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can american apparel recover from bankruptcy? October 7, 2015

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, thought leadership.
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Article I penned in The Drum on how American Apparel can recover from bankruptcy following lurid accusations in the boardroom, porn as advertising and poor performance at the tills.

Recovering from bankruptcy is the easy part.

There have been plenty of resurrection stories down the years with some big names surviving because of their importance to the national economy – American Airlines, General Motors.

Or those brands that survive and learn from it, coming back stronger and better with a renewed energy, work ethic and a revitalised core that is true to the brand, business and customer – Chrysler, Jeep, Aston Martin (several times now).

Then there are are brands that have come back from a seemingly never-ending downward spiral in results because of smart leadership changes, strategy changes, product changes and a deep-rooted love of the brand in the public – look at Marks & Spencer.

And then there is American Apparel. A brand whose founder has been dogged with allegations and whose advertising went beyond provocative into the lurid, disturbing murky waters of overt sexualisation and pretty much porn as advertising. The decisive change was not the filing for bankruptcy this week, it was the removal of the controversial CEO Dov Charney last year.

Sales are down, shops are closing. American Apparel made some bad choices. A lot of bad choices. Not least of which was Charney turning up to a meeting allegedly wearing nothing but a strategically placed sock. I don’t believe that was in Dale Carnegie’s playbook on ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.

Yet the brand allure remains strong. The crazy guy at the top did some incredible things like making sure every garment was produced inside America to truly live up to the brand name. And he did this by making sure the largely Latino workforce was well paid and well looked after. For a brand that essentially made average underwear and t-shirts, it created its own myth, fuelled by provocative porn-a-like advertising that shocked in a world we thought was largely unshockable. Ads that looked more like the edgier editorial of high-end fashion magazines played out in RHS full exposure.

This worked to cut through, but lost its edge when people realised they were paying over the odds for some average undergarments. It was undone, not by cheaper brands, but by brands that people wanted to associate with. Brands like Hollister with its sunshine California sheen with beautiful people became more culturally and socially acceptable. And better quality. And it’s not cheap either.

So how can American Apparel truly recover?

As much as possible it needs to keep the ongoing lawsuits separate to the ongoing concern that is the business and the brand. It needs to reconnect the American values, ethic, sense of doing things differently and free spirit that ignited the company in the first place, and one that continues to have consumer resonance globally. It needs a retail experience overview as it looks tired, dated and less enticing than brands like Primark.

Lastly, it needs to find the people who can mainline into the fashion industry trends and be part of the ‘must have’ list again. Preferably they will know how to wear their socks correctly.

amazon’s deal with top gear trio indicative of global trend August 24, 2015

Posted by nicholas gill in Uncategorized.
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Article in M&M Global I penned on the content streaming trends and the impact of Amazon Prime signing the former Top Gear trio Clarkson, Hammond and May.

The former Top Gear presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, signing up with Amazon is a real coup. Not only does it make a firm statement of the brand’s intent to go toe-to-toe with Netflix on original content, but it also continues to signal a shift away from traditional content providers.

We’ve already seen actors and directors wanting to work for organisations like Sky because they offer greater creative freedom and are able to take more risks because of their advertiser and subscriber funded model.

We’re now seeing the (currently) ad-free subscription streaming services take this to another level with original content also being distributed in a way that plays straight into our desire to time-shift our way of consuming content – they understand their audience and, like any clever brand, are designing their products to meet their customers’ needs, rather than the other way around.

Binge watching is now the norm and an entire generation has become used to watching every series and even the entire canon in one extended sitting rather than waiting a week to see the cliff-hanger resolved.

Spotted an opportunity

This change in consumer behaviour was also in evidence when Amazon Prime stepped in in response to a petition by fans of the BBC TV series, Ripper Street, to bring the show back for a third series. With the BBC not listening, Amazon spotted an opportunity – marking the first time that a subscription-based video-on-demand service became the main backer of an established TV show.

While we often hear the populist ‘TV is dead’ argument, it couldn’t be further from the truth. We are watching more TV than we ever used to. But across more devices and in different ways, for example, in the UK 11% of our daily total video consumption is now ‘playback TV’ and 67% is live TV (source: 2014 ThinkBox). While quality output is still winning, people will keep watching.

