Sorry but I don’t like your air

I got offered a freelance role recently. Successful agency, a big new business win to work on and, it goes without saying, some financial security.

I turned it down.

I could almost hear the recruiter thinking when I told her my decision, “is she crazy or just plain stupid?” Of course, she was nothing but pure professionalism in her response and I thank her for that.

But it wasn’t a straightforward decision. I’d already decided that I should probably take some time out between jobs to give the old breathers a chance to recover and repair. Besides, I had about a month long backlog of hospital appointments to catch up on (sadly the over-burdened NHS hasn’t quite got around to developing holographic technology to enable virtual appointments yet, but here’s hoping.)

In addition, I had made the hard decision to leave my previous agency to pursue a different kind of planning and transition into the sustainability and charity sector, so to not give that a shot first seemed wrong.

But the most pressing reason – that even common sense and a decent pay cheque couldn’t argue with – was where the agency was. Specifically the air around it. It was in an area of of London known for very poor air quality.

I’ve got my own little mind map of London that doesn’t mark the tourist spots or the best lattes in town (I’d pay good money for that map though) but it does tell me where all the areas of persistently bad air quality are, and I do my best to avoid them for long periods of time.

It sounds a little dramatic I know, the effects of breathing poor air are negligible if your exposure is minimal- for everyone that is, CF or not- but the long term effects are quite another thing.

There are lots of things you can’t put a price on and – it’s taken me a long while to accept it – keeping my lung function as good as it possibly could be, definitely falls somewhere in the ballpark of priceless.

Now if someone could only develop a high fashion face mask that doesn’t make you look like a ninja with a side hustle, that’d be peachy.


Hands off our brand!

On the topical chopping board for today: Abercrombie & Fitch and Nutella.

It strikes me that both cases are the same issue really, just from different angles. First up:


Nutella &

who are lucky enough to have someone who loves their product so much they volunteer –yes, out of the good of their heart– their time over several years to create an entire day dedicated to Nutella.

Does Nutella reward said good-hearted citizen with a lifetime’s supply of Nutella and prostrate themselves at her feet in a show of unremitting gratitude at having someone create a free piece of marketing for them? No, they send her a cease and desist letter instead and the sweet Nutella-lovin’ soul is forced to cancel Nutella day.

Oh, and then they react to the viral backlash they receive –mostly from those within the comms industry, remarking on how absurdly foolish they have been to throw their toys out of the pram in such a fashion– by retracting said C&D warning. It was all just a simple case of a “routine brand defense procedure” going wrong, dontcha know. 

Abercrombie & Fitch…

…on the other hand, have done all they feasibly can to make their brand as odious as possible, all without any outside help. (“Look mum, no hands!”) The well-documented remarks of founder, Michael Jeffries, on just how exclusionary he wants A&F to be, inspired someone to go out there and do a bit of active brand ‘re-positioning’ on their behalf. And so, Los-Angeles based writer, Greg Karber, set about off-loading collected A&F clothing to the homeless. Nice guy.

Some people have remarked that it’s a bit of an insult to consider the homeless as the ultimate ‘anti-cool’. Fair point, but I still think homeless people probably care about having clothes on their backs (high-quality ones at that) more than they care about what everyone else thinks about what they think about being considered uncool, if you get me.

Nutella, I think, can be summed up as a bit of a “it’s our brand, not your brand” playground exchange. That and some very reactionary lawyers. It must be a pretty strange realisation for some companies that they are no longer always the last word in their own product marketing. Perhaps it’s akin to seeing your child go off to big school for the first time and requires a realisation that you can no longer control their every action; there will be influences in their life other than you. And Abercrombie? Personally, I think they got what they deserve for being so morally objectionable in the first place. I hope it serves as a reminder to them, that you can never keep your product or brand entirely to yourself, in just the same way that grown-ups don’t exclude people for not being ‘cool enough’ in the real world.

Twitterings: time to take a risk.

