The future of retail is in the hands of Gen Z

Gen Z

Forget millennials – enter Gen Z. Aged 24 and younger, with famously short attention spans and an insatiable appetite to have-everything-right-now-and-if-they-have-to-wait-a-second-for-it-to-load-they’ll-give-up, the next generation are set to have huge influence on the retail market. What do we know about them that can help retail brands prepare for the future?

Recently, there’s been an influx of findings telling us that, contrary to popular assumption, digitally-savvy Gen Z-ers are actually more traditional when it comes to shopping – especially compared to their predecessors, the Millennials. A major pan-European study found that nearly a quarter of Gen Z do their research and purchasing in store, compared to only 14% of Millennials (Retail Buying Study 2018). And in the UK, the same study found that 56% of Gen Z respondents said they most prefer to shop in a physical store.

Does this really suggest that the next generation have reverted back to the ye olden days? If we dig a little deeper, we find that 84% Gen Zers report that they make shopping part of their day out (Retail Assist, 2018). With under 24-year olds much more likely to have free time on their hands, this makes sense. So, is the question for retailers actually about how to keep the shopping spark alive as this audience grows up?

Merging the online in the offline
The obvious answer lies in technology. Gen Z are the first group to grow up with mini computers in their pocket, learning to tap before they can talk. Smartphones live perpetually in either their pockets or hands, so it’s inevitable they feature heavily when they’re shopping in stores.
When shopping in store, according to the National Retail Federation and the IBM Institute for Business Value, 52% of Gen Z compare prices with other retailers, while a whopping 73% interact with social media, telling family and friends that they’re shopping and asking for advice on what to buy. Furthermore, as they’re making their decision, 51% hunt down a coupon, discount or promotion.
A good Wi-Fi connection, therefore, is clearly a must. But is there more that can be done? Retailers should be wary of going overboard, and ensure tech they provide supports a simple and intuitive shopping experience, as this group will see straight through gimmicks. As one might expect for these digital natives, Gen Z are considerably more open to personalisation, with one study by the NRF and IBM reporting that over half feel comfortable sharing their personal data in order to ensure a customised experience, compared to 41% in mature markets. When assured their data will be properly protected, this increases to 61%, highlighting trust as a key theme.

The future’s social
For brands looking to capture and keep this generation, social media has to be a huge focal point. Whereas first adopters of social media joined Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are more popular Gen Z – these primarily visual apps offer an ideal spot to capture an attentive (or addicted?) audience. As time-poor as Gen Z may become as they enter emerging adulthood, you can bet they’ll always find time for social media. And with the tech supporting direct sales via these apps becoming more prevalent, the gap between content and sales is closing fast.

It’s a changing world out there, and never has a Darwin-esque quote been more relevant: “It’s not the strongest retailer that survives, but the ones most responsive to change”.



Sean Dwyer

Exhibitions and retail – footfall driver or style over substance?

Gentle Monster

This summer the competition to create the most epic ‘bricks’ experience got hotter with the arrival of South Korean sunglass brand Gentle Monsters in Argyll Street, London. Gentle Monster takes the idea of immersive shopping to a whole other level, with each of the brand’s stores around the world taking on its own story concept. And in London, that concept is… Kung Fu aliens (we kid you not) – the story being that a robot alien landed on Earth, became captivated by the beauty of Kung Fu and took it back to its own planet. So far, so nuts.

Walking into the store is like walking into an elaborate film set or exhibition, and a pretty bonkers one at that. Customers are greeted by a tribe of larger than life, kinetic aliens who, as a colleague explained, are ‘training in Kung Fu’. They’re doing this to a backdrop of a digital waterfall and a giant ceremonial gong, which goes off every 7 minutes as their cue to start training.

The eccentric idea continues on the lower ground floor at the ‘battleground’, where two giant kinetic aliens fight in a bamboo forest surrounded by an audience of smaller robots, cheerleading with glittering pom poms in their hands.

It’s totally amazing, impressive… and also rather bemusing. Because what on earth (sorry) does it have to do with sunglasses?! Well, seemingly nothing. Many retailers incorporate exhibition-style experiences into their store but usually it’s to aid sales, or at least related to the product in some way.

