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Friday, 31 October 2008

Will this idiocy ever stop?

If you're in the marketing/advertising game, you're probably familiar with the expression "beauty parade".

It's applied to something called pitching - one of the most stupid ideas of
all in a business that's not short of them. Nonetheless, almost every major marketer follows this exceptionally wasteful practice. In fact a large and lucrative industry has grown up to extract money from them.

If you're not familiar with the epic pointlessness of it - and even if you are -
here’s pretty much how it usually goes.

1. A large firm gets a new marketing director.

2. Among the many things he or she does – like changing everything his predecessor did, good or bad – one is to change the agency, good or bad.

3. The aim is often, but not always, to get old friends in. And always to prove that whatever the previous marketing director did was wrong.

4. A statement is then issued to the Trade Press. These media are for the most part so bum-numbingly dull that the only thing of interest to readers is what might make money. So the statement - printed almost verbatim because trade journals are usually happy to get material they can publish without having to write or think - produces a torrent of phone calls, e-mails and letters from agencies

5. The client is either too busy changing everything, too idle or too ill-informed to know which agencies might be good at the job, so a firm of vultures is hired (at some expense) to suggest who should be allowed to "pitch" for the account.

6. These firms who help on such occasions are rather like estate agents, fulfilling no useful purpose but increasing costs all round. Quite impartially, of course, they suggest (usually too many) firms who have paid one way or another to be put on such lists and who seem on the face of it to be qualified.

7. Vast sums of money, far too much time, and altogether too many dreary meetings attended by altogether too many people are devoted to the agencies putting together proposals and the clients reviewing them.

8. A “short list” is created of firms the client likes the look of - maybe because their reception areas look like smart restaurants, or because they trot out so much quasi-academic drivel that they must be clever. To be fair the client may have been drafted in from an entirely different industry because of some "vision" someone has had, and has yet to understand the business fully anyhow.
9. More meetings take place, much speculative creative work is produced at great expense, and then in a series of presentations (with more meetings to talk about them) the client decides who will get the account.

10. This is often determined by how much the client likes the "strap-line". This is usually a boastful, fatuous or downright lying statement the client likes the sound of which will either achieve nothing or actually infuriate those it is supposed to persuade. Good examples are "Tax doesn't have to be taxing" for the merciless bastards at the Inland Revenue or "Make the most of now" for the twats at Vodaphone. Such lines should only be used if you can prove they increase sales - but that's another subject.

11. Often the client has a committee to review the work, largely composed of people who know nothing about marketing, and who have certainly never had to risk their own money – a very healthy and educative experience, by the way. Sometimes they "mark" the agency using a ludicrous check-list which has nothing to do with results ("8/10 for being the kind of people I could get on with").

12. Quite often the cost of all this charade goes up further because the creative work is researched. This usually gives absolutely no indication of whether it will work, and often is 180 degrees wrong, because customers have no idea of what they will do until they are actually asked to part with cash.

13. The account is assigned.

14. Much mutual back-slapping takes place, and the client is taken to some fashionable, if overpriced eateries, owned by millionaire cooks who pop in between broadcasts to cast their refulgence over dazzled diners and scream at the chefs.

15. Since the agency selected knew even less about the business than the client, it is now asked to produce more work which reflects something slightly more related to the facts. This is then run and either works or more often doesn't, though nobody is quite sure because there is no intelligent attempt to find out.

There are other ways of choosing agencies which I won't go into in any detail, but they are based on other barely relevant theories like who will charge the lowest fees or that the client has done a deal to "align" itself with a particular agency all over the world. In the first case, you get what you pay for, and in the second a lot of hardworking people at the lower levels get pissed off by having to deal with a bunch of arrogant agency people they didn't choose and don't like.

So now you know one or two good reasons why so much marketing fails - and also why people keep chopping and changing their advertising, often for the worse and for no discernible reason.

