HTTPS (High Time To Protect Sites)

HTTPS url grab

Two years ago, Google made a pledge to name and shame websites with unencrypted connections as part of a strategy to get domain owners to embrace HTTPS. In the past few months it appears that many brands have heeded this threat. But first…

What exactly is HTTPS?

A good explanation is given on GitHub: ‘HTTPS, or HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) + Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), is a TCP/IP protocol used by web servers to securely transfer and display content over the internet. While traditionally used mostly for websites hosting online transactions and customer banking data, HTTPS is now being deployed across a wide variety of websites even if no such sensitive data is involved, mainly for authentication purposes. HTTP is less secure as it transmits data as unencrypted plaintext, which can be viewed by anyone spying on the network traffic and is also vulnerable to a variety of malicious attacks.’

The Google pledge was realised with the release of Chrome version 68 which places a ‘Not secure’ warning in the URL bar when any website is not HTTPS-enabled. When the Google ‘deadline’ of 24th July 2018 was reached, I noticed then that many websites I was using or visiting had the ‘Not secure’ warning. I checked more sites and found that many eCommerce websites were being labelled by Google as insecure. Scroll forward two months and now, it’s hard to find many that are. Today (8th October), after a 10 minute search of eCommerce sites, I can only find Argos with the ‘Not secure’ label.  

Argos screengrab

To potential shoppers, this should be a real deterrent to purchase. After all, we’ve all heard of recent, huge data breaches such as those at British Airways and Vodafone as well as past disasters such as the one at Talk Talk in 2015 which is said to have cost the firm £60m and 100,000 customers. So this naming and shaming strategy has worked. The reality though is that it is likely that eCommerce sites such as Argos will be secure on the pages or sections of the website that involve customer transactions in data. (A quick check on Argos confirmed this – it is secured). But it’s a shame that their brand managers and PR agencies don’t seem to have much influence over their colleagues that manage the website because this can only damage the brand.

If you look outside of ‘typical’ eCommerce however, you do find more examples of apparent HTTP-only sites. This website you are reading this blog for instance, is not HTTPS – yet. Neither are the websites for Private Eye, The Week, or my local shopping mall in Newmarket, The Guineas

Private Eye grab

However, both Private Eye and The Week do sell subscriptions and when you do click thru to that section of their sites, you find that the pages are HTTPS-enabled. So it’s only laggards such as my site and The Guineas who need to get their act together and switch to HTTPS.

But how easy is it? There is definitely a technological barrier to overcome. My website is a WordPress site and there many sites such as The SEO System and Search Engine Journal which offer guides on how to do this, something that I will try shortly. Other platforms will have other guides but the reality is that many small businesses or citizens with websites with legacy HTTP coding will be unable to do this themselves. So a barrier exists in terms of funding and finding the right skilled web developer to apply the fix.

Why you should fix the problem

According to, ‘under an unencrypted HTTP connection, any information that you send across the web can be intercepted by a hacker. The use of HTTP has privacy implications as well… If you’re browsing on an unsecured connection, your internet provider and any bad actors can hypothetically see not just which site you’re on, but what specific pages. Not so with HTTPS’.

Zfort give four reasons why you need to go HTTPS-enabled:

  1. Data security – protect your and your customers’ data.
  2. Brand positioning – if you don’t you could damage your reputation.
  3. Improve SEO rankings – Google now has made HTTPS a ranking factor.
  4. Website speed.

So like me, you need to fix this soon.

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The RAC and its car-crash attitude to customer loyalty reflects marketing’s wider problem

Marketoonist - Customer loyalty cartoonI’ve had RAC breakdown cover since 2012. Their basic Roadside Assistance service means that if you break down, a patrolman will come out and try and fix your car, and if he (or she) cannot then you will be towed back to your home or your nearest garage to a maximum distance of 10 miles. This basic service is fairly standard now in the market.

So when I got my renewal letter recently which asked me for £50.98 (notice the price point there – why not £51?) for another year of cover I blanched, recalling how my premium has increased way above inflation over the years. When I first signed up in 2012, the price was £29. By 2015, it had risen to £40.82 for another year. In 2016 it rose to £46.40. Last year it went down to £45.79. But my latest bill represents an 11% increase in price. Last time I checked, inflation over the past year was 2.3%. Continue reading

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Direct Response Press, Attribution, and the Rise of Local Media

Picture of a Hillarys Blinds press ad

Hillarys Blinds – a good example of direct response press advertising

I had cause recently to undertake some research into the state of direct response press. Because of the ‘dash for digital’, it had been some time since we (at MCS) had looked at this medium and when we did, we were surprised that there was so little data ‘out there’ about it. We talked to media agencies, publishers, marketing bodies, local media organisations, and past exponents of direct marketing who led the boom of the 1990s. And yet very little data emerged.

Although we know how to create effective direct response press ads, we wanted to know answers to key questions, such as does Direct Response press advertising still work? What response rates should brands expect? Or is most of the audience online, and should brands put all their ad spend into digital? And has direct response been made redundant by the infinitely more measurable pay-per-click, online display and affiliate advertising? Continue reading

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The Conundrum of Brand Slogans

Unilever logo

Unilever – Bringing vitality to life.

