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Posts from August 2007

Selling Soap

[A clip from The Hucksters that Russell posted ages ago.]

Our exciting new 'recontextualised serialisation' of The Shocking History of Advertising!  begins today with Thomas J. Barratt, who was almost certainly the inspiration for the larger-than-life client in the clip above:

As long ago as 1789 Andrew Pears had devised his transparent soap, but until the middle of the nineteenth century it had been very modestly advertised. In 1865, when the firm's annual bill for advertising was £80, a young man of twenty-four, Thomas J. Barratt, became a partner in the firm, and ushered in a vigorous new regime.

[On Economies of Scale]

One of the many 'fathers of modern advertising', Barratt is on record as saying "Any fool can make soap. It takes a clever man to sell it." When he finally took over control of Pears he raised his expenditure on advertising to between £100,000 and £130,000. In justification he never tired of pointing out that he was enabled to sell soap 30 per cent more cheaply than if he had not advertised it.

[On One Word Equity]

Baratt's policy was summed up with perfect simplicity in one of his own advertisments: 'How do you spell soap?' - 'Why P-E-A-R-S, of course.' 'Pears' and 'soap' had to be linked so deeply and ineluctably in the public mind that it would be impossible to think of one without the other. Ultimately, the public would be so conditioned to the association that they would go into a shop and instead of asking for soap would ask for 'Pear's Soap' or even for 'Pears'.

That was, and is, the advertising man's dream.

[On Low Attention Processing]

It accounts for the tens of thousands of tedious and apparently futile signs bearing the names of household products - notably the indestructible enamel signs which stud the approaches to railway stations. It is wrong to say that no one reads them; they are not there to be read, but to be absorbed, just as a capsule is not meant to be tasted, but to be swallowed.

[On Behavioural Engineering the Herd and Idea Linking and Embedding]

The visual attack did not satisfy Barratt, however. He decided he must have a catch-phrase which would make the whole country say 'Pear's Soap'. His staff were invited to nominate the commonest phrases in daily use. Inevitably, somebody suggested 'Good Morning.'

The result was the notorious 'Good Morning! Have you used Pear's Soap?' which scourged two continents. There were many who never forgave Thomas Barratt for debasing this traditional, friendly greeting. The sensitive shrank from saying 'Good Morning', knowing that it would only spark off the exasperating counter-phrase in the mind of the person addressed.

Disturbingly prescient stuff, covering so many of the hot topics of today, in just a couple of pages written over half a century ago. And it's all like this!

More soonest.

The Shocking History of Advertising!


My lovely brother Laith [not that my other brother isn't lovely, just to clarify] got me The Shocking History of Advertising! by E. S. Turner as a gift and I'm currently immersed in it.

It's hilarious - informative and, having been written in the 60s looking backwards to the very genesis of our trade, it incessantly reminds me how little has changed.

Although it does remain silent about the impact of digital communication technologies and the resultant cultural behaviours on the context of commercial idea transmission.

But then to quote Wittgenstein:

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.

OK, some things have changed - you don't get many ads like the one above anymore.

Oh wait.

In the spirit of stealing [the book's out of print now, so it's good stealing - like Robin Hood, only with words. Robin Words. No wait, Robin didn't steal hoods did he. Did he wear a hood? Nevermind] I'm going to have TIGS host a few recontextualised excerpts of the book as I go, to allow the light of the past to illuminate the present.

And because they are funny.

SpiderPig - The Movie

My wonderfully talented mate Sarah just sent me this trailer she made for SpiderPig - The Movie in response to the previous post.  It's just brilliant. Thank you.

She's also written a great post about the power of polarisation in mash-ups and how it might correspond and contribute to a world less divided:

It’s not exactly rocket science. Getting people together is the first step in breaking down barriers and prejudices. And the beauty of the music mash-up is that the more diverse and polarised the collaborations are, the better they tend to work. It is a medium set up to bring the polarised together.

Read the rest here.

The more diverse the elements being remixed, the more satisfying the result. It's the tension in the juxtaposition that makes the mash-up, which is obvious [now it's been pointed out to me - the mark of a great insight].

Nature knows this - it's why you shouldn't procreate with your cousins - and poets and artists and musicians  picked up on it too.

As did De Bono, using random juxtapositions to stimulate creativity.

There's something in our heads that loves connecting disparate things - what are metaphors but remixed ideas?

When I Was Young We Made Our Own Fun or B2B Viral Marketing and a Girl Named SpiderPig


OK actually we didn't at all - we mostly watched cartoons.

[Going back and listening to the theme tunes of cartoons from your youth is pretty much what Youtube was invented for, but I digress].

I may have spent the summers of my salad days watching TV with the curtains drawn to avoid light hitting the screen, but my parents and concerned well wishers would often wax lyrical about the virtues of making your own fun.

