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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Artificially Intelligent guide to the new Agency model.

Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot of exciting news about agencies and clients reinventing the ‘advertising agency model’.

Not the whole agency, obviously, just the interesting part with all the tattooed beardy men and purple haired women.

Because you see, Creative departments simply weren’t working before.

What? you hadn’t noticed?

That’s why you’re not making the big bucks, buddy.

However, fortunately for us, some of those clever people who are earning the bigly-bucks with bells on – have been thinking about this long and hard and have come up with some cunning new ways to reinvent the whole thing.

There are three main ways this creative reinvention is manifesting itself.

The first is ‘Down with awards, long live Process!’.

The second is the ‘My Ball, My rules’ method.

The third is ‘Committees are the way forward’.

Leading from the front was the much publicised boycott of awards by the Publicis group. “No awards entries for a year, let’s spend it on AI process software!” they declared.

Of course they never reckoned on Creative people’s ability to think creatively. We needn’t have worried, last count Publicis had 398 entries at Cannes and won Gold in Pharma and came third in Healthcare Agency of the year via Langland.

Not bad for a group on a Cannes boycott. Maybe we should all try it.

Plus Publicis saved quite a few bob on air fair. They admit they had 15 people going under their own steam, 12 employees in the young Lions competitions and 12 leaders who were there for jury duty, paid for by Cannes.

Oh but wait, they did pay for the account leaders who needed to attend all the important meetings and the you know, all the important stuff.

Apart from the cost of junior creatives sandwich allowances, they saved themselves a shit ton of cash because all their suppliers or clients had to pay for the entries themselves and even their employees who actually picked up the awards had to pay their own way.

I mean it’s almost as if creative people’s careers depend on awards or something the way they managed to get stuff entered. Who knew?

Second, in the ‘My ball, My rules’ camp is P&G.

Recently they announced that they are forming a new agency called ‘People First’ which plans to cherry pick the best talent from the major networks and corral these lucky souls under one roof to service their North American fabric brands.

Naturally, when one of the world’s most powerful clients has a bright idea, agencies will nod, applaud obsequiously and agree through gritted teeth what a fab idea it is, or miss out on their slice of the world’s biggest pie.

But, you ask, is this just P&G setting up an in-house agency without all the bother of trying to find their own creatives or Creative Director?

Not a bit of it, this is completely different.

You have to concede it’s pretty damn bloody clever to not call it an in-house agency as the minute anyone does, I fear all the top talent at the top agencies might have an identity crisis that somehow they’ve crossed over to the dark side.

Thing is, an ad career can sink or swim on the recognition you get for your work. And by association your agency benefits from the afterglow of your genius, making it easier to hire talent and attract other business. That’s kinda the point.

Are the agencies to just forego this?

Well, luckily we don’t have to wonder. This years ‘It’s a tide ad’ campaign that swept the superbowl and won multiple golds at Cannes was won by the amazing agency Procter & Gamble Cincinatti.

Everyone credited appeared to work for Saatchi and Saatchi NY but you know, who cares if the cash is right.

The third act of reinvention is what Campaign described as the dawn of a new age of Creative power at JWT.

Finally!

It’s what we creatives, who’ve been round the block, recognize as the old ‘we don’t need creatives or Creative Directors because everyone’s a creative’ routine.

Or the ‘WDNCOCDBEAC’ routine for short.

Yes, JWT have decided they don’t need a global CCO.

‘Bloody over paid primadonnas’, someone probably said at some point, my hidden sources can confirm.

Tamara Ingram, the CEO, and her chums have realised that what they need is a group of engineers, architects and musicians from the Latin American agencies – an ‘incubation program’ named JumpStart instead of a global CCO.

They’re going to call it the ‘Inspiration Council’.

The only problem, as I see it, with taking engineers, architects and musicians and asking them to tackle creative problems for brands is that pretty soon – if they’re any good – Gosh, darn and damn it if they don’t go ahead and become creatives. This means then you have to fire them all and get some more engineers, architects and musicians to replace them.

