Ian Henderson on new advertising ideas for complicated businesses – MAF217

My guest this week is Ian Henderson, an advertising expert behind the infamous, “See it. Say it. Sorted” campaign.

We talk about how advertising has changed in the digital age and why annoying advertising is sometimes the best way to get a message across.

Welcome to episode 217 of the Marketing and Finance Podcast.

Ian Henderson on new advertising ideas for complicated businesses - MAF217

What you’ll hear about in this episode

  • What is the UK’s most annoying advert?
  • How annoying adverts can still be successful
  • How advertising has changed in the digital world
  • The differences between old-style and new adverts
  • The three steps to creating a successful advertising campaign
  • Cost-effective advertising
  • A financial services company doing well with ads

Who is Ian Henderson?

Ian has been an advertising copywriter for many years, producing ads for cars and whiskeys at London agencies. He became interested in brand development, particularly for complicated businesses.

His business, AML Group, have been working in this area for about eight years. They describe their service as: “simple ideas for complicated businesses.” That covers things like technology, counter-terrorism, law and international finance.

It also includes retirement life insurance – anything that’s highly regulated and therefore difficult to communicate to potential customers so they understand what businesses do.

Summary of our chat

AML Group created the “See it. Say it. Sorted” advert on behalf of British Transport Police to encourage people to report anything suspicious at train stations. While it was voted the most annoying advert in the UK, Ian explains that it’s resulted in a 90% increase in incident reporting.

The old model of TV ads for large companies in the financial services sector, using a top-down push method, is outdated in the world of social media. Consumers are empowered now, and we have grassroots movements created by people we trust more than organisations. Brands are now trying to replicate this for business growth.

Ian says that the old ways of advertising still work, and it allows companies to reach large numbers of people fast. On the other side, creating pull messages is increasingly popular. The audience creates stories and builds participation. This is both cost-effective and removes barriers that prevent people from taking action.

The first step is understanding the rational and emotional drivers of the audiences. Then, find the “connected connectors” you can influence within that group. You need a strong, simple, memorable and relevant core idea people can get behind. Finally, you need to create a platform to build participation and remove barriers to access.

Ian says producing adverts is much cheaper than they used to be. However, you still need to create assets and seed the movement. It’s not cost-free, but there’s no longer a need for expensive, top-down media. Companies are keen to do the right thing, and that includes enabling consumers to make informed decisions.

Ian points to a project between Big Issue and large asset managers. To build a financial ecosystem which is inclusive and allows people to invest in a sustainable way and have access to low-cost banking and ethical financial products. It’s a great example of collaboration between competitors for the greater good.

Ian’s Tips for Small Business Marketing

For smaller businesses who can’t afford to work with an agency, Ian recommends using tools such as content marketing and social media, because they’re available to everyone.

Firstly, though, you need to be clear on what it is you want to say. What is the purpose of your organisation and why should people come to you? It sounds obvious, but Ian says many companies don’t get that right.

Be clear on what you’re trying to say, then find a compelling, relevant and memorable way that sticks in people’s minds. We’re all good at filtering messages out unless they’re clear and simple, because attention spans are shorter.

Finally, use digital platforms to ensure the message is delivered consistently across each one and reaches the right people. Clarity and being compelling, and using the right channels, are universal tools for successful advertising.

One thing Ian would like listeners to take away

Ian says that “simple ideas for complicated businesses” is not a bad summary of his experience. Businesses, particularly in the sectors AML Group work with, are necessarily complicated, because they’re intermediated and regulated.

There is often a lot of resistance, confusion and anxiety on the part of consumers around their offerings. Being simple and clear, and delivering key messages in a timely and relevant way is obvious, but that’s what it takes.

Ian thinks that using the new techniques in the environment of ‘doing the right thing’ and focussing on sustainability means that it’s possible for the financial industry to start a conversation to help consumers to make the right decisions.

An Example of Simple Marketing

Ian points to the “Take back Control” campaign used by the Leave side during the Brexit campaign, regardless of your views, was a powerful and effective marketing campaign. It’s a good example of an almost invisible grassroots campaign, like those talked about during this interview.

An Example of Marketing Madness

Ian says he thinks it’s a bit bonkers spending £100,000,000 on a leaflet campaign to tell people to get ready for Brexit when no-one really knows the outcome.


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