The risks in Social Media – Direct Line style

It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with social media.

We’ve lured a world famous actor to come and be our ‘face’ and recreate the look of Pulp Fiction’s Winston Wolfe.

We’ve produced a great series of TV ads with our new character ‘Mr Wolf’. They are genuinely different ads for the space in which Direct Line operate.

And then they throw it to the real wolves by using sponsored posts all over Facebook and their existing customers get hold of it.

Direct Line Harvey Keitel Mr Wolf. Social Media is more difficult to handle than you think













There are have been 224 comments in the first 14 hours and as far as I can see, every single one of them retells a story of how they have been badly treated by Direct Line or commenting on Harvey Keitel’s decision to work in the insurance market.

For me, this can be nothing but bad for the Direct Line brand. Assuming most people have 250 friends on Facebook, these negative comments have already been seen by at least 50,000 people with a negative endorsement. If you add the 223 shares, this problem could be much worse than it first looks.

Compare this to the number of views on YouTube (only 3,573 after eight days) and you can see that the negative power has been at least FIFTEEN times more effective at reaching people. It may have gone viral, but hardly the type of viral they were hoping for.

One week on and only 3,573 views for the Harvey Keitel ad on YouTube for Direct Line
One week on and only 3,573 views for the Harvey Keitel ad on YouTube for Direct Line

Social media is both friend and foe. If you open yourself up to comments and feedback on such a public platform you need to be 100% sure you can cope with the responses. The old adage of ‘never asking a question you don’t already know the answer to’ may have been a prudent way of thinking before they ran this campaign.

I suspect a few people in the team at Saatchi (who produced the campaign) will be getting an ear bashing for their decision to try and amplify the positive effect of their advertising spend by engaging with Facebook and REAL customers.


A bit of a problem for the Abercrombie and Fitch brand

When you set out to create a brand you can design in certain criteria. By pricing it high, you exclude certain buying groups, by not even making XL sizes for women, you naturally exclude the larger ladies. They also place ‘beautiful people’ in a state of undress outside their stores as greeters. These decisions form the basis of the whole brand and who you target and appeal to. I am far to old/fat to be in their target audience (but so is their own MD!) and I am now quite proud to say I have never owned any of their products.

Mike Jeffries Abercrombie and Fitch Managing Director
Mike Jeffries Abercrombie and Fitch Managing Director – looking a little like a bad advertisement for facial surgery – and certainly not in his own target audience

But Abercrombie and Fitch have taken this brand separation to a new level by destroying all damaged or returned goods rather than giving them to the homeless, as many other brands do. All very deliberate and all very elitist. the assumption being that seeing homeless people in A&F would embarrass their own beautiful customers.

But here comes the brand backlash. 7.5 million views in less than a month, and growing fast. Watch this space. It may be the next Gerald Ratner moment for the A&F brand.

Rocket fuel for advertising – the future is Artificial Intellgence

wargames - AI in action and a little less powerfu than Rocket Fuel
wargames – AI in action and a little less powerfu than Rocket Fuel

Advertising was never a very exact science, we all knew that 50% of our spend was wasted (but famously didn’t know which 50%), but that’s all changed now and changed forever.

I was lucky enough to be in a presentation from Lucy Arkwright of Rocket Fuel, who’s strapline is a rather cool ‘Artificial intelligence. Real results’. I haven’t seen a more amazing presentation in some time.

In short, what Rocket Fuel do is use single pixels on page to track a users real traffic. Then, using Artificial Intelligence (ie learned behaviour) they build up a picture of your real internet usage and shopping habits. It’s far more than just clicking likes, it’s about behaviours and real moves to action. So, less of what you say you’ll do and all about what you actually do.

As an example, with a traditional ad for a dishwasher, the agency buyer would just buy space in a magazine and hope enough people looking to buy their dishwasher wandered past and happened to want one at that point in time.

This was largely replaced by behavioural retargeting of ads (those ones that follow you around on the internet) which repeatedly show you dishwasher ads if you have ever clicked through to a site selling dishwashers or large kitchen appliances.

What the Rocket fuel system does is understand your specific behaviour. It begins to learn what brands you are most likely to buy and when you are really in the market to buy them. It knows to stop serving you ads when you have seen it more than a given number of times (your personal preferred number and not the rest of the worlds) and then stop serving you ads if you have actually bought a dishwasher from anywhere online. It’s like the Perfect Market, but all the sellers now have all the information. It’s a perfect, perfect market.

