Latest Posts


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.

Pints of view

What with Joey Barton on Question Time and elephants taking selfies (or ‘elfies’ as some wag has pointed out), you’d be excused for thinking the silly season has come early this year.

On the promotional front I also found what seemed like a too-good-to-be true campaign advertised in Shortlist.

To get two free pints of Kozel (what?) at a pub near you, just download the free app. Seemed like a no-brainer, if only to find out what the heck it is.

I duly followed the instructions, and typed in my postcode. Here’s the result.

Isn’t it peculiar that you would get a consumer (an interested one at that) to struggle through all the palaver of reading an ad, remembering it, downloading an app, inputting details… and then tell them to get stuffed?

Wish you were there

On Forth One at the moment you can enter a competition by naming your favourite thing about Edinburgh – arguably an interesting challenge, given its extraordinary abundance of riches, and steady flow of five-star international accolades. You’d be excused for thinking this is VisitScotland, exhorting the locals to get out more.

Curiously, however, the prize is a trip to the Lake District.

Well, there’s nothing like getting one’s creative ducks in row – and further investigation reveals the campaign is actually sponsored by First TransPennine Express.

Somehow I couldn’t see Coke offering a free Pepsi along similar lines – it would feel like the wrong sort of prize.

No you can

As any parent knows, a good way to get a kid to eat their dinner is to insist they do the opposite. I once did an NLP course, and encountered the same phenomenon described as ‘the embedded command’.

In a similar vein, there’s a fascinating game of marketing cat-and-mouse being played out north of the border. At the moment, the ‘No’ campaign is getting pelters for being too negative. The media, and perhaps to some extent the public, appear to have bought into this proposition. It’s negative, that means it’s bad. You tell us No, we’ll do Yes.

This is interesting. Apart from the clue being in the name (‘Vote No’), it makes you wonder what else they could have said.

I’ve variously noted ‘warnings’ that Scotland will lose the Pound Sterling, EU membership, a decent credit rating, the Queen, RBS, HBOS, Standard Life, the Royal Navy warship orders, English tourism, RSPB funding, Nicky Campbell, MI5, MI6, the BBC, HS2, British citizenship, and Scotch whisky (work that one out).

Now some in this list may not be mourned – but the emerging zeitgeist begs the question: should they have been saying ‘just look at what Scotland gets to keep!

Ninety years ago, using an A/B split, John Caples demonstrated that positive outcomes comprehensively whupped their negative or inconclusive counterparts in ads. You’d think someone in ‘Better Together’ would have asked a marketer.




Having the courage of one’s campervan

I came across a promotion in our fridge this week. Win a traditional VW campervan with Yeo Valley Greek Style ‘Yeogurt’.  (Ha-ha.)

Also 100 Glamping Trips for runners up.

I got the gist immediately – I know exactly whom they’re targeting, and how it works for the brand.

Then I noticed the main headline actually reads: ‘Win 1 of 2 campervans or £25,000’.


How to build up a nicely structured little proposition… and then immediately drive a coach and horses right through it.

Latest jobs Jobs web feed