Dove claims to be fighting female image manipulation at the source. Empty stunt?

Posted in Marketing, advertising, ethics, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 13, 2013 by marketingheart

I’ve blogged a couple of times about Dove’s well known ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’.

Thanks for Digital Buzz for drawing my attention to the following campaign extension, a fascinating attempt to influence those who retouch images of women into unrealistic and/or unhealthy proportions.

It’s worth repeating Digital Buzz’s comment which I agree with:

“I’m not quite sure if Photoshop Actions are used by retouchers on images like this these days, but the guys at Ogilvy Toronto have produced an interesting stunt reminding creatives, that Dove encourages ‘True Beauty’, by seeding a pre-packaged Photoshop Action that was disguised as ‘Beautify Action’ which when used, reverts any retouching to bring the image back to its original form, along with a message… Cool concept, but slightly misleading!”

In other words it’s an empty stunt. As is often the case with Dove’s campaign, this initiative operates on different nuanced levels, some of which are self-serving and suspect. Take a look:


Crowdsource your ads! Could this be the elusive free lunch?

Posted in Marketing, advertising, ethics with tags , , , on June 6, 2013 by marketingheart

Marketing budget a little squeezed? Agency asks a little much? Here’s an idea:

Run a cool, crowd-sourced competition for your next campaign, you’ll get to look right up-to-the minute PLUS you get tons of ideas for nothing! OK you’ll need to put up a paltry amount for the winner, but you’ll flush out that under-employed genius at bargain basement rates.

Or, maybe, as two organisations discovered you might just open yourself up to a world of very public pain!

Case study #1: Chevrolet’s contest to get the public to create an ad for its Tahoe SUV. Didn’t go entirely as planned. Of the 30,000 entries posted on Chevy’s site, plenty were scams that included references to global warming, social irresponsibility, war in Iraq, and the psychosexual connotations of extremely large cars. Standouts included “Enjoy the Longer Summers!” which blamed the Tahoe for heat-trapping gasses and melting polar ice caps. An entry called “How Big Is Yours” declared, “Ours is really big! Watch us fuck America with it.” Here’s an example of what happens if you open up your creative brief to the world:

Case study # 2 is closer to home. Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is a champion of all things design. So when it briefed all and sundry to compete for creating the imagery for it’s planned ‘Sydney Design’ expo with a $1000 prize for the winner, it should not perhaps have been surprised at the response: a flood of angry responses from real designers. A couple of ‘prize’ examples can be seen below (the first two complete with crappy stock images and el cheapo fonts) and there are more here.

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Truth in advertising – no longer optional!

Posted in Marketing, advertising, ethics, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 29, 2013 by marketingheart

I’d like to share a paper I’ve written about the centrality of authenticity to marketers in the era of transparency. If you see your favourite business launching a big branding campaign, sell your shares! Here’s why:

For a more hilarious, cynical and NSFW view of where truth in advertising just might lead, enjoy this:


Woah….an adman puts ethics ahead of self interest?

Posted in Marketing, advertising, ethics with tags , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2013 by marketingheart

When the big cheeses of the ad business get together to share their thoughts about a topic, whether the format be a conference or in the press, we’re talking new business. You get your name out there, you show how smart you are, you say some stuff that might resonate with a prospective client.

So it was that last year a bunch of well-fed geniuses and snake charmers were brought together by ad industry fanzine B&T to compare the marketing efforts of Australia’s supermarket duopoly players, Coles and Woolies.

Standing in judgement are six of adland’s “most illustrious creatives, brand experts and strategists”

  • Naked Communications founding partner Adam Ferrier
  • Co-founder of CumminsRoss, Sean Cummins
  • former ECD of BMF (and founder of TheDylanAgency), Dylan Taylor
  • Ex-FutureBrand MD Erminio Putignano
  • MD of McCann Melbourne, Simon Burrett
  • Managing partner at BMF, Stephen McArdle

Disappointingly if there were disagreeements or even punches thrown, the article didn’t mention it. Instead, what stopped me in my tracks was Sean Cummins’ response to the topic of Home Brands:

Cummins refused to attribute scores to either supermarket in this category on principle. “I am professionally and personally opposed to private label offerings. I find it a blight on manufacturers and brand builders everywhere that the IP and category knowledge is piggy-backed by supermarket chains,” he says. “Our market is too small to kill Brands in favour of generics.”

