Top Gear : is it a broken brand ?

The new series of Top Gear launched on Sunday and promptly got off to a poor start.

Only drawing 4.4 million views (the last series averaged 5.8 million).

Sysomos tracked over 70k tweets and the sentiment was 75% negative with many branding it boring.

How did it all go so wrong?

We decided to have a brief look at the brand using our BRAVE methodology and quickly felt that everything about the new programme lacked Boldness.

By that I mean that it didn’t stand out and didn’t stand for something new and interesting.

In fact, the more one considers the decisions the BBC made, the more one can sense a committee making what appear to be sensible and rational decisions.

Firstly to keep the brand and it’s key assets – the marque, theme and opening credits, the editorial format, the features and the slot.

The only major change being the presenters.“Think about it rationally” I can hear someone saying, “we just need equally big names, who like cars and are good with guests.”

The two main presenters messers Evans and Le Blanc were brought in as big names to attract new viewers, and importantly viewers form across the pond.

Trouble is, they are not automotive journalists.

Problem solved with another dollop of rational thinking – we’ll get some respected automotive journalists – some that look presentable, not too old and are relatively un-mad.

F1 fans like cars and old Top Gear was anti-F1 – so we can capture that demographic with Bernie Ecclestone.

Then, we won’t change the format that the audience is familiar with – we’ll keep the Stig and some of the features and guests.

That all seems to the rational mind to make sense, to retain the assets of the brand and to minimise the risks. What could possibly go wrong as Mr Clarkson would have said?

The problem with this approach is that is lacked boldness. What might have appeared to be rational thinking and prudent brand management ultimately created a slightly paler version of what went before.

Being bold makes you stand out, and as a brand that is vital to a thriving brand. Being just a little bit different is not a viable strategy.

So, come on Top Gear – be Brave and be Bold !

Sparks 8

Welcome to Sparks – our regular digest of thought-provoking ideas and thinking from around the world.  This month our theme is disruption and upsetting the status quo.  Don’t get comfy…



Why real disruption must be uncomfortable.



Lessons learned in innovation from an ex-Apple insider.



Why best practice is just average



Why it’s more rational to design for emotion.



What we can learn from Britain’s greatest test pilot.



Why digital technology is useless at creativity.



Say one thing well.


We’re very good at adding complexity to our lives, and to our businesses. We think by doing more things, we’ll get to our required destination.

But often, it takes us further away.

When Bill Clinton ran for the US presidency in 1992 he was the clear outsider.

George H. W. Bush was considered unbeatable because of his extensive foreign policy experience.

But in 1992, with the country deep in recession, there were more pressing problems at home.

During the campaign Clinton made a speech in which he pontificated about all aspects of policy from balanced budgets to healthcare.

The Washington Post recorded that “Clinton talked about everything and therefore nothing”.

The following day democratic strategist James Carville famously posted a large sign in the campaign’s “war room” that read: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Carville wanted to remind his candidate and those working for him to keep their focus single-minded and where he felt it belonged: the economy.

That was the single most important issue the public cared about; it became the campaign mantra and subsequently part of the American political lexicon.

Clinton’s message resonated and captured the mood of the public. He went on to win the election.

The moral of the story… if you want your message to travel far, complexity is not a good thing. So keep it simple, not stupid.

Say one thing well.





From Fat to Finn


In Japanese culture, the martial art of Aikido uses the energy of an attacker to the defender’s advantage.

Try and punch an Aikido master and you effectively throw yourself on the ground.  You do most of work.

Contrary to popular belief, Finland had a massive problem with coronary heart disease.

In fact, Finland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world during the early 1970s.

Finns, especially men, liked to smoke a lot, drink a lot and eat fatty meat. Lots of dairy, salt and bread smeared in butter, washed down with full fat milk.

In Finnish culture, ‘being a man’ was about tough, physical work and that meant eating lots of fatty food to give them energy.

Vegetables were something you gave to rabbits or farm animals. It was laughable that any self-respecting Finn would eat carrots.

So people simply didn’t eat vegetables. At all.

Despite the physical exertion, their unhealthy diet was killing them in droves.

In 1972, Dr Pekka Puska of the National Public Health Institute travelled with his team to Northern Karelia, a very rural, agricultural province in Eastern Finland. It had shown a particularly high incidence of heart disease compared to the average.

In Northern Karelia, people really liked to smoke, drink hard and eat lots of fat.

They reasoned if they could make a change here, they could probably change the whole country.

