If the Daily Mail is anything to go by - pedophiles, rapists, murderers and misc bad guys/gals are running wild on our streets - with newspaper front covers littered with photofits inviting us to play a more serious over-breakfast edition of Guess Who.

It's going back afew years, but I wanted to share a project photographer Giles Revell did in 2008, called simply 'Photofit'.

"In providing each sitter with the same tools – a 1970s police Photofit kit, the process by which they created their self-portrait was democratized; the immediate, tactile qualities of the kit enabling them to tell their own story as a likeness falls into place, piece by piece."

Great photographer with some truely awesome projects :

It's made out of fucking cookies

This video was doing the rounds last week. If you haven't seen it, you must. Makes me laugh every time.

Na na na Batman

Saw this advert for the new Batman: Arkham Origins game the other day.

I quite like it.

It immediately stood out from all the adverts that had gone before.

The sheer simplicity of the idea and the creepy almost-real-but-kind-not CG grabbed my attention and kept it.

Maybe could have done without the fist fight at the end.

All in all, quite a good advert for what is a pretty shit franchise.

Russell Brand On Newsnight

If you watch only one thing today, make it this. Superb stuff.

John Webster: The Human Adman

I agree with Steve Harrison's assertion that advertising people would be well served to be more educated about the work of successful people who have preceded them. He makes the argument that no budding director would set out without studying the work of the great directors, no writer would be devoid of knowledge of the great writers and their works. But every day, hundreds of advertising people go about their business knowing next to nothing about the greats of advertising.

I've heard the argument that your influences should come from outside of advertising - this is a favorite assertion of young creatives and so-called 'cool people'. I agree, you should have a wide sphere of influences - the whole of life, art, film, writing, design, technology, clouds, oranges. But that's no excuse to not study the work of people who have already done what you're doing, and done it better than you. Times have changed, but the essence of what makes things great is still the same.

Anyway, here to help in this regard is this film about John Webster. He needs no introduction from me other than to say that if you work in advertising and you don't know who he is, this can be your first step to enlightenment. The film was made by Nick Werber, Tom Baker, David Carr and Martins Millers, creative students at the School of Communication Arts in London in conjunction with Patrick Collister. It does contain a few people saying the odd daft thing to camera, but that's inevitable in any documentary about advertising – it is well, well worth a watch. So thanks to them for making and sharing it.

There's a site supporting the film, with full credits and background here.

Tactical naivety

Tactical naivety.

I'm not talking about footballing pundits describing the approach of African footballing nations to defending in the 70's and 80's.

No, the post refers to the depressing trend of a lot of advertising to focus on producing one-off executions rather than long running campaigns that help build a brand over time.

Now, it's clear that there's a prevalent culture of short-termism that puts pressure on everything needing to be done by yesterday but this runs counter to the way that most advertising actually works.

If companies genuinely want people to think or feel differently about their brands then they need to recognise that it takes time for this kind of step change to actually happen.

There is no magic wand that can be waved that will change the way a brand is perceived overnight.

It takes time. And it takes money. And it takes repetition of a consistent message within a consistent campaign to really cut-through and have impact.

Clients can be impatient as they're often in a hurry to make their mark as quickly as possible so they can continue to shin up the greasy career pole.

And agencies can be impatient too as winning awards, the allure of creating something shiny and new along with a "not invented here" syndrome that can exist in creative departments means that investing in a long running campaign is not top of their agenda.

All of which sadly creates a vicious circle that leads to more one-off, temporary, wheel-reinventing executions being created or campaigns being killed before they can reach their full potential.

There's no doubt that things like "crowdsourcing" and the rise of the "viral" and "online content" have exacerbated the problem as the ridiculous and unrealistic assertion that great ideas can come from anywhere has made advertising seem much more disposable and undermined the real value that great creativity can bring in the eyes of an easily influenced and increasingly inexperienced marketing community.

Some agencies and clients are pissing money away by actively encouraging pieces of work with no depth and substance that have a lifespan shorter than a mayfly.

And the "always in beta", "everything's changing", "let's throw lots of things against the wall to see what sticks" attitudes of the blinkered neophiles hardly stimulates the kind of breakthrough thinking that ends up with giving a brand a distinct and differentiated campaign that can live for years and years.

From a wider perspective, this short-term outlook and behaviour means that advertising agencies are in severe danger of being dragged down into a tactical ideas bunfight with other marketing service providers.

Rather than getting into X-Factor style idea auditions where fluffy, nebulous, PR generating soundbite stunty bollocks ideas are the order of the day ["let's build the world's tallest mountain out of cake", "let's sponsor the tomato/donkey/goat/ant throwing festival in Spain", "let's make a fake Turin shroud and pretend we've washed it"] advertising agencies need to reclaim the ideas high ground.