Nike Town

Nike is a great case in point, with an almost permanent exhibition area in Nike Town in which it borrows display techniques from gallery spaces to showcase its product and behind-the-scenes work (if you haven’t done so already, check out the current exhibition at London’s Oxford Circus which shows off the work of the motion graphics designers behind its latest projects).

Other brands align themselves to those in the arena of culture and art, seeing a symmetry between the two which will interest their customer demographic – like COS. Having established a legacy of artist collaborations which celebrate the brand’s influences from design and architecture, it’s soon to open a brand new hybrid concept store in London’s glossiest new shopping district, Coal Drop Yard in Kings Cross. Here, customers will not only be able to browse and buy from its latest clothing collections, but also immerse themselves in the work of established and emerging artists.

Both Nike and COS incorporate exhibitions into their stores in a way that feels seamless, credible and intrinsic to their brand essence. Also, they’re integrated in a way that keeps the customer in the store, whiling away hours, potentially leading to more sales. Gentle Monster on the other hand, doesn’t appear to use its concept as a sales tool at all. In fact the product – sunglasses – feels quite removed from the idea – aliens. And interestingly, it feels removed physically too, with the sunglasses themselves displayed around the perimeter of the store… presumably so that the theatrics are left to shine in all their eccentric glory. The thing is, when we were there, we didn’t actually see anyone trying the product on. Any customers that were in the store seemed to be there to get that perfect shareable shot … and, pic filtered and posted, they left. Gentle Monster may have turned its store into the perfect Instagram set, and in that way is bound to drive footfall, but will it actually sell enough product to sustain the cost of a bricks and mortar store in one of the country’s prime shopping districts? Time will tell… but one thing’s for sure, it’s awesome, original and creating a LOT of attention, and that is surely great for the reputation of any brand. 



Sean Dwyer

Is this the end for celebrity endorsements?


Last month saw the fallout from a misjudged social media post by celebrity fitness trainer Andrew Papadopoulos. He announced his engagement to former Miss Universe Australia, Renae Ayris on Instagram – with a very obvious plug for a hot drink.

“Reflecting on our engagement this morning with a very needed cup of NESCAFE Gold in bed!” said the post, under a perfectly posed picture. “So many precious memories to cherish and so many more coffees to enjoy together at home”.

Ouch. How did they get it so wrong?

Be relevant and real

It has a lot to do with context. Andrew Papadopoulos is an elite athlete, focused on health and wellbeing. Why then, would he be chosen to promote distinctly un-nutritious instant coffee? And that shoehorning of it into his engagement announcement was just all shades of awkward.

The world has got savvy to shameless plugs – especially when there’s such an obvious disconnect. There’s also been a seismic cultural shift over the last few years, and consumers demand authenticity in all things. Millennials and Gen Z’ers have come of age in a world of social media, sharing and peer reviews, so there’s no hiding place for brands. Consumers expect transparency, accessibility and honesty.

Enter then, the social influencers…

Social influencers are the new big marketing ticket, in possession of a loyal fan base who hang on their every word, image and opinion. Which means brands can tap into their expertise, and leverage it to their advantage. Where celebrity endorsement is designed to appeal to the maximum number of consumers, influencer marketing is by nature niche. Instead of getting your products in front of as many people as possible, brands can now get them in front of the right people.

Micro, macro and mega

The first level of influencers are the ‘micro’. They’ve usually got between 500 and 1,000 followers, through having passion or expertise for something specific like fitness, travel, fashion, business, beauty, parenting, tech or sport. Micro influencers have a profound connection with their followers, and get around 25% to 50% engagement per post.* The right influencer can mean instant credibility, authenticity and value for a brand – as they’re more likely to be personally invested in the product or service they’re promoting. They also cost a fair bit less than big celebs.

Interestingly, research has shown that once a social media influencer reaches a critical mass of followers, audience engagement starts to tumble. Which is borne out with the next stage of influencer: ‘macro’. With between 10,000 and a million followers, they get just around 5% to 25% engagement per post*. Although of course, they can reach ten times more people than micro influencers.

Finally, there are the mega influencers, like Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Shaanxo or a celebrity with a social media account. With more than a million followers, they only get around 2% to 5% engagement per post*. Because of their mass appeal, it’s more difficult to attain the Holy Grail of credibility and authenticity – so they’re actually less valuable to brands than you might think.


