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Cultural & iconic references in marketing – are you in touch or living in a white ivory tower?



Benny Hill’s, ‘Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West’  is a symbol of  a different time. How many people would get it today?


“I don’t get it,” is probably the second worse reaction you can get in a research group.


Over the years I have sat in many research groups and have been fascinated by both the psychology of people (especially in groups) and their portfolio of references.


Each generation, ethnic and demographic group grows up influenced by different media and social cultural references, as well as their parents influence.


Anyone with teen kids have probably found themselves commenting on the latest music track their kid is listening to, ” yep, I remember that the first time around”. Meanwhile grandad is thinking the same. Or as I said to my son once, “try listening to the original,” as I handed him a Black Sabbath CD.


Cultural, social, visual icons and references allow us to take short cuts in everything from the written word to graphics and video. It is especially important in time poor media like TV, an icon or cultural reference can speak a thousand words.


Comedy especially relies on us knowing what the comedian is referring to, which is why it is so hard for comics to take their comedy abroad. Comedian Freddie Starr went from being watched by millions to entertaining old ladies at seaside resorts because he didn’t move with the times and was still doing Max Wall impersonations to a generation who didn’t know who Max Wall was.


But how often do we ask if our target audience actually gets it? How often do we make assumptions based on our own values, beliefs and cultural experiences?


Working with a fairly international crew, we are constantly reminded of the cultural differences between little England and Europe.


The classic cultural cock-up of all time was the Pepsodent ad, “When you brush with Pepsodent, you’ll wonder where the yellow went.” The ad, ran in Arabic countries, left the audience puzzled because having yellow teeth was considered healthy, while white teeth was seen as bad.


A similar mistake was made with a poster campaign for family planning featuring a man with two kids smiling and a man with 8 kids looking unhappy. In a country where having lots of kids is seen as good no one could understand why the reactions were the wrong way round. It’s a bit like showing a man happier with a second hand Skoda than a new Audi.


A more recent example was an international ad featuring a milk man, this was a totally alien concept to many European consumers.


But as ads become more international (especially on the web) relying on icons and cultural references present a real challenge. It’s all too easy to assume too much which is why it’s essential to research with your target audience. Too many American brands think that the UK is just like America because we both speak English, but soon discover just how different our references can be.’


The ad industry is essentially staffed by educated middle classes (and predominately white), so it is no wonder so many ads reference this world. Many ads are still using the cliched happy white middle class family, all in perfect health with the perfect two kids, with a mixed race couple next door to keep the PC police happy. It therefore begs the question, how well do people in the white ivory towers of Adland really understand real consumers? Are they able to get into the mindset of a 17 year old single mum on a housing estate, or a middle aged Asian family?


This was very apparent when I was working on a number of very successful sexual health campaigns for charities including FPA and Brook. The government campaigns, by contrast, were aimed at typical middle class kids yet the problem was in a lower demographic who certainly don’t respond to clever ads. But then the now demised COI was more interested in making politicians look good in the media than actually changing social behaviour.


And what about the male, female divide? Given the fact that the average creative department is 85% male, it’s no wonder 91% of women think ads don’t understand them.


Age is also a significant factor, each generation grows up with a different portfolio of experiences and references. I saw a poster the other day using Victorian music hall graphics and language, a young intern that was with me was totally puzzled by it because she’d never seen a Victorian music hall poster so it was totally alien. I am the first to admit that I don’t get some of the references my kids use, especially language.


Britain is one of the ethnically mixed countries in the world, yet few ads reference the cultural differences.


So while we are chasing algorhythmns in a vain attempt to define human behavour and find out how people tick, we may be better off taking the lift to the ground floor and mixing with real people. To try and discover and understand the differences between people, and learn to speak

Faking it. The real cost of buying social media numbers.

No one would argue that there is not a lot of faking up of social media numbers going on. It’s simply too easy, too cheap and often too easy to get away with. And as one client I know (who I interviewed when I was recently doing research into social media fraud) said, “If the values I’m measured by are unreal, does it matter if the numbers are too?”


If marketing directors, or social media/PR agencies, are being forced to make false targets, because some people think likes, fans and followers are of a higher value than they really are, you’ll get corruption. It’s human nature. Like it or unlike it.


A recent undercover expose on Channel 4 of how brands, agencies and celebrities fake up the numbers was probably unsurprising to most of us. We all know about the Asian call centers that turned their talents to creating fake Facebook and Twitter identities when the outsourcing collapsed. And then there’s the Russian side of the business.


Even this week there was a big article on faking up social media numbers  in the Metro.


So who is to blame? The marketing directors? The agencies? Or those running click farms?


If we think about what is called ‘vanity marketing’, then you can blame the ego of the brand. This is essentially what led to the Justine Bieber scandal, one record company trying to look more successful than another.