They can do this by concentrating on doing what they do best and doing what nobody else can do.

Producing brilliant, entertaining and rewarding long-running advertising campaigns that consistently captures the public's attention and imagination.

The bottom line is that's the thing that puts value on the bottom line.

As my old mate Sun Tzu said in the boozer last week;

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Go, be righteous.

We've been in research mode here at Sell! Towers digging out reference for a new project - and have noticed a distinct trend amongst contemporary Advertising that we're fondly dubbing the 'Over-sincere-close-your-eyes-and-wank-over-existence' genre.

Being British (and as I don't work in PR or prostitution) - there are periods of my day when I'm not grinning from ear to ear projecting how stoked I am with being. On the whole though, life is not that bad : I often have more than 2 types of cheese in my fridge at home, my co-workers frequently make me coffee without prompting, and my girlfriend has nice hair. 

But after watching some TV - I'm starting to think I'm perhaps not doing something properly and a shadow of what I could be. Should I be diving off a cliff, dancing playfully in a forest and filling every inch of my neck with tattoos? T'would seem that enjoying some eggs on toast followed by Beethoven's 5th is not seizing the moment enough according to some Strategy Director.

There's projecting an aspirational brand image, or offering up that 'Happiness is a Hamlet' - but these are assuming the population are miserable under-fulfilled closet molluscs.

Ray-Ban Optical Illusions

Check out this cheeky little video for Ray-ban by Brussup.

It's great (besides the title of the video). Really simple idea and execution but big on impact. Great Stuff.

Click the link above to see more mind-bending illusions.

Grand Budapest Hotel

New Flick from Wes.

Looks impressive. Quite a cast as well.

Throwing Wads Of Money Into The White-Hot Furnace Of Delusion

Company specialising in making content which relies on sharing, publishes a study showing that sharing content will become more prevalent.*

A social media specialist writes how brands will have more success with conversational marketing via social media than conventional advertising.*

An online video platform publishes a report stating that the watching of online video is rising quicker than the watching of conventional television.*

Ark manufacturer predicts huge flood.*

Fork specialist releases report revealing expected pronged implement usage set to increase.*

Excrement removal specialist predicts influx of well-fed bears into heavily wooded area.*

It's unbelievable that so much confusing and perjured propaganda from interested parties is reported and subsequently re-shared as news in advertising and marketing.

It's no wonder so many clients are throwing wads of their company's hard-earned money into the white-hot furnace of delusion.

* Have a go at the game of spotting these kinds of reports. Although mildly depressing, it's quite good fun too. Share them with us and we'll add them to the above list.

Cheaping Out

Came across these wise words recently. It was polymath Benjamin Franklin wot wrote 'em [well, I doubt he actually hand painted the sign, he was probably too busy mucking around with electricity and drafting the Declaration of Independence to do that].

Anyway, it struck me that this statement is as true today as it ever was.

Fair enough, everyone loves a bargain. However, society now has an obsession about chasing the lowest possible price whatever the cost.

No matter if an item of clothing is made in a sweatshop by a blind Bangladeshi child working eighteen hours a day being paid a pittance, if you can pick up a nice new jumper for less than a fiver, you're quids in. Bonus.

Now, I fully appreciate that price is a very important factor for the vast majority of honest, decent, hard-working folk who need to count the pennies and get by on a budget. That's just everyday life.

However, I think we've become so conditioned to chasing the cheapest possible option that we forget that things like product quality are equally, if not more, important in the long run.

And I think marketers and agencies are largely culpable because they invest so much time and energy in relentlessly churning out offer specific communication without investing properly in brand equity. Buy me! Buy me! Look at this deal! Great discounts! Unbelievable prices! Hurry!

Now, the cut and thrust of retail means that price led advertising isn't going to go away. However, ain't it about time that more brands stood for something truly differentiating?

If you're constantly bombarding people with starbursts in advertising, chances are you're cheapening your brand.

And over time competitors can always come along and undercut you on price leaving you with bugger all competitive advantage.

Great brands have a value attached to them way and above their cost. They communicate compelling benefits that help convince consumers to pay a premium for them.

If low price is the only benefit you're communicating, you're in a hole that's very difficult to get out of.

If you're in that hole and you need some sort of ladder to help you get out, just make sure you don't choose the cheapest option and buy on price alone.


The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.  

Roll Up! Roll Up!

It's the time of year when Universities set out their stalls and hold Open Days - trying to attract the brightest young minds to their campuses like flies to an Insect-o-cutor Light.

Same deal with Ad Agencies - the internet is full of microsites and youtube videos selling themselves as Craft Institutions, Idea Campuses, Message Artisans, The Hogwarts of Marketing or whatever they can think of to avoid using the dirty Ad Agency label.

