Media diet: are you reading your greens?

Sallie Bale • 14th Sep 2021

You know the phrase you are what you eat? What about the idea that you are average of the five people you spend most of your time with?

We are dynamic, malleable beings, and just like the food we eat and the people we hang out with… what we read, watch and listen to has an impact on us. Including how and what we think.

How would you describe your media diet? Are you a late night snacker? Perhaps you feast on fiction, pig-out on poetry or like a nibble of a newspaper? Or maybe you’re always scoffing social?

For many of us in the creative marketing industry, coming up with new ideas is part of our everyday life. But what are you feeding your brain for it to churn out those innovative, sparky new ideas, day in day out? And I’m not talking about B vitamins.

Marketing mogul David Ogilvy sums this up perfectly:

“Big ideas come from unconsciousness. This is true in art, in science and advertising. But your conscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant.  Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process.”

Add some secret sources to your media diet

Taking inspiration from Faris’ Media Diet will help you to, in the words of Ogilvy, “stuff your conscious mind”, making sure you get a good balanced diet of information and inspiration. Unfortunately, greedily guzzling endless re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy isn’t going to lead to many Big Ideas.

For a balanced diet, I recommend aiming for a good mixture of marketing, fiction, science, news and culture each week. 

Whilst there are some old reliables to keep on top of your marketing industry news (thank-you Campaign, The Drum and Marketing Week), there are a few blogs and, dare I say, marketing thought leaders, that give a great perspective on the world we work in. 

Before we move on though, I will give a shout out to the Marketing Week podcasts. You can find them on Spotify and iTunes, and there are some really good interviews with top marketers (recently Abi Comber former Debenham’s CMO and Olga Pzanova, Spotify UK Marketing Director), as well as mini-series on this like machine learning, B2B marketing and, of course, brands; response to Covid.

Firstly, there are some excellent company blogs out there that give a good cross section of ideas, media, cultural trends and consumer insight. Be sure to check out R/GA FutureVisionKantarNeilsenPinterest(shoutout to Liam in our media team for this recommendation) and Contagious every week or so.

Advertising strategy’s finest, Rory Sutherland, is also on my must-read list. Follow his Twitter for retweets of views from across the industry and interesting use of stats. I also love his audio series Hacking the Unconscious and have applied many of his insights to my own work. If you’re into behavioural economics, I also recommend Derren Brown’s Bootcamp for the Mind.

With a background in PR, I like to make sure I have a sprinkling of public relations content in my diet. Lucy Werner (The Wern on Instagram) has written some excellent books: Hype Yourself and Brand Yourself. They’re a great intro to using the media for promotion, and Lucy shares some great tips and tricks over on her Insta.

For what I’d call “real voices” of advertising, I’d listen to Mark Pollard’s Sweathead podcast. He interviews strategists and marketers from across the globe. It’s fascinating listening to other people’s creative processes and how they get to the best outcomes for their clients. Learning from people from other countries and cultures is really important to me, and I actively try and seek out views to challenge my own.

Digital-nomad power-couple Faris & Rosie Yakob have a brilliant blog & newsletter Strands of Genius, which covers all manner of digital-marketing, culture and insight from across the globe.

And my final marketing recommendation is (I’m sure he won’t mind me saying) a bit more out there: Matt Muir’s weekly Web Curios newsletter. Matt scours the digi-verse for interesting and unusual things that people and brands are doing with technology and (mainly) digital media. 

WARNING: may be addictive and a good bit sweary.

Nowhere else can you find out about cool, niche apps that data visualise Twitter conversations, a beautifully quaint website on the history of Ukraine, AND a bot that means you can now “get messages from Kanye”. (In case you were wondering, Ye is “a fan of all commercials because they’re more creative than music videos.” – you heard it here first).

Fiction is a great way to stuff your brain – it’s full of ideas and helps us challenge our own way of thinking. Sherlock Holmes is a big favourite of mine, although recently I’ve been working my way through H.G. Wells greatest hits. For real brain off, I like to chow down on some Discworld. I’ve just finished Daughters of Nri by Reni K. Amayo, which is beautiful, I hugely recommend it. And for mind-bending, anything Haruki Murakami or Erin Morgenstern (shout out to Starless Sea and Night Circus).

Science is playing an ever more central role in advertising. Not only can it help us understand how we can do our jobs better, but help us understand one another, and how we got to where we are. 

I really enjoyed Bill Bryson’s A short history of nearly everything for a good grounding in, well, nearly everything. And for either research or general staying-up-to-date purposes, check out Psychology Today, New Scientist and Scientific American, and for popular science you can’t do much better than Nautilus

Now for news and culture – this is where it’s easiest for your diet to get unbalanced. However you choose to stay up to date with what’s going on in the world around you, make sure you’re getting out of your own echo chamber. Especially if you live and work in the London bubble.

TikTok is your archetypal “snackable content”, and can give you a great insight into what is trending right now – but do be aware it is algorithm based, which means it will show you more of what you like. Not great for getting out of your comfort zone!

For something more meaty, try The Guardian Today in Focus podcast. Each day listen to one current issue in great detail – find out why we’re all hooked on caffeine, understand the rise and fall of NY governor Andrew Cuomo, and learn all you need to know about how the early stars of the internet are making money through NFTs

Likewise, Brain Pickings and The Atlantic will give you a good understanding of the day’s hot topics, although more US-leaning.

If you’re looking to expand your palette try Dazed and Vice. Here you’ll find views and news from cross-sections of society, and there will be something new to try every day, whether that’s how the Taliban made their fortune, what it really costs to go on Love Island or how advertising your vaccination status overtook puppy pics as the “must have” on dating profiles.

And let’s not forget lifestyle and celeb gossip… it’s got to be Bustle. Kylie Jenner pregnancy pics, Y2K fashion week trends and how Jennifer Aniston really feels about her famous Rachel Haircut? Yes please!

A final word of culture – there’s only so much that you can get from reading and watching videos. There’s no substitute for getting out of the office (or spare room as it might be at the moment!) and going to a gallery, a gig or exhibition. Or for a combination head over to the Night Fever exhibit at the V&A Dundee

Recommended Reading List

Here is a list of regularly updated publications and sources to help you build your own media diet and stretch your own thinking.



News & Culture

So, what’s in your media diet? What greens do you need to eat more of? What do you need to stop (or start!) binging?

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