Somehow or other, we seem to have got on a roll

Yet another excellent new business win this week.  No, sorry, it’s confidential – as indeed was last week’s, and I think the week before’s.

We’re still waiting to hear on a couple of other recent pitches, so I don’t want to tempt fate, but it does seem that this year we’ve got on a bit of a roll.  It depends a bit on how you count it, but since January I think we’ve played 8, won 5, lost 1 and waiting to hear on 2.

All of this is in very agreeable contrast to last year, where we somehow managed to lose not just pretty well all of our competitive pitches but one or two uncompetitive pitches too.

Of course, at every point along this roller-coaster ride, one undertakes large amounts of navel-gazing.  But it’s an almost-complete waste of time.  You never really figure out what you’re doing right when you’re winning, or wrong when you’re losing (although I think we can safely say that our two worst habits are a) simply not spending enough time on pitches, especially time together as a team, and b) not always listening quite as closely as we might for clues about where the clients are coming from).

Statisticians would probably tell us that sequences of defeats interspersed with sequences of victories (L, L, L, W, W. L, L, W, W, W) are statistically more likely than simple binary alternation  (W, L, W, L, W, L).  Still, I think all of us in agencies still think – or maybe hope – that there’s some secret formula hidden in there somewhere, and that maybe just a little bit more scrutiny of the midriff may reveal it.

But if it does ever come to light, don’t expect me to share it with you.

“Only In The Direst Cases”?

Veteran readers will remember the old adperson’s rhyme:  “If the client proves refractory/Show a picture of his factory/Only in the direst cases/Show a picture of their faces.”

Times have changed. Refractory clients are not mollified by pictures of their factories, and in any case in today’s service-driven economy very few of them actually have any factories.  Nor do most of them know what “refractory” means.

But it’s the second half of the rhyme – the face-showing bit - that interests me today.  These days, it happens a lot – it’s pretty much the default approach – in one particular area:  advertising for investment funds, especially in the trade press.  Fund managers, almost always male, white and surprisingly grim-faced considering the size of their bonuses, look out at us from almost every page.

Unlike some, I have no major objection to this.  I’d prefer it if the general standard of the photos was better, but now that some of the fund managers are willing to be photographed doing vaguely daft and interesting things the ads are more rewarding than they were. 

I do wonder, though, whether the recent departure of Credit Suisse’s star multi-manager managers (??) Gary Potter and Robert Burdett, may represent a bit of a high-water mark for this approach.  To be fair, Gary and Robert didn’t often feature in ads, but Credit Suisse’s marketing and PR efforts were always hugely personality-driven.  “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” as the saying goes:  and Gary and Robert went.  And so did about 99% of their funds’ IFA supporters, and, I strongly suspect, in short order, about 99% of the funds.

In the end, as always in investment, it’s greed vs fear, although in this case it’s corporate greed vs corporate fear, not the individual investor version. Hiring and promoting star fund managers can help you bring in a lot of money, but your ability to keep the money will depend on your ability to keep the managers, or at least replace any who leave with equally stellar alternatives.  It’s do-able, at least for a while, but horribly stressful and expensive. 

In my jargon, what’s happening in personality-driven marketing like this is that the individual fund manager or managers are becoming the brands that are being built and marketed.  Personally, if i was the person responsible for expensive and important brand investment decisions, I’d prefer to concentrate on a brand or brands that I actually owned and controlled.

“The Beatles? They’ll never catch on.”

Just returning to those Money Marketing Awards for a moment (yes, that’s right, the ones where we won an unprecedented four golds last Thursday) there’s one category I’m not too happy about.

It’s not one of those where we were successful.  At risk of sounding pompous (but then again why change the habit of a lifetime, ha ha), as Chairman of the judges I know that we played by the rules, and in particular by the rule that says no-one must speak for, or vote for any piece of work they’ve been involved with.

It’s the Best TV Commercial category, won by Scottish Widows while Nationwide’s awesome Mark Benton “It Doesn’t Work Like That” film took the silver, or was it the bronze.  “It Doesn’t Work Like That,” IMHO, is one of the ten best financial services commercials of all time.  As a member of the jury which failed to give it this year’s top prize, I feel like the man at Decca who turned down the Beatles.  Or, to take another moptops analogy, one of the people who, by buying a copy of Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Release Me,” deprived probably the best single ever, “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields” of its rightful No.1 position.

To be fair, of course, the Scottish Widow is a very great deal more admirable than Engel’s ghastly dirge.  Actually, I can confirm this from personal experience, because in the best coup of the evening Scottish Widows cleverly asked the Widow herself to go up and collect her award from presenter Jimmy Carr.  “Her husband must have died happy,” he said.  He’s not wrong.  She’s gorgeous.

