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Motivation, inspiration, solidarity. As the year draws to a close, I’m taking to moment to big up all those who’ve given me energy and support this year. In this my

Part thanks, part evangelism, in this my inaugural Sideways Digital Marketing Awards, I’ll run through some of the various individuals, tools and ideas that have helped fuel my everyday working life in the past 12 months.

You may have noticed this year – I certainly have – that there’s been a tendancy towards doom-mongering. Perhaps inspired by the fact that there is indeed a heck of a lot of doom and gloom around. And though the ‘digital world’ is often heralded as the antithesis of all that, beneath the surface lurks all kinds of false prophets. In short, there’s lots out there to drag you down.

So it’s always nice to celebrate those who see beyond the murkiness. Who find ways to move things forward and inspire others.

Here it is, then, my cheerful look back at some of the best of 2016 from my viewpoint as a digital marketer:

Freakonomics radio

The Broadcast Brilliance Award for services to sceptical minds

From newspaper column to book series, and book series to smash-hit podcast – Freakonomics explores the paradoxical quirks of our economic lives in glorious detail. Cheerily fronted by journalist Stephen Dubner, backed by a gentle jazz soundtrack, it tackles such questions as “Does The President Really Matter?” and “Are Payday Loans Really As Bad As Everyone Says They Are?”

The answers to these questions? Usually, they confound all expectation. By seeking out unbiased, fact-infused truths, Freakonomics get to the reality of widely-misunderstood forces.

…all of which provides ample inspiration for the digital marketer on their quest for truth and understanding.



The Zen Award for simplifying graphic design

Canva, and similar services, allow anyone to create profesh-looking graphics with no software or design skills whatsoever. Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop and InDesign are still my indispensable friends. But for lots of tasks, Canva just gets the job done.

Better yet, anyone can use Canva, easy. As an evangelical designer, I believe everyone could achieve more through better design. Canva’s making that mission a little easier.


The Humble Pen and Paper

The Addled Brains Award for providing momentary pause from incessant pixels

It’s incredible how much clearer thoughts become when away from a screen. Worrying, perhaps.

The effort of writing adds value to words. The possibility of creating any shape creates freedom that computers and phones still haven’t captured. And permanence lends penned paper so much more authority.

Our world may be digital, but our thoughts needn’t always be locked up in pixels. Long may the keyboard be held in check by its superior ancestor.


Christmas adverts

The Creative Freedom Award for proving that marketing cash can be spent flagrantly despite proof of practically non-existent results

Just 3% of consumers say this year’s blockbuster brand Christmas adverts had even a moderate effect on their purchasing decisions. 3%! That’s barely anybody.

And yet, £5.6bn gets spent on Christmas adverts in this country alone.

Anyone who’s ever worried that their campaign isn’t likely to achieve the hoped-for ROI should take heart from these figures. If Sainsbury’s and John Lewis can waste billions on a 3% moderate effect, we can probably all just ignore the silly survey people and have a jolly good time spending lots of money on pretty adverts. Sod it, why not? 🙂


The Nag Award for services to getting stuff done

I love a good productivity app. I’ve been through 3 this year. is my clear front-runner. It’s seriously simple and genuinely handy. On the left, you’ve got your to-dos, organised by category. On the right, you’ve got your to-dos, organised by date. Same list, updated as you edit in 2 views. No fancy graphics, minimal distraction, nice and intuitive. Brilliant. Plans my whole working day.

Developers who think they can ‘revolutionise productivity’ could quickly be put off by 1000’s of app competitors.’s developers weren’t, though. And I thank them for it.


This ‘Stock Photo’ Man

People’s Choice Award

Recognise him? He is EVERYWHERE.

I started noticing him after becoming more of a heavy stock imagery user this year. Whilst I purchase ‘premium’ mostly, for some lower-key uses I’ve delved into free libraries like… as have a staggering number of other people, it seems!

The online world seems so much more bogus once you start to recognise how ubiquitous some stock imagery is. A fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by…


Dave Gorman

The Comic Watchdog Award for keeping the bogus media and marketing industry in check

Dave’s TV show “Modern Life Is Goodish” (on Dave, the TV channel) feels gloriously independent – a kind of comedy-come-investigative-journalism show. No content producer is safe: from the Daily Mail to cereal box designers, long-established mythologies to modern oddities – wherever bogusness lies, Dave Gorman is there to shed light. Usually by way of venn diagrams.

