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Dominic Mills 

The Fiver: Black to Front, globalism and more…

The Fiver: Black to Front, globalism and more…

Dominic Mills commentates on five things that have recently caught his eye, including a roller-skating tortoise and a light-weight free newspaper

‘Listicles’ seem to be out of favour the days, and it’s a few years since I’ve done one. This week, I’m introducing the Fiver (which could be a Tenner some weeks), a collection of short commentaries on things that have caught my eye.

You can think of it as a ‘Listicle+’ if you like. 

1. C4’s Black to Front

Hmmm, so last Friday (10 September) saw C4’s bid to set the diversity agenda with ‘Black to Front’, a day dedicated to programming featuring black and minority ethnic talent and supported by more than 50 advertisers - all of whose commercials were based on lead black actors or predominantly black casts. 

Did you know this was happening, or notice it?

I watched some and it’s safe to say it would have passed me by had I not seen a couple of stories about it.

The news seemed to be an extended report (I gave up on it) on social injustice — pretty much normal service  for C4 news— while Gogglebox was, well, as entertaining as ever. 

More pertinently, what difference did or will it make?

While I can’t help feeling the aim is laudable —in C4’s words to “challenge us all to see content differently and leave a lasting legacy in terms of increased representation on- and off-screen” — the mechanic felt, well, laughable, although I have no doubt C4 execs spent most of the day high-fiving each other, high on self-congratulation. 

Some questions and comments…

How much of the on-screen talent, for example, will we see again?

You can’t help feeling that, the day over, a giant screen-wipe was applied, and normal service was resumed.  

Watching the commercials, I had seen a substantial number of them before, which makes me think that the ad industry had made more progress, faster, in terms of better ethnic representation than broadcasters and programme makers.

That, of course, is not saying that it is sufficient, and it doesn’t take into account behind-the-screen activity (planners, media buyers, creatives, production staff and so on where we don’t know the true levels of diverse representation. 

Was the choice of 10 September necessary? 

After all, this was the day before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and it seemed churlish to overshadow such a significant date with something, described to me by a non-adland mate, as “tokenism”. 

And why do it for just one day? Black History Month (this October) is, well, 31 days. 

2. C4/Emma R

Still, if Black to Front is the kind of C4 initiative designed to stick two fingers up at the DCMS as it completes its consultation on the future ownership of the channel, its last-minute deal with Amazon Prime to show the US Open final with Emma Raducanu was C4 at its best: bold, different and fast on its feet.

With an audience that peaked at 9.2m, advertisers would have been as happy as the audience.  

3. Unilever and the different faces of globalism 

Mindshare was the big winner in Unilever’s global media pitch, the results of which were announced last week - a triumph both for its network strength and, I think, its early adoption of a green growth mantra — witness its new proposition here and Change the Brief idea whereby it responds to client briefs with an alternative future-facing option — that would undoubtedly play well with wokie Unilever.

Indeed, you might say that Mindshare’s launch of Good Growth right in the middle the pitch process was a tactical masterstroke. 

But I couldn’t help noticing the somewhat strange distribution of markets among other networks.

Thus IPG — lucky them — get Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — while PHD combines strength in German-speaking markets (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), North Africa and the Middle East, as well as the outliers of Canada and Taiwan. 

In the latter cases, Mindshare retains the noisy neighbours (US and China) but doesn’t get Hong Kong. I get that doing Taiwan and China together is tricky, but separating Hong Kong and China??? Strange. 

Still, if you want to understand the seismic faultlines between multinational management of global and the local markets, you can’t do better than read this piece by Mark Ritson. 

How well this maps over to media planning and buying I don’t know, but I think Unilever’s Get on the Front Line marketing blueprint based on three rubrics — get real, do good, be unmissable — gives agencies scope to find common ground in individual markets without bowing to irrelevant diktats from global HQ.   

4. Paddington Zoo

They do love animals over at adam&eveDDB’s Paddington home, don’t they?

This time round, a skateboarding tortoise joins the rag doll dog (AA), the horse (Lloyds), chickens (Eve Sleep) cat (Temptations), and sheep (VW), not to mention the depressed-looking orang-utan a few years back for SSE. It’s a right menagerie. 

Our tortoise friend stars in an new(ish)…ok, three weeks old —ad for Avanti West Coast — and is so excited by the ‘feel-good’ travel he/she/it enjoys on the train that he/she/it whizzes around the countryside with unbridled joy. 

I’m tempted to say that all this humanisation of animals suggests A&E is a one-trick pony (sorry, no pun intended) but the reality is that a) as a nation, we’re unnaturally open to this kind of emotional manipulation, b) it especially works in ads because you can do things with animals — the joy of CGI — you can’t with humans, and c) A&E is bloody good at it.  

My only issue is that I don’t have a clue where Avanti West Coast trains go — which the ad doesn’t make clear — and my choice is destination first, train operator second. Minor gripe though. 

5. Weight gain needed 

I can count the weekday journeys I’ve made into central London in the last few months on the fingers of one hand -- and depressing experiences they have proved — although TFL figures suggest that last week, overall bus and tube usage was about two thirds of normal, and mainline train usage 50—60% of pre-pandemic levels. 

That felt about right from my trip last Thursday, although on a commuter-belt train journey earlier last week I noticed that station car parks were about 25% full. Whoever’s going back to work, it isn’t the managerial/boss classes. 

You don’t have to be a genius to understand the heavy toll that this has taken on London-specific media — OOH, but especially the Evening Standard, which reported a loss of £17m  for September 19-20 on ad revenues down about a third. And that only covers part of the pandemic period. 

Flimsy, at best, describes the 24-page edition I picked up with, on a rough count, an ed:ad ration of 70:30. To give you a sense of this, I weighed it and it comes in at 52g, the same as three chocolate-covered digestive biscuits. 

The Standard says digital revenues are growing at 20% pa — aren’t everyone’s? — but a digital-only future doesn’t seem a bright one, and in any case would surely demand a hyper-localised editorial approach. 

Let’s hope that as (if) return-to-work accelerates, the paper can make a proportionate weight gain. Skeletal editions are hardly worth the paper they’re printed on. 

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