Monthly Archives: July 2010

Guardian readers

I was recently talking to someone who was asked to work on a skin-whitening product for India.
The people at his agency were horrified.
They thought it was an example of racism and white supremacy.
And, for Guardian readers living in the UK, that makes sense.
But hang on a minute.
Does that apply to people living in India?
Maybe they want lighter faces.
But that doesn’t mean they want to be Caucasian.
It doesn’t mean they want to copy us.
It probably just means they want to be what they are, but with lighter skin.
Why shouldn’t they?
Why can’t they be allowed to do what they want?
I want to get a suntan.
It doesn’t mean I want to be a Negro.
It means I want to be what I am, but with a darker skin.
In Jane Austin’s day, well-off English people wanted fairer skins.
It was called the English Rose complexion.
It was a sign of being well off and not having to work outside.
People who worked outside were rougher and course and indelicate.
So young ladies didn’t want to look like that.
Nowadays we don’t think whiter-than-white skin is attractive.
We think it looks pale and sickly.
In Vanity Fair there’s an ad with Tilda Swinton looking like an albino.
White skin, white hair, white eyelashes.
To me it looks like a corpse.
But someone must think it’s attractive because it’s advertising diamonds, and pearls, and gold jewellery.
So what looks good to me doesn’t look good to everyone.
It’s the same in the Far East.
My mother-in-law is Singaporean.
Racially she’s Chinese.
In the sun she always carries an umbrella.
When we go on holiday, and I’m lying in the sun trying to get a tan, she’s under the umbrella trying not to.
My father-in-law is also Chinese.
He owned a large plumbing contractor’s.
He was always proud of having dark skin on his face, forearms, and legs.
Because it showed he was always outside in the sun, on the job with the workers.
My father-in-law enjoyed being dark, my mother-in-law didn’t.
None of this is racial.
People want to be what they are, with alterations.
What’s wrong with that?
People dye their hair, so the grey doesn’t show.
Is that age-ist?
People wear contact lenses because they don’t want to wear glasses.
Is that sight-ist?
People diet because they don’t want to be overweight.
Is that fat-ist?
It used to be a sign of prosperity to be fat.
Nowdays it’s the opposite.
One of our senior account handlers, Sonia Sheeta, is half Anglo-Indian, half Egyptian.
Some of her relatives were visiting from abroad.
They said to her “What a strange country this is: the poor people are fat and the rich people are thin.”
It’s just the opposite way round where they come from.
So just notice how intolerant Guardian readers are of other cultures’ differences.
How they expect everyone to have the same values as them.
Currently they are outraged because, in India, Facebook even has an application to allow people to lighten their skin for their profile picture.
Is this really any different from applying makeup before you have your passport picture taken?

I bet Guardian readers do that.

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Editor’s blog: Driven round the bend

TFL has taken its incompetencies to new lows. If they don’t sort it out by 2012, there are going to be more than just red faces.

I’ve had a frothy rage about transport in London in this blog before. But it’s high time I was given a second chance to vent some more spleen. Just got to get some of this off my chest. Those of you living portfolio lives in the Yorkshire Dales or Western Pembrokeshire turn away or start to smirk now.

The Gwythers went off for a couple of days in Devon last weekend. After 48 hours of Dartmoor delight it was with a heavy heart that I started the engine at 4pm on Sunday to begin the long trek home. But it wasn’t caravans on the M5 or accidents near Swindon that brought us to grief. No – we made incredible progress until Heathrow, when we were felled by: the M4 bus lane. I thought this nasty white elephant, the bastard son of Prescott, was going to be abolished. But no. It still sits there in all its idiocy. Apparently it has no cameras to police it and the Met have lost interest so your chances of being fined for joining the smattering of taxis are pretty minimal.

After an hour’s fuming, no sooner had we accelerated to about 9 mph on the Hammersmith flyover than we ground to a halt again, as to my utter disbelief the A4 at the Cromwell Road into London was shut – and will remain closed for the whole of August – to fix the gas mains. Every poor fool on the main road from the West into London is now forced into one lane and down through Earls Court.

