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A week or so ago, the BBC asked me onto a radio programme.

It’s called Moral Maze, and it does what it says on the can.

It debates moral issues.

There were four panellists: all journalists from The Mail and The Guardian.

Guests are questioned, on air, by that panel.

All I knew was that it was going to be about Sainsbury’s Christmas ad.

The four panellists were obviously anti-advertising.

But they had a moral problem with this ad in particular.

The ad takes place in 1914, it’s Christmas and the British and German troops come out of the trenches and play football.

Seems fair enough: centenary of WW1, a million poppies in the Tower of London, Sainsbury’s sell bars of chocolate to raise money for the British Legion.

It all links, so no problem.

Except for the panel of journalists.

One journalist, from The Daily Mail, said history should be treated with reverence, this was trivialising it.

I said I thought it was the one nice part of the war, when humans stopped killing each other for five minutes.

She said, how could I possibly say the First World War was nice?

Er, I don’t think that’s what I said.

But a journalist from The Guardian tried a different tack.

Was I saying that it would be okay for Ryman, the stationers, to use Anne Frank in an advertising campaign?

(Anne Frank was the young Jewish girl who hid in an attic from the Nazis, keeping a diary.)

This question took me back for a minute.

Anne Frank died in the death camps, what could that possibly have to do with Ryman?

Then the penny dropped: a diary, Ryman sell diaries.

Do they actually think what we do is as crass as that?

The question was so dopey I got confused.

They hadn’t got the point of what we do at all.

If there’s a genuine connection, it works.

If there isn’t it doesn’t.

Ryman is about stationery.

But Anne Frank wasn’t about stationery, she was about persecution.

Anne Frank might work in an ad for Amnesty International which is also about persecution.

But it only works if there’s a genuine connection.

It’s like saying Jesus was nailed to the cross, B&Q sell nails: let’s use Jesus in a B&Q ad.

Jesus isn’t about nails, Jesus is about universal love.

Suppose it was an ad for Oxfam, about millions of children dying, and it ended with a quote from Jesus: “Even as you do it to the least of my children so you do it unto me”.

Then it might work, because there’s a connection.

But nails isn’t a connection anymore than paper is a connection.

The point is, nothing is intrinsically wrong to use as long as there’s a genuine connection.

The Sainsbury’s ad has a genuine connection.

I’m pretty sure it’s not advertising being tasteless here.

I’m pretty sure, for once, it’s not us being thick.

I’m pretty sure it’s the journalists misunderstanding what we do.

The only question is, were they doing it on purpose or are they really that dopey?

I think those journalists should stick to journalism.


Every country struggles with the problem of prostitution.

Traditionally it’s been treated as a crime.

The solution has always been to stop women selling their bodies for sex, by arresting them.

The thinking is, to cut off the supply.

If there is no supply of prostitutes there can be no prostitution. Pretty simple.

Trouble is for thousands of years it hasn’t worked.

Prostitution has been illegal, women have been arrested, but it’s still flourished.

Modern, enlightened thinking has been to decriminalise prostitution.

Like alcohol or marijuana, prohibition didn’t work, so accept it, make it legal and have the state regulate it.

The problem is in the countries that tried it, it hasn’t worked either.

Not only has prostitution increased, but so have brothels, organised crime, and sex-trafficking.

Marie De Santis is director of the Women’s Justice Center.

She writes about the uniquely creative way Sweden tackled it and why they were able to do so.

Traditionally prostitution has been seen from the male angle.

The crime was always a woman choosing to sell her body. So the woman was the criminal.

Swedes say this is because the lawmakers have always been men.

In Sweden, they decided to reverse the situation.

Research showed that 80% of prostitutes were doing it involuntarily.

So the supplier wasn’t the criminal, the user was.

They decided to turn the problem round 180 degrees.

Instead of targeting supply, they targeted demand.

They decided to treat prostitution as a crime against women.

So the prostitute herself wasn’t guilty, the man paying was guilty.

Marie De Santis writes, “Sweden’s unique strategy treats prostitution as a form of violence against women, and the men who exploit them by buying sex are criminalised. The prostitutes are treated as victims who need help”.

