Monday, 27 February 2012


These are the best of times and the worst of times for comedians.

We have more jokes than ever and a medium so efficient at disseminating them that a professional stand-up deserves his millions by preserving anything vaguely original to say.

“I say, I say, I say…have you heard what Francesco Schettino’s new job is?”

“Yes. He’s a bus driver. Next?”

Isn’t this getting a bit tired now? Isn’t it bizarre that the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, a ship two and a half times the tonnage of the Titanic, has so quickly become yesterday’s news until that is someone manages to link the recent fashion shows with cruising and Italy?

And if these weren’t that strident orange it wouldn’t be so funny because here are the hot fashion colours for 2012. Yes – Tangerine Tango up in front.

And, just to prove the timelessness of ethnic humour, here are two that could have been produced at any time in history. The first to make the Brits feel good about their cunning and because it’s a classic piece of silent slapstick.

The slapper on a train

Coming back from another recent EC summit in Rome, various European leaders were forced to take the train due to a strike by Swiss ATC controllers; sitting together in the same compartment, travelling through the Swiss Alps , were Sarkozy, Cameron, Merkel and the young and a very attractive female Irish foreign minister.

The train goes into a dark tunnel and a few seconds later there is the sound of a loud slap. When the train emerges from the tunnel, Sarkozy has a bright red, hand print on his cheek. No one speaks, everyone is extremely shocked and embarrassed.

Angela Merkel thinks: Sarkozy, not able to help himself, must have groped the Irish girl in the dark, and she slapped his cheek.

The Irish girl thinks: Sarkozy, not able to help himself, must have tried to grope me in the dark, but missed and fondled Merkel and she slapped his cheek.

Sarkozy thinks: Why me? That perfidious Cameron must have groped the Irish girl in the dark knowing that I'd get the blame for it and she slapped me... the English bastard.

And Cameron thinks: I can't wait for another tunnel, so I can smack that little French shit again.

And the next because Jack manages to incorporate everything I’ve always felt about South Africans – friendly, hail fellow well met, look like dentists (maybe that’s just me) and are totally distrait. And in case you’re worrying – no, it’s not (necessarily) racist. It’s funny.

The hijack and hygiene jokes are as old as the hills but like banana skins are always wonderfully slippery.

As with innovation and as Ed McCabe, the legendary ad man put it, “there’s nothing new under the sun but there’s always a better way.”

Monday, 20 February 2012


“It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not 
die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. 
Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals 
and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the 
window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

This is the anthem of corporate life. The return of “motor city”. The glorious renaissance of BP. The rebirth of Merrill Lynch.  A group of us were talking about Thornton’s and Kodak and similar companies; enterprises to which the word enterprise has long ceased to be appropriate. Creatures coughing, withering and trying to reinvent themselves using the self-same ingredients that had caused their demise. Proving themselves mad as Einstein suggested:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

And yet despite all the changes that are happening daily there seems to be a curious recycling going on. Look at the top CEOs and CFOs – pretty much the usual suspects. Look at the high street and reflect in general how long it takes the mortally wounded to actually die. We concluded that all those who failed did so for two obvious reasons. Failing to give consumers what they wanted or just boring them by failing to innovate or believing that they could retain their success eternally – The Dorian Gray fallacy. Kodak executives were brainwashed into believing they were right and the world was wrong. So it was with Rank Xerox, De La Rue, Motorola and Nokia.

Executives get paralysed by the prospect and consequences of change. Courage goes with executive packages.  But let’s suppose we could change anything ahead of having to – suppose we constantly reinvented things before we got outdated or under threat.  I am not suggesting we set up a commercial Dignitas whereby dodgy companies are taken to Switzerland before they are ready but that early on they have the courage to turn their faces from the CFOs to the CMOs and say – what (if anything) can we do with what we’ve got that will be world class?

To go back to Emerson how can we create something “sound and well, in some new strange disguise.”

That’s real marketing.

Monday, 13 February 2012


This is it.  The Wieden and Kennedy ad. for Chrysler that appeared during the Superbowl.

Whether you love it or not will depend on how you feel about the American ability to dramatise things and on that cowboy in their souls.

