An agency blog with news from Breakfast plus thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants on marketing, media, technology and culture. Basically anything too long for Twitter or too random for our website.

No Cannes do

Regret is an emotion I don’t have much truck with. However, occasionally I wonder what path my professional life would have taken had I begun my career at one of London’s more glamorous ad agencies.

Roose & Partners, my first, longstanding employer, was not a business that paid much attention to our industry’s more self-regarding traditions or trinkets. Not for us the distraction of entering creative awards, attending creative shindigs, or appearing in creative periodicals. To some extent, Roose didn’t pay creative work much heed at all.

Indeed, the eponymous Ted Roose was a media man and I’m pretty sure his creative radar ran out of batteries back in the early 1970s and was languishing in a box in his loft. (“Psycho? What’s Psycho?” “A film, Ted. A very famous film.” “Never heard of it.”)

So it is that as I near the end of my third decade in the industry (there’s a while to go yet, so stifle that shriek of disbelief), I have yet to attend either of the best known advertising festivals.

This morning (Friday 8th June) I received an email from Campaign trailing the talks they’re hosting in Cannes, and, once again, it occurred to me that not only have I never been to Cannes, I don’t even know how one goes about attending. Do you need an invitation? A sponsor? Are there bouncers? Gatekeepers? Is there a no trainers rule? Do you take your own tent?

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Some ‘wacky’ ‘creative’ ‘types’ pretending to have fun in the south of France

Kinsale is even more of a mystery. I didn’t hear about this festival until I’d been a professional advertising creative for about eight years. Where is it? Why is it? Is it still going? I can’t answer any of those questions.

I’m so out of the loop, it’s quite possible creatives aren’t welcome at one or either of these festivals any longer (we don’t get budgets nowadays, so you can follow my logic), and because I’m trying to retain a level of plausible ignorance while I write this, I’m not Googling either of them.

It may well be that the more discerning creative people are now gravitating towards SXSW in Austin. Or maybe there are other, newer, cooler destinations. You tell me.

Honestly, tell me. Please. I feel like I an entire chapter in the book of my professional life remains to be written; that eventually, I will stride on to the brightly lit, cocaine-dusted advertising stage and have my moment in the limelight. Or, at the very least, have the opportunity to sip warm champagne while watching someone I’ve never heard of win a prize for attracting 15 people and 89 Russian bots to ‘like’ a brand-sponsored Facebook post. I want to have the opportunity to spend a couple of days (if that’s the duration) signposting my transparent disdain for both these sorts of professional junkets and the people who attend them. Is that really too much to ask?

Another reason why I’ve been thinking of Roose & Partners over the past month or so is that Bob Bellamy, my first creative director and a man I liked and respected immensely, passed away recently. I’m not sure Bob ever went to Cannes, but I’m bloody sure if he did, he’d have sailed there. RIP, the Admiral.

 

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Disruption across all touchpoints

May 14, 2018 2 comments

Over the course of my life sentence in advertising long and illustrious career, I’ve seen many trends and fads come and go, as trends and fads are obliged to do.

Some – hello ‘industry jargon’ – are not so much fads as facts of life, constantly evolving (are you a big fan of the word ‘ideation’? Is your thinking ‘disruptive’?) to test the bullshit-tolerance of each generation. Others are more transient, and it was one of these (hopefully) shorter-lived trends that this Guardian article examined today. (It takes about 60 seconds to read this piece so don’t be shy of clicking on the link.)

I recently read a piece by someone mistakenly correcting Apple’s famous line to ‘Think Differently’ in an attempt to bestow posthumous grammatical accuracy on the tagline that changed the world, but ‘Think Different’ it was, and if we are to lay the blame at any endline’s door than that’s as good a choice as any.

However, the structure of that line is a little different (ha!) to those excoriated in the article. To my mind, it was ‘Impossible is nothing’ from Adidas that started this staccato linguistic trend; not quite the legacy they were hoping for, I suspect, when they put their minds towards finding a line with the longevity and inconclastic impact of Nike’s ‘Just Do It’.

