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Never Gonna Give You Up?

If you play a certain type of ‘Jesus Game’, today marks the start of Lent.

This is where you traditionally deny yourself something as a form of penitence.

Serious Jesus Games players tell of how it prepares them for the ‘Big Event': remembering Jesus’ death, resurrection etc. at Easter.

Perhaps more importantly for us, they also tell of the ecstatic delight that they feel when they allow themselves to go back to the chocolate/carbs/whatever that they had given up.

As ever with religion, once you cut through all the superstitious nonsense, they’re probably on to something.

Think about the beer that you drink on holiday. It tastes good. But it never, ever tastes as good as the beer you drink after a hard day’s work.

Because you haven’t earned it. The same might be true of advertising.

Certainly it is everywhere else in life – that immutable , and annoyingly accurate, “parents’ law” that every child is subjected to: ‘you only get out what you put in.’

As consumers, we all tend to get more out of an advert we’ve had to put a little effort into. The intellectual flattery, the implicit ‘club membership’ and the nod-and-a-wink that says you’re part of something vaguely exclusive, it’s all terribly rewarding.

My first experience of this was Paul Arden’s Silk Cut ads. I can still remember the thrill as a boy when I worked it out – ‘purple silk….., pair of scissors…….,….Cut…..Silk – Silk Cut: got it!.’ More recent examples include the magical double-take that BBH forced us all to make for their Marmite/Margaret work (‘of course! She also brought about strong feelings either way!’) and, funnily enough, the less glamorous but arresting Nuffield Gyms campaign which features strong art direction heroing all the things that Nuffield, as a gym, are in fact not.

Is the delight brought about by these ads directly proportionate to the investment that the creative concept forces us to make; the process of ‘working it out’?

Clearly there’s a fine line.

Overdo it, make the consumer feel like they’re having to work too hard, and it’s game over. Self-indulgent, overly complex puzzles are a definite no-no.

But leaving just a little bit to be ‘discovered’, just enough to show the consumer, leaning on Ogilvy’s famous dictum, that you do not consider them to be a moron, then that can render fabulous rewards, share-of-mind-wise.

We’re much more likely to remember things that we’ve had to think about, things we’ve explored in our own minds, even if only fleetingly, than things that has simply been served up to us on a plate, without any chance to use our imaginations at all.

It is perhaps the cerebral equivalent of the Victorian flash of ankle, in a world dominated by full frontal.

For, as your parents might also have said, in an altogether different context, it’s important not to give away the goods too soon…….

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.


Recently, the brand agency, Aesop, published a simple guide to planning. The Five Cs of Planning. It’s a wonderfully concise summary of the basics of strategy. It got me thinking about some other C-words. Good, bad and ugly c-words.  Read More

Now, The World Don’t Move To The Beat Of Just One Drum.

This week, the scientific journal Plos One published a piece of research by Annabel Nijhof and Roel Willems.

Their paper is entitled ‘Individual Differences in Literature Comprehension Revealed with fMRI’, and its results are, to say the least, noteworthy.

You can read it here.

Nijhof and Willems conclude that people (or their brains) move into ‘literary worlds’ in qualitatively different ways; that ‘some people are mostly drawn into a story by mentalizing about the thoughts and beliefs of others, whereas others engage in literature by simulating more concrete events such as actions’.

And they have the fMRI scans to prove it.

Isn’t that, just, well, fascinating?

And doesn’t it explain why you and your other half are always arguing about what was genuinely important about the film you just watched, or the book you both just read?

And – crucially – why that tv spot meant oodles to you, but diddly squat to him? Or vice versa?

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

And If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next.

The election looms.

And most of us, according to Russell Brand, will respond with:

“absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class, that has been going on for generations now.”

He’s got a point.

And you only have to accidentally flick the remote onto ‘Question Time’ to be reminded of it.

There, every Thursday night, we are treated to the formulaic:

“what I say is this:….”
“I think the important thing here is….”
“I see people up and down the country”
“I’m really glad you’ve asked that question”

and all the rest of it: frankly just very weird phrases and sayings, trotted out left, right and centre.

When did you ever hear a normal person talk like this?

And where on earth do politicians learn to speak this pompous, top-down, duplicitous, jargon-laden, deeply patronising gobbledygook?

But more importantly, why are they so surprised by our “indifference” and “weariness”?

And why do they blame it on us – telling us that we don’t care enough about the big, political issues of the day?

It’s absurd.