If you want your marketing to work, just find the people who appear best qualified, based on proper research by you – if you are the person responsible. Don't delegate to people whose careers are not on the line in the way yours is.

Then get the two or at most three agencies who have the best record of getting measurable results, preferably in similar situations, and can explain exactly how and why they got them, to create work you can test.

Once you appoint the winners, keep testing their work against that done by others, but don't threaten them constantly with the thought of losing the business.

Any fool should know all this, but clearly many don’t. Some, who work in “general” advertising - i.e. the kind that doesn’t bother too much with results - say this is because they can’t measure them or, even more fatuous, say they're only interested in brand building, results can wait.

This is all bollocks. All you have to do is ask people to respond in some way to your messages – the only way you know someone read or watched or heard them. If they have, you're building your brand. If they haven't, you're not. And don't believe it can't be done. It can, even in stuff not primarily designed to get a response. At the simplest level, use your website visits as a measure.

One of my clients spent the better part of a year going through the process I have just described. They ended up with some pretty good work (not by us, I should explain, as we refuse to take part in these costly charades). But I think they were quite lucky, even though they are pretty smart people.

What has really distressed me over the years is how little results - which I would have thought were the onlything that counts - seem to matter to people.

A few years ago someone at one of the Scottish banks told a crowded meeting that every single time they had used us, we had bested their incumbent agency. We never got the business, and I am delighted the bank in question is in the toilet. They deserve it. If I could push their chairman's head down in it I'd be delighted

More recently, we comprehensively bested another agency in a whole series of tests - so much so that client said he had never seen anything like it. Did we get the business? No. I hope to see them in the same place as the bank.

And in another case a client moved his account because he used to work for the boss of another agency. It took their creative people two years of trying to beat the copy I wrote for them.

This little cri de coeur is based on one of the helpful marketing ideas I send out regularly, so if you're on the list, you'll get a more polite version eventually. I just think it's important enough to post here, because the way the economy is, we really can't afford this kind of wasteful bullshit.

Monday, 27 October 2008

I feel such a fool, Gordon . You're a financial genius really

The great economist Keynes said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?"

I remembered this when Gordon B, with one bound, saved the world. All the experts who'd been saying he was bloody useless suddenly decided he was really a financial mastermind because at last he got something right, even if he had it wrong to start with.

"Which experts do you mean, you miserable old curmudgeon?" you ask. Why, the very experts who before they decided he was bloody useless stated with equal certainty that he was a financial titan, a paragon of prudence.

All the world's statesmen suddenly decided he was genius, too. (They're the ones who thought the Bliar was brilliant, by the way)

Well, I may be wrong but I am consistent. I always said that slimy Tony was innately dishonest, and I've always said Brown was a financial nutcase. And in the paper two nights ago he didn't let me down.

"Gordon Brown vows to spend his way out of the financial crisis" I read. This means, in English, he is going to spend our money to do so.

This is the money that was sloshing around by the billion before he got hold of it 11 years ago, all of which - and more - has been squandered on schemes to improve the health service, lower the crime rate, better the schools or calm down quarrelsome fanatics in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of them have worked.

Come to think of it, the stock market doesn't seem to have recovered yet, so maybe he hasn't saved the world after all.

Mind you he has, to be fair, succeeded gloriously in reducing our pensions - though not those of public servants whom our contributions subsidise. Did you know that, by the way? Yes. They laugh - we pay.

Then I read in the same paper two wonderfully juxtaposed statements.

First, "More public sector jobs will be created." And - the great bloated haggis's own words: "The way the economy prospers is by rewarding effort and enterprise."

We all know what a great contribution to enterprise more public servants will make, don't we? Just think: they could export great steaming mounds of politically correct bullshit to the waiting markets of the world.

I can see boatloads of it being shovelled onto the waiting wharves in far off places. Ill-written, jargon-clotted manuals on gay and transgendered monitoring will be read gratefully by civic servants in Mumbai. The abstruse skills of rape co-ordination as practiced in the back-streets of the Midlands will be studied avidly in those parts of the Indian Subcontinent or Nigeria where today they do it in such a regrettably random fashion.

