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Guilty pleasures

October 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Most people have enthusiastically confessed to a musical guilty pleasure, but which ads do you have a sneaky affection for?

I’m enjoying a couple of campaigns at the moment, one of which is the new B&Q campaign by WCRS. I can imagine these spots irritate the pants off some people but I like them; they’re nicely directed and edited, and they ring true, which always helps.

The pink dressing gown is a lovely touch

I’m also a fan of the McDonald’s Value Menu ads. The latest spot is one of my favourites:

Writing these visual gags isn’t easy, because even the most experienced creative can’t  be 100% certain that the laugh they had in their head when they came up with the original thought will successfully translate to the screen three months and eighty-five meetings later. This one passed the test for me.

Agree, disagree, suggest your own.

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Categories: marketing ramblings

The art of persuasion

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Last Sunday, I was at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge for the day. In the Food Court, which is a bit of a living tribute to 1990s motorway service stations, there’s a Burger King. As a member of the metropolitan media elite, I’d already wolfed my quinoa and birdseed granary roll from M&S, but my brother-in-law isn’t a ponce, and opted for a burger.

So far, so good – until he asked for a Coke to go with it, and was told he couldn’t have one. He was, however, able to enjoy a Coke Zero, whatever that is, or a Diet Coke. Apparently, this was because of “a hospital policy promoting healthy options”. It’s fair to say that my brother was as bemused as he was disappointed, but the endorphin-rush provided by the calorific content of his Whopper with cheese provided ample consolation.

After pondering the contorted piece of thinking that stipulated no sugar at a saturated fat concession, I thought about the various ways in which society and the state has tried to regulate our intake of things that may or may not be bad for you, depending on which decade you find yourself living in.

At present, as I understand it, sugar = bad. Fat can be good, or bad, but margarine, which was touted as the healthy alternative to butter (bad) is now bad itself (good). Processed meat is bad, and processed red meat (bacon) is especially bad. White meat is good, unless it’s a turkey twizzler, cigarettes are very bad and hard drugs are still illegal. But alcohol and gambling are good for you.

I may be getting some mixed signals here.

In the last few years, sugar has become public enemy number one, and there’s now talk of stopping under 16s buying energy drinks. However, I much preferred the days when the government would chuck a couple of million quid at the brightest and best agencies in London and ask for TV commercials encouraging people to alter their behaviour rather than banning things. I’m not a libertarian, but I am a believer in the wisdom of old English aphorisms, and if there’s a wiser piece of advice than “everything is alright in moderation” then I’ve yet to come across it.

There may be evidence to the contrary, but I’m pretty certain that the excellent anti-drink driving campaigns of the 80s and 90s ensured that a few generations were brought up knowing that such behaviour was unacceptable, with similar results for smoking, too.

Sugar, in excess, is bad for you. Pretty much in the way that anything in excess is bad for you. A double whammy of pressure on producers and a public information campaign would, I am sure, have the desired effect. But banning Coca Cola at a Burger King? The world’s gone mad.

 

Strongbow vs Toyota: Let battle commence

July 25, 2018 1 comment

As the World Cup recedes into memory, taking with it the brief outbreak of optimism and happiness that accompanied it, I have found myself in a midsummer reverie, slumped in front of the TV watching T20 cricket and Bob Mortimer fishing with Paul Whitehouse.

Then, occasionally, one of these execrable TV commercials plays, and I remember that life isn’t quite as simple and enjoyable as I thought.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

 

The Strongbow ad is an example of a client accidentally vomiting their brief on to the table in front of the agency, then watching in horror as the account team picks out pieces of “millennials”, “ethnically diverse”, “fucking awful soundtrack”, “every festival cliche you’ve ever seen” and rearranges them into a form designed to humiliate everyone involved in the project.

The Toyota ad is worse.

Enjoy.

 

The beautiful football index

On Tuesday 19th June, Ed and I attended the 2018 Brand Finance Football Forum at the Brand Exchange. It’s the event at which the ‘Football 50′ report is formally launched – the Football 50 being the annual snapshot of the state of leading clubs’ finances.

As a lifelong football obsessive, talking about clubs as brands used to irritate me – and to some extent still does. But the world moves on, and it’s clear that not only are many of Europe’s major football clubs brands, they are huge brands. Indeed it might be that in future I write a longer blog, requiring more thought, research and effort, analysing the similarities between Real Madrid and Amazon, for example. Bet you can’t wait.

