Monthly Archives: January 2011


One day, when I was at art school in New York, I was sitting in the canteen
and a guy sat down opposite me.
He was older than most of us, clean and tidy, pressed clothes, short hair.
He nodded “How you doing?”
I said “Fine, just on a break between classes. You?”
He said “First week here, I only just started.”
I said “Really, how come?”
He said “I’m here on The G.I. Bill of Rights.”
Now this was interesting.
The G.I. Bill of Rights was a way for ex-servicemen to go to college.
You did your time in the military and, when you got out, the government paid your tuition fees.
I asked him what branch of the military he’d been in.
He said he’d been a captain in the artillery, in Vietnam.
Mainly his job was guarding the DMZ.
The DMZ was the De-Militarised Zone: the strip of land between the North and South that was no-man’s-land.
No one was supposed to be there, and anyone who was, was killed.
He said the main weapon they used was called Lazy Dog.
Lazy Dog was an artillery shell: a massive amount of explosive, around which was packed millions of needles.
Lazy Dog would burst in the air over the target.
Then anything underneath was shredded as if it had been put in a blender.
He said the entire DMZ had listening devices planted in the ground.
Whenever they heard a noise, they fired off a few Lazy Dogs.
Next day they’d go out and investigate.
Most of the time all they’d find was just some blood and fur.
Because it had usually just been an animal rooting around.
I said it didn’t sound a very effective way to spend millions of dollars fighting a war.
He agreed, he said it was the weakness of the US military that they couldn’t do anything without vast amounts of technology.
He said the Vietcong knew that.
As long as US soldiers had access to their expensive technology, they’d be superior.
But they knew that if they could get to them without their technology, they could beat them.
He asked me if I knew the Vietcong ‘Rule-Of-Thumb’ for shooting down helicopters.
I said I didn’t.
He said “Shooting something with small-arms fire just depends on how far away it is.
In the US Army we have complicated range-finding technology to tell us if something is close enough to hit.
The Vietcong don’t have any of that stuff.
When they hear a helicopter they look up, stretch their arm out, and hold their thumb over it.
If the chopper is bigger than their thumb, it’s close enough to shoot down with pretty much anything.
If the helicopter is smaller than their thumb, it’s too far away.”
How brilliant is that?
Range-finding technology that the simplest peasant can carry in their head.
So there you have two views of technology.
On the one hand we can spend millions upon millions of dollars doing something that makes us feel reassured, but is totally ineffective.
Just because we have a belief that technology must always be superior.
As long as we’ve got the newest, most expensive, most complicated technology.
On the other hand we can spend no money at all.
We can use what’s around, combined with a great idea, to do something really effective.
An idea so good it will go viral among the entire population of a country.
Even without any Internet or a single computer.
Can you see any parallels with the world we work in?
On the one hand we can worship technology for itself.
We can believe in it like a religion.
We can trust that it’s always the answer to every question.
Then our strength becomes our weakness.
On the other hand we start from the point of having a great idea.
Then use technology to propagate that idea.
When and where it’s relevant, according to the job that needs doing.

Because technology is a tool.
And, like any tool, we can either hold it by the handle or the blade.


Wow! New Aviva TV ad tackles the unmentionable.

Seen the new Aviva Life Insurance TV
ad? The umpteenth outing for Paul Whitehouse? Wow! After a succession of
cringe-worthy ‘comedic’ turns, they’ve pulled it out the bag. Whitehouse’s
character is his most restrained so far – an everyman father talking about his
family’s financial security; while they’re packing to go on holiday. He spends a
moment detailing the various costs they face, but at the end of the ad it’s
revealed that he’s no longer alive – just keeping a watchful eye over his loved
ones. It left me with chill because it was so unexpected. There I was, getting
ready to sneer again, when I’m hit by a bucket load of pathos. It left me a
little shaken. It’s been a while since an ad has done that. Does this mark a sea
change in life insurance advertising? Have we finally moved away from ‘imagine
if the unthinkable happened to you’? Is the great British public finally ready
for the D word? I know it’s not the first time the subject has been tackled, but
apparently this one stems directly from research. Folk said that an emotional
kick up the proverbials would be the only thing to prompt them to buy life

Read more on Wow! New Aviva TV ad tackles the unmentionable….