The agency I work for, MCS, recently exhibited at the Suffolk Business Exhibition in Ipswich and we held a competition for visitors to our stand whereby they had to recall the slogans of 17 top brands. Most were flummoxed and the eventual winner ‘only’ got 11 correct (probably with a little help from the internet). Try these three (I’ve reversed them so you have to guess the brand from the slogan): 1) Trusted everywhere, 2) Looking after your world, 3) Bringing it all together.

Unless you work in strapline development, I’d be very surprised if you got all three correct. (The answers are Duracell, British Gas and BT). And this is why I suggest that brand slogans present a conundrum for organisations – how to get it right. Continue reading

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The Decline of the Agency and Rise of the Client: Part 2

In Part 1 yesterday, I explored how the empowerment of the client, the negative impact of overheads on agency fees, and the forced distintermediation of agencies from their clients, have contributed to a seismic shift in fortunes and status. In this second of a two-part blog on the decline of the agency and the rise of the client, I examine the evolution of the agency-client relationship, the impact of media fragmentation, and the paucity of creativity. Continue reading

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The Decline of the Agency and Rise of the Client: Part 1

Last week an MCS colleague emailed me a link to an recent article called How clients are de-skilling the UK advertising industry which mourns how marketers (the clients) have forced agencies to cut their fees so much in the past decade that it has affected the quality of the work. But the author doesn’t just blame the clients, he blames agencies as well because they have failed to demonstrate to brands where their value really lies – in their ideas and creativity.

Because MCS operates via a different agency model that mitigates the problems outlined above, it gives us an authority to contribute to this topic and examine further how and why agency primacy has been eroded over the years. In this first of a two-part blog on the topic, I explore the empowerment of the client, how many agency fees are inflated by the need to recover overheads, and how agencies are being distintermediated from their clients in three ways. Continue reading

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Why so many American TV ads are crap

Grab of US TV ad for Androgel showing a man

Androgel: Stop using it if your wife starts growing body hair and develops acne!

I have just returned from a holiday in Cuba where we were able to get some American TV channels in our hotel room. We loved watching the US channel TBS, which seems to show never-ending comedy, (its strapline is ‘Very funny’). But I couldn’t help but notice the nature and quality of the TV ads (which were also never-ending). Apart from the fact that every other ad was for pizzas, all-you-can-eat pancakes with maple syrup, or burgers – everything you need to pile on the pounds if you’re a couch potato whose idea of exercise is watching comedy all day – I didn’t really think much of the creativity of the ads.

Now I’m a great admirer of American comedy, indeed TV, and I think that in general it is far superior to ours. They are an extremely creative nation but this creativity doesn’t seem to extend to their TV ads which generally avoid the sophistication – and humour – of ads for UK audiences. The ads seem to patronise their audience or treat them as dumb, whereas I’d say the opposite is true here in the UK. Of course there are some great exceptions (watch out for the imminent Superbowl ads) but generally this was my impression. Continue reading

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The Battle of the Christmas 2012 ads

Screengrab of Delia Smith and Heston Blumenthal in Waitrose's Xmas 2012 ad

Waitrose Christmas 2012 TV ad –
cheap and cheerful.

The battle of the Christmas 2012 ads has reached a crescendo. Not only is the advertising industry buzzing about it, even consumers are, with Netmums publishing research into families’ reactions to the superstore ads. According to the Yummy Mummies who were interviewed, 83% say their families look forward the seasonal ads of the big brands, and 55% claim they help foster the Christmas spirit in the family. Also, 23% get gift ideas from the ads while 20% admitted that their favourite ad influenced where they buy their presents. And when it comes to festive food, almost 30% of mums claim the ads influence where they shop. If all this is true then it is no wonder that the big brands spend so much effort on their Xmas TV advertising. Continue reading

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Customer promise and innovation are key to the fortunes of Monarch

I have recently returned from an excellent short break to Gibraltar, marred only by a return flight delayed by 6 hours. On return home, and that same morning, I was surprised to receive an email from Monarch Airlines apologising for the delay. Airlines don’t do that, do they? I contrasted this with the experience at Gibraltar airport and Malaga airport (where we had to be driven to catch our plane home), where the lack of information and total absence of Monarch staff whilst we waited was damning.

So is this discrepancy in customer service evidence of a disconnect between the brand promise and its delivery? I thought an investigation into Brand Monarch would be an interesting exercise, a kind of marketing scrutiny of Monarch Airlines. Continue reading

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Social Media is a game of chess

This article has also been published at Marketing:Blogged

Picture of a chess board with pieces and social media icons in spaces

The recent news that McDonald’s is recruiting an army of friendly bloggers in the US to write positive stories about it should come as no surprise. Indeed it tested the water in 2010 when it invited 15 bloggers to its HQ in Chicago. This latest effort appears to have two drivers: firstly, a desire to counter activity in social media such as Twitter and Facebook, which it cannot control, where negative stories about it such as its ‘pink slime’ food additive were being circulated. The second driver seems to have come out of a failed attempt to successfully harness Twitter by paying to appear at the top of the trends list on Twitter’s home page to drive people to watch its new commercials online. Unsurprisingly, this backfired once McDonald’s antagonists found out about it. Continue reading

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