Guest Blog. The Big Bear 530 of Wales!

A few years ago, I had an idea for a ride, albeit a stupid one - riding the infamous Bear Bone 200km routes, back to back, in the order they came in. Now even at the time, I thought it would be a bit too ambitious, but what the hell.

I discussed the routes with my mate Stu but then he came out with an even better idea, rather than going back to BB towers every time how about linking them up? And there, the Big Bear was born. I asked Stu for a copy of it so I could see what he had come up with and, ever since, it’s sat in the back of my mind waiting to be done. I watched and heard of others having a go at it but let it pass, as every time I looked at the route I got intimidated by it.

Fast forward to December last year and I found myself sat in a pub in Sheffield with Mark Evans. We sank some beers and he then picked his time to ask me if I fancied joining him on the route at Easter. Obviously after a few more beers the simple answer has to be " Hell yeah, I’m in!” Plans where made over dinner and a date set. Then the time came, last week, to finally put foot to pedal and here is an account of what those months of planning (top job Mark) and the 5 days of riding entailed.

Meet up and prep day.

Meeting on Friday night at the carpark in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant giving us a possible food stop in Knighton before we started. Straight to the pub for some last-minute plans and a beer before hitting the sack in our vans and listening to the pouring rain. Saturday morning came around and the rain eased. We were up at 6am, little did I know that this would be the same every day for the next few days. We were on the bikes and the first pedal strokes were made at 0750.

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Day 1. 86miles. 11000ft climb

The first section to Llanfair Caereinion was pretty fast going. Mark had this little spread sheet he had made with times and distances for food stops and possible over-night stops. This worked really well and we managed to keep up a 10km/hr pace. We grabbed some food from the local garage, cleaned the gears (we ended up doing this a lot on the whole trip) and made our way to Caersws.

Again, this section was reasonably quick and with one wind farm climb behind us, we got to the village as the temperture started to drop. There’s a pub there with great facilities so we eat more food here.

After Caersws there is another big climb to the second wind farm. Kerry ridge then follows and this was draggy on wet grass. Still making progress to Knighton it seemed to go on for ages and then we hit some trails on the Offa's Dyke which slowed us up and one huge climb out the valley followed.

Knighton finally came into view and we both smashed 12" pizzas picked up food stocks and headed for our first camp. We had Water breaks its neck as our chosen place for the night. However, it didn’t give itself up easily and there is a massive push up onto the tops. This was our longest and most altitude gained day.

The wind had picked up and was cold. I remembered this section from our winter bivvy ride we did in the snow and was praying it had melted or it would have been hell walking that far. All clear, I think we stopped at 2am both very tired. Found a spot in the woods and that was it.

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Day 2 67miles 8500ft climbing

The morning came around way too fast for me (and we lost that hour). It was still dark and cold but up for coffee, faff we were ready for another instalment.

Our big goal for today was LLandovery. thinking we would be there hopefully about 5 or 6pm. No chance. This section of the ride was very taxing for us both. The trails were very wet and churned up with lots of gates to go through. One section on the original GPX isn’t even on the ground so we had to find a way across a river via a track around (this is now on the GPX route).

We both were carrying a lot of food to keep us going but we were slowly running out and were trying to make it to Llangammarch Wells for a re-supply. In between us was the range of hills at Llanbedr. I’ve never ridden here before and I can say it was one of the highlights of my trip. This area is so stunning with great views of the Black mountains and Brecon beacons. I should state at this point the sun was really warm and clear blue skies, we were both on a high!!

Dropping off the back we found a small cafe at the old train station in Erwood. We sat in the sun eating cake and drinking coffee whilst our sleeping bags and socks aired out. The trails after here are also cracking, but it seemed hard going for some reason we both agreed. We finally got to Llangammarch wells and the hotel was open. As we needed more energy to get us to Llandovery we decided to order the worlds most expensive sandwiches and shandy. They even cut the crusts off the bread it was that posh!! Anyhow £23 later we were

It was a hard day and our speed dropped, but we got to town around 3 hrs after we thought we would be arriving at 9pm. We hit the Co-op and found the West End cafe still open so we ordered fish n chips both glad that they let us sit inside as they were closing up soon. It was so bloody cold outside. I think we were out of town by 9.45pm and we knew we had a big climb in front. Off into the dark we went.