Years ago Leagas Delaney did a great Christmas card.
But they didn’t do it for their own ad agency.
They did it for Lewis Silkin, a firm of solicitors.
On the front was printed a very simple message.
Then next to each word was a handwritten comment.
Each one in different solicitor’s handwriting.
Next to MERRY was written:
“Could have connotations of over-indulgence, possibly drunkenness. Risk of encouraging irresponsible behaviour.”
Next to CHRISTMAS was written:
“Definition too specific, potentially confrontational. Risk of offending other religions or even the secular.”
Next to AND was written:
“Presumes both occasions only exist as a pair, precluding possible enjoyment as individual celebrations.”
Next to A was written:
“Non-specific about which New Year: western, Chinese, Hindu, pagan. Consequently not time specific or relevant to season.”
Next to NEW was written:
“Strictly speaking we can’t claim New. This is simply a modification of previous years. At best a variation, potentially a repeat. ”
Next to YEAR was written
“Years vary according to measurement: lunar or atomic. Need to define terms, also address leap-year issue.”
I love that card because it’s an extreme version of how lawyers think.
And, because it’s extreme, we can laugh at it.
But actually it demonstrates something much more important.
Without simplicity we can’t have communication.
Everything would get too complicated.
If we tried to define, to refine, to address every possible variant in meaning, we’d never get past the first word.
We couldn’t even say “Good morning.”
First we’d have to define ‘good’.
Do we mean good in the sense of moral rectitude?
Or good in the sense of well made?
Or good in the sense of nourishing?
Or in the sense of value-for-money, or well behaved?
And in relation to what?
Better than yesterday, better than tomorrow?
How can we know?
Who’s to judge?
By what right do we presume to be the authority?
Does ‘good’ mean better than we expected?
Better than some people are having in other parts of the world?
Better than we deserve?
Or exactly right?
In which case, is good the same as ‘perfect’ or merely ‘not as bad as it could have been’?
We could go on for a day about the word ‘good’ before we even start on the word ‘morning’.
And we would have accomplished nothing by being too pedantic.
See, in the real world, we don’t need to define every single term before we use it.
We don’t need to be so accurate in our language.
Because we all actually know what ‘good morning’ means.
‘Good morning’ is actually the verbal equivalent of a nod and a smile.
That’s all.
So we don’t have to analyse it.
That’s how most people live their lives.
And, in our business, that’s who we deal with: most people.
Because the world we work in is mass communication.
Not one-on-one.
We’ve got a split-second to get noticed.
A split-second to be relevant.
A split-second to be remembered.
Even if we have all day to debate it, the public don’t.
They don’t know, they don’t care.
Even the people in advertising, who spend all day splitting hairs about every dot-and-comma of every sentence in advertising.
When they leave the office they revert to being normal human beings.
And they ignore 90% of all the advertising around them.
Just like everyone else.
Unless we know how it works, we can’t do it properly.
It’s called Semiotics.
The science of signs: of language.
Because that’s all language is: signs.
It isn’t the actual thing itself.
Language is just something we all understand, pointing us towards the meaning.
That’s what Magritte meant with his famous painting of a pipe with the words “This is not a pipe”.
Our mind looks at it and thinks “How can he say that’s not a pipe? Of course it’s a pipe.”
But of course it isn’t a pipe: it’s a painting of a pipe.
That’s what Magritte meant.
Language isn’t the thing.
As Seneca said “The word ‘dog’ never bit anyone.”
There is a place of course for extreme accuracy in language.
Science, medicine, the law.
In those fields people need to take infinite pains to be totally clear to each other.
Not roughly, but exactly.
But the field we work in isn’t that.

To do our job effectively, we must stop confusing the two.



