I recently received a flyer in the post from SouthernElectric.  It’s a classic example of how, in recent years, a huge number of people in marketing, from the creatives to the clients, have utterly lost the plot – the industry is now full of people who really don’t have a clue about what they are supposed to do.

Is that a red herring I see before me?

The headline on the front is:


Then the subhead:

Old electrical wiring can be riskier than you think.  If your home is over 20 years old, give us a call.

But what is the photograph that accompanies this?  Smouldering wires? A burnt out room?  No…it’s a shot of a teenager flying through the air on a BMX bike.

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You talking to me?

The flyer is aimed at home owners.  What’s the average age of first time buyers in the UK?  Thirty five.  How many thirty five year olds do you see playing around on BMX bikes?

But the target audience is even older than this.  Buy any house and you have to get a survey –It’ll be a condition of the mortgage. If the wiring is dodgy it will be picked up.  So you won’t need another survey, free or not, from Southern Electric.

That means the target audience is probably 45+ and knew the wiring was a bit tired when they bought the house ten years ago (but has been going through a lot of fuse wire in the meantime).  How many people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are going to think “ah, BMX bike, this is obviously something that’s relevant to me….I’d better read it carefully!”?

Ho, ho, ho…that’s so punny!

Then there’s the banal “jump at the chance” pun in the headline, followed by another one overleaf with “Land a free visual check” (geddit?!) – It’s insulting to my intelligence.

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Does this infantile sense of humour reassure me that these are the best people to rewire my house?

No.  So how did this disastrous flyer get produced and approved in the first place?  Rewind 30 years and all will be revealed.

The slow old days

In the 80’s producing this flyer would have been laborious.  The account person writes a brief.  The brief is approved by the creative director.  It is passed to a copywriter/art director team.  They produce rough concepts.  If approved by the creative director these are worked up into finished visuals.  Once signed off by the creative director they are passed to the account team, who check them against the brief then take them to the client.

The client approves the visual and the flyer goes into production.  The art director and art buying department set up and direct the photo shoot.  The studio create the artwork, on a drawing board.  The copywriter, art director, creative director and account team review it, make amendments, then sign off.  The client finally approves and it goes to print.

Quality not quantity

It was labour intensive and time consuming.  But it did have a few things to recommend it.

It was a systematic process.   Everyone involved understood it and followed it.  As a junior you realised there was “a right way to do things” and learnt why each stage was important.  You were part of a team and had plenty of opportunities, and time, to learn from experienced practitioners.

Secondly, a lot of time and effort went into the briefing and reviewing stages.  You couldn’t afford to present ideas that the client rejected – too much time and money were involved.

Thirdly, with all those people and stages, there were ample opportunities to question, challenge and discuss.  Had this BMX flyer been proposed back in the 80’s (did we have BMX then?) someone would have shot it down in flames before it ever got visualised.

This resulted in higher quality work – the crap got filtered out.  It also produced more capable people – you learnt on the job from experienced practitioners who shared their knowledge.

That’s progress for you

How is it done now?  Client emails marketing agency requesting flyer, giving a few details.  Account person, two years in job but with marketing diploma, clicks “forward” and sends to designer.  Designer, with BA in graphic design, thinks “Huh, wiring check, what’s that all about?  When am I going to get something funky?”  Goes on Getty Images and saves some wiring shots to lightbox.  Can’t think of an idea.  Checks Facebook.  Sees link to BMX video on YouTube.  Has light bulb moment.  Only problem is fact there’s no obvious link between BMX biking and electrical wiring.  Designer has another light bulb moment and comes up with “jump” and “land” puns.  Pops out to Starbucks for skinny latte thinking “I’m so creative!”

Designer gets back to desk and emails to account person, who loves it.  They forward to client, also with marketing diploma and relatively new to job, who thinks it’s really imaginative.  Account person knocks in some text and decides “hey, this copywriting thing is easy!”  Finished file emailed to printer, job done.

Am I bovvered?

The result is rubbish.  But it’s produced quickly and cheaply.  Plus nobody involved knows any better.  So what’s the problem?

The problem that the response rate is nil.

But so what?  The account person, the designer and the client all move on within six months.  They achieved nothing, learnt nothing and couldn’t care less.