When it comes to marketing, the only way to know what really works is… testing. So, I’m listing the three yurts on three well-known websites and will pay close attention to the results. Mustardseed is with booking.com, Peaseblossom is with Airbnb, and Puck is with Canopy & Stars. Of course, I also try and attract direct bookings – so I’m in the competition, too. (It doesn’t matter who you book through, really – you win every time.)

Happy Holiday Games. And may the odds be ever in everyone’s favour.

You will probably know that it’s been 400 years since Shakespeare finally put down his pen. (After writing his Will, perhaps.) To mark this event – and because the yurts in écovallée are named after the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I’ve put this final ad together.


shakespeare yurt ad

True Shakespeare fans will be pleased to know that the font used is Arial.

Well, more of another idea for a headline.

another ecovallee concept

(I think I prefer this, but it depends on the context. The earlier ad has more of a generic headline, but was designed for the wall of a break room – ie, A holiday that’s out of the world of this functional room. But today I met a friend of a friend who came to see écovallée for the first time. He stood at the top corner between the yurt and the kitchen and said: “This is my dream.” And I remembered that, yes, it was my dream – and now, it’s there. Shakespeare lovers will also know why we called the three yurts Mustardseed, Peaseblossom and Puck.)


During the last nine years, I’ve (occasionally) paid to advertise écovallée in relevant newspapers and magazines. But I’ve never been able to attribute a single booking to that activity. When écovallée was listed in The Guardian as one of the top 10 luxury campsites in Europe, it sold out in three days (full disclosure: there was only one yurt available that year). Our 15 minutes of fame on prime-time ITV led to… precisely one booking. Twitter doesn’t lead to much – even when tweets are re-tweeted to thousands. The Facebook page has yet prove itself. And, let’s be honest, who uses Google+? In fact, this blog is responsible for more bookings than everything else put together.

So my question to you – should you choose to answer it – is: What prompts you to book your holiday – advertising, editorial, social media, or something else? When the world changes at ever-increasing broadband speed, it’s hard to keep up.

In the meantime, here’s an ad I put together yesterday, for a friend to put up at work. Even if we’re not sure what’s effective, we have to keep trying…

ecovalle ad 2016

The local tourist board very kindly shot a video showing some of the places to go and things to do, around 45 minutes from the écovallée family yurt camp. In the video, you’ll see shots of Milandes, Castelnaud, Marqueyssac, Beynac and Domme, and some views of the river just east of here.

If you got up early, you could go to all these places in one day. But we’d recommend spreading them out over at least two days. It’s a holiday. Not a competition.

Besides – look at the sky. It’ll be hot.

I used to earn what I thought was good money, doing something I didn’t particularly enjoy. During my 20s, I wasn’t too bothered by the ethics of my job, largely because I was paying back a sizeable debt incurred while trying to become a musician.

The month I finished paying off that debt, I resigned.

But the industry I worked for didn’t let me go. After so many years of diligent work, I’d become good at my job. The global headquarters of the agency I worked for offered me a very livable wage to work in the US, so I went.

After 18 months, I came back to London and worked freelance and full-time for various agencies (some of them very well known), until I left the business in 2007.

I was always going to leave. The signs were there from the beginning. I stuck it out longer than was comfortable because I was waiting for something to come along that would give my life some meaning. Something that, at the end of my days, I could look back on with a sense of achievement. That thing, as regular readers will know, was écovallée.

Now, at this point I should confess to new readers that I am not the Edward Snowden. (Nor is my wife. I’m not actually married.) But I am in many ways an Edward Snowden. And so, my new theory goes, are you.

You see, the business I left was advertising. As I mention in my book, advertising is a business involving some lovely people who do a lot of horrible work*. One of the last jobs I worked on, for example, was sub-prime mortgages. The brief was a disgrace. The product was disgusting. An ethical agency would have thrown it back at the client and resigned the account. I had my say and then went to work, selling it to the best of my ability while hoping it would be profoundly unsuccessful. (In my defence, I always wrote the truth in the subtext. I encourage readers to study ads extremely carefully. It’s actually illegal to lie in advertising – in the UK anyway – but misdirection is commonplace. I admit, it’s a pretty thin defence.)

Obviously, doing that work was a choice. I could have walked. And I did, a few weeks later. Like Edward Snowden the other day. Two of the many differences** between me and he are that I was not pursued by the world’s law enforcement agencies or the media, and that I have made myself – and the écovallée yurt camp – very easy to find.

But Snowden’s whistle blowing spectacular has got me thinking – and not just about ways to attract new readers to the blog using key words like #edward #snowden and #whistleblowing ***.

As I’ve been walking slowly round other people’s gardens expending irreplaceable fossil fuels to keep their lawns looking lovely, even though the owners live hundreds or thousands of miles away, I’ve been working on a theory.

