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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

This could be the game


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.”

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…

  • 1. Recognising online brand impact: online isn’t just about clicks and actions, as last year’s growth in online brand spend from 5% to 12% testifies (IAB 2010). Sometimes telling people something exists, showing a brand/product or explaining your view of a brand is literally the best form of marketing. I’ve seen many surveys and spoken with many marketers all stating that they know online display ads have a brand effect, even without a click. Consider turning this talk into action, by using more online display to reach targeted audiences and build brand campaigns rather than solely relying on an interaction.
  • 2. Using larger online ad sizes: we’re already seeing larger ad formats and homepage takeovers across leading websites like The Telegraph, The Guardian, Wired, YouTube and many more. Lo and behold, they look fantastic and, according to agencies I speak to who use them, are high impact without being intrusive. I fully expect the popularity of these formats to continue.
  • 3. Understanding ‘captured interest’: there are a number of opportunities online guaranteeing that when your ad is shown, people see it. Well positioned online display ads are one, but online video and in-game advertising are two other key opportunities. When someone watches a video online, you know they’re sitting there watching because they selected to watch it. If someone is playing a game (on a console or online) you know they’ll see your brand in it because if they don’t pay attention they’ll lose. This ‘captured interest’ is important because it delivers higher value for advertisers with guaranteed views.
  • 4. Working closer with media owners: despite movement towards tools that give brands and their agencies independent control over the booking and buying of advertising, next year I hope the demand-side work closer with media owners creatively. To fully maximise use of media space, it’s important to understand the content you’re advertising around, and the people who know content best are the people that make it. We’re already seeing fantastic work like Tipp-Ex and YouTube’s interactive ‘shoot the bear’ video. We’ll continue to see more bespoke work, sponsorship and unique online adverts on key media owner sites this year.
  • 5. Making sense of converged media: if a brand still isn’t using mobile, then I hate to say it, but they’re already slipping behind. Many brands already include mobile as a core channel and are looking to all other internet devices. Now companies must not only figure out, but deliver their internet proposition to any device, whether that’s mobile, tablets, laptops, games consoles, PC or TV. This is easier to do than you may imagine, you simply need the right people project managing everything. We’ll begin to see more brands getting the right balance across all internet enabled devices, but I’d recommend people start exploring internet on TVs early (e.g. Yahoo!’s internet TV, Google TV, Apple TV, Boxee, YouView, games consoles).
  • 6. Consider bucking the app trend: on mobile and tablets companies have been flocking to app stores to deliver great user experiences. This will continue, however there’s a big ‘but’ and that’s search traffic. On all devices people rely on search engines to find what they’re looking for, and app content isn’t currently included in this. There is a huge opportunity here, and if rumours are true, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has spotted it. Facebook doesn’t have an app on the iPad or any other tablets, and there are rumours that Facebook is instead working on an HTML5 version of the site for these devices. This has multiple advantages, such as cost savings by creating one tablet friendly version of Facebook rather than multiple apps. The most important advantage is that this approach allows Facebook to appear in search, which fits with the gradual opening up of the site’s content. In particular, this will really benefit their new location service ‘Places’ which ultimately makes money on location based offers. I expect other companies will spot this opportunity and buck the app trend.
  • 7. Using location based marketing: no surprises here, but 2011 will be the year that marketers fully understand how to exploit location based online advertising. Facebook Places, Four Square, GroupOn and Google Maps are some of the front runners in this space, but the real benefit will be seen by brands and the millions of SME local businesses that can use these for promotion.
  • 8. Understanding social drivers: not the media, but why people socialise online and how brands fit into this. Many brands use social media really well, but there is still a way to go to fully make sense of the online social space. The practicalities of building a brand presence on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and community forums are simple, while engaging with people correctly can be more of a challenge. I’d like to see brands focus less on the technology and more on the people. Looking at activity, audience research and even simply asking customers how they would like to interact with your brand online.
  • 9. Loving online data: everyone loves data these days (“the marketers of the future are geeks” etcetera) but data is no longer for geeks. Infographics and new online tools for simple data visualisation is making sense of the flood of stats coming our way. Data is the backbone of marketing now and for the future, and this year data will help marketers to optimise and improve the efficiency of all marketing activity. Data proves that all good (or extremely bad) marketing activity has an online effect. Digital marketers understand this, but I expect marketers with jobs in TV, radio, outdoor, cinema and print advertising to turn even more to online data – like search traffic and online conversations – to help judge the success of a campaign.This information should be a core metric.
  • 10. Starting a measurement revolution: media is now so converged, and data so accessible, that people are seeing with their own eyes that the future of almost all media is the internet. This year we’ll see the tiny seeds of consistent cross-media measurement building support to create a movement that revolutionises – and simplifies – all future planning and success measures.

These are of course, just some of my thoughts, please share your own below.

Follow me or the IAB on Twitter

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.

There are five things to keep a careful eye on. In the ‘delivery’ in-tray there are two developments:

– Across Europe, the digital advertising industry will roll out a self-regulatory Framework for behavioural advertising. This will build upon IAB UK’s Good Practice Principles and provide greater transparency and control for consumers, such as providing notice in or besides the advertisement itself and with a direct link to a pan-EU control tool where data preferences can be managed. Watch this space!

– From 1 March, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will regulate ‘non paid-for’ marketing communications on web sites and in third party space under a marketer’s control, such as on social networking sites. All ‘paid-for’ digital advertising (search, display, mobile) is already within the ASA’s remit. You can find out more about this here. The ASA will be launching a campaign very soon to make consumers and businesses aware of the extended remit.

