Thought Pieces

New Tricks For Old Dogs

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In marketing, Goliath still usually beats David. But a lot has changed in the past 10 years, and this premise feels less watertight than it did. The scale advantages that so favoured legacy brands are being progressively undermined by digital-first disruptor brands. Here is what legacy brands must do in 2020… Download Report

Digital-first brands need to evolve or die!

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Digital-first brands have been dealt a good hand, they’re simply less weighed down by the baggage of history. But they don’t seem to be playing it that well. In the battle for attention, the majority are at least as poorly balanced as their physical-first cousins. Do digital-first brands need to evolve or die? Download Report

Achieving Your Balance

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Download Report

Should consumer electronic brands be thinking outside the box to sell their products?

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In the UK, 4 out of 5 adults have smartphones.

Indeed, technology is something that most people have access to. If you can’t afford a flat screen TV outright, most retailers now offer a weekly or monthly payment plan so that you can.

As well as high ownership, we’re also constantly using devices. The phenomenon of second, even third-screening, has become commonplace.

You’d think with this level of ubiquitous ownership and usage, we’d have a good understanding of our technological gadgets.

However, we found evidence to the contrary.

Only 13% of our respondents professed to understand ‘100% of what their tech has the ability to do’. Over one half admitted that they only understand about 3/4 s of their tech’s functionality.

Given that we used OnePulse to conduct this survey, a platform skewed towards the more digitally savvy, it’s reasonable to assume that actually the general population is even less confident in their understanding of their tech.

Most brands in the tech sector have capitalised on the YouTube fad for ‘How To’ videos. However, two behemoths have started to move towards more engaging platforms. Samsung are sharing excellent ‘creative tips’ on their Instagram channel as a Stories Highlight; a format perfect for education, and Apple have leveraged influencers in the experiential space.

On the latter, Apple sponsored particular artists and their endeavours to publicly endorse their products. We recently went to their Oxford Street event, ‘The Big Draw’ and learnt how to use iPad Pro with an insta-famous cartoonist, Ruby Etc.

The fact that we know consumers don’t fully understand their tech, and that Apple and Samsung – the two most successful smartphone brands in the UK – are taking an innovative approach in this space illustrates that this is something all tech brands should be moving towards.

Consumers don’t just want to be sold a product; they want to be educated to about their devices. Do more consumer electronics brands need to be thinking how they use different channels like experiential to sell their products?

Summer Taylor is a strategist at Atomic London.

How much do we really care about data breaches?

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Throughout 2018, the news has been saturated with headlines on data breaches. From Facebook’s shame at the hands of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to hundreds of other breaches involving Google, Quora and T-Mobile. In the wake of such high-profile scandals, one in twenty Brits allegedly de-activated their Facebook accounts, with 67% of them expressing a concern over what their personal data was used for online. (Syzygy, 2018)

In the Advertising industry, opinion leaders have been quick to announce an almost revolutionary fervor moving against social media and online platforms in favour of more traditional communications like broadcast television and outdoor advertising. Indeed, this is the very reason Facebook made its now infamous public apology on printed media. They clearly felt that by drawing on the heritage of traditional media and its reputation for sincerity, their message would be taken seriously.

In the technology sector, Huawei, and more recently Apple, have come under fire for allegedly ‘spying’ on their customers. President Trump has even signed a bill banning government use of Huawei for fears of Chinese intelligence interfering. Apple on the other hand has recently come under criticism for reacting so slowly to it’s FaceTime flaw, which dubbed ‘FacePalm’ by it’s 14 year old discoverer, allowed people to listen in on you before you accepted their call.

We often take for granted that the press’ criticism of these companies is indicative of public opinion’s wider despairing of data harvesting. However, research that we commissioned found this is not necessarily the case.

We posed a question to consumers; ‘would you rather your smartphone data improved your user experience, or would you rather you had a greater deal of privacy?’

Surprisingly, only one third of consumers (36%) came back saying they’d rather have a more basic user experience without worrying about privacy breaches. This definitely didn’t seem to follow the news’ suggestion that people were whole-heartedly against data companies garnering personal data.

In fact, the mixed data suggests that people don’t actually have an opinion on it at all. Whilst data breaches aren’t ever going to top of anybody’s list, our evidence suggests that the fear of a breach isn’t enough to encourage a mass abandonment of providing our smart phone’s data if it means our user experience will suffer.

A quick look at Facebook’s active users worldwide and you will see that their users have continued to increase in numbers, sitting at a record high of 2.3 billion users (Statista, 2018). This is entirely contrary to the rejection of the platform that has been reported in the media.

