All posts by Steve

A Test for Robot Copywriters.

The buzz is about ChatGPT. Many are talking of nothing else.

They can’t resist the lure of an AI neural network that writes ad copy, 
composes music, makes films, churns out stories and in doing so responds to natural language.

To put all the hype to the test we asked ChatGPT to knock out a few 
Volvo ads.

We wondered, could a bot write as well as two of the best copywriters of all time?

Could it be as good as Ed McCabe and David Abbott?

As you probably know, both wrote brilliant Volvo ads (like many you might even have been among those who wrote them out by hand to learn how to be a better writer).

With copy completed in a trice, 11 seconds on one ad, ChatGPT did passably well.

But it wasn’t a patch on Ed McCabe or David Abbott. Or even a middling writer.

The result was a laundry list of features without a tone of voice, original thinking or the wit, charm and reasoned persuasion you might expect. 

Formulaic describes it.

So rest easy if you’re a copywriter, your job shouldn’t be in jeopardy.

But …. 

Rumor has it that in 2023 you’ll be faced with a dramatic upgrade.

The current ChatGPT (which spins off from GPT3) is fueled with tons of 
data starting with everything on Wikipedia, Twitter and Reddit.

It’s equipped with what computer boffins claim is 175 billion parameters — a figure that correlates to human brain cells. 

The next iteration, GPT4, will be energized with everything on the Internet plus billions of images and sounds.
It’s predicted to have 100 trillion parameters, making it as much as 500 times better than GPT3.

It leaves you wondering, doesn’t it … where will we be when GPT5 and GPT6 arrive?

Will AI eventually be as brilliant as Ed McCabe and David Abbott?

You can always run your own Volvo ad test to see.

Painting In One Day

We spotted a solution to a problem that surprised and delighted us.

It’s in the headline above, used by a house painter.

What a strong thought. 

But can we really get the job done and get rid of the effing inconvenience
in one short day?

We went on the painter’s Website to see.

There were reviews, but many were negative.

It reminded us of something Bill Bernbach said:

“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster.
It will get more people to know it’s bad.”

That’s spot on in this case.

It seems there are plenty of telling Bernbach quotes online.

They could serve as a marketing and advertising course you could call Improvement in One Day.

So why not set aside one day.

Get your team together and use Bernbach’s thinking as talking points.

Read out the quotes then let the comments flow.

And with that, relevant stories about your brand and how you can improve
everything from competing in the marketplace to short termism in creative work
vs long term brand planning.

Bill Bernbach hasn’t been around for eons in advertising years but his thinking about
why we’re in business remains.

Thanks to him, in one day you could save painting yourself into a corner.

PS. To start you off, here’s a Bernbach thought that should resonate with your CFO:
“The purpose of advertising is to sell. That is what the client is paying for and if that goal does not permeate every idea you get, every word you write, every picture
you take, you are a phony and you ought to get out of the business.”

That Wonderful Subject Again – Ageism.
(Yeah, right.)

You might have seen a piece we posted recently about ageism.

It aims to help senior art directors and copywriters avoid the push by planning for a second career.

Here’s the link showcasing two senior creative people, Geoff Stevenson and Mark Denton:

You don’t need me to tell you it’s a bumpy road for art directors and writers in their 50s. 

Reset and retrain for a
second career. A business school program could help
you do it.

The threat of ageism has been likened to an Arctic chill.

Given that, what’s your plan? 

 You can freelance, but you already knew that, so let’s move on.

The few who are chock-a-block with talent and contacts (George Tannenbaum is one – see his Ad Aged blog) can start their own company. 

By answering only to yourself you’re bound to feel all your Christmases have come at once.

But then there’s also further education. 

That may be more viable with business school as another option.

On offer are executive education programs that don’t require the time, commitment or the eye-wateringly high tuition costs of an MBA. 

Business schools are keen for working professionals to apply and many programs are structured with customized learning paths. They can be part-time, in-person, live online and online at your pace. Please yourself.

Subject matter includes marketing, strategy, leadership, management, social enterprise and finance. And you can earn a certificate.

With that certificate in hand you can begin to lower the barriers to future employment, develop immunity to further ageism and assert your value. 

We spotted on-going benefits for you, starting with marketability.

You gain skills, strengths and business cred well beyond what’s on your resume. 

Cred translates as resourcefulness to employers and sets you apart. 

You learn from professors who know their stuff with courses that are applicable to your professional development.

The idea is to build your knowledge so you can pivot to another industry.

