If you care enough to text, then why not write?

George and Henry, two nephews I should make more effort to stay in touch with

Over Christmas, we spend a lot of time with our families and all make assurances that we should make more effort to stay in touch and see more of each other through the year.

Inevitably though, with all the good intentions in the world, the thick of thin things soon takes back over our life and we get back into our lazy ways.

But I tried an experiment this year and it really worked. Rather than just sending my Aunty Freda a card and a present, I wrote her a letter. It took me about 20 minutes and ran to three pages of actual writing. It was mainly gibberish about the kids and work and everyday bilge, but she was so delighted that she rang me up to say thanks. She’d not been well, so it gave her a nice lift. She also claimed it was the first letter she had every had from me in all my 43 years. (so what happened to all those forced thank you letters then?)

My first ever boss has been taken il too, so I wrote to him. Again not anything particularly significant in its content, but it allowed me to lay out how much of an influence he had been to me in my early years in advertising and design. And I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

And then twice, when I was about to text people wishing them well on sad anniversaries, I rang them instead and it couldn’t have been more appreciated by both.

I wrote a piece about branded stamps a few months back and had a good response from people, but I’m going to make 2010 my year of the letter. I’m going to write and ring rather than text people. Royal Mail could do with the business anyway as my mate Tim Garratt has stopped using them!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed Christmas, have a great New year and speak soon.

If you care enough to text, then call.
If you care enough to call, then write.


The amazing wisdom of a new years resolution generator

I just looked on this site called http://moninavelarde.com and it generates a new years resolution for you. Look what it gave me!

A Day of reflection – Many coincidences are just that, coincidences

It was a big day yesterday on my blog and I saw the huge power of social media first hand.

Around lunchtime whilst talking in the office, I really thought that we had uncovered the fact that the RATM Christmas number one was a scam that had been funded by Sony to get sales for all their artists up. I didn’t like the manipulation it implied, so I started digging.

I put two and two together and made twelve.

There are so many coincidences that point towards it being a set up, I thought I would run with it and see what came out.

The most amazing thing was quite how fast the truth did come out.

I put the post up at 2pm and by late afternoon there were those who believed the story and those who violently opposed it. There were RATM fans who went to such lengths to defend their band that I was genuinely shocked.

And then the lady at the centre of the whole conspiracy theory came on to the site and put her side of the story. Later that day we spoke at length on the phone  and I was reminded very simply of the human side to this. What started as a laugh for Jon and Tracy Morter became a beast that they simply couldn’t control.

There were hundreds and maybe thousands of people who just didn’t believe they could have done it for nothing (me included) and that is because social media channels and conspiracy theorists started to paint them as orchestrating gurus, pulling the strings for big business.

Social media has immense power. It has the power for social change and social good as well as massive media manipulation. But it also has the power to get things wrong and escalate things out of control.

Not all of the information on the Internet is correct, we all know that. Many coincidences are just that, coincidences.

For me, Jon and Tracy Morter are a slightly geeky, Internet obsessed couple who have been caught in the middle of a prank that grew beyond anything they could have imagined.

I’m sorry that I added to their woes, but very pleased with the fact that they have been able to come on here and have a voice that clears their name so conclusively.

That’s the real power of social media.

Rage Against the Machine (RATM) UK Christmas Number 1 is exposed as a viral scam


I have to put this first as it’s the most important part of the story. I was convinced that I had found something that proved a conspiracy was afoot with Sony funding the viral campaign to get RATM to the coveted UK Christmas number one position.

But I was wrong.

It was never my intention to cause offence to Jon, Tracy and their family, it was to uncover a story that I thought was very interesting.

So I want to say sorry to Tracy and Jon Morter unreservedly.

I saw the response below here from Tracy and it got me (very) worried that my facts may be a bit out of line, so I mailed her and asked her to give me a call, which she did. We have just had a good chat with her kids running around in he background shouting for their tea.

The first response from Tracy Morter

Which she followed up a few minutes later with this

The second response from Tracy Morter that got me really worried

I offered to remove the entire post, but Tracy asked that I leave most of it in place as others will surely uncover the same series of coincidences and we agreed that this was a better plan to put my apology and her answers first.

Tracy assures me that all those coincidences are just that, coincidences.

They picked that song because it had rude words in it and they thought it would be funny on the Christmas Top of the Pops. I agree.

The Essex sites were done as a ‘swap’ to allow Jon to hold the real ‘World Cup’ and they didn’t even get paid for it.

The sites that link to the song on play.com are not connected to them and they are not earning commission from them.

They didn’t announce that they would be working to get Three Lions to number one for the World Cup. They refused an interview with the Evening Standard and the newspaper sort of made the potential connections themselves.

