Sorry to be analogous.


When you use analogies in advertising, they need to be accurate.

‘Running around like a headless chicken’ is something you do when you’re extremely busy. Not when you’re overexcited about something, such as the Selfridges sale, and need to calm down.

Just thought I’d mention it, before, in their next execution, Selfridges adorn London’s poster sites with an equally inaccurate analogous image, such as a blue-arsed fly.

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Actually, it’s a grammatical error. (That last full stop should be inside the brackets.)

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Visit England’s campaign fails because it avoids the simple truths about holidaying in the UK.

As a child, I only knew holidays in the UK.

The furthest we ever ventured was Guernsey, which to me seemed a world away. And I loved those times. I remember blubbing inconsolably in the car, all the way from a B&B in Herefordshire, to a seaside hotel in Pembrokeshire. Seven days later, I was just as upset about leaving the hotel.

You might think Visit England’s new campaign would re-kindle that nostalgia, and stir me into recreating the magic I enjoyed then, by taking my own family on a UK ‘Staycation’. Funnily enough, on the day it was launched, I was in the market for a week away.

I can’t blame the TV ad for the fact I didn’t even consider the UK, as I hadn’t seen it at the time. However, now back from a week’s all-inclusive at a five-star resort and spa in Turkey, and having viewed the ad a number of times, its message would not have changed my decision. In fact, it’s simply strengthened my resolve to avoid the UK in any shape or form this summer, and that includes holidaying here.

I don’t understand why Visit England want my patronage in 2012, over and above any other year. You’d have thought the fewer Brits clogging up London during the Games, the better. Perhaps they’re trying to clear the airports for the incoming tourists. Or maybe the country needs all the money it can get in these austere times.

If the strategy seems confused, the message, although slickly delivered, has an undertone of bitterness. The celebrity commentators are all on the defensive, each citing a commendable facet of the UK, then polishing it off with a sour ‘you won’t find that in the Algarve, on a beach in the Med, in Corfu, or Crete’ or wherever it is they’re maligning.

For me, though, the main problem with this campaign is it fails to be honest about Britain as a holiday destination. Although with £4 million behind it, it feels cheap, and each of its protestations can easily be countered:

  • ‘Why on earth would anyone want to go abroad in 2012?’ Same reason as any year (maybe more so with all the summer’s impending upheavals). It’s fab!
  • ‘No passports.’ Since when did passports cause deal-breaking hassle?
  • ‘No jabs.’ Neither do you need jabs when visiting the Med, Algarve, Corfu, Crete (all places the ad sends up).
  • ‘No visas.’ True, but the cost of my Turkish visa was well affordable at just £10, on top of an overall excellent value holiday.
  • ‘No Euros.’ Right now, the pound’s doing well against the Euro, so it’s a worthwhile time to escape and take advantage.
  • ‘And there’s 20.12% off.’ I took my family of five to Turkey for less than £1,500. Flights, transfers, accommodation, spa treatment, food and drink included. That’s more like 2012% off.

So let’s be honest about a holiday in the UK, because out of honesty comes simple truths, and simple truths are what the most persuasive advertising always contains.

If you holiday in the UK:

  1. You’re likely to get heavily rained upon.
  2. Even if you don’t get soaked, you’re probably going to feel cold.
  3. It’s going to be expensive in all but the drabbest accommodation, even with a trendy 20.12% off. A weekend in the UK can cost the same as a week abroad.

That said, there is magic to be had in a UK holiday. I know, because I’ve experienced it. And that’s what this commercial should have captured, in the same way that this 1908 poster by John Hassall does, and which is believed to have significantly increased Skeggers’s popularity as a holiday destination.

Remember, the target market is British. One of our traits is that we have a sense of humour. We are self-denigrating. We engage with the truth about our country, warts and all. I feel more empathy with the scenes of washout bank holiday breaks depicted in the inimitable Giles cartoons, than I do with this French polished version of Britain. I want to be in the Giles scene, getting soaked with the Giles family, then thawing out with fish and chips. I don’t want to be in handpicked, celebrity-endorsed film sets.

If this brief had come my way, forced to pursue the strategy of knocking holidays abroad to make UK holidays seem more attractive, I would have responded with Stephen Fry’s own lamenting words at the beginning of the ad.

 ‘It’s just not worth it, you know.’

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Digital dangers: media without messages, social without skills.

With the epidemic of digital and social marketing has come a paradigm shift. Where once, creatives were given license to fit the medium to the message, these days briefs are often exclusively ‘digital’, no matter what’s being sold, or what’s the most effective way of selling it.

Technology in its various forms is the now firmly the medium, and technologists are becoming the messengers. Further down the line, if companies like Narrative Science prevail with their robot-generated copy, technology could take over completely, even from the technologists.

I believe this is detrimental for agencies, for the brands we represent, and if I’m right, eventually for these media themselves. That’s because brands (if we can call them that for much longer) will rail against what they view as marketing chaos, and return to the conventional channels in which they feel safe.

In Commonsense Direct & Digital Marketing, Drayton Bird makes a similar point about digital marketing. “It focuses on the means of communication, rather than the aim, which is better marketing. This in itself has led this kind of marketing to be dominated by technical experts, rather than marketers, with dire and costly results.”

Take the most dominant digital marketing medium of all, Facebook. Founded by a computer programmer, he and his company are technologists before anything else. Nothing wrong in that per se, except that as well as being the media owners, they are also heavily involved in the messaging. It’s rather like if a poster-site owner provided you with a rigid framework for your ad before you start writing it, therefore forcing you down the same predictable route as all their other advertisers.

