In case you haven’t seen them yet – there’s an early Christmas battle going on between M&S and John Lewis for who can produce the best festive advert. I say ‘battle’ but it’s been won hands down by John Lewis for this wonderful, charming story. In case you haven’t seen the M&S one, have a look, if you dare, here. It’s basically, everything that was quite clever and well executed in the collective ‘Perfect Day’ remake for Children in Need, but made bloody horrible by using the X Factor contestants. Honestly, it’s just unpleasantly “"sixth-form-project”.

One key element here, in tapping into the Christmas market, is getting the tone, sentiment, and festive spirit *just right*. What underpins all of this is the soundtrack – get that wrong, and you’re on the back foot from the off.

John Lewis have used a wonderful, understated and elegant remake of the Smiths’ classic ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’, evoking an emotional feeling in those watching it, and – if initial reaction if to be considered – making is a success and something people are sharing across social media.

The M&S advert however, has a clumsy, hard on the ears and downright unlistenable cocktail of different vocals, vocal styles, and most importantly vocal abilities. Say what you like about Frankie being apparently quite rock ‘n’ roll and meaning well, but let’s be honest, that guy CANNOT sing. He just doesn’t suit ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’.

The soundtrack is the key to associating emotion and sentiment in the brain – if you have that fixed in, the advert is memorable for the right reasons and something people want to share and comment on. Watch the ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ trailer if you don’t believe me – it’s a wonderful example.

John Lewis hit the nail on the head, but M&S has sadly missed this entirely.

*UPDATE* we told you it was all about the music – someone’s done a minor mash-up using the theme from the Shining instead. changes it somewhat….


I’m as big a fan of the X Factor as the next person, possibly bigger having yesterday cajoled the team here into joining in an X Factor sweepstake (I got One Direction). I have to admit that I’m also quite the fan of Mr. Cowell, the puppet master extraordinaire.

As a fan and member of the dark arts of PR, I’m currently torn and struggling with a moral dilemma. The X Factor PR machine is a sight to behold and has dominated the news agenda since before the latest series even began. The campaign that has been built and is being executed around the show is the most well oiled of machines. Whether it be the spin around the nation’s sweetheart getting malaria or the ongoing ‘feud’ between judges, the show unapologetically dominates the headlines in a relentless fashion. So, on the one hand I have to doff my cap to the team for pulling it off yet again and getting the kind of coverage which no client could quibble with. But on the other hand, I have to question the moral approach to their tactics in taking no prisoners to get the column inches that the show’s creators demands.

I’m probably opening myself up to a barrage of abuse here, but in the era of openness, integrity and public engagement, the tactics employed by those behind the X Factor can’t help but jar a bit. A case in point has to be the latest charade around Gamu Nhengu, the young contestant who was presented to us as a frontrunner in the competition from the first episode.

Her rise to fame has been carefully built – her first audition was subject to much discussion because of the use of auto-tuning technology, this then disappeared from any other episode so we were groomed to notice this as a point of difference. This was coupled with a semi-emotional story of Gamu’s quest to escape to the safety of Britain, marking her out as one of the lead protagonists in the carefully scripted show we like to call ‘reality TV’. Along the way we see various other good, bad and ugly performances before we reach the stage of the competition where Gamu comes back to fight for her five minutes of fame. You’d have to be hidden under a rock to have missed what happened next but in a nutshell, our new favourite underdog was cast aside to make way for Cheryl Cole’s very own mini-me and the ‘baddie’ that is Katie. Cue dramatised reports of Gamu’s imminent deportation from the country alongside stories of her ‘wildcard’ re-appearance in the competition.

To those who haven’t yet succumbed to the cynicism that the X Factor can instil, Gamu’s exclusion is a misjudgement of the highest proportion. To others, it’s yet another incredibly well played tactic to own the tabloids once again and generate a lot of chatter on Facebook and Twitter.

On paper, this campaign is genius. The ‘product’ hasn’t been out of the media spotlight, has taken the audience on a rollercoaster and sparked a significant and very real emotional relationship with the audience. Only this isn’t a product, it’s a young girl dreaming of making it big in the profession she has set her sights on.

And so back to my moral dilemma. The story that has unfolded is an incredibly well executed PR campaign which no doubt achieves its objectives. But is it also a dark and quite disturbing indictment of just how much the contestants have become a prop in a PR game? It’s of course recognised by most that the show has long been a 12 week soap opera and really has nothing to do with finding a pop star, but you do have to wonder whether the contestants themselves can see it like this.