Content creators

A big benefit of getting influencers to front your brand, is that they’re already content creators. They create blogs and posts to inform and inspire their followers already, and have a distinctive style which their followers buy into. So whereas celebrity campaigns are mostly created by agencies (the celeb just has to show up), influencers can talk about a brand in their own tone of voice, create a story and frame their content around it.

Who’s doing it well?

Some brands are doing influencer marketing brilliantly. Last year, Adidas’ Glitch campaign used football influencers to drive sales of their new boot. 260 influencers produced content, and gave their followers unique codes to access the shoes. This no-ad, no-big name and no-traditional media approach drew more than 50,000 downloads of the app, and a 75% sales conversion rate.

Airbnb cracked it too, in their collaboration with US music festival Coachella. They provided free accommodation for influencer attendees – and in exchange got lots of coverage across social media. Then Triangl, a swimwear brand starting out with no marketing budget, took the organic route and sent samples of their neoprene bikinis to mega Insta influencers – transforming likes into sales.


Matalan… mixing it up

So, celebrities… influencers… what happens if you mix them up? Matalan’s recent successful collaboration with ITV, that’s what. Denise Van Outen provided the star power, and was joined on her chat show by fashion insiders, style bloggers and other micro influencers, giving hints and tips on current trends, and promoting the Matalan brand.

20-second ads ran during shows like Corrie and X Factor, directing viewers to watch the content online. Matalan’s sales figures improved during the show’s 12 month run – but the real goal was to change perceptions of the brand, and engage new audiences.

The (older) elephant in the room

Ok, so the age thing. Gen X and baby boomers are on social at least as much as Millennials and Gen Z-ers, but are they as susceptible to the charms of influencers? It’s certainly seen more as a model focusing on younger consumers – but that doesn’t mean it can never work for older people. The channel used most by those over 35 is Facebook, and if brands can pinpoint their demographic, find a micro influencer who’s popular and trusted by their target market, it can still be a cost-effective way to reach these spending-powerhouse generations.

Influencers Vs Celebs

Over the past year, brands have spent more than £800million on Instagram influencers** – and 23% of marketers plan to increase their influencer spending by 30-50% over the next year**. Influencers certainly give good bang for your buck, with lower costs and more credibility than some celebrity endorsements.

We think there’s still a place for celebs in marketing though – but the connection either has to be relevant (like Ronaldo and Nike), based on an insight (like Walker’s Crisps poking fun at Gary Lineker’s ‘nice guy’ reputation, or Snickers playing on Joan Collins’ diva status) or just harnessing sheer star wattage (looking at you, Clooney with Nespresso, Charlize Theron with Dior, and David Beckham with almost anything).


Celebrity or influencer… the moral of the story is to be transparent; never try and pretend it’s anything but a promotion for a brand, product or service – as fans, followers and everyday consumers will see right through it. In today’s world, authenticity is everything.

*Source: We Are Anthology
**Source: Mediakix



Sean Dwyer

How to make your brand work harder by sweating the details

We’ve all heard that when it comes to branding, the devil is in the details, but what does that actually mean today? In a world where product is no longer at the centre of the brand proposition, for the consumer, the details actually are the brand.  What do they represent? Do this brand’s values fit into the way I see myself?  When I buy something from this brand, is it a simple transaction, or can it be a real relationship? Even the smallest encounters with a brand contribute to the picture of who a brand is in a consumer’s mind, so every interaction has to be meaningful. But what does this mean in practice? We’ve gathered a few examples we’ve seen recently to illustrate how just a few small things can make your brand work harder.

Find new touch points on the customer journey to inject brand personality

By Chloe is a casual dining chain serving vegan twists on popular American foods. It’s (luckily for us!) just opened up in our neighbourhood. They literally don’t miss even the smallest moment to express their brand personality. From floor to ceiling, all the way down to napkins and tip jars, you only need to make one visit and you get a great idea of what they are all about: vegan food with a sense of humour. Everything in the restaurant is meticulously designed and planned to fit together, and that creates a really memorable and recognisable brand experience.


