we’re talking Spanish Flu and 1918, then we’re running to a once-every-100-years event where we humans get our asses kicked.

Of course, extinction is only titillating so long as it stays in the fiction aisle. ‘Shock horror’ loses its impact the moment it turns itself into a news broadcast.

Certainly, there are levels on which this present novel virus is not novel or unexpected. The food chain is going to bite back if you start going too off-piste. Exotic meats can have exotic outcomes. This should not feel like a ‘Big Reveal’ to anyone. But it’s not as simple as blaming a bat baguette.

This moment – worrying, troubling, where we all have to reign ourselves in so it doesn’t become terrifying – needs to also be a moment of pause and serious self-interrogation. At a personal and at a species level. This is an existential moment that has implications on the path of our future existence.

It’s one planet.

The ‘global village’ actually means that something that happens in a place you likely never heard of, can’t pronounce and probably didn’t care about can come and knock on your door. Everywhere is everywhere. Everything is close. We are all each other’s neighbors. Which begs revisiting some of the obvious questions.

Do we need to fly quite so often? Do we really need to make 50 million flights a year? Do we need to have all the fruits in the world there on our supermarket aisle 24/7/365? Could seasonal produce that’s clocked a few less air miles be just as palatable to us? Could we not just draw a line under domestic and packaging plastics and take on the chin that our grocery store outings need a bit more personal preparation?

Panic in the system...

What we’re all soon going to deeply appreciate is how swiftly this present virus has already, figuratively mutated. There’s the biological virus itself... but then there’s the economic strain - and the cultural version.

Economically, already: contracts cancelled. Retrenched and “effective immediately” corporate spending patterns operating to worst-case scenarios, but also paving the way to worst-case scenario fulfillment. Vendors paused. Jobs on half-pay. Jobs lost. Entire industry segments starting their tumble into the abyss. Fear, pulling like gravity.

Less food on the shelves is scary enough. Suddenly no job and no money to pay for what food that’s left: that’s a more deep-seated horror.

Economically, inevitably, we’re going to make it worse for ourselves – despite knowing that every economic decision ripples the entire system. Equal and opposite reactions everywhere. From Fortune 500, CEOs to micro business owners: we’re all on the hook for the decisions we make in the coming weeks and months. It’s ‘Nerve-Holding’ time. ‘True colours’ time.

The virus of panic and its economic consequence is equal if not potentially greater than this current COVID. Where the bigger the system-interruption, the longer and more painful the reboot. The longer it’ll take us to claw our way back.

A new normal

Whether it’s six, 12 or 18 months from now, as we’re all queuing up for our annual Corona jabs, life will have gone back to a different kind of normal. We’ll be back in school, the gym, or back pounding the pavements and touting for new work. Military presence on our streets will suddenly be conspicuously absent, and then just once again absent.

Memories of Skype fatigue, a global staycation, doing press-ups at home, reading the novels you always promised you would, playing more chess, learning piano, binging Netflix, having an immaculate looking-garden – all will be just that. Memories.

We’ll have dusted off, still bruised, having grieved deeply for the dead we’ve had to bury. That will, of course, be the worst kind of miserable, but the world will not end here.Yet let’s not delude ourselves either. This is a wake-up call. More than just an ice bath to body and soul for all. We’ve had a system-level interruption to our daily lives and the way the we liked our world to work.

But it’s with hope that this is – in all the right ways – also the end of the world as we knew it, because how we knew it wasn’t really good enough. The sobering and presently right-up-in-our-grill reminder is clear. The world is only one 'place', full of delicate organisms, economic, social and biological, that we all share in taking care of, and where we all have to wear the responsibility. There is not someone to blame. We are all to blame. We all need to point the finger at our own chests.

The wheels have just come off and we all need to think and act in ways that adjust the tramlines. If everything and everyone one just goes back to how it was, then it’s a waiting game to the next one, and sequels always try and do things bigger.

The communicability of CORVID-19 mixed with the mortality of Ebola? Yeah, that one really does need to stay in the fiction aisle.

Simon Pont, co-founder and CEO at Blix.

  1. Article as first appeared in The Drum
Robot lady with mouth open

Leaning into digital's second act

The Digital Age.

First, there is a PROLOGUE.

A case study in Unintended Consequences.

Tim Berners-Lee.

The need to exchange information with colleagues across CERN.

A simple need. Leading to a simple html missive.

Sent across an “invent it so you can send it” World Wide Web.

DOB: 1991.

www. = a global information medium.

Computers: connected.

The founding spirit: Open source. Anti-monopoly. Information: for all.

‘Sharing’ coded into the very DNA of Digital.

Absolute competition in a truly open market.

