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“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.

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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.

 

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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

Bet you hadn’t heard of Wayne Shaw before this week

February 22, 2017 Leave a comment

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I don’t know what it says about my television viewing habits these days, but I reckon every fourth ad I see is for a betting company. While TV ad budgets have shrunk in nearly every other sector, betting has grown massively; partly because until 2006 (or thereabouts) betting companies couldn’t advertise on the telly. (I wrote the first TV ad for a betting company to run in the UK. But that’s another story.)

Since then, the high street giants at Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral have seen any number of new companies enter this burgeoning market. Paddy Power, Betfair, Bet 365… with barriers to entry so low following the arrival of online betting, it’s come down to a straight fight: whose ads are most successful?

And so to Wayne Shaw. The portly reserve goalkeeper had already attracted some attention during Sutton United’s FA Cup run, but nothing to rival the hoo-ha he caused in the final minutes of their fifth round game versus Arsenal. To general hilarity, he was observed munching on a meat pie while sitting on the subs bench. Naively, I assumed he was just engaging in some *arsehole-klaxon* banter, but in fact he was ensuring that several lucky punters landed their 8-1 punt with Sun Bets that he’d be seen eating a pie during the game.

Just as Wayne’s existence had been a mystery to me before this week, I was also unaware of Sun Bets. Naturally given their association with the newspaper of the same name, ethical concerns won’t have been front of mind when they dreamed up the idea for the bet.

Now the truth behind the bet/ stunt is still unclear. Suffice to say, the outcome for Wayne – losing his job for eating a pie – feels a tad harsh, regardless of the rules governing betting. The common sense response would be to ban bets that are subject to obvious manipulation and are thinly-veiled publicity stunts; or to let the firms offering such silly bets suffer for their own stupidity.

This bet did nothing to undermine the integrity of the game: it just made football (particularly Sutton) look humourless and allowed Piers Morgan to use the incident as an example of “PC”. (It’s not political correctness, Piers mate; stop with your overt ignorance-signalling.)

But it has to be said, this farrago has possibly done more for Sun Bets than any number of cheap TV ads would have, and for a tiny fraction of the cost – even if a hundred of Wayne’s mates had piled on. And that makes me as sad as the fact that Wayne Shaw is now without a job.

Why? Because if – and I suspect it’s possible – Sun Bets told Wayne to eat the pie, to generate publicity for them, it’s just very disappointing. The advertising professional within me should admire such lateral thinking, but instead I’m just disillusioned that such a seemingly impromptu and funny act was calculated, commerce-driven and cynical.

Maybe I should forgive William Hill their god awful TV spots. At least they only look cheap.

Here, Paul MacInnes in the Guardian makes lots of the same points as I did (as well as some other, more considered ones).

Where’s the join?

December 1, 2016 Leave a comment

Since those heady days in 2009 when we formed Breakfast, one question has stumped us more than any other. (Apart from “Why is James Corden popular?” I really can’t help with that.)

“What kind of agency are you?” is difficult to answer. We’re not an advertising agency – although we often create ads. We’re not a branding agency – although we invent, define and develop brands. And ‘marketing agency’ is just too general.

We settled on the description ‘brand agency’, because in one form or another all of our clients are, or possess, brands. But the nuance of brand/ branding has confused as many people as it has informed, and it feels a little general and vague.

So it was with some interest I read this article. If you don’t have the time or inclination to read it, I’ll summarise: it’s entitled ‘Is advertising redundant?’. Apparently only 5% of 18-35 year olds think it’s worth brands investing in advertising, because consumers want and admire brands with “a clear value-provision mindset”.

The theory is that we – the consumer – can find out all we wish to know about brands on the internet, where one can find “impartial information”.

A couple of points. First, no one has ever produced a survey (I can’t prove this but do your worst) where the actual, real-world influence of advertising has been acknowledged. (“Yes – I genuinely believe that Coca Cola taught the world to sing”, was probably never uttered.) We rarely admit to being influenced by ads but that doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t bother advertising.

Secondly, the idea that the information we find on the internet is ‘impartial’ disappeared among my peers about five years ago. Anyone paying the slightest attention to the current shitstorm surrounding fake news knows that ‘impartiality’ is hard to establish.

