Why Trump’s election underlines the awesome power of The Big Brand

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The global airwaves and webwaves are now rammed with commentators and journalists post-rationalising why Trump got in.

You can’t turn on the telly or read a news site without finding some media luvvie telling you how half of Americans felt disenfranchised and ignored, and how, by voting for The Donald, they were making a statement about the Washington political elite. And globalisation. And immigration. And so on.

What nobody (apart from me, seemingly) has yet said is ‘Trump is an incredibly powerful brand’.

He’s built his public persona over many years. Like Kit Kat. People know exactly what he stands for and what to expect. Like Fairy Liquid. And as the ex-presenter of the US Apprentice series he is a genuine, A-List reality TV star.

And (just like Brand Boris in the UK), you can recognise Trump from his hair alone. What a fantastic logo that is. Just like McDonald’s golden M or Disney’s silhouetted mouse ears.

He’s got some brilliant brand slogans too: “Build a wall”, “Lock her up”. They’re what great slogans always are, specific, memorable and most importantly, ownable. Just like Have a Break Have a Kit Kat.

Compare Hillary’s lame offering: “Forward together”. Straight out of the bland political slogan handbook. Cooked up by a committee. Can’t really imagine people at a rally chanting “Forward together!”, can you?

Trump even created a hugely memorable  Brand Positioning for Clinton: “Crooked Hillary.” If you look at this stuff in marketing terms it’s actually close to genius.

In short, Trump has become quite simply a Very Big Brand. And big brands are what people go for. Ask Lever Brothers or Procter and Gamble.

Lever Brothers sell Marmite. Half the British population hates it (me included). The other half loves it. This division is so marked that it’s actually become intrinsic to Marmite’s brand. Their TV ads even show people spitting it out.

Lever Brothers and their agencies recognised that not everyone likes everything, and cleverly built a massive brand around the fact that lots of people hate Marmite with a vengeance. People in the UK even talk about things being ‘a bit Marmite’. How many brands have become part of everyday language in this way?

Donald J Trump is exactly like Marmite. He hasn’t tried to make everyone like him. But the people who do, love him. And the people who don’t, hate him. The people who love him forgive him his trespasses.

That’s why you’ll never hear anyone, anywhere, say, “Oy yes, Trump, he’s OK I guess”.

Large, established consumer brands can withstand short bursts of terrible PR. Their reputation can take a knock but, if they’re big enough, they easily bounce back. Smaller, less established brands can be destroyed. Again, Trump embodies this resilience spectacularly.

Contrast this with Hillary. A me-too brand if ever there was one. A white, charisma-free Obama-lite –  the own-label diet cola to Trump’s full-fat Coke.

 

Is grammar really that important?

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Should you really be that worried about knowing the difference between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’, ‘there and their’ (and ‘they’re’), and ‘it’s’ and ‘its’? Aren’t these quaint old-fashioned considerations that in the modern, super-fast online world we simply don’t need any more?

Well that depends, as my friend stated pithily when we were discussing this issue yesterday, whether you want to look like an idiot or not.

As with many things in marketing, it all comes down to who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to 15 year olds about a new video game, not so much. If you’re talking to 46 year old CEOs of global corporations who might be (potentially) spending $1m on your product then, yes, it very much matters.

If your website or brochure is full of spelling and grammar mistakes, what kind of message does that send your customers who are clever enough, or experienced enough, or educated enough to notice?

It says either “I am too ignorant to know the difference” or it says “I know the difference but I don’t care that people think I’m just ignorant.”

EIther way, why take the risk of turning off a potential customer before they’re even fully engaged with your offer?

Of course, the proliferation of typos, bad punctuation and grammatical errors in today’s marketing has a lot to do with keeping costs down for clients. Hiring or contracting a good copywriter is a cost that more and more agencies feel their clients won’t bear (and they’re often right).

So the client writes their own stuff or, heaven forfend, a web designer or UX person does it.

But the result is copy and content that is badly written, hard to understand and that can genuinely damage your brand.

