Monthly Archives: March 2010

Bring it on

So finally we appear to have a date.

For years now we have had to put up with Gordon Brown’s
dithering over when to call the election. But with time now almost up he
has run out of options. To the Palace he now must go.

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It’s the audience, stupid!

There’s a definite meme that’s powerful amongst the political and media class about this being the internet election. I’m asked the question a lot by mainstream media and you can see why the combination of an easy label and shiny gadgets combine to produce a seductive narrative that enables journalists to tell audiences why this election is different to all the others.

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If Parliament hangs, so will the ad men

The next 6-8 weeks could provide the closest run election in more than a decade. If that wasn’t tantalising enough, yesterday’s announcement that the Tories had turned to their old sparring partner M&C Saatchi and pitched them against Labour’s incumbent Saatchi & Saatchi brings adland’s interest sharply into focus, adding an intriguing sideshow to the fun and games ahead.

Not that we needed an extra reason to be interested. From TV and radio, to outdoor, digital and DM, the unending stream of sloganeering, positioning, repositioning and, with a bit luck, attack-dog marketing is the kind of thing that can’t help but get the blood flowing, red, blue or otherwise.

It would be nice to think policy and ideology will ultimately decide the result, but whether it’s a ‘will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights’ Sun front page, a ‘Labour isn’t working’ billboard or a misplaced aside caught on camera and immortalised on YouTube, rightly or wrongly, advertising, marketing, media and PR will help shape whether we ‘vote for change’, have ‘a future fair for all’, or, choose, deep breath, ‘change that works for you – building a fairer Britain’.

Which is where this blog comes in. We’ve lined up contributors from all the main parties to help explain the strategies and creative work they hope will deliver the votes required alongside industry experts and our own correspondents to pass comment on whether the job they’re doing is hitting the mark.

We’ll be featuring the campaigns as they happen and debating the effectiveness of key moments – please add your comments and ignite the conversation.

If you have an article you’d like to post that you feel is relevant to the Red, yellow and blue blog, email me at

Rich Sutcliffe

Editor, Brand Republic

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Social media breathes new life into search marketing

The IAB Search Council’s conference held last week – Search for Brands – aimed to prove that search can be used for brand building. As part of this, the IAB in association with Microsoft Advertising launched a new, in-depth report exploring the brand building relationship between search and social media (download free on the IAB site).

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Without the details, nothing happens

Mike Greenlees was CEO of GGT.
The agency had a big presentation to a major client, at the client’s offices.
So everyone was getting ready to leave the agency.
They were all making last minute checks.
Mike was going through the deck, getting his head in the right space.
Making sure the argument made logical sense.
Making sure all the charts covered all the points that needed making.
He checked with Jim Kelly, the agency MD, if he had everything he needed.
He checked with Damien O’Malley, the Planning Director, if he had everything.
They were going through their own decks.
Mike checked his watch.
He said, “What time does the cab get here? We’re going to be late.”
Jim said, “I left the new trainee account manager to sort it out.”
Mike went to double-check.
He found him sitting with his feet on the desk, leafing through the presentation document.
Mike said, “What time have you booked the cab for?”
The trainee account manager said, “I haven’t done it yet, I’m just checking the strategy to see if it makes sense.”
Mike took the document, and brushed his feet off the table.
Mike gets very northern when he’s angry.
He said, “Never mind the fucking strategy document. You let me worry about the fucking strategy document. You just get up off your arse and get out on the street and get a fucking cab, right now.”
See, the trainee account manager hadn’t understood the job.
First you get the small stuff right.
Then you get to be involved in the bigger stuff.
But he saw the small stuff as unimportant.
He just assumed it would get done by somebody.
But everyone else was assuming he’d do it.
Logistics is the account manager’s job.
That’s why you train people from the bottom up.
Because without the details nothing happens.
If Mike hadn’t worried about the details, they’d still be waiting for the cab.
Because everyone would have assumed someone else would do it.
Which means no one would do it.
Which means it wouldn’t happen.
Which means the presentation doesn’t happen.
Which means you lose the business.
See, however brilliant the presentation is, if no one gets it to the client it doesn’t happen.
And all that thinking is wasted.

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Editor’s blog: Sooner or later, the spending must cease

We can’t afford to keep spending money on recovery. Also, the Government is a useless banker/ VC.

Poor old Alastair Darling (ahem). He knows better than anyone that the one thing UK plc really needs to get to grips with, now that the worst of the recession is over, is public spending. But he’s a politician and there’s an election on the way. He can’t afford to be seen as the axeman, at least not until after May 6th, and Gordon wouldn’t let him if he tried.

