Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Jurassic Ad Men: a marriage of equals or the last of a dying breed?

This week, the business and media commentariat have talked of little but the upcoming merger of Omnicom and Publicis, the second and third largest advertising groups in the world, respectively. As befits a venture which involves hundreds of the world’s most glamourous admen and women, the accompanying spin is so utopian as to be dazzling. Two central justifications are given for the operation: 1) this is not a messy acquisition but a ‘merger of equals’ and 2) as two of the world’s more forward thinking ad organisations, the merger will leave the companies better placed to innovate digitally. As far as I’m concerned, this is less a clarion call for a brave new world than the dying roars of a pair of dinosaurs.

The digital revolution was difficult for everyone, and the ad world has taken it particularly hard. Banner ads were a colossal early failure – you are, apparently, more likely to complete Navy Seal training, get a full house while playing poker, summit Mount Everest or give birth to twins than click on one. The frightening speed with which an offensive advert can be slammed over the internet has shocked a few big beasts, particularly WPP for some reason – Sorrel’s supergroup recently sparked a major kerfuffle in India. The growth of programmatic buying threatens to unleash a new wave of small, nimble companies on the goliaths, much as we saw in the world of finance with the growth of trading algorithms in the 80s and 90s.

Those succeeding fall into two camps. First, there are the new disruptors: barbarians from the tech sector not so much hammering at the gates as running in, stealing all the livestock and capturing a few toothsome peasants before the farmer even wakes up. Google is the obvious example: its display network is now eye-wateringly, pants-droppingly successful. The top 25 advertisers are now spending more than $150m each with Google. Then, there are the small challengers, who are fast and flexible enough to look at things differently. Take Curb, which has grown its revenues by 250% since its inception in 2008 because it skews its content ratios dangerously toward the offline – and is small enough to reliably check that the gamble is paying off.

While there is plausibly an advantage in pooling knowledge and resources for R and D, I can’t see it working. Just because Publicis and Omnicom are strong in media buying and technology, respectively, doesn’t mean that the two combined will form one brain capable of understanding both worlds. I’ve always had enough trouble getting 5 belligerent admen around a table to agree, let alone hundreds of them across several continents. More importantly, the model for digital success conventionally involves a small organisation developing a big idea which can then be rapidly upscaled. Attempts to hothouse creativity in the online world have tended not to come to much – a recent Guardian article, for instance, made a strong case for the government sponsored ‘Tech City’ in London being inferior to more free-enterprise equivalents elsewhere (

So is this a PR stunt? If it is, it hasn’t worked too well. The FT reports that effects on each company’s shares have been lukewarm at best, with Publicis up 0.25% and Omnicom down 0.55% following the announcement. Despite all the slick photo-ops, too, Wren and Levy, the two bosses behind the venture, are too savvy to do something like this just to get noticed.

Call me a cynic, but I smell panic. This feels like old school minds seeking solace in one another’s arms, as if huddling together with stop the nasty netfreaks from getting in. Alternatively, maybe the whole thing is a set up for some kind of horrifying Mad Men-inspired reality show, except instead of the winning smile of Don Draper, it’s the grinning visage of Maurice Levy staring straight out of the screen, undoing his shirt button by button…

Smart Ways to Advertise

A railway safety advert that’s been tunefully taking Australia by storm has penetrated the international conscious after winning the ‘biggie’ of the advertising world: the Cannes Lions Grand Prix.

The ‘Dumb Ways to Die’ ad is beautifully simple and has all the hallmarks of a great, modern campaign. It’s funny, it’s catchy, it appeals to adults and kids alike, it eschews worthiness – and it has more than a touch of schadenfreude.

Crucially the team at McCann Melbourne have managed what many of their advertising contemporaries are failing to achieve: shareability. The ad has already spawned at least three parody videos (each of which has been watched over a million times), and is now being turned into a children’s book. The advertising world has been too slow to respond to the changing ways in which we now engage with brands. We get our information from a multitude of platforms simultaneously, and our relationship is a dynamic one – we want to share, comment, and even create our own tributes.  The worlds of advertising and PR are converging; we now want both to be given great content and to be engaged in conversation, in one tidy package.

