Structural Shifts #14 w/ Paul Mellor, a podcast by Aperture

Putting Marketing Strategy Above Tactics (#14)

How often does advertising motivate you to buy? According to our guest, ad and branding expert, Paul Mellor, advertising fails 89% of the time. Hosted by Ben Robinson, this episode unpacks what has gone wrong with advertising and what companies must do to turn things around. Don’t be a bland advertising wallpaper! If you like swearing, then you’re in for a treat. Fair warning.

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The premise that you can serve the right message to the right person at the right time is bollocks.

Full transcript:

Ben: [00:00:00] We are with Paul Mellor, one half of Mellor&Smith, which is a London based advertising and branding agency. Paul, welcome to the podcast.

Paul: [00:00:14] Cheers mate. Thanks for having me.

Ben: [00:00:16] We’re recording this in Geneva, and the reason you’re in Geneva today is because you don’t live very far away, right? You’re now living in Annecy?

Paul: [00:00:22] Yes.

So what is the job of marketing? The job of marketing is to create demand. And the job of advertising is to get noticed. Now, people managed to confuse the two.

Ben: [00:00:23] How is it running a London based advertising agency from Annecy?

Paul: [00:00:27] It poses its challenges. I mean, I only moved here just over a year ago. I’d been in London for 15 years, more than that, 15–16 years, and I just got a bit bored. I got stale and I was on the M25 with my wife and kids, and we were stuck in traffic.

I just sort of had had enough… I was telling my wife, I’m sorry, I’m just not doing this anymore. I’m not sitting in the traffic. Let’s go, let’s go and have an adventure. Let’s go do something different. And we met in the mountains. We were both seasonaires, as doing ski seasons years ago. So we, we loved the mountains.

And so we, yeah, we decided to move to Annecy and then I commute back to London every week. So I do a couple of days in the studio in London, and then I do the rest of the week in Annecy and actually my creative is massively improved. In London, I’m… you know, managing the studio and I’m meeting clients, pitches, presentations, whatever it is, the three days that, I mean, so the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, that, I’m in Annec, it’s just writing. I’m doing the things that clients buy and that is, you know, what do they get?

They get, “creative”… the things that will change their businesses. So that’s what they get three days a week. And that clarity has massively improved. I kind of almost gone back to why us, you know, it’s real in a fire and it’s good.

Ben: [00:01:47] I can see how that could work. So two day are dedicated to sort of meetings, getting stuff done, and then three days are dedicated to what?Marketing is about raw, which is being creative.

Paul: [00:01:56] Yeah. So our, the whole shtick of our business is we get you noticed, so an agency, the vast majority of agencies don’t get people noticed. They create guff. This is meaningless wallpaper. And we get brands noticed, that’s what we do. So how do you do it? We have to like dedicate some time to do it, it’s a really difficult thing to do.

Ben: [00:02:15] Yeah. And the challenge in a way has become harder, right? Because we as consumers are increasingly time poor and more importantly, attention poor, right? So is marketing getting harder, do you think? And therefore is it you’re doing a better job and everybody else has just sort of carried on doing the same? Or do you think that people have got worse?

Paul: [00:02:39] So there are not… This is a very big question. I mean, I could talk probably for an hour on that question. There are a number of factors. The first factor is that the media landscape is ever more fragmented.

If you rewind to the 70s you had a handful of channels available to you, you know, and of which the biggest by absolutely miles was TV. Whereas now the media landscape is really fragmented. You know, there’s a myriad of different channels that marketers can choose, and it’s almost, they don’t know where to go.

And that feeds into the second point. There is a massive dearth of talent in marketing, and that’s because the vast majority of marketers are not trained marketers. They’ve come out, they’ve come out of university having done some bullshit degree. And they go, wow, marketing is cool, isn’t it? And I’ll go be a marketer.

It’s dead easy. Just pictures, maybe some words. And that’s why the vast majority of is rubbish. And is it ineffective? And doesn’t work because the people that are commissioning it don’t know. They’re not trained marketers. Do you ask them, what are the four P’s of marketing, they look at you with a blank face. You know, you fucking moron.

And that then transpires or like moves into briefing agencies. Because you know, if you don’t know what you’re doing, how can you write a decent brief to get an agency to give you the best work? So the agencies get poor briefs, then they produce poor work. The flip side of that is the leaderships within agencies… just Yes Men. You know, I pride myself on being a pain in the ass. I shouldn’t just be a Yes Man. I should challenge and question and, and be difficult into getting to the answer of why this client has a problem. Rather than just accepting, well, this is what I think my problem is, and if, and if a client is prepared to have those difficult conversations, then that is when the best relationships and best work will come out of it. But that’s a whistle stop tour of, you know?

Ben: [00:04:39] Yeah, no, there’s a few things to pick up on there. It’s the first one. Is that what you said there about, you know, everybody thinking they could do marketing resonated with me, right? Because yeah, I remember in the time that I did marketing, it’s like. People feel there’s like, there’s such low, some barriers to being a marketer because it’s really about, you know, colours and you know, everybody understands it, and so it feels really accessible to everybody and therefore everybody has a strong subjective opinion on marketing, which makes the job very difficult. There’s no objective way to spot good work.

Paul: [00:05:10] Well, there it is. So what is the job of marketing? The job of marketing is to create demand. And the job of advertising is to get noticed. Now, people managed to confuse the two. So marketing is if you’re in the B2B side, generating leads, and if you, if you’re really good, like sales qualified leads, like ones that are actually worthwhile.

And if you’re on the B2C side, its shifting more products in the supermarket or you know, whatever it is they sell. That’s the job of a marketer. Create demand. The job of an advertiser is to get noticed. You can’t create demand if nobody knows you exist. So that’s why marketers use advertising. One of the biggest problems there is that marketing budgets have come under a lot of scrutiny and attention and have been cut over the last, there’s a trend over the last sort of 20 years or so that marketing budgets are, in the main, cut. They’re one of the first ones to be cut. When a business comes in, the pressure, which is madness. Why the hell would you cut a budget that gets you noticed if you’re in trouble? Don’t understand that.

