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I heart JD

17 Jul
Jack Daniels cross track

Jack Daniels cross track

As I mentioned in a recent blog, I have just celebrated 25 years in our great city. And as long as I have been living and working here, there has been one constant. Not so much a red thread running through the timeline as a black and white one. I’m talking about the Jack Daniels adverts on the tube. I have no idea how many I must have seen or when exactly the campaign started. It has survived yuppies, grunge, Britpop and hipster. It has seen the government go from blue to red to blue again. It is recession proof, fashion proof and futureproof. It is not bothered that some brands choose to advertise on Snapchat, or demand approval on Facebook, or have funnelled their fortunes into content. It simply sits there above the underground tracks, timelessly, chewing tobacco and making homely small-town pronouncements, creating a myth that the global mega-brand of Jack Daniels is still pulled together by bearded men in lumberjack shirts stoking charcoal on a fire. And that’s the thing about Jack Daniels. Because its a campaign that predates me working in advertising, I am sucked in by it. I become one hundred per cent consumer. I bask in its warm glow. I properly buy into it.

But there’s more to the Jack Daniels campaign than longevity. There’s a certain genius that allows a brand to stick to its guns. To pick one advertising medium, one tone of voice, one font, one photographic style and stick to it. I have no idea which agency creates the work or which creatives over the years have so criminally been passed over at award ceremonies. But to quote Adam Driver’s character in the recent movie, While We’re Young ‘Let’s just not know’. To be honest, I don’t want to abandon the myth that these ads are written somewhere back in Lynchburg Tennessee by folk wearing ten gallon hats and listening to Elvis. Whoever you are, writers of the Jack Daniels ads on the Tube, I salute you!

Barclays Blue: Rewards for being you!

29 Jun

Barclays ad

Great news! According to a new OOH campaign from Barclays, I can now be rewarded for being me. Notwithstanding the generic euro/lifestyle/stockshot photography –  (seriously, how many ads featuring ‘bro with fro’ have been made in the last 5 years in an attempt to suggest that a client is young, exciting and international?) – there is an interesting message to unpack.

I’m not used to being rewarded simply for being me. It’s so easy being me that I don’t expect a reward for it. And surely a reward needs to be earned? Maybe that’s the idea – I get a reward without earning it. Which isn’t really a reward is it? It’s more a freebie.

Still a freebie is nice, but what if the me that I am is really happy being with, say, First Direct? Do I still get rewarded for being me? And if the me that is me really doesn’t like Barclays? What then? Do I still get the freebie?

Unsurprisingly, I have to bank with Barclays to take advantage of these rewards. But if I banked at Barclays, that wouldn’t be me, that would be me pretending to be someone else, just so that I can win something for not doing anything. If I were me, I’d stay with my own bank, but, given the message of this ad, this should still get me my reward.

But no. I’m just the wrong me. Sometimes life is just plain unfair.

24 Mar

I love this:


I had to read it twice to understand it. The WSJ is so good that even people who don’t have time to read it make time to read it. Genius. I don’t like the ‘this could be you’ image, I think the words on their own are powerful enough. Ads this good only come along once or twice a year.

Filling space with stuff

5 Feb

old bus ads

When I arrived in London in July 1990 to try and make my way in advertising, it was a very different city. There was still a functioning tube station at Aldwych. The Jubilee line terminated at Charing Cross and you could still hop on and off Routemaster buses. Tubes still had wooden window frames and those dangling black plastic balls that people gripped onto while the train was moving. And everywhere I looked, there was advertising. Brilliant advertising.

I quickly learned that cross track posters were really just press ads for people with time on their hands. The posters along the platform and up and down the escalators were for shows and exhibitions. Inside the tubes themselves, the ads could be for anything. Ambient advertising didn’t exist, there was no internet and no mobile phones. That left TV, press, outdoor and radio. There seemed to be just a handful of advertising agencies creating the ads and every student knew the names of these idea palaces: BBH, AMV, Lowe Howard Spink, BMP, Bates, Howell Henry. And all of these agencies were fantastic at advertising. It was as if displaying a message in a public space really mattered. It was as if people knew that the public would see the work, and they created it accordingly.

