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November 13, 2017 2 comments

Making good advertising isn’t easy. The moment when you see the first cut from the editor and realise that the spot you’ve grafted on for three months is a dud, not a D&AD, is horrible. For that reason, I am loth to criticise ads for simply being, in my humble opinion, terrible. It can happen to anyone.

Some ads can be bad and still work: I’ve made a few of those. Others can be good and fail dismally to do their job, i.e. sell stuff. I’ve made a few of those too.

Fortunately for me (if not my clients), the clunkers were TV commercials – bad in a way that would have made them invisible rather than fist-bitingly awful – and endured by the audience in the comfort of their own homes. I never had to observe the public’s reaction.

That is not the case for this – a commercial that actually made me put my hands to my head in the cinema yesterday, while a fellow audience member uttered an audible “What the fuck?”.

Maybe it seemed like a good idea at the script stage. Maybe you’ll watch it and love it.

Then again, maybe not.




The waterfall economy

November 1, 2017 1 comment

I’ve always liked the idea of coining a phrase or saying that goes on to become commonplace, but never managed it. Damn Malcolm Gladwell and his appropriation of “tipping point” merely weeks after I had called the same phenomenon something not quite as catchy (I can’t remember what).


Anyway, I have been thinking for ages about how best to describe the economy in the town in which I live. If you reside in south-east England’s commuter belt, I’m sure your high street looks much like mine: lots of estate agents, coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and mobile phone stores, interspersed with poundshops, charity shops and vacant premises.

It’s not pretty. On a busy Friday night, with the bars and restaurants full, it feels like a thriving, wealthy town. But by day, the town is divided: affluent mums, dads and their toddlers are queueing out of the door at Costa Coffee and Caffe Nero, while the down-at-heel retail establishments stand almost empty; the passing trade (and I am aware how this might sound) generally being either elderly, infirm, unemployed or a mixture of all three. It looks and feels like a deprived town somewhere more than 35 miles north of one of the richest cities in the world.


None of this is news, I know. And the reasons for the decline of the high street have much to do with internet retailers as anything else. But it has seemed apparent for years now that in the south-east, our economy is massively reliant on the immense wealth of a very few high earners at the top of the income pile: the stockbrokers in our stockbroker belt and ‘hedgies’ in our country homes.

The ‘trickle-down’ theory of economics has, I think, been pretty discredited over the past 30 years. In short, it doesn’t work; certainly not in terms of enabling those not eating at the top table to see their living standards rise at the same pace of others. Inequality in the UK is growing quicker than anywhere else in the world. The haves and the have nots never used to be this easily distinguishable.

But in an economy built on service industries, ‘trickle down’ is what we have: a huge proportion of the local population in my town seems to me to be entirely reliant on the wealth of the very few.  Again, I acknowledge that this is the model we have built and, of course, one which most people subscribe to. But I believe that a more accurate description of our turbo-charged ‘trickle down’ economy is ‘waterfall’. A small percentage of people have a massive amount of disposable wealth and it is this torrent of money which is cascading on to the vast majority, waiting at the bottom of the cliff. There’s an awful lot of water – enough to enable most to stay afloat. There’s so much that it enables us to fund our public services too. But if the amount of water falling from the top decreases, there will be big trouble. And Brexit is the equivalent of building a huge dam upstream.

Now this isn’t an anti-Brexit diatribe: I am merely arguing that the inevitability of our economy shrinking as thousands of the very highest earners leave the City of London will have an obvious effect on those dependent on that wealth. My assertion is that there are more people dependent on this money than anyone realises and that the south east in particular is going to suffer a significant and potentially brutal period of readjustment.

This readjustment – away from such an unbalanced, top-heavy economy – might well be necessary. However, I’m pretty sure that’s not what people were voting for when they decided to leave the EU, and I’m equally sure that the fallout – socially, politically and culturally – will be unpleasant.

We’ve built a world that relies on exponential growth and the creation of shareholder value; a world that can only work if it encourages ever more people to spend ever more money and generate ever more ‘wealth’. I think that ‘Waterfall Economy’ sums it up pretty well – not well enough to become a common phrase, but it’s the best I can do.

Over to you, Malcolm.


Does good writing matter anymore?

