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Remember: nobody wants to read your shit.

Just read this book and it’s a timely reminder about one of the basic facts in the marketing and advertising business: nobody wants to read your ad. Nobody wants to read your website. Nobody wants to read your email.

And yet the industry seems to have forgotten this fact. We see so much work that is, patently, very pleased with itself and has clearly been produced in the reality-free zone that is the hallmark of contemporary promotion.

Work is produced for other agency people to admire. For the client to show his boss. For the boss to show his wife.

We see endless numbers of me-too TV ads with smug 30-somethings with beards being oh-so-ironic.

And offering no reason a) to watch b) to buy.

These ads feature smug 30-somethings with beards because they’re produced by smug 30-somethings with beards.

And, as a result, they become simply TV wallpaper. Blandness taken to the next level of virtual invisibility. A colourless mush of vapid, lifestyle-based nonsense.

So often now, clients want work that looks like somebody else’s work. Not work that stands out, that demands your attention. That would be brave and adventurous.

They want work that is cosy, familiar, well-worn and unthreatening. As challenging as your favourite old pair of slippers. Work That Looks Like Advertising.

Not work that is effective advertising.

Of course, the good news is this: do something half decent and it leaps out at you like somebody poking you up the nostril with a red-hot poker.

So next time you’re some creative work, ask yourself “What can I do that will make this a must-read for my audience?”

Chances are you’ll come up with a proposition for your brief which is more focused than “Product X will make you happy”.

Chances are you might think “Hmmm, do I really need to show my target audience here? Actually, these people aren’t my real target audience anyway.”

Chances are you’ll write a headline message that offers a real benefit to your punters. And if you haven’t got one then you’re going to need an execution that captures your punters’ attention by its creative brilliance.

As someone once said: “If you’ve got nothing to say, sing it”.

 

 

Why your new brand may be doomed to failure

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And this is especially true in the ludicrous mixed-up world of marketing.

A few years ago, everyone who knows only a little about marketing became convinced that The Brand is everything. You had to build a brand to sell your product.

Everyone who knows a lot about marketing knows the opposite is in fact the case. You have to sell your product in order to build a brand.

And to sell your product you have to tell people why they should try it, or buy it.

Because it cleans whiter. Because it’s the sweet you can eat between meals. Because it’s the safest car out there.

In short, you have to give people a clear, focused and specific reason to buy your service or product. This is called selling. Which is now virtually a dirty word in marketing and advertising circles.

The absolute foolishness of trying to create a brand to sell your products is tragically demonstrated by the closure of a private school near me. This school has been going for over 300 years.

But last year they suddenly changed its name from The Friends School to Walden School. And a new logo popped up to support this. Hmmm, I thought, That’s odd, why on earth would you ditch a very distinctive brand name with three centuries of heritage and, one imagines, close to 100% recognition in the local area? And replace it with a name that creates instant confusion with the local Saffron Walden County High School? Which even has a similar logo.

I’m guessing the answer is a simple one.

The school was losing pupils. Revenue was drying up. Something had to be done.

But instead of concentrating on creating a great product (a brilliant school with stonking academic results well worth your £7000 a term fees) and then telling people about it as loudly and convincingly as possible, offering special discounts and making themselves generally unmissable to their target parents, they obviously picked the route that so many businesses do today…

They decided they needed a new brand.

“Yes! If we change the name and the logo the customers will come flocking to our door and our woes will be over for ever! Hoorah for marketing!”

Except it didn’t work.

Because it never does. Yet, more and more companies do it. It’s a lot easier than selling. It makes you feel cool and trendy talking about ‘brand’ rather than grubby ol’ sales.

You get to meet designers and strategists and planners who make you feel very important and write all sorts of portentous documents about your brand and the psychological power of Pantone 345.

They make you a new logo. And choose a fashionable typeface. Maybe they even write a slogan.

But do they make people buy your stuff? Nope.

 

 

Is your website broken before you even launch it?

Remarkably, I still see people launching brand-new websites that aren’t optimised for viewing and reading on mobile phones. Depending on which survey you look at, around 60% of all website visits are now done via mobiles. And this percentage is set to increase as sales of traditional PCs, even laptops, continue to fall in relation to smartphones and tablets.

Only today I was asked for some feedback on a new website, launching a new B2B product. Clearly it would have looked dazzling and beautiful on the designer/developer/UX people’s big flashy desktop. But on a regular smartphone it was illegible.

It also had a homepage explainer video packed with cartoons, captions and animated diagrams that were quite literally illegible and incomprehensible on the smartphone screen. Again, I’m sure this looked magnificent when the video team showed it on their giant hi-res Mac display, with pats on the back all round, but in the real world it was an utter waste of money.

Get this stuff wrong and it hurts your business.

Not only that, last year Google launched its ‘mobile first’ algorithm. Which means , if your site isn’t fully optimised for mobile, not only can your customers not read it, you get penalised in the search results too!

Putting ‘mobile first’ into action doesn’t just mean making sure your site works on the smaller devices by being ‘responsive’ — some people call this a ‘mobile friendly’ approach.

It means you should be thinking about the smaller devices FIRST. Write and design for the small devices then upscale, not the other way around,

And, of course, it’s the same story for any digital comms. If you’re sending out some sales emails to drive your customers to your lovely new site, you need to optimise them for mobile FIRST.

Even better, think about actually writing and designing them ON your phone. You’ll soon see whether they’ve got too much copy or an overly complicated design. Try it; it can be both shocking and liberating at the same time!

Sometimes a whisper is louder than a scream

It seems that, in order to be heard above the mindless racket that passes for TV adverting these days, advertisers are becoming more and more hysterical in their approach.

The grotesque “You’re so Money Supermarket” dancers and the once slightly wittier but now just brash and crass “Go Compare” executions are just two examples of what their creators would no-doubt declare as ‘ironic’ advertising. Actually, it’s just boorish shouting.

What is actually ironic, is that often you get more attention on the telly when you whisper instead of scream.

There was a striking black and white ad for Adele’s latest outing just before christmas, for example. In virtual silence, it focused on her eyes, which then opened to striking and memorable effect. It stood out like a sore thumb amongst the stampede of not-funny, screeching nonsense that surrounded it.

And now there’s another example of a TV ad that stops you in your tracks, grabs your attention and keeps it for the duration of its sell. (You know, the stuff ads are supposed to do.)

It’s basically just a still screen showing text messages popping up on a mobile. The only sound is the gentle beep as the latest message arrives. You have to read each one. No voice over to help you.

It’s utterly captivating and, like the Adele ad, is an oasis of communicative calm in the maelstrom of nonsense we’re so used to being assaulted by.

So, well done

The same principle applies in press and online too. Shout loudly “I AM AN AD PLEASE READ ME”, and you’re actually saying “I AM AN AD. YOU SHOULD IGNORE ME IMMEDIATELY”.

Make your ad look like editorial, however, and you’ll get that extra nano-second of attention that allows your message (if it’s clear enough, and offers a benefit) to be more clocked by your target. Suddenly your ad starts to do its job.

There’s a reason that so many online advertisers use those tacky click-bait executions (universally sneered at by hipster, bearded advertising types) rather than ‘creative’ banners. They test one against the other.

And the editorial-style click-bait ones work better. Simple.

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

_91356697_trump-clinton

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.

 

Always remember: people WANT to buy your stuff

sale

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.)

mind

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

gogglebox

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.

 

HM Government’s pro-EU leaflet.

ConHome-EU-shirt-Cameron

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?

Model T in Egypt

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.