“Money On Toast targets high earners,” says the newsfeed. Targets how, exactly?

Money On Toast’s You Tube film has had 801 views.  On Twitter, they have just over 700 followers, nearly all of them as far as I can see either IFAs or industry people of one sort or another.  They have about 150 likes on Facebook, which is kind of surprising because there is very, very little to like on their extremely dreary page.

I’ve never seen a Money On Toast ad, online or offline, and although it’s always dangerous testing these things on oneself I am pretty much right in the middle of their target market, as defined in the article appearing beneath the trade press headline quoted above.

You’ve heard me grumble before that the new world of direct, D2C online investment services is never going to happen until a number of the leading players start spending some proper money on marketing communications.  It doesn’t look as if Money On Toast are anywhere near doing so.

If the future is indeed mobile, watch out for happy tortoises

I’ve held off from writing this blog for a long time because I worry that it makes me look foolish, and what’s worse foolish in an old, past-it, off-the-pace kind of way.  But here goes anyway.

If it really is true that the future will consist largely of people much younger than me choosing for preference to do all sorts of things on their mobile devices, then I take my hat off in advance to recognise their extraordinary patience.  Because most of the time that I try to do anything on a mobile device – especially anything which involves a number of clicks – it’s just so incredibly, maddeningly, uselessly just-give-this-up-right-now-and-leave-it-till-I’m-at-my-nice-fast-desktop SLOW.

OK, to some extent this reflects problems of my own making.  My poor old phone is on its last legs, and freezes, hangs and fails to notice my commands (or if it notices, then fails to obey them) a great deal of the time.  Here in France where I’m writing this, our satellite internet connection means that the humblest request to buy an extra litre of milk takes an age to go hundreds of miles out into deep space and back on its way to whichever one of us is in the supermarket.  My texting is pitifully slow and so horribly inaccurate that it frequently defeats even the HTC One’s amazingly intuitive spell-check.

But still, allowing for all this, the fact remains that even checking out the BBC’s totally fictitious football gossip column first thing in the morning routinely involves a hard-fought and narrowly-won battle with the will to live, and, typically, at least two minutes of feeling my blood pressure rise while I stare furiously at a succession of empty white screens.

A few days ago we were driving to collect my daughter from the airport, and, running a bit late, I cleverly thought of using the flight tracker app on the easyJet website to check on her progress.  Now, I thought, we could experience all the wonder of the mobile revolution right there before our very eyes.  Except not exactly.  By the time I’d slogged my way through to the right screen on FlightRadar24, we’d arrived at the airport and Chloe’s flight had landed.  And then the program froze so that I couldn’t actually scroll down to see what was happening at Toulouse.  I was too busy prodding angrily at my phone to notice Chloe emerging  at Arrivals.

Of course if you’re already logged on to incredibly fast wireless, you may not recognise these problems.  But realistically, how often are you logged on to incredibly fast wireless?  Much more likely, you’re either connected to incredibly slow wireless (like on trains, where things happen at the same imperceptibly slow speed as when you watch the London Eye), or to equally slow 3 or 4G, like in the back of the cab when you’re desperately trying to find the address of the restaurant before the driver goes straight past and exits the foodie hunting-grounds of Shoreditch for the badlands of Poplar.

Anyway, apparently the young have no problem with this and are perfectly happy taking 9 minutes to undertake a simple banking transaction, or 14 if they’ve forgotten their password and have to get a reset code sent to their email and then reset two or three times before coming up with a series of letters and numbers meaningless enough to make sure that a) the bank will accept it and b) you’ll have forgotten it again next time.

As a fractious old hare, I think this zen-like calm reflects very well on the young.  But in its demand for a tortoise-esque  mindset, the brave new digital world is once again turning out a bit differently from what we expected.

The only post that got me into trouble: looks like I was (mostly) right

Just coming up to five years ago, right at the end of my time as a sort of semi-detached part of the group to whom I’d sold my previous agency, Tangible, back in 2007, I wrote the only post in the eight-year history of this blog to get me into some fairly hot water.

It was headed “Of lunatics and asylums” (it’s still there, if you want to search for it) and basically it was a bit of a rant about the ideas being promoted by an agency called FACE – which, unfortunately, was then by far the most successful business within the agency group I was part of (and about a million times more successful than my own little agency at that time).

