Monthly Archives: January 2010

We’re All Fans

If you do one thing today, visit We’re All Fans, the campaign site promoting the 2010 Grammy Awards. It’s a visual filter of YouTube, Flickr and Twitter by artist and one of the coolest sites I’ve seen in a while.

Read more on We’re All Fans…

Creativity v Money

In World War 2, my Uncle Harry was in the 8th
Army, the Desert Rats.

They were fighting the Germans in North Africa.

In typical British army style, their equipment was crap.

Read more on Creativity v Money…

Amateurs v professionals

When I was at BMP, I worked on the Labour party advertising. Labour wouldn’t use a professional ad agency. It was seen as too capitalist.

So it was just a bunch of advertising volunteers lead by Chris Powell. It was pretty disorganised with everyone doing something different.

I was given a 10 minute Party Political Broadcast (PPB) to write. We were told to turn up at 10 Downing Street on Saturday morning for a meeting with ‘The Think Tank’.

So my art director, Mike Reynolds, and I went along in his VW camper van. There were no gates at the end of Downing Street in those days. So we just parked in front of number 10.

The policeman opened the door of the VW for us. When we got out all the foreign tourists started taking photos of us. A different policeman let us into number 10. Once you get inside it’s quite a surprise.

From outside it looks like a row of houses. But that’s a facade. Inside it’s one big office building. The assistant showed us into a room and asked us if we’d like a drink.

We said, “Cup of tea please.”

He said, “We can’t do hot drinks, I’m afraid.”

I said, “What can we have then?”

He said, “Whisky, Gin, Vodka, that sort of thing.”

This was Saturday morning.

My introduction to the world of politics. Anyway we took the brief and wrote the 10 minute PPB. By the time ‘The Think Tank’ had finished with it, it was as ineffectual as all PPBs. Just talking heads.

Our one featured Dennis Healy, and two others I don’t remember. So I just wrote all three names at the top of the script. Dennis Healy saw it and refused to do it.

His assistant said, “Mr Healy feels he’s being asked to audition, and he doesn’t do that.”

Sid Roberson was the director. Sid was from South London, and a very muscular bloke. Think of a cross between Dennis Waterman and Mickey Rourke. Sid walked into the library where Dennis Healy was, and shut the door. Five minutes later Sid came out and said, “He’ll do it.”

We asked Sid what changed Dennis Healy’s mind.

Sid said, “I just said, “Look ‘ere Mr ‘Ealy, I ain’t ‘ere to muck you abaht, and I ain’t ‘ere to be mucked abaht. Alright?”

And so we shot the PPB, but it was a waste of time. It was what it was. A group of professionals behaving like amateurs. Labour did have one brilliant ad, done by Tim Delaney. But they never ran it.

This was the 1970s, a decade of strikes, power cuts, and the three day week. Tim Delaney had a simple black poster, with nothing on it but a candle.


Apparently Jim Callaghan refused to be associated with knocking advertising. It lacked dignity. So he wouldn’t run it.

He ran a full colour poster with a picture of himself on instead. And of course he lost.

No doubt in a dignified way. Then the Conservatives gave their account to Saatchi.

Who handled it professionally. The brilliance of Saatchi was understanding that in this country, we don’t vote FOR someone.

We vote AGAINST someone. This always puts the incumbent at a disadvantage.

The government tries to defend their record. Which leaves the opposition free to just attack it.

Everyone remembers LABOUR ISN’T WORKING as the best political advertising. But it wasn’t.

Saatchis real brilliance wasn’t in the advertising that got Thatcher elected first time round. That was relatively easy, all they had to do was attack the Labour government. The real brilliance was the election campaigns after that.

The ones that kept The Conservatives in power. Understanding that voters usually vote AGAINST someone, Saatchi made Labour the party to vote against. They treated Labour as the incumbent.

They took Labour’s manifesto, and treated it as if it was their record in government. They made everyone more scared of voting Labour than keeping Thatcher.

They went through the Labour manifesto with a fine-tooth comb. They took their policies and costed them out.

They worked out how much everyone’s tax would have to rise to pay for them. Then they presented them in simple, powerful posters.

One poster featured a massive bomb. And the headline, LABOUR’S TAX BOMBSHELL

Written on the bomb was ‘You’ll Pay £1,250 more tax a year under Labour’.

Another poster featured two massive red boxing gloves coming out of the poster.

Written on one was ‘More Taxes’ and on the other ‘Higher Prices’.

And the headline, LABOUR’S DOUBLE WHAMMY.

While they were at Saatchi, the Tories won three elections straight.

Personally, I don’t think we’ve seen that sort of professionalism in any political advertising since.

Read more on Amateurs v professionals…

Editor’s blog: Mandelson’s serious credibility problem

It’s a bit rich for this Government to start preaching to institutional investors about long-term thinking.

The tireless Mandelson is at it again. This time he’s summoned big institutional investors to a summit to give them a wigging about their role in City takeovers. The FT reports that shareholders are bracing themselves for Lord M to put the heat on them not to sell ‘their shares for short term gain, and to put more weight on the long-term prospects of companies in which they invest’. You’d burst out laughing if it wasn’t enough to make you weep.

It really is cute that suddenly Mandelson and New Labour are coming over all Germanic in their outlook: serious, conservative and looking to the long term. He has a serious credibility problem here, though. Despite the downturn and the need to adapt attitudes towards business, the Government cannot have it both ways. The way in which this regime has allowed its tune to change from laissez-faire to interventionist does not compute. You either embrace the market and let vile capitalism do its work or you don’t. You can’t be French and American at the same time.

