George 'swoon' Clooney

This weekend George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin tied the knot in Venice - accompanied by the sound of church bells, paparazzi flashes and womenkind's collective vaginal queef of disappointment.

To celebrate this special occasion, below are my top 5 ads de Clooney.

Footprints & Hobo Denim.

The execution of these two ads leave a lot to be desired, but the idea behind them both are nice and simple. Show how well your shit works.

The first is for Footprint Insoles. They are insoles designed for sucking up heavy impact away from your tootsies when you skate.

The is for Vol. 4's Hobo Denim. Again, made for skating. Durable jeans that won't pop at the crotch.

They both stood out a mile amongst they're competitor's fashiony fashionable fashion-style ads. Hats off.


A couple of years ago Steven Soderbergh revealed that he had spent a lot of time watching Raiders of the Lost Ark in black and white. Now he has actually released a version of the film in black and white with a different score and no dialogue.

The reason?

He wants you to think more carefully about how each shot is staged or visually constructed. I'll let him explain:

"So I want you to watch this movie and think only about staging, how the shots are built and laid out, what the rules of movement are, what the cutting patterns are. See if you can reproduce the thought process that resulted in these choices by asking yourself: why was each shot—whether short or long—held for that exact length of time and placed in that order? Sounds like fun, right? It actually is. To me. Oh, and I’ve removed all sound and color from the film, apart from a score designed to aid you in your quest to just study the visual staging aspect. Wait, WHAT? HOW COULD YOU DO THIS? Well, I’m not saying I’m like, ALLOWED to do this, I’m just saying this is what I do when I try to learn about staging, and this filmmaker forgot more about staging by the time he made his first feature than I know to this day (for example, no matter how fast the cuts come, you always know exactly where you are—that’s high level visual math shit). "

You can view the film on his page over here. It's worth a nosey around his site too, it's an interesting place.

The Context Of Reason

The reason we choose to explain a particular cause and effect is determined by the social context of that reason. Let me explain.

A woman is driving home from the pub, and unbeknown to her she is slightly over the limit, despite checking the alcohol content of the drinks she earlier ordered with the first-day bar person.

She approaches a bend in the road (that is lightly damp from the rain earlier) that the local council have been warned about being a dangerous spot for over a year.

Her car brakes were fixed just two week prior by a less than reputable garage.

A man is crossing the road in a world of his own on the way to the 24 hour hour garage to buy some cigarettes.

The accident happens. Who is to blame?

The chances are that in today’s social context the blame would lie squarely with the drink driver. However, hopefully it's apparent that perhaps there are other reasons at play too.

The council for not heeding warnings regarding the condition of the road? Incorrect information from the ill-trained bar person, or the law for allowing any alcohol consumption prior to driving at all. Faulty brakes that were assumed to be fixed. The rain?

And what if the man had not had his nicotine craving? He then wouldn’t even be there. What if cigarettes were illegal or his parents hadn’t smoked? Would anyone today dare mention the gender of the driver? Or indeed the gender or the careless road crosser?

Perhaps a philosopher who believes in determinism could argue that everyone is blameless, and with a lack of free will, nobody is ever ‘really’ to blame, even if one reason seems a more likely cause than others. The crash was in a way unavoidable. Free will is just an illusion.

A similar dilemma faces creatives when they choose to highlight a reason why a person may wish to choose the product they're working on. The social context of that reason is key.

Do you talk about the easy-to-hold size of can for a fizzy drink? The taste of the drink? The fizziness? Its low calorie contents? The long lasting ability of something being canned? The consequence of not being dehydrated? The fashion statement for drinking that particular brand? Its heritage perhaps or something else entirely?

I think the importance is how that brand wishes to compete in its contemporary setting. The power of a particular reason varies with a social context.

Today many western societies are seeing a retreat from reasoning, with people being seen as objects rather than subjects. People, it is fashionably said by cognitive scientists, don’t have free will and their powers to reason are overstated – they are at the mercy of their genes, neurobiology or social settings.

The reason why someone is as they are, is commonly attributed to un-avoidable consequences.

This has lead to, in some quarters, commercials lacking any reason at all. And instead relying on emotional appeal.

People are seen as being ruled by their emotions, and so adverts attempt to make people feel something about the brand rather that be persuaded by reason.

The emotional appeal is often a positive one i.e. joy, happiness, fun and so on. If you can make someone feel a particular way they will be more inclined to buy your product, or so their story goes.

