Why Pharma creativity adapted to the sea floor.

Hello dear reader, hope you’re still enjoying this work from home lark?

Me? well on one hand I have an office again, and the time to concentrate and get shit done. On the other I miss my work chums and that feeling of collective achievement and camaraderie.

On the other other hand, I miss the train and my walk along the embankment to the office in the mornings, I miss the gym and I miss the bustle of the city.

But I love the quiet of the streets, barely any traffic and the clean air. And I get three hours of my day back.

So you know, swings and roundabouts.

Or at least it would be swings and roundabouts if they weren’t cordoned off.

Last week I was sent a link to an edit someone had done that had combined all the corporate ads that have spewed out of agencies the minute the world went in to lockdown.

‘Quick’ the CMOs said we need to get ahead of this, tell people ‘we’re there for them in this difficult time’.

Get the agency to knock something up.

And knock something up they did. 

Heartwarming, corporately reassuring guff by the ambulance-load.

I nearly threw up in to my face-mask.

Apparently it takes about three weeks to get an edit together of people clapping, empty streets and any number of Tiki’s Tok videos and funny tweets to populate your spot with. (Getty can do the rest) and all wrapped up in a plinky-plonky piano track.

Getting that warm voiceover is easy these days too, we just call it in from the actors home studio in Farnham/Jersey.

And low and behold you’ve got a lockdown message out there.

‘Well done team’, the email must have read, ‘in a very trying circumstance we’ve managed to pull off something remarkable’.

And then the marketing team and the agency team watched TV that night (The surprisingly asymptomatic medium) only to not be able to distinguish their spot from everyone else’s.

And what struck me first about this edit was not just how cookie-cutter all the messages and imagery were. That’s a given.

It’s that, faced with the same brief, the most top-knotted, pig tailed, bearded and tattooed consumer agencies collective creativity couldn’t muster a single original film between them.

Now, granted, you can see why:

Limited funds, no time and a conservative client and a deadly disease.

This is no time for creativity!

Wait, that brief sounds rather familiar to me.

Where have I heard that before….?

Oh yeah, only every fucking Pharma brief ever.

So give yourself a pat on the back Pharma creatives, pharma planners and oh-go-on-then, yes Pharma account peeps and clients.

You manage to create creative, original work day in and day out, with all of the above strangleholds and none of the freedom from regulatory that the consumer brands enjoy.

Yes, some of our stuff looks the same (If you’ve ever sat on a pharma film jury there are some striking similarities) but like those creatures who’ve adapted to life at deep levels of the ocean floor, you rock this kind of brief.

These brands should be knocking on your doors.

If you’re going to come and swim around in these depths where the sun don’t shine, you’d better be a bit more interesting than a Herring.

#I’mhereforyou

 

Do you have NICE approval?

Can you be successful in advertising and be a nice person too?

Some of my closest friends are from the advertising world so don’t get me wrong – the majority of the agency world is lovely, but day one in Pharmaland I was struck by the general reduced numbers of assholes.

No offence, to those of you still selling sugar to kids.

This may make Pharmaland a more sober industry, but after twenty five years in Adland it was nice to shed the hangovers.

(Metaphorical ones at least.)

The problem is that nice is still regarded as a flimsy adjective, it carries with it an implied weakness or lack of conviction, a wishy-washy, flim-flammy creative attitude.

There is a school of thought that says; if you are nice you can be walked over. That’s how mediocre work happens.

But do we do better work if ruled by fear?

Anyone who has been an employee in advertising can relate to the notion of being in fear of losing their job, mergers, redundancies, awful clients and even evil, psycho-bosses.

When I worked on Citroen in the early 90’s we were threatened every week with losing the account if we didn’t crack a particular brief. Not by the client, by our Creative Director.

Fear can cripple your creative juices if you are consumed by it every day. Some people may thrive on it, but you lose so many talented people who can’t operate if paralysed by the threat of losing their job every two minutes.

I recently read an interview with the film director David Lynch on the subject of fear:

Interviewer: But doesn’t fear motivate?

DL: In the short term it works. But, at the same time, you’re killing people. The other way is, you get an atmosphere going on the set—it’s not that you have candies and little happy moments—it’s energetic and it’s inspirational.

Interviewer: What do you think of the notion that you have to suffer to create?

