Marketing and communication in 2011. How to cut through the crap. #2

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.


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 best to influence that decision.


This Is Really Very, Very Good Isn't It?

When I first saw this on TV, it caught me off guard. And it hit home. Very brave, well written, well made. Understated excellence. If creative awards still genuinely award the application of creative ideas and craft to make great advertising (something I do question), then this should walk away with the gongs over whatever obtuse, cinematic opus comes out this year. Hats off to all involved in this.

Marketing and communication in 2011. How to cut through the crap. #1

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.


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.

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

It's strange to think how creativity and craft appear to have become slowly marginalized within the industry.

Agencies these days tend to talk up their technological prowess, their command of emerging media, and their strategic processes.

Yet it's in creative ideas - and the craft that brings them to life and connects with the audience - where still the greatest value is added for our clients.

Our Work Is Meant To Move The Presidents Of Countries...

George Tannenbaum keeps a great ad blog over at

I tend to agree with almost all of it. His latest post The Two Ad Industries is a pithy and sharp analysis of current ad agency state of mind, including the reliance on awards schemes, and dilemma of the role for an advertising agency in modern times. Well worth a read. Oh, it also includes this great quote: "Our work is meant to move the Presidents of countries, not the presidents of award shows."

Anyway, I know it's also Friday, and this is the interweb, so here are some kittens, dancing. Have a good weekend.

Masterchef Final

Saw this a while back, but forgot to put it up here. Cleverly done, and properly funny.

Advertising About Advertising

"Print is neither "hot" nor "cold." It's honest. Inherently. You're out there on the page, naked, without so much as a guitar. Just your product and the word." Interesting ad by DDB in the US, from 1971.

Wisdom On Writing By The Great Drayton Bird

Great writing is still the single most powerful tool at the disposal of the modern advertiser. Whichever medium you're working in, great writing can make it work, or work harder. Unfortunately, it sometimes feels like the craft of writing is a bit downtrodden these days. Subjugated by technology, snazzy design, and a hundred red pens (beware the person who picks up their pen as they prepare to read your copy).

I'm always trying to soak up as much good writing, and good tips on writing, as I can. A couple of days ago I came across this. Whether you are an advertising copywriter, a marketing director, or just some nut-job on the bus with a fat, green marker pen, I think you'll find it useful. It is written by the living marketing legend that is Mr. Drayton Bird. With his kind permission I'm going to share it with you here (thanks Drayton).

Make Your Writing - Not Your Readers - Do The Work

Do you have too much to read? Memos, reports, letters, e-mails, leaflets, newspapers, magazines, catalogues, direct mail? And are they breeding like wire coat hangers?

Well, in a survey some years ago, US business leaders were asked what change they would most like to see in business. They didn't talk about accounting or strategy. The majority pleaded: "Teach people to write better."

They just had too much written garbage to plough through. We all do. If you read most stuff put out nowadays it is appalling. Badly written, dull - and often downright incomprehensible.

Yet bad writing is not necessary if you can just count.

This was discovered by Rudolph Flesch, an American, who spent years in the 1940's researching what makes for easy reading. As a result he formulated some very easy rules.

The simplest is, make your sentences short. The easiest sentence to take in is only eight words long. A sensible average is 16 words. Any sentence of more than 32 words is hard to take in.

That's because most people tend to forget what happened at the beginning of the sentence by the time they get to the end. You must make it easy for people.

And the same applies to paragraphs. Vary them, but keep them short, containing only one or two thoughts - especially the first one. A long opening paragraph is daunting.

And happily Microsoft Word has a tool partly based on Flesch which will help you. Just go to Tools/Option/Spelling & Grammar/Show readability statistics. If you use that option it automatically tells you how readable your stuff is.

Oh - and whatever you do, ignore their grammar suggestions - they're 100% useless.

Good examples

Read any popular novel, newspaper or magazine. They are written for people who are not clever, or not concentrating. Words, sentences and paragraphs are very short. And here are some other suggestions.

1. A heading must make the reader want to find out more, and not reveal so much they might not feel they need to read it.

2. Try to avoid 'we' instead of 'I' - the writing most likely to be read is me to you. People don't relate to organisations.

3. Count the number of "you" words - yours and your - versus "me" words - I, us, our, ours and we. The ratio should be at least 2:1, preferably 3:1.

