Category: Marketing

Are we giving up on intensity?


Back in 1986, Stephen King wrote about what he believed made for a good advertising idea:

A good advertising idea has to be original enough to stimulate people and draw an intense response from them… Any advertisement is competing not just with other advertisements but also with editorial, programmes, people, events and life itself… if an advertisement is to succeed it has to involve the receiver and entice him into participating actively in whatever is being communicated about the brand”

Ripple dissolve to the present day…

The daily need for new content”

Creating more work for less money”

Stories are superior to ads”

In the whole history of mass advertising, the number of transformative ideas that have created wealth via advertising you can count on one set of fingers and toes”

It’s about delivering relevant content at the right time”

Now of course the media landscape is shifting beneath our feet.

Of course we must think about the new ways we can and must connect people to what we make.

Of course we must work on new stages.

Create new shapes for new spaces.

And new experiences for new kinds of attention.

But when did it happen?

When did we give up on intensity?

When did we decide that trading intensity of response for reach was the great leap forwards for marketing communications?

When did we become so fixated upon production and distribution efficiencies that we stopped asking ourselves what kind of ideas the world needs?

When did we fall out of love with ideas?

When did we mistake borrowing the reach of celebrities (sorry, influencers) and packaging it up in hyper-relevant mediocrity as the great, necessary innovation in marketing communications?

When did we decide we need to bring so little to the table?

When did we decide that a steady stream of assiduously targeted, contextually relevant wallpaper was the way to go?

When did we decide that the measure of success was production efficiencies?

When did we decide that striving for media efficiencies was preferable to striving for behavioral change and real businesses effectiveness?

When did we decide that always having nothing to say was preferable to sometimes actually having something to say?

When did we fall for the siren call of infinite inventory and conclude that we must fill it?

When did quantity become more desirable than quality?

When did we conclude that the essence of our creativity was clever distribution strategies?

When did we give up on the idea that we are in the memory business and opted instead to be in the exposure business?

When did we decide that relevance was to be preferred over the capturing of imaginations?

When did we reduce the implications of marketing’s new-found “physical and mental availability” orthodoxy down to the mere need for reach?

When did we decide to vote for entropy?

When did we decide to erase the first lessons of branding – vividness, coherence, consistency?

When did we decide that the coherence and shape and form of a brand is worth giving up for a million tiny forgettable moments of cost-effective relevance?

Of course the media landscape is shifting beneath our feet.

Of course we must think about the new ways we can and must connect people to what we make.

Of course we must work on new stages.

Create new shapes for new spaces.

And new experiences for new kinds of attention.

But when will we look beyond the narrow horizon of reach and relevance?

When will we stop squeezing the idea out of what we call (without so much as a trace of irony) ‘content’?

When will the flight to quality begin?

When will we embrace intensity again?

Going beyond ourselves


Art is one of the prime ways we have of opening ourselves and going beyond ourselves. That’s what art is, it’s the product of the human being in the world and imagination, all coming together. The irrepressibility of the life in the works, regardless of the times, the histories, the life stories, it’s like being given the world, its darks and lights. At which point we can go about the darks and lights with our imagination energised.”

Ali Smith

Going beyond ourselves feels like the most urgent necessity for all those in the marketing community. And yet nothing is no guaranteed to shut out the world and close down minds as the institutional and intellectual paraphernalia with which we surround ourselves. Happily some of us are digging tunnels out into the daylight.

What does our talent serve?


There is a powerful, emotionally-charged moment in The War Room – the great documentary about Bill Clinton’s ’92 presidential campaign – where James Carville, Clinton’s lead strategist, says to the assembled campaign team:

There’s a simple doctrine: Outside of a person’s love, the most sacred thing that they can give is their labour.”

Andy Grayson and Graham North have recently written about how the advertising industry is wasting its talent. It’s a provocative piece that holds agencies (their dysfunctions and processes) themselves responsible for that waste.

It’s a good, smart piece, but the broad solutions they offer represent perhaps the smallest end of the problem.  For if we are wasting our talent, it is because of our assumptions as to what that talent serves – to what we devote our labour.

