Latest Posts


Forget social, it’s all about community now. Even new economics is going that way.


“From religion to politics, economics to marketing, ‘community’ is the key word that needs to be painted 6 foot tall on all walls of thought leaders.”



Anyone reading this week’s Metro newspaper (p39 in Tuesday’s edition) may have seen that has an initiative called the Great British Switch, designed to encourage us to switch over to new home insurers and save money via A smart little campaign, but the more interesting element is how they are looking at communities and especially neighbourhoods.


Their survey into how we behave within our neighbourhoods (real life communities) is fascinating and has created a drive to tap into the very essence of what makes us community minded. From this has come initiatives to encourage people to nominate those groups, charities and not for profit organisations that support communities, with a prize of £50,000. I know my local community have been banging out Tweets all day about it.


What CTM are doing is potentially bigger than their meerkat campaign. (A factual note here: meerkats live in strong communities looking out for each other.)


The power of connecting with communities


It’s easy to jump on the ‘social’ bandwagon and miss the importance of community which is not always the same. Social can be very self centred, especially as we have seen the growth of the “Selfie Generation” (those that exhibit self centred thinking with little actual consideration towards others), whereas community is about the masses thinking and working together.


I have for a long time preached the power of communities and that this is the area brands need to tap into and can be more successful at connecting with consumers in a real way if  (big ‘if’ here) they get it right. Unlike social media, it is harder to measure and doesn’t provide fantasy numbers to delude your boss, so not surprisingly requires a little more faith.


But well thought through, with a genuine belief in values, brands can effectively engage people and communities emotionally and win more loyalty than by almost any other marketing methodology, especially important as consumers are become less emotionally attached to brands and less loyal. If you have any doubt about the power of community, you may want to consider how successful religions have been in history across the globe – 70% of people still believe in a god, even if most Brits prefer to go to Tesco on a Sunday than to a church.



Communities and the Third Industrial Revolution.


Jeremy Rifkin, economist, idealist and advisor to governments, has been for a while preaching about a new economic future, one of greater sustainability and a move towards ‘communal collaboration’. Where zero marginal costs creates a new post capitalism economic model based on society not corporations. Where consumers become prosumers. You could see it as a new form of economic communism as everyone is equal and has an equal ability to capitalise on their skills, resources and even waste – one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure, as Freecycle, GumTree and eBay have demonstrated.


Rifkin believes that internet technology (especially the Internet of Things) and renewable energy are merging to create a powerful “Third Industrial Revolution” where, for example, millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices and factories will be sharing or trading it with each other across an “energy internet,” in the same way we create and share information online.


Where people will be using technologies like 3D printers to micromanufacture goods (known as ‘additive manufacturing’).


The intelligent TIR infrastructure, the Internet of Things facilitates a new dimension in connectivity, allowing people, communities, governments, organisations and businesses to connect not just everyone but everything connected to it in a way yet to be imagined.


Sadly it also provides crooks, terrorists, spies, marketers and less moral people access too, taking porn and cyber crime to new levels.


The dream is that soon real time big data can be used by everyone to do things better, share more and get closer to zero marginal costs. It’s an attractive thought.


IT companies are already investing in global “neural network.” Cisco has the “Internet of Things,” IBM has “Smarter Planet,” Siemen’ has “Sustainable Cities” and GE has “Industrial Internet.”


In fact it’s now even being called the “Super Internet of Things”, there’s marketing hype for you!


Of course, connecting up all the points isn’t as simple or as desirable as some utopian dreamers believe (most of us have enough problems connecting up our phones to our computers). There are far more cautious players out there that would like to be less connected, banks especially. And as we develop more data paranoia, many consumers are disconnecting, especially from social media sites and opting out of databanks. The new social is privacy.


Rifkin’s main focus is on energy and sustainability, but what is central to his beliefs is it’s fueled by communities. No one would doubt Rifkin’s brilliance and wisdom, he’s an Einstein of economics, and even if some of his ideals are more idealistic than realistic only time will reveal who is right – the dreamers or the pragmatists.


There’s a lot we can learn about consumerism, marketing and good business from economics, if we dare to delve into their world. Having studied economics at school I still find it a fascinating area full of creativity and fresh thinking (I still read the Economist) and one that is shaping the real world we work in.





If you want to nominate a local organisation, NGO or charity that benefits community, go to:


The Third Industrial Revolution


Consumers to Prosumers


The Economist


Will the Facebook ‘Buy Button’ infringe our privacy even more?

It’s a smart idea, even if a few years too late, but Facebook’s new Buy Button could be a great move, for the brand. Or another disaster.

Facebook Buy Button2

It’s currently being piloted in the US and allows brands to post ads on Facebook newsfeed with direct links to purchase. It relies on impulse purchasing, which if well targeted could be successful. If used in a random way, which despite all the data, many ads I see on Facebook are, it will probably disappoint.


Probably the key business plan here is to get people financially linked up to Facebook via a digital wallet. Then they can develop lots of other opportunities to utilise the relationship.


Of course people are starting to ask questions about personal data. Facebook claims to have the most powerful audience profiling tools in the world. So with you financial information added to all the other data they have on you, is that just too much?


The newsfeed ads have certainly been as success story for Facebook on mobile platforms, considering how much flak they got after floating when it was revealed that their mobile ad income projections were based on desktop figures. However, just because media agencies are spending brand’s money on it doesn’t mean it’s successful yet. If brands don’t see a good ROI within a few years, media budgets will dry up.


