Advertising Design Humour

BP adverts look just like my site!

About a month ago I was watching television and an advert for BP appeared and goddam did their new advertising aesthetic look like my site. Now I’m not seriously suggesting that they ripped off the design of my site, but the synchronicity is pretty astonishing – particularly given that used an exclusively yellow highlight for a few months early on. I tried to take a picture of the TV at the time, with no success (lots of banding and stuff) but last night I was on an escalator in a tube station and stumbled upon a huge block of billboards. And here are the pictures:

So it’s all quite funny and entertaining and everything. We’re clearly all meshed with the same zeitgeist or whatever, but in the spirit of accidental crossovers (particularly given the acronymic similarity between BP and and inspired by a comment by Mr Paul Hammond, I’ve remixed their logo in return to make it fit with the various colour schemes. Maybe I’ll use it as a logo for a while sometime in the future… Hopefully they’ll see the joke and won’t sue me or anything:


A few odd bits of detective work…

So after accepting their apology late last night I should probably really let this one lie, but I just thought people might be interested in a couple of updates. I’m going to have a phone conversation with the people from Cohn Wolfe later in the week or next week (quick point of order – nasty website with a horrible flash intro – easily fixable too), and I’ll be asking them a little bit about how this happened and probably trying to give them some suggestions on how they can avoid this kind of thing in future.

In the meantime, for those few of you who were interested in piecing together some of the other final details about how it all fits together – I got a really interesting e-mail from a couple of people on other sites about comments they’d received from the same e-mail address as my Barry Scott in which the guy concerned specifically talked about the fake weblog, so there’s another connection there (thanks particularly to the b3tans). But more importantly after a really interesting suggestion from a commenter called “Lou” over on the apology thread, I had a dig around in the ‘long headers’ of the e-mails I got from the people at Cohn Wolfe for IP addresses and the like – and what did I find:

Received: from (HELO (

If you remember from this post the IP address of the original Barry Scott commenter on the site was, and Sam Spade correlated that with So I guess, my friends, that we have a winner!

All this detective work is really quite good fun. I should run a little masterclass or something in the kinds of things you can find out online. Anyway, that’s pretty much it for the moment. My acceptance of the apology still stands but I just thought people might find those particular connections interesting.

And the final thing is that I saw the bloody Cillit Bang advert for the first time this evening! God it’s appalling! Why did no one tell me!?


An apology from the Cillit Bang team…

So this afternoon, I got an e-mail which I’m pretty sure is from the team who handle Cillit Bang. I can’t tell for certain because I it’s from someone at, and I don’t know enough about the relationships between these various organisations to be able to say that it’s totally reliable. Anyway, the e-mail contains what appears to be a fairly honourable and sincere apology for the whole Barry Scott comments-as-marketing fiasco that I wrote about on Friday. And although I still have significant reservations about the idea of fictional marketing characters leaving messages and commenting on other people’s sites, I’ve decided to take them at their word, accept the apology and leave it at that. The e-mail that they sent is below:

We are writing to you in response to the Barry Scott posting on 30th September 2005. We’re all aware that Barry Scott, the advertising character is a marketing creation and we have been responsible for raising his awareness. The posting on 30th September was unplanned and an error of judgement and we unequivocally apologise for this. We recognise that it was inappropriate in context.

The Barry Scott character has appeared in a number of spoof websites and weblogs, created by people unconnected to the Reckitt Benckiser brand. The weblog posting on your site was not endorsed by Reckitt Benckiser or any of the advertising agencies that are mentioned and was a one off error from which lessons have been learnt. We are sorry for any offence it has unwittingly caused.

We would like to have an opportunity to apologise personally, if you would like to speak to us please do let us know the best way to reach you.

Yours sincerely,

The Cillit Bang team

Addendum: I wrote one more follow-up on this subject called: A few odd bits of detective work in which I tried to tie up some of the loose ends of the story.


On Cillit Bang and a new low for marketers…

Right. Okay. Got one for ya. You’ll like this. Earlier today I wrote a post about my father, who I haven’t had any contact with for almost thirty years. It was a difficult post to write – it had taken me almost two weeks to build up the nerve to write it. After I got it out there, however, a number of people commented almost immediately – uniformly pleasant, supportive, decent posts. I’ll confess, it was nice. As usual some of them were a little more emotional about the whole thing than I felt comfortable with, but generally the whole thing was a positive experience. I felt positive that I’d got the message out, was hopeful that talking about the experience might make such a process easier for someone else to go through, and felt that I’d said enough for the moment. Everyone’s got something out of it. Everyone’s happy.

