Blog.

Essays at the intersection of marketing and life.

Captured: the power of the picture
28th October 2014

Captured: the power of the picture

In my work, I rely more and more on carefully curated images to tell complex stories. It is true, words are sometimes needed to give context and grounding, but my reflex is increasingly visual. Image search engines are my beloved friends; a clear thought finds new life in a carefully chosen picture. Driving back from … Continue reading “Captured: the power of the picture”

Gone Girl: harmony is sooo last season
21st October 2014

Gone Girl: harmony is sooo last season

Gilian Flynn pronounces her first name with a hard G. That’s GILLIE-an, not JILLY-an. Ms Flynn is no softie. In 2012 she wrote a book for the moment. Gone Girl is full of layers, surprises, misdirects, seething anger, poor judgment, bitter relationships and masks. It weaves a rough, uncomfortable thread into the fabric of popular … Continue reading “Gone Girl: harmony is sooo last season”

Seinfeld thinks Marketing screws with people’s lives. Kinda.
12th October 2014

Seinfeld thinks Marketing screws with people’s lives. Kinda.

Jerry Seinfeld recently delivered a blistering, amusing takedown of advertising. It was an uninvited ‘Marketing Roast’. The scene was dissonant: he was accepting an honorary Clio (the ad industry’s highest accolades), and was making an ‘acceptance speech’ in front of thousands of advertising’s luminaries in NYC. ‘I love advertising because I love lying’, he said, … Continue reading “Seinfeld thinks Marketing screws with people’s lives. Kinda.”

The Ice Bucket Age
23rd August 2014

The Ice Bucket Age

In the Spring of 2007, I sat on the deck of a sailing ship in the Caribbean and ordered a whisky sour. A man I had just met sat with me, and ordered a second. As we mixed our drinks with brightly coloured swizzle sticks, John Arthur turned to me with a glint in his … Continue reading “The Ice Bucket Age”

For the very first time
14th August 2014

For the very first time

There is a scene in American Beauty that is a transfixing emotional journey. Carolyn (Annette Bening), a grasping, anxiety-ridden real estate agent has spent a day showing a property which refuses to move. The rejections mount with comic bounce, until she is alone, closing the drab curtains on a house unwanted. Her face contorts and … Continue reading “For the very first time”

Unplugged: the executioner’s lament
23rd July 2014

Unplugged: the executioner’s lament

When I travel, I’m a devil for power. That is to say, if my iPhone is showing anything less than 50%, I feel in threat of losing connection with the world. Those who own a smartphone will know that this is tantamount to not existing at all. In the old days, 50% battery was not … Continue reading “Unplugged: the executioner’s lament”

God Bless America
23rd July 2014

God Bless America

I ended up using public transport for most of my stay in San Francisco last week. If you wander through life with a car and a middle-class income, it is damned easy to lose touch with the most ordinary of day-to-day rituals. Losing touch, dramatised to presidential proportions, was a turning point in George Bush … Continue reading “God Bless America”

Caught red-handed, doing the right thing
20th July 2014

Caught red-handed, doing the right thing

I have spent most of a week in San Francisco, that cradle of relaxed inventiveness, talking with young men about their lives and their relationship with premium brands. In our world of marketing, one is served by curiosity: exactly how is it to be in your shoes, and not mine? It is a privilege of … Continue reading “Caught red-handed, doing the right thing”

The  Amy Winehouse Effect: Why decline could be good for your business
20th July 2014

The Amy Winehouse Effect: Why decline could be good for your business

At 2’39” in Amy Winehouse’s classic anthem, Back to Black, an extraordinary thing happens. The song effectively comes to a halt. The rhythm is jettisoned, the clambering bass line is silenced, and Amy herself seems to fall into a funereal trance. ‘Black… black… black…’, she intones. It is as though all were lost. I have … Continue reading “The Amy Winehouse Effect: Why decline could be good for your business”

Spontaneity & the art of toilet-making
12th June 2014

Spontaneity & the art of toilet-making

A consistent rule of thumb, among young drinking men, is this: the best nights out are those that are unplanned. There is a special joy in the spontaneous that taps into a core human desire – to be tickled, surprised, and stimulated out of the vale of tears which Parisians bleakly call ‘metro, boulot, dodo’ … Continue reading “Spontaneity & the art of toilet-making”

