Campaign? Check. Media? Check. Integration? Oh sh**...

The friendly lot where I’m plying my trade at the mo have just brought this lil’ beauty to my attention. And as it’s nearing the festive season, I thought I’d allow myself just one smidgen of puerile fun poking. No ‘arm Guv’nor – especially when the victim sprawling haplessly in the stocks has slyly slinked to get one over on their rivals.

Throwing rotten cabbages and cocking a snook to the competition is electrical retailer, Dixons. Those with a keen eye for any recent marketing endeavours to prise our coins from our consumerist clutch may recall Dixons’ campaign attacking the likes of Harrods, John Lewis and Selfridges.

Forget the fact that the tone of the copy scrapes its nails against all my sensibilities; forget that through the ads, employees of the aforementioned outlets are dealt a snide dig for daring to possess that rarer-than-rocking-horse-shit trait these days of politeness, or achieving more than a couple of GCSE’s in anything else but twokking or stopping grannies' hearts; forget that the consumer who reads the ads is sneered at for having the testicles to even think of venturing into such an emporium of middle class aspiration and simpering niceties; “Oooh no Madam, you wanna get yourself down to Shitsville… that’s right… where you belong dear… a vast repurposed cow shed where, if you can manage to pull each foot off the pre-gummed carpet and you don’t mind the smell of fags, cheap smellies and piss, you’ll feel right at home with an uneducated, disinterested ex-truant who’ll jump on you as soon as you tip a peripheral peek at the playstations – but don’t worry love, they’ll be a good tenner cheaper.”

(Not my opinion of the lovely people at Dixons you understand, but these ads may as well spew this bile from the rafters.)

Oh no, forget all that. Just remember that the campaign concept is a fairly age-old one of ‘Try everywhere else then come to us’; in other words you may as well come to Dixons last because you’ll see we’re cheaper. Fair enough; it’s not rocket science but its simplicity dictates that in most cases it should work.

Unless you forget you can’t just roll out a campaign across all media without a jot of thought. Unless you forget that a campaign tagline must be in context for it to communicate what you actually want to say. Unless you’re in such a rush to get your shiny new pleased-as-punch strapline up on your website nestling next to your logo that you forget it would probably be more suited to a bagel fight in Baghdad sporting nothing but a ‘Bush is Brill’ t-shirt.

Where the bloody hell are those GCSE’s when you need ‘em?

Marketing with the XXXX-off factor

Okay, there’s no denying that over-produced talent show The X factor is ingrained in modern popular culture.

There’s also no denying that the UK’s MPs have systematically raped, pillaged and disrespected the country, its bank balance and its populace.

So you’d think that both parties would have a little humility; a little more on their agenda than childish backbiting and cheap shots with no regard whatsoever for the fact that we might want some serious work out of these guys for at least the next century.

Their recent marketing campaigns would wholeheartedly suggest not.

First Labour kicked off featuring David Cameron and George Osbourne, sporting Jedward’s infamous ice-cream cuts.

The half-arsed copy line, ‘You won’t be laughing if they win’ only added injury to the insult.

And I mean insult. I didn’t want to use this blog to rant – it’s the number one schoolboy error of blogging – but I’m pretty XXXXing dismayed.

Dismayed that intelligent people are getting fed this kind of puerile, benefit-bereft drivel; dismayed the party has not had a thought for how they can address the most pressing political concern of the moment and dismayed that anybody in advertising or marketing can even think this worthy of public viewing.

It gets no better I’m afraid. Since the Irish twins have been booted off the X Factor, the Conservatives have wasted no time in launching their own assault. Sorry insult. At least this version, featuring the hapless Brown and Mr. Darling is a slightly, ever so slightly better Photoshop job but both ads belong on the b3ta challenge – a pretty funny site where anyone who knows how to paste an image into a word doc and come up with a line can broadcast their message.