By criminalising men, the source of income has dropped massively.

Prostitution had been cut by two thirds.

De Santis writes, “The number of foreign women and children now being trafficked into Sweden for sex is nil”.

Nil seems pretty impressive.

But surely all Scandinavian countries have a more enlightened view, so they have less of a problem to start with?

We need another Scandinavian country for comparison.

De Santis writes, “Compare this to the 15,000 to 17,000 females yearly sex-trafficked into neighbouring Finland. No other country, nor any other social experiment, has come anywhere near Sweden’s results”.

Okay, but why is Sweden the only country to have thought of this?

What makes Sweden different?

Well here’s the really interesting point.

Sweden has the highest proportion of women at all levels of government of any country in the entire world.

In fact 50% of the Swedish parliament is female.

So for the first time a country could look at prostitution from an angle no one else has thought of.

The female angle.

Which enabled them to take a problem they couldn’t solve, get upstream, and change it into a problem they could solve.

A different kind of predatory thinking.


Each year a group of neo-Nazis march through a small German town.

They march to the grave of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy.

The townspeople hate the neo-Nazis and the march.

They’ve tried everything they can to get the march stopped.

They asked the local council to ban it.

They’ve tried protest marches of their own.

Nothing works.

Neo-Nazis still come from all over to march the kilometre to the cemetery.

Fascist groups are a real problem in Germany, they attract the angry and disaffected youths.

The kids who have no jobs and no prospects.

This is a major worry for their parents and friends, who feel powerless to stop them joining.

So the local community has formed a group called EXIT, to help educate and de-radicalise young people, to encourage them leave the group and help them find better lives.

But EXIT needs funding.

So the townspeople have decided, since they can’t stop the neo-Nazis marching, to use the march for their own ends.

Instead of resisting the march they are now encouraging the march.

Because they are using the march to raise money.

For every metre the neo-Nazis march, local businesses are donating ten Euros to EXIT.

So the neo-Nazis will now be marching to fund EXIT.

The further they march, the more money EXIT gets.

If the neo-Nazis don’t like it they can stop marching.

Whichever way they decide, it’s a result for the local community.

Whether the neo-Nazis march or not, the little village wins.

The inhabitants now treat the march as something to enjoy and have fun with.

Every 100 metres there are signs stencilled on the ground, thanking the marchers for the money they’re raising:




And so on.

By the time the neo-Nazis reach the cemetery they’ve marched a kilometre, which means they’ve raised 10,000 Euros for EXIT.

So there is a huge rainbow sign thanking them, and the locals throw rainbow confetti over them.

The locals also have fun at the neo-Nazis’ expense.

Halfway along the march there is a huge table of bananas as snacks for the marchers.

Above it is a poster saying “Mein Mampf” (this means ‘my hunger’ and is a play on Hitler’s autobiography “Mein Kampf” meaning ‘my struggle’).

Because the situation has been reversed, the neo-Nazis are now marching against themselves.

The beauty is it’s all perfectly legal and non-confrontational.

If the marchers carry on doing what they want, the village wins.

If the marchers stop doing what they want, the village wins.

The villagers couldn’t stop them marching, so they changed what they’re marching for.

They took a problem they couldn’t solve, got upstream and changed it into a problem they could solve.

That’s predatory thinking.


Everywhere you look it’s the same thing: content is king.

I disagree.

Execution is king.

Content is what you find in school textbooks.

It’s information, it’s dull, it’s a penance.

To read it you need lots of concentration and coffee.

I don’t like writing where the reader has to do the work.

I like writing where the writer does the work for you.

I think that’s the job.

I just saw a link to “The Ten Best Business Books Ever”.

I thought: I’ll click on it, there might be something I need to read.

Then I thought: nah, they’re probably dull, I’ll buy them and never read them.

So I didn’t click.

Because like most people, I only read what interests me.

And if a book is boring, no matter how valuable the information, I won’t finish it.

Even if I’ve been seduced by the title into buying it.

How many people bought ‘A Brief History of Time’?

Now how many people do you know that actually finished reading it?

See my point.