Although the media would have us believe that the majority of us are up in arms about our data and breaches of security, the reality is, that when consumers are faced with the prospect of losing their seamless user experience they have come to know and love, they really aren’t that fussed…

Summer Taylor is a strategist at Atomic London.

What is a ‘modern family’ and why do brands want to appeal to them?

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I increasingly see briefs that state the need to appeal to ‘modern families’.

It’s a strange request when you think about it. The use of the word ‘modern’ is tautology. The only families we can appeal to today are modern families, and yet it’s a word that’s used again and again.

So I guess it’s worth exploring why.

To my mind, writing the words ‘modern families’ is a recognition that the notion of ‘family’ has changed dramatically in recent years, together with an acknowledgment that the writer doesn’t really know what that change means for brands trying to appeal to them.

It conjures up overused imagery of multi-racial families comprised of anything other than mum, dad and two kids, all in separate rooms, on separate devices, rarely coming together, other than when said brand is trotted out of course.

But is that really what we mean by ‘modern family’? Mere changes in the colour, size and activities of families today? Surely there must be something more fundamental at play.

My belief, is that at the heart of the notion of ‘modern family’ lies a fundamental shift in the construct as opposed to the composition of family life.

The traditional family construct was a hierarchy with breadwinning at the top, homemaking in the middle, and dependency at the bottom. By contrast, the modern family construct is a democracy. It’s circular, not triangular, with equal importance given to every function.

To my mind, four things have happened to create this fundamental shift.

The first is generational. Put simply, parents today are no longer Baby Boomers. They’re Gen X and Y, which means they grew up plugged in to popular culture. They followed fashions and trends, went to gigs, festivals, took drugs and so on.

Their view of the world was formed by their own mass media exposure to cultural movements and trends, and that feeling of wanting to be current and relevant to the wider world has never left them.

This means they don’t look down with bemusement and dismay on their own kids’ efforts to express their own sense of individuality and identity in the way their parents did to them.

My second point relates to the first and is that today’s parents believe (and there’s a growing body of evidence, such as the Harvard Grant Study, to suggest they’re right) that the best thing they can instil in their kids to ensure their future success, is the ability to think for themselves. To be freethinking, independently minded choice makers. They therefore actively encourage their kids to partake in household decisions, as opposed to simply telling them how it’s going to be.

The third point is technology based. One of the major implications of today’s universal access to information and content is young people nowadays have arguably greater exposure to, and better understanding of, many facets of life than their parents do.

There is no longer a naivety surrounding the young or any sense they need to be sheltered from the world by their older, more worldly-wise parents.

Fourthly and finally, changes in working structures have led to a greater sharing of the responsibility for running the household across all family members. With both parents working, and often working more flexibly, the old delineation of roles and responsibilities has gone.

All family members are now expected to pitch in and contribute to the successful functioning of the household. Especially given that many young people are faced with the prospect of living at home much longer. They both want, and are required to be active contributors to the household and family life.

Put together, these four observations create an image of modern family where the perspectives, attitudes and behaviours of the different family members have never been closer.

They may well spend less time in the same room together and more time on their devices but that’s not what defines them as modern. Families these days are increasingly egalitarian collectives, with increasingly similar views of the world.

If brands want to appeal to ‘modern families’, this is the truth they need to reflect.

Steve Hopkins is Head of Strategy at Atomic London.

Why is nobody talking about ethical hardware?

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We need to think more about ethical hardware

Learning about the supply chains of our hardware allows us to draw conclusions far beyond the remit of the tech sector.

Amongst cultural optimists, there is a hope that society is turning away from pursuing profit for profit’s sake. Consumer choice is no longer down to just aesthetics because ethics are playing an increasing role in driving purchase decisions. Indeed, in the UK, the ethical sector has grown by more than £40bn since 2008; with each household spending an average of £1300 on ethical products in 2016. At Atomic, we’ve been thinking about the limits of such a sector.

Ostensibly, it’s hard to imagine that the ethical sector needs broadening. It includes everything from vegan foods and groceries, shampoos and shower products, to organic and ‘up-cycled’ clothes, keep-cups and plastic-free toothpaste.

And as a result of the demand for ethical products, they’ve become readily available, with large corporations stepping up; Iceland are now renowned for banning palm-oil in their own label stock.

On the face of it, it looks like the UK is an ethically engaged country.

What I can’t understand then, is why we’re not talking more about the startling lack of ethics involved in our tech’s hardware, and especially, our smartphones.

