Thursday, July 09, 2015

Labour Marketing Isn't Working

Perhaps one of the last truly impactful (in a positive way) election ads.
 (image from:
The last general election in the UK was one of the most disappointing events I've seen in a long long time. The apparent complete lack of knowledge and judgement by the British people was on a scale that makes American politics look sane.

As a planner I find it fascinating to understand what it is that actually makes people vote, and why they don't vote with the facts. Because, from everything I've seen, there's no way ANYONE could have voted Tory based upon the pure facts of their time in government. Perhaps people's hatred of the Lib Dems allowed them to morally justify voting Tory, maybe the apparent lack of charisma that Ed Miliband showed scared them, or the threat of the SNP daring to unravel austerity for the pile of economic bullshit it is was too much.

One thing that did seem very apparent, even from Australia, was that Labour's communications and their election marketing did not work. It simply did not convince people to vote for them in any way shape or form.

Perhaps part of this problem is that election campaigns are generally attack ads, they fit into a typically fear-mongering, cheesy and unlikeable form of advertising that most people want to avoid. They generally say nothing new – or do so in a way that is unpalatable. Or they even presume that people know the facts, which we know (or can very likely presume) that they don't.

So what can we do about this? Labour's marketing isn't working, and the public are simply not getting the key facts that might actually help to change their mind. This is largely because the media, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, do not want people to know the facts. They want them to hate benefit claimants not wealthy recipients of inheritance – even though both get something for nothing. In fact arguably benefit claimants do more, as they have to visit a job centre and often do unpaid work to allow their claim. They want them to hate high spending wasteful Labour, even though the last government spent more than Labour ever did. Etc etc. Not to mention that most Tory voters probably aren't that interested in seeking out a contrary fact or opinion in this increasingly partisan age.

So what if we change the election marketing game completely. Do what many brands are doing, and being advised to do – and move to an always on approach?

Instead of creating unlikeable and ineffective attack ads, and trying to sell personalities that no one wants to like – we take the facts, the simple things that people need to know and are not being told, and create simple clear advertising that gets those messages across. We do that 365 days a year, with a thinly spread but well targeted campaign that makes the facts harder to miss, regardless of what party you generally support.

“Immigration creates a profit of xxx for Britain.”

“Tax evasion costs Britain over four times as much as benefit fraud.”

“xx people have died due to benefit cuts in 2014.”

“George Osborne lost $13bn of taxpayers money by selling RBS early”

Historically this would have been on billboard posters, but now we can do it through online banners or Facebook targeting. It doesn't matter if people don't click, because they see the clear factual message, and see it repeated. The advertising starts to question the usual narrative and provide answers, but in a clear and concise way that it is easy to pick up. Advertising interrupts, and in this case we use that very deliberately to push the narrative of discussion with seemingly unknown facts.

The difference is, by doing this all the time – for a year or two leading up to an election – you make it harder for the opposition to escape the facts, and you have time to repeat messages so they are absorbed instead of rushing at election time to get summation sound-bites that mean nothing to anyone.

I'm sure it's not a flawless plan yet,but I fail to see how it can be any worse than election advertising has been in the last two decades.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review of 2014 Part 2 - Top Tweeters

When you follow over a thousand people, it can be quite hard to pick some that really stand out. However there's definitely been a few that are on my essential to follow list.

So, in no particular order, here are my top tweeters of 2014:

The ever controversial Charles. I don't always agree with everything he says or posts, but it gives me heart that there are people like him around that never accept what we are told on face value, and are constantly looking for the truth. There are several big national/global scandals coming that most people will have heard about first from him.

Just an awesome human being. She writes about difficulty and struggle, but in a way that shows true strength.Also incredibly dirty. Incredibly so...

Following yet more unnecessary deaths of black american males, this has become one of the most important twitter accounts there are. A great person to follow to stay informed of what's being said in America on this major issue.

