Big Brother is watching you…

Towards the end of 2016 Spotify put its abundance of listener data and insights to playful use in a new Out-Of-Home ad campaign, placing billboards globally after an initial release in the UK, US, France and Germany.

The adverts were created by the company’s in-house marketing team and revealed some of the weird and wonderful habits of its users, using accumulated and even some personal data, Spotify generated headlines such as;

“Dear person who played ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day, what did you do?”

“Dear person in the Theater District who listened to the Hamilton Soundtrack 5,376 times this year, can you get us tickets?”

Spotify then ended many of the billboards with the tagline “Thanks 2016. It’s been weird.” In ways a celebration of both a great year for music and also the continued support and listenership of its users.



The ad campaign by Spotify was clever and engaging and was received extremely positively by consumers for the most part.  What they managed to do in a way was to humanise the technology – this worked particularly well based on the personal and emotional connection that people have to it.


A not so successful story for Netflix…

On December 11th 2017, Netflix tried to apply a similar approach to Spotify in customer data and insight sharing, only this time using their Twitter account as the medium.

Netflix revealed that 53 people had watched its latest Christmas movie ‘A Christmas Prince’ everyday for the past 18 days, adding to the end of the tweet – “Who hurt you?”  The tweet has gained more than 100,000 retweets and 400,000 favourites at the time of writing.


The tweet was intended to be light-hearted and humorous, but has faced a massive backlash from consumers, with many users describing it as being “creepy”.  The tweet has also managed to kick off a debate around how closely the company is watching its customers, and raises the questions, what exactly can it do with the data generated by the viewing habits of its users, and more alarming, how many people in the company have access to the data.



Netflix were quick to defend the tweet and certainly didn’t feel that they had anything to apologise for.  They did however, reassure their users that their privacy was not totally being invaded with an official statement saying; “The privacy of our members’ viewing is important to us.”

But the question is – how did Netflix fail at something that Spotify managed to do so well?

The Spotify campaign had an underlying positive tone to it, celebrating the weird and wonderful habits of its users.  One the other hand, Netflix took a slightly harsher tone in their tweet.  ‘A Christmas Prince’ is a movie that they produced and marketed and it follows a format not unlike the ever-popular Hallmark Christmas movies.  The tweet comes across as a little judgemental, shaming those for falling in love/becoming maybe a little obsessed with their movie.

It could also be perhaps that people hold different emotional connections to music and TV or Movies.  Therefore, to be potentially confronted by your TV viewing habits would feel a lot more intrusive than for someone to know what music you’re in to.

Up until now we thought that the scariest feature about Netflix was the ‘Are you STILL watching’ screen that may pop up while you’ve been watching the latest addictive series for 4…5…10 hours straight (no judgement here!).  Now we know they’re documenting everything we watch.

Is this a PR disaster?  Maybe, a little.  Will it have lasting impact on the company?  Probably not – people will still continue to ‘Netflix and chill’ and binge watch their favourite TV series.  Perhaps next time though…Netflix should think of all the implications before trying to be funny on Twitter.


Jonny Allen is a final year Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University.  You can find him on LinkedIn here –

Blurred Lines

Before you think I might begin to discuss the chart single by Robin Thicke, I am not. More importantly this blog will look closer at the looming similarities between PR and advertising.


It is not unknown to most of us that PR is changing. With change comes challenges and with challenges comes opportunities. However, there are many critical perspectives and views on PR today.

PR traditionally, was nothing like it is now. There was less competition, technology hadn’t fully grasped people’s attention and the public didn’t ‘notice’ just quite as much as now.

With the evolution of a ‘digital era’ this has helped ‘blur’ the lines between advertising and PR. I am not a professional PR practitioner and this is becoming increasingly obvious, even to me.

Originally, advertising had the role of gaining sales through adverts. PR aimed to generate exposure through media outlets.

Now, can we notice the difference?

Whilst advertising and PR have merged over the years, some may argue there is still significance to both industries. To me, I can still see a huge gap. I think PR is about maintaining and establishing good will and advertising is still focused on sales. Critically, both PR and advertising are becoming obsessed with reputation and the public’s acceptance.