We all know that most smartphones are ‘Made in China’. We’ve become so used to seeing those three words, few of us have ever thought long and hard about what that looks like in practice.

Recent documentaries, like BBC Panorama, have shown that this looks like over 200 million migrant labourers, many of them just teenagers, travelling across China each year to work in factories of an unimaginable scale.

It seems funny that in the West, we’re so concerned by our children’s ‘screen-time’ and smart-phone addiction. What we really should be thinking about are our neighbours’ children who work in factories with poisonous, cancer-causing chemicals to bring these very devices about. The most infamous of these is Benzene; it’s used to wipe down screens and micro-chips, but also causes Leukaemia. It’s name has been in public discourse recently because digital giants like Apple banned it following an expose.

Typical working hours in these factories are 8am to 11pm; with no holidays, no ventilation, and no windows. It’s no surprise then that there are troubling suicides associated with this work beginning in 2010.

But the labour process doesn’t start in the factory. In regions across the globe, and particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the minerals needed for mobile devices are extracted. These are referred to as ‘blood minerals’ because they’re often controlled by armed groups, so dealing with them involves being complicit in complex and bloody conflicts. It also involves turning a blind eye to the children as young as seven searching for tin, gold and cobalt with their bare hands.

Moreover, harvesting these minerals is terrible for the environment. Smartphone mineral mining represents around 90% of the devices total emission for two years. That means that buying a new smart phone requires as much energy and recharging and operating one for over a decade (Fast Company).

The end of a smartphones the life-cycle is no better than its conception either. Very few of us have our smartphones for longer than our 24-month contracts. Far more of us choose to ‘upgrade’ to newer, shinier models, without recycling or discarding our old devices properly. Mission Blue, a charity helping to safeguard our oceans, estimates that the number of dead zones in the ocean (vast areas of sea where naturally occurring species can no longer live), increased 500 fold in the past 40 years and this is largely due to the noxious chemicals used in various industries.

One of the only companies who are trying to create a smartphone as ethically as possible is Fairphone. Available from €399, the Fairphone 2 is made from conflict-free minerals, specifically materials that ‘empower vulnerable communities or have better sustainable performance.’

Fairphone are pragmatic. They’ve acknowledged that making an entirely ethical smartphone is, at present, impossible. They have also acknowledged that simply refusing to work with high-risk groups isn’t a panacea, but could actually worsen the situations of the most vulnerable. Consequently, they’re working to continuously clean up supply chains with on-going initiatives. An example of this is their work with cobalt; they are working to connect cobalt from artisanal mine sites that meet ‘baseline standards’ to battery supply chains. Additionally, they’re developing programs on health and safety and implementing fairer incomes for local artisanal miners.

It strikes me that we need to be more like Fairphone in our approach to living more ethical lives. We too need to be pragmatic. And pragmatism relies on continual, brutally honest, self-appraisals. We need to square the circle that we’re not going to be able to make the world a better place by using products that do the opposite. With every key I tap to write up this article – ostensibly broadening all of our minds for the greater good – there’s a chance I’m complicit in child-labour, a bloody conflict and a working environment so appalling its driven its members to suicide. At different levels of gravity, this ethical hypocrisy is everywhere. A parallel would be drinking non-dairy milk from a bone china mug, or taking your keep-cup to Pret then buying a chicken sandwich wrapped in plastic and cellophane.

I’m not saying we should all beat ourselves up for not being one hundred percent ethical. Expecting this would be misguided, but we do need to stop kidding ourselves about the difference we’re making. It’s not about buying a canvas tote bag and remembering to take it to Tesco occasionally, (all the while patting ourselves on the back for saving 10p), it’s about being continually engaged with the issues at play. As consumers, we can’t all purchase a Fairphone today, just as brands can’t turn their multi-billion pound operations into Fairphone-esque ethical machines overnight. But, we can all try to adopt Fairphone’s ethical ethic; constantly holding ourselves to account, asking ourselves what dark processes we’re a part of, and what we can do to clean them up.

Summer Taylor is a strategist at Atomic London.

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It seems very few like the new Gillette ‘Me Too’ ad. Those on the far right have blasted it for ‘emasculating men’ and accused it of propagating a fashionable misandry. On the left, others have washed their hands with it because it alienates the very people its supposedly trying to talk to.

I’m left wondering what the communications objective must have been. One can easily envisage the awful ‘make us famous’ style brief clients are so fond of dishing out. In that, they certainly succeeded. Twitter is abuzz and YouTube is ablaze. But hardly with words of praise, and I’m not one to believe that in ‘all PR is good PR’.