It’s all very well to berate institutional shareholders for being tempted to make a quick buck from Kraft, but any gains are welcome these days. If, as a big fund manger, I was currently sitting on a large tranche of Cadbury shares, I’d be sorely tempted to take Kraft’s shilling and bank the proceeds. I’m responsible – indeed I have a duty – to try to grow the pension pots of my members, and I reckon in the current climate that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If Kraft goes away, bruised and defeated, the latter day Quakers of Bournville may have scored a victory for John Bull, but the first result will be that Cadbury’s share price plummets. You or I may not like it, but that’s the way it works.

Dedicated readers will recall that we ran a very interesting roundtable a year ago about this very subject with Tomorrow’s Company, called ‘Whose company is it anyway?‘ With some great contributions from the likes of Sir John Egan, Will Hutton and Adrian Beecroft of Apax, we looked at the vexed question of ‘stewardship’ – and asked how the casino economy short-termism of the Noughties dragged us into the mire.

And, while we’re on the subject of short-termism, and flogging off the family silver in search of short-term gain… It’s time to remind HM Government that it hasn’t exactly been blameless in this area. What about the utilties, DERA or Westinghouse? What about the fact that our whole nuclear power industry was flogged off on the cheap, and now that we need to build a load of new reactors fast, we no longer have the know-how – because in the private sector the industry has withered to nothing? (The French find this highly amusing, and are waiting to cash in big time as their nuclear engineers pile on the Eurostar to show us the 21st century way to set to with the uranium).

Read more on Editor’s blog: Mandelson’s serious credibility problem…

Only 347 shopping days to Christmas!

TV viewing on Christmas Day 2009 was about the lowest I can remember, the top programme, Eastenders, only reaching just shy of 11m viewers. The previous year Wallace and Gromit were a Matter of Loaf and Death to over 14 million.

Read more on Only 347 shopping days to Christmas!…

Mr Pot, Meet Mr Kettle

I picked up Campaign last week and there was a quote from

“This will be
accepted by people who are staunchly Conservatives but rejected by people who
aren’t. It’s not bad, it’s not wrong, it’s just ineffective and invisible.”

Read more on Mr Pot, Meet Mr Kettle…

Editor’s blog: Getting out of the Abbey habit

I can’t get too excited about Santander’s Abbey rebrand. But maybe boredom is what the banks want these days.

As a customer of Abbey since god knows when, I wish I could tell you that I sprang from my bed this morning with a quickening sense of excitement about the prospect of my bank changing its name; that I poured the kids’ Cheerios into the bowl with a sense that bliss it was in Santander’s dawn to be alive. But I can’t. The truth is that this ‘momentous’ transition bores me stiff. But maybe that’s a good sign.

I don’t have any complaints about Abbey. Spain’s economy may be even more shot-to-pieces than ours, but Santander is supposed to be a solid, triple-A outfit and they haven’t allowed themselves any insane excursions along the lines of those crazed Icelanders. Me and Abbey (sorry, Santander) have a cool relationship in all senses of the word. It’s utterly impersonal – I don’t know anyone there by name, as one would have done back in the old days. They don’t get in my way and I stay clear of them. The monthly salary cheque goes in, and 30 days later, it’s all gone out again.

One only notices one’s bank when it screws up – “I’ll just go online and see how that Icesave high-interest account of mine is doing…What? Christ, it’s all disappeared!” Abbey has kept its nose clean with me for a while. But even if they did incur my wrath, I can only imagine the hideous palaver involved if I ever left to sign up with one of the oppo – re-authorising all those wretched direct debits and standing orders. I’d spend half the rest of my days on this earth sorting out the mess on a bad line to Bangalore. That’s why many of us still have an account based in the university town where we went to college: pure inertia.

But maybe utter boredom is what retail banks are now after. Excitement and banks are best kept well apart in 2010. We’ve had far too much excitement over the past couple of years from those in the finance game. (One reason why I’d steer clear of Branson’s new Beardy Bank – his own finances are about as transparent as a muddy lake.)

You can tell that back to humdrum basics is the new UK strategy for most banking outfits from the grim TV advertising campaign currently being run by Nat West. From the high street bit of the disgraced RBS, you get a 30-second spot showing a bunch of really boring bank tellers, balding salt-of-the earth types with tricky teeth, who smile a lot, ruffle the hair of small children and care deeply about their customers. None of these guys would know a credit default swap if it came up to them in the Bromley branch and punched them on the nose. And bonuses? What’s a bonus? They’re really happy just helping customers and driving around in that four year old Ford Focus for eighteen grand a year. Bit like teachers, road gritters or ambulance drivers, really. Here to help the community.

It’s hardly the truth. But it’s a safe, acceptable line for battered banks to be peddling at the moment as they struggle to restore their reputations and their balance sheets.

Read more on Editor’s blog: Getting out of the Abbey habit…

2010 Watch: Internet on TVs

I know slate devices like the HP/Microsoft Slate and the Apple iPad will be huge this year (I certainly want one) and the Google Nexus is a nice addition to smartphones but they represent just another screen to add to this list:

Read more on 2010 Watch: Internet on TVs…

God is in the detail

Jackie Stewart was Formula One World Champion, three times.

People say what made him a great driver was he was better in the rain than anyone else.

The other Formula One drivers knew that, unlike them, he actually enjoyed driving in it.

Read more on God is in the detail…

Four things that won’t happen in out-of-home in 2010

This is my first blog as Media Week’s new blogger on out-of-home media – or, as you may call it, outdoor (more on that later). Having spotted that top ten lists dominate the most-read articles on media websites, I have decided to kick-off with a “top” list of my own.

Read more on Four things that won’t happen in out-of-home in 2010…