Whatever did happen to the ‘factory visit’?

Admittedly, no one’s exactly visiting anyone these days but I get the sense that no one’s been doing them for some time either.

Why do I feel this?

Well, just a cursory glance at the industry’s output these days would suggest it.

After all, where are the illuminating insights into a brand’s attributes and personality that can make us all view things in an entirely new light?

Marketing is (or should be) about subverting preconceptions and revealing truths that can change opinions.

But what we see, instead, is musical ‘stings’ (the old jingle distilled) and borrowed interest that might achieve fleeting or superficial standout but fail to forge that deeper emotional bond that secures brand loyalty.

As an example of what I mean, one such visit to the home of the UK’s leading brand of writing paper (remember that?) revealed the anomaly of a lab staffed exclusively by PhDs in this and Doctors of that labouring away man and woman – fully to achieve the ultimate sheet of humble A4.

The strapline, ‘Some of the world’s best brains have turned to pulp’ pretty much wrote itself.

A recent campaign for The University of Central Lancashire was inspired by a visit illuminating the true-life journeys of recent alumni, from before to after UCLAN, this thought-provoking transformation crystallised in the strapline ‘Makes you think’.

Over a lunch of currywurst and sauerkraut on a trip to Wolfsburg, meanwhile, an anecdote emerged identifying the VW Passat as the hardest vehicle in its class to break into (a ten-hour marathon on average), leading to the image of an aspiring car thief dug in for the day, perched upon a fishing stool with transistor radio, newspaper and packed lunch to hand.

Finally, an outing to the Douro provided, amongst other things, the revelation that a leading brand of port was ‘Made by a bunch of complete bastardos’ in the form of the remarkable bastardo grape.

So what’s happening here?

Perhaps there’s a reticence on the part of agencies to go beyond the dictates of the client’s marketing team?

Then there’s that time-honoured fear on the agency’s behalf to field those unpredictable creative types with their questionable dress sense and their unexpected questions challenging client sensibilities.

The problem is, of course, that those unexpected questions, and answers, can provide the key to unlocking a brand’s true potential.

So often, the brand’s key point of difference is something taken for granted and overlooked internally thanks to over familiarity. While an objective viewpoint can identify and maximise its true potential.

Which is what a marketing agency, at its best, can do.

And only a complete bastardo wouldn’t want to do that.

The rise of the Ad Man.

A great doc from a few years ago:

“Cultural commentator Peter York takes a characteristically insightful and witty look at the changing fortunes of British advertising through the story of the personalities who led it through its highs and lows.

Inspired by the maverick US advertisers of Madison Avenue, a new generation of British ad men created a unique style of advertising based on authentic British culture. It tapped into home-grown humour and marketed itself as almost a branch of the arts. During the 1970s, British ads came to be regarded as the best in the world.

But as York shows, the same combination of ambition, big spending and oversized egos which fed British advertising’s glorious rise also led to a disastrous fall when the business climate changed in the 1980s. Now the British ad man has had to reinvent himself for a new, global market.

York gets the extraordinary inside story from top British advertising figures past and present including Alan Parker, David Puttnam, Tim Bell and Frank Lowe.”

Making working from home work: 10 things I’ve learned from over 10 years in the home office.

Disclaimer: Even though I’ve built my advertising business up over 13 years (blessed with the help of some great, forward thinking clients, it has to be said) the ‘working from home’ I speak of was founded during the crash of 2008. Under quite different circumstances from those we are all currently experiencing. I was spurred on by the fear of a lack of funds but also the adventure of trying to plough ones own field. So for me it was very much by choice, rather than having working from home forced upon me, as is being done to the country at large this week. I do, however, feel there may be a couple of nuggets I’ve learnt that may be worth passing on. Hence my list:

1: Family.

You get to see more of them. Your kids, wife, husband, girl/boyfriend. Remember, depending upon your situation, that is actually a ‘nice’ thing, ok?

2: The coffee is better.

A silly point. But mine certainly is. No more vats of Nescafe Hoover bag dust from Makro, served off a stained tray. Nor those fiddly ‘espresso’ pellets (that essentially contain the same Nescafe Hoover bag dust!). And it costs way less than that daily £5 Costa too. Investing in a decent espresso machine pays for itself within a month or so.

3: Lunch can be better.

For one, you have access to your own fridge full of the good stuff. It also means far less daily discretionary spend. And similar to the point below about popping back to the office after time apart, it makes you savour your fave coffee bars and sandwich stores way more, when the mood takes you.

4: You save on travel.

For drivers, sitting in traffic really ain’t much fun. It costs you your time and money. And then often there’s parking charges on top of that. So there’s an immediate weekly saving to be had. For train commuters, there’s no over priced tickets to buy, only to be rewarded by having to stand under someones armpit in an over crowded vestibule. You can use the savings to fund other activities. Such as, I don’t know… running a V8 5 litre at the weekends to your hearts content. For example.

5: You can walk the dog.

We’re a nation of dog owners. But I’d hazard a guess none of us relish leaving our fury friends home alone for hours while we work? So, problem solved. And now your bestie can join you for that lunchtime walk, too.

6: Skype is your friend.

As is WhatsApp, FB Messenger and the like. We use them daily in our personal lives so why not with work colleagues too? (Note: each of those services is also now available in your web browser on your laptop and desktop machine. Often easier than reaching for your phone). So, even office banter can absolutely carry on regardless.

7: Productivity actually increases.

Once set up, you often find yourself even more compelled to get through stuff and get things done. The expectation is almost one of proving it can work this way that you naturally feel the need to show it by completing tasks on time. Or ahead of time even.

8: It can create extra ‘opportunities’.

Pissst, don’t tell the boss. But at the office, I’d wager some of us have a bit of dead time between tasks that would be perfect for doing ‘this and that’. Guess what? You might find that by working from home, doing those little extras is now a little more possible. But I’ll stop there!

9: It makes going into the office actually exciting.

When I do get called to the office or studio for a photoshoot or a meeting, it’s actually exciting. It’s a bit different. It’s, well, fun!

10: Golden rule – Routine is healthy.

So don’t change yours. No need to. Get up at the same time, stop for a brew at the same time. Have a lunch break, carry on regardless.

Like I said, this list is somewhere between the trivial truth and trash. And it’s clearly not for everyone, every role or every business. But I think it’s going to be a surprise how many people actually convert to it full time once things return to some kind of normal. I’m sure over the next few weeks you’ll find your own perks. And who knows… when it comes to work, many more might start feeling right at home at home!