‘Dumb Ways to Die’ gets it. In an era when advertising seems to be dominated by a constant race for the flashiest effects and the most expensive production values, it’s proof positive that a great idea will still win out when it comes to harnessing the power of the crowd.

The campaign calls to mind another Aussie creative hit, Tourism Queensland’s ‘The Best Job in the World’ stunt, when the agency sought someone to ‘house-sit’ an island in the Great Barrier Reef for six months, offering a large salary and lodging in a multi-million dollar villa. The stunt created looping narratives with fantastic international reach that ran for months across countless platforms as word spread. It was ultimately calculated to have achieved more than $200m in global publicity value.

With their national cricket team failing to perform on the pitch, perhaps young Australians are turning their talents to the creative media industries instead.


Highly Evolved: Brand Survival in the Now! Economy

Software may be eating everything. But one thing that I’ve seen at Advertising Week Europe today is that we’re learning to adapt to these changes with zeal. This morning, Trevor Beattie announced the death of the thirty second advert, advocating a culture of five second segments instead.

In the midst of the sea of white noise we are bombarded with on a daily basis, we have learned to select what is vital – or at least pleasurable – in as few as two seconds.

Beattie couldn’t have asked for a better example when wishing to show how our perception of time has changed: when Beattie made his cue for silence, a slightly zealous engineer let the film start rolling instead. To one engineer, thirty seconds was an eternity before it had even begun.

The Now! Economy celebrates breadth and speed over depth and endurance, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the world of advertising. Ad Land needs to adapt, and visionaries like Beattie are leading the way with their rallying cries.

The world of traditional broadcast media is changing, and we must embrace the chaos left in the wake of change and use it as an opportunity to innovate and introduce creative evolutionary solutions.

What is clear is that a more human approach to the medium is needed. Jargon turns craft into content and people into consumers, forgetting the instincts that drive us as human beings and causing cynicism and disengagement on both sides.

At the WIRED talk this morning, Paul Adams, Head of Brand Design at Facebook, made the observation that the best relationships are developed through a series of small, recurring interactions between people rather than grand gestures. We are moving away from the 15 seconds of fame model back towards a modern incarnation of the ‘quality over quantity’ ideal – or at least that’s what will be required of brands who wish to distinguish themselves from the deluge of faceless information out there.

Data is dead: targeted information can only engage people if it is somehow made useful. The value of most data is ephemeral at best, and will never reveal peoples’ intentions. Understanding and relationships can only be built by asking the right questions. The much-maligned crowd knows this, and has reacted with instinctive aversion to the condescension of the media machine.

Being liked is all too easy these days. Brands who want to make an impact will have to focus on wanting to be loved, requiring sincerity, clarity and genuine engagement.

If there’s one thing Advertising Week Europe has, it’s engagement with its crowd: the queues have trailed right down Piccadilly and onto Regent Street and the demand for events has been spectacular. I have a great feeling about the rest of the week.

Advertising horse power: what a moonwalking Shetland pony tells us about the future of comms

And so it was the week where the nation was transfixed by a moonwalking Shetland pony. Racking up nearly four million youtube views, and prompting the Daily Mail to ask ‘Is this the funniest ad of the year?’, Three’s Fleetwood Mac loving, Tina Turner wig wearing equine has taken the blogosphere by storm.

My inclination was to be cynical – I’ve seen it all before. In the days before circuses became more ethically minded, I encountered tap-dancing chickens, rollerskating bears, and a twinkle toed horse that would have left Three’s Shetland eating dust. Animals have always had a huge power to captivate the public imagination. It’s something Barnum understood well. His African elephant Jumbo was a walking, trumpeting advert for his show, in spite of the fact he never actually appeared in the ring himself. Even his acquisition from London Zoo attracted huge attention. When Barnum’s intentions to buy the elephant became known, 100,000 school children wrote to Queen Victoria protest. No doubt the master showman would have been delighted with the publicity.