 

Always remember: people WANT to buy your stuff

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You see so much marketing where it’s clear that the manufacturer or business owner (or their agency) are embarrassed about their product. Or at least embarrassed about having to sell it.

You see it all the time with what I call ‘borrowed interest’ advertising. Where the person writing the ads is bored by or ignorant about the product they’re meant to be pushing and, as a result, imports some extraneous nonsense because they think it will catch someone’s interest more.

This is nonsense. And the reason is quite simple:

People want to to buy your stuff.

They really do. If you’re selling second-hand cars, people in the market for a second-hand car will want to know all about what you’re offering.

If parents are looking for something new to give the kids for tea, they’ll want to hear about your new pizzas.

If business people are unhappy with the service they’re getting from their bank, they’ll be all ears to your bank’s introductory business account offers.

The point is, not everyone who sees your advertising or marketing will be your target customer. Most won’t. But the ones that are currently in the market will listen to every detail you can provide. They’ll hang on your every word.

That’s why, time after time after time, long copy works better than short copy. The ‘experts’ will constantly tell you nobody reads long copy. (The ‘experts’ have been saying this since advertising was invented.)

But the smart marketeers who actually TEST, know that long copy always outperforms short copy. Because people who are in the market for your product are interested in it. They WANT to buy what you’re selling.

Of course, the people who aren’t in the market won’t read long copy. But these people won’t read short copy either. You’re never going to sell to them, so you can ignore them completely.

This is why, if you want to produce a successful ad, website, sales letter, you must always remember that you’re writing it EXCLUSIVELY for the people who ALREADY have a need for what you’re selling.

You’re not writing for yourself, your agency colleagues or the awards jury. You’re writing it for the people out there who are waiting, all a-quiver, cash at the ready, to buy your stuff.

Changing someone’s mind is the hardest thing in advertising. (And politics.)

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If there’s one thing marketeers should note from the EU referendum campaigns it’s this: nobody listens to advertising and promotion.

We had massively expensive and media-saturating campaigns by both the Leave and the Remain teams, but did they change a single person’s mindset? Maybe one or two, but not many.

Time and time again, once the results came in, we saw people expressing almost total ignorance about the key facts that should have been important drivers for the nation’s vital decision-making process.

People said they voted Leave because all their mates on social media were saying Leave. Students were saying they voted Remain because all students voted Remain. Old people voted Leave because they still hate the Germans. People in towns with barely any immigration voted Leave because they believed there were too many immigrants in their town.

The ignorance of the real facts was astonishing to some, but not to anyone who really knows what’s what in marketing and advertising.

It’s long been said that changing someone’s mind is the hardest thing to do in marketing. And the referendum showed graphically how resistant the populace is to any information that’s at odds with their currently-held world view.

And with the news and social media channels utterly saturated with Leave/Remain messaging from dawn til dusk, the wilful avoidance of the facts is truly mind-boggling.

If an entire nation can resist campaigns of this magnitude so easily, just consider how hard it is to get your low-budget B2B campaign to hit the bullseye and work its magic.

Why everyone in marketing should watch Gogglebox

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I really like Gogglebox.

I like it for a number of reasons but, wearing my work hat, I like it for three reasons:

Firstly, because it reminds me that – despite every article you read in magazines or on the internet that talk about the Death of TV, the Death of Traditional Media and The Death of The Old Interruption Marketing Model etc etc – television is still a massive part of our life.

So much so that we even tune in in our millions to watch complete strangers talking about it. (YouTubeBox? Nope. InstagramBox? Nope.)

In other words, rumours of TV’s death are not simply exaggerated, they’re utterly wrong.

Secondly, I love Gogglebox because it continuously reminds people like me, in marketing and advertising, that when most people sit down to watch the telly they want one thing: to be entertained. Perhaps to be enlightened. (And if it’s the latter, they still want to be enlightened in an entertaining way.)

So on Gogglebox we get to see regular, ordinary people reacting to telly in a natural, spontaneous manner. They use ordinary, everyday language. They’re watching fairly closely but they talk during the programmes and miss bits.

Just like we all do.

They see straight through anything that’s pretentious. They mock the self-consciously arty. They recognise lame humour and feeble attempts to ‘get down with the kids’.

