Taxi drivers: the latest marketing channel

After attending my first TEDx event last week, I had so many ideas buzzing around in my brain. I’m still letting some of them percolate away, but there’s one I’m going to share. And interestingly, it comes from the organisers, not the speakers.

At the start of one of the sessions, this video was played.

TED is known for ideas worth spreading. Now, as the event organisers, they have control over part of that (the ideas), but the rest is up to the audience (the spreading).

In Buenos Aires TED came up with an innovative marketing channel to help those ideas spread: taxi drivers.

It’s a really interesting case study on the flow of information around a city. It challenges the way I view marketing. It has elements of viral marketing, word of mouth marketing, and is 100% not digital.

Next up: hairdressers.

Be brave. Feel stupid.


Holmes, Poirot, Bale?

I have a bit of a thing for Sherlock Holmes. I’ve read (or at the very least listened to) most of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writings about the character. The keen observations. The flair for the dramatic. The flagrant disregard for the rules. What’s not to love.

It often strikes me that ad planning is not so different from solving a crime. You start with a client. And they have a problem. They do not have the necessary skills to solve said problem. So they need a professional.

Enter Holmes/strategist. Listen to the problem. Dig around for additional information they may have missed. Detect for untruths. Agree payment and timescale. Exit client.

Holmes/strategist inspects scene of mystery. Consults previous case studies of similar instances. Analyses necessary facts. If necessary creates additional data points by speaking to people.

Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Sherlock Holmes, The Sign of the Four (1890)

This is, of course, an extremely simplified view of the world. But it does make me wonder if there is some framework for investigating a crime that may be able to help us as planners to systemise our thinking, and streamline the ad planning process?

Be brave. Feel stupid.

Let’s talk tropes

As of yesterday there are new guidelines all advertisers have to adhere to regarding the portrayal of men and women, girls and boys. After a rigorous analysis of current advertising, the complaints they receive, focus groups, UK and EU law and the social and economic context, the ASA produced a report on how gender is being used in advertising.

Photo by Michael Prewett on Unsplash

Whilst the report found that the ASA was approaching sexualisation, objectification and body image in the right way (i.e. regulation and policing of the rules is not too lax and not too harsh), they weren’t quite getting it right when it came to gender stereotypes.

The problem they found was that in some instances, they way gender was being used in advertising was negatively impacting the way we see ourselves, and they way others see us. The narrow way gender was being used in advertising was limiting the role people see that gender playing in society.

Advertisements must not include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offence.


One caveat that I will highlight here is that it appears that where the ASA refers to gender, they are using it in a binary sense. They don’t seem to have tackled any issues relating to trans or non-binary gender. Perhaps that’s a follow up report. Or perhaps there weren’t enough instances of non-binary in advertising to make it into the report.

The event was Chaired by Guy Parker, chief executive, ASA with keynote from Minister for Equalities and Older People, Christina McKelvie MSP, and a panel discussion with Rachel Adamson, director, Zero Tolerance, Brian Coane, partner, Leith Agency & Scottish Chair of the Advertising Association and Nita Patel, committee member and NED, ASA.

The line that I keep coming back to is from Rachel. She really bought the issue home:

There is a direct correlation between gender stereotypes and violence against women.

People who have a stronger belief in the stereotyped view of the roles genders play in society are more likely to commit or turn a blind eye to acts of violence against women.


That is a responsibility that we as advertisers have to take seriously. The reason brands use advertising is to influence people. And we must remember that we may be influencing people in ways we’re not intending. We might that think that using a woman as a the sole bearer of the housework is a way to identify with women that run the house, but really we’re perpetrating the myth that women should be the sole bearer of housework.

This bought the conversation around to responsibility. Who’s responsibility is it to change the status quo. Of course it’s all of ours. Everyone who touches that advert.

In a 2004 study my Drumwright & Murphy, How advertising practitioners view ethics, it was found that ethics wasn’t an issue that was on the radar for most practitioners. We’re not even trying to look out for the unintended negative consequences of our work. Ouch.

They exhibited “moral myopia,” a distortion of moral vision that prevents moral issues from coming into focus, and “moral muteness,” meaning that they rarely talk about ethical issues. We find that the reasons for moral muteness and moral myopia are categorizable. There were, however, “seeing/talking” advertising practitioners who demonstrated “moral imagination” when responding to ethical problems. 

Drum & Murphy, Journal of Advertising, Summer 2004, Vol. 33, Issue 2, p7-24

So what can we do? Look up from our own work and see the vast array of people that will view it. Speak up when we think something is amiss. Let’s not just bury our collective heads in the sand.

During the panel discussion, Brian encouraged us all to start talking more. Kick off the conversation. About the work. About our agency structures. About who we’re hiring. About the brands we’re willing to work with.