Most health campaigns just tried to nag people to change by pointing out their mistakes. However, the problem was not one of education.

These people knew they weren’t being very healthy.  They just weren’t bothered about it.

In short, a healthy diet wasn’t relevant so there was little motivation to change.

Dr Puska knew he needed a really bold approach to make a difference.

So he decided to change whole communities in one go and use their culture to his advantage.

He knew that civic pride came before a fall.  Finns – especially the men – were proud and tenacious.

So he pitted communities against each other to reduce their cholesterol levels.

They measured cholesterol in different towns and villages.  Two months later they returned and measured again. The town with the biggest reduction won a collective prize.

There was no need to educate anyone.  They all knew what to do.  Winning was far more important than the embarrassment of eating more veg.

Healthy eating became relevant.

They didn’t stop there.  Farmers were paid to produce high protein meat (not according to fat content as before).  Tobacco advertising was banned nationally. Dairy farmers were given strong incentives to produce low fat milk.  They even managed to get berries grown on a large scale.  Schools started to teach kids about vegetables and why they were amazing.

Gradually, healthier eating became part of the culture.

The effect was extraordinary.

In 30 years, the rate of death from heart disease in men was reduced by at least 65% and deaths from lung cancer were reduced to a similar level. Finnish men can expect to live on average 7 years longer and women 6 years longer compared to before the study began.

So when faced with the overwhelming strength of culture, he used the same cultural strength to his advantage.

The Finnish people did most of the work for him.


How we simplify brands


A large part of our task is to work with our clients to help them simplify their brand, product or service.


Because people buy easy more than they buy cheap.

People are subconsciously attracted to simple because that is what our brains are hard wired to look for. Amazon isn’t the cheapest way to buy a DVD, but it has a massive market share, because it’s easy. Blockbuster by contrast wasn’t easy.

It’s not easy to synthesise lots of information, use insight based understanding and then simplify everything you know.

And it’s almost impossible to do that when you work inside an organisation, with operational pressures and the curse of knowledge.

Because we are outside our client’s organisation we are better placed to be objective.

How do we do this?

We use a tool to help structure our thinking. It’s a modified version of the NLP linguistic tool that helps us to move logically between the specific and the abstract. It helps us to uncover the structure behind people’s thinking and the language that they use around a subject, market place or brand. And we couple that with our own special ingredient, our experience.

We create sets and sub sets of information in a hierarchical format. Here’s the example for Extracare.

It’s helped bcg increase sales, grow a new online product for TNT and increase charitable donations for Extracare.

Lemon squeezy


I recently bought myself a winter hack. A (very) cheap car for the really nasty days when riding my motorbike to work stops being fun or easy – which isn’t very often. Usually, this means something spartan and tedious to drive. Usually, it means finding an old car that isn’t on its last legs or horribly thrashed, so choice is limited.  Something from the late nineties maybe. A little BMW in fact.

I’m not joking about the ‘little’ either – in comparison to the current 3 Series it’s positively tiny. It’s extraordinary how much bigger and heavier cars have become – partly due to safety gains but also the demand for more. We consumers demand more space, more technology, more flexibility, just more please.

The original advertising for iPod, whilst not introducing unique technology, made us realise we could carry around all our music with us all the time. That seemed really cool and convenient.

Only most of us don’t listen to all of our music all the time. In reality, keeping on top of 10,000 plus songs and managing your iTunes and synchronising between devices…is just a bit…annoying. Stressful and unsatisfying. More technology than ever before and yet somehow it’s not making life easier or better.

My old BMW has a radio cassette player. Not CD, cassette. It’s so long since I’ve had one in a car I was hunting down old cassettes to play just for the fun of it. The sheer novelty value of the clunking mechanism and listening to an entire album without ‘shuffling’. It’s fun.  Of course a teenager might think otherwise. Yet vinyl sales are rocketing and turntables became the number one home audio seller on Amazon this Christmas.

So what’s going on?  Well there’s certainly not a wholesale rejection of technology – far from it.  Personally, I think it’s about easiness.  We like easy.  We like simple. No matter how hi-tech or low-tech, we tend to gravitate towards the easy option that works for us.  If it makes things easy, then we’ll probably use it more often.

My favourite example is a story from the Space Race in the 1960s. NASA had spent lots of time and money trying to develop a pen that would work in zero gravity.  Lots of very bright scientists struggled to crack the problem of getting the ink to flow.  The Russians used a different approach.  They used a pencil.

