Just National Rail? Or a National Fail?

I was on a train heading down to Kent a while back with a couple of mates.

We were heading down for an early shuttle the next day to Amsterdam for a mates stag do.

We were full of excitement.

Amidst all our clowning around, we may have been slightly leisurely in getting off at our stop.

Stood at the doors, we suddenly realised they weren’t working. None of the doors on this carriage were.

There’d been no announcement, and if there was a sign there, we hadn’t seen it!

We turned on a sixpence and sprinted through to the next carriage. In Sliding Doors like fashion, the doors shut just in front of us. Livid.

While we were fretting over how we’d rearrange our pick-up from the next station, the Train Manager arrived.

‘Rebecca’ kindly explained that the doors in that carriage weren’t working (a fact we had clearly worked out).

When asked if she thought it would’ve been a good idea to tell the passengers, her answer only made us angrier.

She said that, “people normally ignore her when she tells them, so she didn’t bother”.

A huge assumption about how we would behave.

She also said that, “there was a little sign next to the doors that lit up to say they weren’t working”. It must have been minuscule!

We would have to have been either regular commuters or known to look out for the sign telling us what to do.

As you can imagine, this all combined to infuriate me. However, when the red mist had left, I started to think.

Are the assumptions she made that much different from those advertisers and marketers make every day?

Her absence of insight or appreciation of how others see what she sees is all too familiar.

The assumptions she made really aren’t that different.

Firstly, she assumed that we would behave exactly how her previous customers have.

They ignored her previously, so why wouldn’t we.

How often do we drag the assumptions from a previous campaigns into the next one?

Especially the negative ones.

And how often do we use instances of feedback in isolation?

Or one piece of research as the basis for an entire insight?

The second mistake she made was assuming that a little back lit sign would be able to tell us exactly what to do.

We were expected to get all the information we needed from just that?

She put it on us to know what to do from that message alone.

Whether it is a little digital banner, or a 120 second TV ad, this is all too common.

It could be through the absence of a call-to-action, or a convoluted one.

Or simply just a lack of explanation.

This is one of the reasons the industry average for recall is so low. The product and/or its benefit isn’t properly explained.

These ads are simply just not created with the customer’s viewpoint in mind.

A host of assumptions attained from working in the tunnel vision this industry breads.

When you look at Rebecca the Train Manager with this in mind, the commonality of it all becomes all too clear. And rather scary.

That said, she was an idiot though!

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Do’s and DONT’S

How many times have you been told the ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of something?

A few more times at work than at home I’d hope.

From a presentation for some new brand tone of voice, to some HR training.

A ‘Do’s or Don’ts’ slide almost exclusively consists of two columns of bullet points.

What’s good and what’s bad.


Where do you find your eyes glance to? Whats your first reaction?

Your answer probably says something about you, whichever way you look.

But more importantly, the reactions to these slides, to this choice, speaks volumes about attitudes within many industries.


Within almost every field, there appears to be an inherent obsession with what not to do.

This is at the expense of what we actually ought to do.

More often, we focus on the negative.


Take an induction to a brand’s tone of voice, for example.

Never be patronising when showing empathy”.

Erm, of course not. But now written as a positive…

“Show empathy with customers by showing you understand them.”

Which one do you think would get the best creative work out the other end…?


It seems that through the fear of getting it wrong, we are becoming happier and happier with mediocrity.

Not getting it wrong over getting it right.

Being cautious over being great.

In reality, many people would rather not mess it up than nail it.


This is arguably most nonsensical within my industry – a creative one.

What we technically sell is creativity.

Yet creativity gets constrained by rules and limitations.

By ‘don’ts’ and ‘can’ts’.

Tell people what they can’t do and you are limiting the boundaries.

Stopping people pushing them out.


So, the more limiting the brief, the more restricted the work will be.

But the wider the mandate, the more creative the work.

The more chance you have of making something that really nails it.


We can’t DO anything brilliantly if we’re focused on don’ts!

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Ogling at Ogilvy’s book

Ogilvy on Advertising is recommended almost religiously as a literary introduction to my industry.

This recommendation is some of the soundest advice I’ve received.

Its insightful, (obviously) well-informed, but most of all it gets you excited about the industry.

It makes everything seem easy. Strips it down to its purest, simplest form.

Here are a few little reasons why.