DL: When you think about it for more than three seconds, it’s completely absurd. When you have deep anxiety or deep fears, you’re a big beautiful V-8 engine running on three spark plugs. If you could get that to lift away, you can still understand anger and you can do all kinds of stories about the human condition. But you yourself can do a better job if you aren’t suffering with fear.

Being a creative genius often comes with being an arsehole too and for some, success only serves to fuel their enormous egos.

For one (once all conquering now mid-table) agency the long time owner and boss, although charismatic, can’t seem to bring himself to be kind or considerate to his employees. He wants fear.

What is he so afraid of?

A friend who was once an employee of this particular dinosaur, as the CD no less, worked 12 weeks straight without a day off. This run of weekends finally ended when he had the temerity to take some time off because his father-in-law had died, these days we call it compassionate leave.

When he returned the boss just asked ‘where have you been you lazy c**t?

That was the day he decided to walk. Who wins in this situation?

And the excuse is, of course, that this is what it takes to be great.

But to be treated with respect, with no shouting in the corridors and no tantrums, can produce some great work too. In fact arguably considerably better work.

The late David Abbott, widely regarded as peerless among the world’s legendary copywriters (The A in BBDO AMV) was well known for being a gentleman.

I never met him, but I do believe that his reputation was built on a unique talent and yes, niceness.

Not that being a decent person didn’t mean he wasn’t a man of conviction, just that he lived his life with respect for others and respect for the work.

So it can be done.

Indeed in his obituary in the Guardian Stephen Bayley wrote “To visit his office was to experience something of the intellectual calm of a tutorial or the moral purgation of a confessional. There were steepled fingers and moments of silent reflection. But in the antic and frantic world of advertising, who is to say what a powerful self-promotional tool quietly spoken and cerebral self-effacement might be?”

Abbott was admired for high principles as much as high craft.

How many Creative Directors or giants of the industry over the years can claim that?

Times have changed.

And arguably much of advertising has become mediocre.

But like all data analysis, it’s easy to mistake those two things as cause and effect.

I can’t help feeling that in the ‘post-truth’ world, where leadership in some quarters is judged by an ability to lie and get away with it, to insult without recourse, to exaggerate without being held to account and to manipulate sycophants to feed an insatiable ego, a little bit of niceness is not to be underestimated.

Just so long as you don’t confuse it with weakness or lack of conviction, Pharmaland can be a place of great work, talented and intelligent minds and respectful human beings breaking new creative frontiers, with grace.

You don’t have to be a fearsome git, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

Hydrogen versus Bernoulli

People often wonder where ideas come from.

I like to think that all ideas are just sitting there, waiting to be discovered rather than created out of thin air as one might suppose.

Creative people just spend more time looking for them.

We’re like those people who suddenly got obsessed with Pokemon-Go and were out walking round parks at 2am.

The thrill of finding one is addictive and you get better at it, the more you do it.

And by creative people I mean inventors, research scientists and entrepreneurs too.

Ideas tend to be the meshing of two seemingly disconnected concepts to make a third new one.

Shop mannequins and suicide. Ear inspecting devices and human trafficking, country citizenship and trash.

(And in the case of Pokemon, gaming and treasure hunting.)

When you see a really great idea, one that you’ve either done or wished you’d done, it’s partly a feeling of elation but also recognition that makes it so thrilling. Like, damn, of course, it had to be that idea.

Like that moment on Long lost family, when a daughter finally finds her mother who gave her up as an infant. It’s kind of instant and overwhelming.

In advertising our particular species of idea usually rely on a universal insight, which are similar in that we recognise something familiar in it. When a comedian remarks on something about your life in a way that you’d never considered before but had seen every day and a thousand times, its partly funny because you recognise it, but also because you hadn’t recognised it.

They didn’t invent it, they just found it by looking through a different lens to yours.

Which brings me to flying, boats and hydrogen.

When I was a child my parents great friends, David (RIP) and Carolyn Ezekiel, owned a yacht which they kept in Chichester.

They’d sail around the Solent, the stretch of water between Portsmouth and The Isle of White, most weekends and would take longer holidays in it down to the Mediterranean in the summer and when they eventually retired they would live in it six months of the year in warmer climbs.

My recollection of it was always on a cold, wet weekend in March.