Ben: [00:06:18] That’s very cyclical, yeah.

Can you imagine if 89% of an architect’s buildings fell down because they weren’t very good at their job? There’d be a complete outcry, but it’s somehow, okay that 89% of ads are forgotten and money is wasted, like just poured away.

Paul: [00:06:21] Which it shouldn’t be in if you’re in, if your business is, is struggling, don’t cut the thing that gets you noticed, I don’t understand

Ben: [00:06:29] Yeah, cut the oxygen. If we accept, which I’m not sure everybody would, right, but the objective of marketing is to create demand. How do you actually demonstrate causality, right? Because this is a field where I think in addition to everything you’ve said, right, about the fragmentation of the media landscape, the dearth of talent, I think people have become a bit obsessed by ad tech, right?

Because, because ad tech. You know, offered this promise of being able to precisely calculate the exact impact of your marketing. Right? So I would add to your list of sort of ills. You know, this obsession with ad tech, which is…

Paul: [00:07:04] It’s not just ad tech, but like digital marketing as a whole, but ad tech is definitely the problem child within that.

The premise that you can serve the right message to the right person at the right time is bollocks. Like, that’s how strongly I feel really strongly about this. Um, delivering a, a message, a perceived targeted message as a perceived, you know, targeted person at this targeted moment. It goes against all accepted marketing, fucking like the fundamentals of marketing, but that doesn’t matter if you’re selling ad tech, you can save a company money because you don’t get any…. The sell is, there’s no wastage. Well, of course, the flip side is… no one notices what you’re saying because marketing works on broadcast, not narrow cast.

So the difference being, if you serve one message to one person that’s narrow, it’s narrow cast. I don’t know what that message says about me to my peers. I don’t know where I make what I’m signaling… virtue signaling… I hate that term… but I’m not able to demonstrate what I am telling my peers about myself by buying that product.

Whereas if it’s broadcast, everyone knows that that product exists. So if I buy that product, then I am telling my peers something about myself to them about what I stand for. You know, how much money I earn, what I, you know, what things I’m interested in, you know, like what am I, what my values, whatever it is.

And that’s why it’s effective. And of course, just by, just by being broadcast doesn’t mean it is effective, but it is an effective medium and effective channel. You then need to lay it out. With something that’s going to get someone’s attention. So that’s advertising. That’s creative. How do you get someone’s attention?

We do the complete opposite to everybody else. If you are the same as everybody else, you are wallpaper. You are, you are. It’s incredibly difficult to get someone’s attention if you’re the same as everybody else. Whereas if you’re different to everybody else. You will be noticed. And so the, the research that backs this up or sort of steadfastly supports this is the IPA did some research a couple of years ago, the average Londoner, and it’s the same for any built up urban area, but the, the research was done in London.

The average Londoner sees a thousand ads a day. TV, radio, print, social media, digital, whatever it is, a thousand ads. Of those thousand ads, 89% of them are immediately forgotten. 89%! Only 4% of them are remembered positively. 7% remembered negatively You, it’s to get in that 11% is so difficult. I mean, you’d rather be remembered negatively than ignored.

Yeah. To be ignored is, I said. It’s, it is a joke how bad our industry is at its job. Can you imagine if 89% of an architect’s buildings fell down because they weren’t very good at their job? They’d be complete outcry, but it’s, it’s somehow, okay. The 89% of ads are forgotten and money is just poured in and and just wasted, like just poured away.

You would get more traction by just, if you’re going to produce ads that are inside the 89% it’d be better off taking that a hundred grand that you’re going to spend, burn it, film it, and put it on YouTube. You would get more from that. The new world just…

our bland is the result of many bland meetings and brainstorms where no one in the bland team or the rest of the business could agree on anything. We’re like any other bland, unremarkable. It is our point of indifference, our USP, our unoriginal selling point. Why stand out when you were born to fit in? Our promise is to always go on noticed.

Ben: [00:10:53] Which is the band that did that? You remember they got loads of publicity because I think they burnt a hundred thousand pounds. But what I like about, well, I like everything you’re saying, but…

Paul: [00:11:03] Okay, that’s very kind of you

Ben: [00:11:05] But, a couple of things I want to pick up on that really, again, I thought were really on point, right? One was.

Let’s say just hypothetically I could target you precisely with exactly the right message at the right time. Probably the fallacy is that even if I did all that, you probably have an ad blocker on. And even if you didn’t have an ad blocker and you wouldn’t remember it cause it wasn’t very good advert in the first place.

So in a way, this is what I’m talking about, this obsession with adtech because we’ve got so obsessed with the tech and the ability to micro target that we forget that actually you still need to stand out and it still needs to be a good ad in the first place. And then the other thing that I liked about what you’re saying was… There was an academic study at, I don’t know if you ever saw it, but it was like the part of marketing that works is the wastage, the wastage works, which is, because you said, it’s like, you know, when you see a really expensive production on TV or whatever, that has a signaling effect that says, this company has money, this company can afford good actors, you know?

So, so in a way, just because we can’t measure the impact of it doesn’t mean that it’s wasted. Right. Yeah. And then the other thing you said, which I think you’ve referred to… Which is we’re not just trying to build demand, right? We’re also trying to build loyalty because loyalty creates sort of priced inelasticity and allows you to charge more.

And so at its root, it comes down to what you said, which is get noticed, which is one of, you know, we help you to get noticed as one of your taglines. The other one. Which is “take fucking risks”. Right? And the two go hand in hand. Right? Because you can’t stand out unless you’re prepared to say something and stand for something that’s a bit different from your peers, right.

It’s like, yeah. Tell us what mediocrity looks like because you referred early run for this bland guidelines that you came up with. Just just talk to us about that. Cause there’s this, I really liked this when I, when I found this on your website.

Paul: [00:12:50] I produced this with one of the most well known, best regarded, well-regarded copywriters in the world, I would say.

