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Is the next election heading for an ad disaster?

Both Conservative and Labour Parties Misfire With First, Feeble Efforts,” was the comment on a recent article in America’s AdAge magazine.


The two biggest parties will need to do better if they want to persuade the British public to vote for either of them.”

Even the Independent was less than impressed, “Although the Tory’s poster is about as poor a start to a general election campaign as you can get, Labour’s first poster isn’t that much better.”

Well when it comes to election marketing the Americans can teach us a few things. But if the Tories recent ad is anything to go by, the era of great British political advertising is well past. Not to say the last election produced any decent posters either.

Conservative election poster 2015

As we head for May 7th are we also heading for some all time bad ads? Based on the last few election campaigns, showing terrible strategic thinking combined with school boy jibes at the other side, I doubt any will be being voted for at D&AD.

Usually the term ‘stuck in the past’ is an insult but in this case, maybe the parties would do better to stick to the past when election campaigns were brilliant marketing rather than mediocre and middle of the road (somewhat appropriate when applied to the Tories poster).

Einstein said, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Unless political parties shake off the current limp approach and radically reinvent the way they market themselves, we will get stick in a status quo of hung Parliaments and coalitions. I am amazed that many of the parties are still using old school thinkers – if they want to get a different result they need to take a different approach which means new thinkers.


Political parties have become pathetic in their approach to using advertising to market their pitch”.

The great days of Saatchi ads, like EDUCATION ISN’T WORKING, has passed, and been replaced by limp campaigns driven by fear driven campaign directors running poorly thought through campaigns.

“The biggest challenge of the next election is not getting people to vote for your party but getting people to vote at all!”

In fact it has been suggested that all the parties would be more effective if they pooled their ad budgets and just ran a generic campaign to encourage people to turn up and put an X in the box.

“It’s not social media that will make a difference but the national media –The Sun, Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and the rest, because they influence the minds of millions.”

As for social media, I followed that at the last election for Brand Republic and it was less than impressive. The spoof campaigns got more followers than the parties! At best it was talking to the converted. At worse bad news does more damage than good online.

I was approached by the Labour party with the question. “Will social media make a difference?” My reply, “Yes”. But I added probably more in a bad way than good. My point was proved when Gordon Brown made a big gaff and it went viral.

Politicians can be as gullible as marketing directors when it comes to the hyped claims of social media, preferring to ignore the reality and put faith in false numbers. The number that matters is how many votes you get and how many seats.

Any party that thinks social media will tip the vote is either being sold a pup or living in Pixel Land. And don’t kid yourself that it’ll make you cool with the kids, it won’t. You can Tweet, Facebook, Instagram as much as you like but it really will make bugger all difference.

It’s what the public say that matters, and remember real world conversations account for 80-90% of influential chat, only 10% is online.

One TV debate can make or break you, the headlines will be the real influencers. To prove the point look at the gaff made by the Greens.

Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, admitted on TV (BBC Sunday Politics Show) that they would make it legal to be a member of a terrorist organization. They also would to reduce immigration restrictions and get rid of the armed forces, to be replaced with a Dad’s army!

Whatever support the Green Party may have had as environmentalists, when it comes to real world politics, they have blown all credibility. To quote one comment, “Ms Bennet needs to stop tree-hugging and face reality.”

Einstein different

 “Iain Dale’s prediction of the European election was so close to the final results that his latest predictions must be making the Tories and Lib Dem’s very uncomfortable.”

Iain Dales’ recent article in the Independent is not good reading for either the Tories or the Lib Dems. Having successfully predicted the outcome of the EU elections, he has great credibility.

The biggest threat to any of the parties is themselves not the voter.

All parties are in a state of panic, but their mistake is thinking that old ideas will win in an election that requires new thinking.


“Unless one party does something radical, innovative or inspirational they may as well save all their ad and online budget and spend it on the post election wake instead.”

Having worked for two of the three parties, and offered advice to the third, I fear that all the learnings of a 100 years of advertising will be tossed aside by committees of inexperience middle managers, to be replaced by rational, multi messaging campaigns that are more about assaulting the competition than engaging the consumer.