You benefit with networking — other program participants are likely to come from diverse industries, roles, geographies and backgrounds.

You’re bound to find friends, allies and long-term business contacts among them. 

You can also call on alumni – you’ll have commonality there, a strong starting point with MBAs who could turn out to be future employers.

One other thing.

Business schools have career centers.

So there’s every chance you’ll benefit with professional coaching and maybe even introductions to hiring managers.

Recruiters troll business school career centers to find talent – who’s to say you won’t be the next gem they turn up. 

If there’s a spark of an idea here, research business schools in your area. 

Have a look at several programs, speak to admissions people one-on-one, attend an on-campus event, chat to existing students, read student blogs, see if there’s a scenario that makes sense for you and your lifestyle.

At the very least this is an idea you can mull over. Hope it helps because whatever your choice, we don’t want you disappearing from view.

Your Second Career – Get Cracking On It.

Restless leg syndrome.

A few years back a guy sitting opposite us had it in a big way.

It was his way of calming himself.

He had just been shown the door as an art director, let go, thanks to ageism.

It’s sad and infuriating, of course, made even worse by a question he repeatedly asked.

Whaddya do when you’re still brilliant?

One thing is to prepare for ageism, keep it from surprising you.

So before you get to the borderlands of your career, have a care and start planning for your next gig.

As a push in that direction, here are two role models for you.

The first is Geoff Stevenson, a cartoonist.

That’s his work you see here.

Geoff was a copywriter in London and Sydney.

He did the kind of ads people in agencies like Collett Dickenson Pearce admired.

He also wrote on a sitcom, did Nickelodeon episodes, illustrated a dozen kid’s books and had an animation pilot.

More than a few strings to his bow.

Including working as an extra on Scrubs when he arrived in LA from Sydney.

You probably saw Geoff as Dr. Beardface. 

He was such a strong draw in the show they gave him more than a few lines of dialogue and made him a regular.

Geoff went on to swap making ads for doing cartoons.

He wasn’t pushed out by ageism and neither should you be.

It’s worth taking note of something David Ogilvy said on the subject.

Advertising is great training for a second career.

In fact, he went further.

Ogilvy thought everyone should have two careers to get the best out of life.

Getting the best out of a second career is another role model, Mark Denton. 

After being a top creative guy for decades, agency principal and D&AD committee member he’s doing it all again.

He applied for and landed a position as an intern at St Luke’s in London.

Yep, intern — no word of a lie about it.

So, how do you square starting at the bottom at age 65?

Well, for starters, everyone benefits.

Mark gets to contribute to what’s next in the business while everyone at St. Luke’s gains from his infinite experience.

Both these guys, Geoff and Mark, seem to have a mindset that’s ideally restless. 

You don’t see them being cowed by anything.

Who’s to say you can’t improve on that with your own individuality and talent.

So have a go.

But meanwhile, before Day One of your second career, do one thing.

Do great ads, knock everyone’s eyes out with surprising work and enjoy doing it.

Because in its pure form – without ageism — there’s no career like it.

‘Can’t Sell Won’t Sell.’ Don’t miss Steve Harrison’s book.

Know this Tom & Jerry cartoon? 

Tom is at the billiard table.

The ball flies madly about, caroming off the cushions, going everywhere but into the pocket.


But a resourceful Tom reaches over to literally ‘pull’ the pocket into the path of the speeding ball. (The magic of animation.)

With that shift, the shot is lined up and deftly drops in. Brilliant.

Like Tom, Steve Harrison is out to shift things.

But this time it’s with advertising and brand purpose.

Is advertising meant to save the world? Will it pull rabbits out of hats for marketers?

Is brand purpose the goal? 

If so we’re wondering if it’s to the exclusion of selling something.

Remember selling?

To bring that into focus you have Steve Harrison working for you.

He’s dark on crappy ads that can’t sell, ones that are lost opportunities because they lack any wit, charm and reasoned persuasion.

So this book is not unlike the crack of a rifle shot that startles us, making readers realise creative work must improve – or else.

As such you get something of a contrarian view. 

But it’s a view backed by hard facts that cast new light on misleading generalisations. 

Like Millennials being wedded to social purpose.

Not the case, as we learn.

Readers benefit as Steve Harrison shifts the focus from political solutions like brand purpose to messaging that can stop people and create the moment someone buys.

Well, will anyone balk at revenue flowing in? We doubt it.

Yes, contrarian … that may be the case.

But if you don’t question the status quo and apply hard facts are you fully awake?

