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Direct marketing should be louder and prouder

This week it emerged that Steve Stretton, the charming, twinkle-eyed co-founder of AIS, is stepping down from the front line.  The news marks the end of an era: all three AIS founders have now stepped back from the business since its acquisition by Havas in 2008. Jon Ingall is enjoying life in Corsica, Stuart Archibald has launched a new agency in Sydney while Stretton is working on other projects such as running a posh bric-a-brac shop in Thame that sells only locally-sourced products.

Stretton’s departure, though he will continue to be involved as non-executive chairman, marks something of an end of an era. It might be pushing it a bit to describe the late 90s (AIS launched in 1999) as a rock n roll period for DM but it was a time when confidence in the discipline and the talents of its operators (many of whom came from the fertile training grounds of Evans Hunt Scott, Ogilvy or Wunderman) knew no bounds. AIS, alongside the other great start-up of that time Partners Andrews Aldridge, combined an instinct for great work with a faith in the principles of direct marketing (crudely put – customers and selling stuff) that was, in its early years, unwavering.

These days its hard to find direct marketing agencies who have similar courage in their convictions. While many are keen to talk about the latest fancy app or website they’ve built for a client, hard-working data-driven campaigns that sell products to customers are too frequently brushed under the carpet as agencies look to push their “integrated” credentials.

The great shame is that, if only they realised it, many are in a better place than the traditional ad agencies or web-focused shops that they try to ape. Understanding of data and customers together with the craft skills to hit them with a well designed message at exactly the right time seems to be the perfect agency positioning in light of recent technology advances.

There is hope on the horizon. Recent start-up Soul, for instance, is proud to call itself a direct agency and revels in its ability to understand customers and, wait for it, actually sell them things. It would be great to see more established agencies adopting this sort of stance and displaying greater pride in what they exist to do.

Why agencies should say “no” to Thomas Cook’s ad package

I feel uncomfortably close to the former footballer Jamie Redknapp. Perhaps it’s because those glans grazing silver suits on Sky Super Sunday offer more than a wink towards the Redknapp Crown Jewels.

It started, though, with that golden-hued Thomas Cook ad, created by Beta, that showed Redknapp capering around a beach with his wife Louise. Utter tat undoubtedly (it was judged Campaign’s second worst celebrity ad of 2010) but viewing it now provides a gateway to a simpler time. A time when the Euro crisis looked like being resolved, a time before riots in Mediterranean countries and a time before unemployment figures rocketed. For that, at least, we should thank Jamie.

Since dumping the Redknapps for a “destination focus” Thomas Cook’s fortunes have declined, partly due to the aforementioned financial crisis. Its difficulties have been well-documented and the brand faces a long road ahead before it is fully recovered. Now, its marketing director Mike Hoban is looking to hire a new ad agency, having parted company with Havas Worldwide London.

The chance to pitch for a £12 million piece of business will see agencies beating a furious path to Hoban’s door. Many of them will already know him. As the top marketer at he conducted a lengthy review process before appointing Publicis to the account (we still await the agency’s first work). Prior to this he held senior marketing positions at brands including BA, Barclaycard and WH Smith.  He’s a marketer with a reputation for building strong relationships with agencies and enjoying the culture that surrounds them.

Yet, despite the obvious attractions, agencies have reason to be cautious around Thomas Cook. Not only due to its financial position but also because of a track record that reveals some shoddy behaviour towards its shops. Media agencies might recall its aborted attempt to charge a £1m “signing-on” fee to a winning agency in a pitch while, more recently, Havas was at the receiving end of a decision to scrap its New Year advertising blitz. Moreover, the creatively inclined should consider the brand’s woeful creative heritage before they proceed. Avoiding a “turkey of the week” award in Campaign is no easy task with Thomas Cook on your books.

I’d say these factors should be enough to prevent any strong agency from pitching for the business. Act like Jamie and show some balls for God’s sake. Yet they won’t. I’ve already spoken to one good agency which is willing to dismiss Thomas Cook’s track record as it looks to  fill that “difficult travel sector hole” in its client base. Fair enough, but don’t be surprised should you end up in the business equivalent of the holiday from hell.

A Carlsberg film that’s probably worth watching

A few days back I wrote a post about how poor the current Carlsberg ads are.