October 11, 2017 Leave a comment

I may have mentioned before that I am nothing if not a pedant when it comes to writing, particularly with regards to spelling and punctuation (we’ll come back to ‘Regards’ later). As an example of this pedantry, I find myself momentarily unable to look at my Barclays Bank online banking gizmo when logging in, because some doofus added a question mark after the instruction PRESS ENTER. I genuinely cannot see this without getting angry. (If there’s anyone else out there who shares this affliction, get in touch and we can set up a support group.)

Anyway, there have been a couple of instances over the last week or so when my linguistic anal-retentiveness has been triggered.

First, ‘warmest condolences’. I know Donald Trump has an imperfect command of language, but really? It’s almost as if he’s actually a Russian chatbot with no empathy and a sketchy grasp of English.


Second, I saw an article debating the correct way to sign off a business email and shuddered in recognition. Despite being, it says on my CV, a writer, I find formal writing quite difficult (although even I am aware that ‘Sincerest condolences’ or ‘Deepest condolences’ would be more appropriate than ‘Warmest’). Knowing which salutation or sign off to use still makes me more hesitant than almost anything else I write, and is especially tricky because I am aware how I respond when I see ‘Best’ at the bottom of an email. If it was followed by Law, Charlton I might forgive the writer.

Anyway, the article suggested ‘Thanks’ as an appropriate sign off, as it’s genuine, friendly and informal. Personally, I’m not so sure. But I understood the apprehension that can accompany the wrong language in a business setting.

At least, I get apprehensive. Do you? I ask, because I suspect that tolerance for poorly written communication is growing; something confirmed by the numerous errors you will see – especially in social media – from brands that one would hope might put a higher premium on accuracy.

When I run my occasional workshops about writing for brands, I always stress the importance of accuracy when communicating on a brand’s behalf. If they can’t write accurately or well, why should you trust anything else they do? But does that hold true anymore, in a world where an inarticulate self-confessed sexual predator with a 48-word vocabulary can become President of the USA? It might be true that bank scam emails make deliberate, obvious spelling errors to ensure they only receive replies from stupid people, but as we observe the rise of an idiocracy, is it necessary for brands to maintain high standards?

The immediacy of social media and the unreliability of spell check has created a perfect storm where (I presume) junior marketers and creatives are let loose on brands’ behalf, armed with average writing skills that emojis can only do a certain amount to rescue. If only a (very) few diehards like me become apoplectic when confronted with a glaring error, this trend may well continue.

I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover that my colleague Aisha, though only 23, shares my hatred of random capitalisation, spelling errors and the like, and, if anything, gets even more visibly annoyed than I do. There is hope, after all.

What do you think? Have you spotted an error in this article? Am I being unfair to dyslexics? Let me know.

Categories: Uncategorized

He’s floated away

September 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Being an adolescent boy is a mix of suppressed rage and desire combined with adrenaline, enthusiasm, energy and occasional bursts of pure joy. Grant Hart wrote this song and captured all that and more. RIP Grant.

Categories: blogging for Britain

Work experience stint pays dividends

August 9, 2017 Leave a comment

In these troubled times, when even having the temerity to walk past a jogger can put your life at risk, wouldn’t it be nice to stumble upon a feelgood story? Well wouldn’t it?

That’s lucky. Because it just so happens that Breakfast have a new employee. Her name is Aisha Pegley and she has now joined full-time after a couple of temporary stints (when she not only proved herself to be bright and energetic but also modelled in an ad for one of our clients). It’s a Cinderella story.

COOP002-Big-Issue-7Aisha will be deploying her many talents across all aspects of the business, but specifically by being someone else to ask when we wonder where Ed has got to.

You can contact her at if you want to say hello or try and sell her some office furniture.

Edit: All new employees at Breakfast have to endure our fearsome initiation ceremony: drawing a horse in under a minute. Here’s Aisha’s… a worthy addition to the canon.

Aisha's horse

Categories: Uncategorized

“And how was the campaign for you, Mrs May?”

Until recently, General Elections could be reliably guaranteed to produce ads – usually posters – that by virtue of media coverage, would end up being seen by more or less everyone in the country.

Not in 2017. Can you name a single memorable political poster? I can’t. While the Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket ad from 2015 was a poor example of the form (I blogged about this here), it garnered some column inches and TV airtime.