It doesn’t matter how valuable the information is if it doesn’t get read.

What you read must influence you more than what you don’t.

So the first and most important job must be: make it accessible, make it inviting, make people want to read it.

My school in east London was pretty bad.

On Fridays we were encouraged to bring comics into class and spend the afternoon swapping and reading them.

Just so that we would learn to read.

We wouldn’t leave school illiterate.

I was one of the first kids in my class to read a book without pictures.

It was a cheap paperback, a war story about U boats.

I made myself concentrate all weekend in order to get through it.

Just so I could say I’d read a whole book.

I was fifteen.

They asked us to read comics because they knew that otherwise we wouldn’t read at all.

Paul Arden understood how people work.

Paul said “I couldn’t write a book, I’m an art director, so I thought I’d do one that was pictures instead”.

So far his book has sold two million, worldwide.

The same content is available everywhere, written down in page after boring didactic page.

But no one reads it until you put it in a way they find attractive.

John Webster understood that.

John’s campaigns were characters that brought the product benefits to life: Cresta Bear, The Honey Monster, The Smash Martians, The Hoffmeister Bear.

That isn’t so different from what Leo Burnett and Geers Gross were doing: The Jolly Green Giant, Tony The Tiger, The Tetley Tea Folk.

The difference was John did it with wit and style and intelligence.

John thought it was his job to charm the audience, so they’d want to pay attention.

Think of it as a present.

The content is what goes into the present.

But if you wrap it in a really boring way it won’t get opened.

John Webster and Paul Arden had the same content as everyone else.

They just wrapped it a zillion times better.

As Bill Bernbach said “Execution is content in a work of genius”.


In the third world, 2 million children die each year from diarrhoea and pneumonia.

But we have a treatment that could save 600,000 young lives.

Is it complicated, is it expensive, is it rare?

Nope, it’s a bar of soap.

It can cut diarrhoea by half and pneumonia by a third.

If we could get everyone to wash their hands when they use the toilet.

So why don’t third world governments prioritise that message?

Well they have too many urgent calls on their limited resources: epidemics and pandemics.

Real behavioural change takes constant communication, constant reminding, day-in day-out.

Who has that amount of money plus that degree of incentive?

The answer may surprise you.

It isn’t the governments and it isn’t charities.

It’s the soap companies.

The people who make soap have an incentive to get people to buy soap, and to use more soap.

More importantly they have the money for constant communication to create real behavioural change.

It’s called advertising.

What advertising does is transform scientific facts into compelling messages.

It makes people buy things, it makes people use things.

This is what these governments want but don’t have the money for.

It’s what Unicef, Oxfam, and Save The Children want, but they don’t have the money either.

So they’ve partnered with Unilever, who make soap.

They all want the same thing: to sell more soap.

But not just to sell soap.

Research shows that families in Asia have soap, but they keep it in a cupboard.

They use it for bathing, or for laundry, or for the dishes.

They need educating about regular hand washing with soap.

Making people use more soap more often is in everyone’s interest.

A spokesperson said, “Big business is doing what governments can’t. The profit motive is transforming health outcomes. Business has grown by double-digits while child mortality has fallen in all the places where soap use has increased. It reduces deaths from diarrhoea by 45%, deaths from pneumonia by 23%, and school absenteeism by up to 50%”.

This is basic behavioural economics: set the game up so that people make money by doing good.

The spokesperson said, “It may be uncomfortable for some people to hear the words ‘business growth’ and ‘lives saved’ in the same sentence. But without that business growth we cannot achieve the change we need”.

Unilever is uniquely placed to do this. In 1895 they launched Lifebuoy Soap to combat the cholera that was sweeping Victorian England.

Today they are using Lifebuoy Soap to combat cholera in Ghana.

Advertising makes people understand the need to regularly wash their hands with soap.

The more people understand, the more soap they use.

The more soap they use, the more lives are saved.

When you set the game up right, it works for everyone.


In his biography Peter Mead talks about his first job.

He was sixteen, he’d just left school with two ‘O’ level GCSEs.

He was applying for a job as a dispatch boy.