So far, so obvious. But the real point here is that brands don’t have to be ‘admired’, or ‘liked’. Brands that are neither aren’t ‘pointless’, they’re possibly fulfilling a function. A function that doesn’t necessitate them being mentioned in a list of most-admired brands…

Everything agencies like ours create for clients, whether it’s advertising, branding or some hard-to-define hybrid, is communicating on a brand’s behalf; whether it’s some copy on Google or a 48 sheet poster. If, somewhere on the internet, there’s a forum where a few consumers are saying Moskovskaya is the greatest vodka they’ve ever tasted (there is), then great. But I can’t know beyond all doubt that those reviews aren’t paid for. Similarly, we all, I think, realise that people generally only share exceptional or awful information about brands online. The truth – and the vast majority of brand interactions – are somewhere in between. What consumers can do is notice and trust the advertising and branding produced by the brand, and then make up their own minds whether to purchase. In other words, much the same as it ever was.

Are Ryanair liked or admired? Can I read thousands of positive words about them online? Are they a highly profitable and successful business? Erm…yes.

So it’s all very well that a non-advertising brand like Lush is so well thought of, but they have clearly placed significant attention and care into their brand. And, I suspect, the first time someone suffocates in one of their bubble baths they might need some paid-for communication to help them recover…

In summary, the article concludes by suggesting that the definition of advertising has changed or needs to. And that’s a conclusion the Breakfast team reached some time ago.

So what type of agency are we? We’re an agency that solves problems for brands by having good ideas. It’s not catchy, but it’s the best I can do…

 

 

 

 

If David Beckham drank whisky…

November 8, 2016 Leave a comment

David Beckham does drink whisky: Haig Club whisky. We now know this thanks to an entertaining and enthusiastic talk from Helen Bass, Diageo’s Consumer Planning Director.

Helen spoke at the latest of our series of Sundowner Socials, held, as always, at the Brand Exchange. Helen began by talking about the role of innovation at Diageo, and the challenges in expanding long-established and cherished brands such as Guinness.

Taking us through some of their historical failed attempts (Enigma, anyone?), Helen introduced Hop House 13, the new craft lager from Guinness. We weren’t able to sample the product but by all accounts it’s a very creditable brew (although as Helen acknowledged, whether a product from a major brewer can actually be labelled as craft lager is something of a moot point).

After a brief Q and A session, expertly marshalled as ever by Breakfast’s very own Ed Will, Helen proceeded to talk effusively about Haig Club whisky, a collaboration with David Beckham.

I’ll confess that despite Becks’ journey from helium-voiced Chingford dead-ball expert to fully-fledged national treasure and statesman, I didn’t really have him down as a credible whisky drinker, let alone spokesman. But in fact, it makes complete sense that he would have migrated from lager, to wine, to whisky as many men of his age will have done. (With a brief detour to aftershave somewhere in the middle.)

The accompanying Clubman from Haig Club commercial which Helen proudly played struck all the right notes for the target audience; stylish and beautifully shot, it didn’t pretend that Haig Club is a whisky for connoisseurs or red nosed Chesterfield-bound soaks, but instead trumpeted the brand’s suitability to be enjoyed with Coke and in the company of friends. All with just the merest hint of rebellion. Handled badly, the whole Becks does whisky thing could have gone horribly wrong, but this has been artfully done and I suspect the target audience will lap it up. And apparently David genuinely does like the drink, which he buys whenever Ribena is not available.*

Helen and her colleague Alice thoughtfully provided some tall, ice cold Haig and Coke for us in the bar, and, like Jamie Vardy in the penalty area, it slipped down all too easily.

The sixty or so guests who attended had another very enjoyable evening. If you’re interested in attending any of our future events, please get in touch with us and we’ll try and squeeze you in…

*This comment is not evidence-based. Don’t get too excited, Ribena.

The race to the bottom

October 20, 2016 Leave a comment

For the past few years, Premier Inn have been running a series of ads featuring Lenny Henry. You’ve probably seen them. They were nicely shot, distinctive spots centred around Premier Inn’s luxurious and very comfortable beds – although I may not be the only person who found the idea of trying to snatch forty winks in the middle of a crowded St Pancras more than slightly disturbing. Anyway, the campaign was clearly designed to create some separation between Travelodge, very much the Ryanair of the budget hotel sector, and Premier Inn, who clearly fancied themselves as easyJet.