No points whatsoever to the reds or the blues for:

  • failing to gauge the strength of feeling of the public who can still be arsed to vote
  • treating us like the little kids they would have us all be
  • spending oodles on marketing that doesn’t communicate one iota of a single benefit
  • not having one ounce of humility and spending the cash on trying to go at least a little way in redressing the balance of the bled-dry balance books
  • not even giving one brain cell over to how this might project brand Labour or brand Conservative
  • achieving the mutually assured destruction of simultaneously looking like the bunch of clowns they all are.

Full points to both agencies concerned however, for:

extracting even more taxpayer’s dosh on something that, quite frankly wouldn’t get in the portfolio of a six year old.

The awful truth (Sultan of Ikea part 6)

Part 5 here.

Okay, got my card number and phoned Ikea again.

‘Right thanks Mr. Caleb. We’ll look for your receipt and when we find it, we’ll send round an inspector to look at your mattress.’

What? After all this, you still don’t believe me? And you’ve got a squad of SS mattress inspectors?

Do I have to get the house cleaned? Polish my shoes? My God, I’ve got a slightly prominent nose and a Jewish sounding surname - will I escape from the inspection with my life?

Brand tOuch score out of ten: minus 10. Hopes: that the execution will be short and painless.

To be continued…

The visit to the store (Sultan of Ikea part 5)

Part 4 here.

‘What, they told you to bring a photo?’

(Groan)

‘They said that would be okay? And this statement isn’t enough. I’m afraid we need the card number that went with the purchase.’

Is it Ikea policy to employ liars at the battery farm? At the moment, I’m guessing so.

Okay, so I need to contact Halifax again and see if they can find the card number from 5 years ago for me. At this point I’m thinking, this Ikea lady is staring me in the face and potentially saying I’m trying to scam a mattress from them. Or at the very least that I may not have purchased the said mattress. I obviously look like a bloke who’d happily accept a second hand mattress from someone. Thanks a bunch.

Brand tOuch score out of ten: 4. Hopes: Fading.

Right. Stiff upper, press on. Phoned Halifax who said, ‘Ooooh no…oooo…. We can’t give you that kind of information over the phone. You’ll have to go into a branch and request it.

Reluctantly left the Ikea store empty handed (ie; no new mattress) and drove the 15 miles back to my Halifax branch.

‘What, they told you that you needed to go into your branch…?’

Is it Halifax policy to employ liars at the Halifax farm?

‘Customer services could have got you they information, they just try to send more people in branch…’

Her exact words. Apparently it is Halifax policy to employ liars at the Halifax farm.

Impromptu Halifax Brand tOuch score out of ten: 0, nada, zilch. Hopes: I’ll eventually lose the will to live.

To be continued…

Good brand tOuch – Kwik Fit

It’s 8:05 pm and I’ve just come off the phone to a lady from the Kwik Fit customer call centre. My, those Indians are far better at the Glasgee accent than the Glaswegians! She rang me to enquire whether I was satisfied with the service I’d received at their Shipley garage.

A little background: For a couple of weeks I’ve been hooking up my Ford Focus to the missus’s Galaxy just to get it started (amazing how much power there is in a bar of chocolate.) Eventually after a meeting in Bradford I had to suffer the indignity of pushing my old banger out of the company’s car park, half-in, half-out of the driver’s door, then hopping in, John Wayne stylee at the optimum time - all in front of a near 2,000 strong workforce. Now even though I say it myself, in a bucket of rust that takes balls of steel.

Long story short, upon sighting the welcome blue and yellow sign of Kwik Fit in my peripheral vision I hand-braked in to the forecourt without an indication to my name – after all, it’s absolute gospel that using your indicator when your battery isn’t charging increases your chances of stalling… isn’t it?

Anyway, my good brand tOuch tale is not about the service I received from the fitters, but from the call I’ve just received from Gloria Glasgee. It went something like this:

GG. Just wanted to say thank you for using our garage in Shipley.

Me. Er, that’s okay, thanks for having me.

GG. Just enquiring as to whether you were happy with the service.

Me. Er yes, yes I was actually, very good, thank you.

GG. Oh that’s great. Do you think there’s anything else we could have done to improve the service?

Me. Ummm, no… no I really don’t think so. (If I was being totally brutal, a couple of the lads could have smiled a bit more, but hey, I’d rather have fast, efficient service over false mateyness any day.)

