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.







1.Your concepts stinks 2.they loved it.3 Now what?

One of the curious things about Pharmaland is, given the greatest drug ever, say the cure for all Cancer, the cure for Alzheimer’s or Diabetes, you could literally run a picture of a pig in a pair of knickers and as long as the headline still said “IT CURES ALL CANCER” nobody would care, the campaign would research really well and the agency and marketing people could all slap their colleagues backs in a hearty fashion in the certain knowledge their ‘pig in knickers’ campaign was a wowzer.

Why? well, and this may shock you because all the figures aren’t quite in yet and some of the biometric tests were unclear but….


Okay, so nice problem to have. I think if there was such a drug you might not have to piss around with big red arrows in the sand or couples on the beach or in fact any creative at all.

So everything between that and say….lemon sherbert is a case of selling versus telling on a sliding creative scale.

How do you actually get a clean read from respondants when researching concepts on a drug that changes the market significantly or a treatment that finally gives some hope for people where there was none.

How do we expect a doctor to concentrate (or indeed give a shit) on whether he likes the concept of the guy hanging upside down from a tree dressed as a lemon or the one with the dolphin that can sing?

You mean this shit cures Diabetes? I love every concept!

So the reverse is also true. The worse the efficacy or differentiation of the drug, the more creative we have to be.

In consumer they rarely get the life changing briefs. It’s all incremental, it’s attitude, it’s about having a fucking conversation with a brand.

In Pharmaland, we actually have something to say.


Of course usually we can’t actually say it. Can’t claim it will do anything that it doesn’t actually have an indication for.

“It may cure that big boil on the end of your knob but there’s no data to indicate this will improve your sex life or increase comfort while trampolining.”

“But surely….”


So on the plus side we have a head start in research for doctors to get excited about the message, providing doctors have an interest in curing knob-boils.

But folks, I am sorry to say that equally, we must draw the conclusion that just because your campaign researched well, it may – creatively speaking – have the aromatic qualities of a love child between Ricky the Racoon and Anne the Anchovy.

Sadly, research success is no guarantee of creativity.

And without creativity, what’s the point of an agency?



Sorry guys, but REMAIN bombed in research.

I know what you’re thinking, of all the perspectives – both wildly positive and apocolyptic on BREXIT over the last couple of weeks, I haven’t read one from a poncy flowery-shirted Creative Director.

I wonder why that is?

Maybe it’s because we are sooooo over asking the public for their opinions and soooo not surprised when the answer isn’t the one we wanted.

What the hell do people (you know…those loathesome consumers out there) know about EU subsidies, trade deals and the WTO?

Apparently not as much as we’d all hoped.

What they do know about is foreigners coming over here and stealing all the jobs in factories, beating down living wages and not getting a hospital bed.

IE: The things that matter to them. The things they were promised would change.

Well, good luck with that.

For me, despite its best intentions, the strategy behind the REMAIN communication campaign was a tincey-wincey bit flawed.

Whether this was deliberate or whether I am just picking up on the overall media confusion I am not sure, but it seemed like they were targeting more or less everybody who could vote.

Yeah, because that ALWAYS works.

But we all knew that BREXIT had a huge fault line between the different generations.

If you were a client with two options on possible target markets, you’d probably choose the market that was most likely to buy your product- right?

You’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen.

Don’t believe me? It is a well known, but well ignored, fact that the greatest buying power in consumerland is not the most targeted – 18-30 year old market – but the most overlooked, over 50s market.

Over 50s have all the money but none of the cool. Nevertheless the only time we see people of a certain age in advertising is either women having ‘windypop’ issues or men with ‘leakage’ trouble.

Now to my mind, in terms of messages the REMAIN campaign went this direction:

Don’t side with Farage or Boris, they’re racist old dickheads.

Travel and working abroad is great!

Everyone’s our friend these days.

We can work out our problems.

Don’t be a racist!

Be part of something bigger than our little island.

