Take a trip with the Citroen C4 Cactus


A lot of today’s TV commercials leave me smiling – but not for the reasons intended.  The creatives are being forced to jump through ever more ridiculous hoops to make mundane products appear remarkable.  With results that are unintentionally amusing.

A car that takes you from 35 to 18 again

Have you seen the “Citroen C4 Cactus – Stay Curious” commercial?  The car itself is your typical boxy hatchback, but with knobs on (well, little bumps, dimples and bubbles).  The designers are desperately trying to make something that’s middle aged, middle class and middle of the road look edgy, funky, wacky (or whatever the “in” word is).  The result is about as cool as a middle aged bloke trying to “get down” with the kids – and causing huge embarrassment.

This is a wild guess, but I suspect the target audience is slightly older than one might imagine.  I think it’s a “mutton dressed as lamb” car designed for those who are in denial about the fact they are in a rut (big mortgage, shit job, boring routine…).

There’s a clue in the voice-over

The commercial’s “Stay Curious” tack is squarely aimed at people whose life is losing its youthful lustre – just listen to the words.

The voice-over of the original version was: “The more you look…the more you ask…the more you find.    Stay Curious.”  This was later changed to: “Remember in the beginning…when you loved to explore…to examine…to ask…why stop now?  Stay Curious.”  The second version, the one they settled on, explicitly and directly plays on this nagging fear about loss of youthful curiosity.

You remember what the dormouse said?

Then there’s the music.  This is what originally caught my attention, because it’s one of my all-time favourite songs – great lyrics, with a terrific swelling beat.  It’s a compelling anthem for those that like to recall the excitement of youth, and has a hippy-trippy vibe that works beautifully with the theme of curiosity, pushing the boundaries and exploring alternatives – especially if you are familiar with the lyrics.


But here’s the point – how many of those in the target audience will be able to add the the words of the song in their head (as only one line is featured in the commercial)?  Not many, I suspect.  “White Rabbit” was written in 60s California by Grace Slick, and very much of its time.  Those who remember it from that era will be eligible for a bus pass (or fast approaching that stage) – so not about to rush out and buy a car aimed at 20/30 somethings.

So, what are the words?

A car for those who like a little extra headroom?

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call…
Call Alice
When she was just small

When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what the Dormouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head

It’s a hippy rallying cry exhorting the listener to take drugs.  Grace Slick, a childhood fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, wrote it while on acid.  And the books themselves have a very hallucinatory feel to them (although there is no evidence that Carroll was a recreational use of opium or laudanum).

Vous prenez la pisse? C’est un tv commerciale sur LSD, n’est-ce pas?

The track is perfect for a commercial celebrating curiosity.  But wildly inappropriate for a mass market brand like Citroen.  Or anything to do with driving.   The “take a trip in the Citroen C4” subtext is not going to play well with the road safety people.

I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the meetings.  I can just imagine all the squirming that went on as the guys in suits, with their MBAs and spread sheets, agonised about how they could be be hip, without being, well, you know, too hip.

And how the creatives from ad agency Havas, desperately trying to do something with a bit of bollocks that’ll look good on their show reel, and cursing the corporate culture they were butting up against, must have tried every trick in the book to get away with something just mildly subversive.

We love it.  But…

Writing on the horns of this dilemma they did what they always do.  Compromised.  They cut the song three words from the end – and killed the whole idea.  We’re left with a shot of the car and Grace Slick singing “Remember what the dormouse said…”.


Huh?  Those unfamiliar with the song (and there’s a lot of them judging by the comments on Youtube) will be thinking “where did the dormouse come from…and what the **** has it got to do with a car?!”  This was probably rationalised internally as “So, it’s complete nonsense…but that just makes it all the more surreal – get it?”  Yeah, right…

Those who do know the words, like me, are going to be smirking and laughing to themselves: “It’s crying out for the ‘Feed your head’ line, because those three words make perfect sense of everything that leads up to that point.  That WAS the idea –  that this is a car for those that like to feed their head.”

But the client bottled it.  So we get nonsense.  But worse than that the message moves from “this is a car for people who are a bit edgy and have some imagination” to “this is a car for the timid and dull’”.  They’ve ended up saying the exact opposite of what they intended – a classic own goal if ever there was one.

