Not so silly season pick ‘n’ mix

Not so silly season pick ‘n’ mix

Bob Wootton embraces a busier-than-usual summer with a look at the world’s woes resting on adland’s shoulders, billboard frolics and the “miracle” of 5G

Things usually slow down in high summer as many are away enjoying some well-earned downtime with their loved ones.

Not so this year. The new Government is sprinting for an autumn deadline, though whether it’s about delivering a promise to fulfil the electorate’s marginal wish or saving its own skin is increasingly unclear. And the continent’s legislature is looking to show its teeth in the face of UK departure and rising nationalism in remaining member states.

Meanwhile, our industry is in the limelight on many issues. The nation’s mental and physical health and fitness; fake news; sustainability of independent quality content; political advertising; copyright and IP; climate change; general wokeness. All provide opportunity to present ourselves deftly as part of a solution.

Against all this, I thought I’d eschew the usual polemic and alight instead on a few recent things that caught my eye.

The woes of the world are coming to rest on adland’s shoulders

Two decades of social media has created more activists who are far more comms savvy.

They’re using these smarts to place some major societal problems like obesity and climate change in adland’s lap, admittedly with some justification.  And then leveraging it into taking a lead in fixing them.

Flattery, the very thing that oils the industry’s wheels, is not beneath them – “You have many of the brightest and best communicators and persuaders…”.

Industry’s leaders, its trade bodies and especially its most vigorous virtue-signallers are caught like flies in this web.  The only acceptable response today is to concur.  And then play for time and dissemble with a forum or working group embodying all the many vested interests.  Consider Campaign’s recent Faragegate episode (honourable mention Paul Burke) or the response to XR.

The challenge lies in the very nature of our industry.  As an agent for its advertiser clients it will get into deep water quickly if it starts widely to judge them and lobby differently from their perceived interests.

And even if these same uber-persuaders manage to align (some of) their clients, there’s timing.  Advertising tends to jump whereas its clients tend to hasten more slowly.  Unless Government cracks the whip – possible if as yet still unlikely.

Who’d have thought Australia would show us the way?

Courtesy of Trinity P3, an Australia-based global marketing management consultancy, notice of a recent report and recommendations to address dominance of digital platforms from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

It’s strong stuff spanning competition law, consumer protection, media regulation and privacy law, reflecting the intersection of issues arising from the growth of digital platforms.

It tackles many of the right bases – unless you’re GooBook of course – but contrasts with our and the EU’s shyness hitherto in wrestling the behemoths to the ground.

Perhaps it will be dismissed as one smallish legislature getting above itself by companies which sometimes regard themselves as no less than the future of society and therefore above the scrutiny of national Governments.

And being US-based, the US Government appears to vacillate between cheerleading and censoring them.

But, like the seminal John Mandel speech that set the transparency wagon rolling, it’s a “there’s no smoke without fire” moment and well worth a read over a cool glass of rosé or three.

Billboard frolics

Judging by how quickly Global has rebranded the Primesight and Outdoor Plus estates, they’ve hit the ground running after last year’s audacious move into out of home.

Meanwhile, 8 Outdoor, previously demonised by peers allegedly for tapping into competitors’ electricity supplies, has had the licences of the two-thirds of its sites which it leases from the UK’s biggest OOH landlord, Insite, terminated amidst claims of late payments.  The beneficiary?  Global.

The competition wind appears to be in their favour too, as main radio competitor Bauer is challenged for acquiring within the medium.  You’d expect it to be rational, but competition law remains a dark art.

The “miracle” of 5G?

One of my oldest mates has had a distinguished career spanning PR, public affairs, an early incarnation of music streaming, healthcare marketing and now imports specialist libations.

The recent froth around 5G, much of it from our credulous industry, reminds me of when he launched the Compact Disc for Philips way back.

(CDs were six-inch silver audio discs which promised superior sound, portability and durability to any pre-existing audio format. They fell into the void between the convenience of software players and streams and the renaissance – and retro hipster appeal – of vinyl as an audiophile format).

His contribution was to get a live on air demonstration of a CD spread with jam – or was it marmalade? – and then played. “Unlike vinyl, no scratches and even sounds fab covered in gunk”.

Another stunt involved removing and replacing a CD quickly while it was playing – “look, it even plays without being in the player”.

Both were PR coups which quickly achieved the desired notoriety, if best not try at home.

Sure, 5G will be widespread one day, but over a decade into 4G there are still signal potholes everywhere (even central London) and it still doesn’t reach many less-populated areas (like East Anglia).

I’m not the first to suggest it, but echo a serious suggestion for dear Ofcom. Award 5G licences to operators who solemnly undertake to complete 4G delivery properly first. A timely opportunity if ever there was one for a regulator to demonstrate that it isn’t in its regulatees’ pockets ….


One of the joys of writing is the feedback, which is overwhelmingly positive and constructive (phew). My last piece on why WPP should decline to participate in pitches run by Accenture (or by implication any ‘consultant’ with an advertising offering) drew an interesting response from an anonymous disillusioned ex-staffer.

We all know what a chore timesheets are and how hard it can be to fill them in completely accurately unless you’re unfortunate enough to work on only one client account. Seems the consultants have the same problem at some scale. Another similarity with agencies, then.

Enjoy the sun (when we see it).

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