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Having ‘failed colossally’ to communicate Climate Change properly, is it time to disband Defra?

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has a very large agenda to address and no surprise it’s under constant criticism for failing to deliver or for upsetting the wrong people.

The big question is, is it really qualified and experienced enough to manage complex communication and advertising campaigns? It seems not.


One of the problems is that it’s trying to do too much, and like most government departments, bogged down in politics and bureaucracy.


Environmentalism, food, fishing, pets, farming, etc – it’s simply too big a list for one department to manage effectively and maybe it should be broken up into more focused departments.

But the latest attack on Defra is its failure to make us aware of climate change. In fact the phrase “colossal failure” has been used by Bob Ward policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (which brings together international expertise in the field of climate change economics and policy).

This year has seen some of the highest average temperatures in the UK’s history, 1.1C higher than expected, Christmas day was more like spring even if the temperature plummeted the next day.

10 of the hottest years in UK since 1910 (when National records began) have occurred since 2002. We’ve also had an increase in rainfall, 2014 was the 4th wettest since 1910, even though September was the driest on record, five of the six rainiest years have occurred since 2000. The result of global warming? Many believe so.

Spain has also seen some usual winter temperatures too, central Spain would usually be about 5 degrees at this time of year but has seen temperatures reach 18 degrees in the last week.

This is clear evidence of the impact of man-made climate change on the UK, according to Grantham. The latest assessment by the independent Committee on Climate Change shows that the UK public is largely unaware of how climate change is affecting their exposure and vulnerability to extreme weather events. In short, they may know of climate change as a concept but aren’t connecting the dots.

Ward’s comments are damming, “The lack of awareness of the UK public of how climate change is affecting them represents a colossal failure by the Government and it’s agencies…” He added, “…in particular The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has utterly failed to invest enough resource in communications about climate change…”

Defra is the key agency entasked with educating the general public about environment and Climate Change, and I have to say as an ethical advertising commentator, I agree with Bob Ward.

I can’t say I can recall any impactful or dynamic advertising. I’m sure they have an active PR and social media strategy (Tweeting out about it all to a non listening public) but changing perception and behaviour requires big thinking and big media (TV and outdoor). In fact, outdoor would be the single most relevant medium for a Climate Change campaign. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work that one out.

Back in 2006 Campaign reported that Defra had decided not to spend  £12m of tax payers money on an ad campaign to tackle attitudes towards climate change.

In a deliberate break with usual government practice, the government rejected calls from some environmental groups and MPs for a major government ad campaign to tell people how they can help to save the planet by changing their behaviour.

Defra attempted to launch a “grassroots” effort to spread the message through local organisations (which included the Scouts , the WI and Bolsover Drama Group), campaign groups and businesses.

According to a home made video, funded by Defra, the Bolsover Drama Group discovered only 20% of people actually knew what Climate Change was really about, though over 90% thought they did. 30% actually knew about carbon emissions. Only 10% knew what a carbon footprint was.

Though the video is cute, being presented by kids, as an advertising vehicle it’s too long (14 mins), unprofessional and doesn’t persuade. A brilliant example of why you need professionals to do the job properly.

At the time Defra claimed they had research that suggested that press and poster campaigns would have only a short-term impact on people’s attitudes and behaviour. Who was telling them that? Certainly no one who knows anything about advertising. I gather they were not consulting a proper advertising agency but one that specialised in environmental communications. Big mistake!


The campaign they came up with limp at best, “Tomorrow’s climate, Today’s challenge“.  A turkey of a line if there ever was one, no wonder it fell on deaf ears and has obviously failed.

Which questions the judgement of those running the marketing department of Defra at the time and since. Like politicians, surely someone should do the honourable thing and resign?

Which now raises the bigger question, should Defra surrender the task to another agency or maybe an independent charity or environmental group to run a proper ad campaign to change minds and behaviour? Certainly a brief I’d love to do, as would most ad agencies I’m sure.

Charities and cause related groups can be much braver and more focussed. By all accounts, the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment could probably do a better job with £12m, at least they are focussed.

My own experience of working with government departments (especially the COI) is they are ineffective because of the politics and bureaucracy and worse, lack of any courage to take risks and do what needs to be said and done. They are also too easy swayed by those with influence who may have other agendas.

I recall a Christmas campaign I worked on for Meningitis that the government scrapped at the last minute in case it upset doctors. What about the parents of the kids that died that Christmas that may have been saved?

As a friend of mine who once worked in COI said after I criticised the Think Bike campaign for being all on TV and not on outdoor (where motorists are),  “we are not in the business of changing consumer behaviour, just making politicians look like they are.” They did add, “don’t quote me.”