I wanted to talk about some of my thoughts on social media strategy, as it’s not something I’ve covered much before. I have a lot more than the usual 500 words (my usual word limit, as much for my sanity as yours)  to say on the subject. So, I’m going to split this into two parts, the first focusing solely on Twitter, because, well, I like Twitter. The second post, making an appearance next week, will be on content generation, different platforms and whatever else takes my fancy.

Twitter personalities.

Countless companies are now representing themselves on Twitter in various capacities. Be it as a customer service or update feed, a news and events channel, or, a mere extension of their brand into a different medium. Or several of the above.
The latter is definitely the trickiest and in my humble opinion should never be the sole reason for starting up on Twitter. A presence just for the sake of establishing a presence, makes it much less likely that you have anything interesting to say and the internet has quite enough of that already!

The nature of Twitter means it is possible to create a more informal relationship with consumers, to establish a dialogue and maybe even comment on your brand in a way that would rarely be endorsed in more traditional marketing channels. It is an unprecedented opportunity to be honest with people, and hopefully to strike a chord.

Twitter case studies.


Let me give you an example: I have been following @TLFTravelAlerts for about two months now. According to their profile, they provide:

Sporadic tube, rail and bus updates for London. And #boats. We have#boats now. Also, trams. Not really real, really. At all.

Zones 1 – 6. Not 7, though.

As far as I’m aware, it is in no way connected with Transport for London and is one, or several, very funny people, possibly with too much time on their hands. The result however, is a brilliantly ridiculous yet truthful satire of the Tube. And people like it: it’s gone from about 5k followers a month ago to nearly 15k as of today.  It’s easy to say that it wouldn’t be half as popular if it were officially connected to TFL. Before we tackle that, I want to talk about the effect I believe it could have if, hypothetically speaking, it were a part of a social media campaign for the real TFL and why the unconventional route might be a good one in this case.

The underground is pretty unconventional.  It has a colourful 150 year history- originally built by several private companies, who competed against each other to complete separate lines. It’s as much a part of the national imagination as rain, and possibly even tea: everyone who’s used it has an opinion on it, ranging from the tolerant to the violently negative. Because of this, I think it’s an example of when honesty is definitely the best policy. Acknowledging imperfections and even getting people to laugh at them could well be a route to success. After all, we Brits are often endeared to the things we like to criticise, it gives us a sense of ownership, and a chance to bond over something other than the weather.
Another reason I am so drawn to this idea, is that it has the ability to make something magical out of the mundane. With WiFi at an increasing number of underground stations, it is something you can do while on the Tube, to distract yourself from being on the Tube.

Here’s a selection of their tweets:

Some poke fun at stereotypes of Londoners and the Tube…

The 171 bus is suspended after a man sat next to someone when there were clearly two adjoining empty seats available.

Some are inspired by fantastical wordplay…

One does not simply walk into Morden. It is folly. One gets the Northern Line, or a variety of buses. Most of which appear to be working.

Some are even poetical…

Past clubs and kebabs and nightlife galore, Shovelling fried chicken all over the floor. Pulling up Whitehall, a steady climb, The traffic lights against her, but she’s on time. A seat for the rich, a seat for the poor, If we’re honest, mostly the poor. This is the night bus, leaving the square, Picking up the late and the worse for wear.

Generally, they have one thing in common, they make you smile and lighten your day. That  kind of marketing never goes out of fashion.  This irreverent approach is actually being picked up by some companies on Twitter. @Arenaflowers, for example, who tweet frequently in an amusing and often surreal manner, usually totally unrelated to their product. Undeniably, this wouldn’t work for every brand, but it is a good way to stand out and if done right, can build genuine affection for your brand. For now, Twitter is the best place to try it out.

Copy rant: Words are important. That is why the English language is blessed with so many of them.


Colour. Elixir. Giant. Pen. Stick. I’m not sure where to start. Which one of these things is this product, or is it in fact, any of them? Let’s break it down by way of elimination.

