What makes a great ad a great ad?

The danger is that it’s like trying to explain why a joke is funny:  in the act of explaining, you destroy it. And anyway, it’s not a question that comes to mind very often these days – you don’t see a great ad for weeks on end.

I think the answer is something to do with the combination of originality, surprise and complete clarity:  a way of communicating something which is completely different from the ways that you’ve seen that thing communicated before, but a way which is nevertheless immediately, joyously and rewardingly meaningful.

It’s what the great Samuel Goldwyn was getting at when, complaining that all the film scrips he was seeing were either tediously derivative or hopelessly obscure, he came up with one of the most famous of all Goldwynisms, “Bring me some new cliches!”  It’s a way you’ve never seen something shown or said before, but a way of saying whatever it may be which you suspect will never be surpassed, which sets a new gold standard for delivering that particular message.

And if a picture, especially when perfectly matched to a headline, is worth a thousand of these rather rambly words, then imagine that your client is Heathrow, and they’ve asked you to produce a poster telling families that they’re now going to find it a whole lot easier to get through the airport.   And ask yourself if, given that brief, anyone could ever come up with a better execution than the poster written by my very good and very talented friend Surrey Garland:  11379_sumservicebuggie_cbs-48sheet-crosstrack_no-crops.pdf.

Big day for Lucians

As you probably heard, one of my few namesakes – the great Lucian Freud – passed away yesterday. But I bet that when you heard it, or read it, or whatever, it didn’t make you jump like I did.  All of a sudden, everywhere I turned, there were people saying my name.

It made me feel quite twitchy, I can tell you, in a similar but slightly different way to the way that you do as a parent when you’re in a crowded kids’ playground and all around you there are voices calling out “Daddy!”.

You gradually get used to that, but this Lucian business was a new one on me.  I suppose it’ll carry on for a day or two – there’ll be pieces in the Sundays – and then the name will return to its customary obscurity.

I wonder if he spent his whole life being called Julian, as I have.

Meet the new website, same as the old website. Well, mostly

Everyone knows that in business you have to change your website frequently.

Mine hadn’t changed at all for at least 18 months, since the earliest beta-testing of the small start-up business that has now developed into the mighty Lucian Camp, Consulting empire. So I had a look at it to see what needed changing.

There was one obvious thing. Since it had been written and produced before the business actually existed, it was fairly reticent on the subject of clients. This was bad. Anyone visiting a consultancy or agency website and finding it says nothing about clients would naturally assume that it didn’t have any (which, indeed, at the time of writing, I didn’t). So I added a client list.

Apart from that, well, there were a couple of bits of copy that were frankly a bit crap – in particular, a not un-self-interested piece arguing that you shouldn’t let a little thing like meltdown in the global financial system prevent you from giving me work. So I cut the crap bits.

And then I couldn’t think of anything else to change, and anyway I had a proposal to get out to an interesting new-business prospect. So I left it there, and Website 2.0 is now up, and you’re very welcome to go and have a look at it, at www.luciancampconsulting.com. But apart from the client list (featuring a rather original new size-coding system), just don’t go expecting anything much that’s new or different.

Look, over there – I see an IFA wrestling with a genie

I’ve just been reading a rather extraordinary trade press article by the well-known and extremely reputable (for a Glaswegian) IFA Robert Reid.

In it, he says lots of things that I completely agree with, such as “We need to heed the perspective of the consumer” and “There is only one boss – the customer.” And “when it comes to defending charges, we need a better reason than that ‘we have always charged 3 per cent plus 0.5 per cent'”.

But – forgive the long quote – he also says:

“I am sure we have clients who look at our charges and wonder what we did for them this year. However, simply to link activity with value for money is to ignore the fact that the fee enables access to professional advice from someone already well-versed in your financial situation and goals….An IFA’s costs are about more than time on the clock. Some people will try to barter, but that is best dealt with by asking them if they would barter with their own services…

(In) a conversation I am due to have, a client will take this no-use, no-pay view, but given that we wrote off excess time when we took the client on, I will not be for moving my charging structure as pacification. We may drop the client onto a lower level, with no proactivity, but that will still involve ongoing cost as we do not offer the pay-and-play model.”

You can’t help thinking there’s a bit of a disconnect between those worthy comments about customer focus and customer centricity on the one hand, and then that blunt Glasgow-accented “we do not offer the pay-and-play model” on the other. You can almost hear that unspoken “Jimmy” at the end.

And I’m afraid that when push comes to shove (which it will eventually, if not for some while yet) it’ll be the customer centricity that will win out over the “we do not offer.”

In my own industry, marketing consultancy, and some close relatives like PR and design, in principle we love the idea of long-term retainers in which clients, sometimes for years on end, pay us money for doing no work.

