The Secret Sex Shame Behind John Lewis’s Monty The Penguin Ad

John Lewis Christmas ad with Monty the Penguin

Monty the Penguin and schoolboy friend.

Just hours after being released to an expectant public, it seems Monty the Penguin is a big, fat, online viral hit.

John Lewis appears to have scored another home run in its series of schmaltzy, heartstring-tugging but ultimately heart warming Christmas adverts.

Except today someone at the department store – a bastion of middle class sensibilities – will be waking up to the realisation that in choosing the cute, CGI penguin star of the commercial, they have cast the avian equivalent of Jimmy Savile.

And that cannot be a good feeling.

Y’see Monty, the beaked, black and white centrepiece of the made-for-TV advert, isn’t just any waddling, flightless bird. Nope, Monty is an Adelie penguin. And more specifically he is a male of the species.

Which means in bird terms you might as well give him a ludicrous blonde wig, a medallion, a cigar and a “now then, now then” catchphrase – because this is one seriously depraved little bird.

Captain Scott's polar team

Captain Scott’s polar team

In fact the deep wrongness of these otherwise cute-looking ice floe dwellers was first recorded by Dr George Levick, a member of  Captain Scott’s now legendary polar exploration team.

His accounts were so disturbing and so graphic they were banned in Edwardian England and kept secret for more than 100 years – only coming to light again in 2012.

While  studying the mating habits of the Adelie in the Antarctic, a shocked Dr Levick noted the frequency of sexual activity, auto-erotic behaviour, and seemingly aberrant behaviour of young unpaired males, including necrophilia, sexual coercion and sexual and physical abuse of chicks.

Oh dear. That’s exactly the same litany of horrific abuses and sex crimes catalogued by the predatory monster Savile.

Maybe none of this would really be an issue if the John Lewis ad wasn’t quite so inextricably linked with lovelorn Monty’s quest for … coupling.

If the ad featured the angel-faced lad buying his beady-eyed bird pal an icemaker, a Pingu backpack, a feather fluffer, a fish-shaped snackbox or a pair of penguin-sized slippers, then maybe it would have retained a sense of wishful innocence.

But the whole point of the commercial is that unconditional friendship of the tousle-headed schoolboy – called Sam –  isn’t enough for Monty, who instead pines for the attentions of a female Adelie penguin.

In John Lewis ad land it is the perfect denouement to the story when selfless Sam takes his greatest Christmas joy from delivering to Monty a gift-wrapped female Adelie penguin

The "adventures" continue

The “adventures” continue

It cost more than £7 million to make the saccharine advert – and if the two minute tale isn’t enough for you, John Lewis has also invited viewers to visit a website where they can find out how the adventure continues.

Knowing what I know now (and what John Lewis didn’t tell us) I don’t fancy clicking on that site. Who knows what kind of penguin perversions web visitors will be forced to endure.

Nothing like a wee bit of background research, John Lewis. Maybe you should have gone for a Rockhopper instead?

Climate change is real – It’s time we all adopted a tree hugger

Climate change activists

Climate change activists

I hate to come over all tree hugger on you.

But here’s the thing. Maybe it’s time for all those well-grounded, hard-nosed, practically-minded, business-focused types among us started to make a noise.

Saving the planet is no longer the preserve of skygazing hippies, sandal-wearing dreamers, unwashed nature communers or political fringe eco-agitators.

The lastet report from the WWF (no, it’s got nothing to do with muscular men in hairspray and lycra) should stop even the most ardent planet raper in their tracks:

Around half of our planet’s glorious, multi-coloured, mindbogglingly rich riot of wildlife has been wiped out. In just 40 years.

An endangered tiger at Edinburgh Zoo

An endangered tiger at Edinburgh Zoo

Not just the pandas, polar bears, tigers, elephants and other lovable, relateable warm-blooded mammals that shrink down into huggable cuddly toys. But fish, fowl, insects, reptiles and plantlife. Whether it makes you recoil in horror or come over all warm and fuzzy, every one of those species plays a small and irreplacable role in the order of things.

That order is now well and truly knackered. The debate isn’t really should the madness stop. It’s *could* it stop? Even if we started – right this minute – to make the massive, global changes required, would we be able to fix the problems with our planet?

Frankly, I have no idea. Maybe you’re already doing your bit – running your shower for a shorter time, switching off lights in empty rooms and recycling your rubbish. But I can’t help but think that we all need to to more.

What though? Stop eating meat? Starting wearing plastic shoes? Wash less? Abandon our fridges? Adopt an orangutan?

Climate change protestors gather in Edinburgh, Scotland

Climate change protestors gather in Edinburgh, Scotland

Or should we take to the street, wave placards, sign petitions and sing songs – like those who marched in 2000 locations across the globe earlier this month?

Here’s one thing each and every one of us can do starting right now – we can call out and shout down the climate change deniers.

