WELCOME TO THE DRAYTON BIRD BLOG - Commonsense about marketing, business and life

Leave now if easily shocked or politically correct. Otherwise, please leave your comments. Statements such as "brilliant", "hugely perceptive", "what a splendid man" and "can I buy you dinner at the restaurant of your choice" are all greeted with glee.

If you like, I'll e-mail you each new dollop of drivel when I publish it. Just click here to subscribe. If you want to succeed faster, get my 101 helpful marketing ideas, one every 3 days. People love them - maybe because they're free. Go to www.draytonbirdcommonsense.com and register. You also a get a free copy of the best marketing book ever written

Friday, 30 January 2009

This just made me laugh


It's from The Oldie - a mag for old lags like me. Always full of good stuff.

So what's your value proposition, pal?


Lo, and it comes to pass that every now and then, emerging from the endless swamps of the Lost Kingdom of Marketing Jargon, the Anointed High Priest of Pointless Bollocks brings forth a new Sacred Morsel of Bullshit.

And, yea, the Marketing Drones genuflect before it, for it maketh the blindingly simple seem complex and justifieth their Monthly Stipends.

Well, perhaps my favourite definition of marketing is "Give the buggers what they want and you'll do OK". So I have been working recently (and still am) on Value Propositions for two different clients in two countries selling two utterly different things to entirely different types of people.

The Value Proposition, for you unenlightened heretics out there who want to trot it out to impress the dozy and gullible at dreary meetings, tells your prospects what they get for their money.

Stirred up by this thought I have been wondering what my Value Proposition is compared to all the teeming multitude of Marketing Gurus out there whose number multiplieth every week like unto that of rabbits in Queensland.

How the hell have I survived for so long? I don't pretend to tell you how to get rich almost effortlessly by following my secret launch formula; I don't guarantee to turn you into an "A-list" copywriter whose every well-turned phrase daily stuns and delights your lucrative and generous clients; I don't specialise in any area at all. Not dodgy health products; not investment advice; not anything, really.

Essentially, if you want to flog just about anything, I'm your man.

This week - besides the aforementioned value propositions - I've been writing about models people can collect, two different types of property investment - one for the absurdly rich, another for the ordinary Joe - a new book on divorce, temporary buildings, martial arts courses, holidays, a painter of abstract art and the occasional portrait - and two new marketing services I'm involved in. I've been writing leaflets, letters, scripts for speeches, a brochure and one or two ads. And what is really astonishing is that pretty much everything I bang out seems to work. It really is very odd.

But there is one other thing I'm playing round with that you might like, dear reader, when I get round to offering it. You might call it Everything you need to know about selling almost anything to anyone anywhere in a series of easy to follow and sometimes funny e-books and videos.

Would that interest you? It won't cost you $5,000 to stay in a secret location in the Mojave desert and be lectured by 5 legendary internet masterminds who were cleaning toilets till they discovered the secret formula for attracting millions. It will just be good value, no miracles.

While you're thinking about that, you might find what follows, prompted by one of my current tasks, as funny as I do. If not, you're in the wrong place. It was sent to me by my son Nick, the world's best imitation Paul McCartney. That's his value proposition - and that's him at the top. And here's the URL to visit for a laugh. http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=klS92A8YzfY&feature=related

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Darling, what’s all this “we” shit about?

This morning I read that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alastair Darling says that though we face the worst recession of all developed countries we will pull through.

It reminded me of an old radio serial featuring The Lone Ranger and his faithful sidekick, Tonto, a Red Indian in those days, but now, as the PC hordes say, a Native American.

The dialogue went:

Lone Ranger: Comanche ahead of us! Apache behind us! Cheyenne on that side! Sioux on the other! What do we do, Tonto?

Tonto: What’s with all this “we” shit, paleface?

So, Alastair, what’s with all this “we” shit?

YOU will pull though with your index-linked pension. The Great Bloated Haggis will pull through with his index-linked pension. But we will be paying the bill for your fuck-ups for decades.

Come to think of it, I’d almost forgotten how the Haggis halved the value of my pension.

He taxed the shit out of it to pay for all those brilliant initiatives - as in Iraq, Afghanistan and "let’s hire lots more gay, lesbian and transgendered activity-coordinators who’ll vote for us". Maybe they get index-linked pensions, too.

The truth is, this country is divided between the ponces – the people who create nothing and wouldn’t know how to – and the rest of us.

