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We Are All Superman Now

The Twitter backlash. The low-level, but growing, grumbling about excessive ‘noise’ that is becoming more evident by the day. Know what I mean?

I watched ‘Superman Returns’ at the weekend. It’s a 2006 movie and (even for someone who grew up on Christopher Reeve) it’s really pretty good.

If you know it, you might have an idea of what I’m talking about when I refer to the ‘Twitter scene’. Somewhat frustrated, tired and worn-out from various do-gooding and life-saving, our hero punches the air to begin his ascent up into the sky and then on into space.

There, amongst the stars, arms folded in the way that only he can, Superman serenely takes in the majesty of Planet Earth. No doubt he’s hoping for a bit of superhero R&R; a few moments of quiet reflection.

He gets, of course, the exact opposite.

Because Superman can hear everything; the noise of millions of people’s cries and fears, aware of all the dangers they face. From memory (but don’t quote me on this), there was a similar scene in the 80s Superman movies too.

It all seemed a bit far-fetched then, if I’m honest. Classic, silly Hollywood – one person being able to hear all the noise in the world, pah! It might, to think about it, even have seemed a little unrealistic in 2006.

But in 2015, you don’t have to be a superhero to experience this for yourself. And you certainly don’t need to travel into space to do it. Now we all hear the musings and concerns of billions of people; the darkness of millions of strangers’ lives, and the collective, exhausting tedium of brands tweeting about how ‘FUN!’ they are.

Twitter, Facebook and others have, in one sense at least, made us all Superman. And it doesn’t necessarily feel great.

So go on, bring a bit of creative kryptonite to the party in 2015……….

I’ve got a friend who met his wife in a brothel…….

Oh, don’t worry – it wasn’t his idea. It was his financial adviser’s. (He takes him everywhere.)

Anyway, the financial adviser knew a brothel where the Madam would listen really closely to my friend’s requirements. And she did! Sure enough, a string of specially selected beauties paraded themselves in front of my pal and his financial adviser (I told you he takes him everywhere), each promising ‘a really good time’ with ‘guaranteed results’.

There were one or two who caught my friend’s eye, but neither of them made it to the ‘second round’ that his financial adviser insisted on.  Eventually, worn down and just wanting to get some ‘business’, one of the women in particular slashed her hourly rates.

That woman is now my friend’s wife.

Except she’s not.

Of course she’s not. Because everyone reading this knows that the process described above, as well as being deeply unsavoury in almost every respect, is also exceptionally unlikely to engender the type of long-term relationship that underpins a successful marriage.

Yet the process described above is almost identical to that which many corporations go through, when supposedly looking for a ‘long-term relationship’ with an agency.

The ‘financial adviser’ above is the corporate procurement department, albeit with fewer certificates and even more spreadsheets. Procurement takes every spending decision as an opportunity to muscle in and treat everything as if it were paperclips; a transaction for goods, and nothing more.

And the ‘Madam’ is the intermediaries, wheeling out the agencies to do the business version of ‘tits and teeth’.  Deliciously Orwellian, outwardly they display apparent magnanimity. But the reality, as every ‘working girl’ knows, is a different story. Behind the scenes, fierce control is exercised by their man on the inside; a particular breed of lickspittle ‘New Business Director’ whose very existence (as little more than a – highly opinionated – mailbox) depends on the continued hegemony of his intermediary masters.

This ugly, Faustian symbiosis ensures that the Gollum-like New Business Director jealously guards the ‘preciousssss’ process, whilst mandating that his pitch-weary colleagues line up again to go to ever-greater extremes to win over the prospect.

Corporations are, of course, welcome to seek counsel from whomever they like, when looking for a partner. It’s a free market, they are the clients and can and should enjoy the concomitant privileges. And god only knows that the agencies are their own worse enemies.

But all these layers? All these people? They’re not adding value. In fact, they are destroying value, for both corporation and agency. Their involvement, and the resultant adversarial tone from-the-off, demeans everyone; and inhibits delivery of the results that spell success for both parties.