What irked me was FACE’s Big Idea, promoted with great evangelical zeal throughout their website, in conference presentations, in white papers and for all I know on branded umbrellas and golf tees.  According to them, when it came to developing advertising ideas, it was time to consign agency creative departments to the dustbin of history and adopt a process called “co-creation,” in which groups of clients and consumers would get together to come up with the ideas for the ads in workshops moderated by…you guessed it, by people from FACE.

As you can imagine, writing as somebody who was at that time just on the point of emerging from a 28-year stretch in agency creative departments, I struggled a bit with this.  In a mildly and diplomatically expressed post (honestly…) I said I didn’t at all agree with FACE’s basic proposition, that in today’s world creative things are much better done “with” their target groups than “at” them.  I said I don’t believe creativity works like that, and I thought a range of expert witnesses from William Shakespeare to those responsible for the Shake’n’Vac commercial would probably agree with me.

I also said that if I was just a teeny bit cynical, which of course I’m not, I’d be tempted to see this co-creation schtick as a smart and ambitious power-play on the part of the country’s tribe of qualitative researchers, unhappy with the way that their moderation skills tended to play only a minor role in the creative development process (typically checking out the creative department’s ideas with focus groups of C1C2 housewives in Ruislip) and looking for an opportunity to take charge of the proceedings.

The post picked up a few somewhat snotty comments, including one from some bloke in the property industry who said I was clearly a frightened dinosaur.  But the heavier flak came up towards me from people in my own building, and especially those in FACE itself.  I found myself about as popular as…well, as any of the unpopular things used in similes about unpopularity, if not more so.

Five years later, I’ve just been back to the FACE website to experience the pain of witnessing the triumph of co-creation for myself.  The agency is obviously still doing extremely well, which is very good news not least for me as someone who still has quite a few shares in the parent group.  And as you’d expect from any agency doing mostly digital work, its positioning and proposition has changed quite a lot over the five years since I last looked.

But the nature of the changes is interesting. FACE is no longer “The Co-Creation Agency” and the website it was promoting called the Co-Creation Hub, which brought together a whole bunch of sad and anxious Cello Group creative agencies under the co-creation banner, seems to have disappeared.  FACE is now “a global strategic insight agency.”

Co-creation is still there, but only as one of 13 different products and services on offer.  And the description doesn’t say anything about developing creating or communications ideas – it says that the service in question, Helix, is a way to “build disruptive product concepts.”   It looks to me as if co-creation, at least as far as taking over from creative agencies is concerned, has come to the end of its brief shelf-life.

Oddly enough, looking back over five years in which technology, in particular, has changed many things but creative work is still overwhelmingly done “at,” not “with,” the only person I feel cross with from that long-ago time is that property bloke who wrote that patronising “frightened dinosaur” comment.  To him, I have a nice simple message written on behalf of creative people in language that I hope people in the property world can understand:  “Fuck you, tosser.  We’re still here.”

Oh dear, MORE TH>N, I’m afraid you’re much more than a disappointment these days

Of all the financial services brands I’ve had a hand in launching, none engaged me more than MORE TH>N.  It was partly because we had an inspirational client, the legendary Mike Tildesley.  It was partly because we had the biggest, most exciting and at the time most important of the agency remits available, brand advertising (remember Lucky the dog?).  But it was also because, within the mainstream of the general insurance market, I did actually believe that MORE TH>N intended to be a bit special, a bit different, a bit better.

How stupid.  For all the About Us rubbish on the website (for example, “It takes thousands of dedicated and talented employees around the UK to deliver the excellence of service and products our customers demand and expect”. – there’s loads more at www.morethan.com/aboutus) these days it’s just another grotty general insurance business, delivering rubbish service with the one hand and ripping off its loyal customers with extortionate premium increases with the other.

I had to speak to them on the phone to renew my travel insurance recently.  I wrote about this a few blogs back:  it took four calls and a total waiting time of nearly 100 minutes before I actually got to speak to someone. (I only had to give them a new credit card number and ask for a couple of minor policy changes – why the hell I can’t do this online I have no idea.)

