As the trial in the US begins of Elizabeth Holmes, briefly the world’s youngest billionaire, I’m reposting the piece I wrote about her two years ago. Her story starts with the kind of big hairy audacious goal that was lauded by business school gurus twenty years ago. It’s a story of an ambitious upstart challenging entrenched interests with vision and confidence. That all sounds great, so why was it wrong? More to the point, Read More

Comment | September 2021

After the Olympic and Paralympic excitement, there’ll be the usual wave of stories about how we are all inspired by Olympians’ achievements, how you can fulfil your dreams if you only try hard enough, and so on. I’ve seen plenty of inspiring talks, both the sporting type and others. It’s always great fun, and I’ve usually taken something valuable from it. But, in my view, the inspiration from sport is not the simple lesson most often cited by the winners themselves in their moments of joy. Read More

Comment | August 2021

Coca Cola has a new campaign for 2021, plastered all over the cans, as well as everywhere else. The brand name itself has moved off the back to make room for people’s empowering slogans, new year’s resolutions, and general platitudes. It’s called Open to Better, and it’s billed as their “campaign for hope and optimism in 2021”. On-pack messages include:  

“I will take a break like never before”  

“What better time for us to be brave than now?” 

“I promise to be better just for you.” 

I like Coca Cola. Read More

Comment | February 2021

How do you get attention when you’re so familiar that people think they know you already? Two recent media stunts by established brands say it can be done – but be prepared for a backlash. “Going viral” isn’t always good news.

First, the one that worked. In November 2019 Coldplay launched their new album, Everyday Life, by announcing the track listing in the classified ads section of local newspapers. They chose papers that band members had some connection with. Read More

Comment | December 2019

Here are two signs. The one on the left is in the grounds of a museum in New York City. It says, “Jousters wanted for seasonal employment. Must work knights.” Assuming it’s a bit of fun rather than a job advert, it’s delightful. A few words presented seriously can be very playful. It adds to the character of the place, at little cost.

The one on the right is closer to (my) home. Read More

Comment | October 2019

Is it the job of advertising to portray society as we wish it to be? There’s a new UK rule that advertising cannot show harmful gender stereotypes. In its first month, complaints were upheld against two TV ads. 128 people objected to the way this ad for Philadelphia cream cheese showed men as incompetent carers for the baby, while three people reported this Volkswagen ad for giving all the adventurous and successful roles to men while the little lady sits with a pram. Read More

Comment, Thought leadership | September 2019

What do you see when you look at this poster? The visual language of cigarette packaging is so distinctive that even a non-smoker who has barely seen a fag packet up close in years knows what this is. But look again, and you see it’s not about tobacco. It’s about obesity. Genius, or confusing?

It’s universally accepted now that smoking increases cancer risk. Cancer charities want us to think of obesity in the same way. Read More

Comment | August 2019

Taking aim at women who didn’t feel confident with financial matters got NatWest into hot water. Meanwhile Santander’s new “Antandec” bank ads are just aimless. Apparently they were inspired by the similarity between the two names. Inspired might be a bit strong actually. Beyond the joy of seeing Ant and Dec together on the telly, there?s nothing much in these ads. Whatever Santander is trying to say about its own offer is lost. Read More

Comment | June 2019

NatWest is taking a beating for its “tone-deaf” attempt to target women. The campaign launched with a tongue-in-cheek letter from an old-style bowler-hatted banker apologising for ignoring or patronising women in the past. The bank’s intentions were good. A spokesperson for NatWest said, “While many women feel confident when it comes to finances and investing, research has shown that a huge number of women don’t feel the same way.” All the same, this is a clear case of Oops, Read More

Comment | June 2019

The old saw “All publicity is good publicity” is being sorely tested. In the first month of 2019 we’ve had at least three major incidents. First there was vegan-sausage-roll-gate, in which Greggs caused grave offence to meat eaters. Well, Piers Morgan. Then men worldwide were outraged by Gillette telling them to show their feelings more, but not the mean ones. Today’s hurt is brought to you by a “digital banking alternative” called Revolut. Read More

Comment, Thought leadership | February 2019