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The Empowered Female Consumer: A New Representation of Women in Advertising?

For years we’ve seen the role of the women in advertising evolve; from perfect housewife, to aspirational beauty, we’ve seen high expectations and the pressure mounting on women. The introduction of Photoshop has set the bar even higher for women, as perfection becomes even more impossible for the average woman to achieve. This is largely based on the assumption that just being ourselves isn’t good enough. The role of women in society is defined, and female consumers can often be encouraged to fit the mould.

Despite significant advances in the role of women in the last fifty years and a strong majority of people in the UK agree that women should have the same rights and power as men (89%) why is it that this is not always reflected in the language we use in our daily lives? It is sometimes insinuated that to be ‘like a girl’ is to lack strength – both physically and emotionally. This is something that men refuse to associate themselves with (not showing emotion for example) in order to appear strong. Read More »


Tossed might be a good brand name for a social media platform for coin collectors. Or an app to help Scotsmen choose their cabers. But it’s a salad bar.

Without doubt, the name is hard (ahem) to forget. In many contexts, the word ‘toss’ has a perfectly innocuous meaning. And it is relevant to food. We toss both pancakes and salads.

It’s just that when I’m buying a salad I don’t really want to be reminded of masturbation. Perhaps my surname just makes me particularly sensitive to such matters.

Anyway, I was very surprised and disappointed to see this sign outside Tossed recently.

Tossed salads.

“Errm, yeah, no dressing for me, thanks…”

The sign only serves to emphasise the name’s connotations. Tossed even refer to their employees as Tossers. According to their website’s homepage, Vincent, their founder, is the Top Tosser.

I’m sure he is.

A Creative Director I worked with at BBH was very disdainful of the idea of ‘borrowed interest’ – ie. trying to make a product more exciting by associating it with something else. Just think of ‘Yodafone’.

Personally, I think borrowed interest can work if the thing being alluded to is relevant to the thing being sold. More importantly, the association should evoke positive feelings for the intended market. Does the Tossed brand reach such a happy ending in the minds of its customers? I’m not so sure.

Sex and eating are among our most primal desires and they bring pleasure, so of course, sex sells. My first Campaign blog praised Beattie McGuinness Bungay’s brilliant campaign for the energy drink, ‘Pussy’.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using sex subtly or not so subtly in advertising. More importantly, it can be very effective.

But the precise nature of the product and the visual and verbal language is crucial. The nuance can make or break the idea. A clumsy understanding of semantics and semiotics (incidentally, both words with sexual etymology) can transform an idea from something sharp, witty and tasteful into a puerile playground joke.

Shortly after not buying a salad at Tossed, someone from Starbucks offered me a small sample of viscous milky liquid. It was cold and delicious. It was banana flavoured. It was a blazing hot day and it went down a treat.

Above all, it was intelligent, contextual marketing.

And unlike one of the salads at Tossed, I’ll be coming back for more.



Say No to Dogshit Data

I hate meetings.  By definition, they get in the way of doing work.

The meetings I hate most are presentations.  They’re an inherently one-sided method of communication, rather than a conversation.

The presentations I hate most are those at ad industry conferences.  They typically involve people citing stuff you’ve heard before, to sell you stuff you don’t want.

And you know what kind of conferences I hate most?  The ones where somebody presents shed-loads of indecipherable data, crammed onto one chart, prefaced with the jaunty words: “You probably can’t read this but…”

This, my friends, is the equivalent of a waiter bringing you dinner with the cheerful caveat that “This will probably taste of dogshit but…”.  Not only is the expression immediately off-putting, it begs the obvious retort “Then why are you bringing me it?  Maybe next time, you could taste it before serving? Or at least give it a quick sniff?  Better still, why not refrain from using dogshit in the first place?”

This madness can’t just be down to a lack of training (even toddlers are familiar with the concept that objects appear smaller from a distance).  It can’t be due to lack of alternatives either (there are loads of ways to present data beautifully these days).  So I can only assume it’s an act of deliberate aggression, designed to bore and baffle an audience into submission.

Well, I’m not going to surrender without a fight.  I call on you to join me, in signing a petition against this insanity (it will be written in extra-tiny type, just to make the point).  Let the cry go out to every presenter in the land: give your charts a good sniff before you put them up and “Just say No to Dogshit Data.”


Merry Christmas!

While most of us are enjoying a Summer of sport, planning hols in hot climes or drinking Pimms, some of us are thinking of Christmas.

If you work on a retail account, a tech brand or a fashion label, chances are that your festive campaign planning is now in full swing.  In fact, as the nights are now drawing in, it’s quite possible that your creative work as has already been produced and is just being adjusted for the correct level of tinsel.

As such, you won’t be musing on England’s World Cup exit but one of life’s other great conundrums – how to create a campaign that feels Christmassy, without being generic or cheesy.

Of course, in recent years, this perennial challenge has got even trickier, thanks to the phenomenon that is Adam & Eve’s John Lewis campaign.  While some industry insiders quibble over the merits of recent executions (mostly, I’ve noticed, people who know very little about effective communications) the campaign’s place in the nation’s hearts remains unchanged.  And for all other agencies, trying to create something fresh, it casts a long shadow.

In recent years, many brands have tried to emulate the campaign, but have ended up looking like pale imitations.  Emotional storylines, tinkling piano tracks and haunting voices have simply melted away into the Christmas snow.  Or, all too often, turned to slush.

But one retailer has prospered by following its own star.  Like many, I was really pleased to see Harvey Nichols win a double Grand Prix at Cannes last week. Despite (or perhaps because of?) being another Adam & Eve client, it has resisted the temptation to “do a John Lewis”. Instead, it has offered its own view on Christmas, that ticks off all the festive boxes (gifting, family gathering, trees and decorations), while simultaneously subverting all the rules.

Importantly though, what both John Lewis and Harvey Nichols teach us, is not just how to do great Christmas advertising.  But the value of holding a strong opinion and having confidence in your brand’s voice, year-round.  Once you have that, your “take” on the festive period (or any other event) should come much more easily.

The only snag, if you’re reading this now,  is that the Summer’s far too late to be working all that out.  So pour yourself a glass of mulled wine and make a New Year’s resolution to start earlier next time.  And in the meantime, the whole of London should wish a Merry Christmas to the all-conquering team at Bishop’s Bridge Road.


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.

Read More »

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.

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