Posts By: Jim Reade

THE PLUMBER AND NIGEL BOGLE

I was having lunch with Alan Thompson who runs the Haystack Group.
They’re a new-business intermediary that places hundreds of millions of pounds of business a year.
But Alan told me something more interesting at lunch.
Alan’s dad is over eighty years old.
When the weather got really cold, his dad turned on the central heating.
The boiler fired up, but the radiators stayed ice cold.
The house was freezing.
He had to put on an overcoat, gloves, and scarf.
He could see his own breath, indoors.
For an elderly person, this is serious.
So his dad went through the Yellow Pages and found a plumber.
The plumber came and did the usual thing.
He sucked air through his teeth and tut-tutted.
He said “Blimey, this is an old boiler.”
Alan’s dad said “Yes, I’ve had it ages.”
Then the plumber walked around and felt all the pipes.
Eventually he took out a hammer.
He hit one of the pipes two or three times and waited.
The pipes began to warm up.
Then the whole house gradually got warm.
The plumber said “There you are, it was an air-lock in your pipes, that’s shifted it.”
Alan’s dad was really grateful.
He said “Thank you very much, what do I owe you?”
The plumber said “Nothing.”
Alan’s dad said “But I must pay you for fixing the heating.”
The plumber said “No, I can’t charge you just for hitting a pipe with a hammer.”
Alan’s dad said “That doesn’t seem fair.”
The plumber said “Look, this is a really old boiler. With luck it’ll get you through this winter, but you’ll probably want to replace it soon. All I ask is that you let me quote on it when you do.”
Afterwards, Alan asked his dad what he was going to do.
His dad said “Well I don’t think I’ll bother getting any competitive quotes. I mean, even if they are cheaper I don’t know if I can trust them.
I know I can trust this plumber, he didn’t rip me off when he had the chance. I’ll just get him to do it.”
What a brilliant piece of marketing thinking.
This plumber’s not just looking to make a quick few quid.
He’s building a brand.
He’s worked out what his point-of-difference is amongst his competitive set.
Which is: he’s an honest plumber, you can trust him.
Given that most people are insecure because they don’t know the first thing about plumbing.
Given all the TV programmes showing people getting ripped off by plumbers.
Given how vulnerable people are to cold in the depths of winter.
Given all that, this is a fantastic positioning.
Of course, trust is the positioning most marketers say they want.
But this guy doesn’t just talk it, he walks it.
He invalidated all the competition for a much bigger job, without even a pitch.
And he’s got a client who’d doing his WOM advertising for him.
How brilliant is that?
You might say, well that’s okay for plumbers but what’s it got to do with us?
Years ago, Nigel Bogle was running TBWA.
Clients occasionally came to see him when they were in trouble.
When the work their current agency presented was unusable.
And they needed to be on air with a new campaign in a matter of weeks.
Nigel would listen to their problem.
Then he’d say “I understand your problem and I wish we could help. But I think you’ve got more fundamental issues than just hitting an airdate in the short term.
I think it needs a lot more strategic thought.
If we did a quick fix for you I don’t think it would benefit either of us.
We wouldn’t be doing our best work, and you’d be disappointed.
But, I can understand that you do have commercial imperatives and you need to hit that deadline.
So, if you’d like, I can help you pick an agency that will do a reasonable job in the short term.
Then, when you do have a bit more time, we’d love to talk to you again and show you what we can really do for you.”
You might think, he’s crazy, he’s just given away business.
But has he?
Isn’t he actually doing the same as the plumber?
What are the chances of the other agency doing a brilliant job in those circumstances?
Not great.
The very best they’re going to do is perhaps adequate.
And which client can resist the thought that they’ll never know how great it could have been if they’d got TBWA, and Nigel, involved earlier.
The client has to keep the lines open.
So that later on, he can ask him to have an in-depth look at his business.
And now, the whole balance of the relationship is different.
Now Nigel, and TBWA, is a trusted adviser not just a supplier.
You trust Nigel like you trust that plumber.
Which is why he eventually opened his own agency.

And why Bartle Bogle Hegarty now has offices on five continents, billing one and a half billion pounds a year.