Facebook’s desire to get in on on-mobile purchasing is good business sense but despite the hype, real government figures show we actually only spend 11.5% of retail spend on line.


Probably the biggest challenge of all things digital and in turn, the Internet of Things, is to moneytize them. There’s only so much ad budget in the bucket and it’s already spread too thin, so taking a slice of a purchase seems the next thing to do.


Of course the other challenge Facebook faces is how brands use these buy button ads? Brands almost always manage to abuse an opportunity – just look at daily deal companies that flood your inboxes with emails to a point where they have almost killed the sector off by upsetting consumers.


But ironically, it’s actually daily deal brands like Groupon. Wowcher, KGB who could probably make this concept work best. After all, their whole business model is based on impulse buying of bargains.


On the downside, pay day loan companies like Wonga will probably be just as interested in the idea.


Facebook haven’t announced when it plans to roll the feature out globally, so we’ll have to wait and see how the tests go.






“Meat and two buns”. Is Morrison’s a mecca for the unhealthy eater?

This week you would have read that Morrison’s have had a TV ad banned for condoning unhealthy eating. Well if you’ve ever shopped in Morrison’s Wood Green or Holloway, you’d know that the average shopper there eats anything but healthy.

Morrisons received a grilling from the ASA over its burger ad

As I often visit all the supermarkets to look at competitive products to those FMCG brands I work on, I am not ashamed to confess that I do shop occasionally in Morrison’s. In fact they are excellent for fish (award winning) and their range of vegetables are as good as any. I also highly recommend their own brand Spanish olive oil and their turkey thighs.


Sadly they also sell lots of junk food, processed foods and generally unhealthy meals. Not to mention fatty snacks and high sugar drinks.


Last week I was standing behind the ‘Large’ family (both well over 20 stone and their kids well over the acceptable weight for their age) and was shocked at what was trundling along the conveyor belt. Big bags of crisps, sweets, full fat coke, cheese dippers, pizza… well the list goes on, and beer, lots of beer. Not a single fresh item of fruit or vegetable or even fresh fish or meat. Obviously the Government’s healthy marketing campaign isn’t reaching the likes of Morrison shoppers.


I couldn’t help but comment to the check out girl who replied, “Most of them are like that in here.” A look about made me realise, I was the odd one out.


The TV ad (by DLWKLowe) that upset viewers (and probably lots of vegans and vegetarians) features a mother making a hamburger for her daughter.


The ad is set in a small kitchen in a council flat. On the table is mayonnaise and ketchup and it’s laid for two only (so maybe a single parent?). What is interesting is that the ads isn’t set in a middle class kitchen, it’s quite gritty in it’s setting and probably quite true to life, if not a bit out dated in look.


The mother stacks lettuce, tomato and onion on top of the burger and then adds the bun. The girl, on receiving the burger, removed the lettuce, tomato and onion from the bun, tossing it to the side of her plate, before eating the burger. The voice-over says “Love quarter-pounders. Love them cheaper“.


Eleven viewers challenged the ad for condoned and encouraged poor nutritional habits, an unhealthy lifestyle and disparaged a good dietary practice, especially in children. With so many ant-meat groups and others championing healthy eating for children, 11 complaints seems small.


Ignoring the salad fiasco, this really is not a proper meal to feed a growing child, even if she looks like a member of Swiss family Robinson – who was doing wardrobe! And giving kids mayonnaise is not healthy either. But at least she has a glass of orange juice to wash it down with (or is it Sunny D?).


Under the BCAP Codes 13.2 and 13.5 (which states ads must not disparage good dietary practice) the ASA upheld the complaint and banned the ad and cautioned Morrison’s against portraying unhealthy lifestyles in future ads. Does surprise me it got past Clearcast.


Morrison’s marketing department tried to defend the ad saying she was probably going to have the salad later… yeah right! Obviously their definition of a good meal is ‘meat and two buns’.


Of course if the mother in the ad had been a real Morrison shopper, she probably wouldn’t know what a lettuce or tomato was, let along have it in the house. But that’s what is great about ads, they aren’t real.





ASA  ruling:


Given cheap new technology, why are charity shops missing the donor under their roof?

There are over 10,000 charity shops across the UK and growing, partly thanks to small retailers closing shops. Despite the doom and gloom the media likes to spread about the high street the simple fact is, we still spend 88.5% of retail spend there (and in malls and similar places). And that’s official government figures, not hyped up ones. So whatever you may have been lead to believe, the high street is still a profitable place to be.


It’s also where over 30 million of us are carrying our smart phones, and using them more and more within the retail environment. So the big challenge of retail is how we engage consumers with brands via the mobile. Proximity Mobile Marketing (PMM) is a big talking point in retail circles at the moment.


But not all charity shops are having a great time, some are seeing profits and sales going down. It seems the competition isn’t just from other charity shops but discount retailers like Primark, £1 shops, £5 clothing boutiques and the internet. Consumers are no longer popping in to get a bargain because they can get new so cheap or find that elephant shaped tea pot on eBay.


Some shop have diversified, Oxfam now sells a wide range of new products, including food and toiletries, and have vintage clothing and specialist book & music shops.


Having recently been researching charity shops (I have 8 alone in my high street) not one tried to get me to donate while visiting the shop. What a missed opportunity, yet they are spending a small fortune trying to target consumers on-line.