What Americans call a ‘gofer’: “Go fer this”, “Go fer that”.

Peter had two interviews: one was at the massive agency, J Walter Thompson.

It was incredibly snooty, only the poshest people were employed there.

Peter was interviewed by a secretary in the ‘personnel dept’.

Like JWT, she was posh: elegant high heels, two piece oufit, pearls.

Her accent was cut glass.

As she talked, it became apparent there was a huge gap between the people who worked ‘above stairs’ who would be seen by clients.

And the lower orders, the ‘below stairs’ people who handled the daily running of the building.

Cleaners, doormen, van drivers, tea ladies, and dispatch boys.

She informed Peter that he would be starting at three pounds ten shillings a week (£3.50).

But what burned into Peter’s memory was when he asked where he would eat.

She said “There is a staff canteen of course, but you won’t be able to eat there on your wages. However you can take your sandwiches into Berkeley Square and eat them there”.

Peter didn’t like being treated as a member of the lower classes, so he didn’t take the job at JWT.

He took the job at the other agency instead.

He worked his way from the dispatch department to a job in account handling, and gradually worked his way up from there.

Eventually he opened his own advertising agency.

Eventually he persuaded David Abbott to join him.

Eventually Abbott Mead Vickers became one of London’s best agencies.

Finally, becoming the biggest agency in the country, bigger than everyone, including JWT.

Peter says that on that day he got his wife to make him sandwiches.

He popped them into a Tupperware box.

Then he went to Berkeley Square and sat on his own, on a bench overlooking J Walter Thompson.

And he ate his sandwiches.

Exactly where that posh secretary had told him all those years ago that he’d have to eat his sandwiches.

Because people like him couldn’t afford to eat in the JWT staff canteen.

It reminded me of something Gary Neville said.

Gary Neville had an incredible record as a defender for Manchester United and England.

He won the Premiership eight times, the FA Cup three times, the League Cup twice, the Community Shield twice, The Champions League twice, the Intercontinental Cup, and the Club World Cup.

An interviewer asked him where he found the energy and desire to perform consistently at that level.

Gary Neville said “Indignation is a great source of energy”.

That was his fuel.

He knew he needed to locate that before every game.

Find something that courses through your veins.

A source of energy you can turn on when everyone else says it’s time to quit.

Something that gives you an unfair advantage.

A bench where one day you’re going to sit and eat your sandwiches.


The vital things for homeless people are food and shelter.

That will keep them alive at least, but it won’t solve the whole problem.

It won’t make them feel like worthwhile human beings.

It won’t give them dignity.

That’s what a charity called Arrels Foundation is trying to do.

In Barcelona there are many homeless people.

In 2012 the Arrels Foundation gave 61,800 meals to the homeless, to make sure they wouldn’t starve at least.

But 4 out of 5 homeless people have one or more chronic diseases.

So the Foundation took 1,564 of them to doctors and hospitals.

Then they made 3,439 visits to fill or administer prescriptions.

They provide the homeless with a place to shower, with hairdressing, clean clothing, and chiropody.

They help them find a place to live or give them a bed for the night.

If they can’t, they give them lockers where they can store their stuff, a postal address so they can send and receive mail, access to a phone with a message service, and the Internet.

Anything to make them feel like human beings.

That’s their mission: First: raise their self-respect.

Second: raise everyone’s awareness of them as people.

Third: raise money.

That’s why the Foundation’s latest project is so interesting.

It’s called: It’s an online project designed to do all those things above.

Graphic designers noticed that when homeless people write cardboard signs, each has a different look and feel: some are powerful and crude; some are stylish, almost calligraphic.

So they got homeless people to write the alphabet over and over.

Then they picked the best ones and turned them into typefaces, available to download online.

For companies it costs 290 Euros, for designers it costs 19 Euros, and for everyone else it’s whatever you can afford.

So it’s raising money for the Arrels Foundation, but it’s also raising awareness of the homeless as individuals.

Newspapers and TV have picked up this project across Spain, and gradually around the world.

It portrays the homeless as human beings, not just bums.

And it gives dignity to the homeless themselves.

