The most boring things ever written

People fighting a continuing and increasingly desperate rearguard action against the FSA’s RDR proposals are still championing the cause of remuneration for advisers by means of commission, rather than the proposed switch to what the FSA calls “adviser charging” and what the rearguardistas call “fees.”

To this end, they keep on commissioning market research studies supposedly proving that consumers won’t pay these “fees,” so the whole thing will be a complete disaster for all concerned.

Honestly, I have never seen anything stupider, more transparently manipulative and boring than the findings from these studies.  I haven’t actually seen the questionnaires that any of them have developed, but I suspect that if I was designing anti-“fee” research I’d come up with something like this:

1.  Would you like to start paying large fees in order to get financial advice that is currently available free of charge?  YES/NO

2. If you had to pay fees, how much would you like to pay?  (SELECT ONE)

Less than £25 per hour

£25-£100 per hour

More than £100 per hour

That should do it – we’ll have clear evidence that 93% of clients don’t want to pay fees, and that if they were obliged to do so then 96% would want to pay £25 per hour or less.

You just can’t read anything more boring than coverage of research studies like these.  They tell us nothing about anything, except perhaps the not-so-hidden agendas of the people commissioning them.  And they’re useless and misleading not just because they’re so crudely manipulative, but also because they don’t actually make clear what’s likely to happen under RDR at all.

For one thing, most clients most of the time won’t actually pay anything that looks like a fee, in the sense of writing out a cheque and seeing an amount debited to their current accounts.  Advisers managing clients’ portfolios on platforms will take their charges relatively painlessly from clients’ platform cash accounts, selling down investments if necessary to do so.  And even when there isn’t a nice handy cash account, the FSA has made it clear that they will allow advisers to receive their remuneration from product providers, not directly from clients.

And for another thing, even if advisers may quote a nominal hourly rate for their services (and even if it’s a great deal more than £25 an hour), the invoice clients receive will not be based on the principle of time-based charging.  As far as remuneration for ongoing service is concerned, it’s much more likely to be calculated as a percentage of the value of the portfolio – an approach which, actually, when you come to think about it, looks a lot like, well, commission actually.

There are other points I could make, but I’m not going to.  These stupid research stories that I keep on reading tell us precisely nothing about what’s actually going to happen in the financial advice market post-RDR, and when this becomes apparent – as it will – the people responsible for them will have some explaining to do.  I have no intention of providing them with a ready-made and full explanation just so they can keep it on file until needed.

Why pitch work usually shouldn’t run

Moneysupermarket and its agency, MCBD, must be disappointed by the lukewarm reaction to their new Omid Djalili campaign.  I think I know what’s gone wrong:  they’ve made what’s usually (though not always), a mistake, and gone ahead and shot the script that MCBD presented in the pitch.

I guess there’s some empirical evidence for this, in that the pitch wasn’t very long ago and here’s the film already, but actually it’s the nature of the execution itself that arouses my suspicions.

When you’re pitching, you’re under huge pressure of time, and you have to cut corners somewhere.  If you think of the creative development process as basically a game of three halves – developing a nice strong original insight, coming up with a big idea and then, usually, showing how it can play out across an integrated campaign – then at least one of those halves is going to get a lot less than a third of the time available, if you see what I mean.

The new campaign has been congratulated for its insight – namely, that we Brits don’t like to haggle.  It may well have taken some time to get there.  If I then had the responsibility of taking this insight forward into a TV execution, and only had a week, say, or indeed a day, or even possibly an hour, to do so, I would write a script with a presenter in it, because they’re the easiest when there’s quite a lot to say and nothing much to look at;  I’d choose a comedian as my presenter, because what else can you do except try to be funny;   and I’d look for a comedian from a culture where we think people are good at haggling, so that he can act as a sort of ironic contrast to us hopeless Brits.

I don’t think anyone actually knows exactly where Omid Djalili comes from, and if they knew he was from Iran I’m not sure if that would connect perfectly with the haggling thing (aren’t they more about ayatollahs, nuclear weapons and stoning adulterers?).  But hey, he’s some kind of Middle East guy and they all haggle over there – remember the gourd-buying scene in Life of Brian?

Anyway, hey presto, a TV script, and hopefully the pitch timetable is back on track.  (What we can’t tell at this stage is how much time there was left to think through the whole campaignability/integration issue:  will future executions feature more of  Omid Djalili, for example, or will the campaign include other celebs from perceived haggling cultures like maybe Zinedine Zidane and King Abdullah of Jordan?   And what will happen in print, online and other media?  Will small-space mono press ads feature small and blurry photos of Omid, who at that size and resolution will look pretty much indistinguishable from Alexei Sayle?  Or will the strapline A Great Deal Easier – more than a little uncomfortably close to Direct Line’s A Great Deal Better, I’d say – act as a focal point for a much looser kind of integration?  We just don’t know.) 