The rest of us are seriously pissed off.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The curse of waffle - an Indian perspective


Has this ever happened to you?

It happens to me all the time - and did again today.

Somebody suggested I approach a possible client, so I went first to their website.

For the life of me I couldn't understand what they do. I could see vaguely who they were selling to, but how exactly they were going to help - what precisely they do - was utterly unclear.

There were just a lot of fancy words like "innovative solutions", "state of the art" and "cutting edge".

I know I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I imagine many of their prospects are equally thick.

So how many times do you go onto a website and utterly fail to understand what the hell they are selling?

This comes to mind because of a message I got recently from an old friend. I first met him in 1987 when I went to India to help set up O & M Direct, which was about the first proper direct marketing agency there.

It was David Ogilvy's idea that I go, and it led to one of the best experiences I have ever had. I made some wonderful friends, including R. Sridhar, who was in charge of the new venture and whose rather earnest picture is above.

We've kept in touch, and he sent me this dialogue.

“Good morning!”

I heard the familiar voice and I knew it was Prasna Rao.

“Morning Prasna. Where were you all these days?”

“Remember, I am the one who asks questions.”

“Ok, please ask your question then.”

“Remember the Ogilvy party you attended last month?”

“Yes, it was nice.”

“Remember you met several old friends and a few who you did not know?”

“I do.”

“They asked you a simple question and you failed miserably in answering it.”

“Really?”

“Yes, the question was: ‘What do you do?’ I am going to ask you that question now. So, what do you do?”

“I am a consultant.”

“That is what you are, but it does not answer the question. So, what do you do?”

“I am an Innovation Coach.”

“That sounds very fancy, but what do you do?”

“I am in the Corporate Creativity and Innovation Domain.”

“Pompous but useless. What do you do Sridhar?”

“I run IDEAS-RS, a professional consulting firm.”

“Says nothing. What do you do?”

“Prasna, do you have to take yourself so seriously?”

“Yes, especially when you sound so bad. Let me explain. When people ask you the question ‘What do you do’, you can convert that into an excellent conversation starter or make it a dead end. All your answers so far are dead end answers. So let us try again. What do you do?”

“I am stuck. Give me some help Prasna. How do I tackle this?”

“Ok. Try filling the blanks in these three sentences:

‘I’m a ________(descriptor/designation/profession). I help _______ (people/clients) who want to ______ (benefit)’

‘I work with _______(people/clients) who want to ________ (benefit)

‘I’m like a ________ (descriptor/metaphor). I specialise in helping __________ (people/clients) __________ (benefits)’

“You think this will work?”

“Why don’t you try first?”

“I’m an Innovation Coach. I help my clients who want to get out of habitual thinking and open their minds to fresh new ideas.’

“Can you make it tighter. Say it aloud. Shorten the second half of your answer.”

‘I’m an Innovation Coach. I help clients who want to get rid of mental blocks.”

“Sounds better. Let us try the other two. What do you do?”

“I work with clients who want to get new ideas for business growth.”

“I work with clients who want to develop new product ideas.”

“I work with ambitious clients who want to achieve impossible goals.”

“You are getting it Sridhar. Let us try the last one now. What do you do?”

“I’m like a plumber. I specialise in helping clients remove their mental blocks and facilitate a continuous flow of fresh ideas.”

“I’m like a mental lubricant. I specialise in helping clients overcome their barriers to new ideas”

“I’m like a coach. I specialise in helping clients win in the innovation game.”

‘I’m like a mental broom. I specialise in helping managers remove the cobwebs in their thinking.”

“You are getting better. Do you know why I asked you to do this?”

“No. Why did you ask me to do this?”

“Because you were missing opportunities to share with people some of the interesting things you do.”

“But how will these answers help?”

“In 90% of the cases it will lead the other person to ask ‘How do you do that?’ and opens the door for a dialogue. Unless of course you make that answer pompous and boring. and create a new dead end.”

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Something for Sunday dinner

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=yUKjh0ey7mc&feature=related

Friday, 23 January 2009

Something for the weekend

The video looks a bit squashed, but you get the idea.

http://www.draytonbird.net/Draytons_blog/Forensics.wmv

If you think it's in bad taste, blame my partner Al, the degenerate swine. He'll have to go.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

The World Weather Conspiracy - Again


In the 1970s, desperate for money, I wrote anything for anyone. Chapters for books, speeches, ads, direct mail, all-singing, all dancing presentations – anything to stave off the bailiffs.