What’s with the Cactus?

So why is this car called the Citroen C4 Cactus?  I’m probably way off beam here, but this is maybe the creatives and/or designers having the last laugh – putting one over on the “straights” in the marketing department.

If you know the words to “White Rabbit” you may also be familiar with the works of Carlos Castaneda.  He wrote a series of books, starting in the 60’s whilst at UCLA in California, describing his apprenticeship with a traditional “Man of Knowledge” identified as don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian from northern Mexico.  They chart a mind expanding journey in which Peyote and Mescaline play a large part.  Peyote is a small, spineless cactus that is a source of naturally occurring psychoactive alkaloids, particularly mescaline.  Mescaline or 3,4,5-trimethoxyphenethylamine, is known for its hallucinogenic effects similar to those of LSD and psilocybin.  You get the general idea from the book covers:


In the 70s they were required reading for all those trying to find themselves, especially when lying on a beach in Greece.  Your backpack was not complete without at least one well-thumbed copy.

Is the cactus reference a coded message from the creatives, one that thumbs the nose at the brand Nazis and corporate straights at Citroen HQ?  We’ll never know – unless one of them chances across this post and decides to comment.



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Want to succeed in business? Think like Oscar Pistorius


Imagine you were Oscar Pistorius the day after you’d shot your girlfriend.  Would you be thinking “I need the best legal team that money can buy.”?  Or “How can I get a legal team on the cheap and save myself a few rand?”

Dumb question.

Now imagine you own a business and your future depends on whether it succeeds or fails.  Would you be thinking “I need the best copywriter that money can buy.”?  Or “How can I get a copywriter on the cheap and save myself a few quid?”

Dumb question – most people go for the cheap option.


Because they don’t realise a good copywriter is as valuable as a good lawyer.

Every minute of every day your business is on trial in the court of public opinion.  And whether the verdict is positive or negative has nothing to do with facts.  It has to do with how people view the facts.  Perception is everything.  EVERYTHING.

Fact (undisputed): Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend four times through a closed door.  Perception (of the person who mattered – the judge):  he didn’t mean to shoot her.

You need to find an expert advocate who can make the strongest possible case for your business.  Because if the perception is positive you have plenty of customers, can charge higher prices, employ better people, get more funding, make more profit and then sell the business for a bigger sum of money.  But if it’s negative, you get the reverse.

Conclusion:  a cheap copywriter, like a cheap lawyer, will probably work out very expensive.

Photo credit: Sarah Karlson

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Stick this in your digital pipe and smoke it

emma-le-trefle-commercialYou don’t have to speak French to get this commercial – I absolutely love this ad.

Advertising is dead.  Yeah, just like paper.

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Ultimate Finance – poster on side of M25


I work on a regular basis with Ultimate Finance, a company that helps SMEs speed up their cashflow.

Job include writing their press releases, articles, blog posts, web copy, leaflets, product fact sheets, customer success stories, emails, direct mail and advertisements.

They recently bought a poster site by Junction 18 of the M25, where you turn off for the M1.  Traffic is at a standstill for much of the time so it’s a prime spot.  The headline I came up with isn’t super-creative.  But it doesn’t have to be – just gets the point across in a way that’s appropriate to the location.

Shows variety of work I undertake – one day it’s luxury holidays in the Seychelles the next I’m on gritty finance and the M25.




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Wine by Primark

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You don’t buy wine for how it tastes, you buy it for how it looks.  Discuss.

On the face of it this is a ridiculous statement.  Wine is ALL about taste, surely?

Errr, sorry darling, that attitude is just so passé.  Let’s go somewhere in private where we can talk – without anybody noticing (I’m not sure I want to be seen with someone who is, you know, so out of the loop…).

Vintage wine is so last year

Some people, for sure, will wax lyrical over the “fine, floral, honeysuckle fruit on the palate with hazelnut overtones”, or go all-of-a-flutter for the “lean, cherry-like fruit flavours on the palate, with a hint of wood and a touch of bitter almonds”.

But you know what?  You are actually just being a boring old fart.

The in-crowd, the people who are where-it’s-at, just don’t give a toss.  Hence these ads for Gallo Moscato.

