Friday, August 28, 2015

A Whopper of an Unhappy Meal

Ah cats. I reckon they will be the next big thing.
Pic from
It's been all over the internet the last few days, so I doubt many people will have missed the Burger King 'letter' to McDonald's or the subsequent reply that left many people feeling disappointed.

I've also read a number of opinions that range from 'McDonald's made a mistake' to ' Burger King trolled Macca's' to even 'This was stolen from a student portfolio.'

I can't comment on the last one, but I definitely can on the first two.

For me it boils down to this: Burger King, whether deliberately or not, put McDonald's into a situation that they could not win.

If McDonald's had agreed and gone ahead with the idea, Burger King would have taken the vast majority of the plaudits as the ones who instigated and drove the idea. This meant that whatever McDonald's did, Burger King would have been the main beneficiary - so it's hardly surprising they looked to shut it down as quickly as possible.

Now that's not to say that Macca's couldn't have worded their letter in a much better and less condescending way. For example, by agreeing to work together next year, or by making a donation to the Peace movement in lieu of action. But the fact remains that the closing P.S. salvo of Macca's reply was spot on. 'A simple call would do next time."
Stop! Stop! He's already dead...

That sentence calls out the Burger King ad for what it was, an ad. Yes it was hoping to team them up for a great idea, but it was done in a way that would have ensured it was only on their terms. If BK truly wanted to do something awesome in a team on Peace Day, then they would have discussed it fairly and evenly behind this scenes. A peaceful (marketing) Coup d'├ętat is still a military manoeuvre, it is not a truce.

A great idea, which was let down by the execution on both sides. It ended up trying too hard to be a marketing execution, not an idea execution.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Smashing Work

Of course everyone has seen it by now, particularly if you live in London. It spread out like the usual virus across the advertising landscape, covering offices in the sound of 70's pop rock... and with good reason.

My favourite shot in the whole ad.
It won't surprise anyone to know that the latest John Lewis ad is excellent. A piece of wonderfully thought out and crafted creativity that just invites you to want to watch it every time it appears. Even the 90 second version holds the attention enough to warrant a view.

But as I said, that's not surprising. The thing that really interests me though, is the puzzle it raises about how we think about creativity across channels in 2015.

You see, in many respects, this work is incredibly dated. I don't mean the 70's soundtrack and styling... but the fact it's a big budget, long, TV ad. It's the kind of work that is regularly thought of as dying, and that we should move completely away from. Not only that, it's an ad which, at the heart of it, hides its idea. That sense of nervousness and uncertainty around insurance. It could potentially be too subtle to work across every kind of format without good creative guidance.

So is this a last hurrah for TV? Well, no.

As we see at Christmas (the British Superbowl), people are keen to see adverts they might enjoy. John Lewis are among the very best at having campaigns that people actually go out of their way to see (as someone who has worked on insurance brands, doing so against the barrage of price pushing takes a brave client). When you think about it, that's pretty amazing.

We live in a world of consistently always-on, encroaching advertising. Designed to intrude on you at all times it's possible. More than ever people are getting sick of advertising communications, just look at the rapid growth in online ad blocking tools - we may be honing the art of banner copy, but those click rates are still hiding down through the mud underneath the floor. We all know, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago, that the reason for this is simple. Most ads are shit.

Elton back again. Still singing about Coke
So in this complex many channel world, how does a piece of work get so well known and liked that the audience actually WANT to watch it? That simple thing called creativity. Well thought out, well written, well directed work. You Tube, for many people, is now a TV channel in itself - and simply paying your way doesn't work there. You need great pieces of work, and sometimes not achieving it is actually the cause of your channel problems. If you have the quality, particularly consistent quality, it's possible to break the cycle of advertising apathy.

So yes it's great to have new ideas that take advantage of all channels. Yes it isn't enough to just have terrible TV ads anymore. But what this ad shows, is that we too often forget the third way. Doing excellent work can sometimes be the surprisingly simple answer to your channel question.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Golden Age

I've seen a number of discussions recently regarding the standards of advertising in the modern day. These range from: 'I remember when ads used to be this good.', to 'I wish long copy was as good as this these days', and ''remember when marketing wasn't full of so much bullshit'.

All of these views make some relevant points, but the problem I see is a very simple one: Advertising has always been largely shit. We just remember the campaigns that aren't, exactly like the general public.

Yes it might seem strange to criticise most of the output of the industry I love, but everyone knows it. Every regular person knows it. Every client knows it. (Perhaps bad clients could argue that the 50's were a golden age, where every ad was full of endorsements, product features and packaging shots...) Everyone in adland knows it. We shouldn't shy away from this fact, because it's what drives those of us who care about creativity to do better. Watching TV and wanting to throw the remote at the screen, that's our opportunity.