  • Does it contain colour? That seems highly likely and a very useful narrative signpost for customers who may not be aware that lip products tend to be colourful. So far, so good.
  • Elixir? Descriptive language with some artistic license thrown in is the stuff copy dreams are made of, there’s nothing wrong with the latter when used sparingly. I apologise if I remain skeptical of the product’s magically restorative properties however.
  • Giant? Well, size is relative I suppose. It’s certainly bigger than your average mac lipstick. If I hold it up to my face it is approximately two thirds the length of my face, but then I have been known to buy childrens’ hats. I fear exaggeration may be at play; anyone who is not a pygmy may feel misled by the implied dimensions.
  • Pen. Finally, we might be getting somewhere, that is if I were in the habit of filling my lips in with a Biro.  Although that would surely be one of the cheapest cosmetic tips to be found, I don’t think it will catch on.
  • Stick? Maxfactor, I am confused. I can understand how this product might be one or two of these things, but all five? That seems greedy and possibly the start of an identity crisis. I can also confirm that, after a scientific test on the back of my hand, it is much more like a crayon than a pen…or a stick.

I do sometimes feel that the beauty industry has become one gigantic parody of itself and is secretly having the last laugh, while the rest of us look on, scratching our heads in bewilderment. They could also do with attending a few rudimentary grammar lessons on the havoc caused by  using nouns as adjectives. In defence of the beauty industry, I can understand the difficulty of product differentiation in such a rapidly moving market. There is trend after trend to contend with. Together, product innovation and corporate marketing make up an endless game of chicken or egg: I have a hard time working out which one normally comes first and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

…That’s where my sympathy runs dry. The English language forms an incredibly rich and varied tapestry of words, allowing us to say almost anything, in many different ways.  Not only does this provide synonyms galore, it gives us the linguistic freedom to express exactly what we mean.  Also, more words doesn’t = better. Why have a Colour Elixir Giant Pen Stick, when you can have a Colour-Riche* Crayon, or Hi-Res Colour Crayon? I admit, I could probably come up with something better given time. I should add too, that none of the words chosen would be disingenuous if used on their own, nor are any of them wholly inaccurate. Unfortunately, they do sound ridiculous when placed end-to-end. If that doesn’t upset marketers in itself, then the consumer cynicism that this kind of lazy copywriting engenders, really should do.

Gosh. It felt good to let that out.

(*Hey, I never said that cosmetic products didn’t sound better in pseudo-French, now did I?)

Ellie Goulding: making advertisers starry-eyed.

Recently, it seems like every time I watch a clip on YouTube, it isn’t long before Ellie Goulding’s face pops up in an ad. Not that I mind much, I’m more inclined to watch ads in the guise of songs or sponsored performances in their entirety than many other ads. If I like the song that is, and it seems advertisers are pretty confident people will like Ellie Goulding.

It all started in Christmas 2010 with John Lewis and Ellie’s now famous cover of ‘Your Song’. It’s hard to say who benefited more from that partnership, but John Lewis has taken that winning formula and used it every Christmas since. They have also released an album in collaboration with Save the Children, made up of the covers used during their Christmas advertising campaigns. Said Craig Inglis, Marketing Director at John Lewis, “artists want to do it…it is a reflection of a change of dynamics in the industry. We have record labels and artists approaching us which I never would have believed would have happened a few years ago.”

Then in 2011, Nike paired Ellie with her running shoes and she became the face for their Nike Women’s half marathon. They have continued their partnership with Ellie since; she will be taking part in the Washington half marathon this year, has dabbled in shoe design for Nike and will be releasing a remix of her 2010 Halycon album on April 15th this year, courtesy of Nike. This level of collaboration between a pop star and big-name company seems to be a relatively new thing. In the past many artists probably wouldn’t have gone near such contracts for fear of ‘selling out’. Ellie isn’t as edgy as they come, but nor is she a cookie-cutter pop princess and I have not yet seen any criticism of her ad appearances.

HP has obviously been paying attention. Ellie can now be seen in their ‘HP Connected music’ campaign, part of the company’s marketing turnaround in recent years. This campaign is a little different to the others though. John Lewis used ‘Your Song’ to emphasise an emotive and seasonal advertising campaign and Nike made Ellie’s ability as a runner the focus for their campaign, which allowed it to remain relevant. On the other hand, HP have simply organised and sponsored a showcase with Ellie and used clips of it as their ad campaign. While she is still relevant to HP Connected –a new platform which enables HP customers to listen to songs for free– in the sense that she is a recording artist, this link is not made clear during the ad. My first thought when watching the ad was just, what did her gig have to do with HP? The ad would make a lot more sense if this was explained.