Millions of us still visit charity shops every week, making us the perfect target for making a donation – right place, right time, right frame of mind.


Shockingly, research we carried out in one high street revealed that 17% of people didn’t know what the charity was they’d be in the store of. So not much for engaging customers!


The problem seems to be, that once a charity opens a shop it sees it as just a retail space, not a marketing opportunity.  Given modern ways to donate via mobiles – text, via websites and now Near Field Communications (NFC), I believe that a lot of charity shops could reverse their decline in sales through donations, or increase the profitability more.


One calculation estimates that one chain of 500 stores could easily make an extra £2m through a more intelligent marketing strategy in-store and donations through mobiles.


NFC technology (Near Field Communications) means a consumer can instantly connect with a charity’s website and their donation page, via their mobile (or direct to a third party like Just Giving or PayPal). All they need to do is touch a NFC tag with their smartphone (90% of smartphones are NFC enabled in preparation for mobile payment and ticketing and there are now over 22 millon NFC enable phones in the UK) and it instantly opens a website (or app). So quick and easy, just like putting a pound in a tin.


NFC is already being integrated into print, POS, ambient media and posters (Clear Channel, the biggest investor in outdoor technologies, have over 25,000 Adshel poster sites installed with NFC). So it’s a simple and cheap technology to integrated into key touch points around a shop – display areas, changing rooms, by the tills, by the entrance/exit and on the window for when the shop is closed. So a low investment for a high potential return.


Of course you do need to use technology creatively, not just assume it’ll attract customers on it’s own. It depresses me to see campaigns that haven’t gone through a creative agency that uses technologies so badly, it’s a bit like playing Chopsticks on a concert grand piano. But then if you just want to leave your creativity to a media buying agency, you only have yourself to blame.


Other technologies are also available like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which you may know as beacons or Apple’s version, the iBeacon. Great technology but more expensive to set up and it has to be connected to the IT architecture, unlike NFC which is independent.


Of course there’s also low tech – the good old fashion collecting box, simple signage or an interesting POS could attract your attention. Or even more basic, training the staff to ask people to give – face to face is still the most powerful marketing tool of all.


Having worked with over 30 charities, on all varieties of marketing, I know they are all restricted by internal politics, often a lack of adventure and too much bureaucracy (sorry, just being honest). But if you can step over all that, it does make sense.


An old saying revamped, A bird in the charity shop is worth two online.”








Drunken Britain – is the Responsibility Deal the responsible answer to a massive problem?

Alcohol misuse and abuse is a major problem in the UK, and not just among youth but suburban drinkers too.


The Home Office has just finalised a proposal designed to tackle the consequence of the problem – currently estimated to be costing the NHS £21bn a year.

Sin alcohol

It includes a revised ‘Responsibility Deal’, that would see the removal off shelves of carbonated drinks with more than 4 units of alcohol, like Tennents Super (9%). AB InBev has been the first to commit.


Retailers are also being pressurised into taking a more responsible attitude towards promotions and display of alcohol.


The Government wants to put an end to super strength lagers, though this seems a token target when students, for example, tank up on cheap spirits before going clubbing and some suburban drinkers are drinking half a bottle of wine, at 14%, a night.


The alcohol industry, which turns over billions, has committed £250,000 to kick start an alcohol education campaign in schools. With just over 8 million pupils attending around 24,000 schools in England, that’s about £10 a school. That’s not exactly going to make much impact.


Last month the drinks industry was accused of funding 5 alcohol charities to the tune of £1m each, by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, so about £4.75 more than they are putting into schools.


A recent report by Kantar Alocvision shows that there is a drift back to pubs, after a 5 year decline in on-trade sales, the amount we are drinking is falling, though one growth area is in quality bottled ales.


Part of the Responsibility Deal is to remove 100 million units of alcohol from annual sales, in part through moving towards lower alcohol products, wines, cider, beer, etc. However, some have pointed out that it’s easy for retailers to appear to be reducing this on paper, when in fact people are drinking the same.


But alcohol brands have been making some significant changes, Diageo being one with a reduced strength version of their Blossom Hill range, a lower alcohol version of Guinness at 2.8% abv. Carlsberg’s new citrus lager is just 2.8% abv, while Heineken has reduced the strength of Bulmers, John Smith’s and introduced Fosters Radler.


In countries like Spain, low and zero alcohol products (sin alcohol) are popular and easily available. Unlike the British, the Spanish have no issue in pacing their drinks or with the image of sin alcohol beers. So one question that needs to be asked is, why drink brands do little to promote a positive image for low alcohol beers?


End of last year we cold pitched an innovative low alcohol beer campaign to several drink brands, and were told by one that there were “no current plans to support their low alcohol range”. Why not, Theresa May (Home Secretary) should be asking?


As a witness at the Common’s Select Committee, several years ago, on drinking and marketing, I observed one brand getting a real grilling over the fact they spend millions on their main brand but bugger all on the low alcohol one. Their response was, “That’s because there’s no demand.” The committee head pointed out that they spend millions on their main brand to increase demand, so surely they believe advertising works, so therefore if they advertised their low alcohol brand it’d sell more. A good point.


Several years ago I worked with a supermarket on a alcohol awareness campaign but at the 11th hour it was canned, some believe because it would have reduced profit margins.


Although there are a number of alcohol awareness campaigns about, how many actually work?


