How an advertising agency could help defeat Islamic State

On 4 October, Lord Dannatt, who was introduced as a former ‘Chief of The General Staff and Head of the Army for several years and knows the Middle East well’, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4.

He said:

‘We are all united in the fact that the so called Islamic State, and these ISIL fighters, are an abomination and they have got to be confronted and they have got to be faced down….

This has to be looked at at several levels. Yes, of course there a military level…..

But there are other levels at which we have got to go at this. Continue reading

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A more creative approach to welfare reform could have saved lives

So, while the UK was talking about Scotland, someone has died:

David Clapson’s awful death was the result of grotesque government policies (9 September)

‘The DWP brags about ending the ‘something for nothing’ culture, but benefit sanctions punish the unemployed, disabled and poor in ways that are utterly inhumane.’

Family calls for benefit inquiry after David Clapson death

‘Diabetic David Clapson, 59, from Stevenage, died from lack of insulin, 18 days after his Jobseeker’s Allowance was suspended in July. He was found dead in his flat on 20 July, with £3.44 in his bank account.’

I have posted on this topic before: Continue reading

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Why the Scots would be mad to vote for independence (not that I care).

So, next week the Scots will decide if they want to be independent.

Let me start by declaring a lack of interest in this issue. A complete lack of interest. I think may be one-eighth Scottish but I really don’t care if I have Scottish blood coursing through my veins. It hasn’t affected my life either way.

I have been to Scotland a handful of times. I have watched a couple of rugby internationals in Edinburgh and stayed with some friends in the Borders which was good fun. I may have been to Glasgow once to be on local radio but I really can’t remember. Nor can I be bothered to find out. It really doesn’t matter either way.

I wonder how many Scots have heard of ‘ASEAN’?

ASEAN stands for the ‘Association of South East Asian Nations’. It is the Asian equivalent of the EU. And, Scot or not, you need to know about ASEAN. Especially now.

I worked in the ASEAN region over twenty years ago. Thailand to be precise.

In Thailand, I learnt a lesson that I would like to share with the people of Scotland. I am sure the Scots care as much about me as I do about them but, if they are prepared to consider what I have to say, they may agree that they would be mad to vote for independence next week. Not that I care if they do or not. It is nothing to do with me. As I have said.

There is a thing in marketing called distribution.

To all the world’s major marketing companies, ‘distribution’ is key to their business. Fundamental.

Now, I know it is easy to be cynical about marketing. Just as it’s easy to be cynical about lawyers or accountants. The UK government is even cynical about doctors, for goodness sake.

As the writer Charlie Kaufman said: ‘it (the world) is all marketing’.

Take it from me, your life would be a lot worse without marketing. Your quality of life would decrease. You might not survive at all.

The biggest marketing companies in the world are fmcg businesses.

The acronym ‘fmcg’ stands for fast moving consumer goods. These products are not described as ‘fast moving’ because they are jet-propelled, or laxatives. They are fast moving because they move fast off the shelves of your local supermarket. People want them. People buy them. Lots of them. Often. Every day.

Take it from me, the world’s major fmcg companies would not bother to manufacture these products without knowing how they are going to distribute them – and working out how many they are going to sell based on how often their customers will buy them.

This is a more exact science than you might think.

And it can lead to more ruthless decisions than you might like.

Let’s go back to Thailand. I wish.

For nearly three years (1988-91), in Bangkok, I managed the biggest advertising agency in Asia outside Japan – and Ogilvy & Mather’s third biggest office worldwide (bigger than London).

It was the best advertising agency I worked for. This was nothing to do with me. It was because of the Thai people who worked there. During my short tenancy, all I did was help the agency maintain the lofty status it had achieved before I arrived on the scene.

My key role was to enlighten the bosses of our multinational clients, who invariably came from the USA and Europe, on some basic realities of Thailand and the region – and encourage them to focus their investment on this important growth market.

Most of these bosses knew that the populations of China and India were, at the time, about one billion and 800 million people respectively but many of them, in those days, were ignorant of the facts contained in my first, simple PowerPoint slide.

Here’s what it said (with more up-to-date numbers):

Populations in South East Asia (2012 )

Indonesia – 245 million
Vietnam – 90 million
Philippines – 95 million
Thailand – 64 million
Burma – 64 million
Malaysia – 30 million
Cambodia – 15 million

TOTAL – 603 million (Source: IMF)

These are just some of the countries in ASEAN. There are smaller, less populated countries too. These include Laos and Singapore but, with populations of six and five million respectively, they are not very important are they?