Arriving as a pom to Australia, it's very difficult to get a true understanding of aboriginal or indigenous culture. This is a great account to really understand the history and realities of the first people in Australia, in a society where too many are left with the scars of past generations. When I first arrived, I was shocked that probably 80% of indigenous people I came into contact with were on the streets begging, and it's only by understanding decades of inferior treatment that you can appreciate how this has sadly come to be in some parts - and also understand the (usually unseen) great things others are doing.

A wonderfully funny and slightly dirty person. Not as bad as Marlespo... but close. Also great at retweeting crazy posts from others.

A late edition. Writer of an excellent blog on dating and single life. Although with her recent change to looking like a superhero comic book librarian, she may need to find another subject to write about before long!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review of 2014 - Top Albums

2014 has been a year of great albums. Here's my top five, with a shout out to some others that didn't quite make it:

Yellowcard - Lift a sail
Wiley - Snakes and Ladders
Caribou - Our Love
FKA Twigs - LP1
Murkage - Of Mystics & Misfits

Azealia Banks - Broke with expensive taste

I know right? A great single followed by tons of record company hype didn't provide much hope. A record company then not sure what to do with the recordings didn't help.

So Azealia stopped playing the system. Bought herself out of contract and released the album she wanted to make, announcing it suddenly with no forewarning.

Frankly she made the right decision. Musicially this is a mixed up bag, but that's what makes it so much better than many of her contemporaries. Idle Delilah starts you wondering what is coming next, and then the one two punch of the immensely funky and catchy Gimme a Chance and the fast wordplay of Desperado (a cover of a track by Manchester's talented Fallacy) delivers a big hit to any record exec who ever didn't see the value of this record.

Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste

Ariel Pink - Pom pom
Don't even try to make sense of Ariel Pink. Don't even try to make sense of this record. An album full of some ridiculously weird, silly and creepy songs, with unusual 1980's cassette tape production. But these are probably the best songs he's ever done, and at least one of them is guaranteed to get stuck in your head.

Seriously. All week. Singing "freckles, freckles, where'd you get those freckles?"


Ariel Pink – pom pom

Painted Palms - Forever

This is definitely an indie club, triple J kind of album. But in all of the good ways. Catchy and tuneful but with solid writing and an interesting 60's influenced sound to back it up.

Forever is probably the best Beatles song written since 1969. If the fab four had released it, it would be deemed as an all time classic. It probably still is, of all the songs I've heard this year, none has instantly and powerfully struck me as being magnificent. The rest of the album backs it up superbly, proving them not just to be a one trick pony.

Painted Palms – Forever

Gerard Way - Hesistant Alien

Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge by My Chemical Romance is still an amazing album. Maybe overtaken by what the concept of 'emo' ended up becoming, it was an alt-rock masterpiece. The band gradually seemed to lose their way though, becoming a pale shadow of what they were.

So I didn't come to this album with much expectation, and was very pleasantly surprised. It feels like what My Chemical Romance should have become, freed of the constraints of sounding like a punk style band, and exploring a range of sounds that still coherently make a whole. It also avoids many of the angsty cliche's that this kind of album could easily bump into.

Action Cat is one of the best pop singles I've heard in a long long time, but it keeps that edge that stops it being lightweight. Millions and Zero Zero are two further great tracks, and the excellent Drugstore Perfume is one of the saddest song stories I've heard in a long time. I can imagine this album being a seminal moment in the lives of many 16 year olds, it's powerful, energetic and tuneful, but with a sense of meaning and emotion that cannot be ignored.

Most artists who go solo do it for fame or money, this album suggests that Gerard Way did it for the music, and on this evidence at least, I can't fault that decision one bit.

Gerard Way – Hesitant Alien

Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues

If you'd asked any fan of Against Me! whether they were likely to remain successful in America after their lead singer came out as transexual and started living as a woman, you would have probably got a disappointed no. If you'd then discussed their new album being almost entirely about that coming out and transformation, most people would have expected a niche underground success of existing fans at most.

So for it to be their most successful album ever in terms of chart positions (US Rock No.6) tells you how good this album is, and just how well Laura Jane Grace (singer) and the band have dealt with and utilised something that would have killed bands with lesser spirit.

