Upstream media thinking

A few years back there was a train crash at Paddington. This meant all the trains had to terminate a few stops before Paddington, at Ealing.

The trouble was Ealing is only a little station, and they couldn’t handle all the extra traffic.

One day we were down there waiting for a train to a client. The little station was absolutely packed. Like everyone else we were watching the information on the huge TV screens on the platform.

The passengers were giving the staff a hard time because all the TV screens were showing inaccurate information. I overheard one of the staff walk over to the station manager and say, “Everyone’s getting really upset because the trains aren’t coming in or departing at the time shown on the screens. What’ll we do?”

The station manager said, “I’ll fix it.” He got a broom and, using the handle, reached up and turned all the screens off one-by-one. Then he said, “There, problem gone.”

I thought, what an interesting approach. Don’t spend ages trying to get the screens to show the correct times. Just turn ‘em off. A great example of upstream media thinking.

Another example was BBH’s work for Boddingtons beer. Boddingtons is a Manchester beer and they wanted to make it fashionable in London. So the obvious media was Time Out, the London listings mag.

But the really clever thinking was they didn’t place the ads inside Time Out. They placed them on the outside of the back cover. Just the place no one else wanted. Because no one reading a magazine reads the back cover.

But BBH reasoned that most people read Time Out on the tube. And if you put the ad inside you only got one person. But if you put the ad outside you got everyone else in the carriage. Like a little poster.

This thinking then dictated the creative. Being little posters the ads couldn’t be fussy with lots of copy. They had to be simple, powerful graphic executions. Another great campaign that started in the media department.

I always found that’s where a lot of the real creativity came from. When the SDP was first formed, GGT had them as a client. But the real star of our campaign wasn’t the creative work, it was the media department.

Obviously you want opinion formers to see political advertising. And in an election most of those opinion formers are either in Parliament or in the news media. So how do you get to them?

You couldn’t buy poster sites anywhere near the Houses of Parliament, or Fleet Street, where the newspapers were. So Mike Gold thought, if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain bring the mountain to Mohammed.

He hired a lorry and pasted our posters on the side. Then he had the lorry drive between Parliament Square and Fleet Street. Coincidentally the lorry would get a ‘puncture’ in both places, and have to change the wheel. This meant it would be jacked-up and stationary for about thirty minutes at each end of its trip.

Which meant we had poster sites in Parliament Square and Fleet Street, for half an hour, several times a day. Great idea.

It wasn’t me that said it, but it’s true. If you’ve got a creative media department, the medium is the message.

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    Hi Dave,

    Very interesting story.

    Station porters used to know the timetable inside out because they used to have to place signboards up to notify passengers. They had a job with a purpose. Now they can’t tell you anything because their job has been taken over by an electronic signboard.

    I remember the Boddingtons ads. I didn’t realise the bit about free tube posters. Very clever. Loads of impact. Just a pint on a black background. Boddington’s. “The cream of Manchester” all over London. Straight to the pint.

    How did the agency bill the flat tyres to politicians? Was it a creative or a media cost? I bet the lorry driver had a few tall stories to tell. I mean, how do you keep getting flat tyres around Parliament Square? It’s one of the most Policed roads in the country. Did you provide the lorry driver with a script full of different excuses from Monday to Friday? Did he have to audition for the job? The Police must have wondered what the hell was going on? You can just see the look on the copper’s face…here he comes, regular as clockwork…flat tyre is it?

    No he’s just practising his upstream media thinking manoeuvre.

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    Pure Gold.

  • That post be tight as hell – bespoke media solutions for life fam…

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    The back page of magazines has always been a premium position in terms of sales – having been an editor in the past I know this as well as any other publishing house.
    Not only do you get the crowd effect (other people seeing it while you read) but you also have the fact that when a magazine is discarded on the coffee table, it’s often face down. So you have the advert pointing up. It is the ONLY position in the publication that has this unique effect.
    So, rather than particularly clever thinking,’ surely this is just pure logic???