But probably the true criminal is the bureaucrats and accountants, because they are the ones that have turned marketing into a pure numbers game (where once values existed), and just as they did, social media came along with oh so many ways to deliver numbers.


Giving it a negative ethical spin.


The Channel 4 programme  targeted, click farms in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which makes  good TV . Going to a poor city in Bangladesh did give the programme a new ethical angle, comparing the exploitation of poorly paid workers in click farms, working long hours just to massage the vanity of celebrities and brands in the West, to that of sweat shops.


In a classic TV journalism way he used secret cameras, got people talking openly and exposed the Facebook fraudsters on camera, then approached the brands that had been victims of faking up. And true to form, they all deny any involvement, claiming they had strong ethical principles and blamed “consultants”. Yeah, right!


I feel a little sorry for one company, who  got slaughtered, though probably deservedly. But watching an ad executive brag about pushing up the numbers, even if it was just for the Peak District, makes for good TV.


The programme really only managed to get one big brand in the spotlight, Coca-Cola, claiming that one click farm had been used to add millions to their YouTube views. After my own investigations a few months ago I can draw up a much longer list of big brands, when you know what to look for they are easy to spot.


What price for a celebrity Tweet?


Finally the programme went into the shallow end, and attacked actresses from TV soaps for accepting ‘gifts for Tweets’.


Under ASA regulations celebrities should add #ad to their Tweets to let their shallow fans know it’s not real, that they don’t really love this amazing product they are promoting.


The serious side of faking.


If you paint a copy of a classic painting and sell it as copy, that’s ok, but if you sell it as real you go to prison. It’s a fake and fraud.


One fact that was mentioned on the programme, and one that has serious consequences, was the legal angle – faking number is essential criminal as well as misleading consumers. An agency that fakes numbers without their client knowing is defrauding the client because they are being paid in good faith. It only takes one brand’s legal department to take action and we may one day see someone go to prison.


We all know that there is a massive problem with faked up numbers on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the rest, but only a real fool would put any real value on those numbers. A recent survey we did reveled that the vast majority of marketers don’t believe the numbers but admitted they would be tempted to fake numbers up if under pressure.


At the end of the day you need to evaluating how your social media strategy is selling product – what’s the benefit to the bottom line? Because that’s what marketing is really about. As Bill Bernbach once said, “We are all just glorified salesmen.” Though sometimes I fear we are too busy selling the dream rather than the reality.




Hyundai sponsors the Tate.



The South Korean car company  have just announced they are to sponsor the Tate.


It’s an 11 years sponsorship deal.


Hyundai was founded by Chung Ju-yung in 1947 as a construction firm and Chung was directly in control of the company until his death in 2001. Hyundai Motor Company was founded in 1967.





Lidl – putting your ethics where your mouth is.

Discount supermarket chain, Lidl, are removing sweets from their checkout points as part of a move to help their customers become more healthy.


“Healthy Checkouts” could lead the way in encouraging other retailers to take an ‘ethics over profits’ approach and improve the health of our kids… and parents.

Confectionary Display In A Shop

Lidl MD, Ronny Gottschlich, explained that they were trying to help mums resist pester power by removing temptation and put healthier options there instead.


A survey by the supermarket claims that 68% of parents get pestered by their kids to buy sweets. 70% of parents polled said they’d like a sweet free checkout.


The Government has been pressurising supermarkets for a long while to adopt their Responsibility Deal, and the British Dietetic Association (who run the Children’s Food Campaign) says they will now pressurize other supermarkets to be more responsible.


The Scottish government wants to ban sweets at checkouts at all supermarkets as part of the Responsibility Deal and in response to the growing epidemic of obesity among kids. They also want to restrict price promotions that encourage bad health choices.


Their guidelines, much stricter then England and Wales, wants to see a dramatic reduction of sugar in drinks, as well as a reduction in saturated fats in chocolates, biscuits and cakes.


WHSmith have recently been criticised for encourage their consumers to buy discounted chocolates. The policy, referred to some as ‘profit over good health’, reflects badly on WHS but they are not alone, it’s also common practice at many petrol stations.


Added to that, the growing number of triple portion chocolate bars and larger packs of snacks, it seems that the government’s Responsibility Deal is a good deal away from being taken seriously by brands with the attitude of cigarette companies – putting profits before people.


Is it time that the government clamped down on advertising? With no apparent voluntary agreements being actioned, some may say that this may be the only way to protect consumers from being tempted or sold an unhealthy lifestyle.


As obesity gets worse, especially among kids, few brands are doing anything to reduce the problem. Far from it, many are encouraging it and with Easter not far away we will see millions spent on TV across Feb and March encouraging us to all indulge in chocolate.


So maybe this Easter we should be encouraging our kids to each a nice free range egg (an opportunity for Noble Food’s Happy Eggs?) rather then chocolate ones.


