Bad day at the office 9

UK Cash Cowboys logo

London digital agency win UK Cash Cowboys account

There was a big buzz around the creative studio at UK Cash Cowboys this morning. As if somebody had thrown in a box of bees and closed the door. Three big developments were playing out. First, we’ve apparently appointed a new London agency. Secondly it would seem we’re changing our company strapline. For anyone who knows anything about straplines this is serious shit. Straplines go everywhere. Next to your logo on all your marketing. On every page of your website. They’re the jingles at the end of your ads. They also cost about three hundred grand a pop, which when I last counted was about a hundred grand a word. Nice work if you can get it.

The third bit of news, which is currently trending, struck the whole Cowboys franchise like a broadside of torpedoes last night when foul-mouthed stand-up comedian Frankie Blowtorch called our Global Chairman Sir Rich Pickle a ‘mad cunt’, which I understand can be a compliment in Australia. Pickle had been tweeting his usual hypothetical bullshit about how global warming was destroying the Arctic and putting the habitats of polar bears at risk. He was calling for business and political leaders to show more bold leadership on conservation. Which is a bit like Hitler worrying about the declining numbers of Jews.

Blowtorch had tweeted back, “you own an airline, you mad cunt”. Which seems a fair point to make. No doubt if he’d had more than 140 characters he’d have pointed out that Sir Rich’s global Cowboys franchise actually owns SEVEN whopping airlines across Europe, America, Australia and the Pacific. Not to mention Cowboys Trains, Cowboys Galactic space tourism project, Cowboys Limousines and Limobikes and, oh yeah, Cowboys Formula One Racing Team. A real eco-warrior is Sir Rich. According to Wiki he owns about half the planet and since his hundreds of Cowboys’ business ventures over the last four decades have probably been responsible for the destruction of the other half, it seems a bit rich for him to be taking the high ground on global warming. You don’t build the kind of fortune Pickle has without being one of the most ruthless, unscrupulous business operators on the planet. If Sir Rich had to raze a dozen rainforests or hospitals to the ground to make a hundred quid on the side, the diggers would be going in now, make no mistake. But like our own CEO at UK Cash Cowboys, Cleopatra Le-Grande OBE (who models herself on Sir Rich), Pickle has never been one to let rank hypocrisy get in the way of a good PR opportunity.

So, as our Chief Marketing Officer Dick Holder got us all in a huddle round the photocopier at 10am to make an announcement, we were all ears. Dick has this habit of dropping his jaw open like Gordon Brown when he’s about to speak, and rolling his eyes back in his head as he rocks back on his heels, building up the suspense. I think he thinks it gives him some kind of gravitas. He’s wrong. He looks like he’s about to have an epileptic seizure. The bald head and Bilko glasses probably don’t help much.

“I wanted you to be the first to know the exciting news,” he said, pausing to milk the moment. “We’ve appointed a new digital agency.”

“Woo-hoo,” shrieked Norman Shylock right on cue as he high-fived Dick, the big creep. Norman heads up our Online Marketing Bullshit Division. Dick’s his boss.

“We’re delighted to announce that Pratt, Rypov, Igo, Charlatan, Konman & Shytter are our new agency.

I watched as one of our design team – Stig Churchwarden – mouthed the words, counting them off on his fingers as he worked out the agency’s acronym. It registered in his eyes like a row of dollar signs.

“Who?” asked our moustachioed veteran artworker Captain Benylin. The Captain works on Benylin time, which is usually about five seconds behind the rest of the world.

“They’re absolutely top-drawer people,” continued Dick, ignoring the Captain. “Their pitch was different class. We were impressed not only by the quality of their ideas and their understanding of us as a brand. But we’re also confident their work will help us drive home the message that UK Cash Cowboys is very different from other banks.”  Stig swapped me a look. Yeah, we both thought, shitter than other banks. Meaner, more hypocritical. Dick continued. “They unveiled a great new company strapline in their pitch that I have to say blew us all away, especially Cleopatra. She absolutely loves it. In fact it was the clincher to them winning our account.” Here we go, I thought. I can’t wait to hear this. If the agency has any kind of handle on us as a brand it’ll be something like, UK Cash Cowboys – Bankers to the Wankers. Four words. I could have written them myself. Saving the company four hundred grand.

