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The Challengers Almanac

1 Apr

The Challengers Almanac is no ordinary book. It’s a collection of stories and wisdom written by people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, and I’m thrilled to be included.

It all started with a talk I did for She Says, alongside other ‘disruptors’ including the wonderful Olivia Knight from Patchwork Present, following which I was invited to contribute. My story is about how to do Marketing ‘Gangnam Style’ (stay with me now), because there’s much to learn from one of the greatest cultural phenomenon of our time, in fact we owe it to ourselves. As uncomfortable as it may feel to operate outside of your comfort zone, it’s better to be a disruptor than to be the disrupted (the only real alternative).


The Challenger’s Almanac has been curated by Mark Em and Meg from Sideways, while photographers Alastair SoppRasmus Keger and tattoo artist Josh Vyvyan have provided the stunning visuals.

We’re fuelled by people who have created businesses that are worth more than just profit. People that are led by their ideas, that take the road less travelled, that see business as an opportunity to create positive change. Built by a group of creative people who have given their skills and time to the project, The Challenger’s Almanac is a year round resource full of inspiration and practical advice.


The team have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the first issue. With just three days to go, they have already tripled their target with backers from all over the globe (but still appreciate all the support they can get!).


Make a pledge here for your copy and become part of this extraordinary bunch of challengers….

The godfather of Challenger Brands. The speaker of one of the most watched TedTalks of all time. The A-list celebrity revolutionising family products. The accountant who is redefining client relationships. The man who is getting his town making jeans again. The women who is helping to fix the future. The eyewear brand that’s given 500,000 pairs of glasses to people in need. The clothing company who wrote a manifesto celebrated by over 100 million people. The market researchers that take inspiration from freaks and geeks. The scheme that takes a small amount of turnover and changes the world with it. The designers who have visually branded some of the world’s most successful Challengers. The guy heading up the rise of the maker.The paint company taking on its industry. The certification that represents the world’s most responsible brands. The young entrepreneur whose business is a force for good. The beer club that champions the little guys. The founder of the nicest creative blog in the world. The women who champion equality in the workplace. The cartoonist who consults for the world’s biggest brands. The creatives carving out time for creativity. The travel company with a thirst for new challenges. The guys who stand for doing the things that matter. The agency that rebels against traditional marketing. The sustainable apparel company creating a new category. The confectionary company with a penchant for good. The woman who will change the way people give. The serial entrepreneur who thrives on failure. The King of Shoreditch.

What the F

31 Mar

Feminism is a hot topic right now. Popstars from girl-kissing Katy Perry to twerking Miley Cyrus are jumping on the feminist bandwagon. Bootylicious Beyoncé protests “gender equality is a myth”, while pro-woman Lily Allen sings she has a “baggy p***y”. 

The f-word has been enjoying a welcome resurgence, but shouting (or singing) about it alone will not change the world.

When it comes to feminism, the discussion seems to focus on girl power (circa 1990’s), inequality in the workplace, and the underrepresentation of women in the media. While these matter, the way to change behaviour goes beyond exposing the problem (or your body – I’m looking at you, Miley). We need people with feminine sensibilities to create more balance in the world.



That’s why TedX Brooklyn set a challenge to reimagine an existing product or service from a feminine perspective that everyone can benefit from (not ‘by women for women’). A challenge I could not resist. Not because the stuff invented by men is bad, but because we don’t have the balance of another angle.

My idea started with an anti-trend – owning stuff, it’s so passé. Instead we’re borrowing our music from Spotify, our TV shows from Netflix, our holiday homes from Air BNB. I believe that through female sensibility we can leverage this anti-trend to solve not one, but two problems.

 1:   The physical and emotional baggage of owning stuff you never, or rarely use.

 2: The desire to own stuff you don’t have the resources to buy.  