The AI bit is the really clever technology. This learned behaviour is done through a billion decisions per second that the system makes about how you like to think, shop and browse online. And this doesn’t just change the game a bit, it changes it completely.

I’ll leave you with a stat to prove the point.

The average click through rate (CTR) on a conventional online display ad is 0.03%, so all in all, pretty wasteful. and clicks aren’t anywhere near as good as actual conversions.

In one of the Rocket fuel examples, they showed that 40 percent of purchases of new BMWs in North America in the second quarter of 2012 were influenced by Rocket Fuel advertisements.

None of us had actually noticed that it wasn’t 50% of our ad spend being wasted, it was 99.97% being wasted. And it’s now with this system it’s back to being closer to 50% again.

When this technology rolls down to smaller users, it will change the way advertising is bought and sold completely. And forever.

Wow, just wow.

The end of the design and advertising industry in the UK – or the beginning?

I’ve just finished a very short book by Peter Mayle (of Year in Provence fame) called ‘Up the Agency’ and it has really made me think about how much the industry has changed in those intervening years. Mayle was a copywriter in some of the London agencies in the transformational years through the 1980’s as the power was shifting over here from new York in the 1970’s

Up the Agency - by Peter Mayle - Fun and excess in advertising in the 1980's
Up the Agency - by Peter Mayle - Fun and excess in advertising in the 1980's

In this book he tells stories of fun, excess and wealth on an amazing scale, which if I’m honest, was one of the things that attracted me into the industry in the first place. But looking back at it now, it’s barely an industry I even recognise.

Pack designs were done by the ‘Art Department’ – this is now an amazingly specialised discipline in it’s own right.

Research was just starting to creep into play and even then he was worried that it was beginning to stifle creativity. He cites US advertising as being totally derivative and so safe that it had to be research to blame.

But the most telling thing he said is about how ‘big business’ is starting to creep into the industry. It’s taking itself too seriously and this will be its downfall.

Well it has and it is. If you want clear evidence of this, you only have to look at the disgraceful behaviour of Thomas Cook in the placement of their £30m media buying account.

First they make loads of agencies go through an RFI process (Request for Information). An abortive one of these took me three days a few weeks ago. And then they get four agencies to pitch on the basis that they will have to save 10% on buying through media consolidation.

And then, if they do win it, they will have to pay Thomas Cook – No not the other way around – a signing on fee of £1m to take up the account.

Design and advertising work at their best if they create a huge appeal to their target audiences and offer them a relevant product they will enjoy. Research is creating safe ads that appeal to big boring audiences. ITV are creating more and more stupid TV to drive stupid mass audiences to their channel. If media buyers need to reach big markets cheaply and they have little time to think, or create, what choice do they have but create big safe rubbish ads that limp along like the American or worse still, global shite we see over here sometimes?

Sometimes advertising can be fun and sometimes it’s more serious, but if every agency is forced into a striped suit business mentality as Mayle predicts, the power in advertising will shift again, the creativity will disappear and who knows where it will end up next?

The only hope is the fightback from the smaller boutique agencies who try and concentrate on great ideas that work and allow their clients to really carve their own niche.

Christine the clever cleaner

I don’t often read the West Bridgford News. It’s a bit of a local rag that is full of badly written blatant ads with the subtlety of a psycho with a hammer, but over my breakfast cereal today happened to be flicking through the latest copy to land on my doorstep.

And then this ad jumped out at me. Christine the cleaner with one of the best ads I’ve seen in years, that was 100% out of place in such a low grade publication.

Christine the Clever Cleaner
Christine the Clever Cleaner

I don’t need a cleaner, but I had to ring them to find out more. Apparently business has doubled since it ran in another local magazine, but they still have space for more clients.

Christine Dalby (the Christine in question) was lovely but her husband Bill, had to confess that as a young economics undergraduate, where they were studying advertising as part of his course, he was taken with a story from the deep and distant past in the history of Hoover.

Apparently a young Hoover employee in the advertising department was left on his own and being badgered for copy by the Daily Telegraph. With no line managers to ask advice and no obvious ad to hand, he ran an ad that was effectively a blank page with the words in the middle ‘Hoover cleaned this page’.

And the ad, took the market by storm.

Now, try as I might, I can find no trace of this old ad and would love to see it, so if anyone has any idea of where I could find a copy of it or knows any more detailed history, please let me know.

In the meantime, if you live in and around West Bridgford in Nottingham and you need a cleaner, please call Christine or Bill. If they clean as well as they write ads, they’ll do a thoroughly brilliant job.

Christine Dalby can be contacted on 0115 981 8310 or mobile 07796 660 076.