And here we are 30 odd years later – not much change.

Talking of which, one book I part-wrote was about changes in the world’s weather. It was called The CIA and the World Weather Conspiracy.What the hell it was really about I have no idea now, but I do know it predicted a New Ice Age.

What goes around comes around. Last December at a U.N. Global Warming conference in Poland 650 of the world's top climatologists said that man-made global warming is a load of old cobblers put about by the media and we should really be worried about freezing to death.

Dr. David Gee, Chairman of the International Geological Congress, asked "For how many years must the planet cool before we begin to understand that the planet is not warming?"

The earth's temperature peaked in 1998. It's been falling ever since; it dropped a lot in 2007 and even more in 2008 when temperatures touched 1980 levels. Satellite photos show that Arctic ice is back where it was in 1979. And has that hole in the ozone layer melted Antarctica? No; the ice has grown 5 % since 1980.

So during this period of massive global warming which has us all quivering in our shoes and being persecuted by local government fuckwits for not sorting out our garbage, the biggest chunks of ice on earth grew bigger.

Dr. Kunihiko, Chancellor of Japan's Institute of Science and Technology actually said: "CO2 emissions make absolutely no difference one way or the other ... every scientist knows this, but it doesn't pay to say so." And you know Chancellors never lie if you exclude the Great Bloated Haggis, who does little else.

Interestingly, a big Russian study overwhelmingly suggests that we’re on the verge of another Ice Age. Core samples from Vostok Station in Antarctica show what's happened to our atmosphere and temperature for the last 420,000 years. It seems the 12,000 years of relative warmth we have basked in are about to end.

So now we can all shiver our way through an ice age for some 100,000 years - well, you can, because I won't be around. And core samples show conclusively that CO2 levels follow the earth's temperature, not precede it - which destroys the basis for much of the scare-mongering.

So all those years ago the book I worked on had it right, and Al Gore, as I always thought, is a grasping, self-publicising tosser who runs around the world getting paid $100,000 a time plus expenses to talk bollocks, show misleading videos of polar bears and frighten people.

Did you know he got the Nobel Peace Prize? What has the weather got to do with peace?

But then, being stupid, like all committees, they have chosen some odd people, including Menachim Begin and Yasser Arafat who between them caused more than a few deaths. No doubt we shall see those murderous bastards in the IRA on the list eventually. And how about George Bush and the Bliar?

This piece is partly based on one by John Tomlinson of the Flint Journal

Monday, 19 January 2009

Strange things go on in the mind

Apropos of David Ogilvy, in 1985 he gave me a little booklet called "Type and Layout. Communicating - or just making pretty shapes" by Prof Colin Wheildon of New South Wales University.

It was the first (and only) example of research I had ever seen into what made for better communications based not on what people liked or didn't like, but on how well they understood things they read and how easy they found them to read.

Only relatively recently have other people - internet marketers - started to look into this subject intelligently but it has always fascinated me. I hate guessing; I prefer to know

Anyhow, one thing I have learned about communication is that people remember pictures more easily than words, and the latest editor of Prof. Wheildon's work wrote to me about this.

I was commenting about the fact that if I say "rabbit" it is not the word but the little furry animal that you see with your mind's eye.

Geoff Heard of Worsley Press, writing from the heat of East Timor, dashed off an interesting message:

Your mention of the word "rabbit" and the mental picture of the furry animal (which would be very quickly transformed to "dinner" here).

The mental picture over the word has to do with levels of processing in the brain and with familiarity.

In "Type & Layout" Colin Wheildon talked about how a red headline would stop people reading the body text. The bright colour would continually drag their eyes back to the headline.

The colour is dominant because it is a more basic level of processing. It is pre-literate. I've mentioned in the additional material I wrote for Type & Layout the psychological test that demonstrates this.

Write "green" in red letters then flash it on a screen. When that flash gets down to something under 1/30th second, viewers will swear they have seen the WORD "red".

They know they have seen type, but there isn't the time to read it, but the colour means they have redness on the brain.
"

Isn't that amazing, dear reader?

And on the subject of the pre-literate, here's an exquisitely crafted message I got today from someone selling a postal discount service. A work of art, untrammelled by petty considerations of grammar or punctuation and cleverly aimed at the burgeoning transsexual market.