All good and worthy messages, depending on your opinion. But do you detect a slight youth bias? The aspirational dream of a better world where we are all friends and making each other daisy chains?

Now, to a sixty year old’s ear this is all insufferable bollocks.

EU-Campaign-Wolfgang-Tillmans---Between-Bridges5 eu-referendum-remain-campaign-posters-by-wolfgang-tillmans_dezeen_936_5

You had to dig quite a bit deeper to find anything about financial collapse, new trade deals dependent on free movement, extracating ourselves from 40 years of EU & UK law…the lack of investment, EU subsidies withdrawal, all the stuff that could have struck a chord with the over 50s.

And when they did talk about it, it was labelled ‘Project Fear’.

REMAIN had the harder brief, I grant you. As any Pharma brand knows, the promise of maintaining the ‘status quo’ isn’t that sexy.

Normal is boring. There’s a lot of walking on beaches and parks involved.

But then look at the LEAVE campaign strategy, it positively dripped with the promise of new and exciting, which any creative will tell you is a well…a walk in the park:

Get our country back.

Don’t believe the experts.

Take control.

The EU is undemocratic.

We didn’t fight in two world wars to be bossed about by Germans.

Put the money back in to our system (The NHS)

It’s not racist to want border control.

No wonder this worked for the silver-haired brigade. You see, people over 50 believe they are the experts. And they’ve seen ‘so-called experts’ be proved wrong before dammit!!. The older you get the more you want control, not partnerships and a French pen-pal. Plus, the baby-boomers were raised on WW2 films, books and comics where plucky Brits were always trying to beat or escape those pesky Germans.

Don’t think that doesn’t have a residual effect.

The LEAVE campaign didn’t have to bother with tackling the fluffy stuff because their voters weren’t interested anyway.

Like in those research groups for car commercials, there is always a mouthy know-it-all that declares: I don’t care about the cool people on the mountain road, tell me about the MPG!

But then we look at the numbers of who voted what.

75% of under 24 year olds wanted to remain.

81% of 55-64 year olds wanted to leave.

Before the vote, it was split down the middle between old and young with a little bias towards remain.

Then you look at who actually voted, which is quite different to a poll.

Reputedly, only 36% of 18-30 year olds actually bothered to make it down to the polling station.


The cool kids driving the car on the mountain road… guess what? they don’t buy new cars.

Strategically, what the REMAIN camp needed to do was talk to the older LEAVE campaign supporters in a way that related to them. Forget the fluffy bollocks angle.

This was now famously one of the ads that never ran, produced by M&C Saatchi. Personally I think it could have helped.


So then what happened?

The day after the vote The Sun publishes all the facts that will effect us now we’re out of the EU. Suddenly people were outraged and showing buyer’s remorse. “Why didn’t they tell us?’ was the question being asked in all the tabloids.

Why indeed.

Well, because REMAIN were too busy being the Coca-Cola ad on the hill, teaching the world to sing.

And now the pound is in the toilet, racists apparently feel they have a license to attack anyone who looks a bit foreign and irony or ironies, we’re having to recruit more foreigners to help negotiate our exit because we don’t have enough skilled negotiators to do it.

Perhaps the REMAIN campaign should have listened harder to their marketing experts. Perhaps a cross-party committee wasn’t the best way to choose the work, (no shit).

Or perhaps like Michael Gove, they’d simply had enough of experts.









The other Great War

In this week of remembrance and solemn thanks for the heroes of the Great War, who died on the fields of Flanders exactly a hundred years ago, I thought I might touch on a vastly inappropriate parallel: the unimportant war that we fight as creatives every day.

(If this blog dies in research, sod it…it’s running anyway.)

So, here are some of the letters from the front, from the brave boys and girls who signed up in the hope that their careers wouldn’t be all over by Christmas.


With thanks and gratitude to http://

“Our ad died when, after years of trying to get it bought, the account man moved agency and sold it to someone else and now I have to watch it on telly, done badly.”

