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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.

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The triumph of bollocks – or how to “redefine” anything

Which worries you more? Your health? Or your health provider?

I once lived in Harley Street under a false name for seven years. This was because I owed so much to the Inland Revenue I didn’t dare show my face.

My friendly local divorce lawyer told me “I never met a doctor yet who wasn’t more interested in money than medicine.”

Later I heard that unkind joke applied to lawyers. It is not always true of either profession, I am sure. But I wager it is of medical insurers – which brings me to my experience this morning with AXA/PPP.

Though I have been their client for thirty years or more I have never called on them for anything except health check-ups. Beyond that I have simply noticed their prices have gone up a damn sight faster than the cost of living, whilst their service, if today’s experience is anything to go by, has deteriorated.

My story starts with a mistake. The estimable Kelly, my PA, booked me in to have a check-up with BUPA, not AXA/PPP. By the time I noticed this her damp derriere was plonked in a tent at some storm-drowned music festival so I couldn’t ask her why.

So I thought, what the hell, I’ll give BUPA a shot. But first I thought I’d check, so I went online. Mysteriously there was no reference to Private Health Checks on the AXA/PPP site. Just a suggestion that you can get them from your National Health doctor.

Very droll. I tried that with my doctor. Not much luck. The check was pretty cursory.

The entire reason I pay a bloody fortune to AXA/PPP is so that I can get stuff done properly when it suits me. The only thing I learned from their website is they have an absurd slogan they (which means me) must have paid some second rate plagiarists a fortune for – Healthcare/Reinvented. How pathetic is that?

Eventually I wasted 15 minutes ringing up a patronising woman who spoke so fast I could barely follow her, but told me they don’t do it anymore. They’ve offloaded it to Nuffield (slogan: For the love of life) and BMI (slogan: Serious about health. Passionate about care).

Let me pause to throw up before continuing …

Anyhow, what I wanted to know was the cost. I knew BUPA’s charges. Would these people rip me off more – or less? Ms. Snotty wouldn’t tell me. She just said I’d get a 25% discount. I don’t know about you but 25% off an unknown sum is pretty useless if you want to make a decision.

I then rang Nuffield where a pleasant lady told me in a couple of minutes what I wanted to know.

Eventually I went to BUPA, whose rates seem lower than AXA/PPP and had a pleasant enough experience if you like your prostate being tickled and don’t mind being hard sold the benefits of hearing aids.

I seriously believe that following the offloading by AXA/PPP of this essential service I will be contributing to two or three companies’ profits instead of one.

I also seriously believe that the word “redefine” in this instance means “abdicate responsibility for” and that it pays to train your telephone ladies to be pleasant as they represent your company.

Finally I seriously believe that if all the money pissed away on vapid slogans by companies’ witless marketing trolls were applied to doing a better job we would all benefit, the world would be a better place and my blood pressure would go down.




Is your marketing a sound investment – or a wasteful cost

If you are a marketer this makes unhappy reading. If you are a manager it may not surprise you. But don’t be smug

The news is shocking.

The overwhelming majority of CEOs do not believe marketers deliver the results they should.

The reason is simple. They are neither trained in, nor understand – even vaguely – the things they should.

You may doubt me. Could such strong statements be true? But they come from an independent April 2014 survey by the highly regarded Fournaise Group.

This unique organisation tracks and analyses the results of over 2.5 million campaigns annually online and off. They involve over 1200 firms selling products and services to consumers and businesses, all over the world.

The firms range from SMEs to Fortune 100 companies. No matter what you sell or who you sell to, what you are about to read is highly relevant

The report noted:

  • 90% of marketers are not trained in Marketing Performance & Marketing ROI.
  • 67% don’t believe marketing ROI requires a financial outcome
  • 64% rely on Brand Awareness as their chief way of measuring return on investment
  • 58%  refer to “Likes”, “Tweets”, “Clicks” and/or “CTR” as their leading performance indicators.
  • 31% think measuring audience reached is the way to assess return on investment

The report concludes witheringly that “Every Tom, Dick & Harry is a marketer lacking scientific and financial knowledge”.

What do their bosses think about this?