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SMART PEOPLE UNDERSTAND CONTEXT

We have a copywriter at the office who’s is a bit of a hypochondriac.
The great thing about hypochondriacs is they are marketer’s dream.
They are high-involvement consumers.
They watch out for new products, read about them, try them out, and talk about them.
This means, if you’re smart, you can use their minds to do most of the work for you.
For instance, winter is just starting.
And colds and flu are on peoples’ minds.
Especially on hypochondriacs’ minds.
This copywriter recommended First Defence to me.
He said he’d used it, and found it worked.
First Defence is a very clever marketing idea.
It’s a spray you squirt up your nose at the very first sign of a cold.
That probably means a sneeze.
Now, whether or not it works is a separate issue.
Here’s why I think it’s clever marketing thinking.
It understands how the human mind works and capitalizes on that.
Look at it this way.
For a moment assume that First Defence doesn’t actually do anything.
We know that humans sneeze a lot of the time.
Especially in the city.
Sometimes it might be smoke or pollution.
Sometimes it might be dust.
Anything irritating the nose.
In the summer, unless we have hay fever, we don’t think anything of it.
We sneeze, maybe once or twice, and forget it.
But now take the same sneeze in winter.
Now the weather is cold and we’re cold.
Now maybe those sneezes are the first signs of a cold.
So we take First Defence as soon as we sneeze.
And if those are just dust sneezes, like in summer, we don’t sneeze anymore.
And we think it worked.
So First Defence gets the credit.
Now of course, we know First Defence does have some medical properties.
So sometimes it might actually work.
But the great positioning is that you must use it ‘at the first signs’ of a cold.
So supposing you sneeze and wait until you can go to the shops to buy it.
And supposing it doesn’t work.
Well it’s your fault, you waited too long.
In that case, if it doesn’t work, you can’t blame the product.
You didn’t use it soon enough.
But, in order to use it soon enough you have to buy it before you need it.
Put another way, you have to buy it whether you need it or not.
How great is that as a piece of marketing?
You have to buy it whether you need it or not.
So here’s the great marketing.
If it works on a sneeze that wasn’t a cold, it didn’t really work.
But it gets the credit.
If it didn’t work on a genuine sneeze, you didn’t use it soon enough.
So it doesn’t get the blame.
And, for it to work, you have to buy it in case you think you may need it at some time in the future.
And it all depends on being advertised in winter, when everyone is expecting any sneeze to be the first signs of a cold or flu.
And prepared to do anything to stop it.
That’s clever marketing.
To let the season, the news media, consumers’ conversations, and the environment be your advertising.
To let the context do the work for you.

That’s smart media.
That’s free media.