Did you get that? Cummins has principles … and he’s not afraid to use them. Even in front of his competitors. Even if it means he probably won’t get asked to pitch for any retail business where Home Brands are offered. I thought that was incredibly refreshing.  But wait, there’s more. He went on:

“It’s about jobs, it is about primary industry it is about maintaining standards. Naïve and moral I may be, but I hate this tension. It is not healthy.”

For what it’s worth Sean, I could not agree with you more. (That’s right Coles, you can leave me off the list, too!). And if I ever go client-side, I’ll call you in as a reward for what you’ve done.

And then I’ll explain patiently that having morals is not in fact a sign of naivety. It’s a sign of maturity and responsibility. Oh well, close enough is good enough!

By the way, our enlightened judges scored the supermarkets a draw. Maybe that’s not so surprising if the following earth-shattering customer insights from the head marketers of each supermarket formed the basis of their agencies’ briefs:

“Our customers want good honest food which is fresh, available and affordable”, says Mr marketing director of Coles. “We want our customers to trust us to deliver best quality food and the best value every time they visit one of our stores,” said Ms GM marketing at Woolworths.

Lucky they have ad agencies who come up with different  executions, otherwise nobody would have had anything to say at all!

PS this is the first blog I’ve ever started with a “Woah” and I promise it’ll be the last.

Effective ads: some clients get it, some clients don’t

Posted in Marketing, advertising, ethics with tags , , on May 21, 2013 by marketingheart

I don’t often single out individual ads for comment but a couple have been pinging around in my head and I finally found enough of a link – ok it’s tenuous –  to merit lumping them together in a post.

First up is a pair of ads that sit next to each other in my local train station. They push similar propositions – holidaying on islands. Take a quick look at the ads, forgiving the mobile phone quality shots.

The first fails miserably to the extent that one assumes the client’s brother-in-law must have created it. Norfolk Island is by all accounts a very sellable destination, certainly one which I wanted to visit…until  I saw this ad which completely dampened my positive predisposition.


OK, there’s more to Norfolk Island…than what? And if there’s more, can you perhaps tell me about it?

Norfolk Island Tourism General Manager, Glen Buffett described his offering thus:  “a fascinating perspective on natural beauty, history and culture”. Well he sure failed to deliver on that promise in his campaign featuring poor photography in a bland, featureless and utterly generic location which tells you precisely nothing about the product. Hey, buddy, your ad’s running in Sydney…we have beaches here ya know, we don’t need an expensive flight to Norfolk Island for that!  The ad then confounds the visual errors by confusing you with multiple copylines and needlessly spelled out full social media url’s. Apparently Norfolk Island is bust…this poor effort wont help.

And then there’s this for NZ’s Bay of Islands. Also a place I’d like to visit. And now I’m determined to. Beautiful headline, beautiful shot (you’ll have to take my word for it). It’s full of intrigue…I just wanna poke into all those bays and explore all those little islands. And new Zealand’s national brand 100% Pure  provides a brilliant umbrella. It’s so simply and it simply works…are you listening Norfolk Island?


Interestingly Norfolk Island’s ad agency won a 2010 Award for Marketing Effectiveness for its branding work for Norfolk Island. One wonders what’s gone wrong subsequently.

So much for tourism, and onto my tenuous link in the form of a totally unrelated campaign that demonstrates another way in which advertising can add value – humour.

And in this case it’s an ad that draws on a subject with even more comedic potential than the poor mother-in-law: advertising itself. By some miracle, ads that make fun of advertising are almost routinely effective.  But for an ad to make fun of its own category and in doing so to break its own category rules, surely takes a client with some courage. The result is undeniably effective – over 700,000 viral shares of this piece. Enjoy this one.

