Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Boy in the Bubble..

A future 2012 event? Picture via thebiggfrogg. Usual rules apply.

No, not the Paul Simon song. Though that is a corker. Today's diatribe is more concerned with the nature of my working environment.

It is very very easy for people who work in this business to live in a dream world. We work, let's face it, in a niche environment, populated by people who deal in business building ideas.

Even after little over a year and a half in this environment, I remain amazed at who knows who. And, being honest, it's very easy to get into a pattern of gossiping, or speculating about things. Contrary to popular belief, I don't have much of a problem of the 'garden fence' type of discussions that go on - it's what the entire industry, to an extent, is founded upon.

I do worry about blogging to some extent, that the tendancy is to reject what has made this industry great - to slag off big agencies without much knowledge of what goes on within them, for example. And too much navel gazing isn't good for the soul, I'm finding - goodness knows, I tend to find myself self-referencing every now and again, which is pretty odd, let me tell you.

This, if left unchecked, would result in me never actually DOING work (one of the primary concerns about blogging, which is a fair point), and using borrowed opinions to make a career, which really isn't on (what is blogging if not the misappropriation of a mish-mash of influences/blogposts/thoughts?).

Breaking out of this self-imposed bubble is oh so important, whether it's a blogging bubble, or industry related, or over-focus on a particular brand. Though I've not read the Perfect Pitch, it is, I believe, partly what Jon Steel infers when he talks about disliking Blackberrys and so forth, as they chain you to a rigid way of thinking.

And it is particularly necessary within the creative industries. A too focused approach on rigid 'accountability' means people can't do their jobs properly (obviously, a degree is necessary, otherwise we'd end up navel gazing again), and don't work to the best of their abilities. Additionally, I've always distrusted the requirement to 'say the right things' in graduate interviews, for example. Load of cobblers. That won't find the innovators, the people who change how the business works, who'll lead by example.

It also encourages agencies to not hire those people who spend their time doing things; moreover, people who can think, but not do. To use an analogy - I can read you chapter and verse about certain historical periods if I've revised them, but could I live the life of a historian? Hell no.

Now, I'm very culpable of not doing enough (especially during this bout of freelance, when I've had a bit more time), but I'd like to hope that's changing, because too much thinking, like too much doing, isn't necessarily useful. And I'd like to see the business recognising that it needs thinkers and doers (because there will be always people who trend towards one side or the other) from outside the bubble.

If you get trapped in it, you start thinking brand onions and pretesting is the be all and end all of a successful piece of your employment. God help us all if that happens.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Usability and T'internet..

The $100 laptop in all its glory. Picture via cheesebikini. Usual rules apply.

Well, it would seem that the $100 laptop is not far away from being launched. But the truly clever bit is that it's being sold over here as well, as 'buy one, give one' trial.

I think this generous idea is one which should be applauded. And it's something which could really be adopted nicely on the internet. After all, what's to stop people from working out how its made/making a better, cheaper one? I think it's great, and without the internet, we'd never have been able to push this idea forward.

And it ties into a thought I've been having about usability and the internet/general product and marketing success stories. Something which, indirectly, Rob's blog highlighted. Nokia are number one worldwide, due, in a large part, to their easy to use phones.

In my opinion (increasingly), the same is true of every successful internet venture.

So, in that spirit, I must salute two different sites. JustGiving is a great charitable donation site, and I used it to donate to a friend's marathon against Alzheimers (a very worthy cause, which you can help out here - go on, he's only £200 off his target).

Deezer, the second (formerly Blogmusik) is a site which Mr Brown pointed me in the direction of. And with good reason - 's bloody good, and so easy to use. I've been happy, finding out some more LCD Soundsystem to listen to, as well as some classic Bluetones. So thanks Marcus. Everyone else, check out my working playlist:

free music

Good eh? Very easy to use, and what I think the internet was designed for. Any other good sites you know of?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Selling a Turkey...