Imagine if, as marketers, we sought to attribute any lack of engagement in our products or services as somehow the fault of our prospective customers. They would, quite rightly, great us with the contempt that we would deserve.

Marketers know, in a way that their behaviour at least suggests that politicians do not, that British people, in fact, have never been more engaged. Arguably, the market for something to believe in has never been stronger.

We also know that if you have a message that you need to convey, you can’t simply expect that it will willingly be taken up and understood by the people to whom you are trying convey it.

We know that we have to do all the hard yards: to articulate the message in a style and format that will resonate, and then to promote that message in places where the people we want to digest it might see it.

If politicians were genuinely serious about engaging us, this is what they would do.

It’s not rocket science, rusty or otherwise.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

I Get So Emotional, Baby. Every Time I Think Of You.

Arsene Wenger said that ‘we have moved from being a thinking society to being an emotional society’.

He might be right. (Although how much did the West ever genuinely think after the Battle of Corinth….?)

In any event, most agencies seem to be on board with Le Professeur. They’ve all got their own ‘human’ this or ‘emotional’ that as they enthuse to clients about the importance of connecting with Haidt’s elephant, and not his rider. It makes sense. We know that the best work gets us at a visceral, unconscious level.

But the relationship between emotion and great creative work isn’t straightforward. It’s actually pretty complicated. And it’s getting more so.

This isn’t so much about agencies overdoing the schmaltz (though that’s a real risk, as the last round of Christmas and Superbowl ads showed), nor is it about a return to the bad old days of the Stiff Upper Lip.

It’s simply that too much emotion can often turn into intolerance. And intolerance kills creativity.

Britain looks like a fairly highly-strung place these days; a far cry from the tolerant country that I grew up in. We seem to be in the grip of a pandemic.

‘Outraged’ and ‘offended’ are the mots de nos jours.

Hypertense, strangulated tones surround us, from the distinctly un-British aggro in queues, to roadrage, to angrier and angrier letters to newspapers and calls to LBC.

It’s like everyone in the country is engaging in their own equivalent of being the nutter at the bar; almost goading you to spill his pint so he can ‘have a go’.

To a large extent, of course, this has been driven by the ubiquity of social media. We are all being exposed to many more opinions, much more of the time.

James Blunt, himself no stranger to a bit of twitter-baiting, was once quoted as saying that opinions are like arseholes: everyone’s got one. And many of them are horrendously unpleasant when you see them up close…..

Those of us who care about creativity in the workplace need to guard against this. This is not least because tolerance is the goose that laid our golden egg.

Tolerance is a precondition to novation; the willingness to think that little bit differently, to accept new ideas from new places, is what produces genuinely fresh thinking. Orwell’s Big Brother knew that if he stifled freedom of speech, he ultimately stifled freedom of thought, which in turn would mean no creativity – just what he wanted.

Tolerance is what we Brits, the world over, are famous for. We don’t like the state-knows-best dirigisme of Arsene’s patrimoine, preferring instead to put our faith in the eccentric ingenuity of our (often odd, and quirky) people.

Tolerance is the Magna Carta; tolerance is John Stuart Mill, the Non-Conformists, the Suffragettes, Quentin Crisp, Sid Vicious and Vivienne Westwood.

Tolerance is the creation, lauding and awarding of a TV spot that would never even get thought of in the US, let alone commissioned.

Tolerance is Britain and Britain is tolerance.

And here’s the thing: the world needs tolerance like never before. If we play our cards right, we have a golden opportunity.

So let’s get emotional, absolutely. Cry me a river. Or at least a bathful of water.

Just don’t chuck our beautiful baby out with it.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

The Storyteller

Once upon a time there was an old man.  In his prime, he’d been an important figure in his village: a master craftsman who could make the most beautiful ornaments.  But as the years had gone by, he’d become lazy.  He’d put less care into his work, preferring to count his gold coins instead.  He hadn’t  learned the new ways that the younger craftsfolk were experimenting with – or paid attention to the exciting ideas that traders brought from afar.  Over time, others took his place and he moved to a cabin at the edge of the village, where people soon forgot about him.

Then one day, the old man woke up.  It was cold outside, but he couldn’t afford fuel for the fire. He missed the admiration that had followed him in his youth.  He wished that people listened to him, valued him, like they used to.  So vowing to reinvent himself, he dug out some of his finest old ornaments and arranged them at the front of his cabin.  But instead of setting up stall as a craftsman again, this time he put up a sign which read: “Storyteller”.

