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.

The proof is in the podcast

June 29, 2018 2 comments

I spent most of my teens and twenties recommending bands to other people. These days, it’s podcasts.

I’ve mentioned Athletico Mince before in this blog. It’s basically Bob Mortimer being Bob Mortimer, ably assisted by Andy Dawson who manages to balance genuflection at his partner’s comedy genius with his own contribution to the entertainment value perfectly. If the idea of Peter Beardsley confessing the intimate secrets of a life that sees him continually forced to prepare poached eggs for his emotionally abusive wife makes you smile, this may be for you.

In the past couple of weeks I have discovered another series that causes me to involuntarily snort on public transport in the shape of Dear Joan and Jericha, which involves Vicki Pepperdine and Julia Davis playing agony aunts. That’s all you need to know: just listen.

But I’m here to talk about Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell’s quite brilliant examination of “things overlooked and misunderstood”. I started listening during series 2 and am looking forward to going back to listen to series 1, but series 3 is strong and provides as good a starting point as any.

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In episode 2, Gladwell asks how much proof we require before we act on something that seems, clearly, to demand action. To make his point, he references lung disease in coalminers and brain damage in football players (not soccer players, for clarity). I had thought he would mention the elephant in the room – which in this case, is the fact that there may soon be no elephants left to put in a room. But he leaves climate change and the mass extinction we are currently idly undergoing out of the podcast, letting us, I assume bring our own examples to the table.

Why am I recommending this? Because nearly every episode contains an insight so jaw-dropping and breathtaking that I have discovered for myself how those idioms gained traction. Gladwell has always had a gift for revelation, but this podcast is the perfect medium for him.

Episode 5 of the current run is the perfect example: 30 minutes of erudition, poetry and forensic storytelling; an argument so elegantly and artfully structured that when the lightbulb finally goes on it floors you. It culminates in one of the more staggering mic drops I have heard. If, like me, you despair of the ignorance, bigotry and hate that seems to pervade most online debate, listen to this brain balm and play it to the next person who thinks that putting up more barriers and building more walls is a good idea. Reader (spoiler alert), it isn’t.

 

 

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“Fuck business”

Whether you’re pro- or anti-Brexit, I think we can all agree that Boris “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others” Johnson has very much lived up to his his personal brand values this week; assuming that these values comprise hypocrisy, self-interest and perpetually demonstrating your utter unsuitability for any public office. You may have read his response to the anything but idle threats of assorted businesses (Airbus, BMW etc.) to do one in the event of a no deal Brexit.

“Fuck business”, said Boris. I thought his indiscriminate fucking days were over. These days, it seems Boris won’t lie down for anything; even the prevention of a runway being built next to his constituency. But I digress.

As a business owner, I particularly resent Johnson’s dismissal of business concerns, especially as his party has traditionally been regarded as the party of business. In truth, all parties are “the party of business”; until we stop measuring our prosperity according to GDP figures, they have to be.

And despite my personal antipathy to many of the excesses of present-day capitalism, I and my Breakfast colleagues couldn’t be more pro-business if we tried.

Every working day, we spend our time trying to grow our clients’ businesses – and our own – while hoping that our politicians do their best to make that task as simple as possible. That doesn’t mean removing red tape or slashing corporation tax: it means providing a stable, predictable and safe business environment where our innate optimism can flourish.

It means allowing us to advertise our clients’ brands to customers all over the world; to attract people here and enable them to move freely; to reduce barriers and borders rather than increase them, and to provide a progressive and inclusive society in which everyone enjoys the spoils of our undoubted wealth.

Is that too much to ask? According to Boris, it is.

 

 

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?

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.