Showing posts from December, 2007

Why Testing is a Good Idea, but so is also Throwing Away the Results

Last week's Business Week included an article by Steve McKee warning that pretesting advertising campaigns can kill good ideas. ("Beware the Advertising Pretest" at ).

Many successful campaigns, argues McKee, would never have passed traditional pre-testing with focus groups. The reasons are not hard to find, but the most important is the disconnect between the real-life reaction of consumers and what they say when you ask for an opinion.

Predictably when you ask someone to look at an ad and comment they feel obliged to find some flaw; they feel that to say honestly that it looks ok is somehow not enough to pay for the free food and other considerations they were given. And in any case most people simply don't have the knowledge or the experience to provide meaningful comments.

You get the same problem when you test new brand names on non-professional audiences. Many now valua…

On the Meaning of Printable

My company's own modest website may not win any prizes, but I am pretty confident that if you try to print any page you will not be disappointed by the result. It is made deliberatley that way since i am routinely frustrated by unprintable pages.

Just to give one example, following up on the Beatrice Rose posting (see I googled Beatrice Rose and the first page I found is the profile of actress Beatrice Rose on You can test this page for yourself at

The standard page is beyond unprintable, it actually wedges my computer -- just a few months old and kept meticulously up to date -- so completely it took me some time to restore normal operation. And even the "printable" page simply prints the left hand side of the page, giving the ludicrous result of listing things like "playing range, height, wrig…

Faded Images of Beatrice Rose, London, 1930

Among the old cameras displayed by an antique trader in an open air market was a battered old folding Kodak that probably all the collectors avoided. Someone had scratched "Beatrice Rose" on one side and "B Rose, London, 1930" on the front in a childish scrawl, giving an already worthless camera -- folding Kodaks were always cheap and plentiful -- even less collectability.

But for me this was an extra special camera just because I knew who had owned it, when and where. You don't write Beatrice Rose, London, 1930 on your new camera if your name is Alan Gooseberry from Slough and you bought it in 1934. I have no love of antiques for their own sake but I am fascinated by how people interacted with objects from the past. Maybe Beatrice is no longer with us, but we still have her camera and I can imagine how she used it. Better still, I can put in a roll of film and try it myself.
I had already decided I wanted to buy it even before I noticed there was a film inside.…

Defeating Stereotype Threat in Engineers

In the Mind Matters blog at Scientific American magazine there is an interesting review of studies about Stereotype Threat, where the performance of people is measurably affected by their own perceptions of stereotypes. Put simply, if you tell someone from a pink skinned race that his kind are not good at, say, break dancing and he will perform badly on any standard scientific test of break dancing ability. See "The Choke Factor, How Stereotypes Affect Performance" at

All this does is confirm scientifically what has been known to us all through folk tales since way back: people really do believe all the idiotic stereotypes about themselves and they let it hold them back. If you can find a way to break the spell and liberate people from their own stereotypes they can achieve much more than they ever expected.

There is actually a practical use for this knowledge and I have used it myself on many occasions. Ju…

Media Literacy 101: Reflecting on *Why* Articles are Published

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s “Le Figaro”. Titled “Une Webcam chez la nounou pour rassurer les parents” ("A webcam at the nanny to reassure the parents") at, it tells the story of a professional child carer in the French town of Lyon who has installed a webcam so that her customers can monitor their children at any time of the day.

The “nounou”, Valérie Boccara, installed the camera on her own initiative. She told Le Figaro’s Delphine de Mallevoüe that she did it to reassure parents, pointing out that some parents are wary after a number of cases where other nannies mistreated their charges. It also provides a competitive advantage over other nannies, a fact that she cannot be unaware of. But the subject is highly controversial because some people consider it “spying” on someone in their own home, and some people fear that other nann…

Beware the Spam Trap

Recently I received an email from a major car rental company informing me that they would debit my bank account to pay for some vaguely defined « damage » to a car I had rented in August. Or at least I would have received it had it not been automatically swept away by the Gmail spam filter. I only discovered it during a routine check in the spam folder for “keepable” spams – I collect the more idiotic examples for posterity.

At first I thought it was a spam, too, since it looked like it had been written by a teenage hacker but then I couldn’t figure out where the trick was. So I checked the phone number and email address and to my surprise they checked with the official ones given on the company’s website. I even googled the author and not only did she turn out to be a genuine employee but Google even found an image of her. At this point I realized that it was a real message and to confirm it my bank reported the debit the next day. Since the charge was unjustified I contested the…