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28Nov/141

Black Christmas

It gives me a warm glow to think of all the stuff we've imported from America. Gonzo porn, crystal meth, Will.I.Am. The list goes on. The next great cultural landmark is, of course, Black Friday, when it's legal to smash your fellow shoppers' heads in with a mallet in order to ensure you have a larger television in your house for the next three years, which is when its built-in obsolescence kicks in and you have to buy another one.

Black Friday - named because in Revelations it explains that the last Friday in November will herald the end days in an Asda just outside Ealing - has come to sum up what Christmas is about these days. Namely, new electrical goods broadcasting shit into our eyes and ears on a more protracted, loud and definitionally-superior form to previously.

It's very, very important that we acquire new electrical goods in this way - stepping on children and fighting with men, perhaps even striking women in the face - even though it's just as easy to buy this stuff online at the same price. You just don't get the same sense of grasping individuality if you happen to buy the last HD 50" LED TV online. It's simply not as satisfying - no sense of victory at someone else's expense. Thrown in the complete lack of physical aggression and resulting adrenaline rush and you might as well simply go to bed, rather than stay up all night waiting for the next time-limited auction of utter junk.

The media absolutely revels in Black Friday - and why not? It's just a bit of Christmas fun that looks a little bit like life would in the event of nuclear war, a devastating outbreak of communicable deadly diseases or the collapse of Western civilisation. Admittedly, the goods being fought over would probably be medicine, bread and batteries - rather than Beats By Dre headphones - but you get the idea. Black Friday, so-named because of its visual similarity to Black Death, amounts to an amusing trial run of apocalypse all played out for the benefit of an indulgently tut-tutting media, which gives a metaphorical head-muss to a metaphorical cheeky toddler.

I wonder what the victors of Black Friday will think of, every time they switch on their Freeview-enabled TV, mounted over the fireplace, and watch American Horror Story for 84 hours. Or when it stops working and gets thrown in a skip in 36 months' time. Perhaps they'll think back, with a nostalgic smile, to the Friday before Christmas when they pushed a woman to the ground and wrenched it from a child's hands in a Tesco on the outskirts of Barnsley.

Merry Black Christmas.

24Nov/140

Freeview’s Left Behind Toys Make For A Great Advert

Concept and execution = nailed. Brilliant advert. Go and give a favourite stuffed toy a squeeze. More here.

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17Nov/140

A Demographic Profile of Wonga Customers

I’ve been messing around with Yougov’s awesome interface that allows you to access and cross-reference data on people, places and things. It’s incredibly powerful for all sorts of reasons, whether you’re a journo or marketer trying to profile people, or whether you’re idly wasting time and marvelling at the more oblique data.

Some of it is genuinely useful – and could inform all sorts of research, strategy – even legislation. Some sample sizes and choices of questions make it less so – and the usual data analysis caveats apply – but it’s still fundamentally interesting.

I picked Wonga because they were the first brand to come to mind, perhaps unsurprisingly given that I’ve written about them quite a bit and it seems to be facing something of an existential crisis. It’s a very small sample size – 131 – but there are one or two things that caught my eye.

The typical profile of a Wonga customer, according to this data, is of a young male with a low income. He’s likely to live in Central Scotland, the North West or the North East and is politically left-of-centre. No real surprises there.

Wonga customers' favourite food

Wonga customers' favourite food

What is less obvious is that he is likely to work in Entertainment, Marketing/Advertising or Media – and not low-paid, unskilled jobs. More to the point, he’s not unemployed. Look further down the list of likely professions and we see Law and Business mentioned, though none of the professional associations are particularly strong.

Other revelations – Wonga’s most Platonically ideal customer favours Crispy Chilli Beef, Celebrity Gossip and Video Gaming – are more disposable, but the more eye-catching data suggests that the typical user of the payday loans company favours horse-racing and Wonga-sponsored Newcastle United FC.