I’m so struck by this because, last year, Lynx did something very similar. Yet the internet loved it. And so did I.

Why? Subtlety.

For years, Lynx had been peddling sexist ads of women running after men because of the iconic ‘lynx effect’. Then, last year, almost out of nowhere, Lynx released ‘find your magic’. This shifted the product benefit from ‘will pull women’ to ‘will instil you with confidence’. And the men depicted in the ad weren’t your typical hetero-normative, alpha-male buffs, but an eclectic mix of men and a wonderful representation of masculinity today. Without having to lambast themselves, Lynx nodded to the previous notions of ‘toxic masculinity’ they’d sanctioned, encouraged even, and put all their energies into reversing it.

Where Gillette went wrong, in my opinion, is that they’ve taken themselves too seriously. They seem confident that sexist men everywhere, who might not have been swayed by what they’ve seen in the news, in popular TV shows, what they’ve heard from their friends, their girl-friends and sisters have said, will be persuaded to change by an advert for a razor. It’s ridiculous.

By all means Gillette, work towards improving gender relations; invest in consent workshops, in anger management centres, in diversifying the image of an ‘attractive man’. But please, don’t just create an advert you think you will be popular. Your endline says it all. On the best a man can be’ website, all I can see is shop products and shaving tips. Typical.

Summer Taylor is a strategist at independent creative agency, Atomic London.

A look at what really matter in Iceland/Greenpeace’s ‘Rang-Tan’

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This weekend something extraordinary happened.

My friends, who do not work in advertising, starting discussing advertising.

What prompted the furious pings of our WhatsApp group was, of course, Greenpeace & Iceland’s viral sensation: Rang-Tan.

We all agreed on two things. Firstly, it was absurd that this ad was banned, and secondly, that the advert was beautifully crafted.

Where we differed in opinion, was that they felt Iceland was getting ‘far too much credit’.

At work this morning, I encountered a not dissimilar vein of thought: ‘why couldn’t Iceland have just used their own creative? Why did they have to steal Greenpeace’s?’


Does this really matter?!

My friends’ argument was understandable. Ostensibly, a typical commercial machine had taken a hardworking but criminally underfunded charity’s film and used it as a way to sell their products. Nasty.

But I don’t have a problem with Iceland using this film to sell their products. And I don’t really mind that Greenpeace’s logo isn’t included either. This is not yet another embarrassing execution under misdirected brand purpose. This is something real.

Let’s remember that we are all living under capitalism.

At the end of the day, the people with power are the commercial machines. Why? Because the adage that ‘money talks’ is painfully true.

I don’t know why Greenpeace didn’t try to air their ad on TV. Presumably it’s because they don’t have money to spare. They’re too busy fighting the good fight on the ground.

Iceland, however do. Although Clearcast prevented a TV viewership, Iceland have still managed to get far more people talking about palm oil and Orang-utans than they were when only Greenpeace owned the creative.

We hope that some of this cultural chatter and ‘awareness’ will translate into action.

It’ll be a good thing if more people shop at Iceland this Christmas (and after). Then more people are shopping in a supermarket that has banned palm oil. And, let’s remember, has a five-year plan to eliminate plastic on all own-brand products too.

Hopefully, this will force other supermarkets to clean up their own act.

This is how causes work under capitalism: competitively.

When companies adopt causes, they do so because they believe it will help them sell products. This is why I think calling Iceland’s advert ‘brave’ is perhaps a little misguided.

If Iceland thought this ad would hamper their sales, would they run it?

Probably not.

Most likely, it’s this risk-aversion which contributed to their decision to remove the Greenpeace logo.

Cited in The Guardian, Iceland’s founder, Malcolm Walker, says: “This was a film that Greenpeace made with a voice over by Emma Thompson… we got permission to use it and take off the Greenpeace logo and use it as the Iceland Christmas ad. It would have blown the John Lewis ad out of the window. It was so emotional.”

Greenpeace are a divisive organisation. Particularly their blanket anti-DDT and anti-GM positioning. Respectively, this risked increasing malaria and denying millions nourishment.

Perhaps, if Iceland were really brave, they might have credited Greenpeace; signally their alignment with a controversial charity.

But they didn’t.

So let’s remember that when we guffaw at their courage.

From their founders’ words, it sounds as though their aim was to secure the most emotional Christmas TV ad of the year. I’m not sure how brave this is…

Fundamentally though, let’s also try and remember that in the grand scheme of rainforests, logos (and adverts) are less than an infinitesimal speck of insignificance.