Are you thinking hard enough?

Everyone in marketing and advertising should read this book.

The thing is, you need to do it before your competitors do. 

That way it’ll be your shots that drop deftly into the pocket, not theirs.

The Corpse Club.

The Corpse Club was founded by Evelyn Waugh when he was at school.

Probably age 15 or so, around about 1918.

Evelyn Waugh at school. He went on to found the Corpse Club and write novels like the hilarious Decline and Fall and Brideshead Revisited.

It was fashionable then to display a superior attitude to the tedium of the classroom.

Rote learning was killing. School masters who were anything but wry, smart and funny were even worse.

As a subversive response to the dullness of it all, the Corpse Club was for those who were bored stiff.

It was home to you if you were cynical, witty, vengeful and irked by monotony.

Monotony in all its forms … it makes me think we could do with a Corpse Club in the current lockdown.

But this time the Club agenda would include something beyond cynicism. Something positive.

Those in marketing and advertising might want to take note.

Because instead of subjecting your customers and prospects to ads that bore them stiff you could work for something better. 

Something with wit, charm and reasoned persuasion that will hold a prospect’s interest. 

We’re talking ads that go beyond corporate imperatives to reflect a customer’s point of view. 

How do you go about this? 

Not by being an armchair theorist and not by making the mistake of taking advice solely from yourself.

So reach out. There are more than a few blogs and books out there to teach you how to think and do better ads.

One is from Drayton Bird.

David Ogilvy thought the world of him and I’m betting you will as well when you visit

Then there’s a book called Predatory Thinking, from Dave Trott.

It’s one of many he’s done that have awakened scores of marketers and creative people.

Be the next to benefit by giving Predatory Thinking a go in the lockdown.

Because if you’re not predatory in your approach to attracting and keeping customers you can bet one group of people will be.

Your competitors.

The F-Word. But This Time We’re Talking Failure.

Ta-da, new from Colgate …

Colgate Frozen Beef Lasagna.

Perfectly normal for a toothpaste company to bring out frozen Italian food, isn’t it?

Except in 1982 nobody believed that in the least and it was considered little more than a stinker.

More to product failures, you have the worst bike ever made.

A charlatan of a bike, the Itera
Plastic Bicycle was weighty, fragile and it flexed.

 The Itera Plastic Bicycle designed in 1980 to help combat the oil crisis.

It was heavy, it was dangerously flexible, it was fragile, it was expletive deleted.

A board game karked it as well.

‘I’m Back and You’re Fired, Trump’ is famous for flopping twice, 1989 and 2004.

People weren’t exactly aglow with desire for it.

These are just a few of the exhibits in the Museum of Failure,

Since 2017 it’s been the home to stuff ups, duds and no-hopers – over 100 failed products.

It’s a cheery collection of crap, as a friend on Zoom this morning put it.

Still, it’s fascinating to see what companies thought would be sought after products.

Call it a learning experience to understand how innovation went awry.

It’s a test of sorts as people can’t help asking themselves ‘would I have approved that?’

‘Of course not’, goes the answer.

In retrospect we’re all brilliant predictors of success. 

We can sniff out a duff product to avoid the accompanying discredit, right?

So you have to wonder, what sort of business mind approved the money-losing 1958 Ford Edsel.

Or a doll with alarming eyes and a pinched mouth called Little Miss No Name, developed to compete with Barbie.

Both are stars in the Museum collection.

The thing is, we’re personally invested in exceptionalism; we have an aversion to failure.

It’s reason enough we read about people like Steve Jobs, hoping some of the magic will rub off.

We look to gain something to make wiser decisions.

Well then, what about ads that are hucksterish, samey and a failure in everything but turning people off.

Why aren’t we more invested in exceptionalism for ads?

Why can’t marketers sniff out all the drawbacks?

And instead of endlessly tweaking commercials why can’t they start afresh with something called an idea?

Remember ideas?

After all, where’s the sense in being the most marvelous of all disagreeable commercials.

Certainly there’s room in the Museum of Failure for more than a few campaigns of late.

But if you have the nous to realize Colgate Beef Lasagna is iffy, why not apply that ability to evaluating TV scripts.

Fossicking for Gold.

There was a time when gold fever struck.

It sent me hunting around abandoned gold mines in places like Mudgee and Gulgong in New South Wales.

Tambaroora was another location … a ghost town.

The area had been prospected heavily in the mid-nineteenth century, but you never know.

‘You never know’ … not my words but those of a guy who sold me a complete gold panning kit — professional model.

