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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.


WIMA 2014, from iBeacons to NFC, what brands need to know to keep up with proximity marketing technology.

Having recently got back from Monte Carlo (beats a stuffy hotel in London) where I was speaking on Proximity Mobile Marketing at the WIMA conference, I return a lot more enlightened about new developments in the world of proximity technologies like NFC, iBeacons (BLE) and many others.


It was a fascinating conference, with expert speakers, many who are working at the coal face of technology (rather than those with just an opinion) speaking passionately about how new technologies can help brands improve customer experience, especially in retail, and help sell more.

The key focus of our day was Proximity Mobile Marketing and how we can engage consumers via technologies like BLE and NFC.

So here are some of the learning from some of the world’s experts which included key advisors to some of the world’s biggest brands like McDonalds and Apple.

Firstly, the NFC vs iBeacons debate. 


There is no vs. There’s been a lot of chat about which is better so let’s clear this up for all time. The two can work together, they are not really rivals as they work in different ways, with different technology and can engage consumers in different ways. Both have their pros and cons, no technology is perfect, just as no media channel is either. Together they can be a brilliant tool in customer engagement. And the argument that Apple hasn’t adopted NFC yet (but probably will by the end of 2014) is not relevant as 74% of smartphones are Android (so NFC enabled) which gives you a greater audience than TV.  It’s a bit liker dismissing TV because BBC doesn’t run ads.

Of course Apple’s iBeacon (BLE) has been get a lot of hype and those “less informed marketers who use the media rather than their minds, to make decisions” (not my quote but one from an ex client) have probably already called up their digital agencies to ask what an iBeacon is and how can they get one. Opting for a solution before they have identified the problem!

Beware of technology White Elephants.

The key for marketers is to define their objectives first and keep their focus on the customers. Beware of using technology like a hammer, thinking you can beat a customer into submission from bombarding them with messages and offers, as Groupon discovered – the customer gets frustrated and opts out. And don’t panic, when it comes to technology, “fools often rush in…” Let others test it out, prove it’s value of you may end up with an expensive technology White Elephant.



It’s important to do you research, technology is useless without good consumer insights. And to be successful it needs to meet a human need. It also needs to be convenient and simple to use.

One place you might like to start is actually talking to the staff on the ground who deal with consumers daily. As one expert said, “the solution you are looking for may lie in human feedback rather than technology and data crunching”.

Understanding HOW consumers interact with technology (Ergopsychonomics) and HOW they use their smartphones is critical. Don’t make assumptions.

Beacons for example can be very effective at getting consumers to take the mobile out of their pocket in-store as they get a ping to tell them something has arrived on their mobile. (Beacons require you to download an app which will be automatically activated when you walk in store and automatically turn on your Bluetooth.)

As Patrick Meyer, advisor to many top brands says, “Keep it simple, one click does it, too many turns them off”. 

Consumers like convenience, ease and a benefit – one of the selling points of NFC is that it’s a one touch link to a brands website. Quicker than QR, and no need to open an app.

Overall, technology can create a connected customer experience and, as Just Desire founder Mark Scott Aubin (and one of the original developers of BLE) said, “The mobile can become a personal shopper assistant.”

Whether you are a retailer or a brand selling products or services, the real opportunity for engagement lies off line. 88.5% of retail spend is off line (official Government figures, not you usual made up figures to justify a new technology product). By 2018 it’s estimated to rise to just 12.5% of purchases online, so the real money is where we shop, eat, drink, have fun! socialise… out and about. And where we take our mobiles.


This is why Proximity Marketing is making a big comeback. It’s a great way for brands to connect. But the real challenge lies in HOW you get them to. Firstly, technology alone will not do it. You need clever, engaging ideas, unless you just want to resort to promotions.

We already know from years of research that about 76% of purchasing decisions can be influenced at point of sale and that posters in high streets are a highly influential way to drive consumers towards brands, they also are one of the biggest reasons people search brands online on mobiles – 70% of mobile searches result in a follow up action within an hour.

We also know that only 10-20% of shoppers actually end up buying an item in fashion stores, so there lies a massive opportunity to increase sales. Can technology help?

Assuming you have the rest right – design, stock, price, environment and good sales staff, yes it can.  Technologies like interactive technology, beacons and NFC can help encourage purchases, inform, pivot purchasing doubts and also give retailers valuable data about consumers.  Just because they didn’t buy something this time doesn’t mean you can’t sell them something the next,

The many ways you can use these technologies is endless, so I won’t list them here, that’s why there are experts, out there to advise you.

