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Friday, 21 May 2010

Gary Halbert, David Ogilvy - and your humble servant: a tale of lost friendship

25 years ago, just after I sold my business to O & M, I got a note from David Ogilvy asking me what I thought of a newsletter he had just read.

It was by a man I had never heard of called Gary Halbert - though I had seen some of his work. I said I thought it was excellent; in fact it was so excellent I used an example in it for a book I was writing called "How to write a salesletter that sells.

I am not too good at blowing my own trumpet, but someone I respect told me he thought it is better than The Robert Collier Letter book - which is THE best on the subject. So it must be bloody good.

But that is not the point here.

For one reason or another although Gary wrote about me a couple of times we never connected until he wrote to me and I replied a couple of years ago. But before we could really got to know each other, he died,far too young.

Selfishly I have always deeply regretted this. Gary was a true original, just as funny and perceptive in an utterly different way as another fine writer, Bill Jayme, who launched me on my speaking career, and did become a good friend.

Today the Halbert tradition continues in The Gary Halbert Letter, which I wrote a piece for a while ago. Ever since I have been casting around for something else that would be appropriate, and yesterday I found it lurking in my files in the form of a piece based, of all things, on an article in an Australian aviation magazine about air safety.

I sent it off yesterday to Kevin Halbert saying I thought it would have made his old man laugh - and Kevin wrote back saying he was running it immediately, which he has. I am a rather sentimental old fool, and quite like the idea of old Gary roaring his head off at it.

It's very short, but here's one bit:

"Put no faith in easy answers – which reminds me of all the ballyhoo I have heard over the years about CRM, Social Networks, rebranding and other miracle solutions".

Is there any lesson in all this? There may be. If and when you read the piece, you may wonder how the hell I managed to link air safety rules with marketing.

Most marketing pieces are dull and samey because they only talk about marketing, which, forgetting the money, is frankly not the world's most rivetting subject.

If you want to write stuff that fixes itself in the mind and is remembered, you need something relevant - but unexpected. That means you must stock your mind with knowledge of all kinds.

On the matter of relevant surprise, you might find a video I did a while back interesting. It's not very slick but yesterday a very good writer told me he couldn't stop watching it.

To see that article go to

To see the video, go to

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Just in case you can't sleep: a new Gold Standard in jargon. Any skilled translators around?

This just in from Wandsworth Cemetery. It's only a shame that the member of the Undead who wrote it can't spell "seamlessly".

Performance Canvas Planning is the first fully unified Information Synthesis, Performance Management and Planning tool that uses the collaborative power of Office 2010 allowing business users to communicate and maintain different dashboards seemlessly. Also, our unique BI Wiki functionality used to top of Office 2010 allows users to monitor, analyze and plan collaboratively. Performance Canvas Planning allows users to work within Excel 2010 and to further push data out into the web, allowing multiple users to interact with dashboards and mashboards from any internet connection, even from mobiles.

Isn't that just great? But there is more ...

Performance Canvas Planning integrates flawlessly into MS SQL Server 2008 R2, the latest data warehousing release from Microsoft and as well as the newest release of SharePoint 2010. Working with Power Pivot, Microsoft Excel users will be able to further drilldown and perform comprehensive forecasting and modeling. They can create, monitor and control plans from every department. With native integration in Excel, Managers are able to instantly report not only financial and operational data, but to pull data from departments such as marketing, human resources. The limit to what data that can be pulled into a report is not just within the company, but users can pull data from external sources such as financial websites and news sources, making reports on customers and competitors valid, in real time. The best part about this software program is the native excel functionality and the ability to access these resources from the web without having to learn a complex, new software platform. Performance Canvas Planning goes beyond data collection and analysis but allows a management team to have a clear, common perception of the business and plan for its future.

Find out what how Performance Canvas Planning can help you make the most of your companies data today!

Love the exclamation mark for the easily excited. You can just imagine a night of passion with the author, can't you?

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

What a nasty, suspicious, curmudgeonly, hypercritical old git I am

I don't know what comes over me some of these mornings. Maybe it's a light coating of imaginary volcanic ash.

Why do I doubt the promise of Rocketfish that they will "Launch (or blast) Drayton Bird Partnership website into first place!"?

Is it because they keep sending me the same message every bloody day, which bespeaks a certain lack of imagination - or a belief that boredom is the key to persuasion? Is it because names like
Rocketfish summon up visions that make me puke?

Or maybe it's because this sort of claim must work, so quite a few mugs out there must fondly dream that being in first place will solve all their problems, when of course many other things matter more.

