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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.”

ZenithOptimedia to split in half in dramatic restructure

ZenithOptimedia, for many the original home of the modern media agency, is believed to be heading for a dramatic split following a restructure at group level that also leaves Zed’s future in doubt.

Groupe created ZenithOptimedia in 2003 through a controversial merger of the
media planning departments of Zenith Media and Optimedia networks.

According to sources, Stephen Farquhar is set to become managing director of
Zenith and Mark Howley will become managing director of Optimedia.

Both are expected to continue to report to ZenithOptimedia’s current chief executive, Gerry Boyle.

Zed’s dead

The anticipated fracture leaves question marks over what
will happen to the group’s specialist standalone divisions Zed and Equinox, run
Paul Constantine and
Kevin Morton

It is
believed some of Zed’s biggest clients, including
Airways, Aviva and Comparethemarket could be subsumed into Zenith. Equinox
currently services a number of media accounts, including E-Entertainment, John
Frieda, Comedy Central and HTC Europe.

The split, if ushered through, will effectively end one of UK media’s most
controversial unions
, which resulted in a number of departures, including
Optimedia’s managing director Simon Matthews and head of Zenith Interactive Chris

At an international level Zenith Media and Optimedia
continue to operate as standalone businesses in a number of key markets,
including Germany, China and the US.

Whatever changes are being thrashed out on the planning side, we can
safely assume it makes no sense to separate Publicis Groupe’s media buying

It is easy to forget in today’s GroupM dominated landscape that Zenith was also the first agency to
recognise the value in bulk buying to the US
and Asia.

Will Zenith be single at 22?

Zenith is 22 years old this
month and widely regarded as the first media superpower to emerge outside of
the full-service agency model.

As Media Week’s former
editor Steve Barrett noted for its 20th anniversary
, “Zenith Media
Buying Services broke the mould in 1988, when Saatchi’s John Perriss conceived
and launched the first so-called ‘media dependant’.

“This new-look bulk-buying
operation was a conglomeration of the media buying departments of several
full-service agencies in the Saatchi and Saatchi Group and one of the bigger
media independents – Ray Morgan & Partners. In many ways, it was a
forerunner of what WPP has put together in modern times with its GroupM buying

It’s early days,
with plenty of table-slapping “discussions” still to take place, but both Zenith and
Optimedia are expected to remain at the Percy Street offices.

The divorce
comes during a relatively strong period for ZenithOptimedia.

The agency
has been highly commended for innovative work for a number of clients,
including its development of ‘content tagging’ to promote O2’s priority ticketing
service, and its ground-breaking World Cup work for Carling Home Draught, which
resulted in a regional TV competition being launched and aired just hours before
England’s first football game.

The group’s other large media operation, Starcom
MediaVest Group is also rumoured to be having a rejigg of its own, although it’s
not believed to be related to the ZenithOptimedia split or to be anywhere near
as drastic.

Interesting times ahead.

Publishing failures unite at AOP 2010

the 9th annual AOP Digital Publishing Summit in Westminster
today proved to be something of a milestone for the UK’s media industry.

Unlike many
in the room, I remember the association’s first outing back in 2002. The dotcom
bubble had just bust and its messy entrails were still being discovered. The
room of mostly traditional newspaper and magazine publishers were still
understandably nervous about the implications of the web on their businesses.

all too easy to forget the speed with which the media landscape has evolved
since that first outing. Google was still
in its infancy, although swallowing-up ground fast. The likes of MySpace and Bebo
or Facebook and LinkedIn had yet to be created, while Twitter was far beyond anyone’s
wildest imagination.

I remember one of the key topics of the day was ‘can publishers charge for
their content?’ – clearly some questions can’t be answered overnight. Pearson’s
Financial Times was celebrated that year for being a digital innovator, after deciding it would
charge for its content.

It should come
as no surprise then, that some nine years later, at the start of a new decade,
there was a strong sense of reflection and soul-searching in the air.

With giant
screens of real-time tweets from the floor providing the backdrop to panels of
speakers from companies old and new, the debate repeatedly returned to the core
basics: ‘Where has digital publishing found itself? Who is now leading the
field? And, of course, ‘where do we go from here?’

memorable quotes alone, the morning sessions did not at first appear to be
making things any clearer: “Don’t be a frog”, advised keynote designer Jacek
Utko; “kill the Hippo”, chipped in Google’s Matt Brittin.

