The Positioning Smokescreen

It’s no coincidence that this post comes at the end of Cannes Week.  If you follow us on Twitter you’ll know that we’re not the biggest fans of the International Festival of Bullshit, Scam and Money-Making, to give it its proper title. Anything that bills itself as the “epicentre of the creative economy” is best given a wide berth in our book.

I’d rather gouge my eyes out with a blunt spoon than spend a week listening to people incessantly spouting hot air about subjects that are often, at best, only tangentially relevant to the real business of making effective and successful advertising for our clients (having said all that, I was gutted to miss out on the ‘Badass Leaders’ talk from Akon...).

There’s way too much emphasis on technology, way too much emphasis on what’s going to happen in the future? and way too much self-serving, promotional propaganda and bandwagon-jumping backslapping. It almost seems that “advertising” is a dirty word that nobody really mentions any more.  It’s all about “creativity” now.  

However the “creativity” that is talked about is not really one I fully recognise and often bears no relation to any actual creative output that inhabits the real world. 

The “creativity” that is discussed at Cannes seems to be some kind of abstract construct. A mythical beast, magical formula or Holy Grail that can be instantly discovered and then used forever more after attending a couple of talks by a few people in pink shorts and loafers.

Well, the rather mundane news is that there is no magical formula or secret behind “creativity”. It’s available to any business, anywhere in the world and can be easily achieved by taking the relatively simple decision to entrust great creative people to come up with great creative ideas.

This, I accept, is by no means a headline-grabbing revelation.

However, it’s shocking how completely out of reach this is for so many agencies and clients.

Part of the problem is that agencies themselves have swallowed their own Kool-Aid that they have been dispensing to clients about brand love and brand purpose. They have been so self-obsessed with their own image and so blindly desperate to force competitive advantage by trying to own spurious and meaningless points of difference that they have forgotten that it’s ultimately their creative end product which should be their major selling point to clients.

I point to the recent embarrassing nonsense proclamations coming out of Ogilvy following their, ahem, refounding project. Apparently this exercise took them two years and they’ve ended up with a very slightly different font without the “& Mather” bit. Fuck knows how many hours and pounds were burnt in pursuit of this unworthy goal.

Since this refounding, Ogilvy (but not Mather) have been telling the world and his wife all about this monumental event using only jargon and gobbledygook to explain their thinking.

It’s a modern disease for big agencies to have their own marketing departments who want to steal the oxygen and take the limelight with stories which very rarely have anything do with the actual work. In this case, I can’t actually remember any recent Ogilvy campaigns that have had anywhere near as much PR airtime as their own rebranding sideshow.

If culture eats strategy for breakfast then surely when it comes to what is more important for clients, product eats positioning every time food is on the table and the greedy bastard also stuffs its face with it in between meals.

I appreciate that last turn of phrase might not exactly catch fire but any clients that genuinely want their marketing communications to be successful over the long term should look beyond and behind an agency’s positioning to look at an agency’s product first.

Unfortunately, it’s easy for clients to be seduced by a set of soundbites or beliefs all backed up by some unique, proprietary process that promises brand fame, cultural resonance, game-changing consumer behaviour, competitive disruption, supercharged business performance, everlasting life, etc, etc.

You only need to do a trawl of the ‘About’ section on most agency websites to realise that most of these soundites are hollow claims that bear very little resemblance or connection to the creative work that is also on the site.

Let’s take TBWA for example. They’ve been banging the Disruption drum for longer than most now. You’d hope such a clear positioning would be reflected and manifested in everything they do but I’m scratching my head and struggling to see that from the work that’s on their current reel. Gems like PlayStation, FCUK and Wonderbra would allow them to at least substantiate that positioning but they weren’t even produced in the last decade…   

The reality is that the vast majority of agencies aren’t really that different from each other at all in terms of the services that they offer, how they’re structured, how they work and the kind of work that they do.

To compensate for this they delude themselves by rallying behind the security blanket of a ‘magic gold dust’ positioning which they believe makes them genuinely different and, therefore, irresistible to any prospective client.

As an aside, a consultant, who shall remain nameless, once advised us to better define and sharpen our agency positioning. We wanted to let our work and the case studies behind them speak for themselves and were reluctant to get into a lengthy process of navel-gazing as we believed that potential clients would either get what we were about and like our work, or they wouldn’t. And we were totally fine with that.