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The small print tells us the taste is refreshing and sweet, but that’s almost an aside.  Flavour takes second place to fashion – it’s all about “finding your wine style”.  This is a wine to be seen with when you are sharing girlie good times – it goes with your dress, complements your look, and shows you are well and truly on-trend.

Forget all that stuff about vintages, and letting the stuff mature for a fuller and more characterful taste – it must be “this season’s”!  As Gallo’s marketing people tell us, it’s targeted at “fashion-conscious 25- to 34-year-old women” – and I’d say they’ve hit it bang on.

New twist to an old theme

This approach isn’t new.  Drinks marketers have always been hyper aware of the fact that drinkers are incredibly self-conscious – what a particular brand says about you has always played a huge part when it comes consumer behaviour.

This is the first time, however, that I’ve seen a drinks brand so blatantly playing the fashion card (as opposed to a more general appeal to people’s self-image).  And it’s interesting to see a wine doing it, rather than a spirits, beer, lager or cider brand.

The bigger picture

A while ago I read ‘Hegarty on Advertising’.  Interestingly, he has now taken up wine making (doing a bit of a Peter Mayle, the adman who wrote “A Year in Provence”).

I came across this paragraph:  “The issue with brands today is not about whether ‘it’, the product, works – I expect ‘it’ to work – but what ‘it’ says about me.  ‘It’ becomes a fashion statement.”

The Gallo ads make perfect sense when viewed in this context.

He also makes the point that while advertisers are “increasingly in the fashion business, they’re also in the entertainment industry.”  As examples of this convergence and mash-up of different industries he cites David Beckham, a footballer who models for Armani (among others).  Is soccer a sport, or fashion, or entertainment?  It’s all of them (just look at the haircuts!).

He goes on to write “I could say the future is about ‘fashiontainment’.  I know it’s a dreadful word, but I’m using it only to capture what’s going on in our world.”  He argues that advertising always had to entertain, but that there’s more pressure to do so these days – if you are not fun then people won’t engage with you, share etc.

The Gallo ads make sense in this context too.   They celebrate having fun and are brimming with the feel-good factor.  And they’re playful, irreverent and frivolous – a huge departure from the stuffiness that has surrounded the world of wine for generations.  I imagine that a few die-hard French wine makers will be choking on their Bordeaux, Burgundy and Beaujolais at such blatant frivolity.

An echo of the same idea, idea, idea…

In the same Tesco magazine where I found the Gallo ad there was this one for Echo Falls.

Echo Falls ad0001

It’s a bit of a bus accident.  The “Life’s great when things just happen” is a hangover (sorry, I know, a pun) from their sponsorship of “Come dine with me”.  And what are those colourful circles?  And I have to use the discover app to find out more, and visit facebook…what a faff!  But in the interests of research I persevere.

What I discover is that Echo Falls, the UK’s third largest wine brand, has signed British fashion designer Holly Fulton to develop a limited edition wine range that launched in July 2014.  This “comprises three girly label designs for white, red and rosé wine, with each design drawing inspiration from Fulton’s signature prints.  This is designed to fit in well for the colourful brand that Echo Falls is known for.”

Commenting on this partnership Holly says “I am delighted to be collaborating with a fun, young brand Echo Falls.  For me, there are many parallels between wine and fashion; both have a fun, feel-good factor, and a focus on craftsmanship. The designs that I have created for the Echo Falls range take their inspiration from my 2014 Spring/Summer prints, so they should feel fresh, contemporary and on-trend.”

Lucy Shannon, Marketing Manager Echo Falls adds “We are so excited to launch the limited edition range in collaboration with Holly Fulton.  We know that our consumers are passionate about fashion, and partnering with such a fun and aspirational British fashion label is certain to delight and excite them.”

Wine you can wear?

Digging further, I find that Echo Falls also had a big presence at The Clothes Show last year (with WIWT founder Poppy Disney, fashion icon Caryn Franklin, stylist Karl Willet and MTV’s Becca Dudley).  The Clothes Show – isn’t that fashiontainment central?

So you get the picture?  What’s in the bottle is pretty much irrelevant and it’s all about colour, style, design, name dropping and fun.

