Jeremy Clarkson and the Cult of Celebrity

“There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank or commercial considerations.”

So said BBC Director General Tony Hall yesterday, in the only acceptable outcome of the inquiry into Jeremy Clarkson’s behaviour. The BBC investigation found that Oisin Tymon was “subject to an unprovoked physical and verbal attack by Jeremy Clarkson”. It said the attack lasted around 30 seconds and only stopped when a witness intervened. Some of the abuse was racial in content and the victim drove himself to hospital with a bloodied face.

A number of heavy weight influencers supported Clarkson – albeit when the details of the assault were still not fully clarified – but there’s a measure of irresponsibility from David Cameron, who supported the ‘huge talent’ and claimed My children will be heartbroken if Top Gear is taken off air’. Talented he may be, but his credentials as a TV presenter are irrelevant. Cameron also told the BBC that his 11 year old daughter “has threatened to go on hunger strike unless Jeremy Clarkson is restored.” Of course he is joking, but again the sentiment feels uncomfortable.

I was surprised that BBC Newsround entertained the idea that Clarkson’s removal from Top Gear should be questioned in an article this morning: ‘Should Jeremy Clarkson have been dropped from Top Gear?‘ As children’s news outlet they have a responsibility to deliver fair messages – yes they should be balanced and of course encourage people to question – but the only answer to the headline is a firm yes.

Where celebrities are concerned, people seem to forget the fundamental values of common humanity – which includes the freedom to feel safe, and to see justice upheld when this is abused – and instead enjoy the theatre of a great hero being ignominiously called to account, and then championed.

A huge backlash greeted the news that, God forbid, Clarkson should answer for his racial and physical assault of a colleague. A million people signed a petition called “Bring Back Jeremy Clarkson” which was delivered via a tank to the BBC with the Stig atop it and a #BringBackClarkson banner on the side. Did I mention a base love of theatrics?

The cult of celebrity is not a new thing – fascination with those elevated above the ordinary person is as old as time, be it the rise of gladiators to athletic superstardom in ancient Rome, or the scandal of a king abdicating for an American lover in the 20s. People love a good spectacle, and the fact that the verdict on Clarkson is headline news today above the air tragedy in the French Alps speaks volumes.

There seems to be little sympathy for the victim of the attack (if anything Clarkson is seen as the victim) and where celebrities have commented, such as Gary Lineker and Dara O Briain, it is to joke about the Top Gear replacement. It seems to be unpopular to reduce the situation to its bare essentials: a man has been sacked for punching a colleague in the face. The Huffington Post reported the story as such, and has received 36,000 Facebook likes to date – paltry in contrast to the hundreds of thousands of retweets for #BringBackClarkson.

If someone in the office hit someone else there would immediately be calls to fire said person: why should the violence and the gravity of the situation be diluted by the popularity of the perpetrator?

The BBC is allegedly set to lose as much as £67million a year following the removal of Clarkson from Top Gear – but they would have lost a whole lot more in integrity if they had not.

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Speak for England, Margaret!

Margaret Hodge has been accused of being rude. She was. Margaret Hodge has been accused of being bullying. Possibly. Margaret Hodge has been accused of losing her rag. Definitely, and I envy her.

In an age of carefully choreographed media appearances, this week’s grilling of HSBC bosses at the Public Accounts Committee translated into a tour-de-force performance by its chair, the Labour MP for Dagenham.

If you haven’t seen Rona Fairhead, chair of the audit committee at HSBC, squirm when asked why she hadn’t quite grasped the fact that the bank’s Swiss business might, just might, possibly, potentially, be used for tax evasion, you can watch it here.

As Simon Jenkins comments in today’s Guardian, even a child knows that Switzerland is a tax haven. Apparently this little fact had escaped Rona.

Why do I envy Margaret Hodge? Because I recently closed down two HSBC accounts. I’d had enough of the money laundering, manipulation of LIBOR, playing around in the North American Mezzanine Credit Default Swap market, bonuses – I could go on but you get the point.