Tony Blair’s unique, verbless mangling of the English language may also have to shoulder some of the blame, with a generation of tyro copywriters hearing him sloganize the language into submission (“Hope. Opportunity. For our young people, a brighter future…”). Maybe we should be grateful for Donald Trump, whose limited vocabulary (“bigly”) makes him an unlikely champion to those who seek to resist this purge of adverbs.

Professionally, this trend is quite beguiling, as it permits put-upon copywriters to staple together random, vaguely relevant words with little thought apparently given to how they might be combined in an elegant, precise way. Ironically, the only line I have written which follows this trend owes its existence to a brief that requested something easy to comprehend when translated.

The line in question, “Find Your Rooster”, for our client Rooster Rojo tequila, is going ahead. Apart from in Russia, where ‘Rooster’ is a slang term for the paedophile victims of same-sex assaults in male prisons. Apparently that’s not something you want associated with your product, according to our brand manager. Honestly, clients can be so sensitive sometimes…

 

 

Torque of the town*

May 4, 2018 4 comments

We’ve been working with Torque, one of the UK’s leading supply chain companies, for two years now. After naming and branding Bzar, their online marketplace, and producing some striking and effective trade ads for the main business, we were let loose on their corporate website, which needed refreshing and bringing up to date.

We began by conducting in depth interviews with the various heads of department, getting direct insight from the people who really matter on what they’d like to see included in the new site, and, equally importantly, what they wouldn’t.

From those pearls of wisdom we crafted some copy that is sufficiently detailed to provide their customers and potential customers with all the information they need to know without being too verbose and daunting, then put it all together in a simple, contemporary design which reflects Torque’s dynamism and fashion industry expertise.

From start to finish, the job took just over three months and is, in the words of Torque’s Operations Director Stewart Firth, “Fresh, punchy and a significant improvement on what we had before”. Take a peek here.

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Some old media, yesterday

From our point of view, the demand for simple, templated websites with CMS that’s easy for clients to update themselves is great, but only if care is taken to ensure the brand’s values, tone of voice and identity are applied with care and consistency. Lots of agencies can build websites, but not all of them build websites that build brands.

*Torque don’t allow puns on their name, so don’t tell anyone you’ve seen this, ok?

That’s the spirit

April 17, 2018 Leave a comment

I’ve devoted a few posts recently to bemoaning the state of creativity in advertising so it’s time to redress the balance.

Ikea’s TV work has been generally outstanding for years, but went through a pronounced and fairly extended slump a while back. However, I really like their ‘Wonderful Everyday’ campaign and the latest spot is another winner: a lovely idea, executed beautifully and brim full of charm and wit.

This campaign benefits from a consistent and distinctive tone of voice, is always inspired by the product and feels – as advertising should – aspirational and relatively upmarket while retaining the ‘everyday’ ethos of the brand.

It’s no simple thing to produce a campaign this good; as Bob Bellamy, my first Creative Director used to say as he slapped my knee, “If it was easy, duck, they’d all be doing it.” Evidently, they’re not.

Well done to all concerned, etc. More of this type of thing, please.

Fermented tea – just try it

Along with fellow foodie Bruce McMichael, Ed and I were delighted to have spent this morning learning about the weird and wonderful world of fermented teas… All thanks to Louise Avery of LA Brewery.

“Just try it”

My mother must have repeated this command hundreds of times when I was school-age. Not to me, but to my friends who came over for dinner, only to wrinkle their noses and baulk at the unfamiliar aromas and ‘odd’ looking textures of Indonesian food. None of them grew up with the pungent smell of terasi, the not-quite-but-almost meaty texture of tempeh, or the intense chilli heat of some of mum’s dishes. The curious friends always gave everything a go – and more often and not, they enjoyed it. The tentative snobbish ones were rarely invited back to our house to eat.

Terasi – a staple ingredient in Indonesian food – is essentially a block of dried, fermented shrimp. Tempeh – a staple source of protein – is made by fermenting soya beans. Indonesian food is incredibly diverse – unsurprising, given that the country is made up of thousands of islands – but the process of fermenting food is quite widespread. Perhaps then, given my blood and my background, I am predisposed to enjoy kombucha: fermented tea. Our tasting session with the lemongrass, strawberry, and ginger flavours of LA Brewery earlier today was certainly not an unpleasant experience.