So, Vicki Ross, she’s @vickirosswrites on Twitter. She’s incredible. And so the two of us teamed up and we worked with Grace State, who’s one of our designers in our agency at Mellor and Smith, and we produced that, what we call our “bland guidelines” as a satirical view of the garbage that we see on a pretty much daily basis.

So brands will have their brand guidelines, and that is the, you know, the, the Bible almost, this document that cannot be deviated from that is the thing that that brand stands for and it will contain their vision, mission, you know, their purpose statement. It will, what fonts they’re using, what colors, what imagery, that tone of voice, all of the things.

Right. So you use that and we would get sent that…

Ben: [00:13:54] It is like an inverse correlation, right? Between blandness and the length of the brand.

Paul: [00:13:59] Yes, of course. Yeah. The, the, the, the more bland than longer… And so I get sent these, whenever we’re working with a new client that, you know, one of the conversations we write, send us your brand guidelines so we can see what it is that you think you stand for and all this kind of stuff.

And I, so I see them every day. I would say four or five a week. And they’re all the same. Uh, they all say the same old rubbish that’s so bland and vanilla and meaningless, and they think that they’re being profound and different. And so, you know, I’m in a really good position in that I see lots of them, whereas a brand will probably only see their own.

Um, or maybe a couple of others. And so we, we made the “bland guidelines” as a, almost like a bit of a piss take to these things. Satire. People see it and they go, shit, that’s, yeah, that’s, I was, you know, it’s, I mean, you can post it, but it’s, it says, you know, it’s kinda goes in our bland story. You know, our bland is the result of many bland meetings and brainstorms where no one in the bland team or the rest of the business could agree on anything. We’re like any other bland, unremarkable. It is our point of indifference, our USP, our unoriginal selling point. Why stand out when you were born to fit in? That’s the positioning statement and our bland purpose is to share bland communications with the world.

Our promise is to always go on noticed. The bland personality is we are always Daft. With D standing for Dedicated, A for Authentic, P for Passionate, H for Helpful, T for Trusted.

Ben: [00:15:37] I think Passionate is one of those company values — de rigeur. Like, if you don’t have it right, you miss. You know?

Paul: [00:15:43] It’s like saying you’re honest. Yeah. It’s like trusted. Like the minute someone says that, I’m. Trust me, I’m, yeah, I’m really trustful, trustworthy. Like you are obviously not trustworthy.

Ben: [00:15:55] Like, “I’m not a racist, but…”

Paul: [00:15:58] And then, you know, our bland color is blue and classic ivory. Cause you know, nobody’s that… there’ll be, there’ll be a picture of a millennial. Oh yeah. Yeah. I mean, cause you know, and no, no, no plan is worth…

Ben: [00:16:15] This is worth delving in for a second… because essentially people have pivoted so much of their messaging and targeted to millennials who…

Paul: [00:16:25] Who don’t have any money

Ben: [00:16:27] Yeah, they don’t make decisions in organizations, don’t have any money.

Paul: [00:16:30] Yeah. But they’re cool. And they eat smashed avocado on toast? No. The point, I mean, it’s a serious point. When was the last car ad that you saw that didn’t have a young person in it? Like when was the last time you saw a car ad that had an old person in it? If the over fifties in the US where their, their country in their own right.

They’d be the fifth richest economy in the world yet. And they’re the people that buy all the cars. The new ones. Yeah.

Ben: [00:17:00] Millennials rent them.

Paul: [00:17:01] Yeah. And you don’t see an old person in a car ad, but you’re expecting this old person to buy your car. Like it’s not hipsters that are buying Teslas. It’s 50 year olds. But you wouldn’t think that.

And that’s a serious point. Uh, you know, I mean, obviously it flippantly delivered, but it’s like millennials don’t have any money. They don’t even exist. I mean like they’re not even a thing. The idea that anyone between the age of 18 and 35 is exactly the same. They’ve all got exactly the same.

Yeah. But you know, they, those people don’t have any money yet. You wouldn’t think that for all the advertising that is targeted at them, especially expensive things that costs loads of money.

Ben: [00:17:43] Let’s talk about some of your own work where you, uh, where you’ve taken risks or you’ve, you know, you’ve pursuaded the customer to take risks and you’ve done stuff that’s really stood out.

So for example, on your website, you have this video of the Faulty Towers show in London, and that’s great. So could you just tell us about that, because that is, I mean, it’s, I imagine it was really successful, but it was certainly super distinctive. Right. Whoever saw that would never forget it.

Paul: [00:18:08] Yeah. So there was one of our clients is the immersive theater experience, Faulty Towers, so the TV show, Faulty Towers, they’ve made a theater experience, but you can go for dinner at in like the Faulty Towers Hotel, and they have the actors, the characters playing the part, and you have your dinner there.

It’s been going for 20 years in London, in the West End. Really, really successful. Um, and then there was a new entrant into the market about a year and a half ago and they started to erode market share as you would expect. A new Faulty Towers engine, backed by John Cleese. John Cleese made his own one.

So you think that that’s, that’s clearly, that’s a big powerful competitor in that respect. Cause it’s like the guy that wrote Faulty Towers has gone, well, I can make one of those. So our client came to us and said, you know, we’re seeing that ticket sales to starting to erode. You know, we’re not selling as many tickets as we were, so we need to get out there and tell as many people as possible that haven’t been to this show.

Probably mostly in our audience for people that hadn’t been to the show before, rather than trying to get repeat purchase to come by the show. So we looked at the problem and it, it came to is, you know, our creative answer to that problem was that you needed to get people to experience a little bit of the show.

All right. Okay, let’s do that. What we did was we put the show on the Tube on the Bakerloo line, and we chose that specifically because you can turn it into a dining room because of the way that the booth is kind of laid out and in the middle of rush hour, so we did it. We ran it from five o’clock until eight o’clock in the evening.

The actors on there made the tables essentially put a dinner party. On the Tube in the middle of rush hour, and we didn’t ask for permission. I mean, if we’d have asked, we’d been told no,

Ben: [00:19:53] Imagine the Health and Safety loops, you would’ve…

Paul: [00:19:56] And we ran it and it was incredibly successful. The amount of people that saw that, that was sharing it, the ticket sales, like immediately jumped.