I marched into my local branch in Bromsgrove intent on giving the stuffed shirt who runs the place a piece of my mind when he, surely, would  ask me why I was deserting the sinking ship.

Only he didn’t ask. He directed me to a chair and then went off to check whether I had any money in either of the accounts or whether my salary was paid into them. I know this because I got out of my chair and looked over his shoulder.

When he found out that my salary was paid into another bank, he didn’t bother asking. He just turned on his heels leaving me with a colleague to cut up my cards.

So I never got my Margaret Hodge moment and to add insult to injury a week later I got an automatically generated postcard from Head Office which said “It’s sad to say goodbye”.

No it wasn’t and well done Margaret.

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Oborne makes a stand for journalistic integrity

What do you do if you are a journalist and your editor refuses to cover a story because it has commercial implications for the paper?

In Peter Oborne’s case you resign and you have to applaud him for it. If you’ve missed it, Oborne, Chief Political Commentator for the Daily Telegraph, resigned yesterday because of his paper’s lamentable coverage of the HSBC tax evasion story.

Launching a broadside against the editors of the Telegraph, Oborne claims that the Telegraph’s pitiful coverage, which amounted to a small column at the bottom of page 2, was due to the fact that HSBC is a major advertiser.

It’s difficult not to agree with him. I noticed last week that the Telegraph had hardly touched the story despite it being front page news for the Guardian, which broke the story, and blanket coverage across the BBC, Channel 4 News and Sky. Even The Times picked it up!

I originally thought that this was political partisanship, the Telegraph being right-leaning and the story being an embarrassment to David Cameron who appointed Stephen Green, former CEO of HSBC and an ordained minister with the Church of England, who once wrote a book about ethical banking (you can’t write comedy like this), as a Trade Minister in his government.

I was wrong. According to Oborne, advertising revenue was behind the decision and on Channel 4 News last night hinted that other stories involving HSBC, presumably the laundering of drug money, a story which broke in 2012 and the bank’s involvement in the manipulation of the London Interbank Borrowed Rate, or LIBOR, the benchmark global interest rate.

These are serious allegations for the Telegraph and the paper has hit back hard calling Oborne’s accusations “astonishing” and “sinister”.

But there are two wider issues here. Firstly, in an age of plummeting circulation rates, newspapers are increasing reliant on corporate advertising spend to keep going. Inevitably that leads to compromises and it takes a strong editor to stand up to newspaper owners when it comes to money.

Which brings me to the Barclay Brothers, owners of the Telegraph. One can’t help but wonder whether the fact that the brothers are wealthy tax exiles in the offshore tax haven of Guernsey played a role in this story effectively being spiked.

Certainly it would be in their interest to sweep this little issue under the carpet as quickly as possible, both from a personal and professional point of view. What was it that Leona Hemsley, one of the world’s great tax avoiders said, “Only the little people pay taxes”?

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The WPR Social Retention Report: how to prevent losing your hard-earned social media fans

The buzz around social networking has plateaued in the last 18 months. It’s not new anymore and even the latest networks coming to the fore aren’t offering much revolution. However, social media has firmly become part of our everyday lives. It is ingrained in our society and is not going away, although it is proving more of a challenge to make social successful for brands.

For the first time, WPR Agency has unearthed why many consumers are unfollowing and unliking in their droves and what brands and businesses can do to stop them. In order to find out how, we worked with OnePoll to survey 2,000 consumers about their social media habits, and were we shocked at the results. Our findings revealed that almost 70% of Brits have unliked or unfollowed at least one brand account in the past 12 months, 35% have dispatched of at least six!

Clearly consumers are becoming more selective, they are losing interest in dancing cat memes and cheer up on a Monday quotes. It’s white noise. Creative content is more crucial than ever and posts need to be clever, witty, informative and entertaining to resonate with your followers.