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GETTING A RESULT

I loved the movie, Social Network.
When I came out of the cinema I was buzzing.
But my son was down.
He said he found it depressing, the way Mark Zuckerberg had screwed his friend, and fellow Facebook founder, Eduardo Saverin.
I hadn’t seen it that way.
What I saw was a movie about what it takes to be successful.
It takes a willingness to go through, or crawl over, any barriers.
Like a tank.
Zuckerberg was willing to do that, Saverin wasn’t.
Zuckerberg wanted to go fast, Saverin didn’t.
So Zuckerberg went ahead without Saverin.
Saverin got left behind.
He feels he got screwed.
But the alternative was for Zuckerberg to slow down to the speed Saverin wanted to go at.
Which would, at best, have been a much, much smaller success.
So Zuckerberg sidelined Saverin.
He cut him adrift.
I thought the film had a happy-ish ending.
After the lawsuit, Saverin walked away with a billion dollars.
That’s a thousand – million dollars.
All for a twenty grand investment.
Who wouldn’t be happy with that kind of return?
“You give me twenty grand now, and later on I’ll force you out of the company, but you’ll get a billion dollars. What do you say, are you in?”
Any one of us would have bitten Zuckerberg’s arm off.
What I liked about the film was that it wasn’t about right or wrong.
It wasn’t the normal melodramatic Hollywood good guys and bad guys.
It was all about getting a result.
And it was about what you are prepared to do to get that result.
It was about what works and what doesn’t work.
Which isn’t synonymous with right and wrong.
Isaac Newton is remembered as one of the most brilliant people in history.
His great rival was Robert Hooke.
Hooke was one of the most important scientists and mathematicians of The Enlightenment.
But today Hooke is almost forgotten.
We don’t even know what he looked like.
Why is that?
Why aren’t there any pictures of Hooke?
Apparently he once accused Newton of stealing some of his ideas.
Newton never forgot or forgave.
Newton succeeded Robert Hooke as Chairman of The Royal Society.
He had all the examples of Hooke’s work destroyed.
He had all the portraits of Hooke destroyed.
As far as he could, he erased Robert Hooke from history.
Gottfried Leibniz was one of the great philosophers and mathematicians of The Enlightenment.
He invented calculus.
He published it before Newton, and his system was superior.
When Newton later published his system, Leibniz accused him of plagiarism.
Newton never forgot or forgave.
He used his influence to have Leibniz ostracised and ridiculed.
Leibniz died a pauper.
No one knows where Hooke or Leibniz are buried.
But everyone knows where Newton is buried: Westminster Abbey.
It isn’t that there isn’t any such thing as right and wrong.
It’s that they have nothing to do with getting a result.
It’s like expecting the morally superior team to win in a football match.
It’s irrelevant.
Who wins the match is the team that scores more goals.
However they score more goals.
And moaning about the result afterwards won’t change anything.
After World War Two, Hermann Goering was being tried at Nuremberg.
When he was found guilty, he was asked if he had anything to say.
He said “What is the point? The victor always makes the rules.”
Then he swallowed a cyanide capsule and died.
He understood it’s a waste of time debating right and wrong.
It’s over.
You lost.
End of story.
New Yorkers understand this.
It’s summed up by a cartoon in New Yorker magazine.
A patient is lying on the psychiatrist’s couch.
He’s obviously just finished unburdening himself to the psychiatrist.
Divulging his deepest, darkest secrets
His fears, his regrets, his missed opportunities, his thwarted intentions, his unfulfilled expectations.
The psychiatrist simply looks up and uses an old New York expression.

He says “Yeah, yeah, yeah: “Coulda – Woulda – Shoulda”.”

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THE TRAIN IS LEAVING THE STATION

My wife is an art director.
Recently she went to The Marketing Forum.
Being a creative, she expected to be bored by lots of case histories, graphs, charts, numbers.
But one client told an amazingly creative story about the birth of a brand.
It started when he was working in Belgium.
Every day he had to try to sell margarine (butter-flavoured spread) to people who didn’t want it.
It was dispiriting work.
To cheer himself up, every day he went to the same pastry shop and ate a delicious chocolate pastry.
Eventually it became clear to him.
“I don’t like margarine.
I do like chocolate.
I’m in the wrong game.”
Doing what you love is always the best idea.
So he quit his job and began working on perfecting a delicious, rich, chocolate pudding.
He worked on it until he had it exactly right.
Now he needed marketing.
He needed a positioning, a name, packaging, a brand in fact.
So he went to see an agency and asked if they could do that for him.
They said leave it with us.
So he waited.
And he waited.
Three weeks later they hadn’t contacted him, so he called them.
They said “We-ell…. You’d better come in, we’ve got something to show you.”
He went to see them.
They said, “We’ve got some bad news we’re afraid. It looks like someone else has already done it.”
His jaw dropped.
They said “Yes, unfortunately, virtually the same product, same positioning, everything. We’ve managed to get hold of some pictures.
If you promise not to let it leave this room, we’ll show you.”
He nodded.
They said “You wanted a stylish, classy chocolate pudding, deliciously gooey, yet premium? Look, theirs is called Gu.
It’s got the German umlaut (two little dots) over the letter U, so it looks like a smiley face. And it rhymes with ‘goo’ so it’s fun but classy.
A bit like Haagen Dazs.”
The client’s face fell, he said, “I can’t believe it. That’s a great name.”
They said “Yes, and look at the packaging: it’s dark, rich, elegant. Indulgent and chocolaty, but also stylish.”
The client said “This is terrible. How advanced are they.”
They said “Their sales force is ready to start selling it in. We’re worried because we think they’ll be very successful.”
The client said “What do you mean: you think they’ll be successful. Of course they’ll be successful. It’s a brilliant product, a brilliant name, a brilliant pack design. It’s exactly what I wanted dammit.”
And he sat back, depressed, thinking about all the success he could have had if only he’d got that idea first.
Then the account man smiled and said “Well if you really mean that I may have some good news for you.”
The client said, “What?”
The account man said “I made that story up. No one has actually done anything. This is our presentation to you: the name, the packaging, everything.
If you want it you can have it.”
The client said he felt as if the sun came out.
Instead of the usual shuffling, and humming and hawing he just took everything as it stood and went with it.
Isn’t that great.
We never want anything so much as when we can’t have it.
So instead of selling the client an idea in a way that lets him think he’s got all the time in the world to fiddle with every tiny unimportant detail, they let him see what’s really important.
How will he feel if he sees a competitor has done it?
If he’s been beaten to market.
He won’t quibble about the serif on the typeface.
He won’t worry that the background colour isn’t exactly 100% perfect.
He’ll just wish to God he’d done it.
What a great lesson.
Show the client the idea in a situation where he would give anything to have done it.
But it’s too late, someone else got there first.
It’s like a nightmare.
Then wake him up and tell him it was just a dream, and he’s still got a chance to do it himself.
Instead of suspicion and hesitation, he’ll feel gratitude and eagerness.
He’ll be concentrating on the 95% that’s right.
Not holding everything up for the tiny 5% that isn’t.
We’ll have a client that wants to move things forward, not hold things back.

