The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

It’s Fashionable To Be Unfashionable …
May 13, 2009, 6:34 am
Filed under: Comment

So unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of talk about swine flu.

Whilst you’d think Mexico is probably the hottest bed of press activity, I’d say HK and Singapore would give them a good run for their money.

It all stems back to the SARS crisis a few years ago and how it adversely affected the respective countries reputation both economically and organisationally … which is possibly why their reaction to the situation has been slightly over-the-top to say the least.

Just last week I had a pitch in HK where the client wore a surgical mask throughout the entire presentation.

You try and pay attention to what’s going on when you’ve got Dr Dick Turpin’s eyes staring right back at you.

Seriously, everytime he asked a question I must of said, “I beg your pardon” about 500 times … it was ridiculous.

But as usual, Singapore could trump it.

Despite there being NO confirmed swine flu cases when I was there, I was still asked to provide written evidence of my last 7 days travels before I would be allowed into my meeting … a meeting I had been asked to attend by a client and had to fly over 3 hours to get there.

When the receptionist saw I had previously been in China and HK there was almost a stampede to the bloody Doctors …

Now don’t get me wrong, I know how serious this ‘flu’ can be … but this all seems abit of an overkill … but then, compared to the Singaporean Uni that has MANDATED all students have to take their temperature twice a day and record the results on an electronic database [worse: they all have to have their own thermometer and if they cannot provide it when asked by a teacher, they will get sent home] I suppose I got off lightly.

I guess advertising strategy is quite like Government attitude in so much as both seem to follow the belief that a public in panic is a public you can control and manipulate …

Buy this and be successful with the opposite sex.

Stop being inquisitive or you might get murdered or raped.

Spray this and you won’t be a social leper.

Invest in that and you’ll be successful and a pillar of society.

Of course it doesn’t have to be this way.

One thing I still find amazing is that even now, some people talk about Obama’s ‘media election strategy’ as if that was the only reason he became President.

Of course it played an important part, but like many in media planning companies forget, what you say and how you say it is just as important.

Obama could of gone with political cliché and focused on fear … hell, he’d of been justified given the state the World was/is in right now … but instead he offered an alternative to ‘fear control’, he offered people the power of hope so that regardless of race, sex, age, wealth or culture, they could believe that together they could create a better life for themselves, their communities and their country.

Yeah … yeah … I know he’s actually got to do it rather than just talk about it and without doubt, it’s going to be tough given the pedestal people have put him on – but he’s making some of the tough decisions … he’s talked about how it will probably get worse before it gets better … he talked about the need to think interms of ‘we’ not just ‘me’ … he’s acknowledged the need to talk ‘future’ not just today … and whilst anyone could say they are easy words and an obvious strategy for a country that was/is on its knees, you think how many brands or Governments talk in those terms, or at least talk about it without sounding contrived or worse, unbelievably delusional.


Give me a fucking break.

My pension plan!

As much as I wish the days of false promises in advertising were over … I genuinely believe we are heading to a period where brands are starting to appreciate the importance of creating proof rather than creating ads … and whilst ‘fear’ may seem the most effective method to drive action, if companies and Governments started to look beyond the next quarter or local election, they may see they are capable of amazing things and that people may actually want to help them in their goals.

I’ve said it many times that adland should be more like the manufacturing industry – CREATE stuff, of which ‘ads’ are just a part – but for all the rhetoric spouted by multinational agencies and clients about wanting to do ‘new things’, the reality is still they remain firmly entrenched in doing what they know rather than embrace what they know but just can’t fathom how to do.

One of the best lines I’ve ever heard to get these sort of people to starting acting rather than just talking is simply: “What do you want your legacy to be?” … and whilst I accept that’s unlikely to change their decades of inaction, I doubt they would answer “I helped increase Pantene’s gain 2 percentage points of marketshare over the 07-08 financial period” and if they did, then we should do them – and us a favour – by shooting them dead in the head.

Contrary to belief there’s no magic process or proprietary tool that can make this sort of thing happen … at its core it’s about individuals attitude, desire and belief – the other stuff comes later – so if you don’t like something or simply want to change something, then do something about it because as much as people say there’s ‘wisdom in crowds’, there’s also lethargy.