My reinvention is to create a sister website to eBay – eBorrow – to facilitate the borrowing and lending of consumer goods, for the mutual benefit of both borrower and lender. Consider the student who’s going traveling and wants to borrow travelling essentials and lend out goods they won’t be using while gone, the vintage fashion collector who wants to lend out items in order to fund new ones, or the musician wannabe who wants to strum a guitar before making a permanent investment.

While men typically place importance on individuality and competition, I believe the desire for interdependence and cooperation is born out of inherently female values. This new heightened level of collaboration will save us money, de-clutter our lives, and ultimately connect us with others like never before.

View my wining entry and all the great ideas here on Shout (SheSays crowdsourcing platform). 

Thoughts on Crowdsourcing

30 Nov

This rainy Monday morning I create a little Tweet Cloud via. Amongst the swearing, Doritos, and whoops!, crowdsourcing was staring me in the face. Seeing as it’s currently a hot hot topic within the ad community, I thought I’d share my personal views on the matter.


“The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software”

Like all buzz words in the ad industry, they tend to take on new meanings and forms. Let’s not forget the original definition coined by Wired’s Jeff Howe [2006].


A synonym of ‘outsourcing’ and ‘contests’

See above definition…


A previously untapped resource of human creativity, knowledge, and intelligence

The Internet has made it possible for large groups of widely dispersed people to come together and express ideas and solve problems. The real sweet spot is in harnessing the power of crowds in a way that is mutually beneficial for both the authority and the crowd.


The death of the creative agency

With any new buzz word in the ad world comes a new “death of” claim. With new agency breeds such as Viktor & SpoilsAgency Nil – are  creative agencies really under threat? I doubt it. While crowdsourcing is a new way to harness creativity, the truth of the matter is that we’ll continue to need people to get under the skin of brands. To help them understand their consumers. Perhaps it’s simply the death of lazy creatives 🙂 More on this from Mike



The notion of ‘by the people for the people’ is inherently democratic. The reason Doritos ‘You Make It, We Play It’ and ‘Crash the Superbowl’ work so well, is because the people have the final word on the outcome. Perhaps this is why I feel discomfort with Idea B0unty as they have full creative authority over the crowd (read Amelia’s thoughts on this here).


A cost-cutting labor solution

Or perhaps this is my belief (and Jeff Howe’s for that matter) that it “shouldn’t” be rather than “isn’t”? Some brands (e.g. Walkers DUAF) have involved crowds very effectively in new innovations in this new age of co-creation, others (e.g. Idea Bounty anyone?) are exploiting ‘crowdsourcing’ to cheaply outsource their advertising.


A grey area

Crowdsourcing is both good and bad. It can be effective. Or it can be a huge waste of resources. Monetisation in particular is a huge grey area – while some see crowdsourcing merely as collective intelligence of the Internet, others see it as collaboration but for commercial purposes.


For everyone

Crowdsourcing has its merits and should be explored, but it’s not an approach to doing business that will work for every company. As Brian Caulfield puts it – …”it’s not better–just different”. While in some cases the power of crowds can accomplish huge tasks, other times it can create a lot of dribble.

This is work-in-progress so comments welcome please 🙂

Sour – another ‘crowdsourced’ music video

8 Jul

Bloc Party very recently ‘crowdsourced’ their latest music video ‘Ares’ (more info here) – the video is made up of fan submitted mobile phone footage.

Today I came across another crowdsourced music video…from Japanese band ‘Sour’. The result is an amazing eye-popping video shot on a bunch of web cams by fans around the world. It’s pretty amazing the amount of work and collaboration that went into this – and the result is pretty spectacular. I think this is potentially an interesting opportunity for brands as well us bands…

Via CrunchGear.

Bloc Party crowdsource their latest music video

20 May

The Internet has made it possible for large groups of widely dispersed people to come together and express ideas. Harnessing the power of crowds is called ‘crowdsourcing‘ – and Bloc Party have done just that with their latest music video ‘Ares’.

