Category Archives: above-the-line

Saatchi & Saatchi London and T-Mobile. A big idea worth sharing

Its not just because I’m one of the old Saatchi alumni and I’m sure I am not alone in this, but I get a kick everytime I see this campaign.  In fact, although I have worked for most of the big mobile operators over the years T-mobile hasn’t been one of them, so why am I giving it space here?

The answer is simple.  Its a great example of something that I have been banging on about for years – “The big idea”.  In the old Saatchi days, this is what we did – Silk Cut, British Airways, Intercity, there’s a long list of big ideas that have originated in Saatchi.  For years now though I’ve felt that (and Kevin Roberts will hate me for this) the old place had struggled to get its head as far above its competitors as we used to, but looking at what has been coming out of Charlotte Street recently, I have to say, things are looking good.

Keep it up folks!


Solve the mystery of disappearing Moscow

Brits who travel a lot on business won’t be strangers to the commercials of various national tourist bodies that appear on BBC World News, CNN and the like.  These examples of national branding are sometimes informative, often quite surprising and I suspect not always accurate, but so many have jumped on the (quite-rightly highly praised) Incedible India bandwaggon that they are now becoming wallpaper.  Time for India to “up” their game maybe.

Among the better look-alikes are the efforts of  Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, none of which quite match the Indian production for originality or execution, but has anybody seen the latest effort from Moscow?  I caught it once and, in many respects, that was enough.  I can’t remember the strap line, “Moscow – not just any city” or something, but the production did leave me with a deep yearning to be anywhere BUT Moscow.  It was absolutely terrible!

I haven’t seen it again, but I may just have been lucky.  I can’t even find a copy on the Internet to show you, its not on any show reels that I can access and its not even on the Moscow Tourism web site.  Perhaps the Kremlin have stepped in and erased all records?  I have been trying to discover who produced it, but it seems the offending agency are, quite understandably, keeping their heads down too.  If they are smart enough to have created an integrated campaign the matching mailshot would have to be body-parts or something in the post, but happily they clearly aren’t – smart enough that is – otherwise they wouldn’t have produced this dog!

I suppose you have to give them full marks for honesty at least.  They certainly couldn’t be acused of copying the Incredible India format or of making promises that they can’t deliver.  The references to night-life and historical buildings and the campaign strap-line are all almost apologetic and the overall presentation is excrutiatingly boring, bordering on intimidating.  Even the voice-over sounds like Vincent Price!  This is definitely the Moscow I know – a place where the seats on tourist coaches are fitted with manacles rather than seat-belts, to ensure that tourists don’t get off and run for the border!

I’ve been dealing with a Moscow agency recently who were bemoaning the lack of the skills of the planners and strategists they have access to.  Maybe, the problem is deeper than this?  I’m used to weak management, strange attitudes, poor skills and lack of experience of marketers in Central and Eastern Europe – its understandable to a point, but Moscow is trying to establish itself as a major world city with all that goes with it and I’m surprised that a flagship marketing campaign this awful would have made it to the screen.  Can you help solve the mystery of the disappearing TVC?  If you know where there is a copy post the URL so that we can all see it again and if you have the story behind this by all means dish the dirt.  We all want to hear.

Exploding the above and below-the-line mythology

For the past decade I have run my European work from a base in Prague where I have also lived.  Prague, a blank sheet of parchment, more than ready to absorb the palette of the western world, offers any student of humanity a great position from which to observe life.

You won’t be surprised to hear that one of my fascinations has been to study the never-ending stream of foreign “experts” who have turned up to offload their “advice” to a fledgling economy with loads of EC grant Euros to “invest” in infrastructure and business initiatives.  Where business and marketing is concerned this migration of experts appears to have mainly comprised a succession of EasyJet flights from London carrying more arseholes and wash-ups that I would have ever admitted, even to myself, we had in the UK, offering the very “lessons” that had brought them personally to the point where they had to get out of their own town,  God help Central Europe!

We always seem to have tackled the induction of emerging economies by giving them basic information on the subjects they need and assuming that when they “catch up” we can go in again and bring them up-to-date.  This assumes that they will always lag behind and that their development curve, though steep, would never bring them to the point where they were vying with us for a lead in business ideas.  This isn’t necessarily the case of course.  As evidence proves, often where emerging countries are given cutting edge thinking and technology their freedom from the compromises of infrastructure and attitudes means that they can sometimes take that a whole lot further and faster than their western counterparts.  The Czech national phone company, for example, developed a mobile technology that is now adopted around the world.

However, we still operate the transfer of knowledge in a hand-me-down sort of way – “Here, we’ve done with this old sweater, see if you can get a bit more use out of it”.  In my line of work perhaps the most personally irritating example of this has been the way that foreign marketers have introduced bright-eyed young Czechs to the concept of “above” and “below-the-line” marketing”.

I’ve been in the business for more than thirty years and in all that time I don’t recall ever having been given a satisfactory definition of these terms from anybody, anywhere.  In the West, we know for sure now that it makes no sense.  Its a red herring, an adjunct to what we do yet its one of the first things we introduce to a new situation like Central Europe.  In the context that I provided a moment ago its more like “here’s something I bought thinking it looked cool, but realised when I got it home that it was really naff – it might suit you though”!  I mean, its one thing to hand over something that was once useful in the hope that it might maintain its usefulness a little longer in a less taxing environment, but to dump your junk like this …

So I’ve spent the last ten years trying to counter the spread of this nonsense to new territories by explaining that, just like the King’s New Clothes, its fine to say it’s a load of bollocks – because it is!

This year my work has so far all been in the UK and among the first businesses that I was introduced to was one of our largest advertisers.  I was taken around their “marketing department” which in fact was an entire office building larger than most businesses corporate HQ’s and introduced to departments and functions as “… our above-the-line this” and “ our below-the-line that” and increasingly recoiled into a mental ball.   I mean, what the hell are we doing when one of our largest and most prized organisations are basing their business on such antiquated thinking.  Its no wonder, as I realised during subsequent discovery, that thinking was a bit woolly, but the waste ….!

I long ago took the “above and below” subject out of the presentations that I do in the UK thinking it was redundant, but it seems I’m going to have to reinstate it with new prominence, in fact I think its going to occupy a whole new section in my Full Effect Marketing seminars.

FORGET ABOVE AND BELOW-THE-LINE!  There’s no such thing, its irrelevant thinking, a distraction, a red herring.  There is only one way that you should be thinking of dividing your marketing – STRATEGIC and TACTICAL.  Don’t even think of media in above and below-the-line terms, its doesn’t work anymore (I personally don’t think it ever did).  There are mass media and targeted media, some offer interactive capabilities, others can carry a big slice of emotion, all media are relevant in some way, its up to us to decide which we need to apply to each area of our strategy for most cost-effective results.

I’m sure that the Czechs and their colleagues in the other emerging new European countries, will work it out for themselves before too long.  Its just a pity we gave them such a bum steer to start with.  As for our guys back home – I guess its ingrained after all.  A lot of work is obviously still to be done.  But, hey!  That’s my job.  Watch this space.!