When we probed this in more detail, we were given an example of an agency that had a very compelling and different positioning that had a clear hook that makes them easier to sell to clients. In fairness, that agency, who also shall remain nameless, did have a very clear hook but they hadn’t done any decent creative work since opening their doors and that work didn’t bear any resemblance to the positioning they were pushing. A year later they were no longer in business.  

Ultimately, great agencies are defined by and remembered for their product, and not their positionings. Nobody looks back and says “well, CDP’s maginificently differentiated positioning was clearly the main reason that they cleaned up in the 1970’s”.

The likes of CDP, DDB, CDP, Ally & Gargano, Chiat Day, BMP, AMV, BBH, Lowe’s, GGT, Wieden & Kennedy, HHCL, Mother are so massively respected in the annals of the advertising business because they had a fanatical devotion to producing great creative work which they duly delivered upon.

Another common thread amongst those agencies is that they were at their best when they had an unfair share of outstanding creative; a density of talent that most agencies can only dream of these days.

When it comes down to it, the major difference between agencies lies in the quality of people that they employ and not in the form of words they use to summarise their positioning.

It’s this human aspect of employing good people to come up with and then execute great ideas that separates the great from the good from the grim.

Significant investment in great creative talent is an absolute rarity these days. It seems like there been a conscious culling of brilliant experienced creatives to save money and help the bottom line, agencies preferring to pursue a “quantity over quality” approach by stocking departments full of juniors prepared to uncomplainingly churn out route after route regardless of their merits.

Unsurprisingly, the end product these days is now less FabergĂ© Egg and more Kinder Egg. I can’t see that changing in the future now that agencies are choosing to entrust creativity to giant crowdsourcing tools names after French mime artists. 

There’s a school of thought in our business that creativity is some kind of hygiene factor and level playing field. This is madness.

It’s absolutely bonkers to think that all agencies are equally capable, even if there is a much of muchness to the creative work that is going largely unnoticed or polluting our lives. There’s a massive gap in terms of quality of thinking and craft between the top 2% of work and everything else.

Herein lies another problem. The aforementioned density of talent just doesn’t exist any more. Once upon a time the best agency creative departments were jam-packed with outstanding creatives across the board. That meant clients usually had a very good chance at hitting the bullseye and getting a great campaign out. Now, it’s much more of a lottery and they’re lucky if they can even hit the dartboard as they’re blindfolded, looking in the wrong direction and have a wet sponge instead of a sharp, pointy arrow to aim with.

This brings me back to the work again and the people behind it.

I think an interesting new business exercise would be for agencies to compile a reel of the five ads that they had done in the last year that they were least satisfied with. That way, clients would be able to get a feel for the overall creative standards of the agency and not just the showcase shiny work that the agency wants you to see.

All agencies can compile a greatest hits showreel and wow clients with their jazz hands and artificial chemistry when they are on their best behaviour. But how many can truly say that their work is consistently good and effective?

What’s the turnover level of agency staff and clients? What are their longest relationships? Are the people responsible for the work on the reel still working at the agency?

If agency brands were really powerful and their positionings were so special and compelling then I imagine that there would be a lot less pitching going on. But that certainly isn’t the case in the current climate.

It’s high time for agencies to stop hiding behind their positionings and start worrying more about their product rather than their brand.

When the tide turns and the next creative revolution happens, the only competitive advantage left will be how good your ideas are not how good your agency positioning is.

The Attack on Creativity or Is This the Most Stupid Industry in the History of Humankind?

An Admap study showing the top drivers of advertising profitability has been doing the rounds again. And while that might not sound very interesting if you're a creative, it should interest you, a lot.

Because what this study shows, based on the analysis of over 1500 case studies, is that after the size of a brand, the biggest single factor that can improve the return on investment of your advertising is creative.

According to the study, creative quality has the ability to increase the profitability of your advertising by a factor of 12. That's twelve times more profitable. In other words, for those who prefer percentages, creative can make your advertising 1200% more effective.

This is at odds with what we've witnessed over the past 20 years in the advertising industry. Which, in case you haven't been paying attention, is an industry-wide, sustained attack on creativity, creative people and the things that help those people to be creative.