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    Hi Neil,
    I agree it’s logical.
    But creatives usually want big juicy colour spreads for their ads.
    And clients want lots of copy, believeing people will stop and read as they’re flipping through.
    Neither of those things happen on the back.
    As you say, when you get the end of the mag you stop and drop it.
    50% of the time face down.
    The insight was start thinking of the back page as a poster not a press ad.
    Big bold graphics seen from a distance.
    It may have been obvious to magazine publishers but, so far as I know, they never sold it that way to agencies.

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    Dave; I think this post ventures into some neat conceptual space and has really got your commentators scratching their heads – as evidenced by the lack of comments – and wondering to themselves “Yeah, where the heck are these upstream media headwaters?”

    I know it’s got me asking myself “Where is the equivalent ‘outside back page’ of the internet?” “Where is the equivalent ‘outside back page’ of the PDA screen?”

    It is no accident that the logos on laptops are upside-down to the owners and face right-side up to those across from them on the train.

    But I am thinking IF the primary dynamic here is consumer eyeballs avoiding mainstream advertising – electing instead for electronic, non-advertized media, even at a premium; fast-forwarding or erasing video advertising; opting for narrow-casted information – THEN product placement seems to me to be the premier high-ground marketing space. Advertizing needs to be nonchalant and (seemingly) spontaneous; or risk losing a public well-trained in avoiding advertizing, so that even the best placed ads miss their target. We’ve seen this in movies, TV series, and with your favorite sports clubs. But has anyone seen

    – Product placement in literature (Stephen Dedalus holding a Marlboro)?
    – Product placement in fine art (Mona Lisa with a Snickers candy bar)?
    – Product placement in concert music (Variation on an Oscar Meyer theme)?

    I joke. But seriously; getting products into the hands (or on the equivalent of the t-shirts) of the culture makers, those who fashion narrow-casted info, seems to me the best avenue to the ‘outside back page’ of the internet.

    Haha! Tough question; no easy answers here sensei.

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    Hi Michael,
    Product placement and sponsorship kind of overlap a bit here, don’t they?
    I thought it was a great idea for BMW to sponsor, but it was the wrong brand.
    BMW isn’t about daring, innovative thinking.
    Maybe Toyota Prius, or Smart car, or even Apple.
    In the UK maybe M&S or The Independent.
    But on the internet it needs to be a big international brand.
    And most of those aren’t about daring, innovative thinking.
    Good to live in the question though.

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    Hi Dave,

    I don’t know where the online back page is, but having read the comments and thinking about the many nights I spent waiting for the tube after working late, I wonder how much technolgy will determine what we do and how we are sold to
    in the future.

    We already have live posters in the underground. Imagine if that could be turned into a crosstrack cinema experience. Wouldn’t it be funny if everyone stayed on the platform to watch the film for free, or even a small fee, or it could be sponsored by an advertiser. it would be one way of regulating the number of people travelling at certain times, and…a guaranteed target audience. Higher numbers in public places also bring down crime figures.

    From memeory, I think there’s something like 4-500 tube stations in London.
    200 people on every platform is already 100,000 people. It could work on the Moscow Metro because they have vast underground caverns. It could get a bit hot and claustrophobic on the London Underground…and to think we used to smoke down there at one time! Absolutely appalling.

    There could be an underground season for the winter, overground season for the summer, or maybe it’s better just to look out of the window and stare into space after a hard day’s work.

    I still can’t get over the amount of information people try to cram into a 60×40 poster on the tube in such a short attention span. It all ends up as SPLUNGE in the brain.
    Here’s a mental record of a walk up an underground underpass:-

    Going down escalator…moving images…interesting…4 messages…which one do I read…oh it’s changed….new message…. Quick! read something! What? Anything!
    Who is it? oh it’s Reuters and Nokia. Something about getting the information as it happens…(Thinks) isn’t than CNN’s line???? What’s this Twitter? Tweaks? What?

