Category Archives: branding

101 marketing case study: when not to do mobile advertising

There is no point doing mobile advertising if you are not prepared to invest in a call to action that is suitable for mobile devices. Here’s an example, presumably by Ogilvy and OMD for Huawei Enterprise on how not to do it.

First up, here is the advert served up on a page of the Washington Post’s mobile site:
I don’t want to get into the debate about the inventory itself, though I would prefer to purchase a page takeover rather than this kind of banner simply because it helps reduce clickthrough.

Here is where you are directed through to if you click on the ad, this is a non-mobile optimised page on It is shrunk to fit on the iPhone screen to the point that it’s pretty much useless.
I imagine that it would look even worse on a BlackBerry that is likely to be used by a proportion of the target audience for the advert.

When your PR team is bad for your brand

Disclosure: Frank X. Shaw is a former colleague of mine from Waggener Edstrom. We’ve never met in person that I can recall, at that time he was dedicated to the North American Microsoft account.

Before I get into the meat of this post I want to share with you a couple of stories.

Gay rights in Ireland
Rory O’Neill is a LGBT activist in Ireland, in many ways he is the face of the gay community being compere at events like the Pride festival. He appeared on a national television talk show and alleged that some members of the Irish media were homophobic. RTÉ was subsequently threatened by legal action and had to provide compensation to those named including the Iona Institute: a socially conservative lobby group.

This unleashed political debate Irish MEP Paul Murphy called the compensation payments

…a real attack on the freedom of speech…

When John Waters says that gay marriage is ‘a kind of satire’, that is homophobia. When Breda O’Brien says ‘equality must take second place to the common good’, that is homophobia. When the Iona Institute campaign against gay marriage because it is gay marriage, that is homophobia.

This has created an atmosphere in Ireland of enhanced empathy to gay marriage and provided Mr O’Neill with a further platform

The video was shot at the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin and has been seen over half a million times as I write this, which is a big number given that Ireland has a population of about 4.63 million people according to the latest estimates, this doesn’t include the reach provided by media coverage of the YouTube video.  Mr O’Neill has been given a platform and an authority courtesy of his enemies that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

The next story is that of the UK’s longest running court case McDonald’s Corporation v Steel & Morris; or as it’s better known the McLibel case. A pamphlet was published by a small environmental group: What’s wrong with McDonald’s: Everything they don’t want you to know.

McDonald’s took five people it considered responsible to court over the claims in the pamphlet; three of them apologised and two decided instead to fight the case. The ensuing media circus around the case damaged McDonald’s reputation in the the UK, such that McJobs became a linguistic shorthand for a poor paying job with no prospects (this is actually unfair to McDonald’s at least in the UK).

The point of both these stories is that coming out reflexively against an enemy can be counter-productive. Yet we are seeing this used as a tactic more and more.

One of the most visible proponents of this tactic is Microsoft usually using Frank X. Shaw as the delivery mechanism. The latest example I noticed of this was an open letter to New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo, but I have linked to more examples about the web.

All of this sits uneasy with me for a number of reasons:

  • Back in the day, I was told that PR people shouldn’t be part of the story. I prided myself on the fact that my work had little to no finger prints on it. Yet now Shaw is the story. One article I read introduced him as ‘outspoken Microsoft spokesperson Frank Shaw’
  • A key element of storytelling is understanding what role that you play in the story. A big brand getting involved and beating up on a journalist or blogger puts the journalist in the story as hero and the brand as antagonist. Consumers get psychological closure on stories when they subconsciously work out which ‘myth’ this is and what the plot is. You may even see other articles describe a dispute as being like ‘David and Goliath’. The attack itself become counter productive and you end up looking like Biff against a journalistic Marty McFly – to use a more modern myth ^^. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the audience and the media and are instead seen as a whiny little bitch or a bully

I get completely why it comes about, we live in a 24-hour world, we need to stay influential. We have moved from having a mediated discussion through journalists, fashion stylists, reviewers and radio presenters with audiences to going direct. The brand is the media. PR itself, the way it is practiced as a discipline is about ‘doing something’: what have you time tracked, what’s in the monthly report, what have you done? There are internal clients or agency clients who want to respond right away and PR agencies aren’t a place for people who say no.