My father loved being invited to spend weekends on it, my mother hated anything that floated apart from possibly the ice in her Bacardi and Coke, so Dad would often take me or my brother or sister.

I do like boats and the sea, but unfortunately they won’t tolerate me. I would usually be a queasy shade of green before we got out of the harbour.

But I remember one weekend when I was about twelve, sat in that small cabin moored up to all the other yachts somewhere in the Cowes marina, listening to the mast ropes clang in the wind, when David asked me if I knew how they discovered flight?

The Marina at Cowes, Isle of white

No, I replied.

Basically it’s sailing.

Wait, what?

The same principle that drives a boat forward, (Sails and keels, like airplane wings, exploit Bernoulli’s principle), is exactly the same principle that lifts a Jumbo jet in to the air, albeit with more thrust.

Don’t quiz me on details.

This was an idea that had been sitting there for thousands of years, obvious really, but nobody- not Columbus, the Vikings or the great British Naval fleet or De Vinci had figured it out.

Because they weren’t looking the right way at the problem. That is to say, the wrong way.

The scientists got to air-ships filled with Hydrogen, because hydrogen is lighter than air, then helium took over, before they got to the principle of a sail turned on its side.

They realised hot air was lighter than cool air and that could maybe get us round the world in 80 days. That was pretty clever.

But not so much flying like a bird as a weather balloon.

It took the invention of the combustion engine combined with Bernoulli’s principle to get man off the ground like a bird.

This revelation completely blew my mind.

How could we not have seen what was right in front of our eyes for centuries?

That’s how we need to think of creative solutions. People often say ‘look at it sideways’, in the case of flying that was literal.

The problem is we too often settle for hot air balloons, or huge inflammable zeppelins for our concepts. They’re not a bad solution to being in the air, but they don’t have that sublime simplicity of flying like a bird.

And clients can be wary of bird flight, they prefer the scientific certainty of a balloon filled with helium.

So the question is, is that idea sat on your desk going to get your brand to soar or tootle your way round the world in a top hat?

 

 

 

Judgement day

For those of you who’ve sat on the PM society jury in the past you’ll recall a big drafty room at the BMA in Russell Square and two days out of the office, walking round a room peering at rounds and rounds of cardboard.

This year, like many awards shows, most of the judging took place online, streamlining the process in to one day of robust opinions with the location transferred down the M4 to the Crown Plaza Hotel at Heathrow.

When I remember the first time I rolled up at the PM Society lunchtime bash at the Grosvenor Hotel a few years back, it was mostly print with a few digital pieces starting to creep in here and there. A documentary was seen as breaking important new ground.

This year I was lucky enough to be the PM head judge, and I must say I think the standard of work has steadily improved year on year and reflects a steady growth of creativity in what we do every day at the coal face.

The PMs has always suffered in a lot of creatives minds for having less prestige than some other shows.

Why?

Because there must be a winner in each category, so it removes the possibility of the Craft judges only awarding (what would have been in most other shows a bronze) a bronze.

Sometimes that’s hard to get your head around.

Fortunately this year the Golds popped out, I can’t recall a single discussion in any category about what was Gold.

These days there are quite a few high production films, both animation and live action, that wouldn’t look out of place in a consumer show, some exquisite digital design and even social media campaigns.

This year’s jurors also numbered several previous Cannes judges, which might have seemed unlikely a few years ago.

Nevertheless, some entrants still do themselves no favours.

Let me give you some tips.

If you are preparing work for any awards jury, I ask you to consider that usually those juries are curated from the industry’s Creative Directors.

That means….

We don’t need to see the shoot, most of us are familiar with a set, editing software and lights. It’s less impressive than you might hope.

Unless of course, the technique is part of the idea.

But don’t include the whole story of how you came up with it and how much effort it took to produce, no timelines please. It might impress clients and new biz prospects, but save the backroom insights for them.

Why? because I don’t care. I’m judging the idea and the craft.

So get to the problem and then the idea as fast as you can.

If you have a digital piece, like say even an idetail, don’t just upload all the pages as a series of jpegs. Trust me, nobody has the time to try and figure out what the UX was. Make it as painless as possible and help us love it as much as you do.

As a rule, people presenting the idea to camera, be it agency CDs or Clients is really boring.

Imagine something really boring, then imagine something more boring than that.