Anyway, bookended by interesting talks from Brand Exchange Director Bryn Anderson (responsible for the football study) and Matthew Birchall’s fascinating study of stadium design, Nuria Tarre gave an excellent and genuinely eye-opening insight into the marketing at City Football Group. That’s City Football Group, who, if you weren’t aware, comprise Manchester City FC, New York City FC, Melbourne City FC and a couple of other affiliated clubs who don’t have City in their name. Yet.

It was immediately apparent to me that CFG are operating at a different level to other football clubs/ brands/ groups, mainly because they have created formal, transparent links between clubs without ruining those clubs and driving them out of business (yes, Arsenal, I’m talking about you). And, by taking an underperforming club who were lagging behind some of their rivals, they have had a relatively free hand to instil radical change on the back of their oil-money fuelled success.

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Here’s a picture of Harry Kane. No excuse required.

The group has clear objectives and is at the forefront of social media-led marketing and e-gaming initiatives, all carefully controlled and on message (compare and contrast with Roy Keane slagging off teammates on Manchester United’s own TV channel: awks!). Within Nuria’s slick presentation and accompanied by several pictures of Kyle Walker arsing around (I suspect there were cheaper right backs available last summer who are not quite so keen to laugh at themselves and generate valuable online content), the nugget that stood out for me was this: Manchester City use a “beautiful football index” to judge, after every game, whether they are playing in the style required by their Emirati overlords. Really.

On many levels, this makes sense. If you are truly creating a brand, you will have some brand values; if you have design on being a world-class brand, you’ll live by those values and stick to them – see my past post about Virgin removing the Daily Mail from its trains to see my thoughts on that.

But from a footballing/ sporting perspective, this is a real eye-opener. Next time you hear Fat Sam chuntering about fans wanting to “win games” more than anything, or Tony Pulis asking rhetorically what people mean by “attractive football”, refer them to the Beautiful Football Index. One day it might literally be in their job description to play attractive football. Their inability to supply this is, after all, why West Ham, West Brom and Everton supporters couldn’t wait to get rid of them.

Maybe the time is ripe for an enterprising club chairman to give Sam a 10-year contract and tell him to construct a “challenger brand” club, whose objectives are to stick it in the mixer at least 20 times a game and keep the grass in the corners longer, a la John Beck. After all, not all brands can be identical. This brand might attract the tiki-taka haters: Wimbledon were there years ago.

Is it time for Arsenal to revert to their true type and return to the ultra-defensive, cynical template perfected by Bertie Mee, Don Howe and George Graham? Or, more realistically, for Chelsea to sink into midtable mediocrity in front of a stadium at least a third-full of ignorant racists? They’re halfway there already. Some fascinating branding opportunities await.

Not all football clubs will be, or should be, brands. But some will have to be if they are to keep pace with their rivals. Their income, and therefore to a large extent their success on the pitch, will be dependant on attracting fans and revenue from places such as China and India, before those nations’ own leagues become so established that they don’t have to look to England or Spain for football. That might not be true for Enfield Town FC or even Swansea City, but it will be for those at the top of the Premier League.

Why? Because the other unstated but self-evident truth that emerged from Nuria’s talk is that a European league is inevitable within the next five to ten years – something  Sir Alex Ferguson also believes. CFG’s business model cannot possibly sustain the prolonged disappearance of its flagship club from the Champions League. The damage to the brand would be too great. Assuming they’re not permitted to continue spending with impunity or gaming the Financial Fair Play rules (and if they keep winning the Premier League by 19 points, the other clubs will make sure they’re reeled in), they, and the other biggest European clubs, will need some sort of guarantee that they will always be playing each other.

I suspect the Champions League as we know it will soon become a two division midweek European league comprising six clubs from England, four from Italy, Spain and Germany and the odd Ajax or Porto to keep the smaller nations sweet. The top two/four/eight will go into a knockout stage and the Champions League Final will still exist.

In the meantime, I will be at the new White Hart Lane, watching England’s best footballers play the entertaining, enthralling and exciting football that is at the heart of the Tottenham Hotspur brand; my enjoyment only tempered by their other distinctive trait: that of managing to cock things up when it seems impossible.

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Glory, glory…er…cranes

 

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.

 

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?