By the way, the name of the client who told that story was James Averdieck.
And he’s just sold that brand for £35 million.

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OUR PM DOESN’T KNOW THE MARKETING BASICS

Since Tony Blair, PR seems to be the main requirement for a Prime Minister.
Presumably this is how David Cameron got the job.
Before he was our Prime Minister, Cameron apparently worked in PR.
I find this quite worrying.
Because if PR, and consequently marketing, are the main requirements for the job, he obviously doesn’t know the basics.
Last week he went to China, because the UK needs to sell more goods abroad.
And China is a huge untapped market.
So Cameron went to China to try to open it up to UK industry.
So far, so good.
But what he did was to lecture the Chinese on how they need to open up their markets to goods from the West.
He gave them a lecture about how the global financial system depends on balance.
How they can‘t keep just selling to the West without buying Western goods in return.
Now it’s not smart to lecture the Chinese.
In fact it’s not smart to lecture anyone you want something from.
But particularly not the Chinese.
The concept of ‘face’ is very important to them.
They don’t respond well to lectures from people who behave as if they are their betters.
Particularly not when they come from a country less than a tenth their size.
So in judging his audience, we have to be disappointed in Cameron’s PR skills.
Okay, so how about his basic marketing knowledge?
Supposing he did persuade the Chinese to open up their market to the rest of the world.
What proportion of world trade do we suppose the UK accounts for?
2%?
Let’s be generous and call it 5%.
So, if Cameron’s speech works, we will only get 5% benefit.
In other words, for every 20 items Cameron persuades China to import, 19 of them won’t come from the UK.
Nice job, Cameron.
And that’s our PM.
That’s the bloke we paid to go to China, with a massive delegation, to create sales for UK industry.
He’s doing 95% of the job for someone else.
Our competitors in fact.
See, that’s what I meant by saying he doesn’t understand the basics of marketing.
He doesn’t understand something a simple as Market Growth v Market Share.
Consequently, Cameron’s speech was totally about Market Growth.
Market Growth is a great strategy for the USA.
Who will probably get at least 35% share of any growth in Chinese imports.
But it isn’t smart for the smaller players, like us.
We need to be increasing the size of our share.
So Cameron should have been trying to grow the UK’s share of Chinese imports.
But instead, Cameron sold Western goods, Western industry, Western services.
Not UK you notice.
Western.
Of which we have, if we’re lucky, 5%.
Of which we don’t have 95%.
So 95% of what we just paid Cameron to sell wasn’t the UK.
Would you employ someone like that?
That’s what I meant when I said he doesn’t understand the basics of marketing.
Meanwhile, France has just done the largest trade deal in its history with China.
Not by lecturing China about world economics.
Not by requiring China to open up to Western goods.
Just simply by selling French goods.
As opposed to anyone else’s.
By telling the Chinese why they should buy French goods instead of other Western goods.