Fast forward (and trust me, the last 25 years have gone very quickly) to 2015 and the picture is very different. There are still big agencies but the work they now do is very different. There are also a huge number of agencies who believe that they are as capable as those big name agencies of creating advertising. And where before there were just a handful of media spaces to fill, there is now a proper proliferation. Back in 1990, an ad on a sandwich bag or the back of a tube ticket was exciting and new. Now, every surface area and every electronic interface is seen as an advertising opportunity.

The danger with this is that, a bit like the picture from 1900s London above, we are often guilty of just filling space with stuff. When there is no thought or care given to a project, and a crass, poorly worded, poorly designed piece of communication finds its way onto a tubecard or a banner ad, it affects the whole. Advertising itself becomes weaker. Too many messages bombard people and they switch off. If I show a client twenty ideas in a meeting, they quickly become bewildered. They can’t hold all the information in their head, yet every day they are assualted by several thousand messages.

It’s easy for an agency to convince a client who knows no better that a packshot of their product and some bullet points placed in a train carriage will make a gripping and cohesive argument as to why the public should be interested. But given the state of much of the print advertising that I see, both underground and overground, this approach isn’t working. A client that thinks they are saving money by creating their advertising in house might actually be throwing money into a black hole because their ads are not grabbing anyone’s attention. Equally, a digital, experiential, social or A.N.Other agency that thinks it can cover off all the advertising that its clients need may find that they don’t have the expertise needed to generate a properly engaging campaign for their clients.

London is absolutely clogged by clients filling space with stuff. One or two agencies know how to fill it with advertising, and one or two clients are prepared to put decent money behind making an impact. London in 1990 was a different place in a different time, but the ads that I saw as I walked, tubed and bussed around town hawking my portfolio truly inspired me. Today’s students must be walking around thinking ‘anyone can do this’, and with so many agencies now to choose from, they’re probably not wrong.

(this blog also appears at

Mini Fist Pump

8 Dec


I do like a good pun, and the Just Eat posters are full of them. Hot on the heels of their ‘box set’ of pizzas comes this gem. The ads capture the spirit of takeaway / home delivery food, who orders it and when. But what I love is the concept of ‘mini fist pump’. I have no idea where it comes from. It’s like they actually made it up, and designed a logo for it. It adds nothing to the meaning of the ads, but spiritually it lifts it to another level. Well done to all involved.

Mini 1, Kwikfit 0

3 Nov

This billboard is currently on the A406 North Circular (sorry for the poor picture quality but you get the idea.)

I think I know what happened here, or at least I hope I do. The creative team suggested “The better be Kwikfit sale”, as it is more instant than “the better be quick Kwikfit sale.” After all, the client’s name has ‘Quick’ in it, right? And the client will have said: “Hmm, I’m not sure people will get it if we just say our brand name. Will they get that we mean ‘Quick’ when we use the bit of our name that says ‘Kwik?'” And someone at Head Office will have said “let’s keep ‘Quick ‘in just to be safe” at which point something inside the creative team died.


They should have taken a note from the Mini advertising which is up at the same time. I can’t find a copy of the billboard but here is something from their Facebook page:

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 11.42.28

See, “So Mini to choose from”. Maybe the client wanted “So many Minis to choose from” but the agency stuck to it’s guns. “People will get it” they said. “Mini is a famous brand. And it sounds a bit like ‘many'”. It’s a little thing called trust, and when agencies get shown some, they can do beautiful things.


Is anybody looking at this?

22 Sep

This poster is currently on display near the security conveyor belts at London City Airport. (sorry about the poor photo quality)


It’s a good example of how some advertisers see the role of advertising –  simply to fill space with information. This belittles advertising. As we all know, great advertising can inspire, compel and move. The best advertising tells us very simply why we should be interested in what is being sold to us, and makes us want to do something about it.

