Friday, 28 August 2009

Thelondonpaper: RIP

I for one was deeply saddened last week, to hear of the closure of one of London’s free sheets, thelondonpaper. Now whilst I admit, I am not as avid a commuter in the big smoke as I used to be, ever since it was launched on 1st July 2006, I have always enjoyed perusing through its pages during my time spent on the London underground.
Whether it be a restaurant review, latest fashion news, what’s on in London, or even the humorous ‘Gay about Town’ column, I found thelondonpaper to be a delightful read full of engaging articles, original columns, and what’s more, different to all of the other papers on offer. Thelondonpaper had style, pizzazz, a flair for being slightly cooler than the rest, alongside an equally entertaining website! You could even class them as the ‘trendsetter’ of the group.
Whilst a number of commuters often complained about the ink which came off on your hands (despite the fact that it made it better for recycling!), opting to read competing title the London Lite instead, I often took great pleasure in flashing my londonpaper at the London Lite distributors, as they tried to wrestle the men in purple to the ground in a bid to fling their offerings in my face. I took pride in my choice, knowing that the paper I held so tightly in my hand, was a fashion statement – one to be proud to wear!
Sadly this is not the first publication of its kind to fall victim to a failing economy, but as the saying goes, they probably won’t be the last either. As a big fan of thelondonpaper, I will be very sad not to witness the sea of purple on the streets of London anymore. Disappointed not to be rugby tackled to the ground as the two distributors go head to head in vying for my attention. And hugely disheartened to sit on the train without my favourite accessory in hand.
Wishing all of those who worked at thelondonpaper a huge congratulations for all of the hard work, blood, sweat and tears that they invested over the last two years. Your paper will be sorely missed by many…

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Zombie reporting!

August is often referred to as silly season in terms of media coverage and reporting but seriously some of the stories that have been appearing in this weeks newspapers are definitely more fantasy than fiction smacking of something you might expect to appear in the ‘Daily Prophet’ rather than the ‘Daily Mail’. Yesterday for example the Mail’s science editor dedicated a full page to; ‘How to survive a zombie attack’. Unbelievably a group of scientists have actually dedicated both time and money to researching how we would cope with a ‘plague of the undead’ and what implications this would have on our national health service. Even more unbelievably the Mail has taken a whole page to reach the conclusion given by a Department of Health spokesman that; ‘In the absence of substantive evidence on the existence of zombies, our resources are focused on the health and wellbeing of the nation, not the living dead’.

Other equally newsworthy stories that have caught my eye this week are; ‘Vegetrouble’, a half page story in today’s Mirror about a prize winning onion grower who’s been banned from local shows, ‘Where’s that footpath’ nearly a full page in the Express about the growth of elephant grass in Somerset and ‘Knife crime’ an entertaining and enlightening feature in Delicious magazine about how kitchen knife sales are currently outnumbering sales of kitchen forks by 2:1. PR’s are frequently accused of dulling down real news but with some of the stories that have been given prominent and substantial coverage in this week’s press I would argue that maybe some journalists need all the help they can get.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Has the X Factor lost its ‘X Factor’?

I’m sure I wasn’t alone on Saturday night, as I sat in front of the box, takeaway in hand, ready for the launch of this year’s X Factor. The build up alone had been enough to set our blood racing, as I prepared myself for yet another series of the infamous talent contest, much loved across the nation.

So was I alone as well in my feeling of disappointment when the first show came to an end? …Well according to Sundays papers, apparently not! Whilst 12 million people tuned in, it seems that the majority of the nation were dissatisfied (some furious to say the least!) at the newly revamped version. What was set to be ‘bigger, better, faster and tougher’ by creator Simon Cowell himself, seemed to fall on its head as the performances of the poor, deluded, dysfunctional victims were broadcast to millions for sheer amusement.

The newly found backing music prevented the true talent coming through, and what’s more, the racket of the audience made it even harder to enjoy the performance. Whilst the odd few had their chance to shine, Stacey Solomon and Danyl Johnson who stood out a mile, the common consensus and backlash following on from the show’s launch and dismal contestants seemed to be of a fairly negative nature. In fact the new look infuriated scores of fans to such an extent, that irate messages were strewn across a range of internet forums.

The question is, will we continue to watch, in the hope that once we reach boot camp, the entertainment value of the ‘talented’ contestants who have filtered through will finally take a U-turn?