Connecting the dots

It’s important to consider the customer journey, and posters. Clear Channel now have 25,000 posters sites (Adshels) in high streets – they have over 45,000 6 sheet sites across the UK, so there’s always one near a retailer. Other media brands like Exterion (was CBS), JCDecaux, Eye Level  and many more are also adding NFC.

Guinness have fitted out over 80,000 beer pumps (via Proxama) with NFC. Add to that, using NFC at POS, on shelf barkers and packaging, you can make the consumers shopping experience a first rate one. We recently proposed to a baby food brand the use of active tags on shelf barkers advising parents about baby nutrition. As a lesser known brand that was trying to compete with brands like Ella’s Kitchen, Heinz and Cow and Gate, it provided a point of connection and an opportunity to deliver a voucher and encourage trial. And of course, data.


A good example of how technology can be applied to a single retail environment, that could could generate up to £2m extra income a year, check out the infographic on how it can be used in charity shops.

Mobile – the mass opportunity.

Few doubt that the mobile is now an essential part of most consumers lives, there are now over 1.5bn smart phones in the worldl, the vast majority Android (74%), and over 30m in the UK. In fact Apple are loosing out to Android, with only 7% globally of mobile phone owned. They may be big in the US and UK, but that’s not the story in many places.

The dream of all marketers is to use the mobile to connect to the consumer and engage, capture data and sell more to them. But for many marketers it will only ever be a dream because there are thousands of brands all fighting over a small space, literally, as ad spaces on mobiles are so small.

The primary thinking, as a marketer, you need adopt is: are you going for on-mobile or off-mobile?

On-mobile Is largely push – SMS, display, Wi-Fi, beacons, geo targeting, etc. Its flaw is that most consumers do not like push marketing, “83% hate it”. So the challenge lies in getting consumers to opt in and desire those marketing messages. Based on what works best in the digital space, it’s fair to say this will predominantly be promotional offers.

Off-mobile is less intrusive and more quality than quantity as it respects the consumers privacy. You will need to use external mechanics to drive consumers  to connect with brands on-mobile – like advertising, POS, on pack, NFC, QR, bar codes, etc.

The ethical benefit

Certainly the mobile is replacing paper mechanics, McDonald’s long running Monopoly promotion has had over 15m interactions, with 60% by mobile these days, which means a lot less wasted paper.

Banks could remove all print rom their banks by replacing leaflets with NFC touch tags, which in the case of loans could take you straight to a loan calculator, plus it’d give them valuable data about what customers are interested in.

The mistakes made with other technologies

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 09.04.01

There was a great reference by Alex Meisl of Sponge (who work with McDonald’s) about, “There’s the danger if making the same mistakes of ‘app land’“. Many marketers just jumping on the technology and wagon. He pointed out that many apps have less than 1000 downloads and many never get used more than a few times, which hardly makes for a long term marketing strategy. You also have to wonder how big the negative ROI was.

You can find similar stories about AR (Augmented Reality) and other technologies, and as for online… that’d add another 10,000 words.

So the overall advice was to marketers was to think it through first, don’t just  adopt technology to look good, and remember, as Rene Batsford, Innovations Manager at McDonald’s said, “Technology is not a substitute for service and product quality.”

How brands can engage consumers on their mobile via technologies. A summery of expert advice.

1. Do your research. Make sure you have insight into your customer and how they engage with technology and their mobile. Assume nothing, and be cautious of so called facts and figures thrown around (especially by salesmen) as many are dubious or even made up. Validate everything.

2. Get your objectives, strategy and thinking right. Know what you are really trying to achieve and avoid doing it for just PR or to look cool.

3. Do it properly. Get experts in, don’t try and DIY, it’ll either fail or cost more to sort out later. Use the best technical experts, and a good creative and strategic agency (digital or advertising depending on what you are doing). Avoid anyone who throws in the thinking and creative for free, you’ll get what you pay for and it’ll be substandard

4. Respect your customer – make everything customer centric. Put them first, find out what they want and then match up the technology. Customers want simple, convenience, to be rewarded with positive experiences and of course, like a discount.

5. Be prepared to test, adapt, pivot – this is still a new area and there really are no rules yet. Be patient, it may take several versions, campaigns to get it right but make sure your learn from each.