And then I got a comment from a man called Barry Scott. The comment read as follows:

“Hi Tom, Always remember one thing. Life is very, very short and nothing is worth limiting yourself from seeing the ones you love. I hadn’t seen my father in 15 years until 2 years ago. I was apprehensive but I kept telling myself that no matter how estranged we’d become there was no river to wide to cross. Drop me a line if I can be of any more help. Cheers, Barry”

Sounds fine, doesn’t it? Except that ‘Barry Scott’ isn’t a real person – he’s a marketing vehicle for a brand called Cillit Bang and his weblog is a barely disguised viral marketing platform for the product.

Now clearly, it was pretty difficult to believe that even a marketing / advertising organisation would be comfortable actively promoting their product in a space where someone was reporting their first contact with their father for nearly three decades. I mean, sure, there’s some limited mileage to be gained in getting a link on a number of weblogs – although with all the anti-spam tech in place now they can’t possibly have been hoping for Googlejuice. But still, that’s not an enormous benefit for such a grotesque act.

My view was that any right-thinking person would view trying to market your product on such a post as revolting, corrupt, cynical, disgusting, sick and dishonourable. And to do such thing in such an offhand, casual manner? I mean that’s got to be bordering on sociopathic. And for it to be a trick! It could only be viewed as an attempt by these people to exploit a community’s – and an individual’s – good faith to sell a few bottles of highly corrosive cleaning fluid. And it wasn’t even an automated message operating indiscriminately – this was a hand-written note posted by an individual human being.

But as I’ve said, my instincts in this matter were that no one could be that cynical, so I decided to do some exploring. Some possibilities – the guy who wrote the comment wasn’t connected with the weblog or advertising at all, just reusing the name / meme. Or maybe the weblog wasn’t connected to the brand, and was just some jokers attempt to collate and maintain some funny brand-related stuff. Maybe it was even an attempt to subvert or parody Cillit Bang.

So stage one is to find the IP address of the person who left the comment. According to Movable Type that is And according to Sam Spade that correlates to a which is owned by an organisation called Young & Rubicam. Going to the website of Young & Rubicam, I see that they handle advertising campaigns. Their site is all Flash, so forgive me for retyping some of it:

“We make connections between our client partners and their customers. We are client-focused, insightful, pragmatic. We believe in ideas. Ideas based on rigorous analytic processes and human insights.”

Hm. Human insights. Okay, so they’re an advertising firm, the comment purporting to be Barry Scott comes from their servers, the weblog looks like a marketing tool of some kind. I think we’re beginning to see a pattern. So I find their London offices and I start to ring around. They have a few offices in London under a variety of names: “Banner Corporation PLC”, “Nylon”, “Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R”, “Y&R Holdings (U.K.) Ltd European HQ”, “Young & Rubicam Brands EMEA”. I ring each in turn, they’re all terribly helpful, but none of them think they’re handling the Cillit Bang brand. So no luck there. Maybe this isn’t as cynical as we’d initially thought?

From here, it’s back to the internet. After a search for Cillit Bang and Young & Rubicam brings back very few decent answers, I try the more general Cillit Bang agency which eventually leads me to a page on kreativ online which lists the Cillit Bang account as being the responsibility of Partners J. Walter Thompson, which then leads me back to

From here it’s back to the phones. We’re still trying to determine, by the way, if the weblog is a marketing platform at all. So off we go to JWT’s uk offices, who are quite comfortable to accept responsibility for the Cillit Bang account but who sound very confused by the idea that the campaign might have an associated weblog, and even more surprised by the idea that people working for another advertising agency could possibly be posting comments in the name of one of their associated brand assets. They say they’ll ring me back shortly, and indeed they do – this time with another set of names including Sabrina Geremia and Marva Carty working at a company called Reckitt Benckiser. So I go and ring them up.

This phone call is a little more involving. Sabrina is unavailable, so I talk to Marva. I ask if they’re running a viral web-based campaign for the product Cillit Bang and she says, slightly reservedly, that they are and that it’s a weblog. Shortly afterwards we’re at a dead end – Marva really wants to know what’s going on before she’ll say any more. I tell her the story of the evil exploitative marketing company virally promoting cleaning products duplicitously all over the story of my reunion with my estranged father, and for some reason she starts to sound a little nervous. She’s unclear as to why any organisation would do that – I point out that people post comments all the time to try and get higher rankings in Google (it doesn’t work) and traffic from people who follow the links. She sounds very uncomfortable. She wants me to send all my evidence to Sabrina who will get back to me on Monday morning. I say that I can’t guarantee that I won’t write about this stuff in public in the meantime.