Creating an environment where creative talent can flourish takes a few fundamental things. Boiled down to their simplest, they are something like: Time, Space, Value, Mentoring, Support.

And these are the things that have been systematically removed from advertising agencies over the past 20 years or so.

Time has been cut to the bone. Time to explore, meander through thoughts, try things out, explore references and inspiration, make mistakes – christ is seems like the industry has been awash with the sort of 'fail harder' 'we need to fail' type of mantra. But the reality is, agencies don't really live by those values. There is never enough time to fail. Time has been squeezed out of projects, as if delivering at speed is somehow adding value to the client. Some clients might like it if you turn things around quickly, but that's very different to actually making a valuable difference to their brand. Everything is a rush or ASAP. I think there are occasions when it's good to work quickly on something, but in general time will only make the thinking and the execution of your advertising better.

Space to work. Ad agencies have fallen foul of the ooh isn't this a creative space fallacy. Open-plan spaces are very efficient for cramming in as many people as possible. That makes the bean-counters very happy. Giant long desks with people lined-up like miners, lit by the glow of the laptop screen to which they appear permanently transfixed. Headphones on to try to create a bit of separation from the noise around them. This has become the de rigueur creative space. Now businesses that aren't in the creative field even adopt this approach to try to create a more creative environment. But the irony is that what might feel like a creative hubbub is, in fact, counter-productive to actually being creative. Have a look at the environments and studios in which designers, writers or artists work. Generally they're quite controlled, quiet spaces within which the person can do their thing. People might want different things from their space to help them, some might work better with inspiration around them and music, others might prefer a quiet, blank space with no distractions. But we force everyone to work in this same creative call centre environment. It's difficult to see how the removal of creative spaces and offices for creatives is having anything but a negative effect on the quality of work.

And how much do we value the creative talent within the ad industry? Pay levels are being constantly chipped away and starting salaries are barely subsistence level at a time when it has never been more expensive to live, and higher-earning, experienced people are being culled from wage bills. If advertising can't attract the best, brightest and most brilliant thinkers and doers, how can it still claim to be the go-to place for the very best creative thinking for businesses and other organisations?

The voice and status of creatives have been diminished within the industry, the spokespeople and leaders of which are increasingly people who haven't created a single thing in their lives. How can we expect the business to be led in the right direction by people who have no idea how it's really done? I suspect it's often the case of what I talked about in an earlier post, which is that the business-people of advertising might love the idea of creativity, but they really don't feel comfortable, or even like, how it happens.

When you have the conditions above it's not difficult to see how the current new generation of creatives are not getting anywhere near the right level of mentoring and support they need to grow into the next creative powerhouses of the industry.

So here we have an industry that was once powered by the creative brilliance of its most talented people.

An industry that should celebrate and nurture above all else the ideas and brilliance of talented creative people.

Where the thing that is the single most powerful controllable element in improving the effectiveness of the work it does for its clients, is the very same thing being slowly and surely eradicated.

Is This the Most Stupid Industry in the History of Humankind?

Think Same

Here's to the corporate ones.

The sycophants. The risk avoiders. The conformists.

The round pegs in the round holes. The ones who see things the same as everyone else.

They're very fond of rules. And they have total respect for the status quo

You can't quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can do is ignore them.

Because they don't change things.

They push the human race backwards.

And while some may see them as the corporate ones, we see idiots.

Because the people who are corporate enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who never do.

How To Cut Through The Crap

We published the following piece seven years ago this week, way back in January 2011, just as things were starting to get very weird and confusing in the world of advertising and marketing, with all kinds of charlatans and bullshit artists spewing nonsense about what advertising was about or was going to be about. It's interesting to see how many of these things still hold true today (click to make it bigger, or the copy is reproduced below)...
Marketing and communication in 2011.

How to cut through the crap.

SO HERE WE ARE IN 2011. Never has there been a more competitive time to be in the business of marketing. There have never been more ways of spending budgets. There has never been more pressure on budgets. Or, come to that, more theories about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. What is clear is that whilst many are waffling on about this trend and that development, some are simply getting on with doing things that get results. We are some of those people. And this is some of how we do it.

Creativity and craft are more important than ever. Marketing has never been more sophisticated than it is today. As marketers, we have the ability to instantly track results and gauge responses. Marketing is no longer a dark art practised by individuals, going on instinct alone. Today’s marketers are smarter, have more tools at their disposal, and more effort goes into finding the right strategy and
approach than ever before.

