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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.

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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.

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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?



Is gluten-free just a trend or a real health issue?

This week it was announced that more and more retailers are stocking gluten-free products. Asda has promised to stock at least 8 core gluten-free products in all stores.

The charity Coeliac UK has been applying pressure, through the ‘Gluten-free Guarantee campaign‘, on behalf of Coeliac suffers, to give them more availability of gluten-free products (especially bread).

Waitrose, Tesco, M&S and Sainsbury’s are also following in Asda’s footsteps.

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But as much as supermarket may be looking ethical and worthy by supporting this charity’s campaign, it’s more likely they are jumping on one of the biggest food fads of the last decade. Let’s be honest, there are many food related conditions out there but we don’t see supermarkets addressing these with such zest.

The real problem with gluten is that about 1% of the population (1:133 it is estimated) suffers from ‘Coeliac Disease’ – an autoimmune disease, that affects the digestive process of the small intestine, caused by a reaction of the immune system to gluten. It’s estimated that nearly half a million people who have Coeliac Disease but don’t yet know.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis, which occurs as a rash, is the skin manifestation of Coeliac Disease.


However, a bigger percentage of the population have bought into a belief that gluten is bad and that a gluten-free diet will deliver better health and a better life.


What exactly is gluten?


In one survey (in the US) very few people actually knew, proving how poorly educated many consumers are. Sadly many get their information from poor sources rather than reliable ones – you can blame social media for that.


Gluten (from the Latin gluten, meaning ‘glue’) is a protein composite found in wheat and related grains, including barley and rye (which you find in many baked products). It used to give elasticity to dough, helping it rise and keep its shape and often gives bread a chewy texture. Gluten is also used to create mock meats for vegetarians and pet foods, as well as in cosmetics, hair products, many other dermatological preparations and vitamin supplements. 


Another food fad…

However, it has falling into the trendy alternative eating circle and some people believe that there are health benefits to gluten-free eating, even though there is no published experimental evidence to support such claims.  Not that science ever got in the way of a new belief system, because there is a percentage of the population who love to jump on alternative lifestyle bandwagons. And just as many who want to exploit it.

Gluten-free fad diets are popular and endorsed by celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow,  Novak Djokovic, Lady Gaga, Miley Ray Cyrus, Jennifer Esposito, Emmy Rossum, Billy Bob Thornton and even Chelsea Clinton.

The book ‘Wheat Belly’, which refers to wheat as a “chronic poison” (how’s that for spin?), became a bestseller in 2011.

It’s been marketed as a way to loose weight, feel healthier, to fight fatigue and give you more energy and even improve your sex drive – yep all the claims you’ll find used by the old snake oil salesmen. Due to its origins in Latin it has also been spun as ‘gluing up your insides’ – a pathetic attempt to demonise it, but for some it works.

It’s estimated that 29% of ‘health conscious’ consumers are trying to reduce gluten – though probably few actually know what it really is. The claim about 29% of consumer doing so is published on the website – so make up your own mind how true it is.

Professional dieticians do not endorse a gluten-free diet as a means to eat healthier or lose weight, though if you are suffering from CD, it will reduce the symptons. However, eating less bread with peanut butter on will certainly help reduce the calories.

These advocates of gluten-free, as the new utopian food life style, can be very evangelistic, though they are very gullible by definition and can easily become victims of exploitation. In many of these markets you will find genuine companies along side the dubious ones. Sadly the world of ethics is a hunting ground for the less than ethical. One diets claims to help autism – though there is no scientific evidence it does.

In America, the home of food and lifestyle fads – fuelled by shallow celebrities,  opinionated bloggers, self help books and too many poor journalists driven by ratings not facts, – these fads flourish. It has led to numerous articles and books on a gluten-free life like “Preparing Your Gluten-Free Kitchen,”

“Empowering Clients in Their Gluten-Free Lifestyles” and “The Gluten-Free Guide for Guys.”

Big business

In the UK gluten-free market is worth about £175m, and has the highest number of product launches of any food category in the last year.

In the USA sales of gluten-free labelled products rose from $11.5 billion to $23 billion in just four years. Over 1700 new products appeared in one year alone, with over 200m orders for gluten-free products in restaurants, making it one of the biggest food fads of recent times.

General Mills has added 600 such products to its range since 2008, when it first marketed its gluten-free cereal brand, Chex.

On a note of concern, products that have removed natural gluten, like pasta and potato products, are usually less healthy and in some case you don’t want to know what was used to replace it.


The Codex Standard for food labeling allows any product with less than 20ppm of gluten can be labeled as gluten-free. From December this year, new EU regulations requires that any gluten in foods is clearly marked. The rules applies to both packaged foods and loose sold foods, plus catering.

Many countries already require food manufacturers to label products to show they contain gluten, including Brazil and Canada but until now in the UK only cereals need to be labeled, while in the USA it’s not a requirement and in reverse, brands are encourage to label with ‘gluten-free’.

Gluten-free – well it always was wasn’t it?

Some food brands have jumped on the trend for gluten-free by making claims that their products, that never had gluten, are gluten-free. Yoghurt (Chobani), tinned vegetables (Green Giant), sugar, salt, chicken, bacon, fruit and even water (Clara)!

Clara, a Canadian water brand certainly comes across as more hippy than someone trying to rip of gullible consumers. To quote their website, “Our philosophy encompasses the Jainism core belief of self-control. The Water Circle [self control/spirit/non violence/righteous path] is our visualized belief process. Clara can only exist when all elements of this cycle are aligned.”

The ultimate American irony is they have a gluten-free donut, so you can deceive yourself into thinking you are eating something healthy.