And it’s just as well that I didn’t guarantee it, because you’re reading it. One way or another – whether these specific people are directly responsible for spamming our conversations with their marketing – this whole enterprise stinks to high heaven. The fake weblogs that pretend to be real are almost bad enough – it’s an attempt to muddy the reality of a community with the fantasy world that they need to flog cleaning products and make it seem glamourous or exciting. But someone out there – associated with one marketing group or another – is also keen to directly stick their dirty little hands in the cookie jars of well-meaning, honourable people. They’re quite happy to pollute or destroy the value of the enterprise for everyone else if they can derive even the tiniest return from it.

I’m going to give them the benfit of the doubt and say that this whole enterprise is based on clumsiness and stupidity rather than evil, but we have to make a stand and make it clear to these people that if you live by the sword you die by the sword. It’s not good enough for just these marketing people to realise that they’ve screwed up and damaged the brands they were associated with – we have to keep making examples of them to stop other clumsy organisations viewing our self-created territories as nothing more than sales opportunities. Do not lie to us because we will expose you. Be honourable, or we will erase you. And all anyone will see when they search on Google for your products is that there is no depth to which you will not stoop to get another few bottles into someone’s shopping basket.

To be decent about the whole thing, I’m going to let Marva have the final word, because maybe other marketers out there will hear them and learn from them, and it will stop them making the same mistakes again. And the evidence I’m going to send to Sabrina? The URL of this post. If she sends a more coherent response back, I’ll post that too…

“Us going into blogging is a new thing – it’s a new thing and we’re not trying to do anything that could cause you distaste. If this is the kind of thing that’s happening, then we need to stop it happening. I honestly don’t believe that the effect it’s had has been at all intentional. If this is happening then it needs to be re-evaluated. This is not what we’re trying to achieve.

Addendum (added 3rd October 2005): The people at Cillit Bang have apologised for the error of judgment and I have accepted their apology. You can read more about it here: An Apology from the Cillit Bang team.

Advertising Business Personal Publishing

A response to the rhetoric of weblog marketing…

The story so far… Ben Metcalfe takes a vague swipe at the Stormhoek wine that Hugh MacLeod is marketing through the blogosphere. The approach Hugh is taking is to offer free bottles of the wine to webloggers on the understanding that they can write about it if they choose – either positively or negatively. Ben believes this to be a pollution of the weblog ecology and an undermining of the authenticity and personal integrity of individual webloggers who are prepared to put themselves up for sale. Here where things get a little weird, because Hugh responds to Ben’s comments with an extraordinary, and (for my part) quite unfathomable, broadside against the BBC:

The Beeb likes to think it’s in the business of “Empowering People”. Maybe they are, but only if it doesn’t lessen their own power base within the British Establishment. They sneer at commercialism; their currency of choice is control. Are they transparent about that? The hell they are.

Now there’s no point me pretending that I can talk impartially about the BBC in public. After all I consented to work for them, and they pay me for the privilege. So it’s quite lucky then that – having read the posts concerned several times – I can see no relevance to mentioning the BBC in this context at all. The debate seems to me to be in a completely different area. I wrote a comment on Hugh’s site, which I think sum up some of my feelings about marketers giving freebies to webloggers. What follows is a pretty heavily revised version of those comments, edited for readability and rhetorical weight rather than meaning (I hope):

Ben’s comments on the wine marketing move were fairly blunt and I’d probably not be so aggressive, but I certainly don’t think it’s an unreasonable position to take. Hugh and I had similar conversations about whether the Stormhoek experiment was cynical or exploitative at a recent conference we both attended. I have to say I’m still not convinced.

As another commenter suggested, if you’re a ‘citizen’ weblogger all you really have is your name. Weblogs are about authenticity – about people being able to express their voices and opinions. If people get the sense that you’re distorting your opinions for your peers because you get free stuff then it seems to me that they’d have to be less inclined to believe you (and think less of you as a person). And quite rightly – it’s a demonstration of a lack of personal integrity.

Now this case is obviously slightly different, because people are being given the stuff for free and no one is forcing them to write positively about it. But the problem is that people will always find being given free stuff attractive. And that means that – as long as there’s the possibility a negative opinion will result in no more freebies – there will always be a pressure towards playing to the sponsor. A good proportion of people will find this kind of thing completely acceptable, but let’s not pretend that it’s completely impartial, morally neutral and fair. There’s a power dynamic happening here – it is a form of bribery – it just happens to be a fairly mild and gentle form of it in which people don’t really get hurt that badly.