The French at least know the difference between Market Growth and Market Share.

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PULL-THROUGH versus TRIAL

I’m reading Patrick O’Brian’s historical novels at present.
This is a series of twenty books based on the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars.
They’ve sold around three million copies so far.
The Times describes them as “The greatest historical novels of all time.”
They are compared variously to Proust, Tolkien, and Dickens.
But for me, they’re more like the Discovery or History Channel.
Full of facts and information, but written in very elegant language.
Sort of Jane Austen for blokes.
So I really like these books.
I read them on the tube every day, and sometimes I miss my stop.
When I really like a book I tend to miss what’s around me.
I once took ‘Damned United’ to Berlin with me, and missed Berlin.
Earlier this year I took Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All The Pretty Horses’ to Hawaii, and missed Hawaii.
So, obviously, I think Patrick O’Brian’s books are terrific.
But there’s something else I like about them that’s cleverer than any other book I’ve read.
And it’s nothing to do with the writing.
Here’s the really clever thing.
They’ve got Chapter One of the next book printed at the end of each book.
So, just as you’ve finished the story, you think you’d like to know what happens next.
You think you’ll just read that extra chapter, as a sort of epilogue.
But before you know it, you’re into the story of the next book.
You’re hooked again.
You have to buy the next book.
If you’ve ever worked on newspapers, this is what they call ‘pull-through’.
When we worked on the Independent it was critical.
Some newspapers have a largely ‘captive’ readership.
The Telegraph, The Mail, The Guardian.
In the case of the Telegraph and Mail, lots of the sales are home delivery.People have it on order from the newsagents, so they automatically get the paper 5 days a week.
In the case of the Guardian it’s a matter of political persuasion.
If you work for the state, and apparently one in four of us do, you’ll get the paper that supports that agenda.
But The Independent suffered because its readers were just that.
Independent.
The Indy had the highest incidence of occasional readers.
They were younger, upmarket, city dwellers.
They tended not to live according to routine.
They didn’t get their papers delivered at home by the newsagent.
They wouldn’t usually decide what to read until just before they got on the tube every morning.
This meant they’d often get distracted and forget to buy it.
Or they’d take a book or a magazine instead, or listen to their iPod.
So the Indy readers might only buy one copy a week.
In that case the issue isn’t about attracting new readers.
The issue is about getting the readers you’ve got to buy it more often.
If they could get half of their readers to buy it two or three times a week, sales would go up 50%.
So the brief becomes about pull-through.
Everyone automatically assumes advertising is always about trial.
But that isn’t necessarily true.
In newspapers, it’s no good getting someone to buy the paper once.
You’ve only sold one copy.
Newspapers are all about repeat purchase.
Newspapers have to be about building up a purchasing habit.
A trialist buys one copy, finish.
A loyalist buys 5 copies a week.
That’s what’s really clever about Patrick O’Brian’s books.
They don’t do the conventional thing.
They don’t let me finish the story, and risk me moving on to whatever else is convenient.
A newspaper, a magazine, or worse – another book.
They give away the first chapter of the next book free, with this one.
But, of course, they’re not really giving anything away.
They’re getting me to swallow the hook.

Because they don’t see it as a freebie.
They see me as a captive retail opportunity.