And my theory goes like this: When we’re younger, we’re happy to take the money and not worry about the consequences. If we’re paid lots of money, even better. But there comes a point around 30 when your sense of mortality kicks in (I gave up smoking at this point – several times), or your conscience wakes up, and you start to look more seriously at what you are doing with your life. You start to question its value, rather than its monetary worth. And if you don’t like what you see, you can do one of two things.

You can choose to stay in the job that makes you unhappy. Consciously choosing that option may give you a sense of power you may have forgotten you have. You may even be happier for it. (I’m not judgemental: Go you!)

Or you can choose to leave your job, relationship, country – whatever. You may go through all manner of discomfort following this decision. But you will at least know that it was your choice, consciously made. And whatever happens, you will be happier for it in the end.

This is what I think the real Edward Snowden has done. Wiki tells me he was 30 a few days ago, which fits my theory very well. I ran the theory past a guest recently and he told me how he left what many would consider a dream job to take a massive pay cut and now effectively runs an organic farm. So the theory holds at least some water. What do you think?

*This is from my perspective as an Edward Snowden and depends on the clients, products and briefs to which I was exposed. If you are an agency or client who feels you do not meet this profile – that you are in fact highly ethical people with excellent products to offer the world, please continue reading here.

**Also including age, height, weight, nationality etc.

***Come back in a few days and I’ll show you what this will do to my stats, though. Should be interesting.

This should really have the headline: One… last… grenade…

Some people have said they’re having problems buying the book from the facebook shop. (Apparently some handheld devices won’t let people buy – something to do with cookies – which I suspect is a deplorable ploy to lock people into their own systems.) Other people have said they don’t trust facebook at all.

But that’s beside the point.

The point is, I’ve published “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” to Kindle. So more people can buy it more easily, and I get to write “Descent into Hell” more quickly. To buy the book as fast as possible, I’ve even included a link – here.

There. That’s the last time I’ll mention the book for a while, although I’ll do something in the side bar to indicate how sales are going. At the moment, slothful, which is better than sluggish, but you’d have to look quite hard to tell the difference.

It will be a huge relief to some people to read that the ebook launch campaign is over. (If you’re one of those people, don’t bother reading this post – it will only extend the agony.) I must say I enjoyed pretty much all of it. I’ve done some things I haven’t done in a while and reminded myself that advertising, given the right product, is about as much fun as you can have while sober.

I’m now going to go into an Unnecessary Amount of Detail to explain why I did what I did and reveal what happened after I did it. It’s going to be a pretty dry post, but I’ll punctuate it with examples where appropriate.

From the top then.

October 31st

I published the brief on this blog. I had no idea what I was going to do after this, but as I explained in the post, a brief is a very useful device to focus the mind. The focus centres around a single thought that should be communicated (what adpeople call a “Proposition”) and all work that follows should have this at its core.

Before I go on, you should know that when something is published on this blog, it is automatically posted on the écovallée facebook page (which had about 60 likes on Oct 31) and the twitter account (which had about 220 followers at this point). People who actively follow the blog (not many, as I just moved from blogspot) are notified, presumably by email. I almost always shared the facebook posts to my facebook friends (numbering around 160 at this time).

Brief results

The blog was viewed 39 times that day

The blog post was viewed 18 times

The facebook post was viewed by 55 people

I sold 2 books (I hadn’t sold any books for the previous 13 days) – my only explanation is that the brief worked in the same way as a long-copy ad (see below)

November 1st

Woke up with a thought for a viral video, wrote it, shot it, wrote the music, recorded it, then cut it all together and published it by the end of the day. Had a blast.

Viral results

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 72 times

The blog post was viewed 12 times

The facebook post was viewed by 12 people – and I had one new ‘Like’

I didn’t log the video views, but it can’t have been many

November 2nd

I was a bit bummed that my viral video hadn’t gone global, so retweeted it to get the stats up. I followed this with a blog post linked to an interview about the book with “This French Life”. This was put up on their website the day before, but it gave me something new to publish without doing any actual work.

Interview results

By the end of the day, the blog had been viewed 109 times.

The interview post had been viewed 8 times

The facebook post had been viewed by 16 people

I made 2 sales

November 3rd

This was a Saturday, which I decided to take off, because all this time in front of a computer screen felt like a job and people with jobs like that don’t work weekends. I still kept an eye on the stats, though, because I don’t actually have a job like that. This is my life, instead.

By the end of the day the blog had been viewed 26 times.

The video had been viewed 26 times (cumulative), which is very far indeed from being viral. More like a sniff or a polite clearing of the throat that might not be anything at all.

November 4th

A Sunday.

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 38 times.

The video had been seen a far-too healthy 26 times.