Some of my most successful stunts have rested on the irrational predilection of editors for animals behaving in human like fashion. Setting up canine weddings at Harrods, complete with cakes, veils, and horse drawn carriages, was a particularly enjoyable one. And who will ever forget the Tamworth Two: the plucky pigs that made their escape from the abattoir and went on a cross country dash, ultimately ending their days in an animal sanctuary rather than a bacon sarnie, thanks to our campaign in The Daily Mail?

But perhaps there’s more to the success of this ad that meets the eye.

What hasn’t been widely noted by commentators (except by the wags at The Poke, who made the spoof above) is two significant media events shaping the public imagination at the moment: the huge Fleetwood Mac comeback tour, and of course, the horsemeat scandal. The ad has served as pleasing reminder that ponies are cuddly and cute, accompanied by a nostalgic soundtrack of sunny folk-rock – the perfect antidote to unsavoury speculation about the stuff on our dinner plate.

Would the ad have had the same resonance if it hadn’t arrived on the back of these popular memes? There’s no way of knowing. But viewed in this light, it certainly makes the campaign looks smarter, savvier, and more contemporary, whether the brains at the creative agency behind it, Weiden+Kennedy, were intentionally playing on them or not.

It’s a reminder of the fact that, in the Now Economy, brands need to be fleet of foot. Advertising cannot exist in a silo. Twitter ensures that the synchronicities with current news stories are likely to be spotted, spread, and turned into blogosphere fodder. In a worst case scenario, they can cause a significant crisis: just ask Nike about their Oscar Pistorius ‘I am the bullet in the chamber’ ads.

This is why integrated, PR led approaches to comms are more crucial than ever. It isn’t enough to understand trends. The brands of tomorrow will understand how their marketing strategies interact with breaking news. They’ll be in possession of the narratives that are firing the public psyche today, and understand how to turn them to their advantage.

What’s certain though is that come what may, people are always going to like animals doing funny stuff. For better or worse, dancing ponies are here to stay. No matter how infuriating we find them.

How do you solve a problem like Frankie? Channel 4 joins the major leagues

Channel 4’s valiant efforts at major sports broadcasting have met two very particular challenges this week, each testing their capacity to cope with the full burden of an excitable, demanding and very very large public. It’s a classic David/Goliath situation. Channel 4, having spent a good deal of promotional budget painting itself as the rising underdog of Olympics broadcasting, the outlier set to burst in and show the turgid BBC how it’s done, has suddenly found itself with everything it wanted. Following the unexpectedly stellar status of the Olympics, the eyes of the world now turn toward the Paralympics. With them, however, comes a colossal weight of expectation. Whether C4 will weather the storm and emerge triumphant remains to be seen.

First, Frankie Boyle. The wayward Scotsman’s unique brand of Mail-baiting, arch-teenage snipery has always served Channel 4 well in grabbing a few controversial column inches and maintaining the broadcaster’s edgy comedy credentials. However, over the past few days the broadcaster has learned that relying too much on mavericks can be dangerous. When you become part of the mainstream, you’ll find yourself just as much in their firing line, and Boyle has certainly fired on the Paralympics with trademark lack of restraint.

No comment on whether his gags raised any smiles here at the Borkowski offices, but they won’t have done in some quarters at Channel 4. Whether the ‘insiders’ quoted in the press carry any authority or not, its unquestionable that suits will be debating how best to distance themselves from the comic. Certainly they must to some degree, but they’ll need to tread a fine line to manoeuvre out of the reflected ire whilst not compromising their alternative credentials or besmirching past decisions.

Then there’s the rather more deeply ingrained issue of ad breaks. ‘Thanks for warm up’ proclaimed C4’s brilliantly snarky billboards, and they were only half-kidding: the public now is more hungry for cerebral yet saccharine Olympic/Paralympic sports broadcasting than ever before. However, they’ve been raised on a diet of uninterrupted coverage. Of course, a commercially funded broadcaster might believe that it’s reasonable to interrupt coverage more than their publicly funded rival. They’re right- it is reasonable. The problem is that people aren’t. The backlash against ad breaks was inevitable and is likely to be surprisingly pervasive in the public memory of the Paralympics. Too late now, but C4 might have done more to negotiate with advertisers about an alternative to traditional ad breaks since winning the rights.

