http://blogs.sundaymercury.net/paul-flower/

Regular readers, if there are any, will know that I have an interest in advertising. Without it I wouldn't be here as the website and newspaper would probably be economically unviable. I also make part of my living from advertising, rather than writing blogs that no-one reads.

Good advertising is great, a joy to behold. Bad advertising is an irritant, an intrusion, an unnecessary interruption to your viewing or reading. This week's essay is essentially about a sector of advertising that I've always reckoned runs too great a risk of backfiring - the endorsement ads.

You'll know them as any ad featuring a celebrity pushing a product. It's obvious why they're used - as the advertiser intends to instantly piggy-back upon your pre-held opinions of the star. The advertiser is buying the association, the glory and hopefully the transference of your feelings for the celeb to the product.

It's dodgy ground - particularly the beauty ads where you know that the star's glamour may have more to do with very expensive cosmetic surgery, hair extensions or even great genes rather than a £3 shampoo bought at Aldi.

There are other risks, particularly to the 'star' for taking the corporate dollar. I have already written about Iggy's Swiftcover foray here, so whilst I'm delighted that he's able to earn good money because he's a hero of mine I was a little perplexed at why he was chosen.

Beautiful video

By Paul Flower on Apr 29, 09 02:12 PM

This is worthy of a much wider audience, regardless of whether you like it musically. Go see and be amazed.

http://vimeo.com/4347460

Pitch Battle

By Paul Flower on Apr 22, 09 03:03 PM

Brouhaha is a great word, one that unfortunately seems better when vocalised than it looks in print. I almost never say it because I have a tendency to miss out one of the ha's, and I suspect it would make me sound like some poncey media-luvvy, which is quite possibly the case.

Brouhaha is a great way of describing the attention given to the less-than-perfect pitch at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-finals at the weekend, particularly as the brouhaha over the pitch was used to divert attention from the other matters having a more direct influence upon the results.

There is a sporting phrase often used in business-speak which talks of a 'level playing field', in the case of Wembley at the weekend it could be argued that it was particularly relevant. As all the teams had to play on the same pitch it was therefore an equal hindrance to both. Certain managers, like Sir Alex Ferguson, moaning loudly about it could be seeking a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that they picked an inadequate team, resting key players for matches obviously deemed of more import. The state of the pitch could not be blamed entirely for the fact that Man U and Arsenal fans were short-changed by team selection errors, nor could it be blamed for Berbatov's pitifully weak and none-too-clever penalty miss.

We are now reaching the end of what seems to have been a very long football season; I refrain from calling it the pinnacle for reasons which will become obvious. This time around I have managed to double my misery. Not only did I have a season ticket to watch West Brom (often viewed through the fingers of one hand attempting to obscure my view of the defending) but I was also co-managing my son's under-10's team in the John Bryan Coventry Minor League, division C. For once I was unable to complain that I could do a better job than the manager, I couldn't.

The parent trap

By Paul Flower on Apr 16, 09 06:08 PM

Are any of us ever qualified to take on the responsibility of parenthood? We all think we're experienced, generally having had parents ourselves, but it seems to be one of those life-roles that can only be fully understood by entering the arena, at which point it's too late to find out that you may not be any good at it.

I went into parenthood rationally, planned to coincide with an age when I thought I'd be up to the job. Now I'm not so sure. My 10 yr-old-son already rejects my advice on how he should play football - and I'm the team's manager. Given that he's scored 19 goals this season and I never scored in four seasons of competitive matches, maybe he has the right idea. I just wish I could remember the exact age at which they both stopped listening, when did I cease to have an influence?

My daughter is on the cusp of being a teen. She still has five months to reach that milestone but has been building up to the role for the past two years. I definitely don't feel qualified to cope with it. I fear that all I can do is dig my trench and stand-by for all- out warfare; it looks like being a war of attrition.

It may be ironic that they're now reaching a stage where I feel like I can offer some guidance, some real life-lessons from a period of life I can almost remember. Now I can do the job, I'm prevented from doing so. Hence I can only write about it.

You must be joking?