It helped that Louise herself was present. With infectious energy, she guided us through her method, ingredients, and science (as well as her history, ambitions, and values). She explained that many of her London stockists naturally attract the vegan gym-bunny crowd who are drawn to kombucha because of its health benefits. But thankfully, Louise is not on an evangelical mission about gut health. Nor is she vegan. She simply loves kombucha: “It’s like Haribo to me.”

The viscosity, bubbles, acidity, and layers of flavour make it an exciting drink. It’s an experience. The smell, the sensory awakening as the fizz hits your lips and bubbles down into your throat, the complexity of flavour, and the way the taste lingers in your mouth for a while after swallowing – all of this and more is what makes Louise’s kombucha intriguing. So you take another sip. And another.

What is intriguing – and arguably quite rare – about Louise herself, is her genuine commitment to the cause. And that cause isn’t world domination – yet (although she does have stockists aplenty over here, and is also being courted by a supermarket chain in Europe…). Her cause, as mentioned, is simply her love for the product itself. Although commercial wins are obviously great, Louise explains that she’s frankly much more excited by interacting with people and experimenting with the brewing process, which she wants to learn even more about before scaling up further. She notes that there is no one ‘right’ way to make kombucha, and offers lots of advice on using seasonal ingredients (she also does kombucha masterclasses, so keep an eye out for her name).

The foraging techniques she learned from her mother whilst growing up in the Hebrides have stayed with her. She tells us that although the flavours she bottles for sale are relatively mainstream, she’s also experimented with countless other ingredients that she’s sourced through foraging. And if she were to expand LA Brewery into new territories in the future, she would do so with the ultimate goal of educating – rather than colonising – each market. One way this might play out, she says, is to find people in each country that are interested in kombucha (or at least open to it) – and then encourage them to make it with their own local seasonal ingredients. And this could all potentially be guided and funded by her company.

She has plenty of exciting ideas brewing (sorry). Most of them I’m not at liberty to share, but watch this space. In the meantime, if you’re interested in trying Louise’s kombucha, you can find the list of stockists on the LA Brewery website.

In the three hours we spent together, Louise never once claimed that kombucha is for everyone. She didn’t gleefully squeal, “You’re going to love it!” as she poured the first tasters, nor did she sanctimoniously list off the health benefits of having a diet rich in good bacteria.

She acknowledged that it’s different. She gave us her story. And she said, “Just try it.”

I’d encourage you to do the same.

NB. Also goes well with vodka.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Norman Hunter would be turning in his grave

He’s not dead, Norman Hunter.

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That’s Norman, there. Very much alive.

Norman, along with Chelsea’s Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, is often the fella used as a shorthand for ‘old-school footballer, back in the days when men were men and women were in the kitchen’. Not always invoked in praise of progressive causes, then. But I’m bringing his name up now for good reason.

As I say, Norman’s not dead, but if he saw this on his TV at the weekend, he might be by now.

Joe Gomez and James Milner react with disgust as Mignolet drops another one

I had to watch that spot through my fingers, as the hairs on my neck prickled in discomfort (at least I know how to get rid of them now). Where to begin?

Norman’s nickname back in the day was “Bites yer legs”. It’s not the most elegant effort, is it? But you’ll notice it wasn’t “Shave yer legs”. In Norman’s day, players only took a razor blade into the communal shower if they intended to do some damage to one of the opposition or perform an impromptu circumcision in the plunge bath.

The idea that one might shave anything in a communal shower area is, personally, something I can’t condone. I’m still getting over Keith Vanderpant’s black head dye inadvertently rubbing off on a Lucas Sport player’s arm in 1989 when I played for Cuffley in the Herts County League. Traumatic times.

But my problems with this ad are not limited to the vagaries of male grooming or the rights and wrongs of changing room etiquette.

How did the agent for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner persuade their clients that ‘starring’ in this would be a good thing? Milner, especially, has cultivated a no-nonsense image that his recent arrival on Twitter seems designed to cement. Wincing at the Ox’s imperfect shaving technique while, presumably, naked, doesn’t seem to be quite on brand.

