Category Archives: Advertising

Social reality

My most recent favourite deconstruction of an advert relates to the new First Choice Holidays ad.

This is an ad of our times in so many ways. It sets up expectations, then delights you by confounding them (romantic music but a meeting of a young boy and father); it really gives you time to think (the whole thing is in slow motion); though the tag line is “We understand family holidays” we aren’t looking at a nuclear family, a female is only present as a voice in this version or in another I have seen recently as a participant coming in from the side who may be a wife, could be a girlfriend, but essentially she isn’t part of the intense father-son relationship.

The whole feel reminded me of this Athena poster which was on everyone’s wall when I was 15…


which is no surpise. The ad, like the poster, appeals to women because biologically we are programmed to look for appropriate fathers for our children and who will provide love and security for them (ok all you feminists out there, we are certainly capable of rising above our biology!) both ad and poster use handsome men that appear to be responsible – golddust :-). And of course, it is mostly be women who organise and choose holidays and they are times when they dream of bonding, even better if their partner bonds with the children and gives them “quality time”.

What’s interesting to me is that the ad can also be read in a completely different way, a way that speaks to the single fathers out there who may only get 1-2 weeks per year to have this kind of “quality time” with their kids. The woman involved in the ad takes rather a back seat and could equally be a girlfriend as a wife.

So, I asked my divorced dad flatmate how the ad made him feel…he said, “confused”. He didn’t understand where the woman in the family was. I suspect that this is because he is still in the period of a divorce when being able to take your kids on holiday is just a pipe-dream. If his situation changes maybe I will bring it up again. But I would be interested to know if any single fathers responded to the ad positively.

PS For the sordid truth behind the man and baby poster check out…

Watching the boxWe all know that the advertising world is undergoing upheaval, digital seems to be taking away audiences from the mainstay of deliver, television; ad formats online don’t seem to be offering that holy grail of click throughs it promised; video pre-rolls, in-player and in-stream video are found “annoying” by a worrying 82% of the audience according to Forrester’s “Interactive Marketing Forecast 2007-2012” . I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

But part of me feels that perhaps we are just seeing how things truly are at last, the wool is being rudely ripped away from our eyes. Let me explain.

Working in digital you get used to knowing fairly accurately how many of your audience are paying attention to you and what they are doing. This is scarey. If you can measure a click through you can directly assess the effectiveness of your visuals. But digital figures rarely have the impact of TV figures, even now – eg 17,000 online vs 1 million viewers for a typical one off doc on Channel 4. Such figures and the fact that they can’t be measured have meant that essentially advertisers have had an easy ride – the number of people viewing an ad is extrapolated from the number of people watching a programme. 3 million for the opening of Big Brother this year? Lovely.

However, collecting audience figures for TV has always been an arcane art and I believe that it’s been done wrongly and that figures have been over-inflated, contributing to feelings that a) digital isn’t delivering and b) tv audiences are dropping off massively, when they are probably reducing more reasonably. Here’s how it works.

BARB (Broadcasters Audience Research Board) interview 52,000 people per year to determine various audience types and viewing behaviours. Of this 52,000, they then choose a number of respondents from different audience segments, 5,100 home to be exact representing 11,500 viewers, to receive a black box which connects to their tv and which records what they are doing, including what programmes are videoed, added to hard disk etc. All people in the household register their presence when they watch tv using a remote control. From the information that is collected BARB extrapolate total viewing figures. ie from a sample of 10,000 people they will extrapolate Millions of viewers. But there are 60 million people in the UK so this represents 0.0085% of the population….

Here’s a story I was told and was assured was true, though the cynical part of me thinks it is an urban myth. One programme regularly received high ratings but every 4th week they dropped to below 1 million. All sort of theories were put forward for this but in the end it transpired that every 4th week a long distance lorry driver on the BARB programme had to do a trip that took him away over night. He wasn’t around and his absence caused and extrapolated drop of about 2 million viewers.

All this goes to show two things –

1) digital works far better for advertisers than tv because it stops agencies from complacency about who is watching and why
2) get your measurements right or reap the reward.


No, nothing to do with the misguided creation from the new Star Wars movies, Jajah is a mobile network that allows advertising during the time you would usually hear a dialing tonein return for substantially reduced call costs to the end user.

It’s an interesting place to advertise – phone conversations instinctively feel like a very private space in which such communcations wouldn’t be welcome. But we are back to the old permission marketing model. If you are a cash strapped student who is sensitive to price points, or someone for whom the telephone is more of a tool than a channel then receiving advertising in this medium would be fine, particularly as you will receive GPRS related information eg a local restaurant or service will advertise to you.

My questions are around the benefit to advertisers. 

1. Yes the users are captive, waiting to go through to somewhere else, but that’s not to say that their attention is automatically concentrated on what they are hearing. In my own experience I focus on what I am about to discuss, ask or say before I am finally connected. There will have to be some real creative thinking about how to capture the user’s ear.

