Category Archives: Advertising

Marketing Fail: How to Lose in Extra Time

Right product; right time

The World Cup of 2014 was a truly remarkable event – it had the usual quota of drama and amazing results but it also what should have been two clear winners. One of them was the German Football team – who took the glory. The other apparently clear winner should have been the inventors or this stuff – the magical vanishing spray used for free kicks.

The magic spray
The magic spray

The spray was a brilliant product. It is a foam that disappears after a couple of minuted, but it solved the problem of defending teams encroaching on the free kick taker when the referee’s back was turned. A comical but frustrating occurrence that had echoes in that other area of sporting theatre – professional wrestling.

Hold the Line
Hold the Line

Fans loved it, commentators loved it, no doubt referees loved it, players loved it (the attacking ones at least). It was the sort of business idea you expect to make the inventor a fortune.

Shipping a late goal

But as I read today, this is not the case at all. In this story, that has all the hallmarks of a team who loses in extra time, the inventors have failed to capitalise on their absolutely phenomenal exposure. It was a text book marketing fail.

It’s a tragic tale, but like in a game of football, unfortunately I think the fault lies with team who let the goal through, the inventors. As a marketer I read this article silently screaming in my head – these guys had the best exposure the could ever have wanted – all for the price of a few cans of product. And all in front of the world’s assembled media and potential business partners like Nike and Adidas, yet some how they screwed up.

Don’t ask permission, market your business

So what would I or indeed anyone with the remotest amount of marketing nous, have done (let alone what Travis Kalanick would have done!):

  1. Don’t wait for FIFA to help you. Ever.
  2. Politely decline the tickets to the finals, and ask for a blanket pass to the corporate hospitality events.
  3. If that doesn’t work, get out there to all the events you can – beg, borrow or steal your way into corporate hospitality.
  4. Get in front of every exec from any global sports brand you can.
  5. Get in front of every exec from any global retailer you can.
  6. Hit up the press – there were hundred of stories from the world’s press about the spray. Make sure your name is featured in relation to your product.
  7. Guerilla marketing – this product is a guerilla market’s dream. FIFA can be tough on non-sponsor advertising, but guess what, your product disappears! I’d be drawing lines on the ground anywhere I saw crowds of people – magic spray is the new velvet rope!

I came up with this short list in the 5 minutes it took me to write it, imagine what could be achieved with more time and effort.

Startups – don’t be like these guys!

The moral of this story for startups is clear. If you business is at stake, don’t wait for anyone’s permission to market yourself.  Other people have no stake in the success of your business, but you do. If you get a chance at exposure, stop at nothing to make sure that awareness becomes permanently attached to your brand. You may only have one chance. And event the biggest exposure on the world’s stage won’t be enough if you don’t have hustle.

Fools in Glass Houses: The Golden Rule of Comparative Advertising

Sometimes I see an ad that makes me laugh out loud, this from American bank, First Bank certainly did, but probably not for the reasons they’d hoped. I laughed because the idea of any bank taking the piss out Google for their application of technology is downright hilarious. Doing so in the course of telling us that First Bank are releasing their banking app (this is 2014) shows a remarkable lack of self-awareness. But it did prompt me to reflect on the wisdom of a particular form of marketing – Comparative Advertising – AKA gaining attention by taking a swipe at others.

Rules of Engagement

The market for the hearts and minds of consumers could hardly be described as genteel, but in general, investing in advertising that directly compares you to others is reasonably rare. There are various reasons for this: it’s pretty risky to spend your own money in a way that raises awareness of your competitors; people can be put off by the seeming arrogance of the act itself; but mainly there are very few circumstances where a direct comparison is a good idea. There are some who identify opportunities where you can make direct pricing or feature comparisons, but even these are risky. To my mind there’s pretty much one single golden rule of comparative advertising – kick them when they’re down.

The Popularity Contest

Sadly, life is unfair. And business, like life, is a popularity contest. So if you’re engaging in comparative advertising pick a target less popular than you. Sure that’s not very nice, but as humans we have our prejudices and as long as you’re picking a target who is less popular than you, you’ll do ok. Please note that I’m not advocating anything that’s based on race, colour, sex, sexual preference,religion, creed or any other such factor. Quite rightly people get upset about such things. However businesses and professions are still a pretty soft target. So there’s opportunities aplenty if you follow the golden rule.

Example 1 – TransferWise

A great example of this is fintech company, TransferWise, their feisty ads play on the fact we hate banks, so a good kicking is ok:

TransferWise FYCK Advert

This ad works on many levels: we hate banks; we hate banks because we suspect they’re ripping us off; actually they are ripping us off; I get to be clever and thrifty AND stick it to the banks. Awesome.

Example 2 – Apple

Another great example, albeit a bit less feisty but still playing the popularity angle, is Apple’s long running, I’m a Mac/I’m a PC campaign:


This is a bit of an oddity given that essentially it’s a grown up version of teasing the nerd – it’s the sort of thing we should dislike if we consider ourselves good people. Except that even though more people use Microsoft than Apple, we do so not very willingly, so people don’t really like Microsoft. So instead it comes across as the cool little guy taking on the uncool big guy. Easy to like.