And if your kids can’t find the Easter bunny, tell them he’s too fat from eating chocolate to get out of his rabbit hole!

Why is TV beating digital in battle for FMCG ad spend?

TV family

As reported on page 4 of the FMCG’s weekly publication, The Grocer, “TV beats web in battle for FMCG ad spend”, food and drink companies are slashing digital budgets to go back to TV. Why? Because, as the head of Premier Foods Gavin Darby recently declared, “it works”. As reported in Marketing, “We are unashamedly sticking with TV advertising and will not be shifting significant spend into digital channels.”


This is not an opportunity to bash digital but like any channel or discipline, each one works well for some areas and not so well for others. For retail and FMCG, big media – TV and outdoor – works best, which is probably why both are seeing growth.


According to Nielsen, 10 of the top 15 FMCG brands – including Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Nestle, Unilever and Tesco – have dramatically slashed on-line marketing spend.


Tesco currently spends over £34m on TV advertising (that excludes outdoor and press) but now only budgets 1.4m on digital advertising, less than 5% of TV spend. Is this a trend by the big brands?


Several years ago Pepsi threw it’s budgets at digital, big time, pulling it from TV and promptly lost sales. It then subsequently reversed the move.


It’s a fact that digital is now part of almost every brand’s portfolio of marketing disciplines, along with PR, sales promotion, experiential marketing and the rest. Each sector has its only balance of spend. What works for one may not work for another, each sector has different effective mix.


For some, like travel, digital has become the number one choice, with little need for big media support. For insurance the web has been a dream but almost all the big names use TV to market their brand. The reality is, FMCG brands have found their balance.


Of course, it could be argued that one of the problems isn’t the usual excuses of too much digital noise, poor targeting or brands fining it harder and harder to enter the personal space, it could be most just don’t know how to use digital properly. Anyone can write a song but it takes skill, talent and experience to write a hit, just ask Gary Barlow.


When it comes to social media, well it seems TV ads are probably the number one reason to talk about a brand, just look at John Lewis. The second is PR.


And for all the on-line chat, 80-90% of chat actually happens off-line. That too may surprise you, but in fact it’s been researched and again the media has hyped up the opposite.



TV – getting it right


A brand, if they get their message, execution and media plan right, can expect a 1:3 ROI. That’s turning media spend from a cost into a profit – far more effective than investing it in the stock market.


But just doing a TV ad is not going to deliver instant success. Like I just mentioned, writing a hit song is a skill, so is TV.


Nieslen, the industry’s leading monitor of TV ads, has some sound advice, even for seasoned advertisers. With a few of my own tips, here’s 3 keys things to remember.


• Boring, predictable, rational ads don’t work as well as funny, interesting and quirky ones. It has to emotionally engage consumers. You may only be one ad out of 6 in an ad break but you need to the one ad that stands out and gets remembered. And as the average person watches 4.5hours of TV a night, you have to be the one they recall next day. Think of your 30 seconds as 30 seconds on X-Factor, give it all you’ve got and make one hell of an impact.


• Make sure people know what the brand is. It’s amazing how many ads are recalled but the consumer can’t remember the brand, or worse, names the competition. Nielsen recommend getting the brand in in the first few seconds as well as at the end.


• Budget – you need to invest to get a return. Think big casino, not scratch cards, to get big rewards you need big stakes. TV isn’t cheap but get it right and you’ll hit the jackpot.



On-line shopping myth.


Currently, only 11.5% of retail spend is online, but the government have published an estimate of 12.5% by 2018. This may sound surprising but in reality we spend a lot of our cash out drinking, eating, having fun and in places which can’t do what they do online – like hairdressers or buying petrol. And we still spend a lot in the high street and at major retailers. Overall, 85% is spent off-line, so it’s no wonder brands are looking to target consumers where they spend – hence the growth of Proximity Marketing and Proximity Mobile Marketing (see below). It’s largely been the media that has hyped up the numbers.


A return to common sense marketing – Proximity Marketing and Mobile


Every brand wants to get closer to the consumer, or potential consumer, which is why the philosophy of Proximity Marketing and Proximity Mobile Marketing (PMM) which started in the US, is seen as the next area brands will invest in and a return to “common sense marketing,” as one US brand manager commented.


It’s all about targeting the shopper at the right time, in the right place and in the right buying mindset. And integral to that is mobile.


Mobile is certainly an area brands feel they must be embracing but before you rush out and spend all your hard fought for 2014 budget, you need to consider the difference between on-mobile marketing (push) and off-mobile marketing (pull).


83% of consumers do not like unsolicited messages, especially sales one, on their mobile. Add to that, tough data protection laws, actually targeting people effectively is quite a challenge. It’s also a very small space to try and gain any impact and let’s be honest, most of us aren’t walking about reading the ads at the bottom of apps.