Hello there.

Just before I bugger off/stop thinking advertising related thoughts for the week, I thought I should have a bit of a rant and a pontification about the nature of products and services.

Recently, this blog has seemed concerned with advertising's purpose and future. Well, I'm afraid this post isn't going to be massively different (but don't worry, mindless nonsense and some news is coming soon...honest).

I believe in the power of advertising. I think, if used well, it can tell stories which can irrevocably change the fortunes of people, yellow fats and more besides. And, I think there'll always be a place for this.

Sadly, what it can't do is change what people, products et al are. If your product is crap, if your customer service is poor - yeah, you'll be found out, and buggered. Especially nowadays. I can, for example, write a blog account of just what good customer service I've had from 3 mobile - especially if I seed it well - it'll (hopefully) impact on someone's purchasing decision.

No amount of advertising, PR or otherwise can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. It's certainly possible to take an average product, throw loads of cash at a comms solution, but advertising can't do it alone.

It's why I'm so fond of Richard's way of writing brand positionings, because it has its roots in some form of brand truth - you cannot lie; your brand promise has to be rooted in some kind of truth. If it isn't, first of all it's sloppy planning, and secondly, it's downright lies.

I'd be mortified if any kind of planner got sucked into believing the hype around the product or service. Planners should never be too in love with any brand they work on - cold hard objectivity is the order of the day, along with the ability to be a (I heard this the other day) 'culture prostitute', keen to lever in just whatever works with the brand. Just not outright lies.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Look Familiar?

Remember those days? My mortarboard didn't fit. Sigh. Via David. Usual rules apply.

You'd have thought the majority of people in the picture above will have graduated recently, and will be wondering what the hell to do with their lives. However, an awful lot of them will have made up their minds, and I'd have thought those lot would have been interested in working in our business.

Rewind a year, and ask yourself. Did I, or my agency, do enough to make them consider advertising/media as a career?

Well, if that picture isn't from select Universities, probably not.

God knows the career options I faced were either become an accountant, a lawyer or a recruitment consultant. And, with respect to all of those professions, they weren't what I wanted to do.

And I'll be damned if the same happens to the next generation after me.

So it heartens me that Ad Grads is beginning to whir into action. We've now got 5 star stories (the most recent one is Scamp, aka Simon Veksner of BBH), some graduate accounts of what the business is really like, some notifications about the newer schemes being opened and have (finally) begun to cobble the wiki together.

Heck, we've even gotten into Media Week this week, apparently (nice one Sam).

But that's not enough. No, we want even more accounts from you guys, whether you are a recent grad or an established star. If you read this blog and would like to contribute to it, shoot me an email (it's on the right hand side of the page), or email ad grads at gmail dot com.

And it's not just account handlers or planners we want. Nope - traffic/creative services, researchers, all are welcome.

Additionally, if you think we've not raised something which should be discussed (working conditions, for example), let us know, and we'll see if we can't help sort it out.

What Ad Agencies can learn from AC/DC..

Angus doing what he does best. Picture via T-Klick. Usual rules..

I've been listening to an awful lot of three chord music recently (no, no Status Quo, happily). And it seems to me that there's a parallel there with the swirling, ever changing advertising world.

Namely, that very simple songs can seem infinitely more complicated than they are, and if people over analyse them, it's usually a bit of a mistake. Indeed, one of planning's cardinal sins is to buy into the overcomplication, to not put its foot down when people are taking part in flights of fancy (does any FMCG need bloody twitter, eh?).

And I know that there have never ever been more terms to describe things than there are now. Hell, just take planning. Am I a creative planner, a strategic planner, a comms planner? God knows.

I sometimes wonder, with this increasing vocabulary, whether we try too hard to see things that aren't there; after all, I'm a firm believer that the simpler the communication message, or the more natural the use of technology, the better the results - look at the Sainsbury's with 'Try Something New Today' and Tesco's Clubcard implementation for proof of this.