Consumer kids; sponges and spikes

Posted in business, Marketing, advertising, ethics with tags , , , on May 2, 2013 by marketingheart

The past 30 years or so have seen an explosion of consumerism in the West with all that entails, good and bad. As it spills into new markets, the world has changed because of it,  physically, politically and sociologically.

Whilst economic activity has lifted millions out of poverty, there have been great costs. I personally think it’s valid to characterise the era in some respects as one of profits vs people. There have been victories on both sides but overall, profits have won. Look at wealth distribution as evidence of this – in the West, it’s never been greater (see video at end of this post).

A symptomatic front line in the profits vs people battle is online user-generated review sites, once touted to be the consumer’s best friend, now shown to have been infiltrated by corporate interests. The potential for the internet to truly democratise consumption by ensuring price transparency and giving consumers free voice has not – unsurprisingly – been embraced by business.

When I look at brands gathering hundreds of thousands of Facebook Friends, I wonder about gen XY and Z’s  mindlessly enthusiastic, utterly uncritical and apparently bottomless appetite for sponging up marketing. Tons of research shows how ‘marketing savvy’ kids are, but the amazing thing is that doesn’t stop them for one second. The idealism of Rock n Roll has been replaced by the rampant greed of hip-hop. “Get Rich or Die Tryin” sang rapper 50 Cent. And he nearly did – die tryin’ that is (he was shot nine times in 2000).

But not everybody is so complicit. Whatever you might say about its focus and effectiveness, the Occupy movement gave temporary voice to deep unrest. And if you look around, you will see lots of kids thinking a little more deeply about marketing, spiking and popping dishonesty and manipulation when they detect it. And sharing. Here’s an example I’d like to celebrate.

My personal conviction is that marketers carry enormous responsibilities, maybe more than politicians. People need to keep both kinds of bastards honest  for similar reasons.  Both have voting constituents (in the case of businesses it’s consumers exercising buying decisions) who need to be wary of being spoonfed the corporate line, and there needs to be as much informed debate around business as politics. Unfortunately that is simply not the case, so it’s good to see kids like this getting wise to the ways of the world.

Perhaps the new cry should be “Unhitch … or Die Buyin'”.

Dirty Deeds in aisle three? The funny business of supermarkets missionaries.

Posted in business, food, Marketing, advertising, ethics with tags , , , on March 25, 2013 by marketingheart

Back in 2007, Coles released a  booklet imposing what it called ethical business practices on its suppliers.

Although it drew some smirks since many vendors felt they had been unethically treated by Coles for years, the initiative seemed to have merit. In his introduction, CEO John Fletcher called it “a set of values and behaviours that provide a framework for how we do business.”


Illustration by B&T Magazine

Last weekend  Fairfax’s Business Day revealed how Coles used a labyrinth of corporate structures including a $10 company in the British Virgin Islands to buy a shopping centre in the upmarket Sydney suburb of Neutral Bay where arch rival Woolies has been turning over $75m pa as the tenant of some 18 years.

The story has now been widely reported and I’m struck that although some commentators have noted the almost absurd levels being reached in the supermarket war, few have discussed the ethical dimension of Coles’ actions.

The structure that  Coles used to pay $40 million for the property –  30% above market rates and probably a record price – was hardly business as usual. The Sydney Morning Herald explained that the company which made the purchase – Sino Ace Investment Pty Ltd – had been registered just days before by one Bernard Chiu* which it described as a wealthy Sydney lawyer, and is owned by a company of the same name set up in the British Virgin Islands tax haven – preventing Woolworths from knowing the identity of its new landlord.

The true identity of the owner as Coles was only uncovered by The Herald from internal board papers – don’t ask how it got them but from this and other Fairfax reports it’s clear Fairfax has a well-placed deep throat in Coles!

Similarly, the terms of the sale were equally mysterious. The Herald found records showing that Sino Ace Investment bought the property from Vanbridge Pty Ltd which had purchased it in 1992 for $12.7m. Vanbridge is owned by Phun Lim and six members of the Mok family who list their company address in Sydney’s Pitt Street but home addresses in Hong Kong. The relationship between Sino Ace Investment and Vanbridge is not known.