“Vot is it den?” asked Zelda, one of the junior copywriters.

Dick rocked back on his heels, rolling those eyes and opening his gaping maw of a slack-jawed mouth like some village idiot. “UK Cash Cowboys – Everyone’s Getting On,” he said. His lip curled up in a satisfied smile. He paused again, awaiting a chorus of affirmation from his in-house creative team.

While he waited I ran a few contenders from Advertising Straplines 101 through my head to see if I could remember one as bad. A long roll-call of unadulterated agency tripe sprang to mind,  like Panasonic’s Ideas for life, Exxon’s We’re Exxon, and Olivetti’s Our force is your energy. I wondered how many millions the agencies had duped out of the marketing geniuses at those businesses to sell them such meaningless tosh. Or for the hospital passes they’d sold to organisations like British Rail (We’re getting there) or MFI (Take a look at us now). Maybe one day, I thought, just one day, Everyone’s Getting On might be up there among that prestigious pantheon of strapline howlers that sucked to the power of ten. I was mindful Felix Clay’s cautionary words about the danger of a badly thought through strapline, which pretty much said all there was to say on the subject:

“For every effectively memorable and only marginally annoying slogan out there, there’s about five that suck eggs. And then there’s one more that left egg-sucking behind and now sucks everything. It sucks so bad and so hard that the closer you get to it the harder it is to get away. Like a black hole of shitty marketing, it pulls you in, and you’ll never forget just how fucking awful this slogan was. It somehow managed to do the exact opposite of what the company intended, convincing you not to buy their product but to avoid them totally, because their entire marketing team must be cretinous jackasses with little to no understanding of the world outside their offices.”

Wow, I thought. I wonder if Felix had ever worked here at UK Cash Cowboys, to get such a brilliant insight.

“Oh c’mon! It’s not THAT bad!” Dick snapped. “Get with the programme people. We need to all get behind this. It’s who we are. It’s what we’re all about as a company. Part of our DNA going forward. Everyone’s Getting On, right?”

“Oh, you mean like, say, Cleopatra’s OBE, and her £2.65 million bonus she took last January,” I said, going way out there. “Like THAT kind of getting on? Oh, cool. I geddit.” Dick responded with a withering glare in my direction. He was not amused.

“He’s only kidding, aren’t you Frank?” said Shylock, through gritted teeth. Shylock’s my line manager, as it happens. My boss. Dick’s his boss. That’s why he spends all his day sucking Dick’s dick, and getting me to suck his. It’s how the banking industry works. Your boss bullies you, his boss bullies him, and so on, all the way to the top. Shylock gave me one of his ‘one more negative peep out of you Bukowski and you’ll be pulling your P45 out your ass with a pair of long-handled medical forceps’ looks.

“Sure,” I said, “only joking. It’s a great strapline. Bang on the money. Absolutely nails who we are as a company. Everyone’s Getting On. Couldn’t have written it better myself.”

“Thank you,” said Dick, as my sarcasm sailed several storeys over his Bilko dome.

“What does it mean?” asked the Captain, who had woken from his slumber.

“Hey, Benylin, shut, the fuck, up,” snapped Shylock. He was always picking on the old guy.

“No, what he means,” I said, coming to the Captain’s defence, “is like, what’s the subliminal message? You know, like what’s the take out for the customer? Everyone’s Getting On? As in? I mean, this has to resonate in the marketplace, right? It has to get inside our customers’ heads, yeah? So like, when it’s in there, what’s it really supposed to be saying to them? That’s all. I’m just asking. Are we all 100% happy the meaning is clear and transparent? Everyone’s Getting On?”

“It’s okay Dick,” said Shylock, indicating he’d sort it. “How long have you worked here fuckwit?”

“Christ knows. Eighteen years?”

“And you still haven’t got our mission statement?”

“Well it’s a bit hard, it changes every year.”

“Ha, I’m splitting my sides.”

“I try.”