Dear Sir or Maddam,
I appreciate that your very busy and wiil hopefully speak to you soon, please allow me to give you a description of our services as I do feel they could be of great benefit to your company and clients.

(Then there was gap of two of three lines, perhaps designed to whet my appetite for thrills to come, or maybe to make up for the lack of a gap after "Maddam", after which it continued)

Firstly we are not a downstream access provider, we are consultants who have access to the best rates available in the market place for all types of mail.

We started as international mail consultants this is extremely successful and we have saved our clients thousands buy using our knowledge and experience.


What mastery of the written word! These people have the kind of talent that until recently ended up running banks, and still runs the British government.

The people of Israel and Gaza must have wept tears of joy when Gordon Brown came to tell them what to do. Why can't he just stay there and sort things out, I wonder? We would all be ever so grateful. Three hundred years should just about do it.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

New David Ogilvy biography out now - Tells you what his biography failed to


If you’re interested in perhaps the most influential advertising man ever – which you surely should be - read The King of Madison Avenue, by Ken Roman.

Few people knew David Ogilvy better than Ken, a former CEO of the Ogilvy Group who worked with him for 26 years, and spent several more researching this book, which you can get from Amazon.

You cannot divorce the nature of a man from his achievements. Anyone interested in what made Ogilvy tick - his oddities (quite a few), his failures, his weaknesses, his strengths, his worries, his ambitions, his likes, his hates - will find them here. (He once said to me, by the way, “I may not be a good lover, but I’m a damn good hater.”)

I devoured half the book at a sitting. Besides being well-written it tells me all the things I wanted to know that David’s autobiography - Blood, Brains and Beer - didn’t. That curiously impersonal book disappointed many people, because it dished absolutely no dirt whatsoever.

Why his own book failed

David said he knew it would never do well because “when you write about advertising you’re competing with midgets. When you write an autobiography you’re competing with giants.” The truth is, though, that you want an autobiography to tell you about the face behind the mask, warts and all. That one didn’t; the new one does.

For me, who only knew him in the twilight of his career, the book was full of interest. I always wanted to know about David and women. (The way he left his first wife was extraordinarily unkind – and crazy). I wanted to know what exactly he did in the secret service during the war – and indeed why he never fought. I wanted to know the exact relationship he had with his brilliant elder brother, Francis. I wanted to know whether he worried as much as I do.

Claude Hopkins and John Caples may have made more impact on the nature of advertising and direct marketing. Albert Lasker made far more money. Many think Bill Bernbach’s agency was more “creative”. But nobody – to my mind – had such an influence on so many people.

By no means original

This is even though many of his ideas were not at all original - though he certainly was one of a kind, believe me.

The headline of his most famous advertisement, for Rolls Royce, was almost identical to one run many years earlier by another car maker, Pierce-Arrow. Other people talked about the brand and its image before him. Others – going back to the 19th century - pointed out that advertising should be about selling, not showing off. And still yet others trumpeted the importance of research.

But nobody took these thoughts and theories, reflected on them, elaborated on them, explained them and proposed them so memorably, persuasively, and with such style.

I only ever met two geniuses. Charlie Chaplin was one. David Ogilvy was the other.

Chaplin I literally just met, very briefly, when I was doing publicity for a film. A small man with bright eyes, buried in a navy blue overcoat and a big white scarf, accompanied by a beautiful wife.

But I worked with David Ogilvy for quite a few years towards the end of his career. Indeed, Ken’s research was so diligent he sat me down for an hour in a pub in Mayfair and asked for my reminiscences. Others knew David better, but I got to know him quite well and had some good times with him. This book brought him back to life for me. But it also tells you a great deal about the development of advertising, how to build a successful business –and what bloody hard work it is.

Read it. You can get a good deal on Amazon.co.uk, through it's not yet in stock. If you buy it with Ogilvy on Advertising at Amazon.com you get a healthy discount. And if you haven't read that, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, no: I am not an Amazon affiliate or even a Ken Roman affiliate; I am a financial nincompoop (nice word, eh?)

Friday, 16 January 2009

Ha bloody ha ... what service was that then?

I read in the papers the other day that Lord Mandelson, ennobled by the Great Bloated Haggis, Saviour of the Universe, for bringing politics into further disrepute, "sought to reassure anxious Labour MPs yesterday by expressing regret at the way the postal market was opened up to competition in 2006.