They are probably chuffed that 40% of people are now 'making their own entertainment', according to a new report from Deloitte. [Although they won't be getting any fresh air, which was the other thing they seemed to think was vital for growing boys.] 

[Snide aside said, they'll still probably be more pleased than those content producers who will be victims of the shift in value in the chain of media from content to platform that this suggests is inevitable - there are only so many hours in the day. By the way, this isn't really a digression, more a sidebar to the main thrust of this paragraph, although the one before about fresh air almost certainly was.]

Which brings me neatly to B2B viral marketing.

My mate Chris asked me about business to business viral stuff recently [as I've mentioned before I get asked this sort of thing a lot due to being the in-house geek / digital ninja and that].

At first glance I thought oooh this might be a bit tricky, business being the sober, serious face of communications where direct mail and trade press rule.

But then I went back and read my own post about viral  being a thing that happens not a thing that is

[Side note: Yes sometimes I go back and read my own posts. Quite apart from the sheer vainglorious joy it gives me, my brain stores a lot of stuff online and Google is faster than me trying to remember. In fact, I think increasingly, our brains are less like databases and more like index servers - you can access far more knowledge if you remember how / where to find it rather than the information itself. Of course, this has been a criticism of technology since Plato's Phaedrus, where he was on about writing ruining people's memory but I think it's even more relevant now. But I digress again.]

and I realised that my brain had begun to ascribe a corrupt meaning to viral - it had started to mean funny video.

This made me a little sad.

But then I cracked on and actually thought about it and realised that large business to business companies have always been great at viral marketing. They use their vast resources to get reports written about relevant topics for their specific business groups and release them into the world for free. 

These get passed around like anything with a perceived value that seems free [how many times have you got that 'pre-release' word doc of Jamie Oliver's new cookbook? It's been coming around for at least four years now. These digressions may take over this post completely if we aren't careful - keep your eyes open and let me know] and demonstrate the deep industry expertise of the consulting companies that spawn them at the same time.

Here's one from Accenture that made Adage a couple of weeks back which explains that people think shopping is quite annoying - the reports have PR value too.

In fact, knowledge marketing is almost certainly the oldest form of viral marketing - as we evolved in a environment of very scarce resources [and no refrigerators], information was the one thing we could pass on in the spirit of reciprocal altruism but not lose utility of ourselves.

The further the information travels, as long as it's ascribed ["Where did you hear that? Ug told me" - an appropriate illustrative parenthesis, not a digression, although it is now] and turns out to be true and useful, the better for the originator's reputation, with no additional effort on Ug's part [Ug has lept out of the digression into the main body copy. This could be trouble - oh no wait he's back in the brackets now].

The only thing which spreads faster and farther than the useful truth are things people really, really want to be true but seem unlikely and are impossible to verify [file under "Religion" and then go read The God Delusion].

Which brings me, finally, to Facebook and the group called

If 100,000 people join, my wife will let me name my second child Spiderpig

which, although it would be completely awesome, isn't true [Warning: things promised on Facebook are not legally binding. This has been a public information digression. We now resume the normal post.] but is a bit of B2B viral marketing for a web agency in Australia.

Which brings us all the way back to theme tunes of cartoons from my youth: Spiderpig, Spiderpig, does what ever a Spiderpig can, via a number of digressions.

The 300 Page Phone Bill

This young lady eloquently demonstrates the absurd waste of direct mail billing, having received a 300 page bill from AT&T.

I have a dangerously teetering stack of unopened phone bills, bank statements, utility bills, charity mailings and unrequested catalogues sent to me [and a number of previous tenants] sitting in my living room that testify to the wastage on this side of the pond [albeit on a much smaller scale, individually. Americans just like things to be bigger.]

I'm pretty sure I signed up for ebilling / estatements / look seriously just email me please don't send me any more of these pointless pieces of paper that I worry about throwing away in case I need them at some point although I never have before I only really use the post to get stuff I've ordered off the internet anyway so unless I've ordered something I may not even look in the post box for weeks at a time and while we're at it what is a cheque can't you please paypal me / but it doesn't seem to make much difference.

Lots of service providers do now offer paperless billing - I can't wait until it's the standard. And until they stop sending bills to the previous tenants.

[Viddler seems interesting  - hadn't seen it before - you can add timed tag comments on to the videos.]


Saw this today [although it's been around for months] and quite enjoyed it as a comic counterpoint to the adticipation building around the giant play-doh bunnies.

Imitation isn't the sincerest form of flattery, but maybe pastiche is. If you create a commercial that people are willing to spend time messing with, that's probably a good thing in and of itself but it also means that the ad has taken root in the popular consciousness - parody only works if people know what you're extracting the Michael from.

I'm looking forward to seeing what people do with the new one.