The Best Christmas Ad 2016 & Why - IMHO

Christmas is quite the event for advertisers. Consumers throw caution to the wind and there's lots spending going on, so it's a logical time to get into market and make a splash. In the UK for example, the annual Christmas production budget ad war between John Lewis, Sainsbury's and M&S raises the bar every year.

These ads are all beautifully produced and masterfully written, my personal favourite so far being The Bear & The Hare by Adam&Eve/DDB for John Lewis in 2013. Haunting Lily Allen track - check, cute animals, check, illustrated in a way that makes us feel nostalgic - check.

Oooof! Right in the feels, eh?

I wonder what the unaided brand attribution would be though. It cuts through and the audience remember their emotion, perhaps associating John Lewis with those feelings, all good brand stuff. But I find these ads a bit disconnected, almost as if the ads have become more important than the brands they represent. The John Lewis logo enjoys 2 seconds of screen time. Quite missable. 

Anyway, this is why my favourite ad of Christmas 2016 was Coca Cola's effort. Why? It gets all the brand response and emotions flowing, but it does so while showing the product and the branding throughout the entire ad. The Coke is the hero. Not an animated hare. This i quite unlike John Lewis whose branding enjoys less then 3% of the media time bought.

Being able to illicit a strong emotional brand response whilst keeping the core offering front and centre and with branding littered throughout but in an appropriate way necessary to the narrative? Masterful stuff. IMHO, anyway.


Three Simple Steps To Great Leadership (aka Stay Out Of The Kitchen)


Leadership is one of the most common words to be found in job descriptions, management seminars, resumes, and Linked In Profiles the world over. Leadership and its derivatives are such common words in fact, that they often go by unnoticed, we assume others have the same definition of leadership as us. But often they don’t. We all interpret ‘leadership’ in our own ways.  

I see it so often: “I’m a proven leader”. What do people mean by this? Did you organise the work of a few people, who were being paid to be there, who didn’t want to lose their job, and were fairly capable of carrying out their duties competently? Perhaps you approved their vacations and took them out for dinner now and then. To some, that’s a great leader.

Still, to others it is someone who empowered and engaged their people to go above and beyond the minimum. Someone who creates a distinct culture among the people they lead, simultaneously being a part of, but different to, the wider company or industry culture. Or perhaps the company culture is toxic and the leader saw that they had to create a ‘siege mentality’ to keep their team performing at full mast and keep the toxins at bay. To some, that’s the bar for a great leader.

What constitutes a great leader remains ambiguous as far as I can see.

As someone who has managed teams for over a decade in various countries and businesses, I should be no stranger to leadership. But, sitting here, after countless leadership training seminars, countless reflections on what I should do or should not do in a certain circumstance, and countless times I have been let down or frustrated by those leading me, I still find that it’s hard to form a coherent answer to the popular interview question “What is leadership to you”?

With that in mind, I spent some time thinking about it, and I present here my thoughts on what great leadership is and what it means. Broadly speaking, it’s about three things; direction, inspiration and liberation.


I think the most basic function of good leadership is direction. Letting people know what they’re supposed to be doing, the best way to do it, and how that ladders to the broader organisational goal. Since it’s nearly Christmas, let’s think of it as a team making Christmas dinner. At a basic level, as head chef, you should be putting one person on Turkey, one on potatoes, and so on. Telling them what is expected of them and helping them if they get stuck. This is not hard to achieve. Most people are fairly content in their jobs and will perform tasks you ask of them to the best of their ability, which by and large is satisfactory. So long as you are in the kitchen telling them what to do and when by, keeping an eye on things, lunch will be a success.



The next level involves inspiring your people to think for themselves, be engaged, and ‘own’ their responsibilities. It’s more than being told what to do and by when, it’s them taking ownership because they want to. So back to our lunch analogy, perhaps at this point you just tell them what time lunch needs to be ready for, and that you want a festive meal. They choose the ingredients and their own methods for cooking them. They will experiment and you can feedback on how they’re doing, but they are evolving processes and tactics on their own. If you are doing this part correctly, and you have developed the right abilities in your team to be self sufficient, you need only pop your head in the kitchen every now and then to see how they’re doing. You may also notice at this point, their confidence is so high they resent you ‘being in the kitchen’ too often. I’ve worked for at least one company where I’ve told VPs, “I wish you’d get out of the kitchen!”. It’s like a restaurant owner watching a guy chop carrots. If he’s previously been given the direction, has proven he can do it, and now has the inspiration to do it himself and improve on the way he was originally shown, then he can chop carrots, leave him be.



This is the third level of leadership and can only be achieved once the first two have been achieved. This is about providing your people with freedom to operate. Making sure they have the resources and support they need, and clearing roadblocks in front of them. This is when you become the restaurant owner. Your job is to make sure the supplies arrive in the morning and tell the team what time lunch is. Then leave them to it while you see to guests, and set the table. You stop others from going into the kitchen and disrupting the team. If you are truly at this stage, you can trust your team to deliver lunch. Check in if you want, but if they have been properly directed, inspired and you have liberated them, they will always be on course.

So in summary, my definition of leadership comes down to three levels. Direction, inspiration, and liberation. Easy to remember and easy to understand.

Which level are you at as a leader? Is it time to get out of the kitchen?


Stop Thinking Platform, Start Thinking Need

I think a lot is made these days of ‘mobile’ and ‘desktop’. We create different departments, different budget lines, different product experiences and I’ve seen the emergence of the ‘mobile specialist’ in recent years. We spend a lot of time as marketers and product developers obsessing over platforms and how we can utilize the nuances of each to create complimentary experiences.

Example of presumptuous service tailoring

Here’s a common example: When I search for a movie title at home, I probably want to read message boards, view trailers, write a review, do something involved and deep. When I search from a bar, it’s because I want to know which theatres are near me and when the next showing is. a site like IMDb offers me a pretty unusable message board experience via their mobile app. Pretty fair assumption I guess. The problem is that the assumption is made on the basis of device. What if I’m at home and I pick up my phone instead of my laptop. Are my tasks or needs different? Then why should the experience presume that I’m out of my home just because I’m on a phone?

Assuming needs based on device is wrong almost half the time

I’ve been conducting some primary research lately into Canadian use of mobile devices in the car buying process. Something that really caught my eye was how much usage of mobile occurs in the home. Note I’m not including tablets which you’d expect to be used at home, I’m talking specifically phones here. I’d be willing to bet that the stat is about the same for most buying journeys and tasks, not just cars.


A lot of product strategists are trying to develop their apps and mobile sites to make use of the nuances and benefits of portability which makes perfect sense on the surface, like in my movie example. Phones are portable, so they offer lots of opportunity to enhance user experience using the phone’s capability. Things like mapping functionality and proximity alerts. Meanwhile the desktop is thought of as more fixed, that location is less relevant, and so these sites are being developed to conduct different types of tasks.

But as we further evolve platforms in these distinct ways I sometimes feel an assumption is being made. The assumption that a mobile site or app is always used out of home, and a desktop site is always used in the home or office. My research above confirms this assumption is dangerous.

Just as 41% of phone usage is in the home, how much use of desktop occurs out of home? That I don’t know, but how often do we see people using their laptop in Starbucks and aren’t these individuals just as likely to benefit from locational services as someone using their mobile phone in the same setting? Why should brands assume user A, B and C in the image below all have different needs just because they are using different platforms?

Are the needs of user A (tablet) any different from user B (phone) or user C (laptop)?

Are the needs of user A (tablet) any different from user B (phone) or user C (laptop)?

Let user need dictate functionality, not user platform

This is leading me to increasingly class users as ‘fixed location’ (home or office) and ‘temporary location’ (on the bus, the street, in the bar), regardless of what device they are using. Because I believe that need or goal is more likely dictated by this state rather than device. Maybe thinking of users in these scenarios is more appropriate than assuming that a mobile user is always on the move and a desktop user is always at home. Certainly as devices proliferate a more advanced level of thinking and accessibility options is required. I know that functionality is heavily influenced by device, but we as marketers shouldn’t let devices dictate how well we deliver on a user’s needs and goals, which are dictated by situation, NOT device chosen