With an election coming in May I doubt the current government will do anything now, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens next. Maybe, like the COI, Defra will be disbanded. Either way, there needs to be a serious examination of its marketing activities and where it’s getting its advice from.



LSE statement:


Campaign Magazine – Defra opts for ad-free drive on climate change

Bolsover Drama Group video

“There were no fat people in concentration camps…”

This controversial quote was said live on LBC (radio) last week by a woman who prefixed it with, ”I’m Jewish so I can say this.”  But that’s not what’s really controversial here…

Blue Badge

I imagine the LBC producer must have fallen off his chair, the presenter was certainly taken back, but the woman was not about to make an apology as she wanted to make a point about the recent story that being fat could be classed as a disability.

Her, and most of the callers, all agreed that obesity should not be classified as a disability and in fact it was “an insult to genuine disabled people”. But the recent story in the press has ignited a debate which revolves around a number of recent stories including IT Manager John Walker, who weighs in at 21 stone, and was sacked for taking 7 years off work.

Walker argued his weight was a disability and shockingly a high court judge (who probably was well rounded himself) found in his favour. No surprise, he had a series of health problems, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and knee problems that stopped him working. But how did he get to be 21 stone in the first place? He wasn’t born that way.

In another case, a 25 stone Dutch child minder was sacked because he could not do his job properly. In his case the European Courts of Justice agreed that obesity could be disabling, if it hinders ‘full and effective participation’ at work. Though under EU laws it isn’t actually classified as a disability (though some papers have spun the truth differently to make headlines).

The outcome is that this could result in companies having to make special provisions for obese people. It could, as implied by some media, mean they could get blue badges, “Which will lead to a queue of blue badge vehicles trying to park outside the cake shop,” as one Tweeter commented.

In the UK, 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese. Globally, the percentage of adults who were overweight or obese  – having a body mass index of greater than 25 –  grew from 23% to 34% over the last 20 years, with a total of 904 million people in developing countries now being classed as overweight.

America tops the charts for the greatest number of overweight people but Europe, North Africa and the Middle east come second equal, closely followed by East Asia.

Is advertising to blame?

Steve Wiggins, of the Overseas Development Institute who co-wrote a report by a UK Think Tank commented, “People with higher incomes have the ability to choose the kind of foods they want. Changes in lifestyle, the increasing availability of processed foods, advertising, media influences… have all led to dietary changes.”

One of the issues is in emerging economies, where a large middle class of people with rising incomes are living in urban centres and not taking much physical exercise while eating less healthy diets. Consumption of bad fat, salt and sugar, has increased globally and is a significant contributor to growing cases of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. In short, we are eating ourselves to an early death.

Despite a growth in ethically and health conscious consumers, many blame food and drink brands, fast food retailers and of course advertising. When you see the end of any KFC ad it has the line ‘So good’, how that ever managed to get past Clearcast remains a mystery to me, when it implies it’s healthy to anyone you ask and it certainly isn’t.

The debate, “is obesity a disability?” has sparked an outcry and stimulated many to demand action. It’s not unfair to say that 95% of it is self induced (but it also wouldn’t be fair to dismiss the real medical cases like Thyroid conditions that cause obesity) so who is to blame – the food and fizzy drink manufacturers? The fast food retailers? The supermarkets who encourage two for one? Or the consumer?

Ironically, the problem seems to be society, who wants to blame others and not take responsibility for themselves, I’ve read many comments about blaming corporates, politicians and even the NHS, schools and of course… advertising.

As it seems the consumer is unable to take responsibility the only way forward is tougher action and that may well require banning ads that encourage unhealthy eating – top of my list is KFC, Personally, banning their ads would really be ‘so good’.


Putting the heart back into business

Money may make the world go around but as the Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy you love”. That’s certainly true when it comes to employees, it’s rarely about the money and often about how the business treats them.


“When success is defined by money and power, we forget that employees are people.”

Heart in Business is a new initiative launched by Andrew Thornton, a name well known in the retail food industry. The philosophy behind the Heart in Business programme ( is a move away from the current corporate mindset, which puts quarterly profit above everything else, to putting as much value on people, community, environment and real values.

It is also about thinking long term, not short term as so many big businesses do, especially since the recession.

Unhappy staff make for unhappy customers.

A shocking fact is that we spend almost half of our life in work yet 87% feel emotionally disconnected from work, according to a recent research by Gallop. Research by recruitment firm Randstad claims a third of us are unhappy with our jobs.

With so many schemes about to engage your work force, to motivate and inspire them, you have to wonder why so many businesses fail to make employees feel good about the business. And if employees feel bad, customers pick that up.