But, the report continued, "his olive branch appeared to cut little ice (great mixed metaphor, by the way) with Labour backbenchers, of whom 71 have signed a Commons motion opposing plans to sell a minority stake in Royal Mail, warning that it "would risk fracturing one of Britain's greatest public services".

Er, would you hit me again with that one, please? Fracturing what? My Newman Street office happens to be a hundred yards or so away from the big West End Post Office, whose stool-perching toilers are the mainstay of the nearest pub.

This pub was built over 100 years ago. Newman Street was then famous for its brothels. In those days if you wanted to tell your wife in Croydon (a London suburb) that you would be late for dinner - maybe because you planned doing a naughty in Newman Street - you could post your letter at lunchtime and she would get it in time to turn off the oven.

Nowadays you couldn't be sure it would arrive the next day, or even arrive at the right address. I got six letters last Friday addressed to Drayton Bird Associates staff who don't exist. Three are actually people who live in flats in our building, are far too intelligent to work for me. This is because the database that links names with postcodes is useless. Rather like the Royal Mail, actually.

Anyhow, give it time and the lads in the pub will all be out of work because TNT and others will have fractured their service, eaten their lunch - and emptied their pints.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

New David Ogilvy biography out now. Tells you what his autobiography failed to


If you’re interested in perhaps the most influential advertising man ever – which you surely should be - read The King of Madison Avenue, by Ken Roman.

Few people knew David Ogilvy better than Ken, a former CEO of the Ogilvy Group who worked with him for 26 years, and spent several more researching this book, which you can get from Amazon.

You cannot divorce the nature of a man from his achievements. Anyone interested in what made Ogilvy tick - his oddities (quite a few), his failures, his weaknesses, his strengths, his worries, his ambitions, his likes, his hates - will find them here. (He once said to me, by the way, “I may not be a good lover, but I’m a damn good hater.”)

I devoured half the book at a sitting. Besides being well-written it tells me all the things I wanted to know that David’s autobiography - Blood, Brains and Beer - didn’t. That curiously impersonal book disappointed many people, because it dished absolutely no dirt whatsoever.

Why Ogilvy’s own book failed

David said he knew it would never do well because “when you write about advertising you’re competing with midgets. When you write an autobiography you’re competing with giants.” The truth is, though, that you want an autobiography to tell you about the face behind the mask, warts and all. That one didn’t; the new one does.

For me, who only knew him in the twilight of his career, the book was full of interest. I always wanted to know about David and women. (The way he left his first wife was extraordinarily unkind – and crazy). I wanted to know what exactly he did in the secret service during the war – and indeed why he never fought. I wanted to know the exact relationship he had with his brilliant elder brother, Francis. I wanted to know whether he worried as much as I do.

It’s all there, and more.

Claude Hopkins and John Caples may have made more impact on the nature of advertising and direct marketing. Albert Lasker made far more money. Many think Bill Bernbach’s agency was more “creative”. But nobody – to my mind – had such an influence on so many people.

This is even though many of his ideas were not at all original - though he certainly was one of a kind, believe me.

One of two geniuses I met

The headline of his most famous advertisement, for Rolls Royce, was almost identical to one run many years earlier by another car maker, Pierce-Arrow. Other people talked about the brand and its image before him. Others – going back to the 19th century - pointed out that advertising should be about selling, not showing off. And still yet others trumpeted the importance of research.

But nobody took these thoughts and theories, reflected on them, elaborated on them, explained them and proposed them so memorably, persuasively, and with such style.

I only ever met two geniuses. Charlie Chaplin was one. David Ogilvy was the other.

Chaplin I literally just met, very briefly, when I was doing publicity for a film. A small man with bright eyes, buried in a navy blue overcoat and a big white scarf, accompanied by a beautiful wife.

But I worked with David Ogilvy for quite a few years towards the end of his career. Indeed, Ken’s research was so diligent he sat me down for an hour in a pub in Mayfair and asked for my reminiscences.

Other knew David better, but I got to know him quite well and had some good times with him. This book brought him back to life for me. But it also tells you a great deal about the development of advertising, how to build a successful business –and what bloody hard work it is.

Read it. You can get a good deal on Amazon.co.uk, through it's not yet in stock. If you buy it with Ogilvy on Advertising at Amazon.com you get a healthy discount. And if you haven't read that, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, no: I am not an Amazon affiliate or even a Ken Roman affiliate; I am a financial nincompoop (nice word, eh?)