By Paul Flower on Apr 9, 09 02:14 PM

In which I take a convoluted route to find truth.

A cliché is a maxim worn thin by overuse and subsequent abuse. So that if I claim it's a small world this is not to say that it really is small but that the circles in which we all work and socialize are concentric, or limited in span. In addition to this whenever we meet someone new we seek to find common ground be it by virtue of friends, colleagues, interests, background, sport or whatever - consequently our 'worlds' are generally pretty small.

I note this in an over-elaborate way for no other reason than my admiration for Stewart Lee and his incisive, rapier-wit. Those who have yet to catch his 'comedy vehicle' could do a lot worse than go via the iplayer for last week's and then tune in every Monday at 10 on BBC2, albeit that there are only a few episodes left.

The programme takes a different subject each week, which Stewart effectively cuts to shreds. The first couple of episodes made me laugh longer and harder than the entire output of TV for the previous six months. Not that I'm about to turn into a TV critic, there are people better at it than me - people who watch far more TV.

The narrow confines of our worlds - colleagues, associates, etc - occurred to me during the 2nd episode which concerned the world of television. Within the first few minutes Lee had described the experience of watching TV presenter Adrian Chiles as "like being stuck in the buffet car of a slow-moving train with a Toby jug that has miraculously discovered the power of speech". He then paused and added: "A talking Toby jug full of steaming hot piss".

Fair weather anarchist

By Paul Flower on Apr 1, 09 11:04 AM

"Anarchy in the UK it's coming some time, maybe"

It's a common occurrence in my life that song-lyrics can often adequately sum up my feelings or the points I'm trying to make. Read as a solitary collection of words without the 'tune' the qualifying statement, the cautionary question at the end of the verse tends to stand out. It may be coming, possibly, if we can be bothered. I suspect that anarchy isn't a typically English pursuit, I don't think we see the point - we're either not confident in our individual ability to effect change, or we just simply can't be arsed.

At some point in our social evolution the right to riot got replaced by the right to buy our own council houses, an era of Tory-rule transformed us from workers to consumers, the interests of the masses monopolised by self-interest. The destruction of the unions clearly played some part in this - contrast our own ineffectual protests with the effective unrest of our neighbours France for evidence of this.

I also suspect that anarchy in the UK is a largely middle-class pursuit. The working-classes having had their work removed are subject to constant chav-style ridicule or reduced to appearances on the Jeremy Kyle Show. They don't need to travel to the city of London to see boarded-up-shops; they can see them every day. Without their traditional industries the working-class are more likely to be worried about turf-war than class-war.

So it falls to the students. A group of people born of middle-class home-comforts, once politically motivated it's now all about social mobility and motivation. The last thing they all complained about was student-debt. They may be concerned about capitalism - but possibly only in the context of whether they can get a job amongst the capitalists in order to pay off the loans quicker! Today's students are more interested in star wars than class war.

Insurance: the very word is indicative of just how dull the subject is. Insurance companies don't make it any better by making the worst TV ads possible. If they're not denigrating the status of one of my rock idols (whilst neglecting to add that they don't insure musicians) then they're bleating on about how much cheaper they are than all the rest.

It's this point which doesn't really stack up. They can't all be cheaper than each other and quoting random sums of money that they could save you (without indicating all the possible clauses you have to satisfy in order to save) is merely irritating - if not actually infuriating when you come to challenge them.

I had to renew my car insurance last wk, an annual obligatory chore which sees me routinely trying some screenscrapers and phoning a few other companies who promise more than they can deliver. Of course it'd be easiest just to accept the renewal notices that your existing insurer sends through, unfortunately they're never the cheapest option.

This point alone really winds me up. I had always learned, and believe, that to keep a customer is cheaper and more effective than having to acquire a new one. Insurance companies clearly don't follow this strategy; indeed most of them offer specific deals that are only open to new clients - what better way to annoy your existing customers?!

Then you get down to the claims themselves. I can be specific and tell you that Tesco wanted £288 from me to renew, they were the cheapest offer I could find in March 08 but not anymore. I eventually went with esure (despite the very annoying Michael Winner ads) for £233. In a recession or any other time, £55 or 19% is a significant difference I think.

