Monthly Archives: August 2010


When I started work as a junior copywriter at BMP, I got given the work no one else wanted to do.
That’s the way it is in any job.
You work your way up, you serve your apprenticeship.
If it was a factory, I’d have been sweeping floors.
If it was a football team, I’d have been cleaning boots.
If it was the army, I’d have been swabbing-out toilets.
There’s a good reason for that.
You learn the job absolutely from the ground up.
Later on, when you’re in charge, nobody can tell you a job can’t be done.
You know if it can or can’t be done, because you’ve done it.
If worse comes to worst, you can do it yourself.
So there’s a really good reason to start at the bottom.
For us the bottom was trade ads.
Ads that don’t run in consumer media.
Ads that your mum and friends won’t see.
Ads that tell the retailers why they should stock your client’s product.
And here’s why.
Because the most important part of the link between factory and consumer is the stockist.
If no one stocks it, no one can buy it.
It’s that simple.
But if retailers stock and display your product, it will sell.
Even without any advertising, it will sell.
Maybe not much, but it will sell.
Just by being displayed.
So the first, most important job, as far as the client’s concerned, is to get the trade to stock it.
That’s why we were given so many trade ads to do.
One of the first jobs I always got was the four-page leaflet.
This would either run in trade magazines: The Grocer, Hardware Trade Journal, Electrical Retail Trader, etc.
Or it would be carried around by the sales force.
To show to the retailer, when they tried to get them to stock the product.
The leaflet was usually divided into three parts.
The front cover was what made the product different and/or better than the competition (a reason to stock).
The inside spread was about how fast sales were growing (why the stockist would make money).
And the back cover was about how much advertising it was going to be supported by.
Usually some stills from the commercial(s) and a line about ‘Backed by our new multi-million pound TV campaign’.
Because, if it had advertising support, retailers were more likely to stock it.
They could see it would have big money behind it.
But, more importantly, they thought their customers would see it.
So the biggest part about consumer advertising was to persuade the trade to stock the product.
Usually we did these ads even before the commercials were shot.
The lead times for the magazines were a lot longer than for TV.
So we couldn’t even use stills from the ads.
We’d have to mock-up a packshot.
But it didn’t matter.
The trade didn’t care what the advertising was.
Just how much was being spent.
That was the great lesson for me.
It didn’t matter how creative the advertising was.
What mattered was that they were going to have advertising.
They were going to be supported by a multi-million pound campaign.
That’s pretty sobering isn’t it.
The main job of advertising is to get the product stocked.
Think of that while the art director is throwing a hissy fit about the client choosing the wrong typeface
While the copywriter is sulking that the client chose the wrong music.
While the director is horrified that the client chose the wrong cut.
While all that’s going on.
And while everyone knows that their personal area of skill is crucial to the success or failure of the campaign.
The most important factor in selling the product isn’t the quality of the ads.
It’s the fact that there is any advertising at all.
Because that’s what makes the stockist stock it.
If they don’t stock it, it won’t sell.
If they stock it, it will.

Kind of puts our job into a bit more perspective, doesn’t it?


Channel 5 star demonstrates Wright thinking about Desmond

The impact
that Channel 5 / Five’s new owner Richard Desmond will have on the terrestrial
broadcaster is no mystery to one of its longest-standing talents, Matthew

In an
interview with Associated’s Metro today, the star of 10-year-old show The
Wright Stuff had no qualms about what Desmond’s arrival might mean for him.