C4 hasn’t made any serious mistakes yet, and they’ve still plenty of time to make the Paralympics the personal legacy project they deserve, but they’re learning fast that it’s tough at the top. Welcome to the major leagues.

The Wettest Drought on Record

“The Wettest Drought on Record”: so a dry wit in the back row of a client meeting recently described our current weather situation to me. It’s a spectacularly British situation to be in- a combination of monsoon-esque precipitation levels and poor local planning found nowhere other than Virgil’s ‘edge of the world’.

The whole situation illuminates a serious failing in public communications more than anything. Yesterday, I read The Metro on the tube, the front page adorned with a quasi-outraged piece on the arrival of standpipes on streets awash with torrential rain. Public attitude towards the droughts has reached a new level of complexity.

Yet, emerging from the train and ascending the escalators, I was surrounded by animated Thames Water awareness ads warning me of forthcoming water usage regulations via a seconds-long shot of water draining away to leave a patch of dry, cracked earth. It was a simple visual whose impact was totally dispelled when I left the station to be greeted by the never ending downpour. A popular internet acronym springs to mind: IDGI- I don’t get it.

Of course, as a well-informed man about town I’m more than familiar with the fact that a few weeks of wet is small match for a few years of dry- it’s that pesky science stuff again. However, my opinion doesn’t match that of the average folk on the street. Most commuters probably saw that ad, felt that rain, and found themselves utterly confused, in some cases outraged.

I can understand the thinking behind the campaign (it’s found in poster form on buses and other usual media targets too): the dry earth links our plight in the minds of viewers raised on TV news with dramatic shots of hundreds of natural disasters from the hotter parts of the world. If Thames Water hadn’t been scuppered by the rain, it might have been pretty effective. As it is, however, it doesn’t cut it. It looks patronising.

To me, this is symptomatic of a growing problem in communications- the lack of the big idea. A suitably flexible, dextrous, overall ambition opens itself to a range of clever executions, and leaves communications directors more flexible in responding to moments of unexpected environmental change. Smaller concepts like this one can be effective under the right conditions, but in the wrong situation they leave all your eggs languishing in the wrong basket.

The Lessons of KONY 2012: a Watershed for Charity Awareness Campaigning

The KONY 2012 phenomenon- from breakout viral success to liberal/conservative/far-left battleground to terrifying masturbatory breakdown- is difficult to fully unpick. One thing’s certain, however: it’s had the kind of success which most digital marketers can only dream about. Clearly, this is something unignorable, particularly for those who work within the space of charity awareness campaigning. So what should the digital marketer, charity comms professional or anyone who cares about the passions of the public be taking away from the madness? Read the rest of this entry »

PR in Pole Position at the Media Business Course

Last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be asked to present at the Media Business Course in Brighton for the fourth year running- the only PR, I’m told, who has ever had the invitation extended. Usually, it’s a day of great value to me: being pushed up in front of the surprisingly intimidating face of the media industry’s freshest bright young things forces myself and others to ruthlessly update our thinking and present totally new material each time.

This year, however, something was missing. As per usual, I totally reworked my presentation, but found myself surrounded by other speakers from TV, Advertising and elsewhere flogging the same shtick they’ve been peddling the last couple of times round the track.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to my esteemed colleagues: they all succeeded wonderfully in making PowerPoint their bitch, fleshing out each point with whizzing animations, Technicolor wankfests and glorious info graphics to the point of turgidity. However, at heart, they were clinging on, and they were offering old thoughts to some of the newest minds in the country. Once again, it’s the PR world that’s at the front line of culture change.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dave Trott: Hot on Advertising, Not on PR?

I respect Dave Trott.

He is an Ad man and Guru of considerable stature

I read and liked his book Creative Mischief.

Usually, Dave provides clear thinking and words of wisdom.

I’ve been preoccupied;

I missed his recent CampaignLive blog Stuntvertising.

I read the post, my heart sank.

This got my goat;

“Normally I’m not a fan of ‘stunt’ advertising.

The sort of thing that only runs once, in one place.