Sadly, this offering from Accenture tells us nothing. Their strategy is informed and powered by technology. Which means? Exactly. This poster sells Accenture as a distant, obtuse, complicated tech company. No one is being inspired by this message and my bet is that no one does anything as a result of seeing it.

The only positive is that it gets the name Accenture out there. With this model. the more I see Accenture, the more I am likely to nod when someone mentions their name or how they can help me. But if asked what they stand for, or represent, or what they are like as people, I am left with very little. The opportunity for someone to clean up in this field with pithy, relevant, intelligent insights is huge. Think of this as the clanging sound of a gauntlet being laid down.

I love a good pun

16 Sep

This is awesome:


At first reading, it’s about the effect that the Ming Emperors had on their country. But then there’s a lovely pot and I realised that this is also about the history of ceramics. It’s as close to genius as I have seen in a poster. Mood: jealous and in awe.

Careful now…

12 Sep

I’ve seen quite a few ads that I like over the summer. This one has been around forever but I love it:


I love the image. It is instant and simple. Who is more fragile than balloon man? Balloon man’s posture is perfect. He is trepidacious. He is about to step onto the escalator, gingerly, arms out for balance, head down looking for the exact placement of the foot – it’s balletic. And all this beauty for a run of the mill piece of railway station information. It won’t win any awards from the industry but it’s certainly up there as one of Adspike’s ads of the year.

Invigorating carbonated cola drink…

14 May

Ok. So we have a situation. We have two camps in advertising, both clinging doggedly to the truth as they know it. On the one side, we have the laughable old grunters who think an ad should say something about the brand – what it does, why it’s good, how it adds to the world etc. And on the other we have the young turks who say it’s all about grabbing attention, being entertaining and using the ad to begin a conversation that will result in sales at a later date. Both have their fans and the advertising world is waiting to find out who are the Neanderthals and who are the Homo sapiens.

And so here we have an offering from the people who asked us to ‘refresh the world’ in 2010 and whose commitment to social media advertising over traditional above the line lost them so many sales to Coca Cola that they still have not recovered. Bloggers far more laudable than me have chronicled this.

I have to claim ignorance about Pepsi Max. I don’t actually know what it is, what it does or who it’s for. It’s clearly different from Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, and possibly free from calories. Perhaps it’s Coke Zero to Diet Coke – the same drink repackaged so blokes will drink it. The reason I don’t know is that no one (for no one, read ‘Pepsi’) has told me. From the name I’m assuming it might even be an energy drink – Pepsi with added caffeine or taurine but until I see an ad that explains this I don’t have much to go on and can’t be bothered to check on Wikipedia.

Pepsi Max have taken a bus shelter and done something clever to it.

The cynic in me says that Pepsi’s ad agency saw the technique and decided  that it might work for Pepsi. It’s certainly entertaining but what does it tell me about the brand? If Pepsi Max was launching, we could say that it embraces the new, and we should look out for a new technique every time they advertise, but this isn’t a new brand. It reminds me a little of this Smirnoff ad from the 90s where objects viewed through the bottle appear different. Fine for a mind altering alcoholic drink, but a soft drink whose heartland has always been sport, energy and ‘extreme’ pursuits? Not sure.

I’m fine with non traditional advertising, but the clue is in the name – advertising. The most brilliant recent example of this is Red Bull Stratos – an energy drink whose tagline is ‘gives you wings’ and a guy jumping from the edge of space from a Red Bull branded balloon – near perfect.

The Pepsi Max stunt feels like yet another clever idea designed to garner Facebook likes and YouTube hits that may or may not increase Pepsi’s struggling sales, and another creative team ready to collect an award for a technique dreamed up by someone else.

In the meantime, we all wait for the Divine Judge to pronounce whether we should cling on to the traditions of telling people why a product is good, or resign ourselves to just grabbing some attention and ‘starting a conversation’. Ultimately, the public aren’t stupid, nor are our clients and if one isn’t buying and the other isn’t selling, we’re the ones who will be called to account.