Indeed, it is the same as every other creative industry, be that music, film, design, architecture, etc etc. It always has been, and more or less always will be.

Elton singing about Coke with no irony.
Admittedly it's Diet Coke... but STILL!
For every piece of genius long copy that was made in the 70's and 80's, there was also one of waffly, feature blasting junk. For every smart creative TV ad that people adored, there were ten shouty washing powder ads. For every cool, avant garde 90's piece like Guinness Surfer, there were ten post-modern thought-free travesties promoting alcopops. For every Tango Blackcurrant there was Elton John singing about Diet Coke. 

Besides, even if every single campaign made today was amazing, we would still pick the best 10-20% as the ones that were 'really' good anyway.

I think it's hard to argue that there aren't too many people spouting bullshit, particularly regarding big data, social channels and online advertising... still... but this is just the same as the agencies that said radio was dead when TV came along. That's the problem with predicting the future and anticipating audience response, most people aren't ever going to be right. Trusting in the people who guide your brand was vital then, and it's vital now.

Great campaigns like this only came about
 because the products were all identical anyway!
Actually, it's even more important now. With the vast proliferation of available channels, and the wall to wall nature of advertising, having the right, smart people, is crucial. Were those geniuses of the good old days any smarter than the best creatives and planners we have now? Probably not. They made the best of their time, and we make the best of ours. I love the work of John Webster, but his ads for kids didn't have a hugely complex list of do's and don't's that make creativity that much harder. His awesome Hofmeister beer ads didn't have to worry about cute creatures being seen as advertising to children... or at least not at first.

Anyway, The point is. Advertising has always been an industry made up of both smart and creative people, and those who wish they were smart and creative. The good always produce good work, the bad always produce bad. The precise definition of what passes for good and bad will change, as will the issues that inspire both genius responses and bullshit responses. Wishing for a golden era to return is often just a sign that we are worrying too much about the past rather than trying to improve the future. Let the past, both good and bad, inspire us and remind us of what we can achieve - but don't let it get in the way of clear thinking.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Labour Marketing Isn't Working

Perhaps one of the last truly impactful (in a positive way) election ads.
 (image from:
The last general election in the UK was one of the most disappointing events I've seen in a long long time. The apparent complete lack of knowledge and judgement by the British people was on a scale that makes American politics look sane.

As a planner I find it fascinating to understand what it is that actually makes people vote, and why they don't vote with the facts. Because, from everything I've seen, there's no way ANYONE could have voted Tory based upon the pure facts of their time in government. Perhaps people's hatred of the Lib Dems allowed them to morally justify voting Tory, maybe the apparent lack of charisma that Ed Miliband showed scared them, or the threat of the SNP daring to unravel austerity for the pile of economic bullshit it is was too much.

One thing that did seem very apparent, even from Australia, was that Labour's communications and their election marketing did not work. It simply did not convince people to vote for them in any way shape or form.

Perhaps part of this problem is that election campaigns are generally attack ads, they fit into a typically fear-mongering, cheesy and unlikeable form of advertising that most people want to avoid. They generally say nothing new – or do so in a way that is unpalatable. Or they even presume that people know the facts, which we know (or can very likely presume) that they don't.

So what can we do about this? Labour's marketing isn't working, and the public are simply not getting the key facts that might actually help to change their mind. This is largely because the media, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, do not want people to know the facts. They want them to hate benefit claimants not wealthy recipients of inheritance – even though both get something for nothing. In fact arguably benefit claimants do more, as they have to visit a job centre and often do unpaid work to allow their claim. They want them to hate high spending wasteful Labour, even though the last government spent more than Labour ever did. Etc etc. Not to mention that most Tory voters probably aren't that interested in seeking out a contrary fact or opinion in this increasingly partisan age.

So what if we change the election marketing game completely. Do what many brands are doing, and being advised to do – and move to an always on approach?

Instead of creating unlikeable and ineffective attack ads, and trying to sell personalities that no one wants to like – we take the facts, the simple things that people need to know and are not being told, and create simple clear advertising that gets those messages across. We do that 365 days a year, with a thinly spread but well targeted campaign that makes the facts harder to miss, regardless of what party you generally support.

“Immigration creates a profit of xxx for Britain.”

“Tax evasion costs Britain over four times as much as benefit fraud.”

“xx people have died due to benefit cuts in 2014.”

“George Osborne lost $13bn of taxpayers money by selling RBS early”

Historically this would have been on billboard posters, but now we can do it through online banners or Facebook targeting. It doesn't matter if people don't click, because they see the clear factual message, and see it repeated. The advertising starts to question the usual narrative and provide answers, but in a clear and concise way that it is easy to pick up. Advertising interrupts, and in this case we use that very deliberately to push the narrative of discussion with seemingly unknown facts.