Now imagine the brand as a person who responds to every slight, they would be insufferable, a pedant and possibly get locked up. What kind of dialogue does that set up with the audience, what kind of story does that tell. Brands need to move from being the antagonist in a story to being the ‘godlike figure’ that creates an inciting incident and sends our audience hero on a quest.

As my yiddish-speaking friends would say brands need to be a mensch. There you go a new concept Brand Mensch – I should be able to wrangle a book and a speaking tour out of that.

So how does a brand become a mensch? Quite simply by assessing communications through a simple set of values:
Being civil
By realising that sometimes you have to conserve your ammunition and pick your battles.

Strategic counsel for today: have your brand be a mensch.

More information
RTÉ MD of Television defends Iona Institute apology and payout as ‘most prudent course of action’ | RTÉ News
MICROSOFT PR HITS BACK AT APPLE: The iPad Is Just Trying To Catch Up With The Surface | BusinessInsider
Microsoft’s PR Boss: Here’s Why I Tweet-Slammed The New York Times’ Review Of Windows | BusinessInsider
Microsoft Responds To Google’s Extortion Claim: “Waaaah.” | TechCrunch
Microsoft honcho pleads with media: ‘Stop picking on us!’| The Register
Microsoft responds to ‘extreme’ Windows 8 criticism | CNet
Microsoft Unleashes Anti-Android Rhetoric Following Facebook Home Event | TechnoBuffalo
Microsoft PR Chief Shreds New NY Times Columnist Over His Advice Column | BusinessInsider

Jaguar’s British Villains adverts

Really interesting positioning on Jaguar’s campaign for it’s performance cars which features this fantastic Super Bowl advert.

It puts the car as an automotive version of Gordon Gekko’s  ‘Greed Is Good‘ and tap into the zeitgeist around The Wolf of Wall Street.

Branding marketing via video in China

The Thoughtful Media team do good interview sessions, I particularly like this one where four recent video campaigns by major brands aimed at a Chinese audience are broken down to show why they work and what kind of cultural touchpoints are used.

Thoughtful China on advertising ROI

Interesting video discussion that highlights the challenges of measuring ROI on Chinese online advertising markets in comparison to more mature digital advertising markets

I don’t think that the problem is one of demand, but one of a tension between media company interests and advertising interests. The benefits are cross platform comparison, but the challenges are technological and talent from an agency perspective.

Observations from Shenzhen, China

I spent some time in Shenzhen recently and here is some of the things that I found during my stay.

The pace of development is slower than it was before, the number of cranes I saw and ready-mix concrete wagons on the road was less than before. There is still a lot of building work but there is less of it

Odd products showing up in Shenzhen.

A case in point being an Orange-branded MiFi router that I used whilst I was there. It was your standard Huawei mobile internet Wi-Fi router assold to Orange customers across Europe. We used it with a China Unicom 3G USIM in the device. It wasn’t just a case of badging the device had an Orange admin page and served Orange-branded ‘no internet connection available’ error pages.

Just how did this device end up in Huawei’s back yard? Did the product ‘fall off the back of a wagon’? Are they being dumped in the marketplace? Is there some black market ‘carousel’ sales tax scam going on?

Talking about mobile devices: a quick poll of a mix of people I met:

  • Advertising agency owner: Apple iPhone 5S
  • Creative industry entrepreneur: iPhone 5C for personal use, an iPhone 5S likely to be gifted
  • Professional photographer and interior designer: iPhone 4S
  • 7 taxi drivers: 5 Samsung, 1 iPhone 4 and one Xiaomi handset
  • Businessman who owned a pharmaceutical distribution business and various properties: Samsung
  • Businessman: Samsung
  • Museum/ gallery curator: Samsung
  • Professional driver: Samsung

It is hard to explain the ubiquity and usage of:

  • Weixin (WeChat) – running out of your data package cuts you off more than running out of voice minutes. My friend has her 70+ year old mother WeChatting her incessantly
  • TaoBao – the impact of TaoBao can be seen on the streets with a volume of delivery people darting around the city. Electric mopeds were banned in Shenzhen for anyone who didn’t work for a delivery company as the devices were a silent killer who ran over unsuspecting pedestrians. Shenzhen still has electric bikes (more professionally handled) by delivery people delivering online shopping. TaoBao and its sister site TMall are the e-tailing game. Apple recently opened a store on TMall in parallel to the Chinese version of its familiar online store

The Chinese creative industries are coming on in leaps and bounds. I met with an advertising and design agency owner and was bowled over by the quality of the branding design that they had done for a new creative hub. Having worked alongside western big branding agencies in China working for Chinese clients I can say that the work was equal, if not better in quality.

