Great advertising not dead after all

Reports of the death of good advertising (largely by me) have been greatly exaggerated.

Get your laughing gear round this:


After all that bollocks in the Superbowl, and most of the tosh we’ve seen in the last few years, I was beginning to despair.

But Coke is a brand that stands for a ‘glass half full’ approach to life, and we’ve never needed that as much as we do now.

The ads that is, not the drink.  Never touch the stuff myself.  The devil’s work.

This takes me back to the great Coke ads of the past – in particular the one lampooning Grand Theft Auto.  Maybe there’s a lesson in this – great ads can come out of opposites and, in the current world of purpose-led marketing, standing against something can be even better than standing for something.


Never trust anything if you can’t see where it keeps its brain

In ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ Arthur Weasley offers the advice to Ginny  “Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain”.  He’s particularly concerned with people or objects which have been ‘bewitched’.  Transparency is, after all, a virtue we increasingly recognise in business too.


The marketing equivalent might read roughly “Don’t trust any brand if you can’t see its business model”.  My first exposure to this came in the 1980s and 90s, when advertising agencies were engaged in cut-throat competition.  They would charge clients a knock-down fee but then claw it back through opaque charges in production and elsewhere.  The same is allegedly occurring today in the world of digital media, where charges are based on meaningless currency and black box solutions.

It is also, arguably, the whole basis of the Internet.  Users of search engines and online providers get their service for free, often blissfully unaware that their characteristics and behavioural data are being traded as a commodity.  I see today (New Year 2020) that there’s another imagined scandal surrounding Cambridge Analytica who have been pilloried for doing exactly what most online businesses have always done, only better.  Namely scraping user data for segmentation and targeting purposes.  As the saying goes ‘if you can’t see what the product is, then you are the product’.

This is all pretty obvious.  Nothing to see here, citizens.  But I recently discovered a new area of opacity, which is uniquely neat, disingenuous and frankly plain crooked.  It’s the world of online reviews.

I had posted reviews of services before.  We all have.  It’s very simple.  Amazon encourages it to the point of pestering.  Feefo and Trust Pilot have built significant businesses on it.  But have you tried posting a really negative review?  Especially if it concerns a rather aggressively marketed brand?  Not so simple after all, as I discovered recently.

I had an overwhelmingly negative experience buying a house through the cut-price estate agency,  Purple Bricks. When I posted a negative review, they immediately contacted me (so Trust Pilot is obviously not a confidential system) to demand I provide supporting proof.  After my experiences, I certainly don’t want to deal with them again, so I declined.  Trust Pilot promptly removed my review, because they implied I had  made it up.

What a brilliant business model.  Make it really easy to post praise and discourage people from posting negative experiences.  Only good experiences get reported.  That will bring brands flocking to the service.  Genius.  Purple Bricks currently enjoys a 4.7/5 rating on Trust Pilot.  Of course it does.

The irony of course lies in the fact that Trust Pilot and its like are presented as the consumer champion, when, in truth they are the opposite.

I read a post on an online community, the other day, from the owner of a rented-out holiday home.  Her place had been pretty much trashed by clients, but she had learned from experience that posting a negative feedback, or withholding their deposit would only lead to an escalation of accusation and counter accusation.  Her business would lose out.  So even in markets (this was an Airbnb-type business arrangement) which are theoretically actively policed by the feedback system, it’s in effect, simply a racket.

I appreciate that the more worldly of you will be sniggering at my naivety.  Sorry.  Indeed, I have just discovered that proper journalists have noticed the Purple Bricks phenomenon too.  Here.

Any feedback to this post should be addressed to me personally, here (positive) or to the email address (negative).


Is good advertising dead?

A brand consultancy, writing in Forbes Magazine this week wrote:

“The focus on short-term, disposable viewership is an unfortunate byproduct of the digital age. Sustainable advertising campaigns designed to create and reinforce brand loyalty will be a thing of the past.”

Stephen Foster in the More About Advertising website cites Ikea as the counter example – a very very rare one.

It may be worse than even these commentators have described.  I’m really struggling to think of many more examples of proper campaigns based around a sustainable advertising idea.  All my examples turn out to be ten years old.

I agree this is good though:

This calls for immediate, er discussion…

I’m a big fan of extinction rebellion.  God knows somebody had to pick up the world and shake it into taking climate change seriously.

All last week, the ER demonstrations have been taking London by storm, creating debate, getting people on to the streets.  Making the point starkly and with passion.

Here’s the video that landed on my inbox this week:

They’re right.  This is not a drill.  Mankind’s future is in the balance.  It’s serious.

But can you spot the mistake?

Let me show you another one:

Hmm.  Did you see what I did there?

Some of us have been banging on about this for a very long time. It’s about fifteen years since I first attended a reception in the House Of Lords to express the urgent need for immediate action on climate change. That was part of a raft of activities which we might describe as ‘awareness building’ – an expression which has become almost completely meaningless.  At that time there was an urgency borne of the real possibility we were already too late.  In 2006.

And where has it got us?

After all this time, you’d have thought it was time to move the debate on to practical measures.  What exactly – in real terms, has to happen for the temperature rises to remain within sustainable limits?  And how will we achieve this?

I don’t have an answer for that.  It’s complicated.  Unfortunately, neither does Extinction Rebellion or anyone else.

What gets measured……my arse

We’re coming up to the ad industry’s annual celebration of effectiveness – The Festival of Creativity and Effweek; it’s all run or created or generally encouraged by the institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA).

According to the effectiveness gurus, Peter Field and Les Binet, communications are becoming less effective because we are focusing on short term returns over long term brand building.

There’s a deep irony in this. Field and Binet have tirelessly championed the  measurement of effectiveness.  But it’s exactly this emphasis on measurement which has led marketers to be more focused on evaluating campaigns – and that mostly means incorporating short (or at best short-ish) term metrics equating to return on investment.

The problem is long term measurement is really difficult.  Some ears ago the IPA introduced a category in its effectiveness awards for ‘the longer and broader effects of advertising’.  It became a kind of holy grail in the effectiveness community and was won by some of he great advertisers of history like VW.  But it’s much easier to show that sales responded profitably to a campaign over the year when it appeared than to explain a brand’s sustained success over decades.  And typically people don’t stay in a job long enough to be that concerned about the long term.  So why bother?

It’s also more broadly true – beyond advertising.

Think about public policy issues like health.  We’re often reminded ‘what gets measured gets managed’ so metrics drive incentives and that’s what broadly speaking gets things done.  We can ensure how many patients have been treated, how beds have been used and how long waiting lists are.  But the impact of better prevention or healthier lifestyles are hellish difficult to evaluate.  Maybe that’s why the authorities’ efforts in these areas have been so limp.

Yet we all know deep down it would be infinitely more efficient to improve our lifestyles than to treat illnesses.

Quite a conundrum, if you’re a policy maker.

It also explains why health systems are really sickness systems.  All about illness, not really about staying healthy at all.  And why they’re often accused of being driven by the interests of Big Pharma  – the companies who stand to benefit from treating more sick people rather than presenting them becoming sick in the first place.

Insert your own conspiracy theory here.

They don’t make ’em like this any more

Jeremy Bullmore once said that advertising has never been as much fun as it used to be.

I like to paraphrase that and say advertising has never been as good as it used to be.

Except that I do actually believe advertising is nowhere near as good as it used to be.

And just to make my point, I tried toi think of the best advertising of the last few years.


I came up with these two.  Turns out they’re both rather old.