By contrast, off-mobile marketing (and especially PMM) utilises big media – outdoor, and POS, events, field marketing, and anything that connects with the consumer where they shop, eat, drink, have fun and socialise. Which is of course where they are spending that 85% of spend.


The principle is simple, instead of just doing a nice poster, for example, you turn it into a vehicle for engagement, encouraging consumers to visit the brand’s website, campaign pages, etc.


Here they can get more information, download offers, content, get directions to a store… the possibilities are endless.


And with the growing number of NFC (Near Field Communications) active posters (Clear Channel have over 10,000 NFC active Adshel poster sites nationwide) and POS, consumers only need to tap their phones on a tag to active a website. Pure genius and convenience for consumers – a much smarter way to use smart phones.


A need for more honesty from agencies


As an integrated marketer, I have always taken a pragmatic view of the many channels, disciplines and techniques available to the industry. I think it’s the role of agencies to recommend what works for the client’s objectives, (once you actually define the right ones).


But constantly I see poor advice, or worse, clients steered towards areas that are going to give more profit to the agency than to the client. Ok, I may a lone ethical voice here in an industry that can often put their profits before the clients, but I do believe that if you make your client rich you get a greater reward for that.


So for 2014 I’d like to see less hype (especially from the media), more honesty and clients being a little more pragmatic about how they spend their money and not be afraid to ask, “Yeah I know it’s all the rage but will it work?” After all, how much money have big FMCG brands wasted to discover what some of us could have told them in the first place? An expensive lesson.

Coke’s #Sharethegood – can brands really own goodwill to all men?

Coca-Cola’s new #sharethegood film features a mysterious red Coke machine appearing in a square in a European village over night (actually shot in Strada Apollonia Hirscher, Brasov in Romania).

A caption reads, “This time of year a little kindness can go a long way.” On the machine are two buttons, ‘FREE COKE FOR YOU’, ‘#SHARE THE GOOD.’


On cue, various Coke generation people, all with big smiles and a happy nature investigate the machine. Noticeably, none are fat!

At first they press the ‘FREE COKE FOR YOU’ button, because that means you can show people happy at getting a free Coke. Although it’s the full sugar one rather than diet, so no encouragement to keep down the calories this Christmas!

Then they press the ‘#SHARE THE GOOD’ button and a door opens in the top of the machine and a red balloon floats out. Attached below is a present in box, that turns out to be a Xmas ball. With it is a note, “Someone specila has shared this with you. Keep spreading the joy.”

As the film progresses, we see lots of balloons in the sky and many happy and wonderous faces and lots of couples and kids opening the boxes, finally ending on a kid hanging a red glass ball on a tree. Cute.

Ok, the idea is sweet but it’s another typical hidden camera style stunt, of which there are hundreds on YouTube at the moment. Every brand seems to have one. But what for me  kills it is that it all looks very fake, there’s no hidden camera it’s all shot to camera. There’s no normal grumpy people. No one is complaining. All the shots are so clichéd it’s almost painful. But sadly these stunt videos are all becoming the same.

The big mistake is that #sharethegood is being used by lots of other organisations, mostly good causes. Umm, bit of a Coke up there!

But can Coke really convince us they are about the good of mankind and want to bring peace and happiness to the world? Or are they just another commercial corporate trying to con us to flog fizzy drinks? That’s for you to decide, but I can’t find any mission statement attributed to Coke that says “We make fizzy drinks for the good of humanity.” And at this point, please don’t mention Fanta and its dubious history having been sold to the Nazis during the Second World War!

For a Coca-Cola YouTube channel with 191,584 subscribers, it’s a bit of a surprise that only 38,216 people globally have viewed it to date. Well at least those number sound real, unlike so make faked up bought YouTube views these days.

A minor point, “You don’t need to be a scientist of a math’s genius”, one YouTube commenter says, “to calculate that all those balloons couldn’t have fitted into the one Coke machine.”

Happy Cashmass!

This year, more than any, brands all want a slice of Christmas. They want to be the cake and be eaten. They have moved on from the Christmas dressing to the spirit and emotion in an attempt to cash in on the goodwill and cash of all men (and women).

John Lewis, this year and last, have really captured that territory and turned a £7m TV ad spend into a £110m gain – who says TV is dead, seems to be live and thriving. And again it’s one of the most talked about ads of the year.

M&S have pulled off a great TV spectacular with Tim Burton’s Alice story, featuring Helena Bonham Carter. Sadly their product isn’t as spectacular.

As for Sainsbury’s home video one, emotive but creatively lacking any inspiration or imagination. Boring.

Progressively consumers are becoming more suspicious of big brands ethics, their reasons to exist and how they treat people and sell to them. And no matter how spectacular the spend, how many famous people, or how big the idea, consumer see through it all and seek out the ethics and ethos of the brand before they decide to have a relationship with them.