So there you have it. A nice courteous call, relevant and specific to my experience and blow me, the phone even rang after I’d safely packed the rugrats off to Slumberland. Okay, I’ve got a fair idea how Gloria knew I’d visited the Shipley garage for a new battery, but how the hell did she know I was a dad of three?

Blimey, they’re good.


Not so good brand tOuch – Kwik Fit

This has got to be a record. Good brand tOuch followed by not so good in the space of one minute 35 seconds; with the same brand; in the same phone call.

Gloria from Glasgow then went on to say, ‘Just while you’re on Sir…’ Hang on, I wasn’t on, you were! ‘Just wondered if you knew that Kwik Fit do car insurance and we’re offering customers a 10% discount…’

Oh dear. My momentary Kwik Fit fizz went as flat as my old car battery in an instant. Deflated, I explained I wasn’t interested and got on with pondering how na├»ve I’d been thinking that a commercial organisation might possibly have seen some longer-term value in simply enquiring after their customers’ interests.

I must admit though, Kwik Fit did warm me up nicely with their opening gambit before bringing me down by trying to upsell me in the second part.

Those sneaky Kwif Fit f***ers! *

* That’s fitters to you.

The statements are back (Sultan of Ikea part 4)

Part 3 here. Statements arrived from Halifax. Expected them to be gold plated but strangely, no such luck. Found an Ikea entry and duly rang the battery farm again.

‘Okay, Mr Caleb, that should be fine. Can you bring the mattress in?’

‘Well, I could…’ At least they’d see how so unworthy it is of a 25 year guarantee.

‘Er it’s okay… can you take some photos of it?’

‘Sure…’

‘Right, that should be fine. Just bring a photo in with your statement and that will be fine.’

‘Brilliant, thanks for your time.’ That, I think counts as a result.

Brand tOuch score out of ten: 8.5. Hopes: Rising.

To be continued…

Publicise or be damned

As someone who's cracked out more direct mail than you can wave a DL envelope at, the irony of an organisation in the communications industry on strike is not lost on me (unlike most of my love letters from Bouncy Knowles right now). The Royal Mail not only seems to refuse to embrace the future, it balks at the mere thought of even to talking to it. Mulling over this incongruity reminded me of an agency I did a spell with a while back in the capacity of CD. As I was there for a fair old time my commitment to the company cause was stronger than that of a quick project crafting a letter for a direct client and I began to take issue with the Board on one particularly thorny point. Yup, you guessed it, my pet subject of the moment; communication.

Now, if you're the MD of an agency that I've worked with and thinking, 'Hey, that's me you infidel...' don't get all paranoid - unless you're reading this from a distant place where the average temperature is slightly higher than nipple-erecting and Yorkshirish is definitely not the native tongue. And if you’re just wondering who the hell this agency is, you know confidentiality is my only currency.

So what did I notice in my short, but long-enough time there? Well firstly, I was aware that the company had a fairly high and frequent turnover of staff. I then soon became aware that the people who were there for the duration weren’t there out of commitment to the cause but just glad to be in work. Who wouldn’t be in these Spartan times? Then, like a lot of things that come in threes, I noticed the humdinger; this organisation did not hold any company meetings. Not one. Nada. Zilcho. My God, they didn’t even hold production meetings but don’t get me started on that.

Naturally, as a concerned and (albeit temporarily) committed member of the team, I queried with the Board the reasons behind the lack of information-sharing with the rest of the staff. And, like a Jack Russell with a serious bone of contention and a heavy dose of small-dog syndrome, I did this more times than I care to remember in the short time I was plying my trade there. Here are some of the responses I got:

“We’re not here to have a get-together, we’re here to service our clients.”

“What do they need to know? They get their briefs. They do the work.”

“They’re not the people who make the decisions.”

“Why take up valuable time chatting when we should improving the standard of our work?”

So why did all this matter to me? Why do those of you that do know me now see why I’ve got one or two more grey hairs than I had just a little while back?