The barriers to success…

One discussion point at the conference were the barriers, both consumers and brands. Certainly the public need educating, but as we have already seen, they have adapted to the mobile and have learnt to use all sorts of features quickly.

But the real challenge lies in brands. Whereas brands like McDonald’s , Starbucks, Nike and  a few others have pioneered new ideas and new technologies, many are too stuck in a risk adverse corporate culture. Many marketing directors I’ve talked to over the last year have expressed frustration at internal culture –  it may require 3 or even 5 departments to work together, and many ideas never get to happen.

WIMA was a great experience and one I’d happily attend again. It was great to see so many passionate people pushing the boundaries and applying technology in new ways.


There is little doubt that technology is a wonderful thing, and that it is changing the way we market. But like the nuclear bomb, it can be both a force for good and a force for bad.


Blog coming next, fresh from the  Retail Forum event (Richmond Events) – ‘How to engage consumers in the retail space, through technology.’ 

New trends in natural and organic FMCG.

This week I visited the Natural & Organic Show in Olympia, a trade show featuring hundreds of ‘good’ brands founded by passionate people more interested in health than wealth.

The market is a growing one, mainly driven by health rather than saving the planet (that’s now a cliché as no one believes eating a choc or muesli bar will really achieve that ‘one bite at a time’).


Only recently the Ethical Consumer Markets Report showed that demand for ethical consumer goods and services continues to grow, in 2012 it was 12% growth. Spending overall on ethical products now is greater than that of alcohol and cigarettes (£54bn in 2012) with FMCG growing at 36%. Rainforest Alliance certified goods have seen a dramatic growth, which have been adopted by big brands such as McDonalds, who also now uses RSPCA Freedom Food certified products

It’s always interesting to see the latest trends in the eco-ethical arena and this year coconut water, and its many variations, was back in fashion. The market has seen a number of brands dominate like Vita Coco and Chi, many smaller brands have disappeared and some not doing so well, such as Coca-Cola’s ZICO brand, well it is from concentrate and from Coke so hardly the ethical consumer’s first choice.


But now there’s been an explosion of flavoured waters, milks, oils and snack bars, all driven by a health rush for less manufactured drinks and snacks, helped by the fact many A list stars now drink coconut water like Rihanna (who’s an investor in Vita Coco). It’s come a trend for A list stars to invest in healthy products, Katy Perry has a share of Pop Chips (which Walkers have just copied).


The buzz word of the ethical food and drink scene is ‘raw’, specially on chocolates, so  I guess we’ll soon see it on larger brands packaging.

New trends include mushrooms – apparently Japanese emperors have used them for generations to reduce stress (I know a few students who use them that ay as well). And seaweed, which is rich in iron so a good way to reduce fatigue. The energy market keeps growing and shifting towards ethical products as many people seek a solution to their bad diets and poor lifestyles.

I do have a problem with some of the claims made by some products, maybe the founders are just a little too passionate about the health benefits, especially when it comes to snack bars and some drinks. Can a small sachet of orange flavoured powder every day really enhance my IQ?  Can a tub of wild berry cream really make me look 10 years younger?

And, as with all products that over claim to improve your internal balance, you need to take it for months… of course because that’ll make their bank balance healthier too.

The problem many face is that most markets are saturated – there are far too many coconut waters and healthy snack bars about for example, all claiming the same ethical values – natural, no GM, organic, fairly traded, etc, so the differential is no longer the content but the brand. And for many of these products, they don’t have the money to market the brand properly.

Beyond the trend and claims, many of the brands, new and established have at least learnt one lesson quickly – you need a great brand name, a great brand positioning and great pack graphics. Thankfully rough and scratch graphics is now gone out of fashion, replaced with slick design. Alas, few have decent ad campaigns, mostly resorting to a pack shot and a pun (a good reason why you should never let your design or PR agency, do an ad for you).

Rude Health has one of the best packaging designs of any brand I saw, and the products are very tasty too (we have them in the office). Simple colourful graphics, great copy too (check out the bottom of the packs). I think this brand will do very well in the main supermarkets and with middleclass consumers. 10/10.

Rude Health was founded by Nick & Camilla Barnard, they make high-end cereals, snacks and drinks, free from added salt and refined sugar and have seen dramatic growth, especially in the porridge sector, driven by a backlash against refined sugar in breakfast cereals. Between 2008 and 2013, sales of hot cereals almost doubled to £241m. This is certainly a company to watch!