November 5th

Published an ad with an offer. A creative director of mine in the States once showed me this pie chart about what makes people respond to advertising. From memory, by far the biggest slice of this pie was “Timing”. The second slice I remember being the “Offer”. Hence this execution. The idea with this launch campaign was to try a range of ads in a variety of styles. This ad didn’t have much style, but it did have something I hadn’t tried before – the money-back guarantee.

Offer results

By the day end, 38 blog views

Of which, 13 blog post views and

0 sales. A bit disappointing, but not upsetting. Because I was just about to publish…

November 6th

A long-copy ad. Ad theory has it that the more words you write, the more sales you make. This theory may have been written by a copywriter trying to keep their job, and fair play to that. I don’t particularly like writing long-copy ads. They take time. They need structuring. But I hadn’t written one for a long time and so I was happy to give it a shot. It did what the theory said it would do.

Long copy results

I got 2 re-tweets

I made 2 sales

I had 1 facebook share

I had 1 new blog “Like”

3 new twitter followers

The facebook post was seen by 15 people

By midnight, the blog had been viewed 98 times

The post had been seen 45 times

Some time ago, an agency client (who must have read a book or something) told me that people buy things for “pain or gain”. It’s a painfully slick soundbite and probably largely true. It’s also a good explanation as to why I was always very uncomfortable working in advertising – my job was to manipulate people into parting with their cash through the use of fear or greed, neither of which I think are ideas that should be promoted.

November 7th

When people talk about advertising, they’re often thinking of TV commercials or posters you see in the High Street. These are great fun and very easy to do, but something I didn’t get to do much during my career. So I did this, with a poster in mind. Obviously I did the art direction, typography and everything else, which would all be done by people with actual talent (and the ability to consume an alarming amount and range of intoxicants) in an agency setting. I didn’t expect much of a response, but it went down well – possibly the cumulative effect of the previous ad executions.

Awareness ad results

I got 3 sales

1 new twitter follower

1 new facebook page “Like”

45 facebook post views

49 blog views

21 blog post views

Obviously you could spin this to say I got 3 sales from 21 blog post views – a nearly 40% conversion rate – but this would be very misleading. So I’m not going to do anything of the sort. Stats, eh?

November 8th

Another ad classic is something called a “testimonial”. This is where someone talks about how happy they are with the product that’s being flogged. You are supposed to be convinced by this person on the street and rush out to buy your thneed (hat tip to Dr Seuss). I decided to invite people who had already read the book to give their feedback, thereby getting away without writing an ad at all.

Testimonial results

By the end of the day, the blog got 99 views

The blog post got 38 views

The facebook post got 23 views

And I got 1 sale

I wasn’t too upset by this result (it is, after all, a result), because I still had my banker up my sleeve.

November 9th

The charity ad. Many years ago, when I was working in Leicester, another copywriter was telling me about his housebuilder account. They always included animals in the ads, mainly kittens and puppies. He said they tried babies and foot traffic to the housing developments dropped through the floor – even varying the ethnicity didn’t help. So they went back to animals and the punters came back too.

Going off-brief for the first time, I decided to bring Pepito into the mix. Every cent raised by the book would be spent on the animals anyway, so I wasn’t being exactly dishonest. And I had the sneaking suspicion that it would, as the industry saying goes, “pull like a train”.

Charity results

I got 1 reblog

I got 4 facebook “Like”s

The facebook post was viewed 31 times

The facebook post was shared

The blog got 127 views

The blog post got 57 views

I made 10 sales

November 10th

A Saturday, and the end of the campaign.

The blog got 49 views

The viral video had 44 cumulative views

I made 1 sale

November 11th

A Sunday.

2 sales

In conclusion

You almost certainly know more about stats than me, so draw what conclusions you may from all of this. One thing that occurs to me, which I have suspected for a long time, is that social networking doesn’t work in the way I would want when it comes to sales. It seems great for getting people to look for missing children, and at iphotos, but I think it encourages people to be passive, their only activity being the mouse click to share (I may be out of date here – a double-tap on a screen might be the order of the day).

Having said that, there’s another ad industry expression that bears repeating: “Half of advertising doesn’t work. The trouble is, no one knows which half”.

I started doing twitter on the advice of a friend. But I didn’t see the point. Then one day we got a call from ITV asking if we’d be interested in appearing in a prime-time TV show. When I asked the Producer how he got to hear about us, he said it was through twitter. (Interesting result here, so far unpublished: After almost exactly 15 minutes of prime-time exposure on ITV, we had 1 booking. A terrifying stat in many ways.)

It wouldn’t be fair to finish without talking money. The work I put into this campaign could be very reasonably charged at £1,500. This would then be billed out by a small to medium agency at about £6,000 (that’s just for the writer – the art director, typographer and everyone else would add to that considerably). The campaign made, up to now (Monday 1am – I still don’t have that normal job, remember?) 26 sales. After fees and taxes, this leaves around €17. Not a particularly impressive result until you consider the budget was met at €0 – which gives an ROI (return on investment) of infinity.

