Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Blimey, did I really say that?

I'm reading a delightful novel at the moment: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The story is that of a Russian aristocrat who is placed under indefinite house arrest by the Communists in the 1920s for writing a subversive poem. And that house arrest is in one of the grandest hotels in Moscow. The story rambles around the hotel with the Count, the eccentric characters he meets and the absurd situations in which he finds himself.

One such is the Second Meeting of the First Congress of the Moscow Branch of the All-Russian Union of Railway Workers. The Union's Charter is under discussion, particularly the 7th sentence of the 2nd paragraph, which concludes with what we marketeers (shhhh!) might call a Mission:

"... to facilitate communication and trade across the provinces."

And, oh dear, does the word 'facilitate' ever come in for some stick! Far too tepid and prim to suggest pounding steel and rippling manly muscles and shovelling coal! Some alternatives are suggested, such as to spur, to propel and to empower, which all come into hot debate. Eventually:

"... a suggestion came from a shy-looking lad in the tenth row that perhaps 'to facilitate' could be replaced with 'to enable and ensure.' This pairing, the lad explained (while his cheeks grew red as a raspberry), might encompass not only the laying of rails and the manning of engines, but the ongoing maintenance of the system ..."

And so, after more hot debate, the alternative is adopted.

If that one amused you, you may also find that this tickles your fancy, too. Perfect for collecting a few meaningless phrases to throw into the next strategy meeting. And I don't think many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say we've never used this kind of lingo.

I'm convinced that when researchers from the future find some of our strategy documents, they'll be as bemused as if those documents were in Russian - or Ancient Greek.

Talking of which ...


Friday, 7 July 2017

Local (retail) hero



Now and again you think of a brand that gets it just right. A couple of weeks ago I visited the flagship store of a retailer just down the road from us, and thought: Jawohl!

Quite often, the shining examples of hero brands that get regurgitated again and again in Powerpoints are brands that we marketers blab on about about, but don't actually use or experience. Or they are from some funky new techy category, enabled by mobile blah blah.

Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG  is none of these. It's a German workwear retailer, a family firm that was founded in 1948 and still run by the son and grandsons of the original Engelbert. Norbert, Steffen and Henning, should you be interested.

The story goes back even further, as the great-grandfather Strauss was a trader in brooms and brushes. It was his son Engelbert who founded the firm and soon added gloves and protective workwear to his wares. In the 60s and 70s, he started mail order and a catalogue and there are still people in the local area who recall 'Engelbert Strauss in his van selling brooms.'

The 90s saw two giant leaps for the company - opening their headquarters and logistics centre and starting e-commerce in 1998. And in the 21st century they have come on in leaps and bounds to become the well-loved workwear/outdoor brand, successful company and award-winning employer that they are today.

It's maybe because Engelbert Strauss started in mail order that omnichannel thinking has come naturally to them. The workwear stores are a fairly recent development and these embody the idea of 'retail experience' at its best. Design is at the heart of the brand - look at the neat little details like saws on the end of the zippers - and this shows in the design of the stores.

Everything is themed around the joy of handwork from the installations of tools on the walls:


to the children's play area:


The company claim also comes to life in the provisions for co-workers, which include a fitness centre, Wellness area, their own trattoria, ice cream vendors and cafe complete with chill-out music.

What is the claim? Enjoy work. 

Well, I'll try to.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

O Canada

I make no apologies for today's post being low on words and high on visuals and nostalgia. I've commented before that the Canadian flag is one of the best logos going, and what better way to celebrate Canada's 150 years today than with a parade of Canadian brands.

I visited Canada as a young girl in 1967, the year of the Centennial. It wasn't my first visit - that was as a toddler - but this was the visit where I think Canadian brands first made an impression on me. In these days of globalisation, it's very easy to forget that there were days when almost all brands were unfamiliar when you travelled abroad, and they were crucial in building up your picture of that country overall. The roadside signs, the posters, the packaging - they all seemed exotic and wonderful, even if they were commonplace for those that lived there.

I've subsequently found out that some of my original 'Canadian Brands' were more correctly 'American'. Those things that interest young children like popcorn - with a surprise toy:

Or sweets - sorry, candy:

Or diners serving Snoopy's favourite - Root Beer:


But there was another side to Canadian Brands - a sophisticated, grown-up dreamland of shiny locomotives and aeroplanes, with elegantly-dressed passengers clinking glasses, gliding over, or through, acres of breathtaking landscape:









And here are more wonderful Canadian images on the I.Am:Canadian Pinterest board.

Happy Birthday, Canada!



Thursday, 29 June 2017

Logo to Go

The Michelin Man, Bibendum, has to be one of my favourite brand characters. So I've been slightly wary in the last couple of weeks on hearing that the Michelin Man has been 'slimmed down' and made 'more in tune with the 21st century.' But I think all the cries of 'pandering to the pc-police' aren't warranted. The new-look Michelin Man, above, is his jolly, friendly, dynamic self and would still probably command a BMI above 25. In fact, I welcome the return to a 2-D look - far more classic and adaptable than its 3-D predecessor.

The Michelin Man was conceived by the Michelin brothers Andre and Edouard in the 1890s, who remarked, on seeing a pile of tyres: Look, with arms it would be a man.

