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Jesus Games.

We don’t really do religion in our family.

Indeed, the catch-all, non-denominational, multi-faith, woefully inaccurate moniker that we afford to all religions is ‘Jesus Games’.

Some people like to go and play Jesus Games on a Sunday, some on a Saturday, and some on a Friday.

We don’t.

But as easy as it is for us heathens to take potshots at religion, as marketers there’s a huge amount to admire.

Purpose. Amongst all the abject bullshit spouted about ‘purposeful’ brands these days, here’s some that indisputably are. Religions know, to Simon Sinek’s point, ‘why’ they exist and, as a result, their employer brands are to die for. Literally, sometimes.

Visual Identity.  The redacted, nuanced sophistication of the cross is so powerful it is uncanny – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost all neatly encapsulated in one infinitely reproducible shape. The ancient symbolism of the Seder plate would put a Michelangelo to shame, and – whilst the use of symbols is prohibited in Islam – there is no denying the importance of (easily recognisable) geometry in Muslim architectural expression.

Storytelling. Religions know how to spin a good yarn.  This week’s Freak-The-Kids-Out includes either a zombie or the ‘Angel of Death’ depending on how much ‘Jesus’ you like with your ‘Games’. And in 8 short months’ time, we can look forward to the self-styled ‘Greatest Story Ever Told.’ However bizarre, these stories have endured, and they work on many different levels. No mean feat.

Tech. Leveraging the latest technology has always been a strength. The printing press enabled, for the first time, scalable storytelling: the Bible, the Qu’ran. And the advent of television ushered a whole new cadre of telegenic, sparkly-eyed ‘GamesMakers’; from the Tora Bora caves to the churches of middle America.  As a result, the stories have gone viral.

Integrated. Above-The-(Tree)Line spires and minarets are visible in our landscapes, and – consciously or otherwise – remind us of the various ‘brand promises’, whilst the DM that pours through the letterbox is seemingly as endless as His Love. There’s sonic branding, in the form of song, and – for the really dedicated – ‘uniforms’ to ensure you can stay bang on-message 24/7.

All of which perhaps gives food for thought in our world  - courtesy of those who believe in the next.

Happy Easter. And a Healthy Passover.

The Trust Trap strikes again

Last week, we were treated to another one of those surveys, listing Britain’s most trusted brands.  This time, the top 3 positions were held by the AA, the Post Office and Boots.  All famous names, to be sure, and all companies full of integrity.  So no doubt we should congratulate them for this momentous achievement.  But perhaps our praise should be somewhat muted.

You see, all the empirical evidence suggests that trust alone is actually a pretty poor predictor of commercial success.  The truth is that trust is clearly necessary for success but not nearly sufficient.  In fact, I’ve long believed that placing too much emphasis on this metric can actually be positively unhelpful, as it can lull executives into a false sense of security, suggesting that everything is well when it is not.

A much more telling measure is “brand fame”.  As Les Binet and Peter Field noted in their seminal 2007 work for the IPA (“Marketing in the Era of Accountability”), this is “not the same as awareness: it is a perception of authority in the category rather than a state of knowledge”.  According to Binet and Field’s exhaustive analysis, brands which adopt “brand fame” as a key metric are significantly more likely to report very large effects on sales and market share than those who pursue other measures (including “trust”).

Many other studies point to the same conclusion: that brands succeed where they have energy, drive and salience.  While the specific terms used may differ from one report to another, these are all forward-looking, positive dynamic descriptors – not just the retrospective absence of a negative.

So while we applaud last week’s winners, perhaps we shouldn’t trust trust too much.



How mobile is driving the native revolution

Piers North is strategy director at Yahoo


Native advertising is one of the buzz words of the moment and it generally provokes one of two reactions. Either a sense of confusion, or the feeling that it’s an over-hyped phrase which is just a new way of describing what we do already – creating advertising which is relevant to the editorial experience. Read More »

The Agile Consumer: new attitudes

Chris Chalk is global chief strategy officer at Cheil Worldwide


One of the most interesting discussions at Adweek Europe last week was around ‘agility’ and what it means for businesses, brands and agencies. We’ve been tracking the agile consumer for some time and believe they will fundamentally change the way we work as marketers and communicators. Read More »

Are you making goosebumps or goosesteps?

A few months ago, I wrote about the importance of valuing and voicing one’s opinion. But there’s a crucial difference between having an opinion and being opinionated. Unfortnately, the business of brand, marketing and advertising is very opinion-driven. Yes, we have data (big or otherwise) and yes, we have insight. But ultimately, when all the numbers have been crunched, it all comes down to what a few people at the top think.

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Jefferson in Paris

I took one of my sons to Paris this weekend.

We had a good time.

But I was struck by the sheer volume of tourists in the city centre; many more so, it felt, than here in London.

Some say the centre of Paris is prettier than the centre of London. That may or may not be true. What is true is that physically Paris has changed a lot less than its British counterpart in the last 150 years.