There seems to be two major causes of social brand fatigue. The first is blurting out too much content – nearly half of everyone surveyed said one of the main reasons they unlike or unfollow brands is because they post or tweet too much. What too much is, is a little subjective – but ultimately it’s an issue that must be considered for community managers.

According to our research, the average person likes and follows 8.7 brand on social media. Worryingly, they have also unfollowed or unliked an average of 6.2 brands in the last 12 months. This evidence shows us that consumers are becoming more discerning about which companies they let into their newsfeed. Despite all Facebook’s efforts to control and customise everyone’s social space to the best content for the individual, there is clearly a trend for people feeling they’re still getting too much commercial content sent to them, probably because they’re receiving more sponsored posts than ever before.

The second big problem is boredom – with so much repetitive content and ‘regular features’ used by brands to fill content plans, it’s no surprise that people get tired of seeing similar things month on month. Almost 46% of Facebook users and 49% of tweeters say they unlike or unfollow brands when they get bored of their content. To truly thrive on social, businesses and their supporting agencies need to innovate and pay attention to the latest trends to deliver content which strikes a chord with their community and keeps them entertained.

Social retention IS becoming much more of an issue. Next time you dip into Facebook insights or log on to check out how many potential customers discarded your brand page or Twitter account from their newsfeed forever more and think, ‘what did we do to turn them off?’

In the WPR Social Retention Report we reveal what causes consumers to unlike or unfollow, and how brands can avoid being discarded like yesterday’s news. Download the full report from our website here and tell us what you think on Twitter @wpragency.

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Does Facebook really know you better than your friends?

Arthur C. Clarke, the virtuoso sci-fi writer, inventor and futurist, once wrote “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

That was in 1973.

Had a person from that era viewed today’s technological innovations – with no awareness of the events that had occurred in-between – then presumption of a magical source might be understandable or reasonable, logical even.

For a computer to be able to match, and even surpass, human judgment would have been considered as much a fantasy as Clarke’s writings. But for us, living in the now, this is the reality in which we dwell.

Earlier this week, new research showed that computers can be a better judge of psychological traits than work colleagues, family and even friends. In a joint study, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Cambridge found that a computer model built to analyse Facebook ‘likes’ was able to predict personality traits with more accuracy than one’s friends and colleagues, and just as accurately as one’s spouse.

The computer model was able to make more accurate predictions about the subject than a work colleague by analysing 10 likes; more than friends or roommates with 70 likes; it surpassed a family member with 150 likes; and a spouse with 300 likes.

The study analysed personality self-ratings from over 80,000 volunteers using a 100-item personality questionnaire. Human judges were asked to express their judgment of a subject’s personality using a 10-item questionnaire, whereas computer-based judgments were made based on data mining of the subjects’ Facebook likes. The computer model’s predictions were based on the articles, videos, artists and other items the subjects had ‘liked’ on Facebook.

Personality Judgments - Facebook computer versus humans

“Accuracy of Stafford/University of Cambridge computer model’s personality judgement compared with humans” (Credit:Wu Youyou/Michal Kosinski).

Wu Youyou, one of the co-authors of the research, expressed his belief that their findings suggest that “in the future, computers could be able to infer our psychological traits and react accordingly, leading to the emergence of emotionally-intelligent and socially-skilled machines.”

So why is it that through machine-learning, computers can make more accurate judgments about personality than you or I? Co-author of the study, Michal Kosinski, believes that computers have an advantage due to their ability to retain and access large amounts of information and execute complex algorithms to rapidly analyse vast data sets. In contrast, humans lag behind computers, mainly because they often fall foul of biases such as a tendency to extrapolate about behaviour based on too few examples.

But can a computer do everything? Before you succumb to media hyperbole about a real-life robotic uprising led by HAL 9000 or Skynet (the computers from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and ‘The Terminator’ franchise, respectively, for those yet to embrace their inner geek), the authors concede that computer modelling has limitations when trying to understand personality traits of those without a digital presence or judgments based on “subtle cognition”.