Just visit B&Q and then Homebase, in one you’ll find older staff who are valued for their experience and knowledge who in turn are helpful and courteous, in the other you get underpaid juniors who feel used and couldn’t care less. Well that’s my experience.

Andrew Thornton, regarded by many as a thought leader in retail believes that staff need a purpose, “Staff don’t work to put big profits into shareholder’s pockets, there’s no purpose in that, but working for people and the planet is a purpose.”

He believes that if you have content, engaged staff this will carry through to customers and together this will deliver a better, more successful business.

“If your staff feel emotionally connected they work better, are more efficient, input more, work better as a team, especially in moments of crisis, and engage customers better.”


Lovemarks vs purposemarks

Back in the 90’s Kevin Roberts talked about ‘Lovemarks’, but a love brand is much more of a conceptual idea and it’s unrealistic to expect staff and consumers to love many everyday brands, especially as consumers are fickle, as Tesco has discovered. I would bet if they could get an honest answer their staff could not define a purpose or feel engaged, it’s a business driven by shareholders always looking for the next dollar.

Thornton is a pioneer in the world of ethics and retail, a man who literally put his money where his mouth was when he took over two branches of Budgen’s from the Musgrave Group and tripled the number of ethical products people buy. He has also helped a lot of small ethical brands get their first listings.

Proving the business case and escaping the profit addiction.

He has challenge myths like open fridges because the industry believed that if you put on doors people would buy less. Thornton did exactly that and proved the opposite whilst saving 50% of energy. Apply that to every supermarket across the UK and it all adds up to a big energy saving which is good for the environment.” I believe we have a moral duty to protect the planet,” says Thornton.

Thornton is a beacon to others when it comes to ethics and community, he is very active within his local communities and sees his retail units as part of the community not just servicing them.


Above the door you see the line “The community supermarket that really cares”, if this was on any other supermarket like Tesco it’d just be a marketing slogan, but on as Thornton’s Budgen it’s a belief system.

In Crouch End he started Food from the Skies, a roof based garden above Budgen’s that connecting people with real natural food and the business with the community.

Globally we waste almost 30-50% of all food produced and in the UK that’s 15m tonnes a year. Thornton’ passes unsold edible food to homeless charities rather than sending it to landfill. He argues that many of the extra costs companies may face treating staff with more respect and giving a company more purpose is offset by environmental saving.

The Triple Bottom Line

It’s obvious that Thornton is as smart a businesses man, as he is a champion for good values and a practitioner of the Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet & Profit (also known as the ‘three pillars of sustainability’). The TBL idea was coined by John Elkington back in 1994 as a more responsible way for businesses to operate, instead of just focusing on the bottom line (profits). Elkington argued that businesses need to balance the three. His ideas are not actually new, if you look at Quaker and Islamic businesses principles (and many others) a businesses is equally judged by what contribution it makes to society, not just, as in the West, what it makes to shareholders.

Having a purpose, not just a mission statement

It is surprising how many companies have abstract or clichéd mission statements but when asked “what is your purpose” you will probably meet a wall of silence.

Founders of Howies, (and ex Saatchi ad people) David and Clare Hieatt are well known for their ethical clothing brand. But when David took over an old jean factory in Cardigan in Wales and launched a new designer range of jeans, Hiut Denim, he launched it with a purpose –  “our town is going to make jeans again.”

He, like Thornton, believes companies need to have a purpose and it is this purpose that will engage not only your staff but the customer as well.

So if you are a MD of a brand, forget lovemarks, it’s more a purposemark your brand needs to be.


The Heart of Business Programme


Huit Denin

Mountain Dew – when do brand campaigns become racist?

Last year PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew (a citric fruit soft drink with high amounts of sugar and caffeine sold in over 200 countries) got a lot of criticism for producing what many regarded as a racist ad. It has even been dubbed “The most racist ad of all time.”

The ad featured a goat with a bad attitude, a white waitress who’d been beaten up, and a line up of possible villains – all black.

Dew Line up

Ironically, the ad had been created by ‘Tyler the Creator’ who is actually black and all the villains were in fact his friends.  It was also attacked for its attitude towards abuse of women.

Even though it was suppose to be funny, which it wasn’t, PepsiCo was forced to withdraw the ad after a media storm and admit a ‘gross error of judgment’.

This can be the problem when middle management marketing teams, living in corporate ivory towers, desperately trying to make brands street cred but actually have little idea about who they are working with or what they are doing.


 When celebrities go wrong…

Of course it’s not the only time things have gone wrong for the sugary soda drink, last year the company was forced to terminate a multi-million dollar deal with rapper Lil Wayne because of pressure brought by the family of Emmett Louis Till.