The very
appearance of Bonnier’s Polish designer Utko signalled a step change from past AOP
conferences. Previous keynotes have included WSJ’s Bill Grueskin, Reuters Tom
Glocer, Trinity Mirror’s Sly Bailey, and, most recently, C4’s Luke Johnson.

Utko, a
one-time traditional print man, turned the tables on the digital
innovators, by asking them to learn from the craft of print design.

In a
contentious 25 minute address, he reminded those operating in the digital space
about the need for more ‘entry points’, white space and emotional imagery. Core
to his argument was the suggestion that “the template is killing websites”, and
he called for greater flexibility.

The look and feel of sites for
The Guardian and the BBC were both acknowledged as being better than the norm, The
, unfortunately, was not.

most of the sites he held up as potential beacons of good design (all non UK),
consisted of landing pages dominated by large, sprawling imagery. They did indeed enable more
weight to lead stories, but in reality what do they mean for SEO? It
takes a brave publisher to run with just three or four stories on their

A strong contender for most inane comment of the day came from the Mirror Group’s digital content director Matt Kelly, who claimed that the publisher did not need an official style guide for its journalists because, after 107 years of publishing, it is ingrained in the company. The few remaining subs at Trinity Towers will no doubt be delighted to hear that one.

To be fair to Kelly, he proved to be one of the more colourful speakers and almost made up for this statement with a series of witty and insightful one-liners, incuding his observation that there is still an appetite and desire for long-form journalism: “What there is no appetite for is long-form crap,” he said. “If you are going to write crap, keep it short.”

We were on
more familiar ground with some household faces for the CEO panel. Tim Brooks, Stephen Miron and Mark Wood are as
quintessential ‘media’ as you can get.

All were rightly recognised as ‘leading the pack’ in terms of digital exploration. Yet Google MD Brittin captured the essence of the session when he admitted
“Every year from now is going to be more uncertain… at least now we recognise
this is the new norm.”

He added “The
big opportunity online is to kill the ‘hippo’ – the highest paid person’s
opinion. We need to have a point of view that is tempered with data about what
[the audience] do [when interacting with media]. For example, we test our
results pages with 40 different shades of blue links to see which people click
through more.”

In this
brave new world, the panel were united in the essential need to ‘experiment,
experiment and experiment’, and, as Brittin phrased it “be prepared to fail.”

Miron called for more collaboration between media players, to enable some “smart selling” outside the silos, while Brooks urged publishers to “take more risks rather than fewer risks”, before letting slip launch plans for new apps.

of the things that’s changed is that nobody’s arguing about change anymore,” noted
Brittin. “The pace of change is accelerating. Wait until in two three years
time when we have mobiles with iPhone capabilities outselling computer internet
connections – that’s gonna change the world much more than the last five years.”

I wonder how many UK publishers will be united in their failures by then?


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?

Revelation that online video brand recall is higher at work

Online video brand recall at work and homeNew IAB and Sky Video Ad Effectiveness research reveals that brand recall is higher at work (44%) than at home (39%), which suggests an incredible new opportunity for reaching consumers with brand messaging at their most receptive: in the work-place.

Consumer mindset and the importance of content quality and type

The research, conducted by agency Decipher, states the reason for this uplift in recall is due to differing mindsets. At work, people are highly focussed on the task at hand because they have limited time to visit an online video and watch what they have selected. While at home, people are more relaxed, have more time to browse around and there are more distractions.

Consumer receptivity to online video advertising depending on frame-of-mind is incredibly important, directly affecting campaign success. Viewers are 10% more likely to recall an ad if they enjoyed the content, highlighting the importance of advertising around quality, relevant content.

Type of content also matters, recall was higher around news, entertainment, sport, music, TV preview or movie trailers and then user generated clips respectively. Actively searching for an ad also aids recall, with referrals from friends delivering best (53%), actively looking for the clip second (48%) and just browsing last (39%).

At least 84% of the UK internet audience watches online video each month according to comScore and this study fits nicely into the picture as further evidence of the channel’s strengths. Evidently some advertisers already see this with investment in advertising around video content growing by 82% in the first half of this year, the fifth successive half-yearly increase (IAB / PwC AdSpend H1 2010).

