Sorry, I’m perusing ads on the tube again

I recently wrote a less-than-enthusiastic blog about the Tube campaign for AEGON’s new Retiready product, or service, or whatever, saying that the “borrowed interest” creative approach, giving people marks for aspects of their behaviour while travelling on the tube, distracted people from the proposition rather than drawing them in any way towards it.

What I didn’t do, but perfectly well could have done, was to broaden this into a less-than-enthusiastic blog about just how many Tube campaigns do in fact attempt to engage us with ideas about what it’s like to travel on the Tube.  The Mars Bar has just turned up with a new campaign allegedly related to its epically long-lasting “Work, Rest, Play” theme but actually about the small satisfactions available to Tube travellers,  Nutmeg’s new campaign features ideas parallelling the ease and speed of dealing with Nutmeg and the ease and speed of travelling by Tube.  And there’s another current big consumer brand campaign drawing some other kind of analogy, but I’ve momentarily forgotten what it is.

Actually, I’m quite pleased that I’ve forgotten what it is, because it neatly supports my first point – which is that none of these campaigns has anything much to do with the brands they’re allegedly advertising.  These are, clearly, ads about travelling by tube, in which the advertisers and their products come a poor second at best.

My second point is that the enthusiasm of agencies for this approach is very odd, and as far as I can see pretty much unique to the Tube environment.  I can’t remember any newspaper campaigns which are about reading newspapers – how hard it is to find the weather forecast, or how satisfying when you successfully fold the broadsheet you’re reading in a confined space.  I can’t remember any cinema campaigns – well, actually, maybe I can remember one or two – about being in the cinema, and how irritating it is to be surrounded by people talking and eating, or why it is that popcorn smells like vomit.  And so on and so on.

It seems to be just the Tube that brings out these medium-related borrowed-interest campaigns in the creative teams responsible.  And I wish they’d stop – I don’t think it’s doing anyone any good at all.

If I was a Roman general, here’s what would keep me humble

They say that in ancient Rome, when a victorious general was awarded the supreme honour of a triumphal procession through the city, a slave would sit behind him whispering into his ear the Latin for something like “Remember, you are a man” (i.e. not a god).

I can’t tell you how many reasons there are why no such vacancy for a slave exists on the payroll of Lucian Camp Consulting (if indeed you put slaves on the payroll, which I doubt).  But probably the single biggest cause of continuing humility on my part is my clients’ and prospects’ remarkable reluctance to respond to proposals which they’ve asked me to send them.

Here is a suitably-anonymised summary of the current state of play (or rather, lack of play).  But just before I start, if you are by any chance a client or prospect and you happen to recognise yourself, please don’t be upset.  You’re not recognisable to anyone else.  And as you can see from the top and tail of this blog, I’m not actually complaining.  (Although a quick update wouldn’t go amiss.)

–  Large asset management firm:  briefed me on some copywriting in April last year.  I came back with initial thoughts in May.  We met in December, and they said they didn’t like the thoughts much.  We came up with another approach, and they said they’d send me some information so I could develop it.  22nd February:  still waiting.

–  Another large asset management firm:  made contact in late November last year to organise a meeting to discuss a big and urgent project.  Meeting postponed a couple of times but took place in mid-January.  Further information to be sent over “immediately.”  22nd February:  still waiting.

–  Mortgage lender:  I sent a short proposal answering their question on how I could play a limited role in helping manage their brand and comms in November.  They said they’d respond rapidly.  22nd February:  still waiting.

–  Platform provider:  asked for a proposal on some workshops.  I responded in early January.  22nd February:  still waiting.

–  New Investment Brand:  met in third week of Jan to discuss need for a brand development session.  Flurry of activity afterwards looking for a diary date, but couldn’t find a time to get clients together.  22nd February:  still waiting.

–  Large financial advice firm:  proposal submitted in late November.  Lunch with MD in early January, when he kindly apologised for slow response.  February 22nd:  still waiting.

I could go on, especially if I decided to bore you with smaller and more trivial examples.  (Yes, yes, I know, how much smaller and more trivial could they be??)  But enough already.