Use existing brand assets in a new way when you pivot

Rapha started as a luxury cycling sportswear company, making tight-fitting performance wear for road cyclists, but when they expanded their brand to include lifestyle-orientated products like wool jumpers and cotton trousers, they needed to find a way to make their new products stand out from the hundreds of other lifestyle clothing brands out there.

They did it by taking the iconic neon pink colour they were famous for using on their cycling jerseys and sportswear, and using it in a new, more subtle way in their lifestyle range. Meaning, for example, their jeans and cotton trousers could be worn in any environment, and appear to be standard, normal clothing with nothing cycling-specific about them. However, to those in the know, the tiny neon pink details like stitching, trims on the insides of cuffs only visible when rolled up, and tabs on pockets revealed that they were actually from the high-end cycling brand. Clever.


Put the little details in places your target customer will appreciate most

Millennial-targeting cosmetics brand Glossier could have chosen to rely purely on their products to create their brand experience, instead they found unusual moments in their customer journey to add surprise and delight. One of our favourites is the shipping boxes they send their products in. What could have just been a brown cardboard box like everyone else’s has instead been used as a canvas to inject some brand personality. The interior lid of the box features a piece of copy and a flood of millennial pink that perfectly represents their brand – and will appeal to their customer. They taken a touchpoint in the customer journey that many brands ignore or dismiss as unimportant, and transformed it into a memorable experience that fits perfectly into their customers’ world of unboxing videos and shelfies.

These are just a few examples of tiny, seemingly unimportant details that help these brands stand out, but there are a few key things they’re all doing that make these details really work:

1. Be real Find authentic brand values, and define how they translate across every touchpoint. Customers can spot fake from miles away.

2. Be consistent Everything you say and do should be unified in tone and visual style across all channels. This makes it easy for customers to spot and engage with your brand when you’re doing something amazing.

3. Be unique It’s all about ownability. Customers are looking for the differences that help them choose which brands to buy into, and which brands to ignore. What you say and do should be things that could only come from you.



Sean Dwyer

Heritage: factual or fictitious, do customers care?


Here at Whippet we love getting our teeth stuck into a great branding project. One of the first things we always do is delve into the history of the brand to see where it’s come from, where it first started out and what nuggets of gold we can uncover to inform the new proposition. The dream is to find a wealth of heritage or an amazing brand story that we can bring to life. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But the idea of heritage for brands is an interesting one. How important is it to customers? Do they know if the shop where they buy their bananas or brogues from started trading in the 1800s? Do they even care?

More and more brands are embracing the notion of heritage and the more successful ones make themselves as relevant today as they did when they first opened their doors. However, that doesn’t always mean the brands are necessarily old in years. Shinola, an American watchmaker is a great example of an artificial heritage brand. The name was bought from a vintage American shoe-polish company to give authenticity and a vintage feel. The brand was then tactically located in Detroit to play off the rich manufacturing history the area is known for. Clever, when the products were all to be made in Detroit by local workers and craftsmanship was key to the brand’s proposition. The outcome? A hugely successful, authentically American brand that most people would believe to be as rich in heritage as say, a brand like Jack Daniels. 


On the other hand, you have brands with an authentically true heritage. Some of these brands leverage this to their advantage, so it becomes a key part part of their brand appeal. John Lewis is a good example of this. They take every opportunity to tell their story – consistently, over time, in every channel, resulting in a loyalty that gets passed down through generations. And when they turned 150 in 2014, they brought their rich history to life through a series of immersive experiences and pop-ups, making themselves relevant enough to engage a whole new generation of younger shoppers.

But other brands are failing to tap into their rich heritage… and appear to be suffering. Take House of Fraser. The third largest group of traditional department stores in the UK – and on the brink of launching a CVA – it was, like John Lewis, established as a draper’s shop in 1849. 1849! It has a heritage of almost 170 years behind it. But who knows? Its focus has been on creating a ‘house of brands’, rather than a ‘house with heritage’. Its ailing status can’t solely be attributed to this fact of course, but you can’t help wondering had it told its heritage tale more strongly throughout the years, hung its hat on its history, whether it would have secured a more loyal customer.


If done well, the outcome of a brand’s heritage is a sense of trust and assurance, a feeling for the customer of reliability, of quality, expertise and service. All things that any brand strives for. Sometimes, as Shinola shows, customers will buy into that heritage regardless of the brand’s actual birth date. And sometimes, it pays to be true. But one thing’s for sure, in a digital age where we’re all glued to our phones, the appeal of something real and tangible with a great story behind it is becoming even more huge.



