Saturday, 4 July 2015

Advertising - what is it good for?

I've never been to Cannes, mainly because in my advertising agency heyday back in the last century, it just wasn't the done thing for planners to go along to this sort of jamboree. It was a rare account person that got to go, come to think of it. Of course, things are different now. There are all sorts of geeks there now from clients to planners of various persuasions to all kinds of techy people. I'm not even sure if creatives still attend.

In the aftermath of Cannes, there has been a spate of articles bemoaning the state of the industry, questioning what exactly Cannes is celebrating and asking the question - who is advertising actually for these days? Here are some that caught my eye:

Tracey Follows, in the The Guardian asks When will advertising ever again be about the people it serves? It's a thought-provoking piece, slightly let down by the ghastly c-word (you know what I mean) when talking about people, about how advertisers' obsession with technology has meant a trade-off in humanity.

Sean Boyle, of BrainJuicer argues that those creating advertising have become over-thinkers, too tricksy, too enamoured of technology and technique - 'how much time we spend nervously over-thinking what never, ever needed to become this difficult.' His simple solution: Aim for Fame.

Keith Weed's speech from Cannes is also worth a look. He's the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever. His argument is that we've moved from Marketing To People (broadcasting to a captive audience) to Marketing With People (curating and creating with an audience) and we should move to Marketing For People (connecting purpose with purchase).

I'm not sure I buy that. Surely marketing was always about people - finding out what moves and motivates them, developing products and services that meet their needs and desires, and communicating these in a compelling way. And I think the image of the captive audience is a myth. We had remote controls to flick through channels back in the last century - and there were some great ads around that you didn't want to fast forward, in the UK at any rate. Maybe he means 'captivated audience'?!

That little disagreement aside, I like what he's saying - purpose and purchase, engaging people's hearts, not about technology but ideas, yes, yes, tick, tick.

The final link is also to the Guardian, a piece by Tom Goodwin from Havas, who argues that advertising is 'an industry that's in love with technology and itself, not the people it purports to sell to.' Now, while it's a great article, I think there's the same slight problem with vocabulary. Yes, you sell to people. But have we ever marketed to them? I'll leave you with a great quote form the article:

I’ve never met anyone who has seen a vending machine reward them for laughing, I’ve never walked through a door marked ugly, got a Coke from a drone, or been offered a crisp packet with my face on. I’ve never had a friend share their personalised film, I’ve not seen outdoor ads that are also street furniture or had an ATM give me a funny receipt. I’ve not received a magazine with a near field communication thing and I’ve not had a virtual reality experience outside advertising conferences. I’ve not once seen a member of the public 3D print anything. The one thing that binds together the more than 200 Cannes winners I’ve seen, is that they are ads only advertising people have a good chance of seeing. I’m not sure that’s what the industry should be about.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Daddy Cool

The advertising and marketing industry has a current obsession with women. It's a strange thing, as the top echelons of power in agencies are still dominated by men. The barrage of campaigns in the last few years "celebrating moms", "empowering girls", "embracing plus size bodies" almost feels like a smokescreen, put up to distract mumsnet and other pressure groups from the real issues.

In all of this, dads get lost. Is there a dadsnet? I'm not sure. But there is an interesting new study out from Y&R Toronto, which looks into dads in North America in terms of their shopping behaviour and relationship with brands. It's called Who's Your Daddy?  - and more details can be found here.

Maybe not surprisingly, given the way parenthood has changed even in the last few years, with paternity leave becoming the norm, the authors of the study conclude that dads are well-worth targeting by advertisers. Fathers are less frugal and bargain-hunting than mothers, more brand loyal than men in general and especially younger fathers (under 35) see "dad" as a real badge of honour.

Is it time for the Mad Men to out themselves as Dad Men?

Monday, 22 June 2015

Pre-teen Queen

The Queen is coming to Frankfurt on Thursday, and, despite never having had the slightest inclination to join the throngs at Buckingham Palace all the years that I lived in London, I may just go along to have a peek, for fun. I guess it's the same sort of ex-pat patriotism that has me carrying my iPhone in a Union Jack cover.

I have a pet theory which says that the Queen's generation may be the longest-lived generation of all time. Although I'm not a fan of all that generation twaddle that makes sweeping statements about tastes, views, beliefs of entire cohorts of people around the globe, I think it's fair to say that people born in the Western world in the 20s and 30s (assuming they survived the war) escaped the worst of poverty and infectious diseases yet managed to attain adulthood before diets got completely crammed with dubious chemicals. Even in my day, an obese child in the class was an exception. Look at films of London in the 1950s on YouTube and there are very few overweight people to be seen.