In another Fournaise report Chief Executives said marketers:

  • Talk about the “brand” (issues, values, equity, etc) but cannot link back to results that matter: revenue, sales, EBIT or market valuation (77%)
  • Focus too much on marketing trends (social media) because they believe in “New marketing frontiers” but cannot demonstrate how these are actually beneficial (74%)
  • When asked to increase ROI they understand it as cost cutting or negotiations with partners and agencies instead of top line growth regeneration: more revenue, sales, prospects, buyers (73%)
  • Ask for more money but cannot explain how much incremental business the money will generate (72%)
  • Bombard stakeholders with marketing data that mean nothing. (70%)
  • Don’t think like businesspeople. Focus too much on creative “arty” and “fluffy” side of marketing, not enough on business science. Rely on ad agencies to come up with big ideas (67%)

The gap between what marketers fondly imagine and how their bosses view them is considerable

73% of CEOs think marketers lack credibility. But 69% of marketers think their strategies and campaigns are effective – despite being unable to quantify or prove it.

Why did I suggest bosses should nevertheless not be too smug. Well, I still chortle when I recall a report that came out quite a few years ago. Over 1,000 top U.S. executives were sent a series of questions to establish how much they knew about marketing.

Their ignorance was such that the Wall Street Journal reported they would have got better marks if they had all answered “I don’t know” to every question.

I doubt if things are any better now, especially in Britain, where we have three big problems.

1. We have a higher percentage of executives to workers than in any other advanced economy. Too many clueless leaders; not enough people doing the work.

2. Top executives are handsomely rewarded whether they get results or not. Hardly an incentive – and a drain on profits.

3. We have a higher percentage of accountants among our chief executives than in other countries. This must be one reason for the rise of the procurement industry – and a crippling emphasis on numbers rather than quality or imagination.

The aim of marketing, according to  Sergio Zyman, who had such an impact on Coca Cola’s success, is “to sell more stuff to more people more often at higher prices”.

Perhaps over simple, as some marketing is to sell ideas. But if you’d like a few ideas on how to sell anything to anyone anywhere, you can join me and one of the world’s best salesmen on October 20th in London at Churchill’s War Rooms.






Why do so many alleged marketing experts ignore the absolute basics of writing?

Here’s the silly reason why so many e-mails fail

Because you’re reading this I suspect one thing about you.

You’re interested in marketing, because other than the stupid things I see around me that’s what I know best and write about most.

That being so the odds are you don’t just follow my advice. You study others.

So do I. Even at 78 I’m eager to learn.

And here’s an important fact I have discovered.

The things that make the difference between being read and replied to – or ignored – are so simple many experts don’t even think about them.

This has struck me the great force in the last few days as I’ve been reviewing the hundreds of emails I get in preparation for a talk I’m giving in October. Few are any good. Most are very bad.  Some are absurdly bad.

What kills your sales?

A good example hit my inbox not long ago.

It was yet another ludicrous promise from a coach/guru/genius to show me how to sell anything you like to anyone you care to think of. These rogues often do well not because they deliver what they promise, but because people believe what they want to believe

His first sentence was 55 words long – all about him. The word “you” – what you are most interested in – appeared nowhere.

If you want to kill readership and comprehension, any sentence longer than around 25 words is hard for the average reader to take in. The easiest length to take in is 8 words.

Two days ago I got another email from a very famous expert – you know his name for sure.

Not long ago he was called a “Titan” of Direct Response. And he teaches, among other things, how to write.

His email contained two successive sentences – one of 38 words, one of 44 words. His P.S. – often the most read thing in a message – was 38 words long and contained four separate thoughts.

This sort of thing kills readership – and sales.

People do not concentrate when they read. And if it’s the usual guff you get in emails they concentrate even less.

If your sentence is very long they forget what it was about before they get to the end.

They find it hard to take in more than two thoughts in a sentence, never mind four.

Read any successful thriller and see how long the sentences are. These writers know if their book isn’t easy to read it won’t sell. People pick it up at an airport book stall and if it looks like hard work, they put it down again.

People don’t want to work at reading, whether it’s for fun or profit.

Most of what you just read was brought to my attention by David Ogilvy in my offices at 20 Soho Square in early 1985. It has yet to penetrate the skulls of many who claim to write and sell.


The talk I mentioned will take place at The Churchill War Rooms on October 20th. If you already receive my emails you will be all too well aware of this, but what you have just read is one reason for making time to be there if you can.