You can say it’s a fantastic new idea that people loved but it won’t help. We’ll be the judge of that thank you very much.

I say this with all the genuine understanding of the difficulty that making case history films involves.

And I know not all entrants are agencies, but all entries are equal when it comes to the jury room.

So anyway, I hope this helps.

My thanks to all the jurors who gathered at the Crown Plaza this year, I hope we did all our entrants, organisers and sponsors proud.

And if you got nominated, congratulations. I’ll see you in January.

Have a fab non denominational seasonal holiday break and a happy New year.

 

 

 

 

 

When your concept is taken Hostage

So you have a great idea and you’re all excited to present it, this could be the big one! The meeting goes well enough, they like it, you high five anyone who’s passing the meeting room.

A couple days pass and then come the list of amends.

They’ve shown some key stakeholders, they’ve shown their team, the guy in the canteen and a passing doctor and a medic. And they want to see some changes and they want them done now!

It’s like someone’s taken your idea hostage.

The client is hold up inside the bank and they want a helicopter now or the idea gets it.

Now comes the drawn out negotiations and just hoping your idea survives and no one gets hurt.

The one time chief hostage negotiator for the FBI, Chris Voss, writes in his book ‘Never split the difference’ about some of the methods he uses to get the outcome he wants without compromise.

He calls it Tactical Empathy.

This intrigued me, he makes it clear a lot of the skills are transferable to business, but advertising and creativity?

Well, why not.

Like all human interaction his premise is based on empathy, not sympathy or agreeing, but listening more than talking and making the hostage taker feel like they are in charge and making all the decisions.

Sound familiar?

I recently had an experience where I could have done with Chris when dealing with what I can, with absolute certainty, call my worst client experience ever.

I couldn’t see the other side of the story as it seemed just pure lunacy, but with hindsight I wish I had.

To cut a long story short, we’d pitched and won with a particular idea that all the stakeholders liked.

Bingo, an idea straight from pitch to production. Never happens. We’ll get right on it.

Then the main client climbed aboard our concept and took the whole process hostage. He wanted his photographer and his CGI guy to do it all and he assured us he knew what he was doing.

His guys were cheaper and good enough.

This was one of the situations that Chris Voss calls a ‘Black Swan’. Most hostage negotiations follow a similar pattern, but occasionally you get someone who wants to ‘die by cop’ and doesn’t follow any normal pattern.

We were suddenly camped outside the bank with a loudhailer and a sweaty Al Pacino threatening to kill everyone. (Extra points if you get the film reference)

We said we’d consider these guys for sure, we’re all about collaboration, so we’d talk to them.

When we called we discovered he’d already briefed them anyway.

One hostage down.

I usually pride myself on being able to talk a client round to my way of thinking a lot of the time, but on the day of the big ‘powwow’ when we were politely putting our case for using an agency for what they’re good at, I could have done with a little more of Chris Voss’s technique and less of my performance as a scandalised prima donna.

I have a lot of patience and it takes a lot to anger me, but wilful disrespect of our creative skills and process will kinda push my buttons, I must say.

But there must have been a way round it, I just couldn’t see it.

Could a hostage negotiator have faired better?

So here are some of his techniques, in a very brief and inadequate list which I’ve tried to translate in to a pharmaland scenario.

  1. Deference, don’t make it all about you. let the client feel they are the expert and play down your own expertise. People love to talk and they will give you nuggets of information that you may not know about but could help your negotiation. This will give you leverage.
  2. Establish rapport by mirroring what they say, not their physical actions. “I want you to make the data bigger”…”the data bigger?” This can be surprisingly effective at just making people feel you are on their side and understand their issues.
  3. Re-burden the client with their own problem. So if they ask that you do an impossible change, ask ‘how am I supposed to do that?’ Or if it’s an impossible deadline request, “how can we do that?” This keeps them feeling they are in charge but with only the illusion of control.
  4. Instead of saying a flat NO to a request, illicit a more positive response by labelling the problem.”it sounds like you don’t like this idea.” People are inclined to answer with a “no, no…I do like it” rather than outright trashing it. Or “it seems like you want this idea to be all about the data” “No, that’s not it” This style of question has the benefit of leaving you and your personal feelings out of it, it’s not about you, because ‘me and you’ can make it quite combative and we’re not looking for combat.
  5. Don’t go for a YES. Sales people and sales books often are about getting to yes but people often say yes to things without meaning yes (think of how you might get a salesman off the doorstep by saying yes, then cancelling right after) get them to say NO. “It seems like somethings holding you back.” “No, not all” People often will let their guard down if they feel understood.
  6. Get emotional permission to allow them to buy. What you don’t want to hear from your client is ‘you’re right’. Think about it, when you tell someone they’re right it’s usually because you want them to shut up or go away. Real buy-in comes from ‘that’s right’. Think of when you hear a politician you agree with, you point at the TV and say ‘that’s right’.
  7. People are wired to be loss averse, so losing is a safer bet than winning. $5 gained is meh. $5 loss is terrible. Think what the client stands to lose by not buying your idea or your services.

