Scotland the Brave

Scotalnd The Brave

In the spring of 1997, Britain was in the throes of a general election.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had re-invented Labour, and the party was insurgent.

The incumbent Conservative Party, on the other hand, were in a mess and up against it.

The country had grown weary of its failed promise of trickle-down prosperity, principally because it was all a sham.

Never more so than in Scotland where Labour had always polled well.

So it was an either brave or deluded Conservative campaign chairman that had decided that the line for its 48 sheet poster campaign north of the border should be thus:

Your Best Bet For A Better Scotland – Vote Conservative.

It was a type-only affair, modestly laid out, boasting a small box with a blue tick in it.

Crucially, there was a lot of white space. And this was to be its downfall.

It was late one Saturday night when I saw the posting.

It sat on a small rise above a well-known pub in the west of the city. The pub’s clients, worse for wear from a night of drinking, were falling out on to the streets.

Here my imagination takes over and attempts to join the dots on what had latterly happened prior to my arrival on the scene. 

A punter is taking a moment to get his bearings, clear his head, and is maybe looking to hail a cab when he spies the poster.

It doesn’t exactly chime with his polictical views.

What happened next to again subject to conjecture. My best guess is that our hero ran home and was back in a thrice with a can of red spray paint. I say this because when I happened upon the board that fateful night it read:

Your Best Bet For A Better Scotland: Vote Conservative MY ARSE!

An early example of guerrilla marketing perhaps?

Brand takeover?

Possibly.

What I do know is that the size, position, and general air of anarchic chaos of the daubed addition had transformed the world dullest poster into a potential award-winner.

And that I laughed my socks off.

Especially as the cad who had applied the amendment had had to scamper up a pretty steep incline to do so.

But as we all know, getting great creative to run is never a walk in the park.

How badly do you want it?

When I was first getting started in advertising back in the mid-1980s, I participated in the D&AD student workshops.

For six weeks you’d be set six briefs by six different agencies. 

One week you’d be answering a print brief for Saatchi’s, the next a TV brief for DDB. 

Best of all, you got to present your work to the person who set it – typically, this meant getting one-on-one advice from the likes of Dave Trott, Nick Wray, Paul Grubb, Neil Patterson, Adrian Kemsley, and Charles Hendley – the smartest minds in the biz at the time.

On one particular night, the host agency was Collet Dickenson Pearce, and true to form, we had a badass tutor: John O’Donnell.

The brief was for an imaginary product called Mathews Thermal Underwear, and the medium was posters. As was the norm, every student pinned their work up on the wall and awaited their fate. 

Few got off lightly. 

O’Donnell cited the usual flaws: weak ideas, ambiguous executions, crap headlines, etc.

Halfway around the room he stopped and paused. In front of him were three neatly drawn up layouts. They were thematically linked visually with the headlines that were subtle variations of a single thought.

One featured a young man clambering up the side of a two-story house to reach his girlfriend’s bedroom window on a bitterly cold night. The line read: “Matthews Thermal Underwear: For Adventurers.”

Another read, “Matthews Thermal Underwear: For Explorers” but its visual and the entire third concept have slipped the realms of my memory. 

Without looking away from the work, O’Donnell said, “Who did this?”

A tentative hand went up at the back of the room.

He turned and eyed the speaker.

“These are great. I wouldn’t change a thing. Put them in your book.”

And that was it: A first-hand example of what would cut it, what it looked like, and how it worked. In the pub afterward, we all congratulated the campaign’s creator and silently resolved to come back with better stuff the following week.

Which leads to me to the other remarkable thing from that night.

At the end of the workshop, as everyone was packing up, O’Donnell addressed a question to the entire room.

“How many of you really want a job in advertising?”

I’m not sure what prompted the inquiry, but to a man and woman, everyone replied that, Yes, they did.

He took a moment to collect a thought and then said:

“Well, if you want it badly enough, you will.”

A gauntlet had been thrown down in front of us, a tacit challenge issued.

O’Donnell knew there would be casualties. That, whether through attrition, hardship, bad luck or disinterest, many would fall by the wayside.

For one, it was tough.

In those days, getting a job hinged on your folio of spec ideas. Developing your “book” from a half-formed mush of dubious thoughts into a job worthy tome of advertising goodness required a pathological degree of single-mindedness – a willingness to scrap, re-do, revisit, revise, refine and revise again, until you had twenty or so ads that any Creative Director could flick through in sixty seconds or less without ever having to stop and say “I don’t get it.” 

So, yeah, it was tough, but that’s what it took to get into a shop like CDP.

O’Donnell would have been right to assume that not all would go the distance – of the 20 or so assembled before him that night, perhaps six ended up in the business.  

It’s why I think the gist of O’Donnell’s statement should be posted in the reception of every ad agency, design shop, and client office in the land.

How badly do you want it?

If you’re a creative, how badly do you want to create great work?

How many with a good, even great idea, will keep going and make it exceptional? When a client rejects a beloved campaign, how many will roll up their sleeves and vow to double down and come back with something even better?