    Northern line, turn left…Walk

    Girl on poster for film? show? moving on… visit london’s amazing …bit of graffiti… oh look there’s a busker….sorry no money mate…bold headline too confusing to read….new headline too long to digest….another one, doesn’t get to the point…
    Bored. Thinks, what am I doing here down this dreadful tunnel of confusion???

    oops nearly walked into someone….ooops! someone nearly walked into me….direction Northern line Which way?

    Such a complete waste of money.
    One massive poster would be so much better.
    That’s what the London Commuter has to deal with every day to get to work.

    There must be a better, more pleasant way to advertise.

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    How about freelance buskers who act out agency scripts for them?
    Sponsoring the Arts in London. helping poor actors scrape afew crumbs.

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    I think freelance buskers acting out scripts is a great idea.
    I read someone tried it on stage in the West End a while back, acting out commercials before the play.
    Who wouldn’t want to see that?
    On a separate note, how they do posters on the Tokyo underground is like a big film strip printed on the wall between stations.
    As the train passes by it has the effect of moving the pictures before your eyes like a film.
    Really rivetting experience and very clever.

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    Dave Trott wrote:
    Product placement and sponsorship kind of overlap a bit here, don’t they?

    I think maybe product placement and “spokesman” overlap even a little bit more. And I am trying to think past celebrity to “narrow-cast provider” as the person using/holding/exemplifying the product.

    – Sponsorship is the CNN website “brought to you” by Facebook, with appropriate intrusive logo and ad placement.
    – Product Placement is a CNN bringing live pictures of the Iranian demonstrations to you via Facebook.
    – Sponsorship is “brought to you” by Apple, with appropriate intrusive logo and ad placement.
    – Product Placement is a speaker at the TED Conference using an Apple laptop on stage.

    Kevin Gordon wrote:
    …or maybe it’s better just to look out of the window and stare into space after a hard day’s work.

    In between Harvard station and Central Square station on the Red Line here in Boston, there is an advertisement in the form of a zoetrope. The speed of the train makes the individual frames look animated without the use of strobe lights. The sudden appearance in the dark tunnel of backlit “animation” in the windows of the train is still a new and surprising experience to many riders, and inevitably cause a stir (particularly with the kids).

    Kevin Gordon wrote:
    We already have live posters in the underground. Imagine if that could be turned into a cross track cinema experience. Wouldn’t it be funny if everyone stayed on the platform to watch the film for free, or even a small fee, or it could be sponsored by an advertiser. it would be one way of regulating the number of people traveling at certain times, and…a guaranteed target audience. Higher numbers in public places also bring down crime figures.

    Far out! Kev, you are becoming the 2nd main reason I’m tuning into Dave’s blog regularly now. Great ideas here, and just plain fun to play with this. Can you clarify what you mean by “live posters” though. Just wondering. And, my musician’s background once again comes to the fore, is there a sound track to these hypothetical cross track cinema experiences, or are they silent films?

    I imagine these cinema are in serial form, maybe extensions of more established mainstream media series – like the podcast “mini-sodes” various TV series are already producing to lure eyes to their websites.

    And while we are at it: if there is a soundtrack it might be available through commuter’s mp3/pda portable. The same with the podcast. Both add-ons could, like you say, sell sponsorship space. Better yet, to place the product within the content of the cinema.

    And while we are at it; what is in the ears of said commuters? Do you guys use Pandora in the UK to narrowcast radio to your mp3 players? Very popular here, and as yet unpolluted with intrusive sponsorship.


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    Hi Dave,

    Many thanks for your compliment.

    Hi Michael,

    I’ve just read your comment.

    That’s an incredible compliment which I could never possibly accept.
    To set the record straight, I’d never compare myself to Dave in a million years, and I’d never even think of it. It would be like comparing Batman with a Busker.

    The thing that makes Batman great is his willingness to share his knowledge with everyone for the greater good. So many people take from this indusrty, but you can count the fingers on your hands of those who give anything back.

    I read ‘How to get your first job in advertising’ after being in the game for 10 years, working for agencies being made to do painfully rubbish ads. I knew the ads were rubbish, they knew the ads were rubbish, and most people at the time went down the pub at lunch time as the only means of escape from a perilously frustrating life in advertising. Then along came Dave’s book.