The simple fact is, do the political parties really understand the consumer? It’s one thing to conduct a poll or get feedback from the doorstep, but do they use the sophisticated tools of consumer psychology, NLP or many of the others? Do the understand Behavioural Economics (about me) and Ecological Economics (about we)?

Shockingly, the Lib Dems have yet to even appoint an ad agency. A bit late I think. But maybe, just maybe, the need for speed may mean they will be more focused and less bureaucratic.

Are the political parties about to launch upon us ad campaigns that will be as bland as they are? I fear so. Politics and bureaucracy go hand in hand and both are the opposite of inspiration and the enemy of innovation.

So what are the brave to do?

When in crisis, take risks. Go to the edge and be prepared to fly or fall.

The biggest risk the whole political establishment faces is the lack of anyone voting. Being brave is probably the best way to communicate to consumers that you actually have something to stand for and therefore something to vote for.

Leaders stand for something, they make their voice heard and they know how to engage with people’s fears and dreams.

Advertising is still one of the most powerful tools when used well, especially TV and outdoors. But used badly it’s as good as useless. To use the oldest quote of all, if you don’t think brave then “you’ll get the advertising (and the result) you deserve.”


P3 or not P3, that is the question? Is The Sun a relic of a Carry On age?

Is The Sun’s topless Page 3 an outdated sexist statement, soft porn that devalues women and encourages sexual harassment, or just a light heated image symbolizing the freedom of women to drop all and make a quick buck?


It has draw a growing number of the public, politicians, groups and organisations condemning it. But The Sun’s page 3 is just the tip of an iceberg as the same criticism are also being applied to the ad industry for degrading and devaluing women, “Using crumpet to sell crumpets,“ as one blogger put it.

Though I often despair at people claiming we are all exploitative and sexist and then quote ads from 20 years ago, or other historic pieces like Hello Boys.


The Sun is the UK’s best selling newspaper with over 2.2 million readers (it peaked at 4.2m in the 80’s), though mostly associated with male, white van driving types, builders, working men and taxi drivers.

Given The Sun is also one of the most read papers by under 16’s does it send the wrong message, that women are just objects of sex?

By contrast the Metro newspaper has over 3m readers (and rising), while the Daily Star and Daily Express both have dropped to below 500,000, less than the Telegraph. The Daily Mail has a circulation of 1.7m, the Daily Mirror is just below a million.

Almost all newspapers (except the Metro and the Guardian) have seen declining circulation (ABC figures).

In a society that has radical changed over the last few decades, condemning behaviour that may have been socially acceptable 40 years ago, it seems like it’s hanging onto an old world most associated with Carry On movies.


Even News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch has agreed that the Page 3 is a little out dated, while Sun editor David Dinsmore admitted that it was a relic of the past.

After 44 years of featuring semi naked photos (the first images appeared in 1970 after Rupert Murdoch bought it), it was reported that last Friday’s edition of The Sun, staring Lissy Cunningham, would be the last one to feature the classic Page 3 image.

To many this was no surprise.  While many women’s groups applauding the decision the rest of Fleet Street wrote numerous pieces about how The Sun was finally accepting it was living in the past. Meanwhile The Star continues the tradition.

It was reported by fellow press titles that pictures will show women wearing “lingerie and swimwear”. The supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was shown wearing Marks & Spencer underwear in Monday’s edition, a smart move to commercialise the page.

But this Thursday, much to the shock of the nation, The Sun returned with a topless model and the caption: “Further to recent reports in all other media outlets, we would like to clarify that this is Page 3 and this is a picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth.”

Angela Towers of the No More Page 3 campaign, which has got over 217,000 signatures petitioning for a ban on the feature, commented, “So it seems the fight might be back on.”

The campaign group was founded by actor & writer Lucy-Anne Holmes in 2012 with support form Mumsnet, Breast Cancer UK, the Guide Association, NUT, British Youth Council, Rape Crisis, Unison, Royal College of Nursing and numerous community and women’s groups.

Recently University of Nottingham’s Students’ Union was the latest to remove the sale of newspapers with Page 3-style content from its student shops, joining another 32 who have banned it.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, who is also women and equalities minister, said the move to remove the Page 3 feature was “Long overdue”. Stella Creasy, Labour MP, added “The objectification of women in this way was basically saying to all of us that what mattered, frankly, were our breasts not our brains.”