I’ll have a pint of this season’s must-have

Well, all this talk of drink and fun makes me want to run down to the pub.   Trouble is, I’ve got a nothing to wear.  And no idea what ale is on-trend right now.  Ooooh, let me see, shall I have the Dog’s Bollocks to go with my dark brown Next T shirt, or the Old Rasputin to match my M&S black jeans?   It’ll be such a giggle with the boys at the bar – I can hardly wait!


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Stories from the drawing board

Think of something-1

The marketing industry is full of people who look the part and talk the talk.  But a lot of them, when it comes to actually doing the job, can’t punch their way out of a wet paper bag.

What do I mean by “doing the job”?  I mean taking a communication and marketing problem then coming up with a solution that works – one that passes the old AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) test.

Look at their websites and you’ll see a lot of waffle about what they promise to do (expect words like “passion”, “inspire”, “creative”, “refresh” and “insight”).  But very little evidence of what they have actually done.

Where’s the proof?  If people are shy about showing their work then it suggests they’re not proud of it.  Or they don’t have as much experience as they pretend.

On those rare occasions when you do get examples of work it tends to be shown fleetingly, as if they don’t want you to look too closely.  When you can see it there’s a lack of substance – pretty pictures and wallpaper words but nothing in the way of a strong message expressed in a remarkable way.

So I’m big on showing my work.  And I’m also not scared to give you my thinking.  Because there is some!

I’ve decided to call these little case studies “stories from the drawing board” because that’s what they are.  Tales of how I took a marketing problem and turned it into a story that sells.  To view them click on the links below…

Stories from the drawing board:

Halcyon Bespoke Travel – painting pictures in words

Ultimate Finance – poster on side of M25


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Halcyon Bespoke Travel – painting pictures in words

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I do a lot of work for upmarket companies in the travel and leisure markets.  This involves capturing the unique spirit of a particular destination and evoking an experience in a way that readers will find irresistibly inviting.

Halcyon Collections have put their new Passport online – I’d checked the proofs before it went to print, but I’ve just had my first sight of the completed job (albeit in electronic format).

Who are Halcyon?

David Eck was Vice President of Marketing at Red Carnation Hotels and I worked with him for about four years, writing their web copy, blogs, e-shots, press releases, brochures and all the other things that come under the heading of marketing comms.

When he set up Halcyon Collections with Ali a couple of years ago I was delighted to be invited to help on the writing side of things.

The overall challenge

Between them David and Ali have huge experience of the holidays and travel business.  With Halcyon they offer bespoke itineraries for those who want to enjoy the most inspiring adventures and extraordinary experiences that the world has to offer.

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What they don’t have, however, is unlimited resources and cash.  They put in what you could term “sweat equity” – huge amounts of their own time and effort to get the business up and running.  A big part of that has involved creating marketing communications that reflect the quality of the offering.  That’s incredibly tough when it’s just two of you, you have to do everything yourself, and you don’t have a backer with deep pockets.

My help has been limited to assisting them produce the Halcyon Passport – a taster of what kind of properties they partner with and the type of bespoke and unique itineraries they can create.  The first edition was 86 pages and covered Africa, the Indian Ocean and subcontinent, the United Arab Emirates and Europe.  The second edition is 200 pages and covers most of the world.

Five people who know what they are doing

This was a team effort.  David and Ali, using their existing relationships, and forging new ones, assembled an impressive collection of hotels and destinations that wanted to partner with them and be included.  Then they had to collect the raw content (information and pictures) from all those organisations (a hugely time-consuming administrative challenge).  The design work (the leather cover with logo imprinted into the surface, and the layout of all the pages) and print management was handled by my good friends at db communication by design (again, very challenging, requiring terrific attention to detail and a great “eye”).

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I think you’ll agree that the results look amazing.  These are publications of the highest quality and stand alongside some of the best travel & leisure literature being produced today by market leading companies with large in-house teams, famous design and branding consultancies and mega budgets.  It just shows what can be achieved when you have five really experienced people who know exactly what they are doing.

My bit

I did the writing.  But let me explain what that involved (so I take credit for what I did, but not for the stuff I didn’t).

