Is it time advertising learnt to be nice ?

 

 

I don’t know about you but every time I pick up the Observer or Sunday Times, I always think that maybe I should have picked up the other one.

 

It’s that old FOMO – fear of missing out.

 

It’s particularly acute for anybody who works in advertising. Because every time you work on a brief, you believe  that that brand is the best one there is – the best building society, the best family-sized saloon with anti-dandruff shampoo…

 

Then you come to believe that there must be a whole host of other brands out there that are even better than the ones you’re working on… A beer that’s even tastier, an anti-dandruff shampoo which will make you irresistible to the people of your sexual preference while trimming your toe nails and tracking your mortgage.

 

People who work in advertising have that haunted look – yes, what I’ve got is fine – but surely there’s something even better round the corner.

 

Anyway, I picked up the Observer.

 

And out of it fell a leaflet with some of Dave Trott’s inspiring stories in it.

 

Dave was my first real boss in advertising, he taught me a whole approach to this industry, and he is one of the smartest people you’ll ever meet.

 

I loved the stories in the leaflet, but my only problem was the title –  ‘Predatory thinking’.

 

It’s very provocative – almost shockingly so, which is probably why Dave picked it. But it feels a little out of the Zeitgeist to me.

 

I can remember in the 1980s when Charlie Saatchi came up with the saying ‘ It’s not enough to win, someone has to lose’ .

 

(And by the way, has anyone heard anything about Charlie Saatchi recently – he seems to have dropped off the radar a bit ?)

 

In contrast, I’ve always preferred the saying ‘ Nobody wins unless everybody wins’.

 

It’s a question of attitude. And, as we enter the reputation economy – which will be all about transparency and accountability – it seems to me that brands shouldn’t aspire to be predatory.

 

Business per se will always have its predatory elements, of course – but I think brands are going to be about figuring out how they make the world a better place. And doing that in real, concrete ways.

 

I hope we’ll see a whole lot more brilliant ideas like the Coca-Cola ‘small world machines’ – the interactive vending machines that tried to bring together two nations at odds with each other, India and Pakistan. This idea combined innovative technology with a genuine desire to make the world a better place. And I love stuff like that.

 

(Incidentally, I first came across the idea in an article by Mark Tutssel in Campaign predicting possible Cannes winners.)

 

I  wonder – and I’m almost serious about this – whether, in a few years’ time, we won’t see a kind of consumer-led Operation Yewtree on brands. In which brands who have behaved in a predatory way to their customers, will be demonised, and penalised.

 

Woe betide the brands who try to pull a fast one, who try to slip in a weasel, or who attempt to goose their customers instead of just nudging them.

 

I also think that people will draw a distinction between brands that make them feel good – and brands that make them feel anxious.

 

That toothpaste accused me of having bad breath … That antiperspirant made me feel anxious about sweating and therefore liable to sweat even more …

 

Compared with – that antiperspirant made me laugh and made me feel better. That anti-dandruff shampoo solved the problem of unemployment in Kirby.

 

Or whatever.

 

(And actually it’s not about disconnected CSR. It’s about making the world a better place, realistically and relevantly,  for your customers.)

 

The brands we are really loyal to, are brands we believe  are on our side.

 

Corporations, by their very nature, tend towards the psychopathic. To my mind, they’ve got more than enough predatory thinking going on.  Every time they bring out a price plan designed to confuse people into paying more, I distrust them a little more.

 

To finish, I want to say that  I have absolutely no intention of picking a fight with Dave Trott here.

 

Because I love Dave. And anyway,  he always wins arguments.

 

But then again, I do like being contrarian.

 

Which is hardly surprising, given that I was taught by the brilliant Dave Trott.

  • Dave Trott

    Steve,
    I know we both agree with Whitehead “Sometimes the opposite of a great truth is another great truth”
    and Tony Benn “Democracy is about the vitality of the debate, not about crushing the opposition”.

  • Dave Trott

    Just one tiny nit-pick.
    Saatchi’s actual (usually misquoted) comment was “In order to win I just have to make you lose”.
    Much more interesting and useful than “it’s not enough” IMHO.
    (Witness how Brazil broke Spain last night.)

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