What should advertisers do?

Advertisers should be capitalising on the reach online video offers now, paying particular attention to the work-place. Online video is uniquely positioned to deliver TV-like brand messaging in an environment where people are most receptive. Existing TV ad creative works in this environment as long as it is relevant to the viewer, and placement around highly sought-after or shared quality clips can deliver higher than average results.

Work-place, relevant placement and quality is a killer combination for online video brand campaigns and advertisers should begin planning this premium ad inventory into their schedules. Of course, with online targeting, you can do all of this with minimal waste too, as you target the exact demographic audience you need. This is another example of how you can use the portfolio of internet advertising tools to build brand.

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Diversity of advertiser solutions means online offers something for everyone

Online advertising in the UK continues to grow, this time to just under £2 billion for the first half of 2010. Exciting, but this growth isn’t the real story. The most interesting thing is that the latest IAB / PwC figures show that digital advertising offers the advertiser a really broad range of advertising solutions – meaning that it can accommodate the needs and objectives of any marketing campaign – from direct response to brand building.

Online advertising – a portfolio of different solutions for different needs

The search sector is in rude health and attracted over £1.1 billion of advertiser spend in the first six months of 2010. The argument in favour of paid for search is well known, but as a channel it clearly resonates with advertisers in difficult economic times. Paid for search advertising offers the advertiser a great deal – budgets and campaigns that they can control in real time, demographic and geographic targeting and a clear way to assess return on investment that includes the easy setting and assessment of bespoke goals and objectives. It’s also the ultimate hook for advertisers, a pay per results channel that only incurs a cost if people act on your advertising.

But online advertising isn’t only about accountability, targeting and response; it is increasingly being used by advertisers to achieve their branding objectives. Online video advertising – allowing advertisers to showcase their brands – has grown five fold in two years from £3.7 million in H1 2008 to £20.7 million in H1 2010. Brands are also taking advantage of advertising in a social media environment to encourage advocacy and discussion; our latest estimates show that of the £381 million spent on online display advertising in the first half of 2010 – 13% was spent in a social media environment.

Online is also a proven lead generator and the IAB / PwC Ad Spend study measured lead generation based advertising for the first time, valuing the format at £21.56 million for H1 2010.

There’s plenty more to add to this range of solutions – dynamic in-game advertising (worth £3.3 million), display affiliate ads (£27.1 million), solus and display emails ads (£19.3 million) and classifieds (£379 million). This breadth of offerings means that online really can do most things for most advertisers – from branding to direct response, from advocacy and discussion to sales and from exciting new formats to providing the contact details of people who have opted in and have expressed an interest in your product or service.

Getting the most from online – choose the right tool for the right job

But surely you can also achieve a range of objectives by advertising with other media as well? Yes, definitely, but most of the variation of use within other media comes from the creative execution, rather than the format of the advertising itself. Online has a head start – it is the perfect place for advertisers and agencies to express their creativity, but it also comes with a range of formats and advertising styles that naturally lend themselves to different marketing objectives.

So the best way of making the most of online’s inherent advantages? Understand your objectives clearly and understand which elements within online’s portfolio of offerings best match your aims. For example – if you want to engage with customers and have a story to tell then social media is a better tool than lead generation. Whatever you choose to do, it’s all about choosing the right tools to for the right jobs.