“That should do it,” thought the old man, for he knew there was nothing the villagers liked better than a good yarn.

Well, the Winter crept in and the cold winds swirled round and passersby sometimes looked in on the little cabin at the edge of the village.  But nobody reached into their leather purses, to buy anything.  So, the old man was at his wits end when a wizard appeared one frosty morning (as they often do).

“What’s the matter?” asked the wizard and the old man told him his sorry tale.

“Ah” said the wizard, “I fear the problem may be that you’ve called yourself a storyteller.  But you’ve forgotten the most important bit of the job: to actually tell some stories.  You’re just selling the same ornaments as before.”

The old man looked puzzled, so the wizard continued: “Look.  To tell a story, you need to develop characters that people care about”.  At this point, he waved his wand and three cute little pigs appeared, alongside a big, bad wolf.

“You also need to create a plot with some tension, some darkness, a conflict that must be resolved,” continued the wizard.  Here, the big bad wolf licked its lips menacingly.  Only for the pigs to push it into a cauldron of boiling water.

“And finally, you need to be original,” said  the wizard.  “Storytellers are two-a-penny these days so you need to do something to stand out.” And with a final wave of the wand, he turned the pigs into a massive bacon sandwich and scoffed the lot.

“You mean I can’t just repackage the same old stuff as before?” said the old man, dejectedly.

“I’m afraid not,” said the wizard. “But you can certainly write about the things you make.  Just as long as you make sure your stories have a deeper meaning and are interesting to others. If you can crack that, I promise that your fortunes will improve.”

At this point, the wizard disappeared and the old man began to write.  It was a story with characters, conflict and deeper meaning that would hopefully resonate with others in the village.

Here’s how it began…

“Once upon a time there was an old man…”

So Ya. Thought Ya. Might Like To….Go To The Show.

I’m an atheist.

It’s really easy for atheists to take potshots at religion.

But religion gets some things right.

Religion understands (cliché alert) “storytelling”.

Religion understands the power of big ideas, and ideas with longevity at that.

Religion has a very sophisticated understanding of the all-encompassing nature of brand. This understanding includes the vital importance of powerful logos and iconography, of tone of voice, and of the steady, successive embracing of the latest technology in order to remain relevant.

That’s one hell of a claim to fame.

But perhaps the most important lesson that, as communicators, we might draw from religion is the acute understanding (in most religions, at least) of the need for human beings to “commune.”

By commune, I mean the verb, not the noun. It means “sharing one’s intimate thoughts or feelings with someone or something, especially when the exchange is on a spiritual level.”

I thought about this at a Killers’ concert a little while ago. Brandon Flowers had us communing too. He got 90,000 of us singing, together, at the tops of our voices, in Wembley Stadium. It was huge. I had – even if only fleetingly – what felt like a profoundly deep connection with thousands of people with whom I had no other ostensible connection. Let’s call it “the thrill of warm confusion; that space-cadet glow,” to quote a different band.

We communed.

And I realised how long it had been since I last felt like this.

In a world of individualistic secularism, the more disconnected we are from each other, the more we need to come together.

Technology enables us to commune like never before. And that’s due in no small part to the fact that technology has long been dominated by the geeks.

Geeks want to fit in, belong, commune. The platforms that they have built enable them, and all of us, to do just that: Facebook, Twitter, etc. Each is about coming together – to discuss politics, TV, music; anything and everything.

Yet, as marketers and advertisers, we don’t capitalise on communing. Most brands are still pushing the agenda of the individual – appealing to his or her supposed instincts to be different and special.

Like so many other aspects of advertising today (including the obsession with youth), this may well have been appropriate in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

As baby boomers came of age, they wanted to mark themselves as distinct and smash out of the pre-ordained lifestyles of their parents.

But that battle has long since been won. So much so, that the truth today is that the bigger instinct is an instinct to belong; to be part of something bigger than themselves; to experience what Aldous Huxley called “transcendental unity.”

Because, in a digitally fragmented and socially mobile world, the desire to belong, to fit in, has never been so great.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

With Apologies To Baz Luhrmann

Ladies and Gentlemen
Of the Marketing & Advertising Industry of 2015;

Listen to your clients.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future,
Listening to your clients would be it.

The long-term benefits of listening to your clients
Have been proven by accountants;
Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis,
More reliable than my own meandering experience.

I will dispense this advice, now.

Trust your instincts and the common sense
Of your youth.
Oh never mind;
You will not understand the value of your instincts
And the common sense of your youth
Until you have been forced to.