I think there is a fine line between using the spirit of Christmas and trying to convince people your are the spirit of Christmas.


Watch: Coca-Cola Christmas Red Balloons

What if the Romans had the internet?

Working with a historian and a world famous psychologist, we asked ourselves this question.

PC ROman

There is a lot of talk about the positive and negative effects of the web, How it allows us to excess on all things good and bad. How it’s created a more connected world, one where freedom of speech is uncensored. But also created isolation and detachment.


Or how it’s been used by terrorists, pornography and pedophiles– only recently Google has banned thousands of search words.


Has the web really changed how we act or has it just adapted to centuries-old behaviour? Are the successful elements of the web – Facebook, Twitter, blogging, YouTube and Wikipedia – actually only successful because they appeal to our basic psychological instincts?


I have always been fascinated with the psychology that goes on behind consumer behavior and have adapted several psychology based approaches like NLP and Enneagrams into powerful marketing tools and often sought the opinion of professional psychologists.


What I have learned is that you need to return to basic human instincts if you want to understand how people behave.


Despite the popularity of Behavioural Economics, a repackaging of consumer psychology basics, the current obsession with data may lead some to question if Adland really understands consumers at all.


According to research (Nielsen) 91% of female consumers think advertisers don’t understand women.


Yet instead of looking at the mind, marketers can easily get distracted by numbers. Sadly we live in what has been called the ‘Numeric Society’, so it is no wonder many businesses think the answer to better marketing lies in analytics. This belief is what I call ‘after think’ – looking at the outcomes not the reasons, the after rather than the before.


Even Einstein warned his fellow scientists about making number too much of the focus, and it is often quoted in marketing circles, “Make the important measurable, not then measurable important.”



No other medium has allowed us to see how consumers behave as well as the web. It provides us with a large number of subjects, real time response rates and an ability to test. So it is no wonder that one of the biggest growth areas is web analytics.



What if Romans invented the internet?


To see how basic human behaviour adapts to the web I think we need to look at it another way. Imagine if the Romans had invented the internet. How would they use it? By comparing basic human behaviour we can see why the internet has been successful, and understand that to successfully market to consumers, or users, we need to adapt to them, not expect them to adapt to us.


Bartering and markets


Let’s start with Roman market traders. The need to trade seems to be embedded in many of us, and the internet offers convenience, speed and comfort. Our Roman traders would soon create what would become Amazon and eBay.


But traders need to build trust – word soon spreads about bad ones – and in Roman communities, good traders soon gain a positive reputation. And so the ratings system is born on eBay and Amazon Marketplace: rated by people not companies, because we trust people far more than we trust companies.


Social sites


Romans like to socialise, so would soon develop LinkedIn for the serious stuff and Facebook for the casual stuff. Humans are by nature pack animals and we all need to feel connected. The success of Facebook isn’t down to clever thinking but meeting the basic psychological need to connect and belong. We are, after all, pack animals.


What is interesting about Facebook is the way people behave. The number one reason people leave the site is fear of exposure and loss of security, yet by contrast others totally expose themselves.


Teachers are advised to avoid putting up compromising images so students can’t use them against them. Grads are advised that images of pot smoking drunken binges won’t go down well with potential employers. So why do some of us drop all barriers on line?


There are two theories. One is that being a virtual world, it is like a dream, detached from reality, there’s no sense of consequence. Others say it’s because there’s a different set of rules to online etiquette. Or people are simple ‘internet intoxication’, like a drunk, they lose any common sense.


There are those that keep a tight rein on friends, ‘selectors’ who limit their collective to people they really know and have real relationships with, a real world attitude. Research has shown that most of us actually only have about 12 close friends but can associate with up to 150, the maximum size of traditional clans.


And then there are ‘collectors’; some even reach 5,000 friends, the maximum number allowed by Facebook. They seek self-value by ‘having’ lots of people; some deceiving themselves that many friends equals love and worth. In spite of the fact that humans can only put a name to a maximum of 1,500 – 2,000 faces, which is ironically the size of many tribes in traditional societies.


Even the Greeks claimed no man could maintain more than 100 friends, but unlike the Romans, they didn’t have Facebook.


Chatter and brands


Romans were big gossipers, so would love Facebook and Twitter. Apparently it’s a basic human instinct that grew out of grooming, according to social psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar. In ‘Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language’, he claims that “humans developed language to preserve personal alliances within groups grown too large for ‘hands on’ grooming.” In short, language allows us to groom larger groups of people.


This is certainly true online and Facebook is the perfect grooming tool. Dunbar’s work is held up by social networking specialists as the answer to why we like to chat so much. He shows conclusively that, on average, two thirds of all human communication is “social”: talking about others and ourselves.


