Best of the Blogs

Patrick Collister, Editor Directory

Issue 53 | December 2019


Must be one of the most mis-used words in the lexicon.

You see it on a lot of websites.

We have a passion for excellence.

So say hotels, coffee companies, law firms, manufacturers of ball-bearings.

What they mean is, we have systems and processes to help us make as much money as possible.

On LinkedIn, you'll see people declaring a passion for data profiling.

Passionate about the hospitality industry.


What they mean is, they work hard at their jobs.

They may even be quite interested in what they do.

But passionate?

I had a chairman who used to say he was passionate about advertising.

He was as passionate as a lizard.

He'd got an MBA and treated the agency pretty much as if it was a logistics company.

Passion discomfited him.

Actually, passion discomfits most people.

Passion is excessive.

It's hot-blooded, it is unreasonable.


In a world of reason you can look at the growth of digital advertising and rub your hands.

According to Forbes, spend on digital advertising is set to grow in the USA by 16% year on year between now and 2024.

The unreasonable person groans. Bangs his head on the wall.

Well, I do.

That's a whole lot more damage about to be inflicted on an industry already hated.

And with reason.

It's not just that there's too much advertising, which is too intrusive and too irrelevant, a lot of it is just poorly conceived and clumsily executed.

No wonder 800 million devices are said to have ad-blockers installed.

Now, there is a certain sort of person who is worried by all this.

This is someone who believes that creativity in advertising is not just about selling stuff more effectively, it's about respect.

If you're going to barge into someone's consciousness, do it with charm and elegance.

Maybe even some humour.

It's a way a brand says thank you for your brief moment of attention.

I could write pages on the subject.

About the fact that moronic advertising wastes money.

Roughly £17 billion a year in the UK alone, according to Dave Trott, who writes that that's how much it costs to run the ads that no-one notices.

I could get angry about it.

I could get didactic about it.

I could offer advice, I could offer solutions.

But better by far is to introduce you to the five bloggers I most enjoy reading.

(I would love to include Mark Ritson, but you have to pay money to read his column in Marketing Week.)

These are all passionate people.

They care.

And while there are people like Ben Kay, Bob Hoffman, Damon Stapleton, Malcom Auld and Rory Sutherland out there, I feel all is not lost.


A blog by Ben Kay

Founder and Creative Director, Invincible Unicorn, an ethical advertising agency

Fun, anyone?

Posted on October 19th 2019

The late lamented David Abbott (the A in AMV BBDO) used to extol the virtues of having fun in advertising.

Can I also make the case for enjoying your job a bit more than you currently do?

The odd thing is, I don't think anyone disagrees with that as an idea. Why would anyone not want to have fun? The problem comes when you don't feel you can give yourself permission to enjoy yourself.

It may be a cliché, but every advertising generation seems to think that the one before it was the last to have a good time, and they've sadly turned up just as the party has become a depressing mess of empty beer cans and three final stragglers asleep on the stairs. But even today, with you possibly believing the opposite, the truth is that the job is intrinsically much more fun than literally 99% of other jobs.

Let's have a look at some of the reasons why:

  1. You can wear what you want. Beyond that, you can even dress 'creatively' and it will be generally accepted. I once worked with an ECD who wore a cape, a witchfinder's hat and toeless socks with sandals. He earned well over $500,000 a year. Have you seen what bus drivers have to wear? Or Burger King chefs? The good news is, you don't have to dress like them, but you can if you want to, and that's fun.
  2. Part of your job requires you to do all the fun things people like to do when they're not working. Reading magazines, watching movies, visiting art galleries... These are all essential pastimes for an advertising creative. Some enterprising people even find a way to charge that stuff back to the client or add it to their tax deductions. Which brings us to...
  3. Expenses. I don't know how generous your agency or government is, but if you think most jobs can get media entertainment for free, or tax-free, you are sadly mistaken. Over the years my job has allowed me to acquire video games, coffee table books and even the odd coffee table. That was more fun than paying full price for all that jazz. From time to time you even get the chance to load up on shoot-loot, then fill your office with groovy junk. Somewhere in my garage I have a special can of Pepsi that cost $200 to make.
  4. Creative advertising is one of the best and easiest ways to meet interesting people. It might be an expert in a field related to your brief, a stunt person on a film set, or countless directors, producers, editors, engineers, designers, photographers etc. Then there's the celebrities: over my career I've met all sorts of them, from Posh Spice and Terence Stamp to Isaac Hayes and Thierry Henry. Every single time I did that it was fun, fun, fun.
  5. I guess some of the travel might be dull (I've been to Slough and Reading far too many times), but you should have a decent chance of being able to swing a free trip to another country, something most people have to pay a lot of money for, and – ugh– fucking organise. And they might not even get to go business class! Maybe it's a shoot in Prague, a factory tour in France, or a conference in Miami. Often you will be accompanied by a person who pays for the drinks. Drink those drinks. Wake up with a hangover. Eat a big free breakfast. Get in a car driven by someone else. Spend the day sitting in front of a video monitor while people offer to get you coffee. By far the funnest way to deal with a headache and dehydration.
  6. Production is fun. Choosing photographers, directors, illustrators, VO artists etc. that you would otherwise never interact with is fun. Then asking them to do stuff that you don't have to pay for is fun. And if you don't like it you can ask for more stuff. That's also fun! Sometimes.
  7. Seeing your stuff for real is fun. Driving past your billboard is fun. Seeing your stuff on TV is fun. Hell, even seeing your stuff online might even be fun, especially if you've invented a game. Games are fun!
  8. Coming up with ads is fun. Yes, I know it's a bit of a grind when you have to write boring lines or do the umpteenth revisioning of something shit, but on the whole, being paid to think up things other people might enjoy can be FUN. You might not see it that way because you've had to do it so many times but take a step back and look what you get asked to do for actual money. I repeat: it's more fun than literally 99% of jobs.

So maybe you'll have more fun if you look at your day through the lens of how much fun it could contain. Or look at how you can squeeze some fun out of situations you previously considered to be funless. Sure, you can grumble about your lot if you want, and we all do that from time to time, but come on... most of the time it can be pretty darn fun.

A blog by Bob Hoffmann 

Former CEO of two independent agencies and the U.S. operation of an international agency. 

A Conspiracy of Silence 

For several years the advertising industry has been engaged in a conspiracy to deceive its clients and the public about online advertising. 

It is not the kind of conspiracy you get when bad people get together to plot a crime. It is the kind of conspiracy you get when greedy, frightened people individually decide it is safer to keep their mouths shut than tell the truth. 

For the last few years we have been flooded with scandals and revelations about corruption, fraud, and lies in the online advertising ecosystem. Here is just a partial list in no particular order: 

  • Tens of billions of dollars in online ad fraud. 
  • Inflated and absurd “metrics” from Facebook 
  • Advertising dollars going to supporting terrorist, nazi, and pornography sites 
  • Advertisers unknowingly supporting pedophile rings on YouTube 
  • Billion dollar fraud in influencer followers 
  • Traffic fraud 
  • Criminal federal investigation of Facebook data sharing 
  • The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office stating that adtech is “illegal” and “out of control” 
  • A report from the Association of National Advertisers claiming that corruption and kickbacks were “pervasive” in the advertising industry 
  • Massive fraud in social media followers 
  • Click farms going 24-hours a day 
  • Numerous scandals involving online publishers, search engines, and browsers spying on people without their knowledge or consent. 
  • Sharing of “secure” personal information among web entities 
  • FBI and Justice Department investigations of media practices 
  • Google secretly sharing personal data with advertisers. 

The terribly damning part is that there are only two possibilities: Either agencies are remarkably stupid and don't know what is going on, or they know and are keeping their mouths shut. It's hard to decide which is worse. 

I believe they have been engaged in an unspoken conspiracy. 

Not a single one of the scandals involving online media were brought to light by a media agency. Not one. Let's put this another way -- not one of the scandals about online media were exposed by the people whose job it is to scrutinize online media. 

