About Amanda Moulson

Proud GM of the sharpest and most loveable team of reprobates in Londontown.

Super Bowl Ads Through a PR Lens: Politics and Poignance

Super Bowl Ads Through a PR Lens: Politics and Poignance

LONDON — The Super Bowl is a huge moment in time in the marketing calendar and while it’s adland’s moment in the sun, as PRs, we’d be remiss not to pay attention and speculate about its reach into our discipline. In fact, it’s like ‘our’ version of the annual Christmas ad reveal, so every year @AECLondon, we embrace American football, grab the chips and dips and sit together to talk about the highlights, so here’s our view, grouped by theme and trend.

With 2017 being the year that it is, the overarching theme for the Super Bowl — with some of the most epic production and spend to bring it to life — is POLITICS. This begs so many questions, which could give rise to a whole other blog post, and we’re asking:

  • Politics may be more divisive than ever, but it’s now an omnipresent dialogue. Is it acceptable now to talk about politics…at work, on Facebook, at the Super Bowl? When will we get fed up, if ever?
  • Is it the role of a brand to comment?
  • Is it even authentic for brands to act like they care? Are they stepping in to save us when we’ve lost faith in everyone else or is their money at the root of their motivation and so therefore also suspect in the consumer’s mind?

Ponder that as you take a look at the ads that speak directly to this theme:

  • 84 Lumber, a building materials company, breaks our hearts with the most overt reference to The Wall and the promise that America holds.
  • In Born the Hard Way, Budweiser risked backlash with its immigrant founding story, as did Coke with its “It’s Beautiful” spot.
  • Airbnb comes at us with #WeAccept. See the attached spot and article to read how this is a through-the-line campaign with CSR and social attached, but also a refreshingly honest way to confront discrimination baked into their own model.
  • And Audi puts the pay gap under the golden lit set in Daughter. That’s right Audi. You go.

In the wake of Brexit, we saw some Christmas ads embrace diversity in England — note the multicultural cast of characters in the Sainsbury’s ad, but it has not yet been as overt as the above examples. No matter what you think, it seems more brands are playing the role of provocateur, so you may find your agency pushing your boundaries. It may be uncomfortable, but it may also be time to listen.

Another theme, in a fragmented America, is the idea of COMING HOME and all the comfort that brings, with a reminder that it’s a safe-haven (ideally) where love lives. Check out how Google portrays warm homes embracing all sorts of diversity in Home, By Google. Or Michelin bringing people home safely to events both mundane and memory-making in I Need You. What we like here is the subtlety of the branding. It’s imperceptibly perceptible. Is that a thing?

Celebs are not new to Super Bowl ads, but on the heels of losing so many ICONS in 2016, it’s worth pointing out that the likes of Peter Fonda (for Mercedes Benz), John Malkovich (for SquareSpace) and Arnie (Mobile Strike) get some recognition for their classic roles. On that star-studded note, Honda put forth a very sweet ad based on your yearbook-self giving advice to your older self as it pursues dreams (as the Honda brand promises always to do). These cameos are impressive and…MISSY ELLIOT!!!! Tell ‘em M-I-crooked-letter-crooked letter-Y!

And what about Being John Malkovich? Well, in a nonsensical year where a lot of us are asking WHAT THE?, he makes the question perfectly clear in the spot for SquareSpace.

On an even more nonsensical note, Bai uses discordance to sell a drink that manages to taste great and be good for you (and here we thought that was wine!). After Horse Whisperer, they give us Christopher Walken and Justin Timberlake swapping roles. Finally, we really liked the spot about the Secret Society behind Avocados from Mexico (a Ketchum client), but we always enjoy a conspiracy theory here in the Big Smoke.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and are taking an informal poll here at Bankside, so Tweet us with any feedback @AECLondon.


Making Diversity a Creative Imperative

Making Diversity a Creative Imperative

LONDON — We at Access Emanate London embrace diversity. After all, the capital is a true crossroads of colours, creeds, beliefs, shapes, sizes, salaries and mindsets — and importantly for this crew, cuisines! Diversity energises us and it makes us stronger. The more inclusive we are, the broader we are in our thinking, and — not to put too fine a point on it — the broader are our commercial opportunities.

We’ve all been there: a brainstorm that’s popping with ideas and builds and chatter. It seems we’re brimming with content. But on further interrogation, the content doesn’t meet the target audience in the brief, but it sure does satisfy ‘people like us.’

And numerous articles tell us that our industry is brimming with people like us. Advertising, marketing and public relations is the perfect example of birds of a feather flocking together. In PR, in particular, 2013 stats show that 82% of people who work in PR define themselves as ‘White Caucasian’ with a further 9% calling themselves ‘Other White’. We look the same, we dress the same, and many of us are even named the same.  It’s no wonder, then, that our ideation features the channels we use, the venues we frequent and the influencers that influence us.

But obviously, not all people are like us.

There are a variety of systems that require real change for our teams to better mirror society around us. We need to recruit in new places, hire without bias (conscious or otherwise) and think differently about how atypical candidates can suit various, and potentially redefined, roles. And while those are big issues that we’re working on, we can make an important change in the things we do daily: ideation and programming. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve that we’re happy to share for the greater good — of the industry and the people it serves.