2. If you pay a premium you get your ad heard first. What if you don’t pay a premium ? Ts is a  very short window of opportunity, particularly in today’s mobile world. Answer phones come on pretty quickly, within 8 rings, that gives you about 20 seconds to communicate and almost all of that’s been taken by the first ad played. Your ad just won’t get heard.

Still it’s an interesting model and I like it when people look for the spaces between, the places no one has considered in order to communicate. Some of the best ideas in the world have come out of the creative use of those spaces.

Planning for Good

I am still not sure if I am a planner, but I did attend the Planning for Good London Massive meet up in The Breakfast Club this morning in Soho. We were looking at a brief presented by UNICEF to all the Planning for Good groups, focused around a campaign later this year. It was really nice to contribute to something, (in however small a way!), that is related to my work and really doing some good. It was also interesting to hear other people’s ideas (Mark Earls, John Grant, Ashley Brown and Lee Henshaw) bounce suggestions around, see where my independent ideas matched and where they diverged and get some fresh thinking.

I believe creative is rarely found embodied in one person, more often than not we function better when we are stimulated by the ideas or questions of others. Could we have had Oasis without the Beatles? The Beatles without skiffle? Skiffle without drinking songs and spirituals?

Creative family trees are of the reasons I have a problem with some of the IP restrictions that are placed on creative ownership and why I feel Creative Commons is such an important development in rights and creative development The development of creative ways to communicate with an audience is no different.

Who knows if UNICEF will like it – although we all did!

If you are interested then check it out here…and join up.

Cool Brands?

brands.jpgThe latest Cool Brands survey has been published, and here are the top 20/87  cool brands in the UK.
1. Aston Martin
2. iPod
3. YouTube
4. Bang and Olufsen
5. Google
6. Playstation
7. Apple
8. Agent Provocateur
9. Nintendo
10. Virgin Atlantic
11. Ferrari
12. Ducati
13. eBay
14. Rolex
15. Tate Modern
16. Prada
17. Lamborghini
18. Green & Blacks
19. iTunes
20. Amazon

Want to know the definition of a “cool brand”?

“CoolBrands are brands  that have become extremely desirable among many leaders and influencers. They have a magic about them signifying that users have an exceptional sense of taste and style.” Apparently only 5% of those even considered qualify,  however you have to be slightly suspicious when the only media owner represented is The Times (hmmm, well known bastion of cool?) and astonishingly one of the members of the Council of Cool works for them , ditto O2 – for my money Virgin is far cooler on the logo alone. I could go on in this cynical vein but I won’t.

I used to work at Channel 4. We considered ourselves to be the coolest body on the planet. Even at the time I knew it wasn’t true, if I believed it I’d still be there, no? But I also knew that there is a certain atmosphere that meant that it was kind of true. And that atmosphere gave us a chutzpah which meant we were prepared to take risks and be creative within our brief. It made us proud to work there and it made it fun and it ensured that (by and large) we all believed in what Channel 4 was about and why we were there.

It’s the same at Imagination but I won’t go on about that because…. enough already. 

It’s more important that you enjoy your own working environment and believe that what you deliver is cool than it is that  a group of PR agents and self-appointed pundits say that you are cool. Whether you work for a small careers publisher or Agent Provocateur. So I am not going to write my own list of cool, which would be the natural progression of this piece. After all, what do I know any more than these guys?

And remember, unless you are Timothy Leary or Bishop Desmond Tutu, there is always someone cooler than you.

I’d like a gorilla with my chocolate

Gorilla looking pensiveYou would have to be a dedicated tv refusenik not to have seen the new Cadbury’s ad. But just in case you’ve been on Mars or otherwise outside the plannersphere I have provided a handy link below-

It features a gorilla drumming to Phil Collins’ “I can feel it coming in the air tonight”.

And why would a drumming gorilla be the perfect expression for Cadbury’s? Well as Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) said on 30 Rock “I’ve got two ears and a heart, don’t I?”. The emotional nature and the slightly cheesy rep of the music combined with the sheer strangeness of the gorilla’s serious enthusiasm communicate exquisitely the essence of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, “a glass and a half of pure joy”.

What is so brilliant about this ad is that it takes the essential brand DNA of Cadbury’s, pushes it through the prism of creativity and comes up with something surprising yet completely on the nail. And because the idea stays true to the brand, it works.

That’s what we did with Where Are The Joneses? You wouldn’t expect to see an online comedy about sperm-donor siblings associated with Ford, but that’s exactly what Where Are The Joneses? is. More than that it has opened a conversation between Ford and the public, because the website users actually wrote the comedy for us, and we responded. Oh enough trumpet blowing already, I know, I know, it’s not allowed.

It will be interesting to see the shape of the evolution of the Cadbury’s ads, to see how they are going to pursue a conversation with us.