Archive | January, 2014

Please make this end

30 Jan

We’ve been briefed by an insurance company to look after their social media. It’s quite a challenge, especially as I have never visited the Facebook page of an insurance company, nor have I followed any of the Twitter feeds provided by this sector. And do you know why this is? Because I AM NOT REMOTELY INTERESTED IN THEM. If ever there was a distress purchase, it is insurance. I buy it because I have to, and I resent the fact that I need it. But hey, a company wants to give me money to fill space because they have been told that social media adds value to their offering and sets them up as an open, available and forward thinking concern. Who am I to say no?

My first step was to visit the Facebook page of an industry leader, Aviva. Here is their Facebook page right now, at the point of writing this blog, at 3pm on 30 January 2014.

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Yes, that’s right. A letter of complaint from an irate Aviva customer, threatening to sue the company. Curious as to why Aviva have exposed themselves to the public ire, I read on. Apparently, the company has teamed up with Heart FM to brighten up the Monday of one lucky listener a week. A nice idea, which leads them to ask Facebook ‘fans’ how their Monday could be better. Cue this:

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A lengthy rant from a man who has received a 4.5k insurance quote for a £300 runabout, completely spoiling his Monday.

Which leads me tho ask – what does Aviva (and my client) expect from a Facebook page? Why would their customers visit? Any information they might need is surely contained (and managed, and given a positive spin) in the company’s website. There might even be a Wikipedia page with a few impressive stats. And there are always the price comparison websites from whom the insurance companies must get so much or their trade. Aviva use their Facebook to announce initiatives such as the tie in with Heart, and to promote their money advice blog. But howe many people ‘like’ this stuff? Well, the stats tell their own story. People liking each of Aviva’s updates are currently in single figures.

Was it Aviva’s advertising agency that suggested they ‘do’ social media? Was it their digital agency? Or did they just feel obliged to join in the mass stampede? And what did they want their Facebook page to achieve? Sales? Enquiries? Friends? Because at the moment, this is an online newspaper that nobody reads, one that, should it be printed and placed on the shelves of a newsagent, would never sell.

I go back to the truth that insurance is a distress purchase. That makes an insurance company as interesting as the companies who remove the blue bins from ladies loos. Those companies probably don’t have Facebook pages, or fans, and no one would expect them to. And yet someone, somewhere is filling the Aviva page with content, stuck on transmit, stopping occasionally to placate the Mr Wilsons and the Simon Deans. 

I haven’t yet worked out my approach to our insurance client’s social media brief. My opening gambit will be to tell them that we are an advertising agency, and to ask them what they would like us to help them sell. Then I’ll ask them which insurance company is really winning big with their social activity. I’ll even ask them which other brands are using social media to dramatically increase revenue. The dispiriting truth is that I am not expecting them to have any answers to hand.



The answer is digital. What’s the question?

27 Jan

It’s exasperating.

I’ve been doing some work with a charity client and have been given a brief to ‘do something digital’ this year. This is because last year’s digital foray is being hailed as ‘a great success’. This success translates to 139000 page views of the charity’s website and 1000 uses of the campaign hashtag on Twitter.

At the same time, we have been asked to re-run a lacklustre poster campaign that was created last year as an 11th hour compromise after all the good ideas had been rejected.

I’m sure this is typical of many briefs being thrown at agencies by clients who see digital as a cost-effective way out of a problem. After all, why pay for media when you can get people looking at your wares for free? The trouble is, 139000 people? Out of a nation of 60million, that seems, well, a little small.

But what about these 1000 tweets? The snake oil pedlars have fiddled the figures here. Talk is of a ‘3.5million reach’. Which means that if you add together the number of people who follow these 1000 people, you get to 3.5million. Which means? Well, even if you believe that this number is accurate, a tweet will have appeared on the screen of 3.5million laptops, tablets and smartphones. One tweet. Quickly followed by another from, say, Alan Carr, and one from Joey Barton. And one from Ricky Gervais, and the Guardian, and the Onion, and…


In other words, if our 3.5million people haven’t momentarily downed tools to check their Twitter accounts, the tweets will have disappeared into the ether (or is that e-ther?)  I’m pretty sure most of our client team don’t tweet and so cannot see the way these stats have been pimped. In agencies, we are bombarded by stats from digital gurus telling us how amazing the digital medium is, yet most of the time, we ignore online advertising messages ourselves and happily take money form our clients and watch it disappear into a black hole.*

The best digital stuff depends on something being made in the real world – a TV ad, for example – that creates an online vapour trail. This piece of work needs to be brilliant enough for people to want to share it.

