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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Three days ago Betfair’s Sportsbook paid out on a ‘No’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum. (Sportsbook is the part of Betfair that operates as a traditional bookie.)

At the time – and right up to the wire last night, indeed – the polls were showing what was effectively a 50:50 split between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.  Momentum was widely reported to be with the ‘Yes’ vote.

A ‘wrapper count’ of window stickers had the ‘Yes’ camp ahead by about 2:1 in Edinburgh and 4:1 in Glasgow.

An informal ‘racket count’ had the ‘Yes’ camp ahead by about 10:1.

So, what’s going on? As I write – 4 hours or so into voting – Betfair’s exchange has the probability of a ‘No’ vote at 83% and the probability of a ‘Yes’ vote at 17%.  These figures have been rock solid all week. Apparently 17,000 people have staked an average of £450 on a ‘No’ vote. Who are they? What do they know?

The politicians on both sides have played down this information. Is this to avoid complacency (among ‘No’ voters) and premature capitulation (among ‘Yes’ voters)? The media are revelling in the apparent closeness of the contest. And the Scots are keeping mum, while the goodies keep flowing from Westminster.

And have Betfair pulled off a major coup? Whatever the outcome, they’ve got loads of free publicity (and no doubt they laid off their losses).

Still – by this time tomorrow everything will be clear ;)




The bank that likes to say Yes… er, No

You may remember earlier in the year RBS ran a campaign entitled ‘RBYES‘ – in fact the first of a handful of brands who have since accidentally (or otherwise) endorsed the separatist position with free mass advertising.

Coming back into Edinburgh last night after a few days working away, I spotted RBS posters now sporting a prominent ‘No’ message – and saying  something about ‘no tricks’ if I recall correctly.

I know the big guns are being wheeled out this week, and that presumably the ‘S’ in RBS will have to change after independence – so, I wonder, is this an eleventh-hour volte-face by the bank? Or just a marketing coincidence?


Braveheart v Bravehead

The Scottish Independence Referendum campaign is entering its final furlong. And thank heavens! It has been such a Grand National of communications that collective cognitive fatigue is setting in. I for one will just be happy to stagger across the line and get a cross on the paper, wherever it lands.

Despite 30-odd years of residency, a Scottish business, and a bunch of bairns, I still don’t feel especially entitled to vote – and I have a few Polish friends who keep asking my advice (it’s amazing to think the Eastern European community could swing it!). My best pal has switched sides in the last couple of weeks, and it’s a strange notion that three of our wayward offspring may well cancel out their parents’ considered votes.

As a marketing case study it has been a fascinating exercise, watching each side try to wrong-foot the other. The actual question on the ballot paper is skewed towards the Yes camp, but their Better Together opponents have that great brand equity on their side, ‘the devil you know’. Meanwhile, among native Scots, grass-roots pressure is clearly building ‘to do the right thing’.

I’ve been trying to assess whether this is a classic ‘heart v head’ conundrum. Probably it is, but the issue is complicated by the question ‘where does your heart lie?’ (In Scotland? In Britain? In your wallet?)

However, as I have said before, the last thing the Scots are is stupid, so I’m sure we’ll get the right result.


Wet behind the ears?

I saw a tv ad this afternoon that had me rather bamboozled – it was for a hosepipe (I think it magically expands during, and shrinks after, use). The product benefit seemed quite intriguing – but, hold on a minute – it’s September on Monday. I became more perplexed when I considered that I was watching the ad in Scotland. Do I even know anyone who owns a hose?

Win-win referendum

If there’s a marketing lesson from the frantic exhortations of the No Thanks and Yes Please camps, then I think it concerns the power of selective perception.

Buying a round of drinks on Sunday night (yes, really) I overheard at the bar a vehement mini-debate relating to the Commonwealth Games.  Scotland had just won yet another medal in the pool, and the argument started off along the lines of: ‘Look at us – we’re good enough to stand on our own two feet.’

Of course, this thrust was quickly countered with: ‘Aye – if we’re doing so well, why would we want to change anything?’

