May 2, 2022

493: Can't Sell, Won't Sell - Advertising, Politics, & Culture Wars (with Steve Harrison

493: Can't Sell, Won't Sell - Advertising, Politics, & Culture Wars (with Steve Harrison

Why adland has stopped selling and started saving the world.

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On today's episode of The Brian Nichols Show, I'm joined by Steve Harrison, author of "Can't Sell Won't Sell: Advertising, politics and culture wars. Why adland has stopped selling and started saving the world":


"The advertising industry has lost interest in selling.  According to the IPA, we face "a crisis of effectiveness". And our politics are to blame. We're now so left-leaning, we're no longer willing to stoke capitalism's engine of growth. Instead, we've embraced a new raison d'etre: we're saving the world. 


But how genuine is our commitment to social justice? Who's buying our purpose-driven campaigns? And what of the angry mainstream who are alienated by the agenda we're imposing upon them? Most urgently, as businesses close and millions of families face unemployment in the post-pandemic recession, will advertising rediscover its commercial purpose and help revive the free market? 


Or will an out-of-touch industry double down on social purpose and drift further to the margins of British life? This is the choice we face, and it's one that adland cannot shirk."


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Brian Nichols  0:06  
Instead of focusing on winning arguments, we're teaching the basic fundamentals of sales and marketing and how we can use them to win in the world of politics, teaching you how to meet people where they're at on the issues they care about. Welcome to The Brian Nichols Show. Well, happy Monday there, folks, Brian Nichols, here on The Brian Nichols Show. And thank you for joining us on of course, another fun filled episode. I am as always, your humble host, and today we're going to be talking. It'd be interesting, the world of advertising the world of politics, we're bridging the two together because that's right, a brand new book. Can't sell won't sell. We have the author of that book, Steve Harrison on the program. Steve, welcome to The Brian Nichols Show.

Steve Harrison  0:49  
Thank you, Brian, thank you very much for having me.

Brian Nichols  0:51  
I'm looking forward to this conversation. Steve, I literally was just showing you beforehand, I'll show the audience right. This book can't sell won't sell. I literally went through highlighter in hand. And just I mean, there's, I can't stop. It's amazing how much there is, I've gone through because this book is so full of goodies, not just in the world of sales, talking about meeting people where they're out and the issues they care about. But also, I think you really hit the nail on the head Steve about what we're seeing as a fundamental issue and the ability to have a political discourse, a political conversation, where we have opinions, but we're able to have a conversation with one another versus looking at the other as the enemy and making them the other tribe and pushing them away. So before we dig into can't sell won't sell do me a favor, introduce yourself to The Brian Nichols Show audience, your your world in the world of advertising. And then what brought you to write this wonderful book can't sell itself?

Steve Harrison  1:49  
Well, Brian, I'm a copywriter. I was the European Creative Director at Ogilvy one, I was the worldwide Creative Director at Wunderman, which is now Windham and Thompson. And in between those two roles, I founded my own agency, each HD w. And during my time there one more compliance in my discipline than any other creative director in the world, that discipline being direct. So I've always been very keen on effectiveness in advertising. Why did I write this book? Because I, it was apparent from myriad pieces of evidence that the industry had either forgotten how to or no longer wanted to sell. And I was trying to tease out why, among several reasons why that should possibly be. And it occurred to me that it was because the industry was now so left leaning, so culturally left leaning that it could no longer bring itself to stoke the engines of growth, and consumption of capitalist growth and its consumption. It had stopped, it stopped embracing its commercial purpose, and instead was pushing its social purpose. We were no longer selling products and services, Brian, we as an industry, we're saving the world.

