Latest Posts


Beer Brands – Entertain & Be Relevant this World Cup

Now the World Cup is underway, all the big-game hype, stirring montages, post-game chatter and debate that only an occasion like this can evoke have returned. Along with this, comes a barrage of marketing activity seeking to connect brands with the passion, engagement and spectacle.

Perhaps second only to sporting brands themselves in terms of relevance and fit with the World Cup, beer is unequivocally the drink of choice for communal football viewing in the UK. So at Ipsos ASI, we took a look at 3 lager brands and their football-themed ads to see which was best able to resonate and generate positive brand impact, amongst footy fans and more generally.

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They see her Rowling, they hatin’…

JK Rowling has joined a number of celebrities in publicly backing a side in the Scottish Independence debate; but will it make a difference to how people vote?

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Selfie Obsession

From music hit, to filling my social media feed – the selfie seems like it is everywhere I look. So what is the first thing that comes into your head when you think of the selfie?  I’d imagine that branding / marketing probably wouldn’t be one of them. But there are brands, including Dove and French Connection, which are starting to unlock the power of the portrait.

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How to deal with a Twitterstorm – an eyewitness account

I don’t know about you, but we’ve had quite a weekend at Lucky Generals.

On Saturday, thousands of people on Twitter were calling us every name under the sun (mostly beginning with “c”); hoping we’d contract various illnesses (chlamydia was one of the nicer ones); and generally offering to kill us (stabbing, shooting and burning seemed to be the favoured methodologies).  Then on Sunday, our timelines were equally full of people calling for us to receive payrises, promotions and knighthoods (sadly, none of which have been forthcoming, as of yet…).

The reason for all this uproar was an elaborate hoax that we created for Paddy Power, to draw attention to deforestation in the Amazon. You can read the full story here…

 …but basically the idea was to suggest that Paddy Power had cut down some of the Amazon rainforest to create a supportive message for the England World Cup team.   Then, we would use the ensuing outrage to get across the serious message that, in Brazil alone, an area the size of 122 football pitches is destroyed every 90 minutes, without anybody giving a monkey’s.

The project took weeks of planning, involving some pretty amazing work by the geniuses at Smoke and Mirrors, to make sure the photos looked credible.  It also involved loads of research: we liaised with various environmental charities to make sure that we had our facts straight and to find the right call to action (our final piece of communication directed people to a dedicated area of Greenpeace’s site). And it required lots of agonising about the most convincing way to leak the photos – obviously they couldn’t come from us, so we had to disseminate them via a cunning seeding plan over the “dark web”, helped by Sabotage Times.

But of course, all this planning counted for very little once the idea was out there, in social media.  Yes, we could shape things, with some well-chosen misdirects – a deleted tweet here, a provocative reply there (my favourite was “We didn’t chop down that much”).  Yes, we could amplify things – although interestingly, maintaining an official silence turned out to be one of the most effective ways to get others to talk about us.  But to a large degree, things were out of our hands.

At times, the sensation was quite terrifying: would the idea catch fire in the first place or would it turn out to be a damp squib; would the photos be plausible enough to stand scrutiny or would they be dismissed as obvious fakes; would the reveal be noticed or would it get lost in all the anger; and would people feel duped or would they thank us for making them thinking about a serious issue?

Luckily, our worries came to nothing.  But a little bit of fear was also what made the project so exhilarating.  All too often, marketers fret about ceding control to consumers, via social media. And typically, we agencies will reassure them that we can mitigate the risks involved, with careful planning.  Well so we can, to a degree, as our success story shows.  But the truth is, that we must also be prepared to be scared at times.  When we feel too comfortable, it’s time to be worried, as completely safe ideas rarely bring stellar rewards.  Likewise, when we’re bricking it, that can often be for the best.

This weekend was an extreme example, of course, and not everybody is as ballsy as Paddy Power (scrap that: nobody is).  But you don’t have to create your own Twitterstorm to realise that the whole of modern marketing is pretty tempestuous.  And the best advice for those sailing in choppy waters is : take what precautions you can, but only set off if you’ve got the stomach for it.

Or, to return to the rainforest – if you’re afraid of the dark and don’t like surprises, don’t go down to the woods today.


Nike and Neymar – a match made in heaven?