You climb on lanes out of town then are faced with a huge push up on to the Mynydd Mallaen, and it is a beast. We were gutted that it was dark the views would be amazing from the top. The next section is a true Bearbones contender. There’s nothing really on the ground so following the GPX line is pretty essential in the dark. We must have been walking for around 2 hrs by now on high ground. We were both so tired and decided that we definitely wouldn’t make our planned night stop at Soar y Mynydd unless we rode straight through till 6 and that isn’t practical on such a long hard route unless you can function on no sleep. I’m sure it was about 02.30am when we stopped in the middle of nowhere on tussocks. The shelters were up and I crashed out to wake again at just before 6am.

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Day 3. 71 miles. 8900ft climbing

We got up and by the time we packed up it was getting light and the sun coming up, this put us in good spirits again but was short lived! The clouds came in and we had a freezing fog and visibility was shocking. Again we found ourselves pushing over tussocks and relying on the line on the GPX for guidance for another 2 hrs.

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The morning was really slow going and I think we were both glad to finally find a trail on the ground we could ride. The descent however was so good, but it had eaten up 3 hrs and we must have only covered 10 miles, max. We stopped at Ty n y cornel hostel for a brew and to dry/air our sleeping bags and wet stuff so that we didn’t have to get them out wet at midnight. Our plan was to stay in under a roof for the night as heavy rain was forecast, so we decided on a push to the birdhide. This decision turned out to be a great idea as it lashed it down through the night. However, getting there was a mission!!

We made a quick stop at the black lion in pont but it wasn’t open till 6, it was only 4pm so into the shop for our dinner. The push up Teifi pools track was pretty easing going as we chatted and was over fairly quick. It started to rain and by now both of us were having a few knee problems. Every time we climbed we got shooting pains but it was bearable. I look back now and put it down to all the huge pushes/climbs involved in the route. It was by now dark and wet again. The next section was horrendous in the dark from LLanafan to Nantyarian. There is a hell of a push up a muddy/grassy track that goes on for ages with a descent from hell. The section of track from Pisgah to the train station is so steep and covered in downed dead trees, its an old track and was about 5" deep in mud all the way. It’s definitely not used much I tell you other than crazy bikepackers.

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By now we were both feeling the day in our bodies, we both had sore throats and I had a proper deep voice coming on like Barry White from exhaustion. I think my body was trying to tell me something but I just ignored it hoping it would go away. We finally made it to the hide and got out our beds. By this time we had both lost our dignity and stripped off with not a care in the world. It was about 01.30am and we found ourselves looking forward to our dinner which we had bought at 4pm in the afternoon. Who would of thought a bombay badboy pot noodle would of tasted so nice!! I fell in love with the pot noodle right there it was amazing. We chatted for a while and finally went to sleep about an hour later. It hammered it down through the night but we were toasty.

Day 4. 57 miles. 6500ft climbing

Mist and fog were the order of the morning at 6. Today we were making way for Penmachno or further. As you will find out it wasn’t to be and it was a sad day for one of us.

We were both suffering from knee issues today and this slowed us down a lot. It was also wet. Now we banked on a 3 hr ride up to Mach from the trail centre but it took us 5hrs. We pushed up that crappy bridle path on the BB200 with the crevasse in it. Which we have discovered after rain is like a river flowing very fast.

There’s a massive landslide above the chute to cross after all the rains and snow of late it was very messy up there. The chute was a slippy descent under foot and unriddable due to the rock being washed out more than usual. Into Mach finally we went straight into the veggie place for some proper food at last, our proper first good meal. Feeling great we left only to push up that horrid tarmac section in to the Dovey forest. The section around the back of Cadair Idris wasn’t to bad going however it was getting late now and the light was fading. Now we stopped in Dol for dinner at the steak house, its very good food and a beer. Now at this point we knew we were going to make Penmachno as it was 10 and our knees were sore and we were feeling battered.

Mark had bought up the subject of having to bail earlier in the day if it was looking likely we wouldn’t make our targets, this was very disheartening to hear after all our efforts to crack this and hard work getting this far but he was flying to Ibiza on Thursday morning with the family so had to get back. When we arrived in Dol I knew that was the end of the line for him, so we decided to stay at Penrhos Isaf bothy for the night. I could of pushed on but wanted to stay there and get more rest and it was a good evening, just wish we had some whiskey to drink.

