Tuesday 27 December 2022

We weren’t so bad


As yet another year draws to a close, I have to admit that I’ve been having some angsty, existential pangs in a “and what have you done?” sort of mode. Not in a full-on George Bailey-James Stewart manner, but irritating twinges, nonetheless.

What am I still doing in this business, at my age?

Couldn’t I have put my education and talents to better use?

Why am I just a touch ashamed to admit, these days, that my working life has been spent in advertising?

Thirty years ago, in London, every taxi driver knew the name Saatchi & Saatchi. Respondents in group discussions regularly joked about enjoying the ads more than the programmes. Our agency hired Alexandra Palace for the Christmas party - and I nonchalently flew off to LA the next day on three hours’ sleep for client product experience with British Airways.

It’s fashionable to regard advertising as a rather sorry, grubby little business these days. The glamour has passed its sell-by date and attempts are made to elevate it from the snake-oil salesman via association with super-scientific data-driven rigour or a holier-than-thou world-saving loftiness. The rot set in already in the 1990s when Kevin Roberts proclaimed Saatchis to be an “Ideas Company” rather than an advertising agency. 

But now and again, I read an article which warms the cockles of my old ad woman’s heart. And I’ll end my blog posts for this year with this marvellous article by Tom Roach . Although the main theme is the much-hyped imminent death of advertising, the underlying message is that maybe those working in the business could be a touch prouder of what they do. 

How the advertising industry uses the power of human imagination for commercial impact should be something we’re all in awe of.

As a measure of that commercial impact, Tom quotes a Deloitte study which estimates that every $1 spent on ads generates $6 in broader economic impact. Not bad for a grubby little industry - one of the few true proven levers of growth.

The role we play in driving the economy, and therefore society, forward is something we should be proud of. We often highlight advertising’s societal impact when talking about social purpose, but advertising’s economic impact alone should be a sufficient source of pride.

Well, maybe if you put it like that ... I may hang on in here for a while yet!

Wednesday 14 December 2022

From Accenture to Zukunftsinstitut


Here we go again - it’s that time of year, when all the futurologists and trend forecasters and other shades of seers and sages get those reports out on what we might expect for 2023. There used to be a manageable handful of these, but now every agency worth its salt and pepper wants to have a go. Thankfully, these days, there are bright and helpful people who curate these things, or at least bundle them altogether on one convenient link. This collection, for example, is put together by a group of six strategists, plus various collaborators across Europe and Asia. They started their good work during Covid and have compiled the trend reports since 2020.

I hope I’ll get a chance when things calm down a bit to look at some of the better of these reports. But at the moment, it makes me weary just opening the thing up. There are 76 prediction-type reports and then, on top, 25 round-ups of the last year. Where to start? It’s at this point that I start to see the attractions of AI to plough through this lot and pull out the mega-ultra-über-meta trends.

Was it easier in days of yore? Well, maybe, as trend-forecasting was confined to the printed page - reports you’d pay for, articles in the better journals - and books. Queen of it all was Faith Popcorn (still popping around), and I’ve got here the 16 trends outlined in Clicking in 1996 - twenty-six years ago, before GenZ were born. ’Scuse the shaky technology:

Look at the first three. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was published yesterday, or at least some time once we’d got the worst of the pandemic behind us. Oooh. Virtual Reality! What’s that, then? Sounds new-fangled. Not that Metaverse business, is it? Where you can go on a Fantasy Clash of Clans Adventure from the comfort of your own Cocoon? What century is this, anyway?

And so it goes. Yes, it’s got a middle-class US bias, but ... “stressed-out”, “affordable luxuries”, “spiritual roots”, “personal statements”, “caring and sharing”, “warmly embraces the freedom of being an individual”, “busy, high-tech lives”, “simpler way of living”, “better quality of life”, “angry consumer - pressure, protest and politics”, “icon toppling”, “endangered planet, social conscience, ethics, passion and compassion” ...

One reason that Ms Popcorn’s predictions stand the test of time is that there is precious little mention of specific technology. The focus is not on what we’ll be doing, or how, but on the “why?” - the human motivations behind all this. 

Amid the change- and doommongers' obsession with the disruptive, VUCA, every-changing world, the panics, urgency and desperation, the conviction that things will never be the same again, it’s quite reassuring to pick up a paperback from the last century and realise that the summary of those 76 reports was languishing on your bookshelf all along. 


Thursday 1 December 2022

The new pester power

 In the old days of (ugh) Marketing to Kids, Pester Power was a well-known phenomenon: batallions of angry and sulky kids beating their hapless parents into submission to buy the latest Barbie, Lego spin-off set from some super-hero universe, crisp and soft drink flavours, sweets, sweets and more sweets - and, of course, mobile phones and all to do with gaming tech. 

But I noticed a subtle change in the nature of Pester Power, some twelve years ago, at the Christmas Market, where children were encouraged to write their Christmas wishes on a star, to be displayed on a wall. My son was still old-school at this point, with his wish for “Everything from Lego Star Wars”, but this rather greedy wish was over-shadowed by a mass of junior do-gooders, who wished for everything from World Peace to their granny getting out of hospital in time to spend a family Christmas together.

In the latest edition of Globescan’s Healthy & Sustainable Living Report (2022) we can see just how far things have developed. Pester Power has taken a moralistic and activistic turn: "our children are driving a sense of urgency about the climate” proclaims the writer of the report, somewhat pompously.  In the study amongst 30,000 respondents across 31 markets, 63% of those with children under 18 at home agree their children are worried about climate change and the environment.

I assume that the 23% who say their children are neither worried nor not worried have children under the age of 3 or so?

Source: GlobeScan

Of course, this is nothing new. When I was at school, back in the 70s, we were forever doing projects on pollution and the environment, for biology, geography or simply for assembly. I remember having a go at my mum for her fur coat and probably got into a tangled argument with my dad about nuclear weapons.

But it’s an important finding, and it must be difficult for parents, particularly those who are really strapped for cash. It’s one thing to say no to the latest Nintendo game, or Barbie’s pink plastic dream castle, but quite another to say sorry, family, can’t afford that good-for-the-environment detergent: it’s just too expensive and won’t get the mud and grass stains out of your football kit.

But without snuffing out children’s commendable environmental ardour, young people would be well-advised to have a look at their own desire:action gap. I know a young man who merrily voted for the Green Party while leaving his poor parents to sort out the three bursting black bags of completely mixed trash in his dump of a bedroom.