Here is BBH's offering for their 2014 Ideas Apprenticeship scheme.

Even if you're not interested in jumping aboard their Grad Train* - its worth a watch to play "Guess The Job Title".

* the comment above in no way implies that a penetrative 'Train' situation would or wouldn't be involved in BBH's Apprenticeship Interview Process... even if it did, it'd most probably be refered to as an Ideas Conga.


"Africa" by Toto. As performed by the Crew of the Bourbon Peridot off the coast of West Africa earlier this year. One scene a day shot over 4 weeks.

Any excuse to get Toto's Africa on the blog.

Why Agencies Are Responsible For 'Unreasonable' Client Expectations

A smart salesman that I know once blew my mind with this simple statement:

We train clients to expect what they expect.

It's a simple truth.

Clients can ask for a campaign to be turned around in a day
or five different 'routes'
or a TV commercial to be made for way less than it should really take
or a photo shoot on a pittance
or for changes that make the work worse
or for excruciatingly small fees from the agency.

They can ask for what they want. It is a free world.

But it is only when agencies say yes to these things, only when agencies and agency staff are complicit, that these requests, and this behaviour, is given credibility.

Agreeing to do it endorses the request.

That is how clients have been trained to expect all of the unreasonable and harmful things that have become part and parcel of advertising for most people at most agencies.

It is because there are always enough agencies and people out there willing to say yes to the next unreasonable demand.

I'll be honest here - we spend an unbelievable amount of energy here at Sell! Towers managing the process of not agreeing to the kinds of things listed above. It's the harder road. It's much easier in the short term to say yes.

And we know that many agencies out there are saying yes.

But, we are honest with out clients about our high fees up front - and we know that some clients who wanted to work with us have walked away because of that - we can live with that.

It means the ones who work with us, value us.

We resist changes and amendments to work that we believe will make it less good, that takes a lot of managing and takes time, energy and skill to build relationships with clients strong and respectful enough for that to be possible, but we think it's worth it.

We don't work to piss-take schedules, we don't make people work weekends and through the night to meet them.

We don't take the piss out of suppliers by passing on unreasonable cost requests, or by hammering them unreasonably just because a job is a 'creative opportunity'.

We don't churn out work to meet a set number of routes, or as cannon fodder. We only work on things that we think will be the solution.

In short, we do all of the things that we think it takes to be a creative agency of integrity, with standards and professionalism, and with respect for those we work with.

But it's becoming increasingly obvious that there are tons of agencies out there who will literally do whatever they're asked to gain or keep a piece of business.

On a level, it's understandable. The advertising market is massively over-supplied. This means that some people become increasingly desperate to win business.

Small agencies trying anything to compete.
Other kinds of businesses - like digital specialists, pr firms, and production companies - trying to get in on the advertising budgets.
And network agencies, pushed by pressure from afar to gain and retain clients at all costs.

They all have their reasons.

It's understandable, but it's not excusable.

And yes, we are lucky, because we are masters of our own destiny, so to speak. We can make these choices.

But we have made the choices not to become a lowest common denominator agency, not to compete on price, speed and how often we can say yes.

And the result is, we work with the kind of clients who value that. We have a great group of clients, but it takes a lot of work, and effort and time to build those relationships of trust and respect.

And it often seems like the number of clients who want an agency like that is reducing - so much so that these days we openly say that we're the "Creative agency for the 1%" of clients.

And we're okay with that.

It works for us.

But it's funny when you hear agency people complaining about clients' behaviour and expectations.

They blame it all on the client. Yet their own agency endorses those requests by agreeing to them.

The simple fact is, while there are enough agencies out there that will agree to the unreasonable, the unreasonable will always be expected.

If clients aren't made to realise the something is unreasonable, how are they expected to know that it's unreasonable?

No one made out it was unreasonable. They asked, and someone said yes.

Or in other words, as my friend rightly said: We train clients to expect what they expect.

Bullshit Detector

I came across this Adobe ad again recently and it made me chuckle given all the nonsense that was floating around in the afterglow of Social Media Week.

Personally, I think Adobe missed a trick by not making these bullshit detectors for real. They could have made a fortune as some clients are beginning to slowly cotton on to the fact that there's a lot of snake oil being peddled in the often shady world of digital marketing and could do with some help in quickly outing the purveyors of meaningless gobbledygook.

Needle in a Haystack

Its uncommon to make it through a day without seeing some bullshit chart that unlocks the key to the consumers mind, the ideal production process or how to optimise your brands social media like to sale conversion.

Some on the other hand make a whole lot of sense.

Ad Factories

I'm going to nail my colours to the mast here:
I don't think that advertising is something that benefits from being mass produced.

Yet the vast majority of the advertising we see is produced in vast ad factories. Factories housing hundreds of people, a production line of human machines each adding a part to the product. It's efficient. But it isn't the best way to get the best advertising.