Emmett, an African-American teenager was torture and murder by Roy Bryant and his half-brother J. W. Milam in Mississippi in 1955, aged just 14. He had supposedly flirting with a white woman, 21 year old Carolyn Bryant (Roy’s wife).

Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s kidnapping and horrific murder but later admitted they had done it. As a result, and following a public outcry, his murder helped foment the Civil Rights Movement.

Emmett Till’s family took issue with vulgar lyrics referring to Emmett Till that were performed by Lil Wayne on a remix of “Karate Chop, “Beat that pussy up like Emmett Till…”  

After Lil’s departure, PepsiCo just said, “His offensive reference to a revered civil rights icon does not reflect the values of our brand.”

Do the Dew

And now another group to offend…

But now they are back with a campaign that won’t offend black people, just Jewish ones. Makes you wonder who is next on their list?

If you’ve walked through Victoria station or popped into your local supermarket you may have seen a current promotional line for Mountain Dew, ‘DO THE DEW’. In the states they pronounce “Dew” like “do”, I think it’s a Texas thing.

It may read ok as a passing off of Nike’s JUST DO IT, but sounds like a slogan from some Brit Skinhead movie and comes across as very offensive, especially to some Jewish people.

It’s easy to dismiss the feelings of a small number of people who may over react to ads but as advertising is a rarely a public service and more an intrusion, we need to obey a tougher set of social rules.

Yahoo, Mountain Drew!

However, going back to Mountain’s Dew very first TV ad (1950’s), by today’s standards it could be seen differently. It features a cowboy called Clim, that after drinking Mountain Dew gets the beautiful buxom girl Sal, with the copy line – “It’ll tickle your innards because there’s a bang in every bottle.” Make what you want of that, but they certainly don’t write ‘em like that any more!



Mountain Dew banned ‘racist’ ad.

Karate Chop lyrics (hardly poetry!)

British Arrows Craft Awards 2014

At last night’s awards there was some great TV, cinema, online, outdoor and filmic work done by British agencies and production companies. A brilliant reminder that quality still exists in an age of reduced budgets and more cautious marketers, even if it comes at a price.

As usual, there were some obvious contenders we’ve probably all seen, the stunning Lurpak ads (director Dougal Wilson), IKEA’s falling beds ad (director Juan Cabral), Honda’s optical illusion ad (director Chris Palmer), the quirky First Direct creatures ad (directors Dom & Nic) and Simon the Ogre for Thomson Holidays (director Fredrik Bond).

Guinness: Sapeurs in their finery walk among the cattle

The oddest ad, if it was an ad as no one had any idea what it was selling, featured a naked man standing in a garden while a woman made dinner!

Two of the most moving were an ad for Barnado’s (winner of best actress) and one for The Carers Trust by director Gus Filgate (Little Fish) which beautifully captured the reality of the life of hundreds of kids caring for relatives (up for best direction and winner of best actor).


One of several multiple winners, Sapeurs for Guinness is a stunning commercial (best colourant, best costume & wardrobe) that features brilliant characters. Not sure how it sells Guinness but what the hell, they make great ads like their other winner Made of Black.

For fun, the singing chicken ad for Foster Farm (who?) is just plain good old fashion entertainment (winner of best model making).

If there’s a few tips to take away from last night for those wanting to win a few arrows next year, it’s probably these:

  1. You need a brave client with big budgets that actually trusts his creative agency and the director.
  2. God is in the detail – quality in everything, so use the best people.
  3. Longer ads win better than short ones (a minute seems a basic).
  4. Have a great idea and execute it really, really well.

And how not to get nominated… well you’ll find endless examples on your TV most evenings of the week.

And finally, as a Creative Director, I know that no great ad is a solo effort but so often the one real hero is not praised enough – the client. The person who goes against the corporate machine, breaks the rules and takes a risk. The person who trusts their agency’s expertise and creative instinct. Who makes it all possible by not cutting corners, restricting the idea or trying to write the ad themselves. The client who understand consumers respond better to great ads than 30 seconds of sales talk.

As a tribute to those clients who made it all possible for the winners last night, an adaption of another great ad.

Here’s to the great ones.

The brave.

The rebels.

The challengers.

The clients that respect the round pegs in the square holes.

The clients who see things bigger.

They’re not fond of cutting corners.

And they have no respect for doing average.

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, like or dislike their ads.

About the only thing you can’t do, is ignore their ads.

Because they challenge the status quo.

They push the standards higher.

And while some may see them as the indulgent ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are brave enough to think they can do great ads, are the ones who do.



British Arrows nominees


In the Christmas ad war, as British retailers slug it out against German retailers Aldi and Lidl, has Sainsbury’s scored an own goal?