Sean Dwyer

Can immersive tech really entice customers back into stores?


We’re seeing AR, VR and AI more and more in the retail space – but can it really work seamlessly with the familiar bricks-and-mortar experience, and get customers back into shops?

It’s no secret that the high street is having to work hard to compete with online shopping. The digital space offers convenience, personalisation and choice that doesn’t always come through in store.

So how can retailers start to encourage consumers away from the Internet, and back into stores? Recently we’ve noticed some big names who’ve been elevating the shopping journey to deliver an experience that can’t be replicated or bettered online.

Nike and a spot of AR gamification

Just this month for example, Nike launched an AR game in-store in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu, to increase sales of its Epic React shoes. Customers could try on the shoes, create their own avatar, then enter a virtual world by running on a treadmill. They could bounce on clouds and do all kinds of acrobatics, all while giving the shoes a good real-world try.

This fusion of the real and the virtual is the perfect antidote to filling what’s called ‘the imagination gap’ – the difficulty for consumers to visualise what owning a product might actually be like, and therefore an obstacle to purchase.

Audi’s VR showroom experience

Last autumn Audi took this to a logical level with its VR sales tool. Realising that car buyers felt so well informed by online research, they no longer had to enter a showroom – Audi introduced VR technology that lets you try out customisations before purchase.


And let’s not forget AI, the thing that will eventually signal the rise of the robot and take over the world. Just kidding. Sort of.

Smart AI mirrors in fashion stores

Some forward-thinking fashion stores have introduced AI-enhanced smart mirrors into their changing rooms, which can identify what you’re trying on, and create on-screen recommendations, with a touch screen to choose items, change lighting and temperature or summon assistance.

All these innovations are about meeting customers’ new, higher expectations – those they’ve been trained to have online. And over the next decade (or even sooner), we can expect truly radical changes in the way we shop in-store.

So what’s next?

The Internet of Things will see our fridges communicate directly with retailers when we’re about to run out of products. Biotechnology could allow us to make payments via eyeball scanning. Haptic technology will let us touch and feel virtual products.

And the whole in-store experience? That will be driven by data, to be more personalised than ever before. From the moment you walk through the door, the store will know who you are, what you normally buy, your price range. In grocery shops, your dietary needs and habits will be recognised, your shopping list will be synced with in-store algorithms and digital shelves will grab your attention and flash up personalised information as you approach.

Does that push your buttons?

The question is, are we willing to give up our anonymity and sense of agency for a smoother shopping journey?

VR and AR elevate the retail experience. Biometrics and the Internet of Things will make it easier. But Artificial Intelligence and the rise of big data take things to a new level altogether. And the answer is yes – we probably will eventually embrace it all… once it’s normalised into everyday life, and we realise through familiarity how much smoother it makes the purchase process.

After all, who thought 10 years ago that anyone would do their weekly shop through their phone?



Sean Dwyer

In praise of (the real) artisan


Don’t we all love a nice, crusty piece of ‘artisan’ bread and drinking a ‘craft’ beer? It seems that nowadays, artisan brands are everywhere.

Our supermarket shelves, local high streets and online retailers are full of brands and products claiming craft credentials. But with big brands getting in on the act and the use of the term becoming so universal, have we reached ‘peak artisan’ and how do we know even what’s real anymore?

The marketing principle that it’s better to make what sells, rather than sell what you make is known to us all. However, the real artisan and craft trend has turned this thinking on its head.

For the real artisans, it’s not the market opportunity that’s the main focus. Rather, their products are inspired by their own experience. Their stories are personal and compelling, full of dedication, skill and imagination. The film clip on the The Cornish Seaweed company’s website for example, captures the enthusiasm of the founders and how they have used their expertise to create a range of seaweed products (all packaged by hand in a sustainable way) – a very special story indeed.

Small scale production ensures control of every detail for the artisan, and process really matters – often traditional, but with many innovative twists. The authenticity and quality of the products are what attract the customers, even if it means having to pay a bit more (and if you want this uniqueness, why wouldn’t you?)