So as yet, whilst this study is an impressive achievement that will no doubt pave the way for improved human-computer interactions, no machine can match the subtlety, spirit, capacity for compassion and understanding of the human brain.

I began with a quote and so I must end with one, if only to satisfy my own feelings of poetic conclusion: “Man is still the most extraordinary computer of them all” – John F. Kennedy. True then and true now, but it may not always be the case.

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Liberty and Charlie Hebdo: The Media Reaction and its Implications

The injustice and tragedy of the attack on Charlie Hebdo has roused the world to fiercely unite in the name of freedom of expression – just a glance at social media’s response – defiantly recreating cartoons, the popularity of #JeSuisCharlie – speaks volumes about the collective stance the world has taken.

Amidst it all, at the very heart of it all, is the media reaction: the consequences of which have been thrown into sharp relief following an unprecedented requirement to clearly make a statement about the issues thrown up. Should the media reprint the cartoons? Should they blur them? If they reprint them, as Stephen Fry calls for, to ‘defend the art of satire’, are they not further problematizing the very real issues of racial and religious hatred that have so markedly torn the world apart in recent years? If they don’t, are they proving the terrorist’s point: that the gun is indeed mightier than the pen?

CNN sent an email to its staff on Wednesday afternoon explaining how best to address the depiction of the cartoons, which seemed to me to be rather confused in sentiment. While close ups that make the cartoons legible are to be avoided, videos or stills of protests showing Parisians holding up copies of the offensive cartoons if shot wide are ok. The title is ‘not at this time showing the cartoons of the Prophet considered offensive by many Muslims’, but ‘platforms are encouraged to verbally describe the cartoons in detail.’

It seems that CNN’s stance is reflective of the mood of the media, which appears unable to make its mind up about how best to report – after all, every communication from the media, every blurred image or omission of detail, is in itself a reflection of the broader stance they take with regards to the issues raised.

The most prominent and controversial of these issues is the collective belief in the absolute right for Charlie Hebdo to print those cartoons, even if they may cause outrage and offence. Titles such as the Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Bloomberg are publishing slide shows of some of the most provocative cartoons.

Conversely, numerous media outlets have come under fire for altering photos of Charlie Hebdo covers when reporting on the story, such as the New York Daily News, and the Daily Telegraph, which posted a blurred image of the magazine on its live blog which was later removed. Nick Cohen of the Spectator fiercely opposes the stance taken by the Financial Times Europe Editor, whose article he believes, is ‘oblivious to its own prejudices’  and is reflective of ‘insidious articles, which condemn freedom of speech as a provocation and makes weasel excuses for murder without having the guts to admit it.’

This got me to thinking about the implications of such an argument: if Charlie Hebdo has the right to publish content that they know to offend, could it be suggested that it is wrong for the Sun to come under attack for showing images of topless women?

It could be argued that they are entirely incomparable: the cartoons act as a satirical (if irreverent) dig at extremism, whereas Page 3 is (arguably), an outdated mainstay of misogynistic values. However I’m troubled by the thought that, although the content isn’t entirely comparable and the two are very different publications, the fact remains: both contain loyal audiences that consume the content that offends, both are aware that there is controversy surrounding the content – so should the No More Page 3 campaign – a seeming bastion of female empowerment and forward thinking – be rethought? Is a protest against it an infringement of liberties too then?

Moreover, where does this leave the equally praised and endorsed Free The Nipple campaign, which takes a stand against Instagram’s topless women regulations? Which is the more laudable campaign, when both express a desire to further the development of women’s rights? And then where is the line – when does the freedom of expression stop, and the hate crime begin? It appears we are at a crossroads in terms of conceptualising freedom of expression, and the sad events of this week have highlighted this. A CNN spokesperson said that the outlet is “actively discussing the best way of addressing the key issues and images…The conversations will continue throughout the day and beyond…” – a more pertinent statement than he possibly intended, but one I wholeheartedly believe delivers a resounding message for us all.

