Every brand has the same issues.

Target markets really are a pain in the arse.

You would think that you could just come out and tell people the facts about your product, drug or treatment and they would weigh up the benefits and then make a decision based on the facts presented.

No flim or flam, no marketing baloney. No manipulation.

Just data.

The thing is, we have reason to suspect that medical people are much like ordinary people. That is, their perception of certain drugs etc differ from reality as much as it might in the real world with consumer products.

It doesn’t really matter if your glucose meter is more accurate than the most popular one. If it’s more expensive people will just hear more expensive.

It doesn’t matter if your pill is as fast working as an injection. People just hear pill.

It doesn’t matter if your drug is more efficacious than the best selling one but the side effects make you grow horns on your forehead. Those stupid, petty, pedantic, twatting, people just hear horns, it’s so frustrating.

But the good news is they are also as easily manipulated by spin, media tricks and perception as anyone else.


Luckily for we evil admen the task of persuasion is made considerably easier by the use of clever ideas, imagery, film and even words, (when we’re allowed them) because most of the time we are battling not to get the facts across but to manipulate people’s perception of the facts.

In recent weeks I have been amused how this is just as much a problem for personality brands.

Take Russell Brand, (coincidentally) who seems a particularly well meaning sort of a chap. You probably think of him as the comedian and whacko political campaigner who has told people not to vote.

He did let that slip in the Newsnight interview with Paxman in a certain context but what he more keenly urges is ‘give us something to vote for’.

This is from his Spectator article that started it all.

I have never voted. Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. Billy Connolly said: “Don’t vote, it encourages them,” and, “The desire to be a politician should bar you for life from ever being one.”

I’ll grant you it may well amount to the same thing but ‘don’t vote’ isn’t particularly what he is trying to get across.

What he mostly tries to communicate is The system is broken.

With Russell, the right wing media don’t have that hard a job in manipulating his brand-image to be a radical idiot that’s not worth listening to, based on that one quote alone.

In the interest of balance it’s not just Russell Brand who struggles with this perception vs what he actually means issue.

Take Brand’s Question Time nemesis: Nigel Farage.

In the league of misrepresentation Nigel is rather more like Russell than either of them would be comfortable with, I am sure.

The headlines of ‘Nigel Farage says breastfeeding mothers should be put in a corner’ makes him out to be a horrendous chauvinist boob-Nazi.

Take a look at the twitter backlash that followed after his LBC radio interview, particularly the last comment.

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 18.41.57

But the actual interview on LBC from which the storm erupted was a perfectly reasonable suggestion ( to my mind anyway) that each establishment should decide for themselves- ‘he has no problem with it’ – (yes folks he actually said ‘I have no problem with it’) but if a particular establishment does – as freedom is a two way street – then maybe set aside a room or ask mums to sit in a corner because some people get embarrassed by it. (The context was lost on the Guardian but hey, they have an agenda just like the Sun or Daily Mail.)

Decide for yourself and watch Nigel Farage on LBC

For the left wing media the job is just as easy to paint him as a fascist idiot. Pick out that one line and the job is done whether you think anything he says is worthy or not. It’s hard to be taken seriously on border control if mothers, who hate being in corners, hate you.

However, as political brands they both have their art direction correct.

Saying dumb things in a smart suit will always get you taken more seriously than saying smart things in a ripped T-shirt.

But then, if you want to encourage a revolution don’t wear a tweed suit and have sensible hair.

In the end, if you are in the public eye your brand stewardship has the same problems as any other brand. Misrepresentation, poor PR, superiority or inferiority to competitor brands, price and image.

And we, the great unwashed, are constantly being manipulated and marketed to whether we like it or not and whether we are aware of it or not. From expensive ad campaigns to your ‘friends’ on Facebook who constantly provide evidence for you to think a certain way because they do.

The only way to not be manipulated is to look at the data and make up your own mind.

And what a terrible idea that would be.



(Happy Christmas dear reader and thanks to all of you have read my ramblings and kept me encouraged to continue, since I started this lark. Until January then….)


The only way is Ethics.

I was once approached to work on a tobacco account.

I was freelancing at the time and thinking about getting a ‘proper job’ but my opinion about Tobacco and the adman’s position of guilt free advocacy had changed by then from the one I entered in to the business with.