Having worked on one in colleges with the NUS, on simple factor we discovered was that many students actually didn’t really want to get drunk, they just conformed to a social norm – the belief that everyone else does so they do too. In act in one group of 10 only two wanted to get smashed, the rest didn’t but thought they were the minority. When we revealed that they were in fact the majority the two heavy drinkers looked sheepish. Applying some Behavioural Economics, instead of another ad campaign, could make a bigger difference.


Or apply Parallel Universal Thinking (PUT), that’ll throw up some alternative solutions.


Despite claims that the Responsibility Deal is delivering against targets, there are those that believe we need a more dramatic solution and legislation, not a voluntary scheme, which could include a total ban on alcohol marketing.


Whatever way you look at it, we do have a serious problem in the UK and I don’t really think the Government has found the right solution yet.

Should Wonga be banned from advertising to protect TV audiences?

If one thing has been shown in the last week, the ASA’s principle values of ‘legal, decent & honest’ doesn’t fit within Wonga’s moral code.


News that Wonga will have to pay £2.6m compensation over debt collection is a sign that at last this organisation is finally being tamed. It has agreed to compensate tens of thousands of customers because it sent them letters from fake law firms demanding they repay their debts.

Even though it’s paying out ‘a pocket money sum” (it made £62.5m profits after tax last year) it has managed to get away with breaking the law by impersonating a solicitor, well two in fact. The reason is because the incident happened before the Financial Conduct Authority started overseeing the financial sector, the former regulator was The Office of Fair Trading.  A case file has been given to the City of London Police, but it seems the police aren’t going to investigate it further, so Wonga gets away with it, sending a message to others that the law and the FCA have no teeth.

As many of us expected, they behave little better than “loan sharks” as some charities and religious groups have referred to them as. The Unite Union called what they do”vulture capitalism”.

If we want to maintain, as an industry, the ability to self regulate I think we should block brands like Wonga (and the rest) from advertising and show consumers, politicians and the press that we are prepared to take action to protect the consumer, that we have both backbone and teeth. The FCA and police certainly don’t.

Of course the Financial Directors of the big broadcast media owners probably won’t see why they should decline their money, but as with most FDs, their moral compass is rarely aligned with the man in the street. Or with the many charities and church groups that have for a long time commented on the likes of Wonga having a detrimental effect upon the poorer members of society, driving them further into debt.

I’m not religious but religion is responsible for many of our laws and moral behaviour in society, most of us will recall from our school days the story of Jesus chasing the money lenders away from the church. In fact most religions forbid money lending at a profit, including Christians, not just Islam.

While Wonga’s PR department may defend their position as ‘filling a gap left by banks, unwilling to loan to ordinary people’, or that most people pay back without incurring their extraordinary interest rates, the facts that have come out about their immoral unethical behaviour has shown the brand’s true dark colours.

No one can deny that Wonga is a branding success, packaged to look friendly, honest and they even put the term “pay day loans” into our vocabulary to make it all sound like a service to ordinary people needing a few quid before pay day.

Their ads, if a little odd (I’m not sure why they picked a series of pensioners done in a Thunderbird puppet style) certainly softened the loan shark image.

Wonga’s unethical behaviour think this can be dismissed by claiming “a misunderstanding” or “system errors’ and all is forgiven by saying sorry. Tim Weller (CEO) said “This is not the proudest day in Wonga’s history… we have learnt lessons from this and are changing as a business.” Really? Then consider that in 2012 they sent letters to customers wrongly claiming they might have “committed fraud” by missing repayments and said sorry then too.

At least one organisation has the backbone to stand up, Richard Lloyd, of the consumer group Which? condemning Wonga said, “lending does not get much more irresponsible than this. It’s a shocking new low for the payday industry that is already dogged by bad practice and Wonga deserves to have the book thrown at it.”

So should we ban them from advertising? Add your comment below.




If you want to be a loved brand, engage with communities in the real world and learn to speak people to people (P2P).

Talking at people is an effective methodology, after all brands have been doing it for decades. But after the birth of digital ‘push’ was out and ‘pull’ was in. It was all about dialogue not monologues, empowerment of consumers and even co-creation. “Listen before you talk, you have two ears and one mouth” was what one MD I worked with would say to our clients, sadly few took any notice.

mr-potatohead copy

Content was now designed to make consumers connect with the brand. Brands wanted to be loved (everyone had a copy of Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts). The product was now integral to a consumers life beyond its functional use. A bar of soap wasn’t just a bar of soap, it was a lifestyle. It made your life complete. It wasn’t about just washing away bad sweaty smells but empowering you, giving you a new confidence to smile and take on the world (and get the woman).


Brands believed the way into community was via social media, after all they’d been sold a pipedream about what SM can do and the misbelief that all our conversations were now online (when in fact only 10% were).


What they were actually missing was real world engagement – word of mouth. What they were getting was a lot of faked up social media numbers. But that bubble has burst and we all woke up, like sleeping beauty, to face reality and a simple fact, most of life goes on off line.


As you may have read in Metro recently, a good few of us adland folk are involved in the Crouch End Festival, now UK’s biggest community arts festival.


No book, course or academic will be able to teach you as much about engaging with communities than actually running a festival does.


It’s an insight that also improves your marketing skills as it drags you screaming out of your adland ivory tower back to the street. From small businesses to big brands, from the local vicar to the mayor, it’s all about people to people, which is why I now advocate all clients drop the term B2C and replace it with P2P.