Now, it seems, our two main parties are devoting their resources to social media, with Labour in the ascendancy on Twitter (which tracks well with the better educated and metropolitan types) and the Tories ruling the roost on Facebook, which has a broader, more representative user base and might have something to do with the illegal use of data. If you believe what you read in The Observer

Anyhow, with no decent advertising to speak of, the most noticeable marketing-related efforts in this election have been slogans. I wrote back in 2015 about Nigel Farage being ahead of the game in terms of repeating a single, simple message and backing it up in words and deed. He might be a c*nt, but he’s not an idiot.

With that in mind, the Tories hit the ground running with “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos”: snappy three-word slogans which (you might have spotted if you’re a sentient human) they repeated ad nauseam in the first week of the campaign, tethered not to the party, but to Theresa May, whose personal poll numbers must have been only slightly less impressive than Kim Jong Un’s in the weeks before her announcement of the election.

Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a classic case of assertion rather than demonstration, as May has made a mockery of her own USP by looking nervous and guarded in front of crowds and by executing a massive U-turn the day after the Conservatives’ manifesto launch.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May addresses Conservative parliamentary candidates for London and the south east at the Dhamecha Lohana Centre in Harrow, north west London

Theresa being charismatic

If (a little bit of politics now) she’d had the guts to stick to her guns and tell us that the only way we’ll be able to pay for social care in this country going forward is to ask those who can to pay for it, she’d have enabled strong and stable to ring true. Unfortunately, “strong and stable but unpopular with your core voters” was deemed a tad unwise in an election campaign, so she folded like an executive order by Donald Trump.

Subsequently, her team have taken her out of the firing line, avoiding TV and radio interviews and ensuring that only party members are present in most of her public appearances. Like many other people, I’ve always maintained that being comfortable in front of the media and able to connect with people on a human level does not necessarily make you a great leader. But it’s fair to say that we all feel a little uneasy when confronted by someone who exhibits all the empathy of a South African prison guard from the 1970s and a truly remarkable inability to think on her feet.

Anyway, back to slogans. “Coalition of chaos” was another catchy, well thought-out line of attack that has endured longer than “strong and stable”, although as soon as the various parties ruled out any deals or pacts the Conservative hierarchy dialled it back a bit.

The other problem the Tories have had is that Theresa May’s stodgy, “best of a bad bunch” message plays so poorly when contrasted with left of centre politicians saying popular, human, empathetic things. Which, when they’re in opposition (as they usually are) play well. Lots of irate right-wingers – and the Daily Mail – took to social media after the BBC leaders debate moaning about bias, but a) the Tories’ policies aren’t by and large the kind of things you’d cheer for, and b) even if they were, many people don’t like admitting they’re Tory in public. It wasn’t a biased audience: it was an audience where the Conservatives (comprising 35% of those in attendance) sat on their hands or clapped politely every so often, while the other 65% demonstrated understandably more enthusiasm for sentiments like “we’ll give you better healthcare/ schools and tax the rich.” It’s really not complicated.

Anyway, while “coalition of chaos” and “strong and stable” have endured a bumpy ride, Labour’s “For the many, not the few” has articulated the party’s USP pretty well, and grown more relevant as the campaign has progressed. Under Blair/ Brown, “the few” fared extremely well, so this slogan isn’t as facile as it might first seem.

Jeremy Corbyn’s unapologetic acknowledgment that the very wealthy are going to be paying for at least some of the largesse he has promised has had the effect of enthusing his base by reconnecting the party’s newly-minted membership with its core principles. It’s exactly what Nigel Farage did: take a truth, communicate it at every opportunity and back it up with your actions.

Unfortunately for Labour, for all UKIP’s mastery of their message in 2015, they didn’t manage to see their increased relevance reflected in the numer of parliamentary seats they secured. They have been a phenomenal success as a pressure group and an irrelevance as a political party. I may be wrong, but I suspect Corbyn’s Labour Party are about to suffer a similar fate. There’s only so much that a slogan – or an ad – can do.


Some things never change…

I entered the advertising industry because I liked ads. Sometimes – whether I’m shutting down a pop-up in annoyance or watching a piece of over-researched, idea-free drivel – I have to remind myself of that.

That’s why the IPA’s decison to celebrate their centenary by asking notable ad folk to nominate their five favourite ads is a welcome tonic. Dave Trott’s selection, here, is a timely reminder of some of good advertising’s simple, eternal truths. He quotes Walt Disney’s observation that, “We have to entertain in order to educate because the other way round doesn’t work.”

That wisdom applies to a lot more than just advertising. Anyway, enjoy the ads. I did.

Categories: marketing ramblings