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A women addresses an international conference with the shocking tale of how she was living in a village in Africa that was attacked by government solders.


Most of the village was burned to the ground, many of the villagers mutilated and killed, women raped and children slaughtered. The incident was one of many that the world knew nothing about.


Funded by big corporations, the soldiers were clearing out protestors and villages that stood in the way of mining and oil interests.


The woman, Jennifer D’Arcy, was enslaved by the soldiers – her story was a one of utter horror, you can only imagine what happened. After a year in captive she finally she escaped.


The Burning Village


At first no one would listen to her. Who could she turn to? The police and politicians were all dishonest. Even charity workers knew it was better not to upset the delicate situation. The corrupt system protected the government, soldiers and the corporations.


Finally, being an educated woman, Jennifer was able to write her story which was published in an American newspaper. She got invited onto radio shows, then TV shows. She wrote a book, The Burning Village, further spreading the word and the condemnation of a corrupt corporations, an evil government and it’s leader.


She was invited to talk at conferences and heard on a global stage. Politicians surrounded her, charities applauded her courage, and the public rallied to her cry.


International investigations revealed an even greater catalogue of abuse, genocide and horrors, followed by sanctions and global condemnation.


Finally she was creating change and that change would save future lives and bring justice to those victims of commercial interests and an evil government.


But as she stepped off the podium, after an emotive speech ,she was approached by an ambitious young journalist who had, by luck rather than skill, discovered her one secret.


She was not the actual person in her story. Jennifer had lied.


As true as it all actually was, only one fact was wrong, the real victim of the story had been Alice.


Alice did escape and told Jennifer her story, she was the only one who did listen. But a few weeks later she died of illness. Jennifer, desperate to reveal the true horrors of what was happening, knew she had to tell Alice’s story as her own to win hearts and mind and create change. People respond more to a victim that survived than a narrator.


The journalist planned to expose her as fraud, destroy her credibility, her book and all she worked for.


Despite her pleading with him and explaining it was the only way to get the world to sit up and notice, he was unmoved. This was a big story, she was a big name and it would make his name and career. He defended his decision on the moral ground that it was his moral duty to tell the truth and that he was not responsible for the outcome.


That outcome would condemn many to death and a propaganda triumph for a brutal leader.


She argued that she had a moral duty to protect lives and reveal the truth about corporate corruption and the brutality of a government. And that she’d promised Alice to bring justice to the victims.


She said that if he was truly moral he had to accept the consequences of his actions, “Morals come with responsibility,she commented.


Who is morally more right than the other?


The majority of people may well side with her, her overall aim was selfless, while the ambitious young journalist’s aims were selfish. His moral stance was a cover to disguise his true motivations.


But some would argue that truth is more important than anything. That Jennifer should have found another way and the journalist was right to expose her.


Bringing this back to Adland, how do we decide when we are faced with moral dilemmas like companies marketing to children and encouraging them to develop bad eating habits, or bad values? I think it’s easy to say no to marketing cigarettes to kids but sweets, trainers or technology? And how do we feel when our kids are got to?


Or a company that targets the vulnerable, like elderly people, single people, disable people or the poor (think payday loans)?


How do we deal with a brand that you know are lying and using ads to spin an ethical image, when in fact they are anything but ethical?


A friend of mine was an account manager at an agency working on a well known energy company. She questioned the client about claims the company was making in the TV ads that they would be carbon neutral by 2012. The reply shocked her, “Who cares if we are or not, by 2012 no one will remember what we said.”


What about selling vanity products to women that don’t really work or are over priced repackaged E45?


Healthy food that isn’t healthy? Fashion that was made in sweat shops but the brand’s managed to cover over the fact? Drugs or therapies that don’t really work? Or technology that take away our free thought and turns us into mindless robots?


How about marketing a religion or political party that advocates hate towards key groups in society?


For many people it’s easy to take the money rather than the responsibility. For a few they will say no or even whistleblow.  If caught they will be punished, condemned and even sued because big companies can. It takes a brave person to make a stand.


We had an incident several years ago on Brand Republic when we were threatened with legal action by a well known big brand over a blog I wrote that was factually based but revealed they were involved in killing union leaders in South America. Despite all the facts had being published in the Wall Street Journal, we were forced to take the blog down. Big companies have bigger lawyers!


As for the tale of Jennifer? The journalist decided to go forward with his story. But lucky for her, the editor, who had been a journalist in several war zones and seen the real horrors of what can happen, he had a different set of values and didn’t publish it.


She carried on doing good, carrying her secret with her.