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Follow-up to those guys holding me up

Alex Gibson, who clearly does strange things at the dentist wrote this to me:

I was listening to you on my mp3 player in the dentist's waiting room on Monday.

You said something along the lines of:

"One of the best things about the internet is that it makes it cheap to do the most important thing in marketing, which is testing".

Like the two guys in your post, I do split-testing for clients using Website Optimizer and bumps of 20% to 40% are commonplace. But, for some reason, getting clients to test is like pulling teeth.

(Particularly if they're "testing virgins")

It's the damnedest thing.

If I propose something that'll get them 10% more traffic, they jump at it.

But, suggest getting 10% more out of their existing traffic and they either think it's voodoo or too much like hard work (even when I show them examples and offer guarantees).

I'm wondering, is this normal?

Do you find that it's easier to sell clients on brand new advertising than it is to sell them on a re-write of their existing copy?"

The answers Alex's questions are "yes" and "yes".

This is even though it is always more sensible to try and improve something that's working than strike off in an entirely new direction - and even though you'll make more out of improving your approach to people you've got than people you're just acquiring.

I think people prefer to test new creative and on getting new traffic rather than making more from what they've got because of the human preference for the new. I often used to say at seminars when people asked me about this new thing and that new thing, "Why don't you try and get the basics right first?"

By coincidence I had a colleague in today who was moaning that it's hard to get any client to do enough testing. He has conducted over 100 tests that we're thinking of making into a book. Some of what he's done is really revealing, especially in the use of colour.

Incidentally, as further proof of the speed of change in our little world it seems my friend Ben and Karl are no longer the only Authorised Google Optimiser Consultants in Britain - just the first ever.

But they remain the only ones to hold me up.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

What’s holding me up?


Who are these two young stalwarts, holding up the tottering edifice that is Bird?

They are Ben Jesson and Dr. Karl Blanks, partners in www.conversion-rate-experts.com.

They are the only Authorised Google Optimiser Consultants in Britain, which sounds rather grand but more to the point they are pretty damn good at filling up tired old men with lethal-strength Cobra lager, which is much more dangerous.

Besides being a helpful life support, they told me one thing that I recommend to everyone reading this, which I will reveal to you in a minute

How did I meet them?

I was talking last year at Ken McCarthy’s System Seminar in London, and so were they. Ken - the first person ever to run an internet marketing conference back in 1993 - says this was one of the two best events out of all the scores he has run since.

I suspect Karl and Ben's content was better than my jokes. But then again, if you go to their site and read the bit on the right under “Send me my free newsletter" I guarantee it will make you laugh. And when, pray, was the last time you got a giggle out of anything to do with website conversions?

I thought so.

So what is the idea I mentioned? It is almost ludicrously simple - and a wonderful way of educating those whose websites are full of meaningless drivel (which means most firms).

I am amazed I never thought of this simple, yet clever idea, because for over 30 years I've been telling people to read their copy out loud before they run it. Good writing is just organised speech.

They just say: "A prospect has just rung up to ask what you do and how you can help them. Now answer them by reading the copy on your home page out loud."

As you can imagine, this results in embarrassment for many whose sites are full of corporate waffle.

If you love words, as I do, there is a splendid, rather odd word for this little exercise. It is eleemosynary, meaning, "intended for a charitable purpose."

And God knows, it is charitable to show people what awful tripe their website people are banging up on their sites.

Which reminds me: for some reason people pay more for website copy than for the ordinary kind. I can't imagine why. People who read copy, wherever it may be, do not mysteriously change into something else; and the task of persuasion is achieved in pretty much the same way.

So I write in exactly the same way (like this, in fact) wherever my stuff appears.

Friday, 9 January 2009

The world's local wank

Marketers often place the horse firmly before the cart.

If you really think that spending millions on papering the world with fanciful tosh about your "brand" helps, it's not a bad idea to make sure that the reality approximates, however vaguely, to the promise.

As one of our friends has just discovered, this is often not the case.

She is moving from Rome to Paris, having previously worked here in London, where she still has a flat. So the other day, having arranged to rent the flat, she wandered into her London branch of HSBC - rather pleased that being with "the world's local bank" it would be no problem opening an account in Paris.

They had a queue there, of course, to direct you to the right place to do what you want when you enter. I have never understood why you can no longer go and ask any cashier as we used to, but still. I suspect the banks' high-ups now operate on the assumption that the customers and the staff are as moronic as they have so spectacularly proved themselves to be. Or maybe they just think we prefer machines to people. Personally, I don't. And I also think that if their employees were given credit for being intelligent, they would rise to the challenge. Not everyone is as thick as a senior banker. That would be impossible.