And the industry – including my fellow-judges – loves her as much as it loves the two previous widows.  They love her for doing simple, uncontroversial things outstandingly well.

She is, obviously, a great, stylish, sexy, memorable branding icon.  That’s all she is.  But in an industry that’s always liked the branding-icon approach, she’s indisputably the pick of a crop which includes a red telephone, a multicoloured umbrella, a black horse and Abbey’s fantastically dull red cube.

To my fellow judges, this places her a good deal higher than a horrible rude fat thug who, many fear, stands for everything the consumer most hates and fears about the financial services industry.  Sure, he’s brilliant, they say.  But why does he have to be so brilliantly negative?  Why can’t he be positive, glamorous, maybe even a but sexy, like…well, maybe like that lovely Scottish Widow?

Well, obviously that isn’t going to happen.  The next Engelbert might just  be a possibility. 

I feel a bit like The Lord Of The Rings. Or Titanic.

Great night last night at the 2007 Money Marketing Financial Advertising Awards.  Four of the eight gold awards, including the two top prizes – Consumer Campaign of the Year and Business Campaign of the Year.

This isn’t the sort of blog that’s going to get too triumphalist about these things – remember that no movie has ever picked up more Oscar nominations than Titanic’s 14, and it’s still a rotten film.  But when you say that your agency will try harder to find fresh, relevant and involving ways to promote financial products and services, it does help when there’s the odd piece of evidence that you can practise what you preach.

The winning work was our advertising and direct marketing for the children’s savings scheme Jump (Consumer Press Ad of the Year, Consumer Mailpack of the Year, Consumer Campaign of the Year) and our launch campaign for the investment bond Riley (Business Campaign of the Year).  If you’d like to have a look at them, you’ll find them here: 



Never heard of Rainham Steel? Not a football fan, then.

Anyone who watches football, live or on TV, will know the name of Rainham Steel.  Rainham Steel has perimeter ads at literally every single Premiership and England international match.  They’re not exactly complicated.  Every single one just says “Rainham Steel” in blue sans caps on a white background.  That’s it, just “Rainham Steel.”

Having seen a particularly dense crop of these Rainham Steel logos at White Hart Lane on Monday, today I finally got round to googling the firm.  You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a steel business based in Rainham, though in fact also in Scunthorpe and Bolton.  They are, I find, steel stockholders specialising in structural and hollow sections and also in reinforcement.

Perhaps more importantly, the history section tells us that the firm was started in the early 70s by “owner and current Chairman Bill Ives.”  I think perhaps this may give us a sense of who is signing the cheques for this very extensive (or do I mean expensive?) perimeter advertising.

Why am I bothering to tell you about this?  Because I’m really interested in advertising, and more broadly in brands, that appear to break all the rules.  Rainham Steel’s advertising makes little if any objective sense.  I very much doubt whether it reaches the right target audience.  And even if it does, as unsupported, single-strand representations of the logo, it doesn’t do any of the things we experts all think are important, like delivering a proposition or trying to differentiate or providing a call to action.   Many pundits would say that displaying a naked logo, without any trace of a reason to pay attention to it, isn’t even a good way to build simple name awareness.

And yet.  I have no idea how the steel stockholding market works, or who Rainham Steel’s competitors are, or how buyers make choices among them.  But in a completely weird and rule-breaking way, I suspect that Rainham Steel probably have given themselves some sort of competitive edge simply by means of weight of repetition and by single-minded association with high-level football (even though in fact I’m sure that the advertising has far more to do with owner and current chairman Bill Ives’s self-perception than it does to do with any considered marketing, brand or communications strategy).

I don’t believe that any sober and sensible advertising strategist would advise Rainham Steel to spend several million pounds a year on presenting their logo at what seems like every major English football match.  But oddly – and for sober and sensible advertising strategists more than a little worryingly – I have a strong suspicion that it’s working pretty well for them.


Excuse me. I said, EXCUSE ME. EXCUSE ME!!!

In the last couple of weeks, a couple of leading professional services organisations have kicked off new ad campaigns in the national press.   One is the beancounters and former clients BDO Stoy Hayward, the other the law firm Nabarro Nathanson.  Neither has huge amounts of money to spend, and both want to reach a fairly broad business target audience.  As a result, both seem to be using medium-sized spaces in main news in the quality national press.

They may be using other media, spaces and sizes that I haven’t noticed yet.  For all I know, either of them may turn up in centre break in tonight’s Corrie.  I have no overall opinion about their media strategies as a whole.

