Friday, 19 December 2014

Charity Past, Present and Future

My memories of charity giving from childhood centre around coins and things - collecting boxes for the Lifeboats being rattled in the town, poppies or Queen Alexandra roses to pin on your coat, my RSPCA and PDSA badges, the Oxfam cards my parents bought each Christmas, putting pennies into a life-size model of a Guide Dog for the blind, raffle tickets...

These days, giving to charity has become not just easier to do, but easier to shout about, too. Buttons on your browser instead of your coat, crowdfunding platforms, Gift Aid, posting your donation on Facebook, PayPal links, timely emails whenever a world disaster occurs and all the rest.

And then there are all those big behavioural campaigns where you can be a walking awareness-raiser, from Movember to No Make-Up Selfie to Ice Bucket Challenge. These have come in for criticism on one side from those who say such actions trivialise the issues that they are trying to create awareness for, and find something sinister in what they see as "branding a disease." And the critics, on the other side, are dismissed as cynical killjoys with a bah, humbug mentality.

It's difficult to tell whether people are actually giving more to charity these days, or whether they are just talking about it more. There are some interesting stats from the Charities Aid Foundation, here. I must say that I was surprised to see which country shares first place with the USA in the World Giving Index.

The World Giving Index is not just about donating money. It also include the elements of giving up time and helping a stranger. And this must be the future for charities - using the possibilities of technology to encourage people to donate not just money, but time, skills and other intangibles. There's a super article by Lucy Aitken of Contagious with some great examples of just that, here.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Shopping, shopping everywhere

A few years back, the world of online and offline/bricks and mortar retailing had a definite vs between the two factions, presented as an epic duel, swords unleashed, between the old guard and the young upstarts.

But a mediator has stepped in and changed all that. And this mediator takes the form of SmartPhones and other mobile devices. The trend now is that it's not either/or, but both and better. Ads from online retailers that criticise the bricks and mortar world - and vice versa - look dated indeed.

A brand that characterises this meshing of the physical and digital retail worlds perfectly is Hointer which recently won the Most Contagious Start-Up Award. Hointer is a technology platform that enables bricks and mortar retailers to leap into the brave new world where physical and digital are meshed together. As founder Nadia Shouraboura says: "Now it's time to bring digital and physical together to make it spectacular."

To me it's a metaphor for progress and creativity in all fields: reconcile two seemingly opposing factions and create something brilliant. The Whoosh Fitting Room in the video above is certainly evidence of that!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Cuspidors and Catamenials

I've just read an amusing article from The Economist about euphemisms in marketing. It's about those products that most of the human race need at some time or another but we don't like referring to them - or the problem they solve - in polite company, or seeing lurid demos of the product's efficacy on our TV screens while we're eating.

I've never worked on the SanPro market (as we referred to it in the UK, aka 'feminine hygiene') but I have noticed that there's a bit of a movement away from the cliches in recent advertising, to the "heavily emotional and empowering" or to the "blunt and outrageous." But in other areas, twee euphemism still reigns. Nappies/diapers for school age children are called "sleepovers" or "pyjama pants."

I wonder, with the increasing number and purchase power of over 60s, whether we'll see a surge in acceptability of products and brands that were previously bought in plain brown wrappers or, at any rate, as discretely as possible, from constipation remedies to denture cleaners to incontinence pads.

Talking of which, I do remember being amused by P&G explaining that their collective term for SanPro and Adult Incontinence products was Catamenials. And, better still, my cabin crew friends at British Airways were told to refer to sick bags as Cuspidors.

Cuspidors and Catamenials. It sounds almost Shakespearian!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

From Motoring to Mobility

Cars, or should I say Automobiles, were one of the obsessions of my generation. As children, boys and girls alike poured over Observer's Books. We collected Matchbox Toys, Dinky Toys, Corgi Toys. We were given a pedal car as a special present. We helped Mum and Dad wash their cars (by hand) and watched the neighbours polishing up their cars. On Sundays, it wasn't unusual to go out for a drive. Not to get from A to B but simply for the whole family to enjoy motoring.

The automobiles in those days were works of art - beautiful and characterful - and those still running can make us gasp today. And a few years later, in the 80s and early 90s, success was measured by what you managed to land as a company car, as well as the size of your wage packet.

Children these days still play with cars, of course, and brands such as Hot Wheels, which I remember from my childhood, are still with us. But there has been a fundamental shift in the way we think about cars - as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

In the same way that many younger people these days don't have a landline, more and more young people, particularly those in cities, don't own a car. The car-sharing market, made possible by technology, is booming. Car-sharing, whereby one can set up an account, rather like a phone account, and have almost instant access to vehicles on a pay-by-trip basis has been driven (arf, arf) largely by companies of German-speaking origin. Brands like the Swiss Mobility and car2go - recently arrived in Frankfurt - are leading the way.