So if this is how they react to the programmes that they watch voluntarily, how do you think they react to the ads attempting to interrupt their entertainment?

They hate them. They fast forward them if they can. They go and make a cuppa. They go back to their phone and catch up on Instagram for a couple of minutes.

Thirdly, I like Gogglebox because it shows what an utter pile of tosh the average client and agency briefing document is when it comes to talking about a target audience.

On Gogglebox we see people of all ages, classes and colours reacting in ways that are inconceivable to the average agency planning department.

The people in their 20s aren’t ‘Millennials’ (see my previous post). They’re regular people with regular jobs and regular concerns. And smelly dogs.

The people in their 50s and 60s aren’t grey-haired silver-surfers, smiling and riding motorbikes. They’re overweight, they wear jogging pants, they’re smart, cynical and swear like troopers.

The Gogglebox crew bear no relation to the cardboard cutout cliche characters that appear on every brief. And despite their differences in age, class, race and sexual orientation, they all broadly share exactly the same points of view on the programmes they’re asked to watch.

In other words, despite what planners will tell us over and over over again, the fact is most people are pretty much the same.

(This is something that those of us from the direct marketing world have recognised for 50 or 60 years. We tend to sell the product on its benefits instead of tying ourselves in knots about what newspaper our potential customer might read. It seems to work.)

All of which is why people in advertising and marketing should be dragged away from thinking about Apps, strapped to their Eames chairs, and be forced to watch Gogglebox.

Every single week.

 

Excuse me, madam: where might I meet a millennial?

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Sigh, as they say in the online forums.

In marketing circles, real or virtual, you can’t move for people blathering on about millennials about the moment. And how to target millennials. And what millennials want to buy. And what millennials think. (And magazines are full of it, too.)

It’s like someone has just realised that every product and service in the world is only bought by this newly discovered group of people. If you’re not talking to (and about) millennials, you’re a loser, an idiot and clearly know NOTHING about marketing.

There are two problems with this.

One, all these people raving about millennials seem unclear as to who these god-like creatures actually are. What they’re not, is people born at the turn of the century as their name might suggest. Because they’re only 16.

The descriptor seems to refer to people who are young, but not too young, but love their technology and like engaging with all the digital stuff that 20 year old marketing executives think is important.

At least, I think that’s what they are. The people getting all over-excited about the importance of millennials clearly don’t have time to stop and write a clear definition that we mere mortals can fathom. Perhaps they are in their twenties? Or thirties? Or forties?

Two, nobody seems able to say WHY this group is so important in any objective way. They don’t spend nearly as much as older people, for example. They have less disposable cash. They’re quite hard to reach through advertising.

So why is everyone so obsessed with them? Take this page of slobbering drivel amongst the gazillions on the internet. I’ve pasted this here as it’s absolutely stereotypical of the mind-bendingly dim stuff that is written about millennials.

“Who is the Millennial consumer?

Millennial consumers overwhelmingly prefer access to goods over ownership of goods, delaying purchases of large ticket items like cars and homes—and fueling a new “sharing economy” in the process.

While Millennials are often portrayed as impatient, tech-obsessed and egocentric, their spending habits tell a more comprehensive story. The Millennial group is highly loyal to their chosen brands, valuing philanthropy, authenticity, and higher purpose in business practices—and paying little attention to advertising.

This group rewards brands that respect their independent decision-making skills. These values mean that a company that can capture a Millennial customer will be richly rewarded, and for a very long time. As Millennials begin to enter into their phase of purchasing power and consumer dominance, their loyalty is more important than ever.”

This is absolute tosh of the highest order. You’ll note that there is no evidence put forth for any of these assertions. Because there isn’t any.

Who writes this patronising, idiotic garbage? More worryingly, who believes it?

Take the first point: they’re not creating a sharing economy, whatever that is. They’re delaying buying because they can’t afford a mortgage. They’re not a religious movement, they’re skint.