Unlike many others, I would personally prefer to see a change entirely in the progression of X factor, and only be subjected to those who really are capable of singing, as opposed to the ones who have been let through to the panel of judges, with zero talent whatsoever, but guaranteed to create hysteria! Isn’t the point of a talent show that only those with talent are allowed to perform? Nevertheless, I have no doubt that I will be sat in the same spot next Saturday night, in the hope that the show gets better. Surely it can’t get any worse?

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Lots (more) fun for Katie Price….

So Jordan has been on the PR campaign again this weekend, with another fun “family “ day out for self-publicist Katie Price. Yesterday, Katie took son Harvey to theme park Thorpe Park in Surrey while ex husband Peter looked after their other two children. As usual Katie and Harvey were accompanied by Katie's new boyfriend – cage fighter Alex Reid.

They all appeared to be having a whale of a time as they got a soaking on the log flume – although judging by the fingers he has rammed firmly in his ears, Harvey found his mum's shrieks of excitement a bit too much.

An eagle-eyed onlooker told the Daily Mail: "They all looked like they were having a fantastic time. Katie was holding Alex's hand a lot of the time. She was also taking care of Harvey and making sure he wasn't getting too hot."

The lovebirds also ventured onto the scarier rides, including the Saw rollercoaster. Other visitors said Katie screamed all the way down. She must've been petrified. Either that or she was terrified that Peter’s new show, Peter Andre: Going It Alone, is going to replicate the record number of viewers this week which it pulled in on Monday night on ITV2. And with the upcoming appearance of Cirkle’s very own Louise and Kate on the show viewing figures are bound to go through the roof. To quote one very cool chick “We are so team Peter!”

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Most Annoying Advert of All Time?

Two of the things we bang on about at Cirkle when it comes to marketing are creativity and memorability. It goes something like: if your PR, advertising and marketing aren’t creative, then they won’t be memorable. We applaud those companies who are prepared to be a little brave when it comes to their promotions and who are prepared to stand out from the crowd.

But there are instances where a campaign can be extremely memorable despite lacking any kind of clever creativity. And it’s one of these that is causing me somewhat of a quandary at present. It’s not far off the truth to say that the recent ad for the website is driving me totally bonkers (no pun intended). Watch it for yourself…

This is the epitome of everything I hate about advertising, appealing as it does to the lowest common denominator. It has graphics that look like they were designed by my five week old daughter. And someone somewhere sat down, listened to the company saying ‘we want our new ad to promote our URL’ and came up with the bright idea of repeating it about 500 times in 30 seconds. It has a soundtrack that is guaranteed to get in your head and drive you nuts, and therein lies my dilemma…

As an advert, very annoyingly, it’s extremely memorable. It works. You can’t help but have the web address in your head after you’ve seen it. It does what the Crazy Frog did for ringtones a few years back, and I don’t necessarily mean drive a nation mad. That’s just a side effect.

So where do you sit on this? Do you give kudos to for producing an ad that, despite its extreme annoyance factor, works? Or do you, like me as a marketeter, totally resent them for producing such an awful but undoubtedly successful ad and think twice about your entire career choice?!

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Am I A Beardist?

Being a member of the fairer sex I don’t often ponder about facial hair. But prompted by September’s Tacheback charity campaign, which Cirkle’s being working on for Remington, I’ve recently noticed a resurgence of cool beardy bands – Fleet Foxes, Kings of Leon (pictured) – and I find myself wondering what facial furniture says about a man.

To many men a beard says ‘I’m on holiday and can’t be bothered to shave’, but to some it’s a statement of individuality. This beard wearer is creative, he wants to be different, he’s not a corporate suit, he’s a free spirit – many things I find attractive in a man, but the beard, to be honest, would put me off. And yet, I actually can’t think of anything more manly than a man with a beard.

And then there’s that issue of trust, do men with chin hair have something to hide? Or does it just add to their mystery? I think ultimately, as with most things, it comes down to the grooming. A well groomed piece of facial fur belongs to a man that man looks after himself, he knows his own mind and you can be certain you won’t find yesterdays lunch hiding in it or any wildlife that you could imagine residing in a Bellamy bush.

Would I want to be up close and personal with a beard? I don’t think so, but truth be told, if I was a man, I would wear one. But it would be an immaculate specimen that I’d trim obsessively, and having seen Remington’s new Navigator Groomer in action as part of Cirkle’s ongoing PR campaign, I have to say I’d use that! I’d look after my facial hair carefully, stroke it often in quiet contemplation and be proud of the fact that I was man enough to not only to be able to grow it but also to wear it!