But what I do know is that these days, polite, well-crafted, reasonably intelligent medium-sized brand ads in main news in the quality national press are as close as you can get to a complete waste of money.

The thing is, amidst all the noise and clutter, unless you’re looking very hard for ads like these you simply can’t see them.  First, of course, you’ve always had the editorial to deal with.  Polite, well-crafted, medium-sized ads have always struggled to compete with  heasdlines like “Cricket coach Woolmer dies at world cup”, “Thief charms £15 million in diamonds from bank” and “Knife victim found in pool of blood”, to take three examples from yesterday’s paper.  But second, you also have to recognise that even in the so-called quality national press, the advertising environment is getting more and more like a Nigerian street market, with noisy proprietors of gaudy stalls shouting about their discount international call services, cheap mobile phones, high-speed broadband access, vitamin pills and miracle hearing aids. 

Decent, middle class, middle aged advertisers like BDO Stoy Hayward and Nabarro Nathanson, in their chinos and polo shirts, disappear into this melee like – switch of simile – a couple of classical guitarists at a Led Zeppelin concert.  They’re inaudible, invisible and, if you notice them at all, dreadfully out of place.

I think you can still make a brand impact through mainstream, main-news national press advertising, but you’re going to have to make a big impact.  These days, my feeling is that with anything less than full pages, and plenty of them, you run the risk of invisibility amidst the budget airlines, discount insurance, Dell computers and murdered teenagers.

There are obvious alternatives.  Even in the same papers, the business sections and a lot of the specialist editorial are still islands of calm.  But unless or until a group of respectable advertisers try to reclaim the main news environment, rather like those marchers in big city red-light districts who try to “reclaim the night”, I think it’s become a bit of a no-go area.    

Sorry, it seems I’m obsessed with long term care

Second entry in a row on the subject, and who knows, maybe not last.  There is a reason:  I’m speaking at a conference on the marketing of long term care tomorrow, where my presentation in brief will ask “What marketing of long term care?”

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, the industry has very largely given up promoting long-term products and services (life assurance, pensions, investments, health insurance, long term care) directly to the public.  I suppose if I had to explain it, I’d say that manufacturers leave the marketing and promotion to advisers, and advisers don’t do marketing and promotion.  Also, of course, one of the most bizarre things about these markets is that hardly anyone – manufacturer or adviser alike – has any interest in selling things to ordinary people:  the so-called “mass affluent” is about as far down the food chain as most players want to go.

Anyway, whatever the reasons, I can’t help thinking that the overall consequences are negative.  It just means that there is little or no counterbalance to the emphasis a) on the short term and b) even more importantly on borrowings and not savings.

This is of course an emphasis not just in marketing and promotion, but also right across the whole of society.  Instant gratification, have it now and pay for it later, is overwhelmingly the spirit of the times.

The fact is, though, that millions of us will actually need to pay for it later. For me, long term care is a case in point, not because I’m yet (quite) that old but because my mother and parents-in-law are gradually becoming more frail.  Fortunately, they belong to a generation that saved (or perhaps more accurately a generation whose employers saved on their behalf).  They have reasonable options, although for them and their offspring alike finding their way around this fragmented, unbranded, dodgy-looking cottage industry is still a nightmare.  I wonder whether subsequent generations will find it even more difficult.

Never mind the product, feel the health warning.

I’ve been meaning to visit the FSA’s Moneymadeclear website since their irritating advertising for it began, but I didn’t get round to it until just now.  I’m researching a talk at a conference about long-term care (yes, yes, I know, it’s not very glamorous) and the FSA website came up when I googled to see how readily information is available. 

There are moments when one’s worst fears are confirmed, and this was one of them.  Moneymadeclear only has three screens on long term care, and in a moment I’ll copy across the main one, called “Types Of Long Term Care Insurance.”  As you’ll see, this runs to two bullet points on types of long term care insurance, and then the entire remainder of a long and intenselt boring page on explaining the statutory documents, information and warnings which providers are obliged to provide.  Quite frankly, I find it difficult to imagine a more useless or disappointing introduction to the subject of long term care insurance.  And do you know, oddly enough, I’m not in the very least bit surprised.

Here comes the page in question:

There are basically two types of long-term care insurance (LTCI):

  • Immediate care LTCI – you can buy this when you actually need care; and
  • Pre-funded LTCI – you can buy this in advance, in case you need care in the future.

Firms advising and selling LTCI have to be regulated by us, or be the agent of a regulated firm. Regulated firms and their agents are put on our Register and have to meet certain standards. Always make sure that the firm you use is on our Register and is allowed to sell or advise on LTCI before handing over your money. If they aren’t regulated by us and things go wrong, you won’t have access to complaints and compensation procedures. To find out if a firm is on our Register, see Check our Register.