This generation was probably the last to escape the greedy clutch of commerce and advertising. The word "teenager" first appeared in 1941, but the term was not really in common use and associated with "youth culture" until the 1950s, by which time these people were starting families. Elvis would have been 80 this year, but even someone born in 1939 may have considered themselves too old to have been screaming at his hip-swivelling antics in the late 50s. And marketers aren't terribly interested in this age-group, with most surveys having a cut-off point at 65.

I wonder if the Queen has ever worn jeans? For those that spent their teenage years during wartime or the immediate post-war period, jeans are not an automatic uniform. But the Queen's generation certainly can't be accused of lacking in style. Many of Hollywood's most glamorous actresses belong to this generation, and there continues to be interest in them today, as fashion role models - see this article on Tim Walker's Granny Alphabet in Sturm und Drang, or the blog Advanced Style

Too old for rock & roll, too old to be teens, to wear jeans, this generation is also the last not to have flocked en masse to social media. But, strangely, the younger generations find plenty in their lifestyle to admire - The Women's Institute, the vegetable garden, gin, twin-sets and cupcakes are all enjoying revivals.

A quick internet search tells me that people born between 1925 and 1942 have been dubbed 'The Silent Generation'. It's apt, in a way, but I do ask myself if that silence is self-imposed, a wise choice.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A big yawn

Sometimes you don't need deep philosophical insight for a great piece of brand communication, just a simple observation used in a smart way.

I love this promotion from Brazil for the brand Cafe Pele. From advertising agency Lew'Lara/TBWA, the idea uses a poster of a man's face on an underground platform in Sao Paulo. Sensor technology means that the poster yawns every time a commuter comes near. The more people approach, the more yawning, which, as everyone knows. is contagious. The result - a yawning epidemic.

At that point, Cafe Pele girls pop up with the solution - shots of espresso.

The Contagious Billboard is a super idea of what you can do to get attention for your brand, catching people in the right mood, in the right place, at the right time. Anything but a big yawn!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Mad Man

Given that ad agencies are crammed full of writers, it's a surprise that there aren't more novels set in the world of advertising. Although a few copywriters make the transition into full-blown author-hood - Salman Rushdie and Fay Weldon spring immediately to mind -  they tend to avoid the agency and their former workplace as subject matter, perhaps wanting to distance themselves from it.

Films and TV series seem a more fruitful fictional home for ad people, especially since Mad Men has graced our screens in all its Martini-era glory. And every now and then, a film will pop up featuring an ad man whose conscience gets the better of him, such as Crazy People or What Women Want.

Looking at the handful of novels there are, the most obvious route seems to be to play it for laughs, as in the books by Matt Beaumont. There is dark humour and satire, too in Frederic Beigbeder's 99 Francs, of which I have an English translation that suffers a little, apparently, from the transplantation out of its native tongue. I even admit to having made a start to an ad agency saga myself, with a friend, in the early 90s. It was third-rate chick lit and thankfully, we soon got bored with the project.

I was therefore pleased to come across The Zoo, by ad man Jamie Mollart. He has taken the bold step of writing serious fiction about a completely obnoxious advertising director on a self-destructive downward spiral. I should say as a warning that, despite its title, there's nothing remotely fluffy here. It's a gripping, gritty, nightmarish tale with no holds barred. And it pays off - best if I leave you with my review from amazon and recommend that you read The Zoo yourself:

Almost everyone I know who has worked in advertising or marketing has had attacks of conscience, from the small twinges of "isn't this all a bit trivial" to the full blown attacks of "why I am wasting my life and talents as the mouthpiece for dubious companies." For James Marlowe in "The Zoo", the full blown attack surfaces as part of a heavy cocktail of drink, drugs and family problems as the once-successful ad man's life smashes and fragments into psychosis. "The Zoo" intersperses chapters chronicling this descent into madness with chapters where James is in a psychiatric hospital, his thoughts dominated by "The Zoo" of the title - an enigmatic collection of toy figures. Are these malevolent, or do they represent meaning and possibly redemption?