Brian Nichols  3:23  
Save the world, save the dolphin, Save the fishes, save the trees, you've all heard the expressions, the slogans, and I mean, dare I say, indoctrination to an extent. You mentioned in the book about when you talk to kids who grew up learning the three R's, reduce, reuse, recycle in elementary school, I was one of those generation that was me that we I remember that very vividly growing up in Northern New York state. So yes, this idea that

Steve Harrison  3:51  
I'm not put on that point, Brian. Yeah, that's the I went in, I was in a restaurant on back in my hometown of Blackpool. And the adults were all having their fun and the kids had been left to have their fun and the kids were all drawing the world on fire. You know, six years of age, six years of age the kids were that's how they were amusing themselves. And I honestly do think it's a form of child abuse, the insistence to children that they are the last generation on Earth unless something happens now is a form of child abuse, child abuse, some will have and this having a insidious effect upon their mentality, their outlook, their sense of self and their sense of where their future lies. Anyway,

Brian Nichols  4:40  
got no novel in this literally goes into now, the book itself can't sell buy and sell is full of goodies. But I really just dug into chapter 10 And that's where I really want to focus the majority of the conversation today because it speaks to and you just talked about this where everybody is at a level 100 At all times, there is no taking a step back, it's always you're pushing whatever the social cause is, because to your point, world's on fire, you know, if you don't love it, you're gonna try to kill Grandma, you know, look at COVID What happened here over the past two years, and actually this is where this chapter picks up and where I want to focus on because we're talking about the onset of COVID-19. I'm gonna pick out this is page 134. So you say no, with the onset of COVID 19, would there be a talk of making a quote, meaningful stand against a recession, in the suffering that the ensuing bankruptcies and employment would bring, and I highlight here know, if there was a battle raging amongst those who zoomed into the can do festival, it would have been against the progressive, less usual demons, and those folks hardly likely would shore up a struggling free market economy, because for many of them, capitalism is a demon, number one, and you look at all the different boogie men we've seen, climate change and the world COVID enter the world. You go through whatever it is that the conversation seems to be raised up as, it almost always is rooted in some hidden behind the scenes, anti capitalist rhetoric, I think you actually brought up in the book, the rhetoric of the Black Lives Matter protests, and the Black Lives Matter organization has in its actual roots, Marxist language that is fundamentally anti capitalist and yet got how much money in donations Steve, something in the billions of dollars, wasn't it? Millions, billions, some it was a lot though.

Steve Harrison  6:39  
They, the trees, the trees colors, he was one of the co founders of Black Lives Matter was quoted in the Financial Times. She said myself and Alicia. And that's Alicia Garza, in particular have ideological frames. We are trained organizers, we are trained Marxists. We are super versed in ideological theories. Okay, so yes, Black Lives Matter at its root is an anti capitalist movement. And, and, as is extinction, rebellion. I mean, I mean, naturally, extinction. Rebellion is anti capitalist, because capitalism is about growth and consumption. And extinction. Rebellion makes the valid point that you know, kind of that if you are endangering the planet, with with finite finite resources and infinite growth, so yes, these issues have to be addressed. And I'm not saying that there is no basis in, you know, kind of, of course, the argument needs to be made for racial equality and against racism. And of course, the argument needs to least be made against the desperation of our planet. But the organizations who have co opted those two and arguably valid points are extremist and have anti capitalism at their root.

Brian Nichols  8:00  
Yeah, well, and let's talk about what's just happened over the past two years, because this is, you make this point in the book. And this is just a great point, because you're talking about what's happened over the past two years with COVID, the economic hardships. And on page 137, you say, in fact, as add lens, headlight grabbing demonstrations of enthusiasm for Black Lives Matter intensified, the conversation was closed down, and it would have been a brave person who would have broached the subject or point out that unless we got the economy working again, there would be no jobs for anyone of any ethnic background to go to. And that right, there is an underlying point I think a lot of people forget, especially when you look at the anti, the anti capitalist class where it's, you know, you're against the rich people, you're against the business owner, but you're Where did these jobs come from? Who are the individuals making the risk and making the investments that are opening up these opportunities? And I think to your point, if those jobs do not exist, per the the sentiments and wishes of the anti capitalists, and where do they think that this ability to solve all the hardships and the problems they see in the world is going to come from