Now I have no idea whether the campaign met its objectives – from its longevity I assume it did – but what has followed is one of the more peculiar strategic u-turns in recent advertising history. One of the latest TV spots is below:

Now I have nothing against scaffolders: some of my best friends are scaffolders. (Well, one of them is.) Don’t call me scaffoldist, ok?

But in the tradespeople pecking order, scaffolders are… let’s just say they’re not very highly regarded.

If advertising is aspirational (it is; it always is), then an attempt to attract more custom by telling the general public that your premises are full of scaffolders jumping up and down in their hotel room before dawn (an amenity that I suspect features well beneath “Do you have a gym?” in any list of guest enquiries) is a peculiar way to go about it. I’m no data geek, but either the itinerant scaffolder market is worth an awful lot more than I thought or Premier Inn are making an audacious bid to supplant Travelodge as the purveyor of soul-destroying accommodation of choice in our suburban hellholes.

You can have that endline for nothing, Premier Inn.

A young man’s game

March 9, 2016 1 comment

I’ve tagged this post as ‘Marketing Ramblings’ and that’s a pretty good description of what will follow, so strap yourself in…

I’ve always felt that a career in advertising has similarities with a career in professional sport: you’re probably at your peak in your late twenties/ early thirties and after that, you’re either a manager or you’re running a pub in Rutland.

It’s an experience based on observation: all of my creative colleagues from my first agency ended up leaving the industry in their forties; sacrificed on the altar of youth. I’m at their age now and still in the game, but today’s Mauricio Pochettino is tomorrow’s Alan Curbishley (see what I told you about rambling?). Maybe I’ll be a Claudio Rainieri…

Anyhow, my theme – and there is one – reflects a couple of articles I’ve read in the recent past: the first, by Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman is here.

He observed – brilliantly, as usual – that “people 75-to-dead buy 6 times as many new cars as people 18-to-24.” And yet advertising would have us believe that every new car (see my recent post about EU car advertising regulations) is driven by an ethnically  gender-balanced group of twenty somethings with impressive dentistry.

Advertising is about aspiration: that’s not news. And from my work with Saga, I am well aware that individuals prefer to think of themselves as being any age other than their own…eight-year-olds dream of being twelve, teenagers aspire to be in their twenties, and then it all flips and those of us in our mid-forties fervently wish we were still clinging on to our 30s rather than being served ads for stairlifts, as I was earlier in the week. (It disappeared before I could click on it.)

Back to my theme: the second article was an Owen Jones piece in the Guardian speculating that the UK government has made a calculated decision to indulge older Britons (let’s say everyone over 50) at the expense of those under 50, for the very simple reason that the former group are much more likely to vote than the latter. Nothing revolutionary about this thinking: why would turkeys vote for Christmas?

But it is interesting to note that finally, someone’s noticed there’s a correlation between spending power and actual power, and targeting their message accordingly. Progressive causes – you know, the ones that most Tories instinctively reject until they have no choice but to grudgingly adopt them (I’m looking at you Boris, you opportunistic one-man sleeper cell) – are generally young causes, and while they might garner lots of column inches, they don’t necessarily translate into votes.

Meanwhile at the first sign of a change in pension rules, all hell breaks loose. And understandably, because while docking £30 from disabled people’s weekly benefit payments is not a good look, it’s unlikely to lose that many votes. But touch our pensions…well, you might as well try and make enemies of doctors, or something.

What I’m trying to get across, in a rather roundabout and politicised way, is that finally, the tables might be turning. The over 50s are not only soon to be the most populous constituency in our nation, they are unequivocally holding most of the wealth. They’re getting ready to take centre stage.

The young, meanwhile, are living at home with their parents, feeling disenfranchised by politics and without any spending power as they’re too busy paying off their student loans or saving for the deposit on their first house, which they are likely to be able to buy when they’re about the age I am now.

Why bother advertising to that bunch of losers? The future’s in the oldies. And who better to make ads for oldies than those of us who are on the cusp of senior citizen status ourselves? Put it this way, don’t be surprised if the next time you visit the Breakfast website it looks something like this…

Update: Bob’s latest here