The taste of time
7th June 2014

The taste of time

Last night, I tasted some Armagnac brandy which was distilled in 1925 – five years before my late father was born, seven years after an armistice ended the war-to-end-all-wars, and the year a renegade nobody in Germany published Mein Kampf. It was an experience that deeply affected me. We were a group of journalists, spirits … Continue reading “The taste of time”

The moon, the moon
28th April 2014

The moon, the moon

This details the most beautiful way to describe a lunar eclipse that I have ever heard. On hearing it, I was immediately swept up; nailed in; sold. It made me see with new eyes. Unforgettable. Bottle a talent for memorable communication, and you’ve got marketing made. Language is so powerful. It shapes our thinking and … Continue reading “The moon, the moon”

Cheater, Cheetah
13th April 2014

Cheater, Cheetah

I have watched a cheetah hunting, once, in South Africa. It was a beautiful sight. The stalk, the strategy, the crouch, and then, timed by some inner wizardry, the explosive burst of speed as he towered down upon his prey. The cheetah can only run for so long. The cost of speed is measured in … Continue reading “Cheater, Cheetah”

Vinyl Revival, and the meaning of life
6th April 2014

Vinyl Revival, and the meaning of life

The story came out of Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis Presley and BB King. But it had nothing to do with music, as it transpired in a mortuary and concerned Mister Walter William’s body bag, and the startling fact that it had suddenly, and unexpectedly, wriggled. Walter was not quite ready to be embalmed. He insisted … Continue reading “Vinyl Revival, and the meaning of life”

On first seeing Russia
2nd April 2014

On first seeing Russia

One of the most beloved novels in the English language was originally entitled ‘First Impressions’. Its author knew the power of intuition when it comes to the mating game, and the journey one needs to embark upon to roll back our view of people, once the attitude is formed. The flight path into Moscow sweeps … Continue reading “On first seeing Russia”

Lacoste has made a beautiful ad
17th March 2014

Lacoste has made a beautiful ad

I have been a fan of French cinema for many years – but in the same manner that I am a fan of French wine: I happened upon a few that truly took my fancy, and I have never forgotten them. They simply stuck. My favourite film is a French drama of the 1990s. Conte d’Eté is by … Continue reading “Lacoste has made a beautiful ad”

The Facebook Fallacy
13th March 2014

The Facebook Fallacy

It is simply inscrutable. Why have I never seen one single episode of CSI, given my voracious appetite for the Pistorius trial over the last days? There is something at once moving and ghoulish to observe a nation’s justice system run its course, and the people’s hero, who once stalked the land like a futuristic … Continue reading “The Facebook Fallacy”

LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE: What if your most loyal consumers didn’t give a damn?
30th December 2013

LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE: What if your most loyal consumers didn’t give a damn?

The lover of Oscar Wilde did not do much to be proud of in his indolent life. By most accounts, he was entitled, obnoxious and serially unstable, often depriving Wilde of the inner peace an artist needs, in order to create. As a member of the Aesthetes of late Victorian London, Bosie, like many of … Continue reading “LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE: What if your most loyal consumers didn’t give a damn?”

The Fascinating Detail
27th November 2013

The Fascinating Detail

My nerd gene seems to be expressing itself, exponentially. Released from the peer pressure of youth, I have taken to doing what I damned well please. This happens to include ’embracing the detail’. Tracking airplanes in the sky is a recent venture. I admit I only discovered it last week, but the FlightRadar24 app is … Continue reading “The Fascinating Detail”

My Kingdom for a Postcode
8th October 2013

My Kingdom for a Postcode

Looking back, it is hard to define what made it so compelling. Was it simply that it stood there, picturesquely, amongst grass and hedges, framed by the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks? Or perhaps that there was little else of human creation to attract attention? Or maybe the explanation is more prosaic – that I needed to water … Continue reading “My Kingdom for a Postcode”

Amanda Knox and the challenge of global marketing
2nd October 2013

Amanda Knox and the challenge of global marketing

The retrial of Amanda Knox, the 26-year-old American exchange student charged with the 2007 murder of her British house mate, Meredith Kercher, began yesterday near the scene of the crime, in Italy. Since the perplexing and tragic events of the night of 1st November 2007 in medieval Perugia – All Soul’s Day demands that Italians … Continue reading “Amanda Knox and the challenge of global marketing”

Ryanair: can a camp Irish bully really reform?
22nd September 2013

Ryanair: can a camp Irish bully really reform?