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Howdy (Google) Partner

There is much celebration afoot here at WPR following confirmation that we have achieved Google Partner status – just months after the launch of our dedicated search engine marketing (SEM) division.

All in all, this is a great start to 2015. Let’s just say that work is going better for me this month than the whole dryathlon thing.

Businesses with Partner status are recognised as trusted by Google to deliver campaigns across paid search, display and video. Google says of its Partners: “their businesses are healthy, their customers are happy, and they use Google best practices” – explaining why we are feeling especially triumphant on this cold January day.

To meet the programme criteria, our terrifically talented SEM team had to meet significant minimum spend requirements, be Google accredited themselves – and consistently implement best practice across accounts.

I couldn’t be prouder of this achievement – chiefly as it’s a reflection of the hard work put in by our digital team.

We’re delivering campaigns (in-house) across social media, paid search and SEO – in fact digital work now accounts for nearly 25 per cent of our annual turnover.

At the end of last year, Twitter asked for our permission to use our work as an example of best practice in their global webinars.  Needless to say, we said yes! 2014 also saw us add some major high street names to our digital client portfolio – and be named a Twitter Elite agency.

So, happy New Year to you – and well done to the surviving dryathletes.  Alas, I shall be celebrating the good start to the New Year with a tipple or two this weekend.

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My Man of the Year

It’s time to reveal my high achievers of the year, those individuals that have made a real contribution or, frankly, just made me laugh. As usual, and I make no excuse for this, politicians dominate proceedings, but don’t let that stop you reading on.

Whether you agree with Nigel Farage or not, you have to admit that there is no other politician in the British Isles who could have pulled off his Ryder Cup advert for Paddy Power. He then followed it up with an appearance on Dom & Stef meet Nigel Farage in which the booze guzzlers from Gogglebox asked him all the questions the man in the street would like to ask him and then (unintentionally) poured wine all over his trousers. All of this while inflicting two bloody noses to the Conservatives in successive by-elections.

There is a serious point here though – both TV appearances will have reached sections of the electorate that have tuned out conventional politicians who still rely on the Sunday Politics and Andrew Marr to get their messages over. For this reason, if no other, Nigel is my Communicator of the Year.

Barnstorming Speech of the Year was delivered by Gordon Brown in the Scottish Referendum campaign. He may not go down well in West Sussex but he remains highly respected North of the Border and can justifiably claim to have made a significant contribution to saving the Union – which is more than Cameron, Miliband and Clegg did. One suspects he has one more ‘big job’ in him, perhaps at the IMF or World Bank.

My Journalist of the Year was a close fought race. Dan Hodges in the Telegraph deserves praise for forecasting eighteen months ago that Miliband was on dodgy ground. But the accolade must go to John Harris of the Guardian whose video tour of the country, both North and South of the Border during the autumn by-elections, graphically illustrated the alienation that many feel from Westminster politics.

My Legal Eagle of the Year is Michael Garcia who, in his own understated way, speared Sepp Blatter and FIFA by disowning his own (abridged) report into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process.

My Photo of the Year is the kid who got bored with the idea of meeting the President of the United States in the Oval Office and instead decided to dive headfirst onto the sofas. You just know his mortified parents, moments after this shot was taken, screamed at him, “Will you stop it!” That boy will go far.

However there is one outstanding candidate for Man of the Year. In 2014 he lost a Referendum campaign and resigned his party’s leadership. But it was also the year in which he gave a bloody nose to the Establishment, saw a massive surge in membership for his party and has put devolution and the British Constitution front and centre in the forthcoming election.

