All posts by Steve

‘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.

Two headlines. Which one would you use to kick cancer’s ass?

We’d rather see you for regular mammograms than regular chemotherapy.


One of the best cancer centers in the Mid-West.

Let’s turn the tables on cancer and have more lines like
‘I Kicked Cancer’s Ass’. Photo by kind permission of Linda Bowman who
you see above.

Both lines were presented to a marketer whose brief read: ‘the best hospital for cancer care.’

But we’re not talking famous hospitals like the Cleveland Clinic, the Mayo Clinic or Indiana University Hospital.

His hospital wasn’t among widely known cancer care facilities.

Still, he went for the second headline because he said, for him, it hit the nail on the head.

It encapsulated everything his hospital hoped to be.

Yes, there’s a necessity for regular mammograms, he granted, but the headline that pressed the case for that was ominous.

He said it could scare his target audience.

So he ticked a box and eagerly moved on to the next business of the day.

That was a content assignment for his hospital’s biggest revenue maker, the heart and vascular unit. That held the greatest opportunity for profitability.

This story, related at a seminar last year, points up one fact.

An important ingredient for creating effective content can be ‘worry’.

There are more than a few marketing solutions to a brief. But why skirt the fact you have a frightening subject in cancer.

The best cancer headline still sticks with me after a ridiculously long time. I’m thinking it goes back 20-odd years or so.

It might have been done by the Martin Agency.

You have cancer. Let’s start by removing that lump in your throat.

Healthcare marketers aren’t ‘Gatoraded’ on the field like a triumphant football coach. They’re not drenched in victory that way.

But maybe they should be if they can choose a headline that can save a life.

Fighting Settles Everything.

Fighting Settles Everything. It’s the tag line for a gym that trains boxers for championship bouts.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said war settles nothing.

He should know. Personal experience as a General and as President endorses his view. 

But then you have the reverse: Fighting Settles Everything.

Eisenhower might have bridled at that until he realized one thing.

It’s a tag line for a boxing gym that trains fighters for title bouts.

It encapsulates just the right attitude for up-and-comers with lofty ambitions. 

Fighters and fight fans revere it as it whips up excitement for championship events.

Given that, maybe even Eisenhower would approve.

More to compelling thinking, you have 100 Pipers Scotch.

100 Pipers is a middling Scotch, it’s okay but not in the running for a prize.

To give it character, tartan authenticity and memorably we get this line: 100 Pipers 

Scotch. Makes Bagpipes Sound Like Music. 

There’s a nice turn of phrase for you, one that sticks in the mind.

If only you could trot out lines like that to amuse your drinking buddies.

On to restaurants.

One we like is called That New Mexican Place.

From day one the name was a stopper. People poured in.

That New Mexican Place stands out because it uses the language of the customers it hopes to attract.

Let’s try that new Mexican place … that’s how people talk, right?

Incidentally, even after 10 years the name made the restaurant feel new. How’s that for a first?

Now, an ad for Cheese of Holland. 

The visual is a wheel of Edam. Simple.

Here’s the headline as it appeared vertically:

Paté costs more than liverwurst. 

Bisque costs more than soup. 

Stroganoff costs more than stew. 

This cheese costs more than other Edam. Life is short 

No apology for the price, just three truths about food, starting with lowly liverwurst.

Life is short, why not go for the Stroganoff of cheese … there’s an appeal.

This ad from the 1960s is relevant today.

Because we continue to face the challenge of getting people to pay more for premium priced products.

That raises a question … how adept are you in getting customers to put value ahead of price? 

Now, to a car that’s indecently quick, the BMW 5-Series.

It’s the Ultimate Driving Machine, right enough.

But a bright spark of a copywriter lifted the 5-Series even more with this headline: The Hot Rod of Polite Society.

Memorable, isn’t it? A souped-up idea to define performance and differentiate the brand.

Ideas like the ones above were needed in the past to gain public trust and sell products.

They were the mainstay in building brand share and shading the competition.

They still are.

Ideas are bound to come in handy the next time you embark on a new campaign. 

Without strong thinking, content comes across as thin gruel, something that’s little more than drab.

Which is why it might be an idea to fight for better creative work.

Because with that, fighting settles everything. 

A Short History of Phony Applause.

We were at the ballet recently, the Bolshoi.

Where did phony applause come from? Quite possibly Emperor Nero. He hired thousands to applaud and cheer his speeches.