The Sainsbury’s Xmas ad has created a Marmite reaction, some love it, others hate the brand for exploiting the First World War. So is it ethical for marketers to exploit any situation to outdo another brand in the ego wars? Or as is it really a sensitive CSR film that supports the Royal British Legion?


The good news is that after spending millions on making the ad/film (not to mention big fees to their ad agency) and millions on the media (the launch ad was 3m 40 sec) Sainsbury’s will be giving profits from a £1 1914 style chocolate bar to the RBL (I guess that’s about 20p a bar).

Even comedians know the boundaries and we expect them to overstep the mark, as I discovered when I used the brilliant Filthy Phil for an event set in a church – never tell a comedian not to do religious jokes, it’s an invitation! But he was very funny, even more so when the choir master pulled him off the stage.

Punk rockers top the list for crossing boundaries, but when it comes to consumer marketing brands have to beware. It’s a brave marketing director who oversteps the mark, risking a public and media backlash that can be costly to the bottom line.

So has Sainsbury’s gone to far?

The first thing in comparing the two most notable ads of this season, John Lewis’ children’s story about a single child who sets up a dating service for imaginary penguins and Sainsbury’s war time epic is that both have at least got people talking. Both are highly emotive, excellent executions and long – very long – not your usual 30 sec ad. But sadly for M&S The Magic & Sparkle TV campaign hasn’t delivered much magic or sparkle , I prefer last year’s ad.

Personally I like the Sainsbury’s ad, well it’s actually a film not an ad, but I understand why so many people feel it’s overstepped the mark. From an ethical point of view I have to agree that some things are too sacred to exploit just to out ego the competition. Didn’t anyone ask, “do we have another script that won’t offend 50% of the population and give the gutter press a field day?”

After all, I bet this ad started life as a brief to “outdoor John Lewis” not to celebrate 100 years since the first world war started.

When social media really lets you down…

Sainsbury Twitter

Even if the TV ad just about gets away with it for me the social media doesn’t. To look at their Twitter page is just repulsive as against the image of the soldiers is the typical trite writing you get. Utterly insulting and disrespectful, but then you’d hardly expect the 23 year old kid who probably writes it to know anything about war.

Who forget to tell marketing about the bulldozers in Bristol…?

The trouble is, when you decide to be controversial you need to have your house in order because when the critics come gunning they’ll look for any small thing to use against you. Even worse if that something is big…

In a recent piece in the Independent, “Hypocritical Sainsbury’s TV ad accused of exploiting emotions of WWI while supermarket plans to bulldoze war memorial in Bristol” they revealed that the brand was planning to build a superstore over a war memorial. Ouch! Bet the marketing department didn’t see that one coming.

Diana Srarfton of the Bristol anti Sainsbury’s group, TRASH, said “How can Sainsbury’s do this in the centenary years of the Great War while exploiting the pathos of the Christmas Truce in 1914? Are the trenches of the western front to be memorialised as chilled food isles?”

The Sainsbury’s story has got varied responses from the press and as one reader commented, “I thought my great grandfather died in the war for freedom from tyranny not for a ‘buy one get one free’ offer on mince pies at a supermarket.” ”Epic or disrespectful?” commented CITY AM, as it pointed out that within days the ASA had received hundreds of complaints.

Others include, “Should we really be using the horrors of the First World War to sell Christmas turkeys?”

Sainsbury's Christmas advert

Head of brand, Mark Given, defended the Sainsbury’s ad in the marketing press, claiming “Overall reaction to the campaign has been overwhelmingly positive”, well that doesn’t sound that positive.

Is this Sainsbury’s vs John Lewis or English retailers vs German retailers?

With Aldi and Lidl, which are both German brands, kicking Sainsbury’s into defeat, some people have asked if the ad has a subtler message – a hidden attempt to fly the British flag?Today the real war between England and Germany is not in the trenches but in the retail environment.

Times are not good for the third biggest UK supermarket (after Tesco and Asda) following an announced of a £290m loss in profits. If this ad doesn’t deliver increased customers and sales there may well be a new marketing department next year, probably giving us something safe like all those dreadful Christmas turkeys featuring families around Christmas trees smiling like idiots.

Sainsbury’s, M&S and John Lewis’s may not have invented any new strategies (most brands have been using the same 5 for 100 years), but they have certainly created great ads that raise the bar and if last year’s results are examined they prove that great emotive ads sell and we don’t need to serve up twee Christmas clichés. Sadly I fear that this may be the last great year of great Christmas TV ads.


LINKS Sainsbury ad  “Christmas is for sharing”

The problem with using celebrities – they may buy a rival brand!