I’m just back from my fix in New York.

From the best shoeshine any man ever had in Grand Central Station for $4. It was balletic and brilliant – a lightning performance with brush, polish and cloth ending in new shoes.

To wall-to-wall advertising… and when I say wall-to-wall folks I’m not just talking about any walls I’m talking about the tallest, straightest, best cemented walls in the history of walls, so eat your heart out Great Wall of China…this is an American wall.

To this being a city where art, diversity, plenty, money and business collide in a knickerbocker glory of excitement. A city where as if reliving the line “New York, New York so good they had to name it twice” people repeat themselves as in constant wonder.

“Richard Hall from London, Richard Hall…my”

“23rd floor Sir? Yep 23, 23rd…a great floor” (a reflective comment by a fellow lift passenger)

I saw the diary page of Virginia Woolf written four days before she committed suicide and her walking stick found floating in the River Ouse; the 1608 quarto version of King Lear; e.e. cummings “Humanity I love you” and the typewriter on which it was typed and, and, and….

It’s a city of soaring hope, expectation and pride; a city where everyone wants to talk or to pitch an idea.
I went to a meeting of the Luxury Marketing Council of New York at the French Institute Alliance Francaise where Francis Cholle spoke about his book the Intuitive Compass. During Q&A a lady called Carole Hyatt stood and rebuked Francis for generalising about how brains worked. She triumphantly proclaimed:-
“And as research proves women think 28,000 times faster than men do”

The women in the room erupted into applause.

In New York the possibilities (and exaggerations) of life are explored and given theatrical colour.
The fastest, best, biggest, whitest, sexiest, most transformational is here. That jacket in Bergdorf Goodman for just $4,500; that orange juice from my mouth asking for it to my mouth drinking it, 45 seconds; that Caravaggio of Peter denying Christ three times (or 28,000 times) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and most of all people doing their best to be the best.

It’s half time in America and I’m a believer.


Richard Hall is travelling and will be posting a little later than normal this week.  

Monday, 6 February 2012


It was winter that did for Jim Callahan’s government in 1979 and now it’s this winter that’s putting a spoke into GB Limited.

We’re told that the people are disgusted appalled and sickened by the fat cat pay packets and bonuses. We’re also told that top executives at Davos are genuinely very angry about all this and that bankers can’t work in the current populist climate in Britain. But as Dave our leader said once “calm down dears, calm down”.

What made America great and is making India and China great now is the ability of anyone to get rich by doing well. So we too should applaud the success of a Dyson, Sorrell or Foster - and their wealth.   What equally we should be cross about is tax avoidance and pay rises just for being in a big job.  But in the end the levels of pay have to be left to shareholders and remuneration committees.

I  personally think some people earn too much and some too little.  Tube Drivers (although the word “driver” is a little extravagant, perhaps, now everything’s controlled by computer they tell me) earn £52,000 a year. But they’ll say people Stephen Hester like earn 20 times as much. But let’s start talking not about what we do and what we earn but how well we do what we do. Let’s talk about winning and not whinging - all of us.

Bankers are a special case because as Rod Liddle observed just as people who run sweet shops sample a lot of their wares and get fat so bankers run money shops and get rich on the stock. And now finding themselves a bit unpopular they and top businessmen are talking about moving away.

But where will they go if they flounce off abroad?

Zurich, Paris (obviously not Paris), Bonn, Monaco, Guernsey, Luxembourg?

Are you crazy? London has the buzz, the shops, the theatre, opera houses, art galleries, restaurants, schools, nice houses, civilisation and so on. London inspires. The other places are retirement homes in contrast whilst London rocks. So they’ll stay. Their wives will make them.

But the issue should be how “together” (Messrs Cameron, Osborn and Clegg) do we create a climate for winning, for growth, for wealth, for jobs and for talent?  Stop pandering to a misguided crusade for business-bashing. Get the over-paid to recognise they’ve looked greedy and get them to show humility.

Calm everyone down.

Most of all whatever else, have the courage to do what it takes to make Britain the best country in the world to live and in which to do business. And I mean “whatever it takes.”