Now, let’s put Scotland into perspective (if you haven’t already).

Here are some population figures closer to home:

EU population (2010) – 501 million
UK population (2010) – 62 million
Scotland population (2013) – 5.2 million

We are talking about distribution. Remember?

Whenever you buy something from a shop, someone somewhere has manufactured that product, designed the packaging, printed the packaging, put the packages into boxes, loaded them onto a lorry, carried them to the shop, taken them out of their boxes and put them on shelves in shops and supermarkets up and down the land.

It is hard work making things easy for you to buy.

And, if you are in the business of making things and taking all this trouble to distribute them, it would be natural for you to not only to maximise the number of people who have the opportunity to buy your product but, at the same time, minimise the ferrying around required.

Consider this:

Scotland is a relatively large country. And sparse. The land area of Scotland is 30,265 square miles. With roughly the same population, Singapore is 276 square miles.

Have you got that? To distribute your product to five million people in Singapore you drive around town for a day. To distribute your product to five million people in Scotland would take you, what shall we say, three months?

Or shall we put it another way?

In Indonesia, there are 140 million people on the island of Java alone (get that?). The land area of Java is 53,589 square miles. So, in the three months it would take you to drive around Scotland to reach 5.2 million potential customers, you could drive round Java and reach, what shall we say, 80 million?

If you are one of the world’s largest and most important marketing companies, and the people of one of the world’s smallest and unimportant countries, like Scotland, decide to strike out on their own and, in so doing, make your life more complicated with different rules and regulations, why would you bother with them?

Great Britain – with 62 million people in 88,745 square miles? Maybe.

Scotland alone – with 5.2 million people in 30,265 square miles? Forget it man.

And don’t tell me internet and online websites like Amazon, who charge for postage & packaging, will ride over the Highlands to the lonely Scots’ rescue.

They are not going to offer free delivery to the Outer Hebrides are they? They are going to charge an independent Scotland an independent, increased rate for p&p, as with any other country.

This will happen. You mark my words.

Now, if you are a Scot with half a brain, or have any idea of how the world goes round, you don’t need to know any more, do you? You can stop reading this now. I’ve made my point.

If, however, you feel your reading of Robert the Bruce (really?) or your penchant for wearing kilts or blowing bagpipes will be any way enhanced by being an independent country – let me spell it out for you.

Just as I don’t really care whether Scotland is an independent country, the Scots may say they don’t care about the world’s biggest and important marketing companies.

This would be a naive, and potentially rather dangerous position.

I have attended meetings where these companies have developed marketing strategies and plans to maximise their sales to the massive populations in Asia. There are too many customers to ignore, aren’t there?

And, when it comes to Scotland, surely the opposite will apply.

An independent Scotland will be easy to ignore.

The largest marketing companies in the world include Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Unilever, PepsiCo, General Mills, Kraft, Kellogg’s and Mars.

You use – and buy – their products every day. They include bottled water, tea, coffee, milk, cheese, yoghurt, sugar, cereals, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, hair care, perfume, skin care, deodorants, beauty products, baby care, nappies, sanitary care, biscuits, chocolate, confectionary, soft drinks, juices, fruit, food, chilled food, frozen food, ice cream, snacks, pizza, pasta, butter, margarine, cooking oil, olive oil, sauces, soup, vegetables, baking products, crisps, tortilla chips, washing powder, fabric conditioner, household cleaners, batteries, canned food and pet foods.

There isn’t time or space here to list all their brands (Nestlé alone has close to 8,000 brands, some of which are on this infographic here (and below).

Still don’t care? Well, Scotland, you didn’t know Pepsi own Quaker Oats did you? Or that Quaker Oats, and therefore Pepsi, owns Scott’s Porage Oats? In fact, Pepsi own a mill in your country, in Cupar, which you are about to provide an excuse to close down. Them’s great oats in the USofA!

Believe me, in the modern world, you cannot live without these companies.

I have no idea whether the world’s biggest marketing companies have any fall-back plans for Scotland. No doubt they will wait and see what happens next week.

Nor I haven’t bothered to read and watch the politicians ranting and raving about this referendum. As history has shown, politicians are the last people who can predict the consequences of their actions. Especially politicians who rant and rave.

In fact, I suspect all this is a career move by a politician with a surname one letter from mine. We haven’t seen the Scots marching and rioting in the street on this issue, have we? Or anyone jump in front of a galloping horse? Where has all this come from?

Deluded, delusional politicians are a very dangerous breed.