As trends go, Car-sharing ticks plenty of boxes. There's the meshing of the real and virtual world, the sharing economy, urbanisation, sustainability and so on. It's also a way for established brands - both car manufacturers and traditional car rental companies - to refresh their image and to be at the forefront of innovation.

Who knows - maybe one of these brands will introduce Classic Car Sharing, combining the dreams of childhood with the technology of today.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Rewarding or sinister?

In my psychology student days, I was always rather wary of Behaviourism, that school of thought that says that psychology should be all about observable behaviour rather than unobservable events that take place in people's minds. Perhaps it was due to an uncomfortable feeling that the richness of human experience could simply be compared to rats pressing levers in cages to get a reward or a shock.

The language and principles of behaviourism, such operant conditioning - the modification of voluntary behaviour through reinforcement and punishment - have found their way into many aspects of life today and this is not necessarily a bad thing if those involved are acting with everyone's best interests in mind. We use rewards frequently in parenting and for our own self-improvement ("if I manage to lose 5kg I'll reward myself with a new pair of jeans.")

From Green Shield Stamps to AirMiles, brands have long used the idea of rewarding purchasing behaviour to build loyalty. And technology today means that brands also have the potential to reward other behaviours via wearable devices and smartphones. Trendwatching have identified "Currencies of Change" in their 10 Trends for 2015. The trend is sub-titled "because good behaviour should no longer be its own reward".

Some of the examples cited, such as a brand donating to a food bank when users try low-calorie recipes, are laudable. But as I read on, I began to feel uneasy, as I did with Skinner's caged rats. Not only did I feel that some of these "rewards" were treating adult humans as children (or worse still, lab rodents) but there seems something sinister about people being "rewarded" - sometimes financially - for something that they should be doing anyway. For example, a bank was mentioned that moves money into a higher-interest account for every step taken while jogging, or cyclists and motorists being rewarded for not using their mobile phones while cycling and driving.

Behavioural methods can be useful in the treatment of phobias, addictions and other psychological problems, but it's not the place of a brand to do this.

It's another example of "just because you can do it doesn't mean you should."

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Plug Ugly Brands

So many brands push for perfection. They want to offer a seamless service, a consistent experience. They claim to be passionate about high quality and strive to be the "gold standard" or "best in class".

But rather like a race of Brad Pitt lookalikes with 150 average IQ, doesn't this all become a little tiresome and, dare I say it, bland?

An alternative is to celebrate the odd, the eccentric, the ugly, the characterful. One of my favourite examples is the Intermarche Inglorious Fruits & Vegetables campaign. Although, having said that, this is far more than a campaign - it's one of those brilliant ideas that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, like a good bowl of soup.

At Intermarche, the potato with a waspie waist, the aubergine that looks like an alien and the carrots that require an 18 certificate all get sold 30% cheaper as Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables. And they already have their own sub-brand or spin-off of soups and fruit juices, as it all tastes the same once it goes through the blender.

War on waste, increased sales for Intermarche and smiles on the faces of your customers. It's a marketing dream.

And on a similar theme, on the other side of the earth in Melbourne,  is a restaurant which serves tasty soups and other dishes made from "organic waste" aka overripe or ugly vegetables. The name? Brothl. Brilliant!


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Best use of (negative) space

I have to admit to loving logos. Not all those horrid swooshy ones, or whatever you get from 99designs, but clever, artfully designed logos with an idea - and a meaning. Or several meanings.

There's a wonderful collection of 40 brand logos with hidden messages here (care of oomph! who have a pretty good logo of their own). Some I've seen before, some are new to me. Some are just brilliant, like the Shelter logo with the "h" made into a house - so simple. Or the Baskin Robbins logo with its pink 31 in the middle. Or, seeing as I'm in Germany, the super Kölner Zoo logo above, complete with cathedral using up the negative space.

All good communication, from logos to TV ads, works best when there are layers of meaning for people to discover. These may work at the subconscious level and quite often the creative people involved will be consciously unaware of the symbolism that they have built into the design or ad. This is because most good creative people work with symbols instinctively, without any dreary analysis of the "which stimulus can we throw into this to trigger X response" sort.

But of course those layers of meaning are in the eye of the beholder and it's worth checking that your brand new logo doesn't have too much unintentional undesirable meaning. There are plenty of logos with hidden swastikas or dubious sexual acts to be seen in the internet, too!