Insightful snippets:

“You aren’t advertising to a standing army, you’re advertising to a moving parade.”

“Committees can criticise but they cannot create.”

“Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

“They use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost, not for illumination but for support.”

Tips you can’t top:

“A habit of graceful surrender on trivial issues will make you difficult to resist when you stand and fight on a major issue.”

“Don’t discuss your client’s business in public places.”

“[The account man] represents the agency to the client, and the client to the agency.”

And the best one:

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs, but if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, Ogilvy and Mather will become a company of giants.”


One ‘mistake’ he makes is in his praising of P&G in the success of their formulas for advertising. He describes how they have had unrivalled consistency within their markets over a long period of time.

However, the two exceptions he cites were in Bell crisps beating Pringles, and Rave beating Lilt. Coincidentally, both were products that Ogilvy advertised at the time.

The irony is clear here. His observations of P&G proved to be correct in the long run.

Because where are Bell and Rave now, while Pringles and Lilt are household names?

Pure genius.

Simply, an essential read.

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What type of player will you be?

Being new to an industry can allow you the pleasure of being able to look at something for the first time – with fresh eyes.

A recent meeting was one of these instances. I started thinking…

Nowadays in work, like in football, there are more and more different types of people.

Different roles. Different skill sets. Essentially, different players.

Team players. Players who are only out for themselves. Players who bumble along in the lower realms. And players with that magic spark.

This meeting was an example to this. The task was to brief a research agency. It was about an hour and a half long – 90 minutes.

There were a load of planners and account handlers. I counted everyone. There were about 11 of us round this table.

Everyone keen to make a name for themselves.

All working to achieve the same aim – a clear research brief.

However, to do this each person played their own game. Contributed in their own way. Did what they thought best for the end goal, and for themselves. This was my observation:

It’s all about the touches; how many you make, and how good each one is.

Some players are constantly in the conversation. Sometimes directing to help the team. Sometimes commenting just to have their say.

None of the comments are really game-changing. But they move things along. Keep the meeting flowing.

Their comment may be the start of a great idea. The touch that sets others up.

Others take very few touches. Only when they feel the touch can make a difference. They don’t waste their time stating the obvious.

They take it all in; the problem, the context, and possible solutions. They wait for their moment, to make sure that their idea comes from the most informed position possible.

And the last group calculate their moments a little more intentionally.

The first big tackle in a match, or a last big push in extra time. Like being sure to have your voice heard early on. Or chipping in when a great idea has been brought to the table.

More structured, less fluid. They play a little more for themselves. In the hope that they’re remembered at the end of it all.

They want to be seen to make a difference at these purposefully chosen moments.

This isn’t to say they don’t. Structure provides answers. But maybe not in quite the same fluid way that creativity can.

Some of this is just human nature. Some is a little more conscious. The question is which do you want to be?

Do you want to always work to create something special? As a team or an individual? Or do you want to work to create something for yourself?

I’m not preaching. By my reckoning, there’s no right or wrong.

There have been a range of players in our game for a long time now. You just have to work out which one suits you.

If you haven’t naturally got that spark, do you want to leave a meeting remembered for being there throughout. Or remembered for your comments, even if it is mostly because of when you said them.

People have got far through all of these methods. And when it’s all over, what do people really remember?

The little moments? Or your career as a whole?

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From Sorrell to Sutherland?

The BBC commissioned a program on advertising a while back.
Aired after Mad Men of course, cultural commentator Peter York looked back in time, and assessed the ad men of the past.
Endless brilliant stories were told.
Like the time someone cut a client’s tie off because he fell asleep during a presentation. Just brilliant.

Eccentric, adventurous and reckless.
That was the portrait.
It talked of advertising’s role since the 60s, and how it’s changed.
More corporate. More client facing.
It’s an undeniable truth.
A fact I understand more than ever as I finish off the clients leftover biscuits through lunch, sending them emails saying how great it was to see them and how I totally understand why they want a third full rebrief.

The pin up of this new adland was Martin Sorrell of WPP.
This self admitted bean counter casts a stark contrast with the Tim Bells and Peter Marsh’s of the past.
He may be the face, but the conclusions Peter York drew from this were a little strong.
In his research, did he not come across the inspiringly creative and insightful Rory Sutherland?
He may not have cut any ties off sleeping Ogilvy clients, but he is creative and uses his own persona and personality to drive his business.