The shift in ways of consuming content is more evident in the US than in the UK where pay per view is further established and where breakthrough content such as Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards, which literally dropped overnight, has enabled fans to consume the entire show’s opening series in one supersized gulp followed by cult viewing such as Orange is the New Black.

But the approach works hand in hand with traditional superpowers like HBO continuing to invest in cinematic scale and quality series such as Game of Thrones which continues to stick to the traditional model and make people wait for series finales. And who can argue with the global viewing figures and Emmy awards for dragons, swords and Peter Dinklage?

Bete noire

Yet the streaming services are also attacking the bête noire of almost every television viewer – the mid series break. Sure, your PVR will pick up on it again when it comes back but you’ve forgotten, fallen out of love again. And then it stacks up on your PVR not watched list. The mid-series break feels outdated and with the technology we are now used to, it feels like the equivalent break in the film when they had to change the reels. I still haven’t watched the second half of Gotham because of this.

But, back to talent poaching. Having the former Top Gear trio on-board gives Amazon a real string to its bow, and it will undoubtedly have an impact when it comes to people choosing between streaming services.

It will be interesting to see how many of the global Top Gear audience follow Clarkson, May and Hammond and choose to sign up to a subscription based model rather than relying on free broadcasting. And also how the new Chris Evans-helmed Top Gear on the BBC will compete in content and viewing figures.

In my view this move has the potential to have a major impact on the growth of Amazon Prime in the immediate future – and it is a trend we’re likely to see in numerous markets around the world – as long as the content is up to scratch.

i blame the gorilla July 30, 2015

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, thought leadership.
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The Independent ran an article highlighting the number of ads that featured music from the 80s. The Drum asked me to write a response to it. I blamed the gorilla.

You can say it’s all about fashion and trends and everything comes around again. And again. But I blame the gorilla.

It’s his fault. Sitting behind the drum kit waiting patiently until erupting with madness and glee and yes, ‘joy’, to thrash them to death alongside Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight’.

It’s his fault. He answered the one line brief,’show me how I feel when I eat Cadbury’s chocolate’ by resorting to an iconic 80s music track and going batshit mental on the drums.

The 80s: big hair, big shoulder pads, big news, big everything. Especially big ‘choons’. And now the people who grew up in the 80s with their knowing ‘Frankie Says’ t-shirts and Phil Oakey side-flange partings implanted deep in their hearts have grown up.

They are now in the bullseye of the mainstream brands. Still watching vast swathes of telly and still swayed by big telly ads and wondering WTF emojis are. Still knowing someone could have picked them out and shook them up when they were working in a cocktail bar and turned them into someone new.

If you’re a 40-something to 50-something, you will have witnessed a fair bit of familiarity in advertising of late. A bit of Europe here, a surprise airing of Fleetwood Mac there. All dropped into drive familiarity and layer the emotional element to the advertising to get you to notice, to consider. To strike at the heart of your wallet via your retro fluorescent ear canal.

With this in mind, it’s no surprise that 80s music was the most popular choice among all brand advertising in 2014. Queen adding little riffs of fun to Tesco Christmas spots. Fleetwood Mac helping a Shetland Pony moonwalk for Three. What surprised everyone was Bonnie Tyler topping the charts. But it was epic. So it makes your brand epic. And you’re epic if you buy our brand. Epic.

Some are wonderful and actually make sense. Others just use the track like audio attention grabbing ‘Like a Virgin’ era Madonnas because Queen selling sofas to the tune of ‘Someobody to Love’ is just really selling out isn’t it? They were a band that famously refused Stallone rights to use ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ in Rocky III forcing them to find their own anthem in Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. And they’re now happy for their back catalogue to be used to flog sofas. Bloody gorilla’s fault.

And then we have the re-imagining. The John Lewis ‘make ‘em cry to make ‘em buy’ approach. A soft, tinkly-tinkly re-imagined, slowed down version of a well-known classic that acts as an ear worm and makes its way silently into your heart. Alongside penguins, bears and gorillas.

Music is a hugely important part of advertising and any film based content. Music can make or break an ad. The rhythm, cadence and the power tell their own story but magic can happen when the story, the music and the lyrics work hand in hand. An edit suite is often a painful torture chamber in the creative process and equally a pleasuredome when things go right.