Nice one, Gordon. Did you ever think of trying marketing by the way? I know Cameron was in PR, which explains why he's such weasel. But you're such a bozo I often wonder whether you wouldn't do well as, say, marketing director for Barclays. They change them pretty frequently, so maybe they could fit you in. If you just changed all those stupid "Hole-in-the-Wall" signs outside we'd be ever so grateful**

Note to overseas readers. A while ago Barclays Bank hired a new marketing director. You might think his job was to make more more money for them, but his main stroke of genius was to festoon the branches with silly signs which attempted to speak in the "customers' own language".

So all the cash machines were renamed Holes in the Wall. How this improved their profits one cannot imagine - I imagine it blew a small hole in them, as it certainly cost a lot of money. I often wonder whether it occurred to him that we like our bankers to talk like bankers, not drunks in a pub.

Why the markets crashed - the truth

If you want the real explanation (and the funniest) watch this.

These two men have been making me laugh for over 40 years. Try to ignore the extremely posh English accents if you're not from here; just listen carefully. You will like it.


Friday, 24 October 2008

The triumph of horseshit

I am just recovering from doing a seminar followed by a grand dinner in Almaty, which - as you all know, don't you? - is the biggest city in Kazakhstan.

This country is startlingly unlike the funny film that made so many Americans look so ignorant/racist. There are no less than 100 nationalities living here, because comrade Stalin shipped a lot of people here than he didn't like - in large numbers. How bizarre that so many people in Russia see the murderous old bugger as a hero.

So as a result of his forced migrations there is an amazing variety of looks here, from the original locals who look oriental - and often very striking - to most of the others who look European. Anyhow, they are very hospitable (and smart) people and do seem to like a drink or too, I was pleased to discover. In fact the only disconcerting thing for me is that the national dish is horse, which for no very logical reason I don't care for. I recommend the goat.

Meanwhile, I got a couple of messages from friends to remind me just how full of horseshit the wacky world of capitalism is.

My Aussie partner Mal tells me that "A mate of ours was dis-established by his company today. In other words the bastards fired him." And one of my old colleagues send me a quote from a database "guru" who felt impelled to tell the world that:

"Qualitative research is essential to get to the heart of customers and understand how they think, feel and act through the mediation of thalamus, cerebral cortex and amigdala.

I recommend one on one in-depth interviews and the creation of consensus maps, the consensus being portrayal of how customer segments or communities relate to your marketing communications, brand and/or product, as well as the category in general.”

I suppose some mugs will read this twaddle and say, "I don't quite understand that but it sounds very deep. This man can help me. After all, he is a professor."

No he can't. If you can't understand it, don't buy it. These guys charge by the syllable.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A sad confession

I normally pride myself on supplying my own jokes, but this one is just too good to ignore: http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/business/government-takes-60%25-stake-in-al%11qaeda-200810141322/

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

What America’s politicians really, really don’t get about the art of persuasion

I get at regular intervals messages from a liberal friend in San Francisco (where else?)

Quite a few are very funny – and currently most are aimed at McCain and Palin.

I’m staying with my son in Brooklyn. His wife watches Bill Maher, who makes lots of jokes about McCain and Palin. They’re funny, too. Jon Stewart is hilarious along the same lines.

But this is all just political masturbation. It pleases those involved immensely, but gets no useful results.

These messages simply confirm people in their prejudices. They do nothing to persuade (if they are seen by them) Republicans – in fact they probably strengthen their views.

And I wager they do little to sway the undecided – indeed, they build sympathy for those attacked. Lots of people will relate to Sarah Palin, for instance.

If you want to persuade, start with where people are – what they are thinking. Not with what you are thinking.