The ‘Westminster Parties’, as he likes to call them, barely had time to give thanks for his resignation before he declared that he was going to stand as an MP in May, presumably because he knows that his party could hold all the cards in the coalition negotiations that will start on May 8th. My Man of the Year is soon to be MP for Gordon in Aberdeenshire, Alex Salmond.

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My Villain of the Year

We’re back! After a year’s hiatus for no other reason than sheer exhaustion this time last year, by popular demand I am resurrecting my annual heroes and villains blog (yes, some people really do like reading this rubbish, I’m as surprised as anyone!).

Politics as ever throws up its fair share of villains and this year has been no exception. The Prime Minister deserves a bucket load of something unmentionable being poured all over him for his blatantly partisan and tribal reaction the day after the Scottish Referendum result. Faced with a moment that called for healing and statesmanship, the PM’s call for English votes for English laws was an act of supreme self-interest which did neither him nor the United Kingdom any good.

However, one politician has stood head and shoulders above the rest this year for sheer pigheadedness and blatant violations of international law (as if that ever mattered!). Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Crimea set off an international crisis, resulted in a passenger plane being shot down, has all but collapsed the Russian economy and caused a run on the rouble. Well done Vlad!

On the sporting front it hasn’t been a vintage year. One suspects it will be some time before we get another Tiger Woods and the fire hydrant circa 2008 scenario. However, American golfer Dustin Johnson has attempted to lower the bar this year, being forced to take a sabbatical from the US Tour due to allegations of cocaine use and multiple infidelities with other tour player’s wives. He has, unwittingly, also provided my quote of the year, courtesy of his former coach who said, “Dustin’s so dense, light bends around him”. Excellent!

I really can’t let this year go by without bringing up the World Cup and Roy Hodgson. Even before he had got to Brazil, the England manager, who should have an Adidas boot permanently sewn into his mouth, had insulted the locals in Manaus. That was just a foretaste though for the appalling performance of his team during the failed group qualification campaign. Given more than 18 months to work out a plan to cope with Italy’s Pirlo and then Uruguay’s Suarez, he resorted to flailing his arms around on the touchline while offering both players acres of space in which to inflict maximum damage. How much longer are we supposed to put up with this man and how much longer will sycophants like Henry Winter in the Telegraph keep defending him?

I try to avoid celebrities, but this really has been a vintage year for talentless people being given the oxygen of publicity and invading my television. Claudia Winkleman’s enforced absence from Strictly Come Dancing, which led to the temporary inclusion of Zoe Ball, only served to highlight how awful Tess Daly is. It spoke volumes when #Keep Zoe Not Tess started trending!

However Tess’ awfulness is nothing compared to a woman who regularly appears on morning television. Katie Hopkins (why is this woman on my TV?) has this year insulted Kelly Brook, Peaches Geldof, Kym Marsh, the Palestinians, breastfeeding mothers, Jessica Ennis, Stereo Kicks and the obese, whilst praising the police officer who shot Michael Brown. She has, in fact, almost singlehandedly invented the term “professional troll”.

However, my irritating celebrity of the year is Jeremy Clarkson, a man rapidly making the journey from national treasure to outcast. The whole number plate fiasco in Argentina really was the final straw. “It was a coincidence” says Jeremy. Yeah right!

Nevertheless there is some good news for celebrities this Xmas. When the Tulisa Contostavlos drug trial collapsed, few suspected that up to 24 separate cases which hinged on evidence given by the News of the World’s Fake Shiekh would be reopened by the Crown Prosecution Service. To cap it all, Panorama revealed his real identity by plastering his image all over national television – which hopefully will put a stop to his career for good.

In fact, few people have done more to damage the journalistic profession, so my villain of the year is former investigate journalist (and I use that term in its loosest possible sense) Mazzer Mahmood.

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The Zoella Controversy

A twenty something woman called Zoe Sugg caused quite a bit of controversy this week and has caused a bit of a storm on social media too. Who is Zoe Sugg? Well, she’s a vlogger of course.