So before employing new technology or even sticking with the old, it’s always worth asking “does it make things easier?”


The Enemy of Thought


When Joseph Conrad wrote “Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions” he was really reflecting on how keeping busy prevents the human mind thinking too much.  As a former merchant seaman, he knew all about long periods of being away from home and dwelling on things.

However, for most of us in the modern workplace, quite the opposite is true.  We’re all apparently ‘time poor’.  Too much to do, too many emails, not enough hours in the day.  The irony of all this rushing about doing things is that action really is the enemy of thought. ‘Doing’ pulls rank on ‘Thinking’ in almost every circumstance.  Action is consolatory – doing something feels so much better than doing nothing. This presupposes that thinking is inactivity and somehow means time wasted.  Worse, thinking is seen as passive and weak – a way of postponing decisions which are, ergo, brave and dynamic, regardless of their consequences.

The ‘getting stuff done now’ culture is pervasive – witness the stupidity on a show like the BBC’s “The Apprentice”.  The emphasis is on selling lots and doing it in a very short time.  The candidates are deliberately pressurised for our entertainment and most react badly – daft decisions, absent strategies and the belief that doing something – anything – is going to gain them brownie points with Suralan. The few who do fight the corner of thinking-it-through are often met with macho derision.

The uncomfortable truth is that many real organisations operate on similar lines; too many targets to hit, too little time and very little forethought or vision.  The unfortunate result is corporate headless chickens – numerous initiatives, actions and projects with no clear understanding of why they’re happening and what they’ll achieve.  The famous 1928  play ‘Journey’s End’ centered around exactly this sort of folly during WW1 but with fatal rather than adminstrative consequences.

Of course, there’s a balance to be struck here.  We can’t ignore the need for any action; rather we should always devote some time to thinking ahead and questioning before we make a costly mistake.

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” (Joel. A. Barker)

Don’t just pass the time, try and change the world instead.


Just why does Kalkan exist?

Never heard of Kalkan? Neither had I, however for my family holiday this year we followed a recommendation to go there. It’s on the edgy bit of Turkey.


We discovered (they use the word discover a lot in holiday sales literature don’t they) a really lovely place, great weather, beautiful seas, views, hotel, restaurants, history, genuine fake Rolex shops etc. All the usual stuff you expect from a nice family holiday at the coast.

However, there was something totally amazing about Kalkan, something that puzzled me for a few days.

Everyone local we met was unfailingly and utterly charming, caring and lovely. Very polite, and they genuinely wanted to ensure that we had the most fantastic experience. The opposite to highly trained fake caring as invented by Disneyland.

We never felt hassled. You might cynically think that this is only what they should be doing – but when did you last visit a holiday destination where this was actually the case. Genuine concern, from every single person for our welfare and our enjoyment. Meals were fantastic value, and often we were given complimentary starters or sweets. I could go on and on……

There was a nagging problem for me in all of this loveliness. I wondered how this little town had got itself so organised and on message.

There is no industry around Kalkan. Subsistence agriculture and tourism are the only means of income.

Had they employed McKinsey? Had the winter seen endless meetings to agree strategy. Did Kalkan have a Director of Customer Satisfaction?

But of course they had done none of that. They had been much more sophisticated, because they had taken the time to work out the “why” of Kalkan, not just the “what”.

They all knew why they got up in the morning. Not to make money (although that’s the outcome). Nor what they did – run a hotel or restaurant. But why.

Their “why” must be to make sure every visitor is amazingly satisfied. They are all driven to give visitors the most fabulous welcome and friendly experience. So that you enjoy yourself. And come again. And tell everyone about it.

And that’s so much more successful than focusing upon what they did – which is what so many other destinations do.

The lesson is that you need to focus upon the “why” of your brand, not just the “what” part. As codified by Simon Sinek – see his Ted Talk on the Golden Circle.

That’s my learning and my advice, work out your “why” – which naturally we at Key Parker can help you with.

Just don’t visit Kalkan, you’ll ruin it for the rest of us !

Fortune favours the brave

Behavioural research confirms that the vast majority of people are generally risk-averse. This comes from our fear of loss. We are happy when we gain, but twice as unhappy when we lose. So why risk it?

We tend to look for safer options that reflect our view of ‘how things should be’. Psychologists call this the ‘confirmation bias’. We love to agree with people who agree with us. It’s why we read books and visit websites that express our own opinions, and why we mostly spend time with people who hold similar views and tastes.