And so many client-side marketers know this. The overwhelming majority of corporate marketers that I meet are confident, pleasant, and very smart. They know which agencies do what, they know how to get in touch with them and they also know how to extract maximum value from them. So why do they allow these third parties into the mix? Certainly, history does not accept ‘it’s difficult’ as a reason for not doing the right thing.

Corporate marketers – this is your Yazz moment:

Stand up for your love rights.

Because where true mutuality, the cornerstone of all successful relationships, is not allowed to grow, you won’t end up in a long-term relationship.

You’ll end up fucked.

(this piece originally published by The Marketing Society)

My New Year’s Resolution: Eat Octopus for Breakfast

Welcome back.  Hope you had a good break and weren’t laid low by one of those stomach-turning horrors that seemed to be doing the rounds this Christmas (in particular, I’m thinking of episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys, tweets from Katie Hopkins or the truly revolting idea of Nigel Farage as Man of the Year.)

Now, if your innards are up to it, and one of your New Year’s Resolutions is to change your diet, may I recommend a new dish for 2015, courtesy of a certain Mr J. Bezos of Seattle?

The serving suggestion stems from 2010, when the Amazon boss bought pioneering  e-commerce company Woot, for $110m.  Shortly afterwards, so the story goes, he met the acquired company’s founder for breakfast and ordered an exotic item from the menu: Mediterranean octopus prepared with potatoes, bacon, green garlic yoghurt and a poached egg.  The meeting was somewhat awkward and when the Woot boss asked why Bezos had wanted to buy his company in the first place, there was, apparently, a painful silence.  Then the mogul replied “You’re the octopus that I’m having for breakfast.  When I look at the menu, you’re the thing I don’t understand, the thing I’ve never had. I must have the breakfast octopus.”

What I love about this story (first published in D Magazine) is that one of the most successful businessmen on the planet not only acknowledges gaps in his understanding but positively embraces them: he is actively drawn to the exciting unknown, rather than attracted to the tediously familiar.

This relentless drive to experiment (and, if necessary, fail) is critical to commercial success today.  In fact, the desire is increasingly important to get on in the world more generally (Ian Leslie explains why, in his excellent book, “Curiosity”).  But all too often, our response to life’s menu is to order an old favourite – or, worse, default to what everybody else is having.  Of course we shouldn’t forget the dishes that have worked for us in the past, or order stuff that we will hate, just for the sake of it.  But as our parents chided us when we were little: if we really want to grow, we need to keep trying new things.

So my New Year’s Resolution – and recommendation to you all – is to eat octopus for breakfast, more often in 2015.  My only caution, as with all dietary advice, would be to avoid over-doing things: better to try the unfathomable pleasures of Mrs Brown, Ms Hopkins and Mr Farage one at a time.

Happy New Year – and Bon Appetit.


I left my gym this week and shortly afterwards, I received an email from them telling me that they’ll miss me. Awwww, that’s nice. Isn’t that nice? I can just picture the manager of Bannatyne’s and the staff looking more and more despondent with each passing week that I don’t turn up. I can see them all looking pathetically at each other and saying things like, “Oh, I really wish Jon hadn’t left. This gym just isn’t the same without him. Why? Oh why did he have to leave? I miss him so…” Read More

It’s the most emotional..? time of the year

Nothing says Christmas quite like November ad releases. Or is that just me? And of course, anticipation about the John Lewis offering for the season runs high.

So does the emotion run high too? We did some facial coding to find out. Read More

Did you see? Did you hear?

Rugby ScrumBuzz. Word of mouth. Fame. Water cooler chat. Virality. Memes. Tittering (and twittering). Not to mention gossip. So many different words to convey the idea that lots of people are talking about someone or something. And what better way to be talked about than to link yourself or your brand to a popular event or time – sporting, holidays, awards and the like.