There’s a ton more stuff in his book, which even if you have a passing interest in psychology you should read. Maybe you can find ways of applying it to your creative meetings and get that idea past all the hurdles.

The hardest part of what we do is getting our work from concept to the finish line in recognisable form, with the idea intact, so if we can empathise more with our clients, not necessarily agreeing with them, together we can turn a hostage situation in to a peaceful exchange.

Of course, occasionally we may need to deliver a holdall full of cash to a secret location and a helicopter to Cuba, but hey, that’s advertising.

 

 

 

Be careful what you wish for

You remember those first couple of years when Health and Wellness and Pharma were finally at Cannes?

Anyone who was anyone flew in and there was an air of optimism for the future.

And yet, how some of us lamented the fact that we seemed divorced from the main show, how we felt like second class citizens. Why were we on the preceding weekend and not part of the main week?

‘We want to be part of the main week’ they said.

Not me. I liked it that way.

(Not least because you could get a hotel room near Le Croisette and one that wasn’t something out of a tired nineteen seventies polyester nightmare.)

However, that first year I remember a lot of the talks were in the main Lumiere theatre, it really felt like this was pharma’s time.

The next year we were shunted round the back. What? not in the main theatre? oh right, round the back you say?

But that was okay, we got our own slightly ssmaller space, somewhere to see innovations and specific talks all in one arena.

In fact this was better in some ways, round the back, out of the way.

We even still got our own gala ball on the roof top. Yay!

But still, here we are on the weekend and we don’t feel like part of the adland gang, we moaned.

Last year we got included in the main week, no healthcare gala ball, but we go to go to the opening night party with everyone else.

Cool!

And we still had our own awards night! A lot of the work was celebrated and silver winners took to the stage to get their moment in the limelight they deserved.

The winning work was from healthcare agencies and actual pharma clients.

This year, we’re still round the back, no healthcare gala ball and the awards night consisted of our categories being squeezed in with a couple of other categories nobody gets excited about any more.

Like ‘print’.

No silver winners on stage and the whole thing, two whole categories mind you, is over in 30 mins.

Won a silver? well done, give yourself a round of applause.

Next category please.

Congratulations everyone, we’re part of the main show! We’ve arrived!

 

 

 

 

Forget about awards and the awards will come.

Do you see yourself as a creative person?

Try this test.

Take a brick and list three things you can do with it.

Some people will say 1. Build a house 2. Build a road 3. Build a bridge.

If your top three ideas were 1. Throw through a jeweller’s window, 2. Squash flies 3. Paint white and use as a creative award – you may be destined for a career in the creative industries.

So does something more fundamental separate creatives from people who might class themselves as ‘non-creative’?

My wife and I were watching one of those programmes, of the ‘Escape to’ variety.

Yes, it’s a high-octane life I lead.

This one was about a couple who have bought a château in France and are renovating it beautifully and creatively.

It might even be called ‘Escape to the Château’.

The wife, (his not mine) had bought a new light for one of the bedrooms – off the internet, as you do, and opened up the box upon receiving it with a squeal of delight.

It was a wonderfully decorative flower arrangement style set in brass.

Her husband, a practical man and extremely handy with a jigsaw and a plank of wood, looked on with a look of amused despair, and immediately pointed out that it was a candle holder with no electrical aspect whatsoever.

Not what they needed at all.

My wife ‘tutted’ and remarked ‘that’s such a creative person thing to do’.

(I couldn’t really argue as I had done something similar myself recently with a picture light.)

Because creative people’s brains do work differently to a degree.