It reminds you that ‘consumers’ are actually real people, that there’s no such thing as A B C1 (a meaningless audience description) and that people are far more emotional than rational (whereas 90% of advertisers think the opposite).


The key is understanding what drives people, what matters and what doesn’t. Understanding the psychology of their behavior (from Behavioural Economics to Emotivations). Yet too often I read briefs that makes you wonder if the author has ever live din the real world.


The key is to understand what people’s values are and how to connect via those values. And to wake up to the fact that people know when they are being sold at and hate it.


To be a ‘loved brand’ you need to show you love them. It’s actually not rocket science, it’s a case of acting human. And that you respect and share their values.


But no matter how visionary a brand’s claim to ‘care about the community’ many don’t really (it’s just PR spin) and others can’t do anything because their hands are tired by rules, forms, committees, mindless middle management and bureaucracy (that enemy of all things innovative).


For example, Waitrose created the green token idea. You get a token when you shop and drop it into one box (of three) to support a local community project. It’s great marketing spin but they have so many conditions that no matter how local or community you are, no matter how big your reach or the good you do, some one high up in the ivory tower has already decided what make a good project, and if you don’t tick their boxes, sorry, money’s going to the dead cat society.


By contrast, Budgen’s empower their managers so they can say yes.


Starbucks this year was the first major brand to sponsor the Crouch End Festival. No form filing, no application process, no long wait for a yes or no. They have discovered it’s about people making decisions – empower those at the front line. A philosophy that won many battles for the British, but one that banks have abandoned for a humanless robotic bureaucratic process that doesn’t work. As one community member said, the only way to get money out of a local bank for the community is if we all rob it.”


The original master of connecting with community was Tesco, about 20 years ago, before the explosion of the internet, they created Computers for Schools. It connected with community values, created a lot of engagement, WOM and delivered a ‘Thank you” outcome.


Another brand that gets it right is Lush, they really do understand the values of their consumer.


But when brands do take the leap (and let’s be honest, the money involved is less than a day’s fee from most big agencies, and at least it’s actually delivering a positive benefit) the benefits can be massive. It taps into word of mouth, social media, local PR and generally gives a reason for people to connect with a brand. A win win all round.









No sex please, we’re British, Concerned Parents, Religious, Daily Mail readers…


You can’t miss it and it must be one of the most noticeable campaigns of the moment, the poster for the Australian underwear brand AussieBum. An almost naked man with pants on posing on Clear Channel’s Adshels all over the country. Among my friends it’s created more debate than any recent TV campaign has, but then posters do reach 74% of the population, so it’s a smart strategy to get a brand noticed, plus it’s close to purchase.

AussieBum 2

A walk through Oxford Circus will also expose you to female models with perfect bodies, dressed in bikinis and all life size for H&M. Typical summer fashion ads, in press they are tamed but blown up on posters they become brash ands maybe too brash.


These are not the only ads featuring scanty clad models pushed into your face by brands seeking to sell you underwear or bikinis in time for summer.


But the ethical issue here is – is it offensive to some people and if so, should brands be allowed to put up such ads? Especially as they will be seen by all ages (kids as well) and many religious types. While outdoor ads have little to no vetting scheme, TfL are much stricter about what appears on the underground.


If you are of a particular religious persuasion that doesn’t like to expose its followers to near naked imagers, do campaigns like these cause offence? If you are a member of middle England, middle class Daily Mail sect, then you may wish your children (or grandchildren) to be protected from images that sexualise both men and women or portray an artificial image of beauty, and even encouraging slimming disorders. The girl in the H&M is as thin as they can get away with.

Blog Naked

I’m fairly liberal but even so, I was a surprised by both campaigns blatant uses of bare skin, suggested sexuality on outdoor. They both make ‘Hello Boys’ look conservative.


Back in 2912 the ASA received a number of complaints about a similar campaign by H&M ( ). Complainants said it was degrading towards women, offensive – irresponsibly placed, because they believed it was too sexual for general display and unsuitable to be seen by children.


H&M said it “regretted that the advertising had been perceived as offensive, and they would take the complaints into consideration for future advertising campaigns.” Well obviously they didn’t.


Of course you can also argue that this is no different from what you kids would see on the beach when they go on holiday, but then the tube isn’t a beach. Or that society has become too PC thanks to beaurocrats who seem to make all the rules these days.




Many years ago when I worked on the launch of the female condom, Femidom, we got a complaint from a catholic school in the Midlands about the posters “Condom” and “Johnny has had a sex change”. One parent commented in the local press that because of the poster they were having to explain “what a condom was to their teenage daughters”. Shocking? More so that they hadn’t had the conversation with their daughters. As the local paper commented, “no wonder the UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies.”


Also at the time we had endless problems with getting our ads approved, and other ads we were doing for Family Planning Association, as we couldn’t mention the word ‘condom’ on either the radio or TV. Finally it took the Minister for Health to tell the TV stations to run the ads as they would contribute to educating the public in a time when STIs and HIV were spreading. God forbid we should upset Mrs Whitehouse when people are dying from AIDS.





The recent scandal of celebrities, like Jimmie Saville, has highlighted a changing social attitude towards sex and what is ok and what isn’t.


The once famous Pirelli calendar, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was once seen as a high status aspect of the brand. But today is that still the case? Can brands get away with soft porn anymore? (The Pirelli calendar has even featured nude shots as well.)