Read More

Facebook’s Rooms App Could be a Horror Story in the Making

Anonymity online has become an increasingly complex business. As our data becomes ever more commoditized and available, worried users are looking for ways to retract their personal details from the internet and finding places where they can be safe without being seen. Whisper, the anonymous secret sharing app has been valued at around  $200 million, while others like Secret and YikYak are proving equally popular. People are looking for ways to reach out and communicate without having their entire lives aired on a social profile.

Now Facebook has entered the game with its Rooms app, which allows users to post comments, pictures and videos anonymously. While names are hidden, you do have to provide an email, and the app does share your data with Facebook (but not your Facebook account). It ‘s like a mini-Reddit, designed for chatting with others who have similar interests, but keeping your real identity secret.


It’s understandable that people are concerned about anonymity on the internet, but there is another factor to consider when in allowing people to be nameless. Hate speech has become an online plague, which is only exacerbated in anonymous forums such as Reddit. While Reddit has many users who live harmoniously on its many communities, sharing interests and demons, it also has an uncontrollable, chronic hate speech problem, which its moderators have found impossible to contain.

Rooms will have the same standards as Facebook, meaning that any hate speech will be removed by moderators or Facebook itself. This is certainly a step forward from Reddit who have been largely deaf to pleas for tighter restrictions. But, it takes a lot of effort and resource to deal with a large amount of online abuse. Facebook’s moderators may be able to cope when users are in a public space and less inclined to reveal their real selves, but experience tells us that hiding people’s names and faces leads them to act in a very different manner. The toll taken on the moderators themselves should also be taken into consideration, as they are often exposed to highly offensive and graphic abuse.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook manage to moderate Rooms, or whether this is another internet horror story in the making. At the moment it’s only available for iOS, but will presumably be rolled out across all platforms eventually. Will everyone have access all areas regardless of their views, or will Facebook be able to find the sweet spot between online anonymity and safe debate. The internet community will be waiting with fingers poised.

By Sidonie Chaffer-Melly at Engine’s Moment Studio


I was going to lament the lack of fresh thinking in UK retail when two things happened recently that gave me hope. One of them was only an advert but it was a bloody good advert. It made me realise that a certain British retailer is an unsung hero of the high street: Argos.

CHI’s new Argos campaign is an exciting move away from the alien family. Vibrant, fresh and oozing confidence, the ad manages to show off the products that Argos sells in a single-take of colour, breakdancing and BMX tricks, all soundtracked by ‘How You Like Me Now?’ by The Heavy. Nice work.

I have to say that it was something of a surprise when the Argos logo appeared in slo-mo but I was as delighted by this ad as I was by Marks & Spencer’s ‘Adventures in…’ campaign by RKCR/Y&R.

Argos has been doing multi-channel retail for a very, very long time. Back in 1973, warehouse-based retail was something completely new in the UK but twenty-five years later, it meant Argos was perfectly poised to make the most of the multi-channel revolution. Its click-and-collect model is now being mimicked by Amazon, no less.

Argos has also been making money hand-over fist for parent company Home Retail Group for a very long time. Argos is the John Lewis of the not-so-middle-class. It sells everything – conveniently, efficiently and profitably. Again – nice work. And if you need an engagement ring for under a hundred quid…

It occurs to me that some of our best retailers are at this less glamorous end of the market. Both Aldi and Lidl are giving the bigger supermarket brands a run for their money – and running some nice, cheeky campaigns along the way too…


The other thing that happened was that an American tourist got locked in Waterstone’s Trafalgar Square overnight. Waterstone’s response was brilliant – turning something potentially embarrassing into a brilliant piece of tactical marketing.

Picking up on the currency the story had gained on social media, they ran a competition in conjunction with Airbnb and Graze for ten people to choose some free books and sleep over in their flagship store on Piccadilly.

So – a refreshing new ad for a stalwart of UK retail and an inspired piece of responsive, social media-savvy PR and marketing. Perhaps there are verve and creativity on the British high street yet?

Nice one.

Nice isn’t a word you encounter much in advertising these days.  (Apart from when someone asks you the best airport for Cannes).  It feels rather old fashioned.  A bit vanilla.  Damning with faint praise, perhaps.