Some people believe, rather like a lawyer defending a pedophile or a rapist, that as an adman you are given the brief and it is your job to do the best you can, no matter what the ethical or moral status of the brand.

(I once worked on the Conservatives, Ken Livingstone’s Mayoral campaign and The Liberal democrats within a few years of each other, how’s that for advocacy?)

When people of my generation began working in advertising the flagship accounts in many agencies were the tobacco accounts. Silk Cut, Benson and Hedges, Marlboro even. They dominated the awards and made stars of the creatives and photographers who crafted them.



The legal restrictions had, rather than clipping any creative wings, given flight to some extraordinary adverts.

Sound familiar?

I must admit to envying the geniuses that created these simple yet beguiling masterpieces and would have, at the time, killed to work on them.

But times change and I think the British landscape is now better for not having these enticing images plastered everywhere. Can you imagine what social media would have allowed the tobacco companies to achieve in recruiting young blood?

A few years back the agency I was working at was invited to work for a PARTNERSHIP FOR A DRUG FREE AMERICA.

We had done some nice work for the International Federation of Animal Welfare in helping ban fox hunting which had caught the eye of this prestigious organization. Even though we were based in London they scanned the world’s agencies for willing donors who, in turn, lined up to help.


It was pro-bono but an opportunity to do some nice work. The brief was to get teens to stop sniffing illegal substances like lighter fluid and glue.

The whole department churned out ads by the bucket-load and competed for the winning concepts.

But one ad we did I remember for a surprising reason. The headline read “IF YOU FIND LIGHTER FLUID IN YOUR TEENAGER’S BEDROOM, PREY THEY’VE STARTED SMOKING”

The copy talked about how sniffing actually kills more teenagers than lung cancer ( or something) and that it can do it suddenly.

The ultimate brain-freeze.

Everyone loved it, apart from one of the sponsors of the campaign. Phillip Morris.

Wait, what?

Yes, a partnership for a drug free America was funded by one of the largest Tobacco manufacturers in the world.

How about that for an ethical conundrum?

When you join the pharmaland creative brother and sisterhood you imagine that these sorts of ethical dilemmas, working on cars that pollute, or alcohol that destroys lives or even fast food brands that are rendering the world both obese and diabetic, are left behind you.

By and large, we like to think that we are doing some good. Helping HCPs make the right decisions, promoting life-saving treatments and drugs, improving patients lives through digital devices and increasing awareness of little known diseases.

It seems a worthy enough existence.

But some people out there have a different view. Big pharma companies are money-grabbing monoliths that only have profit as a goal.

The people who work there are suited corporate sharks who pray on the weak and keep the cure for cancer a well guarded secret lest their profits be affected. They are only interested in chronic diseases because that’s where the money is.

Ever had that argument round a dinner table?

Of course, like most things the truth is somewhere in the middle. Pharma companies are not whiter than white but on the other hand the last person to die of AIDS in the UK, thanks to ‘big pharma’ was about ten years ago.

And Cancer is no longer a certain death sentence thanks to the investment and dedication of many pharma companies and their dedicated scientists.

A few months back I threw my opinion into a Facebook debate about this very subject. On one hand the hippy-dissenters believed that positive thinking and herbal remedies can cure cancer (“believe me…I have loads of friends who have beaten cancer without drugs”) and on the other hand there were people who have seen the data.

As Tim Minchin says “You know what they call alternative therapies that actually work?….medicine”

But my self-righteous status as someone who worked in pharmaland was perceived rather differently among the liberal clique on Facebook.

“They pay your wages…so you believe what you want to believe” I was told.

Suddenly I was just as much a corporate lackey as I ever was.

Whatever you believe or feel, promoting brands for a living is never a black and white issue.

Apparently Doritos are cutting down rain-forests to grow huge swathes of palm oil plantations. And that’s just a packet of crisps.

So for me, knowing that a drug I am working on could change young people’s lives from the suffering of schizophrenia, or diabetes or IBD make me feel a bit better about the new career I have chosen.

I’ll remain self righteous, thanks.

If you weigh that up against the dazzling budgets and creative opportunities of working on Cars, alcohol, fast food or beauty products it’s a fair trade I think.