Price comparison. An even playing field. Consumers in the driving seat.

1994: hello Amazon.

1998: hello Google.

1999: hello Alibaba.

Phones level-up and level-up some more; become handheld computers we take... everywhere.

People able to remotely ‘connect’ with immediacy. Beyond spoken word.

From Conspicuous Consumption to the dawn of “Conspicuous Communication”.

2004: hello Facebook.

2006: hello Twitter.

2007: hello iPhone.

Social Media leading to Social Mobilisation and positive change.

2010: hello Arab Spring… and hello Insta.

Technology liberates and invites.

Technology excites and tempts us all to distort and warp.

Click to buy. Click to polish. Click to post.

We all become bargain hunters and documenters.

Daily selfies and self-curation of our ‘Life Factions’. Neither all fact or all fiction.

A ‘new norm’ of Self-Brushing and Digital Dorian-Graying.

A new world order of Unicorns and Decacorns.

Prologue ends.

ACT 1.

From positive… to negative. From light to much more dark.

The system is gamed. The dice loaded. Google/Facebook = duopoly.

The Information Age becomes the Age of Misinformation.

And misrepresentation. Propaganda rebooted.

Fake News. Paid Influencers.

Trolls. Bots. Catfish profiles. Dark Web underbellies.

Click-bait. Click-to-Accept Cookies. Options that aren’t a choice.

User disempowerment. Fakers faking. Haters hating. Hackers hacking.

Open source becomes ring-fenced social feeds, echo-chambers to Group Think prejudice and clique-defined ‘reality’. And if not Clique-defined, then… Cambridge Analytica defined. Or out of some server-melting, power-grid sucking warehouse behind the former Iron Curtain.

New curtains. Old games. Espionage gets a Cyber prefix.

From Arab Springs to Democratic Meltdowns.

Social Media as Mob Rule and Manufactured Mobs spawning Ballot Box change that may echo through history.

‘Digital’ becomes a Black Mirror to our narcissistic, lesser selves.

From free software to create and self-express... to malicious software that can zero your bank account.

The best of times... becoming the worst of times.

So much for self-regulating forces.

And now, from here, where...?

Not over the edge and into the abyss. No.

Instead, chinks of light. Glimmers in the darkness.

As every good script writer knows, the narrative must keep turning. Positive to negative. Negative to positive. Scenes flipping.

And ‘Digital’ has already shown itself to be one seriously wide-angle, see-sawing, fast-pivoting narrative. The game that turns as we play.

Our direction of travel: a step-after-step exercise in course correction.

Technology creates opportunity… the opportunity is realised… technology turns. Finds a loop-hole, exposes the weak point, exploits the advantage.

Technology reinvents again, redresses the new imbalance.

New advantage is born.

HMV… then Spotify. Blockbuster… then Netflix.

Circles of Reinvention and Re-imagining.

Open-source. Free information. Then: Google. Then: monopolistic control of information. With Surfeit of Information leading to Audience Paralysis, leading to Misinformation and Consumer Indifference. We accept everything. We trust nothing. All we know is we don’t know for sure. But then...

A systemic-level reset. Right NOW… where some information has the ability to become rock-solid and certain again.

Begin… ACT 2.

Technology turns. A new equilibrium created. Flow to the left, flow to the right.

The binary osmosis resettling.

Reasons for hope. Hope squared even.

We’re on the cusp of Next.

IBM “putting Smart to work”, articulating the bigger picture themes.

Genuine IoT. Connected everything. Safer, smarter aeroplanes. App-trackable luggage when you fly. Your food packaging talking to your fridge, alerting your phone and making an addition to your online shopping basket.

Every physical something, wearing the right tag, suddenly birthed a digital twin. Everything with a digital identity.

Proof of provenance. Proof of ethically sourced materials and manufacture.

T-shirt labels become digital keyholes into an instantly accessible supply chain backstory.

Printed movie posters become transmedia trigger-points to teaser trailers and fan-delight bonus materials.

RFID: slow-burn technologies now stepping into their defining moment in the Sun. The half-invented arriving at its tipping point. Microdots, antennas and radio waves connecting the inanimate with the cloud, introducing Trust by Design. Not just creating digital identities. Creating Digital Personalities too. Breathing life into IoT. Creating circular economies and giving tired running shoes a sell-back second life.

AI: bleeding-edge technologies starting to bring real human benefits to all that ever-amassing Big Data.

Blockchain: the digital equivalent of carving in stone. Irrefutable.

Data truth: now assured. Movement towards a Post-Doubt Age?

Digital next: less wiggle room, fewer hustles, far fewer secrets.

Imminent death of the cookie monster.