“90% of brand mentions in word-of-mouth happen offline”


But the real chatterboxes are not the Romans but the Rowomen. 92% of women pass along information to others, and are far more inclined to share information than men, ten times more likely in fact.


US word-of-mouth research specialists Keller Fay have discovered that up to 60 brands a week are mentioned in these conversations but only 10% of conversations happen online, while 90% occur offline. And another factor, WOM is dramatically more influential than social media.


Consumers, even when engaging with brands online, don’t massively trust them. And there are few brands that can really command enough loyalty to be called ‘fan brands’ like Starbucks. In fact a recent look at many brand Facebook pages reveals a tiny membership compared to the actual number of customers, with little real member activity of any real value.


What consumers want is something for free: offers, information and a real benefit, not a relationship. If you are a very rich 60-year-old Roman don’t kid yourself that the 25-year-old maid on your arm loves you, you are just her meal ticket, and consumers can be the same about liking brands.


Keller Fay also discovered that 74% of chat online between women relating to brands was about offers, making the web a great platform for sales promotion. It’s basic human psychology – people want freebies, it really is that simple,


Views’, ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ are deceptive; we often put too much value on quantity over quality. As one psychologist we worked with said, “clicking buttons is easy to do in an impulsive environment.” How many of us have joined a Facebook group never to revisit it again?


And the of course there’s the big issue of the epidemic of faking up numbers – 79% of marketers don’t believe social media numbers – but that’s another article I’ve already written.



The lure of clans


Humans like to associate with groups, to belong. One of the worst feelings is isolation or rejection. How many of us joined music-based clans like goths or hippies in our earlier years?


Gathering en masse is much easier online than it would be in the physical world.


Popular movements unite like-minded people and as a unit they start to behave powerfully as one. Psychologists say that a person’s behaviour changes to reflect the beliefs and aspirations of the group rather than those of the individual.


You only have to look at what happened when Pampers upset mums and they united against P&G. Or the establishment of Mumsnet, now one of the most powerful female consumer groups in the UK.


Psychologists Tajfel, Billig & Turner have shown that part of our social identity comes from those groups with whom we associate, which is why consumers are inclined to buy products that allows them to identify with a desired group. The key here is to identify the group first and link the product to it.


But the caution here is that a collective group is nothing unless it’s kept stimulated and motivated or, like kids, members will lose interest and wander off. This is a mistake many brands make; acquisition is stage one, the hard work is keeping people interested. Even the Roman’s knew that.




Well there’s nothing like watching a Christian getting chewed up by a lion, or gladiators fighting to the death. Yep, the Romans invented aggressive, death games. Forget World of Warcraft, C.O.D. or any of the others, they liked the real taste of blood, so online games would certainly have an appeal especially when it’s too wet outside or all the Christians have been eaten.




Roman’s were hardly sexually oppressed, orgies were a common thing, so the internet would have been a great bringer of pornographic pleasure. And knowing the Romans, they would probably all have webcams in their bedrooms to show off.




Google Earth would certainly have made it easier to watch over the empire and spot countries they’ve not yet invaded.


The search for knowledge


No great society, especially the Roman Empire, would have prospered without knowledge. The web is the greatest invention in history, better than any library, for satisfying the desire for self-improvement. So the Roman’s would have quickly invented their version of Wikipedia.


Consumers have become hungrier for knowledge than ever before, seeking to know more before they buy because they can online. Here, too, motivations differ between men and women. While men seek out depth and detail, women seek the advice and opinions of others.


If a man was buying a chariot he’d want to know all the technical stuff: how much horsepower it has, how fast it goes, so he can look like an expert but emotionally he’ll see the chariot and himself in it and how that looks.


A woman looks at the context: how will it look in the drive, how it will be for the family, will it be good for the environment? They will ask other women what they think and share their own experiences. In short, women like to share, men like to show off. So not a lot has changed since Roman times.



Insights and opportunities


Using the internet to build relationships of value (with the intention of selling) we need to think like consumers rather than follow rules. Look at the before not the after. To ask ourselves how we can adapt to basic human desires and behaviour, not expect the consumer to adapt to us. And with so many more brands fighting for consumer attention than in traditional media, it requires a different mindset.


We have at least 100 to 300 brands we engage with through purchasing and very few of these are important enough to us to want to engage with beyond purchase and use.


Emotionally, I love brands like Fender (guitars) Honda (motorbikes) Mac (computers) and Desigual (fashion) but haven’t joined any of their Facebook sites. Why would I? Ironically, most of the Facebook sites I have joined have been so I can publicly complain about bad products, bad ethics or poor service.


A twin edged Roman sword


For some brands the web has been not just a friend but a foe, allowed disgruntled consumers to attack the brand and share their disdain. Or worse, expose the lies they have been telling in ads – a kid with a £600 laptop can bring down a £6 million campaign overnight, it’s called ‘Brand Terrorism’.


