Old worry, even newer (and better) evidence

A few blogs ago, I wrote a rather anxious piece about the way that the “creativity” in advertising often tends to obscure the communication rather than sharpen or dramatise it. On that occasion, the single example I cited was a bus-back advertisement for Transport For London.

This was hardly “evidence,” so today I’ve done something a little bit more robust.  (Not a lot, but a little bit.)  I went through all 26 display ads in my paper (The Times, since you ask), and mapped them onto a classic four-box matrix, where one axis goes from “Not expressed with standout or originality” to “Expressed with standout or originality” and the other axis goes from “Not easy to understand” to “Easy to understand.”

Working my way round anti-clockwise from the top left, I found that 12 of the 26 – almost half – came out in the box that scored high for being understandable, but low for stand-out or originality.  These were generally retail ads with headlines like “Up to 50% off.”

In the bottom left box, I reckon there were four that scored low on both measures.  These were generally pretty hopeless pieces of work, like another retail ad that said “12 months of savings EVENT,” but was so badly branded and art directed that it was far from easy to see what kind of goods or services the savings EVENT applied to

In the bottom right box, I counted six where the attempted creativity more or less obscured the communication – for example, an HP ad with the headline “Flex, when in flux.”  Even after I’d taken the trouble to read the copy, I had no idea what this meant.

And then in the box at the top right, where everyone wants to be – ads with originality that were easy to understand – I counted just four examples.  Actually, looking back over these, I think I was fairly generous:  probably the best was an IG Index ad featuring a picture of a tense-looking bloke and a headline that said:  “Feel at home on the edge of your seat.  LIVE EVERY TRADE.”  No?  Well, suit yourself.

So, to sum up, I suppose I’ve imagined for as long as I’ve been connected with advertising that the first priority of the creative people is to find ways of adding interest, involvement, distinctiveness and memorability without any loss – in fact, if possible, with a gain – in clarity of communication.  In fact, however, in today’s Times, only four out of 26 ads could be said to do this:  12 didn’t really bother with any of the distinctiveness stuff, and 10 seemed to try but fail.

Excluding the idea that it was a freak edition of The Times, I think this ad-count leaves only two possibilities:

1.  Creative people aren’t very good at delivering on their job descriptions.

2.  The job description I’ve believed we’ve all been working to for all these years is wrong.

Hmm.  Not sure which I like less, really.




I don’t know if the Scots will vote yes. But I know who to blame if they do.

Actually, to be honest, I’m not sure if “blame” comes into it.  Personally, I’m not bothered either way whether they stay or go.  If they go, I’m sure there’ll be a couple of tricky years while we unscramble it all. But after that, assuming they (re)enter the EU, Scotland will feel about as “foreign” as France, where I’ve just spent the last couple of months, or Ireland, where I’m delighted to have a client who asks me to visit one of my very favourite cities, Dublin, pretty frequently.  And that’s to say not very foreign at all.

But anyway.  There are lots of reasons, some rational and many emotional, why the Scots may vote as they will.  But I’d be sure they’d vote to stay part of the Union, and by large margin, if it hadn’t been for that evil and stupid woman Margaret Thatcher.

If you were anything politically except a Conservative, I don’t suppose you ever liked living under a Conservative government very much.  But if you say – somewhat simplistically – that most of the major building-blocks of post-war society were put in place by the Attlee Labour government between 1945 and 1951, you can argue that several successive Conservative governments didn’t really challenge them very much.  By the time Thatcher came to power in 1979, the main parts of that post-war settlement – the NHS and the welfare state, nationalised industries, social housing, an economy jointly planned by government, management and unions, progressive taxation – were clearly still in place.

And the Scots liked it like that.  I’m not dewy-eyed about the Scots’ political idealism – a lot of their enthusiasm for governments of the left was based on the greater probability of big hand-oots.  But very few Scots are Conservatives.  The large majority supported – and regularly voted for – the kind of society proposed by politicians of the left.

Which, of course, Thatcher ruthlessly and systematically smashed to pieces.  I have never heard any politician in this country say anything even a fraction as chilling as Thatcher’s “There is no such thing as society” interview  (in Women’s Own, of all places, in 1987).  She meant it.  Arguably there wasn’t much to be done to save the heavy industrial base which was so important to Scotland’s economy – coal-mining, steel-making and ship-building were industries moving inexorably to lower-wage economies, and in any case North Sea oil miraculously turned up to take their place.  But the rest – nationalised industries, social housing, large chunks of the welfare state, trade unions, progressive taxation – were all put to the sword.

During its long period in power from 1997 to 2010 Labour may have done some good things, but it didn’t challenge these key outcomes of the Thatcher era any more than Churchill, Macmillan, Home and Heath challenged Attlee’s.  Thatcher’s Britain became everyone’s Britain.  And then in the aftermath of the 2007-8 financial crisis, the drive to austerity has -slaughtered many of the remaining fragments.

The Scots have never voted for any of this.  After being completely wiped out in 1997, the Scottish Conservatives have only managed a single parliamentary seat in the elections of 2001, 2005 and 2010.  (They only have 15 seats out of 129 in the Scottish Parliament, and if those elections were on a first-past-the-post basis they would only have three.)  And yet it’s all been inflicted on them just as it has been in Esher, Torquay and Alderley Edge.

So, for a non-Conservative Scot, a yes vote means that Scotland can come to the end of this hateful and destructive era in which massive and seemingly irreversible damage is done to the fabric of society by politicians for whom fewer than one in ten electors have voted.

Until Thatcher, while the post-war consensus remained largely intact, it was possible to see bouts of Conservative government as prices worth paying for a union which delivered substantial benefits, both tangible and emotional.  Since Thatcher, I’d have thought that for non-Tories, voting for independence would be the easiest decision ever.  I can’t understand why the polls are so close.

As I was saying before the pool interrupted…

Sorry I’ve been away so long.  I can’t really claim I’ve been on holiday, because Entire Workforces like me don’t really do holiday.  (I think I agonised in this blog a while ago about whether I should ever turn on my Out Of Office, and eventually decided I shouldn’t.)  But during July and August, while I move my base of operations to the International Office, I do cut back on anything which I consider non-essential, in order that I can max the time I spend lolling about by the pool, and the blog comes into that category.  And then of course when I come back at the beginning of September I’m incredibly busy catching up on things and people that may have been ever-so-slightly neglected during the pool-lolling weeks, so there isn’t time for a lot of blogging then either.

This is Sunday, and I’ll be spending a lot of the day working at this machine.  But as a result, now we’re back into much more blog-friendly territory – procrastinating like hell and still believing I can do what I need to do before the football at 4.

I’m going to write something about the Scottish referendum now, which may cause concern that I’ve forgotten what this blog is supposed to be about.  Don’t worry, I’ll be back on the financial marketing next time I’m here.  Although come to think about it, I haven’t done a football one for a while.