For the absolute avoidance of doubt, I’m not criticising any of those responsible for any of this.  I know they’re all working hard and under great pressure, and the reason that they’re not getting back to me, in most cases, is because the things that I’m talking about with them simply aren’t important enough to force their way up the things-to-do list.

Hence the Roman general thing  “Memento homo, Lucianus, memento homo” (which doesn’t mean “remember you’re gay”).




Ideas I wouldn’t have approved, #2398

Back on the transport network again, and this time picking on the theme of London Transport’s safety warning advertising.


When you’re working on a brief asking for a campaign idea which can embrace messages about behaviours which, though trivial in themselves, can do a lot to prevent people from coming to harm, coming up with that …WON’T HURT YOU construction must be something of a eureka moment.  These good behaviours, indeed, won’t hurt you.  And in common parlance, the …WON’T HURT YOU construction is, indeed, often used to encourage trivial changes of behaviour – PUTTING THAT EMPTY COFFEE CUP IN THE SINK WON’T HURT YOU.

But there is a problem, and I guess it’s the problem that arises most frequently when you use any well-known element – a form of words, an image, a place, a celebrity, anything – in advertising.  The problem is that while the element in question may mean exactly and precisely what you want it to mean, it may also come ready-packaged with other meanings which you don’t want at all.  Illustrating, I don’t know, say, an ad for a moustache-care product with a picture of Hitler may make perfect sense at one level – he did indeed have a glossy moustache – but doesn’t say good things about your brand at another.

The ….WON’T HURT YOU campaign is a long way from that league.  But the problem with this well-known form of words is that it’s impossible to detach it from a slight sense of exasperation.  PUTTING THAT EMPTY COFFEE CUP IN THE SINK WON’T HURT YOU is the kind of thing you say to idle teenagers who are irritatingly likely to leave coffee cups under their beds, or beside the sofa, or wherever they happen to have finished the coffee.

It may well be that London Transport does indeed feel a slight sense of exasperation about the injury-risking behaviour of its customers.  It may even be – at some sort of subliminal level – that this feeling helps explain why they bought the campaign.

But if I was still a creative director, then despite all the good and right things about the idea, this bad and wrong thing would have prevented me from showing it to them.

Castles made of sand (active sand, naturally)

Don’t ask me for the specifics because of course I can’t remember them, but there has definitely been an upsurge in the number of investment advertisements singing the praises of active fund management recently.

You can see why.  Ever since the RDR removed the commission incentive for intermediaries to recommend actively-managed funds, they’ve been stampeding towards passives like Clint’s cattle in Rawhide.  There’s too much money in active fund management not to put up some kind of resistance, so the admen have been called up to give it their best shot.

Trouble is, it’s an awfully hard story to tell.  The exact figures vary with market conditions, but over the longer term about 80% of actively-managed funds underperform their passive equivalents – and, of course, in a particularly awkward twist, the bulk of the underperformance is caused by the charges that the fund managers cream off to keep themselves in Porsches and Georgian rectories.

I was trying to think of an analogy,  and I was thinking that perhaps it’s a bit like a bunch of car manufacturers trying to persuade you that instead of buying cars with automatic gearboxes, you can maximise your fuel economy by buying cars that come with a bloke who sits in the passenger seat and decides when to change gear.  But on closer examination, a) this bloke costs a lot of money which has to be offset against any fuel savings, b) his decision-making is pretty rubbish and the automatic box usually judges the right moment better, and c) carrying the weight of this bloke inevitably reduces the car’s fuel economy so he doesn’t stand much of a chance.  This is obviously a uselessly bizarre and complex analogy, but it’s quite an amusing idea.

Pretty much the first thing that people are taught on their first day in advertising is that ads can’t sell a bad product twice.  I’m not quite brave enough to say that active funds are, generically, a bad product – although you are generally better off in passives, there are some circumstances in which an active fund is your best, or even your only, option.  But that generic case appearing in the ads I’ve momentarily forgotten looks – as far as I can remember – horribly thin to me.  I don’t think they’ll do much to stop that incoming passive tide.

Just remind me, what exactly does the word “simply” mean?