The typefaces are named after the people that drew them: Loraine, Guillermo, Francisco, Gemma, and Luis Serra.

And they’re so unusual, so different, they’ve already been used in advertising and packaging.

Valonga are a huge Spanish company selling olive oil, nuts and wine.

They’ve used a design featuring Loraine’s typeface on their labels.

It looks great: unusual, bold and striking.

The TV camera followed Loraine when she first saw her typeface on an entire display of bottles in a shop.

The look on her face was like the sun coming out.

She cried out to the camera “That’s mine I did that”.

Then quietly, just to herself, she said “See, I can do things, I’m not useless”.

And you could see a human being gradually getting rebuilt.

Of course money is important, but it isn’t all there is.


I just read Peter Mead’s new autobiography, it’s fascinating of course.

But not for the reason you’d think.

You’d think it would be difficult for him to choose the happiest moment of his life.

There must have been so many.

First he persuaded David Abbott to join him in his agency (which he says was like persuading Lionel Messi to join Millwall).

Fifteen years after starting their agency, Abbott Mead Vickers became the biggest agency in the UK.

They’ve remained the biggest in the UK for twenty years.

Their Guinness ad, Surfers, was voted the Best Commercial Of All Time by television viewers.

When they sold shares in AMV, it was over-subscribed 33 times, they needed to raise £6 million, they were offered £200 million.

These are just a few of the high points of an incredibly successful life.

You’d wonder which he’d remember as his happiest moment.

In fact it wasn’t any of these.

Many years before, Peter was a youngster living in Southwark, a rough area in southeast London.

Peter, his sister, and his parents lived in a one-bedroom council flat.

It had no toilet, no bath, no heating or hot water.

Just one bedroom for all of four of them to sleep in.

His parents in one bed, him and his sister, head-to-toe in the other.

The toilet was outside and shared with all the other families.

The bath was a bus ride away, the public baths, and you had to pay.

They went once a week on Saturdays.

Peter’s mum tried everything to get the council to rehouse them.

She constantly queued-up and pleaded for a new flat.

Eventually, after years of asking, the council said they had one.

The family went over to Peckham to look at it.

Peter says he still remembers when they opened the door.

The flat had an indoor toilet, in its own little room.

Incredibly, it also had a bath, in its own little room.

Unbelievably, it had three small, but separate, bedrooms.

Everyone could have their own bedroom.

Peter said that was the happiest moment of his life.

Watching his mum as if she’d walked into a palace.

Watching her as she walked round the kitchen just running her hands along the nice, clean, modern surfaces.

The flat even had hot water when they turned on the taps.

Peter said nothing in his life ever gave him quite the same thrill.

Everything else that happened afterwards was great of course.

But each achievement was a rung on the ladder.

That flat was a totally different ladder.

And that stuck in his mind more than anything afterwards.

It reminded me of the end of Citizen Kane.

When Orson Wells’ dying words were ‘Rosebud’.

And nobody knew what it meant.

The man who’d built the biggest media empire in America, one of the richest men in the world.

Two workmen are burning old forgotten remnants on a fire.

Wondering what, out of everything in his life, he could be referring to.

One of the things they throw on the fire is an old wooden toboggan.

The last shot in the movie is the name painted on the side of the burning toboggan: ‘Rosebud’.

The thing that, as a child, had given him his happiest memories.

The thing he’d remember all his life.

As Bill Bernbach said “Simple, timeless human truths”.


Prisoners lose touch with their kids while they’re inside.

This alienates them from normal loving relationships, and consequently from the rest of society.

Official statistics show, this makes them eight times more likely to re-offend.

This is a massive problem for everyone.

But what’s the alternative?

Sharon Berry was a single mum, and a prison volunteer.

She saw how it broke prisoners’ hearts to be separated from their kids.

Even the toughest of the hard nuts.

As a single mum herself, she wanted to help.

So she got hold of a small recorder and asked some of the prisoners if they’d like to read a bedtime story to their children.

Then she transferred it to her computer and made it into a CD.

She got the prisoners to send it to their children.

So they could hear their dad reading them a bedtime story.

The effect was instantaneous.