In the ‘challenges’ box there are three things to prepare for:

– On 25 May, it is expected that the revised ePrivacy Directive will come into force in the UK. The new Directive (part of a larger EU communications package) will amend the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 and introduces ‘consent’ for locally stored software, such as cookies. The new UK law will cover all cookie use (not just for behavioural advertising) and the UK Government has expressed a preference to implement a system of “informed consent via web browser settings”. Here you can see the IAB’s response to the UK Government’s consultation on this.

– In mid-2011, the European Commission is expected to announce legislative proposals to amend the EU Data Protection Directive. Its objectives are to harmonize data protection law across the EU whilst updating it to allow for new technologies and digital practices. The European Commission has already published its areas of focus – such as “clarifying and strengthening the rules on consent” and promoting international co-operation – and these are subject to public consultation by mid-January.

– Marketing to children will remain high on the UK political agenda, following the establishment of the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Childhood and Families last summer. Just before Christmas the Government announced another review of the ‘commercialisation and sexualisation’ of childhood and this is expected to report to Ministers in March and be published in May. The review is broader than just marketing but it is likely that some digital marketing techniques used by children will come under scrutiny.

I’ll be providing further information on all five of these issues here on this blog throughout 2011. Happy New Year!

Follow the IAB or me on Twitter.

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.

When FB
was born, I fully embraced it. But the novelty of sending humorous council
estate gifts to my pals soon waned. So I started playing with it for a little
while – in a smug post-modern style. Creating mock-photos of the ‘disco-fied’
jollity that everyone seemed to be living in.

Then I
just got bored.

Not sure
why. Maybe it was that horrible term ‘sofa-lising’ – where you sit fiddling with
your mobile phone while half watching the TV; actually doing neither very well –
waiting with bated breath for someone to utter something of

it was the words of those two great philosophers – Street-Porter and Kierkegaard
that jolted me from my digital slumber:

“Facebook has been a
runaway success because it allows people to create their own profile and welcome
new ‘friends’ with whom they can share their every waking thought. This, in
turn, allows them to feel important and individual, no matter how humdrum their
existence might be – by designing a far more interesting version of themselves
online. In their pathetic chat-rooms, they can project a vicarious image to the
world – of everything from their appearance to their social life – which
generally bears little resemblance to mundane reality.”


idea of
busyness: that state
constant distraction that allows people to avoid difficult realities and
maintain self-deception.’

leave you to work out who said what. There’s probably something a little deeper
to my cold turkiness though. Possibly the fact that Facebook is becoming an
unwieldy goliath – constantly appropriating features from its competitors in a
desperate attempt to stay ahead of the pack. Twitter is much more enticing in
its single-mindedness.

Has it
reached that Friends Reunited/My Space tipping point? The moment where it
becomes all-pervasive – and hence un-Internet in spirit? Is it high time for a
plucky underdog to take centre stage?

What I do
know is that I feel free! My itchy FB fingers have finally calmed themselves and
the cravings have lulled. I’m like one of those baby people emerging from their
pods on ‘WALL-E’.

course, I’ll probably eat my words – because FB has just been valued at over
£50bn and there’s talk of it being floated on the stock market. I can always
come crawling back though – coz Facebook will kindly keep all my personal
details forever. How nice.

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.

Murdoch, I-Level and… Claudine dominate media in 2010

Vince Cable pictured in The Independent

In terms of
commercial media, 2010 was always going to be dominated by one man and one
company: Rupert Murdoch, News Corporation.

From the
outset we expected paywalls and bundled content offerings (Alesia) to be the
order of the day, but no one could have foreseen just where we find ourselves

Cable, business secretary of Britain’s
first coalition Government since 1945, has realised it pays to keep
warmongering in check
, although there could be some soul-searching at Telegraph Media Group this yule-tide too.

Project Alesia is gone
, along with Ian Clark and a number of other once
prominent executives, while debate continues to rage about the success of News
International’s paywalls

WPP’s Sir
Martin Sorrell
has not been alone in doing a U-turn on the viability and
likelihood of paywalls
in the 21st Century, although The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger continues to talk a great game.

But I’ll
keep it brief, (still have presents to wrap), so before I sign off for another
year, I thought you might be interested in Media Week’s most read stories of

Measured in
terms of unique users, not page impressions, the top five stories are not the
ones I would have necessarily picked, but certainly tell a story of their own. All were
accessed by more than 10,000 browsers – in some cases closer to 20,000 – which
might give those naked souls at MediaCom food for thought, let alone the
fantastic Claudine.

The success
of such stories, coupled with Media Week’s biggest awards ceremony for many
years, is testament to the strength and resilience of the brand, and the UK’s commercial
media community in general.

promise to be equally interesting in 2011, with TV product placement in the
offing, mobile finally coming of age, and social media platforms becoming fully

Yet, for all
the young upstarts and disruptive media and technology that is sure to come, I suspect
much of the agenda will continue to be centred around the operations of one
particular media mogul
, who’ll be 80 years-old in March.

everyone a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year.

Media Week’s most read in 2010

placed into administration

My Media
Week: Claudine Collins MediaCom

bares all for charity calendar

Times loses
1.2 million readers

women make bad mothers slogan fronts new outdoor push

Ones to
watch: the next Facebooks


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.