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Day 5. 75 miles. 9950ft climbing

And so the morning came around and we chatted in bed over a coffee and left the bothy slightly later than planned. Mark had to ride the roads back to his van so we parted at the bottom of the road. Him going left and me going right on up through Coed y Brenin forest.

Now i didn’t say anything to Mark on the evening but I was seriously thinking of bailing with him on the morning as my knee had been so painful on the 4th day I was having to walk most of the climbs as it didn’t hurt walking but riding was horrible. I’d had a good talking to myself in my head when I woke and I knew it was only another 60 miles or so to the van and I could possibly do it in a oner, if I dug deep. It started to rain on the way up through the forest and by the time I reached the mountain road it was full on snowing!

I stopped shortly at the shop in Traws for some breakfast and to get warm, I was frozen and wet. I pumped the tablets down me for my knee and it seemed to work as it didn’t hurt as much so I just got on with it. I was soon climbing up the valley to the top of the quarries at Manod. I love this part of the trail the descent on the incline is ace if a little slippery and very steep. The path into Cwm Penmachno has got trashed from the water, it used to be all rideable but now you’ll be walking some of it.

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Penmachno valley is super fast. Don’t rely on the pub though it’s hardly ever open and there’s also a great shelter in the village square if needed. Two big climbs follow but are very nice. The scenery here is amazing, I had the sun come out for the rest of the day and you can see right across the Snowdonia Range. Stupidly I found an old remote farm house that I just had to yomp across a bog to get to. It’s stunning and such a waste of a great building.

I dragged my bike back to the trail and continued at a good pace. I was working from Marks spreadsheet and my next fed station was the village of Cerrigydrudion. Do not rely on this the pub. It is shut down and the cafe has weird open times. There is a small shop but that’s it. The Hiraethog trail after here starts off fast on a great surface but then continues into a 4 x 4 mess. In fact there’s a lot of 4x4 mess everywhere on this route.

I then put as much effort into keeping up my speed as I could to get to Llandrillo for dinner as I thought it would be dark by then and I’d eat there and then possibly camp up on the wayfarer for the night. I got there at 6ish and was making great time so decided on a quick coffee so that I could get over the wayfarer in the light. This payed off for me and my descent off was also in the light.

By the time I’d got to the other side I knew I was on for the same day finish and was starting to feel really chuffed with myself. Stopping at the pub in Llanarmon i decided that I was going to have a nice dinner and a pudding and a well-earned beer with some really nice locals! I stayed for nearly 1 hour, half chatting and half relaxing. I said my goodbyes and headed out into the cold. It was a clear night and the stars where out. I climbed up on to the tops and had a look at the GPX knowing I was within 5 miles or so left of the end. One more climb into the dark and then lanes all the way into Llan Moch where my van awaited my return.

I got in at 11.55pm totally battered but the happiest guy in Llanrhaeadr that evening!

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Now when I look back from the warmth of my house it fills me with such joy and a sense of achievement that I continued and got it done.

The above stats are only for a guide off my Strava. It took me 4 days and 16hrs to complete it. It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve done, to date, on my bike. We had some really rubbish weather and some nice weather but the trails were in a poor state in a lot of places. If you have a go at this route in the future, and I strongly recommend you do, then be prepared to commit to it as it’s very hard going in a lot of places. You will be pushing a lot and probably questioning what the hell are you doing, I know we did.

I say we because although only one of us finished the route in its entirety, Mark played a massive part in me finishing this. I probably would have bailed at some point if it hadn’t been for his company. There were moments where it totally destroys the soul and mind, especially at night time. Thanks again Mark it was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry.

I’d also like to say a big thank you Stuart for taking an idea and making it into something which I think is special. I feel like I’ve seen the best of Wales from the views to the South over the Brecon Beacons to the Summits of the Snowdon range - all in one bike ride.

I never set out to be the first to finish it and I definitely won’t be the fastest around it, I’ll leave that for the racers amongst us. But I will remember it!

Joanne Scott

We were excited to attend the first ever Campaign event, dedicated to sports marketing, Future Fit. With so much focus on getting our nation fitter, this was one conference directly aligned to our own brand purpose. Or so we thought.

What became quickly apparent was the focus of the day - how brands can capitalise on people’s interest in sport for commercial gain. But whilst initially disappointed I still hoped to gain some learnings from the big brands, nonetheless.

Topics included influencer marketing, sponsorship, media placement, celebrity endorsement and using dark social - so there was a lot to report back on.