At the end of World war Two, Germany was dropping guided missiles on London at will.
First they had the V1.
Basically a flying bomb with a crude jet engine attached.
A very simple design.
But the next development was light years ahead: the V2.
This was the world’s first space ship.
They fired it 50 miles straight up, out of earth’s atmosphere.
When it reached its peak, it turned and dived on London.
The first thing anyone knew about it was when it exploded.
All of the R&D for both weapons took place at Peenemunde.
When It became obvious Germany was losing the war, the scientists had to make a decision.
They could stay at Peenemunde and be captured by the Russians.
They wouldn’t be killed, they were too valuable.
But they’d have to work for the USSR.
Or they could escape to the west, and be captured by the Americans.
And work for the USA.
All the old school V1 scientists escaped to work for the Americans.
Nearly all the more advanced V2 scientists stayed, to work for the Russians.
Fast-forward 10 years.
Now it’s the Cold War between the USSR and the USA.
Each side threatening the other with nuclear weapons.
The advanced German scientists (now working for the Russians) had developed their V2 into a genuine space ship.
In 1957 the entire USA was petrified because the Russians put the world’s first-ever satellite into orbit: Sputnik.
It’s hard to grasp the significance now.
But in those days it was like someone having military control of another dimension.
Suddenly all strategic thinking was geared around the premise that whoever controlled space would win any war.
For decades, that was all anyone could see.
The German old school V1 scientists had been quietly working away in America, on their obsolete design.
No one cared about them, so they were just left alone.
Without much of a budget, they’d developed a superior guidance system.
They’d developed better engines and technology.
And one day, they unveiled the cruise missile.
No one had ever seen anything like it.
It was exactly the opposite of everything all the world’s sophisticated rocket scientists were working on.
It could fly so low radar couldn’t detect it.
It would fly slowly so there was hardly any noise.
It didn’t have to sit in a massive silo with a large crew to guard it.
It was so simple it could be launched from anywhere: plane, a lorry, a boat.
It could even be launched from a submarine underwater, and find it’s way precisely to any target.
And you could make literally hundreds for the cost of a single ICBM.
Suddenly the whole game changed.
Everyone had been looking the wrong way.
Everyone had been spending more and more money in the race to have the biggest and best ICBM technology.
To build huge missiles that flew higher and faster then the other side.
Because of the spending on the arms race, on having bigger and better and faster and more powerful missiles than America, the USSR went bust.
They had no money left.
The Soviet Union broke up.
The ICBMs led up a blind ally.
You couldn’t use them without the other side using theirs.
Which would have meant the end of the world.
So the ICBMs were, in effect, useless.
But it wasn’t that way with cruise missiles.
They were smaller and cheaper.
You could use them just to take out a particular house if you wanted.
They cost next-to-nothing so you could use as many as you wanted.
They could carry conventional or nuclear warheads.
They weren’t part of the arms race.
And the world shifted 180 degrees.
Suddenly something that all the ‘experts’ had ignored came and bit them in the arse.
The old fashioned thinking that they pooh-poohed.
The obsolete technology that they called dinosaur thinking.
Suddenly all the people that blindly followed the ‘experts’ were stuffed.
Something everyone had written off wasn’t really dead after all.
Can you see any parallels with our business?
Everyone blindly involved in race for new technology that will solve everything.
Everyone saying that whatever came before that technology is just dinosaur thinking.
Everyone convinced that there’s only one answer for every situation.
Everything that went before is obsolete and can safely be ignored.

Any of that ring any bells?


ITV to lose the ‘nasty horrible face’ of Gary Digby

Today’s news that ITV’s
sales boss Gary Digby is be replaced at the broadcaster by Channel 5’s
Kelly Williams
, courtesy of Maisie McCabe, has ensured 2011 gets off to a

The new
look ITV, led by chief executive Adam Crozier and chairman Archie Norman, but
still housing Peter Fincham, is starting to take an exciting new shape.

Digby joined ITV Sales as sales director when it was being run by Graham
Duff in December 2003. Prior to joining the broadcaster he had been managing
director of what was then Carlton Sales.

By the time he was made head of ITV advertising sales in 2005, Digby
reputation’s as the company rottweiler was already firmly in place.