Now this leaves me with a moral dilemma…and I’m not sure if I should tell you one little fact I’ve not revealed. I think I need to consider the consequence of doing so before I do, because it comes with a responsibility


[to be continued]




Top 10 moral dil


The ‘Big Idea’, ‘Originality’, ‘Engagement’, ‘Content’, ‘Storytelling’,  ‘Selfies’ are just a few words, that some may argue, enslave our thinking.


Do they help us be better marketers or do they restrict us? And do we even understand the meanings?

Head Words

Like an episode from Mad Men, the cliché´of throwing in the latest buzz word to look like you are up with the current trends is all too easy to do and it’s all too easy to be fooled into a false sense of security.


If there’s one group of people who are dedicated followers of fad fashions, it’s clients.  Fearful they may be left behind, and their bosses will sack them if they do, many will jump on the latest bandwagon, irrespective of value or evidence of effectiveness.


A great opportunity for those less ethical, “Take the suckers for all you can get, as one agency head I know says.


Everyone’s into selfies at the moment from the Mr Tom posters to the recent cancer campaign (which has been a massive success).


I keep hearing mutterings about iBeacon’s, which is usually followed by, “What exactly is it?”  Which after a lengthy explanation (usually pointing out it’s expensive and unpopular with consumers) is followed by “We’ll pass… so what’s NFC and Proximity Marketing all about?”






I recall a well known drinks brand calling up one day and asking if we could do an App for them. “Sure,” I replied, “what’s the brief?” There was a short silence…”We’re not sure, but we do know we need an app as everyone else has one.” A week later they were asking about ER (I think he meant AR).


Remember Podcasts? Every marketing director wanted one once, now you can’t give them away to clients, they are just history in the marketing timescape.


Then everyone wanted a viral, except 99.9% of virals died before they viralled (I think I just invented a word here, but why not, there’s another dozen being invented every week).


Big Data (an excuse to charge companies big money for making a mountain out of a mole hill of data), Behavioural Economics (a fancy title for consumer psychology) and Ergopsychonomics (how people interact with technology) can make even the dumbest person sound smart if dropped in at the right point in a conversation.


Yep, keeping up with the John Lewis’ means you need to know your stuff, or appear to. Forget pragmatism, or common sense (which is rarely common as Charles Handy points out) as you boss knows no better it’s easy to baffle him with jargon and look good.


Of course technology fads aren’t the only buzz words running around client’s meeting rooms, in adland words are key to the way we think.




Many years ago I did a project with D&AD asking different creative disciples, from advertising to architects, designers to film makes, what the word ‘idea’ meant to them. Some looked blank, “I’m a designer, I deal in colour, graphics and imagery, not ideas,” commented a fabric designer. For almost all other areas it had a different meaning, and if there was one thing we could all agree on, it was that we couldn’t agree on what the term ‘idea’ actually meant.


I’ve been told that the term ‘idea’ was originally created by account handlers at Saatchi’s in the 70s to be able to rationlise the mindless scribblings of creatives into a neat packaged up way. Probably another adland myth.





Choice’ was the word that appeared in the box on the brief marked ‘one word that sums up what we are selling. It could have been ‘freedom’ or ‘variety’ but the planner picked choice. He sighed a breath of relief at having done his job, ticked the box and now he could send the brief into the creative department.


The creative team spent days thinking about ways to illustrate choice. Finally they came up with a dramatization of choice and presented the scamp. To cut a long story short, it went through about 7 variations as each client involved said it wasn’t right, but as is often the case, couldn’t explain why. Surely we can all agree on a brief that distills the proposition into one word? Appears not.


The one word brief was a disaster as an approach. Novel but useless as it fails to understand the psychology of how we think. Why? Because no one had challenged what choice meant. Especially to the consumer. Let me explain…




No matter what word you use we all have our own association with it. Take ‘love. You may think of your beautiful partner, or the love of nature. Others may think of football, a guitar, a holiday, a recent experience. Some may associate it with negative feelings.


I conducted an exercise with a telecoms client who did exactly the kind of brief mentioned above. This is an old technique and one I recommend all planners/account handlers use.


Don’t try this at home but in the office.  Ask 7 people (include your clients) to write down 7 words they associate with the word ‘choice. You can use any word, the default word for workshops to demonstrate how we all have different associations is actually ‘love.


You will be surprise how few words are shared by the seven – usually only two. Typically, you’ll get over 30. The reason is that we all have our own personal portfolio of associations in our head. And our feelings about a word can be very different, some like choice, others fear it – having the biggest choice of used cars can scare a lot of people off, but for some it’s a wonderland.


So the next time you sign off a strapline or a headline, ask yourself if everyone agrees what the key words mean.