Bernbach on how life works

Bill Bernbach said “In this very real world, good doesn’t drive out evil. Evil doesn’t drive out good. But the energetic does displace the passive.”
Although he was referring to advertising, it’s analogous to all life.
We all learned in science class, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
Imagine an empty space, and nearby a very full space.
It’s pretty obvious that whatever’s in the full space will be attracted to the empty space.
So some of it will move across until there’s the same amount of stuff in both places.
Things will be attracted (sucked) from the area of higher density to the area of lower density.
At the level of molecules, this is called The Venturi Effect.
And it affects every single part of our lives.
Something as basic as drinking through a straw.
By sucking air out of the straw we create a low pressure in the straw.
This attracts liquid from the higher pressure part at the bottom of the straw.
And liquid flows up through it.
A car engine starts when it sucks air in, across the top of the carburettor nozzle.
When air is moving, the molecules are farther apart so their density is lower.
The petrol molecules at the bottom of the nozzle aren’t moving.
So their density is higher.
They get sucked up into the engine, and it starts.
When David Beckham wants a ball to curve he kicks it on the opposite side.
This makes it spin as it flies.
The side of the ball spinning forwards will force the molecules to be more crowded.
The side of the ball spinning backwards will allow them to spread out.
So the ball will be sucked towards the less dense molecules.
A golf ball has dimples to accentuate this effect.
When a golfer wants the ball to have lift, he strikes it so that the bottom spins forwards.
The denser air underneath the ball creates high pressure.
The less dense air on top creates low pressure.
The ball is sucked upwards.
A plane uses a similar effect.
If we cut the wing in half, we’d see it was curved upwards on top, but flat on the bottom.
So, as the plane moves forward, the molecules on top of the wing have to cover a greater distance, and are consequently more spread out.
The molecules underneath the wing are denser.
High pressure is sucked towards low pressure, and the plane flies.
A yacht is the same.
The sail is curved so that the air has to move faster over the outer part.
But the air gathers in the bulge of the inner part.
So the denser air is sucked towards the less dense space.
And the boat is pulled forwards.
Which is how a yacht can sail into the wind.
So moving things (energy) can have a profound effect on static things (passive).
Thus proving Bernbach’s maxim.
But there’s a second part to Bernbach’s maxim: “In this all too real world, good doesn’t drive out evil.”
In other words, having right on your side isn’t enough.
In fact it’s irrelevant.
Whatever we want to happen, we have to make it happen.
In order to make it happen, we have to understand how things work.
How things work is energy.
The universe is simply energy.
“In this very real world, good doesn’t drive out evil. Evil doesn’t drive out good. But the energetic does displace the passive.”
That’s how life works.
That’s how advertising works.
Or to put it another way, existentialism.
This is the Albert Camus version of Bill Bernbach’s quote.
“The weak man believes in luck. The strong man believes in cause and effect.”

BP teaches us a lesson in humility

Whether you’re a Prime Minister who’s led a country into an illegal, ill-conceived war, or a multi-million pound footballer caught with your pants down while your pregnant wife’s out shopping, for many ‘sorry’ really is the hardest word; so credit where it’s due to that modern day pariah, BP.

Speaking at the International Advertising Association lunch this month, Luc Bardin, BP’s group sales and marketing chief, made a surprisingly candid and personal speech.

Addressing more than 200 international media and advertising executives, the Frenchman set the tone early with a disclaimer: “I’m not going to have a response as a marketer. I’m going to have a response as a person.”

He went on to talk for more than half an hour about his own “very physical and emotional time” working alongside some 60,000 BP employees in the Gulf of Mexico, “sleeves rolled up, feet on the ground and working in the trenches”.

Bardin referred to the spill as “a tragic accident” but wanted to stress how BP “has taken responsibility”.

Among the more surprising revelations during the crisis was that the usually very serious business of BP’s brand management was among the first things to slip from the radar. I guess when people have died, wildlife has suffered and coastlines have been decimated, as Bardin himself admitted, “it hardly matters, it hardly matters”.

Except of course, now the oil’s finally stopped and recriminations become more rationalised, it actually starts to become more of an issue.

Why wasn’t CEO Tony Hayward more media savvy? Why did the long-defunct ‘British Petroleum’ branding creep back into the lexicon? Why were there so many mixed messages in the early days? And, just as importantly, what is the plan going forward?

Bardin didn’t profess to having all the answers. He conceded “all components of the brand” were now being considered, but refused to commit to any ‘back to business’ marketing drive in the US or anywhere else.

“Actions are going to be much stronger than words,” he said, adding that “BP is a wonderful brand that will prove itself over time.”

But ‘time’ may be among the many things the fourth largest multi-national company in the world has lost along the way.

What has been even more disturbing than the raging, vitriolic media coverage and obligatory “I Hate Tony Hayward” Facebook page, has been the speed with which fellow marketers and commentators have written off the 100 year old brand.

Nowhere has this rapid descent been symbolised more clearly than in Interbrand’s annual league table, where BP tumbled more than 17 places to sit outside the global Top 100 for the first time since its inception.

The profound plummet in brand value has been tracked across the board, with consultancy Brand Finance calculating BP haemorrhaged an eye-watering $72m (£45m) worth of brand value every day between May and July after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

BP also officially revealed the biggest-ever quarterly loss by any British company of £11 billion.