Or is it just that since the Drayton Bird Partnership hasn't traded for quite a few years they must be utterly useless and are wasting my time and their money? If they can't get that right, why should I trust them to do something serious?

Then again, why do I have qualms about a Mr. Grant who keeps sending me messages about the joys of crowd conversion? Is it just that he keeps pestering me too often? Or it is because if he spells controversial as
contraversial I wonder what else he isn't good at?

The head of a big airline suggested some years ago that if the seat-back trays are dirty you have a lingering fear that the same approach is applied to servicing the engines. Hmmm.

File under "Blinding glimpses of the obvious", "Fancy that" or "I just landed from Mars and this is all new to me"

God, you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince.

I subscribe to all sorts of things in the hope that every now and then somebody will say something interesting. The result is I get messages of such stunning banality that I sometimes rub my eyes in disbelief.

For example, this from someone who has clearly just visited their first ever supermarket and drawn the obvious conclusion, which takes us all the way back to the dawn of business history:

As I was out on my usual rounds at the supermarket I noticed something REALLY interesting.

Let me tell you... you can really learn a lot of sneaky marketing tricks and strategies by analyzing what these big supermarkets (such as
Wallmart or Tesco) do on their shelves in order to sell their own products.

First, they analyze the marketplace to see what is selling well.Then, they enter that market with their OWN branded product and retail it ALONG SIDE the dominant competition for that food product at a much lower price.

The REALLY clever thing that they do here is...

They make THEIR branded version resemble that of the packaging of that premium dominant competitor for that food product!

After this astounding insight, the writer carries on with some pictures to make the point for half-witted readers, then concludes:

So how can you use this knowledge in internet marketing?


Step 1: find a solid product in your market.

Step 2: create your own 'similar' version of that product.
(Note the pointless quotation marks round similar). You'll try and make it BETTER than the competitors in terms of quality/substance and even by adding MORE into it.

Step 3: come in at a competitive price!

Why the exclamation mark?

This is followed by a threat:

I hope you found this stuff interesting today... we'll update you with new finds, techniques and strategies as we find them.

Not if I see you coming first.

I was irresistibly reminded of Abe Lincoln's line, "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."

I apologise because that was a bit unkind - just couldn't resist having a bit of fun.

As chance would have it I have a client who does the most extensive research into what goes on in supermarkets. You'll have seen their name every day during the election. And nigh on 50 years ago I worked at Leo Burnett for an organisation called The Supermarket Association - I was actually shown round Tesco by its founder, Jack Cohen.

But there is a serious point here - one that is costing a lot of people a lot of money and a lot of time needlessly.

Countless enthusiastic people have discovered marketing via the internet. It did not start last week. They would be wise to look back and discover what others have learned and written down over the last 160 years or so. It will save much heartache and misery.

If you're new in this game, please, please read Ogilvy, Caples, Hopkins and even if desperate, Bird. You'll find a list on www.draytonbird.com or - if you want a few things for nothing - www.draytonbirdcommonsense.com/free-learning.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A smile between sneezes

I have a filthy cold, but decided to take a look at the usual flood of messages. The most extraordinary, by far, was headed "Validation".

Only someone suffering from incessant curiosity would read on, but I did, and read a further 423 words starting with:

Dear Reader,

Through our 3rd party sources, we obtained your email address to enable us to send you this message about our services, which we would like to make available to you. We are a specialist digital marketing agency and we act on behalf of a wide range of clients.

Our Service

We would like to send you from time to time emails with information or offers from our clients which we believe will be of interest and value to you as it has been to many other key business decision makers in your position on our database. This information will be relevant to someone with your responsibilities. Nevertheless if you want to specify further the types of information you are interested in receiving then please follow this link to amend your profile.

Opting Out

We do not send spam or unsolicited information. If you do not want to receive this valuable information from us, please use one of the opt-out methods at the bottom of this email.

And so on, and so on.

How wonderful that there are still people in the marketing business who are so totally, blissfully, unencumbered with even the slightest smidgeon of knowledge about what they are doing - and have so clearly never thought to waste precious time finding out.

I can't say this made me feel any better, but it did make me wonder how the hell it could have some from anyone purporting to be a digital marketing agency.

What does slightly worry me is that these people might actually suggest their clients try this sort of died-last-Wednesday-but-never-buried approach to copy.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

How did I ever fail to come across Tom Fishburne?

For a long time I wrote a column for Marketing - in fact some people think I still do, although I stopped well over a decade ago.