They sold, they completely sold out in the most difficult couple of months. So the next couple of months after that stunt. Artificially, their most difficult months to sell this sold out. They’ve resolved the problem, they’ve taken the fight to the competition, and they’re back to selling out every night when, you know, when they, when they put the show on.

So it completely answered the brief. I’ve got a lot of attention, lots of press attention. So earned media rather than bought media. Um. Really, really successful. I mean, I had to bang out a couple of, you know, a couple of notes to the, the attendance on the, on the Tube, you know, because they were like, what’s going on?

And there was some sort of, Brian and I… In a nice way, you know, like as in, could you just turn and look the other way while we do this? And they did, but they got it. And you know, the commuter in London is notoriously grumpy and they don’t want to be there. They’ve got their face in somebody’s armpit, they’re bit cheesed off, and they absolutely loved it. They absolutely loved it. And it’s real. That’s, that’s pretty risky. And that’s a relatively small, a relatively small client, but I think it’s a really good case study for…

we started talking about Take Fucking Risks, telling clients one at a time — this is what you have to do.

Ben: [00:21:19] Just to come back to this point again, because we’ve completely, I think we’ve agreed upon about 90% of things, but what you, what you are doing there is not only taking risks, not only getting noticed, but you’re also adapting to the new world, right?

Because that’s one in which you’re getting in front of people. Yeah. I mean, you’re not using traditional media to do this. Right. And then also, you know, the, the act of them sharing it and become very memorable and them sharing it on their channels was very important. Success, I guess. Right?

Paul: [00:21:48] So, yes… Yes and no. I mean, there is a difference between digital marketing and, you know, people sharing, just because you share like word of mouth out to your 500 followers on Instagram, it doesn’t mean it has power. Yeah, it has some power, and I’m saying it, it’s just not as powerful as it was. You know, in years gone by. Yes, it is definitely a new, not a new method, but not a traditional method doing a stunt like that, but people have been doing stunts for years.

The, the point here is we shouldn’t be choosing the media before we’ve settled on the idea. The idea comes first and then like the best possible way of bringing that idea to life is that then the media that should be chosen there. We wanted people to experience, you know, a little snapshot of what it’s like.

You know, they, they enjoy that. That little moment. And then they’re going to say, Right, I’ll go and buy tickets for Saturday night for, you know, to go out with the, with the wife for dinner, and you know, on a Saturday night. Right. So that’s, that’s powerful. And the best way to do that, the best way to show that experience was a live event.

It was a stunt, if the, if the best way of showing that was a TV ad. We had done a TV ad. If the best way of doing it was to put it on a billboard, we’d put it on a billboard. We didn’t start with, let’s do a stunt. You know, cause that’s tactics before strategy. You can only get noticed if you’re prepared to take risks.

And we’re not talking by turning the dial one notch away from the competition. We’re talking about doing 180 degrees different. You have to be completely different. But that takes guts to, you know, to, to do that, you have to be really sure that it’s the right thing to do. And it’s far easier just to sit in the crowd in the congested central middle ground in a, in an industry.

And you never gonna get noticed. You never going to get decent return on the time and investment that you’re putting into your marketing, if that is what you’re going to do. So is risky. Now, risk mean different things to different people. And I’ve been talking, I mean, I’ve been running my agency now for nearly 11 years.

Um, and the first four or five years we just kind of getting things off the ground and. Yeah. About five years in, we started talking about Take Fucking Risks, telling clients one at a time, you know, you, this is what you have to do. And selling that methodology and that mantra and that mindset. And what transpired was that it took a lot of effort to tell, you know, one boardroom, you know, one meeting at a time.

And so what, three and a bit years ago, we set up an event series called take fucking risks. And it’s now. Does that mean we started in a pub, which is where all the best ideas start. We were in the pub and we were talking about how could we do this? We set up, we said, well, let’s do an event. The first event, 50 people came along to it.

I couldn’t believe we’d convinced 50 people to come along to an event. You know? No one had never even heard of the event, and that over three years is now grown and we get over 400 people to an event there every quarter. They’re probably the largest creative event series in London. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a joke.

It’s a side hustle on the side. You know, we’re, we’re an ad agency. We’re not an event company, but we put on. Probably the biggest events series in London for the creative scene, which is, you know, if you think about where the real hotspots of advertising and creative are in the world, it’s London in New York, and we’ve managed to grow an event series in one of those two, which is the biggest, and it’s really, really successful.

And people come along and they, they’re inspired and they should be because it’s, it’s, it’s in your face. It’s not bland. It’s not. It’s not your usual kind of corporate patter. It’s snared lights just smack you in the face and actually make you think, no, we don’t give you all of the answers. You know? We give you a a challenge almost.

It challenges you to think. And I’ve had people come to the event and then email me at like three o’clock in the morning having left the event, had a few beers. Right. And tearing up what I’ve been doing for the last six months. And you know, this might be a marketing director, a brand director, a big business in there, started again and then scribbling in the middle of the night and they’re phoning me or messaging me.

And that’s pretty cool. I mean, that’s like. Yeah, I’ll have a bit of that.

Ben: [00:26:09] So in a way, you’re sort of with this, with this events series, in a way , you’re eating your own dog food, right? Because you, you’re using the events series a/ to stand out and b/ as a marketing tool of your own, right. Because, cause it seems to me that what’s disappeared a bit in the marketing… Because, you know, I don’t want to go into this territory of marketing is dead or whatever.

But it seems that some parts of marketing don’t work like they used to because. Because, um, if this attention deficit problem, and I would agree with you, the advertising is still as important as it was and brands are more important, they are than there were. Because, you know, because we need the signaling effect and have super busy environment.

It’s a crowded environment. But then the stuff that was more targeted, I don’t think, you know. Press releases work particularly well, or webinars or any of these things. But what does seem still work really well is actually getting in front of people and on a personal level, having quality time with them, doing really high quality events.

So you’re kind of in a way, you know, living or you know, are subscribing to your own self doctrine.