After my 100-minute wait, I wasn’t very pleased to hear that with the minor changes, my premium would be going up from £302 to £684.   I did a bit of shopping around (the new business lines almost always answer nice and quickly) and found AVIVA quoting me a great deal less than MORE TH>N – £320, to be exact.  Not a difficult decision, really.

Out of touching and clearly misplaced loyalty to what was then a client, I also had my motor, building and contents insurance with MORE TH>N too.  Motor went a long time ago, for exactly the same reasons – shocking call waiting times and extortionate premium increases.  The buildings and contents I still have, but only till the next renewal – I know I’m being ripped off, and I don’t like it.

In all of this, I don’t suppose MORE TH>N is more than averagely useless and untrustworthy – I have no great faith in AVIVA, for example, beyond the point that over the coming 12 months they’ll save me £360 on my travel cover.

It’s just that my expectations were that little bit higher – partly because of my personal experience with the business in the early days, but also a little bit, I mist admit, because of that rubbish on the website.

Here’s another sample:  “The MORE TH>N brand is grounded in the values of modernity, individuality, perspective, purposefulness, clarity and integrity. It’s underpinned by the desire to go the extra mile for the customer, deliver more than words and treat customers as individuals.”  Absolute bollocks, every word of it.  Unless you have personal experience to confirm it, you still can’t believe anything that any financial services provider says to you.

Do your marketing communications pass the 29 Bus Test?

We were a diverse bunch as usual on my pleasingly-uncrowded 29 this morning – a handful of students, a few office workers, various NHS workers on the way in to UCH, a couple of mums taking small kids to school, someone who looked like a murderer and a couple of seriously off-the-beaten-track Japanese tourists.

But nearly all of us had one big thing in common:  22 out of 24 were on their phones.

I have major doubts about many – even most – forms of mobile marketing communication.  The huge majority of brands are unwelcome in social media.  Display advertising doesn’t work well.  And although people keep telling me that younger users don’t agree, I still think that the large majority of m-commerce applications are horribly slow, clunky and complicated

But if all of this simply means that we have more work to do to start making the most of mobile, I can’t help thinking that we’d better get a wiggle on.  When it comes to reaching the passengers on the 29 bus, mobile is quite literally the only game in town.

We love producing content-driven comms. But does anyone love consuming them?

I think I already said that I did my annual gig chairing the Money Marketing Financial Advertising Awards a few days ago. It’s always a good opportunity for a bit of trend-spotting – for example, after two years without a single specimen, I can now confirm that the craze among health insurers for sending out DM packs which look like reports from an X-ray lab has now definitely ended    And online advertising is still generally pretty dire, but other forms of digital communication – especially those using social media – are improving at a rate of knots.

But sometimes the most important and big-picture trends are the hardest to spot.  They’re the hide-in-plain-sight trends that are so obvious, you almost don’t notice them.

For example.  By the time lunch was served at last year’s judging, I was extremely hungry, and this year I was hungrier still.  And over the same period, we’ve over-run more and more at the end of the day:  I still tell my fellow-judges that we’ll be done by about 4pm, but actually this year it was more like 5.30.

What do these points have in common?  Fairly obviously, they say that the judging process is taking longer and longer from each year to the next.  And the reason for this has nothing to do with the pernicketiness of the judges, but everything to do with the fact that the entries are getting more elaborate, more complicated, more time-consuming to peruse..

Time was when your typical entry might be a poster, or a press ad with a headline and 50 words of copy.  These days your typical entry is more likely to be an integrated content-driven opinion-forming initiative, which includes a 15,000-word white paper, a microsite, a blog, Facebook and Twitter pages, a film on You Tube, a series of HTML emails and a couple of full-page ads in the trade press.

Some of these new-style entries are deeply impressive at all sorts of levels – not least in terms of the huge amount of work and enormous number of skills needed to produce them.  But there is one big thing that worries me about them – specifically, about how they work in the real world and not just on judging days.

It’s pretty obvious what that big thing is:  are we sure we’ve really got time for all this? Frankly, I used to be dubious enough about whether people had time for the poster and the press ad.  I’m twenty times more dubious about whether they have time for the 15,000-word white paper, microsite, blog, Facebook and Twitter pages, film on You Tube, series of HTML emails and couple of full-page ads in the trade press.