Agencies, particularly media agencies, are as close to the online media industry as you can get. They are analyzing online media 24 hours a day. They are responsible for seeing to it that hundreds of billions of online advertising dollars are spent properly every year. They work very closely with media. They have the facts at their fingertips. They are assessing online media opportunities on behalf of their clients every day. 

How can it be that reporters, who are not trained in media, have not nearly the resources to scrutinize media, and have no expertise in analyzing media, were able to sniff out scandal after scandal while the "experts" were not able to do so? It is not possible. It doesn't even pass the giggle test. As one very highly regarded media analyst commented to me recently, "agency bigwigs are notoriously paranoid and fearful. There's a strong code of silence..." 

If it were left to the leaders of the ad industry, we would know nothing about any of the appalling stories listed above. By concealing their knowledge of deceit and dishonesty in online media, the ad industry has failed at one of their most consequential responsibilities - being trustworthy stewards of their clients' money. Instead, they have been responsible for wasting billions of client dollars. Why? 

  • Because they're afraid to admit they've been played for fools by online media. 
  • Because they get fees or commissions on most of the wasted billions. 

Is it any wonder marketers are moving media functions in-house? One can only wonder what additional sleaze the media "experts" know of and are keeping quiet about. 

The ad industry has allowed itself to crawl into bed with the squids at Facebook and Google and the rest of the devious adtech weasels. It makes us look like fools. Every week there are alarming reports of fraud, corruption, privacy abuse, and security failures in online media and we shrug our shoulders and duck for cover. 

The ad industry, controlled by misguided and incompetent leadership at trade associations and holding companies, had better get its act together. By being lapdogs to the corrupt and dangerous online media we are quickly squandering what's left of our credibility. 

We are on the wrong side of history and will continue to stay there until the silent conspiracy to protect online media ends. 

A blog by Damon Stapleton

Regional Chief Creative Officer, New Zealand/Australia DDB

Advertising. What if nothing is changing?

"Creativity doesn't wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones." Bruce Garrabrandt

There is an advertising urban myth about a company needing to sell more baby powder. Basically, all the brightest and the best would come into a room each day and try and brainstorm how they could sell more baby powder. They would look at communication, distribution and pricing. At the end of each day a cleaner would come in and clean up the room. While she did this she would listen to what they were saying. At the end of 3 days very little progress had been made in selling more baby powder. The cleaner could see everybody was a little crestfallen so she gave them her idea.

Why don't you just make the holes bigger?

The question is always how you change the game. And the answer is usually made up of two words. Creativity and simplicity. You will find these two qualities in any answer of value.

However, changing the game and talking about change are of course two very different things. One of the funniest things in our industry is to watch people take on the cloak of the grim reaper. One of the safest positions you can take in our industry is that everything is about to die. This has been said every year since I got into the business. Bob Hoffman wrote a brilliant piece about this phenomenon in Cannes recently:

In it, he shows how speaker after speaker talks about how we are all dying if we don't adapt. Or, how advertising is dying. Or, that massive change is on the horizon. Run for the hills. For the love of God, we have to change. Otherwise we are all going to die. Now, of course if you get to the end of these talks you will find most are selling something. And nothing sells quite like impending doom.

I guess the real question is what is changing and what isn't. The idea of change has always fuelled our industry. The restlessness this brings is a good thing. But, it can also be a false prophet. So, I thought I would look at all this through the lens of an excellent article I read recently. For me, it highlights the fact that in the end we always come back to the need for creativity. That is what never changes. It is almost always the solution you return to over and over. And more importantly, it's how you change the game and make giant leaps when everything else eventually gives you parity.

The article is by Jay Patisall in Forbes magazine called The Cost of Losing Creativity. Please do yourself a favour and read it.

In it he argues that the industry has commoditised brands and homogenised experiences. Here is what he had to say about how customer experience has become too similar to make a difference.

The issue is that the work looks, feels, and behaves too similar. The industry obsession for meeting every customer need and want for ease and convenience by using technology has left little room for creative differentiation. That has come at a cost. The front door to your brand is a web or app experience that is virtually indistinguishable. Fashion experiences look the same. Quick-service restaurant and coffee apps allow you to order ahead and skip the line. All airline apps allow travelers to check in, manage travel, and use a mobile device as their boarding pass. What can make one brand different from another when the experience is built from the same common technology platform, designed to solve the same user or category need, and programmed for the same two devices? Creativity.