It has been a shocking couple of years for the roads in London. The capital currently has more trenches being dug than during the Battle of the Somme. One dreads to think what the cost to business and UK plc will be, never mind the collective stress levels of the nation. Thames Water are replacing the Victorian mains everywhere at a pathetic pace with little or no regard for anyone except their shareholders. (Why can’t some really clever engineer invent a method to replace underground pipes that doesn’t involve digging down from the surface and then re-filling the hole?)

What has to happen with utilities companies is they need to bear the true cost of the travel disruption they cause. It must be made to hurt them. This is the only way to end a shambolic system that enables them to get away with shutting roads for months on end – and the Albert Bridge for a year and a half.

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Newspapers benefit from the death of God

Saturday is fast becoming the new Sunday as far as newspapers are concerned, as talk of Christ is swapped for the lure of the high street.

I was reminded about the
strength of the Saturday newspaper during an enlightening interview with the
Guardian’s Tim Brooks earlier this month
.

GNM’s affable managing
director admitted that while consumers are losing the habit of buying
newspapers in the week, many Saturday editions are more than holding their
own, both in terms of advertising and circulation.

Over the last 10 years, the once awkward Saturday editions have
filled out to now rival the long-time bloated Sunday stalwarts.

Brooks explained the key
driver has been the rise of Sunday as the big shopping day on the high street, second now only to Saturday.

And while Church attendence continues to fall (5 years of decline charted by CofE alone), marketers have switched on to the fact that they can advertise in a paper
on a Saturday and capture people before they hit the high streets on both
Saturday and Sunday.

“You have to keep your eye
firmly on what the consumer is doing,” says Brooks. “And what the consumer is
doing increasingly Monday to Friday, is losing the habit of buying a newspaper.
The reasons for that are many, and they are not reversible, certainly not by an
individual publisher.

“Weekends are different.
People view newspaper reading at the weekend, partly at least as a reward to
themselves at the end of a busy week, and they enjoy the amplitude of print at
the weekend.”

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Editor’s blog: The lessons of Tony Hayward

What the Deepwater saga has taught us about BP, Big Oil, and the ‘special relationship’.

There’s a tart irony that, as part of his punishment for Deepwater sins, Tony Hayward is being sent to Siberia. He’ll become a director at TNK-BP, the group’s troubled Russian joint venture, when he leaves the oil company in the autumn. The incoming CEO Bob Dudley will be able to give his ex-boss a few tips on dealing with the KGB and the lawless nature of doing business Russian-style – though after his savaging at the hands of the Americans, it may well feel like a walk in the park.

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PRINCIPLES ENDURE, FORMULAS DON’T

There was a very smart client in New York, in the early 60s, called Bob Townsend.
He took over at a struggling little car rental company called Avis.
4,000 years before, Lao Tzu (the founder of Taoism) said: “The wise man knows he doesn’t know. The fool doesn’t know he doesn’t know.”
Well Bob Townsend was a wise man.
He knew he didn’t know about advertising.
But he knew he needed a great agency to help turn Avis round.
So he contacted a dozen or so of the top agencies on Madison Avenue.
He asked them a simple question: “Who are the two best advertising agencies in New York?”
All twelve agencies gave him the same answer.
“The two best agencies are ourselves, and Doyle Dane Bernbach.”
So, since everyone agreed that DDB was one of the best agencies in town, Bob Townsend gave them the account.
What happened next is probably the best advertising campaign ever.
And it revolutionised Avis’s fortunes.
Like most of DDB’s work it was revolutionary, iconoclastic, ground-breaking.
My generation grew up on Bill Bernbach.
He was the man who invented good advertising.
Before Bernbach, and DDB, advertising was just about billing.
The winner was the one who had the biggest agency making the most money.
So what if the ads were crass and patronising?
Who cared as long as you were getting rich?
Bernbach changed all that.
He made it about creativity.
The winner was the one who did the best work.
Work you were proud of.
Work that treated people with intelligence.
Work that everyone in the agency was thrilled to be a part of.
We hoovered up every word Bill Bernbach said.
But I’m aware lots of youngsters today just think he’s an old dinosaur.
Part of the dim and distant past.
The other day I saw a photocopy of some hand written notes from Bill Bernbach.
See if it looks like a dinosaur wrote it.

