SKIP AD: Beyond the Death of Advertising

Advertising is dead. It’s game over I’m afraid and it’s all our fault. As soon as we’re empowered to switch it off, we do. It’s pretty much as simple as that. Our petulant Gen Z’ers are apparently the worst offenders as a recent study revealed that 69% of them block ads altogether as well as ‘skipping’ three seconds sooner than those in their thirties and forties. Don’t you think the very concept of being gently seduced by a glossy sixty second production, to buy a pair of jeans or a bottle of perfume, all seems rather quaint and nostalgic now? A throwback to the days when we awaited the ads between Cheers and The News. The heyday of advertising coincided with the heyday of TV and for obvious reasons. TV watching was a family sport and squeezed together on the Draylon sofa we would laugh, coo, sing-along or take the Michael out of every single image the bulky cathode ray tube delivered. The Guinness surfing horses, the Oxo Mum, the Hamlet cigar man, the Cadbury’s Smash tin aliens, the Levi’s launderette strip and the Lloyd’s Bank slo-mo horse were central to our evening’s entertainment. Yes, there were a lot of horses back then but we loved it. We were force fed a regular diet across three and a bit channels and we were happy.

Today an entire universe of entertainment has opened up for us and the freedom to block or skip advertising is part of the deal. Advertisers have a couple of seconds, max, to grab us before we skip on our way. The creative art of storytelling has been replaced by shouty and intrusive snippets. Building an emotional connection to a character or creating any sense of irony, subtlety, nuanced symbolism or artistic reference has been jettisoned for split second gags and slapstick visuals. Hands up all those who don’t hover above the countdown to exit the Youtube ads. Precisely.

Our attention spans are shrinking in direct response too, demanding faster and faster access to our personal choices, skipping past intro theme tunes and credits, surfing across content to get a gist, because a gist is enough now. As audiences shrink along with their attention spans, so too have the budgets. The slo-mo horses have been put out to pasture, replaced by dancing typography and hurried sound-bites. If we so much as click on, say, a new camera we know we’ll be incessantly drip fed Nikon ads for the next month in the vain hope we’ll succumb just for the irritation to cease.

Today’s ad execs hang out with a bad crowd, the freak show, click-bait salesmen who beckon us behind the marquee to witness ‘celebrity facelift disasters’ and ‘top ten red carpet fails’. Flashing boxes masquerading as ‘next’ buttons lead us down yet another dirty cul-de-sac to show us rude pictures. How on earth did it come to this?

Back at the West End ad agency the turtle-necked creatives are jittery and water cooler talk is of jumping ship and opening bars to test their skills in the real world. They know they missed the heyday by a generation or so, and it wrangles. They sense the sadness at the annual Webby awards, knowing their stiff grins and fleeting accolades are no match for the pride and status of their predecessors. They may as well be at a TUC conference. Don’t get me wrong. There’s some very clever stuff to be seen at the Webbys, it’s just that so very few of us could spare the ten seconds to watch.

Meanwhile, on the high street, retail CEOs lead posses that march the aisles in search of something that will turn their tankers around. A gaggle of merchandisers and marketing managers frantically scribble down the words of wisdom on product density like it’s the sermon on the mount. ‘Increase the size of the ticketing and re-merchandise that back wall.’ Everyone nods in agreement way too vigorously, but no one believes it will change a damn thing.

Are we to simply stand back and allow the high street to wither and die too, then return home and live the rest of our lives via Amazon and Deliveroo?

The answer is obvious. We must round up our army of frustrated ad creatives and let them loose in the centre of town where they can unleash their powers of persuasion in the stores that have forgotten how to engage us. The good news is that a new high street is emerging. ‘Stores’ as we know them are dying because they ‘store’ things and we have little interest anymore in wandering around neat and tidy warehouses. Brands, on the other hand, know they must keep us interested, entertained, educate and surprise us in order to stay on our radar and make us feel a part of something. Creatives need to focus on the exciting real world revolution that is happening out there. I call it the rise of the ‘brand playground’ and this is exactly where our bored ad execs should be playing today.