Paul: [00:27:11] If you have a different. I am one of the very few people that talk like this in our industry, so you know, Oh, I’m going to get challenged. And so I should, the easiest way to combat that or that scrutiny in that challenge is to practice what I preach and we do.

Ben: [00:27:30] And so it’s a good lead generator for you? The event series?

Paul: [00:27:33] I mean. You know, people aren’t like coming along to the event and be like, Paul, here’s a million quid. You know? But it’d be lovely if they did, but it’s definitely a lead generator. It’s an interest generator. We are, people are aware of. Who we are and what we stand for.

And so then we are hopefully top of mind when the opportunities come along, you know, where they want to reach out to a review, their agency that they’re working with and that kind of thing. So it definitely has generated business and, and, and we’ve won business off the back of it that we wouldn’t have won otherwise.

You know, I think we can be fairly confident of that.

Ben: [00:28:09] And a general brand awareness that’s outsized compared to the size of the agency, right?

Paul: [00:28:14] Yeah, we’re really small, yeah.

Ben: [00:28:15] When you talk on the website about keeping a purposely small team, which I mean, certainly it’s something I would, you know, adhere to as well.

Right. Which is, I think you can’t produce really high quality work on a consistent basis if you’re running a massive team.

Paul: [00:28:31] If I spend all my time managing people, then how can I produce the best work. No, it’s a, it’s a blend of the two. So we are a team of 10 and we’ve never been more than 10 and we’ve been going 11 years.

Ben: [00:28:43] And even if, you know, even if people were coming to the, I’m going to call it TFR cause I keep saying you split the TFR events. Yeah. And they were giving you million dollar checks. You still wouldn’t go above 10 right. You just think you’d just be more selective about who you worked with.

Paul: [00:28:57] And we are selective over who we work with as it is not because you know, we’re Johnny big time and therefore we can pick and choose.

But you know, you have to. You have to want, you have to fancy it. We’re not just going to take the check. We’re going to want to produce the best work, and so if you, you as a brand that you as a marketing director or CMO aren’t interested in actually producing the best work, then we’re probably not going to get along.

We were really clear about that and what actually makes us really easy to work with because. Do people know what they get? You know there’s, there’s no kind of hidden agendas. So people were really clear and obvious up front about what we’re like to work with the, the benefits of working with us. There’s no obscurity, and that’s the, I think people value that.

I mean, how many times the big brands, you know, choose a vendor and then actually, you know, three or four months down the line, it, it’s, it’s, it’s my head in arguments and debate and, well, I didn’t know you’re going to do this. I didn’t know this was going to cost more or whatever it is. Now we’re just really clear upfront and I think people appreciate that.

Ben: [00:30:02] Where do you stand… I mean, what’s your measure of success in terms of, I mean. We can come back to generating the minor stuff like that. But do you have broader measures of client success and you know, do you, are you like really fixated on client retention, or do you actually think it’s quite healthy when clients change agencies from time to time because they get fresh perspective?

Paul: [00:30:23] I have no time for brands or clients that change agency for no reason. Yeah. The average tenure of a CMO is now 18 months. The first thing that the CMO does is put the agency out for review. So you’ve got agencies pitching for work every 18 months. It takes about, if you, if it’s a big brand, and we work with some massive brands, we work with the biggest… Branding a lot. We worked with Amazon, you know, as one of our clients, and we worked with some small startups and sort of everything in between. You know, if you, if you go for big pitches with these big, big brands, you have Fortune 500, FTSE100 businesses. It takes a year to recoup the pitch cost.

So if you, if you’re on review every 18 months. The agency can’t make any money. And so then what’s the incentive, you know, to actually produce the best work and to go above and beyond. So that’s, that’s a really big problem in terms of how do we, you know, what do we fixate on other than getting brands noticed, client retention 100% so, like I said, we’ve been going nearly 11 years.

Our longest client relationship is nine years. We, we. Absolutely, to the point of paranoia about working with clients and understanding their business. We work with some of the biggest brands in the world, some of the smallest ones, and we are fixated on serving them, but not, but not delivering a service that is just, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

It’s now, well, let’s produce the best work. You will see the best results, you’ll then want to work with us more. Yeah, it’s really, it’s a really simple equation in my book, and I hate complexity, so I want to keep it really simple. Clients have got difficult enough job as it is, and it makes it sound like I’ve got a problem with clients.

I really don’t. I’ve lot of empathy with their situation. Like I said, like the average tenure is 18 months for the person at the top of a marketing organization with the big brands, you know, that is, and they’re under a lot of pressure to deliver. So I’ve got. A lot of time, a lot of empathy for the situation that essentially my client is in.

This isn’t me just bashing the person cause that’s really lazy. Um, fucking yes. No, it’s no good. You know, you’ve got to understand the pressures that they’re in. I mean, I might speak to my client for two or three hours a week. You know, so that what, let’s call it 5% of their week, that’s got to be the most thought provoking, the most challenging, but also the most fun 5% of their week because the other 95% let’s be honest, you know, corporate life can be really dull and really challenging at times.

So why the hell would I make my 5% it should be fun. It should be challenging and should be the the reason they’re in the business in the first place. Why would I make that the same as everybody, you know, same as the rest of their week.

Ben: [00:33:16] We should add, so into your initial list of all the ills in the industry, we should add sort of shrinking time horizons and shrinking tenure because you know there’s a definitely a positive return on time.

You work with the client because you understand that business better and you’re able to sort of craft the messages better. You understand the industry better, you know? Do you think this shrinking tenure of CMOs is. I mean, first of all, why is it happening? Is it because people are more and more impatient to see this, you know, return on investment?

And then do you think it also contributes to this, you know, this sort of returns and you know this like. Returned to mean what everybody wants to do something that’s a bit blind because they don’t want to lose the, you know, you don’t want to be kicked out after 18 months is do you think that’s also part of why you know so much marketing is indifferent and…

Paul: [00:34:09] I think it’s definitely, it’s a contributing factor, no doubt.