For Brands and Marketers: a new world of permission and first-party opt-in.

2020: hello BLiX.

A new disruptor that makes the theory possible in practice.

CRM of the sincerest kind. Performance marketing that actually performs.

The Digital Age’s Second Act. Everyone: get ready to lean in.

Simon Pont, CEO of BLiX and co-founder of BIG BLUE.

  1. Article as first appeared in The Drum
Jaws

The Bigger Boat

Simon Pont – CEO of AdTech BLiX and co-founder of brand growth agency BIG BLUE - makes the case for JAWS as an MBA worthy case study, and why 21st Century brand survival stems from healthy paranoia and adapting practices.

“The great fish moved silently through the night water.”
Peter Benchley, Jaws

Brands are dead in the water. Sitting ducks. Bobbing inertly. Quacking unknowingly. Waiting to be picked off one-by-one or batch at a time - depending on the mouth-size of the duck-hungry leviathan rising from the deep.

Brands: Bob. Quack. Chomp.

Only, it doesn’t have to be so.

But first, why the chomp? Why any fatalities at all? The answer, of course, is simple. Because the world turns. Disrupt. Pivot. Progress. Change.

All leading to a churned wake of Broken Paradigms, out-dated Rule Books and Former Conventions turned floating boat-kill on the beautiful briny.

In our ‘Right Here, Right Now’ reality, it’s a call-to-arms and action – to look upon how we do things (like brand-building and ‘better marketing’), to ask some punchy and probing questions, and to start mapping the star chart towards some brave, bold, and novel horizons.

There are, of course, some fixed-bearings on which we can first anchor. Like, ‘consumerism’.

Consumerism, under the rule of Capitalism, still holds firm and true. Brands are still in the business of creating want. And it’s through the creation of want that we create wealth. But… it’s the ever-expanding data-points that make up ‘The How’ that has changed everything so radically.

Consider ‘The How’ in the ‘Shifting Contexts’ of… The Digital Age. The Attention Economy. No one with time to stop and stare. Conspicuous Consumption now paired with ‘Conspicuous Communication’. ‘Perfect Competition’ in the open market that is ‘online’. Off-set with global monopolies and duopolies and gaming the system and consumer promiscuity at an all-time high. All fuelling the boardroom table punditry and prospection and the looping questioning, “How to survive? How to thrive?” The choices presented (and their consequences) are candidly binary. Option One. Or Option Zero.

Option 1: A game of adaptation, survival and success. One score.

Option 0: Decision paralysis, inaction, old practices… and death. Sum score: zero.

While seldom used as a Harvard MBA case study, the bona fide movie classic JAWS (1975) re-enforces this point well.

Boil it right down, and JAWS is pure conflict narrative, played out at the apex of the food chain. Will fish eat man (literally), or man eat fish (figuratively, literally, take your pick)? Who will net out the biggest bad-ass in the big blue, showing the biggest appetite for survival?

Whatever organic form we take, once alive, we want very desperately to stay that way. JAWS is ultimately a ‘Battle of Wills & Want’. To survive. Brands and businesses: take note.

On the side of the land-dwellers, we have three ‘Everyman Archetypes’. A cop, a scientist and a sea captain. Only they’re not so everyman. They also happen to be 70’s cinema rock gods, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. Yes, it’s a little like going up against Bowie, Jagger, and Mercury in a karaoke contest. But then, they are facing off against Jaws, the definitive black-eyed monster, ‘The Bigger Beast’ of our murky paranoiac, subconscious nightmares. The unformed thing in the depths sending us crazy with the ‘what if?’ that at the end of our mortal coil, our demise may involve some high-drama mastication.

And to dial-it-up-to-11, there’s a ‘Context Shift’. Man has to take the fight to fish. Our ‘3 guys on a mission’ have to become the fish out of water, forgo home advantage and terra firma, become three men in a boat that they quickly realise needs to be bigger.

The sharp-incisored insight in all this? Being ‘all at sea’ turns you into sitting ducks and pending fish food. At least, it does if you don’t ADAPT and your BIG THINKING doesn’t stretch beyond packing water wings.

“It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong — if lunch was late or the swells were rocking the camera, someone would say, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.'" Roy Scheider, who played Brody in the movie, ad-libbed the line at different points in his performance throughout filming.”

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Today’s New Normal is all about ongoing Context Shifts and the responsive need to get a bigger boat. For Jaws-like context shifts, think: GDPR’s rightful decimation of CRM; a cookie-less future; the erosion of consumer trust.