Why people don’t vote – and Russell Brand the intellectual

If you think it makes no difference why vote? The General Election and a little tale from Bristol

Not long ago comedian Russell Brand was voted fourth on a list of the world’s great thinkers – or something similar. Possibly, God help us, it was a list of “thought-leaders”.

One of his great thoughts is that people should not vote. I should applaud this as though I’ve worked for both Labour and the Tories I have never, ever voted. But I do feel a bit guilty. If you don’t vote you can’t hope to change things, can you?

But why have I never voted? Why are fewer and fewer doing so?

In my case it’s because where I lived there was never a candidate I liked the sound of.  In 2009 the Daily Telegraph ran a piece on honest politicians. It was quite short. Almost all politicians seem utter shits – little more than adroit liars intent getting power and keeping it.

The current government swore to sort out the economy and among other things dear to my heart get rid of the hordes of useless and costly committees – quangos – staffed by the cronies of whoever is in power.

Today our national debt has shot up but few realise it because politicians deliberately obscure the truth. When they speak of reducing the deficit most of us think that means reducing the national debt. It doesn’t. It just means slowing the speed at which the debt grows.

And what do ALL the parties now promise? To spend more, making the debt greater. Some – the Greens and the SNP – would spend insanely more. Labour, stupidly more. The Tories vow they will make savings that cover the cost – but they lied last time, so why not now?

And the quangos? Many were just renamed, often with their parasitical crews given pay rises.

That’s how politics works. Politicians pile up misery for future generations when they won’t be here. As the neat American phrase goes, they kick the can a bit further down the road.

At a local level, though, things are even simpler – maybe because an even lower percentage of people vote than in national elections. They fuck you about and when you c0mplain they treat you with contempt.

Take Bristol, where I live. We have a mayor called Ferguson. His chief qualification seems to be that he always wears red trousers. This minor act of individuality, however silly,  singles him out as less dreary than the others. His other chief characteristic is simple. He completely ignores what voters want.

New parking proposals have been forward by the council recently. A great many people – probably the majority – object to them, partly because they are really just a new form of tax, partly because they are ill-conceived in some ways, and partly because there are few benefits we can see. I understand over 90% of the council itself voted against them.

In my road many were really interested and concerned. We got involved. We held meetings, canvassed opinion, raised detailed objections, and gave reasons why we objected.

The response from the man in charge – Service Director Peter Mann – was simple. He was insulting.

He sent a one page letter saying he had “considered” the matter, and decided the scheme will go ahead with “some minor modifications” which he did not trouble to specify. This is because it will “achieve elements of the wider transport policy aspirations of the City Council’s overall transport policy”.

Nobody has the faintest idea what that means; and even if we did it is a nonsense. Our aspirations should be considered not those of the Council – which in any case has voted against the scheme.

Not a word, not a smidgeon, not a suggestion, not hint, not a clue did this bureaucratic jackanapes give as to the reasons for his decision.

No doubt this scheme will go ahead. And no doubt even fewer people will vote at the next local elections.  Russell Brand’s may think this a good idea. But is it?

How to become a famous marketer

Once again Melbourne’s very own Ryan Wallman spots the phonies

I’ve run one of Ryan’s pieces before. The man is good. Here’s another rib-tickler:

How to become a famous marketer

First, choose a successful form of marketing that has been tried and tested over many decades.

Declare this form of marketing to be dead.

Justify this declaration on the basis that modern consumers are   infinitely more intelligent than all who have come before them, and are therefore immune to traditional marketing. Do not feel obliged to support this assertion with any evidence.

Announce to the world that you have created a new form of marketing (or rather, a ‘novel marketing paradigm’). This can be either:

the polar opposite of the one you have declared to be dead, or

exactly the same as the one you have declared to be dead, but with a different name.

Give your new creation a catchy title that reflects the modern marketing zeitgeist. For the sake of argument, let’s call it ‘Sewer Marketing’.

Publish a book called Sewer Marketing.

Do a tour to promote yourself… er, your book.

Bask in the effusive praise of gullible people.

Warning! Here’s just how useless “Britain’s leading data experts” are

They can’t spell and they write to a long-dead firm: would you give money to these comedians?