So it seems that many brands, regardless of their category, begin to make adverts that all have the same emotional goal - to entertain the consumer and leave a feeling of joy or the like.

Can’t great advertising do both? Entertain and provide reason too?

As advertising increasingly elevates emotional messages, it belittles adults' ability to make judgements for themselves. Instead treating them as biologically determined objects who can be nudged easily by kittens, mood films and flashing lights.

As advertising retreats from reason (as does many other areas of modern society) it does humanity a disservice and lets fate in through the back door.

If advertising is going to avoid being discredited as a service that helps brands grow (i.e. sell more) it needs more than ever to understand people as reasoning sentient beings that can be talked to as adults who can attribute their own reasons to their actions.

Josh Cheuse

I love Josh Cheuse's iconic street photography, I'm a real sucker for grainy black & white shots of New York back in the 80s. I've seen a few of his shots of The Beastie Boys, Run DMC & Joe Strummer before but never realised Josh was the fella responsible for all of them. 

He's got a show on in New York shortly & It's Nice That have done a good interview with him.

The new Samsung milky-way wotsit

In attempt to appeal to dem youffs, Samsung have made a great new ad about clothes and bad acting.

It's an impressively disingenuous turd.

Hashtag unboxing vids are sick. Hashtag gunna explore the city with ma Samsung. Hashtag Samsung get me.

Posted using iPhone.

John Oliver on Native Advertising

John Oliver lays into the cynical camouflage of Native Advertising.

Spot on. Required viewing for anyone with a sense of humour and a conscience about not misleading people.

"It's not trickery. It's sharing storytelling tools.
 And that's not bullshit. It's re-purposed bovine waste".


Advertising Is… A Fat Man Reaching For A Cream Bun

People in advertising have a fatal flaw.

They have a habit of latching on to a popular theory and adopting it wholesale.

Then applying that to everything, without any assessment of how well it really applies to what they're working on.

Once upon a time it was the USP, then Brand Love, then Experiential Marketing, then Conversations, etc. etc... you get the picture.

Once they have bought into something, they have a bad habit of trying to make everything fit into that same shaped hole. Not only that, they will happy point and laugh like schoolchildren at those who suggest that it's worth keeping an open mind.

It's like Lord Of The Flies, with much poorer dialogue.

The latest thing to have advertising people all excited is the work of psychologist Daniel Kahneman.

Kahneman has been described as the world's most influential living psychologist, and with good reason. His work has won him the Nobel Prize, sold best-sellers, and virtually created the field of behavioural economics.

But the problem is that, like with all those other things before, not the thing or theory itself. It's that advertising people have swallowed whole, without chewing.

And then applied it straight to advertising, like a four-year-old child putting on his dad's suit jacket.

Because the thing is, there a nuances and challenges to what Kahneman talks about.

For example twice Pulitzer prize finalist Steven Pinker, psychology professor at Harvard University, describes himself as an optimist to Kahneman's pessimist. He thinks that Kahneman is right that human nature saddles us with some unfortunate limitations, but he asserts that we have the means to overcome them through education, institutions and enlightenment.

That's just one example. If you Google the phrase scientific challenges to Kahneman, you'll see there is a whole world of interesting nuance to this subject, all being put forward by respected scholars and scientists.

But advertising people don't care – they've read the book.

Many are now talking as if it is absolute fact that we make all of our purchase decisions in the irrational way that Kahneman describes in Thinking Fast And Slow. Even though Kahneman's work isn't really about purchase decisions.

But they have heard what they want to hear and screw anyone who dares to suggest that there are nuances or other points of view as to how advertising can use these findings to modify its approach, or how we can extrapolate them for purchase decisions, and what that might mean for advertising.

For example, perhaps the real useful role for some advertising is to educate customers so that they won't continue to make those bad, irrational decisions?

I'm not saying there definitely is, in all cases, just that there is a debate to be had, and nuances to how we make decisions in different categories.

Let's just quickly take an example. The most expensive purchase you will ever make, buying a house. Now, as everyone who has ever bought a house will tell you, when you walk in the house you just know it's the one for you. It feels right. That sounds like an emotional decision. But then you wouldn't have gone to see it if there wasn't the right number of bedrooms (or room to extend), or if it wasn't in the right catchment area. Those are very real, very rational judgements. In this case, houses only have the opportunity for you to emotionally choose them, once you've rationally accepted them as an option.