But creative or non-creative, we all can tap in to a higher level of creativity if we put our minds to it.

Or rather if we don’t.

A study in the 1970’s at Stanford in California by an academic called Mark Lepper (now a professor of Psychology) took a group of children from the Bing Nursery school located on the Stanford campus, divided them in to three groups and gave all three a set of markers, crayons and paper.

The first group was told there would be a reward for the best picture. An award with their name on it, no less.

The second group was not told anything, but the best picture did receive an ‘unexpected reward’ once they had completed the task.

The third groups were neither promised nor received any award for their work.

The results were astounding. The first group’s work – the one with a clear reward – was considerably worse than the other two.

The findings, at least among these children, clearly showed that reward is not necessarily the best way to increase creativity.

A subsequent experiment divided children in to two groups and again asked them to create a collage – one with no promise of anything and the other with the promise of a prize: An Etcher-sketch!

They then asked judges to come in from the art department and randomly asked them to judge the work.

All of the work from the group with no intrinsic incentive was judged to be significantly poorer.

Weird huh?

So what is your approach to awards and how does this square with those agencies who clearly load the dice with work let’s say…..that is specifically designed to clean up at Cannes etc?

Well, it would at least seem to contradict Lepper’s work at Stanford.

But I suspect the creative motivation for those who produce those winning concepts is less about winning the awards and more about doing something cool.

In fact for anyone who produces great work, it’s never about the awards as a starting point. Not really.

Maybe it just happens that if your approach is to go for cool and interesting first, rather than be fixated on what will win at an awards show, the awards start flowing.

So that brief that’s sitting on your desk? what could you do to give yourself the most fun on a job that you’ve ever had?

What would you like to spend the next three months producing, assuming it works for the brand?

Do that, not that thing you think might delight the judges.

You never know, you might win a brick all of your own.

 

 

*With special thanks to the freakonomics.com podcast for the inspiration for this blog.

 

 

 

How you see the Gillette ad is like how you see Ferris Bueller. Kind of.

I love an online furore, me.

Have you see the new Gillette advert? Boys will be boys? It’s been hard to miss.

After all the campaigns empowering our mothers, sisters, and daughters – from This girl can to Like a girl to Blood normal us chaps finally have our own bonafide ‘purpose’ campaign.

Except this one is for Gillette and the other campaigns were for um…bodyform? I dunno.

But let’s leave aside whether purpose based campaigns are worthwhile for now. In Healthcare we take a brands purpose as a given, improving lives, saving lives, but in consumer it’s still a point of contention.

Either way, Gillette has 50% of the razor market, which ordinarily would make this kind of decision – to get stuck in to a political arena – unthinkable, because why risk that massive brand leadership position to virtue signal?

Which makes their decision all the more brave, stupid or smart, depending on whether you see the ad as half full or half empty.

Because whether you identify with the men being ‘corrected’ or the men doing the ‘correcting’ determines how you see the film.

If you don’t see how identifying with characters makes a difference to your interpretation (of anything) try watching a favourite film from your youth, thirty years later. When I first saw it I, like you I dare say, thought Ferris Bueller was the coolest kid ever. Thirty years on and all I can feel is the horror of a father whose precious Ferrari is trashed by some spoilt kids who aren’t taking their education seriously.

I was first made aware of this new Gillette campaign over my porridge when an incensed Piers Morgan had a tantrum on ITV, here on UK breakfast TV.

It’s my own fault, but BBC breakfast is quite the snore-fest.

Of course, Piers spectacularly missed the point of the commercial and thought it was about not being masculine. He was in the glass half empty camp and only saw men being corrected. How very dare they.

In terms of identifying, make of that what you will.

Because Piers (and quite a lot of other online-people too apparently) clearly thinks evolving from a pre #metoo male in to any kind of aware human being means being all weedy and not beating up softy types and not being able to pinch girls bottoms, catcall and mansplain all over the place.

Clearly some of his favourite things to do and a definitive mark of a man* (*Old Spice strapline 1970’s BTW)

I quickly started scanning twitter responses. The anger was pretty substantial, it must be said.

“I will never use Gillette products again!”

“it’s an attack on manhood and masculinity”

Were just some of the comments I’ve made up, but accurately sum up the reaction.

But does that mean it was universally hated?