Still not sure?

Zoe has run a vlog (video blog) called Zoella since 2009 and as her visitor numbers grew, so did her profile. Talking about everything fashion and beauty, followers loved her natural, relatable style and brands loved the statistics when it came to her blog reach and engagement levels.

Breaking through from being just another face on YouTube to becoming a ‘personality’ in her own right, Zoella now boasts over 6.6 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, more than 300 million video views and was named by The Telegraph last year as one of Britain’s most influential Tweeters. She’s even one of the voices, with her other half Alfie Deyes (a fellow blogger, don’t you know), on this year’s Band Aid single, despite the fact she’s not a musician – that’s how far her reach has spread.

And now she has stepped out from behind her video camera and put pen to paper.

Well, almost.

She signed a two book deal with Penguin earlier this year and when her first tome, Girl Online, a fictional story of a 15 year old anonymous blogger, was launched last month, it fast became a best seller and broke the first week sales record for a debut author at 78,109 copies and it’s become the fastest selling book of the year to boot.

This in itself is to be commended but the reason why Zoella has been making headlines this week is because the authenticity of her book was called into question and such calls were answered with an admission from Penguin and Zoe herself that “she did not write Girl Online on her own” (cue outraged gasps from the blogging community).

The response to this has been quite unforgiving with many followers, bloggers and the media commenting, tweeting and stamping their virtual feet that she wasn’t upfront about having a ghostwriter and saying the whole matter has undermined her authenticity. Ultimately, some people feel that at the peak of her fame, she’s sold out.

Is that a fair assessment? Does a self-made blogger / vlogger who has achieved uncharted success in a relatively uncharted field let themselves down when receiving help on their first printed penned work?

The main controversy was because the assistance she had wasn’t overtly mentioned upfront, hence the immediate backlash and subsequent statement response from Suggs and Penguin. However, in her words, it was her first book and “of course I was going to have help in telling my story”. She’s since said that she’s taking a break from the internet, albeit a few days, but this statement also seems to have shocked so many who have become used to her constant stream of social shares.

What this case shows is how the power of opinion, anyone’s opinion, is a very powerful thing. Little did Zoe know that her hobby one day would see her as a public personality just a short while down the road and several beauty posts and shopping haul videos later.

Her followers want to hear what she has to say and invest a lot it trust, and in turn expectations, in her and the admission that her first book isn’t 100 per cent Zoella seems to have burst the blogging bubble for some.

What can’t be denied is how fame and success can now be found in many guises and that we, not just the media, have our part on making and breaking the household names of tomorrow. As long as they say what we want to hear.

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Should The Horror of War Sell Christmas?

The Sainsbury’s advert has, according to the Telegraph, “upped the ante in the seasonal adverts battle”, but I found myself feeling more troubled than touched on first watching it yesterday.

Yes, John Lewis evokes a reaction from us just like Sainsbury’s, and yes this is used to boost sales (see my previous blog, John Lewis: Making the Nation Cry and Buy), but there is, I believe, a crucial difference in the way that the two retailers have gone about linking emotion to commercial gain.

John Lewis manufactures the sentiment with make believe: CGI penguins and a sweet song – Sainsbury’s utilises a very real and very powerful feeling of heartbreak based on the sheer futility of the slaughter of millions.

Most of the people on the screen would have died, and this is where our feeling of hollow sadness derives from – and the historian in me, and the moralist, can’t help but feel that their memory should be revered, not utilised for commercial benefit.

Of course it can be argued that this is a charity initiative, with all sales of the chocolate bar from the advert going to British Legion – but let’s also be realistic – this was a brand building exercise, and, given some of the rave reviews, an effective one. The sale of the bars to raise money does temper the commercial edge, but doesn’t serve to erase it completely, and the nasty taste is still left in the mouth.