Let's take the opposite end of the scale. Buying a chocolate bar. It's probably fair to say that people don't spend as long pondering the choice of chocolate bar as they do selecting a home. But there are still nuances to that decision. You might gravitate to the one you usually buy (as some of Byron Sharp's work might suggest). You might be influenced by some advertising you recently saw. But also other things come into play, are you hungry, or just want a treat? Will it be a big bar, or something small and indulgent. Do you like peanuts? Do you want the taste of peanuts right now? Do you want something chewy or crunchy, one big bar or small pieces? There's a whole mixture of emotional and rational choices and decisions going on, probably in a split second, mostly subconsciously.

Those are simply two quick examples at the opposite ends of the purchase decision scale. And it's not hard to look at those and say the role for advertising in each is possibly different.

So there is an argument for looking at the problem you have in front of you and thinking about that, and working out from that.

Not trying to fit every problem into a hole shaped like Thinking Fast And Slow.

But advertising people don't find that interesting. They prefer a kind of blind absolutism, where an approach applies to everything, or nothing.

And it seems many have simply heard something they want to hear. They don't care about the nuances because they've grasped with both hands an excuse to write ads without the pesky product in it. And without having to worry about finding a good reason why people might actually choose that product. They have a book that gives them a reason to write the ads they wanted to make anyway.

Those people are like a fat man reaching for a cream bun. And as usual, they will swallow it whole without even thinking.

Let's Talk Advertising

There's an interesting conversation (argument, debate, call it what you will) taking place in advertising at the moment. And the great thing is, it isn't about holding companies or digital versus traditional or any of those boring old things, it's about advertising. And how advertising works best.

I''ve worked in the business for quite a while, and I can't remember a time when this was the case, so I think regardless of where you sit in the argument (debate?) it has to be a positive thing, doesn't it? (Okay, let's put aside for a moment that it does seem a little crap that after probably 150 years, we still can't agree on what makes for the best advertising.)

I've got to get my cards on the table early here, I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all, one-way-to-do-advertising that is right for every product, brand, category and business problem. And I have a problem with those people who insist there is. I don't think it's very smart, and it makes the advertising industry look a bit stupid.

I think you should start with the business problem, the situation of the client, and what they are trying to achieve, and let that be your most important jumping-off point. Not your own ideology that you force the problem to fit into. It's tempting for agencies to have a dogmatic approach to problem solving, because it gives them something interesting to say to clients - but as the saying goes the hammer always sees the nail.

Having abstract debates about advertising ideologies can be a bit, now how can I put this… boring and pointless? So I'm going to use an example to help.

Hopefully the example is a piece of work that we've all seen and know of, the Volvo Trucks Epic Split ad...

I think this was one of the most highly awarded ads of recent times. Most people I speak to agree that it's really good, but, interestingly, don't necessarily agree on what makes it good.

That's a strange situation right? We all agree it's good advertising, but we don't all agree on what makes it good advertising.

Maybe that shouldn't come as so much of a shock? One thing I've noticed over the years is that there are quite a lot of people out there in advertising – talented, clever people who do good work – who don't even get what makes their own work good, so why should we be surprised when they can't agree on what makes someone else's work good?

There's a school of thought that says that this Volvo commercial is good because it's entertaining - we want to watch it because Van Damme is a funny/weird bloke, and he's doing the splits, and there's a funny voiceover etc. That we should just do entertaining, funny stuff that people like, and that will make ads good. That the job of the ad is simply to be noticed and enjoyed. They tend to think that the rational message in the ad is unimportant – in fact often gets in the way. That an ad that is entertaining and enjoyed is a good ad. We like the ad, therefore we like the brand, therefor we are more likely to buy from that brand.

There's another school of thought that says what makes this ad good is that it makes us feel something. This notion is very fashionable at the moment in advertising. Some recent, very compelling, theories in human psychology and neuroscience suggest that humans make decisions largely for emotional reasons, that rational thought plays very little part in the process, at best that we post-rationalise decisions largely made emotionally. This approach to advertising says that you only need to make people feel something. Again, to these people, product and benefits don't come into what makes it good, in fact they are superfluous. This theory says that because the ad makes us feel fear for Mr Van Damme, this makes for effective advertising because that emotion will affect our decision making when it comes to buying a truck.

And there's another school of thought. That what makes this ad good is that it takes something that is a genuinely important, relevant feature of the product, and demonstrates it in a way that is entertaining, makes you remember it and distinctive. That what makes the ad so good is that it does two things well - it communicates a piece of information of value to the watcher or potential buyer – and it is unexpected, entertaining, fun to watch and memorable in the way that it does it. These people would say that the product and the rational message is key to what makes it good, without that, it wouldn't be a great ad.