Similarly, another characteristic trait of human behaviour is copying; it’s how we learn. We are hard wired to copy, from learning to talk to following tribal trends. So it stands to reason that the safe way to build a successful brand is to look at how everyone else in your category behaves, and copy them.

If you can be a bit better than the competition, then you’ll be successful. But acting like everyone else only makes you invisibleThe brain is a pattern-making machine; it can’t possibly process all the information it receives, so it groups things together. Therefore if your brand doesn’t conform to the established category pattern, it will inevitably stand out.

Consequently, it’s not good enough to be better you have to be different. And being different means being brave.

brave is the name of Key Parker’s tried and tested business transformation model. It’s an exciting and collaborative way of benchmarking your brand. Through five thought provoking stages we’ll question your thinking and reframe your challenges. By using our core competencies of strategy, creativity and technology we’ll take you from where you are to where you need to be. Helping you become meaningful, different and salient.

Mental flags

Marketing and branding rely heavily on mental flags and signals. The first imperative of branding is to make people’s purchasing decisions easy. And because of the habitual nature of human behaviour, we rely on mental shortcuts, or heuristics, when making those purchasing decisions.

The effect of which is we assign greater importance to things that have ready mental availability and choose the most salient brand. That’s why it’s so important that brand messages are consistently reinforced at every opportunity, so brand associations become burned in our memory. But it’s important to understand that we remember the concept of the brand, not necessarily every last product detail.

Martin Weigel likens it to walking the same route across a grass field until an enduring path is created.

We remember concepts, not data. There’s a lovely experiment in Chip and Dan Heath’s book that illustrates this point. Study the letters below for no more that 10 seconds, then look away and write down as many as you can remember.


That’s 20 letters, most people remember between seven and ten because there’s only so much information you can juggle at once. Now scroll down and look at the same letters again in the same sequence, this time with the spacing slightly rearranged.


Chances are you remembered more second time around. In the first list you were trying to remember data, in the second list, concepts. Twenty pieces of data, but only six concepts. But in remembering the concepts you are actually remembering infinitely more information.

JFK for example triggers associations with politics, relationships, assassination, family etc., surely that’s harder to remember than three little letters? The answer of course is we’re not remembering all that information, we’re simply recalling it.

All the remembering work is already done; we’ve already walked that grassy path. The letters are just a pointer or mental flags, so in the end three letters are three mental flags and one concept is one flag.

You use what’s already there.

Ordem e Progresso


I must come clean immediately – I’m not a football fan.

I don’t hate it, I’m just not that in to it.

However as a casual observer of the 2014 World Cup, even I could tell last night’s semi-final 7-1 demolition of Brazil by Germany was no ordinary game.

I know only too well what emotional investment Brazilians have in their national football team.  My British wife spent more or less the first 15 years of her life growing up there and probably feels more at home in Brasilia than Birmingham. Losing isn’t an option – it’s unacceptable.

This isn’t as unreasonable as it sounds given that Brazil are the most successful team in the history of the FIFA World Cup, with five wins on four different continents.

Brazilians simply expect their team to win and to win in style.

Yet what last night’s game demonstrated was how reputation and expectation are cruel masters. The higher they are, the greater the pressure to perform and you certainly can’t rely on past glories to get you through. Or star players.

So when Germany exercised uniformity, discipline and purpose and didn’t deviate from their pressing style of play, Brazil quickly unraveled and resembled a dumbstruck under-11 side who forgot why they were there.

This was ironic considering Brazil’s national motto translates as Order and Progress.

This got me thinking about brand reputation and how easily it can be undone if a brand’s purpose isn’t clear. The why not the what.

Nokia forgot it needed to make communication easier.  HMV forgot to celebrate the excitement of music. Comet forgot to provide useful service.

From the CEO to the new trainee, if you’re all clear about why you’re really there then you can do extraordinary things with apparent ease.

There is a word for that…

“I miss you loads. I’ve got an ache inside because I miss you so much. I wish you were with me right now. I remember that last time we were together with great fondness and miss that.”

Somehow, this doesn’t quite express what I really mean. According to my wife (who speaks fluent Portuguese), there’s a single great word for all of that sentiment. It’s saudades (sow-dar-jees) and basically crams all of the above into one handy expression. And the receiver immediately knows that it’s all there without you rambling on too much.

This got me thinking about how we naturally use language and adapt it to our needs. It’s not merely a communication tool but a complex reflection of culture.

