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Sunday, 1 June 2008

What earthly use is better marketing anyhow?

Last week before I started to bore a crowd of Croatians into submission for five and half hours, a charming lady TV interviewer stuck a camera in front of me and asked if what I was talking about was important.

A good question: how do you explain quickly why better marketing really matters in when people are dying in Burma and Zimbabwe because of evil politicians.

But I wish I could have shown her this week’s issue of The Week magazine, which I will come to in a moment.

People talk a lot about the earth’s precious resources, referring to the obvious, like oil or water. But every penny squandered on stupidity could be spent better elsewhere; every penny takes a little nibble out of those resources.

That’s why I think it is important that companies don’t piss away money on foolish marketing, one obvious example being costly, inane commercials nobody understands. I only have to mention car commercials in just about any advanced country and people laughingly agree that most are a wank.

But print advertising is often even worse; I suspect it is a dying skill. In The Week two of those who are involved in selling those resources we are all so worried about ran expensive ads that were a complete waste of shareholders and customers’ money.

There are a few simple rules in advertising (or any other communication, for that matter) but they seem to be completely unknown to many of those employed to write advertisements, choose the pictures or approve the result.

You might think this is odd in an industry where people get very well paid. But this thought will pass when you recall that bankers have been paid millions for fucking up the world’s economy and ruining the lives of millions.

Even the head of the British Royal Mail has just got paid a seven figure sum – with, astoundingly, a bonus - for making the service even worse than it was. Mind you, this is an achievement of a kind, as it was astonishingly bad already - and coincidentally, the smooth operator in question was previously an advertising man.

But back to the ads.

It has been known for at least a century that good ads – which means ones that persuade - must be utterly clear at a glance, promise a clear, immediate benefit to readers, and that vague waffle spells sudden death, boasting is bad, pictures should immediately relate to the subject and you shouldn’t treat readers like idiots.

Total Oil were losers on all scores in an ad with the heading Common interests, with a picture of an iceberg and, where the reflection should be, an upside down city, followed by some boastful waffle about how they are guided by concern for the environment when we all know they care first and last about profit. The bold "Co" was a little touch somebody no doubt hugged themselves with delight over. Sad.

Shell pissed away a goodly sum on a mysterious confection with a childish diagram followed by the headline, “Creative thinking one of the most precious resources we have.” (Really? How brilliant!) Followed by some boasts about all the things they sponsor, in the hope that we will like them. We won't.

Somebody called EADS whom hardly anyone sane has ever heard of or wants to wasted two pages on a picture of something strange in space with the fatuous (and boastful) line “Answers, made by EADS” followed by some drivel about satellite technology.

“It’s time for transparency” said another waste of two pages paid for by an organisation called clearfleet, in which they managed to say the square root of sod-all about something nobody cares about except them.

Actually, it is high time - for frontal lobotomy on those who perpetrate this mindless pap.

It all reminds me of my old boss David Ogilvy who was once asked by the head of American Express what to do about his marketing. “Why not hire somebody who understands advertising,” the great man suggested.

Mind you, I salute those who can sell this rubbish to those who buy it. They may know nothing about advertising, but they do recognise cash-rich mugs when they meet them. Trouble is, one way or another, this money comes from you and me, and it could be better used.

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