As I write, that route is ‘Social’, where a brand uses vehicles such as Facebook and Twitter to mingle with the public, with the objective of building an army of brand advocates. Stop for a moment, and consider the wisdom of this strategy. People tolerate a brand until it does something to cheese them off, and then they want their own back. Social platforms give them the means to wreak havoc immediately, with a captive audience of thousands of the brand’s followers to lap it up.

To give a microcosmic example, recently, I was on a major hotel chain’s Facebook page, where there was a self-congratulatory message from the chain about a hospitality award they’d won. Directly beneath, was a message from an irate guest, which started by asking the chain how they dare boast about winning an award, while he was enduring his second night without hot water in one of their hotels.

These two events were, of course, unrelated, but social media enables the disenchanted brand advocate to collide them with damaging effect, and on the same canvas.

Playing devil’s advocate, we should be cautious about labeling consumers as brand advocates just because they’ve liked or recommended something of ours, and/or are following our company. They may not see themselves or their friends as advocates at all, as the ongoing lawsuit against Facebook’s ‘Like’ ads suggests.

What’s more, I never saw brand advocates marching the streets in protest after the demise of the News of the World which, until shortly before its fall, probably had many thousands of followers, all of whom spontaneously combusted.

And what of the brands themselves? After all, this tidal wave of social activity is supposed to be for their benefit. The reality is that brands still spend considerably more on conventional advertising than on social media, mainly because they fear the amplification of the wrong kind of storytelling, like when United Airlines carelessly broke a passenger’s guitar, and the world laughed at them while viewing his viral response.

Nor can brands quantify the revenue from co-branding with the public, because as an industry we are unable to prove it to them, and therefore why we believe they should invest in it so heavily.

Right now, many brands view us as an industry rushing in where they fear to tread, or worse, one trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the social arena, unprepared and unable to cope.

We’ve all got a lot to learn.


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With the next person who uses a certain prefix, I’ll pre-lose the will to live.

What is this fixation with pre?

It’s as if no one wants to commit to doing anything right now.

Everything’s in limbo, in the ‘before’ stage.

With invitations to pre-book, pre-register, and pre-order, rife in marketing.

Why not just ask me if I want to book, register, or order?

It means the same thing, but is sure of itself, and isn’t so irritating.

Recently, a company asked me if I’d like their delivery driver to give me a ‘pre-call’ when he would be thirty minutes away from my home.

‘No’, I replied. ‘A call will do fine’.

Oh well.

Time to pre-post this.

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Are you busy today? Or are you simply being a busy idiot?

It’s not often I use a Gordon Ramsay expression to get a point across. Expletives just aren’t my style. However, during a recent Kitchen Nightmares USA, Gordon sat yet another wretched restaurateur down, and spooned out a label I’d never heard before.

Instead of calling the restaurateur a f*****g t**t as I was expecting him to, he called him… wait for it, a busy idiot. At last, a truism about our often pointlessly over-worked lives, had a name, and a hilarious one at that.

Now this restaurateur was indeed a busy man. Busy to the point of obsession. Moreover, he viewed his busy-ness as fundamental to the success of the business. Gordon, on the other hand, correctly identified his behaviour as busy idiocy, and the precise reason why the business was failing.

The fact is, the personality of the business leader can make or break the business. Unlike most employees, the top guy’s day-to-day remit is often the least clear. As a Mac operator, what will you do today? Operate the Mac, of course. And you, the CEO? What will you do? Er, stay busy, and keep everyone else busy, somehow.

What about you? Do you work in a busy environment, and achieve lots? Or is that environment one of busy idiocy, where you’re constantly wasting time and effort jumping through hoops, working on nonsensical briefs, placating egos, and achieving very little (at least not of the quality you’d like to, and are capable of).

To help you determine whether your professional environment is busy, or just busy idiocy, here’s a list of scenarios from both sides of the coin. It’s compiled with copywriters and advertising in mind, but could just as well apply to any profession:

  • Are you clear about what you’ve been asked to write? (Busy.)
  • Are you wondering what on earth you’ve been asked to write? (Busy idiocy.)
  • Do you generally agree a realistic deadline for delivery of your work? (Busy.)
  • Are you always told that the deadline is ‘screaming’? (Busy idiocy.)
  • Do you generally leave work by around 6pm? (Busy.)
  • Are you placed under pressure to work on into the night? (Busy idiocy.)
  • Do you feel a sense of intelligent collaboration with your account team? (Busy.)
  • Are you mostly second-guessing what your account team wants? (Busy idiocy.)
  • Does the brief stay the same until the conclusion of the project? (Busy.)
  • Does the brief keep changing as new information surfaces. (Busy idiocy.)
  • Are you using solid facts and insights to generate creative work? (Busy.)
  • Are you using creative work to decide what you’re trying to say? (Busy idiocy.)
  • Is the client clear about the benefits of their product? (Busy.)
  • Does the client expect you to tell them the product benefits? (Busy idiocy.)

I’ve no figures to prove it, but busy idiocy must be burning up millions of unnecessarily worked hours each year.

If it led to excellent creative work, it would be worth every one of them. But it does the opposite. Great creative is the pinnacle of clear, simple, incisive thinking which goes before it. When that thinking is sullied by muddle, egos, exhaustion and fog, also known as busy idiocy, what comes out the other end is often sullied, egotistical, exhausted and foggy, too.

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Not the copywriter, not the art director, not the creative director, not the account team, not the planner, not the client. How many highly qualified advertising professionals does it take to spot an apostrophe clanger?

Too many, it seems. However, many passers-by will notice and, rightly or wrongly, consign the brand to second-rate.

In my opinion, rightly.

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