For if, down the line, their politicians persuade the Scots to launch their own currency or, like Ireland, join the Euro, these kind of manoeuvres will add to the inconvenience of Scotland being part of any company’s marketing plans and increase the possibility of Scotland ignored as some irrelevant little outpost.

If the Scots vote for independence or, one might say, isolation, making Scotland too much of a hassle to deal with, the big fmcg companies of the world could easily:

– increase their prices to levels only rich Scots can afford

– not bother to distribute their products to Scotland at all

If this happens, it would result in:

– the shops and supermarket shelves in Scotland becoming empty and deserted

– the Scottish people living a dirty, smelly, hungry life in poverty and misery

I accept that, in this day and age, such desperate repercussions may be unlikely but why risk it? Either way, I have no doubt the costs of living in rural Scotland are bound to increase in an independent Scotland. Independence will give all suppliers an excuse to review their distribution arrangements to maximise their bottom line.

Mark my words, when the time comes, the food, personal care and household product companies of the world will make cold, rational, ruthless business decisions.

There won’t be any emotions involved.

They won’t care.



Brands infographic

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When all you can do is play the ball that is bowled to you

To many of us, especially those of us who lived through those days, the TV series Mad Men has been essential viewing. We have come to know the character Don Draper, played by John Hamm, like a friend. And now, this week, Hamm’s new film Million Dollar Arm has come to London. And it’s about cricket! Wahaay! Have the Americans seen the light?

Now, if you don’t play cricket, I am sorry. Please bear with me. Who knows, the lesson in this post might change your life, just as a cricket ball can end it. Continue reading

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Long Lost Families and Masters of Sex

The most interesting thing in the world is people. And, talking about interesting, which we were, and people, which we are, there is a peculiar juxtaposition in two TV series currently on air.

For me, and anyone with personal experience of adoption, a must-watch TV programme is Long Lost Family where people separated by adoption at birth are reunited with the parents they have never met – usually their mother.

It is shocking to learn about the attitudes to pregnancy that prevailed in the lifetimes of two generations of people still living today. For, until the 1960s/70s, pregnancy represented a harsh and unforgiving world where babies of only a few weeks old were torn, literally ripped away, from the arms of their screaming, desperate mothers who, typically, were still teenagers. Continue reading

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It may be right. It may be good. But is it interesting?

David Ogilvy said this about advertising:

‘You can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.’

Here is the same mantra with the key word underlined by me:

‘You can’t bore people into buying your product, you can only interest them into buying it.’

As my advertising career began with Ogilvy, I have been interested in ‘interesting’ for a very long time.

In today’s world, is advertising interesting? Continue reading

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Debt collection: the shameful face of modern Britain

In free market economies, providers of products and services need customers.

In marketing, without customers, none of us are anything. Or, if that is too tortuous a double negative, without customers we are nothing.

Customers are the name of the game. They need to be identified, understood, targeted, persuaded, looked after, nurtured, retained. Continue reading

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Why you would be a mug to be a poet in the 21st Century

I have met people who are very, very rich.

I have met people who are famous.

I have met great sportsmen.

I have met academics.

I have met aristocrats.

I have met celebrities.

I have met film stars.

I have met singers.

I have met bands.

Even royalty.

But the people I admire most are writers. Continue reading

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Employment Support Allowance (ESA) disgrace

Writing these blog posts, it is impossible to predict who will read them or where they might lead.

Thus it is a pleasant surprise to me that my most retweeted and liked post has been Disability Living Allowance (DLA) Disgrace – especially as I would be the first to admit that I am no expert in the murky confusion of the social security market.

I say a ‘pleasant surprise’ because the interest generated by this post would seem to support my overarching thesis – specifically that the understanding of human behaviour and creativity of our world-beating advertising agencies could be better employed to improve society as a whole.

Please park this thought while I tell you that it is a golden rule of marketing that any money spent on promoting a product or service must, if nothing else, generate more income than the cost of creating and transmitting it. Continue reading

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Beware, in this digital age, of the wrath of the people

1. strong, stern, or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.
2. vengeance or punishment as the consequence of anger.

Snatching some early summer sun in Greece, I have been reading John Steinbeck’s seminal American novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

For those who do not know, it is the story of an agricultural 1930s American family – the Joads – who are driven from Oklahoma to California in search of work. As the Joads strive to survive, the book tracks their lives, and their world, disintegrating into chaos and despair.

Published in 1939, the people and the scenes in The Grapes of Wrath are, in every way, a world apart from modern Britain.

Or are they? Continue reading

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