4. Use "carrier" words and phrases at the beginnings of sentences to keep people reading. Such as Moreover, That is why, In addition, What's more, On top of that, Also and And. These tell your reader there is more to come. And forget what your teacher told you: "And" is often used to start sentences in The Bible.

5. You can also use questions at the ends of sentences or paragraphs. Why is this?

6. Because which you have to read on to get the answers (and if you notice, the end of point 5 and start of this point demonstrate what I mean).

George Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm" were gripping parables about the nightmare of totalitarianism. In an essay he gave six rules for better writing.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

People get used to them and they fail to take them in. Say something fresh or different. Don't say "at the end of the day" - say "in the end"; don't say "put it to the acid test" - say "test thoroughly". "Cutting edge" or "state of the art" mean "newest"

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

Complimentary - Free
Anticipate - Expect
Expectation - Hope
Authored - Wrote
Transportation - Car
Purchase - Buy
Ameliorate - Improve
Lifestyle - Life
Marketplace - Market

3. If you can cut a word out, always do so.

"Miss out on" should be "miss"
"Male personnel" is "men"
"For free" is "free"
"Crisis situation" is "crisis"
"Meal solution" is "meal" or "recipe"
"Research process" is usually "research"
"Station stop" is "station" or "stop"

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

Active is always shorter. A biblical example is "Esau was slain by Jacob" - better as "Jacob slew Esau".

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

"Interface" works better as "talk with"
"Core competencies" means "what we do best"
"Easy to use" beats "user-friendly"
"Mission statement" is "our aim"
"This is a non-smoking environment" is "No smoking"

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I have two suggestions besides making sure you write as simply as possible.

Before you start, write a simple, logical structure for what you want to say. Then draft - and revise until you're 100% sure anyone can understand it.

A friend once gave me a recipe for this which delighted me. "Show it to an idiot," he instructed, "Get them to read it, and ask if they understand".

I don't show my writing to an idiot. I show it to someone with common sense, but not as interested in the subject as I am. This is often my PA., but could be anyone who happens to be around.

I always say, "Can you read this, please? What do you think? Is it clear?"

Just remember - as Dr. Johnson remarked over 200 years ago - "That which is written to please the writer rarely pleases the reader." You're not writing for yourself but for others. Make it easy for them!

And if you want to make it easy for yourself get an excellent and mercifully short book written by two of my former colleagues called "Writing that Works - How to Improve Your Memos, Letters, Reports, Speeches, Resumes, Plans, and Other Business Papers By Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson"

If you think all this makes sense, you can get 51 helpful marketing ideas from Drayton. Just go to and register.  Then you can also download a free book of which the late David Ogilvy said “Nobody should have anything to do with the business of advertising until they have read this book at least seven times."

Thanks Drayton.

Merry January. The Results Are In...

Today is Blue Monday, supposedly the most depressing day of the year. Wait, come back. Apparently Blue Monday was completely made-up for some PR thing. However, we organised Merry January back in December as a small way of brightening up everyone's January. And what better day to draw the winners than today?

So, earlier on, in a completely sterilised environment, adjudicated by the spirit of Norris McWhirter, the draw was made. And we are delighted to announce the winners here.

First of all, a big thanks to all that entered, and to everyone who sent pleasant messages thanking us for making the normally depressing month of January just a little more exciting.

The winners (drum roll)...

A night for two at the Hemel Hempsted Travelodge: Winner - Mark Earls 

A screen-printed poster by excellent illustrator and
friend of Sell! Sell! Andy Smith : Winner - Richard Alan Roberts

A pair of excellent books ...And The Truth Shall Set You Free  by David Icke, and Positioning by Ries and Trout: Winner - Dave Buonaguidi

A luxury Cheese & Spanners Hamper: Winner - Gordon Comstock

Two packs of excellent Howdoos personalisable business cards from our friends at Delicious Industries: Winner - Rob Silsbury

A bag containing all of the needles that fell off the Sell! Towers Christmas tree: Winner - Ben Kay

A dance at the prestigious Browns Gentleman's Venue: Winner - Seyoan Vela

A crate of Hollows Superior Alcoholic Ginger Beer: Winner - Tim Hearn

A genuine Wedgewood Charles & Camilla commemorative plate: Winner - Eliza Williams

The top shelf of spirits from City General Store round the corner: Winner - James Bickerton

Congratulations to the winners. Especially you Seyoan, a more worthy recipient we could not have fabricated. We'll be in touch to arrange delivery of your prizes soon.