But because it is a form of gentle bribery to say nice things, it seems to me that this means that any positive comment will inevitably be considered dubious by the wider community, and will result in suspicion and a gradual loss of trust. It’s like that old joke that ends, “We’ve established you’re a whore, now we are just haggling over the price…”

The problem is that – at least at the moment, and long may it last – the weblog community determines its heroes and its trusted and noble citizens from smaller but finer-grained metrics than we do in the wider world. We determine who to read based on whether we’ve come to feel a relationship or a personality that means we actually directly like the person or people concerned, whether we trust them, whether they’re the kind of people we would want to associate with or who say things that we respect (or amuse us). And these relationships are more fragile, but deeper and more reciprocal, than those we have with sports heroes and movie stars.

They almost have to be – writing for a weblog is a rapid process that often lends itself to personal and informal writing. It’s harder to keep up a pretense, to hide what you’re like in such an unorchestrated space. So when someone loses our respect, or appears arrogant or when we feel they’re no longer being truthful, then we stop reading. And the brand that they’ve been marketing must get tarnished by this association as well.

It seems to me that marketing of this kind probably has an unfortunate effect on the weblog community, and will probably have mixed results that make some brands very happy but many others slightly damaged. In the case of the wine, it would seem much more sensible to just get the people who make the wine to write their own weblog and use it as a position to talk to the wider world. Perhaps there’s other ways to introduce the wine to a wider community, but the only way it will work is if any perceived link between the weblogger’s opinion and the products on offer for them to try is broken completely. And that’s a bloody hard sell…

There is also one other thing I’d like to say, and I say this with all due respect to Hugh, who I’ve met several times. There seems to be a hell of a lot of mileage recently in grabbing onto a technological trend that’s owned by the people and talking about how it’s going to rip down every aspect of the old world order and replace it with a brave new world without large media / business / governmental organisations. You find a trend and you shout about it in public, waving a fist at the big boys as you threaten to drag them down to their knees. You get invited to a lot of conferences this way. You may even get a book deal. Large companies will invite you to talk to them about why they should employ you to protect them from the future you’ve said will destroy them.

But frankly, it’s all complete balls. The world is changing really rapidly – technology is having a significant impact. I think the idea of tens of millions of individuals expressing their opinions in public is profoundly moving and important and is likely to have all kinds of repercussions that we can’t possibly foresee at the moment. And there are battles to fight and battles to win. But much of the rhetoric simply cannot stand scrutiny.

I’m totally fed up of people standing up and waving a flag for the death of institutions based on sketchy information and a vague belief in the rightness of their cause – and I’m also slightly sick of more moderate voices being drowned out under the revolutionary fervour of people fresh with their first wave of excitement about user-generated content on the web. Weblogs suffer from this enormously. Someone said that every journalist that writes about weblogs thinks that the year they discovered them is the year weblogs went mainstream. I’ve watched this for almost six years now. I now need people to think about what’s more likely to happen – that big media organisations, and governments and businesses will dry up and evaporate, or that some of them will adapt and change to a new ecology, renegotiate their place in the world and have a role in fashioning and supporting whatever it is that’s coming?

Whatever is on the horizon – social software, social media, ubiquitous and pervasive computing, technology everywhere, permanent connectivity, media distribution, mass amateurisation, disintermediation – it’s going to have an enormous impact on our lives. But that impact will probably seem relatively subtle and gradual to those people living through it, and its true effects will probably not be fully recognised for a hell of a long time. So let’s try and be a bit humble about the whole thing, eh? Let’s get excited about possible futures, let’s argue for the changes we think should happen, let’s present ideas and theories and ideas and business models and look to the future and test them and explore them. But please, no more religious wars of us versus them, big versus small, old versus new… We’ve got enough entrenched dogmatic opinions in the world already without creating new ones…

Advertising Gay Politics

Why I won't be buying any Muller products…

I sent this letter to today because I finally had enough of the stupid bloody adverts in which mincing gay men flounce around the place looking at straight men’s cocks. I’m sorry to be crass, but it pisses me off…

Dear Sir / Madam,

I am writing to complain about the Muller adverts which include a highly camp and stereotypical gay air steward mincing through a hotel (or on a plane) staring suggestively at the crotches of vulnerable and anxious-looking straight men. I was horrified when this advert was on a few years ago, but had assumed that it had been withdrawn because it was so crass. Now I see that it has returned to our screens I’ve decided I should complain.

