Archive for the ‘Advertising’ Category


Friday, January 15th, 2016

DSC_0829On Sunday afternoon I was belatedly taking down the Christmas decorations whilst listening to the new Bowie album, Blackstar. I was contemplating the obsession with death on the two accompanying videos with Major Tom’s jewel-encrusted skull lying on a distant planet and an eyeless prophet trying to rise from his deathbed with memento mori scattered around the bleak roomset. Of course I didn’t realize that Bowie was talking about his own imminent demise – he used to sing Jacques Brel’s My Death often enough in concert for me not to be anxious. But come Monday morning, as a self-confessed Bowie tragic who had bought everything he ever recorded, seen him in concert 7 times and stood feet away from him at a Kentish Town Tin Machine concert, I joined all the other Bowie fans across the globe united in disbelief and a hope that this might be one last Bowie sleight of hand.

Much has been and will be written about his soaring, insistent, ever-shifting music, his multiple costumes (over 70 iconic designs in one year alone) his visionary stagecraft and his unfailing ability to control the media. But as a stage-struck teenager and future copywriter there was something else equally important for me: his lyrics. From the moment I heard the questioning otherness of Changes on the radio I was hooked. The words to The Bewlay Brothers channelling his half-brother’s schizophrenia, a theme he often returned to, still give me goosebumps.

And so it continued down the years. The melancholy beat of loss in Five Years, the tumbling alliterations on the Diamond Dogs album, the Clockwork Orange daggers on Outside, the enigmatic self-referencing of the late albums giving the lie to those who thought he never wrote from the heart. Many fans have described his music as the soundtrack of their lives. For me his lyrics often also provided the commentary.

Like all Bowiephiles I could go on and on (longer than The Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family even) but suffice it to say that his amazing zeugmatic, oxymoronic wordplay (pretentious, moi? as Bowie once self-deprecated), often inspired by Burroughs’ cut-up technique, continued to inspire and wrongfoot in equal measure right to the end.

So what’s all this got to do with an advertising blog – apart from the obvious influence Bowie has had on all forms of creative endeavour, commercial and otherwise? Well, in 1963, before leaving to pursue music and join the Beckenham arts laboratory, Bowie enjoyed a brief career in the creative department of Nevin D Hirst Advertising in London.

He would have made a great copywriter. But I’m very glad he didn’t.


Do you want to forge a collaborative new customer interface? Or just sell your product?

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

We live in strange times in the land of marketing. My inbox is replenished daily by a stream of snake oil salesmen trying to sell me the next can’t fail marketing trick. Or equally often a seminar at which you can hear someone talking about it at vast expense. Some of the sub-Brentian marketing speak has to be seen to be believed. Only this week I was exhorted to try ‘socialising the enterprise’ but usually the focus is on conversations with customers, reinventing the consumer/manufacturer relationship, working out a new dynamic where the brand creates a relationship with the customer rather than, heaven forbid, actually sells to them. Pseud’s corner would have a field day.gobbledygook

Somehow the advent of the internet and social media has made many marketeers take leave of their collective senses or at least allowed them to entertain the gobbledygook being served up. The internet and all things on it are an essential new suite of marketing tools, able to reach people faster and with better targeting than ever before. But people haven’t suddenly changed. They don’t want a relationship with their soap powder. They want one that does the job at the best price. Nor do they want to want to love their energy supplier like they love John Lewis as SSE’s CEO recently aspired to. They want a reliable product, a fair, transparent price and a call centre that solves their problems quickly and efficiently.

Too much energy is being expended on thinking up ever more convoluted ways of expressing the relatively simple notion of selling a product to people and too little on creating relevant, engaging selling ideas for the brand. Too often all the marketing claptrap results in nothing more than setting up a chummy Facebook site or wince-inducing twitter feed. Whereas the focus should be on presenting your product in the most informative, creative and engaging way.

Bribing people to like your Facebook page might make you look good but it won’t increase your sales alone. Nor will filling it with irrelevant creative content. There is a current lazy trend of commissioning/using someone else’s funny idea then slapping your brand name on it. I suspect people don’t feel grateful to brands for bringing them entertainment, assuming they can remember which brand it was that delivered the content. Watching teenagers use the internet it’s clear they don’t want their content branded – they like things to be anarchic, self-discovered, democratic and random.

So let’s ditch all the weird jargon and get your agency’s copywriters and designers to do what they are best at: presenting your product’s strengths in the most engaging, informative, witty and eye-catching way possible. Sometimes that might use humour, sometimes it might require hard-hitting facts but let it always be relevant.

Marketeers should stick to what they’re good at – selling to their customers, where at least the relationship is an honest one. Use your copywriters and designers to create relevant, witty, selling content and you’ll find, whatever the medium, digital or traditional, you will get a far more tangible result. Check out the new TV ad. It hasn’t socialized the client’s enterprise, but it is funny, immediate and relevant.

Making Social Media Work

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Interesting to hear Martin Sorrell say that whilst social media is fine, you still need advertising to drive people to it. It’s certainly a powerful (and largely free) adjunct but people still need to know and care about your products in the first place before they follow them on Twitter. Sometimes the excitement of getting 100 Facebook fans seems to outweigh the actual financial benefits this might bring. At mhm grax we believe in including social media in the marketing mix, but not in using it in isolation. Take Stephen Fry – massive Twitter following, but only sustainable through exposure in other media such as TV and radio appearances