So is exploiting fads ethical? Especially when there’s more evidence that a gluten-free lifestyle is less healthy than a normal one. Big brands will always use the defence, “We are simply meeting consumers need and demands.”

But to quote an American politician  (talking about big corporate brands exploiting citizens) “We can try to protect citizens from large corporations, but we’ll never be able to protect them from themselves.”



Coeliac UK

Apple finally embraces NFC with their iPhone 6


The adoption of NFC by Apple has now sealed its success as the hot new technology marketers will demand.

Up until now, the biggest block for brands adopting NFC (Near Field Communications) has been more in the mind than in  reality, and that’s Apple not having it. So despite over 20 million existing Android smartphone users having it in the UK, there has been a mental barrier to taking the plunge.

But Tim Cook has now sealed the future success of NFC, a technology that has been widely used across many areas for over a decade, from ticketing to security, hospitals to touch payments.

It’s what’s in your Oyster card, VISA debit card and that security card you swipe to get in the office. It’s cheap, easy to use and very versatile.

But now iPhone has given into both market forces and common sense and finally adopted NFC there will be a gold rush to use NFC in marketing, retail and for payments.

Even though the initial Apple Pay launch is in the US, the UK is one of Apple’s most important European markets.

NFC – the new technology of marketing

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Personally I’d buy shares in Clear Channel who are the leaders in adopting this technology in the media field and have installed it on over 25,000 posters on Adshels across the UK. Even though Apple’s adoption is driven by payments, it means new generation iPhone users will be able to literally tap into the benefits of NFC and that will give brands confidence to build it into their marketing approach.

Given that 88.5% of retail spend is off line (official government statistics) making poster in high street’s active to smart phones with NFC is a stroke of genius. It means we can look, tap and act.

It delivers what all brands want from media like outdoor, engagement through the mobile, which is why I predict it will become a technology that will be integral in all outdoor campaigns and in retail within a few years. I’m not just saying that as one of the industries leading champions of NFC, I think the facts would predict that too.

But brand managers should pause a moment and carefully consider how they use it before they rush to adopt it, as 80% of existing campaigns using it do so badly. As a ‘pull’ technology you need great thinking and creativity to drive consumers to tap. Like any technology, it needs to create a need and desire to be useful to consumers, people won’t tap for the sake of it.

Diageo is another brand one step ahead of the game, Guinness have installed over 80,000 beer pumps with it.

Many retailers, unimpressed with beacons (BLE), are experimenting with it. Of course one of the beauties of NFC is that it doesn’t have to integrate with the IT architecture (unlike BLE), a stumbling block for many technologies. As it remains independent it can link to the marketing departments assets, mainly websites.

For retailers it offers a cheap and flexible way to allow consumer to interact with tags from checking in as you walk through the door to collect loyalty points to getting information about any item in the store.

Take a brand like IKEA, if every item was NFC tagged you’d be able to just tap and access every single piece of information about any item like a sofa – size, colour range, stock levels, what other items people also bought and even if it’d fit into a Ford Focus. It’s simple example I use when doing talks about NFC to show how simply NFC can enhance the consumer experience in retail.

Another example I use is if Zara tagged all their clothes, one tap and you’d be able to check sizes, colour, accessories, stock and get offers. Plus share with friends to validate your decision.

I also predict that retailer’s mobile websites will be built around NFC tags because it will become the simplest way to get a consumer engaged, one tap and you’ve tapped into the consumer.

Apple Pay


The inclusion of NFC in the new iPhones means that the technology is now supported by all the world’s major phone makers. The driving factor has been financial –  “It’s all about the wallet. Our ambition is to replace this.”  CEO Tim Cook commented in his introduction. But now Apple has NFC it can do a lot more and opens up great marketing possibilities.

Almost a quarter of a million retailers will be able to accept touch payments, including McDonald’s, Subway, Staples, Whole Foods Market, Disney and many more. Even Groupon has jumped on the Apple bandwagon and incorporated Apple Pay into its app.

“Payments is a huge business,” Cook commented. “Everyday, between credit and debit, we spend $12bn. That’s over four trillion dollars a year and that’s just in the United States. And this business is comprised of over 200,000,000 transactions a day. That’s 200,000,000 times that we scramble for our credit cards and go through what is a fairly antiquated payment process.


Surprisingly Cook made no reference to their hyped up BLE technology, which despite a few brands adopting it has unimpressed many others, described by one retailer at the Retail Forum as “the equivalent of a pushy sales assistant… more likely to scare customers away.”

Apple Watch


It seems that their watch will also adopt Apple Pay so will also be fitted with NFC.

A different Apple

So despite the strong anti NFC voice of members of the ‘church of Apple’ and cynics who said Apple would never adopt NFC, market forces have proved them all wrong. Even I can say “I told you so”.

But then Apple is now run buy accountants and lawyers and knows it cannot remain arrogant or isolated in such a volatile market, especially when it’s struggling in new territories and globally is not as a big a player as many think.

Remember when we all had a Nokia? Well times change fast, even for the leaders and the mover and shakers and for Apple it’s now as much about keeping up as keeping ahead. Especially as the era of consumers being amazed by technology is wearing off as we have become technology fatigued.


Transcript of Tim Cook’s speech.

All about NFC

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

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


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

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

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

The power of connecting with communities

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

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

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

Communities and the Third Industrial Revolution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

The Third Industrial Revolution

Consumers to Prosumers

The Economist

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

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

Facebook Buy Button2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Morrisons received a grilling from the ASA over its burger ad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


ASA  ruling:

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Sin alcohol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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