Archives/ Yearly Archives/ 2015

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Expensive lesson in 20th century poetry

We all do it. Needing an image for that pitch presentation or facebook post, we default to Google Images and grab the first thing that appeals, with careless abandon as to its providence or legal owner. Sure what’s the worst that can happen?  A verbal wrap on the knuckles followed by a snooty request to take it down and desist from further use? Hardly a deterrent from using it in the first place.  After all, it’s not like you’re using it on an annual report or other enduring marketing material.

Easily said, unless you’re the Tron theatre company. They did get that call asking them to take down the offending image – a photo of the 20th century poet Dylan Thomas. Which they duly did. But the copyright holder didn’t stop there. He took them to court and pocketed €1,500 (plus costs, presumably) for his trouble.

What’s most alarming about this case was the downright obscurity of it. This wasn’t Ford Motor Company in the dock. This was a small theatre company – a non-profit. The image in question wasn’t David Beckham shooting England into the 2002 World Cup, it was a long deceased poet (whose work, not to mind image, many of us would have difficulty recognising) playing a spot of croquet. Nor was the image sprayed across billboards in Times Square: it was on the company’s Storify social media page, for all of seven followers to gaze at. Commercial in the strict sense of the word, maybe, but this wasn’t exactly the height of white collar crime.

It was one of eight cases which the same copyright holder had taken in Irish courts, covering various images, the copyright for which had been registered in Ireland. The judge accepted it as an ‘innocent mistake’ but copyright was enforced nonetheless.

There but for the grace of God, we marketers all sigh in unison. Let the publisher beware.

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Brushing big shoulders at Websummit

If you were ever asked to be Master of Ceremonies at a business conference, the following might count as a dream line-up:  Amazon, Forbes, CBS, Wall Street Journal, Andressen Horowitz, Washington Post, The Onion and the BBC. So it was great to be invited to MC the final marketing session at this year’s Websummit in Dublin, and brush shoulders with the good and great of our trade, among them John Sculley, ex-CEO of Apple.

It was my first time at the Websummit and I was duly impressed with the organisation. 40 speakers to navigate at the marketing summit and not a minute’s overrun. Especially noticeable was what you might call light-touch management: the event management team at the marketing summit knew their stuff and were let get on with it, with no sign of any meddling senior bosses getting in their way. That’s probably the modus operandi of the Websummit team generally  – and another feather in the cap of founder Paddy Cosgrave.

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In praise of plain

I’ll keep this simple. No corporate speak or abstract gibberish. That’s the plan anyway. We all claim to be in favour of plain language, but, in truth, precious few of us end up practicing what we preach. There’s a comfort in retreating behind the vagaries of corporate tautology when nothing better strikes us. It’s laziness. At the same time we feel a compulsion to impress our clients and peers by embracing the very latest marketing hogwash. As if they’d think less of us if we resisted it.

Earlier this year I was assigned the task of scriptwriting a CEO’s address for a town hall meeting of staff, a large percentage of whom were non-native English speakers and who were unlikely to appreciate unduly vague business babble of any kind. I can’t recall a job I enjoyed more.

I’m assuming such simple addresses were in evidence throughout this week’s International Plain Conference in Dublin. As The Irish Times reported, one speaker went so far as to suggest overly complex language could put people’s lives at risk (he was talking about pharma communications). Another contended that inaccessible language by financial institutions exacerbated the mortgage crisis in the US.

The paper also provided a mouth-watering hit list of terms which the British civil service have chosen to ban in the interest of clarity. Some classics here to taunt your verbose colleagues with: one delivers pizza, not concepts like improvements or priorities. We don’t commit or pledge, we do it or we don’t. We don’t deploy unless it’s military or software, and we don’t foster unless it is children. Dialogue is another no-no, instead we speak to people. Finally, unless it unlocks something, it is not key, it’s just plain old important.

If, like me, you all too often succumb to the temptation to pepper your proposals with these or other similarly vacuous gems, there’s relief in the thought that by their nature these words are faddish. In this particular moment in time, we put up with them but don’t encourage them. Going forward, we’ll be blissfully rid of them.

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The brand as moral guardian

Tour de France winner Chris Froome came under as much heat off the bike as on it this summer, as his achievements drew suspicion from many quarters. It’s only to be expected, in a sport where the stain of past crimes won’t wash off anytime soon.  Previous winners all protested their innocence just as Froome is doing. Why should we believe him?

Maybe because of his sponsor. Look at it this way. Froome came into the sport with one objective. To win. With this comes temptation. Sky came into the sport with a variety of objectives. To win, sure. But just as important for them was to be seen to be a cleansing influence on a sport in dire need of it. It can’t be win at all costs with Sky. Maybe certain brands can live with supporting cheats. A broadcaster – in a news business built on trust – cannot. That’s why I believe in Froome this time round.

Inevitably, there is still cheating going on in the peleton. No sponsor can stop that. But, as paymasters, they can go a long way in stopping it.  This is why sponsors are so important to a sport like cycling. Not only do they pay for teams, but increasingly, they pay for them to behave well. It’s no different with Tiger Woods or Roger Federer. Brand ambassadors are a living expression of a brand’s values, so they’d better behave.

It’s a strange and somewhat unsettling thought that we should rely on brands as the moral guardians of the sports we love, but before we bemoan their influence, just ask yourself: who else is going to keep things on the straight and narrow?

Advertising as entertainment … roll up, roll up

We’re forever hearing that the future of TV advertising is as entertainment. Personal video recorders means no one is watching ads, and the only hope of countering this ‘ad avoidance’ is by making your ad as good as the programmes that it punctuates.

That’s all very well, but what about the ads around yours? Just who is going to sit through mind-numbingly dull dross to happen upon your 30 second gem?

(You won’t hear it in adland, but it is suggested that a far simpler response to ad avoidance is to stick a big fat logo in the heart of your ad so even the most ad averse types can’t avoid it as they zoom through at 30x)

Anyway, the thought struck me as I watched the UK Lotto’s ad with Piers Morgan. This really is tongue in cheek entertainment on a par with anything you’d sit down and watch deliberately.   So sit down and enjoy!