So often we’re working at such a pace, that things can slip through. You’ve got a screaming urgent photoshoot for a brand, and you can only get three pretty blonde girls for your advert? Not a good enough excuse any more. Let’s all step up. I dare you.

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Three things to do today:

  • Check out Dove’s #ShowUs campaign with Getty for stock images of real women.
  • Check your unconscious biases – we all have them.
  • Check your previous work. Put it up side by side. Does it reflect the wider society?

Something I’m really interested in is whether advertising reflects or creates culture. And the more and more I look into it the answer is absolutely both. It has to reflect culture to resonate with the target audience. But to be truly effective it must build culture; to differentiate itself, to be aspirational, to be pervasive. And that’s a big responsibility. Use it wisely, friends.

Be brave. Feel stupid.


I love this word. A declaration of intentions. A line in the sand. A legacy. To me, manifesto has Cold War overtones, with a hint of that one nightclub you could get into when you were 17. Or… to manifest the future in seven easy steps.

I was at an IPA Scotland event recently seeing out the old Chair and welcoming in the new; who just so happens to be my old Creative Director Guy Vickerstaff. Each IPA Chair has their own manifesto, and Guy’s, as you might imagine, concentrates on the creative department. Creativity 2.0 in fact.

Creativity 2.0

The agency world is shifting, and there is no that sees it more keenly than Guy, as the CD at The&Partnership Edinburgh, “a collaborative new agency model built by The&Partnership and Royal Bank of Scotland group” (I stole that description from Guy – thanks!).

And that means that the creative department needs to keep up. To keep up with changing customer demands. To keep up with the changing media landscape. To keep up with changing client demands (daily). And to keep up with the changing talent pipeline. That is #CreativityTwoPointZero.

Enjoy being scared and on strategy

Mother strategist Gail Anderson‘s talk on what kills creativity followed Guy’s manifesto announcement. She gave us a fascinating taste of how ideas are treated at Mother. With a reputation for original thinking, and edge of your seat creative, each idea gets put through its paces in a rigorous process that puts Army training to shame.

In order to not end up on the cutting room floor Gail gave us a series of examples of tests the creative must pass in order to make it to the client presentation – only the best of the best, such as:

  1. Would it make your mother proud?
  2. Would your taxi driver tell you about it?
  3. If you sent it in a group chat, would your friends want to pass it on?

Equally, Gail gave us the run down of ways that creative gets mishandled. Behaviours that, possibly accidentally, kill creativity. From brief creep (oh, can we just add one more thing…) to the quantum leap (of assumptions). And she wrapped up with the six habits of the illogically sane:

Enjoy being scared and on strategy

Illogically sane or just non-sense

I’m currently reading Alchemy: The surprising power of ideas that don’t make sense by the inimitable Rory Sutherland, and what strikes me about many of his brilliant (non-sense) ideas is the trouble he has convincing people to take them on. He says more than once “I’m yet to find someone who will… (insert bonkers but brilliant idea here)”.

He puts this down to the business requirement for logic, reasoning and rational thinking, and distrust in intuition and gut feeling. That’s why entrepreneurship is flourishing. Without a boss to answer to, or an appraisal to fill out, entrepreneurs have broken free from having to rationalise every move, and take a leap of faith on a hunch.

Strategy + Creativity = rational + non-sense

Enter strategy, stage right.

I’m interested in how we can help clients to be brave and buy better (if more bonkers) creative. To not always stick to the safe option. I sign off every post in this blog with Be brave. Feel stupid. A quote from strategy rockstar Mark Pollard. There’s something in the idea that to do something worthwhile, to be effective, you need to be brave. You need to do something new, and new is scary.

Gail’s team created the, now infamous, KFC apology advert. And they had to be bloody brave to take that to a client in the middle of a business critical crisis. She said they bought it because Mother have a reputation for taking risks and pulling them off. And they, excuse the pun, delivered.


Brave creativity

I’ve enjoyed the recent spate of brave creativity. It’s something that fascinates me. Taking the client on the journey with you is so important. To spend their budgets on illogical or non-sense ideas. To be held accountable internally. To be able to argue the case to their boss or The Board (scary…).

No one had heard of “banking” before we came along.

Santander’s latest ad campaign, the bank of Antanddec, is a huge departure from their previous, serious and benefits driven, creative. For years they drove home the 123 message for the current account – it’s all about what you get, endorsed by athletes. Now, they’ve moved in promoting their mortgage, and its brilliant. There’s no brand promise, no rates, no incentives.

Billy Faithfull, chief creative officer, Engine, added: “In the search for a little magic, you have to give every idea a chance to shine. Even the silliest of ideas should be taken seriously.

“So, when it’s thrown into conversation that Ant & Dec sounds a bit like Santander you can’t ignore that, it’s an absolute gift. It was one of those ideas that you keep parking for good reason, but keeps coming back, more powerful than before. And the more we let it back in the room, the more funny, famous and memorable it became. Nothing else stood a chance.”

