The Great Western AdWank: a near-perfect example of the worst kind of wasteful marketing …

Money that should go on toilets (yes, TOILETS) flushed down the toilet instead – with a barrage of boastful piffle

Sorry about the poor quality of my photos – but I think you’ll get the message.

It is my unhappy fate to travel regularly between Bristol and Paddington.

This was once the best service in Britain, created by the greatest of rail engineers Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

You can see his statue in Paddington Station. If a statue could weep, I imagine it would.

For unless you travel when hardly anybody else does the first picture is utterly typical of what you have to put up with when leaving Paddington for Reading.

Besides the overcrowding you can safely assume some of the toilets will be out of order.

And just to rub your predicament in you can also assume there’ll be plenty of room in First Class.

Why this state of affairs?

Because whatever overpaid functionary purports to run the railway imagines money is better spent on one of the most infuriatingly complacent, irrelevant, incompetent and downright stupid advertising you can imagine.

To explain what’s happened, the railway was for some years called First Great Western sometimes referred to by us sufferers as Last Great Western.

Some fool decided that if they just changed the name back to Great Western Railway and stuck up a lot of guff everywhere saying everything had miraculously improved people would be happy.

Maybe some fast-talking smoothy at their ad agency sold them on the idea.

The staff (the only great thing about the service) must have been embarrassed. We travellers just thought it a bad joke.

The pictures tell the story. Just boastful piffle alternating with fatuous quasi-philosophical twaddle. Beautiful design; abysmal writing.

The idea behind it all reminds me how so many people running businesses fondly confuse talk with action and believe a lot of bilge about branding.

As David Ogilvy’s mentor Raymond Rubicam remarked many decades ago, “The only purpose of advertising is to sell. It has no other justification worth mentioning.”

What still puzzles me after 59 years in this business is why those in charge have never taken the trouble to study what marketing and advertising  are all about. First you improve what you offer; then you sell it. Not the other way round.

As one of the grand old ad agencies used to say, good advertising is the truth well told, not a pack of irrelevant lies.



About the Author


In 2003, the Chartered Institute of Marketing named Drayton one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today’s marketing.

He has worked in 55 countries with many of the world’s greatest brands. These include American Express, Audi, Bentley, British Airways, Cisco, Columbia Business School, Deutsche Post, Ford, IBM, McKinsey, Mercedes, Microsoft, Nestle, Philips, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Unilever, Visa and Volkswagen.

Drayton has helped sell everything from Airbus planes to Peppa Pig. His book, Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, out in 17 languages, has been the UK’s best seller on the subject every year since 1982. He has also run his own businesses in the U.K., Portugal and Malaysia.

He was a main board member of the Ogilvy Group, a founding member of the Superbrands Organisation, one of the first eight Honorary Fellows of the Institute of Direct Marketing and one of the first three people named to the Hall of Fame of the Direct Marketing Association of India. He has also been given Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Caples Organisation in New York and Early To Rise in Florida.

1 Comment

  1. I find this sort of self-congratulatory advertising twaddle very grating. I also think a lot of the general public do as well – especially their customers (or passengers as they used to be called). What does it achieve – other than to massage the egos of the idiots who write it? They might as well write “We’re great – and don’t we know it!” (or “We’re Great (Western) and don’t we know it”).

    Also as you point out, when the actual service the company provides does not match up to expectations this sort of message becomes all the more irritating to people. Adwank is the right word Drayton, wish I’d thought of that!

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