Of course I accept that campaigns like this can have a significant effect even on those who don’t read every word in the white paper.  But when – on a day like the judging day – I get a sense of the immense amounts of time, effort, skill and cost that are going into producing huge oceans of content that none of us has the time, inclination or energy to read, I do rather wonder whether we’ve got a bit carried away with all this stuff.

And saying that, I guess I ought to bring this blog to an end without a moment’s more delay.

Excuse me, but why doesn’t anyone around here ever have any money?

Financial technology guru Ian McKenna’s first blog of the New Year comments on the trend:  .(And another online advice proposition launches. Will 2014 be the year #digitaladvice becomes mainstream? FTAdviser http://buff.ly/1a5Cxnp.)

He’s not wrong. Online D2C investment services, whether execution only or (somewhat implausibly, in my book) advisory, are springing up all over the place at the moment.

I don’t particularly like Money Guidance, the one that Ian is drawing attention to here, for four main reasons.  Partly I don’t really believe in online advice at £60 an hour, partly I think calling the service Monday Guidance is a potentially-misleading attempt to get a bit of free halo effect from the service originally proposed by Otto Thoresen under this name but now in fact called Money Advice, and partly I don’t like the fact that when this service was first launched in its 1.0 version there was a bit of a kerfuffle when it turned out that the founders had chosen to offer consumers free access to planning tools from FinaMetrica and Voyant without, er, quite getting round to telling them about it or coming to an agreement with them

But actually, even though all these reservations are pretty big, there’s an even bigger reservation that looms over them like a great big looming thing.  Clearly, this is yet another D2C financial advice/planning/execution business that’s launching without any bloody money.

I should think that in the last couple of years we’ve seen a good two dozen broadly similar and similarly cash-strapped new ventures lay out their digital stalls.  Some have been developed by large well-established companies, like Royal London’s MoneyVista and Charles Stanley Direct;  others by younger and more digitally-oriented organisations like Trustnet Direct and Money On Toast;  others by enthusiastic individuals like Nutmeg, rPlan and Candid Money;  and quite a few, like Money Guidance, by IFAs keen to find a lower-cost alternative to full advice.

What do all these businesses have in common?  I’d say at least three things:  more or less zero consumer awareness, very few active and paying customers, and virtually non-existent marketing budgets.  (Yes, yes, I know that a couple of them have coughed up twopence-halfpenny, but my point still stands.)

I know I’ve commented on this before, but the longer this situation continues – and the more this hopelessly cash-strapped sector expands – the odder it seems.  OK, one or two of the newly-launched organisations do have hugely attractive prospect pools available at very low cost – Trustnet Direct, for example, are able to access the several hundred thousand highly-engaged private investors who are already Trustnet customers.  But the large majority don’t, and for them it’s difficult to envisage anything but a slow and depressing death by starvation.

As I say, it’s probably not unusual in developing new markets for a few brave pioneers to strike out across the desert with nothing much by way of resources except a hip flask and a positive attitude.  But once the first sun-bleached skeletons are starting to turn up less than half-way across, you’d expect those following on to be stocking up nervously on food supplies and water barrels – either that, or indefinitely postponing their departures.

Here, neither seems to be the case.  The cash-strapped pioneers continue to wade out into the soft sand.  The sun continues to beat down.  The prospects, in 90% of cases, never actually get as far as rejecting the services on offer – completely unaware of them, they have no view one way or the other.

It’s all very odd.  And meanwhile, the only explorers who have succeeded in finding the largest, most verdant oasis in the desert – Hargreaves Lansdown, who set off some thirty years ago on a well-resourced and planned journey that achieved the huge success it deserved, must be looking on in mild amazement.  Although I’ve often said that the detail of the HL success story is unique to them and cannot be adopted as a template for others, the same is not true of their big-picture business planning, from which simple and obvious lessons can certainly be learned.

Of which the most simple and most obvious is surely that you’re never going to get across that big scary desert with that silly little hipflask of water.