The Drum

Probably not…

And what about Carlsberg? It takes a lot for me to be blown away by an advert, but I’m pretty sure the first time I saw their nw advert I was open mouthed. That. Took. Guts. It opens with “Probably the best beer in the world. Once true. But in the UK Carlsberg pursued being the biggest, not the best. And the beer suffered.”

Holy moly!

What a relaunch! And when I looked into it, this TV ad was a follow up to some more brave creativity:

Liam Newton, vice president of marketing at Carlsberg UK, at the time told The Drum through a “nerve-wracking” relaunch, claiming: “It’s been fascinating to watch the campaign unravel over the last week,” he says. “But in the end, it was all good.”

The Drum

A round of applause for Carlsberg. Let’s see if it did the trick.

My manifesto

This month I’m starting work on my dissertation, and my first job is to work out just what on Earth I’m going to write about. I’m studying Advertising Strategy, and my dissertation can be on anything that fits under that heading.

I’ve thought about following in Rory’s footsteps and looking into behavioural economics. I’m interested in the future of adtech, and especially with regard to TV (and can we give VOD a better name now please?). I’ve touched on the relationship between advertising and culture in a few of my assignments; advertising needs to reflect culture to be authentic, but needs to create culture to be pervasive (more wise words from Gail).

But I started this course to learn about strategy specifically. And it was that subject that intrigued me enough to start this blog. So, it would make sense that this is the subject that I write my dissertation on.

A framework

I’m fascinated by the process that strategists go through to get from client problem to strategic proposition. Is there a framework we can follow that creates a solid foundation to help clients buy brave creativity.

How can we show the thinking that has been done to get to the illogical and non-sense crazy creative, that might just be mad enough to work?

I’ve heard many strategists (including Gail and Mark) talk about strategy that scares you. Strategy that makes your uncomfortable. That’s what we’re aiming for – but that’s what clients shy away from.

The business of creativity

In business its seen as bad practice, or at least higher risk, to make decisions based on emotion or gut feel – but surely that’s what we’re evolved to do? That’s the decision making process we’ve spent thousands of years fine tuning.

In this brave new world of Creativity 2.0, how can we as strategists and account managers support the incredibly, scary and seemingly irrational creative that’s coming out of our creative departments?

Be brave. Feel Stupid.

Notes on strategy from people who know a helluva lot more than me

I’m a bit of an obsessive collector. If I grew up pre-screen-era then I would definitely be big into scrapbooking. Instead I’ve got rafts of links on Notes on my phone. I’ve got Pinterest boards. I’ve got WeCollect boards. I squirrel away information like there’s an internet ice-age coming. Here’s some of my favourite strategy moments from the last few months.

7 tips from self confessed adman Omer Azeem

The Almighty JWT Planning Handbook

Bow down and read the beautifully wonky typewritten text.

20 ways to become a better strategist from Doug Kleeman at Preacher

Read all about it here.

  1. Archive your media consumption
  2. Write your own textbook
  3. Go to a bar by yourself
  4. Meditate
  5. Set yourself back 40 years
  6. Make writing a practice
  7. Study shareholder reports
  8. Debunk your own opinions
  9. Follow creative visionaries like you follow sports teams, Beyonce or Game of Thrones
  10. Go for a walk
  11. Start an observation journal
  12. Get tactile
  13. Master the interview
  14. Write poetry
  15. Channel your inner comic
  16. Analyze the anatomy of stories
  17. Maintain logs
  18. Bourdain yourself
  19. Teach others
  20. Check-Out

Heed Dave Trott’s words. Always.

He says your briefs suck. And he’s not talking about your underwear. Probably. Some snippets from his article (but you should read the full thing):

  • The job of the brief is to change, to reframe, the problem.
  • Creativity is about solving a problem in a new way.
  • The origin of planning was to get upstream of the existing problem.
  • If we don’t have a problem we can’t be creative.
  • As Einstein said “If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.
  • Because if he got the problem right the solution would be easy, but if he got the problem wrong there would be no solution.

And finally… it’s all just about human relationships really, isn’t it?

Big shoutout to Olivia de Recat for visualising this beauty.

What have you done recently to get better at what you do? Or to become who you want to be? Or to be who you want to be? I wrote this blog, that’s what I did.

Be brave. Feel stupid.

Short thoughts: don’t be the radio edit

Brands always want to be the CD version, the version you listen to on Spotify: perfected, honed, polished, buffed, recorded and recorded.

Instead, aim to be the Live version. The sweaty, jumping around, yelling at the audience in a grimey old venue with sticky floors version. The version that people can’t access instantly through the device in their pocket for peanuts. Easily won, easily forgotten.

Be the version people travel for, pay for, drag friends along to, rave about, experience. Be the version that changes people.

Be brave. Be stupid.