Avoiding adverts on social media

I have recently published a paper on the Journal of Customer Behaviour about the reasons why people may avoid adverts on social media. It was co-authored with Caroline Moraes, Nina Michaelidou and Michelle McGrath.

Our research question revolved around what can be termed ‘controversial adverts’: ads which attempt to cut through the noise of social media by shocking viewers. It’s a well-known and widely used tactic and there are plenty of examples out there. Personally, I always remember how shocked I was when I first saw this Plane Stupid ad on YouTube, back in 2009. Brilliantly executed, utterly sickening:


The paper analyses how consumers’ perceptions of adverts as controversial can result in ad avoidance in the specific context of social media. Using a Structured Equation Modelling approach, we show that this is indeed the case, but that the effect is moderated by other dimensions, such as ethical judgement.

Personally, I found this a very interesting project. Thematically and methodologically it feels a bit removed from my area of expertise, but I enjoyed learning about and employing new methodologies (despite previous experience with quantitative methods I’d never used SEM), as well as working with colleagues from various other institutions.

The paper can be found here.

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Regional Strategies for Economic Development – an update

As I mentioned recently, the ReSSI project is fast coming to its end. The final delivery will be delivered on the 30th November, and we expect it will be available at some point in mid-January.

In the meantime, the 3rd (Draft Final) Report is now available on the ESPON website. This report involved a big conceptual step for the team: we worked really hard to develop a series of (draft) recommendations for our stakeholders, and took some clear steps in terms of ideas for policy transfer.


The team is very happy with the outcome, as we have also received positive feedback from the local and regional authorities involves, as well as from the funder. And if you’re interested in learning more about how we got to those findings, you can see the ‘Scientific Annexes’ for each of the case studies.

Feel free to click and read the report. And if you have any comments or suggestions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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The executive summary, a dark art

The ReSSI project is fast approaching its conclusion. What a year it has been! The team has been hard at work on the various case studies, the third (draft final) report has been submitted, and I have been asked to rewrite our executive summary. Oh, I see.

Like any other researcher, I must have read dozens of Executive Summaries. I even wrote a couple of them myself, one for my PhD and another one for the Jewellery CSR project. But I not happy with either. They are too long, too detailed, and don’t really grab the reader’s attention.

It turns out that writing abstracts for academic papers is very different from writing executive summaries for project reports. Yes, both are sections that you write at the end of the piece, to summarise the work you’ve done. But that’s where the similarities end. And it can be surprisingly difficult to get the tone of the Exec Summary right, even for experienced academics.

So what is the way forward? As with so much else in life, one solution springs to mind: Google it. Yes, I know.

I found two very useful resources: SkillsYouNeed and WikiHow.

From the first, I got the idea that there are two important questions you need to ask yourself before writing an Exec Summary:

  1. Who is the intended audience of my executive summary?

  2. Which of the contents of the paper that I am summarising do they really need to know?

This sounds like basic stuff, but it’s fundamental: the Executive Summary is based on the needs of the reader. Your findings are only important in the sense that they can help with somebody’s problem. The ‘contribution’ of your research is only as important as the problem it helps solve.

From WikiHow I am getting a set of six points:

  1. Understand that an executive summary is a short review of a business document. “Short” and “review” are the key words here.

  2. Make sure it adheres to certain stylistic and structural guidelines: Short and concise (again); should make sense if you haven’t read the original report; written in language that is appropriate for the target audience.

  3. Define the problem, in clear, understandable terms.

  4. Provide a solution. In social science, academic papers ‘address questions’. Exec summaries provide solutions. Go big, or go home.

  5. Use graphics, bullet points, and headings if the document is easier to skim that way. An image is worth a thousand words, and nobody was going to read a thousand words in the first place. Paint a picture, it lasts longer.

  6. Keep the writing fresh and jargon-free. Picture your audience trying to find their way through a jungle of acronyms and discipline-specific terms. Then picture how far they’ll throw your Executive Summary once they get frustrated with your writing.

In short, if you are lucky enough to be the able to write an Executive Summary for a project, don’t waste the opportunity. Try to make it count with the people who can use the findings. Good luck!

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Transparency and technology: blockchain

Here is an interesting article on the potential usages and advantages of employing blockchain to manage supply chains. It’s an interesting piece, and deserves reading. I like the fact that the author clearly identifies a number of instances in which this is being done. But I have a fundamental question about the key claim of the article:

As a distributed ledger that ensures both transparency and security, the blockchain is showing promise to fix the current problems of the supply chain. A simple application of the blockchain paradigm to the supply chain would be to register the transfer of goods on the ledger as transactions that would identify the parties involved, as well as the price, date, location, quality and state of the product and any other information that would be relevant to managing the supply chain.

The public availability of the ledger would make it possible to trace back every product to the very origin of the raw material used.

Unless I am reading this incorrectly, the author suggests that the blockchain would impart total transparency in terms of the major pieces of information along a supply chain, by making the identities of the parties involved and the prices charged and paid publicly available. While I am not a supply chain specialist, this feels like a pipe dream.