As a gay man I find this representation both insulting and dangerous. When I was growing up gay I was under the misapprehension that gay people were dirty and sickening and pathetic because of adverts like this. When I became an adult I realised that these stereotypes were only used by small-minded, petty, vindictive and scared little people – people desperate to ‘belong’ and unable to handle anything even vaguely different from themselves. Unfortunately other gay teenagers didn’t have the luxury of coming to terms with these images as easily as I did. While working with the Bristol University Gay and Lesbian society, I met and tried to counsel an enormous number of young gay men who were coming out and who had experienced considerable abuse – including harrassment at school, on the street and even – in one occasion – being stabbed by their own father for being a ‘disgusting sissy’. Your advert is prolonging precisely the stereotypes that cause children to be harrassed in this way – and contributing to the culture that results in twice as many attempted suicides and successful suicides among gay teenagers than straight, as well as an enormous over-representation of gay teenagers among the homeless.

I will not be buying any more of your products until I am reassured that this advert has been withdrawn and I will be doing my best to encourage other people to boycott your products as well. I have also written a complaint to Ofcom.


Tom Coates


The new craze in text-ads…

Everyone is doing it – the new advertising craze on the internet is the simple text ad [article]. The idea of non-irritating, low-bandwidth, low-cost advertising is clearly very appealing to web-regulars, but whether or not it will actually prove to be particularly successful as a potential revenue stream is still in doubt. I’m watching this trend with considerable interest – as as far as I can tell, without the targeting facilities of Google’s adwords, text-ads continuing success would completely buck convention…

The trend seems very much to be in the other direction – the most successful adverts that I have observed in recent months have been large and bandwidth intensive (as seen at Wired and Salon. Even Time Out now provides a space for skyscraper-style advertising.

Advertising Food & Drink

On marketing and focus groups in schools…

I’ve just been reading an article on a new fair trade chocolate bar that has been launched in the UK [Time Out : Shopping Guide]. All was well and good until I came up against this line:

“Hundreds of schools across the country have been involved in helping to design, taste test and name the new milk chocolate bar, Dubble, which at 35p is around half the price of other fair trade brands.”

I was suddenly horrified by this, as it reminded me of something I saw in No Logo – my current political bible:

“In the eyes of the brand managers, every lunchroom and classroom is a focus group waiting to be focused. So getting access to schools means more than just hawking product – it’s a bona fide, bargain-basement cool-hunting opportunity …

Perhaps the most infamous of these experiments occurred in 1998, when Coca-Cola ran a competition asking several schools to come up with a strategy for distributing Coke coupons to students. The school that devised the best promotional strategy would win $500. Greenbriar High School in Evans, Georgia, took the contest extremely seriously, calling an official Coke Day in late March during which all students came to school in Coca-Cola T-shirts, posed for a photograph in a formation spelling Coke, attended lectures given by Coca-Cola executives and learning about all things black and bubbly in their classes. It was a little piece of branding heaven until it came to the principal’s attention that in an act of hideous defiance, one Mike Cameron, a nineteen-year-old senior, had come to school wearing a T-shirt with a Pepsi logo. He was promptly suspended for the offense.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I honestly belief that marketing and focus-groups should be kept well away from schools – whether or not the product that is sold is environmentally friendly.

Advertising Television

On Pottery Barn, Friends and Advertising…

Do you remember that episode of Friends where Rachel is obsessed by the Pottery Barn? Well when I first saw it I thought to myself – hmmm, what a strange premise for an episode. And because we don’t even have Pottery Barn in the UK, I don’t think it even occurred to me that it was a real shop. If it had, I think I might have raised an eyebrow or two. But one thing that would never have occurred to me is that Pottery Barn might have sponsored the whole episode. I can’t help thinking the whole thing is totally corrupt. I mean I’m used to TV shows having product placement and advertising and sponsorship, but I will not spend my life watching 22 minute long advertainments for huge multi-national companies. I swear to god – it’s my idea of hell…

Excerpt from Adbusters June/July 2000
FRIENDS FOR SALE: Now advertisers can turn sitcom plotlines into product promotions. The Pottery Barn bought an episode of Friends and the right to have Rachel, Ross and the gang spend their 22 minutes of airtime surrounded by Barn decor.

It has always been implicit in television that the programs are just delivery vehicles for the advertising. But that equation got a whole lot more explicit in February, when the production company Basic Entertainment – the money behind such shows as Politically Incorrect and critical darling The Sopranos – agreed to partner up with the world’s second-largest advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson. The two promptly produced a love-child: the agency’s new “content/entertainment” arm, called (c)JWT.

The rationale behind it all: When the ad is the show, it becomes impossible for viewers to mute it, ignore it, or actively miss it whilst getting snacks.