Second point. There’s no evidence they’re any more loyal to a brand than any other group. Recent studies have shown that brand loyalty is, in any case, not nearly as important as people used to believe. It hardly exists in any meaningful way. Customers described as ‘loyal’ can still only be buying your stuff twice a year. And will buy other brands regularly and readily if their preferred brand is unavailable. (Which is why real marketeers know that distribution plus shelf position etc is often considerably more important than advertising.)

They apparently value authenticity (whatever that is!) and higher purpose in business practice. Do they? Again, where’s the evidence? Who are these paragons of nobility? Are they superhuman?  So who are all these young people eating at McDonalds and Starbucks and happily supporting massive tax-evaders like Amazon? Who are these gangs of young Londoners drunkenly throwing bottles at the Man Utd team bus?

Can’t be the Millennials because they are all angels in human form.

“This group rewards brands that respect their independent decision-making skills.”  What does this even MEAN? Nobody rewards brands. People buy stuff.

As for the second half, ask anyone in a survey whether they like/respond to advertising and marketing and they’ll say no. But, of course, the fact is they do, just like they always have; and any sensible marketing director has banks of evidence to prove that good old-fashioned advertising works as well as it ever has.

Finally, the idea that you capture a young buyer and he stays with you when he gets lots of money in later life has been disproven so many times it’s tragic that people are still rolling it out under the Millennials banner as if it’s something new.

As the majority of people working in advertising or marketing today would probably consider themselves to be millennials (ie under 45 perhaps?), I have a horrible suspicion that what we’re really seeing here is their own idealised portrait of who they think they are (or would like to be)…

A group of smiling, white-teethed twenty-somethings that work in a children’s hospital, drive a vintage VW camper and have somehow, magically, stepped out of a FatFace ad to become living, breathing flesh and blood.

 

 

 

HM Government’s pro-EU leaflet.

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HM Government – or the members thereof who support staying in the EU – have spent nine million quid of taxpayers’ money on a leaflet designed to convince the populace of the righteousness of their case.

What a great opportunity to hire the most persuasive copywriter, speechwriter or journalistic writer out there and create a piece of communication that leaves you punching the air with a cry of “YES! We will stay in Europe! Break out the croissants and paella forthwith!”

What a great opportunity to commission a brilliant designer to create at-a-glance infographics and eye-catching typography to draw you into the arguments quickly and enjoyably.

But instead, we get a leaflet that is so mind-bogglingly, eye-achingly, jaw-droppingly boring that it simply beggars belief.

And talking of belief…

Instead of a challenging, attention-getting headline on the front cover we get “Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK.”

This is a classic amateur-hour headline that talks about the seller not the buyer.

I don’t care what the Government believes. Tell me why I, the humble citizen, taxpayer and voter, should vote to stay.

Talk about my needs, wants, desires. Talk to me as an individual. A person.

This headline is just like all those pointless TV ads on currently that, instead of giving the viewer a clear benefit, tell them what they, the manufacturer, believe. “At XYZ company, we believe…”

The first headline inside carries on in similar vein: “An important decision for the UK.”

Really? Wow, I didn’t know that! Thanks for telling me! It’s hard to imagine how, as a piece of copywriting, this headline could be any less engaging or interesting.

I genuinely want to know the arguments for and against. I was looking forward to receiving this leaflet. But it’s so dull and uninformative I could barely bring myself to turn the page.

 

 

What on earth were Ford thinking of?

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There’s a new TV commercial for Ford cars here in the UK. It’s flogging their American range, the Mustang and the GT etc. So far, so good.

But, quite remarkably, it does this by slagging off the British range. Referencing ‘no more Mondeo Man. No more OAP’.

Why on earth would you use the launch of a new range as an opportunity to spend millions of pounds planting negative thoughts about your main range in the public’s mind?

I’ll tell you why.

This is another example of an ad that simply writes out the brief.

The brief from the planner or suit will have said something like “In our target audience’s mind, Fords are sometimes associated with older people. And the image of Mondeo Man from twenty years ago is still fresh in some of their minds. These US models will appeal to men who wouldn’t consider a UK Ford for these reasons, perhaps”.

So instead of doing what creative teams are supposed to do, which is use their craft and imagination to bring a sales proposition to life–to make it impactful and memorable–they’ve simply written the brief into a lazy script.