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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Iceland Drops Katona. At Last?

Heart-breaking I know, but supermarket chain Iceland has axed Kerry Katona from fronting its advertising campaigns following allegations that she is taking class A drugs. The News of the World published photos at the weekend that showed Katona allegedly snorting cocaine, and this follows a long train of PR-damaging newspaper coverage for the former Atomic Kitten. Iceland says that it now makes it “impossible” her to continue to work for the company.

Katona has fronted Iceland’s advertising for four years since she won ‘I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here’. What surprised me about that though, was that it’s ONLY four years – it seems like decades that she’s been trying (and failing) to get me to visit Iceland! In that time, she’s hardly been out of the press and the gossip mags for a variety of personal reasons, including battling drink and depression, and her wildly fluctuating weight.

So it’s maybe something of a surprise that Iceland has taken such a long time to end their working relationship. Paying a celebrity who attracts far more bad PR than good large sums of money in advertising fees would seem like folly. A spokesperson for the chain said: "She has been through some tough times in her personal life. We have always stood by her, as an example of a normal person and mum who has experienced some of the modern-day culture of fame, and how difficult it can be to deal with.” The company also said that it would help her get support for the drug addiction if she needed it.

So what now for Iceland and for Katona? I for one wish her the very best and hope she gets her life back on track. But I can’t help being relieved that I won’t be seeing her telling me that ‘Mums go to Iceland’ anymore. I suppose that job will fall to Coleen Nolan...

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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Social Experiment Leaves Maidstone Hopping Mad

A fly-posting campaign dubbed as a ‘social experiment’ by its creators is causing mayhem in the town of Maidstone. The campaign features an image of a drugged-up, Donnie Darko-esque cartoon rabbit with no words or explanation, which has been appearing all over the walls and street furniture around the town. The town centre is up in arms and the local council have got involved, but the eerie poster’s creator is intent on making a point about the way we are flooded with advertising every single day without questioning it.

Calling himself ‘Jonny Darko’, he said: “It is a social experiment. Every day the public is subliminally bombarded with vulgar, brash advertising. Product placement is everywhere you look. But because that advertising is paid for by big companies with money to throw at your council, it's considered acceptable. The objective of the rabbit head is just to see if a silly yet sinister image can break through that wall of routine in everyone's daily lives, and if they will start to notice their surroundings more and question everything.”

However, Maidstone town centre manager Bill Moss is furious. “This is not a social experiment, it is a disgrace and an insult to Maidstone”, he said. “For people who think that the posters will just be taken down and that’s that, they are wrong, it has caused thousands-of-pounds worth of damage as we have had to get a team out to take them down and then re-paint where it was – and that is coming out of the rate payers’ pocket. If these idiots want to do what they think is a social experiment then they should plaster their own houses in this graffiti, but don’t bring it into Maidstone.” Scary...

Maidstone councillor Stephen Paine, meanwhile, is taking things into his own hands by ripping down the posters and encouraging others to do the same. “If the guys behind these posters were carrying out legitimate social research then they would have been ethically obliged to talk to the council or community leaders about what it is they planned to do”, he stated.

Leaving aside the bitter war of words and the way Jonny Darko has gone about it, I for one think that he has a point. When was the last time you really took note of advertising? I bet there are very, very few ads of all the ones you see every single day that register with you on any level at all. It takes superb creativity to attract your attention – something that, ironically, Darko appears to have achieved. At Cirkle, we’re concentrating more and more on engaging and interacting with our clients’ customers, not just pushing information at them. Via social media and the web, people can now choose who and what they want to have in their lives. And we want to be there…

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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Shock and Horror over the £40m jewel heist…

But for me it’s not because of the crime, it’s because of the £3m price tag for one of the missing watches!

The news is dominated with the story of brazen robbers who yesterday carried out Britain's biggest gems heist, seizing £40 million worth of jewels from Graff in Mayfair but what caught my attention was how much this single watch contributed to the total haul.

What a reckless waste of money this is! Even if I had a bank balance to rival the Sultan of Brunei I would be reluctant to wear a £3m watch. In a time where people die of starvation every day this just seems like a sickening way to spend your money – buy a house, buy an Island, buy a private jet if you must - I can just about get my head around that (though I will still confess to being a bit envious) but not a watch!

On a lighter note that struck, the other thing that struck me about the story is the get-away vehicle…a Ford Galaxy. It seems even gem robbers go for reliability and durability.