In practice, though, these days very few clients – if any – are willing to enter into such relationships. And if any do enter into any kind of retainer-based relationship, even a short-term one, and there is then any sense that from one month to the next they’re getting either more, or less, service than they’re paying for, then either they or the supplier will immediately blow the whistle and demand some sort of recompense.

As a result, the huge majority of clients and consultants have long ago come to the conclusion that pay-to-play is really the only basis that works for a fee-based relationship. Certainly speaking for myself I wouldn’t dream of proposing anything else (or to put it another way, in Mr Reid’s language, I will invariably “barter” my own services): and, unsurprisingly, as a result, in the long run I wouldn’t dream of working on a blank-cheque basis with anyone offering advice or consultancy to me.

Clearly this blog connects with what I wrote a month ago, on June 16th, when I said that actually, in my view, the average IFA client doesn’t actually need much ongoing service or advice most of the time, and if advisers try to carry on charging thousands of pounds a year for doing very little except providing an annual statement and being available, they’ll soon run into trouble.

I’m afraid that in his slightly schizophrenic article, Mr Reid is trying to push the pay-to-play genie back into the bottle. But the genie is well over half-way out, and it’s protesting loudly at what Mr Reid’s attempting: I have a nasty feeling that by drawing attention to it, he’s only making the situation worse.

Why. Does. Dave. Trott. Always. Write. His. Blog. Like. This.

Everyone’s doing it these days – blogging, that is.

Very much including the veteran creative director and former iconoclast and enfant terrible Dave Trott, now of CST The Gate, who’s working his way through a lifetime of metaphorical anecdotes with impressive energy. You’ll find his efforts here: http://www.cstthegate.com/davetrott.

The funny thing about all his blog entries is that every single paragraph consists of only one short sentence.

It’s kind of like this.

Or this.

Or this.

As you’ll now be ready to agree, it’s incredibly irritating.

So I’ll stop now.

Well, soon.

But what I want to know is, why does he do it?

I can only think of two kinds of writing that routinely adopt this style. One is writing for small children who can’t read very well – the Janet and John style. But Dave Trott has never believed in patronising his readers, so it can’t be that.

And the other? Well, ever since the great days of the legendary advertising copywriter Bill Bernbach, working in New York in the late 50s and 60s, it’s been the default style for writing advertising copy. Ever since, hundreds, if not thousands, of lazy and unoriginal advertising copywriters have been happy to assume that a style which reads like a weak imitation of the great Bill B is all they’re trying to achieve.

In fact, of course, this makes no more sense than it would if every poet tried to sound like Chaucer, or every playwright like Shakespeare. Creativity, by definition, means coming up with your own way of expressing yourself, not just imitating someone else’s.

Dave, more than most, must know this. Even at this fairly late stage in his career, the former iconoclast and enfant terrible can’t just have decided to copy a style of writing originated in the States 60 years ago and, by now, completely exhausted of all traces of vigour or freshness.

So there must be a third reason.

The reason that actually explains why he writes with 100% consistency in this almost unreadably tiresome style.

I’d be grateful if anyone could suggest what on earth that third reason might be.

Nudist welfare man’s model wife fails to save newspaper

When it appeared in the News of the Screws forty years or more ago, it was immediately recognised as the all-time best-ever red-top headline: “Nudist Welfare Man’s Model Wife Fell For The Chinese Hypnotist From The Co-op Bacon Factory.” I tore it out and carried a copy around in my wallet for several years, I liked it so much – I didn’t even know until much later how famous it had become.

Today, it doesn’t really work at all. Who are these people? They are nobodies. Who cares what they do? Maybe if it was “welfare boss”, not just “man.” And maybe “supermodel wife.” But in the era of celebrity culture, prurient stories about nobodies – the kind of story a journalist can pick up for the price of a couple of pints in a local boozer – simply don’t sell papers any more.

This. I rcckon, is the fundamental reality behind the fall of the News of the Screws. In a world in which satisfying the public’s desire for prurience gets more and more difficult, the Screws went too far. Hacking the phones of misbehaving celebs, sports stars and politicians is fine. Moving on to the parents and partners of war and murder victims isn’t.

I must admit, half of me is still fairly mystified. The Screws isn’t really doing anything that it hasn’t done for ages. Red-top journalists have always paid policemen for tip-offs and exclusives. And as for phone hacking, surely it’s only the digital equivalent of the age-old analogue practice of doorstepping – the physical harassment of the bereaved and betrayed together with the use of threats, deceptions and emotional blackmail to try to get the story.

Indeed, when I come to think about it, I suspect that when push comes to shove, many victims would actually prefer to have their phones hacked than to live with Fleet Street’s finest parked in their front gardens for weeks or months on end. When it comes to media abuse, phone hacking pales into complete insignificance compared to how Kate and Gerry McCann have been treated over the last four years.