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NASCAR BLINDNESS

The nearest advertising gets to the real world is the guys in the studio.
Take Chris Walsh, who used to run our studio.
One time, Chris told me his wife wasn’t speaking to him.
I asked him what happened.
He said “It started on Christmas eve.
I was having a pint in the pub when I realised I’d forgotten to buy her a present.
All the shops were shut and the only place open was the petrol station.
I went in and all they had left was a big box of Quality Street.
So I bought that.
Then I went back to the pub, and the barmaid asked me what I had in the bag.
I said it was the wife’s Christmas present.
She said the least I could do was wrap it up.
She had some wrapping paper left over, so she wrapped it behind the bar for me.
Anyway, next morning the wife opened it and she wasn’t pleased.
She said “A box of Quality Street, is that all I get? And you didn’t even wrap it properly.”
So I said “Don’t blame me. That was all that was left in the petrol station, and the barmaid wrapped it.”
And she hasn’t spoken to me since.
So I thought I’d better do something to make up for it.
I thought I’d cook a nice romantic dinner.
So I put some chips in the pan on the stove.
Then while I was waiting, I thought I’d better open a bottle of wine.
But I couldn’t find the corkscrew.
So I went into the shed to look for something to get the cork out of the bottle.
But while I was in there the chip pan caught light.
And when I got back the whole kitchen was on fire.
So I called the fire brigade, but by the time they turned up it had all burned down.
So she’s still not speaking to me.”
See, the real world doesn’t all happen in The Ivy.
In 1972, Richard Nixon won the US Presidency by a landslide.
The New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael, said “I don’t understand how Nixon won. No one I know voted for him”
Well, no one at The New Yorker anyway.
I was recently reading a blog by a new-media guru.
He was complaining about the unfairness of a worldwide brand rating he’d just seen.
The rating placed Coca Cola at number one, obviously.
But it placed IBM at number two.
And worse, it placed Mac at number seventeen.
The new-media guru was horrified.
He wrote something like “This is plainly rubbish. I haven’t sat in a single meeting where IBM has been discussed, but I’ve sat in lots of meetings where Mac has been discussed.”
As a new media guru this comment is hardly surprising.
But I think what that survey really proves is that new-media gurus aren’t representative of the population worldwide.
These are examples of what Alan Wolk calls ‘Nascar Blindness’.
In the States, all the fashionable media people live and work in New York.
And the only sports they all watch are baseball, basketball, and American football.
So, according to them, they must be the only sports anyone watches.
Except they’re not.
The biggest sport in America is Nascar racing.
Big, fat, tanked-up cars racing each other round the track.
Watched by hundreds of thousands of big, fat, tanked-up fans.
Many, many more than any of the other sports.
But, because no one in New York watches Nascar racing, they don’t even know it exists.
They’ve got Nascar blindness.
That’s kind of how we are in advertising.
We tend to think everyone in the UK owns an iPhone, reads The Guardian, and is fascinated about what goes on at The Ivy.
Which may be why advertising is so out of touch with the real world.

Or, as Eric Morecombe said “Life isn’t Hollywood. It’s Cricklewood.”