“We presented a special build 48 sheet for a new Adidas football boot, but our Creative Director didn’t approve it. Then the New Zealand office from our network produced exactly the same concept (for the same fucking boot). It won a pencil at D&AD”

“We spent 5 weeks crafting the most beautiful animatic known to man, and then ran out of budget to make the actual ad”

“We wrote an ad that had these feel-good sun beams that followed people around. The client was worried the sunbeams would look like aliens trying beam the people up, or lasers shooting them from the sky. We assured them otherwise. Then after 6 months in post we finally researched our ad. The research group thought the beams were ‘aliens trying to beam the people up, or maybe lasers shooting them from the sky’. The ad never ran”

“A million pound stunt and digital campaign ended up as a rich media banner”

“We wrote probably the best ad of our career then the next week got made redundant. Our ad stayed behind and got made by another team.”


Having ‘great’ ideas stolen, lost or defeated in research is all part of the battle.

I’ve always liked the idea of a bottom draw but on so many occasions that great idea you have is great because it fits the specific brief so perfectly.

In Pharma it’s slightly different.

A lot of the themes are overlapping. A better quality of life, less pain, time to enjoy life, relief from worry..etc. So I think it’s easier to revive or extend the lives of some ideas (irony intentional) if you find yourself looking at the same type of brief again and again.

My biggest personal disappointment involved a campaign I did for BMI, a small business airline that wanted to be seen as a more personal version of BA.

They were launching a new business lounge at Heathrow and wanted to make a TV ad to tell the world.

Now, anyone who has spent time on business travel knows that it is usually not as glamorous as you might think ( better than working down a mine I grant you) and you hardly ever get to see any of the cities that you travel to. It’s normally a meeting room in a business park in the equivalent of Slough, be it Paris or Las Vegas.

But occasionally there is a perk. Occasionally there are nice hotels and restaurants and good company.

But the key is, and I give this advice freely, to never talk up the experience to your other half.

Even if you’ve just had dinner with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and been asked back to their place for a jacuzzi, what actually has happened is you’ve met two bores who only talk about themselves and now have to endure more time with and their noisy gang of badly behaved children.

Anyway that was the insight we used for this one ad. The script had all the business travelers slagging off the new gorgeous lounge to their other halves on their mobiles while clearly enjoying themselves, with the thought…’remember, you’re not supposed to be enjoying this’

What I particularly liked was spending thirty seconds actually rubbishing the product and getting away with it.

As we were putting the finishing touches to the post production three things happened.

The marketing director left, the price of oil went through the roof (which if you’re an airline is somewhat impactful) and a new client arrived who wanted her old agency on the case.

She came in, said she wasn’t interested in even seeing anything we had done and that the account would be moved forthwith to M&C Saatchi.

We had to call back photographers from around the world who were shooting print ads, everything was halted.

Thank you and good night.

Shit happens.

And when it happens to you, dear reader, I recommend remaining sanguine about it. It’s only advertising, yes it may effect your portfolio or reel in the short term but the test of a creative is being able to show up for work the next day with a childlike naivety and believe that the next brief that lands on your desk is the one.

One other observation, if someone tells you “they really love it but don’t think it is right at the moment but they want to keep it for next year, or later in the year, or a different brand or the second phase” take it from me, that campaign is going nowhere.

The one famous occasion that an idea has risen from the grave was of course the Carling campaign from the 80’s and 90’s.

‘I bet he drinks Carling black label’ started out as ” I bet he drinks milk’ in a pitch to the milk marketing board.

I wonder if milk had gone with it whether it would still be a campaign running today?

I’ll leave you with my favourite tale from the creative trenches.

“Our creative director went with a placement girl/guy team’s route instead of ours, when I asked him what the work was that had beaten us he said ‘to be honest, the work was on a par, but the placement girl is just hotter than you”

Ah, advertising. Gotta love it.