This week, former X Factor judge, and ex Pussycat Dolls pop star, Nicole Scherzinger found herself getting the kind of publicity you just don’t want as a celebrity when you’ve signed a big deal with a big brand


When Muller Yoghurt signer her up to promote their ’Greek Style’ yoghurt, the Grocer said, Nicole Scherzinger is a dream come true for Müller… gorgeous, world famous and adored by a wide demographic, she combines old-school Hollywood glamour with the common touch.”


Alas, that dream has turned into a nightmare for German yoghurt brand Muller because Nicole has shared a picture on Twitter and  therefore the world.


Caught on camera with 29 year old racing driver partner Lewis Hamilton, 36 year old Nicole revealed that rather than buy the yoghurt brand she’s paid to advertise, Muller, she actually prefers a rival brand Total Greek Yoghurt (made by Greek producer FAGE). Well she does claim to be a foodie. While Muller is ‘Greek Style’, Total is 100% original Greek and it would be fair to say that Total is a far better product.

I imagine that Muller is having a massive fit about Nicole’s gaff, especially as it’s appeared in the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Star and numerous spin offs.

It’s one thing for Jamie Oliver’s wife to be snapped shopping in Waitrose and then claim she wasn’t part of Jamie’s contract, but when you sell your soul to a brand for a small fortune, you really need to live and breath it – which includes buying it! And certainly not buying a rival brand.

To quote a recent Muller post, “I love it, I love the yoghurts, and all the campaigns and commercials,” commented Nicole when visiting the UK Muller factory, “I can’t wait to see how they make the yoghurt – I hope I’ll get to have a go at seeing that and have a go myself. But I hope I get to have a go at eating it too!”


The problem with using celebrities is that unless they are truly loyal to the brand, they will be caught buying the other brand they prefer.



VIP’s puerile TV ad raises questions about self regulation.

It’s probably one of the worse ads of all time, even Rebecca Black’s Friday song is more enjoyable to watch, but it’s not VIP’s first ad to be nominated for Turkey of the Year…

Surely the point of self-regulation is to prevent MPs creating laws that over restrict our industry, but quite why e-cigarette brand VIP has been allowed to run their tacky ad astounds me. As a result, Labour MP Geraint Davies is asking questions about CAP’s ability to protect the public.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 01.07.22

First thing first, it’s not a quality ad, cheap production values, girl is a bit tarty and it looks like it’s aimed at lads down at the pub. It’s written in a cheap porno style (though style is probably the wrong word to use). You’d be excused for thinking it was created by the client themselves after a few pints at the local pole dancing bar, but was done by a marketing agency in Knutsford. At least when brands like Benetton do controversial ads they do them well.

The big news story is it’s the first ad to show someone smoking on UK TV since 1965, which shocks me as both a parent and as an adman. The other news story is why it’s been allowed to air at all.

The ad features a woman in a black dress, trying to sound like she wants to give a bloke in a bar a blow job (get the pun that created the ad idea). But yes, she’s actually talking about the e-cigarette. The kind of stuff a 5th former would write.

“I want you to get it out. So I can see it. And I want to touch it. And feel it. Then I want to put it in my mouth. So I can put my lips around it. Now… [HERE SHE PANTS, MEANWHILE THE AUDIENCE ARE FALLING OFF THEIR CHAIRS  TRYING NOT TO LAUGH IT’S SO BAD] I want you to… [AT THIS POINT SHE REVEALS SHE WANTS TO SMOKE A VIP, AUDIENCE GROANS].

In September a VIP ad got almost 100 complaints to the ASA (not upheld) complaining it was ‘sexually suggestive’ and glamourised smoking, meanwhile Clearcast (the body that vets ads) stated “it did not think the ad was overtly sexual, sexualised e-cigarettes or suggest VIP e-cigs were a sexy product.” Really! What planet are they on? However, the ad can now only be aired after 9pm.

An earlier ad got over 1000 complaints and the ASA ruled it couldn’t be aired before 11pm.

A VIP ad featuring Jeremy Lee was nominated by Campiagn for Turkey of the Year, commenting that the ad “uses puerile innuendo such as ‘I want you to put it in your mouth, wrap your lips around it and suck’ – looks and sounds like it was created by giggling schoolboys.”

But the brand and its agency are milking the publicity in the vain hope it’ll create a big name for both. However, as far as brand values goes it makes the brand look very low rent and unprofessional.

A spokesman (or woman with a deep husky voice) said, “it represented a new generation” of television advertising for e-cigarettes following recent ASA rulings”. Co-founder of VIP, David Levin, makes no apologies and calls the ad “tongue-in-cheek”, though I’m not sure that’s where his ad wants to put her tongue! (We can all be purile!)