Join me in the Twittersphere @SaundersHoward and read more of my blogs here:  22and5.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Apr 22, 2017   advertising, Blog, clickbait, Future, Levi's, Retail, shopping   0 Comment   Read More

COPYCAT CEREAL KILLER

Some bright spark came up with the idea. We all read about the ironic trend that turned breakfast cereal into a hipster treat and chances are you saw the pictures of Gary and Alan Keery, the photogenic chuckle brothers, who opened the Cereal Killer Cafe on London’s hip Brick Lane. We now also know that those bowls of puffs, pops, flakes and crunchies we woke up to every morning in the 70s, 80s and 90s were poisoning us of course, but those of us who ventured to the CKC were happy to overlook all that to become children once again. Children with bushy beards, that is.

This is not good news for cereal manufacturers and with sales in steep decline the boardroom at Kellogg’s must have been thick with anxiety. Until that is the bright spark piped up with an idea. Maybe, just maybe he stuttered, Kellogg’s could copy the Leery boys and make cereal cool again?

It probably took a good year to launch Kellogg’s NYC in Times Square so, naturally, I was eager to check it out. It must at least be fun, whacky even…you know how over excited big corporations get with the whole pop up thing.

Sweet Jesus it is piss-poor. It looks like it was built by Snap, Crackle and Pop Associates with a design that’s more prison canteen than concept restaurant. In fact, there is no concept here at all. The logo is painted on the white brick wall in a kind of cornflake beige, with the only colour coming from a row of red, numbered, cubby holes where you collect your bowl at the sound of a buzzer. At the counter the prison vibe continues: on thick aluminium trays, four mock up meals, designed by Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi, look so unappetising even Ivan Denisovich would have second thoughts. This place is not just miserable it actually haemorrhages any positive energy there is in there straight back out onto Times Square. And there’s not much: a few lonely souls sup from spoons with their heads bowed low, presumably wondering what they had done to deserve such punishment.

But just imagine what could have been achieved here. Kellogg’s is steeped in a rich, kitsch visual heritage that stretches from Tony the Tiger, Coco the Monkey and The Flintstones through to the iconography of the Corn Flakes packs and Special K logos. Remember the excitement we felt when those assortment fun packs were presented at the breakfast table on special holidays? That’s what Kellogg’s could have recreated at this pop up, but instead they thought eating cereal during the day was ironic enough. Oh dear, oh dear.

The result is a concept, with good intent and considerable investment, that has stripped Kellogg’s of any residue goodwill it might have had left over from its glory years. This place is like watching your depressed uncle pretending to enjoy a kid’s party when you know he just wants to go upstairs and hang himself.

But enough of all this, let’s be helpful. Here are a few tips for next time:

1. Momofuku Milk Bar link up. A terrific brand but no one on Times Square has heard of it. It may have street-cred but not on 42nd Street.

2. Design. Well, there isn’t any. Snap, Crackle and Pop Associates clearly didn’t turn up. Pick a proper creative agency that’s in tune with your bold and colourful heritage.

3. Think big. Understand where the beauty and energy of your brand really lies and have fun with it. Just imagine what Warhol or Koons would have done. You could even afford the latter, although I realise the former is unavailable.

4. Aim for PR shock waves rather than footfall. If you don’t believe me ask Prada. Everyone heard about the Prada store in the Texas desert. Number of visitors? Half a dozen. And that includes the photographer. 

5. Next time ask me. I’ll find you the cleverest, most creative guys in the retail business and together we’ll build you a concept that gives you heaped dessert spoons of cool.

Thanks for listening. Now pass the toast.

Join me in the Twittersphere @SaundersHoward or at least read more of my blogs here:  22and5.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Jul 27, 2016   Blog, Brand, Food, Uncategorized   1 Comment   Read More

THE ME AGE (God, mobile phones and reasons to be cheerful)


The future is scary. We have so much to worry about: climate change, terrorism, migration, our diets. It’s a wonder any of us ever sleep at night and now we have the impact of technology to worry about too. Not long ago we dreamt that 2016 would bring us jet packs, hover boards and deep space exploration but now that we’ve arrived it’s far more Orwellian. We have to come to terms with the fact that there’s a giant cloud hanging above our heads that knows everything about us. And If that’s not bad enough we’re regularly being warned we’ll soon be losing our jobs to an army of super-smug robots.