And it's one of my tenets, which might not be massively fashionable - I think advertising is essentially simple. People don't really change much; we all lust after the same basic things, we all want to be entertained, and advertising is all about working out how products fit into this mix (that's the more complex bit).

I'll leave you with this from Wikipedia, something Angus Young said when he was asked why AC/DC's music was so simplistic:

"It's just rock and roll. A lot of times we get criticised for it. A lot of music papers come out with: 'When are they going to stop playing these three chords?' If you believe you shouldn't play just three chords it's pretty silly on their part. To us, the simpler a song is, the better, 'cause it's more in line with what the person on the street is."

Sound familar?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Effort and Reward...

Being able to shift tyres = a life skill. Picture via macredeye. Usual rules..

A little while ago, I read Herd, written by Mark. And in my Amazon review of it, I expressed that I was really chuffed about the chapter on belief systems. Well, this post is a little bit about one of my own beliefs, sharpened by something James Cherkoff has written and a piece of work Lee has blogged about.

Speaking personally (is there any other way?), I've got to say that I'm someone who really believes in the application of effort. That is to say, if you are someone who is willing to put the effort in, to give it your all, you deserve a reward. I have a lot less time for people who rock up and expect things to fall into their laps. Perhaps this is rooted in the fact that I was an average student who tried, and, through a bit of effort, became a halfway decent one. I don't know.

Put in the hard yards, and you'll get your just deserts. It's why, I think, I don't tend to champion an awful lot of brand ideas; because there is no sense of any effort being put in - if advertisers aren't willing to entertain/enlighten/inform me properly, why the hell should I reward them with a purchase? This ties in nicely with James's blog post above - being thoughtful, and generous as a brand (a Richardism) would seem to be essential, and a lot of 'ad' people don't get that, and believe they can easily sway people's opinions (which they have formed from their trusted friends, in this new 2.0 landscape) ahead of their conversations with, you know, REAL people.

I may not go quite as far as James suggests (I still believe good advertising, which puts in the effort, can have some influence - if I didn't, I wouldn't work in this business), but, bluntly, I'm not much of a fan of the church of the 'brand' or the 'advertising or death' mantra which still seems to crop up in the odd conversation I have with people.

Annnyway. Ahem. Good brand advertising can work if it tries as bloody hard as this Brylcreem spot. It's a lovely bit of thinking, but an even better, harder working creative idea. And, people ACTUALLY participated, unlike a lot of these sorts of things. Enjoy (and check out the Myspace page - it's absolutely brilliant):

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Five Worst Songs on your ipod..

Right, it's time for one of them thar meme things.

I'm about to embarass myself - and is there anything worse than revealing moments of musical weakness?

No, of course not. Here's my five:

1) Phil Collins - Easy Lover

Does this one really need a great deal of explanation? Given the amount of Phil Collins in advertising at the moment, it's a drop kick choice. Hell, upon looking at its Wikipedia entry, it was even used as some of the music for the inaugural Wrestlemania. And yes, Philip Bailey (he of Earth Wind & Fire) duets with our Phil. What's not to love here? From the overdone synth/cymbal/drum intro to the glorious harmony, this is a bit of a winner...listen to it here.

2) Rednex - Cotton Eye Joe

I seem to have some sort of odd fondness for music that was popular when I was about ten years old. So, this bad boy has to be on my ipod. Don't quite know how it's survived the cull. If you were (un) fortunate enough to not to know of these living Swedish legends, find out more here. Almost got into Eurovision last year. Pity. As for the song, it's an uptempo, very silly country esque number. One of those grab your partner jobs. Urgh. Listen to it here.

3) Ace of Base - All That She Wants (Is Another Baby)

This one is a bit more popular. Number one in loads and loads of countries...hell, it's the best selling #2 in the US ever. It still doesn't excuse me having on the ipod, as it's a synthy, horn ridden mess of a song that (shamefully) makes me grin like a loon when it comes on. Listen to it here.