Advertising is conceived and made by people. And talented people tend to make better advertising.
But there aren't enough talented people to produce all of the advertising that needs to be produced.
There aren't enough talented people to keep the factories' production lines moving. So the factories make out that it isn't the people that make the advertising great.

No. It's the process. The production line. So the ad factories claim to clients is that their particular production line will ensure the best advertising. Some clients fall for it. They buy the production line. They buy the schematic. They buy the chart.

But a schematic doesn't come up with an idea. A schematic doesn't know the difference between a great edit and a cheesy one. A schematic can't come up with an image that blows peoples' minds. A schematic doesn't know how to arrange words into moving, persuasive sentences.

These ad factories have become the norm. They have been very successful in selling the production line to clients. Ad factories are poor at making advertising. But they are good at selling ad factories. And let's be fair, it's an easy buy for a lot of clients. You can see how it might be scary for some people to buy into the uncertainty of people. That's a scary thought: I have to put my budget, and success, into the hands of people? And hope that they're talented and smart enough to make it great? It's much easier to buy into the certainty of a process. A goes into B, B into C. Output D.

So ad factories have become successful at attracting clients. And they make up the vast majority of the advertising industry. Agencies, rated by size, by billings. 'The top 30 agencies' say the lists, the articles. Top 30, always by size. By the size of billings. Even though 99% of the advertising that fills those billings is, frankly, pedestrian. As if size is the best arbiter of what makes an agency.

And one of the real shames of all of this, is that many talented people set out to make their own agencies, to get out of the factories. They set-up a small boutique, a small workshop of talented people. They make great advertising. They craft it, they skilfully, artfully create advertising worth paying attention to. But then they allow themselves to grow into another factory. Or be absorbed by one. Another ad factory, churning out a production line of pedestrian work.

And that, unfortunately, is the work that makes up 99% of what we are subjected to as customers, as punters, as people, every day. Mass produced, low quality product, from vast factories.


The Inaction Of The Call To Action

Call to action.
It's one of those phrases that have become such a part of the business of advertising, that they're said and heard often without realising how weird they are.
Apart from when people are arguing about whether an ad should include one or not, that is.
It's a silly argument really, when you think about it.
If someone desperately thinks an ad is lacking a call to action, it's because the ad itself is wrong, or not doing the job properly – or there is a tacit difference of opinion about what the ad is meant to be doing.
Or they don't know what they're doing.
If your intention is for someone to do something specific as a result of seeing a piece of communication, then that should be the actual job of the ad – it shouldn't be relegated to a line of copy or VO thrown in at the end.
I am utterly convinced that your typical one-line call to acton makes absolutely no fucking difference to whether someone does that thing or not.
Say I'm watching an ad for, say, a burger.
If the ad doesn't make me want to try that burger when I'm next in the market for a burger, then adding "Try our burger" at the end, is not going to make any difference.
And the even greater stupidity of adding "Try our burger - Now!" will not convince me to try it Now! either.
It's as if nothing has been learned over the last hundred years of marketing.
People aren't stupid.
If you compellingly show them how something will be good for them, if you explain why something would be in their interests, or convincingly make them desire something, the chances are, you will have successful advertising.
Just adding "Do it, do now! Now! NOW I tell thee!" won't.
It is marketing stupidity of the highest order.
People do things – download an app, buy a burger, test drive a car – if they feel it is in their interests do so.
They do not do it because you tell them to.
Stop it.
Stop it NOW!

Ravel's Bolero like you've never seen it before.

This shiny new website for the London Symphony Orchestra is pretty special.

It's an interactive extravaganza that allows the viewer to watch HD footage of the orchestra performing Ravel's Bolero from lots of different angles at the same time. The functionality lets you flick between them, focus on one, view 4 at a time or find out about the orchestra. All harmoniously in sync with the music.

These things are always difficult to get right. Lots of big, bandwidth heavy media, complicated user interfaces, too many features etc. But the guys at Sennep have smashed it out of the park. I can't think of a better multimedia experience I've had online.

It's utterly compelling, even to the classical music layman. Watching Valery Gergiev's intense focus as he masterfully conducts the orchestra is mesmerising.

Oh, and I'd recommend whacking your speakers up to 11 to get the full Bolero hit.

Vespa Print Ads from Voices Of East Anglia

Voices Of East Anglia is not a new talent show hosted by Alan Partridge. It's actually a treasure trove of retro and vintage pop culture ephemera from, in their words, "the deepest recesses of the internet".

The site's always well worth a visit if you want to lose yourself in the obscure, the bizarre and the long forgotten as this nifty collection of Vespa print advertising from around t'world illustrates.

More Vespa ads from their collection here.