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I quite often get briefed by people who say something along the lines of “I’m pretty good at writing, but I just don’t have the time on this project” (this was NOT the case here – David is good at writing and he did do some of it on the second edition, as I’ll explain).  Good writing is easy to read, and flows effortlessly.  Those who glibly assume they can do it often under estimate just how hard it is to achieve this – there’s more going on than they realise.

120 words x 200, and different every time

First of all there’s the fact that each partner sent very different content, ranging from just a few words that said very little, up to 1,000 word essays.  I had to turn each of these into pages of about 120 words, in a style that was consistent.

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This generally involved a complete re-write, using their website as the source (because the text we received was often supplied by those for whom English was a second language).  You have to capture what’s unique about the experience on offer whilst giving some specific information about the location, accommodation, facilities, activities, wining and dining.

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It has to be evocative and fresh, without lapsing into clichés or painting the prose too purple.  In the first edition I did all the destinations but for the second edition, with 200 pages, David did a lot too.

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I can resist anything except temptation

Then there are the introductory pages at the start of the Passport.  These are tricky in that the product will be different for everyone – each itinerary is individually designed, and much of the value is in the personal service.  The challenge is to draw the reader in and appeal directly to their emotions.  You have to pull hard on the heart strings, but without being clumsy.  The touch has to be light, but actually quite forceful – otherwise people will just get a nice warm feeling but not actually do anything!

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Smoothly does it

Then you have to move on and start talking about the specific features of the service.  It’s a gear change in the writing, but without there being an awkward transition.  If you are promising elegance, comfort and sophistication then the writing must proceed gracefully and flow effortlessly.

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In the second edition I also had to paint mini-portraits of Ali and David.  The art here is to quickly give their background in such a way that their unique personalities come across in a winning way – personal service is not very appealing unless you get a great feeling about the person who will be offering it!

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Continental drift – in 160 words

Then there are the pages which introduce each continent.  You try summing up the unique appeal of India, the cultures, heritage, religions, peoples, landscapes, festivals, architecture, tastes and colours in just 160 words.  And making it vivid, inviting and compelling, without appearing to try too hard.  Oh, and don’t forget Sri Lanka and all those islands across the Indian Ocean.

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Good, done that?  Now do the same for the Americas, both north and south, in another 160 words, lightly skipping from the Canadian Rockies to the Amazon Rainforest and the islands of the Caribbean to the ancient ruins of the Aztecs.

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Next, the Far East.

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And then Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the pacific islands like Fiji.

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Then Europe and the UK – an area with more than its fair share of variety and history.  Finally, can you wrap up Africa, from cosmopolitan Cape Town to the archaeological sites of the Sudan and the remoteness of the Okavango to the teeming bazaars of Morocco?

Days of wonder, conjured up in words

Finally there are the itineraries.  These are tough, because they have to cram in the maximum detail in the fewest number of words.  There’s a price quoted on the page so you have to get in as much as you can, without it just becoming a boring list.

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So, just one example of how I approach the challenge of selling luxurious travel experiences.  If you’d like to see the complete job in flipbook form, click here.  To read words on the pages featured above more clearly just click on images.



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The sincerest form of flattery


Copying – if someone nicks your words they must think those words are good.

So I was gratified to hear from upmarket chauffeuring company Sybaris that whole sections of their website, written by yours truly, have recently appeared on two competitor websites.

One of the competitors was known to them, and apologised – it appears the web design company they employed just saved time and effort by cutting and pasting.  The other case is “progressing”.

OK, I can laugh about it.  But, joking aside, this is serious problem.  Because if copy that’s original is then taken by others, the text is identified by Google as “plagiarised”- and there’s a danger that Google will penalise all of the sites with these identical words (including the one with the original text) in its search results.

So, those paying for original content lose out.  And those who think they are paying for original content lose out also.  And copywriters lose out because there’s less writing going on (hey, why pay when you have copy and paste?!).

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Marketing by numbers – why you end up with nought


I’ve just read Watertight Marketing by Bryony Thomas.  It’s good – full of excellent practical advice on how to tighten up your marketing to get a better return on your investment.  But, like a huge number of other marketing books, courses and seminars that present a system for success, it fills me with misgivings.