36 Comments so far
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the only thing worth commenting on this post is that its “our” pension plan, not yours you thieving shit

Comment by andy@cynic

Yes Andy, but its 9% more my pension plan than yours! 🙂

Comment by Rob

SARS to Obama to brand development.

You would be amazing at 6 degrees of separation. 🙂

Comment by Pete

Maybe this is a rhetorical question, but how do you see the role of advertising bringing about change within organisations? We can effect behavioural change in “consumers” but why is it so hard to apply that to business or government enterprises? Perhaps the “wisdom of workers” has more than an uphill battle against the inertia of the workplace. Now, you’ve got me thinking!

Comment by Gavin Heaton

Fkn, keeping it real Rob. Good work. That “legacy” question is something I think about all the time when interacting with clients. Do you think as a planner, is it OUR job to keep a level head? To ensure that they don’t get too wrapped up in their world of margins and bullshit metrics? Of everyone who speaks to brand managers, I believe it should be the agency who – like I said – “keeps it real”.

Comment by Age

What’s your email you old bugger?

Comment by Doug Chapman

@Gavin Businesses have more structure than consumers, and that’s why it I’d easier to affect consumers. The business structure is a good thing, but we just have to be aware of the impact of it’s presence.

Comment by Ross Hill

Hi Ross, I agree with you however it also depends on the philosophy of the organisation.

In the last few years, I/my company has been asked to ‘influence change’ within a variety of companies [eg: NASA & Google] and the ones where it has worked the best has been where the organisation has been set up to embrace change/debate rather than stick to a rigid, formulaic process.

I should point out that the ‘change’ we’ve been asked to encourgage has not been about the fundamental values of the company – that’s almost impossible – but certain attitudes or approaches to specific elements of what they do. I should also point out it wasn’t done through ‘advertising’ … it was done by developing an idea/s that created/encouraged the change that was desired and then and only then [once the internal elements had been managed to ensure it stood a chance of actually working] did we think about any communicational elements that could amplify the idea to the masses.

I’ve said it quite a few times that the problem with adland is they tend to think the solution to a problem is to do an ad … and more often than not, all that does is celebrate the issue rather than the solution. []

Comment by Rob

@Rob well obviously it depends on a bunch of things and every company and consumer “is going to be different,” but I think the fundamental that Gavin is exploring is between companies and consumers. Speed = Mass * Energy, so if they have less mass it is easier to get them moving.

Comment by Ross Hill

I know what you and Gavin are saying – but I don’t think we can say that is always the case.

I’ve been in situations where there’s only been a few people that needed to change [so to speak] and they’ve been harder to move than thousands or millions of people.

For me it’s too simplistic to simply say it is based around mass and energy – not only because ‘energy’ is a very ambigious term, but because there are many other factors that can/do influence change and not all are financial or incentive based.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that whilst there may be circumstances that encourage a particular outcome to occur in greater numbers, that doesn’t make it a ‘rule’ because more often than not, there’s always a perfectly good counter example than can be quoted.

What this means to me is that industry is so obsessed with trying to ‘simplify logic’ [often so they can ‘brand it’] that they often fail to see the smaller or more circumstantial factors that ultimately dictate the success or failure of a particular strategy.

As Google informed me during our initial talks for the lab, there’s no single process that can guarantee a result when dealing with people – it’s about having a framework that can be developed [sometimes using established processes, sometimes adapting established processes and sometimes inventing new theories all together] based around the needs/wants/fears and circumstances of the folk you are trying to touch.

The ad industry – with their ‘propreitry’ tools – should take note.

Comment by Rob

Haha I’d argue that many industry people try to create detail so they can brand it 🙂 Either way..

Comment by Ross Hill

Oh I agree with you on that …

Without doubt the little things often make the biggest difference, but they focus on details that are simply things they can ‘brand’ even though it actually plays a very small part in the overall success of what has been done.

You want a cynic Ross? You’ve got one, ha!