Steve Harrison  9:12  
throughout the whole of the COVID the pandemic crisis and the during the recession that brought it on, though? I don't think I think I found one person who actually made the argument for advertisings commercial purpose and the fact that the advertising industry could help save the country from or help the country emerge from from recession and spare the people the misery of redundancies, factory closures, wage cuts, government cuts, whatever nobody in the industry wanted to know no one in this industry accepted that it was our the most societal good we could do was to keep factories, restaurants shops open

Brian Nichols  9:59  
well You mentioned you mentioned a lot in the book, The UK is favorite socialist Jeremy Corbyn all over the United States. Here we have our favorite socialist Bernie Sanders. And Bernie Sanders is often noted for his argument back, I think it was in the 20. The 2020 election, there are 2016 where it was brought up about, I think, was deodorants and you know, you don't need that many different types of deodorants. You don't you don't need that. And you saw it you see this kind of approach like you know, the you don't need these many choices. You only need these many options and you raise this up in the book as well. There's one part you mentioned in the caption is hurry up and die. Mike DeLuna I hope I got that last name. Correct. Managing Director of crush was asked as if he thoughts brands should shed consumers who hold quote, disagreeable views. In his considered view, they quote, have to make a choice, either a attempt to give comfort to an ever decreasing aging consumer base who revel in division by pandering to their unconscious, and sadly, in many cases, unconscious prejudices, or be embraced generation that seeks commonalities and shared experiences, hence, seeing a massive benefit in the long run. Where are you so adequately wrap up? The basic premise being that the mainstream is in irredeemably racist and should hurry up and die so that nicer, more tolerant people can take over?

Steve Harrison  11:25  
Yes. I mean, there are two points they made about that, that Mike's Mike's dismissal of an entire sector of society, based upon a negative stereotype of that sector is itself irredeemably racist. And secondarily, there's a wonderful book by a man called Bobby Duffy, who used to be the head of International Research at Ipsos MORI, called generations, I would recommend your your listeners buy a copy of Bobby Duff, his book generations, which indicates that actually, this myth of a of a young generation of social justice warriors is or the idea of a younger young emergent generation of social justice warriors is an absolute myth that there is very little to this different differentiate between the age groups as far as commitment to and agreement with agreement about questions on social justice. There is I do, I do talks to students, and I say, along with I thicken on Edelman research and I say, would you consider boycotting a brand that has a terrible history of on on environmental pollution? Would you consider boycotting a brand that has a terrible history of, of treating its employees bad. And secondly, one with a brand, which has a carbon footprint, the size of Belgium, and finally one that has a history of tax avoidance, and of course, all the youngsters hands go up. And then I say, any of you bought anything from Amazon in the past month? And of course, the only ones who said that they would boycott this terrible, you know, kind of a demonic entity, or most of them have actually bought something from Amazon over the past four weeks. So yeah, so yeah, as I say, the myth of the of the young social justice warriors is something very well described in Barbados, his book grant generations, we are very much alike and the mainstream are, I think, the main streams opinions are not as polarized as the as the social as social media would have us believe. And mainstream in my industry are, I say, I think sick and tired of the politicization of their industry, it is simply that the activists and the careerist are driving us down the path of social purpose and social justice is our raison d'etre.

