Passport to Lunacy

I’m writing this in the final days of the build up to the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

“with so few weeks to go before the vote, I believe that the negativity, the bickering, the foul-mouthing, and particularly the wholesale abuse of facts by both sides have seen off most of our attempts to make the vote interesting”.  So said Jon Snow, the veteran Channel 4 news presenter.

This can be mostly explained by the way the debate has been hijacked by the various campaigns to be the next leader of the Conservative Party.  What a shame someone has to win that particular race.  The players are all so impossible to like.  More of that, perhaps, another time.

For my part, the idea of leaving the EU makes as much sense as arguments for Cornwall becoming independent from England.  Maybe less.

Or indeed, for our older listeners, it’s about as sensible as the idea behind the classic Ealing Comedy ‘Passport to Pimlico’ in which, as I recall, the London borough declares itself part of Burgundy by some ancient charter, and therefore not responsible to  Westminster. The script was written by Thomas Clarke, who had a reputation for developing absurd ideas to their likely conclusion.


Bizarrely the film was inspired by real life events – the maternity ward of Ottawa Civic Hospital was temporarily declared extraterritorial by the Canadian government so that, when Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born there, she would not lose her right to the throne.

I simply can’t understand how anyone could seriously consider Brexit a good idea, except perhaps as a source of entertaining literary and film ideas for future writers.  Ahh, now I get it.

Infographic Heaven


For fans of the current craze for infographics (I’m not convinced that’s even a word, but we’ll let it go) it doesn’t get any better than this.

The Economist has created this neat illustration of the relationship between success and financial clout in the English Premier League.  It is a thing of beauty, despite my carping.

Wage spending (expressed along the x axis) correlates very closely with success (expressed on the Y axis but also as blue-ness and as size of the bubble).

Two issues emerge:

First – a ‘chicken and egg’ question still remains – does wealth drive success (as we are encouraged to assume) or does success over time lead to wealth. Or indeed are both driven by something else (history, tradition, fan base, being in the parlance ‘a big club’?)

Second – how amazing was Leicester City’s performance this season?  They are the only League Champions ever (and only the second team to finish in the top four) to have had a wage bill below the league’s median figure.  Truly a ‘rags-to-riches’ story.  They do trouser quite a lot of money now as a consequence, both as direct prize money and through participation in next year’s Champion’s League.  So expect them to move sharply to the right on this chart.  It remains to be seen if they will remain quite so high up on the other scale.


‘If You Can’t Say Something Good About Someone, Sit Right Here by Me’

The line is attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt.  How very approriate.

I was remindeed of it today, as I read an article by Benedict Pringle in Campaign about negative advertising in political campaigns (is there any other kind?)  He draws attention to the way Zac Goldsmith has been criticised for his negative approach in the campaign to become London Mayor.  The winner, Sadiq Kahn had an unusually positive story to tell – essentially his biography; a rags-to-riches story of the son of a Pakistani bus driver who made good.

Pringle reckons negative campaigns have three arguments in their favour:

  1. People remember negatives better than positives
  2. Negative stories are more believable when it comes to politicians
  3. Negative stories are more likely to be passed on, generating extra reach

I don’t particularly disagree with any of this but it seems a bit strange to be justifying negative campaigning in this way when it is very much the default option.  I can hardly think of any well-known political campaigns that haven’t railed against something or set out to scare the bejesus out of us in the event the other side should get in.


The last British general election provides a classic case.  The polls were neck and neck and the Conservatives had been employing a scattergun approach, until they seized upon a winning tactic – namely frightening us with the prospect that a Labour win would bring effective power to the Scottish Nationalists (SNP).  The rationale was that in a hung parliament (which we all expected) the SNP would inevitably forge a partnership with Labour and hold the balance of power.  Despite both Labour and the SNP declaring they had no intention of forging any such alliance, it worked a treat and the Conservatives won.

Positive campaigns like that of Khan are few and far between.  The upcoming US Presidential race is likely to be particularly dirty.  But that is the norm.