I realise that women have been pressured into depilating almost every part of their body for decades now and it’s up to men if they want to go down the same perfectly trimmed path, but I’m still reeling that this is now sufficiently mainstream practice that there’s a TV ad using semi-famous footballers to sell this to the young men of today.

My focus group of one (18-year-old son) was quick to assert that he wouldn’t be joining the ranks of soccer’s smooth chested any time soon, while I’m just glad he doesn’t clip his finger nails on public transport (here’s looking at you, anonymous former colleague).

God knows I haven’t got a problem with hairlessness but something about watching this ad shortly before Sky’s live football coverage began on Saturday made me feel more out-of-touch than any number of autotuned pop songs in the office.

As I write, no one’s approached Norman for a comment. So I’ll let the last word go to the commenter under the YouTube clip who asked “Can I use this on my balls?”

Nothing’s stopping you, lad. Let us know how it goes.

 

 

 

Another perspective

March 23, 2018 Leave a comment

My personal ‘participation’ in Facebook (and Facebook-owned Instagram) has rewarded me with countless opportunities – like creative work. The first job led to another, which led to another. I used Facebook to find flatmates when I moved to Barcelona. And sold unwanted items through the site when I moved back. During a 2 month trip to New York in 2016, Facebook allowed me to discover (and generate) further creative opportunities for myself – and more importantly, it facilitated new friendships. I met my housemate through Facebook; we’re currently using it to recruit a third. I’ve attended innumerable events of all kinds over the years that I likely would never have even heard of were it not for the platform.

But above all, Facebook is what it is to me because of the groups I’ve joined. These include, but are not limited to the following (mostly renamed for accuracy of description): housemate/property search in London (and Barcelona); housemate/property search in London specifically for people of colour; “Ingredient Hunters Barcelona” (naturally); creative networking for people of African, Caribbean or Asian descent in London; last minute hospitality work in London; a community for creative/politically engaged people of colour in New York; an Oxford-based group for discussion of feminism, and the same again for race.

Take from that what you will. There’s a name-calling facility at the bottom of this post, should you feel so inclined.

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The sense of community is powerful. I don’t always participate; the feeling of belonging and solidarity also comes from simply gazing gormlessly at the screen for minutes, hours, and days on end like the mindless cretin I am observing interactions. Everything I’ve learned and gained from the hundreds of (mostly) intelligent people that share on these groups daily has literally shaped my life and how I see the world – for the better (at least I think so, but then again I would). And that’s a huge part of the emotional benefit for me.

I don’t post much at all. My most recent update was on 7 September 2017 to share a teaser video for this article. The post before that was from 24 November 2016, inviting my network to a series of workshops run by my old company. I won’t share a link to that here though… #ifyouknowyouknow. In between those entries I did receive a smattering of posts to my timeline from friends wishing me happy birthday and sharing music, but not many. My privacy settings are such that if somebody tags me in anything, I am able to review it and choose whether or not it appears on my profile. I always select the latter option (but the photo can still be accessed via the page of whoever uploaded it, of course). I’ve only personally uploaded around 10 photos to my profile in my Facebook ‘career’ for my friends to see.

Nevertheless… Out of curiosity and prompted by Neil, I downloaded my Facebook data last night. The contents were unsurprising, but the format sobering. Despite considering myself a relatively private person on Facebook, seeing in one folder all the photos, videos, links, messages, screen shots, documents, voice notes (and the rest) that I’ve shared ‘privately’ to friends using the Messenger app was somewhat unsettling.

Far more unsettling, however, was the handful of (completely unsolicited) photos that non-friends had sent to me. I would share them here, but I’d probably get fired.

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However engaged you’ve been with this week’s revelations, I would recommend that you download your own Facebook data and spend some time looking through it. I was fascinated by the details of my life shared back to me about myself – but more intrigued (and disturbed?) thinking about what had inevitably been omitted and why. If you don’t use the platform and have nothing better to do on a Friday night, get yourself up to speed and then have a look through the information and language used on the company’s privacy settings.

#FASCINATING

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized