Archive for January 19, 2010

Posted: January 19, 2010
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Deconstructing bollocks

A lot of years ago (I have to be sensitive here and not say how many, for fear of offending others mentioned in this story) a young goateed hot-shot was introduced to me as the new Deputy MD of McCormick Intermarco-Farner (Now Publicis) where I was working at the time.  Although we had very little direct contact (and I hate to further inflate his ego), John Ward made an impression on me that has lasted to this day.

At that time I was strugging to find my fit in the wonderful world of advertising agencies.  Sure, I was doing OK, but I lived with the constant nagging feeling that I saw things differently to everybody else.  It wasn’t until John turned up with his irreverence for institutional industry practices and viewpoints that I realised that different is good.

In fact, seeing things differently has become my greatest asset and one of the facets of my professional character that I value most is my natural instinct for de-mystifying the crap that a lot of people in this business seem to worship.  Over my years in the business I have developed a hatred of intellectual clutter.  We are in the communications business. Communications drive society and are what is supposed to elevate mankind above pond-life.  The thing about communications is, the more complicated you make them the less they work.  It is this belief that fuels my disdain for “experts” who construct a fug of mystique around their subject, I assume, in the paranoid conviction that if anybody actually gets to understand their stuff they’ll be out of a job.

From time-to-time I have tried different ways of describing, what I see as my mission to relieve the world (of marketing at least) of intellectual crap.  Then, a couple of weeks ago I happened upon the profile on LinkedIn of an author who in the “specialities” section had entered “Deconstructor of bollocks”!  Perfect!

Yes, the paths of John Ward, author and wit and I have very happily converged again.  Is this fate’ s hand?  I’m not sure, but I have since become an avid reader of John’s daily, tell-it-like-it-is missives.  In fact, today has been particularly trying and were it not for John’s hilarious piece on farting and the chuckle I had over his F11 story this morning I may well have pressed F11 myself (well, actually, it would be more my style to press someone else’s F11).  Don’t get the wrong idea about this bloke.  His expose of Gordon Brown’s drug dependence and the revelation that our PM’s poor eyesight isn’t wholly attributable to the fact that he’s a total wanker, sit alongside a terrific insight into what’s really happening to the relief effort in Haiti, to create a rarely balanced and infinitely sensible view of life.  I wish I had come up with “Deconstructing bollocks”, but more power to your elbow John and more visitors to your “The Slog” and “Not Born Yesterday” communities.


Posted: January 12, 2010
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Go Direct-Gov – a promise too far?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDKrnsfEusE]

One of the fundamental principles behind Brand Discovery is that brands should never make promises they can’t deliver.  It sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  However there are still alarmingly few organisations who really get it, as has been demonstrated by HM Gov this month with their “Go direct gov” campaign.

Just to state the obvious the reason that this idea of avoiding making promises that you can’t deliver is so important is that it just costs you money – often quite a lot of money – and even if that was acceptable way-back in history somewhere, no organisation can afford to waste a cent these days.  Of course, that’s something that the public sector has always had difficulty coming to terms with, as this campaign powerfully demonstrates.

While it has been estimated that it costs ten times as much to sell to a new customer as it does to sell a second time to an existing one, it’s also true that it costs something like a hundred times as much to entice back a customer that you have disappointed.  I guess this doesn’t bother the public sector that much as they have a monopoly, but it should resound with the Labour party, who, I would have thought need all the credibility they can muster in the run up to election day.  So, while its important to make propositions that are attractive, if you raise expectations too high, you are bound to disappoint.  Brand Discovery tackles this by introducing businesses to a new approach to brand development that focusses as much on delivering the promise as it does making it.

This campaign by the UK’s biggest spender on advertising falls at the first hurdle by being incredible to start with.  Everyone knows that our government couldn’t run a piss-up in a brewery, so they are on to a loser straight off by suggesting that they can sort out insurance, car tax, pensions and the like at the click of a mouse and as one who this went to battle with the Gov’s on-line tax assessment process this year, I know that its massively more time-consuming, complicated and stressful than handing everything to an accountant, so there are definitely going to be some disappointed customers around.

Then there’s the execution.  I see there’s no creative credit given for the commercial – wise move by the creatives I think!  It seems that the agency has adopted the when-you-are-trying-to-really-blag-it-use-celebrities-with-popular-appeal” strategy that has proven to fail on just about every occasion its been pulled out of the drawer and dusted off.  However, apart from having Z-list celebrities anyway, why dress Christopher Biggins like a baby, and have Suggs prating around like an idiot?  It can’t have helped his credibility.  Its also a mystery to me why, apart from its association with Suggs and Madness, why anybody would use a song entitled “It Must Be Love” to promote anything to do with the government – Yuk!

Like a lot of public-sector initiatives this looks to me like a sound-enough concept (the business principle I mean, not the advertising) that’s been totally screwed up in its execution (Including the advertising).


Posted: January 11, 2010
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New multimedia and photographic project in Prague www.pragueworkshops.com

Because I have been involved in the media all my life it’s not surprising that I have a fascination for photography.  I used to dabble myself, but my real thrill always came from rubbing shoulders with photographers who were truly worthy of the title.

Like just about every other aspect of life though, things have changed dramatically in recent times for shooters and technicians, who with the advent of  digital media and the Internet have had demands placed on them for new skills and working practices.  Even the secondary issues of actually running their own businesses has become more challenging.  So I am delighted to have been able to join forces with David Brauchli the Pulitzer nominated photographer to set up a community for pros and aspiring pro photographers, built around a series of workshops designed to help even the best raise their game.

We have found some great international photographers and technicians who really know what they are doing to run a series of workshops in Prague this summer and this weekend we launched the initiative with a competition that will enable some talented pro or aspiring young hopeful to win a place on the course of their choice.  So, take a look at the site, enter your photos in the competition and let me know what you think about the community we are building.  We have plans to add further resources over the coming weeks and months, but there’s still plenty of scope to introduce your ideas.