Because, you know where this is going. Or more to the point, you have a fair idea where this company is going. That’s right, absolutely nowhere.

Because if you don’t involve your staff, it will feel uninvolved. People will believe they’re on the fringe because that’s right where you’re sticking them. And as such, they’ll naturally break away from the core group. If you don’t tell your people where the agency is going how can you ever expect them to drive in the right direction? If you don’t explain where the company could do better, how do you propose to improve in those areas? Or expect others who are doing well to step in and help? If you omit to reward success why should people strive for its dizzy heights again? If you don’t nurture the idea of individuals talking about the different work they’re producing in the name of the company how can you expect the cross-pollination of great ideas over different sectors and media to flourish? If you don’t take your people with you, how can you expect to create a brand that will be great, that will have serious equity and that you can sell to future clients and owners alike? The answer is you can’t.

Just like many of the clients this industry works with, you can’t ever hope to build an attractive, fully-rounded brand that future stakeholders and management teams will be crawling over themselves to inherit without your biggest brand asset – your people. It’s your people who have to live and breathe your brand values; your people that deliver your brand to the outside world. Yes, you may produce decent work from time to time but eventually that will suffer the symptoms of a conveyor belt of personnel delivering it. And yes, you may have an enviable client list but hey, that’s made up of people too – people who’ll soon cotton on to ever-changing account handlers and an inconsistent creative product.

So, if your exit strategy is to go on to bigger and better things or even if you’re hoping to spend the rest of your days on a lilo in Lloret nursing a pina colada, the only way to leave your agency in great shape for a sale and subsequent success is to lead your people to victory through the power of communication.


Ouch tip #999: If you’re raring to go for your next company get-together, remember you haven’t employed a bunch of accountants – avoid doing the financials in Swahili.

Tweet. Welcome to the world of self harm - agency branch

How strange. Agencies spend a bucket-load of time (and cash) building up their reputations, their credentials and their client base. Then along comes a relatively new and spangly thing that the very same agencies seem desperate to be seen to be using before a) fully understanding its implications and b) setting any kind of guidelines to staff. So desperate in fact, that all sensibility seems to have been knocked off its perch. Yes, I’m talking Twitter.

Now I guess this is aimed mainly at MDs, Board members and other seriously committed individuals within the organisation but I’m afraid it’s time to get a grip. The amount of tweets I’ve witnessed chirping from agencies all branded up with their lovely logo (a logo that, knowing how agencies work on their own work, also probably took a bucket-load of time, and tears to design) but are actually voiced by individuals expressing their own thoughts and opinions beggars belief.

Obviously, no names mentioned here but recent tweets, badged up with agency emblems, using agency names have included, “Oh no, Monday already”, “Feel like 5hit today, creativity’s gonna suffer” and “Can’t believe the X Factor result last night.”

Don't get me wrong; there are plenty of individuals out there representing their organisations brilliantly. And I’m freelancing right now so why should it bother me? Because the feeling I have for this industry runs as deep as I was when I was knocking out 12-14 hours a day as a Creative Director; because it hurts to see an industry that’s already suffering giving itself one more kick in the budgies and because… hello… you should know a damn sight better. You’re in marketing right? Brand perception?

The solution? Communication. Remember that? It’s what you do. Get everyone together and lay down a few ground rules:

  1. Tweet by all means as an individual who just happens to work at an upbeat, lively and radical agency
  2. Make it obvious your tweets are YOUR tweets and not those of your company
  3. Decide whether you are actually tweeting as a fully branded up organisation and set up the following:

  • At least two key stakeholders who can vet each other’s outpourings
  • A consistent tone of voice
  • A clear reason as to why you’re using this medium in the first place
  • Objectives for what you want your tweets to achieve
  • An understanding that once it’s out there, it’s out there for all to see and, perhaps more importantly, for clients and potential clients to form their own perceptions.

Because guess what: I’m guessing they don’t give two hoots about your views on the X Factor but they may be very interested to hear that a heavy weekend has lead to your staff not feeling as chirpy about their account as they should be.