“Merely to let your imagination run riot, to dream unrelated dreams, to indulge in graphic acrobatics, is NOT being creative.
The creative person has harnessed their imagination.
They have disciplined it so that every thought, every idea, every line they draw, every light and shadow in every photograph they take, makes more vivid, more believable, more persuasive the original theme or product advantage they have decided they must convey.”

“It is ironic that the very thing that is most suspect in business, that intangible thing called creativity, turns out to be the most practical tool available to it.
For it is only creativity that can compete with all the shocking news events and violence in the world for the attention of the consumer.”

“Principles endure, formulas don’t.
You must get attention to your ad.
This is a principle that will always be true.
HOW you get attention is a subtle ever-changing thing.
What is attractive one day may be dull the next.”

“Logic and over-analysis can immobilise and sterilise an idea.
It’s like love: the more you analyse it the faster it disappears.”

Personally I think we can still learn a lot from Bernbach.
As he says, “Principles endure, formulas don’t”
Today that could read, “Technology changes, people don’t.”
We still have to out think the competition.
That’s why, whatever field you’re in, you can learn from the greats who went before.
Isaac Newton described it as “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
The way an artist can learn from studying Caravaggio.
Or a musician can learn from studying Mozart.
A writer can learn from studying Shakespeare.
A director can learn from studying Orson Welles.
A footballer can learn from studying Cruyff.
A boxer can learn from studying Ali.
A military man can learn from studying Rommel.
The philosopher George Santayana said,
“Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Maybe that’s what’s happened.
No one wants to learn from the past, which is why we’re repeating it.

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Editor’s blog: We’re balancing on a knife-edge

We could be heading for the dreaded double-dip. Didn’t someone warn us this would happen?

It’s not seemly to be melodramatic or alarmist but it feels like we’re on a bit of a knife edge at the moment. With the dog days of August soon to be upon us, on the one side of the blade is a slow but rather anaemic recovery but on the other is a slide back down into a second hollow of recession. With such miserable, non-stop talk of cuts and austerity in the air, it’s hard to accentuate the positive at the moment. Today’s second quarter GDP figures look encouraging on the face of it, but there’s a nagging voice at the back of my mind telling me it’s only be a blip rather the start of a long-term upward trend.

Old Bernie Bernanke Bernanke doesn’t help much when he tells a congressional committee that the US economy was ‘unusually uncertain’ at the moment. It is: the numbers from the US in recent weeks have been disappointing. The bounce over the other side of the pond may still be that of the dead feline.

There seems to be far too much grim news about. The Telegraph which has been the lead doom-sayer of this whole economic slowdown (with its Jeremiah-in-chief Ambrose Evans-Pritchard yelling like some mad monk week-in, week-out) has got a pretty gloomy piece recently about the commercial property sector by Jeremy Warner.

And Warner knows his onions. He cites a recent De Montfort University study which claims there are £300 billion worth of banking loans outstanding to the UK commercial property market of which around £50 billion are in breach of covenant. There has during this property cycle been a peak to trough fall of no less than 44% and some of those loans are now going to be called in and the blood will flow. Yikes, as they used to say in Scooby Doo.

I know commercial property isn’t the same kettle of fish as domestic bricks and mortar but weren’t we supposed to need a proper correction in property prices to get us back into sensible health again? As MT noted with alarm here, we couldn’t go on as we were spending on property.

Anyway, talking of property… we’re off to our new office in the burbs over the weekend. After 15 years in Hammersmith enough is enough, and we’re packing the crates for Teddington to join our chums on such fun magazines as Stuff, 442 and Gramophone. Even Dr Johnson would have tired eventually of London W6: the Hammersmith roundabout and flyover never get any more charming; the meaty waft from West Cornwall Pasties in the precinct no more alluring; and the Habitat and Books Etc have closed down. The lure of the giant Westfield means worse is to come. MT’s bright new future lies in going further West to find that crock at the end of the rainbow. God knows, we may be able to dominate the whole Thames Valley.