So why, when almost all marketing is produced in this professional and exacting way, does so much fall flat, or not meet expectations, or fail to inspire?

Well, people have never been bombarded with more messages, communication and conversations than they are today.

Today’s consumers are so attuned to it that they are far more adept at filtering information, communication and messages, regardless of channel or platform, than any generation before them. And it’s as true for newer conversational or interactive media as it is in conventional broadcast media.

The answer to this problem is as old as the hills, but more relevant and crucial than ever before. Simply, creativity and the craft skills of writing, art direction, design, typography and direction, are the vital ingredients that make the difference between the easily missable and the compelling. Between the whatever and the astounding. The unsuccessful and the successful. Between a campaign that doesn’t meet its targets and one that massively exceeds them.

Creativity and craft are the key things that can make two campaigns that have very similar, very robust strategies perform very differently. Why one captures the imagination, communicates, involves, stimulates, entertains, excites, whilst the other fails to do so. The difference is how that robust, well thought-through strategy is brought to life.

That’s why, even in an era when marketing is so thoroughly planned and interrogated, creativity and craft is more important than ever to business. 

Make sure that you are working with people who have the ability to bring your strategies to life more interestingly, more compellingly, and more entertainingly than your competitors.

Because even if what you are doing
is spot-on, it will live or die, fail or
succeed, by the way you do it.

The best communication is still about people. How times have changed in the last fifty years. Technology, the speed of living, hairstyles. New media and technology, and the possibilities they offer, are very exciting. But it’s easy to be seduced by
the technology and forget the fundamental truth about marketing.
After all, although a lot of things have changed drastically, one thing hasn’t. Human nature. We are all still driven
by the same basic needs and desires as our parents, grandparents, and their great-grandparents.

The truth is, the very best, most powerful marketing is still about understanding and connecting with people. Finding out genuinely how your brand or product fits into peoples’ lives (or doesn’t), and why. Knowing how and why they choose what they choose. And working out how to influence that decision.

Focus your communication on changing behaviour, not just changing attitude. A lot of communication today has as its goal small shifts in perception or attitude. Ultimately, the hope is that this will influence people’s decision-making when it comes to selecting a brand or choosing a product. But attitude change is a relatively small ambition when it comes to communication.

Incremental shifts in perception that may or may not pay off in the long run might be fine if you are a market leader, established for generations, or willing to wait ten years for payback. But for most companies, to copy this behaviour is to drastically under exploit the potential of communication. Communication which has the aim of actually getting people to do something, or change
the way they do something, is a
more robust way to build a brand.

And there’s no reason why this kind of communication can’t also leave people with the same positive feelings towards a brand as communication that only attempts to generate positive feelings. (For how to do this, see Creativity and Craft above.)

Be different in the category.
This sounds like a huge generalisation. It is. But, it’s a generalisation that is generally very true. Isn’t it odd, given that marketing and advertising is such a dynamic branch of business, that in almost every category, brands act and communicate very similarly to each other? It’s not surprising really. People see the most successful brand in the category and think “let’s do that”. And over time it just becomes the standard way of communicating. 

But the power of simply acting differently in your category is immense.
Suddenly, everything you do stands
out. Suddenly, everyone else in your category looks like ‘everyone else’.
You become the interesting one.
The one people want to be with.

Think of some of the brands who have dared to be different in their category, (Apple, Virgin, Cadbury, Innocent or Fentimans, for example) it reads like
a who’s who of successful brands.
This is not simply coincidence.

And the best thing about being different in the category is that it’s FREE. It doesn’t cost any more than not being different in the category (and in fact it can make it seem like your budget is
going a lot further).

Don’t spend all your time and money talking to fans of your brand. It’s very tempting in this ‘conversation age’ to spend valuable energy and marketing budget talking to fans or advocates of your brand. After all, who doesn’t like to have a chat with people who already like you?
However, the single best way to turn users of your brand into advocates and fans is to always provide them with a product and service that continues to meet and exceed their expectations (also, include a little added value fun into the experience for them now
and again). 

It is important for brands to have fans and advocates. But the best way of creating them is to get more people using your product or service.