Unlike the big brands, who use their size and economies of scale to gain an instant wide reach, success can actually be the enemy of the artisan maker. The demand and increase in sales can result in the need to increase production as well as marketing activities, all to the detriment of quality and more importantly, exclusivity.

So how can real artisans compete with big brands whilst retaining their uniqueness and integrity?

One interesting development that appears to be a positive compromise is the likes of small, artisan brands using the scale of bigger brands to increase their reach. While not new, Amazon Fresh is a case in point. As long as they are allowed to retain their brand identity and values, and not be pushed to conform to the mothership, small brands on the Amazon Fresh platform gain the benefits of large scale distribution and marketing, while still preserving their authenticity. It appears to be a win/win situation.

One thing is clear, the artisan offering to customers is wide spread and sometimes quite confusing, but ultimately what makes an ‘artisan’ product is the human touch and heart behind the product which gives us an emotional feel good factor. Preserve that and there’ll always be a place for them, however and wherever they choose to sell.



Sean Dwyer

How to have a birthday (clue: the answer’s not in your logo)


Dust down your shell suit and dance atop your Lack table – it’s time to party like it’s 1999.

When you have a big birthday, what’s the best way to celebrate? If you’re like most retailers, you slap the year of your birth underneath your logo and do an advertising campaign. If you’re Ikea, you use the opportunity for one big party and invite the public along.

Ikea’s recent House Party – a takeover of a four storey town house in London, played homage to the brand’s 30 year’s presence in the UK, and was free for the public to enter for one week. A brilliant hand, played at just the right time as part of their overall brand strategy.

Each floor was cleverly decked out as a living room throwback to past decades reflecting our changing tastes in interiors. Guests could wander around the whole house, much like an exhibition, taking a trip down memory lane with Billy Book cases, Twister and Connect 4 in the 80s, Britpop and minimalist sofas in the 90s and shiny acrylic units and clashing walls in the 00s. Hammy actors made the experience even more fun (and even more bonkers). By contrast, the top floor looked to the future, inviting people to consider how they might create homes that help us make better use of the world’s dwindling resources. Come night, the house turned into an actual house party, complete with Jamiroquai playlist and Hooch at the bar.


Experiential marketing is nothing new, but has been gaining traction over the last few years as traditional advertising fails to hit the mark. But what was interesting here, is that while the house was stacked full of Ikea product, there was absolutely no emphasis on buying anything. In fact, you couldn’t even pick up a catalogue (although you could check out 30 years of catalogue covers made into wallpaper – a nice touch). Ikea knows you can’t make money directly from experiential. It’s not the place for transactions. Instead, the whole event was a cleverly executed gold standard in brand awareness, geared towards putting Ikea at the forefront of consumer’s minds, both for their ‘design classics’ which continue to endure, and to cement their reputation as one of the most forward thinking, innovative and ethically minded brands. After all, if a brand stirs positive emotions with consumers, they’re more likely to have a positive perception overall.

Ikea has recognised that as people aren’t responding to traditional advertising, they need another way to reach the ever-apathetic, attention-of-a-gnat consumer. Something with talkability. And the great thing about experiential is it’s hugely shareable. Even if people didn’t visit the house, they probably consumed it via social media – meaning Ikea probably reached thousands, possibly millions, more people than they might have otherwise.

So if you’re about to have a birthday soon, think twice about that logo tweak and take a leaf from Ikea. Prawn vol-au-vents optional.



Sean Dwyer

The art of writing a headline? Let’s leave it to the robots…

Copy Cabana Newsletter Image - 892px - 2

Last week we had an excellent day out by the seaside. Not so much fish, chips and deckchairs, but word-nerds and er, Hawaiian shirts. This was the annual gathering of copywriters at the pun-tastically named ‘Copy Cabana’, run by the brilliant Andy Maslen, Vikki Ross and Matt Desmier. Thirteen speakers, a pad thai eaten precariously while trying to shake hands with hundreds of like-minded people and a LOT of cake later, these are a few highlights…

