Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Mavericks

"I just wanna dance the niiight awaaayy..."

No not those ones.

One thing that has been bugging me for a while is the photos I see of most advertising people. I can't help but notice that so many of them look exactly like we would expect advertising people to look.

Now that's not to make a judgement on their abilities, they may be outstanding creatives/planners/account folk - but the fact they look like advertisers unsettles me a little. It's as if creative people are being molded into a template too much.

Not this one either.
For a start, we are supposed to be in touch with and communicate to the average person. The more the industry starts to feel like it has a block way of being, the less likely it is we'll achieve that.

Secondly, our industry feels like it is sorely lacking in mavericks right now. People that have a real energy and determination to change things for the better, who are prepared to take risks and be hugely bold. Maybe they are out there, but the perception is that there aren't many making a noise. Most of the ad folk that I would class as maverick in some shape are over 40, or names from the 70's, 80's and 90's.

I worry that for the creatives, account folk and planners of the future, there aren't many new names for them to get excited about. The people students are inspired by now are probably largely the same ones who inspired students of my age.

Similarly, we are still too much a white, middle to upper class, male industry. Nowhere near as bad as it used to be, but we still need to get more people from different backgrounds. I've met incredibly smart and talented students who end up working for small agencies scattered around the country, while a posh student who is less smart ends up at a huge London agency. The first agency graduate interview I went to, I remember speaking to the other candidates, and every single person I spoke to has been to either Cambridge, Oxford or Edinburgh Universities.

We need intellectuals, we need radicals, we need the logical, the intuitive. We need a wide mix of people with the drive to take what we do forward. I've always admired W+K's policy of hiring people from different job backgrounds, who bring a different perspective.

There are so many smart people in this industry. I just hope that some of them are preparing quietly to break away from the conventional. As I said a few years ago, if HHCL was a punk ad agency, we really need a PIL agency about now.

We need more people like these:

Dave Trott
George Parker
Rob Campbell
Marcus Brown
Andrew Hovells

Friday, February 22, 2013

What Marketing Can Learn From Calvin and Hobbes

Calvin and Hobbes is the best comic strip ever produced. Funny, intelligent and sweet, nothing else comes close. I figured there would be some nice lessons in there somewhere...

1. Fight for what you believe

Bill Watterson wrote and drew Calvin and Hobbes for ten years, and in that time he went through some almighty battles. The distribution studio that effectively owned the rights to his characters wanted to make a cartoon, and to sell related merchandise, but Bill didn't want an actor putting a voice to something people could imagine. He didn't want toys and gifts to weaken the world of the strip.

Bill fought a long and difficult battle, the studio contract was so one sided they could have fired him and hired writers to continue the strip. Eventually though, he won the battle.

Too often we let great ideas go because of one piece of rejection or criticism. If you believe in something then fight for it. A great example of this is on Andrew H's blog here.

2. If the system is wrong, change it

Calvin and Hobbes was a playful and creative strip, but it was heavily restricted by the norms of cartoon publishing at the time. The Sunday strips had to be made of blocks in set places, losing the first two boxes to a throwaway gag.

Bill fought for a change (which in some cases meant the strip lost space in publications) which allowed the strip to be one whole piece, providing a huge increase in creative scope. It allowed such wonderful strips as this one:

In marketing we are always talking about things that need improving, so let's improve them.

3. Know when to stop

For most successful comics, ten years is quite a short production time. However it does stop the decaying quality that comes with trying to stay original for many decades (Simpsons, Garfield, etc). By stopping before the ideas ran out Bill Watterson preserved Calvin and Hobbes as a strip that never lost it's edge or sparkle. The reverence it is held in by many has proved Bill right, even if it was sad to see them go.

Too many campaigns carry on past their use by date, we should be as observant about quality as any other creative medium. Don't carry on just because we can, but also don't stop while something is still yet to peak.

4. Treat people with intelligence

Many cartoons treat people as if they are stupid. They highlight every joke and make out that the readers have no intelligence and cannot work things out for themselves.

The worst offender for this is the awful Mandy in the Daily Mirror. Which (until recently at least) used to mark every key word that you were supposed to laugh at in bold and italics.

Calvin and Hobbes never shied away from deeper topics, and beneath the humour was one of the most intelligent and meaningful commentaries on the human existence there has ever been.

In marketing, too often we forget that people are human. They have brains, they don't need to be spoonfed everything, they should not be treated as 'consumers'.

5. What you don't say can be as important as what you do

Sometimes not saying something can be far far more powerful than saying it. Take being stylish, as soon as you say 'We make stylish...' you make it seem less so. Know what to say, and what not to say.

Calvin and Hobbes never answers the questions of its reality. Hobbes is both real and unreal, you are left to decide for yourself the full story.

Likewise you never know the names of his parents, they are just 'mom and dad', which makes them so much more identifiable as characters.

6. Quality lasts

The legacy of Calvin and Hobbes is huge. For many (including me) it becomes a treasured part of life that weaves itself around you. Almost everything I ever do has a reference point in the strips, it asks questions and makes observations that still speak wisely about the world almost 18 years after it finished.

If you make something you can be proud of, the results and legacy will always be better than if you let yourself move downwards.

These two strips are two of many that are completely relevant for those of us in marketing:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Date to Remember

One thing that's puzzled me recently...

I know a few girls (without mentioning any names) who tell me how fed up they are of internet dating, how they never seem to find anyone that they like. The funny thing is, these girls are smart, pretty and interesting, it doesn't seem to make sense that supposedly carefully refined (and expensive) dating sites cannot find decent people for them to meet.