Like I said, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the situation and that’s because that CMO is under a lot of pressure. There’s a board to report to the might. They might be on the board or they might report into the board and there are shareholders to satisfy, you know, you’ve got quarterly earnings reports, you know, to deliver on.

If a new CMO comes in, they’ve probably got three… Or they’ve got a month to tear it all apart because that’s the first thing they do. They’ve then got three months to come up with a plan. You know, this is what I’m going to do. Having, you know, again, torn up the plan and then they’ve got six months to implement that and start to see some results.

So they’ve got less than a year having come in fresh, knowing nothing about that business, potentially having no track record within that business. They’ve got a year to deliver some results. So of course, you know, their natural instinct is to put a lot of time pressure on their suppliers, their vendors of which an ad agency is going to be one of them. To, to get results immediately, but then you think that’s, you’re not going to get the best out of an agency if you go, you’ve got a week to come up with something. The fucking all right. Yeah, I can, I can think of an idea. We can find an insight and we can create an idea based on that inside a week.

Yes, we can. Is it going to be the best one that you can have? No, probably not, because it takes time. These things take time and you have to trust that you’re speaking to the right person. You need to trust in their skill and let them do their thing. And I’m not saying we need a year, we just need slightly more than no time.

When I, when I started in this industry, I mean, how long have I been in the game? 16–17 years, something like that. There was definitely more time when I started and it, and that really was the last part, you know, sort of the last moments of time. Being allowed for agencies. And I’ve just, I’ve seen it been eroded from that moment.

And there’s, it’s, it’s no coincidence that that was when the, uh, the internet really started to take off digital marketing to air, to go ad tech followed up a few years after that and then budgets started to be cut and, and, and all of those things happen at the same time. It’s almost like a bit of a perfect storm of components all coming together.

And, and we’re now at a moment where more and more ads. I just, it’s just a waste, like I said, 89% it’s just wallpaper. You walk down the tube in London and you walk anywhere. People are just walking past. Yes. This is wallpaper.

Consensus creates mediocrity. I’m not interested in consensus. Hate compromise. I’m interested in producing the best possible work.

Ben: [00:36:45] This shrinkage in marketing tenures and shrinking timescales and impatience to get returns is because of what you said, which is people have become obsessed that because we’re in a digital age, marketing has to be done very differently.

What’s your advice to a CMO? You know, it’s, it’s, you know, it’s a well remunerated function, but it’s a function where, as you said, right, the tenure is shrinking, how do you do, how does this, what are the characteristics of a good CMO? What, what should a good CMO do what I mean? When you work with good counterpart style CMOs, like what do they like?

Paul: [00:37:21] There is a mutual respect both ways. I think that’s the first thing. They don’t just. Treat me as a a doer.

Ben: [00:37:28] Supplier.

Paul: [00:37:29] Yeah. Like I’m like, I have a value and conversely, I have a lot of empathy and appreciation for the pressures of their job. So like a mutual respect going both ways. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is an understanding that they can’t solve all of their problems immediately. They need to assess what are their biggest problems. Uh, the ones that are the most critical and solve those ones really in, if we’re being really honest, they should do a complete assessment of their, uh, of the landscape in front of them when they join.

And then they should pick three biggest problems that they’ve got solve those three problems. Don’t try and solve a hundred, solve that, put all of their effort, all of their money, literally every ounce of focus into solving those two, three, or four problems. Yup. Solve those. They clearly, if they’re the biggest ones, they’re going to have an impact on their job and the desire to keep the role that they’ve got and to, you know, grow their influence and impact on that business. But that takes leadership, that takes experience, that takes a desire to actually solve the problems.

Being a D2C brand isn’t the same as therefore throwing the rule book out the window and going, well, because we’re D2C, we can avoid traditional media. We’ll do everything digitally. No.

Ben: [00:38:40] Do you think educating the other management and the board is a function? Because I remember when I was a CMO, right? I mean, we were killing it on all the sort of metrics that you, you and I would agree are important, right?

Lead generation, conversion of leads, share of voice. And then, you know, you’d be presenting on this kind of stuff. And then someone would say, yeah, but was in the Dubai office and I didn’t like the poster in the toilet, you know? And it’s like, how do you get everybody to the same level on marketing?

Paul: [00:39:05] So let’s just say the person that said that was the CFO.

I be like, I don’t like your accounts. The point there is he then go, Whoa, I’m a trained accountant. So, and I go, well, I’m a trained marketer. So, you know, I’m not antagonistic for the sake of it. Like I would make the point that you don’t have an educated opinion about that poster.

You don’t, like, I’m the marketer. I do. I make the poster in that instance. Yeah. I didn’t tell you how to do the accounts. Have some respect for what I do, and I have some respect for what you do.

Ben: [00:39:45] Yeah. And I think it comes back to the same point you made earlier on, which is, it’s, you know, it’s, it’s. It just feels so accessible.

So it feels like everybody’s entitled to have a strong voice about marketing, but you’re right, it is actually a profession.

Paul: [00:40:01] Yes. Consensus creates mediocrity. That’s Oliviero Toscani’s quote, I’m not interested in consensus. Hate compromise. I’m interested in producing the best possible work. And so that isn’t a team, that isn’t the board.

You know, 15 people signing off on the campaign. That’s one person, the CMO signing off on a campaign.

Ben: [00:40:24] So somehow she needs to have massive autonomy when it comes to,

Paul: [00:40:28] Yes. Because in the same way that all of the other people that make up that board also have autonomy. Like the chief tech officer has autonomy.

The head of product has autonomy. The CFO has autonomy. The head of supply.

Ben: [00:40:42] Yes. It’s so true because, and then when it comes to brand, there’s you in these endless workshops seeking conformity and you end up with the, with the kind of work that doesn’t stand out. You know, just want to revisit for a second this idea of ad tech, right?

Because one of the things that people say is that it’s launched a whole bunch of. New companies direct to consumer companies will be parked when people like that, and when I hear that, you know, I think part of it’s true, right? Definitely the internet has created a new route to the customer. Yes. But I think the bit this misdiagnosed is the somehow the actual marketing effort, the messages and all those things don’t matter anymore because what is in a way, or listening to you, I’m thinking.