The expensive phone call (Sultan of Ikea part 3)

Part 2 here. Right on to my bank for the statements. Simple enough task? If only. With two potential bank accounts and two card holders (The Missus and me) trying to second guess what date 5 years ago we bought the Sultan on, what with and by whom was the devil’s only job. And with Halifax charging £10 (that’s right, a whole tenner) for each statement request, this was like Russian Roulette for tightarses – such as myself. Anyway, took an out-and-out gamble and asked for nearly three years worth of statements on the normal bank account. A friendly Halifax rep slipped his hand in my back pocket and made me ten pounds lighter. (I always sweat profusely when any man puts their hand in my back pocket).

To be continued…

The promising phone call (Sultan of Ikea part 2)

Part 1 is here. Phoned up Ikea, Leeds. Got a zillion recorded options that I absolutely love; “If you’d like to speak to anything but a human being, hold, on you’re in luck, we’ve got a trillion options that all send you back to the same battery farm.”

Excellent.

Anyway, finally got through to a friendly lady, and explained my pitiful plight. Rather encouragingly, she mentioned that I didn’t need my receipt. A bank statement showing we’d made a substantial purchase at Ikea would be enough. Right, game on. Thank you for your time – you’ve almost made my year (you know I don’t get out much.)

Brand tOuch score out of ten: 7. Hopes: Optimistic.

To be continued…

The Sunken Sultan

I’ve got a bit of a problem in the bedroom department. Problem is, it dips in the middle. It looks a bit sad and withering. The Missus refuses to touch it with a barge pole.

Our Sultan mattress from Ikea has developed a great, sunken dip. You’d think with a name like Sultan, it would be strong, mighty even… and provide a right royal night’s kip. Not so. Not anymore. Mind you, we’ve had it nearly five years now. But that’s not the point.

The Sultan from Ikea comes with regal guarantee of 25 years.

Cue consumer battle. Cue a customer services test for one of the biggest home furnishing retailers in the universe. And, as I’ve been daft enough to lose my receipt, cue a potential nightmare for yours truly whose back is already starting to buckle under the strain.

So, to test the burgeoning brand that is Ikea, I thought it would be good to provide little snippets of my anticipated long-drawn out process in trying to get my mattress replaced on the basis of the whopping 25 year guarantee. So if you want to follow my progress and more importantly the performance of Ikea, just check back from time to time and you’ll discover this saga has a whole category of its own – The Sultan of Ikea. Wish me luck.

To be continued...

Advertising? Put your mouth where your money is




A friend of mine is lucky enough to be getting his first book published. Let me rephrase that right away; a friend of mine has expended the right amount of blood, sweat and tears, whilst supporting a full-scale family unit with 2.2, to be able to finally get his book published.
Fair play. This news came to me as I still sit on 16 chapters of a novel after four years. Nevertheless, I still consider myself lucky enough in these hard times to be starting on three major new product campaigns for a global brand with up to 3,000 staff at its UK headquarters.
Just before I went away with my own troop to Center Parcs, my friend asked what approach he could possibly take on the advertising and publicising of his new novel. I said that, whilst chasing red squirrels and a rare and sublime two minutes’ peace here and there, I’d have a think.
All that week amongst the stunning Cumbrian backdrop of Whinfell Forest it became blindingly obvious to me. To a man, to a woman, every single member of staff was exemplary in the execution of their work (and let’s face it, if we’re talking blood, sweat and tears here, putting up with 500 holidaying families week in, week out is real work). A couple of examples; despite my protestations, the missus ordered me to call the Service Centre after a mouse sighting in our living room – not for extra cheddar but to see what our eviction options were. In less than ten minutes a lovely lady was round with some humane traps for Ronny rodent and a bottle of red for red-faced yours truly. Nice touch. She also offered us a lodge upgrade to an executive number with a sauna and hot tub. Very tempting but with three rug rats under four, we naturally couldn’t be arsed moving. However, the good intention from Center Parcs was there. Hiring the obligatory bikes and Ben Hur-style chariot was a heart-warming experience too. The chap was more than happy to explain the nuts and bolts of it all and even gave us a good lower-option-for-the-sorry-troop-that-drags-its-heels-and-doesn’t-hire-‘til mid-week price. Now that’s more than fair enough.
And I tell you it was like this every day, everywhere we went throughout the 500acre oasis. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have been handed a free gin ’n’ tonic on my way down the Canyon Ride at the pool – if I’d have been able to remove my hands from my crotch, that is. Suffice to say that the good people of Center Parcs were almost Stepford Wives-ish in their customer service diligence.
The sardonic old bugger in me asked, “Why?”
The marketer in me answered, “Think about it. You’ve got 500 families in every week, each with an average of at least two people who can then pass on their experiences to fellow holiday budget holders. And that ready-made free advertising base has a weekly churn, 51 weeks of the year. From a brand point of view, times what's going on in Cumbria by four other UK Center Parcs sites and it's not to be sniffed at by any means.”
Cynical? Maybe. True? Definitely.