We have to question, is this hazy view because of the Internet?

Katy1Model cited by Gini Dietrich

Above shows the PESO model, illustrated by Gini Dietrich. With the continuous interception, this highlights the specific roles. Communication lines are becoming blurred due to a knock on effect from digital media. PESO typically helps describe the blend by looking deeper into four types of media and how they overlap.

  1. Paid media – This is something most of us value. (I know I do) It is a form of advertising. Traditionally, advertisers pay for media outlets, such as outdoor advertising. Today influencer’s influence through sponsored ads. In PR, this is paid media.


  1. Earned Media – ‘Free media’ is another term used to describe this form of media. This is an ancient concept of PR that can be formed through word of mouth, great SEO, news articles or third party endorsement. As some would say ‘you need to be a friend, to earn a friend’.


  1. Owned Media – Communication channels that are in ones control. With the involvement of a digital age, this comprises the majority of the Internet. Mediums such as blogs, websites and email contribute. Owned media, is not necessarily promotional, but to uphold the reputation you want to portray.


  1. Shared Media – Shared media has been made widely available through the use of social media. Thus the public can speak freely about brands and organisations, allowing for user generated content. (Sometimes not always a good thing) From a PR perspective, this entitles the PR practitioner to speak directly to an audience without the use of a media organisation. Therefore…

Is PR taking away from the point of advertising?

According to PR Daily, ‘the PR industry looks an awful lot like advertising’. Some will argue this is true; the media outlet is removed therefore some would call this direly selling. Is this classified as PR-ing, or advertising?

However, some will disagree by going back to basics. PR incorporates validation, the more validity it receives then the more it is desired. Again going back to the definition at the beginning, PR is more focused on reinforcing good will between an organisation and its publics.

Advertising is paid media

Public Relations is earned media

Do you agree?

With the proliferation of user-generated content across the web, it reinforces the need for a ‘credible’ source of information in today’s society. Advertisements may be eye catching, however, the public are aware these are in place to SELL. Public relations involve two-way communication strategies; some may think a more democratic outlook. Public relations encourages ‘free coverage’ and real life recommendations which consumers value.

So which do you choose?


Advertising and PR combined work as a great team. Whether the lines have been blurred into one or you advocate separate entities, incorporating all aspects at the right time, work.

“Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for!”

Katy McGuigan is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University, Jordanstown. You can reach her on LinkedIn at and on Twitter @KatyMcGuigan2.

Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Female Figure

On Friday the 27th of January, KFC tweeted a video to advertise their new “Smoky Mountain BBQ” chicken. KFC’s advertising campaigns are renown to star their legendary mascot Colonel Sanders – however, in this recent video the star of the show is a female Colonel.

Image result for kfc reba

Image result for kfcThe role of Colonel Sanders was taken up by Reba McEntire, a successful country singer from the United States. She appears in the video as the Colonel and as herself in the audience. McEntire’s Colonel celebrity predecessors include Rob Lowe, Billy Zane and Ray Liotta. In fact, this is the first time that KFC has had a woman as the primary protagonist of a campaign.
The new campaign has sparked an array of mixed reviews. Many find that KFC’s choice is empowering for women, whilst others find it upsetting that McEntire had to take up male features to be accepted as the Colonel – why could she not play a female Colonel?

But maybe depicting her as the classic male Colonel was a somewhat of a wise move by KFC. Maybe this is just the first step of a complete mascot evolution. If this is the case, then maybe other brands will follow this set trend of KFC and who knows, by the end of 2018 we could be experiencing a range of new and evolved logos and mascots. Maybe a Burger QUEEN, an AUNT Ben – or who knows, maybe Julius Pringles will swap that moustache for a nice set of eyelash extensions.


Image result for kfc reba

Link to the video:

Rachel Reilly is a second year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn:

Placement or No Placement?

For months I was debating whether to do a placement year or continue to final year and with many pros and cons for both, many interviews and 2 placement offers, I decided, why not? It’s always good to have experience!

I had heard so much about Ardmore Advertising and this was the place I knew I wanted to spend my placement year, so when I got offered the job I was more than excited to start!