Video of heist

Burger buns at the ready!

A blazing burger backlash is brewing as McDonalds is apparently going to be the only food sponsor permitted branding in and around the Olympic stadium and other key venues. While recognising the need for major corporate backing and sponsorship with such a large scale undertaking it’s hard to see the synergy between a fast food chain and an event that’s supposed to celebrate sporting prowess while motivating and inspiring people to become more active and lead healthier lifestyles. At a time when issues surrounding healthy eating, obesity, food provenance and sustainability are all key and under the constant media spotlight, do the Olympic committee think that this sponsorship is really appropriate? It’s a bit like Texaco sponsoring Greenpeace or Benson and Hedges supporting a cancer charity! Aside from that does this partnership really showcase the best of British cuisine and culture? The UK has a wealth of world renowned restaurants that we should be promoting along with home grown produce and culture. Rather than having one major sponsor maybe the Olympics should have provided an opportunity for lots of business to get involved, boost the economy and really support best of British! The negative media surrounding this deal just goes to show that sponsorship, advertising and charity partnerships only work when there is synergy and appropriateness. The consumer is cannier than ever and will see through poorly thought out associations to such an extent that it could actually have a negative impact on the brand image and reputation.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Twitter Hack Makes Headline News

Last week, something pretty big happened in the world of social media: Twitter was offline for two hours. “So what?”, you ask. “Doesn’t every website go down at some stage?” Well, generally yes. But they don’t make headline news!

Within an hour of Twitter being offline, BBC Newsbeat was reporting the event on Radio One. Everyone from the LA Times, ITN News, Boston Herald, New Zealand Herald and hundreds of others reported the news as if it were a major global event. So was it a quiet day or do Twitter and Facebook now have such a worldwide impact that they deserve the attention paid to them in this instance?

As it turned out, Twitter, Facebook, Google and a number of other websites were on the verge of collapse last Thursday after they were subject to so-called denial-of-service attacks, where their servers were flooded with a huge volume of data in an effort to disable them. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone said: "Attacks such as this are malicious efforts orchestrated to disrupt and make unavailable services such as online banks, credit card payment gateways, and in this case, Twitter for intended customers or users.” Facebook reported that its service had been “degraded” but not taken down. It was later confirmed that the attack was "massively co-ordinated" and aimed at one individual, an activist pro-Georgian blogger, and not the websites themselves.

But what does this story highlight? If you disregard the fact that it shows the susceptibility of the internet and the popular websites that we take for granted, what it does tell us in very clear terms is that social media in whatever form, but particularly Twitter and Facebook, are here to stay in a big, big way. Facebook has more than 250 million active users, and Twitter already has around 45 million users worldwide. Anyone with any interest in communications or the media should sit up and take note of how this story was reported and the importance placed on it by both online and offline media.

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Friday, 7 August 2009

Swings and Roundabouts

In line with the continued debate surrounding the nutritional value of organic foods when compared with conventionally produced foods, well respected baby food brand Hipp Organic has identified that the criteria used in the latest report by the FSA failed to address a number of studies which indicated the significant difference of organic foods, in addition to the wider benefits that organic farming and foods are guaranteed to deliver.

A number of journalists have picked up on this fuelled debate; one journalist commented that she was fed up with the contents of her organic food box turning limp after only a few days, so opted to purchase conventional fruit and vegetables instead in a bid to keep her food fresher for longer. Although in this instance, it might be worth considering the significant level of chemicals which our fruit and veg must be sprayed with in order to keep them well preserved!?

Another news reporter agreed that home made food is far better than something purchased in a jar, but have these journalists taken into account that homemade food is still made utilising produce which has been heavily reinforced?

So as the debate continues, whilst it may not be as beneficial for adults to consume organic foods, Hipp has commented how vital it is that babies are not exposed to harmful pesticides at such an early stage in their development. Choosing to wean them organically will reduce their exposure to harmful toxins and give them the best start.

If concerned parents spend so much time and financial investment in creating the safest environment for our little ones, including the furniture we display in our homes, the clothes we dress them in, the toys they play with, and the products we use on their skin, should be not be spending more time thinking about the foods we are putting into their little bodies?

I have no doubts that the debate over the benefits of ‘organic foods’ will continue for years to come, in the same way that the health benefits of wine is constantly under scrutiny; one minute it’s good for us, the next it’s not….so as someone who is fully in favour of organic, I shall wait for the latest installment in this game of swings and roundabouts.