Do you ever rent lists?

I am regularly asked if I know of anyone who supplies good ones. I invariably pass the query on. I cannot recall coming across anyone any good for a while.

But one name I would never recommend is that of Peter Murray who says “we are the UK’s No 1 B2B data provider”.

If so, God alone knows how bad the others are.

He writes: How to enusre Drayton Bird Partnership’s success in 2015. So he either can’t spell or can’t be bothered to check his emails before they go out.

We all make spelling mistakes, though. But if I were a data provider I would check my data. The Drayton Partnership has not traded for well over a decade.

In the past I have replied pointing this out – but  never received a reply.

What adds an additional helping of mirth is that they – whoever they are – are part of The Intelligent Data Group.

Maybe they should “rebrand” as Illiterate Data Group, since they also have a crosshead reading “75% of business waste on average 14% of their revenue on bad data every year which equates to £198m!”

But they also point out that “Using old or out-of-date data cost businesses thousands in lost revenue and unproductive time and therefore it is critical that your data is accurate and up-to-date.” The little “s” after cost got lost somewhere along the way.

I certainly wouldn’t trust them to “Update and remove inaccurate data on your list” as they suggest. But maybe the first step in the right direction is, don’t use them.



Bilge about brands: the Tale of the Spiny Lobster

There’s far, far more to a brand than a name: but the potential benefits are hard to overstate

Round the corner from my place there used to be a restaurant called The Rockfish, voted the best in Bristol.

Then a  few weeks ago it was “Closed for Refurbishing and Rebranding.” I was curious: what would change? Would they lower their prices? (Fat chance). Would they start selling curry?

Here’s what happened.

They repainted the place. They moved the entrance. They put the same seats back in slightly different positions. And they renamed it The Spiny Lobster.

I went back to see what it was like. Pretty much the same food. A lot of emphasis on charcoal grilled fish. The kitchen has not been moved, so you can see the chefs scurrying about.

That’s it. A bit of tarting up and a new name. NOT a rebranding, which I would suggest suggests something far more radical.

The most famous case was probably when Marlboro, originally a cigarette aimed at women, was rebranded as one for macho males.

Marketing is in its infancy, compared, say, to law, which dates back perhaps as far as Urukagina’s code in 2,350 BC and certainly to Ur-Nammu’s code in 2050 BC.

So in marketing words like “brand”  mean whatever anyone wants them to, and there is a thriving business in renaming old things to make them sound mysterious and important. A good example is Native Advertising which for decades was just Advertorial.

Here, for what it is worth, are what I have discovered after 50-odd years of diligent curiosity.

You may find it worth reading, because it really pays, financially, to build a strong brand. People freely admit they will pay more for a branded product even though they know it is physically identical to an unbranded alternative.

So it’s not about what it is – the thing. Things can be copied. Brands can’t. They exist independently of the product or service.

“A brand is not a process, a product or people. It can live on after processes and products have changed – and people have died” said the very wise Jeremy Bullmore of J. Walter Thompson.

Companies are made up of people. People die. People move on. Working practices change. But how do you “copy” a brand? It’s impossible, because its qualities are in people’s minds.

The man who. with his colleagues, did more research than anyone into branding was Professor Andrew Ehrenberg.

The most important difference between a strong brand and a weak one, they found, was that strong brands have more customers,

This gives you some remarkable potential advantages.

  • Make more profit by selling more at the same price. Or by selling the same amount at a higher price.
  • Customers stay with you longer, buying more in the process, which means their lifetime value is greater.
  • You can pay more to get or keep a customer.
  • More customers give you economies of scale. Thus you have a greater profit margin so you can undercut your competitors.
  • People trust strong brands more. They forgive your mistakes more easily. They believe you will put things right.

All these are wonderful things. But getting them takes a lot more than a lick of paint.

You might also conclude – as I do – that getting and keeping customers is the one thing you should think about night and day.

And rebranding – very fashionable among people with  more money than sense – is a perilous business. Once a brand’s positioning is fixed in people’s minds it takes a heck of a lot to change it. The Marlboro brand was very weak at the time Leo Burnett got the account.

Equally fashionable is the practice of buying companies and subsuming them under your name. If they have strong brands, then in doing so you throw away an awful lot of customer value.