Have you been on twitter recently? As someone in my office pointed out, the kind of people who get incensed about this kind of thing all live on Twitter and the comment section of Youtube.

So is there a silent majority who would actually champion this kind of brave and purpose driven marketing – or at least the message at its heart – but who just don’t tend to bother shouting in to the internet’s infinite void about it?

Maybe.

Going online this morning (the day after) and the tide seems to have changed. The supporters have come out in force. Yesterday it was 10 attackers to every 1 defender in terms of thumbs up or down on Youtube. This morning it’s down to 2:1.

Not a knock out punch but a definite bounce back. (assuming there’s not been any shenanigans with the numbers)

So, call me controversial, but I want to show Gillette some love.

They’ve taken a sensitive issue and been brave enough to nail their colours to its mast. Good for them. What better brand to do this?

And what better time?

Three years ago this campaign would have been unthinkable. Today it’s controversial, in twenty years time it will seem quaint.

I mean think of how far we’ve come since the 50s.

Advertising has always reflected our society. Always made semi political statements, even without knowing. After all, there was a time when these ads were perfectly acceptable and seen as funny even.

When brands realised they were out of step, they changed. Perhaps this is what Piers thinks appeals to real men and mourns these campaigns?

I doubt it.

Okay, the Gillette ad is a little cheesy for my British palette, it looks a little like the agency presented the mood reel for the strategy and the client pointed at the screen and said let’s run it!

And I found parts of it a little patronising. Plus I wish it had been handled with a lighter touch. It is quite a blunt instrument with no nuance or subtlety.

But I must admit I identified with the men trying to do the right thing more than the men who weren’t.

But it wasn’t always so.

In my youth I’m not sure I was as aware of what I said and did as I am today, more through ignorance than malice. Age, experience and this whole movement has made some of us question our actions, but more importantly see what we hadn’t seen before.

Maybe I won’t comment on what she’s wearing. Maybe I won’t make a dick joke. Maybe I will listen more and not interrupt.

Most men try to do the right thing. But also most men are a product of their upbringing.

I grew up in the seventies, when it really was a man’s world, admen were men, clients were men, and so were the women (to paraphrase an 80’s Leagas Delaney Timberland ad). Today’s young men have the benefit of a somewhat more balanced media world and have been exposed to opinions and messages that emanate from a more diverse range of voices.

The seventies and eighties style Gillette ad, glossy women fawning over square-jawboned men would simply not resonate with our sons today. They’re as outdated as those 50s print ads.

And literally nobody ever talked about Gillette ads back then. They were sometimes parodied or spoofed, but as advertising campaigns they were like toilet roll or cat food, just something glossy to reassure you they worked well enough.

Now suddenly Gillette is relevant. Topical and has purpose.

Suddenly it’s the number one trending topic on Twitter.

As any adman will tell you, getting noticed is the first and most important thing any ad has to do. Without that, everything else is meaningless.

So are the predictions of brand suicide without merit?

Mark Ritson in Marketing week:

“…But in Gillette’s case there is a bigger price to pay. There is a special place in marketing hell for companies that not only waste their marketing budgets but actually invest that money into things that ultimately make their situation much worse. That’s going to be the cost of this foray into brand purpose for Gillette.

It has spent its own money to make its still excellent commercial situation indelibly less positive at a time when it can ill afford the misstep, given the many alternatives vying for its sales. And for that we should stand back and appreciate what might turn out to be the worst marketing move of the whole year.”

It’s an interesting article and I can see his point, but I for one will be renewing my purchase of their blades. They work well enough, so what’s not to like?

We’ll see how Gillette sales do over the coming weeks and months.

But bear in mind this:

People always hate change, when Heineken famously dropped doing beer campaigns with ‘busty barmaids’ ( a phrase that’s all but died out it’s just occurred to me) their research groups were up in arms. Heineken refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach??? what a load of bollocks, they said, bring back our barmaids!

And yet, it became one of the greatest ad campaigns of all time – at least in the UK.

So, if the Gillette ad makes someone think twice before saying or acting inappropriately and link that action back to the brand, then all well and good.

And so what that it’s a mere razor brand who is doing that. Their brand relies on ‘The best a man can get’ and if that meaning has to change from adoring women and fast cars to a higher standard of behaviour, then that’s moving positively with the times.