Like all good marketing, it may not be rocket science; but there is an art to understanding how people think, and sometimes that’s more a gut thing than a data thing.


And whatever the next great online idea is, if it doesn’t meat human needs, it probably will fail, “Et tu”

Is Ryanair’s new fund raising calendar bad taste?

I was waiting in the queue at the airport, on my way to Dublin, when a lady dressed in a blue Ryanair outfit asked me if I wanted to their 2014 calendar.


“Just 10 euros and it’s all for a good cause, the Teenage Cancer Trust.”


As I instinctively put my hand towards my wallet, I suddenly stopped…. “Seriously?”  I exclaimed, “a babe calendar! No thanks.”


The hostess didn’t seem surprised. I asked her if she’d sold many. “None today,” she replied, “you can’t sell them to families, especially with kids and even business men think it’s a little too tacky. I did sell one yesterday to a young geek coming back from a stag weekend, but I think he was still drunk.”


She explained that she wasn’t happy selling the calendars as she though it was demeaning to women, “It’s a bit cheap,“ she remarked, “some people may see it as a fun but I think it devalues us, but they told us we have to sell it so I have no choice.”


The calendar features 12 Ryanair hostesses in swimwear. Sexy? Maybe to a 14 year old. Tacky? Very, unless you are a Sun reader. It was obviously the idea of a bloke, that’s for sure, and knowing Ryanair, the staff probably paid for their own swimsuits.


It seemed a bit down market to be raising funds for Teenage Cancer Trust, a good cause, but I felt it’s subject matter was probably doing less than more. It seemed more of a cheap gimmick than a well thought our marketing idea. But then coming form Ryanair, hardly surprising.


I finally gave her €10 and told here to keep the calendar.

One agency’s dramatic way to get paid. A true story.


With clients extending payment terms, many now ridiculous, what do you do when you have to face a CFO who has no morals and no intention of paying you?


You know you’re being ripped off but the cost of recovering a debt in court is more than that owed, so why bother?


One agency took a lesson from an old movie and decided to be more creative. It worked.


It was 8pm one winter’s evening and John, having only just got back form work, was just about to say goodnight to his two kids when the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” his wife yelled from the kitchen.


John was the CFO of a household food brand and he had a tough policy on payment. He was well known for his motto, “Don’t pay them til they scream for it.” His morals were dubious and many fellow CFOs disliked his methods and the fact he’d often try and not pay, feeling it gave them a bad reputation. But he didn’t care.  In John’s small inner circle he thought he was smart and every time a debt went away it was a few extra grand in his company’s account and a sweetener to the shareholders.  “No one asks you how you make your money, just how much,” he’d say arrogantly in the bar after work.


“Hello, can I help you,” John’s wife Mary said to the two men standing on the doorstep.


They were thick and heavy built, with menacing well worn faces, and looked like extras from some Russian gangster movie. They certainly weren’t collecting for the local church.


In fact they were both actors.


As they pushed their way into the lobby, one of them said, in a thick Russian accent, “We’re here to collect a debt.”


“You can’t just barge in here, I’ll call the Police,” yelled John’s wife. “Be my guest,” replied the Russian,  “But you invited us in. Now where’s John!?”


At that point John appeared with his two daughters. It took only a second for his smile to drop as he realised that these two characters were unfriendly. He grasped his kids close, “What do you want, who the hell are you?”


Like a script form a 1940’s movie, the second man said, “You own my client £12,000. You are very overdue. You can play your games with others but not with him. You know who we are talking about. We’ll be at your office tomorrow at 12 to pick up a cheque. Or we can pick it up form your wife at 1. It’s up to you.”


Before John could say anything they just left.


No threats, just facts. Delivered by a vicar you’d thought nothing of it but from these two men it came across as a very real threat.


A few seconds passed as John clung on to his children. He wife was frozen to the spot. Then his wife slapped him across his face, “What the hell have you done? How can you dare to behave in way that means people come to our house demanding money. What were you thinking?”


No excuse could satisfy his wife. Their personal family space had been invaded and he was to blame.


What followed was a questioning of John’s ethics by his wife. She was disgusted by his attitude. She could see the errors of his ways and even if what he did was just legal it was wrong.


What the two hired actors had done was probably not illegal, well not enough for the police to bother about.


On that evening John woke up, it’s not a game where you bluff the other party til they walk away. Money is not like a school boy’s card collection, trying to collect as many as you can.  It comes with responsibility and affects others. You don’t pay means somebody’s family doesn’t get paid. That’s someone’s kid who goes without.


Is this story really true?


The shocking truth is, it’s based on exactly what one agency did to get paid. Except they didn’t use actors but real debt collectors. It worked.