(LINK: Pirelli Calendar 2014 by Helmut Newton:


Ryanair were recently selling a calendar of their bikini clad air hostesses in the name of a teenage cancer charity – good cause but a tacky product. No surprise that few passengers bought it, except drunken 19 year olds on stag weekends.


The behaviour of the cast of any Carry On film would put most of them in court for sexual harassment or even abuse these days. Both the language and the attitude in today’s society is unacceptable, just as Alf Garnet (Til Death Us Do Part) is.


So where do we draw the line? While the media have been enjoying celebrity scandal after scandal, they are happy to promote normalisation of sexuality. While the front page of The Sun may demonise people for treating women like sex objects, on page 3 a different set of values apply.


Many groups are also concerned about the sexual content of many videos, especially rap ones, even if many are clichéd and even pathetic in the way the lead rapper has to be seen with gyrating girls in crop tops and jean pants while he points at the camera.


In an attempt not to expose young minds to sexual images, adult magazines now have to be part covered on the shelves, but pornography is so riff on the web targeting men’s magazines now seem irrelevant.


I have no doubt that the ASA have had a few of complaints about the AussieBum and H&M campaign, they both do a Hello Boys. They certainly have people talking, though in the case of AussieBum the big question is if it’s gay or straight fashion? If you’ve seen their shearing rams ad there seems an obvious answer.


But on one level I can understand religious groups, female groups and parents being uncomfortable walking their kids through Oxford Circus past numerous models in bikinis, but on the other hand I don’t want us to became even more of a cottonwoodl society run by modern day Mrs Whitehouses.


Which maybe leaves it up to the brands to be more responsible. After all, upsetting people these days is less about a few complaints to the ASA than a tornedo of social media complaints.


WIMA 2014, from iBeacons to NFC, what brands need to know to keep up with proximity marketing technology.

Having recently got back from Monte Carlo (beats a stuffy hotel in London) where I was speaking on Proximity Mobile Marketing at the WIMA conference, I return a lot more enlightened about new developments in the world of proximity technologies like NFC, iBeacons (BLE) and many others.


It was a fascinating conference, with expert speakers, many who are working at the coal face of technology (rather than those with just an opinion) speaking passionately about how new technologies can help brands improve customer experience, especially in retail, and help sell more.


The key focus of our day was Proximity Mobile Marketing and how we can engage consumers via technologies like BLE and NFC.


So here are some of the learning from some of the world’s experts which included key advisors to some of the world’s biggest brands like McDonalds and Apple.


Firstly, the NFC vs iBeacons debate. 


There is no vs. There’s been a lot of chat about which is better so let’s clear this up for all time. The two can work together, they are not really rivals as they work in different ways, with different technology and can engage consumers in different ways. Both have their pros and cons, no technology is perfect, just as no media channel is either. Together they can be a brilliant tool in customer engagement. And the argument that Apple hasn’t adopted NFC yet (but probably will by the end of 2014) is not relevant as 74% of smartphones are Android (so NFC enabled) which gives you a greater audience than TV.  It’s a bit liker dismissing TV because BBC doesn’t run ads.


Of course Apple’s iBeacon (BLE) has been get a lot of hype and those “less informed marketers who use the media rather than their minds, to make decisions” (not my quote but one from an ex client) have probably already called up their digital agencies to ask what an iBeacon is and how can they get one. Opting for a solution before they have identified the problem!


Beware of technology White Elephants.


The key for marketers is to define their objectives first and keep their focus on the customers. Beware of using technology like a hammer, thinking you can beat a customer into submission from bombarding them with messages and offers, as Groupon discovered – the customer gets frustrated and opts out. And don’t panic, when it comes to technology, “fools often rush in…” Let others test it out, prove it’s value of you may end up with an expensive technology White Elephant.




It’s important to do you research, technology is useless without good consumer insights. And to be successful it needs to meet a human need. It also needs to be convenient and simple to use.


One place you might like to start is actually talking to the staff on the ground who deal with consumers daily. As one expert said, “the solution you are looking for may lie in human feedback rather than technology and data crunching”.


Understanding HOW consumers interact with technology (Ergopsychonomics) and HOW they use their smartphones is critical. Don’t make assumptions.


Beacons for example can be very effective at getting consumers to take the mobile out of their pocket in-store as they get a ping to tell them something has arrived on their mobile. (Beacons require you to download an app which will be automatically activated when you walk in store and automatically turn on your Bluetooth.)


As Patrick Meyer, advisor to many top brands says, “Keep it simple, one click does it, too many turns them off”. 


Consumers like convenience, ease and a benefit – one of the selling points of NFC is that it’s a one touch link to a brands website. Quicker than QR, and no need to open an app.


Overall, technology can create a connected customer experience and, as Just Desire founder Mark Scott Aubin (and one of the original developers of BLE) said, “The mobile can become a personal shopper assistant.”


Whether you are a retailer or a brand selling products or services, the real opportunity for engagement lies off line. 88.5% of retail spend is off line (official Government figures, not you usual made up figures to justify a new technology product). By 2018 it’s estimated to rise to just 12.5% of purchases online, so the real money is where we shop, eat, drink, have fun! socialise… out and about. And where we take our mobiles.


This is why Proximity Marketing is making a big comeback. It’s a great way for brands to connect. But the real challenge lies in HOW you get them to. Firstly, technology alone will not do it. You need clever, engaging ideas, unless you just want to resort to promotions.