Hardly any real consumers ever see it.

This is really more PR than advertising.”

So Dave, please tell me what you really think of PR?

Actually, please don’t define the craft.

Correlation does not imply causation.

Instead, why don’t we meet for a lunch and discuss the issues.

I think it would be interesting.

Consider this;

PR folk in the modern world face a slew of fundamental challenges.

Its more about aspect, bearing and quality of status.

We fight to be heard because although we are more relevant than ever before.

Its a tough ask, as its farmed against a backdrop of outmoded cliché.

Its a daily challenge, forcing ‘the others’ to understand whilst projecting esteem.

More established disciplines in the marketing mix still fail to understand what we do.

To mash up a Groucho Marx’s quote “Anyone who says he can see through PR is missing a lot.”

I wish we could rid the world of all the PR clichés.

Guess it’s impossible in an age of land grab and the reason I created

Here is a mash-up to end this succinct thought (big thanks to Duke Ellington) is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing

The Saatchi & Saatchi Fuck Up Shows Why Storytelling is Best Left to PRs

For those who’ve not heard, a Saatchi & Saatchi campaign for client Toyota has led to a $10m suit being filed against the ad firm and the car company, as well as various individuals connected with the campaign.

The campaign, which allowed people to sign up their friends to be ‘pranked’ with a serious of worrying emails from one of 5 colourful fictional characters, was a bungled attempt by the Saatchi suits to make the world’s most boring car company look radical. This is a textbook example of why forging the brand narrative is best left to the publicists: the creative excellence of Ad Agencies does not extend to long form narrative content.blank billboard

In other words, it was a textbook example of advertising as insular and irrelevant communication. Instead of seeking to connect with any true brand narrative or profile, the Saatchi & Saatchi team betrayed their arrogance and remained convinced of their idea of what the brand needed, irrespective of what people actually wanted.

Ad folk lack understanding of the psyche of the news agenda: unlike PRs, they aren’t programmed to anticipate the downside, to work the worst case scenario into the fibre of their strategy.

Amanda Duik, the woman suing the company, was apparently targeted over a week long period with emails- genuine, for all she knew- from a football hooligan character called ‘Sebastian Bowler’, who came complete with his own S&S-created myspace profile and other web-based proofs of existence. She reckons she experienced sufficient mental distress over the terrifying period to sue for massive damages from all involved.

Those who don’t follow my thoughts closely might be surprised that I’m condemning S&S for this: what differentiates it from the kind of stunts perpetrated by myself and my influences? It’s certainly not because I’ve decided to clamber onto my high horse.

When classic Hollywood movie publicist Jim Moran placed a lion in a motel room under the name ‘TR Zan’ to promote the release of a strikingly similarly named movie, he caused a good deal more distress than S&S have here.

However, his stunt did what good PR does: it tapped into the popular conversation and interwove the brand narrative with it. It spoke of wilderness and adventure, which was exactly right at a time when movies were reflecting the increasingly adventurous spirit of the American public. It had also involved significant calculation of risk, and understood that inevitable bad press would be absorbed by the whole daring nature of the thing.

In part it’s a question of money: ad firms, arguably, have too much. Insular ad campaigns are bred when teams have the time and the resources to ponder their angles until they’re warped out of all recognition, over-thought. PRs, by contrast, are fleet footed. Their spatial awareness of the publicity landscape is second to none because careers spent responding to repeated brand events in real-time have honed their instincts and trained them never to slip up.

It also adds weight to a pet theory of mine: of communications professionals, it’s the PRs who skew furthest to the right (creative) side of the brain. Rightbrained functions, both numerical and linguistic, are much more involved with the comparative, the contextual, the pragmatic. While the leftbrain has the advantage when rigorously pursuing a clear, single minded idea, it must be difficult to wrap a leftbrained mind around an idea as mutable and intangible as a brand narrative.

While I think that Duik is probably taking this rather too seriously, her lawsuit should come as a warning to ad folk everywhere. In the modern world, the hierarchy of ideas does not flow from the comms professionals to the public. Communications must be discursive, responsive, and above all, narrative. Nobody understands this better than a good PR.