There was a time when we rolled our eyes and dismissed the wacky environmental views of those claiming the end was nigh. Turns out they were probably right, with the massive  and growing weight of scientific evidence is now on their side.

And yet we still cock our heads and listen to those who happily deny that our planet is on the verge of disaster – the leaders of big industry, politicians, the increasinly small and isolated cadre of scientists and other vested interest naysayers.

Naysayers like the two Apollo astronauts, part of the teams which took the famous “blue marble” photos of Earth. They include Apollo 16 veteran Charlie Duke who found god and now declares climate science as “bogus” and insists his version of the Almighty will make sure everything is ok.

Hmmm. Forgive me if I don’t place quite the same amount of trust in good ol’ boy Charlie’s Christian fundamentalist version of god to come riding to the rescue.

We all need to call out this kind of BS.

Dunno if you caught the news last week that tech giant Google started a ball rollilng by severing ties with a Conservative lobbying group which spends millions of dollars denying climate change is a problem for the planet.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said that when it come to climate change, these deniers are “Just literally lying” when they tell us everything will be ok.

Also in the past week Hollywood got in on the act when Leonardo DiCaprio made an impassioned speech at the launch of the United Nations Climate Change Summit reminding us all that “we only get one planet”.

Like most everyone else, I feel helpless in the face of industrial scale environmental destruction and the implacable political will to let it happen.

I’ve got no idea how we convince billions of people (me included) to stop eating such vast amounts of meat or to give up mobile phones and other first world rampant consumerism.

But I know that for anything sensible to happen, we need to start knocking down the climate change deniers one at a time. Here’s a start:

Who knew my weekly column was such a mouthful?

Shavers Weekly penis jibe

Shavers Weekly penis jibe

Just as well I’m thick-skinned, eh?

Those over-exuberant young scallywags at Shavers Weekly have speared me with satire in their latest, laugh-a-minute edition.

It would seem they find the weekly column I write for the Daily Record’s Edinburgh Now supplement as something of an unwelcome mouthful.

Everyone likes to be recognised for their work, so clearly this mud slinging comes as a bit of a job blow.

Despite the naughty allegations, I suppose it could have been worse.

After all, the schoolboy humour fuelled magazine labelled my fellow Edinburgh Now columnists as “boring” or “drunk”.

However, it does leave me wondering: just how could they have known about my, ah, special skill?

And with that spoiler out there, how am I possibly going to find an alternative party trick in time for the Christmas season?


Teen Boys Burst Rockstar’s Cheeky BAWSAQ with $1 Billion Gaming Frenzy

BAWSAQ in Grand Theft Auto 5Apart from a short flirtation with a Nintendo handset in the early 1990s, I can’t claim to be a gamer.

Probably just as well. With my anorak tendencies and borderline OCD (I like to call it determination and bloody mindedness) there’s every chance I’d become obsessed.

From there it would be a rapid descent and before long I’d be a chubby, straggly-haired, pop-eyed, socially inept and basement-dwelling cliche (the kind that all gamers were tainted with, before geekery somehow became trendy). Not a good look.

All in all I’ve always been a bit sniffy about ‘video games’. At times I’ve thought the notion of ‘professional gamers’ is an insult to the evolutionary splendour of the opposable thumb. To think, millions of years of in the making and  the pinnacle of natural selection has been achieved to let mumbling teens make a screen flash faster and call it Halo 4. Tchoh.

Still, while I might not know a Skyrim from a Call of Duty, every now and then indifference has to be set aside when something from a specific niche transcends its sphere and becomes truly mainstream. When everybody on the planet, it seems, suddenly becomes familiar with a concept they’d normally have no business bumping up against.

A couple of weeks ago it was Twerking. Right now it’s Grand Theft Auto Five.

What  I know about  the GTA franchise is negligible, beyond the fact that it was a hugely profitable, unbelievably well-marketed success story, made by Rockstar games – right here in Scotland.

Also that it is vaguely controversial among the Daily Mail classes.  For instance, I heard one wag proclaim: “It’s not exactly family friendly is it? How do I lock my kids out of the living room and explain to them that daddy doesn’t want bothered while he’s busy running down prostitutes?’. Charming.

So, my assumptions were these: Super successful game; popular with spotty boys; involves stealing cars and driving over other people in them.

Today I still don’t really know a great deal more about GTA 5 than that. However, I had a right good chuckle at a news story explaining how the developers transplanted Scottish Borders town Hawick to the fictional California setting of the game.

Even funnier was the revelation that they’d even managed to squeeze in a reference to the hugely delayed and horribly bloated Edinburgh trams debacle. There’s something wryly amusing about fans the world over immersing themselves completely in this expansive and sprawling gaming experience – only to be covertly bombarded with messages about the stuff that gets Angry of Morningside writing letters to The Scotsman.

