Tuesday, 6 April 2021


 Recently I watched The Third Man. I ‘d been looking forward to this great oldie (just like me I chuckled.) An hour and a half later I was disappointed and grumpy. It’s a rather slow and dreary film. Trevor Howard, one of its stars, in that clipped tone of his were he alive today, would have pronounced it “absolutely ghastly.” Yet in 1999, the British Film Institute voted The Third Man the greatest British film of all time.

Is my memory so bad? Have standards changed? Is it as great as I remembered but in the meantime have I completely lost it? Alternatively, is my critical mind now clearer and less forgiving? There’s one great line when Harry Lime (Orson Wells) justifying not being the nice guy and instead profiteering on the black-market killing hundreds with diluted penicillin:

“In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and they had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

A brilliant and memorable joke but the rest is mostly slow.


It seems slow because we understand things much quicker now. We are smarter. We are more demanding. But equally we get fixed in our views more firmly and are also more gullible.

Most of my working life was spent in marketing and advertising exploiting such gullibility. In truth a lot of marketing was nonsense. Marketeers behaved like Bishops protecting their fiefdoms and advertising men were quasi-Jesuits preserving myths like the weight of advertising was directly proportionate to sales. Spend more. Sell more.

Not true. The king had no clothes. Marketeers were often shysters like Kevin Roberts the one-time CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi who wrote a book called “Lovemarks” in which he claimed brands were running out of juice and could only be revived by his magic potion. This included the injection of intimacy, commitment, empathy and passion. Pass me the sick bag Doris; this is toxic tosh.

I suspect the banks might have read his book. Marketeers in banking played with intimacy whilst the money men were closing branches and playing with derivatives.

I was once invited to a discussion group of marketeers where I was mugged by a woman who said surely everyone now knew marketing budgets should be invested in good causes and a social media guru who laughingly said soup sales were correlated to illness and that since sick people consumed more soup he was advising Heinz to track flu epidemics and invest accordingly.

Marketing and advertising require rigour, common sense and a sense of humour. Looking back I remember laughing a lot. There’s not much laughter now.   

But this is not meant to be a lecture on marketing so much as a warning on the dangers of mythology. Just as Orson Wells once wove a magical web around his films so marketers (of which he was of course a master) created myths about their work.

Sadly most advertising is dull, intrusive, tone deaf and seldom funny. Similarly with films. Those the critics love are seldom those the punters go for. Like the Third Man, La-La Land was a wow with the critics. It was also pretty ghastly. 

It’s clear that in our frenetic world common sense, lightness of touch and creativity are in short supply. Mark Ritson (Marketing Week) consistently lacks ‘lightness of touch’ but I love how he debunks pretentiousness. 

Read his “The Greatest Marketing Bullshit Of All Time.” It’s a brilliant demolition of marketing mythology. In his rant he uses the term “brandwank”

“Brandwank”! I wish I’d created that. It’s utterly priceless.

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