First up, news from the NFL. The growth of interest in American Football across Britain has been rising which they attribute to 4 key strategies. Social content, media distribution, direct to fan initiatives and the events themselves.  Nothing surprising there! I would also guess that the timing of their investment has been perfect. The creation of communities and hosting entertaining events, including fireworks, music and celebrity guests, is all set up for the rising trend in experience economies.

But it is all well and good having a great platform to sell to potential sponsors but surely the bigger goal is to get more children playing American football? This would ensure a longer term fan base and future talent growth. NFL - are more people playing the sport?

OK, so, first cynicism out the way I was more positive about the next speakers from Adidas. With a focus on their influencer marketing strategy which, in itself is nothing new, their customer research concluded that influencers actually stop having an impact at a certain level. Influencers with lower than 1000 followers had 8% engagement whilst higher than 100,000 had far less. They also discovered that 70% of shares were actually via Dark Social (1-2-1 messaging apps such as snapchat or private closed small groups.)

They switched their influencer strategy to a more local and targeted approach. One which would encourage advocates of their brands to become true brand ambassadors. And there started the launch of Tango Squad with a follow up documentary, perfect for YouTube territory.


This is not only a good example of using insight before defining your strategy, but also how to use local influencers and grass roots clubs to help your audience become engaged.

Don’t buy influencers to sell a product, give your audience a platform in which to grow your brand.

What does this mean for smaller brands? Whilst not everyone has the budgets for a David Beckham endorsement, you can still identify relevant communities, give them a platform that’s right for them, not your brand and make them feel proud to belong.

Now we turn out attention to something quite different.


Y Sport introduced an inspirational story and wanted to discuss how sports brands should use their power and rewrite the rules of sports marketing. Her advice to the industry;·

  • Think big, play small.
  • Be true to the beliefs you hold
  • Implement 5 Rs - Resonate, relevant, reach, reward and reputation.
  • Do less and achieve more.

It also suggested doing a few things at the same time can create steady and sustainable brand advocacy rather than one really big thing. I’d personally add that this is vital for us to tackle the long-term goal of getting more people active. One big awareness campaign is a great springboard (Like This Girl Can) but it’s important that smaller, more local initiatives are supported throughout the year.

Now we turn our attention to Nature Valley and a strategic decision to colloborate with the sport of tennis. This is an example of aligning yourself with the right sport for your brand. Tennis is an inclusive sport that appeals to all ages, both genders and has seen a recent rise in interest. Beyond the campaign itself, it was also good to hear their planned next steps - to provide facilitation through free tennis lessons, free tennis kit and local club endorsements. Brands definitely need to strike the balance between creating brand awareness and product consideration along with their social responsibility.

From Tennis back to football and the activities of COPA99, a reminder to us all that the world of entertainment has moved on considerably. People are talking about your sport for just moments now, not 90 minutes of action.

This means that talking about football isn’t enough. You have to provide really rich content aligned to cultural tastes and associate it with your sport. The cultural association will drive a far deeper relevance.

As consumers, we just expect to see and hear sports differently now so as marketeers we need to think about making everything ‘in the moment.’ Whilst not everyone has big budgets like Manchester City, others can learn and be inspired by simple things like a clever use of a GoPro for your own sporting event.


So, there we have it. The leaders in the sports marketing industry all showcasing their own examples of what good looks like, some of which can be implemented by smaller brands.

Personally I still feel that any company getting involved in sports has a responsibility to promote participation. Even if they ultimately want to sell metal or shoes – they should use their voice (and big budgets) to create more awareness of the sport itself.

I applaud Helena Jennison speaking on behalf of Movember, and her recommendation for ‘doing more better and acting together to create bigger change.’ Collectively, we can create more impact and get our nation fitter. It was a ‘Future Fit’ conference after all.

Joanne Scott
B2C or B2B? What about Human to Human at ISPO?
Having recently returned from ISPO, the largest sports trade show in Europe, I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what brands really inspired me. Who engaged with me and ultimately who would I buy from?

Having recently returned from ISPO, the largest sports trade show in Europe, I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what brands really inspired me. Who engaged with me and ultimately who would I buy from?

For those that haven’t been to ISPO, there are over 2500 exhibitors all trying to convince buyers that they have the right product for their customers. 85,000 visitors from 120 different countries flood the halls in Munich, similarly thinking ‘who do I want to do business with, what do I want to buy, what are the latest trends?’