After wondering what it was like to work in a busy advertising agency, I was quick to find out for myself!

The rumours are true, the world of advertising is busy, very busy, and interning is definitely not just photocopying and fetching coffee! People start to filter into the office just before 9am with their tea or coffee in hand (or hot chocolate if you’re like me), soon the office is buzzing as emails are opened and answered. I was given a training schedule but each day is like a game of whack-a-mole, jobs just keep popping up, time management is clearly a skill that is essential in advertising!

My role within the agency was as an Account Executive were my basic role was acting as a link between clients and the agency. In the client services team, I worked alongside account managers and directors to ensure all client requests were being handled and to the best of our ability as an agency.

Apart from the usual account management work a particular highlight from my time at Ardmore was an overnight trip to Liverpool with Stena Line.

Stena Line asked us to create a video for their social media page to share the benefits of travelling onboard. A few of us at Ardmore took over Stena Line UKIE’s Instagram story for the day where we documented our journey on the Stena Line day crossing from Belfast to Liverpool! Our Instagram story got a fantastic level of engagement and a short boomerang video we posted to Facebook got over 55,000 views.

We arrived at the docks at about 8.30am for check-in. The staff were so friendly and we checked-in in less than 5 minutes! Plenty of time for a coffee before hopping on the bus that drove us to the ferry.  We checked out our cabins, did some onboard shopping, had a walk on deck, we even got taken up to the captain’s quarter! We got to the Stena Plus lounge which felt like a mini VIP area with complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks, wine, crisps, fruit, sweet treats and magazines. We ordered breakfast; pancakes, a fry, eggs benedict and granola with fruit – all really delicious! We felt so settled that we didn’t want to leave but before we knew we had arrived in Liverpool and within 10 minutes we arrived at the Marriott Hotel in Liverpool. We went to San Carlo for dinner, the food was delicious!

Bright and early on Wednesday morning we got some breakfast, went to the pool and sauna and got ready to hit the town for some shopping – this beat any day in the office! After a few hours of shopping and walking around the centre of Liverpool, we headed towards the Albert Dock where we got some lunch and had a few cocktails. After an hour of relaxing in the sun, we got ready for the Beatles experience which inspired us to recreate The Beatles Abbey Road album cover which did take multiple attempts – who knew fake walking could be so difficult?

After taking pictures at every iconic landmark in Liverpool and exploring the city, we went for dinner at the Salt House Tapas which was amazing! With all of us absolutely stuffed we went back to the hotel to collect our bags and headed back to the Port where we got the Stena Line overnight crossing back to Belfast.

After our trip we worked with Street Monkey to create a video for Stena Line’s social channels which documented our trip.

Check out the video!


I accomplished a very successful year at Ardmore and the experience gained will be invaluable in my future career path. I gained a better understanding of the advertising industry; agency life and how one campaign could have a widespread effect on consumers and their buying habits. The year at Ardmore helped me develop my own personal skillset which 100% will benefit me in any career path I may undertake in my future.

Because of my placement year I now have a greater understanding of what goes behind all those ads we drive past daily and realize that it is not just a straightforward process of designing something and getting it printed or dispatched. One simple strapline, colour, or design could have weeks and weeks of work behind it.

I worked with private and public sector clients, and can say that it opened my eyes a lot in terms of budgets and even just the general handling of clients.  The key activities I undertook each day enabled me to attain a greater understanding on the foundations of advertising that are essential for any career in the industry.

As a result of spending one year in a top advertising agency in Northern Ireland, I have valued my experience and believe that I will benefit when applying for jobs when I graduate because of the experience I have had.  The Ardmore team are amazing and were so welcoming to me on my year in Ardmore – there’s no two days the same in Ardmore and that’s the beauty of it.

Hopefully if you are thinking about doing a placement year or not, this blog piece will help you to make the decision that is right for you!

Christine Murtagh is a final year Bsc student in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University. Find her on Twitter @Cmurtagh95, and Linkedin:


Battle of the Christmas Adverts

Yes, it’s that time of year again when every major retailer in the UK battles it out to become the nation’s favourite Christmas advert. Our TVs are flooded with emotional ads guarantee to tug at your heart strings or in extreme cases make you cry.