Tracy herself acknowledges that the coincidences are painting a picture against them, but they are just that. Coincidences.

Incidentally, Simon Cowell hasn’t been in touch and they haven’t been offered a job by his company.

And they’re not planning to run a similar campaign next year.

I’ve tried to be as open as possible here and published all the responses apart from the ones that are just offensive to the Morters or myself and don’t make any relevant points.

The story itself

Okay, I appreciate this isn’t going to be a very popular blogpost with some, but I said I was going to use this platform for my thoughts and these are my personal thoughts..

We’ve been talking about this a lot in the office and are now completely convinced that the RATM is no viral backlash, it’s a very clever piece of viral placement that is funded by Sony themselves.

So lets look at the evidence.

1. Simon Cowell wins both ways up, he is a director of Sony BMG who look after RATM. He has been since 2005 according to Wikipedia.

Rage Against the Machine’s album is on Epic Records. This single Cowell released on his own label is actually owned by Sony Music UK. Like Sony Music UK, Epic Records is owned by Sony Music Entertainment.

2. The strategy he employed is the same as that he used within the X Factor format itself. He is a bright fella and knows that the UK public either love him or hate him. He is the archetypal Mr Nasty – A pantomime baddy of the modern age. So, when he says he hates Jedward (and who could blame him for that) the whole of the voting public come out in their defence and vote for them to stay in the show. This has the effect of pushing the viewing figures to the highest they have ever been.

3. The guys behind the Facebook campaign don’t appear to have other jobs. Jon Morter has a linkedIn page that just lists him as professional. Perhaps he is a professional viral marketer?

4. There are press releases that have been placed on PR Log that have been written by an unnamed third party, but link back to a French Concierge Service that has in itself got links through to the UK music industry. I’m not sure this is a coincidence.

5. All the money is being given away to Shelter. Again, maybe I’m being overly cynical but I don’t believe that RATM have made Soooo much cash from their music that they can afford to ignore a casual £1/4 m of unexpected income? It sounds a bit premeditated to ward off the bad press in case they got caught. Which they have been.

6. The campaign’s Facebook page went down on December 13th. How convenient, just as the big push for sales was about to start that they should be front page news. They made it look like the establishment was even trying to take down two little individuals’ campaign to stop Simon Cowell dominating the charts, when all they were doing was actually helping him.

It’s just all a bit too convenient isn’t it?

7. Sony Have a track record of Viral deceit
In 2006, they placed stories as real customer feedback using an agency called Zipatoni and got caught. Again, I would say they are on the verge of being fully exposed again

8. RATM aren’t really anti establishment anymore. They are the establishment, they just swear for a living now. How is that anti? If all they do is the same stuff over and over again, are they continuing to actually rage against the machine or just capitalise on others desire to be seen doing so.

9. The Couple Who ran the campaign are called Jon and Tracy Morter. They ran a campaign last year to get Rick Astley to Christmas Number One against the X Factor Single. And yes, guess what record label our friend Rick is on? yes, Sony BMG.

10. They also announced yesterday that they were going to try and get the song Three Lions to be the Number one for the World Cup. This was written by The Lightning Seeds and featured Frank Skinner and David Baddiel. Guess what label they are on? Yes, it’s Epic, owned by Sony BMG again.

11. And perhaps the most damning evidence of all – from some great detective work by Hannah Pearce

Iris digital are on record as working on a project called Kiss The Cup (KTC). They have a facebook group for it, Which you can see here. And they have another one here. By some strange quirk of fate, the two administrators behind these sites are Jon and Tracey Morter.

Iris Digital are a part of Iris Group – an integrated services agency – and guess what they specialise in digital communications and campaigns. AND Sony is one of their biggest clients!

So that’s it. I know it’s not conclusive, but I’m convinced that this is a scam that is going to be exposed some time soon, as soon as someone can find who was really paying the bills behind the whole campaign.

What does this mean for the brand of Sony?

I would say that it will be in a little trouble if they get found out for this, but it shows the power of very cleverly manipulated social media and viral marketing campaigns and it also still shows that people do want to fight back against the dominance of this crap TV and crap music that is being produced by Simon Cowell and his pals.

You may also like to read Jane Love at Purple Circle’s take on it here.

A product isn’t a brand but it is one element of a brand promise

A product itself, is just one element of the overall brand experience. Like a burger in McDonalds to the Petrol in a Shell station, the product is the product is the product. It is not the brand. If it has a logo on it, it’s a logo’d product. It’s still not a brand.

McDonalds Burger – All part of the branded experience

But any product, whilst not a brand in its own right, is the start of a brand ‘promise’. If people have an expectation about a branded product being able to deliver them some ‘effect’, some feeling or some performance benefits and the product fails in that, they will start to have serious doubts about the overall efficacy of the brand itself. In effect, they will start to believe that everything else the brand owner says, must be questionable too.