4) New Order - World In Motion

This is possibly the only song of the five that I've tried to learn the lyrics to. Ok, ok, just the infamous John Barnes rap..catch me if you can, because I'm an England man. Wonder what I'm talking about? Go here. Yep, it's the only New Order song to get to #1 in this country. Partly due to the rap and overall hilarious lyrics - 'when something's good, it's never wrong', and clearly down to the England 1990 World Cup Campaign. Oh yeah, the song... it's your typical drum heavy early 90's New Order track. Only with John Barnes rapping. Listen here (no, it's not until 3 minutes in that John does his stuff).

5) Pato Banton (feat Robin & Ali Campbell) - Baby Come Back

This one is particularly shameful. Originally by Eddy Grant (yes, it's that bad), and featuring backing vocals by Birmingham's finest - UB40, this is another song from the mid 90s which was a number one (didn't we have such fantastic charts back then?). The wiki entry is here. Didn't realise he was from Brum himself. Anyway, the song is a jaunty number, with some cracking rapping from Mr Banton himself. Bet you are looking forward to it - listen here.

Anyway - to anyone who reads this - what're your five worst songs?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Making Rubbish..

Or Art? Picture via Baz_in_Moroland. Usual rules apply.

This post is a bit of a fusion of all of the thinking which has been floating about the wider ad community for a little while (and perhaps beyond - so it's not too much of an echo chamber post, honest).

It relates to one of my cardinal rules about working in this business. Essentially, ads are no longer seen as a novelty, something to be admired and held in a state of wonderment when they are particularly good. But, often, we're making rubbish.

Deeply thought about rubbish, with all of the faux, cod science levered in, but still rubbish. And of course, with all of the recent discussion about the Cadbury's Gorilla, something occurs to me. Advertising seems to be going through a post Enlightenment phase.

Bit of a poncy way to begin a week, but bear with me. We've had the intellectualising of the discipline (say from the birth of planning to about 2004), and now there seems to be a high/low culture (click the link, it's fascinating) debate going on. Matthew Arnold would be pleased.

What's rubbish ('low' advertising) and great ('high' advertising, with an obvious logical product link, it would seem) is now of great concern. And it's not just the Cadbury's Gorilla who has led to this concern, oh no. That ad is just a trigger, and I believe it belies some of the basic fear around in the industry.

Yes, fear. Fear that we are actually helping kill the planet (a bit overdone, but hell, with all the greenwashing about at the moment, it fits), and fear we're actually wasting our time doing this (and should be doing something great and good, like teaching today's youth, working in the charity sector or defending people's rights).

And things like the ban on outdoor advertising in Sao Paulo only adds fuel to this flame. Well, what's to be done about this dilemma?

I've already written about why I'm not, as a planner, overly worried about the Cadbury's Gorilla ad - indeed, in impromptu qual studies down the pub, it was the only ad which was talked about at great length (the recall was off the charts, by any ad tracking service's quantitative measuring). I don't think many other brands will be able to pull it off, but I don't have a problem with it existing - like I said before, it'll boil down to the sales figures (or the fact that everyone seems to have forgotten any chocolate related scandal) ultimately.

Bluntly, I don't care if the ads I make are rooted in a solid planning foundation, or if they are a lot more sensorial. Oh no. I care that they shift product. Hell, I like the music of both Mozart and Alkaline Trio, after all.

But the initial point about rubbish is very very important. Though great advertising can come close to being 'art' in one sense, I've never really viewed it as that. Some may disagree, of course - the fact that I have a simplistic grasp of the art world probably shines through in that comment. No, it's a sales technique that can entertain at the same time. I'd rather it did the former than the latter, to be honest. But anything which keeps it from being rubbish is very important.