We worry that our children have become addicted to their mobile phones, that their attention spans have plummeted to sub-goldfish levels and their literary skills will not improve beyond the ‘u no wot I meen…obvs!’ school of vernacular. We roll our eyes when we witness a group of teens unable to enjoy just ‘being’ without the grinning selfie-evidence that they were there. We despise our fellow passenger’s loud phone calls home and we worry about the drumming decibels that relentlessly pound our children’s eardrums as the background music to their digital lives. Walking the streets we curse behind clenched teeth at the hoards of phone-zombies that blindly career towards us, heads hunched over the screen that controls them (until we too need to check our location or diary appointment.) We even worry about the time we spend worrying rather than just living and we reminisce about a gentler age before mobile phones and computers arrived to consume us.


I believe history will prove that the birth of the ‘smartphone’ was a defining moment for mankind, no hyperbole. Right now, because we’re busy living, we see the smartphone as the gentle evolution of the mobile phone, but it’s far more significant than that. We know the human brain can apply itself to only one task at a time, so no matter if information is projected onto our spectacles or directly onto the backs of our eyeballs, from now until eternity we are homo-distracted, forever connected elsewhere. This tiny device has revolutionised not just our behaviour but the way we think about our place on the planet. We have entered a new age of enlightenment: the Me Age.

For ten thousand years or so we struggled to come to terms with our place in the Universe. Religions of all flavours attempted to convince us of our importance and promised us the answers in the afterlife. Much use that was. We built structures hundreds of feet high, buildings both religious and secular that stretched to the heavens demanding divine confirmation…but we heard nothing. Then, one morning back in 2007, we awoke to find our mobile phone had metamorphosed into the Universe itself! ‘Smart’ is an understatement, this magical, glowing tablet is all knowing: it knows exactly where we are, our tastes in food, music, film and fashion. It follows our friends, family, finances, our secrets, our hopes and even our dreams. This new god, unlike those that came before, actually answers our questions…and instantly too.


Little wonder then that our children worship him so faithfully, waking in the night to bathe in his glow, checking in at every opportunity with inane selfies that beg for his approval. This is the God that can publish our innermost thought or most trivial snapshot to the entire planet within a few micro-seconds, proving that it wasn’t trivial after all. At last we’ve received the validation we’ve been praying for all these centuries: we ARE at the centre of the Universe! Everything comes directly to us now. No longer do we need to be told what to think at the altar of church or school, what to buy at the altar of television, what to listen to at the altar of the Top 40. The Universe is actually in our hands.

As I’ve said before, the art of prediction often has a natural negative gravity in that we tend to view change as part of an inevitable slide to oblivion. The truth is the future gets the people it needs. If we were able to pluck a few poor, unsuspecting souls from the 18th or 19th Centuries and plonk them in 2016, they would be unemployable. In that respect, any desire to return to old fashioned values is pure folly. Just think, the future president of the United States is currently a spotty teenager, texting friends and posing with a stupid Instagram grin.

My own children were first generation digital natives and like every parent I worried about them endlessly. Once they reached the age of six or so they barely made it into the garden, or joined us for dinner, preferring instead to play violent computer games and surf hardcore pornography. (I’m guessing here, but I’m not a stupid Dad) Thankfully, neither of them have turned into mass murderers, not yet anyway, and both have solid and respectable jobs and social lives.

Surely those born with all knowledge at their fingertips, will, on the whole, be more liberated, empowered and emboldened, no? Is it not exciting that for the first time in history we have a youth that really does have a voice, the influence of which it’s just learning to use?  Will they not have a more rounded, nuanced and informed view of life on this planet than, say, the humble farmer tilling the soil?


Technology can be scary and, sure, there are downsides, but it’s clear to me that we are at the beginning of something very big here. Governments, local authorities, social services, healthcare and, of course, retail brands will very shortly lose the excuse to treat us as ‘the public’, as if we don’t matter, as if they don’t know who we are. They will know, we’ll make sure of that. Imagine an age in which no one can snarl dismissively ‘Join the queue here please.’ or ‘You’re not in the system’; an age that no longer generalises, pigeonholes or makes assumptions about us without the facts.

The technology is already in place to to make this happen. Our magical, glowing tablet already knows who we are and what we get up to and soon it will carry our health and wellbeing status too. It can’t be long before we realise we’re in the middle of the Me Age, where we will be, not just customers, but individuals.

I say bring it on!