Another great way of getting a message across is a stunt or an event which is filmed and put on YouTube or Vimeo, but these cost money, and our client doesn’t have huge amounts of that.

The answer is simple. A ballsy, attention grabbing poster campaign. A brilliantly produced TV ad that cuts through the online clutter. A stunt that captures the imagination of the nation. Put another way, the less money you come to the table with, the bolder you need to be. In my experience, if an idea is strong enough and the client famous enough, people will fall over themselves to reduce their day rates.

But one thing’s for sure, simply running last year’s half baked posters and hoping for a digital miracle is a one way ticket to oblivion.

*My agency’s website states in no uncertain terms our dim view of digital. We only work in media which we believe in.

Harry and Sally

20 Jan

Harry and Sally don’t get out much. But thanks to an advertising campaign on the London Underground, they might be getting a few more day trips.


I find this ad mesmerising. It’s been around for a while and feels like it was done by a team of people who have never attempted to do advertising before. But therein lies its charm. It feels amateur and homely and cosy. It feels like old people have created it. Who cares if it has seven logos on it and a url with three hyphens? Not me. It’s complete lack of sophistication makes it stand out.

That’s not to say that I love unsophisticated ads. I don’t – they suggest that people don’t know what they are doing and are too tight (or strapped for cash) to pay an agency. Recently, we were asked by a multinational brand to put an ad together for an Expo. It was three day’s work for two people and they wanted to pay the agency less than the day rate for a half decent freelancer. And unsophisticated ads are usually tied to miniscule budgets. The creators don’t have the ability to design something that transcends their budget and so the work disappears into the mulch of all things bad which most right minded members of the public ignore.

But not this ad. It has just the right amount of naiveté in it’s five typefaces and Daily Mail cartoon visual to be perfect for a service that is asking people to keep OAPs company, and someone somewhere is pumping cash into the media side of things so that we commuters get to see it. All that remains to be said on this is that, if you have time on your hands, do please beam an email to the folk at (was .org already taken?) and see if Harry or Sally have any dates left in their diary. My guess is that they’re booked up till Christmas.


Workhorses and Showboats

10 Jan

Last year, I spent two happy weeks at a giant PR firm in Victoria. As with many other media based companies, PR agencies are now muscling in on advertising. It appears that anyone can do it. Or, at least if they can persuade their clients they can do it, they get paid something. And so my time was spent crafting copy for an online game that would be the destination of choice for young men who had watched (and loved) a TV ad for a brand of rum.

The problem inherent in my task was that I had yet to see the TV ad that would drive men in their hundreds of thousands to the game. (I overheard a planner telling a geek at the rum company that they would need more servers to withstand the onslaught) Why? Because the agency in New York had yet to create the ad. All we had was the germ of an idea, which we ran with. Now, the game itself is pretty darned good. The commercial, sadly, was not and rendered those extra servers (if they were ever installed) wholly unnecessary.

Which leads me to my point. There are ads that are solid. Good enough. They work hard and do the job they need to do. They tell people about stuff in a simple way. They are generally on air a lot; so frequently in fact that we often remember their jingles, slogans or catchphrases. But these workhorses rarely get passed on through the viral channels available to marketers. Few viewers make the effort to venture to the websites of the brands they advertise, and fewer still engage with the games, competitions and other activities that await them there. These are the everyday, unexceptional adverts that rely on paid-for media and which keep the wheels of commerce turning.

And then there are the showboats. The Old Spices. The Channel 4 Superhumans. The Volvo Van Dammes. The Melbourne Metros. Ads that punch way above their weight. Ads which, even if someone somewhere did once pay for them to appear on a TV station, have transcended the space appointed to them and soared into the viralsphere to be shared, blogged and adored by those at whom the advertising was not even targeted.

Ads like these deserve websites, Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds. They deserve to have games written for them. They are splendid and we bow down before them. The workhorses do not. The sooner advertisers realise this and stop wasting their dollars on paying agencies to create work that will never be seen the better. More than that, these advertisers should spare their work from the indignity of ‘burial by internet’. For the web is a mass graveyard for workhorses. No one seeks them, no one finds them, no one sees them. Let the showboats shine on YouTube, Vimeo and every channel that can hold them. This is their space and their place to shine.

So here’s to the showboats. The ads that make us all sit up and wonder how we too can do something incredible. Because we all know we have it in us; we just need the right client, the right team, the right moment. And here’s to the workhorses that pay our rent. The ads that were compromised by a committee, by research, by a client who yearns for vanilla. The ads that might have been great but fell at one of the many fences along the way.

And here’s to knowing the difference between the two.