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Five facts about online behavioural or interest-based advertising

Here are five facts about online behavioural or interest based advertising:

FACT 1:

Advertising helps fund a wide range of the content, services and applications online (often overlooked or not understood by policy makers and / or regulators). For example: search engines, helping us to navigate and explore a world of information online (and all at the click of a button), are advertising funded. Customised advertising (for example behavioural or interest based display advertising) seeks to make this more relevant to our interests, helping us to find what we are looking for.

FACT 2:

People prefer this – particularly if it gives them the content and services they want at little or no cost. IAB research found that over half the online UK population would prefer to see more relevant online advertising and an even higher proportion would prefer this if it allows them to enjoy this for little or no cost.

FACT 3:

The advertiser (or its contracted partner) does not know who you are or where you live. Interest based advertising is non-identifiable. If information collected is used with data that can identify you (eg registration data) the user is informed as required by strict data protection law. Good practice requires the provider to make the user aware of any data collection and use for this purpose and also make available ways for users to control this.

FACT 4:

There is no commercially live business in the UK practising behavioural or interest based advertising via (what is known as) deep packet inspection techniques. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) recently concluded that “in the case of behavioural advertising based on deep packet inspection techniques…the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) considers that active opt-in is required to indicate consent”.

FACT 5:

You can also tailor privacy (and other) preferences via the web browser used to access the internet. Here are some helpful user tips.

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Experience Paradox

There has been a surge of industry commentary recently encouraging people to share case studies and research in areas like search, video and social media marketing – I’m guilty of pestering hundreds of marketers myself. The reason is because those of us asking know that we only improve in one of two ways: 1) personal experience 2) shared experience. When we ask for case studies and research in marketing the point is to speed experience across the whole market by sharing.

Frustratingly, very few people want to share what they’ve learnt openly, restricting overall market knowledge and in the long term, potentially their own knowledge as a result. An individual withholding lessons learnt maintains a competitive advantage initially but limits an overall community’s progress, slowing the community’s learning, and in turn slowing the further learning of the individual. This is the experience paradox. Often the result is slow growth or a single market leading monopoly.

To give away your experience is to give away your business. Or is it? The instant after you share, you personally are always worse off while the people you shared with are better off. This is clear-cut if you only think about the present and you ignore the nature of humans. By sharing with a community it’s more likely others will share too – particularly if you agree beforehand – and suddenly that particular community, and its members, is in a much stronger position.

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WE’VE NEVER SEEN SUCH CHANGES BEFORE

People are always asking me where advertising is headed.
Well, there are big changes happening in advertising right now.
We’ve never known anything like it before, have we?
New media gurus saying traditional advertising is dead.
The only possible future is social media.
Brand planners who know the only possible answer to any and every problem is to redefine the brand.
Creative directors who know that a new visual technique is the essential ingredient for any new ad campaign.
Everyone’s got a formula.
Everyone’s got a foolproof answer to what we should all be doing.
And yet, everyone knows we’ve never faced such uncertainty before.
In fact, I recently got hold of this letter.
It’s from the creative director of an ad agency, to the board of directors.
See if you can guess who.

“Dear ———,

Our agency is getting succesful,
That’s something to be happy about.
But it’s something to worry about, too.
And I don’t mind telling you I’m damn worried.
I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of worshipping techniques instead of substance.
That we’re going to be drowned by superficialities, instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals.
I’m worried that hardening of the creative arteries is beginning to set in.
There are a lot of great technicians in advertising.
And unfortunately they talk the best game.
They are the scientists of advertising.
But there’s one little rub.
Advertising is fundamentally persuasion.
And persuasion happens not to be a science, but an art.
It’s that creative spark that I’m so jealous of for our agency, and that I’m so desperately fearful of losing.
I don’t want academicians.
I don’t want scientists.
I don’t want people who do the right things.
I want people who do inspiring things.
In the past year I must have interviewed about 80 people, writers and art directors.
Many of them were from the so-called ‘best’ agencies around.
It was appalling to see how few of these people were genuinely creative.
Sure they had advertising know-how.
Yes, they were up on the latest techniques.
But look beneath the techniques and what do you find?
A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.
All this is not to say a technique is unimportant.
Superior technical skill will make the good better.
But the danger is in a preoccupation with technical skill.
Or the mistaking of technical skill for creative ability.
The danger lies in the temptation to employ people who have a formula for advertising.
The danger lies in the natural tendency to go after people that will not make us stand out in competition, but rather make us look like all the others.
We must emerge as a distinctive personality.
We must develop our own philosophy and not have the advertising philosophy of others imposed upon us.