I’d suggest that our industry allows its talents to go to waste because:

It labours under a far too limiting definition of what it does – namely advertising (it also interprets ‘advertising’ far too narrowly, forgetting the origin of the word means to “turn towards’).

It defines itself by output (advertising) not outcome (the building of brands).

It confines itself to a sector that has been static for almost 100 years (since the 1920s, advertising has represented about 1 percent of U.S. GDP) and it ignores all the other aspects of company spending that help build brands.

It chooses to chase ad-shaped problems (invariably pressing and short-term), rather than searching for growth opportunities which brand building can contribute to.

And for the most part it’s still in the business of asset delivery, rather than the building of long-term platforms and systems.

I’m sure there’s stuff that can be done to streamline and modernise how we work (as well as protect the sanity and dignity of our people). But I cannnot help but feel that rethinking our processes is rather pointless if we also don’t think to what end(s). After all, if our labour is sacred, it’s worth spending some time contemplating to what we give it.

Are we making progress?


I came across a conversation recently between Phil Torres at Salon and Dr. Sean Carroll, a cosmologist and physics professor specializing in dark energy and general relativity at the California Institute of Technology.

This particular exchange caught my eye:

You also talk about “planets of belief,” a metaphor that one could have guessed came from a cosmologist! What do you mean by this term, and what makes a planet of belief “stable”?

Ever since René Descartes and his famous Cogito, Ergo Sum, people have sought out an absolutely firm and unshakable foundation for their beliefs. An honest poetic naturalist admits that such a foundation just doesn’t exist. We could, however unlikely it may seem, be brains living in vats, or be misled by a mischievous demon.

What happens, instead, is that we assemble together a variety of different beliefs about the world. To the extent that these beliefs are compatible with each other, we can think of them as mutually reinforcing, as if they exert a gravitational field that pulls together a “planet of belief.” A stable planet is one where the different pieces truly are compatible – we’re not just fooling ourselves about the consistency of different parts of our belief systems. If they’re not stable, beliefs that we simultaneously hold can come into conflict, forcing us to reject one of them (or just live with the burden of cognitive dissonance). Alternatively, new information can cause us to change our beliefs, as if a giant asteroid barrels into a planet and causes disruption.

As we get older, we tend to grow quite fond of the planets of belief we have constructed for ourselves. We build elaborate defense mechanisms to ward off attacks from competing ideas or new data. The system makes us comfortable, but resistant to change, no matter how much change might be called for.

It prompted all manner of parochial questions, for which I had no answers:

Is marketing one big, fat planet of belief?

Have we done enough to critique its beliefs with fact-based arguments and assaults?

Are we in the process of building the next generation of big, fat planets of belief?

Are we indeed, making any progress?


Perhaps somebody out there does.


Source: Salon, 08.05.16


Switching off the autopilot


He was thinking, not only dancing.”

So wrote Suzanne Moore, writing of the continuous invention and reinvention that characterised the art of David Bowie.

Thinking, not only dancing.

The words have rattled around my head since I first read them.

Thinking, not only dancing.

​And it prompts the thought that we should ​beware the organisation ​(whether we work in it, or with it) ​that does not have an intellectual life.

Now given that the word ‘intellectual’ is feared so much by those who like to present themselves as doers, makers and generally amongst life’s practical and unpretentious go-getters, let me clarify.

​We should beware the organization that does not at every level ​exhibit and encourage a healthy degree of spirited debate.

​T​hat merely absorbs the current orthodoxy​.

​T​hat feeds upon the speculation and ‘best practice’ of others​.​

​T​hat cannot accommodate heresy​.

That indeed, believes heresy IS something which exists.

And that is too locked into ​the comfort of ​habit to question ​it.

Of course the bigger the organization, the greater the need for process, systems, and rules.

Which presents us with a rather delicious paradox.

There’s nothing like size and success to make an organization stupid.

And while this is a paradox, it is not excuse.

The balance must be found.

The voices must be heard (and insist they make themselves heard).

The safe spaces and forums created.

The future must be visited.

And the experiments run.

 For the organization that can not or will not, isn’t merely dancing.

 It’s dancing in the dark.



Suzanne Moore, ‘My David Bowie, alive for ever’, Guardian, 11.01.16