And I suspect that the customer base that Mark Ritson worries will desert Gillette on point of principle will un-ruffle their feathers soon enough when they realise that not being an asshole is actually an ok thing to be.

Apart from Piers Morgan obviously.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Career suicide.

A couple of apparently unconnected things happened in the last few months, out there in media land, that have a hit a chord if you happen to be a seasoned creative of the ‘pale and male’ persuasion.

Firstly in June, at Cannes Lions, the wonderful ‘Project 84’ scooped a gazillion Lions for the Campaign Against Living Miserably. A haunting and yet beautiful depiction of suicide rates in the UK, showing 84 men perched on the side of a sky scraper in central London.

The idea, in case you missed it, helped raise the profile of the epidemic in male suicide, 84 men between under the age of 40 kill themselves every week.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under forty. Not Cancer, not Diabetes, not car crashes.

I know a bit about the senseless waste, the inner trauma that nobody spots when its shrouded in a happy go lucky outer shell

My best friend, when I was thirty two and he was thirty four, with four sons and a wife, took his own life with some rope and a beam in his garden shed. I also know a little about the mess that’s left behind.

What leads these men to opt out? it varies. Clinical depression, broken marriages a general sense of hopelessness.

Maybe even losing a job.

On a completely different and far more ‘woke’ topic there was the news that Jo Wallace, A Creative Director at JWT London had declared  war on the white middle aged heterosexual man. What she called the ‘Knightsbridge boys club’.

Enough of this MadMen culture! We need more diversity!

Watch out chaps!

Next thing we know, a bunch of them are being made um…well…let’s call it ‘redundant‘.

(I know a little about this predicament, as it’s ten years since I left Havas in what one might call ‘a hurry’.)

And now guess what, these same creatives (all older and white and heterosexual of course) have mounted a discrimination law suit against JWT.

Oh dear, poor old JWT can’t seem to get it right. One minute their CEO is being ousted for inappropriate behaviour and the next they’re being too zealous with the whole ‘woke’ strategy.

To be fair JWT refute the allegations of discrimination. They maintain that there had been a spate of redundancies and it made sense that if the majority of the department are pale and male, let alone stale, then there would be a bias towards them. Ok, I get that.

But you have to admit, the timing of Jo Wallace’s speech could have been a lot less Gerald Ratnery.

Positive discrimination is all well and good but can be done without a callous attitude to other people, people with children, homes and mortgages.

These are the same people who have spent a lifetime hawking their student book around town, carving out a career and working their buts off, with weekends and public holidays spent in the office not seeing their families just to do some nice work and keep their jobs.

If Jo Wallace should be anti anything she should be anti-notalent.

Now, granted, we have had a good run, us white middle aged heterosexual men. It cannot be denied.

I just wonder if this is the way to change things.

In a world where talent should be the defining factor in job retention, or indeed progression, being discriminated against because of colour, age or gender is unacceptable.

Shouldn’t that include the pale and male? Even if that’s only what it looks like.

When JWT start hiring again this might severely limit the number of rocks she can look under for talent.

I started googling and found this article in Campaign magazine from 2016 by Rooney Carruthers who asked the question ‘what next for the over 45 year old creative?’

He writes of an older creative who had recently been made ‘redundant’ and taken his own life.

Now, I don’t want to be over dramatic. Lots of these so called stale creatives will find work and not just in top twenty agencies.

But this is serious shit. It’s not a game you should be able to play just to meet diversity quotas, no matter how important diversity is.

And the truth is, the advertising industry has its own natural attrition. (Many of us get fed up with the level of idiot bellends and selling sugar to kids.)

True diversity can and should be fed from the bottom up, filtering people in to the industry through talent first.

Yet minorities of all descriptions very often don’t see adland as a realistic career choice.

That’s why schemes like the Creative Floor are so important, they do incredible work to encourage people who wouldn’t otherwise consider it, or otherwise struggle to find a way in, through their talent and diversity fund.

That’s where the answer lies and when they have gained the knowledge and honed their talents, and creative people from all walks of life see adland as an option the shape of agencies will be truly diverse and packed full of talent.

Happy International Men’s day everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of an awards tart.

I’ve been honoured and lucky enough to have been asked to sit on three awards juries this year. Cannes Pharma, LIAs Health and I’ll be attending Clio Health in November. I was asked to be on the Globals but although … Continue reading