What a brilliant event MAD//Fest 2023 was.  It was great to catch up with people I’ve not seen for a while, meet some new faces and listen to some inspirational talks. And as MAD//fest goes from strength to strength, it’s even more of a privilege to be asked to contribute to this newsletter.

Today, I’m wanging on about the need for just enough process in your marketing to protect your brand team from the likes of Feargal Sharkey. 

Years ago I was working on a piece of New Product Development (NPD).  We were a couple of weeks from launch when the new glass bottle design started exploding on the line.  We found the problem and made a contingency plan to keep the launch on track, whilst we fixed the problem.  A couple of months later our main competitor recalled their NPD as their bottles were exploding on the shelf. 

“That was lucky” I said to my boss, “that could easily have been us.”

“No it couldn’t” he snipped, “we had the right process in place.”

With this in mind, a recent story about Yorkshire Water caught my eye - I’m an adopted Yorkshireman (I’m a Londoner really, which means that I still find the “talking to people on public transport” thing totally awks).


In a nutshell, a teaser film from the company made the news because the footage wasn’t of the stunning Yorkshire Dales, or the vibrant nightlife of Leeds.  Nope.  They’d used stock footage of the Malvern Hills, a Ukrainian car (left hand drive) and a Russian bar by the Black Sea.  None of which are in Yorkshire.  A quick removal of the video and some apologies followed.

And, rather predictably, environmental campaigners used this as an opportunity to stick the welly in.  Feargal Sharkey said the video was representative of broader incompetence.

Really Feargal?

He told BBC Breakfast: “It underlines the most serious point, once we get past the mild amusement of it all, and that is this laissez-faire, almost casual, indifference that water companies like Yorkshire Water use and show towards their customers.”

Now, whilst I agree it was an own goal, I think anyone who has worked in a marketing team will have a little twinge in the pit of their stomach reading this and can relate.  We’ve all been there or thereabouts, but perhaps without the media spotlight.

But what’s the lesson here for marketers?  What can we do to avoid that feeling?  What’s the process?

Firstly, when any asset is being approved for release, there are three questions to ask yourself:

·      Is it consistent with our brand guidelines?

·      Is it relevant and exciting for our target audience?

·      Does it communicate the right stuff?

I think the faux pas with the Yorkshire Water video could have been picked up in that first question.  Any brand with Yorkshire in its name is going to include some form of regional pride in the guidelines, and “where’s that?” seems a fairly obvious question.

Secondly, we can take a step back and do a quick disaster check before we get too far into production.  What’s the worst that could happen?  It’s called the “red face test.”  A hypothetical test that checks how embarrassed we’d feel if “that thing” was discovered.

As a wrap up I should really be trying to shoe-horn an Undertones song title in to cement my point – something about Teenage Kicks or having a Perfect Cousin.  Instead, I’ll remind you that process like this doesn’t hamper creativity.  It keeps your brand safe and comes from a combination of experience and training.  And it’s something that all businesses should be baking into their brand teams.

Gareth will be writing a column for the MAD//Fest Newsletter regularly throughout the year.