Pyramide and Pompidou notwithstanding, Baron Haussman’s grand vision is remarkably intact, and so consequently attractive to tourists that, at times, the city can feel like one big theme park.  Irony upon irony then, that the uniquely French  ‘exception culturelle’ and so the concomitant instinct to preserve has in fact led to Paris’ Disneyfication. Quelle horreur!

London, on the other hand, is dirty and gritty, emanating not so much from a fastidiously planned top-down approach, but from the bottom-up. The result is, admittedly, not always pretty, but it is diverse.

And it’s not just in architecture or town-planning where we see this difference.

The French tendency to dirigisme extends to fashion (compare London’s embracing of ‘the street’ with Paris’ haute-couture), cuisine (it might well be the best in the world, but it has to be prepared – and consumed – according to a very strict formula; don’t dare order anything other than a Sauternes with your foie gras), wine (look at how silly the Aussies made the French look when they started labelling wine by the grape, as opposed to terroir); the whole kit and caboodle.

This goes deep – to each nation’s understanding of the rule of law, and nature of freedom. The underlying tenet of the common law of England and Wales is an assumption towards things being permissable unless they have previously been expressly prohibited. In France, and indeed most of the rest of the continent, informed first by Roman law and then the Napoleonic Code, the starting point is a list of things one cannot do. A nuanced, but hugely important, distinction.

For creativity, all of this has a profound impact.

Not only does the relative uniformity produced by France’s dirigisme rob creative minds of the diversity that inspires but also the implicit green light of individual empowerment that a bottom-up culture offers; the basic, instinctive freedom to express at every level of society.

I don’t hate France, or the French. I speak the language and spent a lot of my childhood growing up there.  And this isn’t a perfidious Englishman simply taking a cheap shot at the old enemy.

It’s a bona fide, one-time francophile lamenting the needless shackles that for too long have put a nation that once led the way, creatively speaking, in such a bureaucratic bind.

That, and the inexplicable, continued tolerance of these:



Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Andy Hinder is chief executive at STEEL London


Steve Jobs finished his Stanford speech by famously quoting, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”. That’s stuck with me ever since I first heard it. A ‘eureka’ moment that never leaves you.

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Meme and the world memes with you?

Advertising often reflects the zeitgeist, when it isn’t helping to shape said zeitgeist. Thus it is that the advertising industry is no stranger to memes – both the creation of them and leveraging them for stand-out potential. So, although the Internet has caused a proliferation of memes, they’ve been around for a long time.

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A Great British Brand

Like many strong brands, Russell Brand divides opinion. It’s easy to deride him. Just choose your epithet. Libidinous lightweight. Naive dilettante. Political poseur. Amoral chancer. Degenerate Essex Boy. You can belittle him but it’s difficult to ignore him. As a degenerate Essex boy myself, I like him. He’s a great British brand that others could learn from. Read More »

The Natives Are Restless. Agencies Should Be Too.

On 9 March, Andrew Sullivan wrote a telling piece for the for The Sunday Times in which he excoriated online journalism for ‘selling its soul to the admen.’

He’s not alone.  More than one Guardianista has had something to say about the topic too.

Understandably perhaps, journalists are pretty cross about ‘native advertising’: brands paying money to publishers to develop and disseminate content on their behalf. The journos see their independence, their integrity, and their values under great threat.  ‘Outraged of Fleet Street’ may or may not be correct in this respect, but either way, for the folk who somehow have to find the money to pay him or her, it’s a very attractive proposition.

Someone who helped lead the (incredibly successful) native advertising drive for Hearst in the US told me a few years ago: ‘as publishers, we know our audiences very, very well. We know what type of content they want; and we know when and how they want it.’

As a statement, at least, it’s kind of difficult to argue with that.  Guardian Labs – a self-styled ‘branded content and innovation agency which offers brands bold and compelling new ways to tell their stories and engage with influential Guardian audiences’ – is another example, recently signing up with Unilever to provide Guardian readers with branded pieces on ‘sustainability’.

For a client, prima facie, this all looks rather compelling. No longer do they have to rely on the hunches (sorry ‘insights’) of planners, nor the ‘Big Data’ that may or may not have been accurately analysed. The actual data are already there. Moreover, the creative flair and ‘magic’ is gladly supplied by fresh-out-of-quality-agency creative directors who are delighted to be in an exciting new home, whilst the media planning phase (and cost) simply isn’t necessary because the publisher has long since done all that.

On the surface, at least, it’s all pretty neat. But, nomenclature aside, it ain’t new: we all grew up with the ‘advertorial’.

What has changed, however, is the publishers’ desire to push native advertising; hard. No longer, for them, a mere addendum to the business of selling newspapers, this is instead a matter of survival; of business reinvention.

So it’s interesting just how little regard is typically paid to native advertising by agencies when examining their ‘competitive set’. This might be another product of the seemingly endless deckchair-rearranging that our sector is currently engaged in, but it’s time to take notice.

Publishing, as an industry, was at the front of the ship when it hit the iceberg, and it knows how cold the water is.

It isn’t going to get off the life-raft any time soon.

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