But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back
At the industry bullshit that was being spouted
And recall in a way that
You don’t have the confidence to do now,
How right your instincts were
And how ephemeral that latest
‘This Will Change Everything’ channel really was.

You are not as dumb as your agency
Makes you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future;
Or worry, but know that understanding your clients’
Hopes and dreams will stand you in good stead

The real troubles in your career are apt to be people;
The kind that you just can’t believe
Really exist in the workplace.

Do one thing everyday that puts you
In the shoes of your client.


Don’t settle for intellectual mediocrity,
Don’t put up with people who are
Intellectually mediocre.


Don’t waste your time on office politics;
Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind.
But the rest of the world just could not give a shit.

Remember the value you bring,
Forget about when the planner makes you feel small.
If you succeed in doing this,
Tell your Creative Director how.

Keep daily contact with your clients,
Throw away your SoWs.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know
What you want to do with your career.

The most interesting people that I know now,
Knew at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives;
But they became the 40 year olds who don’t.

Drink plenty of alcohol.

Be kind to receptionists;
They know everything and everyone.

Maybe you’ll win a Lion, maybe you won’t;
Maybe you’ll get a bonus, probably you won’t;
Maybe you’ll leave the industry at 40;
Maybe they’ll put you in the
Advertising Hall of Fame on your 75th birthday.

Whatever you do, always remind yourself to
Walk the floors.
You’ll be amazed at just how much you can learn.
And so will everybody else.

Enjoy your creative mind, use it every way you can.
Don’t be afraid of it,
Or scared off by those who are labelled ‘creative’.
It’s the greatest asset you’ll ever own.

Write… even if you find it hard; it forces you to think.

Break bread, even when you’re not hungry.

Do NOT read industry magazines,
They will only give you FOMO.

Get to know your Chairman,
You never know when he’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your colleagues;
They are the best link to your next job,
And the people most likely to tell stories about you
In the future.

Understand that agencies and accounts come and go,
But for the precious few you should hold on.

Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography,
Invest in your relationships now,
Because the older you get,
The more you’ll be able to help the people you knew when you were young.

Work client-side once,
But leave before it makes you terminally depressed;

Work in an agency once,
But leave before it makes you clinically insane.


Accept certain inalienable truths:
Finance departments will make you fill in forms,
Agencies prefer talking about themselves,
You too will get senior.

And when you do, you’ll fantasise that,
When you were young:
Finance departments were helpful,
Agencies preferred talking about their clients,
And juniors respected their bosses.

Respect your bosses.

Don’t expect anyone else to bring work to you.
Maybe you have a big marketing budget,
Maybe you have a retained account;
But you never know when either one might run out.

You can’t mess enough with the received wisdom
Of an industry that, at 40, already looked 85.

Beware the ‘Next Big Idea’,
And be cautious with those who supply it.
The ‘Next Big Idea’ is often an old, small idea.
Dispensing it is a way of fishing the ‘creative brilliance’
Of the past from the disposal,
Wiping it off,
Photoshopping the other brand’s logos,
And recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me,
On listening to the clients…

Nick Jefferson is a partner with the advisory firm, Monticello LLP.

What Don Draper Knew (or – how history always repeats itself)

Magic Markers, Letraset, razor-sharp scalpels, studios thick with the fug of petrol, tobacco and various dangerous chemicals … In some respects, to anyone who was around at the time, the 1980s don’t actually seem like that long ago.

We remember The A-Team, black forest gateau, TV-AM and red braces. We remember Boy George, the miners’ strike and the Falklands War.

But the day to day working reality of a 1980s design studio, as set out above, feels like an age ago: even to those who were there.

Many years later, in an agency I was running, we set up a weekly series of masterclasses. It happened every Friday, and was aimed at developing a bit more of a Renaissance mindset in our staff.

One Friday, I asked a chap called Stu Turnbull to lead the session – centred around the theme of change, the inevitability of change, and how we all make choices about how we view, and respond to, change.

Experienced, caring and relentlessly upbeat, Stu aced it.

He was effortlessly elegant and generous in his delivery. He talked about the change he had seen. And he poked fun at himself and his erstwhile colleagues. Stu described the laughter that greeted the grandiose claims of a kooky, little-known Californian called Steve Jobs – that someday, the little beige box and its tiny screen that sat untouched in the corner, would take care of pretty much everything that Stu and his colleagues in production spent their time doing.