The video is made up of fan-submitted mobile phone footage – in theory it sounds awful, but the result actually has a great raw feel. See for yourself!


Crowdsourcing – behind the buzz word

19 Sep

Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending a talk at the ICA on ‘Crowdsourcing’ – presented by Wired’s Jeff Howe who originally coined the term in 2006. It has since been developed by other theorists and has become an increasingly known buzz word in our industry. The debate came strongly from a journalists point of view, rather than a theorist. Some audience members did struggle with the fact there was not always a right / wrong, yes / no, answer to Crowdsourcing, nevertheless, it was a thought-provoking evening.

Jeff has two definitions of Crowdsourcing:

The White Paper Version: Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

The Soundbyte Version: The application of Open Source principles to fields outside of software.

We debated some interesting themes surrounding crowdsourcing…

Authority vs. Electronic Crowd

Some audience members viewed ‘Crowdsourcing’ as some sort of act of laziness. This raises the question – are the brands that are involving crowds in new innovations either smart in the age of co-creation, or do they merely have a lack of ambition? Some institutions may see ‘Crowdsourcing’ as a cost-cutting labor saving solution, but this is certainly not the way Jeff looks at it (nor I). However, the balance between controlling  crowds vs. complete crowd control, is a complex issue. The best examples of effective ‘Crowdsourcing’, are those where the line between authority and crowd is blurred, and is in fact more of a mutual collaboration.


The notion of ‘by the people for the people’ makes crowdsourcing instinctively democratic. Threadless for example is the linchpin of democracy. Threadless is a perpetual, online T-Shirt design competition. Artists submit their designs; users vote on them; the highest-rated designs are printed and sold back to the community. Simple. Brilliant. Perhaps an old example, but one where the crowd not only provides the services, but where the crowd itself is self-evangalising. Not only that, it’s hugely cost effective. Threadless is selling 60,000 T-Shirts a month, has a profit margin of 35 percent – for a company with fewer than 20 employees that’s pretty darn good!

Sturgeon’s Law

All this participation from crowds is all well and good, but isn’t the majority of user-generated content crap? The answer is yes! Sturgeon’s Law is the notion that “ninety percent of everything is crap”. You only have to browse the mindless dribble on YouTube, Digg, Flickr, to know that this is true. That’s not to say crowdsourcing is all crap though – there is a valuable 10%, you just need to find it. We’re begging to see various forms of filtering – this can be as simple as a thumbs up on comments, or Digg’s “Digg it” filterting system.

So while there may be a lot of dribble, we have still seen cases where the collective minds of many can accomplish huge tasks. Jeff spoke about InnoCentive – an instituion that crowdsources research and development for biomedical and pharmaceutical companies. It is one of the largest commercial examples of crowdsourcing.   Anyone, anywhere, with interest and Internet access can become an InnoCentive Solver member.


Monetisation is a grey area – while some see crowdsourcing merely as collective intelligence of the Internet, others see it as collaboration but for commercial purposes. The term came about from Jeff observing the power of bands and fans on MySpace – while there may be money involved, to me this seems more about community and content.

Take iStock for example. iStock started because Bruce Livingstone didn’t have the money to launch a traditional stock company. So he gave his photos away, and found a community of other talented people willing to give their photos away too. The value, as many content companies are still struggling to understand, wasn’t necessarily in the thing itself. iStock was built on passion, not on dollars.

The most pertinent thing I took away from this evening, was the notion that ‘Crowdsourcing’ should not be viewed as a solution to a problem or a theory that can be readily applied. To me, it is little more than an observation of human behaviour in the digital space, which can be hugely effective. I’m sorry to tell you there is no black and white, yes or no, right or wrong, view to ‘Crowdsourcing’ – like many other buzz words in this industry.

If this is a topic you happen to find fascinating, you can check out the book (even the cover is crowdsourced!), or read Jeff’s fantastic blog.

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