But I think there is an explanation. In films, when they want to launch a nuclear weapon, they have to enter a long and complicated series of numbers in exactly the right order: in a similar way, in order to rouse the British public from its customary torpor, you have to press a long and complicated series of buttons in the right sequence.

In allowing the news of its misbehaviours to dribble slowly out over recent days, the Screws hit all the buttons in just the right (or wrong) sequence. It was the Dowlers. It was the McCanns. It was the parents of our brave boys killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the parents of Jessica and Holly. It was the families of the victims of 7/7….hang on, that’s it, that’s the sequence, there’s no stopping it now.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the British public over the last fifteen years or so – since the death of Princess Diana, to be precise – it is that when they descend into full-scale sentimental hysteria, or should that be hysterical sentimentality, there is absolutely no reasoning with them. The fact that they’ve been completely relaxed about the News of the Screws behaving just as badly, if not worse, for decades counts for nothing. Faced with a tsunami of fury rushing across the landscape, all anyone potentially affected can do is to climb onto higher ground and wait for it to pass.

That’s clearly just what Murdoch is doing, aiming to replace the Screws with the forthcoming Sunday Sun.

When it appears, it’ll be interesting to see if it tries to de-escalate the prurience war, retreating from murder victims and war heroes to minor celebs and fading models. And – who knows – maybe even nudist welfare men and their model but untrustworthy wives.

Is Ned Cazalet right, half-right or wrong about this churning thing?

Apologies in advance if this blog seems a little esoteric – a contribution to an obscure and irrelevant debate about which you know nothing and care less. (Sounds great, doesn’t it?)

You know Ned Cazalet. Extremely punchy bloke, scourge of the industry. Never misses an opportunity to stand up on a platform and tell life companies, in public, how completely rubbish and useless they are – and then, somehow, secures huge consultancy fees for telling them how useless and rubbish they are in private too.

I have the sense that for the last few years Ned has either been slightly resting on his laurels, or alternatively and more charitably he’s found his big theme and he’s sticking to it. Either way, he misses no opportunity specifically to say that the very worst of the industry’s uselessness and rubbishosity is the way that life companies’ new business is made up very largely of churn – customers who’ve been switched, usually by IFAs, from policies with company A to similar but often slightly cheaper policies with companies B, c and D.

This drives Ned bonkers. The way he sees it, what happens in transactions like this is that the intermediary trousers a lot of commission, company A loses a customer just when he or she was about to become profitable and company B, or C, or D, spends a shedload of money to acquire a customer who, a short way down the track, will probably be churned into company E, or F, or G, or even back to A again, just before he or she was going to become profitable there too.

When Ned is on the rampage about all this, he speaks so fast that it’s hard to know whether one agrees with him or not. On reflection, I’d certainly agree to some extent: there’s certainly something wrong with companies’ business models if they structure their revenues so that customers typically come into profit in year 5, say, but typically take their business elsewhere in year 2 or 3.

But on the main point – that churn is a terrible, indefensible thing and the only new business worth talking about is genuinely new new business – I don’t agree at all.

On the contrary, as a marketer I’m very clear that for the large majority of organisations in the large majority of markets, the normal priority is to “churn” – that is, to capture customers from competitors rather than recruit new new customers to the product or service.

This is usually for one of two reasons. Often, the market is saturated and there’s little or no new new business to be had – for example, utilities, mobile phones, motor insurance. But even more often, it’s just incredibly much easier, more effective and more cost-effective to target consumers who already have a level of enthusiasm for your product or service, and are reflecting that enthusiasm by buying it from one of your competitors, rather than try to expand the market by recruiting consumers who are currently showing no enthusiasm whatever.

I’ve worked in the past, for example, on Scotch whisky marketing. I can’t remember what proportion of the UK population drinks Scotch, but it’s not a lot – say about 10% of people drink very nearly 100% of it.

The trouble is, the other 90% really don’t like it. The occasional brave campaign trying to persuade them that they do like it really invariably fails. If you want to increase your brand’s sales, the way to do it is to increase your market share (i.e. win customers from competitors), not grow the market.

Historically, the same has been true of life assurance, the sector that Ned was slagging off the last time I heard him speak. Persuading customers to switch to your brand, especially with a) the influence of an intermediary, and b) a lower price, isn’t difficult. Recruiting cold new prospects to the market has been really hard (and, in customer acquisition, “hard” is synonymous with “expensive”).

I think, as I’ve blogged on previous occasions, that this balance may be about to change. New online D2C execution-only services may become so accessible and engaging that new new customers feel much happier than ever before to approach the industry.