Sympathy with the shortcomings of your opponent will go a lot further, spiced with the odd damaging disclosure.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

My prayer for the recession

Good times breed bad habits – as we have all discovered, or – as the gentlemen on the left observed, “prosperity doth best discover vice; adversity doth best discover virtue”. More about him in a minute.

Here are few things I hope will be curbed in the coming months.

1. Wankers running tinpot businesses who call themselves “Chief Executive Officer”.
2. Anyone not in the armed forces or something similar calling themselves any kind of Officer, especially a Chief Officer
3. Idiots talking about Brand Values, Brand Equity and so on who don’t know what a brand is.
4. In the same vein, twats explaining that it doesn’t matter that you got no replies, it affected awareness.
5. Tarts of both sexes who never opened a book on marketing being employed at agencies and ending up running them - often into the ground.
6. Ditto at clients
7. Ignoramuses who keep asking me if long copy works.
8. The same fools asking me “does this work when selling to business?”
9. Overpaid tossers getting jobs as marketing directors, changing things for the sake of it, screwing everything up then getting another job.
10. This especially in respect of financial institutions like Barclays Bank
11. People who know less than the square root of fuck-all about marketing being allowed to employ marketing directors, and not checking their credentials properly, which explains the above
12. The phrase Human Resources, and the practice of employing people in that role who have all the humanity of a Gestapo officer.
13. Good company names being replaced by ones nobody understands – e. g. Aviva and LV (which used to mean Luncheon Vouchers – and probably still does to most of what used to be Liverpool Victoria’s elderly customers.) See 9 above.
14. Big organisations paying millions to have stupid designs nobody understands disfiguring the streets – e.g. the Olympic logo.
15. All compliance departments, who should be violently assaulted every hour until they realise their pestilential activities are only supportable if somebody sells something, and that neither their job nor their limited talents run to writing copy.
16. All use of the word strategy and variations applied to trivial matters like what should go in a headline.
17. Payment of ludicrous sums to anybody who specialises in anything “online” because the buffoons who cough up don’t realise that customers don’t grow a second head when they sit in front of a computer.
18. Witless, cod-philosophical slogans plastered all over the world, as in “Make the most of now” or “I am who I am because of everyone” – maybe more appropriately rephrased as “I write this kind of drivel because I’m an arsehole.”
19. All of us telling people what we’re doing now on those bloody social sites as in “I’ve just farted” or “Drayton Bird has just farted and hopes nobody notices”.
20. “Gurus” who keep telling me I’ll be disgustingly rich in 3 months if I only buy their astonishingly expensive set of DVDs, plus notes with free stuff worth three zillion dollars/turn up to/listen to their free seminar – and “don’t believe those other crooks who say the same thing, ‘cos I’m the honest one.”

Oh. Who is the gentleman in fancy dress? Sir Francis Bacon, whose essays are among the best-written things in the English language. Some people think he wrote Shakespeare. He was Attorney-General to Elizabeth 1 and James 1.

He also nearly had his head chopped off for taking bribes – but he was a lawyer, after all. His defence was he took the bribes but did nothing. What a scamp. He would have done well in Nigeria. Or Italy for that matter, and quite possibly working for Ken Livingstone, London’s cheeky former mayor.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Fancy an interesting job?

If you want to know what has been done with the money you have paid in tax, apart from propping up banks that can’t count, go no further than the jobs pages of The Guardian.

Because there are the jobs that Gordon (and before him, the Bliar) created. What I like most about them is the titles. For instance in Walsall, a small town in the Midlands of this great nation, the community has the invaluable assistance of a Teenage Pregnancy Support Worker.

There’s an interesting job for you, propping up pregnant juveniles as they stagger out of the pub. But not half as good as that of Rape Co-ordinator, which office is filled in one of the London Boroughs. What essential task does this individual fulfil, I wonder? Suppose I am planning a few rapes, and I want someone to coordinate them for me, will this person do the job, or do I have to carry on working it out for myself? It’s a funny old world.