In other words, there comes a point where through technology or just about anything else, you reach an experience plateau where everything becomes the same again. You and your competitors become the same again. And then, you have to differentiate again. For that you need ideas. You need creativity to change the game. It would seem as long as there is competition or choice this will always happen.

Take television and content. Recently, Disney and NBC have taken their content back from Netflix. The game is changing and to be fair there are many scenarios that could play out in the future. But just for fun, let's take this information and run with it. Disney (I believe the app is called Disney Plus) and many others could soon have their own apps that consumers will be able to access in a variety of ways. This means in the future you could have a multitude of apps or platforms on your screen. And hey presto we are back where we started. Not unlike today with a multitude of television channels to choose from. What was once radically different will become familiar again. This cycle is far more true than radical change.

So, the question becomes how will all these streams of content differentiate from each other? My guess is a few people in a room trying to come up with ideas. No matter what labels are used or what impending doom men in cool trainers tell us is about to visit, this always seems to be the answer.

It is ironic that the one thing that actually creates change, doesn't change at all. Creativity.

It knows eventually it will get the call after all the talking and posturing is done. It knows it is the only architecture that will let you leap again and again.

Just like the holes in the baby powder, the answer is always staring us in the face.

A blog by Malcolm Auld

Creative Director Malcolm Auld Direct

Adidas marketers should run around a football field if they want to sell footwear...

Given Adidas has admitted its mistake of over-investing in digital advertising, it might be worth revisiting a previous article in which I wrote:

With much fanfare, the marketing clerks at Adidas announced they are no longer going to advertise on TV, as their target market is young and allegedly doesn't watch TV. Their Aussie brethren repeated that announcement again this week.

It seems Adidas will only use digital channels for marketing to these young folk – completely missing the larger audience of active sportspeople still playing football, netball, jogging and much more, well into their 50's. These people also have more money than younger people and will spend it on all sorts of branded goods.

I declare a hand here. I was once paid a few shekels to play football and eventually played for 40 years, so have bought a shed-load of boots, running shoes and clothing. I am a qualified football coach and assistant rugby referee. I coached juniors until two years ago, advising parents on what boots to buy.

I attend my kid's rugby, basketball and hockey games, participating in team management. So in summary, I am a parent of, and involved with, the young sportspeople Adidas want to reach – not to mention a lifetime sports gear customer and person who showered regularly in male sporting sheds. Though that's not a vision you need right now.

I've also worked on creating ads for sports drinks and sporting goods retailers, so may have some semblance of an idea about the market. Hence my humble opinion via the following points:

Point 1:

Young folk do watch large screen TV, often with an iThingo in hand. They love to watch sport on TV, as well as on smaller devices. So they do see TV advertising.

Point 2:

The lads play FIFA on PS4 which is where they see some of the coloured footwear of different players. This may have some influence on their choices. They also attend professional sport as fans, so they see what their heroes are wearing. Interestingly, sport brands rarely have pop-up stores selling stuff at these matches – where are the brand activation folk?

Generally though, their footwear decision is influenced by the following three things:

  • What their mates are wearing – if someone turns up to pre-season training wearing the latest lime-green boots, then that's what they all wear.
  • The expert in the shoe store – Foot Locker or Athlete's Foot – who advise on the best boots/joggers for their feet/sport.
  • The cost of the damn shoes – governed by my (or their) wallet.

The delusion that the only way to reach young sportspeople is via digital channels, is farcical. One has to wonder, what's in the sports kool-aid at Adidas?

My kids (and I) have worn Adidas, Nike, Tiger, Puma and Asics. They are not loyal to any single brand. I was never brand loyal either, though admittedly I did prefer the Adidas Predator boot in my twilight years.

More importantly...