Read more on Channel 5 star demonstrates Wright thinking about Desmond…


I was listening to a journalist on the radio.
She was talking about when she just started out, in 1990.
She’d been sent to interview Richard Branson in LA.
She took lots of notes, and he was polite and helpful as they chatted by the pool.
After she finished the interview, she said, “Look I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t ask you this. But if you were young and just starting out, like me, and looking for a business opportunity, and you didn’t have much money, what would you invest in?”
Richard Branson just looked slowly around the pool.
Eventually he said, “Look at those umbrella shaped heaters there, I bet you haven’t seen many of those around?”
She said, “You’re right, I haven’t.”
He said, “Well, here’s a thought then. The weather’s a lot colder in Europe than it is in LA. I bet café owners would love to buy those. They could serve customers outdoors for another month or so every year.
They’d make more money.”
She said, “What a great thought. What should I do?”
He said, “Well, they probably only sell them in LA at present.
Why don’t you find out who makes them and ask if you can buy the import rights for Europe. They shouldn’t cost much.”
The reporter said she called up the company and, sure enough, they’d only recently started making them.
She asked how much they wanted for the import rights for Europe.
They thought for a bit and said, “How about ten thousand dollars, would that be okay?”
And she went away to think about it.
She said, “At that time ten thousand dollars was about seven thousand pounds. Which was pretty much all I had in the bank.
So I thought I’d better not risk it, and I forgot about it.
But now, whenever I travel anywhere I see those heated-umbrellas absolutely everywhere.
I asked our business correspondent what he thought the European import rights would be worth.
He said millions and millions.”
So there you go.
That’s the difference between someone like Richard Branson and the rest of us.
He can spot an opportunity, we can’t
Richard Branson made an intuitive leap.
He didn’t commission: “A Survey To Study The Possibilities And Potential Opportunities For External-Heater Sales In Various European Countries, Demarcated By Types Of Business, Location, Regional Differences, Demographic Variations, And Attitudinal Preferences.”
He didn’t do that.
He made an intuitive leap.
He used his judgement.
He figured a few thousand dollars was a fair price to pay for the potential opportunity.
If he won, he’d win big.
If he lost, he’d lose small.
So his response was the same as the title of his autobiography, “Screw It, Let’s Do It.”
People like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Rupert Murdoch don’t depend on experts to tell them what to do.
As William Randolph Hearst said, “I don’t hire expert to tell me what to do. I hire experts to tell me how to do what I want to do.”
What we call creativity is actually that intuitive leap.
And we won’t find that by running to focus groups.
Sure we can use research to check that we’re not doing anything stupid.
Research (Quant or Qual) is like the dashboard on a car.
Very useful in telling us the state of play.
Very useful in giving us information.
But it can’t do the driving for us.
It can’t take the decisions.
It’s no good looking to research for creative thinking.

As Akio Morita said, “The biggest assistance I had, in growing Sony to a worldwide brand, was the total failure of nerve on the part of western businessmen to move without research.”


The Observer becomes market leader in one f’ing ranking

The Observer might be battling sluggish circulations since its revamp in February, down 21% year on year in last ABCs, but the Sunday paper is the undisputed leader when it comes to four-letter abuse and general swearing.

Much to the disgust of The Observer’s readers’ editor, Stephen Pritchard, up to the early August 2010, the Sunday paper has published 272 articles with the word “f*ck” and 13 using the word “c*nt”. [Belated apologies for those of you with a sensitive disposition, but you’re in the wrong business.]

In contrast, the Independent on Sunday ran 122 pieces containing “f*ck” and 10 “c*nt”, while the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph were both profanity-free, in accordance with their editorial guidelines.

Following the chart-topping performance, Pritchard takes some solace in the fact these figures nevertheless represent a vast improvement on the previous before, when The Observer turned the air blue by printing “f*ck” 293 times and “c*nt” 25.

The relative clean-up of the newspaper’s copy is one of the few positive side-effects of this year’s staff cull, which resulted in the closure of the three monthly magazines, Observer Woman, Sport Monthly and Music Monthly.

It would appear the paper still has some way to go to appease some of its less liberal contingent though. Pritchard himself admits: “…I have a visceral dislike of seeing these words in the pages of a newspaper that is read by all ages.

“I don’t go along with the argument that the Observer is a grown-up newspaper for grown-up people. Everything we write appears on the internet and is accessible, free, to anyone, whether they are nine or 90…

“I would far rather we adopted the policy of some of our rivals and expunged swearing entirely.”

Well quite Stephen. But before you get too green-eyed, do bear in mind that if you were working at rival News International, your content would be neither accessible or free, but rather hidden behind a paywall.

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The World Cup – a game of two devices (at least)

How did you watch the World Cup? If it was a big evening game then it was probably on telly, but as Ofcom confirmed yesterday you were probably using another device at the time – most likely your mobile or laptop. If you were keeping up with a lunchtime or afternoon game, especially at work, then there’s also a good chance that you enjoyed the World Cup online or on your mobile.

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Silly Season disrupted by media onslaught

I’ve just returned from
somewhere suitably laid back, hot and isolated, where I found myself, for the
first time in a long time, without phone or internet connection.