Things Real People Don't Say About Advertising

Have a look at this funny website, it should be required reading in all agencies and marketing departments.

A Short Commercial Break

There are a couple of things knocking around that we think work well. Here's one, the new Innocent ads. A good, simple, to-the-point proposition - a healthy way to get rid of hunger (or greed) between meals - which gives the product more of a specific role, and the viewer a different time/reason to buy them. And they're executed with a charm that fits with the brand. What's not to like about that? Also, they use the word peckish. A good grandma word "You know Ethel, I'm feeling a bit peckish, shall we get a couple of scones?" etc.

The man with the golden voice

This is Ted. A homeless guy with a difference. He's got an amazing voice, and it really is amazing. I had to watch it a few times to believe it was really his.

The video has been doing the rounds on the Interwebs & Twittosphere over the last few days and according to the New York Post has led to a job & a house for Ted.

Brilliant stuff.

Quote Of The Day

Came across this piece of inspiration from Chuck Close about not waiting for inspiration to strike before getting down to work. So true. Rather than sitting around just talking about doing it, we're always at out best when we've got our trouser legs rolled up and are knee deep in creative work. We'll try to remember that during 2011.

"The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that's almost never the case." 

Well said, Chuck.

2010 And All That Jazz

As we blunder into 2011 like a drunk with his pants round his ankles, it seems a good time to take a quick look back on what we did with 2010. As we've often crapped on about, we set up our little company with the simple aims of doing great creative work, and having good fun doing it. That is all. We'd be lying if we said we managed both a hundred per cent of the time, but that's the aim. At least we know what we're shooting for.

We kicked off 2010 with a new client, MyBuilder. We made their first ad campaign, including this TV commercial, directed by Mark Denton at Coy!

In the spring we started work on a new kind of project for us - a new product naming/branding/advertising launch project for the lovely folks at Fentimans. There's more to come on this in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime here's a sneak preview...

We also made our second Straight8 film, Twelve Pies For Twelve Bridges, and got to see it played on the big screen at the premiere at the Renoir cinema...

Over summer we launched a new campaign for KGB, the text-question-answering people, with posters and beermats aimed at young blokes in pubs...

At the same time, we designed branding for The Shepherd's Children, an entrant into the Cannes short film festival...

And, after designing it twice and throwing them both away, we eventually got a new Sell! Sell! website that felt 'like us' up and running...

Later in the year we began working with the smashing people at The Racing Post, launching The Betting Site, and starting work on a new campaign for their paper...

Late last year we put Fentimans on the moving screen for the first time. This project was a challenge with production and budget, but we knew we had to find a way to make it work. In the end, we made three ads, all shot in one day and directed by our dubious selves (with the production expertise of Gas & Electric)...

And with Fentimans of course we continued our love affair with long copy print advertising...

In all a pretty fun year for us, sometimes very challenging, sometimes a bit bonkers, sometimes a bit scary. But I suppose that's what being a small company in a big industry is all about. It certainly isn't dull, that's for sure.

A big thanks to everyone who helped make it all happen. First and foremost the Sell! crew themselves, for always pushing on, and never satisfied with 'that'll do'. And secondly to our clients, a big, big thanks. Thanks for trusting us with your business, and believing in the way we go about things. We know that working with people who are relentless about always doing the best work they can isn't always the path of least resistance for a client, so ta for being good sports. Thanks also to Mark, Sean and Sara at Coy, Tom, Doug and the gang at Gas & Electric, James, Andy L, Jude, Steve Q, and all the bloggers, readers, and randoms (you know who you are) that we've met and conversed with along the way.

As for 2011, a whole new year of potential opportunity lies ahead. All we can say is that we'll try our damnedest to keep improving ourselves and our work, to meet new clients, and collaborators, and have fun along the way.

Have a great year.

Happy New Thingy

We are back at Sell! Towers. I hope you all had a smashing Christmas break, and that Santa emptied his sack satisfactorily for you. What's been happening then? Those new More Than Freeman ads, they're good aren't they? That Famous and Fearless thing, not so much. Well, all the best for 2011 - I hope you can make it what you want it to be. Oh, don't forget, we are now in the official countdown to Merry January. To get involved, go here. Cheers.

Here is a picture of a man in a very poor burger costume.
Just because.