But is the rise of 80s music in ads also because modern music is incomprehensible to anyone over the age of 30? Where new music is dictated by the Radio 1 playlist which deems La Roux and Lily Allen over the hill and therefore primetime picking for middle-aged, middle-class department store advertising tales?

The brands mentioned above largely appeal to that demographic so going for familiarity over a new artist is a much safer bet. And in a corporate environment where the average chief marketing tenure is under two years, safety and immediate impact is the order of the day.

Unless you’re going to go big and buy yourself instant stardust with Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift (how many times have you seen ‘Shake It Off’ in a creative WIP this last year?), then it’s time to break out the shuttlecocks in your shorts, re-live who shot J.R. and dust off your 12” of ABC. Because then success will be so easy for you but don’t forget it’s the gorilla who put you where you are now and he can put you back down too.

Nicholas Gill is planning director at Doner UK

This article also featured in the Global Doner D\Construct thought leadership series.

is outdoor advertising ‘visual pollution’? July 17, 2015

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, BBC, OOH, outdoor, thought leadership.
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I got to represent the advertising industry (I know, really) in a small BBC World Service radio show called Business Daily that went out to a small audience of 1.3m people globally on 2nd June. After a quick line at the start, I come in at c. 12 mins. Here’s the synopsis:

Do ubiquitous advertising like billboards, posters and banner ads lead to mental overload? American author Matthew Crawford discusses whether the constant distraction of ever-present commercials leads to ‘mental fragmentation’.

Daniel Gallas reports from Sao Paulo in Brazil on the city’s decision to ban ‘visual pollution’, including all outdoor advertising, a decade ago.

And, Ed Butler hears from Nick Gill, planning director at advertising agency Doner, and why he thinks outdoor advertising is part of the lore of a big city.

You can also Listen to the MP3 here.

the rise of the data scientist July 16, 2015

Posted by nicholas gill in b2b, big data, data, data scientist.
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b2b GILL

Data is crucially important in the current marketing landscape. It informs decisions and inspires creative thinking. There has been a lot of column inches about ‘big data’ but the role of the data scientists is to actually provide ‘small data’. The data that really matters. Not analysis that leads to paralysis. The data that gets the boardroom interested. Data can be complex, convoluted, misinterpreted and used for defensive approaches rather than innovating and seeking out new opportunities. In the right hands, data unleashes truth, overcomes long held assumptions and prejudices and shines a light on new insights that can unlock business growth. Like many modern business people, the data scientist needs to be a T-shaped person too. Capable of being expert in his or her craft but also adept at communicating and collaborating with a diverse range of people from strategists to creative to brand managers to CMOs and CEOs. Fundamentally we believe this role should be internal at a company and not outsourced. The person needs to be ‘baked in’ to every part of the business to provide the crucial ‘small data’ that makes a difference. As an example, we know the work we do for Align Technology, who produce Invisalign – the world’s leading invisible orthodontic medical device, for their professional educational programme shows that the multi-layer touchpoint programme works as Orthodontists who attend 2 or more events grow their volume of cases submitted by 43% versus cohort. Or being able to identify a group of underperforming Orthodontists in one European territory and changing the business model to effectively create a group and improve business returns by 587% in one quarter. Edited version of the above appeared in the July/August 2015 edition of B2B Marketing magazine.

B2B Marketing_The Rise of the Data Scientist_090715 B2B Marketing_The Rise of the Data Scientist_090715 (2) B2B Marketing_The Rise of the Data Scientist_090715 (1)

NME change in content strategy keeps them front and centre July 9, 2015

Posted by nicholas gill in brand experience, content strategy, Marketing Week, NME, though leadership.
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Some words from me in Marketing Week on NME’s change in content strategy. The link requires (free) subscription. If you can’t be bothered to click the synopsis is NME are going free, increasing circulation, broadening the content beyond music and extending into more digital content channels. Here’s my thoughts:

Nicholas Gill, planning director at integrated ad agency Doner UK, says the change in strategy should help keep NME “front and centre” rather than something to look at through the misty-eyed look at history. He predicts it could help NME avoid the fate of its one-time rival Melody Maker.