But this is the point - there are a number of reasons why people attend the show. Yes, this is a business trade show, but it was alarming to see so many brands still focusing on the ‘what we sell’ and not the ‘who we are.’

What’s more, as new companies enter the market and the size of ranges increases, the industry is becoming more and more fragmented. The level of differentiation is now more important than ever before.

Yes, buyers need to stock products that will sell, hit targets and increase margins, so negotiating deals are aplenty here. But if the ultimate goal is to ensure a successful sell-out then surely the sell-in is just as important.

People buy from brands they have an affinity to. We know this. Cultural fits and strategic alignment between brands are now a fundamental part of business relationships. Working on a tender recently, an agency lost the contract due to a low score on cultural fit. So even procurement departments are recognising the importance of not just spreadsheets and numbers, but question ‘can we work with this company and do they share the same values?’

Whilst some brands are trying to tell their brand story, after 4 years of attending ISPO, it seems that many are re-inventing themselves every few years. Yes, it is important to stay up to date, nimble and evolve your branding. This may mean a change of colour scheme or tweaks to logos, to be in tune with a change in cultural design language – but your core brand DNA must not change. Mammut for example have taken a departure from their very bold black and red, which they have owned for so many years, to a fresher more modern white and silver. But the very thing that differentiates them from any other mountaineering brand, now seems to have been lost too.

We only need to look across to Patagonia to see how it should be done. The balance between what they sell and who they are was showcased, as usual, by the experts in branding. From casual leather sofas for their sales team meetings, a coffee stand that felt like it was lifted straight from Camden market and the strong and bold ethical messages all across the stand – proudly shouting their beliefs about environmental impact. This was all about who they are, and what they sell is a part of that, not all of that.


There is a human element of business and we must never forget this. Next year when I attend ISPO I hope brands remember that those 85,000 people aren’t just a number to sell to but a person their brand needs to engage with, a human that is motivated by both sales and emotions.

A brand is not just a logo or its product. And a person attending your stand is not just a sales figure, but a relationship you need to nurture and retain.


Appendix. 1.

Recent CEB research demonstrates that customers with strong connections to B2B brands have higher rates of consideration, purchase, and willingness to pay a premium (Fig. 1).

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Joanne Scott
Wearable fitness technology should do a better job of making our nation fitter.
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More than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive and on average, people spend almost 10 hours a day in a sedentary state. We are simply not moving our bodies enough, 7 days a week, 365 days year.

But, that said, there is also a tremendous amount of investment going into technology that encourages people to be more active. And it seems to be working, if sales are anything to go by.

The brand leading the charge is Fit Bit, with a market share of 22% and over 20 million sold in 2016. That’s more than Apple and Samsung’s wearable technology combined!

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Consumers now have a wide choice available, all using the basic idea of measuring movement of the human body.

But beyond the initial sale numbers, we have to ask - do they actually help people get fit?

For many users, we know it encourages them to be more active, walking instead of getting the bus, or donning their trainers for a lunch break run. The idea of hitting a daily target brings out the competitor in us. So, we can take pride in shouting “I hit 10,000 steps today”. This can’t be a bad thing, and we applaud their efforts. However, for many others, after the initial excitement the daily motivation slowly loses its appeal.

Research reviewing over 400 overweight American adults wearing fitness tech, tells a more alarming story. All participants were told to diet and exercise more.  Half the group were then assigned a fitness tracker. Two years later, the results defied expectations with unmonitored slimmers losing more weight than those digitally tracking themselves.

Closer to home, our fitness consultant asked clients for feedback on recent fitness tech purchases. The majority of clients continue to use the devices for well over 12 months, tracking activity almost daily. But not everyone saw results.

So, the big question is, how do fitness brands get people emotionally engaged in sports whilst also achieving lifelong fitness?

The answer is, ironically, getting people to go beyond using just the device, to instead creating a love for online communities.

We know, through our own research, that women in particular prefer to engage with brands or products through smaller closed group forums. The creation of a social platform that acts as an enabler rather a product sale are the ones getting it right.

Strava is possibly the best example of this. First launched in 2009 it now has tens of millions of users around the world, many of whom find it completely addictive, myself included.

The brands success comes largely from their focus on sociability through the app. Users can upload photos, follow friends’ activities, comment on each other's rides (or give ‘kudos’ ) and take part in monthly challenges. The desire to share your performance on other platforms also creates a deeper emotional relationship with the brand.