Headline 101

Among the glittering line up of speakers was the esteemed Steve Harrison, winner of more Cannes Lions in his discipline than any other creative director in the world no less, who reminded everyone not to slip into laziness when it comes to writing headlines. The best example? ‘The Art of [insert name, product, business here]’. You wouldn’t believe how many ‘things’ can become an art, if we copywriters are to be believed. A slide share of around 50 examples had the audience in stitches, with everything from ‘The Art of tailoring’ to ‘The Art of Coffee’ to the ‘Art of the Sublime’ to the ‘The Art of Guttering’ (I kid you not though I question the client that briefed ‘make our guttering artful’). The point being, Steve said, that lines like this may make the client feel good but they do nothing to solve the customer’s lifestyle problem, only the client’s marketing problem. Headlines which arouse curiosity, that are newsworthy, and that answer the customer’s question ‘What’s in it for me?’ are where it’s at. Artful advice indeed.

The march of the bots

Elsewhere, Glenn Sturgess and Peter Stephen of OgilvieOne Business scared us slightly (before making it okay again) about the rise of the copybots coming to steal our jobs – which is absolutely going to happen. AI is rapidly advancing to the ‘point of singularity’ where machines become conscious, but until then, it’s pretty likely that in the next 15-20 years, robots will very easily be formulating the perfect headline to drive better traffic (I’ll help you out here copybots, it’s not ‘The Art of’). However, all will be well for humans, since we possess such things as common sense, empathy, creativity and context. We can dream, robots can’t, and all this means we can work with the robots to develop compelling copy that appeals to the human emotions, leaving the bots to do the slightly drier, data driven work.

Is your writing sexist?

That was the question posed by Elle Graham-Dixon of BBH who got us all questioning our ingrained prejudices with this riddle:

“A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate – that boy is my son!’ Explain.”

Got it? If you guessed the surgeon is a woman, nice one. But don’t worry if you didn’t, this is a piece full of masculine words, leading most of us to think the boy has two dads at best, or subconsciously, to be completely stumped since we simply still don’t think of women as surgeons. A few feminine tweaks to the piece and studies show we’d all guess differently. It shows that diversity is as much in the hands of a writer as it is in the HR department.

That’s a snippet of just three of the brilliant and thought-provoking talks given. We were also treated to the Top 10 tone of voice types by the hilarious Nick Parker; got the inside scoop on copywriting for Ben and Jerry’s from Kerry Thorpe; heard poetry in motion from the inimitable Rishi Dastida and words of wine wisdom from Joe Fattorini and somewhat randomly, met organiser Andy Maslen’s window cleaner, who – turns out – is turning his hand to copywriting, and pretty nifty he is too! Phew! We’ll be back next year…



Sean Dwyer

What do clients look for when selecting an agency?


‘96% of clients believe the design agency market to be ‘crowded and highly competitive’* according to a recent report by Up to the Light. This led me to ponder the eternal question we constantly ask ourselves as an agency, ‘what prompts a client to chose one agency over another?’ And is it the same set of criteria for an agency when choosing to work with a client?

The best design comes from the best relationships. Whether that’s communication, understanding, common sense of purpose or a sense of loyalty. But what constitutes a good relationship is a complex question and is reliant on several factors. Do clients and agencies prioritise these factors based on individual circumstances or is there a special formula that can yield the best results for both sides?

What isn’t in doubt is how crucial it is for Marketeers to ‘get it right’. The right choice of agency can help make the vital difference to a client who wants to meet their goals. So what factors are involved? I think a lot of us in ‘Agency Land’ assume it’s all about the people and the ideas with a large dollop of budget consideration thrown in for good measure. But what’s most important? It led me to ‘ask the experts’, seeking the opinions of some of our clients to see if there was any commonality or clear priorities.

Let’s start with the work. After all, it’s the product itself, the ‘thing’, the stuff at the heart of the matter, and in the creative world that means ideas. Sharry Cramond (EVP, Marketing & Communications, Southeastern Grocers) summed this up brilliantly saying that the “most important thing when choosing an agency is the ideas. The creativity. If nearly 90% of all Marketing is ignored by consumers, then you need disruptive ideas which cut through. Fancy multimedia presentations which cost a fortune don’t matter if there isn’t a brilliant idea in there. An agency could present their creative work on toilet paper for all I care. A brilliant idea is the most important thing”.