This story is original and compelling, and like the substances James abuses, totally addictive. The descriptions of the psychotic episodes are nightmarish and visceral - there are touches of William Burroughs here, as well as Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis. It's an ambitious work, with plenty of social commentary as well as a fascinating glimpse into the subject of blood minerals, via the fictitious African country, Nghosa.

The ad agency lifestyle portrayed is recognisable to anyone who has worked in the business, but I felt it reflected the way things were in the last decades of the last century, rather than how things are today. Advertising agencies in the 21st century are struggling to survive, and have had their wings of excess cut by the bean-counters.

However, I'm pleased that the author created the obnoxious anti-hero James Marlowe. It makes a change to read a story about someone who has next to no redeeming features, but in whom you can recognise (unfortunately) some of your own worst characteristics. "The Zoo" has something in common in this respect with Frederic Beigbeder's "9.99" - it's a mirror to the dark side of ourselves.

Not easy subject matter, but very easily read, "The Zoo" gets a thumbs-up from me.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Guilty Generation

OK, my generation is probably guilty. Of all that generational cohort naming business, that is. I was born at the end of the Baby Boomer generation, and I think it's us that named ourselves, then went on labelling subsequent generations. Previous generations were, I think, too busy fighting wars and surviving the after-effects of wars to bother about something so trivial.

Now that even the youngest Baby Boomers are over 50, all of us that still work in advertising have got over all those "oh my God, I feel so ancient, everyone else is younger than me" moments and it's now funny to watch our younger Gen X or Y colleagues nervously looking over their shoulders at the next cohort to come along. And the attitude of the authors of such articles is always a sort of make-the-reader-believe-I'm-one-of-this-generation-they-are-just-so-great tone.

Here's an example from Brand Republic: Forget Millenials, brands need to win over Generation Z. The imaginatively-named Generation Z are those born mid 1990s to mid 2000s, so today's teenagers. The article is full of wisdom such as "they are active rather than passive" and "books and music are downloaded, games are played online..." or "they want to be part of debates, they want to feel involved in world issues - look at the recent hit of the Ice Bucket Challenge." There are facts, too: "They make up a quarter of the UK population and have huge spending power." Hmmm, yes, given that half of them aren't legally allowed to work, I wonder where the huge spending power comes from...  now, here's a clue: There's even a chipper head of an ad agency gushing in a Proud Mummy way about how "lucky" she is to have "classic Gen Z" daughters - the engaged, active and empowered young things have started a group called Teenage Feminists!

I have blogged about this stuff before, and I know that it's really just a bit of fluffy marketing fun. But I would warn against taking it too seriously, or basing your entire marketing plan on it. Remember where it comes from: 12-19s saying in a survey (probably online) what they think, believe, do.

For a real look at teenage attitudes, try a WhatsApp chat - you'll be lucky to find a monosyllable amongst the candy necklaces of emoticons. Or for teenage behaviour, try mumsnet for vile things found in teenage rooms - although, who knows, maybe these are all made up, too.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Anyone for Pimm's?

I've blogged about seasonality before, and it's now that wonderful strawberries and asparagus (and yes, you can eat them together) season here in Germany. And back in Blighty, it's time for a Pimm's. Pimm's have been quite smart with their marketing in the last few years, making a choice to throw all their media budget into a seaside bucket and associate the brand with the Great British Summer in all its unpredictability.

Their latest clever trick is a nifty use of digital technology in the form of posters that activate when the temperature goes above 21°C. Now, that's what I call working with audience receptivity!

Pimm's have always been pretty good at marketing, it seems. This article looks at the phenomenon of the Pimm's Party in the 1950s/1960s, when the Pimm's bottle looked like this:
21st century marketers can learn plenty from this 360° Participative Co-Created Big Brand Idea, as I guess we'd call it today. Pimm's provided invitations for the party, suggestions for Jolly Party Games, such as passing the matchbox by nose, or flipping kippers (not entirely sure about either of those after a few Pimm's), snack recipes (fancy Nut Balls, Prune Surprises or Shrimp Thrills?) and some excellent tips (providing plenty of ashtrays, locking up the kids & neighbours, keeping cats away from the drinks, that sort of thing).

Potential party-givers are also reassured that there's "no need to bother about other drinks", in a blatant steam-rollering of any competition.

But there's a warning issued from the brand. It's not something about responsible drinking or being over 18 or any of that business, though.

No, it's the warning to be prepared for "lots of fun and maybe a bit of flattery."

Bottoms up!