Removing palm oil from your products however is not.

So for this Iceland, I applaud you.


Summer Taylor, Strategist at Atomic London


Can we talk, or better yet, learn about money please?

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Atomic investigates the claim that we’re useless at talking about, and managing, our money.

We have a problem. We don’t talk about money.

‘Money is the last taboo.’ In a recent episode of podcast ‘Death, sex, money’ Anna Sale, the show’s host speculated that the reason we’re so prone to personal financial mismanagement is because we don’t talk freely enough about money. It turns out we really are; collectively in the UK we owe £1.6bn).

And there’s certainly evidence to back up this claim. In a study conducted by UCL, it was found that British adults would rather share intimate details about their sex lives than divulge their salary.

Indeed, we’re so reluctant to talk about money that we let it ruin our personal as well as our financial lives. Money worries are the leading cause of marriages failing. Of the 107 000 divorces in 2016, 20% of them were the result of financial strife.

It’s a phenomenon we’re becoming increasingly self-conscious, and even self-corrective, of. Two years ago, on International Workers’ Day, American Lauren Voswinkel started a social media movement to encourage everyone to talk openly about their salaries: TalkPay. It gained some traction in the UK, and globally garnered around 30, 000 tweets. But the movement has stalled, with only 40 mentions in the last 7 days. When you see that #ipadPro already has 70 000 tweets from today alone, it puts into perspective just how insignificant this thing that should be really significant is.

So why don’t we talk about money?

Anna Sale’s answer to this question is routed in our innate reluctance to share details of anything that might make us look a mess. In 2018, conspicuous consumption, dramatically documented on social media, is the ultimate marker of success.

To try and unpick this reluctance to face up to our problems, I decided to get a bank’s point of view. I spoke with Mark, a manager from Skipton Building Society. ‘People won’t talk about it, because they’re not doing anything about it. And they’re not doing anything about it because they don’t know how to. They just bury their head in the sand.’

To me, this sounded like a perfect storm; a vicious cycle of not knowing how to best manage personal finance, so therefore not talking about it and then, consequently, not taking any action.

So why aren’t we doing anything about it?

In her book, ‘Money: A User’s Guide’, Laura Whateley attributes our reluctance to talk about money to our inability to comprehend the financial world. She argues that banks and providers offer a ‘paralysing choice of financial products… grow(ing) into (a) dizzying, off-putting blur of numbers, percentages and jargon.’ This is undeniably true and, as Whateley points out, there are currently over half a million different mobile and broadband providers to ‘choose from’. The financial world loves to over-complicate and obfuscate.

Whilst I love the idea of being able to blame the banking world for my own lack of financial savviness, I do feel I owe myself a little more agency over my own affairs.

We need to remember we do have tools at our disposal to make sense of finance

Both Mark and I point to the plethora of de-jargonising platforms and information available to consumers; all snackable content on banks’ websites (Nationwide are particularly good at this), pop culture icons like Martin Lewis, and the rise of price comparison sites like and

More recently of course, there’s also been a boom in financial tech offering a helping hand. It’s no coincidence that Whateley’s book is designed to look just like a Monzo card. Whatever your financial quandary, it feel like there’s an app for that; for investing, try Wealthify, for savings, there’s Qapital, and for general financial management, there’s challenger banks like Starling.

With all this new tech and information, you’d think our relationship with money would change forever.

But will it? We seem to be embracing these innovations on a surface level – there’s no doubt that banking with Monzo is fashionable – but they don’t seem to be impacting our deeper relationship with money.

Above all else, we still find personal financial management unpleasant. We conducted a survey and two thirds of respondents found financial management ‘dull’, a quarter found it ‘stressful’ and no one found it ‘enjoyable or interesting’.

To me, it seems that this is the heart of the problem; our collective reluctance to take our heads out of the sand; to be conscious that we can learn and improve our understanding of financial management. When you take a step back, it’s clear that this is the first thing we need to fix.

Yes, some banks don’t make financial self-education easy, but indubitably the information is there for us to wade through, and make sense of. To break through the vicious cycle the majority of us are whirling around in, we need to understand our situation and how to take appropriate action (reactive and proactive), and then share our knowledge with others.

Ultimately, it’s not even really about effort. It’s about self-esteem. I think we just need to have a bit more faith in our abilities to manage finance well. Perhaps if financial institutions started talking to us as actors rather than dependents, having this sense of self-confidence wouldn’t feel so unnatural.

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