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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.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 02.10.46

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.

Should Wonga be banned from advertising to protect TV audiences?

If one thing has been shown in the last week, the ASA’s principle values of ‘legal, decent & honest’ doesn’t fit within Wonga’s moral code.


News that Wonga will have to pay £2.6m compensation over debt collection is a sign that at last this organisation is finally being tamed. It has agreed to compensate tens of thousands of customers because it sent them letters from fake law firms demanding they repay their debts.

Even though it’s paying out ‘a pocket money sum” (it made £62.5m profits after tax last year) it has managed to get away with breaking the law by impersonating a solicitor, well two in fact. The reason is because the incident happened before the Financial Conduct Authority started overseeing the financial sector, the former regulator was The Office of Fair Trading.  A case file has been given to the City of London Police, but it seems the police aren’t going to investigate it further, so Wonga gets away with it, sending a message to others that the law and the FCA have no teeth.

As many of us expected, they behave little better than “loan sharks” as some charities and religious groups have referred to them as. The Unite Union called what they do”vulture capitalism”.

If we want to maintain, as an industry, the ability to self regulate I think we should block brands like Wonga (and the rest) from advertising and show consumers, politicians and the press that we are prepared to take action to protect the consumer, that we have both backbone and teeth. The FCA and police certainly don’t.

Of course the Financial Directors of the big broadcast media owners probably won’t see why they should decline their money, but as with most FDs, their moral compass is rarely aligned with the man in the street. Or with the many charities and church groups that have for a long time commented on the likes of Wonga having a detrimental effect upon the poorer members of society, driving them further into debt.

I’m not religious but religion is responsible for many of our laws and moral behaviour in society, most of us will recall from our school days the story of Jesus chasing the money lenders away from the church. In fact most religions forbid money lending at a profit, including Christians, not just Islam.

While Wonga’s PR department may defend their position as ‘filling a gap left by banks, unwilling to loan to ordinary people’, or that most people pay back without incurring their extraordinary interest rates, the facts that have come out about their immoral unethical behaviour has shown the brand’s true dark colours.

No one can deny that Wonga is a branding success, packaged to look friendly, honest and they even put the term “pay day loans” into our vocabulary to make it all sound like a service to ordinary people needing a few quid before pay day.

Their ads, if a little odd (I’m not sure why they picked a series of pensioners done in a Thunderbird puppet style) certainly softened the loan shark image.

Wonga’s unethical behaviour think this can be dismissed by claiming “a misunderstanding” or “system errors’ and all is forgiven by saying sorry. Tim Weller (CEO) said “This is not the proudest day in Wonga’s history… we have learnt lessons from this and are changing as a business.” Really? Then consider that in 2012 they sent letters to customers wrongly claiming they might have “committed fraud” by missing repayments and said sorry then too.

At least one organisation has the backbone to stand up, Richard Lloyd, of the consumer group Which? condemning Wonga said, “lending does not get much more irresponsible than this. It’s a shocking new low for the payday industry that is already dogged by bad practice and Wonga deserves to have the book thrown at it.”

So should we ban them from advertising? Add your comment below.


If you want to be a loved brand, engage with communities in the real world.

Talking at people is an effective methodology, after all brands have been doing it for decades. But after the birth of digital ‘push’ was out and ‘pull’ was in. It was all about dialogue not monologues, empowerment of consumers and even co-creation. “Listen before you talk, you have two ears and one mouth” was what one MD I worked with would say to our clients, sadly few took any notice.

mr-potatohead copy

Content was now designed to make consumers connect with the brand. Brands wanted to be loved (everyone had a copy of Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts). The product was now integral to a consumers life beyond its functional use. A bar of soap wasn’t just a bar of soap, it was a lifestyle. It made your life complete. It wasn’t about just washing away bad sweaty smells but empowering you, giving you a new confidence to smile and take on the world (and get the woman).