Brian Nichols  14:00  
Well, and how do we get here right? This this is the question any good sales guy will will and equitably asked during the sales conversation is how do we get to where you currently are? So we understand you know, a how you got to the problems where you are a B, how that decision making process went into place. And let's let's look at how we got to where we are from it, not just this conversation you're seeing in your your ad world, but also what we're seeing just in the ability to have these conversations and I think you outline it perfectly it is this, just complete, just going in isolation into our own silos, our own groupthink, and you say that you outline your culture is a suffocating monoculture that allows leaders to present unchallenged opinions as uncontroversial fact and that right there is what we're seeing, I think being challenged a little bit and I think we're talking about topical issues. Why Elon Musk buying Twitter that is such a big slap in the face to a lot of people because for so long, if you did not toe the line, if you did not say the quote unquote, the right thing, the progressive thing that the SJW thing, then you were in line to not just not get the awards or the accolades, but in many cases to be silenced, to be banned to be to be outcast. So we're seeing now there's been a little bit of a resurgence, and you talked about this in the book as well, there has been this resurgence. But let's talk about that group thing, Steve, where do you see the outline framework of this group thing coming from?

Steve Harrison  15:36  
Well, we are a, it's the people in advertising don't like to hear this. But we are one of the most elitist industries in in in the United Kingdom. And I'm sure this obtains in the United States as well. Something like 88% of us, in our industry, went to university or have a master's degree that's 88%. Something like 70% of us grew up in an A B, social grade household, which is the richest household social grade, something like 66% of us had a professional parent, a mother or father, I think 35% of us went to private school, we are a handful and 8% of us are aged between 18 and 40. It's a bubble, Andrew Tenzer. And Ian Murray did wonderful research and this in two papers called the empathy delusion, and the aspiration window and they said advertising and marketing marketers diverge from the mainstream on every major psychological, behavioral and attitudinal framework that we have explored. They inhabit two different worlds. That the the over put this in the context in the United States. When I was reading about what the situation was there, it was estimated in Forbes magazine that between 85 and 90% of the people who work on the east and west coast advertising agencies in the United States are left leaning, and the majority of them were in the Bernie Sanders camp. And the question was asked is How could these left leaning progressive young people relate to the 72 million? Basket of deplorables? Who voted for for Donald Trump? Could they find the empathy to do so? Or have they written them off? You know, is there a common ground? Is there a set a common set of values that can be tapped into and can be developed? Which will allow the two those two very distinct entities to talk to each other? That's that's one question. But unfortunately, the the conversation is being set by those advertising agencies on the eastern west coast, just as it is being set by those who control them. The other medium, are other cultural business, academic institutions are being the AVID the conversation has been set by that those that constituency of middle of Metropolitan while at the university educated, progressive liberal elite. So yeah, they're now kind of how do we how do we? How do we how do you change the conversation? Or at least interrupt the conversation with an opinion which, which might not be welcome? Right, well, and

Brian Nichols  18:43  
let's, as we kind of wrap the conversation here, go towards, I thought probably one of the most enlightening parts of this part of the book was you're talking about, well, who is it that we're seeing this division between? And you you label them I thought it was very, very well put out is the anywheres versus the somewheres? Can you can you dig into the WHO THE anywheres are and the somewheres why they are different, and how that that schism has come to be?

Steve Harrison  19:09  
Well, and he was the son was the people who, who relate to the place in which they were probably brought up, you know, if you ask them, Where are you from the time from Cleveland, if you ask them where they're from the sound from Des Moines and I'm from this neighborhood, or I'm from, you know, the neighborhood I've lived in and relate to and find my identity and get my values from. Those are the and they are the majority of people in the United Kingdom In the United States and the somewheres of people who get the identity from a more cosmopolitan, more metropolitan, more outward looking. entity so they would, you know, kind of they have, they have more in common in New York, and Los Angeles and San Francisco and Sydney and London and Berlin and Amsterdam than they do with people in Des Moines, in in, in Minneapolis, in Cleveland and Columbus in Albany, whatever, you know, kind of so they have more than more in common with the people and, and for the without the the outside world and they have the people who are closer, who are their neighbors, essentially,