The silent ad that spoke volumes

I wish I had written this – but Ryan Wallman from Melbourne did.

Many years ago – too many for my liking – there was a TV commercial for a brand of garden sprinkler.

No, wait. It gets better, I promise.

This ad was remarkable.

It wasn’t famous, mind you. You won’t have read about it in advertising textbooks, and I doubt that it would have won any awards.

In fact, it was for a fairly obscure Australian brand that you’ve probably never heard of. Unless you lived in Perth in the 1980s. (If so: my condolences.)

Anyway, the remarkable thing about this ad was that nothing really happened. And it was silent.

The ad was little more than a black screen overlaid by a super that read (something to the effect of): ‘This is the sound of one of our sprinklers.” It ended with a shot of a lush lawn.

Aside from the fact that it neatly demonstrated a benefit of the product, the really striking aspect of this ad was that it stood in stark contrast to everything around it. All of the other ads at that time, and indeed most of the TV programs, were loud and tacky. It was the ‘80s, after all.

In that context, this unassuming little ad was almost impossible to ignore.

And it made a huge impression on me at the time. Funnily enough, I can still remember thinking “I would like to go into advertising so that I can make an ad like that”. Which is saying a lot, because gardening products interest me approximately as much as whitepapers on programmatic marketing.

So would that ad work today? In this era when all available space must be filled?

I think it would. Given the bluster and blather of advertising in the 21st century, such a simple idea would probably be more effective than ever.

Because for all the ‘noise’ that characterises modern marketing – the convoluted strategies, data dashboards, media plans, contextualised targeting, concept testing and what have you – the single most important rule of advertising is that it must be noticed.

This rule does not change with the times. It will always be true that if an ad doesn’t get noticed, it is pointless. Totally, utterly pointless.

Consider the last ad that you put out there. And be honest with yourself. If you saw that ad, would it stop you in your tracks?

If your answer is something like “Probably not, but the message is on-brand and the images are correctly placed in accordance with our style guidelines”: you’ve got a problem.

Nobody looking at your ad has your brief on hand. Nobody is checking it off against your strategy or wondering about your message hierarchy or measuring the height of your logo.

Indeed, the difference between how you see your ad and how your audience sees it might be summarised thus:

So the first question to ask about any advertising is: will it be noticed?

Then, sure, ask the other important questions. Is this the right message? Is the ad believable? Does it demonstrate the benefits? Is there a strong incentive? And so on.

But if the answer to that first question is “no”, all of those other questions are irrelevant.

If the answer is “yes”, on the other hand, then your message might get through. It might be remembered. It might be written about some 30 years later.

Hell, it might even inspire a career.

By Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at Wellmark.

Ignore The Agency Airheads – Measuring Your Results Is All That Counts

Years ago I did a banner ad to promote racehorse ownership which had a horse galloping across the screen pulling a message. Worked like a charm.

Anyone who knows anything about online advertising is aware that ads with things happening tend to work better than ads where nothing happens.

Large corporate clients tend to hate this sort of thing. Too vulgar. But I recall simply making the prices flash for a posh wine merchant boosted sales over 10%

I recently saw some more detailed research about the subject in the Australian Marketing magazine. It was a decent piece, but one bit of the article got my goat a little:

“The days of solely measuring online campaign success on a cost per click or lead-generation basis are fading, with these measures indicating engagement with the ad itself rather than its success in improving brand metrics.”

All attempts to stamp out phrases like “brand metrics” are to be vigorously encouraged, because they usually indicate an attempt by an agency to avoid being measured on anything more concrete.

At the start of that magnificent all-purpose door-stop, “Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing” I quoted David Ogilvy’s mentor (yes, he had one).

“The only purpose of advertising is to sell. It has no other function worth mentioning” – Raymond Rubicam.

I once did a talk to the Marketing Society called, “The research said it would sell. So how come we went broke?”

So I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. Whilst measuring on pay per click is a waste of time, measuring on cost of leads, whilst not as good as measuring on cost per sale, is better than things like “engagement with the ad”.

This nauseating expression should be swept into outer darkness, along with brand metrics, core values, mission, vision and almost any phrase including the word strategic – especially if it is a job title. If that title also incorporates the word officer, sudden death should occur.