So, in an effort to learn more I ventured onto YouTube to watch the ‘Official Gameplay Video’. To give you a clue to the popularity of this thing it’s had more than 27 million views. What can I say? It’s breathtaking. Astonishing. It actually makes me think about going out, buying a console and finally finding out what this gaming thing is all about.

Ultimately the whole GTA franchise has to be respected for the simple fact that it earned more than $1 billion dollars within three days. Ye whit? When was the last time any Scottish-based business produced those sorts of numbers?

Those are the kind of figures to really get the attention of Wall Street  – which brings me to the point which gets the biggest respect for the team at Rockstar games. Their fictional gaming world includes a stock market which the characters play and invest in, which owes more than a passing nod to the American stock market, the NASDAQ.

Except, with typical Scottish humour the Rockstar team have given it a much cheekier name – meaning that panting, hormonal, teenage boys the world over are currently going mad for the chance to play the BAWSAQ.




Connecting on LinkedIn – Personalise or standard message?

People You May Know

People You May Know

LinkedIn is the rather unfashionable social media platform among the connected classes and the always-on aficionados.

For one thing it’s all about business, which means LinkedIn wears a virtual suit and tie. That tightly buttoned image makes it  difficult for the platform to cultivate the rebellious swagger of Twitter or the recreational feel of Facebook.

I’ve also heard it dismissed as a site only of interest to recruiters or as a online CV posting point, which lets the opposition eye up a business’s talent. Worse, I’ve also listened to people dismiss it as a place where nothing interesting is shared or that has no practical day-to-day application for those involved in business.

All utter gubbins, of course. LinkedIn quietly gets on with the business of making money, because the number of paying users (as well as those who use it for free) keeps growing. Which means all sorts of people are getting value from it. On a daily basis I use it as an excellent news resource, an effective research tool and a useful networking aid.

Like all such social media/social networks it is constantly changing – and even though the frequent refreshes and revamps can be irritating, I’ve found most of those changes to be well-thought out and well-implemented.

Hell, even while critics were lining up to have a go at the much-maligned ‘endorsements’ facility, I held my tongue and find that each day I become slightly less indifferent toward it.

So I don’t lightly make the following complaint about the platform – and would love to know what others think?

Basically, I’ve always subscribed to the view that when it comes to making a connection, it is much better to personalise the message, rather than send the standard, automated version: “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

With personalisation option

With personalisation option

Every LinkedIn trainer, enthusiast and heavy duty user seems to advise that to get the most out of the network it always pays to personalise your message when inviting someone to connect. Certainly, I always try to send a personal note and will think twice about accepting a request when it comes with the standard message, with no thought or effort put into it.

Which leaves me wondering why LinkedIn has failed to build in this personalised message option into the People You May Know page (see top image)? This is actually a really, really useful service. Virtually every time it appears there is someone listed who I think it would be useful to connect with.

But as soon as I click on the connect option up pops the message advising me that my request has been sent. No option to preview what is being issued and no option to add in my own message. Very, very annoying.

Even more vexing is the fact that if you get deep into your profile (to the invitations page), LinkedIn will serve up a more functional, less visually appealing version of its People You May Know Page (see second image) – and when you click the connect option here, you are immediately given the choice to send a personalised message.

Then again, I supposed I may be giving the whole issue too much thought. Still, I’d love to know your thoughts – personalise a connection request, or don’t bother?

When is an advertorial not an advertorial? When it’s ‘native advertising’

Native advertising

What is native advertising?

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on April 7, 2013.

Gotta love this change stuff, eh?

We’re no longer writers or story-tellers, we’re now content producers. We don’t crib, borrow or adapt ideas, we repurpose them. And my personal favourite? We no longer deal with advertorials – it’s now sponsored content on ‘native advertising’.

Say what? How this latest buzz phrase came about is beyond me, but native advertising is a term which is rattling around the  digital-savvy side of the media and gathering quite a lot of breathless hype on the way.

Coming from a print media background I found this hard to understand at first. I was weaned on newspapers when the Chinese wall between advertising and editorial was impenetrable. Back then advertorials were usually a low rent, low quality attempt to make unlikely products look like the subject of even more unlikely news stories.

They invariably stood out for the wrong reasons. The writing was ropey, the accompanying pics were usually mince. Oh aye – and there would be a great big strapline across the top or the bottom saying: “This is an advert”.

Funnily enough a recurring advertorial from the 1980s and 90s that sticks in my memory was for a book to help buyers improve … memory skills. Oh, the sweet irony.

The ad was usually accompanied by a 1950s-style line drawing of a Brylcreemed man wearing a blackout eye mask along with a number of patently made up, glowing testimonials from people with only one name (“I now remember everyone I meet!” – John, Cambridge) or referred to only by their initials (“I can memorise 100s of phone numbers!” – SJ, Doncaster).