Not just a great album, with magnificent songs like True Trans Soul Rebel, this is an album that sets a new benchmark for transgender issues and artists - demonstrating that being who you truly are doesn't have to mean sacrificing a career,


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Looking backward to look forwards

Sometimes I think it's okay to say... you know, what we did a while back was pretty damn good. Perhaps we should something similar again. Take the best of the past, moments that people connect with the brand, and combine it with the present and future to step forward.

In a way, what Qantas have done with their latest campaign is exactly that.

For years they had the amazingly powerful "Still Call Australia Home" campaign. One that became essentially a part of the fabric of the country, such that even when they changed the tagline - they still used the music.

Then they changed it to something that was hugely epic, but basically felt like it was trying to be like every other airline, 'oh we're all about the customer'. It looked great but wasn't even a patch on where they used to be.

The good news is that they have clearly seen sense. Whilst they haven't exactly brought back the old creative, they've essentially revamped it.

This is Still Call Australia Home + Real Customers + John Lewis Soundtrack

Excellent decision. Instead of just well produced and good looking, what we have is engaging and moving. I find it hard to believe that any expat either in or from Australia wouldn't tear up when watching the full two minute version. I certainly did. An example of when using real people can be truly powerful.

Qantas is never going to have the huge backing and budgets that the Middle Eastern/Asian airlines often get. On product and service it will always struggle to compete. But what it is starting to rediscover, is that a strong emotional bond is worth more than any product feature or discounted price. Going beyond patriotism and national pride to something far more powerful - memory, childhood, and the unmistakable connection we have as human beings to the places we call, and have called home.

When I was planning my move to Australia, I would see the red tail fin of a Qantas plane and look forward to where I was going. This work makes me think about both where I am, and where I've come from. For a brand, that's pretty amazing - even if most people aren't expats... outside of Bondi anyway.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Flake it til you make it

Every year we see loads of brand crossovers, where a company (usually a big holding brand) mixes together two products in order to try and leverage the benefits of each.

Makes sense in most regards. Oreo bits in chocolate, that's pretty awesome. Chocolate in Philadelphia... maybe!

One brand crossover that I'm currently intrigued by is between two brands that maybe don't match quite as well as those.

Head and Shoulders with Old Spice.

At a product level it makes sense. At a brand level though, it seems like a far bigger win for Head and Shoulders, and potentially a damaging move for Old Spice. Head and Shoulders has traditionally had terrible functional communication, whilst Old Spice has revitalised itself by moving into a strong creative area.

The comms to promote this (at least here in Australia) is essentially a weaker version of the Old Spice idea, set against Head and Shoulders brand colours. Whilst it's better than anything I've seen from Head and Shoulders, it pales compared to what has been seen in the past year or two for Old Spice.

I can see three potential plans in play here.
1. The success of Old Spice being used as driver across a range of brands until the core product branding suffers from over-stretch and dilution.
2. This is the first step towards launching an old Spice shampoo. But given there is already Old Spice bodywash, why wouldn't they just jump straight in? Or at the very least utilise the most liked brand to drive the combination. As even if Head and Shoulders sells more, it lacks the strong connection.
3. A short term attempt to revitalise one brand by risking the credibility of another.

Either way, it will be an interesting one to follow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Seven brides for seven creative brothers

I saw an article the other day that made me kind of sad. It appeared to demonstrate just how one sided the advertising industry still is.

Important obvious disclaimer:: This is in no way a criticism of the work of these individuals.

It was in Brand Republic, and happily declared that Saatchi's in London had announced seven new creative hires!

Hurrah. Always good to see creative talent given an opportunity to join such a great agency. I wonder who they are?

White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, dark hair.
White guy, ginger hair.

Now clearly these guys are good, or they wouldn't get these roles. But surely there must be a good female creative out there, or even a team, that's worth hiring? The photo looks a bit like a shot of a well dressed hipster band, you could probably pick them out as creatives from a mile away. Again, there's nothing specifically wrong with that style, but surely as an industry we need to have more people with different styles and viewpoints?