This is also matched by the creative infrastructure that the Chinese central and regional governments are putting in alongside private enterprises. A classic example of this is the continued development of the OCT LOFT complex. This was once an area of factories run by Overseas Chinese as a separate Town, these sturdy concrete buildings have been converted into retail areas a la the Truman Brewery, offices, studio spaces, co-working spaces and social clubs.

There is a live performance space in OCT LOFT called B10 with a really well engineered sound and lighting system. This has managed to attract sponsorship from the likes of MINI. China is serious about building a creative class and is doing something meaningful about providing all infrastructure needed within a cluster.

Talking of live performances, I got to see a local band play at B10; I don’t know if this was just this band but the crowd did much more interaction with the band on stage, singing along, dancing, synchronised clapping and a lot less viewing the performance through their smartphone than I had been used to in the UK and Hong Kong.

Electric vehicles are big business; Shenzhen now has blue and silver taxis from local firm BYD that are electric powered. BYD is a famous battery company and Warren Buffett is a shareholder. Admittedly, the electricity probably comes from a lot of coal-fired power stations as well asnuclear-powered ones, but China is serious about the future of transportation.

Hailing a cab is pretty much done by app, the Chinese version of Hailo is as ubiquitous on peoples phones as Weixin.

Changing perception of western country brands. This is just anecdotal stuff speaking to a couple of people, but the brand of the UK in China has changed over the past couple of years. It used to be that the UK was thought to be a great nation to do business. David Cameron’s recent trip to China and launch of a Weibo account was seen as an act of desperation to try and capture inbound investment. Now the view that I heard expressed is that Britain is a good place to visit and shop (for luxury goods), to get an education or learn English – but that’s it. Entrepreneur visas didn’t hold that much appeal to the people I spoke with.

There is a change in what it means to be made in China. Over the past few times that I have been in China there has been a move away from products that are good enough to providing a quality experience. Brands like retailer Emoi have been at the head of it, alongside Oppo whose Blu-Ray players give Denon and Onkyo a run for their money.

This time friends of mine have set up a venue, one of the primary purposes of the venue is to showcase quality Chinese-made products from craftsmen made ceramics, to furniture, modern art and vacuum-tube hi-fi amplifiers. Just as China is raising it’s creative game, it is also looking to make better quality products. However this isn’t a universal move; there are still value-orientated companies, particularly those in the business-to-business space.

The best Murphy’s Bitter advert ever

Apparently during the late 1990s Murphy’s Bitter ran this anime influenced advertising spot on Channel 4 in the UK. I never saw it at the time, but thought I would share it here and now:

There is also a homage to Kurosawa’s chambara works a la The Hidden Fortress and The Seven Samurai, it can’t be embedded, so I have a link to it instead.

I don’t normally talk about work…

But when I do I try to make sure that it’s worth it. Here’s a little something put together for Christmas by Qualcomm China.

It’s on YouKu so needs a little time.

Observations from the UK: making cinema advertising count

Cinema advertising is one of the most targeted ways of reaching younger people and I have used it as a vehicle to target parents through buying adverts in mothers-and-baby screenings but it’s hard to know what the impact of cinema advertising actually is. – is a smartphone application that allows consumers to answer questions posed by a programme embedded in adverts prior to the film trailers. is interesting because it can track ongoing engagement across campaigns over time on an ongoing basis, and is likely to be only downloaded by the most motivated and regular cinema-goers.

The quiz when I was saw it was sponsored by Sony PlayStation meaning that the application competition was probably self-liquidating at the very least. From Sony’s point-of-view participation numbers give a proxy measure of reach and attention at the time the segment was running.

Finally it helps the cinemas, providing evidence that with the right campaign, cinema can drive a mobile call-to-action. From there is is up the advertising agency and media buying agency to demonstrate return on investment on behalf of their clients.

I am surprised that clients, haven’t integrated mobile search into cinema campaigns before in that way that I have seen done previously on out of home advertising in the UK or on television advertising in both Japan and Korea.