Marketing budget is very precious, and the focus of it should be on adding value to the business. The fact is, your biggest fans will choose you anyway.

This means that to make the most of your budget, your activity should be communicating with occasional users, lapsed users, or potential new customers.

Oh, and by the way, all of your communication should also make your current users or fans feel good about choosing your brand. Which means making communication that’s always charming and interesting (for how to do this, see Creativity and Craft above).

Be impatient and ambitious with your targets. No one ever blew the world away by aiming low. Ambition is infectious. If you’re in
a hurry to achieve things quickly,
and ambitious with your targets,
your agencies will be too.

Nothing gets talented people excited like a real need to accomplish something through their work. You’ll find that agencies and creative people tend to do their best work on the most
ambitious accounts.

If you want to get the best out of the people you work with, make sure to
let them know that you’re in a hurry
to achieve something.

Repetition. Repetition.
Repetition. Come back, we’re not advocating some 1950’s style bludgeoning of the public with banal messages. However, have you noticed how few brands stick with an idea or theme for very long these days? 

Marketing departments, boardrooms and advertising agencies tend to get bored with things long before people
in the real world ever do.

Strong brands find a strong, long-term communication idea and stick with it. 

note. You do need to keep things interesting. It’s no good just repeating exactly the same thing over and over and expecting great things, you have to keep people surprised and interested (for how to do this, see Creativity and Craft above).

Be wary of those professing about ‘the future of
advertising, marketing
AND communication.’ You could probably power a small republic with the valuable energy that is wasted every week in the industry by people theorising about what may or may
not happen next year, in five years,
or in ten years time.

Whole conferences pontificate about it. Whole forests of trees are felled to provide for people writing about it.

But, without wanting to go all Yoda-like, you will never be marketing in
the future, you will always be marketing right now. The things that you are doing right now are the things that are most important to your business.

Focus your energy on doing the most valuable things that you can be doing for your brand right now. The best ways of reaching your prospects right now. The best ways of interesting them, exciting and converting them right now. 

In ten years time, focus on the most valuable things to be doing then.
Value is created by doing things,
not theorising. 

Done well, TV is still the short-cut to success. Even after all that has been said over the last few years about emerging media channels, conversation versus interruption, and other such buzzword-ridden tomfoolery, facts show that the power of television advertising is still the best short-cut to success for most consumer brands.

That’s not to say that other media can’t work really hard for you (they work very hard for some of our clients), it’s just that TV still has the power to change fortunes more quickly than
any other media or channel.

And these days, TV is no longer the
preserve of the big consumer brand. 

With digital and online channels, and the ability to target and buy audiences very tightly, the barriers to entry have come down considerably. Bringing the most powerful communication medium of the age within the grasp of almost anybody with a marketing budget.

We have worked with clients of varying sizes who have put their faith into TV, and they have all been very happy with the results of their marketing efforts.

And yes, we did say ‘done well’ - a lot of TV advertising just doesn’t make the most of the medium. It’s this lack of skill in execution that makes a lot of TV advertising underperform, and feel underwhelming.

You need to make sure that you’re working with people who have the skill and talent to make the best use of the most powerful medium (and again,
this comes back to the subject of
Creativity and Craft above).

Don’t scrimp on your
production budgets. Yes, we just said that. We know, everyone is telling you that everything can be done cheaper. But that’s because they care mainly about just getting your business. Rather than making your business as successful as possible. 

It’s true that as technology develops,
it’s becoming possible to make things much more quickly and more cheaply than ever before. This is great because that means the barriers to creating
great stuff are lower.

One side effect is that it encourages some people to look for big savings in all aspects of production. Which is okay, everyone wants to feel like they are getting a good deal. But we are going to stick our necks out here and say this: not all savings are positive savings.

The difference between successful and unsuccessful work often hinges on how well it is executed. This is the inconvenient truth of marketing. You can have exactly the right message, in exactly
the right channel, but if no one noticed, you might as well have said nothing.

Think about all the campaigns, ads and communication over the last couple of years that you’ve been most impressed with. Most probably, they were all executed very well. They stood out above their competitors, not only because they were right, but because of how they were put together, finished and crafted.

You can’t achieve that if you price good people or processes out of your productions. Savings in the wrong places can seem like good value in the short term, but are poor value in the long-term. 