This gives me another opportunity to remind you of the Daddy of them all:



National Treasure

I was lucky enough to attend a talk last night by Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC entitled ‘Why I love the BBC’.  If the boss of any other organisation was billed under such a title, it would appear at best sycophantic, at worst deluded.  But for the Beeb it’s the most natural thing in the world.  It is simply the most loved brand you will ever come across.

Bizarre then that the last few weeks have been riddled with news stories about how the authorities (Ministry of Culture and stuff) was keen to make fundamental changes, increasing government control, slashing funding and so on.

Happily, the White paper announced yesterday appears to have missed most of the main demands of the attack dogs.  But it’s weird that such a revered institution has seemingly been under fire in this way.

Martin Kettle wrote a nice piece in the Guardian, in which he says:

Be very clear about the BBC white paper. In almost any other country in the world this would not be happening at all. Beyond Britain the BBC is universally revered. It stands for excellence and independence; and because of that excellence and independence, it stands above all for reliability. There is no other engine of soft power to touch it on the planet.

There’s only one country in the world where the idea that the BBC needs shaking up, taking down, and kicking around has any serious currency. That country, to the disbelief and consternation of much of the rest of the world right now, is Britain.

The ultimate masturbation?

The advertising trade magazine Campaign has rebranded and relaunched, incorporating its sister titles ‘Media Week,’ ‘Brand Republic’ and ‘Marketing’.


The relaunch has involved a painful volume of self-publicity.  In today’s issue we learn….

The “Proud parents” campaign stars some of the industry’s most respected marketers and their agency partners, together with icons from the standout work they have created together. The campaign underlines the brand’s positioning as the premium platform for the new breed of brand-builder, offering inspiration, opinion and analysis for marketers, agencies and media owners that invest in creative excellence to grow their businesses.

There’s a video, of course.  And a ‘making of’ film.  There’s daily bulletin at the top of the news feed.

So here’s an advertising campaign about an advertising campaign for a publication which essentially publicises other people’s advertising campaigns.  If that’s not circular then I don’t know what is.

I actually like advertising and I’m bored with it.  I can only imagine how more balanced people with a healthier perspective must regard it.  Let’s be polite and say it’s a bit inward looking.


Generational generalising

Millenial bollocks

We read a lot these days about Millennials.  My HR team say they’re revolutionising the world of employment because they have different hopes and dreams to other cohorts.  I say bollocks.

Millennials are in a younger cohort.  But mostly, they’re just younger.

Cohort generalisations are seductive.  They allow us to make sweeping generalisations which lend themselves to neat stories.  Boomers were the first generation to enjoy contraception and they gave us the swinging sixties.  They carried those hedonistic values through and now they refuse to grow old gracefully.  Their children – Generation X – rebelled against this rebellion and adopted values which are more staid and rigid.  Their children are Gen Y who…. blah blah blah. I’m not buying it.

Why?  Because twenty years ago, we were saying exactly the same things about Generation X, when they were in that pre-family lifestage.  They too appeared to value authenticity.  They were less materialistic.  They would save humanity.  They wanted experiences over possessions.  Simple pleasures.  They sought control over their lives.  They were getting used to the idea there were no jobs for life and embracing a future of self-determination.  Climate change hadn’t hit the headlines, but if it had, they’d be in the vanguard of fighting it.  They had ideals.  It’s called being young.

So why are Millennials more accepting of their ageing looks?  Because they’re not ageing.  They’re young.

Worse, this whole conversation betrays a misunderstanding of how segmentation works.  When we use consumer segments in marketing the idea is to start with a behaviour we want to explain – say who does or doesn’t buy our brand – and then relate this back to the various dynamics that influence it.  Could be demographics, psychographics, generational cohort, whatever.  It doesn’t work the other way around.  Define a group which may or may not be meaningful and then try to describe how they’re different to another group.  This can be interesting, but it’s always likely to lead to this kind of spurious analysis which doesn’t help much.

It also flies in the face of all the evidence that age is increasingly a very poor predictor of behaviour.  We really don’t act our age any more.

Add to that the now unfashionable idea of need-states, which reminds us that we drift in and out of our various roles, making generalisations misleading.  In the parlance…the same person is more different on two occasions than two individuals are on the same occasion.

So after this eminently balanced and reasonable piece, I say to you:  “Millennials, my arse”.