“You’re a retard Bukowski, and a troublemaker. It’s obvious to everyone but a complete moron what Everyone’s Getting On means. And even if it wasn’t, that’s not what straplines are for. They’re SUPPOSED to be confusing clouds of evaporated horsepiss dreamed up by pretentious advertising agencies with their heads so far up their asses they can inspect their own teeth. That’s not the point. The point is, we’re a new kind of bank, kapeesh? Everyone knows that. Not like the old high street banks who are all about selfishness and greed, fat profits and sneering at the customer. There were way too many losers in that model. With us it’s a huge win-win, all round. Everyone benefits from our new way of doing business – customers, staff, management, shareholders, society. Everyone’s Getting On, geddit? Hello, anyone there? Come in Bukowski’s brain.”

“Ohhhh, I seeee! So like, I mean, those three members of the marketing team who went off sick for six months because they were being bullied by management, then lost their jobs last month, were like, getting on? Not getting sacked? Now I get it.”

There was an uncomfortable silence as I glanced around my Studio colleagues for a spark of support. They were all too terrified, too cowed, too in debt to mortgage and credit card companies to dare open their mouths. Too in fear of the corporate thought police to have an opinion of their own. Only Stig furtively drew a zip across his mouth, trying to save me from myself.

“Anything else you’d like to add Frank,” asked Dick. “In the spirit of openness?”

“Well, I suppose there is all the extra work that’s been piled on these last twelve months, the late nights, the unpaid overtime. Oh, and the three year pay freeze, when Cleopatra just paid herself a two and a half million pound bonus this January. But I won’t mention her twenty three percent pay rise. If I’m being brutally honest, Dick, it didn’t feel THAT much like the rest of us were getting on. That’s all. It’s just my opinion.”

“Finished?” asked Shylock.

“I suppose, except, I’m not really supposed to mention it…”

“Then don’t.”

“I mean, that adviser in our Glasgow office…”

“Bukowski, don’t even go there. That’s classified. Off limits. End of.”

“It was in the press.”

“I don’t care if it was on Google’s homepage.”

“Vot vos on Google’s homepage?” asked Zelda.

“He’s talking about the adviser from our Glasgow branch who just got jailed for five years for stealing half a million quid off a couple of old age pensioners with dementia,” said Stig, earning himself a furious glower from Shylock. Dick just stared uncomfortably at the floor, shaking his head. This wasn’t what we were supposed to be talking about. We were supposed to be showering compliments on his shiny new corporate strapline. All this shit about bullying management, greedy CEOs and criminals in our midst was badly off message. Bad for ‘engagement’.

“Actually Stig, I was talking about Darren Darkes, our CEO’s culture guru, but now you mention the theft, yeah…”

“Frank, can we take this offline?” asked Shylock, indicating a meeting room with his eyes.

“Yeah, what happened to Darko,” asked the Captain. “I was wondering where he’d got to.”

“He was sacked.”

“Oh, that’s a shame. I liked Darko. What did he do, spell Cleopatra’s name wrong on a letter?”

“Nah. He was convicted of swapping images of children on an online paedophile site. Guess that’s the kind of thing Cleopatra means when she keeps banging on about the company putting a little something back into society. Everyone’s Getting On, hey.”

“Oops,” said the Captain, “I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

“That would be nice,” said Shylock.

“Norman, can I have a word with you in my office,’ said Dick. “Now.”

Shylock shot me a poison-tipped bullet of hate as he trudged leaden-footed behind his boss.

“Now you’ve done it,” said Stig, drawing a joke finger across his adam’s apple.

“Do you have some kind of death wish? Nob head.” It was our sarky Design Manager and management ass-kisser in-chief, Matty Ostrich. “Why did you have to say all that shit? Now they’ll just go on the warpath and make all our lives a misery.”

“So what’s fucking new?” said Stig.

“Can it get any worse?” asked the Captain, smoothing back his handlebar moustache on both sides.

“I just can’t stand the bare-faced hypocrisy of this place any more. Challenger bank my arse. It gets more like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe every day. And some agency fuckwit comes up with a pile of wanky gibberish like Everyone’s Getting On, and everybody thinks it’s genius. Everyone’s Getting On, my god. It’s about as representative of UK Cash Cowboys as Arbeit Macht Frei. I bet that’s what Hitler told the Germans in the 1930s as he set them to work on the autobahns and got everyone doing press-ups in the fresh air. Everyone’s getting on, folks. Anyone with half a brain can see right through it. But we’re all too scared to speak up and say shit, in case we get a visit from one of Cleopatra’s Brownshirts in the night.”