Meanwhile, it has raised question about CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice) and self regulations and if this ad can appear on UK TV, what else will? It will become a stick to beat our industry with, and sadly people will recall our industry’s low moments more than our highs. This is at the very opposite end of the scale from John Lewis.

Labour will consider banning e-cigarette TV ads if they win the next general election, MP Geraint Davies has introduced a private member’s bill, which would outlaw all ads for e-cigarettes and prohibit their sale to under-18s. He has also accused CAP of “weakness and naïvety” in allowing commercials to suggest smoking is cool and acceptable again”.

Under the new rules from the CAP, adverts for e-cigarettes must not encourage non-smokers to use them, it must be made clear that the product is an e-cigarette and not a tobacco product. Ads must not show them being used by anyone under the age of 25, or appeal to children (under 18) or appear in programmes popular with children or teenagers.

An ad using an image of a Flake 99-style ice-cream to promote Ten Motives e-cigarettes has been banned in October by the ASA for appealing to children. Which begs the question, can we trust this sector and more than the cigarette industry?

Manufacturers can also claim that e-cigarettes are safer or healthier than smoking tobacco, even though they contain nicotine.

Critics cite health concerns as a major issue with e-cigarettes, The World Health Organisation have warned the vapour released by these devices may have hidden dangers and there have been calls for more research into health effects. Other concerns are that they ‘re-normalise’ smoking – currently about 2.5million people use e-cigarettes in the UK.

The debate on Monday’s LBC was fascinating and the justification by some that it’s encouraging a better practice than smoking was rejected by many, as one caller said, “Just because it’s less bad doesn’t make it good. Good is stopping smoking all together.”



2o sec TV ad:

The really bad version (don’t laugh)  She Wants You

Two ads, second features Jeremy Lee –


Primark. With soaring profits it can now afford to be more ethical.

Primark’s recent announcement that total sales for the company are up by an amazing 16% to £4.95 billion, while profits have risen by 30% to £662 million, is good news in the retail sector.

Good for Primark and its owner too, Associated British Foods (ABF) whose portfolio includes Ovaltine, Kingsmill, Allinson, Sunblest, Twinnings, Jacksons’, Silver Spoon, Jordan’s, Ryvita, Patak, Blue Dragon and Mazola. Last year’s group revenue was almost £13bn.

Good potentially for third world suppliers as Primark is upping it’s ethical standards after a few close shaves with sweat shop scandals, including the so called “letter in the pocket from a sweatshop worker” that even I suspect was  a PR stunt by a charity.


Good that they made a compensation contribution of around £7.5 million to the families and workers of the dead, after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh last year.

Good for employment, as it’s added another 21 stores nationally with lots of new jobs – currently they employ 48,000 people across stores in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and France.

As part of their global expansion plans, ABF chairman Charles Sinclair has just announced openings of Primark stores in north-east America.

So what’s bad? The fact that the British shoppers say they believe in buying ethics but then shop at Primark without questioning it. That’s not to say Primark is unethical, but it hardly symbolizes ethics in fashion.

Primark knows that more than any other retailer, it needs to show a positive attitude towards ethics. It now employing an enlarged team of specialists in seven countries, which is critical to its plans of supporting sustainable improvements within supplier factories.

Bad news for Associated British Food in the area of sugar though, with profits lower due to failing sugar prices in Europe and China.  On the ethical side though, British Sugar has been working with the British Nutrition Foundation to develop a range of educational resources for secondary students known as ‘Beet to Bowl’


ABF’s mission statement from their CSR pages is a little off track, it values giving consumers accessible priced food and fashion but what about the source? What about all the people who farm and sew, and the environment, it comes from? To quote:

“Our principal value to society lies in what we do everyday: providing people with access to affordable food and clothing.”

In many ways, given the criticism of Primark by the media and charities and its unethical history, it now wants to be seen as the good guys. But to turn words into meaning, Chief Executive George Weston needs to put ethics as high up the agenda as profits and adopt the Triple Bottom Line – People, Planet, Profits.

Because if all a business focuses on is bigger profits and share value it can never adopt real values and be ethical.



ABF on ethics and CSR

Campaign for Great British Copywriting

As a number of Adland’s great writers, including Tony Brignull, lament the decline of copywriting we ask ‘is great copywriting dead or has it just changed the way it looks?”

The DMA has backed a fantastic initiative, Campaign for Great British Copywriting,  to inspire and promote better copywriting, supported by creatives from the past, present and no doubt the future.


Few of us would disagree that copywriting, as defined by those great ads of the past, is not what it use to be. But does that mean it’s in decline or has it just changed its form? What defines “:great” these days and even if that definition is now broader, surely we should all be championing raising standards.