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  Howard Saunders   Jan 05, 2016   Brand, Future, image, me, me age, Retail, smartphone, technology, Uncategorized   5 Comments   Read More

Meet PAM


Don’t hate the hipster. The much mocked, sock-free chap who scoots around town on his gear-free bike with his razor-free chin in the air is changing the way we look at the world. He dresses like a pioneer-pilgrim with a big beard and rolled up denim because that’s what he is, and we have a lot to thank him for. He is reshaping our towns, shops, restaurants and brands for a generation sick of the mass produced and the mediocre. He is an ambassador for a new retail world, one that is stripped of fakery and corporate bullshit. The brands he loves emanate the very essence of what he stands for and he is never, ever seduced by marketing rhetoric and glossy advertising. At least, that’s the theory. Of course, as Peter York points out in his new book ‘Authenticity is a con’ it’s all fakery anyway, which is about as nihilist as saying ‘we’re all going to die anyway’. Absolutely true of course, but perhaps not very helpful.

The hipster, as all cultures before it, is simply the extreme expression of our new view of the planet. When punk pioneered its irreverent attitude to music, art and authority we did not need to stick safety pins through our nostrils to join, and ultimately enjoy, the powerful groundswell of change this reactionary culture brought us.

So far from being a just a quirky fashion subculture the hipster is spearheading the way the majority of us feel right now about our retail landscape. The hipster is Post Apocalypse Man (and woman, of course) that grew up after the financial crash, at its epicentre here in New York. To be precise, PAM was born in Brooklyn, just a few yards across the water from Wall Street, and spread quickly throughout our angry urban centres including Pearl District in Portland, Mission in San Francisco, Shoreditch in London, Fitzroy in Melbourne and Kreuzberg in Berlin.


Actually, the earliest sightings of the species just preceded the turn of the millennium. Perhaps he was born out of an impending sense of a new era emerging, but it was the crash that really launched PAM into the world. In 2008 we all knew things would have to change and PAM was there to take the helm and direct us towards a new landscape of aspiration.

New York’s PAM wants his local stores to sell local produce, he wants his clothes to be made in his own country, the place where denim was invented after all. He wants his beer to be brewed locally, preferably next door to the guy that fixes the fixie bikes and the barber shop that manages all the town’s beards. (And, of course, he wants his knives handmade by Cut Brooklyn too: http://www.22and5.com/the-knifemakers-tale/) A Trumptonesque retail utopia? Perhaps not. Look how swiftly the big brands have attempted to showcase their local credentials, their sense of community. Then consider how your own attitudes to the big supermarkets, burger and coffee chains have changed. However cynical you may be, do you not find yourself more attracted to limited editions, the artisanal and the bespoke, whether it be beer, bread, cheese, chocolate, coffee, handsewn leather goods or handmade bicycles? You think this is a coincidence?



There is pretty good evidence that locally produced food is better for you as well as the planet, but this misses the point. Buying locally made stuff gives us the warm glow that comes from investing in our own community, nurturing the very thing we have neglected for the last half century and seem to be rediscovering in the digital age.


PAM has revolutionised our bars and restaurants too. Barely a decade ago we were quite content with a mood lit, heavily tableclothed establishment with an encyclopaedic menu and an invisible kitchen. Not any more. PAM style spaces are stripped back with open kitchens and a focus on food rather than furnishings. Menus are getting shorter too, so short in fact that we are learning to love the set menu again. On a recent trip, after a terrifically on-trend dinner at the buzzing Bullerei restaurant in Hamburg, supercool TV chef Tim Malzer whisked me away to his Off Club. He passed me a menu that was blank apart from the words ‘Fuck Off’ tastefully printed in varnish onto the thick black paper. Was Tim trying to tell me something? Well yes, you get what you’re given here you see.

You can also thank PAM for the single dish restaurant (The Meatball Shop in New York, Johnny Casserole in Chicago, Cereal Killer Cafe and Blacklock in London etc) as well as for the meteoric rise of gourmet street food in all our major cities. PAM expects you to be an expert now and if it ain’t niche PAM just ain’t interested.


As I’ve said many times, trends don’t come from above, from big, clever, corporate think tanks: they are brewed inside us. As our aspirations and emotional needs twist and turn, then so does the world around us. So remember, when you next raise a single eyebrow behind the back of the hipster in the coffee queue as he asks about a particular bean’s provenance, this guy is changing the world for the better. He’s a goddamn hero.

  Howard Saunders   Jul 22, 2015   Blog, city, Food, Retail   4 Comments   Read More
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