Look for savings in the right places,
but encourage the best possible outcomes by being prepared to pay for
the things that make the big difference.
It will help you to stand out in the marketplace more than almost anything else.

Halve your production
budget. That’s almost the opposite
of what we just said above. You see what we did there? But bear with us
for a moment. 

Sometimes, the best way to inspire a new way of thinking about a problem is to break people out of their conventional paths.

Drastically cutting a production budget is one way to do this. Suddenly people can’t rely on clever effects, or famous faces. The problem has to be solved with guile and wit. 

Action. Not Words. There are 2,462 words on this page, but in themselves they are useless. We wrote them only in an attempt to be helpful.

Time spent talking about stuff rather than doing stuff is time wasted.
Time you could have been out there connecting with your audience,
making a difference.

Understandably, especially in these
pressurised times, everyone wants to
be properly prepared, and that’s
important. But month after endless month are often spent in rounds of meetings, gathered around charts
and descriptions, tinkering away.

Why do small brands often run rings around the big guys? Because they get to the doing quicker. Big companies are often hamstrung by process and over-examination. Don’t fall into the trap
of thinking that to be right, something has to take a long time to get to.

No matter how many meetings you have, you can never be certain that what you are proposing is perfect.
Better to be out there competing,
and fine-tuning as you go along.

Act like a challenger. Take action.

Sell! Sell! is an independent company based in London. 
If we existed fifty years ago we might have been called an ad agency, or ten years ago maybe a creative agency. Today those titles don’t seem broad enough somehow.

Suffice to say, our clients come to us
for big ideas that help to make their businesses more successful, and for
excellence in creativity and craft that helps their organisations meet and
exceed their goals. 

Copyright 2011. Sell! Sell! Ltd. London.


Weekly Round-Up

What has been floating around the world of Sell! Towers this week? Well, dear reader, this stuff...

An ad we like. Two weeks into the year and something we actually like – believe that if you will. Well it's true, have a look for yourself...

It's simple, made us laugh, made us think about pancakes. Those damn Yankees eh? Always with the ads that make you laugh and think about the product. Proof that advertising can still be a simple business when it's done right. I'd take this over your overwrought, big budget award entry fodder any day of the week.

On this side of the Atlantic, this new ad for Cadbury has been getting some interest (from people in the business at least), I'd love to find out how this goes down in the real world...

Obviously this is a completely new direction for Cadbury, given its kooky and comedy approach in recent years, and I think it's the first work for them from VCCP. According to the PR blurb that goes with the ad, Cadbury (I still want to call them Cadbury's, sorry) have moved away from moments of joy to moments of kindness. If you're into reading that kind of thing there's an article on Marketing Week. It's noticeably more kitchen sink and down-to-earth in execution than Cadbury work of recent years - a bit like Black Mirror does a John Lewis ad - and nicely done. The unglossy and gritty realism in execution is in contrast to a high-falutin' and, dare we say fashionable, strategy.

It got us thinking about these Alan Parker-directed ads for Birds Eye from the early 70s which, at the time, were ground-breaking – a real departure for the normally glossy world of advertising, even featuring *gasp* regional accents...

Next up, the best thing we read this week is this superb piece, from the always excellent Martin Weigel. If you haven't already, do yourself a favour and read it...

A thought relating to Martin's piece: recently an ad industry publication ran a special issue about 'Mavericks' in advertising (I put the word in quotes because their definition of maverick seems very different to the accepted meaning of the word). Most who were featured were simply big agency lifers who had climbed their way to the top of the big, corporate ad agency ladder, who in turn, name-checked their big agency cronies. Hardly any real mavericks, by the real definition of the word, to be found amongst them. Hmmm. Are there any real mavericks in advertising anymore? (Possibly not, given the responses of twitter when I asked the question.) And what version of hell is this business in when these no doubt absolutely lovely but unremarkable people are considered mavericks? I do worry.