So here’s the line he has tried to walk instead. Yes, we need cuts, but not yet. It’s too soon, the recovery isn’t safe. We need to keep spending, but on recovery rather than rescue. Big government saved you in the dark days of 2008/2009, and it can do the same again this year – just keep the faith. Don’t trust Dave and the posh boys, they’ll turn the taps off straight away and the cure will be worse than the disease.

All well and good in theory, especially for all those pundits who have rediscovered Keynes in recent months. But in practice, we’ve been pouring money into cushioning the recession for 18 months and – however successful or otherwise the outcome – we simply can’t afford to do it any longer. Every day we continue to keep spending now will simply make the final, inevitable day of reckoning more painful.

The fact is the deficit is already bigger than when Denis Healy went to the IMF in the 1970s. That’s simply not sustainable – yet there’s little sign in today’s Budget that the Government is ready to do anything serious about it. A green investment bank so we can pour more of our hard-earned tax dollars into the dubious benefits of offshore windfarms. £500m of taxpayers money to be ‘invested’ in start-ups by Whitehall’s finest commercial talent scouts. 15,000 civil servants to be relocated out of London – a great opportunity for Waitrose to open a bigger store in Cardiff but not much good when it comes to protecting sterling, our national credit rating or our international economic reputation.

I’m also wondering about the wisdom of forcing state-owned Lloyds and RBS to massively increase their loans to SMEs. The Treasury wants to double the current figure to £94 billion. There will be plenty of weak and badly-run SMEs at the front of the queue to get access to this money, and default rates will go up accordingly. The government is a useless banker and an even worse venture capitalist. If Lloyds and RBS thought there was more easy money to be made from UK SME lending, it would be already doing it. Irrational exuberance combined with an overly-lax attitude to risk is what got us into this mess in the first place.

What matters at the moment – and it galls me to say this – is what those wretched ‘markets’ think. If they do not like the look of the remedies offered to what they see as our massive problems, they will punish us. That means potentially losing the AAA-rating, buyers getting sniffy about our bonds, lumping us in with the Greeks and the Portuguese as honorary PIGS. Darling has done his best to set out his stall for the general election and first reactions aren’t good. The pound fell below a dollar fity again as Darling sat down. Whether it will make any difference to the voters we won’t know until May, of course.

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The Conservative party versus Joanna Lumley

Here are two different approaches to using posters to create noise and generate PR.

In the red corner Joanna Lumley. The actress will next Monday hand-paint a billboard on behalf of homeless charity Thames Reach. Expect the photo-call to generate acres of coverage early next week in the press and maybe even on TV. Everyone is working for free; charity gets healthy exposure and hopefully loads of donations. I predict success.

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Editor’s blog: Ex-parrot shows doctors keen to feather their nest

The case of a (now ex-)parrot in Miami got me thinking about the caring professions and their relationship with lucre.

I do wonder about some people. Not least Anne Lowery from Florida, who spent £50,000 on chemotherapy for her 42-year-old Wagler’s Conure parakeet called Areba – who then became an ex-parrot within a year. Dr Teresa Lightfoot, the vet who administered the avian injections (and swiped Ms Lowery’s card) said, ‘It was tough for Areba. But we improved her quality of life and gave her and her mom more time together.’ (I don’t know what they teach them at Miami vet school, but I doubt if the prospect of homo sapiens giving birth to a Wagler’s Conure parakeet is included in the curriculum.)

These kind of stories are ten-a-penny in our mad world. Kids starve in Africa and some nut job spends fifty grand on her parrot. But it was all brought home to me last week by my brother and his dog Sidney. Sidney is a crazed lurcher/greyhound cross with an IQ of around 12, breath like an open sewer and a bad attitude towards small furry animals such as foxes and squirrels. Last week he made the serious error of taking off across the road in pursuit of his prey and was hit by a Transit (tt didn’t bother stopping). My brother took the broken-legged mutt to the vet and they donned the mask to have a look.

After an X-ray came the bad news – the specialist orthopaedic operation required would cost £4,500. I can’t say this surprised me – when you spend eight years getting trained to acquire your veterinary certificate, you really want to fill your boots when you’re finally are let loose on Satan the Rottweiler and Squeaker the hamster. I recall the bloke who used to see to our childhood cat Marmaduke when felled by fleas or feline enteritis drove a Jaguar XJS. The emotional blackmail used by vets will be familiar to any pet owner.

This got me thinking about the caring professions and their relationship with lucre. Not least because after failing to visit my wife and children on the last two occasions they were really pretty unwell – a nasty allergic reaction in the case of the 8 month old baby – we’ve just had a seriously snotty letter from the GP, saying if we don’t get the toddler in for his second dose of MMR, we’re going to get slung off their list. The fact that they lose money if they don’t reach their children’s immunisation targets is the reason for this. I feel like ringing up to suggest that if they agree to visit, we’ll do the immunisation – but that would be childish. And they probably wouldn’t answer the phone anyway.