Other posts in this series
Observations from the UK: Pay-day loans, pay-day backlash
Observations from the UK: austere Christmas advertisements


Observations from the UK: austere Christmas advertisements

I must be one of the very few people who didn’t pay much attention to this year’s John Lewis advert until I had a chat with my friend Ian Wood. Ian pointed out that lack of overt consumerism in terms of the number of presents shown in the advert and considered it to be in-tune with a more austere consumer environment, the underlying form being you’re only going to get one present this year, make it a decent one. I had a look at economic indicators versus consumerism in John Lewis adverts pretty soon after I had that discussion with Ian.

Food and family appeared in spade in the adverts, but presents not so much. The closest you had to it was Cadbury’s who wrapped an entire street and the people who lived there then enjoyed each others company and the joy of tearing the wrapping off. When Christmas does come it seems that it will be at a high cost to the economic health of the British consumer; disconcertingly there were reports that savings had hit their lowest point in 40 years for the UK in November as consumers dipped in to fund Christmas.

Other posts in this series
Observations from the UK: Pay-day loans, pay-day backlash

Great presentation on the online advertising environment in China

Great presentation by Thoughtful China about the online advertising market in China, the discussion comes from the perspective of ‘big data’ but points out the challenge of data quality and transparency in online advertising.

The presentation is on YouKu so you need to be patient with it.

China’s top brands 2014

One has to have a certain amount of scepticism about the science that goes into brand lists but they do serve a purpose to show how marketing changes. Brand Z (part of the WPP Group for which I also ultimately work) have released their top 100 Chinese brands of 2014. Here is what I thought were the most interesting takeaways were from the document:

  • Chinese brands are considered by Chinese consumers to have equivalent ‘brand equity’ to foreign brands
  • Chinese brands have managed to improve in terms of relevance, performance and presence, but lag in terms of bonding (emotional attachment)
  • They also struggle with overseas awareness
  • Two of the top three most trusted brands were online brands: Baidu and Ctrip
  • Private enterprises on the list tended to spend more on print and online advertising compared to State-Owned Enterprises

Challenges for brands identified by Brand Z include:

  • Building and maintaining trust
  • Developing a distinctive brand personality
  • Being more human as a brand
  • Older brands need to put a greater value on their heritage

There is a nice infographic that goes with all this
Brand Z China's top 100 brands
More information
Brand Z Top 100 Chinese Brands 2014 (PDF)

Arise: Ghost In The Shell vs. JPRS

After I got over the excitement of yet another installation in the Ghost In The Shell anime series, I realised that the new trailer which came out to promote a move of the film website from a .com to a .jp domain was a bit more than that. There is a quick explanation of how the web works and then a big shout-out for JPRS or Japan Registry Services – the people who are responsible for the .jp top level domain name.

The clip is up to the high standard that you would expect from the Dons of CyberPunk anime – Production I.G.

The Google versus PR post

I was talking to colleagues during the week and thought it would be timely answer the question, what does Google moving search click-throughs on to HTTPS mean for PR people?

  • We have less data to use as part of a scientific approach to developing messaging. For non-mainland Chinese audiences we are reliant on Google advertising keyword data rather than what has been working driving traffic to their site. For instance, when we think about how we use websites, what might work in a sales situation, may not work when we are looking for information or customer support
  • When creating content for websites, there needs to be a greater focus around the quality of the content rather than the classic focus on keyword density. This is a key advantage for PR people over ‘content marketers’ who have focused on creating content that is just good enough. We can still see which posts are the most popular for traffic coming from Google and then look to infer what works by looking at commonalities across the pages: content themes, likely audience intent etc.
  • Inability to draw conclusions whether our content has an effect on consumer behavior, which keywords were used to reach the intended website, and the penetration of our messaging in the public lexicon when they search and arrive at the specific site.  For example, a campaign to promote the ‘Bold washing powder’ causes a rise in searches for “Bold washing powder” to arrive at the P&G UK website, now we no longer able to draw this conclusion. In essence, it is much harder to prove online behavioural change from offline PR activity
  • A move towards increased link building for client’s websites; blogger relations and responding to posts becomes more important, since there is less of a focus on keywords
  • Client spend on search advertising is likely to increase as it becomes harder to prove the ROI on tactics used to bolster organic search traffic