There are more great things going on in the world of the Ad Contrarian too. These two posts, Technology and Wisdom, and Sweethearts or Customers are both worth reading - the first in particular is very powerful...
In the world of marketing, the conflict between technology and wisdom has been no contest. All it takes is a quick stroll through the halls of any marketing or advertising enterprise and it becomes immediately apparent which side has won. In the US today, 42% of the adult population is over 50. But in the advertising industry only 6% of employees are over 50. 
The result is that the marketing industry is drowning in technology and starving for wisdom. Technology, left unbalanced by wisdom, is currently responsible for some of the most wasteful, idiotic, and ineffectual follies in the history of commerce. Or does $16 billion in ad fraud not shock us anymore? Does relentless surveillance not concern us? Does public disgust not bother us?
These last two points make me realise – I don't think the best writing and opinion on advertising is going on anywhere near the trade publications these days. They seem to be more and more just a PR vehicle for the top 30 agencies and their staff. It increasingly seems there are a lot more interesting and relevant things to be found on the personal blogs of talented and smart people.

One thing about the trade publications is that they have helped to spawn a kind of class of industry commentators - people in positions of influence in big agencies who are always tapped-up for their latest take or thoughts to fill space, and in return those people get their PR strokes and build their profiles. Unfortunately it seems, very rarely have these people actually been involved in any great work.

There is no shortage of industry commentators. But precious few people making work worth talking about. Has the ad industry become all mouth and no trousers?

What do you think?

Anyway, here are two good things to finish on...

The amazing Lumiere Festival is taking place in London this weekend - it's a wonderful way to light up what can be a gloomy month. Some of the installations look amazing...

Lastly, but very much not leastly, we're shortly going to release our book How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better as an eBook...

We're still planning to re-print a new run of the original, printed version, but its labour-intensive production means that will take time. But we still get quite a lot of people asking how they can get hold of it, and frankly, we'd like to get it into the hands of as many people as possible.

So watch this space...

Have great weekends everyone...

Happy New Year - Happy New Advertising

Hello there, I hope your Christmas break was everything you hoped it would be and that you got to spend lots of time with the people who matter to you (even if that's just yourself).

As I make the first office cuppa of the year thoughts inevitably turn to our hopes, dreams and ambitions for this brand new year that is laid-out untouched in front of us.

No don't worry, I'm not going to launch into some LinkedIn style 'you can do anything you want' self-help nonsense. There are plenty of people doing that, and I'd rather not be one of them.

Something that has caught my eye over the last few days is much talk of whether this will be the year we see change in ad agencies to adapt to the world and changing business around them.

As someone at a company set-up a good time ago to change the way creative agencies work and get the best out of their people, this frustrates me no end.

So I suppose that is one of my hopes for 2018.

Not that the ad industry or ad agencies will change or evolve.

But that more people will realise change had happened already and is happening currently in this industry.

It's just not in the places that industry commentators are looking.

You wont find it in the 'top 50 agencies' (ranked by size obviously), no matter how long you stare.

Smart clients have realised this already, maybe it's time for the trades and intermediaries to catch up?

Have a great year!

Pipe Down - Advertising Needs to Embrace its Talented Introverts

Loudmouths. You know the type. People who can't stop themselves piping up, most often about themselves and their ideas.

They seem to have taken over the advertising business, don't they?

The people at the top of companies seem to be those most willing to pipe-up on anything and everything. The most well-known creatives in the business at the moment seem to be those who are in the trade press most often, mouthing-off about the latest fad or this week's opinion.

We've even heard some that prominent creative directors are paying PR people to do their personal PR. What a crazy business this is.

Time was, a creative, or anyone in the business, would be known for their work. Not their mug or opinion splashed across industry papers or websites day-in, day-out.

I don't remember the great ad people I looked up to when I came into this business spouting on, week-in, week-out in the trade mags. They let their work do the talking.

If your work doesn't speak for you, maybe you need to look at your work, not hire a PR?

I've met plenty of extremely talented and clever people in this business who are also quiet in character, who don't chase publicity for themselves. But too often these people are overlooked in favour of the loudmouths, even if their work is far stronger.

One argument is that these talented people should become better at promoting themselves.

But I don't see why self-promotion should beat talent and hard work in a creative business. Not if you care about quality, at least.

If we want advertising to be a business full of loudmouth self-promotionalists, we can let things carry on as they are.

Maybe it's just a coincidence that the PR-hungry loudmouths have risen to the top of advertising at the same time that there's a dearth of great work coming out of the business?

But then again, maybe it's time we realised that the loudest people don't always have the best ideas, or are the best people to run a department, or a company. Or indeed, not the best spokespeople and figureheads for our business.

Just a thought.