Tamara explains:

“They’ll combine this with a ‘Futures Council’. The mix of talent — from data science and creative technology, to strategy and user experience — will work with universities and technology firms to feed the Inspiration Council with knowledge to find the right solutions to solving clients’ business problems.”

See? easy!

Personally I think committees, sorry –  ‘future councils‘ – are always the best way to provide a strong creative voice. Just think of all the great creative ideas or inventions that have come from committees, oops…sorry, Inspiration programmes that you can think of.

I mean there must be literally dozens.

It’s an exciting time to be a creative in a creative department, no more boring architecture or silly music to worry about for a start. So much change, so much reinvention by the people who know best.

As Tamara Ingram so eloquently put it, using simple plain English to make her point:

“This council is about unleashing the imaginations of these thinkers into our creative world,” she told Campaign US. “It is about encouraging a collision of ideas and inspiring the whole agency. It is about recency, relevancy and driving culture. It is about the application of the triangulation of humanity, creativity and technology that generates stand-out work and experiences.”

I couldn’t have triangulated that better myself.

So, it’s clear folks. The future Advertising agency model is an in-house creative department, run by a committee of engineers and musicians with a focus on AI software process systems.

Who wouldn’t want to work there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You take the high-brow I’ll take the low.

Before Easter I took a trip to the US and Canada to visit our agencies in my new capacity as Le Grand Fromage Creative de la CDM.

My ‘talk to the troops’, or as our CEO Kyle Barich described it, my ‘Stump’ speech was a way of introducing myself to those who had no idea who I was or how I got the job or what the job was. It was also a chance to share some of my thinking about creativity and pharma and whatnot.

I hadn’t reckoned on the North American weather though and so the trip was somewhat compromised by a shit ton of snow which decided to disrupt a promising spring in New York, so sadly I never made it to Montreal. It was like the scene in Home Alone when the mum tries to get back to save Kevin and due to no flights has to share a bus with a Polka band, lead by John Candy.

Well, there was no touring Polka band but the frustration was similar.

I managed a quick visit to our Princeton agency but these were guys who’ve become extreme weather experts and weren’t dumb enough to attempt to make it in to the agency with two feet of snow forecast, so a small band of hardened professionals were left holding the fort, while the others worked remotely.

Nevertheless as a small part of my ‘stump speech’ I started to grow more fond of this notion of where ideas come from and how it needn’t be the high brow visits to art galleries and French independent films that supply all the ideas to steal, I mean..ahem..be inspired by.

As you know, if you are looking for inspiration, by the time you come to sit down with a pencil and paper and try and think of something it’s already too late if there’s nothing in the idea bank. You need to be making deposits all the time.

For a creative you never know when the visual or intellectual stimuli will resurface. Even a night in the Hyatt in a business park in New Jersey can provide fodder at some point.

(Right now I can’t think what, but the 1970’s decor and cold scrambled egg was a delight and may pay dividends some day!)

But I digress.

This idea for a flexible fabric Bandaid would only have come from someone who’d skipped the Rauschenburg retrospective at the Tate Modern and gone to watch a Marvel movie instead. I love this idea, yes I know it’s just a print ad, but the thinking is so pure no copy, beyond what the product does, is necessary.

Similarly this idea for Wonderbra swimwear has a delightful simplicity that can only have come from a few viewings of Finding Nemo.

But it’s also not about just watching films, arty or otherwise. (although I highly recommend it)

I was reminded of this when I read about how Dan Weiden (founder of Weiden and Kennedy) who among other things wrote the famous Nike line ‘Just do it’.

Who would have though that his inspiration would have come from the last words of the famous American killer Gary Gilmore.

As the firing squad lined up and he was strapped in to his chair he just said ‘Let’s do it’.

Dan wanted something that would inspire professionals and amateurs alike, an attitude he could apply to the brand and this somehow popped in to his head.