It’s funny, because I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.  For reasons far too boring to explain, I just read the section on the Engage Mutual website about their 50-plus life assurance.  The first sentence says: “Quite simply, our cover is a pure-protection non-linked whole of life assurance product,” which I reckon uses eight adjectival words before it gets to a noun and configures those words into four concepts of which at least three would have no clear meaning to the huge majority of consumers.

Nothing unusual or remarkable about the financial services industry using lengthy strings of words that consumers can’t understand.  But there is something a bit extra-depressing in that ludicrous “quite simply…”

If all advertisers had compliance departments

I sometimes think that about half this blog consists of ruminations on ads that I’ve seen while travelling around the London transport system.  Well, actually, not so much “sometimes.”  I’m aware at all times of the embarrassingly limited scope of this search for material.

(Just to begin, then, with a more cosmopolitan if somewhat random observation, I bet you can’t guess what product is featured on the main poster site closest to the main entrance to the international terminal at Naples airport, from which I flew home yesterday.  Can’t guess?  Thought not.  The answer is jars of artichoke hearts, not a product displayed at many prime outdoor locations in this country.  Just thought you might like to know.

Anyway, back to London’s transport system, I was in a cab earlier reading an ad for the taxi-ordering app Hailo, which is offering a £5 discount on the first booking you make as a customer.  The headline says:  “The easiest fiver you’ll ever make.”  Imagine getting the same headline through compliance for a financial promotion.  Easiest?  How do you quantify easiest?  Is it easier than, I don’t know, sitting on your arse in the office for seven minutes or however long it takes to earn a fiver at your salary level?  It isn’t really, is it.  OK then, how about “One of the easiest fivers you’ll ever make.”  One of how many?  How many easier ways to earn a fiver are there?  If fewer than, say, 50, then fair enough.  So, go on then, what are they all?  OK, forget that, how about “An easy way to earn a fiver.”  Now we’re starting to get somewhere.  But is it quantifiably easy?  Downloading and installing apps isn’t particularly easy, especially for older people or those with disabilities, is it, really?  Right, here’s my last suggestion, “Earn a fiver.”  Now we’re nearly there.  I just have a little problem with “earn.”  You’re not really earning it, are you.  And it’s not really paid to you as a fiver, and for many people there’d be tax issues if it was.  It’s really a discount off a cab fare, isn’t it.  And one other thing, under TCF, do you have research on the level of comprehension of the word “fiver,” especially among those for whom English isn’t there first language?  No?  Thought not.  Still, there is one word there which doesn’t raise any problems at all.  “A”.  Yes, just “A”.  Run that as your headline, and we’ll sign it off with no bother.


Fish spotted in barrel: pass me that 12-bore

Actually, as a metaphor for soft targets, I’m not at all sure that fish in barrels really do it for me.  If the barrel is full of water, and if the fish are lurking near the bottom, I suspect they’d be difficult to hit.  And if you improved your odds by using a shotgun, then surely you’d be in danger of blowing the barrel to bits in a thoroughly counter-productive and shoe-soaking fashion.

But this is mere pedantry.  What soft target do I have my sights set upon today?

Answer:  probably the softest in financial services, the despicable behaviour of the general insurance industry towards its most loyal customers.

It was a serious drafting blunder in the renewal mailing that highlighted my latest example.  In the pack telling me it was time to renew, and also that my premium was to increase by another 10% or so, MORE TH>N thanked me for my business “over the last 18 years.”  I had no idea that it had been so long – but, once alerted to the fact, immediately realised they must be crucifying me on price.

Eighteen years ago I’d chosen MORE TH>N because they had the best advertising (I think I have to point out that my then-agency did it), so, taking the same approach this time, I naturally went to Hiscox.  (Actually, my lovely wife will be cross with me if I don’t admit that she put in the hard yards on this one.)  And guess what?

…Hiscox came in a little under half the price.  Or to put it in cash terms, a saving of about £1000, and a lower excess too.

When I think how much money I’ve wasted through my touching but totally misplaced loyalty over the past seventeen years, I realise that perhaps that fish-in-a-barrel thing works better than I thought.  Like the shooter with the wet feet, my own stupid behaviour has done me absolutely no good at all.