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OZYMANDIUS

When I was at art school in New York, all cars were American.
And all American cars were made in Detroit.
There were no foreign cars on the streets.
Maybe once a year you might see an English sports car: Jaguar, Sprite, MG.
But these were so rare people would stop and point.
The very term ‘car’ meant an American car.
Not some tinny piece of foreign crap.
A real car.
And the only place making real cars was Detroit.
And because they were the only place making cars, they never changed the basic concept.
Just changed the styling a little bit every year.
Fast forward to the UK, earlier this year.
I was watching a TV programme about Detroit.
It now looks like the devastated city of Hue that Kubrick recreated for Full Metal Jacket.
Nothing but the deserted remains of massive, empty, burnt-out buildings.
The gutted concrete carcasses of giant assembly plants.
The insides dead and echoing, water dripping through decaying, broken roofs.
Everything valuable stripped out.
The floors cluttered with rubble and debris.
This is the set for a horror movie about the collapse of a civilisation.
The only signs of life are small bonfires here and there, with the jobless and homeless sitting round them.
What happened?
How do you go from the only-game-in-town to extinct, in a few decades?
Well in retrospect, like anything, it’s obvious.
I was there when it started.
But none of us knew it at the time.
You can only see these things afterwards.
Volkswagen.
That was the tiny crack in the wall.
The only foreign car anyone bought was the VW Bug.
But that wasn’t a threat, because it wasn’t really a car at all.
It was just a joke, ‘a pregnant roller skate’.
A cheap piece of junk for students.
Students didn’t need a status symbol.
They just needed transport: A–Z.
So students drove them around, and that became the VW brand.
The car of the counter-culture movement.
My ex father-in-law was an art director on Madison Avenue.
He was like all the Mad Men: shiny suits, thin ties, aspired to owning a Cadillac.
But the culture was changing.
Suddenly all that stuff was for the fat cats.
And he didn’t want to be seen as a fat cat.
So he grew his hair long, switched to jeans, and bought a VW Bug.
That’s when Detroit began dying.
Right then, when the middle class began switching.
But of course Detroit didn’t even notice.
They carried on doing what they’d always done.
Same-old floor pan, same big engine in front, same-old rear-wheel drive.
Keep the same basic solution, just change the bodywork every year.
Bigger fins, more chrome, bigger headlights, new-shaped tail-lights.
Just restyle it a little bit every year.
So the styling, the execution, got better and better.
But they never thought about the basic concept.
And that’s how Detroit died.
Maybe there’s a lesson there for us.
Maybe we’re behaving like Detroit.
We’re concentrating on the execution of what we do, the styling.
And right now, the execution is better than it’s ever been.
We make commercials costing literally millions of pounds.
With computer graphics, we can do anything we want.
We can make ads with impossible sets and a cast of millions.
And, because execution is everything, if we can’t be bigger we must be newer.
So the constant search is for new styles of execution.
Techniques that no one has used yet.
It doesn’t even matter what it’s for, as long as we’re the first or the biggest.
Because execution has taken over from idea.
In fact the execution is the idea.
Styling has taken over from thinking.
Just like Detroit, everything has to be ‘newer and bigger’.
And, just like Detroit, everyone’s a little dissatisfied with the result.
Maybe, like Detroit, we’re at the beginning of a change.
Maybe, like Detroit, the change will happen gradually at first.

And maybe, like Detroit, by the time we notice it will be too late.

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LIFE’S A PITCH

I went to a NABS talk the other evening.
Helen Calcraft and Martin Jones were speaking about new business.
Pitching to be specific.
What was interesting was the difference between the male and female presentation.
Martin talked first.
He’d been the head of the AAR, the people that handle around 50% of all new business pitches.
So Martin knows what he’s talking about.
He put up lots of useful facts and pointers, lots of tips.
He’d seen just about every agency pitching over the years.
He analysed what worked, and why, what to do, and what not.
Each chart had an interesting line of useful of information.
All the men in the audience were nodding along, taking it in.
Then Helen Calcraft spoke.
And as she talked you felt the room shift.
All the women came to life.
Helen is the founder of MCBD.
She’s also the most successful new business person in London.
Helen’s presentation was much less about the facts and much more about the emotions.
Helen went through the experience of pitching in a way that brought it to life.
First she described the whole process like this.
“Each client is like a superstar.
Immediately they announce their business is up for pitch, every agency in town will be all over them like paparazzi.
But clients don’t know, or care, anything about advertising agencies.
So what we have to do is the equivalent of getting Johnny Depp to pick us out of a crowd of adoring fans, ask us for a date, and then in four week’s time ask us to marry him.”
Immediately she moved it away from the simple mechanical world of solutions that all the men understood, into the world of seduction and relationships that women understood.
Of course everyone was riveted.
To show what clients thought of ad agencies she put up a slide of Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Bunnies.
She said “Clients see us just like this. We may think we’re fabulous, but to them we all look identical.”
Then she said one of the most important parts was deciding how committed we were before the process started.
Did you really, really want the account?
And she put up a picture of Tom Cruise.
She said, “You may initially find someone attractive, but do you really want to get into a long term relationship with someone who jumps up and down on Oprah’s sofa?”
Then she talked about the various stages of the process.
She said the chemistry meeting was like the first date.
She put up a picture of a pouting Jordan and said, “Don’t be needy. Don’t keep talking about yourself: how famous you are and what you’ve done. How boring is that on a first date? Talk about them, find out what they want.”
Then she talked about the tissue meeting.
She said the tissue meeting is like the first weekend away.
And she put up a photo of a woman shaving her legs and a man sitting on the toilet.
She said, “On the first weekend away together, don’t leave the toilet door open, don’t shave your legs. You don’t need to let them know all the less attractive parts about you. That’s too much information.”
And Helen went through the whole pitch process like that.
Not just for the rational side of the brain, but to let her audience know how it feels.
But I’m a bloke, and I’m a creative.
So the two tips that resonated with me were the ones where the headline played off the visual, like a really good ad.
She had a picture of Camilla Parker Bowles and the headline “Never Underestimate The Competition.”
Like a really good ad, it takes you a minute to get it.
So that, when you do, it sinks in.
She gave the example of MCBD being beaten by a big, dull, old agency that they hadn’t taken seriously as a rival.
Then she showed a picture of Anne Widdecombe with the headline “Being Right Isn’t The Same As Being Irresistible”.
This really resonated with me.
All creatives think if we get the ‘right’ answer, as far as the consumer’s concerned, the client must buy our solution.
But in a pitch the consumer isn’t the target market.
In a pitch the client is the target market.
So the right answer may not be the ‘right’ answer.
What Martin did was take us through the pitch process in a way we could understand.
What Helen did was take everyone though the process in a way everyone could empathise with.
And that’s why she’s the most successful new business person in London.
Because she knows feelings are more important than facts.
As she and Martin both said:
If a client like a particular agency, they’ll make the facts fit that feeling.
If a client doesn’t like a particular agency, they’ll make the facts fit that feeling.