Ellie also featured in fashion retailer, ASOS’,  2012 Christmas campaign, performing ‘Only You’ in her own spot. She even makes a cameo in the star-studded ‘beats by Dre’ campaign, although that isn’t so remarkable seeing as the product in question is made by a music producer and performer, and is a natural extension of the product.

The motivation behind these campaigns is smart. However, I wonder what it is about Ellie in particular, that so appeals to ad agencies. In untested waters, companies are understandably nervy about committing and Ellie is now a familiar face in new territory.  She is commercially and critically successful and what’s more, her songs are frequently remixed by dub-step and electro artists. Consequently, there’s a connection developing between her music and the digital industry. However, there is a limit to how many times she can successfully be wheeled out for online campaigns. There’s no doubt advertisers are starting to adapt to a changing industry, but it doesn’t take long for consumers to become desensitized to a technique. They will need to switch up singers if they want their campaigns to keep performing.

Further reading and quote source:

Marketing Week- HP looks to marketing to drive turnaround.

The Guardian- John Lewis, power of love.

Best Creative Ads- Music runs Ellie trailer.

Some water with your order Madam: Still, sparkling or coconut?

This is a similar format to my post on posh popcorn so you’ll have to forgive me for that, but I couldn’t help commenting on this phenomenon…

The Vita Coco brand has become synonymous with coconut water. They have really hit the jackpot by popularising a drink, that was not previously well-known in many western FMCG markets, certainly not in the UK.  It seems you can’t really go wrong with coconut water; it’s low in fat, healthier than many soft drinks and a natural product with high mineral and electrolyte content. This has enabled Vita Coco to market their drink from several angles and through a few supply chains. It’s not much of a surprise that it can be found in virtually all organic and health food stores, nestled among its increasing number of competitors. Somewhat more impressive, is its appearance in supermarkets, corner shops and newsagents all over the country and now gyms and health clubs. Not only is Vita Coco being sold as a healthier alternative to run-of-the-mill soft drinks, it is also sold as a sports drink. The tagline “hydrate naturally, from a tree not a lab”  is no doubt in reference to the burgeoning ‘scientific’ sports drinks market, led by Lucozade and Powerade. Vita Coco continued this approach with the introduction  of a 500ml sports-cap version, launched late last year.This two-pronged attack is pretty clever and gives them access to a huge number of retailers.


In fact, Vita Coco are on their way to creating a new product category, pretty much on their ownsies. Most people would not have considered coconut water a desirable product, or even known about its existence without Vita Coco. Combined with their high-profile marketing campaign, headed by Rihannna, and their brand has become highly desirable.  Aside from the obvious benefits of endorsement by an A-lister, Rihanna fits, in fact, she enhances the product image. It doesn’t really matter what she is in the headlines for, her music has always been strongly connected with her sunny Caribbean roots and it is this image which Vita Coco have been clever to cultivate.

Two years on from the Vita Coco UK launch in 2010 (the product launched much earlier in the US, back in 2004) and multiple rival brands have appeared on the shelves. Chi, Go Coco and Zico are some of the most accessible brands. Inevitably,  there has been a media backlash against the fast-growing category, and many consumers are now seeking out what may be better quality products, or those without such a price premium. One such brand is Agua d’Coco, from Brazil, where they have been quaffing coconut water probably for as long as they’ve had coconuts.  There’s no doubt Vita Coco’s marketing strategy has been impressive, and with so many rival products appearing it looks as if they have now reached their goal of emulating what “Red Bull did for energy drinks and Innocent did for smoothies.” However, if you’re now addicted to coconut water but think Vita Coco is a little too pricey, you can find Agua d’Coco and similar imports in large supermarkets, about 20% cheaper and possibly better tasting too.