There is a lesson in here for any brand owner that is well worth thinking about.

Is the quality of anything and everything you do adding to the reputation of your brand, or is it slowly undermining it for it to become average at best, or potentially collapse around your ears at worst?

In what way is it enhancing its differences?
In what way is it making itself one of one to its potential audience?

Is it honestly the best it can possibly be for the money or is it made as cheaply as you can get away with? – if it’s the latter, your brand is in trouble.

Those running brands for big plc’s may well be tempted by the short term gain and leave the longer term problems that they invariably create, to those following in their footsteps. Guinness used to say that brands were far too important to be run by mere brand managers.

For some time, there was a difference in the UK to the US with the way brands were run. In the UK, if your brand did well, you were moved on to others and left your baby behind. This hardly encouraged long term planning. In the US, the opposite applied and if your brand got bigger, so did your job. But it still remained your responsibility and you treated it with far more reverence.

In building a brand, you create layer upon layer of brand expectation and brand experience.

Using the onion analogy, a brand has many layers and a core of values. Every contact or touch point builds another layer. A good one obviously adds in a positive sense and a bad one if you’re lucky, may just peel back one layer, but still leave lots of good stuff in place.

The fear for any owner is however if your layers are thin or if there are doubts already beginning in a consumers mind, it could almost certainly undermine all the hard work you have gone into building it in the first place.

So, a product isn’t a brand, but if you get it wrong you can guarantee that consumers will make a negative connection between the two very quickly indeed.

Thanks to ‘The Food Pornographer’ for the use of her image. She’s from Perth and you can see more of her work on Flickr here and her website here.

The New Robin Hood film is coming

I’m working on the brand for Robin Hood with the City of Nottingham and we’re trying to define what his values are all about. What does Robin Hood mean to the current generation growing up and how does that differ from any of our own perceptions.

Many see him as a movie character and even then, everyone has their favourite from Kevin Costner in Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves to Robin Hood Daffy.

Whichever is your favourite, this latest version with Russell Crowe looks like he’s being painted as a real tough guy, fighting on Nottingham beach.

Your logo should say who you are and not what you do

One of the biggest changes for any organisation that is considering a new logo, is top accept that the logo doesn’t need to say what you do, and just concentrate on letting it say who you are.

Look in the yellow pages and you will see many, many ‘logos’ where there is a person with a hammer or spanner or pipe wrench next to the name of their company. These don’t say who you are, just what trade you practice. They make it impossible to extend into another area without causing confusion, but they still proliferate in ‘trade’ markets.

The really rather excellent Mr Plumber logo - A role model for any designer

By removing the ‘what you do’ element, you have to work harder to explain this, and so the second option is to introduce the strapline to attempt to explain the services offered, or the ‘what you do’.

There are hundreds of examples out there.

‘Britain’s favourite retailer’ by Tesco

This line allows them to say what they do without having to say underneath the name on the front of the shops.

It is very rare to see a logo out of context anyway. You would normally see a Tesco logo on a store, a pack a vehicle or an advertisement, so the logo is simply an identifier to say that it is ‘one of theirs’. The branding work comes in saying what can be expected by choosing a Tesco product over any other one.

A strapline is quite different to a campaign slogan such as
‘Vorsprung durch technik’ that Audi have used since the 1970’s. This was already on the wall of the factory when their German design agency MetaDesign went for a factory tour. They saw that it summed up what the business was all about and their living the brand ever since has been part of the reason for their growth to become one of the biggest car makers in Europe from their humble roots as the fabulously mad little NSU luxury car brand and their hugely innovative but incredibly unreliable RO80 Wankel engined car of the late 1960’s.

Their chosen phrase actually means ‘Advancement through Technology’ and as such, does not actually explain what the business does. The slogan therefore just adds a little more layering to the brand by way of an advertisement theme.

The big brands such as Tesco become known for ‘what they do’ because of their scale, visibility on the high streets and the (omni)presence delivered by big marketing budgets.

But when Tesco lunch into another country, they invariably work under another brand name or with a local partner. Jack Welch, in another of his Podcasts argues that it is ALWAYS more effective to buy local talent in the target market than it is to try and import it, citing their plastics businesses opening in China as a real life example.

When Tesco went to the US, they started under the brand name of Fresh & Easy, launching a much smaller format store to those they are known for in the UK and starting out from California. They therefore face the same issues as any start up. They may be better financed, but they still have to prove and refine their offer in order for them to begin to roll it out nationally. Even Tesco don’t have deep enough pockets to attempt this with a flawed or unpopular concept.