When you make advertising, you are adding to the background noise in people's lives, forcing them to process another message. So, if this post makes any point, it's to say that clients and agencies need to make damn sure that any ad they make is relevant to people's lives. Above all, keep it from being another discarded, disused, non processed piece of crap that seems to adorn billboards, TVs and cityscapes around the world.

Friday, September 07, 2007

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe...

The guy at the bottom of the pic now teaches today's youth. Be afraid.

...[and] all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain." Yes, I've watched Blade Runner fairly recently. That quote is a bastardisation of Rutger Hauer's famous speech, which supposedly he ad libbed on the spot.

And maybe it was the copious amounts of takeaway consumed (damned MSG's), but I got to thinking about shifting perceptions. And decided to stare, yet again, at my navel (there wouldn't be much to this blog if I didn't do that, let's be honest).

So much has happened in the last couple of years. Mid 2005, I was worrying about how my dissertation on Milton would be received (pretty much as well as any dissertation comparing Milton and Hobbes before did, so that was ok), about what sort of job I'd end up doing, and what my friends would be getting up to.

I also helped organise my best mate's 21st party (he's the one in the front, with the plastic sheep). And it was trawling through Facebook that got me thinking about how the goalposts have really shifted for all of the people in that picture - myself included.

By now, some will be thinking, I'm sure, 'well, of course - it's part of growing up'. Try telling that to a 21 year old who thinks he knows exactly what he is going to do. And I thought I knew then. And it's funny (especially when keeping in touch via Facebook) to find out what other people do.

Everyone's got people in their friendship groups who they believe are going to do x or y career, and they inevitably do - but it's strange how that's (at least in my experience) begun to unravel, even just two years down the line. Some of my friends are questioning just their place in the world, wondering just where they fit in. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't had doubts in the past couple of years. Happily, this seems to correspond with Jon Steel's account of how he got into the business.

I look back to what we all thought then; just how shockingly naive we were. But I wouldn't change a damn thing (especially the T Shirts - classics that they are). Being like that got us to piss about, enjoy our time at University, drunkenly sing along to Aladdin's soundtrack and James Bond themes (after all, nobody does it better) and generally have a great time in each other's company.

And yet I've not met up with some of these people for years. I know we have gone through the inevitable divergence, but I'm buggered if I'm letting it all get lost like tears in the rain, reduced to a once the year drinks event.

It wouldn't be surprising if we all just slotted back into our University roles as well. People's behaviours don't change that much. All I can say is thank God most of them live in and around London. Now, where did I put my T-Shirt?

Friday Silliness..

Everyone loves Magical Trevor.

What, you don't know who he is?

Well, click here and here to rectify that grevious error.

Perhaps you'd like to go to Kenya as well?

NB: Be careful if playing this in the office, as it's all loud/silly/may get you told off.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What with all the tube strikes...

Going underground? Not recently. Photo via WallyG. Usual rules..

I thought it only right to point you in the direction of the funniest thing I've seen all day. Click here for a nice summation of the tube troubles we've been having.

Oh, and be careful if you play it in a packed office. It has naughty words. If your office enjoys that sort of thing, turn it up..

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Branding the Branding Industry...

I've got an Adidas one on my left buttock. Picture via MLeak. Usual rules, etc.

Or 'why Get Smashed should be a reminder to have fun'.

You'd have thought, with all of the branding we do for clients, and how we state that keeping their identity and touch points is so important, we'd be a little better at taking our own advice.

With the endless pontification and navel gazing on the internet, I fear it's gotten worse. I mean, yesterday's shit storm about the new Cadbury's ad is case in point. The amount of people being terrified about the implications of their jobs, whether the planning function is defunct - is absolutely astounding.

I view it as a bit of a special case, as I've said before - a one off; it works because of the context, the media spend (very very clever), the fact that Cadbury's is like oxygen to chocolate lovers, and that it's undisputably number one in its marketplace.

