AdMan: The Incredible hulk fights Jonny from X Factor

Xmas is a time of tradition in the advertising industry.

When I was younger, it was traditionally a time of getting completely off your face for four weeks…

Now it’s traditionally a time of working 18 hours a day because clients find it very amusing to throw in difficult briefs right at that time.

But it’s usually quite a good time to take the industry’s temperature. 

Because a fair number of ad-folk are either sick at home or they can be found face down in the gutter with their trousers round their ankles.

Speaking for myself, I’m feeling a bit “chesty”, and whenever I’m ill I remember what Pascal said – “that the role of the doctor was merely to amuse the patient while the latter healed himself.”

I sometimes wonder if agencies play a similar role for brands: i.e., they’re an irrelevant but amusing place for brands to pass their time, while the important stuff happens somewhere else.

I say this not because marketing is useless - although it’s notoriously difficult to prove ROI on it - but just because marketing is changing so massively and so fundamentally.

In fact there’s a strong school of thought these days that a great product with an enlightened social media strategy doesn’t need marketing at all. 

So the role for agencies is getting much harder to define.


“Some of the most powerful brands in this country - from Amazon to eBay - seem equally allergic to traditional forms of marketing”

It’s rather like pinning the tail on a donkey that’s being launched off a tower in a small Spanish village.

A few years ago a friend of mine, a chap called Adam Morgan, who’s written several definitive books on marketing including Eat the Big Fish, wanted to talk to Google - because they were the most popular brand in the world.

Their response was interesting: “we’re allergic to marketing”. 

Some of the most powerful brands in this country - from Amazon to eBay - seem equally allergic to traditional forms of marketing.

With this in mind, I recently went to one of the biggest days of the year for marketeers - the annual conference of The Marketing Society. This always has an amazing line-up of speakers and this year it ranged from Keith Weed, the chief marketing officer of Unilever, to economic expert Dr Linda Yueh.

The bottom line takeout for me (corroborated by the Twitter feed displayed after each presentation) was this - we’re all f**ked.

“It was like watching the Incredible Hulk engage in an arm-wrestling contest with Johnny from X Factor”

Ok I’m exaggerating, but it was tricky to take much comfort from the day.

The theme of the conference was “global leadership” and we were treated to several comparisons with what’s happening in the so-called emerging world - probably better called the “dominant” world or just plain “sir” - because it soon became obvious that global economic power was switching to China for the next 50 years, with the other 6 E7 countries close behind (Russia, Brazil, India, Turkey, Indonesia and the Isle of Dogs, if I wrote them down right).

Dr Linda kept giggling when she gave us stats that compared China’s economic miracle with the devastation in Europe - it was like watching the Incredible Hulk engage in an arm-wrestling contest with Johnny from X Factor.

To make matters more depressing, I was recently sent two articles by a friend that showed how difficult it is to do effective marketing in the “old world” of the United States. 

One report found that American families repeatedly buy the same 150 items, which constitute as much as 85 per cent of their household needs; making it almost impossible to get something new on their radar.

And - according to Cincinnati research agency AcuPoll, as many as 95 per cent of new products introduced each year fail.

These are truly challenging times for the marketing industry.

But as the old motto has it, leadership is like a tea bag - you don’t know how strong it is until it’s in hot water.

Several of the luminaries at the conference, including Keith Weed, Andy Fennell of Diageo and David Smith of GFF, all disparaged traditional research, instead stressing the need for foresight over the rear-view mirror approach. No presentation seems complete these days unless it is quoting Jobs and Ford on the uselessness of research.

This is a massive positive, in an industry which has relied disastrously on an incredibly flawed model of research for far too long.

On the same day that George Osborne declared that the light at the end of the tunnel was getting smaller, this was actually a candle that was glowing. A light based on flair, courage and creative instincts - things which Britain has always excelled at.

But anybody suffering from SAD or just feeling a bit melancholy right now should read these words from the Elizabethan writer, Thomas Muffet. He said “It were too tedious to reckon up all the melacholique and mad people that have been cured by applying leeches to the hemarrods in their fundaments”.

That’s cheered me up. 

Because, if the choice is feeling melancholy or having a leech attached to your hemarrods, I’ve got to tell you that I’m feeling pretty good, thank you very much.

Yo ho ho, everybody.

Read the AdMan last’s column: Advertisers miss lying. So they’re making ads covert

Steve Henry was founder/creative director of Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, the agency voted Campaign’s Agency of the Year three times and Campaign’s Agency of the Decade in 2000. He has won most of the major creative awards, including the D&AD Gold Pencil, the Grand Prix at Cannes, the Grand Prix at the British Television Awards, and the President’s Award at Creative Circle (twice).

In 2008 he was included in Campaign Magazine’s inaugural Hall of Fame, a collection of the 40 most influential people in British advertising over the past 50 years. He now works as a creative consultant.

Steve has just launched Decoded, a ground-breaking programme that promises to teach anybody code in one day.

Social Bookmarks