We already know from years of research that about 76% of purchasing decisions can be influenced at point of sale and that posters in high streets are a highly influential way to drive consumers towards brands, they also are one of the biggest reasons people search brands online on mobiles – 70% of mobile searches result in a follow up action within an hour.


We also know that only 10-20% of shoppers actually end up buying an item in fashion stores, so there lies a massive opportunity to increase sales. Can technology help?


Assuming you have the rest right – design, stock, price, environment and good sales staff, yes it can.  Technologies like interactive technology, beacons and NFC can help encourage purchases, inform, pivot purchasing doubts and also give retailers valuable data about consumers.  Just because they didn’t buy something this time doesn’t mean you can’t sell them something the next,


The many ways you can use these technologies is endless, so I won’t list them here, that’s why there are experts, out there to advise you.



Connecting the dots


It’s important to consider the customer journey, and posters. Clear Channel now have 25,000 posters sites (Adshels) in high streets – they have over 45,000 6 sheet sites across the UK, so there’s always one near a retailer. Other media brands like Exterion (was CBS), JCDecaux, Eye Level  and many more are also adding NFC.


Guinness have fitted out over 80,000 beer pumps (via Proxama) with NFC. Add to that, using NFC at POS, on shelf barkers and packaging, you can make the consumers shopping experience a first rate one. We recently proposed to a baby food brand the use of active tags on shelf barkers advising parents about baby nutrition. As a lesser known brand that was trying to compete with brands like Ella’s Kitchen, Heinz and Cow and Gate, it provided a point of connection and an opportunity to deliver a voucher and encourage trial. And of course, data.


A good example of how technology can be applied to a single retail environment, that could could generate up to £2m extra income a year, check out the infographic on how it can be used in charity shops.


Mobile – the mass opportunity.


Few doubt that the mobile is now an essential part of most consumers lives, there are now over 1.5bn smart phones in the worldl, the vast majority Android (74%), and over 30m in the UK. In fact Apple are loosing out to Android, with only 7% globally of mobile phone owned. They may be big in the US and UK, but that’s not the story in many places.


The dream of all marketers is to use the mobile to connect to the consumer and engage, capture data and sell more to them. But for many marketers it will only ever be a dream because there are thousands of brands all fighting over a small space, literally, as ad spaces on mobiles are so small.


The primary thinking, as a marketer, you need adopt is: are you going for on-mobile or off-mobile?


On-mobile Is largely push – SMS, display, Wi-Fi, beacons, geo targeting, etc. Its flaw is that most consumers do not like push marketing, “83% hate it”. So the challenge lies in getting consumers to opt in and desire those marketing messages. Based on what works best in the digital space, it’s fair to say this will predominantly be promotional offers.


Off-mobile is less intrusive and more quality than quantity as it respects the consumers privacy. You will need to use external mechanics to drive consumers  to connect with brands on-mobile – like advertising, POS, on pack, NFC, QR, bar codes, etc.


The ethical benefit


Certainly the mobile is replacing paper mechanics, McDonald’s long running Monopoly promotion has had over 15m interactions, with 60% by mobile these days, which means a lot less wasted paper.


Banks could remove all print rom their banks by replacing leaflets with NFC touch tags, which in the case of loans could take you straight to a loan calculator, plus it’d give them valuable data about what customers are interested in.



The mistakes made with other technologies

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 09.04.01

There was a great reference by Alex Meisl of Sponge (who work with McDonald’s) about, “There’s the danger if making the same mistakes of ‘app land’“. Many marketers just jumping on the technology and wagon. He pointed out that many apps have less than 1000 downloads and many never get used more than a few times, which hardly makes for a long term marketing strategy. You also have to wonder how big the negative ROI was.


You can find similar stories about AR (Augmented Reality) and other technologies, and as for online… that’d add another 10,000 words.


So the overall advice was to marketers was to think it through first, don’t just  adopt technology to look good, and remember, as Rene Batsford, Innovations Manager at McDonald’s said, “Technology is not a substitute for service and product quality.”


How brands can engage consumers on their mobile via technologies. A summery of expert advice.


1. Do your research. Make sure you have insight into your customer and how they engage with technology and their mobile. Assume nothing, and be cautious of so called facts and figures thrown around (especially by salesmen) as many are dubious or even made up. Validate everything.


2. Get your objectives, strategy and thinking right. Know what you are really trying to achieve and avoid doing it for just PR or to look cool.


3. Do it properly. Get experts in, don’t try and DIY, it’ll either fail or cost more to sort out later. Use the best technical experts, and a good creative and strategic agency (digital or advertising depending on what you are doing). Avoid anyone who throws in the thinking and creative for free, you’ll get what you pay for and it’ll be substandard


4. Respect your customer – make everything customer centric. Put them first, find out what they want and then match up the technology. Customers want simple, convenience, to be rewarded with positive experiences and of course, like a discount.


5. Be prepared to test, adapt, pivot – this is still a new area and there really are no rules yet. Be patient, it may take several versions, campaigns to get it right but make sure your learn from each.



The barriers to success…


One discussion point at the conference were the barriers, both consumers and brands. Certainly the public need educating, but as we have already seen, they have adapted to the mobile and have learnt to use all sorts of features quickly.


But the real challenge lies in brands. Whereas brands like McDonald’s , Starbucks, Nike and  a few others have pioneered new ideas and new technologies, many are too stuck in a risk adverse corporate culture. Many marketing directors I’ve talked to over the last year have expressed frustration at internal culture –  it may require 3 or even 5 departments to work together, and many ideas never get to happen.