It’s dangerous ground when your market value is considered to be substantially less than the sum of your parts. The vultures have already begun to circle in the anticipation of a fire-sale of BP’s oil wells, offices and equipment. Whisper it, but it really could be an effective way to end the pain.

Bardin will be more aware of such a potential quick-fix remedy than most, but his passion and focus remains.

“The brand belongs to the people, and a brand like BP belongs to all those who are associated with it in anyway,” he said.
He added: “I think this organisation is distinctive in the way that people live what they are. The incident is absolutely shocking. It has been a blow to many people, including me.”

“We are going to continue to try and get it right. Stay true to what the brand is and who you are.”

He was only speaking at the event at all because he’d committed to attend before the Maconda disaster on 20 April. The fact that, many crazy months later, the father of four had honoured his commitment to the west London gig was to his credit.

But the marketer who, in addition to his sales and marketing remit is also responsible for BP’s colossal strategic partnerships like the Olympics, was under no illusions about the “massive task” ahead.

He was right to ask us “Did [the tragedy] mean that our brand and what it represents was bad? Does it mean that what many people in this world respected and valued was bad?”

Graham Hales, chief executive of Interbrand, believes BP’s future must now involve setting “realistic expectations” and ensuring it can live up to and deliver against them.

For his part, Bardin concluded with nothing short of an emotional plea: “I came here to share a passion for this brand. Help it please, it needs your belief.”

BP’s former chief Hayward was right about one thing: life really isn’t fair, and we all run the risk of stepping off the pavement one day and being hit by a bus. But let’s not forget that if you survive, how you bounce back will always be the clincher to the story.

On 17 September 2010, BP’s Luc Bardin didn’t make a bad start.


Nicole Yershon sent me a link to a website called ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes’.
One of my favourites is about two Jews walking down the street.
They pass a Church.
On the notice board outside is a sign saying “£10 for anyone who converts to Christianity”.
One of them stops.
He says, “£10, that’s not a bad deal.”
The second one says, “You’re going to convert to Christianity?”
The first one says, “Who has to convert? You go in, you drink the wine, you eat the biscuit, you get £10.”
The second one says, “You can do it if you want. I’ll wait here.”
So the first one goes in to the Church.
After a half hour he comes out.
The Second one says to him “Well, did you get the money?”
The first one looks down his nose at him and says “Is that all you people ever think about?”
That’s kind of how I feel about people in advertising.
Before they get into advertising they’re normal people.
They watch stuff on TV.
They go on the internet.
They read newspapers.
They walk round a supermarket, take things off shelves and buy them.
Then they get into advertising.
Now they’re not ordinary people anymore.
Now they’re ‘experts’.
Now they study ordinary people in a detached manner.
As if they are an alien race.
A race no one can possibly understand without being trained.
A race that needs to be observed with sophisticated technology.
I went to a Rory Sutherland talk in the week.
He talked about ‘clock thinking’ and ‘cloud thinking’.
Karl Popper coined those terms for this dichotomy
Cloud-thinking is what ordinary people do.
Clouds are big, amorphous, constantly changing, and unpredictable.
A cloud has mass, but it comes and goes.
It has shape, but it changes.
We know it’s there, but we can’t measure its dimensions exactly.
Cloud-thinking is intuitive.
But of course you can’t pin it down like that.
And ‘experts’ need to be able to pin things down.
So clock-thinking is what ‘experts’ do.
A clock is regular, predictable, repetitious, pedestrian.
Exactly the same every time, tick tock.
No variation.
Obviously, people who are trying to analyse things prefer clock thinking.
It seems dependable and trustworthy.
One problem.
You can’t use clock thinking to tell us how to make a cloud.
We’ll end up with a clock.
If we want a cloud, we have to use cloud thinking.
But clock-thinkers aren’t comfortable with that.
It’s unpredictable, uncontrollable.
So they’d rather cling on to the security of clock thinking.
Which is why 90% of advertising doesn’t work.
Because how we reacted to advertising before we got into it, was cloud thinking.
We simply ignored most of it.
We didn’t analyse advertising using clock-thinking.
See, clock thinking looks at every tiny detail under a microscope.
Takes it apart, examines it, reassembles it.
And that works for other people in advertising.
Our audience doesn’t work in advertising.
And cloud thinking doesn’t do details.
Cloud thinking does big picture.
Cloud thinking ignores everything that doesn’t force itself onto our radar.
If we’re going to be successful we need to rediscover cloud thinking.
We need to reach back into our memories and see if we can still remember what we thought about it when we were ordinary human beings.