The Creative Economy is the UK’s second biggest income, generating £71.4bn annually and the creative sector supports over 1.68 million UK jobs, 1 in 12 new jobs in the UK is now found within the creative economy. So it’s in our interest to raise standards across all the creative industries, staring with copywriting.  (

I am with those that feel the quality of writing is in decline but I also recognise that there is a greater variety of styles, especially within the social media space, that adopts a very different style, and as copywriting is all about words and their meaning we should be careful to define what “great” or “quality” is.


So who’s to blame for a decline in the art and craft of writing?

This is a debatable area. Colleges turning out kids who are poorly trained? Clients who no longer value quality and think they can write copy, even though they barely passed their English exam? Economics, low budgets, tight deadlines and a “that’ll have to do” culture? No time to train young writers and few decent mentors?

I think all the above have contributed, but also the fact that advertising isn’t as sexy an industry as it was and attracts less talent, especially from courses like English, history and other subjects not traditionally related to advertising, the very areas many of the great copywriters came from.

From advertising to social media… copy can be great anywhere.

Advertising seeks to persuade, while much of social media is about connecting (emotional engagement) usually now as part of a CRM strategy, so it requires a different approach. A great poster headline doesn’t make a great Facebook or Twitter feed, or visa versa. A quick fire reply to a consumers comment may not be seen as your traditional piece of copy but it has just as much right to be considered as such.

We now live in a world where people like to read sound bites, which requires a different discipline. Twitter’s 140 characters has created a whole new challenge and language, as has text messaging.

And when it comes to advertising alone there are many channels –  radio, cinema, TV, press, posters, and even postcards, all requiring a different approach.

Writers now draw upon a wider range of sources, not just old D&AD annuals. You are just as likely to be influenced by T-shirt writing or writers like Giles Andreae (Purple Ronnie, Edward Monkton) who himself was influenced by Spike Milligan.

One of the most popular pieces of copy at the moment is the KEEP CALM AND DON”T PANIC which has so many parodies from tea cups to t-shirts. Ironically it was produced in 1939 by the War Office to raise the morale of the public – and’s it’s still doing the job over 75 years later.


One word is not enough

The simple fact is, advertising (above, below, online) has now so many diverse channels of communicating “copywriting” is no longer a word that can sum it all, any more than “music” sums up jazz, classical, folk, rock, pop… To say copywriting is no longer great is like saying music is no longer great – which is academic and only justifiable form a set view point.

Great musicians like David Bowie, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were all considered inferior musicians by those that had gone before. Their fans will consider what followed, like rap, as inferior as well. Imagine what prog-rockers thought of punk!

If you look at other creative industries – publishing, gaming, TV, film, theatre, comedy, art and films you hear similar cries of “things are not what they use to be”.

Time moves on and so does style and form. Creativity is influenced by trends, fashion, culture, media and changing communication platforms. However, one thing that should dominate all areas should be quality, and that for me is what I define great as – achieving the best quality within its sector.

Musical purists may well criticize pop songs for their naff lyrics and simplistic musical structures but here lies the rub, the common consumer is not a buyer of quality or originality. However, that doesn’t mean we should adopt low standards.

Welcome to the world of Popvertising



The Guardian, Telegraph and the Times are very well written but The Sun outsells them all.

The reality is we now live in an age where brands try to emulate what consumers are doing on social media and have created a popular form of advertising (Popvertising). The art of writing a Sun headline is an art, just as writing a great Tweet is and just because it falls within the popular mass of communications doesn’t mean it’s of a lower value than a Guardian headline or a poster headline.

When it comes to writing most of us prefer to read Jeffrey Archer than Chaucer. How many of us can recall having to reluctantly read Shakespeare, Samuel Butler (The Way of all Flesh) or Thomas Hardy (Mayor of Casterbridge) at school when we’d rather be reading Marvel comics?

Many of the great ads were written for a small target audience (often intellectual – take the Economist as an example) and represent a very small percentage of the ads produced by agencies. It’s still true to say this year’s DMA, D&AD, Cannes, and the rest of the award winners represent less than 5% of the mass of advertising, so when we say “great” we are only defining the top work.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 02.37.36

Campaigning for quality copy

Putting aside all the reasons why many believe that copy is not what it used to be, championing great copy can only be a positive. If we can increase the percentage of better written copy by just a small percentage it’d make a big difference. But we need to be less Oxbridge in defining what ‘great” is and accept new definitions.

I for one applaud the DMA”s backing of the Campaign for Great British Copywriting and hope it’ll stimulate similar campaigns for art direction, typography, ideas and production values – all of which have slipped over the years. As they say, actions speak louder than words.




Campaign website:

Census – what’s your view?