“But of course,” whispered some of the agency’s fresher faces, “Surely that was all so obvious?”

Not as obvious as the rich irony that was being played out as Stuie spoke.

Because this generation is in danger of exhibiting the very same, very dangerous, very sanctimonious smugness that did for the Magic Markers and the people who used them.

It’s true: right now, we are kings, we rule. This is our time. But, to quote the great Gary Barlow, “someday this will be someone else’s dream.”

And, before too long — and only if we’re exceptionally lucky — we’ll be the ones taking a bunch of giggling kidults through why we thought the iPhone & changed everything. Again.

Because the future doesn’t care about iPhones and iPads, Androids or, dare I say it, Google Glass, just like it didn’t care about Letraset and manual typesetting.

Generation 2015’s ability to describe the studio of 2045? It’s like Tomorrow’s World all over again. And likely to be about as (in)accurate.

Why? Because when human beings think about the future, they tend to focus on what will be different. Almost invariably, therefore, the conversation naturally centres around what is, perhaps counter-intuitively, the lowest common denominator: tools and technology. Hence the predictions of personal jet packs, the ‘pills instead of meals,’ the three hour journey from London to Sydney; or the hover boards that we’d all be riding in 2015.

Futurology in this respect is no more reliable than economics: a black art, and a truly ephemeral one at that. Working out what might be different in the future doesn’t have a great track record.

So as those of us who work in communications look ahead from 2015, instead of trying to explain how our world might look different, perhaps we should think about how it might look the same?

Because it seems to me, to paraphrase a more eloquent Jefferson, there are is a certain self-evident truth at stake here. And that truth is unchanging, holding as good in 2015 as it did in 1985, as it did in 1955, and as it will in 2045.

Like all truths, it is simple. People will always want to communicate, to be understood. And if we accept that corporations have ‘personality’, then they are no different, and they want to communicate, to be understood too.

So to get wound up about whether a Magic Marker can or should be replaced by Apple’s latest ‘Paint’ app is to miss the point. Because neither has ever been, nor ever will be, the star of the show.

That slot always has been, and always will be, reserved for something much more important.

Agencies obsess about channel. But Stu’s presentation set out the folly and futility of such an approach. Channels move on, develop, change, grow, become obsolete. As an agency, competence in different channels is, of course, required but that is not what clients are buying. Not the clients worth having anyway.

Because clients care, have cared, and will always care, about their message, about being understood. The channel is just the vehicle. So the iPads, the HTML5, the Magic Markers, the Letraset, the Apps and the rest, are just part of that vehicle. And, whatever they say, clients really only care about the vehicle to the extent that it gets them to the right destination. Very seldom do they want to look under the hood.

Don Draper and his pals on Madison knew that.

And so does Stu Turnbull.

Decisions, decisions.

I just finished reading Boris’ brilliant biography of Churchill.

One of the (many) striking things about our wartime Prime Minister was the extent to which he was ready to make decisions; especially the hard ones.

The Mayor of London rates this characteristic very highly. Indeed, I remember some years ago, in a wide-ranging interview he gave to the Evening Standard, he himself was quoted as saying:

“People don’t care what decision you make, they just bloody well want a decision”

It’s an unusual – and somewhat risky – thing for someone whose job depends on votes to say, but is he right? And what does this mean for agencies?

A chap called Marcus Buckingham, in his book, The One Thing You Need To Know, argues that the number one priority of leaders should be to offer clarity. Indeed, leaders have a duty, he continues, to set out beyond a shadow of a doubt where they stand, and what they will or will not tolerate.

This duty of clarity is so acute because it is what those being led want. And they want this, says Buckingham, more than anything else at all – including liking or agreeing with whatever is being said.

In my experience, this clarity is in very short supply in agency-land. And the effects are obvious, at every level: from pre-pitch tail-chasing to the juvenile tediousness of agency politics to the continued tolerance of manifestly bad, if not criminal, behaviour.

Take a second to consider the most effective leader you can think of – business, political, even social. Is that person clear? Indeed, would you go so far as to say that being clear – even when that clarity drives you crazy – is one of their defining characteristics?

In making and implementing clear decisions, one way or another, leaders set the agenda. It may not be an agenda that others like, but at least it gives them something to react to. Even die-hard opponents of an idea ultimately tend to want a clear decision: it gives them something tangible to be “against”. Dithering has never had a good press.

Take a decision, good or bad, and one way or another you set the agenda. 

For business leaders, this is a core responsbility – to ourselves if no one else.

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