We also don’t know if I’m right to build this tottering tower of speculation about what happened in the pitch process, and subsequently.  But what we do know is that nine times out of ten, for all the talk of selecting the right firm, and the right team, for a long-term business partnership, pitches are in fact painting competitions where the clients will choose the agency that comes up with the idea closest to what they think they’re looking for.

Nevertheless, very often, things happen subsequently which send the agency back to the drawing board – the idea researches badly, the Chairman doesn’t like it, it’ll cost too much to shoot, the brief changes, whatever.  But occasionally, the pitch work slips straight through into a finished execution without touching the sides.  And while it will occasionally be brilliant, more often than not it’ll have that moneysupermarket-like slightly-half-baked air.

Miracle somewhat exaggerated

Not unusual with miracles, you might say.  Anyway, in various pieces singing the praises of Aleksandr the meerkat, I suspect that one of the stats that I’ve picked up and passed on is the one that says his arrival on the scene has, single-handedly, shot from  fourth place to brand leadership in the price comparison site league table.

According to a full-page article about the campaign in the Guardian on Saturday, though, this figure isn’t entirely accurate.  In fact, is in fourth place in the market, with an 11% share, behind and GoCompare each with about 15% and the runaway leader, Money Supermarket, with 30-something.

I suppose this isn’t a bad performance, and according to the Guardian the 11% figure is a huge improvement on what it was before the campaign started (and, of course, there’s always the possibility that the Guardian has got it wrong and the share is actually much bigger).  What’s more, the very fact that these figures appeared in a full-page article about the campaign on page 3 of the weekend Guardian is, in itself, a remarkable achievement.

But for those of us permanently hungry for evidence that marketing and communications campaigns can single-handedly bring about huge and transformational change, I’m afraid it looks as if Aleksandr leaves our appetites still not completely satisfied.

Dangerous thing, groupthink. I’m sure you agree?

It’s interesting when meetings turn into sociology experiments before your very eyes.  I went to a big meeting this morning – I’ll have to disguise this one a bit – where a speaker presented the results of a pilot project to a large group of people who all supported the initiative, and wanted the pilot to be a success so that it would make sense to go national.

The thing is, I’ve seen string vests with fewer holes than the report on the pilot.  I’m not saying it was trying to hide the fact that things hadn’t gone terribly well, but it certainly raised many times more questions than it answered.

And how many of those questions did the assembled group actually get around to asking?  Yes, obviously, not a single one.  This skimpy, partial and wholly inconclusive presentation was greeted with wild cries of enthusiasm, with everyone present trying to outdo everyone else in adding their own note of acclaim.

I should emphasise that the people in the audience this morning didn’t actually have any executive responsibility for the project, and had no direct control over whether it goes ahead or not.  Maybe if they did, and it was their multi-millions of pounds at stake, they’d have reacted a bit more cautiously. 

But I must say, from now on, on the fairly frequent occasions when I see a hopelessly misconceived new product or service and find myself wondering how on earth a group of intelligent and conscientious people could possibly have failed to see the hopelessess of the position, I’ll remember that group this morning and the way they were all happy – no, make that the way we were all happy – to keep our more difficult questions and challenges to ourselves, and join in the general hoopla.

Oh no, we’re going to have to deal with some change

Honest, guv, I love change, me – I mean, even within the last year or so I’ve started wearing socks with coloured toes and heels.

Still, the truth is, much as I may sing its praises to clients, most of the time it makes me as twitchy as anyone else.  Especially when it affects my blog, as it does now.

If you’ve been used to accessing this blog through, you’ll have to find another way, because doesn’t exist any more.

The change-averse among you can continue to get to it via; those poised half-way between traditionalism and modernity can find it on my LinkedIn page;  and novelty seekers will find that as of today, you can get there via a new web address,  So there are still plenty of ways of getting here.

But the one which I’ve always used myself, and I suspect that a high proportion of readers have too, doesn’t work any more.  Which means that whoever you are, the chances are that you’re not reading this. 

Not much point in continuing to write it, then. 

That was quick: I already have a good thing to say about 2010

This is, of course, that it’s not 2009.  I can’t think of a year that I’ve been gladder to see the back of.  If indeed there is a word “gladder.”  And if you can finish a sentence with “back of.”

So, welcome, 2010.  It’s equally true to say that I can’t think of a year that I’ve been gladder to see the front of.  (Needless to say, the same grammatical caveats apply.)