Sorry guys

So where does that leave banks and other perennially unpopular companies? You could to find a comparative examples of others still less popular than you – car salesmen; tax collectors; advertising people. The truth is that there are many companies who probably could take a swipe at Google and Glassholes, it’s just not right for a bank. Instead try something radical… Like providing a great product and service that makes people’s lives better.

Tech Turkeys: You said what now?

As I’ve said in the past, there’s some truly diabolical tech advertising out there. That gave me an idea for a new section for Marketing for Tech – the Tech Turkeys – a chance to expose the worst crimes against communications and learn a few things.

Our first candidate is a company called Sprinklr, that’s pretty much all I know about them. I’m not quite sure what they do, as they haven’t really explained that very well.  As you can see:

Sprinklr Poster - Source: Ivor Tossell
Sprinklr Poster – Source: Ivor Tossell

That first example come from a tweet by columnist Ivor Tossell. Apparently I’m not the only on who was bamboozled by the incomprehensible jargon, Ivor got 3,142 retweets.  Sprinkr clearly has a few things to say because later that day I received this ad in my Twitter-feed:

Sprinklr Twitter ad
Sprinklr Twitter ad


The tragedy for this company is that they’re spending their ad budget talking corporate gibberish. They’re not the only ones doing it,  but that doesn’t make it better. Communications is really pretty simple, tell people what you do or what you’re selling.  Do this is by speaking their language not yours. Next time, spend a little money on a Copywriter. If you can’t afford that, just don’t let your Product Manager near your ads… Ever.

OmnicomPublisaurus – Adland spawns a big new beast

So the big merger has returned to the ad world. The merger of advertising groups Publicis and Omnicom will see the formation of a $35bn new entity that assumes the number one spot from the $30bn incumbent WPP. With so much interbreeding between adland and the tech world over the last 15 or so years, what will be the ramifications for tech?

Firstly let’s look at what sort of a beasts we’re dealing with. To start with, neither Omnicom or Publicis (nor WPP, Havas, Interpublic, or the handful of other players) are ad agencies as they are sometimes erroneously referred to in the tech world. Instead they are large portfolios groups comprising a full array of subsidiary marketing companies, who individually and collectively provide a range of marketing services to clients. The parent groups are constantly acquiring and divesting portfolio businesses as they seek to fine tune their offering to clients. The enmeshing of tech into their offerings in the last decade or so was part of this development. (It was also one of the drivers behind the development of tech in Silicon Roundabout).

Continue reading OmnicomPublisaurus – Adland spawns a big new beast

Advertising is dead; long live advertising

Whilst watching TV last night I saw something pretty special, it was this ad from Southern Comfort. Now I’m a little slow off the mark here – the ad was released last year, but after just one viewing I was hooked. This extremely simple ad displays what advertising does best – in the course of delivering a commercial message it is simultaneously insightful, humorous, soothing, self-fulfilling and above all, highly charismatic. The direction of the ad is a spot on; the deliberate lack of pace, the lingering shots, the rich colour palette, the brilliant casting… it hit the mark on all counts. This is what advertising does when it really does its job. It’s also the reason why advertising (and yes, even TV advertising) will remain a vital tool for marketers for a long time to come.

Continue reading Advertising is dead; long live advertising

Listen Facebook, just take my damn money!

When Facebook purchased Instagram last year part of the rationale was that Facebook was lousy with mobile and the acquisition would help. This was no frivolous thing, with mobile uptake and activity on Facebook outstripping browser-based action, and a majority of ad revenue coming from its browser-based activities Facebook could see writing on the wall.

Continue reading Listen Facebook, just take my damn money!

Do tech companies (and people) misunderstand advertising?

Firstly, let me apologise for writing yet another post that mentions Facebook; I promise, this will not become a Facebook-focused blog. In my defence though, there’s an awful lot happening with it as a business and much of it is incredibly interesting for new age marketers – ie. app developers. So on that note…

There’s been a lot of ink (both real and virtual) expended in recent weeks analysing the current and future performance of Facebook, and putting aside its rollercoaster IPO, much of that ink has been devoted to the performance of Facebook in the advertising realm. A quick whip around the news sees stories about: declining revenues; inability to get mobile right; the loss of GM’s business just prior to the IPO; and of course comparisons with business like Google who did get their advertising model right prior to IPO. Most, if not all the analysis warns that Facebook hasn’t got their advertising model right and that with its weakness in mobile it’s falling further behind. Firstly, this is fairly obvious, but as the actions of GM show, some marketers, some commentators, and perhaps even Facebook itself, seem to have a misunderstanding about how advertisers can make best use of Facebook’s facilities – the key here is considering how users interact with Facebook.

Continue reading Do tech companies (and people) misunderstand advertising?