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This, coupled with its ongoing app development, in-app UX strategy and local social community initiatives, sees it continue to grow year on year.

Their founder, Mark Gainey, adds: "We are the world's social network for athletes, but I'm also very pleased that we are simply encouraging more people to be active."

Yes, Strava isn’t strictly wearable tech, it still relies on connectivity from other devices. But it’s recent partnership with global fitness brand, New Balance, for the launch of its wearable technology RunIQ, clearly indicates that both brands recognise the importance of combining online brand engagement with technology.

The inactivity of the UK’s population is an ongoing problem and a ‘quick fix’ with increasing sales of novel fitness trackers is not enough to make real social impact. To make, long-lasting difference, brands must go beyond just the technology itself and also create an online environment that people want to actively engage with and build brand love towards.

Users will continue to go back time after time. They will take other people on the journey with them and by updating daily achievements, they can inspire others.

Marketers of sports brands should strive to create long lasting relationships with their customers. Good for their brand, good for people.



Joanne ScottComment
The Forgotten Rule of Marketing
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As we approach the end of 2017, I could spend many hours reflecting on the big marketing stories of the year. But amongst all the debates between VR and AI, there was one very personal topic that had such an impact on me, it inspired me to start my own agency.

During the summer, I was sent the infamous Billabong blog not just from one of my friends, but 100s. With many years of marketing behind me they were asking me to “sort this shit out!”


The most impactful statement though actually came from a man. Whilst I was out climbing with a father of two from Australia (clearly a global issue) he expressed his concerns. His teenage daughters were keen surfers and rock climbers but he was frustrated that they were being exposed to this kind of marketing. His was, without doubt, the loudest voice I heard during those summer months. He did not want his daughters growing up to believe a wave was too big, or all they had to offer the world was lying on a beach in swimwear!

As I started to explore this topic more, I found many examples of brands misrepresenting females in the sports industry, particularly within the outdoor sports sector.

Women in Adventure, an independent research project with over 400 respondents, concluded that coverage should focus on achievement, not gender.

The most common trend in their research is that women are inspired by role models that they can relate to. As a keen sports enthusiast, I can definitely say that I do not relate to this image nor should I aspire to it.

There are some positives and we only need to look at the hugely successful ‘This Girl Can’ campaign to see that some organisations are trying to change. According to Sport England, 2.8 million women have done some, or more activity, as a result of their campaign.

Likewise, evidence from Getty Images showing the most popular image purchased under the term ‘woman’ is a stark contrast to that from 10 years ago.





But the Billabong images and many more like it, does highlight there is still a long way to go. Especially considering This Girl Can marketing spend was approx. £8million, which is frankly lost in the overall global advertising spend for sports brands. Nike alone spent at least £800million last year. To make a real difference, brands themselves need to change the way they are talking to their audience.

To be clear, this is not a blog specifically on the misrepresentation of females in marketing. I believe we should explore why sports brands are getting it so wrong. Personally, I believe that brands are simply not making the effort to conduct the relevant research in our industry.

Many agencies say they are ‘customer centric’ and we know the first rule of marketing is always to listen to your customer. Right? But clearly even the big agencies are still forgetting to understand real human emotions of their target audience (see previous post).

The fact that the original ‘Billabong blog’ from Karen Knowlton, was shared around the world highlights the frustration from their own target audience. Take notice!

And all the research we have access to, stating that women want to be able to ‘relate’ to brand images, means that marketers are just simply forgetting to do their job properly.

I strongly urge all those brand marketers who continue to conform to ‘tradition’, to get their shit together. Stop being lazy and remember one simple starting place, before any creative is developed – truly understand your customer.

We don’t just owe that to our industry, we also owe it to all the teenage girls out there who should aspire to riding that massive wave, scoring that epic goal or climbing that first summit!

Why the Marketing Industries Obsession with Innovation is Making Innovation Old Hat
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Over the years, I am sure many of you have received briefs from clients asking for ‘the wow factor’. But more recently, I am seeing a re-occurring theme, almost on a weekly basis. The briefs start by saying ‘we are an innovative brand’ and almost always include ‘our campaign needs to be innovative’.

The word ‘innovation’ is so overused it’s becoming ironic. And more to the point, what does it actually mean?