When she asked the man whose job it was to help how she could open her new French account, he was quite at a loss. It seemed as though nobody in the world's local bank had ever told him such a bizarre question might come up.

So he said he would go and find out more about what was involved, and give her a number to call - which he did - but if she wished she could join a queue of people waiting to find out the answers to such tricky questions. How long, she wondered, would that take? He said he would go and find that out too, and trotted off.

In the meantime another helpful employee sidled up and said "If you open it here they'll charge you £100. You should wait till you get to Paris." Then the man came back and said if she wanted to join the queue it would take an hour to an hour and a half. There's service for you, eh?

Well, if the world's local bank can't even handle a simple thing like that, where do you go? Your local kebab stand? It seems that like all the other banks, besides not doing too well on the basics of lending and borrowing - thus landing us all in the shit - HSBC can't even manage the simplest of tasks in what they claim to be their area of special expertise without trying to rip you off.

So she is going to see what happens when she gets to Paris. I'm sure she won't have to wait too long before they try to rip her off too. Though oddly enough when I had an account with a French bank, they were efficient, helpful and no more rapacious than you might expect.

They even entertained all us customers in the village hall once a year, with lots of free booze. On balance, I think I'd prefer my local bank to be local, thank you.

I also think that before you claim to be anything, you do it. When we get a client, we ask them what makes them different or better than their competitors, not what they fondly imagine should make them so; and we don't just take their word for it: whenever possible we try to see if it is true.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

This will bring tears to your eyes

video
John Walter was quite right to scold me yesterday -- and I shall talk about this again. In the meantime, something entirely different, sent by my friend George in San Francisco.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Whatever happened to The Spectator?


A couple of weeks ago I picked up my copy of The Spectator, a respected journal which has been around in one form or another since the early 1700’s.

Its founders, Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, were two of the best essayists in English who ever lived. I still strive to write as well.

A few years ago I even wrote a marketing plan for the magazine, which either deliberately or by coincidence it has followed almost exactly ever since, and as a result, I was delighted to see, turned a profit for the first time in its history

I started subscribing to the modern version almost exactly 30 years ago. At that time the novelist Graham Greene said it was the best written journal in the English language - and God knows, he was a better judge than I could ever hope to be.

The column on wine by Auberon Waugh was alone worth the price. The Low Life column by Jeffrey Bernard, who liked a drink or two, was called "a suicide note in weekly installments" and was so popular it led to a hit play called "Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell" featuring Peter O'Toole.

That is his his picture at the top which shows him doing what made him so unwell so often. We actually drank in the same pub and even, I discovered, slept with same woman, although I never knew it till he wrote about her in one of his columns. My God, she got me into a lot of trouble - but that is another story.

Anyhow, moving swiftly on, the old mag has gone downhill since then; and what I saw in this issue persuaded me it really is time to stop reading it. It was an interview by the editor with a girl called Lily Allen.

Now, if you want to know anything about Lily Allen, you really don't need to look in The Spectator. You just get a copy of Scrubbers'r’Us weekly and you’ll soon see her with all the other C-listers lurching drunkenly out of clubs in the Kings Road at 3 a.m. She's just a fairly good pop singer with acting pretensions, a penchant for being rude to people and absolutely nothing interesting to say about anything.

Whatever has happened to The Spectator? It still has some fine writers – Paul Johnson, perhaps our finest living journalist; Rod Liddle, perhaps our funniest – but the average is far, far below what it once was.

It really is going to hell in a handcart. So much so that I use one of its Diary Pieces in a course on how to write that I run for public servants. The piece in question is a faultless demonstration of how not to write good English, banged out by a woman called Joanna Shields who is "president" of a thing called Bebo.

"How many examples of cliche and jargon can you find in this?" I ask my students. Even the most modest toiler in the smallest district council in England has no trouble in finding plenty.

No editor worth his salt would even consider running a word this woman wrote. So how come the editor of The Spectator runs such tripe? Maybe because he imagines his readers want to know anything - anything at all - about Lily Allen.

A shame.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Stupid – or what?


This is a very obviously posed picture of a rather unsuccessful bank robber called Willie Sutton being arrested in New York about 70 years ago.