How badly will the account director want to champion it before a client?

How many clients will go to bat for it against an intransient superior? Or take the time to argue, rationalize, defend and support what they know works?

Simply put, how many will support the right way when the path of least resistance gets a quick result and a chance to beat the 5:00 traffic?

Like those students in the workshop all those years ago, some will stay the course. 

Others will bail out early. 

It’s easy to get jaded.

Bored even. 

To just say “It is what it is” and be done with it.

But sometime soon there’s going to be a moment when a great piece of work is on the line, and it’s down to you to fight for it.

That’s when this post will come back to haunt you.

Because that’s when a little voice in your head is going to ask:

How badly do you want it?

The Math vs. The Myth

Time Spent Consuming

Take a look at this sucker.

It’s from a recent report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and it pretty much confirms what many of us have known all along.

That TV, far from being dead, is alive and well and kicking digital’s ass.

Really kicking digital’s ass.

It also rather debunks the theory that everyone and anyone is viewing everything and anything on a mobile device.

They patently aren’t. 

So here’s my question:

Why isn’t it a holy-shit topic of debate right now?

Call me crazy – and believe me, many have – but these figures seem to point to a vast misappropriation of focus in three significant markets. Is it too fanciful to suggest that our industry take them just a little seriously?

Maybe rethink an assumption or two? Perhaps take a closer look at the current ROI on digital platforms? Maybe dump the latest media buy and initiate a reallocation of marketing dollars?

At least call a meeting about it.

Yeah, not going to happen.

This report, like those that have come before it, will be avoided like the plague. In a mind-boggling display of counterintuition, brands will continue to pour vast sums of money into digital platforms.

It’s not difficult to see why.

To accept these numbers you’d first have to admit you might have been duped. Or at the least acknowledge that you’d got it very wrong.  

And to act on them, well, that would mean flying in the face of received wisdom, and it’s a brave marketing chief or agency head that’s going to do that.

But someone will eventually.

And when that happens, the game will be up.

The day digital platforms are judged on their numbers will be the day they’re recognized for what they really are: a developing channel that’s currently delivering modest results.

The math will have prevailed over myth.

By the way, the IAB’s study has affected one immediate change:

TV’s last rites have been canceled indefinitely.

Read more on the IAB study here https://bit.ly/2DYNjC9

​Real Advertising: The Comeback

I sometimes wonder if our industry hasn’t wandered off the reservation.

How else to explain the banality of thinking that informs much of what passes for advertising today?

It seems to me that we are obsessed with targeting.

By targeting, I mean our destructive preoccupation with analysis, tracking, habits, preferences, and trends.

Targeting is not the same as relevance.

Relevant work isn’t binary.

It can’t be computed.

It’s not predicated on what website we visited yesterday or might tomorrow.

And you can’t run an algorithm to create it (though I’m pretty sure many have tried).

Relevant advertising, let’s call it real advertising, is founded on the wants and desires of real people with real blood running through their veins.

It posits a well thought out argument persuasively.

Moreover, it does so with a fundamental understanding of the larger world outside it.

The target-them-and-they-will-buy approach has none of these virtues.

The data-driven content that clogs up our web pages and social feeds has little or no connection with real life. No grasp of what ordinary people are facing every day –  bills, rent, health, love, marriage, work.

For real advertising, all this is backstory, the context within which a brand, product or service must be seen to exist if its to add value in some meaningful way.

Here are two examples, picked entirely at random, of what I’m talking about – both are nearly 50 years old.

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What these pieces have is a degree of humanity.

They’re confident, but they don’t brag.

They are reasoned but not unreasonable.

And because of that, they resonate.

More than that, they stand out.

It’s not easy to create work like this – part of the craft is that it looks so simple, so logical – but, hey, that’s why we have creative departments. Or, at least, used to.

A degree of empathy can help frame a brand in the hearts and minds of its audience. Better yet, it can give it a direction and a sense of purpose – something everyone from the brand manager and agency creatives to the employees and customers, can get behind.

If social media marketing really is the future, we might want to invest it with a little old school nous and wisdom.

Time to bring real advertising in from out of the wilderness.

The Monday Conundrum​​

Let’s kick the week off with a conundrum.

Every day we are told of the protean capacity of social media marketing to reach hundreds upon thousands of highly targeted, ready to buy consumers.

Yet at the same time, we are also reliably informed that the average click rate for an online banner ad is 0.07

That’s 7 clicks per 10,000 ads.

How does that work, I wonder?

Fantastic Reach vs. Laughable Conversion.

Discuss.

In the two-cents saloon of social opinion, I’ve got a dollar to spend, so here goes.

Let’s suppose for a minute that the reach numbers touted by data-driven media really are all they’re cracked up to be – I have my doubts, but I’ll let that pass for now – how is it that so many eyeballs can be delivered to so little effect?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s because THE WORK IS CRAP.

In our rush to embrace this shiny new channel as the solution to everything, we’ve forgotten that delivery is only half the task at hand and that the real job begins the moment the ad is served up.