Digital marketing can be a slippery slope. Truth can be stretched. Lies can be dressed up to seem genuine. And big budgets can cover a lack of substance. Dave Gorman proves that not everyone is fooled. In my mind, he holds the whole industry to account for its wiliest tricks.



The Workhorse Award for communicating anything, to anyone, in any way

Microsoft Office products are, in general, resoundingly awful. Menus that make no structural sense, formatting you can’t get rid of, jumpy controls. PowerPoint, though… well, I’ve developed a bit of a fondness this year.

I tried all sorts of other presentation alternatives – Prezi a fair few times – but their nifty features just distract from any message you’re trying to get across. Powerpoint’s basic-ness forces you to condense and simplify your message. Which, after all, is the point.


Scientific SEOs

The Royal Society Of Search Engine Optimisation’s “Highly Commended” accolade for exceptional rigor in demonstration of the highest levels of academic expertise

Long ago, in the early days of search engines, SEO could be fully understood by anyone with a modicum of mathematical prowess. Complex, yes, but possible to game using just an Excel spreadsheet and a bit of persistence.

Now, though, the internet has become a vastly sprawling ecosystem. Search engines may provide the algorithm that captures and ranks everything, but to succeed in SEO you now need a detailed grasp of how the internet itself fits together.

For some, the ever-increasing complexity of SEO turns it into little better than guesswork. Others, brilliantly, are properly embracing the challenge. At this year’s Brighton SEO, for example, for every speaker I saw who glossed over detail, another had spent colossal energies quantifying and analysing effects with the care of serious science.

Good on them! (…but rather them than me.)


Artistic SEOs

The Sod It And See Award for sticking it to the algorithm

Meanwhile, I’ve got to admire the other end of the SEO spectrum too. There’s a strong argument, I think, for moving the conversation past the ‘gaming the algorithm’ approach – things like link building, keyword targeting. Instead, there’s a case for simply producing good stuff that people like, in the knowledge that algorithm-makers are working hard to highlight exactly that kind of stuff.

Much of the content that tactical SEO produces is simply awful, lowest-common-denominator stuff. Anyone who can help to bring the industry a little more quality and artistry is a winner for me.


Text-Only Marketing Emails

The Blindingly-Obvious Award for having the confidence to strip back

Ever bought something online, only to find you’ve been signed up to a barrage of in-your-face marketing emails? Of course you have – everyone has. Give it about a week or two and you’ll have made a beeline for the unsubscribe button.

Some B2C marketers respond to this problem by thinking “hmm… maybe we need to put even more tempting offers in those emails” or, worse, “let’s send even more in that two week window before they unsubscribe.” Others, though, have realised that customers like being treated like people. And people don’t write each other big glitzy branded emails – they send text emails, written to sound like a normal email.

It’s a classic example of how NOT doing marketingy stuff (or, at least, overtly marketingy stuff) can have way better results.


Other Halves

(Specifically, mine) The Rock Award for steadfast supportiveness

Couldn’t do it without her.



The Streamline Award for ensuring that the torrents of digital media we’re all subjected to can be skim-read with ease

Love this app. You select your favourite blogs, categorise them, and it rolls everything up into one amalgamated news feed. For me, it’s replaced email news subscriptions and provides an instant access to what’s going on in the industry, so you never get caught out.


David Ogilvy

2016 WINNER 

The original advertising legend, Ogilvy remains a daily source of inspiration for me. In a complex digital age, harking back to a time of magazine adverts, billboards and coupons feels refreshing and inspiring.

Among his many preachings:

  • Copy and imagery is key. Get that right, everything else will follow.
  • Hammer home one single, key, clear message.
  • Live and breathe your own product. Don’t be tempted to distance yourself.
  • Always be selling your ideas.
  • Work hard

Marketing problem? Think “WWOD”?


*Booby Prize* Technology

The Thorn In The Side Award for never, ever, evvverrr, quite working as well as you hope it will

One day, technology will work like it’s supposed to. Meanwhile, we’re constantly reminded of how fragile the digital world is. When a virus or a memory error can stop you flat in your tracks and ruin your entire day, we’ve not quite reached nirvana yet, have we?

Technology: it’s 2017 – get your act together and start behaving like you’re meant to, OK?

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