Tony Holdway (Sales & Marketing Director, Domino’s Pizza Group) also believes that the quality of the work is crucial – “it’s that eternal conundrum of ‘quality of work & experience’ vs ‘the people and their culture’ when choosing an agency to take you forwards. And of course you definitely want both, but where should the main focus be? It’s got to start with the work hasn’t it? Great people producing average work anyone?! No thanks.” However he then goes on to point out the benefits of great chemistry. After all, true understanding and the ability to communicate clearly form the basis of every relationship. He says “on the other hand, will you ever get to great, effective work if you don’t click with the people? Beyond all that, you’ll need to find an agency that thinks you’re important to them (and vice-versa). Being a small fish in some agency’s large pond is never going to get you the results you require. You’ll need a mutual admiration of each other, that will make you spend more time on the work together – and that will get you the best output & outcome”.

Interestingly, the Up to the Light report states that the primary client expectation from their agency is that they are ‘on time and on budget’. With ‘high quality creative work’ coming in as a secondary factor. So how do clients balance the two? Andy Hill (Insight Director, Samworth Brothers) points out that it’s all around communication, saying “it’s about great creative thinking, real consumer understanding, fabulous people, and value for money… But ultimately, the choice of an agency for a given project comes down to whether or not they’ll help me meet and exceed my goals. And for me that means having a small portfolio of agencies I work with regularly, really knowing their strengths, and great communication to make sure they always know what success looks like on any piece of work”.

So, it seems clients consider many factors when selecting an agency including the work itself, chemistry, budgets, skillset and experience. But what about the other side of the fence? As an agency, we carefully select our clients. Again lots of factors play a part in the selection, but in essence we want to work with great Marketeers who are open to working together to bring about positive change and deliver a real difference.

Ultimately, surely it comes down to brilliant client/agency collaboration to deliver the strongest return? The best results always come from great teamwork. It is after all, a symbiotic relationship. It’s surely the holy grail that every agency is chasing – a relationship based on a collaborative partnership rather than a client/supplier set up – a much more fulfilling and positive experience both financially and creatively for both parties.

* ‘What Clients Think 2016’ report by ‘Up to the Light’

As published on The Drum – 24th October



Sean Dwyer

Is the humble Call to Action losing its way?


Here in retail we love a call to action, (or a ‘CTA’ to those of us who also love an acronym). That little line in a piece of customer communication that prompts the customer into doing something. ‘Go online to order’, ‘Ask for more information’, it’s a familiar construct. The goal should be to provoke an immediate response, to leave the customer in no doubt as to what to do next. But are we in danger of becoming so CTA obsessed they’re losing their impact?

All too often CTAs – in the store environment at least – are not thought through, leaving the customer more confused than clear about how they need to act. Or worse, apathetic. And while a series of small CTAs can be an incredibly useful method to help the customer narrow down their choice to a final decision, (‘choose your colour’, ‘choose your size’, ‘now order at the till’), it seems that sometimes they’re mindlessly trotted out to tick a copywriter’s checklist than to be of any real use.

So here are five quick tips for copywriters, marketers and indeed anyone writing customer comms, on the art of an effective in-store CTA.

1) Be single-minded

Customers don’t want to jump through hoops, so don’t give them so many options they’re left flummoxed by choice. A common example is something that reads along the lines of:
‘Pick up a leaflet, talk to a colleague or go online at for more details’.
Be clear about the one best way for them to follow up.

2) Keep them informal

This is as much to do with tone of voice as it is the call to action itself, but ‘We’ve got plenty more colours, just ask’ feels so much more human than, ‘Please ask a member of staff if you want to browse our fuller range of colours’.

3) No need to state the obvious

‘Please take a leaflet’. So polite. So blindingly apparent. So patronising? If it’s right there, the customer will see it. And if they’re interested, they’ll pick it up.

4) Use shortlinks to direct online

‘Find more details online at’
The customer’s hardly going to whip out a notebook and write it down for later, so use a shortlink – they’re easy to create. And while we’re on the subject, nowadays it’s perfectly okay to lose the www.

5) Prompt but don’t boss

‘Buy now’ or worse ‘BUY NOW!’
You don’t usually get anywhere by barking orders. Instead, give the customer a great in-store experience with helpful communications that leave the choice up to them.

So there we are. Five easy tips… and one final CTA: check out more of our thoughts here on our blog.



Sean Dwyer

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