I love the show and I respect the Cowell machine for doing a job so well, but it is staring to leave a slightly sour taste in the mouth in the era of transparency.


Stapler is still a bit star struck this morning after a very exciting Saturday night at the filming of X-Factor. Stapler watched SuBo give a powerful rendition of ‘Wild Horses,’ sat opposite a very glamourous looking Joan Collins and met all the contestants and their families in the bar after the show.

Stapler arrives at Fountain Studios and is ushered onto the set:

Stapler is introduced to the show’s PR (who is a little bemused):

Stapler meets his favourite in the bar after the show:

Next week he'll sing U2's classic: Zoo Station-ary



Since time immemorial we have trusted our televisions implicitly.  We’ve given the magical little box pride of place in the heart of our family homes, letting it pump out little bits of information/ celebratory dirge/ David Attenborough masterpieces (delete where appropriate) on a daily basis.   The American’s trusted the calming tones of Edward R Murrow so much that he was able to land a punch at McCarthyism.  We Brits – so trusting are we – that when welcoming the Beeb into the living room, we decided to call it ‘Aunty’.

But it has occurred to me that you cannot trust the talking wallpaper as far as you can throw an LCD flat screen.  Look at the evidence:  We can’t trust the commercial business model for starters. Some factions of the press wouldn’t have us trust the BBC Trust (clue is in the name).  But two things happened recently that have caused me to look differently at my television set:

  • Simon Cowell, DEADLOCK! and the Twins: Storm in a tea-cup perhaps, but bottom line is the country can’t trust the judges anymore (perhaps they never did but the facade is shattered, at least).
  • Last night’s Spooks: I won’t spoil it for you, but once again the people at Kudos showcased their mastery in pulling the rug from under the audience,  setting it alight, then dumping it in the Thames.

Square Eyes will be the least of our problems if we can’t even trust the televisual box anymore.  Or will it?

We talk about trust.  A lot.  For companies and brands it is a necessity.  For PRs – helping companies to build trust is in our blood.  But after the bombshell of last night’s Spooks followed by watching Good Night and Good Luck on iPlayer – I started thinking that for consumer campaigns maybe dis-Trust can play an equally important role.

Bear with me.  Spooks succeeds because it goes against convention.  You don’t trust the script writers to play safe and on some level there is an expectation that they’ll boil your favourite character alive.  It’s this tension that gets you to sit on the edge of the sofa.  Arguably the same can be said of the X-Factor.  Cowell is an old school PR genius – he knows how to play the audience.  By creating a bit of drama he guaranteed column inches galore.

So when coming up with campaigns to excite consumers I think we could learn a lot from these tactics: push boundaries, explore the unexpected, embrace the chaos.  As far as I can tell a bit of dis-Trust – in safe hands – could go a long way.


Twibbon has the X-Factor

I know Twitter is the man of the moment, as it were, but I wish more people showed an understanding that online engagement is all about adding value. It’s not about tacking your brand onto any old movement.

This current rage stems from ITV launching a Twibbon to support X-factor.  As the image shows – you can add an X onto your Twitter profile.  Now – why would anyone want to do this? The X-Factor is not a cause. It’s a television programme. One I happen to like – quite a lot actually – but not one I want to pledge my allegiance to. It’s not a black president, a first democratic election, or a charity. It’s a bloody commercial monster.

(As an aside if you don’t have time to watch Saturday’s final make friends with the Bitch Factor.  They provide a caustically brilliant dissection of each episode)

Now what the clever chaps at ITV have done is recognise the power of the individual.  Twitter and social media are all about the individual. Creating a Twibbon for each of the final 12 in the X-factor makes much more sense, so thankfully this is what they’ve done.  This gives the online community the tools to show their support and it might be quite interesting in the run up to Christmas to see how this plays out.  We know that young people aren’t on Twitter – I wonder how the Twittersphere will cope with the demonic John and Edward…?

But what if these nefarious Twibbons are just a cunning tactic for the bookies to track odds on the contestants?  I think I’m on to something here.  I’m going to follow all the contestants just to see how popular they are, then I’m going to place bets on all of them and make my fortune.  Oh.  Perhaps this was pretty savvy Twitter Marketing afterall…

What do we all think?