Before we became members of a superior alien intelligence


John Locke said we were born ‘table rasa’.
In other words a blank sheet of paper.
We know absolutely nothing, we have to learn everything from the beginning.
But we can’t learn everything.
So we learn what applies to us.
Then we think that is everything.
I thought the advertising debate about product versus brand was about a decade old.
But I’ve just seen a piece of film from the 1950s that proves it’s about 60 years old.
Apparently Rosser Reeves, who ran Ted Bates, was the father of the USP.
The unique selling proposition.
You find, or manufacture, something different about your product.
A reason consumers should buy it rather than your competitor’s product.
Then make that the basis of all your advertising.
So far so good.
That makes perfect sense.
Demonstrate a reason to purchase and build a brand around that.
The problem was, this being the fifties, the advertising was pretty dire.
Just repeat the USP again and again.
Until it becomes like a bad Eurovision song you can’t get out of your head.
So the thinking was good.
But the execution was bad.
The other side of the coin was Norman B. Norman, who ran NCK.
He was the father of ‘emotional’ advertising.
Never mind what the product actually did.
Find out what the consumer wanted, and sell it back to them.
This was the start of Planning (or ‘motivational research’ as it was called then) looking for ‘insights’.
On the film, Norman B. Norman gave 3 examples.
Ajax Laundry Detergent claimed to wash whiter than other detergents.
The problem was everyone was saying the same thing.
So, rather than find a better way of saying it, Norman B. Norman looked for a consumer insight.
He said, “Of course the housewife wants a whiter wash. But what she really wants is no laundry at all. She’d like someone to make the problem disappear.”
This lead to an advertising campaign for Ajax where a white knight galloped along the road on a charger.
He tapped the dirty washing with his lance and magically transformed it into piles of clean, pressed laundry.
His contention was that women would associate their fantasy with Ajax, and buy the brand.
Another example he gave was for Handi-Wrap cling film.
The product benefit was, it kept food fresh, conveniently.
But Norman B. Norman found this dull and unmotivating.
The consumer insight he found was “What’s a woman really wants is her husband’s approval. She doesn’t want him to open his lunch at work and find it dry as a bone. She doesn’t want him to be disappointed in her.”
So the brief became ‘a husband’s approbation’.
And the execution became a Dracula-like character called ‘The Spoiler’.
He shrivelled-up the husband’s food unless it was wrapped in Handi-Wrap.
The third example he gave was for Ajax Floor Cleaner.
This was apparently the most powerful modern cleaning powder.
But Norman B. Norman decided that was too dull.
So he looked for a consumer insight.
And again found that women would really rather not clean floors at all.
They secretly wished they could get it all get done as if by magic.
So the advertising vehicle became a wizard who tangoed through the kitchen with the housewife.
Everywhere they danced the kitchen was magically sparkling bright.
I remember when advertising was done by people like Norman B, Norman.
And I disagree with pretty much everything he stands for.
For a start, I don’t think women are that stupid.
I think promising the impossible is patronising and demeaning.
Secondly, I think he’s taking research and misinterpreting it.
It’s like cutting the back legs off a grasshopper.
Then shouting at it and noticing it doesn’t jump.
And taking this to prove that grasshoppers hear through their legs.
Because cutting them off makes them go deaf.
That’s how not to use research.
But just because one agency does it badly, that shouldn’t invalidate an entire discipline.
Norman B. Norman is the ‘brand’ route done badly.
Rosser Reeves is the ‘product’ route done badly.
But what’s really wrong is thinking there’s one magic formula in all cases.
There isn’t now.
There never was.
We still have to think.
We can’t just kneejerk into a quick fix.
Because the deeper truth is, the answer will always be in one of two places.
Either in the product.
Or in the consumer.
And we have to be prepared to use our brains to see which solution is right.
Then, most importantly, we have to brilliantly bring it to life.

Which neither Rosser Reeves nor Norman B. Norman had the brains to see.