The industry has been lacking in female creatives for such a long time, and we still are far too lacking in people of black or mixed race backgrounds. It's been getting better, and I'm sure (and hope) Saatchis would be able to point out plenty of women and people of non-white backgrounds in the department...

But it still looks like a reminder of the bad not so old days, and that's a shame.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Your World? Taglines are not just words.

I think it's easy sometimes to forget that everything that we produce in advertising needs to be accurate. Not that the average agency person lies or sets out to mislead, in my experience it's quite the opposite... but we like to give clients meaningful, powerful words to describe themselves.

Taglines are not just words.

A good tagline says something powerful about your brand and product. The best taglines are created from the truth, with that wonderful balance of being half where the brand is, and half where they are striving to be. Something that customers can believe in, and staff feel empowered by, and want to keep working towards.

I was looking at ANZ the other day, and was reminded of something Rob Campbell once said: "If Qantas truly lived up to their tagline (The Spirit of Australia), they would be the best airline in the world." After 15 months living in Australia, I totally agree.

I think the same is true for ANZ.

Their current tagline is We Live in Your World.

For a bank, that's a powerful statement of difference. Standing out from the general perception of all banks as greedy, profit focused institutions. I think it's a great line, that really gives them a sense that they stand for something. Just as with Qantas though, I don't feel like they are quite living up to that.

Let's just state upfront, that they definitely did live up to it with the magnificent GayTMs campaign. I'm sure there are a number of other schemes or ideas they run internally that live up to it too.

The problem is the day to day, the real world.

ATM fees are such a pain. I bank with NAB, who appear to have a policy of locating their cash machines at least 200m from every other bank, if at all. This means I regularly have to pay fees to take out my money. Surely a bank that lived in the real world would scrap them? After all ING Direct offers an account with no withdrawl fees.

Well. I went to the ANZ Stadium. A hugely costly sponsorship designed to make the brand look good. Where the only cash machines are, obviously, ANZ ones. What better place to show that you live in the real world than by not charging a fee to customers that you are hoping to convert to your service, in a location where access to another bank machine is impossible and your branding is everywhere?


So as with Qantas earlier. I'd like to set ANZ this challenge: Really live up to your tagline. If you do, you'll be the Australian bank that everyone wants to switch to.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Over the years I've noticed there are quite a few members of the follically challenged community in planning and media strategy. I haven't yet established if there's a direct correlation, perhaps thinking a lot requires a cool head? Not sure.

What I find fascinating though is observing other people's reactions to hair loss, and the way they deal with it. You could probably write an entire book on the psychological reactions. The most interesting thing is how some guys opt for hair that is obviously far worse looking than baldness, simply to try and cover it up. Part of me wants to psycho-analyse these people as they walk past... that they are SO affected by the situation that they actually make it worse to avoid acceptance.

I suppose the nearest equivalent I see in girls are those who think wearing waaaay too much makeup looks better than none.

Here are my favourites:

1. The 'Ah fuck it.'
This is the group who see the writing on the wall and trim the whole head short or very short, getting it over and done with. There's a definite confidence needed to take the leap, but the result is smarter than any other look. Disclaimer: I do this.

2. The Donald Trump.
Wigs. Weird right? But I suppose the one thing wig wearers do, is go all for nothing. There's a clarity of response and a willingness to take real action.

3. The Bobby Charlton
Also known as the ridiculous comb-over, or the Homer Simpson. Deep inside these people are saying 'I hope no one notices.' We do.

4. The Meatloaf
I know! If I grow my hair to be 2 foot long, it will hide the fact that half my head is missing it. It doesn't.

5. The Lewis Hamilton
If thinning, spike up! This works well in the short term, but eventually starts to look just as ridiculous as the others. I think emotionally these people know what's coming but haven't yet found the resolve to deal with it, or think others won't notice yet - which is often true.

6. The Pink Elephant
These guys keeps the same haircut they've always had, just with less of it. It seems they want desperately to prove they have SOME hair, but acknowledge to a point that it's not an awful lot. They are easing into acceptance gradually, one trimmer click at a time.