English is a fabulous, expressive language but it can be a bit lacking in economy. We Brits spend far too much time being polite and modest. So when it comes to expressing a thought or idea, we have to borrow from other languages to get to the point.

Schadenfreude is a deliciously German way of expressing the pleasure you might feel over someone else’s misfortune. The French amuse bouche is a surprise little something from the chef with an unusual combination of flavours, literally “a mouth amuser”. I can’t imagine Brits coming up with that somehow. We’d complain there wasn’t enough on the plate. Ex pats in India spent many years borrowing language (amongst other things) because it just did the job a bit better.

Buckshee – apparently from the Urdu word baksheesh meaning money and indicating a bribe – has been widely used by the British army and according to the Army Rumour Service, has a complex meaning behind it:

“Buckshee kit is an interesting thing. Somebody can be in posession of considerable quantities of Buckshee equipment, without ever having bought it, or stolen it…Buckshee is a currency all in it’s own right similar to barter. No matter what you need, there will always be someone with a buckshee item.”

People have always been adapting language to suit and communicate more efficiently. Txt spk being an obvious example. Teenagers have for generations managed to create language that’s exclusive to them and makes other users look a bit er…lame? I mean, that’s like random right?

Which leads me on to wonder why so many brand owners resort to verbose and often meaningless mission statements/visions/aims or spend enormous amounts of time carefully defining what their brand is or isn’t? Who really cares that you “will become the first choice provider of widgets and first choice supplier partner by 2018 through an unrelenting commitment to quality products and excellent service….”?

As Simon Sinek has argued, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Consider consumer brands that have (arguably) become part of the culture; Dyson, Apple, Facebook, Vespa, Marmite, Ronseal et al not only had strong products and great advertising ideas behind them, they were supercharged by cultural acceptance and became handy vehicles to express ourselves. Buying a Dyson was a statement of non-conformity. “A Marmite person” was quickly understood, “does what it says on the tin” a bluff rejection of complexity, Vespa is shorthand for a life of Italian cafe cool and 60s chic.

Customers rapidly join the semiotic dots and will “see” and use your brand accordingly. Make their lives easier, less complex and smoother running by plugging in to what they’re thinking about and what matters to them. Converse became the biggest brand on Facebook not by flogging trainers but through getting in flow with their buyers and their lives.

If your brand doesn’t become three dimensional shorthand for your raison d’etre and then you’re maybe wasting your time and company’s money. Spend time thinking about how your brand fits with the prevailing and specific culture of your customers. Why does it matter? Of course I mean to say, the zeitgeist. Handily, Google even measure it for you here.


Beware the sycophantic banana

… But be decent, legal, honest and truthful.

16.06 020

As a freelancer, I’m privileged to be given this opportunity to be a guest spot blogger!…

Without wishing to slip on that great sycophantic banana, I felt compelled to provide some honest feedback following a period of a few weeks freelancing within Key Parker. Over many years in the industry, I have worked for and alongside many reputable and highly praised agencies. Now, agencies are very skilled at marketing themselves and exploiting client testimonials and endorsements so generally they do not need any help. (Some agencies are not so good – but we won’t go into that).

Read more

Explaining finance boosts Audi website traffic


Audi has increased visitors to the finance section of its web site by a massive 82% in February.

This is all due to the launch of 3 new videos designed to bring some clarity to the often confusing world of finance. The three videos cover Personal Contract Plan, Contract Hire and Hire Purchase, and seek to explain the detail behind the products in a simple and useful way.

The films were created by long time partner agency, Key Parker. “Finance is often the slightly dull part of buying a car. It’s double maths for customers” explains Nigel Bromley, Client Services Director at Key Parker.  “We set out to explain the concepts behind the products in a way that would give Audi customers confidence in their understanding”

Natalie Taylor of Audi Finance adds: “We set out to demystify finance, and to help our prospects feel more confident about selecting the product that best suits their circumstances. Encouragingly our research has shown us that 76% of potential customers say the films make them more likely to choose one of our products.”



Contact Nigel Bromley for more information & images

See the films at :

Steamy, sizzling new client

Our latest client addition is bcg who are one of the biggest suppliers and distributors of plumbing, heating, kitchen and bathroom products in the UK.  Owned by the giant merchant supplier Wolseley, bcg specialise in the independent merchant and retailer sector and have appointed Key Parker to develop their brand strategy and all of their communications. 

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