I have to say, when it comes to this commercial, I am firmly in the latter camp. I think the product feature being dramatised here is important to truck drivers, and important to truck buyers (these people might not be the same).

Let's think about someone about to make a decision about buying a truck, or trucks. They are likely to be either an owner-driver or a fleet buyer. That means that either way, this purchase will be a huge investment with a lot riding on it. Either possibly the second-most expensive thing the person has ever bought, that they will use every day of their working life, or a massive investment for their company that they will have to justify.

Either way, regardless of the fashionable thinking, I don't think that will be a purely emotional decision.  Can you imagine the fleet buyer of a haulage or logistics company saying to his CEO that he spent 1.5m of that company's money based on a feeling? I doubt it. The emotional camp might say to us that he's just post-rationalising to his boss. But that would mean that having a rational point to hand to use post-decision would be important to his decision. Which means that the rational point was important to communicate in the commercial.

I don't think the commercial would be anywhere near as good if it didn't communicate that rational product point.

But I don't think it would be anywhere near as good if didn't do it in a way that's unexpected, entertaining and memorable.

A straight demonstration of the truck's reversing capabilities would have shown what it could do. Say, a truck reversing down between two lines of road cones - that would effectively be demonstrating the same thing - it's easy to reverse in a straight line and control going backwards.

But that wouldn't be interesting enough to keep the viewer's attention, and it wouldn't necessarily stick in the mind of the buyer (unless that reversing capability was of particular interest or importance to that person).

The jeopardy of Van Damme's crotch being at the mercy of the truck's reversing capabilities does these things brilliantly - it brings the benefit to life, and it's an image likely to stick in your head (and an image with giant products in it too).

This is an old commercial that does a similar thing...

It takes the benefit of the product (a rational point) but it demonstrates it in an arresting, unexpected way. It uses jeopardy - we worry about the wellbeing of the chick. It wouldn't be anywhere near as effective if the ad had just shown a thermometer being placed in the canister.

So the jeopardy is clearly important to the Volvo ad being great - but on it's own jeopardy wouldn't make the ad great.

Let's imagine it for a minute without the product benefit. What we have is the fear of Van Damme falling or hurting his famous crotch. So we could have him say, doing the splits over a ravine, or doing the splits over two concrete blocks in mid-air. Then just stick a Volvo logo on the end. That would be an ad that had the famous bloke, and the splits and the fear of him falling or hurting himself. It would do what the feelings people think is the important bit, it would make us feel an emotion.

But it wouldn't communicate anything about the truck, or the what makes it a good truck. Thinking back to our truck buyers above, I don't think that would make it anywhere near as effective a commercial. So that makes the rational part of the ad, and the product, important to what makes it a great ad.

And I'd say the same to our first group – they think what makes it a great ad is how entertaining the commercial is. They don't think the product point is important. They think us liking the ad is the important bit. You have Mr Van Damm dancing around maybe, maybe throw in a CGI animal or baby, use a funny or catchy song. Then stick the Volvo logo on the end. That would probably be a hella entertaining ad. But it would be a highly entertaining, not very useful, not very good, ad.

What is pretty certain is that this debate, in the broader sense, will rage on, not least because people have their own biases.

Some would rather be doing work that is just entertaining, after all it is fun – and it's hard to find genuinely useful things to say about a product, let alone then make that interesting.

And some people no doubt would rather feel like their work is more clever than simply letting people know why a product might be of benefit to them.

And some, quite rightly are just trying to work out what is best to do for their particular client, in their particular category.

So I think it's a positive thing for the business to have these debates out in the open, and it's important for creatives, especially young creatives, to get involved in these discussions (creatives – don't leave it to the planners, you are the thinkers of the business).

In general I'd say be wary of anyone who tells you there is one right way to do all advertising.

What do you think?

How To Hire An Ad Agency

Running your own agency opens your eyes to many new and strange things.

One of these is the frightening realisation that an astonishingly large number of marketing people are not very good at selecting agencies.

This article on Business Week is one of the best I've read giving advice to clients on hiring a new ad agency.

Have look.

Especially if you're a client.

Sign Painters

Next Tuesday the US documentary film Sign Painters is being screened at Somerset House by Pick Me Up presents. Before the screening, legendary US sign painter Mike Meyer will be giving demonstrations. Then afterwards having a chinwag with host Sam Roberts, founder of the excellent Ghostsigns and Better Letters.

Well worth checking out if you are in the neighbourhood. Tickets here.