Anyhow, I was replaced by Mark Ritson, a very perceptive commentator, much better looking than me, with lots of hair - and a business school professor, which didn't stop him talking a lot of good sense.

He recently wrote a very good piece called “Hoodwinked by the Emperor’s New Tweets”, which in turn was brought to my attention via the brilliant cartoon above left.

Mark wrote, “Most brands don’t have the newsworthiness, broad appeal or dynamism to have any chance of making Twitter work for them.” This all reminds me of the days when lots of fools were conned into thinking customers wanted to have "relationships" with their boring products. Who wants to make love to a bag of crisps?

That is by the by: I just think Tom Fishburne is wholly admirable. And that's all from me today.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

A tale of loose underpants - or how to kill a great brand

I'll get back to the stuff on the left in a minute, but first I really must apologise for the utter banality of most of my marketing advice, as it seems to consist of a series of blinding glimpses of the obvious without nearly enough long words or references to social media.

However, since I often make the most fatuous mistakes myself (I committed an unforgivable sin a few weeks ago that I have long advised others against) maybe I should just carry on dishing out these platitudes.

So let's talk about what matters most.

Three weeks ago, stranded in Brooklyn, and too damn incompetent or idle to go to the laundrette, I went to Macy's to buy some underpants. I bought their own brand, and they are the worst-fitting, least- elasticated-where-they-should-be load of rubbish I've ever wasted money on. And one of the 5 T- shorts I bought to go with them ripped on first use.

I bet the big cheeses who run Macy's don't buy their own underwear. In fact I bet the big cheeses who run most large businesses don't use their own products or services, because (this is going to sound so sad) I also bought some underpants a few weeks ago from Marks and Spencer. They used to be famous for their underwear - but these were almost as bad as Macy's. So I guess Sir Stuart Rose, capo di tutti capi at M & S, doesn't buy his own stuff either.

Macy's are not doing too well. Nor are M & S. But in the US, Target are on a a roll. So after my failure at Macy's I went there and squandered a few dollars on their stuff. It fits perfectly. So I suspect the people who run Target do buy their own stuff. And after my failure at M & S (get a life, Drayton) I went to H & M and bought their. Also much better. And also, I suspect, because the people there deliver what they promise (cheap stuff that's value for money) and keep an eye on the store.

I guess you see where I'm going with this, but just to rub it all in, take French Connection. They're having their problems, and I think I can see why. No big secret. Their stuff is just not very well made for the money. Someone there clearly thinks the solution is one of the silliest advertising campaigns I've seen for a while, top left. It isn't.

Everyone spends a huge amount of time effort, syllables, powerpoint slides and all-round bullshit on marketing, and it is all a complete waste if you don't deliver something good and make sure you are doing so - in person.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Presenting the long-awaited inorgural issue of a brilliant new magazine

You're probably a bit fed up with gnawing your thumbs as your await the consequences of our farcical general election, so here it is.

Years ago I sent a memo to all my creative people reminding them of what they were up against, and quoted a series of headings largely culled from the front pages on women's mags.

To this day I gain great pleasure from the stuff they print, but none of them, not even Grazia, which is the best, quite reaches the matchless heights of thrilling new
OVERANALYZING magazine which takes journalism just that little bit further than it has ever been before.

Thank you, George Machun for sending me this. I shall not waste a second subscribing. Oh, and yes, "inorgural" is a deliberate mistake.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Pass the junk: a doubly poisoned chalice whoever wins

This little graph from the New York Times neatly explains that what the bankers were doing - passing on worthless junk we ended up paying for - is exactly what Europe's politicians are doing.

They are passing each other's toxic national debt round. That's one reason why whoever wins this election we will all lose. That is beside the fact that Mr. Brown has been spending 25% more than we are earning. From a fiscal point of view he is as guilty as the politicians who failed to rearm before world war, but unlike you and me, who will foot the bill, he will have a fat, index-linked pension as a reward.

Folly reigns everywhere, of course. I see The Pru, despite employing battalions of extortionately expensive advisers didn't do its homework before its planned takeover of AIA. I guess the advisers were too busy counting their fees to do their job.

Yet another demonstration of the fact that so many in financial services are as blindingly incompetent as they are obscenely overpaid. But a lucky escape, I suspect; most of these deals fail to create added value, being based on the idea that a) a deal is an easier road to profit than hard work; b) two culturally different organisations will fit in with each other; and c) won't it be fun when I have a bigger organisation to preside over?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

A curse on specialists and their fatuous lingo...