The difference is, by doing this all the time – for a year or two leading up to an election – you make it harder for the opposition to escape the facts, and you have time to repeat messages so they are absorbed instead of rushing at election time to get summation sound-bites that mean nothing to anyone.

I'm sure it's not a flawless plan yet,but I fail to see how it can be any worse than election advertising has been in the last two decades.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review of 2014 Part 2 - Top Tweeters

When you follow over a thousand people, it can be quite hard to pick some that really stand out. However there's definitely been a few that are on my essential to follow list.

So, in no particular order, here are my top tweeters of 2014:

The ever controversial Charles. I don't always agree with everything he says or posts, but it gives me heart that there are people like him around that never accept what we are told on face value, and are constantly looking for the truth. There are several big national/global scandals coming that most people will have heard about first from him.

Just an awesome human being. She writes about difficulty and struggle, but in a way that shows true strength.Also incredibly dirty. Incredibly so...

Following yet more unnecessary deaths of black american males, this has become one of the most important twitter accounts there are. A great person to follow to stay informed of what's being said in America on this major issue.

Arriving as a pom to Australia, it's very difficult to get a true understanding of aboriginal or indigenous culture. This is a great account to really understand the history and realities of the first people in Australia, in a society where too many are left with the scars of past generations. When I first arrived, I was shocked that probably 80% of indigenous people I came into contact with were on the streets begging, and it's only by understanding decades of inferior treatment that you can appreciate how this has sadly come to be in some parts - and also understand the (usually unseen) great things others are doing.

A wonderfully funny and slightly dirty person. Not as bad as Marlespo... but close. Also great at retweeting crazy posts from others.

A late edition. Writer of an excellent blog on dating and single life. Although with her recent change to looking like a superhero comic book librarian, she may need to find another subject to write about before long!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review of 2014 - Top Albums

2014 has been a year of great albums. Here's my top five, with a shout out to some others that didn't quite make it:

Yellowcard - Lift a sail
Wiley - Snakes and Ladders
Caribou - Our Love
FKA Twigs - LP1
Murkage - Of Mystics & Misfits

Azealia Banks - Broke with expensive taste

I know right? A great single followed by tons of record company hype didn't provide much hope. A record company then not sure what to do with the recordings didn't help.

So Azealia stopped playing the system. Bought herself out of contract and released the album she wanted to make, announcing it suddenly with no forewarning.

Frankly she made the right decision. Musicially this is a mixed up bag, but that's what makes it so much better than many of her contemporaries. Idle Delilah starts you wondering what is coming next, and then the one two punch of the immensely funky and catchy Gimme a Chance and the fast wordplay of Desperado (a cover of a track by Manchester's talented Fallacy) delivers a big hit to any record exec who ever didn't see the value of this record.

Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

Ariel Pink - Pom pom
Don't even try to make sense of Ariel Pink. Don't even try to make sense of this record. An album full of some ridiculously weird, silly and creepy songs, with unusual 1980's cassette tape production. But these are probably the best songs he's ever done, and at least one of them is guaranteed to get stuck in your head.

Seriously. All week. Singing "freckles, freckles, where'd you get those freckles?"


Ariel Pink – pom pom

Painted Palms - Forever

This is definitely an indie club, triple J kind of album. But in all of the good ways. Catchy and tuneful but with solid writing and an interesting 60's influenced sound to back it up.

Forever is probably the best Beatles song written since 1969. If the fab four had released it, it would be deemed as an all time classic. It probably still is, of all the songs I've heard this year, none has instantly and powerfully struck me as being magnificent. The rest of the album backs it up superbly, proving them not just to be a one trick pony.

Painted Palms – Forever

Gerard Way - Hesistant Alien

Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge by My Chemical Romance is still an amazing album. Maybe overtaken by what the concept of 'emo' ended up becoming, it was an alt-rock masterpiece. The band gradually seemed to lose their way though, becoming a pale shadow of what they were.

So I didn't come to this album with much expectation, and was very pleasantly surprised. It feels like what My Chemical Romance should have become, freed of the constraints of sounding like a punk style band, and exploring a range of sounds that still coherently make a whole. It also avoids many of the angsty cliche's that this kind of album could easily bump into.

Action Cat is one of the best pop singles I've heard in a long long time, but it keeps that edge that stops it being lightweight. Millions and Zero Zero are two further great tracks, and the excellent Drugstore Perfume is one of the saddest song stories I've heard in a long time. I can imagine this album being a seminal moment in the lives of many 16 year olds, it's powerful, energetic and tuneful, but with a sense of meaning and emotion that cannot be ignored.

Most artists who go solo do it for fame or money, this album suggests that Gerard Way did it for the music, and on this evidence at least, I can't fault that decision one bit.

Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien

Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues

If you'd asked any fan of Against Me! whether they were likely to remain successful in America after their lead singer came out as transexual and started living as a woman, you would have probably got a disappointed no. If you'd then discussed their new album being almost entirely about that coming out and transformation, most people would have expected a niche underground success of existing fans at most.

So for it to be their most successful album ever in terms of chart positions (US Rock No.6) tells you how good this album is, and just how well Laura Jane Grace (singer) and the band have dealt with and utilised something that would have killed bands with lesser spirit.

Not just a great album, with magnificent songs like True Trans Soul Rebel, this is an album that sets a new benchmark for transgender issues and artists - demonstrating that being who you truly are doesn't have to mean sacrificing a career,


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Looking backward to look forwards

Sometimes I think it's okay to say... you know, what we did a while back was pretty damn good. Perhaps we should something similar again. Take the best of the past, moments that people connect with the brand, and combine it with the present and future to step forward.

In a way, what Qantas have done with their latest campaign is exactly that.

For years they had the amazingly powerful "Still Call Australia Home" campaign. One that became essentially a part of the fabric of the country, such that even when they changed the tagline - they still used the music.

Then they changed it to something that was hugely epic, but basically felt like it was trying to be like every other airline, 'oh we're all about the customer'. It looked great but wasn't even a patch on where they used to be.

The good news is that they have clearly seen sense. Whilst they haven't exactly brought back the old creative, they've essentially revamped it.

This is Still Call Australia Home + Real Customers + John Lewis Soundtrack

Excellent decision. Instead of just well produced and good looking, what we have is engaging and moving. I find it hard to believe that any expat either in or from Australia wouldn't tear up when watching the full two minute version. I certainly did. An example of when using real people can be truly powerful.

Qantas is never going to have the huge backing and budgets that the Middle Eastern/Asian airlines often get. On product and service it will always struggle to compete. But what it is starting to rediscover, is that a strong emotional bond is worth more than any product feature or discounted price. Going beyond patriotism and national pride to something far more powerful - memory, childhood, and the unmistakable connection we have as human beings to the places we call, and have called home.

When I was planning my move to Australia, I would see the red tail fin of a Qantas plane and look forward to where I was going. This work makes me think about both where I am, and where I've come from. For a brand, that's pretty amazing - even if most people aren't expats... outside of Bondi anyway.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Flake it til you make it

Every year we see loads of brand crossovers, where a company (usually a big holding brand) mixes together two products in order to try and leverage the benefits of each.

Makes sense in most regards. Oreo bits in chocolate, that's pretty awesome. Chocolate in Philadelphia... maybe!

One brand crossover that I'm currently intrigued by is between two brands that maybe don't match quite as well as those.

Head and Shoulders with Old Spice.

At a product level it makes sense. At a brand level though, it seems like a far bigger win for Head and Shoulders, and potentially a damaging move for Old Spice. Head and Shoulders has traditionally had terrible functional communication, whilst Old Spice has revitalised itself by moving into a strong creative area.

The comms to promote this (at least here in Australia) is essentially a weaker version of the Old Spice idea, set against Head and Shoulders brand colours. Whilst it's better than anything I've seen from Head and Shoulders, it pales compared to what has been seen in the past year or two for Old Spice.

I can see three potential plans in play here.
1. The success of Old Spice being used as driver across a range of brands until the core product branding suffers from over-stretch and dilution.
2. This is the first step towards launching an old Spice shampoo. But given there is already Old Spice bodywash, why wouldn't they just jump straight in? Or at the very least utilise the most liked brand to drive the combination. As even if Head and Shoulders sells more, it lacks the strong connection.
3. A short term attempt to revitalise one brand by risking the credibility of another.

Either way, it will be an interesting one to follow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Seven brides for seven creative brothers

I saw an article the other day that made me kind of sad. It appeared to demonstrate just how one sided the advertising industry still is.

Important obvious disclaimer:: This is in no way a criticism of the work of these individuals.

It was in Brand Republic, and happily declared that Saatchi's in London had announced seven new creative hires!

Hurrah. Always good to see creative talent given an opportunity to join such a great agency. I wonder who they are?

White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, ginger hair.

Now clearly these guys are good, or they wouldn't get these roles. But surely there must be a good female creative out there, or even a team, that's worth hiring? The photo looks a bit like a shot of a well dressed hipster band, you could probably pick them out as creatives from a mile away. Again, there's nothing specifically wrong with that style, but surely as an industry we need to have more people with different styles and viewpoints?

The industry has been lacking in female creatives for such a long time, and we still are far too lacking in people of black or mixed race backgrounds. It's been getting better, and I'm sure (and hope) Saatchis would be able to point out plenty of women and people of non-white backgrounds in the department...

But it still looks like a reminder of the bad not so old days, and that's a shame.