For many of the models, Page 3 has launched their careers, like Suzanne Mizzi and Maria Whittaker and made Samantha Fox, Katie Price (Jordan), Melinda Messenger and Linda Lusardi household names.

There are endless objections to why Page 3 is unacceptable in todays’ society. The No More Page 3 campaign highlights the fact that until 2003 models as young as16 were being featured, questioning if it encouraged the sexualisation of children, especially after one dressed up in school uniform

They highlight that it’s soft porn in a family newspaper, read by many young people so sends out the wrong message about women. And it degrades women. The list is long…

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 01.36.08

Quite rightly they point to the hypocrisy of the The Sun when it publishes a half naked women on Page 3 and then on the next few pages writes condemning stories about rape, sexual violence, paedophilia, sexual harassment, domestic violence or celebrities having sex with under age groupies.

Although all of their points are valid there are a number of people that still support Page 3, not just the models, claiming it’s a form of “freedom of speech” – really!? I fear pro campaigners may be considering a ‘I am Charlotte’ campaign!

The ad industry certainly needs to think carefully about how it portrays women in the future, even if most ads featuring women don’t go through ad agencies (the fashion and perfume industries don’t always use ad agencies). But we also need to rethink some of the stereotypes. Women hate the patronising portrayal of women in many ads and in one survey 91% of women thought brands didn’t get them, which is more frightening because it reveals a cold truth – that ad agencies really don’t understand the female consumer. Maybe it’s because they spend too much time reading Page 3!


Je suis Charlie – there’s a fine line between ‘morally correct’ and ‘morally corrupt’.

There’s little more anyone can add to massive amount of coverage of the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo offices. If there is anything positive that has come out of it, it’s the world uniting against terrorism (and not giving in).


The JE SUIS CHARLIE slogan has gone global across all media channels, social media and word of mouth. Overnight it has entered the consciousness of almost everybody (becoming one of the most popular on Twitter of all time) and will probably still be known in 100 years time.

Not surprisingly, those in the public arena were quick to support the social campaign and as expected, a good few celebrities joined in at the Golden Globes like Kathy Bates, George Clooney, Helen Mirren and many others. Though Kathy, Helen & George brought their own signs, turns out many were handed them by photographers just to get a good picture!

There’s a fine line between ‘morally correct’ and ‘morally corrupt’, especially when it becomes exploited for marketing.


The Hoxton Hotel has used #jesuischarlie in a promotion of its upcoming Paris hotel and posted pictures of their new venture on Facebook along with the phrase ‘Very chic don’t you think?. No we don’t!  The press has condemned them as ‘despicable beyond belief’.

Already one brand in France has been slammed for showing the slogan with their logo on. Free speech does not mean exploiting it for marketing.

Consumers in coffee shops when asked “what’s your name” (that irritating Americanisation of customer service that Brits find too intrusive) are replying “Je suis Charlie”. But that’s ok as long as the coffee shop brand is exploiting it to sell coffee.

Sainsbury’s got criticized at Christmas for exploiting the first world war in their attempt to outdo the John Lewis TV ad, and even though it claims more YouTube views (not that anyone trusts views anymore) their sales failed, so I guess that didn’t work. Death is a delicate subject and after 9/11 anyone using the imagery of the twin towers found themselves in the media and public firing line.

Even 5 years later when we presented to a health charity a dramatic image of two burning cigarettes looking like the twin towers with a headline highlighting how more people are killed because of smoking every day, the charity felt it was too sensitive, and probably they were right.

On a lighter note, the Simpson’s have already paid tribute to the campaign and featured baby Maggie holding the slogan.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 01.50.19

But I fear that there are some insensitive brands, or irresponsible creatives, who will be hell bent of self publicity or worst, winning an award, will exploit this campaign for personal gain.

Just how sick and exploitive are people? Well over some people have tried to trademark the slogan! The French Office for Intellectual Property reported that more than 100 attempts to get a trademark on the phrase have been thrown out since last week. Similar attempts have been made in other countries. In Belgium one businessman defended his action by saying, I can see a lot of big brands will want to use ‘Je Suis Charlie’ to sell products… and I want the money to go to the victims families.’ (Really!?).

How low can some people get?

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.