Current dating sites do a LOT wrong. I see things like "Michelle uses - Sign up free now!" on my Facebook feed. People obviously use looks as an initial judgement, but in the race to increase membership it's never really used as a filter. Likewise dating profiles are typically hideous, people tend to either not know what to say, or say too much.

So what could we do about it?

Well what if we make a dating site for people that are serious about meeting nice guys/girls. One where everybody plays a small part in the matchmaking process through user reviews.

I'm no dating site expert, but I've not seen any site that has a substantial user rating system. Perhaps partly because people would create multiple logins if they got negative reviews.

So let's make a site where everybody has one login forever. The login is attached to your personal details (not shown) and making a duplicate would be incredibly difficult. Of course this would make registration harder, but we are talking about a site for those who are serious about meeting people. By locking in reviews to one checked profile, you reduce the risk of people leaving badly thought out reviews and dodgy profiles - It becomes a less suspicious place to meet people.

Profiles are simple and informative. You can get a good idea about someone without them needing to write an essay. Those who are confident can write more, but the essentials are covered quickly.

After every date, both parties would score the other on aspects of their personality. Some of these questions would be aimed at red-flagging horrible people, but most would be based around building a comprehensive detailing of each person's real life attributes.

The problem with most dating sites (apart from the smart datemyfriend) is that they rely on your interpretation of yourself. What this new site would do is add to that real responses from people you've actually met.

The Macallan Ice Ball. Suave.
Is Mary: Loud o o * o o Shy ?
Is John: Smart o o o o * Casual ?
Would you recommend meeting Jane to others who match her profile? Yes / No

So the real life dating experiences add to the data on the site and use actual opinions to improve the matchmaking process.

Alan says he is Witty, adventurous and handsome.
People who have met Alan say he is: Friendly, shy and polite.

What we hopefully end up with is a dating site that produces more appropriate matches, reduces false profiling, and will find my lovely friends someone nice that they would wish to see again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Oreo and Being Responsive

I was planning to write a post about Oreo and their brilliant quick response to the power outage at the Superbowl. However, Marcus has just done such a good job of it I needn't bother:

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Market In Review: Football Gambling

Having spent a bit of time watching the African Cup of Nations (which all real football fans should do I might add, it was worth it just for the joy of the Ethiopian team and supporters just to be there after decades of war and famine decimated their sports leagues and training.), it's hard not to come to the conclusion that the vast majority of gambling related ads are a bit weak.

So here is a round up of what is going on in the field of football gambling.


I'll start with this, as due to their Cup of Nations sponsorship, I have seen this campaign the most.

The idea of using Chris Kamara, who is very popular with many football fans is a smart one, but they don't always get the best out of this tie-in. The standard ads have a nice concept, Chris advertising something else that doesn't quite suit him, and someone interrupts the ads to tell him about Ladbrokes gambling. Sadly the character they have against him just doesn't quite gel, I can see how it might have worked on paper, but on screen it becomes more annoying than funny.

Then we get to the sponsorship idents. Same problem, somewhere along the line it doesn't mesh. The character is too screechy and whiny. Sure, it works in terms of being memorable, but nowhere near as much as it would have if it was truly funny.


Ah. Cockney it's cockney time cockney for cockney cockney cockney geezer cockney  Ray cockney Winstone. This ad couldn't be aimed more squarely at hardcore London football fans if it started with the words "Oi, Irons and Lions."

It does work however, in that it is clear and simple: These are the latest odds on the game you are watching, go online for some more. As a direct ad I guess it works, but it doesn't really have any idea that connects you with the brand.

It's hard not to feel like the overwrought cockneyness is grating though, and I speak as someone with plenty of family from West Ham. "Whassat, you wannanuva one?"


Looks nice, it throws features and selling points at you in a pretty blunt way though. There doesn't really feel like much of an idea, other than the nice "BetterFred" endline suggesting improvement and new features in a way that strives to make you remember the brand name.


An interesting attempt to stand out by making Victor the central character. Paul Kaye makes it work, but you get the feeling it could have been much better as well. He gives it an amusing touch, but that also comes at the expense of making it a bit irritating. The 'guy who doesn't get it' makes the feature sell a bit less blunt though, it also has the best copy of these ads: "I'll have a Pony on that donkey to score for the Canaries."


Again, there is an idea here...  about WilliamHill being the home of gaming, the most dedicated towards the industry. Yet the ad feels a bit cheesy and a little cringeworthy.  It's as if they had an interesting idea but then tried to make it funny. It feels like an ad where doubling the production budget would have made it five times better.


In one football ad break there are just so many betting companies being thrown at you, it's hard to make them stand apart. The concept of using Chris Kamara or Victor in the ad helps, but I still get the feeling that a really great campaign would blow all of these straight out of the water. It's hard not to watch these ads and see them all as much of a muchness, to get to the end of a break and think "Was that BetFred? BetVictor or Bet365 that had those odds?"

I'm not a gambler, and it feels as if these are designed around that audience, not aiming for new customers. But if I were looking to place a few bets, I can't say that any of these really make me want to favour one brand over another, and if I did notice a nifty feature, I'd struggle to remember which brand it was for. More frequent gamblers, you'd expect to know what they are looking for. But I can still see a great brand campaign being very effective against the market as it stands, especially if the product and odds then back it up.

The positive thing from a strategic and creative perspective is that there are some ideas hidden away here, and if they are developed maybe the campaigns will improve.