Masters of the admonitory message

You might think this is going to be another FSA-bashing piece, and yes it is true that our friends at Canary Wharf can’t look at an area of white space in any of our marketing communications without feeling an urgent need to introduce some kind of new threat or warning and obliging us to clutter the space up with it.

But this isn’t about them:  it’s about taxi drivers.  The cab I just took back to the office an hour ago carried no fewer than eight admonitory messages on stickers attached to the glass partition.  Let’s see if I can remember them all:

  • no smoking
  • passengers are required to wear their seat belts
  • if you have a preferred route, please notify the driver beforehand (This in a particularly admonitory message with a bold capitalised heading “PASSENGER”, as if it might be wrongly imagined to address someone else)
  • if you wish to pay by credit card, NOTIFY DRIVER AT START OF JOURNEY.  A 15% surcharge (minimum £2) is payable.
  • longer journeys or bookings BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT ONLY
  • PLEASE KEEP YOUR FEET OFF THE SEATS (only message to include the word “please”)
  • Support Help For Heroes (OK, not really admonitory)
  • Cabs may not be permitted to stop in all locations, for example by cash machines.  Tell your driver if you wish to make stops en route.

Apart from making me think a lot of cab drivers could easily meet the key attitudinal recruitment criteria for the FSA, all this also made me think what an incredibly bossy lot we all are – never happier than when we’re hassling someone about how we want them to behave.

Taxi drivers’ glass partitions may reflect this trait in a particularly ugly, crude and typographically inept fashion.  But I suspect we very often do much the same thing, only perhaps a little more gently, when we try to shove people through our own unfriendly and disagreeable processes.


Come on, chaps, it’s time to start getting your heads round this stuff

Yes, I know, I live in a house made of glass from top to bottom, yet here I am with a rock in my hand.  There is so much about my own business, let alone my clients’ businesses, that I completely fail to understand, it’s absurd for me to criticise anyone else for the same failing.  But still.

I was at a partly-RDR-related event this morning (sometimes I think I’m at a partly-RDR-related event every morning).  At some point in the proceedings, a fairly senior retail funds marketing man said he expects the whole funds distribution marketplace to change dramatically when RDR is implemented, commission is banned and clients have to start “paying IFAs fees for investment advice.”  When I said that most clients will hardly notice the difference, he gave me a pitying look.

In fact, though, it’s his ignorance that’s to be pitied, not mine.  When it comes to the very small amount of business generated by ad hoc clients coming in off the street and asking for an ISA recommendation, adviser charging may have an important effect.  But for clients in longer-term financial planning relationships, there will be very little difference:  the only significant point will be that instead of telling them what he’s taking in commission, as he does at the moment, the IFA will have to ask them to agree to what he’s proposing to take as an adviser charge.

Once the client has agreed, the adviser will then take this amount, indefinitely into the future, either by helping himself to money from the client’s platform cash account, or by cheque rebated from the product provider.  As far as investment is concerned, the evidence so far is that the amount the adviser will take will more often than not be 1% per annum – rather more than his current 1/2% trail commission, but probably about the same as trail plus the occasional lump of initial commission on new investments.  All of this, from the client perspective, is less-than-revolutionary change.

Anyway, the thing is, there’s room for quite a bit of discussion and debate about what all this means – personally, I believe that shifting clients onto an adviser charging basis will be straightforward enough but maintaining the level of the charge indefinitely may prove quite tricky.  But at this stage in the game I really don’t think there’s still room for fairly senior funds marketing clients who still don’t have the faintest idea how the RDR changes actually work.

As I say in almost every blog, this small example reflects a bigger issue – in this case, the lamentable ignorance of so many clients about their businesses, products, competitors and industries.  Some, of course, are fantastically expert and well-informed, and I suppose more often than not it’s the more senior ones.   But equally, there are loads who are horribly ignorant, and I fear that more often than not it’s the marketing and communications people.

Over the years, I’ve learned to spot the warning signs.  If you’re in a briefing meeting asking questions about the product, or the key competitors, or the target audience, you’ll often find there’s a point at which the clients start a) becoming quite ratty, impatient and irritable, and b) getting a sort of hunted and evasive look in their eyes.  This particular combination – irritable and evasive – means you’re on the point of taking them out of their comfort zones, and it would be as well to stop now before things get embarrassing.

