Tag Archives: Tech

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.

Triage: Treatment for Start-ups

Triage is now open Monday to Friday, 9am to 1pm, based at TechHub@Campus. Register here before your first visit.

To find out more about Tech London Advocates, click here.

This article was first published on 5/3/14 in Tech City Insider.

Why do it?

Starting a business can an exhilarating experience, the thrill that comes from taking an idea and making it reality is a heady thing. The flip-side of the thrill for many entrepreneurs is the sense of trepidation, a young business is a fragile thing that can be snuffed out in a host of different ways, not least of which the entrepreneur’s own mistakes or miss-steps. Avoiding these pitfalls takes two things – good networks and good advice. Triage was the result of an idea to tackle both.

The Tech City thing

Up until 2010, “Silicon Roundabout” was plugging away nicely as a small but growing digital start-up hub. Things changed in November of that year when the Prime Minister proclaimed the area for Britain and renamed it Tech City. Three years on I believe this transformational act has been hugely beneficial, but at the time the bemused citizens of Shoreditch weren’t quite sure what to make of it all. Some were concerned they had become pawns in a political game, others saw huge potential for London to claim a place on the world stage.

It’s who you know

At the time I was studying an MBA at nearby Cass Business School and was rather desperately casting around for a dissertation topic and struck upon the idea of researching the business networks in the area. It’s common wisdom that for a technology cluster to succeed it is vital that business networks are open and collaborative. From the initial stages of my research in early 2011 I came to the belief that East London was a bit of a closed shop – there were quality networks, but it was difficult for newcomers to access them. Through the hard work of many people and organisations over the last few years, this has changed. Today newcomers can get a feel for the business networks quickly and it’s not too hard to figure out who is who. Networking with entrepreneurs like yourself has become easier than ever but this has created a problem. If they are just like you, chances are they’re stuck with the same problems as you – getting good advice when you don’t have the resources to pay for it.

It’s also what you know

My networks research also turned up problems with skills and knowledge gaps – as a marketer I noticed a lack of marketing knowledge, and I guessed was this problem ran into other areas. Certainly the conversations I was having with investors seemed to bear this out. Knowledge for entrepreneurs is tricky. No one comes to entrepreneurship with a full skill set and often the resources to pay for advisors don’t exist either, so we seek advice. In the start-up world there’s no shortage of advice, from sources as diverse as online forums and the person sitting next to you in the pub. The challenge for entrepreneurs is knowing good advice from bad, whether it applies to their specific situation, and whether it applies at their specific point of development. For example, you have an idea about a product, before you spend 6 months building it, a quick chat with an experienced investor would be invaluable.

Creating Triage

I saw this problem of networks and knowledge and wanted to do something about it and finding a way to put experienced advisors in front of entrepreneurs seems to make sense. There’s nothing particularly novel about the idea of an advice “brokerage”, but by putting things together I saw an opportunity to help the entrepreneurs who most needed advice:

  1. There are any number of mentoring services in Tech City, but for the most part they help businesses who are a bit more developed and need ongoing one to one help. Triage is about quick interventions.
  2. There are also a number of office hours services put on by everyone from VCs to law firms, but these are not always available exactly when the entrepreneur needs them. Triage delivers access to experts within a couple of days.
  3. There are dozens of meetups where you can go for advice, but can you really trust the advice you’re receiving? Triage is backed by highly experienced volunteers.

The first two points are resolved by the Triage booking service. The third point was left unanswered until mid-2013 when Russ Shaw launched Tech London Advocates. Russ’ vision of hundreds of industry experts all dedicated to the advancement of tech was inspiring… and the thought of a captive pool of highly experienced, credible and motivated people was exactly the thing Triage needed to make it work. Luckily Russ liked the idea as well.

So how does it work?


  • To access the service, you only need to register here once, then you can pop in whenever you like.

The Desk

  • We have set up a physical location –we have a desk in TechHub@Campus (thank you guys!) which is open 9am to 1pm weekdays and if the service proves successful we hope to open more desks in more locations.

Initial Meeting

  • Upon arrival at Triage, you’ll have an initial discussion with the Advocate on the Desk, and depending on what sort of advice you need, they’ll set up a meeting with the next available specialist Advocate, usually within a day or two.

Specialist Meeting

  • Typically these meetings are half an hour or so – sufficient time to cover the problem, but sufficiently short to keep the meeting focused.

Why all the face to face?

Like most tech people I believe in disintermediation. However sometimes face to face is better; when you are sick might go online to check up on your symptoms, but ultimately you’ll go see a doctor. Triage is designed knowing the value of face to face contact for networking purposes. So the Initial Meeting in TechHub gives you a chance to discuss your problems with an experienced Advocate, perhaps they’ll turn up something you hadn’t considered, likewise for the Specialist Meetings.

A final word

Triage would not have been possible with enormous amounts of help from a lot of people, but specifically all the Advocates who volunteered half a day per month to work the Desk or an hour a month of their time for Specialist Meetings. I can’t thank them enough. To the entrepreneurs, I’d hope you’ll use Triage whenever you need it and hope you find it valuable, if you have any suggestions please do Tweet us, but remember that it’s provided by volunteers, so please respect people’s time and read the Triage code of conduct on the registration page.


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.

Tech Marketing in 2014: No Time for the Guru

It’s always a good thing when a friend gets an exciting new job. Double that if the job is with an excellent company which is experiencing high growth in a newly emerging category. But it’s not often that your friend’s new job has the potential to help redefine a profession (in this case, technology marketing). My friend Peter Thomson’s new role as Chief Marketing Officer with the equity crowdfunding platform, Seedrs, has the potential to do just this. Let me explain why…

Continue reading Tech Marketing in 2014: No Time for the Guru

Growth Hacking and Marketing: All I want for Christmas is a sense of perspective

With a week to go until Christmas the silly season is now in full swing – the annual prize fight between the big British brands for the best Christmas TV ad has already been won by John Lewis (in my opinion), and the remaining contenders for the Christmas single steeplechase are putting in their final sprint to the finish. But in the Techtopia, the world looks a little different, and a couple of things that appeared in my Twitter feed last week have prompted me to do some thinking. The first has been the growing buzz around the concept of Growth Hacking and its impact upon Marketing in general, and the second, seemly disconnected, was this absolute (Christmas) gift from Canadian airline, Westjet.

Continue reading Growth Hacking and Marketing: All I want for Christmas is a sense of perspective

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

Quit whining, Instagram are a business

The response to the news that Instagram have changed their integration with Twitter has me puzzled… really puzzled. I’m not puzzled as to why Instagram chose to do so, as they see it, they want more control of the data and user experience for themselves. I’m also not puzzled that Twitter have done similar things in the past, for example to LinkedIn. No, what really puzzles me has been the response from the tech community… the community normally so enamoured with the idea of being an entrepreneur and making a truckload of cash (and possibly saving the world in the process).