Then there was the ‘Undecided’ in the group, who stated: ‘There’s no way of knowing if our good performance is due to being part of GB, or if we’d do better or worse if we were independent.’

In the absence of being able to run some kind of A:B split, this latter point of view of course has some merit.

Listening to the argument as it ran on (repetitively thereafter), I couldn’t help thinking that people will interpret the ‘facts’ (ie. in this case Team Scotland’s impressive medal hall) to reinforce their own attitudes.  Given that most of what happens in the future can only be a matter for conjecture, I suspect there will be enough futile wind bagging to drive all of Scotland’s wind farms for the next 7 weeks.


As for a perspective coming from over three decades of residency, I’d say this: 1) don’t waste your breath trying to tell the Scots what to do, and 2) there’s no need to anyway – the word ‘canny’ (like most things) was invented north of the border.

What car?

Down the years I reckon it’s the automobile industry that has spent the most money floating ideas. Where they have floated off to, however, I have no idea. Like helium-filled balloons, they only stick around when they are firmly attached to their owner.

There’s an ad right now which is certainly very watchable – but everyone who mentions it to me does so in anonymous terms. Perhaps if you really could buy zip-in seats as an optional extra the brand name might start coming through. Until then it’s a case of ‘What car?’.

Phoney war

I gather from the media that there’s a grocery price war about to break out.

When I first started selling to supermarkets, Tesco were running ‘Discount 78′. They were locked in mortal combat with Asda, Sainsbury, Fine Fare and the Co-op superstores. It was billed in the press (no online then, of course) as ‘Discount to the Death’.

Fine Fare did succumb (morphing into Gateway, Somerfield and finally the Co-op), but the others have lived to fight another day.

Back in the seventies, there was no need to advertise that savings were in the offing. Just a bit of well-placed PR and the media would do the rest. They’d hype up the contest – as if this were something new under the sun (heaven forbid!) – and the news would spread like wildfire. Consumers could shop happy in the knowledge that their supermarket was doing its bit for the pound in one’s pocket.

Sounds remarkably familiar.

Big con?

Yesterday afternoon the main TV channels set up quite a dilemma. Just what to watch?

These were world events, with billions of followers, and celebrities out in force.

Anything this big has to be good – in fact, more than good: great.

On one, a ball going to and fro. (Mostly just to.) On two, cars going round a track. On three, bikes going along a road.

Not to be missed.  The king is in the altogether.

A haporth of tar

I read a fascinating treatise recently advocating the abolition of the apostrophe. I have to say, I was quite sold by the argument (and in deference have omitted the usual ones from Ha’p'orth in the title above). However, a few days on, I’m no so sure. Apostrophes might be the thin end of the wedge. Mass extinction of punctuation could occur.

Of course, it’s my brief in this blog to play Devil’s Advocate. The pompous and the pedant alike are fair game. Only the other day I was being both of these myself. In the bathroom of a small Lakeland hotel I spotted a sign: Important Guest Notice. (Have a shufty.) That can’t be for me, I decided, I’m from Hinckley.

Of course, I did read it really, even though it would have been clearer with a well-placed colon (no pun intended). Only the ultimate pompous pedant could have refused to accept that the meaning was obvious.

And, in any event, the downside of a misunderstanding is negligible.

But that may not be the case in a selling communication.

And I guess that’s where I would draw the caveat as regards the abolition of dots, dashes and squiggles. The fact is they can and do speed up the legibility of the written word. Hypens, for example, create an easy-to-read effect where compound adjectives are used. Indeed – for the copywriter – I’m certain it would feel rather like being a carpenter who’s had all his Phillips screwdrivers nicked. (Now, should that be Phillip’s, or would that be a grocer’s apostrophe?)


A game of three halves

I fell asleep during the Brazil game last night. When I woke, it seemed to have morphed into some kind of all-stars-match-cum-Holywood-blockbuster. Was that Messi? Rooney? Ronaldo? Then I realised – this is half-time. These are commercials.

In fact, there were so many galacticos (or were they avatars?), acting out weird and wonderful scenarios, that I completely forgot to pay attention to the brands.

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