Who is that masked man?

If you thought there must be some winner here, perhaps its Bernard Chiu, the man who registered Sino Ace Investment. Four months after the Neutral Bay deal with Vanbridge, he listed  the ludicrously palatial 7 bedroom home shown above for $13 million.  Trading up perhaps?

I’d like to reveal more about this ‘prominent lawyer’, but unfortunately I can find almost nothing about him. Could he be behind Bernard Chiu Legal & Business Solutions, the trading name of  Bernard Hang Man Chiu … a sole trader entity with no website or other web presence whatsoever? Is he the Bernard Chiu listed on LinkedIn with absolutely no other information. Another approach: a Financial Review property feature says Chiu bought his house ‘through his Berneva Consultancy company in 2005 for $9 million’. Berneva Consultancy was registered as a company in 2005 (the year the house was purchased), only registered for GST in 2009 and has no web presence at all – not even yielding anything in  a Google search.

And that’s it. No legal history, no public addresses, no awards, no big business deals, no splashy donations no business activity apart from buying and selling a multi-million dollar property with its Teppanyaki bar and kitchen and its ‘porte-cochere’.  Who is the masked man behind this $40m property deal?

Extravagant corporate squabble or dishonest and unethical practice?

This is not the first time a war has erupted over leases. Woolworths evicted Coles from a centre in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba in 2012 after buying the site in 2000. So perhaps this could be explained as tit for tat, a petty squabble between massive wallets, and the covert aspect simply  business strategy being kept secret from competitors in the normal way. Perhaps.

Whilst presumably legal, Cole’s structure was clearly designed to hide the true nature of the deal. In 2011 Michael D’Ascenzo Commissioner of Taxation wrote “Proper governance should ensure that large public companies do not use tax havens for concealment purposes… We are in fact seeing dealings by large business that may involve related companies in tax havens and we will be reviewing such arrangements.”

For me, not just does this deal transgress reasonable and acceptable business practices, there is something else besides: under the terms of Neutral Bay lease, Woolies has to show its landlord its sales data.

To supermarkets, data is everything. Recently I’ve been working with a major national retailer that actually runs its marketing at a profit. How? By selling customer sales data to its vendors. Data is gold.

Using a concealed and devious means to extract critical intelligence from your direct competitor seems only one step away from corporate espionage. This is not seeking a competitive advantage through fair means – this is going to any extent to win by fair means or foul. This is the corporation as psychopath, working that gray space between what society accepts and what it clearly outlaws, the space that a book tellingly entitled Hardball: Five Killer Strategies for Trouncing the Opposition, labelled  ‘so rich in possibilities.’

This tussle may be the tip of an iceberg. Woolworths recently floated a $1.5 billion property portfolio on the Australian Securities Exchange and some industry observers believe the Coles/Woolies fight will shift to property. The supermarket giants have been put on notice about their aggressive property strategies, with the ACCC looking into whether two recent proposed acquisitions by Woolworths in the ACT and NSW could ”substantially lessen competition” in the market.

Should we care about one chest-beating corporate slogging it out against another, dirty tricks or no? In recent years both Coles and Woolworths have moved beyond food into liquor hardware, pubs, pokies, petrol, clothes, loyalty cards and more.  How they behave has the potential to affect not just countless other businesses, but almost every Australian consumer in one way or another.

The Mission Position

With a warm avuncular purr, Coles’ website says its mission is “To give the people of Australia a shop they trust”. Parent company Wesfarmers punishes punctuation to promise it “adheres to four core values: integrity; openness; accountability; and boldness.” Woolworths simply simpers “We strive to be open, honest, fair and transparent in everything we do.”

For the record, Enron’s mission statement included “We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.” Maybe Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dave Barry had it right when he said “A mission statement is a dense slab of words that a large organization produces when it needs to establish that its workers are not just sitting around downloading Internet porn”

Adopting the Mission Position on websites is easy. Shafting suppliers and the competition is at odds with such statements. Let the supermarket Missionaries be judged on their actions.