Once upon a time there was an airline like no other. It was bedecked in white and blue and red, and launched its silken wings into skies at dawn, bringing messages of hope to a weary world. In braids of golden splendour, it anointed those who chose to fly first class, swooning at their every … Continue reading “Ryanair: can a camp Irish bully really reform?”

Bee still my beating heart
17th June 2013

Bee still my beating heart

You will begin to see bees everywhere – in our culture, in our media, in our brands, in our marketing practices. Here’s the reason why… Bees are going mainstream. Have you noticed? I want to talk a little about how the marketing ‘conversation’ evolves over time. In order to capture the attention of people, themes … Continue reading “Bee still my beating heart”

This change may affect your marketing career
10th June 2013

This change may affect your marketing career

How would you approach your current employment, or your next job interview, if you knew it would last for only 2 to 4 years? Technology is a dodgy world when you only half-know what’s going on. I have avoided upgrading my smartphone because I cannot handle the trauma of changeover. Somehow, despite my efforts, I … Continue reading “This change may affect your marketing career”

In praise of Tower Records
8th May 2013

In praise of Tower Records

Recession takes no prisoners. It is dispiriting to pass so many retail outlets which have closed up shop. We have become used to the signals: dwindling stock, a certain tiredness in window displays and then, bang! Gone. Economic downturn reveals a certain law-of-the-jungle truth. Those businesses which were built leaner,  operated more flexibly and were … Continue reading “In praise of Tower Records”

Laundry Quandary
30th April 2013

Laundry Quandary

Authenticity in life is always aspirational. It is simply worth more. We somehow know this intuitively. We feel best when we are not faking it; in company, we can call out a faker in under ten seconds. It is as if nature has primed us to pursue the real. Being authentic is inherently difficult in the … Continue reading “Laundry Quandary”

The ‘Boston Bomber’ and a truth of marketing.
22nd April 2013

The ‘Boston Bomber’ and a truth of marketing.

‘We got him’ With this tweet from Boston’s mayor, Tom Menino, his city seemed to erupt in jubilation. Its famous Common was overtaken by hollering young adults, many stripped to the waist and in a festive mood that I connect with tail-gating before a high-stakes American football game. The scene reminded me of July 12th … Continue reading “The ‘Boston Bomber’ and a truth of marketing.”

Swashbuckle – battling the ordinary
1st April 2013

Swashbuckle – battling the ordinary

Idling in my hotel foyer, I picked up a book on the life of Shakespeare. It spoke in detail of ‘bardolatry’ – the adoration of the man from Stratford, heralded as a poet not only of his age, but ‘for all time’. One of the striking features of Shakespeare’s legacy is the rumble of conspiracy … Continue reading “Swashbuckle – battling the ordinary”

GAME – the power of marketing’s fourth wall
28th March 2013

GAME – the power of marketing’s fourth wall

It was a tense moment. The maned lion, limping yet still powerful, edged his way towards us. Our tiered safari truck sat between him and the rest of the pride. He stared straight ahead, as if through us. His pace was even, his gait somewhat lop-sided. I watched and smelled him approach, feeling unnerved; gripped. … Continue reading “GAME – the power of marketing’s fourth wall”

Mayor Bloomberg, junk food and the ethics of marketing
16th March 2013

Mayor Bloomberg, junk food and the ethics of marketing

In the Spanish language, the word ‘advertising’ translates as ‘propaganda’. I find this revealing, a sort of a cultural moment-of-clarity which most other languages and nations have willfully forgotten. We in the marketing community, ever sharp-yet-coy, have advanced the idea that advertising simply informs and entertains. Indeed, ads that work well receive garlands from industry … Continue reading “Mayor Bloomberg, junk food and the ethics of marketing”