Brian Nichols  20:21  
I really hit me when I heard the anywhere and that somewhere approached it, I think I see it because I've moved from where I was up, you know, upstate New York is where I was born and raised. And then I moved away from there to college moved then to Philadelphia. And now I'm in Indiana, and I found that I have, I can empathize with both camps, the anywheres in the somewheres. And I think that's sometimes where it gets frustrating is when you can understand where both sides are coming from. And you can see, instead of talking to each other, they're talking past each other in many cases, to your point that you have, in one case, one group of people not just talking past but explicitly talking down to another group of people. And that's, I think, where we're seeing the conversation now, especially going forward. Right, Steven, this, as we wrap up the conversation, I think will be you know, what people can look forward to is that we are seeing the conversation changing the progressive left, and the hive mind approach while it still is there. It doesn't necessarily have a firm grasp on control of the conversation moving forward as it once did in the past.

Steve Harrison  21:27  
No, no, well, thankfully, we we still live in democratic society, and the midterm elections will probably remind everybody that the progressive conversation needs to be answered and is being answered, I just hope that you managed to find some middle ground between progressives, you know, kind of between the those on the eastern West Coast and what you would regard as the flyover states, because at the moment, there doesn't seem to be too much common ground there. But hopefully, Brian, that's what cultures like yours are intent upon rectifying, and good luck to you. And God bless you in that in those efforts.

Brian Nichols  22:05  
Thank you. I appreciate that. Steve, it's been a challenge. Because the average person I think, is tired, and they don't want to engage in the conversation. So what happens is the people who who are being impacted the most, and quite frankly, have the most at stake are pushed out of even taking part in the conversation to begin with. And then the conversation is dictated by instead, the loudest voices, the squeakiest wheels, and that right there, I think is going to be the biggest thing we're going to see you talked about this at the very beginning, the silent majority standing up the individual who is so just tired. And now finally saying no, we're going to not necessarily want wanting to lead this conversation but knowing we have to be part of this conversation and we're going to make our voices heard. That is who I think we're gonna be looking to to speak up and if that's sounds like you, you're like, hey, this sounds like a person that I can identify with that I can empathize with. Well, then I gotta tell you, folks, you gotta go ahead and get can't sell won't sell. You will not put it down. Please get your highlighter in hand. Steve, where can folks go ahead and pick up their copy today? If they feel so inclined?

Steve Harrison  23:18  
You'll have to get it from Amazon the terrible polluting the way it treats it? Yeah, Amazon, I'm afraid sorry. Yeah,

Brian Nichols  23:28  
it is where it is. And Steve, where can folks go ahead and find you if they want continue the conversation?

Steve Harrison  23:33  
Oh, my. My email address is Harry Sol. Steve. That's H A double R is O S T V. E. Harris. Oh, Steve at google

Brian Nichols  23:45  
Awesome. All right, Steve, we appreciate your time today. Thank you for joining us on the program. And folks if you enjoy today's episode, please do me a favor actually do me two favors number one, please go ahead and give today's episode a share. When you do make sure you go ahead and give yours truly a tag at be nickels. Liberty number two, please go ahead and give us a five star rating and review the reviews have been flying in. I read every single one of them. And hey, you might go ahead and hear your five star review. Read here live on air on an episode of The Brian Nichols Show. Who knows Steve who knows. So with that being said, it's Brian Nichols signing off here for Steve Harrison from can't sell won't sell. We'll see you next week.

Steve Harrison  24:22  
Thank you, Brad.

Unknown Speaker  24:23  
Thanks for listening to The Brian Nichols Show. Find more episodes at the Brian Nichols

Transcribed by

Steve HarrisonProfile Photo

Steve Harrison


Steve was European Creative Director (OgilvyOne) and Global Creative Director (Wunderman) either side of starting his own agency, HTW, where, in the seven years the agency operated, he won more Cannes Lions (18) in his discipline than any creative director in the world. His work has subsequently featured in the D&AD Copy Book. He has also authored Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man; How to write better copy; and How to do better creative work - the latter becoming the most expensive advertising book ever when it traded on amazon for £3,854 a copy.