“You’re just being negative,” said our senior copywriter Richie Skulldug, another management lickspittle. This place has more Gestapo than occupied France. A word out of place and your family disappears in the night. Cleopatra Le-Grande sees to that. Our smiling air-brushed CEO, Himmler in a skirt. But Skulldug takes her corporate heel-clicking to a whole new level. He’s so far up Dick Holder’s arse he can see Shylock’s metal tipped shoes. “You can’t talk like that to Dick, man. It’s disrespectful. It brings down the whole Studio.”

“Not even if it’s true?”

“Especially if it’s true,” joked Stig. “They take it more personally then.”

“Well, bang goes my pay review and bonus, AGAIN. Whatever.”

“You’ll be lucky if you don’t get the sack,” sniped Ostrich from behind his Mac.

“Well, it’s about time somebody stood up to these bullies for once. All this bullshit they put out about us being a great company to work for. UK Cash Cowboys, the new face of British Banking. One big happy family. And what’s all this big fucking lie about the Cowboys only being in it to build a better world? Bull… shit. I notice Dick carefully avoided saying anything about the shitstorm breaking on Twitter about Frankie Blowtorch calling Sir Rich Pickle a hypocritical cunt. In case anyone hadn’t noticed, the only thing we appear to be building around here is a bigger sodding bank balance for our fascist thug of a CEO, Cleopatra ‘I’d eat my children if I could make money out of it’ LeGrande. Who, in case you all need reminding, just trousered a two and a half million bonus while we got dick all. And WE did all the sodding WORK!”

“Yeah, while telling us the cupboard was bare,” said the Captain, firing up his Mac.

Stig nodded, wandering back to his desk. “Shafted.”

“What was it she said at the company stand-up? If we didn’t like it there were plenty of jobs going in Greece?”

“Look, it’s a job, yeah, get over it,” whined Ostrich. “It’s better than being on the dole.”

“I’m beginning to wonder.”

Stig opened up some Direct Mail artwork in InDesign. He began trying out the new strapline wording next to the logo. “Hey it fits!” he said. “If it’s any consolation, at least we can shorten it to EGO.”

“Yeah, in honour of our great leader and walking ego at UK Cash Cowboys, Cleopatra LeGrande, OBE.”

“Yay, so now we’ve got PRICKS and an EGO!” said Stig, cheering up.

“A new way of banking the world’s never seen before.”

“You can say that again.”

“Feels like real progress.”

“Welcome to UK Cash Cowboys, the human face of British banking, where everyone with a prick and an ego gets on.”

“Stig, can you drop it now and get on with your work mate,” sniped Ostrich. “We need to get that to print by six, or we’ll all be…”

“In deep shit?”

“Ethnically cleansed?”

“Taken into the car park and shot?”

“Oh fuck off,” snapped Ostrich, putting on his headphones. He wasn’t playing any more.


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One is the loneliest number

Rare is the TV ad that makes me smile, laugh out loud then tingle all over in the space of 30 seconds.

This Lynx ad is one of my favourite on telly at the minute. It’s a real doozy. This is the full version at over a minute, but there’s an even tighter version around 20 seconds long. Both are very watchable. They’re close to my idea of the perfect ad – witty, sexy, classy, impactful – building the brand and shifting a shedload of product at the same time. So pretty much the direct opposite of the boring, cliched, ineffectual pap we put out at UK Cash Cowboys, goes without saying.

Perfect casting, music, direction and production. It’s a simple idea, brilliantly executed. A guy has a crush on a girl but he’s thwarted by fate at every turn, dammit. Until he discovers Lynx.

If you’ve ever had a secret crush on someone who always seemed out of reach… ah just watch the ad, you’ll get it.

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Sticky Pages is out on Amazon and Smashwords

Sticky Pages front cover  Frankflash! Last weekend I put out my second ebook, a 15,500 word novelette called Sticky PagesIf you’re quick you can still pick it up free at Smashwords.