Trust will always be King
This notion was further reinforced whilst still on holiday when I received a weak signal dodging through the pines on my mobile. An ex MD wanted the low-down on a colleague I used to work with at another agency before he went to the effort of getting the guy in. After all why use email or snail mail when you can get a straightforward answer over the phone from someone you trust? You can grasp the honesty from the tone, pick out the truth from the very existence of the relationship. This never more true than on the very day an Actimel TV ad has been banned by the ASA for lying. Yup, they claimed it could prevent illness. In my book, that's a bare-faced whopper that deserves to be scrapped for its sheer dishonesty. Danone have now gone down in my trust stakes and no doubt the estimations of thousands of others. I want to know the score straight from people who've not only experienced what I'm considering, but who are also prepared to put their reputations on something with a big, fat endorsement. Just as the old saying, 'In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King' goes, so too in marketing it should follow that, 'In the land of the shark-infested overclaim, the warm and furry trust mouse will always win out.'
So what will I be advising my fledgling author pal regarding his approach to advertising? Exactly the same thing I’ll be saying to my client with 3,000 staff: before you go blowing your marketing budget on unsolicited ads in untested media, tell every last man, woman and child you know about your launch and get them to pass it on because there never has, and never will be any substitute for good old word of mouth.

Running the thin line between good PR and bad PR


I was getting in touch with my gay side whilst working on some fashion-based concepts for a lovely bunch of people north of the city. Subliminally, I must have also been getting in touch with my youthful side as I sat in front of my mac with a full fat coke on my desk and screaming dayglo orange trainers on my feet. Yup, at my age I should know better.
I took a double take at the limited edition can and noticed that it was promoting Peace One Day (POD). If you think about it, the ‘genius’ of the back-to-basics design created by Attik allows plenty of scope for a plethora of ongoing promotions. Founded by film maker Jeremy Gilley in 1999, POD drives peace initiatives around the world, many of which have included world leaders such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama and Shimon Peres.
Maybe it was a slug of coke that triggered the synapses but I then performed another double take; this time at my luminescent shoes and the three crinkle-cut stripes that adorned each side. It was then the old grey matter really got into gear and remembered an event that should have received far more publicity than it actually did.
Adidas, giant of the sportswear world was playing a football match against Puma, giant of the sportswear world. Great idea you say, but why all the fuss? Well, it’s not until you delve a little deeper into the history of these two monumental brands that you realise there’s a little more to it than a simple kickabout on the park with jumpers for goalposts.
In the town of Herzogenaurach, northern Bavaria where the two companies were founded, the match is being hailed as the end of the Battle of the Boot.