Brands and businesses need to adapt and to draw upon that organic-felt imperative to survive at all costs. They need to think differently and think about themselves differently. Surely enough, from the other side of the looking glass, we as consumers are looking at brands (and the companies that own them) with a very different kind of gaze these evolving digital days.

Brand and business-builders need to recognise the Zeitgeist is all zigs and zags and that competition comes out-of-the-blue. Which is to say, it comes sideways, crossing other business verticals, and feels like it’s outta nowhere.

Businesses need to expect ‘Digital Predators’. They need to always feel paranoid and under threat, AND feel happy about embracing that varietal of paranoia, because it will bring the best out in them. They need to re-imagine the game they’re in and the role they can play - because the landscape and the dynamics are changing whether any of us like it or not. The Context Shifts come with each new sunrise. Viewed positively: a dawn chorus of invitation. To become the next Netflix. Next Uber. Next Tesla. Next unicorn. Heard otherwise, it’s a booming DefCon alarm bell. In reality: both. And ultimately: an invitation. For open-mindedness and fast-thinking ingenuity. For adaptation of form and trialling of new practices. Inviting that will to survive. And for those with greatest will and appetite, the chance to truly thrive.

For adaptation of form and trialling of new practices. Inviting that will to survive. Brands and businesses need to adapt and to draw upon that organic-felt imperative to survive at all costs.

Simon Pont, CEO at BLIX and co-founder of BIG BLUE.

  1. Article as first appeared in The Drum
Article in Adweek

Get Angry, Be Unreasonable

I’ve always believed great comedy is born of anger. Comedians: angry people. A breed that wince at the everyday patterns of nonsense, absurdity and hypocrisy and who feel compelled to call it out.

And I put inventors in the same neighbourhood as comedians.

I was once invited to a lunch with James Dyson, where he explained how his DA001 vacuum cleaner was driven by a very single, personal urge. There had been no focus groups. No addressable audience. The market need was simply his own. He found it profoundly unacceptable that his previous hoover needed a bag, jammed full of lint and sucked in all the wrong kinds of way. As he put it, “no one was crying out for cyclonic suction”. Dyson just got angry, found his present reality unreasonable and did something about it.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “All progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

Inventors & Comedians: unreasonable people. Unreasonable people who know that phoning it in and accepting the status quo isn’t going to move the game on. Not any game.

And by degrees, we’ve all been there. You see something that so jars, grates and irks that it cuts deep. You smile tightly, jaw muscles knotting, no levity behind the eyes and then you go home and think, “That really needs fixing”. To things we don’t like, we are driven to seek out ways of changing, of improving.

At the 230 word mark, it’s about now you might be asking, “But what does this have to do with advertising?”

To which my answer would be, “This has everything to do with advertising”. Both in theory and how we do it in practice.

Advertising has many dictionary definitions. Just ask Google. My common go-to:

to advertise – verb
“to call attention to something, in a public medium, in a boastful or ostentatious manner, to induce someone to buy.”

I still remember when my Google search threw that little verb-gem back in my lap. “Boastful”… “ostentatious”… not exactly endearing human qualities or the kind of traits we seek out in others in order to make them our friends.

When George Orwell called advertising “the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket”, he was being pretty black, white and damning about his views of Don Draper. But why the bad rep and sketchy rap sheet? And to what degree is it deserved?

No question, the advertising model is structurally broken if you observe and operate to the wrong kind of dictionary definition. A bygone ad model built on the throwback conventions of interruption, intrusion, self-aggrandising message and an underlying need “to sell” is a dinosaur sinking in the tar. Back in Orwell and Draper’s day, game show hosts would implore their TV viewers to “stay tuned”. That they’d “be right back, after these commercial messages”. “Messages” universally recognised as being not what people had tuned in for or wanted to watch.

Track forward to our present day, and if we’re talking ad-serving, data skimming, and email marketing bombardment, all driven by not-so-smart algos over-looking our opt-outs, then “advertising” deserves every tongue-lashing it gets.

But the good and cheerful news is that there is a converse in all this. Because new and old world thinking are oceans apart. Vast ones. It’s why my three co-founders and I invented BLiX – a permission-marketing platform designed to break with questionable conventions, that paves the way for an enlightened ad model. As in: sensitive and empathetic to what people want, where people can volunteer the (first-party) data they want to share and be rewarded for it.

The right theory, now coupled with the opportunity for a much more reasonable set of practices, and that bridges the current physical and digital divide. BLiX. But more of that commentary another time.

Until then, enjoy AdWeek 2020. It’s full of some very inventive, funny and highly unreasonable people. Be one of them.

Simon Pont is the CEO of permission-marketing platform BLiX and co-founder of brand growth agency, BIG BLUE.

  1. Article as first appeared in Adweek