It’s also on Amazon too but the minimum price they’d accept was 99c (77p), so I recommend you snap it up at Smashwords instead for free. You can download it onto your Kindle from Smashwords just the same as on Amazon. If your weapon of choice is an ipad, nook, or Sony reader etc, no problem, you can zap it straight to those too from Smashwords.

Sticky Pages is a satire on what it’s like to work for a big organisation with overbearing management who make all the employees feel small and crushed. Know the feeling? Without giving too much away here’s the blurb I wrote for Sticky Pages:

“Randy Bloemfontaine has a problem. Several problems. He hates his boss, for starters. He hates his lousy job writing financial ads for the horrendous corporate organisation that is UK Cash Cowboys. He hates the way the internet has taken over life. His life. Everyone’s life. Most of all, his 64 mega-bit problem is, he can’t stop thinking about sex. Randy can’t look at a woman without mentally undressing her. Over the years Randy has learned to live with his afflictions. But when his boss sends him on a three-day internet conference packed with drop-dead corporate eye-candy, and asks him to write a bunch of urgently-needed banner ads along the way, things threaten to get very sticky. If you think Don Draper had it bad in Mad Men, meet the UK Cash Cowboys’ clients from hell in power-mad CEO Cleopatra LeGrande and corporate automaton Norman Shylock, who heads up their Online Marketing Bullshit Division. Any advertising creative who has ever worked on the account of a big corporate client will recognise the ham-fisted interference by senior management who wouldn’t know a good ad if it was sat on the end of their noses doing a striptease.”

Needless to say, Sticky Pages is based on my own personal experience in the creative team where I work at UK Cash Cowboys (my day job), the big-shot UK financial brand with aspirations of becoming market leader. Or as I like to call us, the money industry’s equivalent of a Big Mac – slick advertising, but containing all sorts of nasty shit that’s bad for you. I should know, I write most of our ads. On that level I guess Sticky Pages is kind of a case study on how NOT to run a company.

Take our CEO, Cleopatra LeGrande. She’s got an MBA in ethnic cleansing. When she wants to trim her teams she sends in Radovan Karadic, she sends in Ratko Mladic. Her overbearing management style, cascaded through the company by her death-eater board of konzentrationslager kommandants, sucks out the last drop of enjoyment from the working day. Does it have to be like this in every company? What is it with people when they get a sniff of power? Must they all grow Hitler mustaches? LeGrande models herself on Lord Voldemort in drag. Put her in front of a camera and she’s all coutured femininity and airbrushed smiles, grinning out some bullshit about how we’re all one big happy family at the Cowboys. In reality there’s not a person here who doesn’t hate her guts, and the company she stands for. Last month she had all the staff suggestion boxes removed because they were rammed with hate-mail. Murder threats, requests for her to take up skydiving without a parachute. No wonder our customer service sucks. ‘Happy staff make for happy customers,’ right?

If I ever run a company my ethos will be simple. Manage people as you’d like to be managed. As friends, as equals. Treat me well and I’ll walk through brick walls for you. Wrong me and I’ll pray with all my heart for your destruction. I mean shit, all people want is to be able to walk through the average day with their heads held up. To make a difference. To have a purpose in life. And not be treated like serfs. Is that too much to ask? Look for the best in someone and you’ll find it. Look for the worst and you’ll find that too. I’m no management guru but it doesn’t sound like fucking rocket science to me. Sadly my guess is that most of us will have to spend the majority of our adult lives working for self-important, power-mad greedy assholes like LeGrande and her sycophantic oberleutnants Dick Holder and Norman Shylock. That’s how capitalism works. You eat shit or you starve.

In that sense we should all be able to empathise with the plight of the central character in Sticky Pages, Randy Bloemfontaine. He hates his tyrannical employer, but in a tough jobs market in the middle of the worst recession in a century, he knows he has to keep bending over and taking it to pay his mortgage. I hope the story gives you a laugh, anyhow. And if you’re reading this in your lunchbreak, hang in there, it’ll soon be 5pm. Don’t let the bastards get you down.

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