Point 3:

This younger generation is responsible for the single biggest consumer protest in history. Around 700 million of them have downloaded ad blocking software to their digital devices, specifially so they don't get any (Adidas) advertising. So am not sure who the marketers at Adidas believe will see their digital ads?

Obviously, to overcome the issue of digital advertising not working, Adidas will create content and brand experiences for their customers. But they will need to spend money to promote the promotion, so to speak. They cannot rely on social media or WOM.

I suspect Adidas will awaken from its folly in good time. Maybe they should speak with P&G to learn how they lost $Billions in sales, when they moved away from TV advertising to Facebook advertising? P&G returned to TV BTW.

I'm banking on Adidas moving to a "footpath graffiti" strategy. They'll hire street artists to paint the footpaths of the cities with Adidas branding – digitally activated of course. This will allow them to capture the attention of all those young people walking around staring at their feet and the ground, while on their mobile phones.

When said punter steps on an Adidas brand image, a RFID message will be activated on their mobile, instantly offering branded content -not selling anything, because as we all know, selling in the digital world is evil. This will make the punter's life more fabulous, so they will fall in love with the Adidas brand. Don't say you weren't warned.

Gotta run – where are my Dunlop Volleys... connect to me on the run:

Wiki Man

A column by Rory Sutherland

Vice Chairman, Ogilvy Group UK, columnist with The Spectator

Plumbers always have the best restaurant recommendations

Whenever I use the security lane at an airport, I enjoy watching people retrieving their bags and metallic items when they emerge from the X-ray machine. You can quickly divide the population into two: a small minority of 'logistically aware' systems-thinkers and the logistically challenged majority.

To anyone with a grasp of systems thinking, it is obvious that the throughput of a security line is reduced when only a few people can retrieve their belongings at once. People who self-importantly collect their stuff as soon as it exits the scanner are slowing the queue by 70 per cent or more. The answer is first to remove empty trays from the end of the belt, pushing any full trays as far as they can travel; this leaves far more full trays in reach of their owners at any one time, freeing many people to retrieve their laptops, car keys and coins simultaneously.

Interestingly the people who grasp this are not the people you might expect. It's never the educated middle-class holidaymaker, but a scaffolder called Dave on his way to Magaluf. It's one of those areas where intellectual and social standing are inversely correlated with quality of judgment.

Indian restaurant recommendations are like this. Whenever I have tried an Indian eatery on the advice of a knight of the realm or a Nobel laureate, I get served crap Frenchified muck. When a plumber or a builder recommends a curry house, however, it's always bang on the money.

In recommending a restaurant, the eminent are more interested in displaying sophistication and discernment than in relaying useful information. It is this signalling instinct that led to the culture wars. A noisy minority has co-opted the focus of political debate from discussing how problems can best be solved, to demonstrating how much you care about those problems.

This is self-defeating. Most complex problems are usually solved obliquely with some cunning, small, often counter-intuitive interventions using some form of systems thinking. But those primarily motivated by status-seeking prefer to signal their commitment by demanding interventions that are direct, expensive and visible — with a strong preference for any actions which most annoy other white people whose status is one notch below their own.

Take university admissions. If you want more diversity at elite universities, the answer is not to send your admissions staff on a training course on bias or remove statues of Cecil Rhodes. You first need to widen the pool of people who apply in the first place. This can most easily be achieved by two simple actions: 1) allowing people to choose where to apply after they receive their A-levels results, not before and 2) identifying successful pupils from disadvantaged schools and writing to them encouraging them to apply. (This means that even if their application fails, they cannot be accused of aiming too high by a peer group.)

The present system, where you apply before knowing your results, is hugely biased towards the over–optimistic and the over-ambitious. Most people, especially those from backgrounds where expectations are lower to begin with, are wired to minimise the risk of regret. They would prefer to attempt X and achieve X than to aim for Y and settle for X. This is not a hard problem to solve. The problem is that solutions involving systems-thinking do not have the same signalling value as, say, proposing a cap on private school admissions.

The same applies to proposing actions to combat climate change. The people who claim to care about the problem most are those least likely to solve it. The more widely acceptable a proposal may be, the less signalling value is to be gained from promoting it.

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