The famous poster that launched Bibendum's career was illustrated by the cartoonist Marius Rossillon, aka O'Galop. Here is some more of his work for Michelin:


I love the style of some of the early posters, even if some of Bibendum's accessories might be deemed 'inappropriate' today.


Quite the ladies' man - and look at those shapely calves!


Don't drink/smoke and drive? Ah, well.


You can have my spare tyre?


Spot the Beau Geste influence. Or was it The Desert Song?


Ton-up tyreman? No helmet necessary.

And he's still popular today with the meme set.

Maybe all this goes to show that sometimes random, intuitive thoughts ("...it would be a man") lead to better longevity for company logos and mascots than painstaking definition of brand values, essences and character traits and the careful construction of brand models.

Bibendum is a character that has taken his company from bike tyres to the 21st century 'mobility' market. I'll leave you with a picture of him and some of his advertising chums having a bit of a shindig on the London Underground.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Creative direction by numbers?

I've already bemoaned - or at least questioned - the use of 'predictive software' in the film industry, both here and here. And I see the phrase 'data-driven decisions' everywhere I turn, it seems.

The latest company I've become aware of plying their wares in this are is ScriptBook whose tagline is 'Hard Science. Better Box Office.' Moving on from the 'Hard Science,' they have quite a hard sell - 'subjective decisions lead to box office failure.' And they have the data to back it up. 87% of films lose money.

Now, there may be something wrong in the logic that making a film involves subjective decisions, and most films lose money therefore subjective decisions mean failure, but anyway. What ScriptBook  offer is Script2Screen, which employs artificial intelligence to analyse screenplays, delivering an objective assessment of a script's commercial and critical success. Out with hunches, intuition, bias, gut feeling and in with fairness and objectivity.

Not only do ScriptBook promise commercial and critical success, but innovation and originality, too:
'At ScriptBook, we believe that by unifying technology and storytelling, we will enhance innovation and bring back originality in film and television.'

Eh?

Do tell me how a 'predictive algorithm' which works by looking at a database of existing scripts can bring back originality? Unless it means oh, RomComs are successful and so are Zombie films and Historical Biographical, so let's have Gandhi meeting a zombie for a madcap affair.

Let's go back to the data-driven decisions. I remember a few years ago, panic about how e-commerce would destroy existing bricks and mortar retailers. But what's happened is not an 'either or' situation. Everyone is going multichannel in retailing.

It's the same with data. In the same way that Millward Brown and other pre-testing research agencies used to claim to 'predict' the success of your TV spot based on the analysis of their database of tested commercials, companies like ScriptBook are no different. it's just that there's even more data, and what we can do with that data is ever more sophisticated.

Perhaps data-informed is better than data-driven. 'Driven' suggests someone cracking a whip at a herd of cattle. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, while speaking about House of Cards: 'We start with the data ... but the final call is always gut. It's informed intuition.'

Before we leave this subject, here's some light relief for my German-speaking friends. Who needs artificial intelligence when you have monkeys? Comedian Jan Böhmermann composed this smash-hit single with the help of monkeys who chose which of either the four most frequent words in German Chart Hits ('Menschen' 'Leben' 'Tanzen' 'Welt' ) or phrases from TV commercials should come next in the lyrics:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Don't just find your purpose

In the current depressing political atmosphere following the UK general election, I've been looking around to find something more upbeat and inspiring. I get the impression that it's time for some new blood on the UK political scene. It's positive that the younger people turned out in greater numbers to vote than for the referendum. Let's hope some of them get inspired to be more involved, actually change things. It can be done. This young man, at 33, is the youngest person to deliver a Commencement Speech at Harvard.



Mark - now Doctor - Zuckerberg addressed today's graduates as being from his generation. - the Millennials. His main message was about purpose:

My message was about purpose. As millennials, finding our purpose isn't enough. The challenge for our generation is to create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose.

What Mark Zuckerberg was saying is don't just pin your purpose on your (Facebook) wall, like a corporate mission statement, but get out and get doing. Where are the new generation-defining public works?

It's a good message for brands, too. So much time is spent in workshops and brainstorms trying to find a purpose, and even more in trying to articulate it. Your purpose doesn't have to be high-and-mighty . But once you've got it, get out there and do something with it.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Passing off and faking usually involves a one-way traffic: downwards on the price scale. But a month ago - or so - an amusing story made a bit of buzz on social media as the designer Balenciaga brought out a tote bag costing around $2,000 that appeared remarkably similar to the famous IKEA FRAKTA blue bag which costs, well, about a two thousandth of that.

IKEA responded in typical IKEA style - see above. This response has all the IKEA hallmarks - a quirky sense of humour and a matter-of-fact pride about the product - and its low price.

The story could have stopped there, but it didn't. It could well have been IKEA's participation that fuelled a whole host of hacks, some of which are more fun and comfortable-looking than others. You'll see what I mean if you click here.

And the great thing is that IKEA didn't walk away from the party. They stayed, and joined in with the fun. It's difficult to tell which of those ideas come direct from IKEA and which from the outside hackers, and it doesn't matter. IKEA have even made a short how-to film on the subject:



And maybe the FRAKTA bag deserves celebration in its own right, too, as a symbol of what IKEA stands for.  Maybe it should become a film star. It just so happens that IKEA have thought of that too: