Wake up class. Hands up all those who've read Naomi Klein's No
Logo. Hmmm. Well, I can proudly report that I've got as far as page 72.
It's not that I'm not enjoying it, it's just that, well, I'm a slow
reader and there's lots of other stuff going on.
What's all this got to do with this week's column? The answer is that
I've been looking for some kind of contextual reference through which to
consider the ad that is the subject of this week's column - and thanks
to Ms Klein I think I've found it.
'Ah', you say, 'but what ad is that? That's a picture of The Independent
of 27 March. There are no ads there.'
Well, true - sort of. But take a closer look at the front page,
specifically the yellow part of the skyline above the masthead. There it
says: 'Special issue today. Read the first newspaper to be published
with no advertising.'
Read more closely still, especially the small column at the bottom of
the front page, where it explains that Bradford & Bingley has bought
every ad site in the paper - including the classified - only to give the
sites back to the paper to fill with editorial, an extra 40 per cent to
Which is how we get to have a paper with no ads - well, none apart from
half the skyline and that tiny column on the front page which mentions a
B&B website, marketplace.co.uk. Except that the whole thing, in some
kind of inverted way, is actually an ad. A non-ad that is an ad, you
might say. Now you might see why using Ms Klein as a reference point
might come in handy.
Let's start by examining the business context behind this unusual, some
might say barking, decision by Bradford & Bingley and its media buyer,
New PHD (I know, you're thinking: who else but New PHD would pull off
something like this, but no sniggering please).
If you go to the website, you will see Bradford & Bingley is turning
itself into an independent financial advisor. IFA status means it
doesn't sell you any of its own products but tries to find the best
pension, mortgage, insurance and so on for you (a bit like a media buyer
that is genuinely media neutral). Other banks, which aren't IFAs, try to
sell you their own products, which could mean they shoehorn you into
products that don't suit (like a media buyer which shoves you into TV
just because it needs to meet its commitments to certain broadcasters).
So IFA status means Bradford & Bingley wishes to position itself as a
bank that is a) totally unbiased and impartial, and b) puts the
customers' interests before their own.
This is dull stuff, and so New PHD's challenge was to find a proposition
that brought it alive. From there it is but a short step to The
Independent (unbiased impartiality) and a longer step to the
let's-give-all-the-readers-extra-editorial idea (thus satisfying the aim
of showing that the customer comes first).
At this point we introduce the Klein test. Would she approve of such a
strategy? Given that one of her main criticisms of advertising is the
insidious, intrusive and inexorable way in which it is taking over every
space and hitherto-protected corner of our lives, the answer is
undoubtedly yes. Here we have an execution that is minimal and, in that
it reduces the volume of ads and brings extra editorial, of genuine
The Klein test, however, works in reverse for advertisers. That which
she approves of is probably not going to work for them. However laudable
Bradford & Bingley's aims, I find it hard to believe a so-called
'reverse Pepsi' (remember its decision to turn The Mirror blue and buy
every site?) will have had any impact on the readers of the paper. So
subtle was the branding that, even if they'd noticed the substitution of
editorial for ads, few, if any readers, would have made the connection
with Bradford & Bingley. If anyone's a winner, it's the paper.
Dead cert for a Pencil? Media golds all round probably.
Will it work? Philanthropy and advertising don't mix.
What would the chairman's wife say? Why can't we do singing ads like the