If that’s right, then the balance between “churn” and new new business may start to change in favour of the latter. On the whole, that’ll be a good thing. But until those new businesses and new technologies exist, I can’t see why it’s wrong to focus on winning business from competitors. Provided that consumers are getting a better deal (which, almost always, they are), I can’t see what the fast-talking Mr Cazalet is getting so worked up about.

Death of a role model

As my regular reader knows, I’m big on analogies. I think that analogies are a lot like shoals of shiny silvery fish, in the sense that they…no, that’s for another time.

A new one has recently come to mind – a retail business which casts a helpful light on how to get people more engaged with their personal finances. Only slight problem is, it came to mind on reading the news that the retail business in question has just gone bust.

It is of course Habitat, and I must say I’ve been quite impressed with the fondness and respect shown to the original mid-60s Habitat in the obituaries, especially those written by ageing journalists who were around (and young) at the time.

What they say is that there were of course furniture, kitchenware and homeware retailers before Habitat, but they were all overwhelmingly, well, brown. They were depressing, style-free places staffed with frightening men in ill-fitting suits, all dedicated to making your home look like your parents’ home.

In 1964, when Habitat launched, younger people probably didn’t really know what they did want their homes to look like, but they sure as hell knew what they didn’t. It was the perfect moment to present them with an alternative – and Habitat was it.

The main influences on the Terence Conran vision were actually Mediterranean, and that was pretty fashionable at the start of the era of packaged holidays to the Costas. But one suspects that the specifics were less important than the overall concept: Habitat was different, it was brighter, and it was fun. And, no less important, as the chain extended from its Kings Road starting point (and what better place to start?) it was available and affordable too.

When I come up with analogies I suspect I may have a habit of beating people around the head with their detailed workings. For once I shall resist this temptation, and say only this: look at all the direct-to-consumer investment, protection and long-term savings brands out there at the moment, and tell me which one is Habitat.

Here’s a clue: the answer is none of them. All I can see is brown (not actually brown, but conceptually brown) and frightening men.

Actually, on second thoughts, I feel I must make a second point too: right from the start, Habitat was as much about the presentation of the goods as it was about the goods themselves. If there’s one single thing that people could learn about from Habitat, I’d suggest it would be the Habitat catalogue.

Of course the pushback (as we used to say a few years ago) is that Habitat has indeed just gone bust. But on the other hand, that’s 47 years later. And the main reason why it went bust is that it delegated itself out of a job, so to speak: with 95% of the furniture, kitchenware and homeware sectors following Habitat’s example, its raison d’etre gradually chipped, cracked and frayed, a bit like so many of those earthenware chicken bricks, ceramic candle holders and Moroccan kelims.

Anyway. In terms of what we need to start properly transforming the direct-to-consumer financial services industry, Habitat is a new addition to a list that already includes Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Macintosh operating systems, the low-cost airline model of easyJet and Ryanair (although much more the former than the latter), Caffe Nero, Costas and Starbucks, the mobile phone network operators and, once, General Patton’s Third Army.

Having gone bust, I suppose Habitat can only make a brief appearance in the list. But it made a couple of good points in that short time, though, didn’t it?

It’s always nice to find you were right all along. Even about pensions.

I’ve spent the last god-knows-how-long trying to persuade all sorts of people – fellow-creatives, suits, clients, family, strangers on the bus – that it’s a privilege to work in financial services marketing.

The point I’ve made god-knows-how-many times is that the financial stuff we deal with really matters to people. It’s laden with more emotion, hope, fear, potential, worry and just general significance than pretty much anything else in their lives.

(I say “pretty much” because we know from the ONS’s annual national survey that the only other things that matter as much to people as their money are their health, and their families. Which, as I frequently pointed out to family health insurer HSA when we used to work for them, meant that they were dealing with all the top three.)

The point I’ve been making, obviously, is that there is so much emotional power in the subject of money for us to engage with, amplify, reflect, show empathy for and just generally connect to.

But sometimes, in my bleaker moments, I look at all the stupid boring cliched vacuous things that we actually do (like HSA, now called Simply Health, and that criminally useless “We Can Be Bothered” campaign) and I wonder if maybe the opportunity isn’t quite as big and important and exciting as I keep saying it is.

Thanks to Fiona Bruce, Hugh Pym, Robert Peston and colleagues, I don’t have any of those doubts today.

The 10 O’Clock News, last night: pensions. Lead story. Hundreds of thousands of people out on strike. The demonstrators’ vox pops full of anger, anxiety, emotion, concern. Pensions, it seems, can arouse strong feelings just as I always said they could – strong enough to provide the first ten minutes’ worth on the television news.

I’ve been right all along, I tell you. Right. Completely right.

And now that Fiona and the chaps have proved the point beyond argument, please can we get on with producing the great work I’ve been shouting about too?