Every day I walk past a rather grand building on the same street as my squalid office which is occupied by Tribal DDB and wonder how long they will carry on doing well. They obviously have some talented people, but what are they for?

This came to mind when, as a fond connoisseur of pretentious cliche I came upon this in
Marketing magazine, which was discussing whether there was any future for digital agencies:

Dylan Williams, head of strategy at Mother, believes this is symptomatic of a watershed moment in the evolution of digital.

God, I hope he doesn't talk like that to his family, but it reminded me of something that great man Victor Ross once said which managed to belittle the tripe ad agency poseurs come out with about strategy:

"My idea of strategy is deciding where to go to lunch."

However, the article was interesting, as what Mr. Williams was talking about was that advertisers are now realising there is no good reason to go to specialist digital agencies.

As a matter of fact, it has never been clear to me why advertisers should rely so much on specialists. If you can convey ideas, know how to persuade and you take the trouble to study the various media, you should be able to work in all of them.

Your prospects do not adjust their emotions or motivations when they turn from the computer to watch the TV or pick up the paper or catch sight of a poster - any more than I do when I write this, rather than an ad or an email or draft a speech - with or without slides

Specialism is dangerous; and one good example dates back to the days when I first entered advertising. TV advertising had just arrived in the U.K. so all the agencies rushed to hire people who had film, rather than advertising experience.

It hardly ever worked. In the end the people who made the best commercials were advertising people like John Webster and Alan Parker. I worked with both of them for a while; Alan then went into films and did pretty well. I think he is now Lord Parker or something grand like that; John made more good commercials than anyone I can think of.

Incidentally, I was just about to put this up when I read another classic from an Aussie advertising mag:

It’s essential to script the customer scenarios for action that boost conversion rates. Beyond publishing content online, you need to focus on achieving your online goals, blend the push of the web with the pull of email, and track customer experiences across your multiple touch-points.

That reminds me. When he didn't like a piece of copy, Fairfax Cone would look at the writer and ask: "Would you say that to someone you know?"

Well, would you?

Saturday, 1 May 2010

We really ARE all at sea

It is my profound conviction that you can put most if not all of the world's troubles down to sheer pig-ignorance.

This was brought home to me for the zillionth time when I watched (under extreme duress, because my partner said I should show an interest) the "debate" - or exchange of cliches - between Brown, Cameron and Clegg

But a good example of what we are up against is in the map, here, showing where CNN thinks Lisbon is. Some idiot there has arbitrarily towed one of my favourite cities into the middle of the Atlantic.

You would think an American news organisation would have some vague idea about the location of the city Christopher Columbus set sail from - but it seems not.

This reminded me of a long-ago conversation with the convivial Irish restaurateur Peter Langan, who told me the solution to the Northern Irish problem was to saw the province off, tow it into the middle of the Atlantic and turn it upside down.

Anyhow the great election gabfest I was forced to watch was even worse than I feared. The three bullshitters barely touched on the thing we are all going to suffer for over the next decade or so, which is the colossal debt Brown and Blair have run up. In fact all three of the candidates acted as if there was tons of lolly sloshing about to pay for their fancy promises. Barely a word about the greatest financial crisis of my lifetime.

Without quite being openly racist, the one thing they all seemed to agree about was that immigration is a bad thing. The facts - that immigrants generally do work locals won't and a big reason is Gordon Brown's insane tax structure which penalises people who might otherwise work - were barely touched upon.

Only one candidate mentioned that 80% of immigration comes from Europe, so there's sod all we can do about it. Nobody raised the question of whether we should be governed by an unelected bunch of Eurocrats; and no mention was made of the wholesale dishonesty in Westminster.

In the end, you were left deciding which of the three did the best impression of sincerity - as opposed to being sincere. I thought Clegg, but that's not the best way to pick the next prime minister.

Speaking of which, I promised two days ago to review the electoral guff that came though my letterbox. I fear you're all going to be a bit preoccupied next week over your least worst option, so I will do that after the results come out and you have all lost interest. Sorry, my timing is awful.

I will say one thing, though. The Lib Dem leaflet was by far the best, for a reason any knowledgeable marketer will recognise.

But that doesn't mean they are going to do as well as the polls suggest. I have a feeling voters might wonder whether people who have never been in government are right for the job. Then again, how could they do worse than the current set of crooks, bluffers and chancers? One reason, I suspect, why there is an exceptional number of don't knows in the polls is that we are all dismayed by the choices before us.