It’s was a live-from-Moscow performance beamed in to local cinemas.

Special only begins to describe it. 

It might have been on screen but that didn’t stop us wanting to applaud like mad.

As you’d guess, Bolshoi performances are not without rapturous applause. 

But it wasn’t always that way

In moments of uncertainty a company founded in 1776 hired claquers.

That’s French for an organized body of professional applauders. They’re paid for their efforts.

In 16thcentury France, playwrights called on claquers.

They bought blocks of tickets to give away on the promise that there would be applause enough to sway the critics and attract audiences.

But phony applause wasn’t the only trick, you had specialists.

Rieurs, laughers, were paid to laugh loudly at punch lines. 

Pleureurs, criers, were paid to sob into their handkerchiefs in moments of despair.

You also had Bisseurs. They were paid to shout ‘Bis Bis’, a request for an encore.

You might say there was as much of a performance in the audience as there was on stage.

There’s something of a digital version of this these days with video click farms.

From New York Magazine, Max Read gives us this with a link: 

On some platforms, video views and app downloads can be forged in lucrative industrial counterfeiting operations. If you want a picture of what the Inversion lookslike, find a video of a click farm: hundreds of individual smartphones, arranged in rows on shelves or racks in professional-looking offices, each watching the same video or downloading the same app.

No shrug of indifference to that, is there?

Phony views and sham data … maybe it’s why P&G’s Marc Pritchard pulled back from social media.

He cut $200m in 2017.

Video click farms are enough to turn us all into pleurers … with proper tears, of course.

But for many there’s a more pressing issue. The state of content and commercials.

Too many content efforts feel drab against the promise of something bright and appealing. 

Equally, for many commercials nobody’s wishing they were a split second longer than they are.

Too many of them are non-starters compared to spots from Snickers, Geico and Old Spice.

Small wonder then that trust in advertising has dropped to a record low of 25%.

This comes from Unilever CMO Keith Weed,

Of course it’s easy enough to be a pessimist, but it’s not as if we can’t apply a little reason.

Many believe we need to improve creative work. 

Among the many are Google and Apple.

They’re built on creativity; their TV spots brand with an emotional intelligence.

Their commercials have an ability to put feelings into people.

More marketers could do with that.

Maybe they should stop taking advice from themselves and read something about the power of ideas and branding.

Because to motivate people you need more than algorithms.

After all, what use is gee-whiz technology if what’s delivered is crap messaging.

Nobody’s about to applaud crap messaging, are they?

A Fresh, New Start for Anxiety.

David Abbott created advertising that people  loved. See his work for The Economist, Volvo, Chivas Regal, Sainsbury’s and an account executive recruitment ad for Doyle Dane Bernbach.

It seems anxiety over creative work is set to enter a fresh, new phase of grumbling.

The worry is we treat technology like gold and ideas like scrap iron.

There’s a grievance for you.

More to that, industry professionals who aim for better creative work are stewing over the fact too many ads deserve to be ignored.

The same is true for content in all its forms.

Much of it requires improvement just to reach the mediocre level.

Small wonder then that advertising is often snubbed/ignored/rebuffed/ridiculed.

Well, nobody wants to put up with guff, do they?

Proof of that is ad blocker usage; it surged 30% in 2016 alone.

As a marketer, here’s a question.

You’re an ad blocker, aren’t you? It turns out most are.

So how do you get through to people?

Wouldn’t it be an idea to view technology as just one part of the  process?

The other part is to create ads and content that have the power to stop people with wit charm and reasoned persuasion.

Why not start by making creative brilliance compulsory so ads don’t come across as a blunt instrument.

Why not stop taking advice from tech companies who wouldn’t know the difference between drab, wearily familiar ad speak and a teacup.

That teacup jibe may be a bit much, but ask yourself … do tech companies have a real and abiding interest in looking after your customers and prospects? Probably not.

With that ‘not’ response comes a question: without ideas imaginative enough to stop people, what hope do you have of converting them?

As someone who probably knew more about imaginative thinking than even Bill Bernbach, David Abbott valued ideas. They were key.

He worried about boring content and had doubts digital technology alone could be effective.

‘Shit delivered at the speed of light is still shit’ … that was his take on it.

Happily the last chapter on all this has yet to be written.

As David Abbott might have said, there’s sense in combining amazing digital technology with creative work that has value.

That way you’re more likely to stop customers and leave anxiety to those who deserve it most.

Your competitors.