“I’m the nasty horrible face of ITV that will go and beat all of our
customers up and hold a gun to their head and make them spend money,” he
jokingly told the Guardian at the time, but for some agencies it was
close to the bone.

Both ITV and Digby have been round the block a few times since then, but most
agencies will still attest the sales leader is as ferocious and astute an
operator as ever.

Andy Jones, chief executive
of UM London,
who has known Digby for most of both their working lives, is sure he will move
on to his next challenge.

“Gary is never
capable of mellowing. He is as professional and uncompromising today as he’s
always been,” he says.

“ITV has always had plenty of figureheads and ambassadors, but Digby’s never
been one of them. His job has been to get the work done, and at doing that he’s
been one of the very best.

“He’ll be missed, but it’s a great opportunity for Williams.”

Read more on ITV to lose the ‘nasty horrible face’ of Gary Digby…

10 Things Brands Should Already Be Doing Online

Changes to online advertising over the last 12 months have forever altered how marketers should use the internet. Improved tools, better metrics, greater understanding and new businesses have created a number of new opportunities for brands. Below I’ve listed ten of them…

Read more on 10 Things Brands Should Already Be Doing Online…

Five things to look out for in digital media public policy in 2011

2011 will see our ever-growing appetite for all things digital continue to change and evolve the marketing landscape. As technology keeps pace to meet consumer demand, so the spotlight continues to shine brightly on regulatory and public policy issues, notably privacy. On one front 2011 will be a year of ‘delivery’. But – as ever with this sector – the New Year will introduce further challenges to digital advertising business models.

Read more on Five things to look out for in digital media public policy in 2011…

Facebook is dead

It passed
away at about 6:34pm, Wednesday afternoon. That’s when I went FB cold turkey –
around about a month ago.

I don’t
want to make a big thing about it (and I doubt anyone even noticed). I have no
great antipathy towards Mr Zuckerberg either. It’s just that it was a dirty
little habit that had to go.

Read more on Facebook is dead…

Having some skin in the game

Max Forsyth is a photographer.
He was telling me about the time he flew from Israel to Cairo, on El Al.
He went to the airport to check in.
A young woman checked his luggage.
She was very thorough, but Max expected that.
Israel knows it’s surrounded by hostile states.
Being wary of terrorist bombs is almost second nature.
And so she was perfectly pleasant, friendly and chatty, as she went through his luggage.
When she’d finished Max said goodbye.
The young woman said “Oh, I’ll see you on board.”
Max said “Are you flying to Cairo?”
She said “I have to, it’s El Al policy.”
Max said “Why? Do you live in Cairo?”
She said “No, I live here, in Israel.”
Max said “How come you’re flying to Cairo?”
She said “Standard El Al procedure. If you check the passengers’ luggage, you have to fly on the plane.”
How about that?
The person who inspects the passengers’ luggage for bombs has to bet their life on how well they do their job.
That’ll concentrate your mind.
Imagine if we had to do our job like that.
Like it was really, really important to us.
As they say in New York “Having some skin in the game”.
Maybe not our life, that would be silly.
But how about our house?
If we had to bet our house on our decisions, would we make the same decisions?
Would we make them the same way?
Would creatives be fighting for the latest esoteric/trendy technique just so they could win an award?
Knowing that if the ordinary consumers didn’t understand the ad they’d lose their house?
Would planners be recommending changing the advertising based on what a couple of focus groups said?
Knowing they were betting their mortgage on the result?
Would account men be willing to change whatever the client wanted to change, just to keep them happy?
Knowing they were betting their house on the client’s whim?
Would clients be quite so eager to get their own way, just because they could?
Even if getting their own way might cost them their house?
Or would everyone take their decisions a bit more seriously?
Would they weigh all the implications before they acted?
Would they carefully consider everyone else’s point of view?
Put their ego aside.
Look at everything from every possible angle.
Make sure nothing is left to chance.
Instead of just getting their own way.
Of course, everyone has some skin in the game.
People can lose their jobs.
But you can get another job.
Unlike El Al, no one bets their life.

Which is the reason El Al has a reputation as the safest airline to fly if you’re worried about terrorist bombs.

Read more on Having some skin in the game…