Do they not realise that millions of happy Ford UK buyers will see this ad, too? Not just the genitally-challenged Clarkson-wannabees that might lust after a Mustang?

So I’ve just bought a Ford for £20,000 and these morons are now telling me I’m Mondeo Man? Or an OAP.

Remember, every ad you run is an ad for your entire brand. Not just the particular product it features.

 

What’s the story with ‘storytelling’?

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There’s nothing digital marketers like more than a new buzzword. And the latest one is ‘storytelling’. Apparently your website or digital marketing is missing a gigantically effective trick if you’re not using storytelling.

Er, OK. So what actually is storytelling, pray tell?

When you scratch the surface of this latest fad you discover that it’s nothing more than a loose description for a load of well-tried and well-tested copywriting techniques that good copywriters have been using for centuries.

(The insularity and ignorance of many digital marketeers would be endearing if it wasn’t based on epic laziness and an epic failure to recognise that, you know, people were actually quite good at selling stuff before the WWW came along. Much better, actually.)

So storytelling is simply using things like customer testimonials and (pretend or actual) real-life experiences…in fact, as far as I can see, anything that brings to life the human element of the sell you’re making.

And of course there is absolutely nothing new in this, whatsoever.

Some of the most successful direct marketing pieces ever have used ‘storytelling’ to sell by the barrowload. Think of the famous ‘two neighbours’ copy platform. This tells of two chaps who were born brought up next door to each other but one made the wise decision to buy X and is now rich and famous. The other didn’t and isn’t. Look it up.

Or the brilliant One Legged Golfer ad by John Carlton, possibly the best copywriter alive today now that his mentor Gary Halbert isn’t. It tells of a one-legged chap who developed an amazing golf swing and ultimately sells you a course of lessons to make yours equally effective.

Or the John Caples one “Do you make these mistakes in English?”. Or the David Ogilviy one (nicked from an earlier ad) “At 60 mph the loudest noise in this Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock.”

These are all storytelling, folks. They bring the product or service to life. They use social proof to demonstrate that other people are buying the product.

They are engaging, involving, motivating, intriguing. Everything that highly effective direct marketing copywriting needs to be.

 

 

The Muppets rescue Christmas!

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It’s November and in advertisingland Christmas is already in full swing. Every tv ad-break is filled with cute, smiling kids handing presents shyly and cutely to rosy-cheeked granddads and grandmas. Every home is covered is snow and jolly snowmen & amusing reindeer jostle for position in every high street.

Depressing isn’t it?

Personally I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, full stop; its brazen commerciality, its false bonhomie, its sentimentality and all the rest. Bah humbug etc.

But what really depresses me is the total lack of originality in Christmas advertising. The ads for retail outlets are literally interchangeable. (And I love the way those cheeky ad schedulers seem to make a point of running very similar ads right on top of each other. Well done, you lot!)

There are the ‘oh what a terrible present but I’ll put on a brave face’ ads. There are the small child accidentally meeting Father Christmas ads. There are the giant family around the dinner table scoffing Christmas fare from Aldi/Sainsbury/Asda/Waitrose/Lidl/M&S. There are the black and white with film star perfume ads. Yaaaaaaaaaaawn is not the word.

And of course there is The John Lewis Ad. An event which seems to have taken on an importance equivalent to Christmas Day itself. This year it features a kid looking at the lonely man in the moon. So he gets sent a telescope so he can feel even more lonely as he watches everyone on Earth having a great time with all their family and mates. Thanks a bunch, Earthlings.

Then there is the new ad for Giant Crumpets. Starring the muppets. All of them, from Kermit to Piggy to Fozzie to the chairman of Warburtons.

Who is clearly not a muppet, actually.

Because he or his marketing people have realised that the way to get ATTENTION and MEMORABILITY during the Christmas advertising yawn-fest – and at every other time of the year, too – is to do something DIFFERENT from everyone else.

The muppets ad blasts into your brain like a laser and, doubtless, the giant crumpets will be flying off the shelves the length and breadth of the country.