What people like Warby Parker had was sure, they had a D2C, you know, a direct route to customer and they could listen to the customer and the feedback that, you know, those insights into the products and these, you know, and in a way, companies historically had itself more in direct relationship with the customer.

So that’s changed. But, but really what’s changed is that the big companies are changing their CMO over 18 months. They’re not standing out. They’re not coming up with personality and interesting messages, and so that’s created an opportunity for smaller companies to do it better. I think it’s almost like, I think we’re almost misdiagnosing the problem by saying it’s…

Paul: [00:42:07] Being a D2C brand, so direct to consumer. Isn’t the same as therefore throwing the rule book out the window and going, well, because we’re D2C, we can avoid traditional media. We’ll do everything digitally. No, this D2C just means you don’t put it in a shop. It’s not sold to a retailer. That doesn’t mean all other rules and all other practices that work should be thrown out the window and it’s, it’s, it’s madness. The reason why Dollar Shave Club, incidentally, are sold to Unilever. They sold, they didn’t for… Maybe it was maybe a billion, huge number.

Ben: [00:42:52] You sort of, you know, you unbundle Unilever and then you can rebundle on the Unilever. So it’s this massive transfer of wealth from Unilever.

Paul: [00:43:00] The reason that was successful. I mean, it was successful because it was a D2C brand, but the reason it was known and was successful wasn’t because of their digital media, because they didn’t do a great deal of that.

It was because the launch video has been watched 100 million times on YouTube. Like that is, that is the reason it’s successful. That’s the reason why you know about that brand. And I know about that brand because the launch video was a piece of genius and it got noticed. It was different to every single other launch period.

Ben: [00:43:32] But I think there’s also the business model change as well

Paul: [00:43:35] Right. Cause he changed the game. I get that. But that wasn’t the reason for success. The reason for success was because millions of people had heard about it. And then they were like, Oh, and I don’t have to go to the shop and I don’t have to spend 25 quid every time I want to buy a razor.

No, I can spend a couple of dollars a month and they get delivered to me and they’re decent razors. That’s the reason why they delivered direct to me. That was the reason. You know it grew, but the reason was because everyone had heard of it. And the reason everyone had heard of it was because they got noticed.

And the reason everyone saw it was because they were different in how they pitched themselves. They took a risk.

Ben: [00:44:16] But do you think that within marketing, the sort of relative importance of the four Ps might have changed a bit, i.e. That maybe promotion isn’t quite as important as it was relative to the product, cause the product, you know you have or visibly price or visibly place because.

In a world where the consumer has a bigger voice and the consumer has a bigger impact on sales, you might argue that product matters more.

Paul: [00:44:49] Is your point that the weighting…. Did you have a point that I haven’t though that that’s, that sound fair is the point is the weighting change.

Ben: [00:44:59] It seemed to me that in the past, right, and the, let’s call it the industrial age, right?

You could have pretty crappy product and you, if you spend enough money on broadcasting it through, you know, through mass communication channels, you could sell it. And part of what’s changed is the. That those same communication channels don’t work as effectively as they used to, which we’ve talked about.

And then part of the problem is, is also the, you know, the consumer has more power than they had cause it was, consumer has a big voice and the, and we know more about a consumer. And so we have to make better products as well. And I think this is. Alongside the, the desire for something more sustainable, locally sourced products, or I think the whole sort of hipster movement in a way, it’s like a desire to have just better quality stuff because we can, because we can afford it because…

Paul: [00:45:47] No, I don’t agree. So the, the, the, I think people have been bothered by, you know, decent products since the dawn of time. And actually, you know, if you, if you go back to where really, where like consumerism started.

Probably in the US you know, at the turn of the turn of century, the products were really good. They were built to last. It’s only as you know, product semantics and the, the idea that we’re designing a product. To last a year so that then somebody buys another one and then another one we can make more money like that.

You know the idea that really only came in over the last sort of 20–30 years or so, I think, you know, if we think back to where consumerism has started… the products were built to last and they were really good products. Now there were less products, there was less competition, there was a far more open competitor landscape. You know, it wasn’t as crowded, but I don’t agree that the, the, the weighting has changed. I think it’s really important to stick to those and give them the weighting that we always have. The, the, the, I suppose the, the slightly larger point here. Is that it’s way easier to sell a dream if you can say, this old thing is dead.

I have the answer to the new world, like, who the hell is ? Oh shit, I don’t wanna get left behind. Let me listen to this person. And it’s a snake oil salesman and I think no, like, and nobody ever got rich by saying it’s largely going to stay the same next year and that’s it. Sticking to traditional methods is what will grow businesses and brands, but that doesn’t, that doesn’t grow agencies, and that doesn’t keep CMOs in tenure. They need to be able to go, what you’ve been doing for the last 18 months is all rubbish. Right? I’m here to save the day. And that’s, that’s not, don’t do that. You look at some of the most successful brands in the world.

They don’t swap and change that senior leadership that often, you know, it is really stable tenure. These are the really senior levels and the trust in those people.

Ben: [00:48:01] I think the point I was trying to make, which is I guess there’s a truism and you wouldn’t contest, which is that in the past you could have relatively mediocre product and great marketing and that would work.

And now you could have, um. I think it’s just, it’s harder with an mediocre product and great marketing. I think you need it. Great. But I think great marketing is what I’m saying.

This idea that influencers are this brand new, shiny magic bullet that are available to marketers is rubbish. It is the wider point that word of mouth and having advocates that, you know, people that are a consumer of that product and then they advocate it to their friends. That is incredibly powerful.

Paul: [00:48:22] Yes. And that’s always been true. Yeah, I agree.

Ben: [00:48:24] So you’re just saying it was a universal truism. And for a while it wasn’t true because, because you know, the TV was just such a dominant, yeah.

Paul: [00:48:32] It’s like TV is still very dominant. It isn’t quite as dominant as it was. You know, it might slip a percent in terms of the, the amount of eyeballs that it gets over a period of time. And then, you know, the minute it slips from 90 to 89% or something like that, you know, the TV is… like, are you, are you insane?