Maybe it’s just the culture.
More companies. More agencies.
Shared fees. Less loyalty.
The advertising boom saw an arrival of  new agencies and new talent.
Its harder to stand out.
What makes a client need you that much more than another agency?

Regular reviews and tough ROIs were made kings.
Profit margins are small within every agency.
These margins put the client in the driving seat.
Financially and even creatively. Unfortunately.

Perhaps digital’s growth is because agencies are again starting to offer an expertise, which most clients cannot challenge as fully.

There is a knowledge gap.
Let’s capitalise on it. While we still can.
Then maybe we can start cutting ties…instead of jobs.

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Twitter – A martyr and money-making channel

2010 was a big year for Twitter.

Financially, it ended the year with a valuation of $4 billion. Its value jumped more than $300 million in just over a month.

Amazingly it also had its first martyr.
The imprisonment of Cheng Jianping in China for tweeting her support for the last Nobel Peace Prize winner – Lui Xiaobo.

To be honest, I’m surprised the Chinese government could spot her tweet in light of the service’s recent growth.

This growing number of tweets means that the field is becoming far more dense.
Going against the very principle of the 140 character limit.

With so many small nuggets it becomes harder to spot the golden ones.

Overtweet and all your tweets get scanned. Sound out of touch and you lose your followers.

For consumers, trying to grab information becomes a search for something different.

As I argued in a post about Facebook’s growth, there is a growing needle in a haystack problem.

But Twitter is naturally more company-friendly.

Facebook is centred on connecting people.
Twitter is build around the sharing of information.

Therefore, despite principally being a less exciting marketing proposition, it has clear business advantages over Facebook.

Obviously this is not an either/or debate.
My opinion is simply that although a smaller audience, Twitter is better positioned to be of use to companies.

Facebook’s growth sees an increasing command of the mini feed by friend-based content,  at the expense of brands.

Twitter followers do naturally filter what appears on their feed, but they are far more understanding of company contact within this space.

But companies who use Facebook to reach out to customers can be like salesmen strolling into your living room uninvited, and shouting at you.

With Twitter, this is not the user’s sentiment.
They have already opted in. Even better, your client’s content has been recommended to them by someone they trust.

There may be more competitors getting through within your channel, but at least the water is less cloudy.
Fewer friends in the way. A more accepting mini feed to try to float to the top of.

Twitter’s positioning remains very favourable towards businesses.

But as it grows, only the businesses that get it right will enjoy the benefits.

I think now is the time to get in.  But do it right when you do.

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Growing Up in the CSR

A little confession to open…

On my first glance at all those bicycles appearing near stations and London hotspots, I took my hat off to Barclays not Boris.
My excuse is going to be that I was in Europe when Boris’ scheme came in….
But it got me thinking.

What if Barclays had have had the idea?
Last year’s September tube strikes saw people literally fighting over these bikes.
At busy points, you can see people desperately googling (its in the dictionary, I promise) where else they can drop off their bikes.

Demand is high.
The cause is good.
And my first thought was, “I need to get a Barclays account”.
High demand, a good cause and a great incentive to join.
I’m no Dave Trott or Bill Bernbach but I’m pretty sure that would’ve been an ingenious move for a bank who have been seen as partly to blame for causing this recession.

Last year’s defacing of the Barclays branded bikes was another nod to the current negative feeling towards Britain’s banks.

That aside, they must be delighted with the sponsorship.
But are they slightly kicking themselves?
Probably with a higher price and definately sound legal cover, this would’ve provided both great PR and increased acquisition at an acceptable marketing cost.

A friend is starting work soon with HSBC’s Corporate Social Responsibility department.
Championing themselves as ‘Tree Free’ they spent $22.5 million in 2009 on portraying a ‘we give back’ image.
I am going to avoid a cynical onslaught, but it seems that in schemes like Boris’ Bikes are where banks need to be.

Natwest have led this charge.  As their adverts say, they appear committed to helping communities.
They promise in their Customer Charter to have 15,000 staff days a year allocated to helping communities.
A great CSR program.
Helping communities and helpful banking.

Win back the public by helping them.
An interest in what people want, and money in their pocket.
That’s not too hard is it?

While they’re at it, if they’re clever, maybe they can make some money too.

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