Comment by Rob

Hire admen u get ads. I said it before and got shot down but will say it again, education is key. In the olden days admen would go on to become visual or word artists, now adland is losing talent cause they starting their own companies that do stuff, method being the obvious one, zeus jones and Russell davies to an extend and even you lot. Adland should be solution thinking heaven not a poor cousin of the entertainment world. Education and compensation must change. Goodbye

Comment by Niko

Good call Niko.

Comment by Marcus

The future of adland?

“Industrial Entertainment”

You heard it hear first … ahem.

Comment by Rob

You taking the piss Campbell?

Comment by Marcus

9% of nothing is nothing Andy.

Comment by John

You know it Mr Marcus.

Though I could post-rationalise it to mean something … linking the need for adland to start ‘creating’ real solutions rather than just ads [ie: industrial] and to do it in a way that enthuses and enthralls [entertainment] the participant to build some emotional value to the idea. God I feel sick writing that … I’ve just realised my real job is “packaging” so from now on I should called tupperware.

And Mr Dodds, 9% of 21,000 sales might not give me a life that is anywhere close to the everyday luxury that Andy enjoys, but it’s 9% more than he will get which is all that matters.

Of course when you take all the other pieces of the pie into account [from the other ‘shareholders’ because Bazza still claims ownership despite leaving us … through to the distribution charges] it means all I actually get to buy is a bloody out-of-date Sherbet DibDab.

Comment by Rob

Why do you and me always end up arguing about this?

Comment by Marcus

Because you are in love with me?

Comment by Rob

That is most certainly not the reason.

Comment by Marcus

You would say that wouldn’t you. 🙂

Comment by Rob

while not directly related to this thread, but hopeful relevant to the post, what i’d like to know is why the fuck swine flu (not to mention SARS, bird flu, etc) got all this fuckin’ hype after 100 deaths, when 10 times that number of people die in Africa of AIDS all the fuckin’ time and you don’t see nearly the amount of continued western media attention, fear, advertising, hype, energy and stress involved in it.

Comment by lauren

Because Lauren, the old, rich white folk were frightened it might spread to them.

Comment by Rob

My aim has always been – “Help make advertising better”.

Sadly Lauren Rob is right.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

as opposed to the old, rich white folk spreading the disease in the first place?

Comment by lauren

great post! i think i might have spotted a part of my pension plan there too rob 😀

i have to sneak in and add to lauren’s comment somehow… solar power generated in 1% of the world’s desert area could theoretically cover the whole world’s energy demand. but instead there are children starving every day while we are growing plants for bio fuels and energy supply on farm land. children who will never become spending consumers… as for the problem of overpopulation… developed nations have low birth rates. so apparently, a higher living standard would help solving this problem, too… just some quick thoughts. and quite off topic i know…

Comment by peggy

I think Lauren and Peggy are preaching to the converted but that doesn’t mean people who have lost loved ones to swine flu are any less deserving of sympathy.

Really interesting post Robert. I agree with Pete that the way you move from the excessive behaviour of certain countries for the biggest anti climax since the millennium bug (or Brit’s comeback album) through to the American election and the future of brands is impressive.

I’m not sure if that would make you a champion of 6 degrees but I know you’d make a great TV anchorman.

Comment by Bazza

up there with Ron Burgundy

Comment by niko

You know it.

Comment by Bazza

Bazza, i know that you know that i would never suggest that families of people dying from swine/sars/bird flu are any less deserving of anything.

and i’m ok about preaching to the converted. it leaves room for you guys to then go and preach to the gentiles. 🙂

Comment by lauren

I know Lauren, you’re not like others I could mention on this blog. LOL

Comment by Bazza

how could anyone be so stone-hearted and not have sympathy for any person who has lost a loved one due to any circumstances? not to forget about the ones suffering and deceasing in the first place. i think you should name and shame!

Comment by peggy

You’re still getting used to how this place operates aren’t you Peggy? 🙂

Comment by Bazza

maybe. maybe not. seems like it though 😉

Comment by peggy

Who put Bazza in charge?

Comment by John

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