That’s when Data Delivery switches to Message Delivery.

Message Delivery requires a powerfully crafted message that communicates a single strategic thought persuasively and with impact. It will engage, intrigue, provoke, compel, seduce and, dare I say it, sell.

Dumping a bland message in the general vicinity of the viewer isn’t going to cut it.

Message Delivery is a whole different skill set from Data Delivery. 

The knack for grabbing people’s attention is a learned discipline, and it’s one that the new generation of digital natives just don’t have.

The irony is that the folks who do – the seasoned ad pros who’ve seen it, done it a hundred times – are being laid off in vast swathes right now.

Replace the people who can with people that can’t.

Beats me why anyone would think that’s a good idea.

But that’s a conundrum for another day.

March of the Lemmings

Social media was supposed to change everything.

Especially in marketing.

TV, radio, print, and posters were dead.

All your shiny new campaign needed to succeed was a boatload of data-driven content: posts, tweets, feeds, blasts, banners, Likes, Impressions and Shares.

The customer, we were reliably informed, was in control and, henceforth, all commerce would now revolve around the twin whizz-bang-magic-dust precepts of “conversations” and “relationships.”

Naturally, the smart thing to do was to move a hefty proportion of your budget online.

And, like lemmings, that’s pretty much what everyone did.

Without hesitation.

Without comment.

Without analysis.

A healthy dose of skepticism was sorely needed and, as luck would have it, duly sounded.

Bob Hoffman began to challenge some of the more outrageous claims made on behalf of social media marketing on his blog Ad Contrarian.

The first red flag was the effectiveness of clicks.

It transpired that the average click rate for an online banner ad was about .07%. 

Or 7 clicks per 10,000 ads. 

Yeah, pretty miserable.

The more he dug, the worse it got. 

Thanks to Bob, we now know that: 

95% of content generates next to zero engagement. 

E-commerce accounts for less than 7% of retail sales in the U.S. 

Fewer than 2% of retail transactions happen on a smartphone. 

And the whole damn thing is riddled with fraud. 

It’s quite the shit show.

You can read the motherlode of his findings here: https://www.bobhoffmanswebsite.com/newsletters

However, here’s the best bit: 

88% of marketers believe online advertising has no measurable impact on their business, yet we continue to pour millions into it.

Why? 

I’ll take a wild guess and say fear.

Fear of looking foolish.

Fear of appearing out of touch.

Fear of going against received opinion. 

Fear of not being part of the latest trend.

It’s created a blind spot where it’s easier to believe the fantasy than face up to the facts.

But one day the penny will drop.

Questions will be asked.

Numbers demanded.

Accountability called for.

The lemmings will revolt, and upon reaching the cliff edge, one of them will turn to its peers and say:

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to call bullshit on this one.”

Left Leaning. Right Minded.

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“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” – Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Today, the nation goes to the polls.

Never has so much hinged on a Mid-Term.

Ordinarily, they come and go with little or no fanfare.

Not this year. This year is different.

The United States of America, the land of the free, the home of the brave, the country I’ve called home for more than 20 years, stands at a crossroads.

A pathological liar with a penchant for hate speech and orange candyfloss hair has been spewing a divide-and-conquer line in vilification and mendacity for over two years now.

It cannot continue to go unchecked. 

Over the next 24 hours, it must be countered.

More than anything, a majority of the people need to put a marker down and say: “Enough.”

Enough with the lies.

Enough with the threats.

Enough with the fearmongering.

Enough with the demagoguery.

Enough with the intolerance.

Enough with the bigotry.

Enough with the misogyny.

Enough with the racism.

For let’s be under no illusion: we are on a perilous path.

Few foresaw the implications of Nazi Germany in the early 1930s, but the parallels are clear.

All too recently, we’ve seen members of the opposition party sent bombs and the anti-semitic murder of 11 innocent people in a house of worship.

The vilification of immigrants, nationalistic rhetoric, and attacks on a free press also bare the ugly hallmarks of a quasi-wannabe Dictator-in-Chief

The Republican elders let the hourly falsehoods of a man clearly unfit for office to pass without comment for the sake of power, expediency and the chance to pay back their donors in tax cuts. And while we live in the hope that the less supine of their number may yet take a stand, I, for one, am not holding my breath.

“The only question that matters is where one’s real sympathies will lie when the pinch comes.” – George Orwell, Why I Write

History will not look back fondly on these times.

With luck, it will be seen as a misnomer.

A temporary aberration.

Alternatively, it could be the moment when the soul of a great nation was irrecoverably cast aside.

We’ll know soon enough.

Today, the rants, the rallies, the offensive slogans, the vicious placards, the twisting of language and weaponizing of words, all take a back seat in deference to the exercise of democracy.

And as dark as these days are, therein lies the answer.

A remedy as old as the country itself and more potent than any hate speech or act of domestic terrorism.

VOTE!!!

“Dictatorships foster oppression, dictatorships foster servitude, dictatorships foster cruelty; more abominable is the fact that they foster idiocy.” – Jorge Luis Borges