He didn’t like ‘let’s’ in copy, so he changed it to ‘Just’.

And the rest is adland history.

We can get so tied up in our heads that we disregard the everyday creativity and attitudes that surround us. The conversations on the bus, the random acts of graffiti wit on walls. If we want to relate to people on a people basis the more ways we can find to repackage the familiar in unfamiliar ways the easier our job will be.

And so little of it comes from staring at our phones while life goes on around us.

Our clients and customers aren’t art critics or film buffs. They like populist work, they like pop tunes and they like best selling novels about crime and love (okay and maybe science).

So by all means check out the Turner prize winners, go to the opera but also next Sunday when you’re lazily skimming through Netflix in a fug of hangover, take a look at that Pixar movie and well …

… Just do it.

 

Throwing money at a problem

Everyone has a story they tell when they dine out or meet new people. Mine is about the time I found myself in the lift with all of the members of U2 and was greeted by Elton John.

But that’s for another time.

My brother-in-law Dermot has a story that he used to tell a lot, but these days he will only bring out if you insist. So I tell it here instead, with his kind permission, mainly because it illustrates a reasonable point about creativity but it’s also a pretty good tale in itself.

It happened back when Mullets ruled the hairdressers and band names sounded like the ramblings of an eight month old baby (Kajagoogoo? no? oh please yourselves) and the internet was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-lee’s eye.

Our story starts on a fine spring day in a ski resort somewhere in the Alps when Dermot and two friends, Henric and Mike went off for an afternoon’s skiing. Such a fine day in fact that he decided, as people often do, that a jacket was surplus to requirements.

It was one of those afternoons where the sun reflects off the slopes and turns the whole mountain in to a giant reflector, the sky was a pastel blue and the snow was powdery and perfect. Bliss.

The other two cursed him as they sweated in their jackets and the three friends, all pretty good skiers, decided to take a detour and go ‘off piste’.

It must have been an hour or so later when they realised they had taken a wrong turn, missed a marker or sign and now were completely lost.

It was getting darker, but they carried on down the mountain anyway, thinking they were sure to find a route somewhere.

They chopped through the trees, weaving their way down when they abruptly came to a cliff and all three narrowly avoided going over the edge. That was close, they thought, but things were about to get a lot worse.

By now it was now almost totally dark and now it was getting freezing. They were properly in the shit.

And Dermot only had a sweater on.

They couldn’t risk walking in the dark and going over another ledge, so they reasoned they would have to make a camp there and spend the night on the mountain.

This was before mobile phones, and they hadn’t thought to tell anyone of their plans. Nobody would miss three guys in their twenties who didn’t come home all night.

They tried to make a fire. They had a cigarette lighter, no cigarettes of course, but nothing would burn.

They destroyed their skiis trying to use them as axes on the pine tree branches but no luck.

They would have to survive with no fire and no food.

If only they had some paper!

They dug a hole out of the snow with what was left of their skiis and cuddled up.

Stupidly they tried to sleep, which you shouldn’t do if you are in sub zero temperatures as you can quickly sink in to a coma.

Nevertheless Henric and Mike sandwiched Dermot between them to share body heat.

Dermot usually says at this point ‘I told them that if one of them needed to pee to just do it on me’ because the cold was so intense.

It was a long night, during which they all genuinely thought that they were done for.

As the first light appeared around 4am they were relieved to discover that they were still alive, if a little urine sodden. Slowly they made their way back up the mountain, (in 1980’s ski boots) trying to find a route down.

By 3pm that afternoon they eventually made it back to some kind of civilisation. A town that wasn’t where they were staying but had a taxi that would take them back to their village.

Exhausted, hungry and grateful for their lives they arrived back at their hotel.

Now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with finding a simple obvious answer.

The story would have ended there, a lucky escape and cautionary tale about the perils of mountain conditions. But as they entered the chalet, Henric, nonchalantly produced some money to pay the cab.

He has been sitting on a thick wedge of cash.

Paper.