I’m not picking on this book in particular – it’s just a good (as in “one of the better ones” and “representative”) example of a type.  It’s the type, as a whole, that I have a problem with.

These “How to…” books are useful.  But only as far as they go.

As Hamlet says,

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

There’s more to marketing than these books would have you believe

Simplicity is seductive

The world is complicated.  People are lazy, so they are hungry for simple solutions.  Whether it’s losing weight, or winning customers, a simple system that’s easy to follow is going to be popular.

Marketing people have figured out this is what people want.  They’re in marketing, duh!  So you get a lot of books like Bryony’s that provide a simple way of looking at things, with simple diagrams, and a simple process to follow.

Her book is useful, because it gives you a clear picture of what it takes to put a watertight sales funnel together.  And it talks you through all the stages – “do this, then do this, then do this…”

Simple is what sells the book.  Simple is what makes it useful.  But, being simple, it has shortcomings.  In other words, the very thing that makes it good also makes it flawed.

Reality check

Life ain’t simple.

So just reading this particular “how to” book, and getting your head around this specific system, won’t make you a successful marketing practitioner.

It’s a start.  And reading more books like this, on “how to win with AdWords”, or “how to market with SMS”, or “how to manage your metrics”, and all those other topics crying out for a “how to…” guide, will plug further gaps in our knowledge.

They’ll give you a sound foundation based on best practice.  And they’ll help you avoid many of the most common mistakes.  You’ll be a solid, dependable and efficient professional, in a plodding sort of way.  But that’s not enough.

Invisibility is not the goal

If this is all you do, the work you produce will be formulaic.  Because that’s what you’re following, a formula.  It will take you to the same place as all the others who are studiously putting one foot in front of the other on the prescribed path.

In other words you are spending a load of time and money just to lose yourself in the crowd.

Deep purple

At the start of Bryony’s book she writes “If you’re the owner of a small business this book is for you.  If you’re a highly ambitious owner of a small business heading towards being a big business, or your goal is to build a business that sells for millions, this book is a must.”

In other words she’s primarily writing for “challenger brands” – something we’ll come back to.

If you are to challenge the big boys, and become one yourself, you can’t afford to waste a penny of your marketing budget (which is where Bryony’s book comes in – do what she says and you’ll save money).

But you’re also going to have to do something else (which is where Bryony’s book won’t help).  You must come up with a message that punches way above its weight – one that makes a big impact with a puny budget.

In his book Purple Cow Seth Godin gives loads of examples of small businesses that did just that, by being remarkable – they realised that to stand out in a world of black and white cows they had to be purple.

Does your marketing cause erectile dysfunction?

So you’ve got to do something different, something that makes you jump out from the crowd.  But getting attention is not enough – you’ve got to communicate it in a way that moves people, a way that wins hearts and minds.

Marketing is like sex – nothing happens till people get excited.  And if you spend all your time stuck in a bean-counter, task-orientated, box-ticker, don’t-think-for-yourself or colour-outside-the lines-frame of mind then you’ll never create a single communication, let alone a brand, that’ll ever make the earth move.

Define the problem.  Work out your objective.  Draw up a plan.  Use systems, formulas, step-by-step best practice approaches for all their worth.  But there comes a point where you’ve got to cut loose and let your imagination off the leash.  Otherwise all you’ll be is same old same old.  And boring as ****.

Two heads are better than one

What we’re talking about here is a change of heads.  Put your Mr Logic head on to do all the groundwork.  Then put your Mr Creative head on and go walk the wild side.  Where will you end up?  Somewhere more interesting than you are now!

Way back in the Mad Men era there were two characters who personified these two very different approaches.  David Ogilvy, coming from a market research background, was a methodical, analytical, left-brain sort of chap who tended to produce campaigns, backed up data and piles of best practice, that were hard to argue against – logical, but not terrible lovable.


Ad for the world's loudest clock?

Ad for the world’s loudest clock?

Ogilvy’s approach worked fine for big and well established brands that had lots of money to spend.

Bill Bernbach, however, was the exact opposite.  He was a genius at helping smaller challenger brands take on the market leaders.  Like Avis.

An ad that tries harder

An ad that tries harder

Or become market leaders.  Like VW.