But as Peter Mead says in his new book, it’s the quality that has defined AMV’s culture for over 30 years.  And given they’ve been number 1 in our mercurial industry for almost 20 of these, perhaps we shouldn’t dismiss it so readily.

Of course, there have also been some other hugely successful agencies that have drawn their energy from the darker side of human nature.  Tim Bell’s autobiography – also published last week, by way of neat coincidence- describes the old Saatchis culture as “brutality from start to finish.  It began with aggression, had aggression in the middle and had aggression at the end”.  Likewise we’ve all heard those stories  about Frank Lowe’s reign of terror (and inspiration) at CDP and tales of tellies being thrown from windows in Golden Square.

So which model is right ?  Is creative and commercial success more likely to come from happiness or having a ruck?  Well, it’s certainly true that the best work requires an element of conflict, to force its difficult passage from good to great.  But over the long term, I believe people perform best when they enjoy their working environment.  In particular, I think creativity flows better when people are having fun.  And in recent times, the ability to work well with others rather than batter them into submission has become far more important.

So I’m definitely in the fun camp, rather than the prison camp.  But maybe that’s not surprising: on my very first day in advertising, almost exactly 21 years ago, I was taken out  to Langans with the other new trainees, by one of the agency’s founders.  There, the bigwig treated us to a slap up meal, the likes of which we impoverished grads had never experienced before.  And yet his main piece of advice (in between copious football chat, to make us feel at ease) was to not get too big for our boots and to be nice to everybody – from the factory receptionist to the client CEO.  It was a lesson I’ve always remembered (even if I’m sure I haven’t always lived up to it).   And the name of that nice man?  Peter Mead.

What Can We Learn From Thorne Travel

If you haven’t already seen the Thorne Travel advert, watch it now. The Aryshire travel agent’s promotional video is so bad it’s brilliant. The ad inadvertently went viral last week and highlights include magic fairy dust, an instant bride makeover (and I mean instant), a small pilot, a big uniform, and a teenage flashmob.

Despite the dubious corporate-video-circa-1984 quality, Father Ted creator Graham Lineham has dubbed it a ‘unicorn chaser’ after a year of bad news. So with close to a million views and rising why is everyone loving this smorgasbord of cheesiness and what can agencies learn from Thorne Travel’s efforts?

1.    Don’t be afraid to have fun

Thorne Travel’s ad wouldn’t be nearly as successful if everyone in it wasn’t clearly having a great time. The video was originally meant to be a parody of the Virgin Atlantic adverts, albeit in a less glamorous Scottish high street setting. The overall charm of the video comes from the Thornettes harnessing their sense of humour like a conquering army in bodycon dresses to deliver a tongue-in-cheek homage to a premier service brand.


2.    Keep it real

Thorne blew their entire marketing budget on the video, hiring a production company from Glasgow. Okay, so budgets are relative but they know their target audience well. They’ve even hired them for walk on parts. Through keeping it real they’ve tapped into the heartfelt fuzziness of a local company that their customers know and love. It could have been a risk – instead it’s a bold move that’s paid off.

3.    Don’t be afraid of being the underdog

Thorne’s ad ticks every cliche in the book. It looks cheap, the visual effects are terrible, and it has the worst finale of all time. But the lack of sophistication is the secret weapon. People love its simplicity and ordinariness. Could the public be a bit weary of ‘clever’ ads that look great but make them feel stupid and clumsy if they don’t get the pay off?

Since going viral Thorne has had huge amounts of free PR. Gaining national coverage in the Guardian, Independent, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed for starters. They’ve since been invited onto Good Morning Britain and featured in the press in Australia and New Zealand. There’s even talk of a reality show in the offing. The result? They’ve had over 100,000 Facebook hits and bookings are up 110% proving that cheerfulness, warmth and authenticity can be a formula that wins over a cynical public. All we have to do now is to sit back and wait for the outtakes….

By Sidonie Chaffer-Melly at Engine’s Moment Studio

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