There are Strong or Very Strong associations with Paypal and Capital One respectively, while Euromillions is also listed as a likely association. He is most likely to shop at Asda and least likely to shop at Aldi – curious, when you consider that he is money-conscious and likely to use the internet to shop around for a good deal. There is some suggestions of entrepreneurial activities, given the professions listed, likelihood of using the internet to buy and sell – and online ad platform http://theaffiliatepeople.com/ being listed among top websites visited.

Wonga customers' favourite websites

Wonga customers' favourite websites

Arguably any conclusions drawn are rather specious, but if I were Wonga I’d be interested to note that my most frequent customer is most likely to read The Sun, spend well over 40 hours a week online and up to 35 watching television (watching Family Guy and Jeremy Kyle most likely). There’s your ad buying sorted.

There’s a ton of more data behind a paywall – and more to be gleaned from it I’ll warrant. Combine it with the media scraped from your social media and internet use, it goes to form a powerful snapshot of your habits, likes, dislikes, inclinations and spending power. All of which forms the answer to every question you’ve ever asked about why you get served certain contextual ads. And if you tally half a dozen more of the points I’ve mentioned, chances are you’ve seen a Wonga adverts in print, on television and online in the last six months…

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16Nov/142

Best And Worst Christmas Adverts 2014

John-Lewis-monty the penguin

So, here we are again. It's still six weeks before Christmas Day, but the phony war starts earlier and earlier every year now. Christmas provides a unique and irresistible opportunity for brands to give themselves a boost going into the next year - a little bit like striking the first metaphorical blow at the press conference that precedes a bout of boxing, or invading Belgium.

In light of the collapse of Western civilisation that the Big Four supermarkets losing market share apparently constitutes, brand equity and brand power is ever-more important as our beloved high-street (not to mention out-of-town industrial estate) goes through a fundamental structural correction. Communicating what makes you different, better or cheaper than your rivals - and getting people to buy into that idea - is where it's at these days and television adverts are the primary weapon.

The money that buys prime advertising space - charged at up to £250,000 per advert for the best slots in the week or so before the big day - could probably fund a medium-sized African dictator for a year, so high are the stakes.

We live in the age of the multi-platform campaign so the power of the hashtag - not to mention multi-million quid cinematic featurettes - have been deployed this year amid a massive social media push to engage the yoof with ahh! and LOL! and WTF! moments: a penguin in love; fairies delivering bribes to Twitter users; a global war in which 20 million people died...

2014's Christmas adverts are the opening salvos in a new campaign - the campaign to see who lays the most convincing claim for the ground they want to inhabit for the next few years. Fittingly - but also tastelessly - many newspapers and blogs describe this as a battle of the Christmas adverts. Fittingly because it undoubtedly it is a battle, possibly for survival for some players; tastelessly because this year Sainsbury's has decided that it will use trench warfare as its setting for its Christmas advert.

It's a little bit like bringing a live grenade to a custard pie fight - poor old Monty the Penguin looks a bit stupid when you line him up next to the hot young cast of the Sainsbury's advert, whose real-life counterparts - unlike Monty, Jools Holland or Ant & Dec - were largely mown down by machine-gun fire once the cameras stopped rolling.

Similarly, everyone else is rather left in the wake of the Sainsbury's advert, like rubber ducks in a bath bombed by the Enola Gay. As a result of Sainsbury's fearless approach to adopting mass killing as a backdrop to a Christmas advert, I look forward to the supermarkets employing the Cambodian genocide, Balkan conflict, Al Qaeda terrorist atrocities and the Aberfan disaster in their adverts over the next year.

No doubt the likes of Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, would say call this strategy 'risky' - but on the whole I can only assume he'd approve. In these days, when the only arbiter as to what is considered an appropriate advert is how well it plays on social media, when acceptance on Twitter is the only validation required, it's the logical - the only - conclusion.

I saw the Sainsbury's advert breathlessly referred to as The Advert To End All Adverts, which would be quite witty, if not for its fundamental cuntishness. And it makes me wonder - if they think this is OK, what else is around the corner?

So, Merry Christmas. In the event that you aren't blown apart by a stray advert or simply shell-shocked at the horror of it all, do let me know which is your favourite below.