However, the more I think about it, the more I feel that this issue is perhaps more complex than a matter of wrong and right, and I find myself conflicted when considering the broader issues. It could be argued that adverts now exist to create feeling, they are cinematic and edifying and carry messages far beyond the scope of their usual branding (think the P&G Olympics advert). So was Sainsbury’s simply marking an important memory in a way they knew would resonate with the British public? Do they have a responsibility to do this?

If the British Legion had produced the ad, perhaps it would be seen solely as beautiful and non-exploitative. They obviously don’t have the budget to do this, so is it down to those that do have the budgets to honour the moment, remind and in some cases educate the nation? I think so, but I would add the caveat that ‘beautifying’ the war in the way Sainsbury’s has done – I saw no signs of faeces, mud, rats and blood that typified the First World War – is dangerous and insulting.

I’m not alone in my instinctive lamenting of the crassness of the ad – Ally Fogg from the Guardian calls it “a dangerous and disrespectful masterpiece”, and the twittersphere has in some part echoed this sentiment.

The senselessness of the war made that truce, a single moment of exquisite humanity amidst the tremendous horror, possible, and to sentimentalise it with beautiful cinematography in a Christmas advert – and worse, for a sales boost – is, I believe irresponsible.

P.S. It’s worth pointing out that all views expressed are entirely my own and do not represent the collective views of WPR. The advert has been the subject of heated discussion throughout the agency all morning, and needless to say opinions have been polarised.

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John Lewis: Making the Nation Cry and Buy

Oh, the John Lewis advert. It has become as much a national institution as Glastonbury or the Queen’s speech, and cold is the heart that doesn’t melt on viewing the devoted snowman or diligent hare.

Everything about the new advert is perfect: from the calculated cuteness of the penguin waddling after his human friend to the moment that John Lewis kicks you in the gut with a heart-wrenching twist – Monty isn’t real after all. In one moment we’re confronted with a plethora of feeling: joy that Monty, denied love in a human world, has a lady friend after all, happiness that the little boy could be so caring as to provide the best present ever, sympathy for the mum who recognises that her boy will one day grow up, and bittersweet awe at the power of a child’s imagination. It is potent, and beautiful – but where does it leave us, and why spend £1million on an ad?

Yesterday in the WPR office, we were rendered emotional wrecks for half the morning, and anecdotally discussed Monty’s Twitter account, the price of the Monty plush toy, how much the ad cost to make – was there ever a better example of effective brand awareness? Has there ever been a more perfect template for evoking an emotional connection to a brand to increase sales?

Between 2009 and 2011, the John Lewis ads pulled in £1.07 billion in extra sales and last year’s heart-rending story of ‘The Bear and the Hare’ is credited with boosting sales by 6.9% on the previous Christmas.

Emotional storytelling produces raw evocative feeling, which drives word of mouth, which leads to enhanced brand awareness and ultimately, purchase intent.

I often wonder what it is specifically about these adverts that evoke such a profound reaction, and think it can in part be explained by the fact that, in an increasingly secular society, Christmas has evolved to be more about nostalgia and sentiment than anything else, and we’re looking to reflect values that religion once provided in a new way.

It can be argued that in a sense, humans will always require a form of religion to supply meaning to life – that is, they require a feeling of purpose and aspiration, a feeling that there is a bigger picture. With the decline of religion there has also been a subtle cultural shift which puts greater emphasis on an enriched lifestyle: people want to be moved and share content, they want to take beautiful photographs and put a filter on them on Instagram – essentially, they want to fill a gap that religion once occupied: we’re looking for things to stir us.

The John Lewis advert fulfils these basic needs, and we’re moved by what we’re seeing because the advert triggers a very personal response connected to our sentimental feelings towards our loved ones and recognition of the better parts of human nature.

So, as easy as it is to be cynical about the carefully masterminded corporate intent behind the mawkishness, I can’t help but be grateful for when it rolls round and reminds me that after all, all we really want is to give and receive, and to love and feel loved.

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