No, it’s just ever so slightly, not quite as dominant as it was. Is there a general trend that, that the media landscape is changing and therefore you have? Yes, but we like, it moves really slowly those types of behavior changes. Not nearly as quickly as people think that it is. And if you’re selling ad tech, then you’re like, this is the end of the world.

You must, you must change. Like, no, that is not the case is the, is the point you’re making. Sorry. The point you’re making is. If you had a mediocre product, you could just put it on TV in the 70s you could do that and you’d get away with it. Yeah, you could. Now, if people see through that and the consumer is more powerful, but that doesn’t mean that the four P’s don’t, sort of sit as well as they did.

Ben: [00:49:36] And then on that point about, because it seems to me that a lot of where marketing’s changed as well as maybe, maybe again, it’s not true. Maybe I’m sort of exaggerating, but this idea that. You know, we’ve gone from something having a mass consumer it to what people call now multitude, right?

So multitude and this idea that the consumer is networked. The consumer therefore becomes way more important is an advocate of the product. And I guess anticipating we are going to say you need to create that emotional pull. You need to get the consumer excited through marketing, but where do you stand on things like influencers?

Paul: [00:50:14] I think it’s bollocks.

Ben: [00:50:16] I suspected you were going to say that…

Paul: [00:50:17] But yeah, no, I mean that. Eh, this idea that influencers are this brand new, shiny magic bullet that are available to marketers is rubbish. But brands have been paying celebrities to endorse their product for decades. And that is an influence. Is that is the wider point that word of mouth and having advocates that, you know, having people that are a consumer of that product and then they advocate it to their friends. That is incredibly powerful.

Ben: [00:50:49] But in a way, it’s like everything that we talked about, it’s true. Right. And it has been true forever, which is if I love the product, I’ll tell my friends.

Yeah. I suppose we’ve amplified the voice of the consumer now. So the consumer kind of advocating on your behalf has more impact than it did in the past…

Paul: [00:51:03] Why?

Ben: [00:51:04] Well, because the consumer is connected.

Paul: [00:51:06] But that would be to suggest. That just because they’re connected, it has value in that connection.

And I don’t think that’s true. So the 1960s housewife. Ah, that would sit around with their friends. Let’s say they got, you know, a bunch of other housewives round for a cup of tea and there’s five or six of them that is very influential. Like they’re able to, like you said, like look them in the eye.

I’ve got this thing probably holding the thing that they’ve bought. I bought this thing and it’s great. That is really powerful. I’m putting on Instagram. I bought this thing and it’s great… Doesn’t have the same power and resonance. And just because it’s then broadcast to your 500 followers on Instagram doesn’t mean then that you’re influencing 500 people rather than five.

I don’t agree. I don’t, I don’t think that it is anywhere near as powerful or have as much resonance just because it’s on social media. I agree that it has bigger reach as in like it goes further, but I don’t think it’s as powerful.

Ben: [00:52:10] In a way, whether we agree on that or not, the conclusion is the same, which is you want a product that people love and you want a brand that people love.

Paul: [00:52:18] That should be the starting point.

Ben: [00:52:19] Yes.

Paul: [00:52:20] And not, let’s get lots of people to put on Instagram how much they love our product. Just get them to love your product and they will do a lot of the leg work for you.

Ben: [00:52:28] What’s next for you? So. What are you working on now? So I guess you’re already planning the next TFR event for next year or the other events for next year.

Are you going to do anything with this “bland guidelines”? You’re going to turn that into some Mock Award ceremony. That’d be hilarious.

Paul: [00:52:47] So I was speaking on a panel with Vicki, the copywriter that wrote it when we produced it with, and I was speaking on a panel last week, and we’ve become really good friends and we speak on relatively regular basis, but actually we’d never spoken on the same panel and we were getting drunk on the panel cause it was in a pub and we just kind of turned to each other and said it would be great to present The Bland Book together at conferences and things and actually take people through the book and present it to them together.

So the, the copy side of it and the art direction side of it. Shakara advertising in a duo to, so anyone out there runs conferences that wants us to present The Bland Book should get in touch because that would be a really good fun thing to do. And I think it’s really powerful because I think it’s almost like a shock tactic.

People go, wow, right? And they see themselves in it and it’s really. I think one of the powers of, of the satire, so anyone that wants to book me for that, me and Vicky will, will definitely come along. It’s a plan for next year. We’re going to do more TFRs. We don’t have the date for the next one, but it will be probably in March.

We did. We don’t really do things January, February because, well, I’ve got to think about what we’re going to do…

Ben: [00:53:57] Skiing, right?

Paul: [00:54:00] And then what’s the plan for us? We’ve got quite a few. Really cool projects in the pipeline that we’ll be launching in Q1 of 2020 so yeah, we’re going to be doing that, getting, you know, getting our name out there as much as possible.

Ben: [00:54:13] By the time this goes out, I’ll probably already be February. Yeah, you wouldn’t have to wait for this.

Paul: [00:54:18] So there is some work launching right now. Insert project.

Ben: [00:54:23] Great. Paul, thank you so much for your time. So I’ve, I’m going to attempt, I think, badly to try to summarize what we discussed, but, and I think what you’ve told us, right, is you’ve, in a way, you’ve brought us back to first principles, right?

You’ve debunked a lot of the crap that people talk about. You’ve highlighted that marketing is a discipline. It is a profession that brings demand, gets you noticed. It can be measured, but can never be precisely measured. And that’s, you know, that’s a rabbit hole that we shouldn’t go down. Right.

Paul: [00:54:51] And that’s Okay.

Ben: [00:54:52] Yeah, that’s okay.

And then the tool set may have changed, but it’s not about the tools anyway, which is my ultimate conclusion, which is Strategy and Craft matter. And they matter more, probably more than they ever had. Right. Because consumers are more attention-poor than ever. Yeah.

Paul: [00:55:09] It’s more important to be really good at what we do than it has ever been.

Ben: [00:55:13] Amen to that, thank you very much for coming in and doing the podcast with us.



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