But there’s really no point trying to avoid them because there is no let-up or escaping it. That’s just a fact of life! As soon as that last firework on Halloween night goes off we are bombarded with festive adverts being thrown at us from every direction.


It’s not enough anymore for brands just to have a TV advert. They throw everything apart from the kitchen sink at these campaigns. Taking advantage of merchandising opportunities, charity partnerships, and spin-off digital campaigns. It is certainly an expensive business, but has terrific PR attached to it, if it’s done well.

Once an area dominated by John Lewis has quickly become fair game.

With each year we have more and more retailers spending millions on multi media campaigns to stand out from the rest – with good reason. If done well and done right retailers can reap the rewards and spin off merchandise could be the most sort after toy that Christmas.

I’m sure we all remember the 2014 John Lewis Christmas advert? It told the story of Monty, a penguin who dreams of love at Christmas time. This emotional advert  was said to have ‘won Christmas’ and got the whole country talking about a fake CGI penguin. People become obsessed and when John Lewis released a £12 toy model of the penguin, which to no one’s surprise sold out super quick. People completely freaked out and bought this toy on eBay for up to £400. Its safe to say that people can get a little crazy during this time of the year.


Whilst the TV ads are the main attraction, the ads usually go above and beyond by creating something for almost all multimedia platforms. John Lewis jumped on the Snapchat bandwagon with their own ‘Buster the Boxer’ filter in 2016, whilst Waitrose released an online interactive experience of the Robin’s journey, as well as a book available to purchase sold in-store. Brands at Christmas time are slowly creeping there way into every part of our lives.

A35  A36

We can’t forget about the music that feature in these ads, because it plays a huge part in this battle as well. We are starting to see more often these songs that accompany the ads climb the music charts even hitting the number 1 spot sometimes. For example, in 2013, Lily Allen sung a cover of Somewhere Only We Know for the John Lewis Christmas advert. Her version surpassed the success of the original in the UK, topping the Singles Chart and staying at number 1 for 3 weeks whilst selling over 600,000 copies.


Lily Allen | Somewhere Only We Know (John Lewis Christmas Advert)

The increased popularity of the Christmas advert in recent years is no doubt down to social media playing a huge role in heightening the campaign. With brands including hashtags in their videos social media users being able to take to twitter or Facebook and voice their opinion on the different Christmas ads retailers throw at them.

Whither you love them or hate them they are here to stay, and brands will no doubt have bigger, better and shinier campaigns in store for us next year.


Niamh McNally is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter at @Niamh_McNally or LinkedIn at

M&S Christmas Advert – PR Genius or PR Blunder?

M&S Christmas Advert – PR Genius or PR Blunder?

Every year, we eagerly await the, much-anticipated, Christmas TV Adverts from our favourite retail giants.  This year was no different, Marks and Spencer were one of the first to release their ad, starring the loved and adored Paddington Bear.  To paint the overall picture for you, the advert shows how Paddington mistakes a burglar for Santa Claus – I know what your thinking, but he isn’t the brightest crayon in the packet!

The story then goes on to show how Paddington helps the ‘burglar, now Santa’, to deliver all the stolen presents.  At the end of the heart warming advert, Paddington, being the kind soul that he is, gives a marmalade sandwich (classic!) to ‘Santa’, who, according to M&S, responds with, “Thank you, little bear”.  The public, however, have claimed that he says something a tad different, something which involves a well known profanity.  Have a listen for yourself!

Not what you would expect in an M&S Christmas advert, now is it?  We’re not the only ones to pick up on this, as soon as the advert aired on television, the public went into a Twitter Frenzy!  Many commenting on how cute the advert was, until they heard the “F BOMB”.


It even gained coverage on This Morning, as part of Rylan’s gossip segment, with Phil and Holly.  They couldn’t have laughed more if they tried!  It was a highlight of my Wednesday morning.