My media consumption has
been restricted to the rather heady cocktail of international editions of the Daily Mail and CNBC;
I may be fearful about the shrinking number of white mothers in the UK (why is
no-one doing anything about this!), and have a growing hatred towards the
“wasteful” BBC, but have a good grasp of the current financial
drivers, and find myself wondering, is NASDAQ’s bearish trend pattern set to

Read more on Silly Season disrupted by media onslaught…


In 1939 the German ship Graf Spee was loose in the Atlantic Ocean.
This ship was designed to sink British merchant ships.
She did it effortlessly.
The British sent 3 ships to find and attack her.
It wasn’t really a fair fight.
The three British ships were smaller and older than the Graf Spee.
Two of the British ships, The Ajax and The Achilles, had six-inch guns as their main armament.
The Graf Spee had six-inch guns as her secondary armament.
True, the elderly British cruiser, Exeter, had eight-inch guns as her main armament.
But the Graf Spee had eleven-inch guns as her main armament.
Graf Spee was bigger, faster, more powerful, and more modern.
The Graf Spee’s main guns could hit the British ships before they even got in range.
And that’s what she did.
Sensibly enough she picked off the biggest British ship first.
As the British ships chased the Graf Spee, she pounded the Exeter almost to bits.
Eventually The Exeter was near sinking and had to break off.
Now The Graf Spee was free to attack Ajax and Achilles easily.
But instead her captain took her to Montevideo.
This was a neutral port, and the ship was allowed a short time for repairs.
Meanwhile the two smaller British ships waited outside the port.
Everyone guessed they were waiting for a much larger British fleet
Obviously the British couldn’t let The Graf Spee get away.
And the Germans had a spy who intercepted a secret message.
It was from the British embassy requesting hundreds of thousands of tons of fuel oil at short notice.
Enough for a fleet of battleships and aircraft carriers.
So the German captain knew he had a choice.
Come out and be blown to bits, or surrender.
He chose neither.
He took his ship out into The River Plate.
He sank it, and shot himself.
Rather than face the massive British naval force.
What he didn’t know was that there weren’t any massive British naval force.
The message from the British embassy was a fake.
Meant to be intercepted and cracked.
What was actually waiting outside the harbour was the two much smaller British cruisers.
The ones he’d already effectively beaten before he entered Montevideo harbour.
So it wasn’t the Royal navy that beat The Graf Spee.
It was allowing someone to believe what they wanted to believe.
It was helping them to beat themselves.
It was taking advantage of a situation.
It was turning a disadvantage into an advantage.
Just the way Bill Bernbach did with Volkswagen and Avis.
The way Charlie Saatchi did with British Airways.
The way Ed McCabe did with Volvo.
The way David Abbott did with The Economist.
The way truly creative people look at a problem and see an opportunity.


Online video content a top priority

If there’s one obvious trend across the web, it’s the move to premium video content bymost major publishers, often those with a traditionally static offering.For instance, News of the World hasannounced it will be moving behind a paywall with exclusive video content as its biggest draw (source, NMA).

News of the World joins revamped sites like BBC News, AOL, CBS, IGN, Microsoft and many, many more that are forcing their video content to the forefront of their offerings – no doubt driven by the huge demand from their users.

One look across the homepages of these sites and you’ll find video content immediately, now in many cases with “top 10” most watched videos alongside most read articles.

Over the next 6 months I predict that you will start to hear far more announcements from major publishers about video content becoming a top priority for them. For brands, this is fantastic news because there are far more places to run your pre-roll ads against high quality content.

In the US, video advertising is booming with 3.6 billion online video ads watched in July this year, reaching almost half of the US population. Back in the UK and we’re in the midst of the start of our very own online video boom that’s only going to get louder.

