Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Insights or Insight? In which the singular is probably more valuable than the plural.

It seems popular in marketing circles to talk, in a kind of pseudo-scientific way, in plurals where the original word is better known in the singular. Learnings, behaviours and, of course, insights.

It didn't really occur to me until I read this excellent blog post by Martin Weigel (careful if you're at work - the accompanying illustration is rather more racy than the one above) that there's a world of difference between some people's use of the word "insights" and the general meaning of "insight."

Insight in the singular is one of the abilities, facilities or ways of thinking that a good planner - or in fact, any ad person - should have. Having insight is one of those uniquely human abilities, along with intuition, intelligence and empathy. It's getting behind the facts, the observed data, to the why. An insightful creative brief should lead to creative work that connects to people, giving the advertiser relevance in their lives.

However, there is a growing tendency to put "insights", in the plural, on a pedestal as an end in themselves, to fetishise them, if you like. And the "insights" referred to here are invariably Things, not an ability or way of thinking. These Things are sentences, phrases, whose wording is discussed ad infinitum and whose claim to wear the insight crown is debated hotly before they are included in a box on the creative brief. In the worst case, with a dictate that the Insight should be dramatised in the execution.

Equally worrying is the idea that these Insights can be "generated" via some kind of process.

I would far rather see a creative brief that is insightful than one jam-packed with these kind of "insights."

So, let's kick off that "s" when we are talking about insight. And let's not start talking about "knowledges" or "understandings" either!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Brand Bravery

Over the last ten years, one of my favourites amongst those email digest thingies that you sign up for is the newsletter from Contagious. It's so much more intelligent than those dreadful lists of lists that LinkedIn is convinced will appeal to me. Contagious is a magazine that's been going for 10 years now and moves from old-school marketing into the intersection between marketing, culture and technology.

The recent digest contained a link to an article from one of the co-founders, Paul Kemp-Roberston, entitled The Contagious Commandments: Ten Steps to Brand Bravery.

It's really rather good, so here are those 10 steps, with my comments:

1. Be useful, relevant and entertaining - or at least, as Meatloaf would say, two out of three ain't bad. This is what it's all about - value
2. Be generous: don't ask what's in it for you, ask what's in it for them - or better still these days, what's in it for us
3. Have a purpose - or go home
4. Join the 5% club - this is all about experimentation - but for me it's about testing in the market and "just doing it" rather than behind-the-scenes research
5. Ask heresy questions - this is an oldie but goodie - but these days, we should think about what exactly is heresy. To me, increasingly, it might be about being non-PC. Really going against the grain. Breaking some of these terribly right-on commandments, even
6. Align with behaviour - fine, just as long as you don't become a stalker
7. Good technology is not an excuse for a bad idea - Yes! I'm looking at all those pointless apps that exist "just because you can"
8. Prioritise experience over innovation - this is connected to the last one. It's all about real world, real people
9. With great data comes great responsibility - too true. Privacy is already a huge issue for brands. And, mirroring my comments on technology, don't collect data just because you can. If you're not going to use it, put your energies elsewhere.
10. Weaponize your audience - the author himself points out the irony of this one, having poured scorn on military metaphors earlier on in the article. The point is to make sure you are empowering your customers, not exploiting them, which brings us back to the bold fellows of the Light Brigade pictured.

In the end, brave brands need brave people behind them.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Brands at the Museum

Back in the last century, working at Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the highlights of a visit to my clients at Harvey's of Bristol was a visit to the Harvey's Wine Museum. Located in dockyard cellars, the museum had a slightly raffish air, a teeny bit disreputable car boot sale of a place with its dusty decanters and blowsy barrels. The highlight was a drawing of the historic occasion in the 19th century during which a lady sherry-tasting proclaimed 'if that be the milk, then this is the cream.'

I'm not sure if the museum still exists, but brand museums are now all the rage. Not just museums of packaging and print ads and other ephemera, but museums or even theme parks dedicated to one particular brand.

There's the McDonalds No. 1 Store Museum (housed in a replica of the first restaurant opened by Ray Kroc in Des Plaines), the Willy Wonka-esque Cadbury World, the nostalgic Colman's Mustard Museum and Shop in Norwich, the Levis Strauss Museum in the home of his birth in Buttenheim. And almost every brand has a virtual museum of sorts on their website these days.

Whether it's food, drink, fashion or cars, all these brands have a story or two to tell, and enough belief in their meaning to the general public out there. Maybe the idea of a museum ties in well with the increasing fashionability of Brand Curators.

One brand museum due to open in 2016 will be the IKEA Museum, in the first IKEA store which is being restored to its 1950s glory. And there's a chance to participate here, with your own stories of BILLY and KLIPPAN.

Maybe this is the ultimate test for Marketing Directors - or Brand Curators - does my brand have enough magic, meaning and affection to warrant a museum?  

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Alcohol is not the solution. Or is it?

Did you have a few drinks too many on New Year's Eve? Was one of your resolutions to give up the booze, or at least have a dry January? If so, you may just find your creative problem-solving ability diminished.

Thinking back to my early days in advertising, there were a lot of long and liquid lunches which inevitably spawned some pretty damn good ideas, creative and strategic. Certainly, it seemed a more effective method than locking everyone in a "workshop" to drown in Post-It notes.

I'm now quite amused to see a new product which, on the basis of "scientific research", enables you to get to the optimum alcohol level for creative problem-solving: The Problem Solver Beer. 'A delicious way to reach your creative peak'.

Apparently, creative thinking peaks at a level of 0.075 percent alcohol, which is achieved through drinking half the bottle if you're a slim woman, or the whole lot if you are a relatively chunky man. There's a useful scale on the bottle calibrated to indicate your intake for optimum creativity. 'All you have to do is drink and think.'

Professor Jennifer Wiley on the University of Illinois at Chicago is quoted on the brand's website, saying that - amazing, this -  alcohol may help by making people less focussed which can open their minds to new and novel possibilities.

Well, I never!

I think I prefer red wine, though.

Cheers, and here's to plenty of creative problem solving in 2015!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Underground Art

I'm not too sure how much of the "communications content" that I've been involved in over the last 30 years will be around in 80 or 90 years, if any of it. So let me take the opportunity of showing you some of my all-time favourite Christmas ads. They're all London Underground posters from the 1920s and 1930s - a less throwaway age - which I am sure did their job in their time, as well as brightening up people's days as they struggled from Hamleys to Fortnum & Mason. Above is a 1925 poster by Richard T.Cooper.

Clients had important messages back in those days too, of course, but no-one seems to have been insisting that the visual communicated the message as well as the copy. These examples are from Austin Cooper, 1923 and Horace Taylor, 1924.
Coca Cola didn't have the monopoly on the red-suited Father Christmas in the 1930s. This 1934 poster is from an artist named Anna Katrina Zinkeisen
And finally, from 1932, Dudley Dyer's Merry Christmas all around the town!

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!