In real terms, it will all buy Pepito three bales of hay.

A few years ago, I played piano for one hour in exchange for 40 bales of hay. It remains my most profitable gig so far.

And finally

There is one more thing. If sales continue at the current rate, I will start writing Part Two of “écovallee behind the seams“, entitled “Descent into Hell“, on May 1st 2015. I apologise for any distress this may cause. Especially to Nige, one of the most enthusiastic readers any writer could hope to reach.

Five years ago next week, we saved Pepito from the abattoir for the princely sum of €2,000.

He’d spent his working life pulling gypsy caravans full of tourists up and down the hills of the Dordogne. We thought he’d enjoy an easier life carrying suitcases for guests in the yurt camp we expected to open the following April.

We didn’t know he’d been put to work far too young, which permanently damaged his back. Or that he had arthritis in his legs. Or that, without a microchip or papers, he should have been given away or sold for his meat value of €800. And we couldn’t have imagined it would be years before the campsite was finally open.

We only knew that we wanted a working horse instead of a tractor and Pepito came along at the right time.

A very hungry horse

But apart from pulling a stubborn pine tree from the old pig woods and a little harrowing, Pepito has never worked in écovallée. Instead, he has eaten – acres of grass in the Summer, and tons hay in the Winter.

The only trouble is, hay is expensive. Last year, after a very dry Spring, Pepito’s hay cost €5 a bale from our local agricultural supplier. This year, they’re selling bales of this essential, life-giving feed for €6 each – even though it is more plentiful. It may not sound much, but it’s a crushingly huge increase for us, considering Pepito will eat one bale every day until the grass starts growing again in April.

Animal attraction

We don’t regret saving Pepito from the slaughterhouse. He doesn’t plough the field or carry luggage as we intended, but he does keep the grass down without the use of fossil fuels – and he does create mountains of manure for the veggie patch.

He is also the star attraction for many of our younger guests – and one reason why some families choose écovallée over other yurt camps. This big-bellied, gentle horse, will come running from the far corner of the valley at the sight of an apple, a carrot or a stale baguette held high, and stand patiently while his hair is turned into plaits.

He’s a beautiful, friendly beast we wouldn’t want to live without.

Pepito’s turn for some love

Even though écovallée has been a success since we’ve been open, all the money after tax has been reinvested in the campsite – on infrastructure like the spectacular solar shower, off-grid grey water treatment, perhaps the world’s most beautiful compost toilet, wooden floors for the yurts, new covers, furnishings and more.

Now the bulk of our work is done, it’s Pepito’s turn to receive the attention he deserves. Not only does he need good hay and oats to get through what might be another bitterly hard Winter, but we’d love to build him a field shelter to give him the option of getting out of the wind and rain for the first time in his life. The wood for the frame is waiting. We just don’t have the resources for walls or a roof.

How you can help

The reason we are making “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” available now, instead of waiting for a publisher, is to raise funds for Pepito. The €1 you spend, after fees, will keep him in hay for over two hours. For every 10 people who buy the book, we can feed Pepito for a whole day.

As the book describes, it was never our intention to be poor. Some people will say we shouldn’t even be keeping a horse. But we want Pepito to end his years in écovallée and we will do everything we can to make that happen.

We can do this together

One of the many things our experience has taught us is that living the sustainable, self-sufficient life is almost impossible for one small family unit. The sensible, practical way forward is through community. The community should ideally be made up of people living in the same area, sharing skills, tools and whatever support is necessary throughout the year. But thanks to the Internet, that community can include people from around the world.

If you can spare €1 to help feed Pepito, please do so. If you would like to buy a whole bale, better still – you will receive one copy of “The yurt camp, the English mafia and the French resistance” for every euro you spend. Your money can be redeemed against a holiday of any length at the écovallée yurt camp, at any point in the future. And you will receive a book that, as one reader puts it, is “€1 very well spent”.

We’re not a charity. We’re just a family doing our best to get through the Winter with our horse – which will be all the easier with your help.

Hay or nay? Say yay today!

To buy your book(s), visit the écovallée facebook shop and click on the sock monkey. Then enter the number of books you want to buy and pay with paypal. You will receive your copy (or copies) by email within moments. With all of our thanks.

To those of you who have been fabulous enough to buy the book so far, please take a moment to leave a comment on this post today.

All I would say is: Be honest. If you think the book is badly written, or not worth the €1 cover price, please say so. If you think everyone should read it, whether they’re leaving the country or not, say that instead.

Or whatever else springs to mind and keyboard.

To those of you waiting for something other than ebook marketing, you won’t have to wait long. Tomorrow will be the last post on the subject, except for the Impressive and Dramatic Conclusions I’m going to draw on Monday.