Liam Fox-Flynn looks at how Nike has successfully gate-crashed adidas’ party through clever sponsorship, consistent style and emotional engagement…

Almost as exciting as the announcement of 23 man squads, the release of Panini sticker albums or Shakira’s official tournament anthem (well, two out of three at least) is the unveiling of Nike’s World Cup advert. Invariably bombastic and teeming with footballing galacticos, you’re guaranteed ADHD visuals, cheeky jokes and a swaggering soundtrack. In other words, an enthusiastic diversion that reminds football fans it’s ‘almost time’ and non-football fans that they have a month of sticking their ear-phones in during water-cooler chats. Read More »

The Age of Unreason

“Change is not what it used to be. The status quo will no longer be the best way forward. That way will be less comfortable and less easy but, no doubt, more interesting.”

Charles Handy penned those words a quarter of a century ago in his book ‘The Age of Unreason‘. Handy took George Bernard Shaw’s observation that all progress depends on the ‘unreasonable man’. He used this to argue that we were at an unprecedented point in history when unreasonable men and women would be the one’s to succeed. Now we can look back and see that his vision for the future proved to be amazingly prescient.

A brave new world

Facebook was the brainchild of a distinctly unreasonable man. Mark Zuckerberg’s meteoric rise from a geeky kid to the second youngest billionaire of 2013 (the first is Zuckerberg’s old roommate Dustin Moskovitz, who is 8 days younger) has been mythologized by Hollywood, and the platform he created leapt upon by enthusiastic brands. A new world of Social Media Marketing was born.

Since then, brands and their agencies have been seeking to make sense of a world in which they are constantly connected to consumers. For some it is a terrifying space where corporate misdeeds and marketing mistakes can be ruthlessly exposed. Others have seized the opportunity to build brands by creating engaging content, only to realise that this is a relentless never-ending process.

Who turned out the lights?

Oreo Superbowl

When the lights went out during the 2013 Superbowl and Orea published that tweet, it was clear that the rules of the game had changed. Now speed was the barometer of success. Brands were in a race against time – and against each other – to be the first with a witty response to notable events. Sometimes those comments would prove to be ill judged.


When trying to navigate this demanding environment, it’s not surprising that brands and agencies turned towards those organisations that have had a long history of responding in real-time to events in the outside world, media newsrooms. However as the leaked report on innovation at the New York Times reveals, even one of the world’s greatest newsrooms is struggling to adjust to the digital age.

The picture painted in the report is one of crisis, with digital skills being misunderstood by senior management and therefore undervalued. It contrasts this with the success of newer publishers such as Buzzfeed, which is well on the way to becoming the world’s largest online news destination. Buzzfeed may not have the same journalistic pedigree as the New York Times, but it does understand what drives the internet.

Porn, Pets and Selfies

What Tim Berners-Lee could not have known when he invented the World Wide Web, is that the internet would be powered by porn, pets and selfies. The porn industry would become the driver for mass adoption of innovations such as webcams and live streaming. Meanwhile people took to social networks in droves to share images and funny videos of their pets – and of course – #selfies. According to research published on eMarketer in March 2014, photos accounted for 75% of content posted by Facebook pages worldwide.

Betfair Porn

This doesn’t mean that all brands have to do is post pictures of their products. As Martin Wiegel from W+K in Amsterdam states:

“If you want to FAIL do this…

Assume that people care about brands…

Assume that everyone wants to participate… 

Assume that people will find your content.”

He sums up the challenge for marketers: “Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm but overcoming indifference.”

The agencies that will thrive in the Age of Unreason are those that adopt the best practices of media newsrooms, merging these with creativity and insights into what drives user behaviour. They will streamline their processes, becoming more cost effective and agile. They will challenge conventions and take risks, because as Charles Handy puts it, this is a time for “thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable.”

Be Part of

Jonathan Akwue is a Partner at Engine and the Director of Moment Studio UK – a new creative newsroom for hire, based on a model successfully pioneered by Deep Focus in New York.

150 years of John Lewis – brand experience carried home

From the latest John Lewis 150th anniversary campaign

From the latest John Lewis 150th anniversary campaign (Source: ebiquity)

John Lewis has been celebrating its 150th anniversary, and has done so in its inimitable style, with a big showcase ad designed to boost those all-important positive emotional associations. Predictably, and inevitably, this sparks off a torrent of commentary from those in the industry. If you took a representative sample of marketers and related professions, I suspect you’d find very few with a bad word to say about John Lewis. And if they did, it might well be something facetious about how that bear would have eaten the hare.

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That’s me for this particular blog.

I swear to God I’m writing this with just my brain, my body and a laptop that is offline.  I know: I’m a radical.

I don’t know how to prove that I haven’t looked anything up  during the production of this piece of writing.

Other than you warping the fabric of space and time, coming over here and watching over my shoulder. Which would put me off no end.  I just ‘looked it up’ in my noggin’.