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All advertising agencies prioritise the urgent over the important.
We can’t help it, it’s instinctive.
What must be done ‘right now’ takes precedence.
And the truly important has to wait until it’s also urgent.
In the same way we tend to prioritise anything new.
Novelty takes precedence over the familiar.
Whatever it is.
I’ve lived in London all my life.
So I barely even see it anymore.
I take it for granted, like water to a fish.
For instance, the CST offices are next to Tower Bridge.
So every morning I walk past The Tower of London and hardly notice it.
Most of us live our lives like this.
We never notice anything unless our attention is drawn to it.
A few years ago, my wife’s sister was visiting us from Singapore.
I took her to a small concert in The Tower Of London.
It was on a Friday evening after it was closed.
The Tower has a very different feeling when it isn’t packed with tourists.
When you’re alone in it.
Suddenly you can feel the history seeping out of the walls.
Especially at twilight.
It was a tiny concert, to celebrate the memorial where beheadings took place in The Tower grounds.
Strangely, there are less than a dozen of these.
Commoners were beheaded on nearby Tower Hill.
Only nobility were executed inside The Tower itself.
First we looked at the place where they’d had their heads hacked from their bodies.
People like Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey.
It was right in front of the tiny Tudor houses where they’d spent their last days.
We walked where they must have walked, between the houses and the chopping block.
And we stood where they spent their last moments on earth.
Then we went into a small nearby chapel, built by Henry VIII.
This is where the concert took place.
It was sung by The Queen’s Choir, just acapella voices, no instruments.
The intricate, mournful harmonies echoed against the stone walls of the little chapel.
And under our feet, in the chapel, were buried the bones of those who’d been beheaded.
As their crime was treason, they weren’t allowed formal graves.
And the music we were listening to was what they’d written immediately before their executions.
Their death songs.
One was written by one of Henry VIII’s Queens.
Proclaiming her loyalty to him, and asking his subjects to love him.
Written while Henry was signing her death warrant.
Another was written by the brother of one of his Queens.
Who Henry accused of incest with his sister.
As an excuse to behead both of them.
In the same place, Henry had imprisoned the mother of a Bishop.
The Bishop fled to France rather than swear loyalty to Henry over The Pope.
So Henry had his mother beheaded.
But the mother tried to run.
And she was hacked as she ran, and beheaded where she fell.
Another was Sir Thomas Moore.
Who also refused to recognise Henry’s authority over The Pope.
After his beheading he was sanctified by The Catholic Church in Rome.
So, under our feet were the bones of, amongst others, two Queens and a Saint.
We were listening to their music, their last creative act on earth.
Walking where they last walked.
Breathing where they last breathed.
And then we came out into the Tower at night.
And we walked around and through the dark and empty place.
The history crackled like electricity.
Cruelty and torture and death everywhere.
I tried hard to imagine what it must have felt like.
I tried to put myself in their place.
But of course, I couldn’t.
And it reminded me of the title of Damien Hirst’s shark in a tank.
“The Impossibility Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living”
Eventually we left The Tower of London, and went out into the bright lights of the city.
The next morning I was walking to work again, past the Tower.
The sun was up and it was a tourist attraction again.
Parents dragging children round an old building they didn’t want to see.
Trying to find ice cream and cola.
And I passed a group of Japanese tourists outside their hotel.
A big, anonymous, modern brick building opposite the Tower of London.
They were smiling and posing for a photograph.

The photographer had his back to The Tower of London, and was taking their picture in front of their hotel.


Editor’s blog: Two-speed Europe gets into gear

As the Germans look ship-shape, Greece’s finances are in a worse state than ever. What does that it all mean for us?

So Germany confirms its position this morning as Europe’s top economic machine. (Not that any sensible individual doubted this for one moment even during the maelstrom of the last 3 years.) . In the second quarter its GDP zoomed ahead by a remarkable 2.2% There hasn’t been a faster rate of growth than this since reunification back in 1990. Punters worldwide are back in the market for BMWs – which had some cracking sales figures out this week – and Germany’s other high value manufactured goods. And they’ve got a half way decent football team for the first time in years.

But there is far less good news from what those Euro economists term the ‘peripheral’ nations. Even less charitable individuals insist on referring to them as the PIIGS (Portugal Ireland Italy Greece Spain) Growth in the sty is pitiful.

The Greeks are enduring the agony of major downturn at the moment and face the prospect of a prolonged slump. The Greek statistical service – never the most accurate with its use of the abacus in the first place – reckons that the Greek economy shrunk by 3.5% in the three months to the end of June. The Athens regime hasn’t been helped by the country’s truckers spending weeks manning the barricades. These stats are truly grim because the second half of the Greek year – when few wish to stretch out on a rainy beach in Mykonos – is normally much quieter when it comes to collecting other people’s Euros to fill the hard pressed Finance Ministry’s coffers.

The fact that the Germans are saving at an unprecedented rate rather than spending their Euros is bad news for everyone else. The towels are staying at home, so to speak. The only question for them remains how much of their war chest they are prepared to sacrifice propping up the Euro and its miscreant members in the periphery.

Equally concerning is the plight of Ireland where the government continues to have to pay sky high interest rates for the bonds it issues to remain solvent. The comparative yield on these bonds came very close to a record difference between those issued in Dublin and those from Berlin earlier this week. This means the investor-confidence gap between Germany and Ireland is growing again.

This really is worrying because Ireland has endured a huge amount of pain already after profound cuts. The assumption was that this lipo-suction would make the patient better. But it doesn’t appear to have done in the eyes of investors. It just appears to have left the patient weakened, vulnerable and with a lot of spare flesh sagging around the waistband.

So where does this leave us Brits? Up with the Deutsch or down with the PIGS? Well, we’re about to head for the slab Irish- style this Autumn as the scalpel gets to work. We still like to think we’re an economic class above the peripherals and we can, unlike them, still devalue our currency to make us more competitive. The systemic meltdown has maybe avoided but we’ve got some serious glums to endure for a while yet. I’m off on hols to see how the Italians are coping. See you in September.

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