Let me start by saying that innovation isn’t a thing. I don’t approach my creative director asking for ‘something innovative’ and a week later expect to be served an award-winning, innovative solution.

Instead it is a way of thinking differently to solve a real problem. Despite what many brands think, just because you have developed something new, that does not make it innovative.

The best creative ideas come from really understanding your customers. Finding an innovative way to solve a problem is no different.

There are four simple questions that always need to be answered: 

  1. Who are you targeting?
  2. What is their problem?
  3. How does your idea solve their problem?
  4. What makes your solution different?

It stops us from being too focused on the product and puts the consumers’ problem at the heart of the idea generation.

For example, I would not define myself as an ‘innovative thinker’. Instead I consider myself to be passionately curious about solving brand problems in a way that has never been done before.

To be truly innovative, you need a culture that cultivates and nurtures innovative thinking. This doesn’t just happen. You must implement practical steps to help create this culture and make sure it runs through the heart of every single employee – old and new.


Innovate as a team

Innovation can’t exist as a single function. Everyone working on the project needs to be working to the same brief and be very clear of the problem you are trying to fix. The best teams are those with a varied skill set. An expert in the latest technologies, a strategist that understands the business model, a creative with brave ideas – all come together to create a brand-new solution to what can often be an age-old problem.

Recruit values-compatible people

A team can only be as strong as its weakest link so choose your team wisely. A well-known saying, yes, but very true. Only employ people that you believe match your values and culture. Seek talent from places you know will help you deliver your business objectives. 

Identify innovation champions

Who are your people that are good at thinking AND doing? Use them throughout your business to help engage change. They could run innovation workshops and network with other industry leaders. These champions help inspire the rest of the business.

Live your values

We’ve all seen it plastered on office walls ‘we are innovative’. But do your staff really know what they can do individually, to make that happen? Have practical objectives in employees PDRs that align to this value.

Learn and be inspired by others

Invite guest speakers from your network, or beyond, to come and talk about how they do it – a great way to inspire thinking across the business. If you’ve just done a great project for a client using a technology you’ve never used before, get the client in to talk about how successful it was and share their experiences with the team.

Joint ventures

Collaborating with a company from an entirely different industry can lead to interesting discussions. You could find you have similar issues but can help each other, in a non-conflicting way.

Use teams from outside your business

For example, partner with a University or technical college. This is a great way to find future talent but you can also get a fresh perspective that you may not see from inside your organisation. 

Accept failure

As hard as it may be to accept, it’s OK to make mistakes! As long as you learn from them. Fail fast, move on, and improve.

I would encourage you to do as many of these things as possible to create the right culture within your business. Always remember, innovation is not a thing you produce, it’s a cultural way of thinking. Have the right people with the behaviour and skills to enable them to look at a problem in a unique way. Only then can innovation become extraordinary again.

Joanne ScottComment
Ogilvy – when did you stop understanding real people?
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I have just read an article by Kevin Chesters in Campaign magazine. Chesters is Ogilvy’s Chief Strategy Director and he today announced that Ogilvy Planners are ‘returning to primary research’ by talking to ‘real people’. It’s the second most read article on Campaign’s website this week.

I’ve been in Marketing for nearly 20 years. Whilst we’ve seen it evolve dramatically, the concept remains the same; we analyse customer needs and create innovative ways to get them to do something that satisfies those needs.

Which begs the question, how have Ogilvy been doing it all these years if they haven’t been talking to ‘real’ people?

Chesters certainly isn’t doubting the importance of customer research but he is doubting the methodology. In his words 94% of planners use the internet or other secondary data as their main research input, saying “we don’t leave our desks, let alone our city”. Astounding. But quite clearly the norm for some agencies.

It’s not that I don’t see the importance of data. It has engulfed our industry and most definitely allows us to make informed decisions about how consumers are interacting with brands. But the job of the Planner should always be to get the balance right. We must understand the basic consciousness and emotions of real people before we can use data to analyse how previous activity is impacting marketing goals.

This week alone I have seen one of my planners don a high vis jacket and spend a day on a truck. Not the most glamorous job but vital to understand our client’s world. Another has been out talking to internal staff for a B2B client. Both experiences will absolutely fuel the creative brief not just ‘2%’ of it.

So, I say good luck Ogilvy with your ‘Get Out There’ initiative and thank you for offering to share it with the entire industry. But us ‘real people’, we don’t need that advice because we never stopped doing it properly in the first place.