Or, as the philosopher David Hume said, “Reason is the slave of the passions.”

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THE ANSWER’S OBVIOUS. AND IT’S WRONG.

My Uncle Fred was a heavy smoker all his life.
All my family were.
Just like everyone else in those days.
As soon as you were old enough to smoke you lit up.
Over the years Uncle Fred’s lungs got worse and worse.
Eventually he had to have an oxygen cylinder at home.
When Uncle Fred started coughing, he coughed so long and hard he couldn’t get his breath.
Eventually, as he sat there gasping for air, he’d pull the oxygen mask over his mouth.
He’d gasp and wheeze it in until eventually he got his breath back.
Then he’d turn off the oxygen cylinder.
And he’d light up a cigarette.
I once said to my dad “Don’t you think Uncle Fred should stop smoking?”
Dad said, “No, it’s the only thing that helps him. He has a fag and it makes him cough all that phlegm off his chest.”
Nowadays we wouldn’t consider that good advice.
Because we see smoking as the cause of the problem.
But they saw it as the cure for the problem.
Tense and nervous, have a cigarette.
Bored and depressed, have a cigarette.
Sore throat, have a cigarette.
Coughs and sneezes, have a cigarette.
They thought the act of smoking was soothing and therapeutic.
Nowadays we know, far from curing it, nicotine can cause or exacerbate tension and depression.
Nowadays we know, far from curing it, tobacco can cause respiratory problems like emphysema and cancer.
What they didn’t see was that the cure was actually the problem.
Luckily we’re more intelligent than that nowadays.
We’d never do anything like that would we?
We’d never confuse the cure with the problem.
Or would we?
Take advertising.
We all know people don’t enjoy advertising as much as they used to.
So the answer’s obvious, isn’t it?
We need more people analysing the advertising.
We know advertising isn’t as funny or entertaining as it used to be.
So the answer’s obvious, we need more focus groups checking and rechecking it.
We know advertising doesn’t get picked up and repeated by the public anymore.
So the answer’s obvious, we need more people refining the messaging and debating every dot and comma.
We know advertising strap lines don’t get sung by school kids, repeated on TV shows, used in newspaper headlines anymore.
So the answer’s obvious, we need more people making sure nobody in advertising is taking any risks.
We know people are getting irritated by constant intrusive messaging.
So the answer’s obvious, find more places to run the messages: online, interactive, new media.
We know people don’t enjoy interacting with advertising as much as they used to.
So the answer’s obvious, get the advertising to them in more interactive channels: social media, Facebook, twitter.

Do you suppose it’s just possible that we may be confusing the cause of the problem with the cure?

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