Carrie Bradshaw, I hardly knew you
8th March 2013

Carrie Bradshaw, I hardly knew you

I’ve spent more than a week working in New York City, staying in a hotel so painfully trendy that it hurts. Hurts the eardrums at least. It is the first hotel I have stayed in which has a DJ in the lobby. The lights are set so low that even my skin looks young. At … Continue reading “Carrie Bradshaw, I hardly knew you”

Inglorious Pistorius
19th February 2013

Inglorious Pistorius

When I lived in France many years ago, I used to learn both French and marketing from the slogans of TV ads. They were the perfect source of bitesize wisdom. Three lines remain with me to this day. – Perrier: l’eau, l’aire, la vie. I was totally in awe of the courage of a brand … Continue reading “Inglorious Pistorius”

Perfection is soooo last season
13th February 2013

Perfection is soooo last season

“Nine-and-a-half percent! Nine-and-a-half percent! Buy a Fiat right away, it’s money wisely spent.” This radio ad, aired in the mid 1970’s with a suitably sticky jingle, is lodged in my brain. It is a gossamer thread to another age in marketing. An age when 9.5% interest was a good deal; an age when borrowing was … Continue reading “Perfection is soooo last season”

Netflix reinvents TV – tomorrow happening today
6th February 2013

Netflix reinvents TV – tomorrow happening today

One of the big ideas that has drawn me to semiotics (the art of understanding cultural context, kidnapped by marketing in a bid to better understand ‘consumers’) is its core premise. Semiotics assert that the future is present in our world today, but is poorly distributed. This has acted as an ongoing incentive for me … Continue reading “Netflix reinvents TV – tomorrow happening today”

Consumer Change: books versus eBooks
16th January 2012

Consumer Change: books versus eBooks

I grew up entranced by song. It was constantly on my mind and in my ear. At an early age I began to deconstruct melody, harmony and counterpoint. Of course, I did not perceive them in these terms. Rather, my ear simply heard, and could distinguish between, the many layers that make up a full … Continue reading “Consumer Change: books versus eBooks”

Learning marketing from storytellers
4th January 2012

Learning marketing from storytellers

Having led a dissolute movie-life until my mid thirties, even I was surprised when I suddenly fell in love with cinema. In my teens and twenties, I was a positive laggard. To this day, I am both proud and ashamed to say that I have never seen any of the Star Wars movies, Rocky, Close … Continue reading “Learning marketing from storytellers”

Greatest Marketer Of All Time? Who it is may surprise you
8th December 2011

Greatest Marketer Of All Time? Who it is may surprise you

In my thirties, I followed politics and read The Economist. Facts were my way of knowing the world. I always knew what was happening in Malawi – and not just that nation’s adoption policies for gap-toothed celebrities. In my forties, I find myself moving towards culture as a means of understanding the world, and why … Continue reading “Greatest Marketer Of All Time? Who it is may surprise you”

16th November 2011

Pricing is positioning

When I was a junior brand manager in France, I thought myself a local hero because I managed Bounty. Chocolate that is, not kitchen roll. Not only was the brand big news for the Gallic palette, it also had a very clear brand positioning which made life very easy. ‘Whatever the question is, the answer … Continue reading “Pricing is positioning”

Seán Gallagher’s lie
16th November 2011

Seán Gallagher’s lie

Although every child tries it out, it’s pretty difficult to get a lie past your mammy. The child’s predicament is neatly reflected in one of my favourite studies in psychology where children were asked the simple question: who knows you best? Under the age of eleven, most children decided that it is Mum who knows … Continue reading “Seán Gallagher’s lie”

What if Zuckerberg isn’t always right?
15th November 2011

What if Zuckerberg isn’t always right?

Sheryl Sandberg leaned forward, the eagerness-to-please emblazoned on her face at odds with her age, wisdom and – one imagines – her ego. It was not Charlie Rose, the interviewer opposite her, who inspired such transcendent attention. Rather, it was her co-interviewee, and twenty-seven year old employer. ‘Exactly’, she intoned, as Mark spoke of his … Continue reading “What if Zuckerberg isn’t always right?”