Thing is, back in the 1920s, that small Bavarian town was home to the Dasslers - a happy family, consisting of Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf (Rudi) Dassler – two sons of a master cobbler. Pretty soon, the two brothers started to display their own talent for turning leather into highly effective sports shoes.
Adi, in particular, designed spiked running shoes and was responsible for helping Jesse Owens win four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
By now, a successful sports shoe company was firmly established in Herzogenaurach. The good news story didn’t last however when a feud broke out between the two siblings. Anecdotes suggest that things kicked off (sorry) when Adi and his family were sheltering from an Allied air raid. “There come those Schweinehunde,” he shouted when his brother’s family entered the shelter. He tried to explain later that the “pig dogs” insult referred to the RAF bombers rather than his relations, but with a comment like that in public, the damage had been done.
Later Rudi, a fully paid-up member of the Gestapo, became a US prisoner of war, whilst Adi, more than happy to do business with Jewish firms, was in full control of the factory and unwilling to make much space for Rudi on his return. The two went their separate ways with Rudi opening a new factory on the other side of the Aurach river to his brother’s Adidas factory. First it was called Ruda but this was replaced by the sportier sounding moniker, Puma. Both Adidas and Puma are now major employers in the cobblestoned town of 23,200 residents.
As the feud intensified between the sporting giants over the years, both companies invested fortunes, attempting to outbid each other for superstar endorsements; David Beckham, Muhammad Ali and Madonna all wore Adidas; Pele, Boris Becker and Usain Bolt were signed by Puma.

Tales are rife from the 1960s and 70s of sabotage, underhand scheming and of Olympic athletes being handed secret payments to wear one of the rival brands.

But just last week in a momentous reconciliation the two companies met on the football pitch in support of Peace One Day.

The result? A blinding spot of positive PR for both brands. Or, should people be more inspired by this story than Puma bargain for and unearth the company’s links to the Third Reich, potentially a lot of negative publicity. As for the overall competition: may the best team win.

Council in driving seat for service innovation

A recent expansion of the family has filled the home with more than its fair share of love, laughter, stress and noise. With that infusion, space becomes a seriously premium commodity. Especially as chaos reigns supreme over the King of Disorganisation (that’s me).

I scored a major victory against the chaos the other day with a bit of lateral thinking. The missus would tell you it’s a very minimal, teeny weeny victory, but hey I’m a bloke, so I’m rightly proud.

We, the Royal ‘We’ that is, needed space; a space to list everything required on our next shop – pretty essential when your key skills are forgetting the baps on a bacon butty breakfast run. But when I tell you that, in our kitchen there isn’t a spare inch that isn’t covered with a cardboard moon rocket or a handprint spider you hopefully get the idea that we’re pretty damn short of somewhere to stick any kind of notice board. Until, that is Captain Creativity steps in (sorry, that’s the bloke talking again) and remembers that amongst the similar state of chaos in the garage, there’s an old tin of blackboard paint. See where I’m going with this? Yes, the back of a cupboard door. Here’s the clever blokey bit: not just the back of any old door, but the single most visited cupboard in our kitchen’s history – packed full of dried herbs, spices and toddler-bribes (that’s breadsticks and dried apricots to you and me.) Yup - it’s now covered in a splash of the black stuff - a spangly new chalkboard that never lets a tin of beans, bread or a crate of beer slip through the net of havoc. Amount of space taken up in the kitchen? In terms of volume, approximately 0.0002m3. Amount of items left off the next shop? Exactly none. Genius.

And talking of space, lateral thinking and downright great innovation, the Council of The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has just scored a direct hit. The Council registered itself as a seller on eBay and is putting parking permits for guaranteed parking spaces under the hammer.

Initially, only three-month permits are up for grabs, but if successful, the authority hopes to extend the scheme to provide six and twelve-month contracts.

A reserve will be placed on each auctioned permit to ensure that the Council doesn’t make a loss. However, in true eBay style, it could still be possible to obtain a permit cheaper on the site than directly from the Council, officials said. The reserve price has yet to be fixed.

Councillor Colin Rayner, cabinet member for Highways and Streetcare, said the idea came about after the Tory council successfully sold a surplus of old workmen's boots and gloves on eBay. This they had to do for three months, in compliance with eBay rules, before they could become a corporate seller. Fair play to them; I haven’t even got my backside in gear yet to get my pine furniture, unused tools and children’s toys out of the garage mayhem, never mind under the online hammer.

Councillor Rayner continued, "Most motorists want to be able to find a parking space quickly in the mornings on their way to the office and this scheme will guarantee the same space for the same car every day for the duration of their contract.