Paper that they could have burned to start a fire.

But it never crossed his mind. Money wasn’t paper to him. It was money.

Sometimes the best ideas aren’t that hard to find, you just need to know where to look. You just need to think a bit differently about the familiar. What good creatives are able to do, rather like good comedians, is take the ordinary and twist it in to new shapes and present it back to you in new ways.

So it’s not always about new media, or new techniques.

Sometimes it’s just about looking afresh at something you’ve seen a million times before.

And setting light to it.

 

 

 

 

 

The old egg and lightbulb rule.

In research it’s always nice to hear that respondents ‘liked’ your idea.

But so what?

The problem is people like a lot of things, pictures of puppies, pretty colours, the way the model looks strong, the happy setting of a family on holiday because it reminds them of that time in Corfu.

It doesn’t really mean they’ll remember it though, at least not just for that reason alone.

I always love that question when you hear it in a research one to one. “Which one of these concepts would you remember most?”

As if they know!

Not to say it isn’t a valid expectation, fixing a permanent spot in the HCP’s mind is kind of what we should be aiming for, obviously.

Derren Brown, the famous er…magician doesn’t really cut it…illusionist possibly? Anyway, ‘Wizard’ is probably closest, knows a thing or two about how the mind works.

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing one of his shows it is literally a marvel.

If you didn’t know better and if he didn’t admit he isn’t one, you’d swear he was a genuine psychic.

It appears he can read minds and predict the future.

And his ability to memorise things is incredible.

But it’s based on simple techniques that he writes about in his book A trick of the mind.

One of them is this:

If you want to remember a list of random items, it helps if you visualise them meshed together to create a strong visual image in your head.

To demonstrate the difference try these two techniques. First, give yourself one minute to learn this list of ten things in this exact order:

A kettle

A red shoe

A giraffe

A cloud

A banana

A clam

A urinal

A guitar

A country lane

A grey carpet

Got it?

Okay, go away and try writing them down in that order and see how far you get.

Now try the same list but this time link the two images together in a visual picture.

A kettle

A kettle shaped like a red shoe

A pair of red shoes on a giraffe

A giraffe shaped cloud

A cloud emanating from a banana

A banana inside a clam

A clam peeing in a urinal

A urinal shaped guitar

A guitar in the middle of a country lane

A country lane made of grey carpet

Now try the same exercise and write them down again. A bit easier to remember isn’t it?

That’s because memory is linked closely to the visual side of the brain. If we can visualise it, we remember it better.

That’s why so many of the great ad campaigns have strong visual elements.

It’s also why concepts with people on the beach or at the park and a line about their data are likeable but forgettable.

It’s why you forget most of the advertising messages you are bombarded with every day.

It’s why even strong headlines are often visual too and paint a picture.

So what can we learn from this little trick of the mind?

Well it might help agencies and clients take a different view of that part of the research debrief that says the respondents ‘like’ an idea.

As I said, people like a lot of things.

But the things they remember are the ones that are a square peg in a round hole. The ideas that subvert, twist, shock or surprise.

It’s why a picture of a lightbulb or an egg may be likeable but isn’t memorable, but a lightbulb, cracked like an egg somehow is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mr Hammer, your problem isn’t a nail.

Aren’t all branding ideas sort of advertising ideas and vice versa?

Well, sometimes, I guess, but not always.

In Pharmaland we can lean towards treating every problem as if it needs a good whack on the head. Give it a brand image that people will remember, plaster it all over the congress stand and the iPad and stand back.

Not you obviously, but you know…other agencies.

The most recent Mr Muscle campaign highlights the often subtle differences between what (I regard as an..) advertising idea and a brand idea. Both have found their way in to an adspace mind you.

Now, I am not saying that this is the greatest campaign of all time, but it provides a useful, albeit mediocre, example.

The old campaign featured, for years, a feeble nerd who took on super strength because of the product. Mr Muscle loves the jobs you hate.