Yours Respectfully”

All the problems in that letter are the same problems we all face.
The over-reliance on formulas.
The proliferation of people who call themselves creative but aren’t.
The ability to talk a good game succeeding over actual ability.
It could have been written last week.
But it wasn’t.
It was written by Bill Bernbach when he was creative director of Grey Advertising.
Two years before he opened Doyle Dane Bernbach.

In fact, he wrote that letter the week I was born.

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Edukashun is in a pickle

Blame those in control of the purse-strings, not the teachers.

Not a great week for education news. First off came the bombshell that Mark Elms, a primary school headmaster in Lewisham is going to take home a whisker under a quarter of a million pounds for 2009-10. I’m sure Mr Elms is a dynamic and inspiring individual in an area where such people in education are thin on the ground. The kids of South East London may well have benefitted directly from his dedication. But two hundred and fifty grand? (Mind you he’s earning it now being chased around South London on his five hundred quid bike by a load of righteous Daily Mail photographers.) Lewisham is a toughish patch, but it’s not Helmand with roadside bombs going off and the chance of being stoned to death for daring to educate the young females of the community.

To coin a phrase from the boss of Shell – are you telling me Mr Elms would have done any less good a job for £150k? What this shows is how smart and committed individuals within the public sector have been able to rook the system. It’s not just teachers – over recent years if you were a consultant who landed a public sector contract, you wandered around shouting ‘Bingo!’ for the next three weeks, and ordered a new 911. But it’s not Mr Elms who should be blamed, it’s the poor governance of his bosses. Those who spend public money remain desperately bad at negotiating and getting value for money. The seller names a price and the mugs just ask where they should sign – assuming all the nonsense box-ticking of the procurement process is in order. There’s no commercial nouse.

Then we have Vince Cable’s bad news about university education. (My god, Vince loves delivering bad news, doesn’t he? He was born a Jeremiah and his enemies within the coalition are busily trying to remove his halo and turn him into Public Enemy Number 1. ) Tens of thousands of those who are applying to university this year won’t get places: there are 170,000 more candidates than spaces. And then those who are lucky enough to graduate face a new tax on their earnings. One way or the other, universities are going to get it in the neck from the new regime, and both of these occurrences are inevitable.

There has been a massive expansion in UK university education in the last 15 years and much of what is on offer is, put bluntly, crap. Many of these institutions are poorly run, doling out degrees of little or no value. That’s why it’s an utter nonsense that the rules currently say a degree from Leeds Metropolitan University should cost a UK undergraduate the same as one from Oxford. Things are now so out of control that there are more than 20 universities so ineptly run that they are struggling to stay afloat, with seven on a secret ‘at risk’ list.

Doing down Generation Y is not a nice business. They need all the help they can get at the moment. I went last year to give a talk to a bunch of undergraduates at a very new provincial university. Call me a mean-spirited snob but it was a pretty depressing experience. Despite my best efforts, they were bored stiff during my scintillating 40 minute presentation: yawning, picking their finger nails. They all probably assumed they were going to walk straight into a job on Take a Break. What made my day was the one kid who came up to me afterwards telling me how he’d sorted out work experience on Le Monde in France and asking if I had any tips. I love it when you meet someone young, bright and enthusiastic who wants to get into our profession. But I was glad I wasn’t him trying to get a job at the moment. It’s not very nice out there.

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