Here’s another word that is very over rated, Hegarty says in his little yellow book, “There is no such thing as originality.”  He makes a valid point that most creativity is evolutional, and based on what has gone before. We are not without influence and by nature combine, change, distort, adapt and mash up (there’s another buzz phrase) ideas from a variety of sources. Juts like musicians and writers do. When we talk about originality we are really referring to freshness, finding a different angle. And to keep things in perspective, we are admen (applying creativity to marketing needs) not pure artists.





Today everything has to be ‘engaging’, well that’s common sense because if a piece of communications isn’t it’s going to be ignored. But in reality, it’s not a new term, it was being used back in Victoria times. I remember reading in a copy of Kelly’s Directory (about 1890) advice for advertisers, “The key to a good ad is not to make your name or address the most dominant feature but your offer. However, the offer needs to be engaging. Once engaged the reader will seek out the who and where.


“It’s all about content, people want to read stories”.  Now I’m a great believer in ‘advertainment (even I use jargon) but unless it’s brilliant it won’t work. And there lies the challenge, it’s not about creating stories but amazing stories that you must read and the problem is, brands are crap at it. There’s a dreadful campaign at the moment on pre-roll with women telling stories… yawn! Why would I watch that when I can watch something more interesting like SoulPancake?




There’s a word that now has a thousand meanings, it’s certainly true that one brand’s ethics is not another’s. I am amazed how some brands claim to be ethical yet can’t see that doing good in one area does not offset the bad they do in others.


One weapons company made a claim that their weapons were more environmentally friendly because they contained less lead. Or a toothpaste that was fluoride free and as a consequence added to tooth decay. Or the all in one organic, GM free nutritional drink that encouraged people to eat badly.




The conclusion is that before we use words we should try and really understand what they mean and especially what they mean to others. Not to be a dumb slaves to trends and think throwing jargon around makes us look good at our job. And if you’re going to jump on a bandwagon at least make it the best it could ever be.








Dumb ethics. Just because it may appear ethical, doesn’t mean it is.


There’s a lot of products out there that are a lot less ethical than they may seem, from food and drink to pharmaceuticals. So is it ethical or unethical to sell dumb or misinformed consumers something that is useless or worse, not good for them, because they believe it’s more ethical?


Take fluoride free toothpaste, it’s a classic ’dumb ethics product. My dentists told me that the owner of a local health food shop sells fluoride free toothpaste, despite the fact dentists do not recommend it, some even scorn it. Ironically she won’t use it herself but buys a well known big brand with fluoride in.


Bottled water is the classic dumb ethical product of all time. The misguided health beliefs consumers have in bottled water is shocking, whereas their actually knowledge is non existent. I have worked on several brands, one of which had so much sodium in it it was bad for your blood pressure. It’s also well know that many contain impurities, bacteria and even chemicals. And despite the fact that you should never give it to babies, there’s a group of yummy mummies who do – misbelief over common sense.


But as long as people pay more for water than petrol, who can blame brands for selling it. As they say, “A fool is easily parted from their money.”


The ultimate award for dumb ethics must go to the defense contractor who brags that their bombs now contain less lead to improve their environmental  impact. Wow, good to know that after you’ve blown a Middle Eastern village to dust that you’ll get an environmental certificate.


As we get more obsessed as a nation with health and obesity, we have seen hundreds of new products appear on the shelf selling us all sorts of natural ethical alternatives to pharmaceutical companies.


Just look at the number of magical natural sliming aids, from herbal remedies to fat magnets. Or diets. If any of them actually worked we’d all be on them.


Talking to a manager of a health food shop that sells medicines, she believes that many of these alternative products work not because they contain ingredients that scientifically cure illness (it’s doubtful in some cases) but because people who have such a strong belief system in alternative medicines are vulnerable to the placebo effect. She recommended I went to Boots.


One of the dangers of perceived ethical alternatives is when health is put at risk.


A neighbor of mine was getting into hand healing. When her daughter collapsed on her doorstep one evening from a kidney infection I had a hell of a battle to get her to agree to send for an ambulance. “Don’t worry”, she calmly said, “I’ll take her indoors and after half an hour of laying on of hands  she’ll be ok.” That half an hour could have cost her her life, thank god I was insistent she went to hospital.


But as people search out alternative foods, drinks and medicines, many trying to avoid buying from those big corporate organisations they feel are unethical, they just make themselves vulnerable to unethical companies selling them useless or even harmful garbage.


A quick glance at the drink sector reveals a large quantity of healthy drinks, many with a lot of sugar in. Others using gimmicky ingredients to imply energy, health and even improved brain power – something some of their customers could do with more of!



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”

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