Anyway, back to the matter in hand. Honestly, I don't think I know another industry that's so bloody frightened of its own shadow. We make ads, we try and make people buy things/do good/influence behaviour. Nothing more. We sometimes act as if we believe we're Clarkson, Piers Morgan and Adolf Hitler rolled into one, and we're very very sorry about everything we've done, past present and future.

Just stop it, please. Because, if you don't, things like this press conference will start to impinge, and we'll be left with a throughly sterile and boring industry, clamped down by the powers that be.

And, in a worst case scenario, this self-loathing seems to descend to everything; older members of staff wishing they were still in the 80's or 90's, junior staff with no real opinions of their own, fighting to please people at the expense of their own mental state/health.

I think a large part of the problem stems from the fear of being seen as an empty, pointless industry - and God knows, whenever cameras are rolling, it usually appears so. Raymond Chandler's words resound: "Chess is a elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency".

Why can't we celebrate the nonsense, and focus on what we're good at - helping to build businesses, brands and institutions. None of this self-reflective, ultimately destructive bollocks.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Never mind the brand bollocks, here's experiential marketing...

Not sure what he'd have made of this. Not a lot, probably.

Now, I'm not a very big Sex Pistols fan (sorry Marcus), to be honest. A bit before my time - and I think they're one of those bands you have to have either been alive during their ascendency, or have some tie to their music, and I have neither (that said, I love the Clash).

But I thought it'd be useful to discuss what made them such a good band in light of what the ad community finds itself in at the moment - what would appear to be the battle between conventional branding and experience.

The Sex Pistols, as I've said above, to me, are all about the raw, visceral experience, something which is magnified by actually being there. Now, there are other forms of music (yes, some of the Clash's stuff), which don't really require the 'being there' experience.

And I think the same is true of advertising.

Let's have a look at the current ad du jour, that of Cadbury's Dairy Milk:

And there have been a few comments already from respective ad bloggers.

First of all, let's consider this in light of what we know already. Cadbury's DM is the first choice in consumers' minds. Market leading, yada yada. So, just how much conventional planning does there need to be for something like this? People get their entertainment experience, and it makes people laugh.

Look at one of the youtube comments: "I think it's just a fun advert, nice and simple - Just like dairy milk! :P"

And let's consider it in light of when the media was sold - during Big Brother, ultimately the best example of throw away entertainment today. So it fits its target audience, who just want to be entertained; no sort of intellectual posturing will work here.

What is potentially troubling to those who don't like the ad, it would seem, is that there's no obvious connnection between the product and the ad. The worry is that it won't do anything for Cadbury's sales, but get people talking about the gorilla drumming. I'd love to see the recall stats for this ad. But does any of this matter for Cadbury, who are number one anyway?

Let me tie this post together. Bluntly, I think there's a bit of a dichotomy between conventional brand planning and the more fast and loose experiential work at the moment. Additionally, I think both are beginning to inform on each other - the Cadbury's ad is an experience, pure and simple, and more and more experiential work is adopting more brand cues - look at some of the work Iris have done for Sony Ericsson (most notably 'Gig in the Sky' and 'Night Tennis').

Unlike a lot of the people in the threads posted earlier, I'm not worried about planning's role in all of this - surely, its role was to advise how best to reach the target audience for Cadbury's DM (I'm guessing 15-30 year olds, but I could be wrong) and what would maximise salesamongst this age group. Now, I'd love to see what the sales figures are like afterwards, just to see if planning/advertising is changing beyond just meeting business expectations, as Marcus proposes here.

Brands, it would seem, have the greatest success when they latch onto a zeitgeist, or create one themselves. Both experential marketing and 'normal' branding can do this - but it may lead to the conventional lines of what planning is changing. And it perhaps asks a bigger question - does this matter?

Are we getting into 'Ads for Ads sake' territory here?

I don't think so, but one thing's for sure - the devices we are using to inform our audiences are blurring the techniques that underly it all.
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