Broadening the content base, both in terms of platforms and type, should help attract new consumers, says Gill, extending the reach for brands.

“Focusing on content including video and live events is particularly appealing to brand partners and advertisers because it offers a much deeper and more meaningful opportunity to connect with an influential, young and interesting readership beyond just a standard press insertion,” he adds.

Print version below:

NME print

why we ‘like’ October 23, 2014

Posted by nicholas gill in patrick mulford, social media, theaudience.
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I adore Patrick. We used to work together. He’s now in LA working for theAudience. I miss working with Patrick because he would tell you tales of the most amazing things, particularly his fascination with tattoos which you can explore in his book. And of course he was pretty decent as a Creative Director too. So it was a little treat to watch him perform on stage at Social Media Week in LA recently via the interwebs (you’ll need to register to watch which seems pretty anti-social and content equality but there you go). Why social media still needs a week is still beyond me. Direct mail never got a week. I still miss chromalin proofs. Anyway, Patrick’s argument is that social media just reflects what we do as humans. What we’ve always done. It’s just a new way of doing it.

He argues that social media is the new bedroom wall and given that we’re fond of sharing our associations and passions across social, he’s pretty spot on. And that we edit our own social content to project the ‘me that I want people to see.’ That memes and hashtags mitigate the risk of us normal people exposing ourselves and reduce the risk of sharing.

At theAudience, they break down social media into 4 things. Yes, only 4 –  a refreshing change versus the bollocks of the social world I shared yesterday.

1. It’s about communication.

2. It helps you create social identity through affiliation (to groups, people, stars, brands etc.)

3. It enables you to share life moments.

4. It helps you express mutual values and passions.

Common sense at last. No world-changing rhetoric, just a clear perspective on what social media does.

But put that aside because the real magic is the first 25 minutes or so of Patrick telling stories (and trying to hide in the shadows and wander around the stage). The story about Hemingway being challenged to tell a story in 6 words is beautiful. And one that every community manager charged with 140 characters should heed.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

The history and evolution of emotions explored by Robert Plutchick is staggeringly simple but also inspiring and helps the storyteller to shape stories to move between emotions seemingly at will.


And of course he references one of his tattoo journeys. Do buy the book, it’s not really about tattoos. It’s about human experiences and a very personal take on life. Although it was nice to see Patrick’s tattoos finally on display. And the neck scarf too.

Thank you Patrick. One day my friend, one day…

social media is bullshit October 21, 2014

Posted by nicholas gill in social media.

social photo 1

We’ve all wondered this at some stage surely? Probably when we’re sat in meetings and hear the word ‘engagement’ used so often you start imaging doing horrible things to the person using that word. Or to yourself if you’re the one saying it (I have). I borrowed this book from my copywriter, Ian. The first half seeks to debunk the entire mythology surrounding social media and in effect portrays it as something that has been created purely to create revenue for the people who talk social media up. The author takes down the ‘cyber hipsters’ and the glossy social campaigns that have been touted before us in the style of the second coming and venting much furious anger particularly at the likes of Chris Brogan who styled themselves as some form of social demi-god and challenged everyone who wasn’t getting returns in social that they just weren’t doing it right (i.e. come to me, pay me a truck load of dollar bills and I will help you). It’s fascinating. And makes you re-think the language we all use when talking about social media. The book then loses its way a little and goes off on some kind of road trip example of how social just doesn’t work. I think the author could have stopped half way and saved me another train journey reading it but hey. I’ll forgive him this though because who doesn’t like an Arnie quote as a chapter heading?

social photo 2

The author is clearly tapping into the unease people feel about social media and how people make it seem so complicated and that actually it’s so completely different from other media that we shouldn’t worry too much about how it contributes to sales. Well, what is the point then? People glibly say that they have moved on from the ‘vanity metric’ of Likes and follower counts but they haven’t really. When challenged to run a survey to draw out brand advocacy, purchase frequency and to re-run this activity every quarter to track impact of the activity, some brands (and agencies) shy away from this. Why? Will it expose the fact that social may not be working? Tracked well – and of course with some tight content that is core to the brand – social can contribute to direct sales or lead generation. Not tracked, you’re just contributing to the vagueness of social and the beigeness of the platforms.