Another brand to watch is VIVID drinks. Founded by James Shillcock, who has a background in tea. He has branded a green tea drink known as ‘matcha’ in Japan, drunk originally by Samurai warriors to boost their energy. It’s high in antioxidants, 130 times more than an average cup of green tea, it also containes caffeine and the amino acid L-theanine, which is a mood-booster and said to strengthen cognitive ability, so it’s no wonder it is tipped to be the next drink fad.

Having spoken to many owners (many of the brands at the show were still in their infancy) I was shocked how many were basing their business model on assumptions rather than any real research or consumer insight. I think they all need to take a lead from Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen, he spent almost 2 years researching his audience before launching and it paid off, Ella is one of the most successful new FMCG brands in the last 10 years. Great product, great design.

Beef stew with spuds

Too many people think there’s one type of ethical consumer, when there are in fact many types and alongside that you need to understand the trends that are adopted by sudo-ethical consumers (like ‘suburban off-setters’) who can be more valuable customers than eco-hippies.

I have no doubt next year a good percentage of the brands will have vanished and a new enthusiastic collection will have appeared. My advice to them all is do your research first before you mortgage the house.

Finally, having sampled lots of very tasty food I was puzzled by one thing, if you are a passionate meat hating vegan, why would you set up a business making vegan food that attempts to look like meat but tastes terrible by comparison?

Vegan Burger



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

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

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

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

The Burning Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is morally more right than the other?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[to be continued]


Top 10 moral dil


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

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

Head Words

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cultural & iconic references in marketing – are you in touch or living in a white ivory tower?


Benny Hill’s, ‘Ernie, the fastest milkman in the West’  is a symbol of  a different time. How many people would get it today?

“I don’t get it,” is probably the second worse reaction you can get in a research group.

Over the years I have sat in many research groups and have been fascinated by both the psychology of people (especially in groups) and their portfolio of references.

Each generation, ethnic and demographic group grows up influenced by different media and social cultural references, as well as their parents influence.

Anyone with teen kids have probably found themselves commenting on the latest music track their kid is listening to, ” yep, I remember that the first time around”. Meanwhile grandad is thinking the same. Or as I said to my son once, “try listening to the original,” as I handed him a Black Sabbath CD.

Cultural, social, visual icons and references allow us to take short cuts in everything from the written word to graphics and video. It is especially important in time poor media like TV, an icon or cultural reference can speak a thousand words.

Comedy especially relies on us knowing what the comedian is referring to, which is why it is so hard for comics to take their comedy abroad. Comedian Freddie Starr went from being watched by millions to entertaining old ladies at seaside resorts because he didn’t move with the times and was still doing Max Wall impersonations to a generation who didn’t know who Max Wall was.

But how often do we ask if our target audience actually gets it? How often do we make assumptions based on our own values, beliefs and cultural experiences?

Working with a fairly international crew, we are constantly reminded of the cultural differences between little England and Europe.

The classic cultural cock-up of all time was the Pepsodent ad, “When you brush with Pepsodent, you’ll wonder where the yellow went.” The ad, ran in Arabic countries, left the audience puzzled because having yellow teeth was considered healthy, while white teeth was seen as bad.

A similar mistake was made with a poster campaign for family planning featuring a man with two kids smiling and a man with 8 kids looking unhappy. In a country where having lots of kids is seen as good no one could understand why the reactions were the wrong way round. It’s a bit like showing a man happier with a second hand Skoda than a new Audi.

A more recent example was an international ad featuring a milk man, this was a totally alien concept to many European consumers.

But as ads become more international (especially on the web) relying on icons and cultural references present a real challenge. It’s all too easy to assume too much which is why it’s essential to research with your target audience. Too many American brands think that the UK is just like America because we both speak English, but soon discover just how different our references can be.’

The ad industry is essentially staffed by educated middle classes (and predominately white), so it is no wonder so many ads reference this world. Many ads are still using the cliched happy white middle class family, all in perfect health with the perfect two kids, with a mixed race couple next door to keep the PC police happy. It therefore begs the question, how well do people in the white ivory towers of Adland really understand real consumers? Are they able to get into the mindset of a 17 year old single mum on a housing estate, or a middle aged Asian family?