Oh good, our violent neighbours have bought large new clubs

Just back from a CSFI event about the use of social media in financial services.  On the whole a rather desultory and badly-structured affair, but with a good deal of comment on the familiar theme of how social media put a lot of new power in the hands of the customer, and how this is a trend that we in the industry should welcome and encourage.

All this put me in mind of a person living next door to a house occupied by a large and violent family, and discovering that they’ve recently bought a bunch of heavy and frightening-looking wooden clubs.  Every time this person emerges through his front door, a large group of these neighbours spring out and beat him about the head with their clubs until he is bleeding profusely.  However, for reasons not explained by the analogy, our protagonist’s reaction is to express pleasure that these neighbours have the use of such powerful clubs, and to wish that more people would get some too.

Not for the first time, I reflect that we in the world of financial services do have quite exceptionally strong leanings towards masochism.

No, there’s still something about these LinkedIn endorsements that I’m not getting

First, thanks to all of you.  Yes, really.  Big thanks.  To everyone (anyone?) in that Venn Diagram overlap between blog-readers and LinkedIn endorsers, I’m genuinely touched and grateful.

But along with the thanks, an apology too.  I still haven’t endorsed anyone for anything.  This is not because I think my LinkedIn contacts lack talent.  Au contraire.  If anything, it’s the opposite – I have so many contacts with so many talents that in the interest of fairness, once I’d started I’d find it difficult to stop until many thousands of clicks later.

But there’s still something about the whole business that I don’t get.  Maybe I’m just being selfish and egotistical and looking for something that isn’t there.  But why have so many of them (you?) kindly endorsed me for Marketing Communications, Advertising, Integrated Marketing and all the other items in a remarkably long list?

(Altogether I’ve been endorsed for 39 different skills, which either means I’m a very clever and multi-faceted fellow, or that I’m an absolutely classic Jack of all trades.  And some endorsers come back to endorse me for new skills time after time:  one or two have been back so often that they’ve covered everything of any possible interest and are now left with skills like “shoelace-tying” and “hailing cabs.”)

Is there an unspoken deal that one’s supposed to reciprocate – you click on my skills, I’ll click on yours?  Or is it a way of reconnecting and restarting a relationship?  (I notice that most of my endorsers are, frankly, people selling to me rather than people I’m selling to.)

I find it hard to imagine that when people are drawing up their mental to-do lists in the morning, they’re thinking to themselves, “Ah, yes, must remember to endorse Lucian Camp for his brand development skills.”  I’m missing something here:  can anyone tell me what it is?

Great news for old farts: apparently, we’re all content-creators now.

Even in a fashion- and trend-based field like financial services marketing, I doubt if any idea has swept tsunami-like across the landscape more quickly than this thing about content and content-based marketing.

At the moment, it is pretty much literally the only game in town – the only thing anyone wants to talk about.  But conversations on the subject are made more difficult by the fact that a lot of people – including, if I’m honest, me – are more than a little unsure what it actually is.

It’s probably more obvious what it isn’t.  What it isn’t, or at least not usually, is advertising.  I suppose some long-copy manifesto-style ads might have enough substance to qualify as Content, but on the whole ads fall on the other side of the dividing  line – not Content, but something else. Maybe Puffery?

The clue, I think, is in that word I just used, substance.  Content has to have some of this. Media articles are Content.    White papers are definitely Content. Research write-ups are Content.  Blogs, if more than a couple of paras, are Content.  This, come to think of it, is Content.

Content is important mainly because it’s seen as the new glue which holds communications programmes together.  Advertising, both online and offline, directs people to content.  Content provides the substance of the website.  The PR effort revolves around content.  Events are mainly content-driven, unless they’re just piss-ups and they’re rather unfashionable these days.  Content is financial marketing Araldite.

A lot of client-side marketing people, and also a lot of agency people, are somewhat anxious about all this. In most cases, this is because either a) they don’t really know enough about anything to be able to write more than a couple of paras about it, or b) they can’t really write more than a couple of paras about anything.  Or both.

Still, for old farts like me, to whom word-bolting comes pretty naturally and our main objection to Twitter is that after 140 characters we haven’t even got started, the new obsession with content is good news indeed.  I must say, I never expected to find myself at the cutting edge of marketing communications at this stage in my career.