Brands believed the way into community was via social media, after all they’d been sold a pipedream about what SM can do and the misbelief that all our conversations were now online (when in fact only 10% were).

What they were actually missing was real world engagement – word of mouth. What they were getting was a lot of faked up social media numbers. But that bubble has burst and we all woke up, like sleeping beauty, to face reality and a simple fact, most of life goes on off line.

As you may have read in Metro recently, a good few of us adland folk are involved in the Crouch End Festival, now UK’s biggest community arts festival.

No book, course or academic will be able to teach you as much about engaging with communities than actually running a festival does.

It’s an insight that also improves your marketing skills as it drags you screaming out of your adland ivory tower back to the street. From small businesses to big brands, from the local vicar to the mayor, it’s all about people to people, which is why I now advocate all clients drop the term B2C and replace it with P2P.

It reminds you that ‘consumers’ are actually real people, that there’s no such thing as A B C1 (a meaningless audience description) and that people are far more emotional than rational (whereas 90% of advertisers think the opposite).

The key is understanding what drives people, what matters and what doesn’t. Understanding the psychology of their behavior (from Behavioural Economics to Emotivations). Yet too often I read briefs that makes you wonder if the author has ever live din the real world.

The key is to understand what people’s values are and how to connect via those values. And to wake up to the fact that people know when they are being sold at and hate it.

To be a ‘loved brand’ you need to show you love them. It’s actually not rocket science, it’s a case of acting human. And that you respect and share their values.

But no matter how visionary a brand’s claim to ‘care about the community’ many don’t really (it’s just PR spin) and others can’t do anything because their hands are tired by rules, forms, committees, mindless middle management and bureaucracy (that enemy of all things innovative).

For example, Waitrose created the green token idea. You get a token when you shop and drop it into one box (of three) to support a local community project. It’s great marketing spin but they have so many conditions that no matter how local or community you are, no matter how big your reach or the good you do, some one high up in the ivory tower has already decided what make a good project, and if you don’t tick their boxes, sorry, money’s going to the dead cat society.

By contrast, Budgen’s empower their managers so they can say yes.

Starbucks this year was the first major brand to sponsor the Crouch End Festival. No form filing, no application process, no long wait for a yes or no. They have discovered it’s about people making decisions – empower those at the front line. A philosophy that won many battles for the British, but one that banks have abandoned for a humanless robotic bureaucratic process that doesn’t work. As one community member said, the only way to get money out of a local bank for the community is if we all rob it.”

The original master of connecting with community was Tesco, about 20 years ago, before the explosion of the internet, they created Computers for Schools. It connected with community values, created a lot of engagement, WOM and delivered a ‘Thank you” outcome.

Another brand that gets it right is Lush, they really do understand the values of their consumer.

But when brands do take the leap (and let’s be honest, the money involved is less than a day’s fee from most big agencies, and at least it’s actually delivering a positive benefit) the benefits can be massive. It taps into word of mouth, social media, local PR and generally gives a reason for people to connect with a brand. A win win all round.


No sex please, we’re British, Concerned Parents, Religious, Daily Mail readers…


You can’t miss it and it must be one of the most noticeable campaigns of the moment, the poster for the Australian underwear brand AussieBum. An almost naked man with pants on posing on Clear Channel’s Adshels all over the country. Among my friends it’s created more debate than any recent TV campaign has, but then posters do reach 74% of the population, so it’s a smart strategy to get a brand noticed, plus it’s close to purchase.

AussieBum 2

A walk through Oxford Circus will also expose you to female models with perfect bodies, dressed in bikinis and all life size for H&M. Typical summer fashion ads, in press they are tamed but blown up on posters they become brash ands maybe too brash.

These are not the only ads featuring scanty clad models pushed into your face by brands seeking to sell you underwear or bikinis in time for summer.

But the ethical issue here is – is it offensive to some people and if so, should brands be allowed to put up such ads? Especially as they will be seen by all ages (kids as well) and many religious types. While outdoor ads have little to no vetting scheme, TfL are much stricter about what appears on the underground.