Ignorant as I am of so many things, I am nevertheless a curious person, and I am astounded by the lack of curiosity about the workings of their organisations, industries and markets shown by so many financial marketers.  How can they spend so much time in their offices and still know so little about what their firms do?

Sometimes, I admit, it’s a victimless crime.  Some of the knowledge and insight that I’m talking about is only really important for personal pride and satisfaction.  But there are other times when it really matters.  And I think that if you’re an investment marketer and there’s just over a year to go, not having a clue about how a transformation as dramatic as RDR is going to work is probably one of them.



Lies, damned lies and Trotty’s statistics

Veteran adman Dave Trott got things off to an engaging start at yesterday’s Financial Services Forum conference, making a lively if slightly whiskery presentation on the subject of…well, on the subject of how important it is to hire Dave Trott if you want engaging advertising.

You couldn’t help thinking it’s a pity that the main creative exhibits he uses to support this proposition – Knirps umbrellas, Toshiba – are now all about 30 years old.

But I must admit that  I also couldn’t help thinking that the more up-to-date part of his talk, a bunch of current adspend figures, were of much more debatable significance.

According to Trotty, there is clear if somewhat unspecified evidence that of the £11 billion or so spent on advertising, 4% is spent on ads that are noticed, remembered and liked, 7% on ads that are noticed, remembered and disliked, and 89% on ads that are not noticed, not remembered and so neither liked nor disliked.

These are figures to appal even the level-headed Lord Leverhulme, who of course said that he knew 50% of the money he spent on advertising was wasted, but that he didn’t know which 50%.  But actually, no need for the great man to be discombobulated, because fortunately Trotty’s figures are completely wrong.

In fact, their wrongness was demonstrated pretty clearly, if unscientifically, during his presentation itself.  Answering a question about Michael Winner’s erstwhile eSure campaign, he compared it to Direct Line, Churchill, MORE TH<N, Go Compare and  These advertisers, familiar to all of us in the room, alone represent well over 11% of the financial services category, so even if no other financial advertisements have made any impact on us at all the situation clearly isn’t as bad as he’d have had us believe.

Still, he’s a better polemicist than he is statistician, and although his numbers are nonsense his key theme – which is that we should all worry much, more more about impact – is clearly right.

That being so, it seems churlish of me to grumble.  Call me old-fashioned, though, but I’m always happier when the right conclusions are drawn from the right evidence,


Whose money is it anyway (2)?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a rather bad tempered piece about an Artemis Profit Hunter ad.  I said that the copy was far too self-congratulatory, praising the fund managers for their courage and determination and completely failing to recognise that it’s our money they’re being so brave with.

The weakness of the blog was that I didn’t have the ad in front of me, and couldn’t remember if the copy was quite as pleased with itself as I was imagining.  I now do have the ad in front of me, and here’s the main part of the copy so you can judge for yourself:

Adverse conditions are a fact of life for the Profit Hunter.  Trying the patience of even the most seasoned hands.  But for this intrepid band there is no thought of turning back.  Or wavering from their course.  You see experience has taught them that before long a brighter outlook will return.  Indeed their legendary mettle has been forged through years of triumph and tribulation.  And as ever more hunters join the wider hunt, they move forward shoulder to shoulder.  Jaws set, gaze steady.  Ever onward.

I think it was Woody  Allen who defined a stockbroker as someone who looks after your money until it’s all gone.  On the basis of this copy, it seems that an Artemis fund manager does much the same thing – just with more testosterone.


Source of personal embarrassment eliminated

My old friend Surrey Garland spoke at a recent event.  He was addressing a varied group of client-side brand, marketing and comms people, giving hints and tips on how to get the most out of the creative process.

Some of the audience dealt mostly with digital, some with direct marketing, some with brand, some with advertising, a few with internal communications.  In his intro, Surrey wanted to make one thing clear.  “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “What you do is all advertising.  In my presentation, I shall use the word ‘advertising’ as shorthand for the totality of the ways that commercial organisations communicate with their target groups.  The main disciplines and processes of advertising apply to all of it.”