What they need to remember is that following their contract renegotiations and the huge uplift in their salaries, the out-of-hours service offered – or rather not offered – by most GPs is now a shambles. Only one in 50 services is meeting the out-of-hours performance targets set to ensure patients get proper advice and treatment.

GPs, like vets, are not saints – they are small businesses operating in a very odd market. Many are hugely successful. Take Dr Suppiah Ratneswaren, 61, who is linked to four separate NHS practices in the south London borough of Greenwich. He’s admitted he is earning between £300,000 and £400,000 a year, 90% of it from the health service. And yet I notice today their Royal College is yet again trying to make access to them more difficult, because they don’t want to be bothered with ‘minor ailments’. It seems to me that GPs have spent the last decade telling us all that they wish to do less work for more money. You can’t blame them for trying; but that doesn’t mean we have to buy it.

The point is a simple one. As members of the NHS resist the inevitable public spending cuts that will come after an election, they will scream blue murder about protecting patient care and why health should be ring-fenced. It should not. Many of them will genuinely be concerned about this. But, human nature being what it is, they’re anxious to keep their own nests feathered too.

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In most heated discussions, everyone thinks they’re being rational and the other person is being emotional.
When my son was about six or seven, he said he wanted to support West Ham like I did when I was young.
I said, “You’re not from East London, you’re from North London.
You have to support your local team.”
He said his friends had told him he could support who he liked.
I said, “You can’t, it’s the law, you’ve got to support your local club. So you’ve got two choices, and you’re not Jewish, so you’ll have to support Arsenal.”
To me, I was being rational and he was being emotional.
He wanted to support West Ham just because his dad had.
I thought the rational thing was to support your local club, so that you could go and see them play.
But to him, he was being rational and I was being emotional.
What did it matter if he supported his local team?
Nowadays everyone mainly watches all the matches on TV anyway.
Another confusing situation concerned my wife.
She’s Chinese, and one day she said to me, “The people at the greengrocers are very rude.”
I asked her what she meant.
She said, “I was buying fruit and veg, and suddenly they all started shouting “Wanker!” at someone on the other side of the road.
I asked them who they were yelling at.
They said it was Freddie Lundberg.
I didn’t know who he was, so I asked them what he’d done wrong.
They said, “Well he plays for Arsenal, and we’re all Tottenham fans.”
My wife didn’t think that was a very rational response to someone famous.
She thought they were just being rude and emotional.
But the greengrocers probably thought it was quite reasonable to shout insults at the opposition.
Again, both sides had different interpretations of rational and emotional.
There was also a similar confusion with my neighbour a few years back.
My son was at St Martins, he had to do a photography project over Christmas.
A series of pictures taken from the POV of an ordinary object.
He decided on the POV of a fly.
He knew pretty much what a fly would see during the day: dustbins, dead animals, piles of rubbish.
So he took pictures of things like that.
And the expression ‘Like flies on shit’ is pretty much a cliché.
So he was obviously going to have to do one of those, too.
But it was winter, too cold for tramping the streets looking for a pile dog’s mess.
So I said I’d help him make some.
We got some earth, mixed it with water, and moulded it into authentic looking shapes.
By now it was late afternoon and everything was in shadow.
The only place that still had sunlight was the pavement in front of the house next door.
So we put the fake turds there, and my son started taking the shots.
Suddenly the front door opened and The Arsenal footballer Robert Pires came out.
He started scowling through the fence at us, frowning and looking very fierce.
We ignored him and carried on with what we were doing.
He kept watching us, walking angrily up and down.
I thought he should mind his own business.
We were behaving rationally, just getting on with an art school project.
He was behaving emotionally.
Getting territorial about the pavement in front of his house.
Eventually, after about 10 minutes of scowling he went back inside.
Then I thought, let’s look at it from his side.
He thinks he’s being rational.
My son’s taking shots with a camera.
I’m holding all the equipment: lenses, tripods, film.
He must think we’re paparazzi.
He opened the front door expecting us to take pictures of him while he confronted us.
When we didn’t he saw we were more interested in taking pictures of dog turds in front of his house.
And we kept picking them up and rearranging them.
Looked at from his angle, maybe we were after a story about a rich footballer’s filthy house.
He wanted to have a confrontation with the tabloids.
We wanted to finish the project and get in out of the cold.

Everyone’s in their own reality, and they’re all different.


Why digital advertisers should welcome the extended self-regulatory rules

At the end of last year I wrote about the top priorities for digital media regulation in 2010. One of which was the industry’s extension of the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) into new areas of digital media space.

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