Through my work on ethical jewellery, I was once invited to take part in a couple of workshops organised by a start-up trying to produce a dashboard software that would help companies manage their own supply chains (mostly, but not exclusively, in the textile sector). A blockchain approach would certainly help with the data gaps that stakeholders identified at the time. But it would have consequences: companies considered information about who their supply-chain partners were, and especially the prices they paid, as trade secrets. To reveal this information would put them at a disadvantage against competitors.

When new technologies come along that promise to revolutionise the way society does ‘X’ or ‘Y’, it pays to understand that we don’t always stick to ‘less efficient’ ways of doing things out of some misguided denial of the promise of the future. Economic processes are instituted the way they are for perfectly good reasons.

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ReSSI – Project Update

The team delivering the ReSSI project has recently submitted the second report to the funder (ESPON EGTC), for discussion and approval within the next two weeks.


The ReSSI project examines how sustainable, inclusive and smart economic development (as defined by the Europe 2020 strategy) can be promoted by local and regional authorities in Europe, in the context of evolving landscapes of territorial governance and planning.

Before the second report is made available, you can access the initial (inception) report, which details the project cases and research approach that will be taken in the project.

If you have any questions, please get in touch using the form available on the ‘Contact’ page (above).


ReSSI Inception Report

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Blockchain, and the construction of a (new) economy

Harvard Business Review has an article by Joichi Ito, Neha Narula and Robleh Ali about the potential of the Blockchain in reconfigure modern economies, provocatively titled The Blockchain Will Do to the Financial System What the Internet Did to Media. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that we still don’t entirely understand what the Internet is doing to the media ecosystems, and certainly cannot tell what the end results of the transformations are, this piece is a compelling read, presenting a quasi-evangelist vision of how technology can change economies.


The argument put forward by the authors rests on two main pillars: the primacy of computer programming (‘code’), and the importance of standardisation. On the first, the paper sees the blockchain code as literally the building block of the economic:

[BitCoin] offers a compelling vision of a possible future because the code describes both a regulatory and an economic system. For example, transactions must satisfy certain rules before they can be accepted into the Bitcoin blockchain. Instead of writing rules and appointing a regulator to monitor for breaches, which is how the current financial system works, Bitcoin’s code sets the rules and the network checks for compliance. If a transaction breaks the rules (for example, if the digital signatures don’t tally), it is rejected by the network. Even Bitcoin’s “monetary policy” is written into its code

The second involves the need to harmonise protocols, in order to foster the economic potential of the code:

The internet and its layers took decades to develop, with each technical layer unlocking an explosion of creative and entrepreneurial activity. Early on, Ethernet standardized the way in which computers transmitted bits over wires, and companies such as 3Com were able to build empires on their network switching products. The TCP/IP protocol was used to address and control how packets of data were routed between computers. Cisco built products like network routers, capitalizing on that protocol, and by March 2000 Cisco was the most valuable company in the world. In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee developed HTTP, another open, permissionless protocol, and the web enabled businesses such as eBay, Google, and Amazon.

Nothing immensely groundbreaking there, but it is clear that specific ideas of how the economy should be are built into the blockchain, but that these are yet to crystallise. The blockchain economy is a ‘work in progress’.

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The value – and uses – of BitCoin

You may have heard that the value of BitCoin has hit a number of all-time highs in the last week. Just yesterday (9th May 2017), the crypto-currency made the news when the value of a single BitCoin topped $1,700 for the first time. Less than a day later, it has now passed $1758. You can see from the chart below what a wild ride the last week has been.


Context: on January 1st 2017, BitCoin was trading just under $1,000 USD. Given that the USD does not seem to be depreciating in any meaningful way, the rise in the value of BitCoin has to be attributed to the actual value of the currency. Right?

Determining the value of a good is always a difficult issue. Markets are supposed to be the mechanisms by which we do this in modern societies. But what are market actors basing their valuation work on?

Coindesk has a couple of interesting reads on two types of analysis used in financial markets, fundamental analysis and technical analysis. Leaving aside the latter for now, it is interesting to focus on what an analysis of the fundamentals of BitCoin might look like. Fundamental analysis is the very bedrock of investing*, as it tries to understand the factors that might affect the value of an asset.

The author identifies 3 key factors affecting the value of BitCoin: demand, supply and major events. These choices are interesting in and of themselves. Demand and supply can be characterised as market functioning variables, and they should probably be analysed together. There is evidence of some increase in BitCoin for transactions which involve actual economic activity, while at the same time supply is limited by the Blockchain protocol – it is written into the currency’s design. So there might be something there.

More interesting are the major events. There is some evidence that political and economic upheaval has led to a growth in interest in BitCoin, as people try to protect their money by exchanging some of it into a store of value perceived as being untaxable. The Greek financial and economic crisis is frequently mentioned in this regard. In these circumstances, BitCoin can become a hedge – a bit like gold.

These ideas are fine, of course, but I don’t think they tell us all the story. To me, there is a fundamental question which still needs to be addressed: what is BitCoin for?


*unless you happen to be a High Frequency Trading bot, in which case – hello there!

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