"It’s all about providing a premium service for motorists. As a council we are committed to signing up to the use of new media to communicate our messages to our residents and we are hoping the use of eBay will take our message to more residents and make this scheme a successful one.”

The campaign will be launched with adverts on eBay explaining other incentives, including constant CCTV surveillance and free weekly car wash vouchers for successful bidders.

I loved this story when I first stumbled across it because it made me realise, rather like my ‘genius’ blackboard idea, you don’t necessarily have to look for new things to provide great service solutions; you can always innovate with the stuff that’s already around you.

10 steps to permanently damage your own institutional brand in less than a year


1. Ensure you’re a publicly funded body.

2. Use a huge chunk of that capital to vastly overpay a mediocre performer – ensuring said ‘artist’ has a one-trick-pony style stock in trade – namely puerile, sexist, schoolboy humour.

3. Use one of your prime products (in this case, Strictly Come Dancing) to get tens of thousands of the public (who, remember, are both your funders and your customers) to needlessly spend money phoning-in votes that will not count a jot as the producers have already decided the outcome.

4. Make sure you’re including all your target audience in your plan of self-destruction: Use a lesser product (preferably in another area of interest, say cooking), such as Saturday Kitchen to create the perception of a live phone-in when in actual fact, the result is another done deal. Again this will get your customers to needlessly spend money, not to mention betray your core audience’s trust.

5. If by now, you don’t think you’re doing enough damage to your own brand, go for the one area that should be an absolute taboo: Children. Use another prime product, this time from the kids’ range - Blue Peter is a great choice for mass exposure. Hoodwink thousands of six to thirteen year olds into thinking they still have a chance of winning a competition, when in actual fact the producers have already chosen the ‘winners’ from little angels who happen to be on set.

6. Not done yet? Well how about getting the aforementioned overpaid one-trick pony to get together with an equally immature ass and pull an obscene stunt on one of the nation’s best-loved performers? A victim such as Andrew Sachs would garner plenty of public outcry from the masses.

7. Continue to bleat about the Government’s attempts to rejuvenate the commercial broadcasting sector in opening up more avenues of revenue with product placement and suchlike, claiming for the umpteenth time that yours is a brand that doesn’t advertise. This, despite the fact (and this is one of my personal favourites) that, with a massive array of channels, programmes and events to publicise, you are one of broadcasting’s biggest advertisers.

8. Allow one of your main channel’s controllers, the very talented Lesley Douglas (who just happens to be responsible for dragging Radio 2 and thousands of happy listeners into the 21st Century), to leave the organisation, whilst the aforementioned pony gets a measly and insulting 3 month unpaid ban.

9. All that a bit so-last year? Well why not bring things bang up to date by introducing another fly-in-the-face-of your-public debacle on your latest flagship product? Namely, against all sensibility and sensible opinion, replace Arlene Phillips with Alesha Dixon. One is a choreographer of many top West End shows, talent scout and former dancer; the other is a singer who happens to have won the show once.

10. Repeat any of the above steps as often as you like, whilst ensuring a real lack of two things: strong leadership at Board level and real empathy with your audience.

Please note, I’ve nothing against Alesha Dixon – in fact I’m currently wincing at the backlash she’ll endure over the forthcoming weeks – it’s not her fault, but the sages who chose eye candy over insight, fluff over experience.

On a more positive note however, I’d like to offer my simple 3-point plan to get the BBC’s once mighty brand back on track – and back in favour with the great British, and indeed, global public:

1. Jordan to replace furniture expert Jon Bly on The Antiques Roadshow. She’d be just the job at comparing mahogany chests.

2. Jack Tweed, husband of the late Jade Goody to replace any one of the real-life coppers on Crimewatch UK. An inside job if ever there was one.

3. Gordon Brown to replace Michael McIntyre on his brilliant series. So yes, it would now become Gordon Brown’s Comedy Roadshow.

If anyone from the Beeb would like to consult me further on the above advice, I’m available Tuesdays and Thursdays after nine-ish. Failing that, if they could do just one thing that all great brands should do, it would form the basis of a massive turnaround: You expect your customers to watch you, so start listening to your customers.