Wimbledon is upon us

I do love a good sporting trailer, but this Wimbledon animation by McCann London does nothing for me.  It’s all craft.  And wonderful craft too.  Credits:  Nexus Studios’ Smith & Foulkes – yes it’s dead clever animation.  But frankly, Sky Sports does it much better just bey harnessing moments of passion and the noise of the crowd.

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The Curse of Cassandra

cassandra

At a conference recently, Jim Carroll, the former Chairman of ad agency BBH, talked about the ‘Curse of Cassandra’ which struck a chord with me.

He described how, years ago, he shared an office with a bright young strategist.  She consistently made excellent arguments, but somehow always failed to convince others.  Her thinking was good, but too often wasted.

As Jim put it:

“She was always right.  But she always lost”

This sort of thing happens a lot in advertising, where everyone has an opinion and the room is often swayed by the most passionate or the most domineering voice.  Or the Boss.

In Homer’s Iliad, Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, King of Troy.  Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy.  But when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse, ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings.

It also echoes the work popularised recently by author Susan Cain, who writes about unlocking the talent of introverts, who are undervalued in today’s excessively competitive workplace.

At this point, I could go into the (many) strategies which the conference speakers described, to address the curse.  Largely by becoming more personally influential, by building our own personal brands and by using the same dark arts we would put into a marketing plan to sell the elements of that plan.

I could, but I won’t.

Because the implication is that we treat every interaction with colleagues as some kind of internal sales pitch.  And maybe that’s just how things are.  But I really don’t want that.

How to Buy a Gorilla

Procurement is back on the agenda in agencies (not that it ever went away).  Saw a review today (in the trade mag Campaign) for a new book by David Meikle.  It’s (among other broader themes) about how to make procurement work as a force for good, not just to drive down price.

meikle

Procurement is killing advertising, but not for the reasons most people think.

There are four problems with the way procurement has influenced how clients commission marketing communications:

  1. The increasing emphasis on price competition – this has had both upside and downside.  On the upside, it’s good to make agencies aware that they are in a competitive market.  On the downside, quality sometimes does command a higher price and procurement is not necessarily well equipped to evaluate that trade-off.  Moreover, agencies often have to pitch for projects without knowing the budgets involved, so it’s impossible to make realistic judgements around allocating resources and consequently how to cost the project.
  2. Pitching is often driven by procurement.  Again there are two sides to this.  On one hand, the process has become more professional – sometimes.  On the other, the pitching process itself has become a lowest-common-denominator exercise which misses many of the less obvious opportunities to solve the problem better.  There is often no clarity on the budget, there is minimal chemistry or collaboration, time is shortened to the point where quality is compromised.  And another thing…. the whole thing happens in a vacuum. And breath. All these points are either well-rehearsed or at least, fairly obvious.
  3. Less obvious is the way a relationship driven by or through procurement misses the traditional opportunities for agencies to add value.  Years ago, big agencies were challenged to have initiatives – things the clients wouldn’t have thought of (and therefore procurement won’t have commissioned).  Some of these (perhaps many, perhaps too many) don’t see the light of day. Others would occasionally bring a refreshing new perspective to a staid category or a rejuvenation to a stale brand. It’s the antidote to the risk aversion which is inevitable in a modern marketing department.  You can’t do this where every project is briefed separately and scoped within an inch of its life.
  4. Finally, the project-by-project scoped approach militates against the development of  client ‘experts’ within the agency.  The old fashioned idea of brand stewardship is no longer deliverable where everyone’s time is budgeted and accountable.  In ages gone by, new agency staff would spend days out with the sales reps or observing focus groups, not as part of a (chargeable) project but as part of a broader ‘immersion’ into the business.  Sadly that’s unlikely to be feasible now that every penny is under scrutiny.

So, if you want to know how best to buy a gorilla, the answer is probably to avoid or sidestep procurement.  If you’re an agency, I’m afraid you’re probably buggered.

Well what do you know?

When I was a child, I thought my Dad literally knew everything.  “I know everything” he said, on countless occasions.  Others have proposed that the naturalist, Alexander Von Humboldt, was the last man actually to know everything, and he died in 1859.  The ‘last man to know everything’ mantle has also been attributed to a number of others, from Aristotle to Francis Bacon.

Humboldt

Needless to say, in the modern world it’s impossible for any one of us to know everything, nor even a large part of the body of human knowledge.  We can’t even know everything about the many things that affect us directly on a daily basis.  And that’s a problem.

Even the things we do know, we don’t really know.  We believe them, but what’s the basis of that? Without going all epistemological, sometimes it’s through empirical evidence, but mostly it’s because we learned it from a source which we trust.

It’s increasingly a problem, because trusting others has become a risky business.  Well, actually it always was.  Take any piece of supposed knowledge you have and really interrogate it.  Take the laws of physics.  Some of the sub-atomic particles I learned about in school have been superseded by new, sexier ones which are even less easy to grasp and even more likely to be replaced. And those are the very foundations of matter.

When it comes to more mundane stuff, we’re on even dodgier ground.  I worked for many years in the energy business and everything I saw reinforced my belief that climate change is happening, it’s partly induced by man’s activities and that it will likely lead to the end of civilisation.  How long that doomsday scenario will take is uncertain, but probably within a few dozen generations.  However, some people genuinely doubt this.  In response, I commonly cite the fact that all the reputable scientists in the area agree with me.  But, if I’m honest, that’s only hearsay.  I’ve only actually spoken to a handful of scientists.  Anyway, scientific theories evolve and scientists change their prevailing wisdom over time.  That’s the nature of science.

And now, the rest of the world has cottoned on to this Cartesian doubt.  Encouraged by idiots people like Michael Gove (“People in this country has had enough of experts“) it seems anything goes, and authority is history.  Anyone can claim any old nonsense and there’s no requirement for evidence.  And consequently we’re right in the shit.  Because all this plays into the hands of the demagogues and the hate preachers.  Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and The Daily Mail.  And Brexit.

arseholes

This has implications for brands and businesses too.  Corporate reputation is fundamentally based on trust.  Historically, that trust was built on the behaviour and ‘body language’ of a brand over time.  I think it still is, but the pillars of trust seem to be in flux.  Transparency is the vogue, but that means different things to different people.  One man’s transparency is another man’s clever manipulation.

Indeed the idea of trust itself can become a subject for a new brand promise.  I like the recent campaign for fruit drink Oasis, which takes this and plays games with it.

 

So there you have it.  Politics, philosophy, climate change and advertising.  Everything I love, all in one place.  We’re completely buggered, but there’s a neat insight for some ironic advertising.

It’s a real Brahma mate

There’s a theory emerging that we’re beginning to see a backlash against the tech that’s coming to dominate our lives.  There are a few ads floating around that poke fun at our obsession with gadgets or with streaming.  Not sure I agree, after all, any kind of excessive behaviour is up for a bit of debunking, and there’s plenty of tech-driven madness to pick from.  However, I do like this ad for Ozzie beer brand Brahma.

I believe the expression “a real Brahma” means something like “The Daddy” or “The dog’s b**ll**cks”. Not entirely inappropriate.

Brilliant or complete coincidence?

This is the new advertisement for the VW hybrid (yes, well done, but that’s something Toyota have been doing for twenty years, so let’s not get over-excited about the news value here).

We all love a good villain, but the question is this: are VW acknowledging that, after the emissions scandal, they are (or were) Public Enemy no.1 and playing a delightfully mischievous game around that?  Or is it just a coincidence?  I like to think it’s a wonderful piece of self-deprecation.  And if that’s the case, I’ll forgive them for being so close to the idea Jaguar used recently.