I must say, these words had a near-Damascene effect on me.  Until then, I suppose if I’m honest I’d become a bit embarrassed about my background in advertising.   Hasn’t advertising become the dinosaur commununications discipline?  Isn’t it the one that’s inextricably bogged down in what is now an out-of-date “push” model which views ‘communication’ as being to do with delivering one-way, outbound messages – when in fact these days we reject not only a) the whole idea of one-way outbound communications but also b) the whole idea of ‘messages’?

To be honest, I’d become so uncomfortable with my advertising background that I had started to avoid using the word.  When asked about my background, I’d say I’d spent many years in “creative agencies,” or “working in brand, marketing and communications.”

Then, when Surrey spoke, I suddenly found myself embarrassed by my embarrassment, if you see what I mean.  Of course it’s all advertising.  Of course the basic discipline of advertising – figuring out what’s inside people’s heads, and figuring out how we can successfully change it in a way that benefits our clients – is just as relevant to any digital medium as it is to developing a 25×4 for a mid-market national paper.  No question that there has been, and will continue to be, a colossal amount of executional innovation – but also, no question that beneath the sleek and modern bodywork the underpinnings of advertising are still working as well as they ever did.

This new perception has given me a bit of work to do, mainly in re-revising some of those revisionist descriptions of my past career.  I’ve dealt with the conference biog, and the creds presentation, and I’ve made a strategic decision that I can’t be bothered to change the website again for the time being.  Oh, hang on a minute, I wonder what it says on my LinkedIn?

If you want to succeed in this business, either drop the “vert” or add the “isement.”

Just overheard a couple of young account execs talking about a phone call from a client.  “They need the advert by Friday,” one said.

I know lots of things in this business have changed and I’m falling into ever-greater and more present danger of getting dinosaurishly out of touch.  But I refuse to believe that the golden linguistic rule of advertising has changed or become outdated: “ad” absolutely fine, “advertisement” totally acceptable, “advert” an abomination that incontrovertibly reveals you don’t belong in adland.

I really do think there’s only one fund manager analogy left.

You’ve read plenty of previous blogs in which I’ve talked about how you develop retail funds ad campaigns that the clients will buy – you just need an idea which makes an absurdly flattering analogy with the fund managers.

The pioneering campaign in this space was Artemis’s Profit Hunter:  since then we’ve seen superheroes, a James Bond parody and various more ad hoc and short-lived concepts.

Where to go from there?  Onward and upward into new levels of sycophancy.  Henderson’s new campaign, launched a week or so ago, introduces an extended analogy between the fund managers and the most successful football manager of recent times, Jose Mourinho.

At the moment, it’s difficult to see quite where they’ll be going with this in the longer run.  The initial ads feature pics of Mourinho and headlines in which he’s saying suitably special-one kind of things in a cod Portuguese accent, but it’s going to have to move on.  We wait with eager anticipation.

As we do so, we worry about a few small issues that come to mind.  First, of course, we ask ourselves how well the analogy stands up to scrutiny.  Mourinho has won 18 trophies at four clubs in his nine years in management.  Trustnet currently lists24 Henderson funds (I’m sure there must be a lot more), of which just four have first-quartile performance over five years.  Frankly, this is relegation form and makes you wonder whether Steve Kean or Roberto Martinez might have provided a more accurate if less glamorous analogy.

We also can’t help worrying a bit, albeit perhaps somewhat pedantically, about the way that the campaign tries to establish an analogy between a single, real, human manager (Mourinho) and an abstract, corporate, collective one (Henderson).   I suppose there could have been a much more complex campaign structure in which each Henderson fund manager could have been allocated his (or her) own football manager avatar, but the wrangling over who gets who would have been extensive and some poor sod might have finished up with Avram Grant.  No, the overarching uberanalogy was the only available option, but there’s still something a bit odd about it.

And finally, as with all campaigns that bring together famous stars and anonymous brands, we worry about brand attribution and the danger that the campaign will forever be known and spoken of as the Jose Mourinho campaign, not the Henderson campaign.

But all these anxieties all arise from the assumption that the campaign should be judged in terms of its performance against its external target markets – and, as I’ve already implied, that assumption is quite wrong.  The campaign has already succeeded in its main objective against its main target audience:  the marketers within Henderson have been able to gain support for it, and a pretty chunky budget, from the fund managers.

