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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.

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.

this is what excellence in integrated digital communications looks like August 2, 2014

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, align technology, award, communique awards 2014, digital, Doner, integration, invisalign, social media.
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WINNERSme winner

We won an award recently and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am. It was for the work we’ve been doing for Align Technology to generate awareness and lead generation for Invisalign across Europe.

The award was for the 2013 consumer campaign, “Smile and the Whole World Smiles With You” received the Excellence in Integrated Digital Communication award at the 2014 Communique Awards on July 3.

The Invisalign Smile campaign ran across key markets in Europe, where a mix of appointment-to-view television programming on digital channels was sponsored with integrated digital direct response, social media paid advertising, social media community activation programs, Pay Per Click, and digital innovations such as Zeebox in the UK and use of the new Twitter Card lead generation functionality. This strategic approach was designed to get more target consumers to ask for Invisalign treatment at dental practitioners and leveraged an integrated consumer marketing campaign that engaged and motivated people with problem teeth to start Invisalign treatment.

The award judges summed it up nicely:

“The beauty of this campaign is its demonstration of what could be achieved outside standard pharma practice. It was a paradigm in terms of its integration of carefully chosen, appropriate channels and had digital at its heart. It’s also very in-sync with where the industry is going to have to go in terms of the breadth and connectivity of different communications channels.”




And it also worked, here’s what Raph, the VP International at Align had to say:

“The Invisalign Smile campaign had a significant impact including driving prompted brand awareness for Invisalign and achieving 30% growth for Invisalign lnfo Kit downloads and Find an Invisalign Provider searches. Our social media community grew a phenomenal 140% (2.5X) year on year and the Smile campaign helped to impact our total business objective by increasing Invisalign case submissions.”


Really terrific stuff. I’m really proud of this work. It shows what can happen when a client and agency work together in a proper relationship to deliver great things.


what it’s like to work in the creative industry July 24, 2013

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, Inspiration.
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A short documentary on what it’s like to work in the creative industry when your craft becomes your profession. Even though I’m not a “creative”, I can relate to these feelings and scenarios.

Originally found on Design Taxi via Evan Michaels.

my favourite londoner – new work May 29, 2012

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, Client, Doner, Fuller's, James May, London Pride.
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Blatant work plug. Here’s our new work for Fuller’s London Pride, again featuring the marvellous James May. The campaign celebrates the provenance of the brewery and the pint, especially important when the world’s eyes will be on London this Summer. The work is featured on the Marketing Society blog and also on Haystack and you can see it pretty much all across London this Summer. Cheers!

we fear change November 16, 2011

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, brand experience, digital, integration, marketing, social brand, social business, social media, technology, Technology Digital.
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Change is the only constant factor in life and in the world of Technology; the businesses which realize this sooner, can only gain from it. Article by me in Technology Digital.

Image source.

brands need to take the risk while embracing technology November 14, 2011

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, analytics, brand experience, data, digital, integration, mobile, Technology Digital.
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Article in Technology Digital by me on why brands need to blend with other channels of interaction to create a bigger impact among their audiences.

Image also from Technology Digital

no such thing as a free lunch November 2, 2011

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, social media, social networks.
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A fascinating article on privacy, advertising and the use of your data on social networks and the new alternatives such as Diaspora and Unthink to the accepted norm. Where Hugh once said if you talked to people the way advertising does, they’d punch you in the face, he was talking about traditional ATL advertising and the shouty nature of the traditional 30′ spot. This quote from the article suggests that advertising in social media could possibly be worse; rather than just blurting at you in ad breaks, it snoops on you and brazenly flashes this in your face. Good food for thought to start your day with.

Imagine you’re eating out with your lady or a loved one; the restaurant is completely free from 12pm until 2pm. Free. Trouble is, your entire conversation is being recorded and watched closely. Every time you both mention something that suggests an interest in a product or purchase or place – an ad rep/TV/radio ad/leaflet appears in front of you and pitches away. Mention you’re interested in a mini break; cue the man from the travel agency peddling his wares. Your meal is free though, don’t forget. You can always ignore the ad man. How many of us would appreciate that constant eavesdropping? Few. Remarkable then that the digital world doesn’t quite suffer the same reaction. It all feels so remote and far way.

Image source.

connecting and kinecting October 20, 2011

Posted by nicholas gill in advertising, brand experience, integration, microsoft.
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When CP+B picked up the Microsoft advertising account, we all wondered what would happen. The “I’m a PC” ads weren’t as bad as the original haters suggested. The product elements and the use of interesting characters started to change perceptions of Microsoft. I quite liked them but I didn’t identify with being a PC still. And then just as some momentum was happening, the Launch Party “thing” happened. Finding the video now, the comments have been disabled on the version I am linking to. Unsurprising given it was truly horrific. I also thought the “Windows 7 was my idea” campaign was an interesting concept but felt hollow in execution. There’s been some advertising for the Windows Phone but in a market that is dominated by Apple, HTC and Samsung in the kudos and media space, it’s not really stood out. And then there’s X-Box. The golden child. And it’s shinier child, Kinect. Which aped the successful Wii advertising but without a controller. X-Box is a great product and the Kinect addition has made it even better.

But it’s never been leveraged as part of a wider brand and product effort. The reason I, and countless others, buy into Apple is that their stuff together just works. iTunes, iPhone, iPad, iMac, AppleTV and so on. Seamless, easy, great. The best brand experience by far. You can even take this into the retail environment.

You don’t get the same feeling from Microsoft. It feels disparate and hard. My own experience of Apple’s “plug it in and it will work” is in stark contrast to “plug it in and load the accompanying CD, load up the drivers, reboot, etc.” of Microsoft. Now I know this perception is now several years old but it’s stuck. And that’s why we are an Apple household.

But this new ad challenges people like me. And it makes use of the integrated Microsoft brand experience which has never been done before. I like it. It shows Microsoft in a new, family setting than rather the individuals it has targeted before. It has humour. It’s not trying to copy Apple or Nintendo either. It also looks easy, creative and fun to have Microsoft products in your home. It’s a shame then that the good work of the commercial is let down by a bland website that does nothing to re-enforce the message of connectivity and togetherness by immediately splitting the products again. Perhaps CP+B can get their hands on the digital side of things too?


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