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-24 screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-17-29-46

Yes, irony folks. But it worked because people could see the role of the brand in their life.

Then after a 30 year successful run some sort of global adboard switches it around and makes the product a superhero (yawn), complete with muscles and a square chin. Not sure why he’s animated but never mind.

One shows the user having a clear benefit.

The other says the brand is great.

journal-mr-muscle

I can imagine the team somewhere deciding that the weedy guy was too negative, he didn’t embody the brand in a positive way.

“I think people might think the product is weedy too…I just feel it’s too negative”.

“Good point Gustav, what we need is a more positive image.”

“Yes, and we need a woman in there so housewives can relate to the user – because men don’t really do cleaning”

“Thanks Maria, good point.”

That Maria is a bit sexist if you ask me.

To my mind they fundamentally lost what makes a good advertising idea work.

The hero is all about the brand, the weedy guy is all about the benefit to you, the bathroom attendant and therefore the brand.

Truth is, clients can often miss the point and go straight to what the pictures in front of them appear to be saying purely on a visual level.

It’s the semiotic argument.

But to paraphrase Eric Morecombe, do all the right notes in the wrong order still add up to a concerto?

At one point in the third act of the film ‘Notting Hill’, you’ll remember that Hugh Grant and the gang all pile in to a small car with a lion in its logo. The cookie sister shouts to Rhys Evans as he squeezes in to the boot ‘You’re my hero’ and they whizz off to stop Julia Roberts from leaving town, to the tune of ‘Gimme some Lovin’.

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I only found out about this a couple of years ago that this was a secret sponsorship, product-placement kind of a deal, brokered by the the account director on the car account I used to work on.

Unsurprisingly, it bypassed our creative department entirely.

It showed the family car could take a lot of people (obviously) and the ‘hero’ line was spot on the branding strategy about heroes that that particular car brand was employing at the time.

The client loved it. They couldn’t sign up quick enough.

That little deal cost them about £150k and it went straight in to the pocket of Working Title films and became an iconic moment in a much loved movie.

But wait a bloody minute.

I’ve seen that film a dozen times and all I saw was a group of friends jumping in a car and driving though london.

And I worked on the brand!

All the right notes, not necessarily in the right order.

Maybe it had some semiotic effect that I don’t know about, but even with all those branding elements that the client held dear and spent millions on, it still didn’t add up to an actual message.

Pharmaland is full of images that capture the ‘brand essence’ or even the MOA without making a connection with the doctor or end user in any meaningful way. We mistake branding ideas for ideas that connect with our audience, the orange bridge, the blue apple, or I dunno….the red sodding banana all probably encapsulate their respective brands perfectly, without ever actually meaning a bloody thing.

What we need in Pharmaland, heck even adland in general, is less hammers looking for nails and more advertising ideas.

Or at the very least, to be able to know the difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How a brand can punch above its weight.

Back in the 90s I was fortunate to do a fair amount of international jet setting due to being the jammiest git alive and working on a car account.

The ads were popular somewhat but never that great –  which was always unsatisfactory, but the trips were the consolation prize.

We used to go to LA quite a bit and stay at the Sunset Marquee hotel. The names I could drop, if I had a mind to.

Which I do.

The infamous ‘Whisky bar’ within the hotel, was where every night Slash would set up his table and be surrounded by hangers on. Jeff Beck, would usually be hanging around in his cap sleeve T-shirt, we were there on the night the Sex Pistols played LA on their reunion tour and were politely drinking in the foyet. We’d come from a schmancy restaurant in Beverly Hills where we sat next to Densel Washington while Elle McPherson was talking with Joe Pesci at the bar.

I once noticed an old man dining alone at the Sunset’s small restaurant but resisted the urge to ask if he wanted a chat. It was Paul Newman.

Super models roamed the corridors and I remember one afternoon we shared some late sun with Billy Ray Cyrus, Mylie’s old man.

All of these encounters and sightings should have prepared me for what happened one evening in the Whisky bar.