Is it legal? How do you prove any crime has been committed? The money was owed. The thugs said nothing threatening. The power of the intimidation was the suggested force that may be used. It played of stereotypes and the fear of a threat. And the invasion of their private space – you can get most CFOs home addresses easily.


Was it ethical? Debatable. The CFO’s behaviour certainly wasn’t. So was it wrong for the agency to play by the same rules?


What if other agencies started to use this technique? It’s very cheap. Would the few CFOs who play a dirty games soon wake up too?


Next week there is a debate, sponsored by the DMA, about the role of CFOs and CMOs, in the Houses of Parliament. It’s not about payment terms but about their involvement in marketing and customers, the motion is:  ‘Customer experience is now the responsibility of the CFO, not just the CMO’.


It should certainly be a lively debate.


The new age of honesty

It’s not far away but 2014 could be the dawn of a new age of honesty in marketing. There are many theories about cycles but what seems always to be true is that cycles exist and what goes up then goes down, what is in one minute is out the next. Currently we are in an age of virtual numbers so it’s only a matter of time before we see a backlash and a return to real values.


Of course you can blame the politicians, after all they created the ‘Numeric Society’ – a world where the only values are numbers, even when those numbers have no real value at all. Worse, almost everything they have applied numbers to is worse for it.


The question, are we putting too much importance on vacuous measures like ‘intent’, ‘impressions’, ‘opportunity to see’ and any social media number? Almost certainly, yes.

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 03.01.24


The change back to more honesty will be in part because, as with social media, it’s rife with spin and even fraud – just look at the expose about Justin Bierber (and most other top stars) faking up Twitter numbers. The Channel 4 programme on click farms and the fact we all know buying social media numbers is cheap, easy and rampant.


More seriously, it’s only a matter of time before CFOs and shareholders are questioning what value all the millions spent across marketing is really delivering. Bugger all in some cases. It happen in the late 90’s in the US and gave a turbo boost to the DM industry who were far more well equipped to deliver numbers than the TV agencies.


I was reading about the Dove ‘Sketches’ campaign, a campaign about honesty, and how it got 170 million* views online (I haven’t been able to verify this) and 4.7 billion global media impressions. How it won 19 Lions in Cannes 2013. Impressive, but nowhere is there one mention about sales figures, increased distribution or increased brand awareness.


Recently I heard how one senior marketer was presenting this case study and when asked at the end about what contributions it made to sales, he didn’t know! How could you get on stage and not know? Even a dumb politician would have expected that question. We’re in marketing after all, aren’t we?


Well maybe not. David Bernbach said that we were “glorified salesmen,” while Leo Burnett, a man who believed that the end game of our profession was selling said, “If it doesn’t sell it isn’t creative.” Well the answer to that today is, “no problem if it doesn’t sell we have a load of measures that make it look good to your boss.” And here lies areal danger that could give critics even more ammunition against us.


Many years ago I was doing the key note speech at a major research conference and spoke to many researchers afterwards. What shocked me was best summed up by one of their comments, “We are in the business of providing clients with insights that allow them to make informed decisions but in reality we spend 90% of our time justifying bad, ill informed decisions to protect their lazy arses.” A strong view but coming from a researcher, probably a well informed one.


Now not all clients are as described, but if the social norm of the industry is to put value on vacuous measures, then why worry about sales? Of course the smart ones start to question, discuss and rebel. Finally the bubble bursts and we see a return to real values, real measures.


One area I predict will see a defining of true values, as it’s growing, will be Proximity Marketing*. It’s an area that is all about marketing close to where consumers buy, so sales results matter.


Fact: 83% of consumer retail spend is offline where people shop, eat, drink, have fun, socialise… so it’s no wonder this is an area estimated to be worth up to $9bn across Europe within a few years. (Even by 2018 on-line retail sales will only be 12.5% according to the Government’s official figures.) And because it’s close to sale, they only real numbers that matter are those that lead to a purchase.


It’s easy to say a shop window delivers an ‘impression’ or claim anyone looking in a window equals a ‘view’ or ‘intent’. Or a car driving by is an ‘opportunity to see,’ I think you get the picture. But what really matters is how many people actually enter the shop and buy. That is what marketing is all about.


Of course there’s a journey – raising brand awareness, defining values, acquisition, etc, but that’s all about delivering the end goal. If your end goal is only half way along the journey, what’s the incentive to finish it?


Personally, I feel there is too much dishonesty in numbers these days, deliberate or not, with little real benefits to clients (though loads to the agencies). We need to be honest to ourselves, to our clients, to their shareholders, to the public and to return to Legal, Decent… and of course,  Honest (as the ASA use to say).




• Just to add a small but interesting fact here, Judson Laipply’s Evolution of Dance hit over 226 million views on just one posting (there are many) and it didn’t drive up sales of dancing lessons.


Proximity Mobile Marketing – to find out more visit



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