In so doing, though, they’ve undoubtedly raised the bar for similarly-sycophantic campaigns in the future a couple of notches higher.  Where can we find an analogy more flattering to the fund managers than the Special One?  I can think of only one option:  in the next and presumably last campaign of this genre, we’ll have to liken them to God.


(This is actually from David McCann at Teamspirit, but he emailed it to me first):
The issue of performance lead advertising is as you’ve highlighted often one of lag… intermediaries like most of us are indeed creatures of habit they’ve developed buying behaviours over time that are hard to break, disrupt or even at some point influence. The issue I suppose it what is the purpose of advertising, is it to challenge their conventional wisdom of a brand or merely remind them of why they should consider a fund, or hopefully both?

The Market research often points to usage defining brand recall and recognition and the thing that most IFAs use active funds for is Alpha so it can seem like a never ending circle.

However there are always exceptions to the rule and the Profit Hunter is often sighted as one. However recently I’ve noticed that the profit hunter has continued to spend on non performance advertising when they have poorly performing funds… and guess what they’ve often got good performing ads, but they fall down the AUM rankings because they don’t have good performing products.

Apple didn’t win over the world through good ads, it one over the world through great products and simple product demonstration. In investment management performance is often a short hand for product quality and therefore a demonstration of that quality.

With out performance you’re left with only investment strategy, price and risk as determining features all of which are sector generic and not product specific. That then leads to the question of what distinguishes one fund from the next, and that’s where consistent performance against peer or benchmark helps. I agree that it should not be the only thing a brand says about itself but hopefully a brand is more than one fund?

Anyway I do concur with your observation, however it is a complex issue and one that needs consideration of on an individual brand and or product basis.

I’m pretty sure they’re dead, but they really don’t seem to know it.

The quote’s adapted from Randy Newman’s classic skewering of a dinosaur rock star, but it seems to apply awfully well to all those performance-driven investment funds campaigns still littering the pages of the IFA trade press.

At the moment, scarcely a week goes by without a pundit announcing the demise of the hot-fund-punting intermediary.  This week it’s the admirable Holly Mackay, whose latest Platforum research points out that a little over half of investment IFAs these days are relying on either model portfolios or the services of DFMs.  With the remaining just-under-half making more and more use of a) passives and b) multi-managers, there’s not a lot of room left for hot-fund punters.

But the ad campaigns carry on remarkably unaffected.  25 of the 30-odd ads in the new Investment Week feature individual funds, and the large majority of them carry the kind of shouty performance-based messages that they’ve been carrying, much to the FSA’s irritation, for 20 years or so.

Of course we all know that even after the locking nuts have been removed, wheels take a while to wobble off their axles.  This may just be a lag effect. But the fund promotion game seems so exceptionally reluctant to change that I’m wondering if I’ve missed something.  Is there some reason why carrying on with the superficially-obsolete form of promotion still makes sense?

If so, and if either of my loyal readers has any idea what it might be, I’d be most grateful to hear it.


Thanks to my left shoulder, I think I get this RDR thing

For the last year or two, we’ve all been blithely saying that IFAs are going to have to change their whole mind-set to succeed in the post-RDR world. This is clearly true, but until the last few days, I haven’t really thought seriously about what it actually means.

This week, I’ve spent 24 hours in hospital having a minor operation on my left shoulder. I’ve been extremely well looked-after, both by my consultant and by all the hospital staff who dealt with me. But here’s the thing: their focus has absolutely and 100% been on getting the operation done, getting me back on my feet and getting me off the premises to make room for the next patient. Strictly speaking, my consultant will have to see me once or twice more, but that doesn’t in any way mean that he has a relationship focus. His priority is to get the deal done and get on with next one.

Interestingly enough, in that respect, it turns out that his focus, and that of all the delightful staff, is very different from mine. For me the operation absolutely isn’t the end of the proceedings. On the contrary, the operation is the start of a lengthy and, judging by my current experience, rather painful process of rehabilitation and recovery. When they cheerily stuffed my pockets with ibuprofen and sent me on my way, their involvement was finishing – but mine was only just beginning.

I suppose that this is more or less the change of mind-set that we are now demanding from IFAs – a change from a world in which providing the product is more or less an end in itself, to a world in which providing products is just a beginning.

When I think how difficult it would be for my medical team to reprogramme themselves in this way, I realise that the demand we’re making on IFAs to do something similar is really a pretty difficult one.