One prisoner said: “My wee girl listens to her story every day. Her mum bought her the book so she can read along as well. She was really missing me and struggling to deal with it all. She wasn’t sleeping and she just sort of withdrew. When she got the CD she was laughing and hugging the speakers and saying “Daddy, Daddy….” Now she’s sleeping better and doing better in school.”

The idea spread like wildfire throughout the prison.

The prisoners could not only stay in touch.

They could actually do something worthwhile for their children.

Another prisoner said: “My daughter didn’t know me when I came to prison. But now I’ve done lots of CDs for her and even written my own stories. Now when I see her she happily runs to me and will sit and talk to me. I now have my daughter back and she has her father.”

Sharon Berry expanded the scheme to Dartmoor prison, she even trained prisoners to do the editing, to add sound effects, and make DVDs.

She set it up as a charity called ‘Storybook Dads’.

It was such a success that prisons across the UK became interested.

Of course they did.

These prisoners are now eight times less likely to reoffend.

It makes sense for everyone.

Storybook Dads is now in a hundred prisons across the UK.

It’s been copied in Canada, Australia, Denmark, and Poland.

Prisoners now have something else to think about when they’re inside, besides crime.

Something to occupy their minds, something to look forward to.

A reason to change when they get out.

In 2010, Sharon Berry was awarded the OBE.

Her work benefits 20,000 prisoners and their families across the UK.

In fact the prisoners even teach members of the armed forces how to use computers to record, edit, and animate DVDs and CDs, so that soldiers can do it for their kids too.

Because everyone’s soft spot is their children.

As Bill Bernbach said, the most powerful force available to us is “simple, timeless human truths”.


It was one of the biggest advertising awards shows in New York.

But that year it didn’t start off well.

There were no tickets at the door for the people who’d ordered them.

Everyone looked around for help.

But there were no staff to help anyone.

The awards were ready and waiting, all stacked up on stage.

The food and drink was all laid out in the huge hall.

There were waiters and catering staff handing out drinks.

But there wasn’t anyone, anywhere from the awards organisation.

So people just came in and stood around.

They stood around chatting, drinking, waiting for the presentation of the awards to begin.

They waited for two hours, but nothing happened.

Eventually a man went onstage, he took the microphone.

He said this wasn’t his job, but as there was no one else around he’d try to give out the awards, if someone would give him a list of who should get what.

But there wasn’t anyone around who had a list.

So he said sorry he couldn’t help, and walked off the stage.

Then a drunk lumbered onto the stage.

He said he didn’t have a list either, but he had an idea.

He said let’s show the slides of the work that’s won, then whoever recognises that work, come up and take your award.

And, in an amateurish fashion, it seemed to work.

He’d show a slide, there would be some murmuring in the audience, someone would come on stage and look to see which award had their name on it, and they’d take it away.

As an advertising industry showpiece, it was a shambles.

And it got worse.

Being drunk, the man onstage fancied himself as an entertainer.

He told the band to play, and he began singing to the audience.

But they weren’t there to hear a drunk singing.

They booed and threw bread rolls.

Eventually the drunk got the message and left the stage.

Trouble was, now there wasn’t anyone to show the slides.

Now there was no way to work out who had won what.

One man suspected he might have won something, so he came on stage and started sorting through the awards.

He found one with his name on it and took it away.

Two more men saw this, they went up onstage and began sorting through the awards, looking for their names.

They seemed to find them because they took two away.

The entire audience was watching this, feeling they were missing out.

If other people were grabbing awards why shouldn’t they?

And it triggered a stampede.

The audience rushed the stage and everyone grabbed for the awards.

There wasn’t time to read the names on the base-plates.

You just had to grab one and run.

Before someone else barged you aside and grabbed it off you.

And all the awards were snatched by the wrong people.

People who hadn’t won anything.

People who just wanted an award.

Any award.

It never occurred to them that it was worthless without their name on it.

And that was the 1991 New York Clio Awards.

Known as “The Most Bizarre Event in Advertising History”.

It demonstrates something that’s always just below the surface.

Lots of people are more desperate for advertising awards than they are to do advertising.

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