This was very apparent when I was working on a number of very successful sexual health campaigns for charities including FPA and Brook. The government campaigns, by contrast, were aimed at typical middle class kids yet the problem was in a lower demographic who certainly don’t respond to clever ads. But then the now demised COI was more interested in making politicians look good in the media than actually changing social behaviour.

And what about the male, female divide? Given the fact that the average creative department is 85% male, it’s no wonder 91% of women think ads don’t understand them.

Age is also a significant factor, each generation grows up with a different portfolio of experiences and references. I saw a poster the other day using Victorian music hall graphics and language, a young intern that was with me was totally puzzled by it because she’d never seen a Victorian music hall poster so it was totally alien. I am the first to admit that I don’t get some of the references my kids use, especially language.

Britain is one of the ethnically mixed countries in the world, yet few ads reference the cultural differences.

So while we are chasing algorhythmns in a vain attempt to define human behavour and find out how people tick, we may be better off taking the lift to the ground floor and mixing with real people. To try and discover and understand the differences between people, and learn to speak

Faking it. The real cost of buying social media numbers.

No one would argue that there is not a lot of faking up of social media numbers going on. It’s simply too easy, too cheap and often too easy to get away with. And as one client I know (who I interviewed when I was recently doing research into social media fraud) said, “If the values I’m measured by are unreal, does it matter if the numbers are too?”

If marketing directors, or social media/PR agencies, are being forced to make false targets, because some people think likes, fans and followers are of a higher value than they really are, you’ll get corruption. It’s human nature. Like it or unlike it.

A recent undercover expose on Channel 4 of how brands, agencies and celebrities fake up the numbers was probably unsurprising to most of us. We all know about the Asian call centers that turned their talents to creating fake Facebook and Twitter identities when the outsourcing collapsed. And then there’s the Russian side of the business.

Even this week there was a big article on faking up social media numbers  in the Metro.

So who is to blame? The marketing directors? The agencies? Or those running click farms?

If we think about what is called ‘vanity marketing’, then you can blame the ego of the brand. This is essentially what led to the Justine Bieber scandal, one record company trying to look more successful than another.

But probably the true criminal is the bureaucrats and accountants, because they are the ones that have turned marketing into a pure numbers game (where once values existed), and just as they did, social media came along with oh so many ways to deliver numbers.


Giving it a negative ethical spin.

The Channel 4 programme  targeted, click farms in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which makes  good TV . Going to a poor city in Bangladesh did give the programme a new ethical angle, comparing the exploitation of poorly paid workers in click farms, working long hours just to massage the vanity of celebrities and brands in the West, to that of sweat shops.

In a classic TV journalism way he used secret cameras, got people talking openly and exposed the Facebook fraudsters on camera, then approached the brands that had been victims of faking up. And true to form, they all deny any involvement, claiming they had strong ethical principles and blamed “consultants”. Yeah, right!

I feel a little sorry for one company, who  got slaughtered, though probably deservedly. But watching an ad executive brag about pushing up the numbers, even if it was just for the Peak District, makes for good TV.

The programme really only managed to get one big brand in the spotlight, Coca-Cola, claiming that one click farm had been used to add millions to their YouTube views. After my own investigations a few months ago I can draw up a much longer list of big brands, when you know what to look for they are easy to spot.

What price for a celebrity Tweet?

Finally the programme went into the shallow end, and attacked actresses from TV soaps for accepting ‘gifts for Tweets’.

Under ASA regulations celebrities should add #ad to their Tweets to let their shallow fans know it’s not real, that they don’t really love this amazing product they are promoting.

The serious side of faking.

If you paint a copy of a classic painting and sell it as copy, that’s ok, but if you sell it as real you go to prison. It’s a fake and fraud.

One fact that was mentioned on the programme, and one that has serious consequences, was the legal angle – faking number is essential criminal as well as misleading consumers. An agency that fakes numbers without their client knowing is defrauding the client because they are being paid in good faith. It only takes one brand’s legal department to take action and we may one day see someone go to prison.

We all know that there is a massive problem with faked up numbers on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the rest, but only a real fool would put any real value on those numbers. A recent survey we did reveled that the vast majority of marketers don’t believe the numbers but admitted they would be tempted to fake numbers up if under pressure.

At the end of the day you need to evaluating how your social media strategy is selling product – what’s the benefit to the bottom line? Because that’s what marketing is really about. As Bill Bernbach once said, “We are all just glorified salesmen.” Though sometimes I fear we are too busy selling the dream rather than the reality.