If you are of a particular religious persuasion that doesn’t like to expose its followers to near naked imagers, do campaigns like these cause offence? If you are a member of middle England, middle class Daily Mail sect, then you may wish your children (or grandchildren) to be protected from images that sexualise both men and women or portray an artificial image of beauty, and even encouraging slimming disorders. The girl in the H&M is as thin as they can get away with.

Blog Naked

I’m fairly liberal but even so, I was a surprised by both campaigns blatant uses of bare skin, suggested sexuality on outdoor. They both make ‘Hello Boys’ look conservative.

Back in 2912 the ASA received a number of complaints about a similar campaign by H&M ( ). Complainants said it was degrading towards women, offensive – irresponsibly placed, because they believed it was too sexual for general display and unsuitable to be seen by children.

H&M said it “regretted that the advertising had been perceived as offensive, and they would take the complaints into consideration for future advertising campaigns.” Well obviously they didn’t.

Of course you can also argue that this is no different from what you kids would see on the beach when they go on holiday, but then the tube isn’t a beach. Or that society has become too PC thanks to beaurocrats who seem to make all the rules these days.


Many years ago when I worked on the launch of the female condom, Femidom, we got a complaint from a catholic school in the Midlands about the posters “Condom” and “Johnny has had a sex change”. One parent commented in the local press that because of the poster they were having to explain “what a condom was to their teenage daughters”. Shocking? More so that they hadn’t had the conversation with their daughters. As the local paper commented, “no wonder the UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies.”


Also at the time we had endless problems with getting our ads approved, and other ads we were doing for Family Planning Association, as we couldn’t mention the word ‘condom’ on either the radio or TV. Finally it took the Minister for Health to tell the TV stations to run the ads as they would contribute to educating the public in a time when STIs and HIV were spreading. God forbid we should upset Mrs Whitehouse when people are dying from AIDS.


The recent scandal of celebrities, like Jimmie Saville, has highlighted a changing social attitude towards sex and what is ok and what isn’t.

The once famous Pirelli calendar, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, was once seen as a high status aspect of the brand. But today is that still the case? Can brands get away with soft porn anymore? (The Pirelli calendar has even featured nude shots as well.)

(LINK: Pirelli Calendar 2014 by Helmut Newton:


Ryanair were recently selling a calendar of their bikini clad air hostesses in the name of a teenage cancer charity – good cause but a tacky product. No surprise that few passengers bought it, except drunken 19 year olds on stag weekends.

The behaviour of the cast of any Carry On film would put most of them in court for sexual harassment or even abuse these days. Both the language and the attitude in today’s society is unacceptable, just as Alf Garnet (Til Death Us Do Part) is.

So where do we draw the line? While the media have been enjoying celebrity scandal after scandal, they are happy to promote normalisation of sexuality. While the front page of The Sun may demonise people for treating women like sex objects, on page 3 a different set of values apply.

Many groups are also concerned about the sexual content of many videos, especially rap ones, even if many are clichéd and even pathetic in the way the lead rapper has to be seen with gyrating girls in crop tops and jean pants while he points at the camera.

In an attempt not to expose young minds to sexual images, adult magazines now have to be part covered on the shelves, but pornography is so riff on the web targeting men’s magazines now seem irrelevant.


I have no doubt that the ASA have had a few of complaints about the AussieBum and H&M campaign, they both do a Hello Boys. They certainly have people talking, though in the case of AussieBum the big question is if it’s gay or straight fashion? If you’ve seen their shearing rams ad there seems an obvious answer.

But on one level I can understand religious groups, female groups and parents being uncomfortable walking their kids through Oxford Circus past numerous models in bikinis, but on the other hand I don’t want us to became even more of a cottonwoodl society run by modern day Mrs Whitehouses.

Which maybe leaves it up to the brands to be more responsible. After all, upsetting people these days is less about a few complaints to the ASA than a tornedo of social media complaints.