Like every good selling proposition his message carried an element of promise.

When gold nuggets are sizable they’re given names. In 1869 one 66kg find in central Victoria was called ‘Welcome Stranger’. Turn up something like that now and you’d be all the better for four million dollars in your pocket.

Happily, we weren’t entirely luckless. A few bright yellow flakes turned up in the pan, and gorgeous they were, albeit microscopic.

No cries of Eureka that day.

It wasn’t unlike fishing for Marlin and returning home with an underweight shrimp.

All this makes me think of gold panning from another era … the Depression, when prospecting became a mode of survival for laid-off workers.

Know about that? Few do. But it could make a comeback if jobs continue to go astray with the lockdown.

In the ’30s jobless Americans with imagination and grit headed out to sift through the tailings of 1850s gold sites searching for overlooked wealth.

Utah, California, Nevada and Colorado were rife with men hunting for gold that had gone unnoticed.

Vermont as well.

It’s said there’s plenty of overlooked gold out there left by 19th century mining methods that were less than efficient.

A few gold hunters in the ’30s did find traces of color (that’s gold hunting lingo for you) to see them through.

But when the economy came back fossicking for gold fell to weekenders keen on an adventure.

Of course, all you’ve read so far is amateur stuff, hobbyist at best.

If you were to head out for gold nuggets this week you might want to do some research. Time spent studying a geology book could pay off.

More to that, one path to a gold strike is to find ancient rivers.

Water courses that could be several hundred million years old. 

These flows might be found hundreds or even thousands of feet above modern-day rivers.

Massive geologic uplift put them there along the steep reaches of mountainsides.

That’s your sign of a river. One that could have been gold-bearing a million or so years ago. 

To find these overlooked areas trek the mountains searching for telltale smooth stones, water-worn rocks.

Who knows what you could find.

But closer to home how about applying a bit of gold hunting resourcefulness to marketing and advertising.

That way you could find one thing that’s been overlooked in favor of technology.

The power of great creative work.

As to that, Bill Bernbach said ‘It may well be that creativity is the last legal unfair advantage we are allowed to take over the competition’.

That may be old school, but canny marketers know it as in-school when it comes to turning up riches.

For many in marketing and procurement some ads will seem great … only because they’ve never seen a great ad.

Too many haven’t taken the trouble to study the last 50 years of advertising.

They’re content to take advice from themselves without reading or study. 

As a result they don’t insist on ads that stop people, ads that are memorable.

The opposite of controlling, humorless and workmanlike. Go on to YouTube for spots that are risky, ballsy and memorable.

The idea that brilliance is compulsory doesn’t guide the development process.

So, are they the best for briefing agencies and evaluating their work?

Maybe not.

But a bit of time spent on YouTube could change that.

Look up the great spots Doyle Dane Bernbach did in their heyday.

See the Wells Rich Greene ‘Driving Instructor’ spot for American Motors Corporation.

Take in the Scali McCabe Sloves Volvo work.

Get the Collet Dickenson Pearce spots for Heineken.

Find the Boase Massimi Pollit Guardian ‘Points of View’ commercial.

That’s all you need to understand that people respond to emotion, warmth, wit, charm and reasoned persuasion.

The public haven’t changed in this – they’re still human in the digital age. 

It’s only that marketing and procurement people have changed.

They’ve been sold the idea that technology is a silver bullet.

Yes, well …

If technology is a silver bullet then wit, charm and reasoned persuasion is a bullet of the Cruise Missile kind.

An attention-getting headline.

Phil Gaimon, pro bike racer, but let’s start with Yul Brenner.

Know about Yul Brenner, the actor?

He died of lung cancer.

No surprise there, it was fully expected.

He was more than a pack a day smoker from when he was a kid.

Maybe from when he was 9.

The doctors told him he could count his days on one hand.

What was a surprise was a commercial he made to convince young people to quit.

It opened with Yul Brenner to camera saying, ‘If you’re seeing this I’m already dead from lung cancer’.

A voice talking to you from the grave about the dangers of smoking.

Will you find a more effective anti-smoking advertising message? Probably not.

The strength of this approach is being used again.

By Phil Gaimon, a professional bike racer.

He isn’t dead, but he could have been many times as careless drivers put him in peril while he was on his bike training.

He did a video to tell the story,

It comes with a stopper of a headline: “Please share this when I’m killed by someone driving a car.”

Have a look at the video and the story by Bob Mionske. And yeah … have a care when you see cyclists on the road.