Aldi

Aldi's first real misstep when it comes to advertising. The German brand has made a success of its brand proposition and physical offering by explicitly not doing what the Big Four have done since the year dot. Until now, where they sign up to the 'me too' brand of supermarket Christmas advert with a battleship's weight worth of food and a crap celeb (Jools Sodding Holland). There's the Gin Granny from a very early ad, when Aldi ads were still excellent, but fundamentally this is as forgettable as every other Xmas ad out there. Truly, Aldi has arrived.

Rating: 2/5

Argos

Who associates hip-hop with Christmas? This chilly, charmless and actively aggravating spot for Argos does at least have the distinction of ditching the unloved Bill Nighy and Caroline Quentin-voiced sperms. A fundamentally horrible advert all told, though.

Rating: 1/5

Asda

There's always something a bit no-nonsense about Asda's advertising, which rather suits the brand. Here's an advert that basically says 'if we're shelling out a million quid then we're damn well going to actually advertise stuff'. A little like an Asda shop then: a necessity that you're glad is over the second it is.

Rating: 2/5

Boots

Can't argue with this one and as members of my close family frequently find themselves working on Christmas Day - meaning that the extended fam has often celebrated on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day to facilitate the best possible experience for them - I can relate. A nice ad, well intentioned and well made.

Rating: 4/5

Debenhams

Frankly Debenhams only enters my consciousness once a year when I'm compiling these lists, but it is the season of good cheer so they're making an appearance. Verdict: inoffensive.

Rating: 3/5

Iceland

Call it a concession, an admission of defeat or even a cry for help. Perhaps it's just recognition of what and where Iceland is. Profoundly not aspirational, not middle-class, not classy. Oh, what's that speeding away into the distance? It's Aldi and Lidl. Cheap, cheesy - Magaluf in supermarket form.

Rating: 1/5

John Lewis

As exciting, predictable and emotional as a Stephen Hendry tournament win in the mid-1990s. A triumph of efficiency - and that's all.

Rating: 2.5/5

Lidl

An extension of the Lidl Differences series of ads that have been running, where poshos are surprised to find the lovely nosh they've been hoying down their gobs is from that downmarket place near the estate. Minus points for the almost-subliminal smattering of words like 'value' throughout, which reminded me of this.

Rating: 2/5

Littlewoods

Myleene Klass and Christopher Biggins as brand ambassadors. Crikey - what statement is being made there?. At face value there's nothing particularly wrong with this; look closer and Myleene is busy turning beautiful, original, interesting wares at what looks like a Persian bazar into the sort of cheap and tacky shit with which you'd associate Littlewoods. Which isn't a great message, really.

Rating: 2/5

Marks and Spencer

An expensive checklist of Christmas advert staples rendered as efficiently and lovelessly as a wall in a Barratt Home is plastered.

Rating: 2/5

Morrisons

Utterly forgettable which, given that Morrisons is by far the least visible of the Big Four, is something of a problem. Just like their stores, I don't know what's supposed to set them apart. And if you employ the original cheeky chappies of television in Ant and Dec, why isn't your ad a little irreverent, like it was last year?

Rating: 2/5

Sainsbury's

A beautiful slice of exploitative, offensive supermarket propaganda.

Rating: N/A

Tesco

Tesco has never done Christmas ads well - coming as it does in the midst of the supermarket's biggest crisis in decades it just serves to enhance the suspicion that it's lost sight of what it is, what its strengths are and what the core message is.

Rating: 1/5

Waitrose

Waitrose generally bucks the trend and this sets it apart from the rest of the pack nicely. Giving, showing resolve, employee stakeholding - there's a message I can get behind at this time of year. Truly abysmal soundtrack, like, but you can't have everything.

Rating: 4/5


• Refresh your memories of the best and worst Christmas adverts – sob pitifully at advertising or enrage yourself to vein-throbbing standards – of previous years

Best and Worst Xmas Ads of 2013

Best and Worst Xmas Ads of 2012

Best and Worst Xmas Ads of 2011