There’s always something else to do, isn’t there? I was looking forward to winding down a bit when up pops a message from a colleague at London Business School with the details of this year’s Secret Santa escapade – along with the name of my unsuspecting recipient.
At first, a groan – another thing on the to-do list. But then, a bit of lightening, since this strange tradition is a low-stakes way to ponder on the quirks of someone you know – good, bad or indifferent – and wrap up something with a bit of apt, wry symbolism, just for them.
And why stop there, I muse? Secret Santa gifts could be a way of expressing what I feel about some of the various personalities, sub-groups and entities of our marketing industry. So here goes – my Marketing Secret Santa list: who gets what from Santa and why.
Consumer research agencies: A single piece of a jigsaw puzzle
As a reminder that that is what they are. I have lost count of the research agencies only too willing to offer – unasked – sweeping recommendations for future marketing strategy based on their 90-minute conversations with perhaps three dozen consumers. They haven’t imbibed the company history. They haven’t got across the sales figures. They don’t have a feel for the portfolio. They aren’t privy to upcoming innovation. They don’t know their way around the technical or clinical data. And they are blissfully unacquainted with the realities of the regulatory environment. Never mind: the consumer has spoken – and so now, volubly, must they.
Consumer research findings are a necessary contribution to strong, future-proofed brand strategy. But – even on those very rare occasions when findings amount to insight – they are only ever a small part of the picture.
Sir Martin Sorrell: A Weeble
Aptly, what I remember most vividly about these vintage, springy toys is the ad jingle: ‘Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down’. And neither does Sorrell. Wives may leave, writs may fly, colleagues may force him to walk the plank, but he springs back, still with ‘a point to prove’. So don’t expect the recent £1.5bn valuation of his barely two-year-old venture S4 Capital to prompt temptation to relax. Expect more of the same. Forever.
Binet & Field: A large, free-standing, 3D ampersand
First, to recognise an enduring partnership: B&F are marketing’s ultimate banded pack – buy one brain, get another free. Not that anything so grubby as money changes hands: the duo make their disciplined, quant-based thinking openly available to all.
More importantly, though, the ampersand is a reminder of the conjunction in their seminal work on advertising effectiveness: ‘The long and the short of it.’ It’s ‘and’. Not ‘or’. And certainly not one ‘versus’ the other, as pundits often postulate. Their doctrine is a good, practical example of Mark Ritson’s concept of ‘bothism’ – which is such a recurring theme in modern marketing.
Talking of my esteemed Marketing Week colleague…
Mark Ritson: Overseas aid swear box
Rishi Sunak’s decision to cut UK overseas aid by 20 basis points earned some blistering headlines. Could Ritson come to the rescue? With £10 for every printed f***, a fiver for b******* and bull****, and a whopping £50 for c*** (he’s used it), he could make quite a dent in the deficit. And hey, those asterisks are mine – I know he doesn’t use them. But I’m not about to fall for my own ruse, am I?
Zoom: A framed 2020 calendar
Accept it, guys, you’ll never have another year like this one. At least, I hope not.
Advertising agency bosses: An abacus
It’s a high-stress business, so those satisfying, coloured balls will be something soothing to fiddle with – slide ’em this way, slide ’em that. And while you’re at it, why not use the framework for some simple addition? What’s the hourly cost of a single senior planner? How much does that add up to when three planners attend the same meeting, when one would have sufficed? Or – as I have seen recently – what’s the damage when two account people, two planners and a behavioural economist attend a brand workshop, when the client expected (and had agreed to pay for) one from the agency side?
One of the reasons the ad game is stressful is because the margins are thin. And one of the reasons the margins are thin is that agencies are still overstaffed. From the client point of view – and I talk to them every day – more is not better.
Rufus Radcliffe: A swiss army knife
Flexible, resourceful, unflashy – both gift and recipient. The ITV CMO showed that you can scoop UK marketing’s highest accolade – Marketing Week’s Marketer of the Year – without playing the big ‘I am’. Radcliffe is a marketer of the other kind – modest in demeanour, ready to share credit for transformative achievement, and cleverly effective all round.
Martin Renaud: The Oxford English Dictionary
It could be beneficial for the Mondelēz International CMO when he next wants to come up with a fresh word for a familiar term. There are 273,000 words between its covers, many of them wonderful, succinct and expressive, and the benefit is that people tend to know what they mean.
Which is more than can be said for ‘humaning’ – the new term created by Renaud to delineate marketing at Mondelēz. “What on earth does that mean?” say humans. “Ah…humaning is when storytelling becomes storydoing,” responds Renaud. You can see the problem now, can’t you. “And what the bloody hell does storydoing mean?” It’s a downward spiral, my friend. Stick to actual words. That’s why we have them.
Brand archetypes: A potato masher
Eh? What? That’s a bit random, isn’t it? A potato masher, did you say? There must be some mistake: what’s that got to do with anything?
Exactly. Now you know how we all feel.
Dr Martens: Nothing – they’d only give it back
That’s what the footwear brand did with the government’s furlough money – returning it swiftly, freely and in full after reporting a 50% rise in sales. That wasn’t just good corporate citizenship, it was smart marketing – a gesture that wasn’t lost on the brand’s natural customer base: urban, connected and socially aware.
Respect, too, for Taylor Wimpey, Ikea and The Spectator, which also returned furlough cash. Boos for grocery retailers Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s, which took too long to repay business rates relief despite coining it in during lockdown – and a kick up the backside with a Dr Martens for Waitrose, which is still deliberating.
Byron Sharp: The Little Book of Kindness
The keen-eyed among you will note that I have not specified any gifts for brand consultants, marketing academics and industry journalists. That is because I am all three, and I can hardly do a Secret Santa on myself. You could, though…