Lateral not literal

Lateral not literal


How to turn a car made by Nazis appear lovably American shortly after the war

How to turn a car made by Nazis appear lovably American shortly after the war


Go forth and be creative

Bernbach’s words are hard to improve on, so I’ll just quote him.  “A company will spend years in research and hundreds of thousands of dollars to create a point of difference for its product, and then use run-of-the-mill advertising to convey that difference to the people.  Why?  They must know that if their ad looks like all others, their product will be classed with all others.  So often the words are saying ‘Look how different I am’, while the total ad says, ‘Pay no attention to what I say, I’m really one of the boys’.”

And here, for me, is the killer.  “There are a lot of great technicians in advertising. And unfortunately they talk the best game. They know all the rules. They can tell you that people in an ad will get you greater readership. They can tell you that a sentence should be this short or that long. They can tell you that body copy should be broken up for easier reading. They can give you fact after fact after fact. They are the scientists of advertising. But there’s one little rub. Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.”

In the same letter (his retirement letter, describing how he has been searching for people to replace him) he adds “I don’t want academicians. I don’t want scientists. I don’t want people who do the right things. I want people who do inspiring things.”  He complained that those who follow formulas exhibit “sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas.” They could defend their work “on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshipping a ritual instead of the God.”

In other words he passionately believed that great advertising, marketing, branding (call it what you will), has a soul.  Like great art, music, literature, architecture and even cookery, it’s created by people who first mastered the rules, then went off piste with a passion.  Think Picasso, Bob Dylan, Shakespeare, Gaudi and Heston Blumenthal.  Or, put it another way, you don’t get the Mona Lisa, a work of sublime mastery and mystique that transcends any explanation, if you stick to painting by numbers.

Mona Lisa picture credit http://chrispop.deviantart.com/


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How I became a top Muslim copywriter


A couple of months ago I got a phone call from someone wanting a Muslim copywriter to help them launch a new halal product.  I tried to tell them they had got the wrong number.  But they insisted I was the person for the job.  Did they know something I didn’t?  The answer is yes.

Surely some mistake

The person who approached me was a lawyer on maternity leave who wanted to use their time productively.  Despite having little marketing experience they had already got quite a long way with a website.  But the kind of site they had in mind was probably going to cost them £30,000 and they simply didn’t have that kind of money.  I felt I didn’t have the necessary skills to pull off this kind of miracle by words alone so, after several long phone calls, I turned the job down.

This still left me puzzled as to how they got my number.  Then, looking at the analytics on my blog, I spotted that one of my posts had shown up on a search for “Muslim copywriter”.  So, being pretty SEO/internet savvy (not) I had a brilliant idea – type the words “Muslim copywriter” into Google and let’s see what happens.

And there I was, on page one, about half way down.  (And I’m still there).

How come?

How wrong can you get something?

In the summer of 2012 I wrote a post entitled Why designers need copywriters – a cautionary tale”.  It told the story of a design agency who branded a data security company, called “Saracen”, by using images of crusader knights.  I pointed out that the Saracens were Muslim horsemen while the crusader knights were Christians.  This I felt was a bit of a faux pas, seeing as they were fighting on opposite sides, and that Muslims and Christians still have their well-publicised differences to this day.

I expressed surprise that nobody from the design agency picked this or even bothered to check it.  And amazemed that the client didn’t know what their own brand name meant.  My feeling was that if they’d involved a copywriter then they might have picked that up.  Because we tend to pay a bit more attention to the meaning of words, rather than just colours and stuff.  And we probably did English and History at A Level, rather than Art and Media Studies.  Don’t get me started…

The law of unintended consequences

So, if you type the words “Muslim copywriter” into Google this post comes up as about number six on page one.  In fact, considering the number of times I’ve used the term in this post, and the headline, I may even hit the top slot.  Which is a nonsense, because this is not my speciality (OK, I lived in Yemen as a child, but that doesn’t qualify me – and it’s another story.  Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you).

Postscript.  Saracen Datastore now have images of girls in white shirts on their website.  Not guys in chain mail sporting the Cross of St George.  And I’m now one of the world’s leading copywriters.  Ha!

Picture credit:  Brian


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