It’s interesting to listen to this radio broadcast (or podcast) directly after reading this book. I struggled with a lot of the ‘social’ese’ being talked about but particularly that the ‘old way’ is to pay for attention on a media channel. With social media, you can create your own audience. Erm… Facebook and Twitter and the likes are essentially media platforms. Hungrily sucking your media dollars to get your shiny social content in front of your followers. You don’t play by their rules, you don’t win. They are advertising platforms. They are not free. You have to pay to be seen. And pay people to create that content that gets seen. And you have to determine if the investment you’re making is worth the 4,500 people who participated in a competition to choose the Asda Christmas tea towel campaign. Or whether £20,000 you paid to a You Tube vlogger to make a video baking cupcakes using Asda ingredients is good value. It probably was when he says it attracted 500,000 views (4p per view) but how many went on to buy? Did the loop get closed? You can bet when they spend £500,000 on Michael Owen for a TV commercial that the media impact gets analysed to death and that you see an impact in sales when the campaign is running.

Social media is also rife with play books, tips, tricks and formulas for success. One talked about in this radio show was that you have to create 10 posts of ‘engaging’ content, which Asda chap described as “it can sound like nonsense” in order to get across your 1 post that you want to ‘sell’ with or ‘get them to do what we want them to do.’ While on the one hand that explains the proliferation of posts telling us that it’s Friday, on the other, it contributes to the attack of the beige. Think about it. In what other media do you produce 10 pieces of nonsense and then one ad that tries to elicit a response?

I don’t think social media is bullshit but I do think we need to be very careful about how it is used and how we talk about it. We need to show it can be effective in helping a brand deliver it’s objectives. I like the way this Lego social person sums up how they measure social:

We measure ROI in four different ways: direct Sales, brand affinity building, marketing efficiency and our ability to mitigate risk/damage control.

tiny explosive ideas with tiny explosive coffee October 16, 2014

Posted by nicholas gill in book review, growth hacking, marketing.
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Stop thinking about the “big” idea. The big idea that marketing searches for elusively. We’ve all sat in meetings searching for the big idea. Written briefs that demand a big idea. Followed a path of big media that will fuel a big idea. And moaned that either the agency can’t come up with the big idea or that the client isn’t brave enough to go with the big idea.

Well, forget the big idea. Because the growth hackers don’t need them, They focus on the tiny ideas that have an explosive, catalytic quality. Ideas that have propelled Airbnb, dropbox and even hotmail from start up to brands of hugeness seemingly overnight. The tiny ideas that as marketeers, we seem to have forgotten – or skip over because they’re not big enough. And tiny ideas that exclude marketing completely and re-focus energy into the product itself. Get the product fit first.

You don’t have to be a start up either to start re-thinking your approach to gaining customers and growing revenue – something all of us in marketing are guilty of when we are in the pursuit of ‘the launch’ of new products. The book challenges us to think again and get out of the formulaic box that we’ve allowed ourselves to crawl into.

This book is packed with examples and inspiration. And it’s also tiny in size. Easily consumed on a tiny plane doing a tiny European short haul hop.

Tiny is good. I’ll be thinking tiny and explosive from now on.

Thanks to Georgie at Profile Books for providing the book to review. I have not been paid for this review but obviously wouldn’t mind if it were on offer.


agency fuel September 15, 2014

Posted by nicholas gill in agency life, coffee, honest coffees.
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I do like a bit of coffee as my tweets will show. So a surprise package in the post from Honest Coffees was always going to go down well. Free coffee in the post. What’s not to like? Honest Coffees supply agencies and what-not with coffee subscriptions – proof that you can subscribe to anything these days. But given that agencies are fuelled by such substances to maintain the energy levels against the blank sheet of paper at the start of the day and the ebb and flow of internal and client rejection and adoration, this mailing seems a super-smart idea to me. I also noticed the close to sell-by date on the sample itself but I also think this is another smart idea to make sure your stock doesn’t go to waste. Mind you, coffee lasts forever right?

Now onto the tasting. The coffee is a dark roast called Smooth Operator. It’s a little too dark and bitter for me. Maybe I just haven’t got the levels right in the cafetiere?


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