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Month: December 2016

Dispelling a Christmas myth

Dispelling a Christmas myth





It’s Christmas time, so it’s time to talk about brands and Christmas and any discussion of brands associated with Christmas inevitably comes round to Coca-Cola and its part in creating the iconic image of Santa Claus as a jolly, white-bearded old man dressed in red and white.

Many people believe Coke was the first to use this type of image.

Unfortunately, rather like other Christmas myths, the truth is somewhat different. (Sorry kids). When it comes to a jolly Santa in a red and white suit, Coca-Cola was a me-too. Another brand beat them to it and the pioneer was actually another drinks brand, White Rock Beverages.

White Rock Beverages takes its name from the White Rock natural spring in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

The local Potawatomi Indians and subsequently the first settlers believed the waters had special medicinal powers that relieved a variety of symptoms. The spring became a destination for health-seeking vacationers.

In 1871, pharmacist H.M. Colver established The White Rock Medicinal Water Company and began bottling the water and selling it. It soon changed its name to White Rock Beverages and by 1876; the company was distributing the natural spring water throughout the country. (So as a brand white Rock actually predates Coca-Cola, born in 1886, Dr. Pepper which debuted in 1885 and Pepsi that started in 1898)

White Rock became America’s most recognized brand of water. It extended into Ginger Ale and other seltzers. It was chosen to christen Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” prior to its historic flight, and across the Atlantic, it was served at the coronation banquet of King Edward VII.



Then on December 19th 1915 in the run up to Christmas, it ran a black and white press ad in the San Francisco Examiner.  The ad showed a jolly old man dressed in what we would now recognise as a Santa suit and driving a soda truck laden with White Rock water.





The following year Santa had upgraded his mode of transport and was now seen flying a bi-plane in an ad that appeared in The New York Herald on December 10, 1916.

The world has to see the colour of that suit when White Rock ran an ad in the December 12 of Life Magazine with Santa resplendent in his red and white outfit.

There is another interesting twist in the ad.

Santa is sitting at his desk reading a letter and laughing. Perhaps not surprisingly there is an opened bottle of White Rock mineral water and a glass beside it, on his desk. What is more surprising is that Santa also has an opened bottle of Whiskey on his desk. This was after all during the height of prohibition. Many see this as a not too obvious nod towards the fact that both soda water and ginger ale were popular mixers for the illicit liquors of that era. Clearly, White Rock felt that the North Pole and Santa were exempt from U.S laws.


Coke’s association with a red and white Santa didn’t begin until 1931, when D’Arcy advertising executive Archie Lee convinced the company it needed a campaign that showed a wholesome Santa Claus who was both realistic and symbolic.

So now, you know White Rock was the first to use this style of image, but it is fair to say that it was Coca-Cola who would really popularise the image around the world.

The Copywriter and the blind man

The Copywriter and the blind man


A copywriter was walking to work when he passed a man sitting on the side of the street asking for money. A sign in front of a small bowl read “I am blind” but the bowl only contained a couple of coins. Perhaps not surprisingly, the blind man looked a little depressed.
The copywriter stopped and as he was getting some change, he started to talk to the man. When the blind man discovered he was a copywriter, he said, “Instead of giving me some change perhaps you could write me a better sign.”
The copywriter thought for a bit and finally added a few words to the man’s sign.
Walking back from work that evening, the copywriter saw that the man was still sitting by the side of the street but as he got closer, he could see the man looked happy and his bowl was full of money. He stopped to chat to the man again.
The blind told him that not only had people given him more money than they ever had before, many had stopped and talked to him.
He asked the copywriter what he had written on the sign.
“Oh nothing much I just added four words… it now reads ‘It is spring and I am a blind man’.”

This is not my story. It is not a new story but when I saw a version of it quoted by Paul Feldwick recently in Campaign, the urge to retell a great story got the better of me. So, this is my version. For me, the story not only demonstrates the power of emotion and the power of a few carefully chosen words, it is an example of how the best stories travel through their telling and retelling. Please tell your version to whoever you want.

How to create the perfect TV show

How to create the perfect TV show


Predicting a sure fire hit on TV is said to be almost impossible, which is why it’s traditional for most networks to commission and test pilots for most of the major shows we now see.
Netflix bucked that trend when in 2012 it commissioned “House of Cards” without a pilot. It was so certain of success that it paid up front for 26 episodes, over 1200 minutes of TV at a budget of around $100m.

Netflix believe in the power of data.

They track and analyse a lot of data.


Netflix has over 85 million customers who use their streaming service. It is this large user base that provides Netflix with all the data they need. Traditional ‘broadcast’ television networks don’t have the same level of access. They get much of their information from surveys based on samples of people who agree to have their viewing habits recorded.

Netflix has the advantage of being an internet company and this means they can tap into much more data from all their viewers.

Netflix can track not only what you watch but:

  • When you pause, rewind, or fast forward
  • What day you watch content (perhaps not too surprisingly Netflix has found people watch TV shows during the week and movies on the weekend.)
  • The date you watch
  • What time you watch content
  • Where you watch (postcode)
  • What device you use to watch (Do you like to use your tablet for TV shows, is children’s content watched on i-pads?)
  • The ratings given (about 4 million per day)
  • Searches (about 3 million per day)
  • Browsing and scrolling behaviour

Netflix also looks at data within movies and TV shows. The brand pays people to watch and tag different elements within movies and shows. Their aim is to provide better recommendations for other films and shows you might like to watch. So rather than the standard genres like ‘Drama’, ‘Horror’, Sci-Fi” they have created some 80,000 new micro-genres which include “comedy films featuring talking animals” or “teen comedy featuring a strong female lead”.
It was analysis of data like this that led Netflix to identify that people who loved the original 1990s BBC version of House of Cards also liked films starring Kevin Spacey and films directed by David Fincher. Based on this they outbid other networks including HBO and ABC for the rights to House of Cards and made a new version starring Kevin Spacey with the first two shows by David Fincher.
Jonathan Friedland, Chief Communications Officer, says “Because we have a direct relationship with consumers, we know what people like to watch and that helps us understand how big the interest is going to be for a given show. It gave us some confidence that we could find an audience for a show like House of Cards.”
The rest as they say in the movie business is “history”. House of Cards has had huge ratings and been a critical success, scooping a host of awards. Season 5 was run earlier this year.