It is often argued that smaller companies can’t go down the ‘who you are’ route because they don’t have the marketing budgets of the likes of Tesco. We would argue that they could make their smaller budgets both more cost effective now and more valuable in the future, by concentrating on the ‘who you are’ now.

Focussing on a one or very few key message will always make marketing more effective and make what you do spend work in a more focussed way.

Without the ‘who you are’ you can only sell ‘what you do’. This limits the growth and expansion possibilities of your brand.

Potential customers who like what they see in the ‘who’, will go the extra mile and find out more about you, what you do and what you stand for. This creates devoted customers who both love and understand your brand.

Volvo confirms its brand values

Volvo is one of those brands that few people actually fall in love with. It is a car that is far more likely to be bought with your head than your heart as they have had a reputation for safety for as long as I can remember (which is quite a long time as I’m quite old).

The 1960’s P1800 coupe was a beautiful old thing and I wanted one when I was at college. I loved the old 1980’s 480es as well and I really love the new C30 and their product placement within the Twilight series of vampire films is an inspired way to deliver the brand to a younger generation. In my opinion, it’s probably the best car placement since the Bond films and its association with Aston Martin.

But I can’t say I’ve ever really hankered after an S60. It’s all a bit anonymous and well, worthy for me. But now they have made its safety systems even more central to its reason for being.

They have just demo’d a new system that will reinforce these brand values even further and it looks brilliant.

Anything that makes life safer for cyclists and pedestrians in crowded city centres has to be good news if it’s as intuitive as this. Nice one Volvo, good luck to you.

This is how bikes can save the world

I’m quite a keen cyclist, but not as fit as I used to be or I should be. It’s often not practical to use a bike to go to a meeting because I arrive as a sweaty mess.

The Copenhagen Wheel changes this. It reuses your kinetic energy from braking to power other stuff and even powers a bluetooth connection to your phone. Whilst this video isn’t of the best quality, it does show the possibility this product offers and it’s very exciting. With some proper tax breaks, it could push loads more of us into using it for our daily commute as it will keep it affordable as well as very cool!

I want one. If I could retrofit this to my hackabout bike it would be amazing.

There’s a bit more here with a prelaunch interview and a close up.

How to kill a drinks brand

On the day when Liam Donaldson, the Uk’s Chief Medical Officer, announced that allowing children to drink under 15 is not just a bad idea, it’s dangerous, I thought it would be a good idea to look at Kids and drinking from a brand perspective.

I only need to look at various nieces and nephew’s Facebook pages to see how many of them are drinking well under the legal age. My dad ran a brewery, so we always had lots of beer in the house but I guess our generation has just grown up with far lower price points, far stronger drinks widely available and a far more liberal attitude to drinking at home than any generation before us.

I’m not one to lecture on this as I was smoking well under age with most of my peers, but almost all of them have given that up. It does seem that smoking early is perhaps inevitable as part of the ‘trying to be a grown up’ process but at least it’s one that most grow out of. Drinking isn’t though.

From a branding perspective, getting associated as a kids drink is very bad for their long term health. It always seem to kill them in the end.

Diamond White was (I think) the first of the premium bottled ciders and after a while, gradually started moving from 275ml bottles (ie a small and controllable amount) into 500ml cans and then eventually into 2litre PET bottles. In doing so, they cheapened the brand, killed it for ever as a premium product and ensured it’s demise.

It was also announced today that White Lightning, it’s spiritual successor is being withdrawn too as the brand owners are admitting it has become a problem for them.

Andy Dawson, in his brilliant article (here) reports on the decision by Heineken’s Marketing Manager in charge of the brand Mark Gerken,

‘He admitted that white cider “is a problem drink” for the booze industry because it tends to have negative connotations with “the park bench,” adding: “We’re trying to distance ourselves from the negative images that the old traditional category had. Cider is now much more about enjoyment, refreshment, sharing and over ice.”

In other words, it used to be for tramps and now it’s just for twats’

White Lighning as shown by some of their underage core audience enjoying a quiet parkside drink

Brilliant. They are attempting to relaunch cider upmarket again, which probably means it will drift down towards being a kids drink within the next few years.

And there’s Stella, or Wife Beater to it’s friends. It used to be reassuringly expensive, now it’s worryingly cheap. Partly because they changed the recipe to allow them to hit new price points, so they could chase market share. In doing so, they took away one of the key differentiators of the brand – which was that it was far more flavoursome and better quality than other similar beers – and made it accessible to kids.

There has to be another generational change to make drinking a social occasion rather than an ‘all the time’ occasion, or there will be far more teenage alcoholics, dying kids and lots more dying beer brands.

Adults and beer brands shouldn't really try to get down there with the kids

Beer brands, like most adults, shouldn’t try to get down there with the kids, it will kill all of them in the end.