CHRISTMAS INSPIRATION: Debenhams – shopping our way to revolution

While deep down I’m hoping that Christmas isn’t just around the corner, that would mean 2014 is all but done, it is hard to ignore the fact that Santa is on his way when the big budget Christmas ads start appearing. Like last year let’s start with Debenhams.

The ad depicts a bunch of kids in a closed department store looking for stuff they want to receive for Christmas. I’m sure if this was taking place in Tottenham it would be called looting but don’t worry they are all in the their pyjamas and dressing gowns and this is crime Debenhams style. But wait, the soundtrack to this jolly caper is the socialist anthem “We All Stand Together” by Sir Paul McCartney and Rupert Bear, so I think we should take this japery a little more seriously. Clearly these kids in their nice fluffy slippers are working as a team, coordinating the whole thing through Snapchat and BBM, and while the cameras are on they are only going for the cuddly toys but I bet they later moved on to TVs and trainers.

What is Debenhams saying with this music choice? Is this a rallying cry for the disenfranchised youth of today? Unlikely. “We All Stand Together” is certainly festive, after all it charted two Christmases in a row back in the 80’s, plus it has a choir. The problem is that nothing about this ad is surprising it feels like a Christmas shopping list written in May and completed in September. Maybe they could have tied the visual more to the music or possibly done something new with the song but as it is I’m not convinced I’ll be heading to Debenhams to do my Christmas shopping, after all I could be pick-pocketed by the Artful Dodger and his mates.

If you can’t face being a witness to the mindless looting of a Debenhams, simply watch the original video featuring the wonderful dapper Rupert Bear in a swamp.

Sennheiser tickles your fancy with a bit of chase me

How to market headphones


1. Get a bit name celeb, ideally a sports star, to wear your headphones wherever they go.

2. Put a big name sports star in a really long music based ad, aka a music video.

3. Make the headphones really expensive.

4. Give your brand a sub-title featuring a hip hop star name.


1. Try something creative.

Looks like Sennheiser have gone for option 2. Their products are not known for their bling value and so they have relied on things like sound quality and build to get them fans. In their latest marketing campaign they are trying to add some sex appeal, I’m not sure if you are into little moustachioed man dressed as headphones while he caressing a big ear. It is nice to see Sennheiser trying something different in the massively male focused world of big headphones for its launch of the Urbanite product line, lets hope it works as I’ve always thought they were way better than many big name medically backed products.

To build on the fun fetishistic ads they have also added a social campaign called “The Golden Ears“. Basically you use your Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr account to access the location of one of the Golden Ears in London or New York. Run like the wind to the location, find the Golden Ear and boom you get a lovely pair of £200 cans. If you get there a little late then you can still win by posting an Ear Selfie on Instagram. Its pretty simple, its not the most original idea but its simple and fun so it deserves some love and maybe a some “forbodan pleasure”.

Fun and nicely integrated, the campaign chips away at Sennheiser’s grey plastic image. It is always nice to see something different in the headphone space, Beats has become such a juggernaut that it is difficult for other brands to push to the front of the queue and it is also good to see something that doesn’t focused on the intensity and pain of being massively rich and famous.

If you have nothing to do this week and fancy winning some nice cans click here, take a photo of your ears, you know they are sexy (said in pseudo sexual German accent).


Hudl round for some happy sounds

WARNING: ADVERTORIAL (My version of it)

It is rare that I get a chance to showcase creative work that I’ve delivered for a client. As I’m not a musician or sound designer all my work is done in the shadows so I wanted to share this recent work for the new Hudl 2 tablet from Tesco. The device has been getting a lot of rave reviews since it launched a couple of days ago and a lot of them have focused on the physical design, which is impressive. What people have not yet talked about is the audio experience of the new Hudl.

The Tesco Connected Devices team were very thorough in their approach to creating the Hudl experience and left no stone unturned in making sure everything communicated the values of brand and the purpose of the device. A key part to this communication are the sounds that the device makes as it does its thing. Not happy with the stock Android sounds they instead chose to create a unique sound world for the Hudl so that what the user hears matches what they see.

I was lucky enough to work closely with the device development team to create the sound of the Hudl. They embraced the whole process of translating the brand and user experience into sound and with the composition and sound design talents of Paul Sumpter of The Futz Butler we made the Hudl brand sing (and beep). The best thing about it was that rather than explore the safe and the average we were given the freedom to really experiment, you can read more about Paul’s work here and watch a video of him smashing things up in a calm and non-aggressive way.

A lot of the sonic branding created today is bland and generic because while its starting point is one of exploration the end point is usually one of mediation. For the Hudl sonic branding the aim was to simply communicate the brand and with that in mind we were allowed to focus on creativity and values rather than compromise.

I’m really proud of the work and I want to give huge thanks to the Joe and Danny from the Hudl team for their commitment to eating stinky lunches in the studio and allowing us to experiment, Martin Lawless for his amazing insight into the Hudl brand and reflections on the Hacienda days and Paul Sumpter for his superb creative work and comfy packing crates.

The best way of checking out our work is of course to go and buy one and if you want to learn more about how we created the sound of the Hudl or want to know more about sonic branding feel free to contact me.


Imitation is the best form of flattery but it could get expensive for Hugo (updated – they’ve pulled the ad)

I recently sat with a colleague to listen to track for an ad for which the brief had been “it should be in the style of [Unnamed Artist]”. We both agreed that while the track was far enough away from a track by [Unnamed Artist] if you played them back to back the average person in the street would probably not be able to tell them apart. The conclusion of the conversation was let’s not make some lawyers rich and break the news to the client that we’ll need to redo the track. The client was probably slightly over the annoyed line but I reckon that had they been slammed with a massive copyright infringement lawsuit by a label then they would have been slightly over the totally furious and looking to fire us line.

So it did amuse me this morning when the same colleague told me to check out the latest Hugo Boss ad. I’m not sure who in the agency reckoned that nobody would notice the ridiculous similarities between the ad track and the fairly widely known XX track “Intro”. 

This is going to be one to watch. Whoever signed off the music is either hoping nobody notices the similarities, well that ain’t happening as Rolling Stone Magazine has just reported on this, or that the XX’s label won’t want to take on the mighty Hugo Boss, item one on today’s to-do list will definitely be speak to legal. The whole thing just seems a so lazy by both the creatives and the account management, hiding in plain sight doesn’t always work.

When choosing or creating the right music for an ad it is often cheaper to spend money. The cheap option is often the most expensive, I’m sure you’ll find some metaphor there for modern fashion brands but I’ll leave that in your hands. I’m not going to start talking the irony of cheap rip offs.

This could get uncomfortable for someone but its OK because they’ll be able to hide behind their massive Hugo Boss sunglasses.

Mop up on Aisle 7. Music and films mess streaming all over the place.

OK the headline is a little harsh but I think it is more fun than the real headline that Tesco are rumoured to be looking to sell or close down their Blinkbox service. As usual in the interests of nothing I should confess that I know a few people over at Blinkbox and I imagine they are not having much fun reading the news in The Times that the new Tesco CEO sees the business as a distraction.

Before we ignore the possible demise of another streaming platform I think it is worth looking at the whether it ever made sense for Tesco to take on little upstarts like Spotify, iTunes, Netflix, and Amazon.

Tesco certainly was and still is a pretty dominant player in music retail. In 2013 Kantar Worldpanel reported that Tesco was the UK’s second largest music retailer behind Amazon. With the demise of HMV and other high street music brands over the last decade the supermarkets have picked up huge chunks of physical music sales and done very nicely out of it. However, nobody remembers who came second and this seems to have been somewhere in the thinking behind Tesco’s foray into digital entertainment services. They started with Blinkbox then they bought We7 and to bring these all together they created the Hudl tablet in a move that replicated Amazon’s hardware and services model.

For me there are a few reasons why Tesco may have not really been the ideal creator of an entertainment brand.

1. Everyone knows Tesco as a physical retail brand. Sure they do online groceries but when people think of Tesco they will always think of massive warehouse sized supermarkets. The main competition in entertainment streaming services are all 100% online brands and therefore consumers are way more comfortable with the idea of these virtual platforms providing them with digital stuff.

2. Do consumers really want the brand that sells them toilet paper to be the one that provides the with their entertainment? Music and films may not be priced as luxury items but on an emotional level they are just that. Entertainment is about escapism and therefore having it provided by Tesco just doesn’t tick many emotional boxes.

3. Tech is a young person’s game. OK we are all now touched by technology. We all have smartphones, tablets and stuff but when it comes to the consumption of entertainment digitally this is still very much the thing of youth, by that I mean anyone younger than me. My point is that if you are a 19 year old looking for a streaming service then do you go with Tesco’s Blinkbox or do you go with Spotify. I know as time marches on more age categories will get into streaming platforms but annual accounts are not about the money you may make in 3 years.

4. Sometimes the big idea is not realistic. Blinkbox is a big idea. Take the biggest supermarket brand in the UK and alongside its march into online retail add a nice service that provides fun stuff and not cabbage. This will of course make the brand feel more digital. Cabbage and U2 mix that well.

I admire Tesco’s attempt to expand its footprint in our lives by offering us nice, shiny, fun things but when the competition is already popular, cool and built in digital from the ground up you have to question the business plan. Of course Blinkbox was in theory a stand alone brand but I’m not sure it ever freed itself of its Tesco parents. Most people saw the brand when they were in a Tesco store, where they could not click a button and combine bananas with Gaga.

I’ll be sad if Blinkbox disappears as I think they have some really great people there who have taken on a mammoth task. Tesco is a brand that now needs to shout function rather than fun if it is to hold onto it No. 1 status. There is a reason Tesco do not sponsor One Direction tours or hold music festivals in Hyde Park, this really is a case where music and brand just doesn’t fit.

BillBoard’s Music and Brand Roundtable returns with extra Lars

bbb_logoIt is officially Autumn and what better way to fill the long evenings than with Billboard’s 2014 Music and Brand Roundtable.  This year we have some serious people from the various corners of music and brand, and Lars Ulrich. Its not exactly chock full of drama or laughs, at times its feels like a negotiation, but as a resource on music and brand its worth your time.

I’m not sure choosing one of the biggest music stars in the world provides much insight. Mr Ulrich points out that brands come to him so his view of the music and brand relationship is fairly traditional. I think it would have been more interesting had they got a new artist with more of a need for brand relationships as they look to build a career. But then I guess if someone offers you Lars Ulrich you don’t turn them down.

The person you have to listen to is Steve Pamon of Chase. He explains so many of the issues that brands have when trying to work with music artists. His basic issue is the music business’ failure to act like a business. He does throw music a bone by pointing out its emotional impact on an audience and how valuable this is to a brand.

Listen also to Jennifer Frommer from SFX as she quickly points out the value of content. Rather than simply talking about putting a brand next to an artist she explains the importance of providing platforms and a variety of content that an audience will want.

There is no point in me describing the whole chat, I simply recommend that rather than watching X Factor you check out the films. The mix of people is good and the conversation, while not ground-breaking, is certainly worth some of your time.

My favourite quote is:

Lars Ulrich – “I think U2 are the coolest”.

Always leave them laughing.

Here are the links for the videos: One, Two, Three & Four



I normally don’t like to comment on big music and brand stories as there is little point adding to the din around them. However, I really feel I need to chip in on the U2/APPLE incident.

Depending on who you read, either the biggest thing ever in music happened last week or there was an album launch which nobody was really bothered about. Some say U2 got paid $100m, others suggest that the media campaign was worth $100m, others worried about whether the light stays on when you close the fridge.

In the interest of honest journalism I would like to declare my interests, I own an iPad and a MacBook but I have never owned an iPhone, although I am a little tempted by the 6 as long as it has a battery that can help me chronicle the entire life of a mayfly. I also own a lot of U2 albums, all of them up to 2004, not entirely sure why.

What does the U2/Apple thing really mean? Well Music Ally did some analysis of the data and concluded that actually people weren’t that excited about a new U2 album even when it is free. They also hit the nail on the head by spotting that actually the real money for U2 from this amazing moment of philanthropy is that the back catalogue is doing great business on iTunes.

For me the whole thing demonstrates the power of having mates in high places. The Apple love affair with U2 dates back to the days of Steve Jobs at a time when U2 really were a big band. Nowadays things have changed, kids and teens have no idea who Bono is and U2 are about as relevant to their lives as a finance package on family car. So why have Apple seen fit to bring the band in for their biggest launch of the year? Will it help their business reach untapped audiences and convince the world that the iPhone is cool? Nah. This is about Bono being mates with Sir Jonathan Ive and Jimmy Iovine. It is about Tim Cook’s desire to try and grab a little of that Steve Jobs magic by hanging out with rock stars. This is about being connected.

I think this experiment in music and brand partnerships will succeed for Apple in the way it seems to be for U2. Apple couldn’t give a crap if some teenager knows what The Joshua Tree is because how many 16 year olds can afford a £600 phone anyway. What they seem to be gunning for is the 40 somethings who can. Despite the words of Guy Oseary in a recent Billboard interview I’m not convinced that the upswing in U2 sales is being driven by teenagers. You see they have this thing called Spotify which is really rather good and makes iTunes look a little pants (youth terminology from a while back). This partnership is about middle aged (I’m being generous) men sitting around and asking themselves what band they want attached to their mobile brand, not a skateboard or an app in sight.

Do I think what Apple and U2 have done is smart? No. Do I think this is the future of the music industry? No. Will it make more people buy iPhones? No. Will it help bring U2 to the kids? No. What it will do is get U2 in the news for a week, get some people to listen to an album that they would never have paid £10 for and save Apple a few quid on sync fees for their commercials.

I almost forgot to mention the album. Its a little boring but U2 fans will love it. If you want to remove it from your life here are the instructions.