M&S have supported their “Paddington and the Christmas Visitor” campaign, by selling a cuddly £12 soft toy version of Paddington and a £42 duffel coat. In addition, and a first for M&S, the campaign will involve a charity element, through publishing approximately 200,000 copies of a, limited edition, children’s story book, that tells the tale of Christmas.  M&S have said that they will be donating all proceeds from the £3 book to the NSPCC, in order to help fund it’s Childline service over the festive season – if that’s not heartwarming, then I don’t know what is!

M&S are even hosting a children’s story book reading in selected stores and encouraging their staff to carry out random acts of kindness, such as free marmalade sandwiches in their Café – how cute!


Although, even with these fab PR tactics, the big question on everyone’s lips is whether the, now famous phrase in the advertising was planned, or if it really was a blooper.

According to the makers of the ad, Grey London, there are no swear words used, the burglar is truly saying “Thank you little bear”.  The company’s Chief Executive, Leo Rayman stated, “Who would think we would allow a small, loveable little bear to be sworn at?  It is for celebrating family generosity and Christmas spirit.  It is supposed to be a moment of kindness.  Of course, we wouldn’t put a swear word in a Christmas TV ad.  It is funny how some people react to Christmas advertising.”

So, unfortunately, it seems we were all fooled this Christmas Season.  However, intended, or unintended, it has drawn A LOT of media attention.  So, it really was a win-win situation for Marks & Sparks, they were going to get PR coverage, no matter what and have, in my opinion, developed a fabulously clever and heartfelt Christmas campaign! 

Bravo Guys!


Kimberley O’Hare is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @Kimberley_Ohare and LinkedIn 

What makes a Great Christmas Advert?

What makes a Great Christmas Advert?

For most, the first sign of Christmas is when the clock strikes midnight on Halloween night and all advertisers know this means the deluge of Christmas adverts will begin, and with that the competition of who has the best advert of the Christmas season? Over the years there have been many ones that have resonated and stayed with you long after the Christmas decorations are taken down. All of the best have different qualities that make you pick it as your favourite.


Some play on the heart for example the famous John Lewis, ‘Man on the Moon’ where many tears were shed over the poor lonely man who lived on the moon and the little girl on earth who desperately wanted to say hello. This advert which was a partnership with AGE UK was used to highlight the loneliness of elderly at Christmas, as well as year round, and tugged at the heartstrings of the general public who helped to generate £1 billion of sales for John Lewis in the Christmas period of 2015. John Lewis have long held the title of being the best at Christmas advertisements, usually accompanied with a song that reaches high in the top 40 of the U.K charts, for example the now infamous Ellie Goulding version of ‘Your Song’ which was then rumoured to be the first dance song of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge at their 2011 wedding. However, many others have attempted to take this coveted crown from the department store.

In 2014 the undisputed champion of the Christmas adverts appeared to be Supermarket Sainsbury’s who used history to make the perfect advert. Their depiction of Christmas Day 1914 along the trenches when German and British Troops ceased fighting and played a football match was praised across the U.K as one of the greatest Christmas adverts and a moving tribute on the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War 1. The pairing of what happened along with the moving use of ‘Silent Night’ both in English and German saw The Independent brand the marketing strategy ‘Epic’. The advertisement went viral, within 24 hours had had 1.8 million views on YouTube. It was believed to be a risky advert as if the tone want right it would have caused outrage by the British public. The tag line of #ChristmasisMadeforSharing resonated and with the advert being partnered with the Royal British Legion the advert is highly recognised as one the most brilliant television adverts of the 21st Century. Some did object to the advert calling it disrespectful but this was far outweighed by the outpouring of love for the advert.



Then there are the classics such as the Coca-Cola advert of the lit up truck driving through cities and towns with the ‘Holiday’s are Coming’ playing the background which for many really signifies the beginning of the festive period.

So what make a great Christmas advert? Is it one that makes you cry happy or sad tears, one with a well constructed message behind it or one that just starts to bring the seasonal joy to people? Everyone has there own special advert they will always back up when the best Christmas advert comes around every year, and it nearly always changes when the next batch of advertising excellence shows the following year.

Rosa O’Farrell is a final year in BSc Public Relations. She can be found on LinkedIn at or on Twitter @rosaofarrell