7. The Money Spinners
Paying to have hairs manually inserted into your head? You must be pretty worried about what people will think about you. The fact many of these are footballers or sportspeople definitely says something.

It's an interesting game for those who like to analyse people's behaviour. Try it next time you're on public transport!

Go #TeamBaldPlanners !

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When does a good cause stop being enough?

It's been fascinating to watch the ALS Ice bucket challenge develop over the past couple of weeks. It's clearly been an incredibly successful campaign which has had a huge impact on awareness and donations for the charity.

However I won't be taking part.

There are several reasons for this:

1. The point of the challenge was to raise awareness of a severe condition that wasn't receiving enough attention. Given at least one Ex-President has taken part, as well as many celebrities, the campaign has clearly and considerably achieved that aim already.

2. As well as awareness, they obviously wanted to raise donations. Again, they have clearly achieved that, raising over $30m so far. Most people aren't actually donating, and besides - Bill Gates took part, and he could double that figure with his spare change. (Not saying he doesn't do good charity work, just putting in context.)
It's a great cause to be helping those with such a terrible illness, but there are so many other worthwhile causes that fight just as serious illnesses - which affect many more people. There are also other serious world issues that need more attention.

3. From what I have read, ALS don't have the most wonderful practices when it comes to animal testing. I find it much harder to reconcile helping solve one problem when it negatively affects another.

4. And this is the main reason. The campaign has essentially stopped being about the charity anyway.
It was a challenge to raise awareness. It has raised that awareness to a level where my individual participation makes such an insignificant difference to awareness as to be pointless. The only people who will see it have already seen other people do it.

What's really driving the campaign now is basically peer pressure and schadenfreude justified by a charitable cause. The joy on people's Facebook posts as they nominate people to go through discomfort and embarrassment, in a context they find it hard to escape. It's the same pressure that caused Necknomiation to get so globally shared, but without the humorous setup. Sadly, the Ice Bucket challenge has also had similarly negative consequences.

Like I said, that's not to say it wasn't a valid and brilliantly set up idea for a worthwhile cause. But that campaign is done. The sharing wasn't about getting random people to take part, it was about getting influential people to do so. They have. Awareness found, donations up, job done.

So I won't be doing the Ice Bucket challenge simply to make a few people chuckle. Instead I'll be responding to a cause that has affected people I know recently, and who can make a difference to a far higher number of people - by making a donation to the Cancer Council instead.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mum, where do senior planners come from?

I hope I'm not destroying anybody's innocence here, but senior planners do not arrive in a basket, delivered by the stork to the doorstep of each agency once every three years.

You wouldn't think that's a particular revelatory piece of information, but for an industry that loves to bring in low paid account handling graduates we do an alarmingly bad job at hiring young planners (the same is also true for media strategists).

The first time I ever learnt about planning was at a graduate account handling recruitment day at Grey in London. In fact to this day I still don't know the name of the person who told me about it, I think he may have been called James, but I met a lot of people that day! Either way, thanks 'James!

'James' said I seemed like I would make a good planer and should consider that as a career. I said thanks, and asked him when the graduate planning recruitment was. "Oh there isn't one." was his reply.

When people (non-planners) ask why I started in planning so late, I explained that in three years of looking I did not find a single junior planning job to apply for. I had to find my way in by getting to know as many people as possible, and by getting known (hence this blog). In fact, even the first planning job I applied for, which I got, technically didn't exist, and was created because the agency liked me.

The problem is partly that clients don't want to pay for junior planners or strategists, perhaps because planning/strategy implies a seniority and level of experience. Yet we have plenty of account execs and junior creatives - they report to the senior team and all is well. So why do people expect senior planners to just appear out of nowhere?

I used to think that W+K London's policy of hiring planners from other industries and careers was simply a quirky way of getting unusual people into the department - but actually, it was probably just a way of side-stepping the problem that very few people ever seem to be hiring junior planners.

If we don't nurture planning talent properly, we will damage the future for all of us. We need young, hungry planners to keep pushing us to do our jobs better than ever before. If no one currently wants to pay for them, we need to find ways to help them add value.