It wasn’t just the tone and quality that was suspect. As well as feeling a bit sneaky, these ads disguised (badly) as news stories were tainted by the distinct whiff of ‘sad and desperate’. You get the picture. Credibility and advertorials weren’t close. Not even on nodding terms.

Now though the advertorial – or more accurately its 21st Century incarnation as native advertising – is being talked up as a possible financial saviour of news sites which have  struggled after giving content away free online, while seeing print advertising pounds melt away to digital advertising pennies.

Managing to put aside my lingering prejudices over bad advertorials from pushy carpet discount stores and smarmy car sales outlets, I can actually see why this might work and may even be a good thing.

Brands and businesses want to feature on credible news sites in a way that will encourage visitors to actually read about them, rather than simply paying for banner ads to be ignored.

So, the theory goes, those brands and businesses will have to start being interesting, useful or entertaining by paying to deliver content which sits alongside relevant news or editorial while adding actual value.

From a PR point of view this is potential winner for those agencies which are equipped to produce well-researched, news-focused, informative and non-salesy articles on behalf of clients. There could also be opportunities for entrepreneurial hacks prepared to try their hand at so-called ‘brand journalism’.

Meanwhile, I’m all for advances that will help support paid journalism, while readers could also benefit from easy access to genuinely useful content.

Needless to say there are also some extremely grave concerns about the continual blurring of those once clear lines between editorial and advertising.

Purists out there will be relieved to hear that Google has now stepped in and promised heavy web ranking penalties for those news sites which fail to make a clear distinction between editorial and paid for content.

Google has been the catalyst and carrier of so much change in the media landscape, so it’s good to see the search giant doing its bit to help preserve the sanctity of editorial integrity.

And for the record, no payment was exchanged to place this article here.

The real secret of *free* PR to grow your business

Get Rich Quick schemes

Get Rich Quick schemes

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on April 2, 2013

Get rich quick. Look 10 years younger with one simple trick. Develop rock hard abs in just six weeks.

Yawn. Now I can add to the list of unlikely sales pitches the following – use the power of *free* PR to grow your business.

My quizzical eyebrow started twitching this week, when an email crossed my desk from a client. They’d been messaged by an online business development guru, promising untold PR success – for free.

The email recounted a tale involving wildly successful TV and press coverage, all achieved for no cost and without any help or involvement from a PR advisor or professional.

In fact, the message went further,claiming this PR success wasn’t just free, it was easy. Ridiculously easy.

We media folks tend to be a cynical, jaded and hard-bitten bunch. But just in case there are any wide-eyes naifs out there, I’m going to let you in a wee secret:

There are no shortcuts. No foolproof way to make a fortune in the blink of an eye. No 10 minute secrets to looking a decade younger. No pain-free way to get a stomach like a washboard in a few short weeks.

And there is absolutely no free or ridiculously easy way to use public relations to grow a business.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this stuff and sadly it’s unlikely to be the last because, somewhat ironically, public relations has traditionally suffered from a wee perception problem – the belief that it’s easy and anyone can do it while barely breaking sweat.

Nobody disputes that a person with a compelling story which the media like can find themselves enjoying a quick and easy PR win.  However, sustaining that over the long haul to actually make an impact on the bottom line of a business? That takes graft, commitment, experience, guile and creativity.

Any prospective PR client should be encouraged to ask serious questions about the service they’ll receive.

Where will a constant stream of stories come from? Who’s going to identify them? How best to package them for different audiences?  What’s the right message? Where to look for bear traps and avoid pitfalls? How to tie results to business metrics and how to measure and evaluate success? Not to mention what do you do and who do you turn to if things go suddenly and spectacularly wrong.

None of this involves ‘free’ or ‘ridiculously easy’.

It’s tempting to believe that somewhere, alluringly just out of reach, there’s a magical solution to some of life’s difficult wee challenges. A way to live comfortably without the burden of a job or to have the body of Brad Pitt without the monotonous hours in the gym.

Reality is more prosaic. Few ‘get rich quick’ schemes stand up to scrutiny, because genuine business success actually requires years of hard graft and/or a killer product or service.

I’ve seen Channel 4’s 10 Years Younger. Unless you’ve been blessed with lucky genes, then knocking a decade off your age requires costly cosmetic surgery and dentistry, celebrity hairdressing, Hollywood make up assistance and a professional wardrobe adviser.

Rock hard abs in six weeks? Not with just a few sit ups, a simple dietary supplement or the latest muscle-building kit. In fact, if you devote yourself to a punishing gym routine and advanced nutrition you might see abs in six months.

And as for the enormous power of free PR?  Well I’ll be more than happy to share all my insider tips.

Just sign up for my (completely non-spammy) daily email newsletter, send £5 (purely for P&P, you understand) for my instructional CD and subscribe to my monthly webinars. No need to read the small print.