It's readily-accepted, with a few exceptions, that footballers are not the brightest. Indeed they should probably only express themselves on the pitch or using their wallets in the shops to prop up the dwindling economy.

Unfortunately we live in a celebrity-obsessed world and many people hang off every comment that their idols expel. On that basis maybe it was less than diplomatic for Wayne Rooney to point out that he 'hates' Liverpool.

On the flipside though, why shouldn't he? Aside from the fact that it conflicts with my fear that players shouldn't talk too confidently about a match before it takes place - as it may only inflame and inspire your opponents (something that may be true of this instance), football is built on rivalry; it's a competitive sport and sometimes the only thing better than your team doing well is your rivals suffering in some manner.

As a West Brom fan I accept that Wolves are gloating over our troubles this season - as I hope and pray we are able to do to them next year when they have an even worse premiership season than us.

I prefer to deflect their taunts by not recognising them as our worthy rivals. When I first became an Albion fan (many years ago in my childhood) Wolves were completely off the radar, subsequently my fiercest rivalry has always been with Villa. I think most Albion fans only patronise the Wolves hatred because we've dropped a million miles from that Aston team in the past two decades.

It is commonplace for football fans to despise their nearest geographical (and sometimes competitive) rivals. Thus Arsenal hate Tottenham, but also Chelsea for usurping them. Man Utd hate City, but probably hate Liverpool more. It goes with the territory.

Where I'm coming from

By Paul Flower on Mar 11, 09 02:52 PM

Passing a Wembley scrap yard on a train this morning I was reminded of a regular run I used to undertake along the Birmingham canal side. Leaving BRMB in Brindleyplace I would head left along the towpaths and pass under the Dudley Road by City Hospital and towards Smethwick before having to turn and come back.

Within 20 minutes it was possible to witness the past, present and future of the City and its environs. I would leave the posh bars, cafés and apartments and pass empty industrial factory shells, motor wrecking yards and turn around by still existing foundries, motor mechanics and boatyards.

At times the acrid stench of the scrap yards would leave me wondering whether I was doing more damage to my lungs than good, but overall the jog provided both an escape from the stress of office work and a glimpse into a not-so-distant past - how the wealth of a City was built and how it is currently being spent.

I was always slightly bewildered by the sheer quantity of new-build apartments that sprung up around what might once have been called the 'arse-end' of Birmingham. I can see the benefits of living close to a vibrant, re-vitalised city but probably not at the prices originally quoted. It always seemed to me that developers were using the field of dreams philosophy - if we build them, they will sell.

For a few years on this route, heading either left or right from the sea life centre sent me alternately into Smethwick or towards Selly Oak, past the new-builds and into decay. It seemed that the population were moving away from the industrial bases to the financial heart of the city, a pattern being repeated all around the Country.

New line on the horizon

By Paul Flower on Mar 5, 09 09:26 AM


It probably won't have escaped your notice that U2 have released a new album this week. They've hardly been keeping a low profile, popping up in the media almost as frequently as a DFS sale advert. The surprising news is that the album itself isn't bad, perhaps formulaic in places but I guess that if you're buying a U2 album you want to hear something that sounds like U2. They didn't get where they are today by trying to be something that they're not.

I suppose it's only really a surprise because the initial omens weren't good, they experimented with a couple of different producers before going back to tried and tested and the release date was delayed a couple of times - normally an indicator of commercial difficulties and songwriters-block. Then there was that first single. In retrospect 'Get On Your Boots' isn't that bad, it just isn't great being something of a lazy, quasi-funky re-tread of 'Vertigo', a groove in search of a song. There's also the fact that they're working it so hard, they haven't been this active in the promotional market for many years - usually a sign that we have to have our arm twisted to buy it.

Unfortunately the latter point is probably true. As less and less people go out and buy physical musical product (in CD form) these days, bands from the CD era have to work harder to get us to spend money. Given their status as probably the leading act of that generation - spawned in the 80's and gravitating to global stardom over two decades - U2 are the flag-bearers for the recorded music industry. If they don't sell, what will?

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