I tell this story as no more or no less than a story about branding and how a brand speaks and behaves and how important it can be.

The name dropping is purely gratuitous.

But we’ll get to that.

Now: Whisky.

(In this ‘dry month’ of January it seems appropriate to talk about the hazards of the demon drink.)

So anyway, whisky has an effect on me like no other drink.

While I have never been an aggressive person, it does slightly give me a false sense of my own macho-ness, let’s say.

Wine, makes me fall asleep at the table and Tequila can lead to all sorts of mischief. I’m sure your experiences are similar.

But the night in question, it was whisky at the Whisky bar.

We had returned to the hotel after casting or shooting or location hunting or some such production based pastime.

A very good friend and colleague of mine at the time was an assistant producer named Liza, she has since grown up and had babies but at the time she was an attractive young woman in her twenties ( and obviously still is!) and as an agency team we felt protective of our assistant producer, she was like a kid sister.

As we sat outside on the small patio she wafted through the doors in to the evening LA fug, if not exactly like a goddess, certainly like an attractive assistant producer.

Oh alright, a goddess sounds better.

I then heard a cockney voice shout out something like ‘Oi. you…over ‘ere!’

It was the mating call of the lesser spotted London geezer and Liza had caught his eye.

Although quite innocuos in retrospect I took affront to this indelicate language addressed at our assistant producer….as if she was some parlour maid.

I stood up and approached this braggard.

Yes, braggard.

I should say that at this point I was more than a little sozzled and words like braggard and parlour maid were frothing to the top of my internal vocabulary, turning me in to some sort of psychotic Lord Melchett.

I approached this bounder who was sat delicately perched on the low brick wall. One push would have done it.

He looked me up and down, unimpressed.

What followed was a strange sort of conversation, there was a lot of ‘don’t speak to women like that’ and a lot of ‘who the fuck are you, her dad?’ type replies.

Then a few “yeahs??? and a few “whatchagonnadoaboutits”.

You know how stupid people (ok men) can get when this sort of thing happens.

But for the first time in my life, and thankfully the last, I felt like I was the guy in charge here.

I didn’t waver, for all intents and purposes I was a hard nut.

Not because I looked hard, or spoke hard. But because I believed it. Yes, it was mostly Glen and his merry band of fiddichs, Morangies and Livets backing me up, but there I was – being macho.

There was a sort of stand off. To be fair this guy wasn’t backing down either.

But neither did he make a ‘move’.

There was an awkward sort of ‘yeah..well mind your language’ kind of unsatisfactory ending to the ‘face-off’ but I at least walked away with my dignity.

And it was over. I couldn’t believe that was even me.

We made our exit to the bar where Mark my boss and Nick the account director were standing laughing their heads off.

I assumed at my idiotic behaviour.

And they were of course, but I had had no idea quite how idiotic I had been.

And frankly you may be thinking that there’s nothing special about this sort of loutish behaviour, men square up to each other the world over every night of the week. It’s embarrassing and nothing to be proud of.

Well, here is where we get to the advertising insight part.

How a brand behaves and acts IS THE BRAND. You don’t need to work your way up to be a brand leader in terms of how you conduct your brand personality, you can just start behaving like a brand leader and so long as you stay faithful to that tone, you can fool pretty much anyone. Even yourself.

Product is what it does, Brand is how it behaves.

“Do you know who that was?” My chums said as I returned to the warm safety of the agency huddle, expecting at least a small degree of newly discovered respect.

“No, who?”

“Have you ever heard of Gary Stretch?”

Hmm..the name rang a bell.

“What the WBC International Light Middleweight title holding Gary Stretch?”

“The now living in LA as an actor Gary Stretch”

“You just nearly got the shit kicked out of you”.

To be frank, it wouldn’t take an ex-professional boxer to kick the shit out of me, but yes – they had a point.

The one time I decide to be a macho idiot and I pick the best pound for pound fighter of his generation.

And lived to tell the tale.

Tone of voice really is everything.