On Your Marks, Get Set - Grow!

Get ready to get totally ‘tache-tastic as September is just around the corner and that means only one thing for the Cirkle body+soul team, and that’s TacheBack. Throughout the month of September we’ll be encouraging the nation’s men to grow a sponsored moustache to raise vital cash for The Everyman Male Cancer Campaign and their research into prostate and testicular cancer. So get ready to get involved, sign up early and get growing!

Remington is proudly supporting the annual charity campaign for the second year running and as TacheBack’s official grooming partner there’s no excuse for our guys taking to have unruly, unkempt facial hair. Remington has the perfect piece of kit to keep sporadic hair in it’s place and under control - the Navigator 10-in-1 personal groomer – it’s all you need to perfectly preen ‘taches, leaving them in tip top condition and avoiding the ultimate sin of it becoming, shock horror, a beard! But what shape could you whip your ‘tache into? Maybe you’ll go for a ‘Mercury’ (a la Freddie), a Dessie Lynam or a Brucie bounus. One thing is for certain though and that is that a ‘tache is THE thing to be seen with this September

The Cirkle girls have even convinced current British Rally Champion Guy Wilks AND his rally car to come on board with the campaign and get growing some serious upper-lip hair. Used to ‘shaving’ time off his laps, see how Guy gets on by following him on his blog . What’s more, the top TacheBack fundraiser will even win an awesome rally experience with Guy and have a race around the tracks in his rally car.

And girls, it’s not all up to the men. Get your guys involved and help them love, care for and nurture their ‘tache and raise money for a great cause.

You can sign up now at

It’s ‘tache time people!

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Shopping habits in a recession…

What’s in your shopping basket? Tesco Value Mince? Asda Smart Price Baked Beans? Sainsbury’s Basics Bread? It’s no surprise that the recession is affecting our shopping habits as we think much harder about what we put in our baskets. Even Waitrose, understanding that they could lose custom during these hard times, has introduced a value range - Essential Waitrose - so even true brand snobs can now buy discount brands.

t’s these discount lines that are at the very heart of the current grocery wars. If the big stores can show their customers that they can save money, it makes sense that they will shop there more often. According to TNS Global World Panel, Sainsbury’s, Morrisson’s and Asda are all up compared to last year, while Tesco’s market share is down. But if you’re a Tesco shareholder don’t panic - Tesco still receives a massive 30.8% of our grocery spend.

However, as the big four gain more and more of our grocery spend, the independent sector dramatically loses out. Last year our local stores received £550m of our grocery spend. This year the figure is £50m less. So can independent stores survive? According to Dean Best of, they can, by emphasising the product knowledge and service that consumers won’t find in the big multiple grocers. The experience should be much more pleasurable and needn’t cost the earth.

But what about the future. Will we revert to old shopping habits or will these new cost-cutting habits be here to stay? Dean Best reckons consumers are getting a kick out of finding a bargain and that won’t go when the economy recovers. But Dr Marylyn Carrigan, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Open University, thinks that we will revert to pre-recession shopping habits, as we reward ourselves for months of budget shopping, a little like rewarding yourself with the cake at the end of a diet!

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Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Oxo Takes Stock With Relaunch!

Here at Cirkle we are big fans of iconic food brands, so it was great for us to be involved in this week’s big story – the relaunch of Oxo stock cubes! Premier Foods, the makers of Oxo, have reshaped the cubes as an ‘X’ for a limited time whilst they run a campaign to find the next Oxo family for their TV adverts, and it has really captured the interest of the nation in the last few days.
The brilliantly named Oxo Factor will encourage families or groups of friends to make their own adverts, five of which will be shown on TV this autumn, with the winning ad running during the X Factor final. The ‘X’ shaped cube is a fantastic link with the campaign and has proved to be a great publicity tool!

When we placed the story in The Grocer on Saturday, we were expecting that the consumer press might be interested, but even we didn’t anticipate the pick up – eight major newspapers plus Sky News ran the story on Sunday and Monday! The Mail ran almost a full page and the Mirror turned the story into a focus on other relaunches. We eventually ended up driving the equivalent of almost £75,000 of press coverage from what was originally a trade story.

The story received a number of reactions – some thought it was a great, exciting rebrand, whist others have questioned if it ain’t broke, why fix it? What we can all agree on is that the ‘X’ cubes have driven a huge amount of publicity for a classic British brand… hopefully a huge amount of sales will now follow!