WIMA was a great experience and one I’d happily attend again. It was great to see so many passionate people pushing the boundaries and applying technology in new ways.


There is little doubt that technology is a wonderful thing, and that it is changing the way we market. But like the nuclear bomb, it can be both a force for good and a force for bad.




Blog coming next, fresh from the  Retail Forum event (Richmond Events) – ‘How to engage consumers in the retail space, through technology.’ 

New trends in natural and organic FMCG.

This week I visited the Natural & Organic Show in Olympia, a trade show featuring hundreds of ‘good’ brands founded by passionate people more interested in health than wealth.


The market is a growing one, mainly driven by health rather than saving the planet (that’s now a cliché as no one believes eating a choc or muesli bar will really achieve that ‘one bite at a time’).


Only recently the Ethical Consumer Markets Report showed that demand for ethical consumer goods and services continues to grow, in 2012 it was 12% growth. Spending overall on ethical products now is greater than that of alcohol and cigarettes (£54bn in 2012) with FMCG growing at 36%. Rainforest Alliance certified goods have seen a dramatic growth, which have been adopted by big brands such as McDonalds, who also now uses RSPCA Freedom Food certified products


It’s always interesting to see the latest trends in the eco-ethical arena and this year coconut water, and its many variations, was back in fashion. The market has seen a number of brands dominate like Vita Coco and Chi, many smaller brands have disappeared and some not doing so well, such as Coca-Cola’s ZICO brand, well it is from concentrate and from Coke so hardly the ethical consumer’s first choice.


But now there’s been an explosion of flavoured waters, milks, oils and snack bars, all driven by a health rush for less manufactured drinks and snacks, helped by the fact many A list stars now drink coconut water like Rihanna (who’s an investor in Vita Coco). It’s come a trend for A list stars to invest in healthy products, Katy Perry has a share of Pop Chips (which Walkers have just copied).


The buzz word of the ethical food and drink scene is ‘raw’, specially on chocolates, so  I guess we’ll soon see it on larger brands packaging.


New trends include mushrooms – apparently Japanese emperors have used them for generations to reduce stress (I know a few students who use them that ay as well). And seaweed, which is rich in iron so a good way to reduce fatigue. The energy market keeps growing and shifting towards ethical products as many people seek a solution to their bad diets and poor lifestyles.


I do have a problem with some of the claims made by some products, maybe the founders are just a little too passionate about the health benefits, especially when it comes to snack bars and some drinks. Can a small sachet of orange flavoured powder every day really enhance my IQ?  Can a tub of wild berry cream really make me look 10 years younger?


And, as with all products that over claim to improve your internal balance, you need to take it for months… of course because that’ll make their bank balance healthier too.


The problem many face is that most markets are saturated – there are far too many coconut waters and healthy snack bars about for example, all claiming the same ethical values – natural, no GM, organic, fairly traded, etc, so the differential is no longer the content but the brand. And for many of these products, they don’t have the money to market the brand properly.


Beyond the trend and claims, many of the brands, new and established have at least learnt one lesson quickly – you need a great brand name, a great brand positioning and great pack graphics. Thankfully rough and scratch graphics is now gone out of fashion, replaced with slick design. Alas, few have decent ad campaigns, mostly resorting to a pack shot and a pun (a good reason why you should never let your design or PR agency, do an ad for you).


Rude Health has one of the best packaging designs of any brand I saw, and the products are very tasty too (we have them in the office). Simple colourful graphics, great copy too (check out the bottom of the packs). I think this brand will do very well in the main supermarkets and with middleclass consumers. 10/10.


Rude Health was founded by Nick & Camilla Barnard, they make high-end cereals, snacks and drinks, free from added salt and refined sugar and have seen dramatic growth, especially in the porridge sector, driven by a backlash against refined sugar in breakfast cereals. Between 2008 and 2013, sales of hot cereals almost doubled to £241m. This is certainly a company to watch!


Another brand to watch is VIVID drinks. Founded by James Shillcock, who has a background in tea. He has branded a green tea drink known as ‘matcha’ in Japan, drunk originally by Samurai warriors to boost their energy. It’s high in antioxidants, 130 times more than an average cup of green tea, it also containes caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine, which is a mood-booster and said to strengthen cognitive ability, so it’s no wonder it is tipped to be the next drink fad.


Having spoken to many owners (many of the brands at the show were still in their infancy) I was shocked how many were basing their business model on assumptions rather than any real research or consumer insight. I think they all need to take a lead from Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen, he spent almost 2 years researching his audience before launching and it paid off, Ella is one of the most successful new FMCG brands in the last 10 years. Great product, great design.

Beef stew with spuds

Too many people think there’s one type of ethical consumer, when there are in fact many types and alongside that you need to understand the trends that are adopted by sudo-ethical consumers (like ‘suburban off-setters’) who can be more valuable customers than eco-hippies.


I have no doubt next year a good percentage of the brands will have vanished and a new enthusiastic collection will have appeared. My advice to them all is do your research first before you mortgage the house.


Finally, having sampled lots of very tasty food I was puzzled by one thing, if you are a passionate meat hating vegan, why would you set up a business making vegan food that attempts to look like meat but tastes terrible by comparison?

Vegan Burger





Latest jobs Jobs web feed