I love words and I love writing. I also love craft and craftspeople. But writing – any writing – takes skill and, crucially, knowledge. Even a bit of academic knowledge.


So here’s one for you copy warriors:


1.  Do you know three words that end in ‘eity’? What are they?

2.  What’s the definition of the ‘subjunctive’? And one example of its use?

3. Is ‘an hotel’ right or wrong? If you think it’s right, please explain why.

4. Should there be an apostrophe in ‘Mothers Day’ (sic)? If so, where?

5. ‘It’s just semantics’. Is this ever true?

6. Is there a difference between a hobo and a panhandler? No cheating please.

7. Deixis. Explain what this is in a few words. Like I say: no cheating.

8. Apostrophe use. Is it grammar or punctuation?

9. What’s a gerund?

10. In terms of grammar, please give an example of the imperative.

11. What is bathos? Clue: no need for soap or a loofah.

12. Internet. Uppercase ‘i’? Yes or no? If yes, can you explain why you think so?

13. How many trick questions are there in this quiz?

14. How do you define a trick question?

15. Do you need to know any of this stuff to write good copy for marketing, advertising or PR?

16. “Brevity is always best.” True or false?

17.  Have you used Google, Wikipedia or any website or book yet?

18. “Pedantry is not the same thing as a love of language”. True or false?

If you got the correct score (I’ve no idea what that is), then you got full marks or an A or whatever. Well done.

Are you sure you didn’t look at that new internet thingy on computers?

Either way, please see me.

In the pub.

We can have a word-off.

Or just a drink and half an hour’s silence…

I could do with a rest.

If you really would like the answers to these questions, tweet me @jonstart or email me:

For meta or worse

When I recently asked myself which TV ads from the last thirty years had made a lasting impression on me and why, three ads immediately sprang to mind. Weirdly, all three were in black and white and they were all significant to me for the same reason. Read More »

Curry World. Pizza World.

Aunty Jane used to live in Stockwell. When we went to visit, I always looked forward to walking past the brilliantly named:

‘Curry & Pizza World – The Best of Both Worlds’.

Of course, in many respects, it was an absurd, messy proposition. Certainly no prissy pizza producer or self-respecting curry chef would likely want to find him or herself working there.  But the customers loved it: you want a Margarita, your brother wants a Chicken Jalfrezi, Pauline has Rogan Josh, and Granny will always go for a Quattro Stagioni. Brilliant; everyone is taken care of, no one gets left out.

Curry & Pizza World had looked at their potential customers, what they wanted, and decided there was a niche; a rich seam that they could tap. As a result, they did a roaring trade. Maybe they still do.

In 1990, Chrysler, GM and Ford had combined revenues of about $250bn.

They employed over a million people, and their total market capitalisation was around $36bn.

In 2012, Google, Facebook and Apple also had revenues of about $250bn. They employed just 130,000 people.  And their market capitalisation was $790bn.

I’ve written a lot about the pressure, disintermediation and commoditisation wrought on Western business by both the rise of Asia and the explosion of digital. But nothing, for me, has brought that macropicture to life as vibrantly as these Detroit vs Silicon Valley statistics: three companies that, in 1990, either didn’t exist, or – like Apple – were a bit of a joke, enjoying more than 20 times the market cap of their long-established Motown counterparts.

They’re overvalued, of course. But that isn’t the point.  The point is that the iterative, focus-on-efficiences, refine-and-hone model that was for years the supposed source of competitive advantage for corporations and their senior  executives alike – ‘Operational Excellence’ – has now reached a tipping point where it offers only ever-diminishing returns.

The car industry is a fabulous example, but there are countless others besides.

Because of this, businesses in the West have to reinvent themselves; fundamentally, relentlessly.

Here’s the good news. That reinvention ain’t gonna come from the ‘tried and tested’ methodologies of the big management consultancies.  Those methodologies have been tried, been tested (not least by Detroit-based automobile businesses). Fresh thinking isn’t what the consultancies do.

It is, of course, with differing degrees of success, what agencies think they do – and so it should come from them. But agencies are not, typically, particularly switched on when it comes to really understanding strategy (despite talking about it endlessly), and certainly not when it comes to charging for the stuff – indeed often they give it away, in order to get the TV campaign, the website, the DM, whatever.

The real difference to clients will be made when grown-up, credible thinkers take needle-moving ideas to corporations; providing them with the fuel and the know-how for real, tangible and much-needed change – and crucially without the institutional expectation that such assistance will always, necessarily manifest in some sort of classic external advertising or marketing campaign.

That’s what the corporations want, and that’s certainly what they need. So that’s what we should supply.

Just like Curry & Pizza World.

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