Shifty looking bugger, isn't he? Today he'd probably be a retired investment advisor.

I often quote him in my seminars.

He was caught so often that eventually a detective asked him why he kept robbing banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he replied.

This came to mind when I read a headline the other day which showed me that no matter how stupid, he was smarter than Gordon Brown or Alastair Darling, who are so thick they have not yet grasped the simple fact that people always go where the money is.

Britain’s National Health Service is paying out £800 million to foreign nurses and doctors. They are needed because the ones we train are going abroad where – guess what? – they get paid more money.

No prizes for suggesting the solution.

Incidentally another headline revealed that the Great Bloated Haggis and Waggly Eyebrows are pissed off because the banks are still not lending money.

This is because banks can only lend money if they have some. Right now they don’t. They used it all up on dodgy investments to would-be property millionaires and assorted American crooks. Asking them to lend what they don’t have is insane (unless you’re a politician).

Please don't run away with the idea that I think the current lot have a monopoly on economic ineptitude. In the '80s and '90s Thatcher and Major gave away state industries in the most fatuous way conceivable in three ways.

First they under priced the shares - so all the people who really understood investment bought them like crazy - in short, went where the money was.

Second, they squandered millions on silly advertising to the whole world when all they had to do was to create interest through PR (not hard with a story like that) and insert letters to everyone in the country, with their utility bills. When you're about to pay your electricity bill you don't have to be a genius to understand that selling electricity is a good business.

Third, in some cases they created a situation where there was no real competition - the railways are a perfect example. How can you lose with no competition? Especially if whenever things get tricky the government bails you out - with our money.

The trouble with politicians besides congenital dishonesty is that most have done little or nothing in life but politics, so they have no idea how anything works. They think "policies", "initiatives" and "strategies" are all you need. They mistake looking good for doing good.

Most people in this country (and I imagine many others) are asking themselves one simple question: "How exactly, in detail, are you going to make things happen?" None of the rascals have a clue. Cameron is going to help savers. Who will pay? Where will the money come from?

The funny thing is that it's not a hard question to answer. To give one example, billions are squandered on the entirely pointless and wasteful process of taxing poor people on the one hand, giving them subsidies with the other and paying people to shuffle the money around.

What this achieves is simple: it actively discourages people from working, encourages them to scrounge, destroys their self-respect and creates a swarm of time-serving bureaucrats who would be better off doing proper jobs.

Incidentally, for Australian readers, I see that since he got in Kevin Rudd has done exactly what I predicted at the time. Nothing - except create a lot of committees and make a few fatuous gestures - like apologising to the Aboriginals.

Apologies do nothing except make politically correct twats feel good about themselves. Those who would appreciate them died long, long ago.

Friday, 2 January 2009

New Year Buffoonery


While the rest of you were no doubt making pious New Year resolutions, I was out doing what I do best: making a fool of myself.

(In case you're wondering, the picture being so blurred, I'm the one on the left. The one on the right, with the heavy beard, is not really my new best friend. It was a fancy dress party.)

Talking about fools, the recession has not quenched their enthusiasm in the wacky world of marketing.

A few months ago some halfwits in a meeting (probably devoted to brand values) decided it would be a really neat idea to take a venerable insurance firm that's been around for 211 years and change its name to something that sounds like a dodgy Swiss health tonic.

And so the country is plastered with hoardings and the television channels replete with commercials telling us that Norwich Union is about to become Aviva, as if anyone gives a shit. Nice one, boys. Are you friends with the idiots who decided to call the Royal Mail "Consignia"?

For that matter, does anyone (except the shareholders who subsidise this nonsense) give a shit about the ads that a bank called Santander is running saying "We are stronger. We are closer. We are Santander." These ads feature Lewis Hamilton, the well-known boy racer and financial wizard. They are what David Ogilvy called "flatulent puffery", and I call "kissing the chairman's fat posterior in public".

Talking of which, alas, I may never see the sequel I really recommend - "We are marooned so far up our own arse it will take an SAS search party to find us." However, as Santander has been buying lame British banks like there's no tomorrow, I have high hopes for a few announcements saying something like, "Er, we have financial indigestion and maybe we shouldn't have bought that lot of deadbeat tossers."

But enough of this badinage. Here is the 100% bad taste joke I promised before Christmas.

Vicar (checking into hotel): I hope the porn channel in my room is disabled."

Receptionist: "No, it's normal, you fucking pervert."