We require firms to give you some documents with this Key Facts logo which set out important information for you. The information is in a standard format so you can compare products from different firms quite easily. They are:

  • Key facts about our services – which tells you about:
    • the service they can offer – whether they offer advice and a recommendation or just information;
    • whose products they offer; and
    • how much you’ll have to pay for the service.
  •  Key facts about the cost of our services – which tells you about:
    • your payment options, and whether you can choose between paying a fee or commission, or both; and
    • an indication of the cost of the advice.

Once the adviser has ascertained that a particular product is suitable for you, they’ll also give you a Key Features Document, which sets out:

  • the particular features of the product;
  • how it works;
  • the policy benefits;
  • what premium you’ll have to pay; and
  • how long you have if you decide not to take out the policy – the ‘cooling-off’ period.

Do read them and ask questions if anything is not clear. For more information about getting advice, see Getting help. 

Absolute rubbish, isn’t it.

Something old, not much new, too much borrowed, critic blue

i’ve been writing my annual ISA Season Advertising round-up for Money Marketing.  This is always an interesting intellectual challenge, because I want the piece to be frank and not uncontroversial but at the same time I don’t want to decimate my investment sector new business prospects list.  (Hopefully I usually manage to keep my footing on this rather slippery tightrope, but there is the ocasional false step.  As a result of a misjudged comment a couple of years ago, I doubt if we’ll be pitching for Artemis any time soon.)

There’s also the challenge of resisting the temptation to overpraise our own clients for their incisive strategies, hard-hitting creative work and general all round wonderfulness, while at the same fending off large bunches of incoming sour grapes when it comes to firms who fired us, rejected us at pitch stage or refused to have anything to do with us. 

It’s just as well that writing the piece presents these challenges, because heaven knows that taken as a whole the consumer-facing ISA advertising market doesn’t present many.   There’s always a couple of new campaigns – this year M&G and BlackRock Merrill Lynch are probably the most noticeable – but apart from that, deja vu rules.  The usual suspects are brandishing their stars, planets and mountains.  L&G are yet again offering a refund of your first nine months’ management charge, which would be a good offer were it not for the somewhat paradoxical reason that L&G’s management charge is so low to begin with.  Fidelity, an organisation admired for everything except the quality of their creative work, have come up with some dreary and quite exceptionally unoriginal signposts.  The investment trust groups are battling on with their fruitless generic propositions.  And you can tell the market has been pretty good lately, because for the first time in several years there’s a thickish crop of ISA Guides from a number of IFA firms, which would be very useful to consumers were it not for the fact that they have all the editorial integrity of those guides to eating out in London which list all the grimmest restaurants and where, oddly, alongside each deeply untrustworthy entry you’ll find a corresponding page of expensive display advertising.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that everyone should change everything every year.  Those with strong, distinctive and successful formulas are obviously right to stick with them.  As for the others, maybe I’ve been doing this for too long.  But so much of this stuff strikes me as such a joyless way to waste money.

“Spare money,” and why it doesn’t exist

It’s something that I’ve heard people say in a hundred research group discussions. This investment/this insurance/this savings plan/this pension/this whatever is something I’d be very interested in, as soon as I find that I have some spare money available.  That’s the only thing.  The minute that I have some spare money, I’ll definitely look into it.  I can see it’s a really good thing, no question.  It’s just that I don’t have any spare money at the moment.

You can see where I’m going with this.  Claiming a lack of spare money is a way of saying that you don’t really want to buy something:  it’s not important enough to make financial room for it.

Many people in the industry think that consumers should make money available for whatever it is they have to offer.  Protection specialists point to the protection gap, and say that consumers should make spare money available to fill it.  Pensions specialists point likewise to the pension gap.  No doubt investment, mortgage and savings specialists have gaps of their own to point to.

Nothing wrong with advocating your own products and services.  But where many go too far is to imagine – as the protagonists in that discussion lunch earlier this week all did – that any consumer who resists their entreaties is an idiot.  Remember, there’s no such thing as spare money.  Consumers could spend their money twice, three times, thirty times over.  They all have to prioritise what they actually spend their money on.  There was a bloke at that lunch who said young, healthy consumers shouldn’t think twice about spending money on term assurance because it’ll cost them very little. He seemed not to have noticed that there’s a reason for this, namely that they’re extremely unlikely to die.

A 30-year-old non-smoker can get a couple of hundred thousand quids’ worth of life cover for about the same price as a Sky sports channels package.  Taking a perfectly sensible and level-headed view of the situation as a whole, I know which one I’d be more likely, and which one less likely, to find the “spare money” for.