Despite the true crapness of the “that calls for a Carlsberg” line one of its agencies, Duval Guillaume Modem in Belgium, has managed to produce an inspired piece of film based on a stunt in a cinema. Definitely worth checking out:

Carlsberg Challenge

Carlsberg…Probably the worst lager commercials in the world

I can’t fault Carlsberg’s £1.5 million media deal with Sky that will see it strengthen its association with Sky Sports over the next year. Loads of blokes watch Sky Sports. Loads of blokes potentially drink tins of Carslberg’s lager. So far, so very back of the net.

Yet I reckon that Carlsberg’s creative, from Fold7, is now so dire that any advantage gained from such deals will be lost. To ditch its “probably” positioning, which resulted in many fine ads from Saatchi & Saatchi, for the lazy emptiness of its newish endline “that calls for a Carlsberg” seems scandalous.

The new execution, featuring four rugby tools in a sitting room tossing around beer cans as though they are rugby balls, is only mildly irritating when compared to the previous two executions featuring idiots in space and on mountains (in a stupid tribute to the far superior Carling spots?) God knows, though, how any sports fan will manage to sit through the upcoming series of 20 of these sport themed spots and retain any sense of consideration towards the Carlsberg brand.

Sadly, while Carlsberg is ticking all the correct (though blindingly obvious) media boxes, its creative has lost its way. And, I feel, that’s probably going to mean the beginning of the end for a once great lager brand.

UK is the Volvo of the ad world at Cannes

The few vaguely sober conversations in Cannes last night centred on the UK`s poor performance in many of the awards categories. Radio and direct were a complete washout while performance in press and outdoor, while better, didn`t set the world alight.

Some golds in Cyber were encouraging but there is a general soul searching going on revolving around “what is wrong with UK creativity?” Those bullish, or drunk enough, are maintaining that there is a Eurovision-style conspiracy among jurors to gang up on the British and deny golds and Grand Prixs to deserving work.

Realists can see that there are some amazing ideas, better executed, coming out of markets that are more dynamic than the UK. One agency boss made the valid point that UK clients have also become so risk averse and cowardly that it`s hard to create award winning stuff for established brands.

That said, there is in one area in which we seem to more than compete with the rest of the world – effectiveness. Three UK campaigns on a shortlist of ten suggests that the UK can hold its head high as a centre of excellence not only creating good work, but proving that it works.

We might not like it but the UK is no longer the Ferrari or even the BMW of creativity. It resembles a trusty Volvo. It may not excite everyone but you know it works.

Steve Gatfield gets Naked and it’s not cool

Ten years ago, the terribly cool Naked Communications team would have baulked at hiring a man in a suit with a reputation for running US-based ad networks as its figurehead. But this week that’s what it did when parent company Photon (which somehow steered itself out of the financial effluent last year) appointed the former Leo Burnett and Lowe Worldwide chief Steve Gatfield as Naked’s co-chairman. Read More

Like Samoa – three new campaigns that push frontiers

I was taken with today’s news that the Pacific island of Samoa is to “jump forward in time by one day” in a bid to improve its trading relations with Australia and New Zealand.

A smart idea that shows the rule book can  just be torn up and rewritten if its terms don’t quite suit you. The advertising business should take note as it attempts to improve its own performance. And, thankfully, the signs from the last few weeks are positive. Read More

Credit where it’s due to The Guardian

Campaign and me personally have written some critical words about The Guardian newspaper recently. Its obsession with the News International phone hacking scandal seemed out of proportion, but then that’s just my opinion. Read More

Ken Clarke says ad and media jollies are OK

The Bribery Act, due to become law this summer, has been causing the ad world a great deal on concern. Many agencies and media owners have had their lawyers pouring over the detail to establish waht they can and can’t offer clients.

Well, fear not because Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, speaking to the London Evening Standard yesterday, gave the green light to those planning their jollies. “Taking customers to Twickenham is normal… It is normal business hospitality to get to know your customers better. No one is going to call that dishonest.” Read More

Euro RSCG fights back from global losses

Question: When is an account loss not an account loss? Answer: When the account was really just a project.

That’s the line Mother London is taking anyway after Campaign learned earlier this week that the agency will no longer be working with Reckitt Benckiser on its £66 million global Nurofen ad business. The agency was appointed to the account back in October 2009 and was thought to be creating a series of campaigns for the pain relief brand. Read More

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