    It was like finding The Dead Sea Scrolls, that was how important it was to read this book. I used to read it over and over again on the train, at home, and in bed to drum into my brain what advertising was truly about to help me cast out the devilish noise of the majority who would make every excuse under the sun why this ad or that ad didn’t work or couldn’t be sold like that.

    To all the young creatives Dave was (and still is) like Clint Eastwood stepping into a dysfunctional town called Adland shooting all the “Punmen” with one silver bullet. It created uproar. Suddenly everyone had to think about what they were doing. Nobody could be lazy any more, because they knew if they became compacent, they might just get a silver bullet right between their own eyes.

    I knew Dave did a lot for D&AD, but it was not until just recently, I realised the full extent of his work for D&AD. It’s something he talks very little about. The amount of effort and personal sacrifice required for such an undertaking is enormous, yet he tirelessly helps others because he is passionate about this industry.

    Then there’s the Chip Shop Awards, a scheme created to free advertising from the shackles of restrictions we all suffer day in day out that stifle creativity.

    I ran my own agency for four years, so I know what it is like to run and build an agency from nothing. I used to switch off at about 4pm on a Sunday and relax. This is enough work in itself. To then spend most nights teaching students, some of them as thick as me, and get up and go visit a client the following morning with whatever headaches clients can throw at you, and deal with it shows loyalty and passion beyond all imaginable reason. That’s what I call THE RIGHT STUFF.

    For myself, I’m happy just to be able tjust o write and contribute, and say a BIG THANK YOU to the person who truly deserves it. Namely, Dave Trott.

    I remember there was a profile article in Campaign once about Mr Gold. He said something like: “I get really excited when Dave comes into my office with an ad so outrageous I ask myself how the hell am I going to sell that?’ It gets the adrenalin going and gets me really excited!” GGT was a fantastic combination of top talent.
    Nobody said it, but everyone knew it.

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    Thanks Kevin,
    That really gave me a great start to the day.

  • On the subject of buskers playing out ads.

    I agree tube tunnels are too cluttered to clock everything you pass. But isn’t that the competitive point that forces better visual communication? Agreed doesn’t happen that often. Especially film posters. Most seem to be designed by the same art director. Why do they ALL bother to list every single contributor from ‘starring’ to ‘directed by’ in an over-condensed (and totally illegible font)? THe busker concpet dovetails nicely into what Rory Sutherland and I exchanged thoughts on recently. I lamented the passing of the original jingle. We can all sing them word perfect. WHAT IF…buskers were paid to sing jingles? I bet we’d all join in. I’m gonna start an agency called Brand Buskers. Want to join me? Altogether now…..A million housewives everyday ….A finger of fudge is just enough …..Do the Shake’n’Vac and put ……Try the taste of Martini, the most …..You’ll wonder where the yellow went when you….

    It’s so crazy it just might work. Music in the underground is a far more intrusive medium than poster. Until we get too used to it and switch off. But that could take years. Then you’d have people giving away brand sponsored earplugs. As for product placement, who will be the first to get their product name and strapline seemlessly laced into the hook of the next Gary Barlow penned Take That single?

    Bob Ashwood Creative

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    That’s a nice idea Bob – ipods are going to limit the audience, but there’s nowt like a catchy tune to get in your head and pester you all day, so those who aren’t plugged in are the primed to have their ears mugged.
    I regularly find myself humming the tune to kids TV programmes whilst I wait in line at the supermarket. I also enjoy a fun office game whereby I sing, hum or whistle something that is both catchy and sh*t / annoying and then listen as colleagues pick it up and run with it – partuclar favourite this week is Leo Sayer – you make me fell like dancin’.

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    Do you notice how The Scissor Sisters ripped that off for ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancing’ ?

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    aaaaaahhhhhhhh Dave – now you’re at it – without even a whistle or a hum.

    got a great quote stuck to my desk divide – “Originality is great… but plagiarism is quicker”