  • Use new techniques – We’ve all brainstormed as someone else, be it a celebrity, a different industry or a different profession. What about drawing a new card? If it’s appropriate to the brief, brainstorm as someone who ticks a different box on a survey form. Obese. Disabled. Transgendered. Different religion. There are many possibilities. While we can’t always truly walk in someone’s shoes, it’s helpful to try – and doing so will open up whole new trains of thought.
  • Use new faces – It’s not unusual to use a focus group for brainstorming. If, for example, you’re representing athletic wear, you want a room full of athletic people. Same goes for diverse audiences. If your brand reaches into a different socioeconomic demographic, get that demographic in the room. If you’re targeting the elderly, make sure the conference room table isn’t filled with Millennial account execs. It seems so obvious, but it’s a trick we miss time and time again.
  • Use new stimuli – Setting the scene is meant to make us go outside of ourselves, but we often dress a room with cues that are already known to us. Let’s take our above example of urban youth. Get people in their head space with Grime artists like Skepta, Jme or Section Boyz. Use photographic mood boards that go beyond Shoreditch’s #streetart into the real life of a counsel estate. Get interviews from people on the street if you can’t have them in the room. And never go in unarmed without real data about channel and media preferences (or lack thereof).

None of this, is of course, rocket science. We do it daily and often — but all too often with and for people like us. This shortchanges the brands we represent, who could reach farther and wider. This shortchanges consumers, who can forge new loyalties if they are spoken to in their language. But most of all, it shortchanges our industry, because we can grow and develop and thrive in a world where we think differently. As marketers, we have enormous power to create change because we have access to so many of the lenses through which we all view the world. That power reaps so many rewards — creative, personal and commercial — so let’s embrace it.

Peace of Mind When Talking Mental Health

Peace of Mind When Talking Mental Health

LONDON — Another day, another headline about the worsening state of our mental health in the UK. Demand for services is increasing at the same time funding has been cut, leading to countless reports of bed shortages, people ending up in police cells and stretched community teams. Meanwhile prescriptions for antidepressants rise, suicides are up in recent years after a period of decline, and mental health charities report record levels of calls to helplines.

And when we switch off the news and escape to television, plot lines carry the message forward. Carrie on Homeland has bipolar disorder, while Stacey’s story on EastEnders highlights the condition of pregnancy-induced psychosis (this on the heels of an ongoing plot about her own struggle with bipolar disorder). In fact, EastEnders is working closely with mental health charity Mind to make sure Stacey’s struggle is portrayed accurately and sensitively – a tricky balance for a style of television that thrives on outlandish plots.

Do these stories lift our spirits? Maybe not, but there is good news here. Mental health is taking its rightful place alongside other key issues destigmatised and embraced by popular culture and reflected in our Netflix queue: LGBT acceptance, social justice and sexual freedom, among others.

The stigma, it seems, is lifting.

Now that we’re convinced we’re communicating about mental health, we must ask ourselves, as communicators, if we are helping or hurting the cause.

Apps, like Headspace, help us to be more calm, meditative and ‘mindful’ – a buzzword of 2015. The plight of the lonely – highlighted by retailer John Lewis’s ‘Man on the Moon’ advert – was front and centre, and we responded by using various channels and engaging in communities on loneliness – and a whole panoply of issues – to help people find common ground and connection. In smaller, daily ways, social media is there for us, full of inspirational quotes, Tweets, and cute panda bears frolicking in snow to make us smile and give us perspective.

But the high points have counterpoints. When blogger Essena O’Neill quit social media calling it ‘contrived perfection made to get attention’, it struck a real cord. We were forced to confront whether the very places we go to find connection were making us feel more disconnected with ourselves and the world around us.

As former Eastenders ourselves (we just moved from our Spitalfields birthplace to Bankside), we wondered if Mind could help us, too. We asked Jack Holloway, Mind’s Media Officer, how communications professionals can foster truly healthy communities and apply best practices. Here’s what he said.

If in doubt, ask the experts: Mental health is a vast topic and it can seem easy to put a foot wrong when talking about it. If you are unsure about anything, from symptoms of particular diagnoses, to when to use a trigger warning or how to talk about suicide, help is at hand. Charities like Mind have a wealth of resources online to help you fact check and talk about difficult issues safely.

Put the person first: Using case studies of people’s own experiences brings mental health to life and makes it relatable. Mental health problems aren’t something that only affect ‘other people’ — one in four of us will experience one at some point, so use personal stories alongside statistics to make the topic human.

Avoid stereotypes and sensationalising: Stereotypes around mental health, such as ‘having OCD makes you neat’ or ‘antidepressants are happy pills’, help no one. Mental health is rarely black or white and people’s experiences vary hugely even within the same diagnosis, so think hard before making a sweeping or sensationalised statement.

Be positive: Having a mental health problem can have a huge impact on people’s lives, but it’s more empowering to focus on the positive than dwell on the negative. Think about how your work can bust myths, break down taboos and get people opening up and talking about mental health.

We’d also add that authenticity is a key piece of the comms puzzle — showing real people in real situations and expressing real emotions, not simply posting stock photography of a laughing couple walking on a beach. While there are certain proprieties that we must uphold, we mustn’t pre-judge content and allow social communities to manage themselves. That’s where true connection happens.

Post by Amanda Moulson and William Holloway