Thursday, 20 September 2018

When did hate become so hateful?

One of the most-loved and award-showered ads from the early years of this century was Honda's 2004 "Grrr" campaign from Wieden & Kennedy, otherwise known as "hate something, change something." In a novel and charming way, it told the story of how hate (in this case, of smelly, noisy, environmentally-damaging diesel engines) can become a force for change. I'm not sure how the "new" diesel engines now stack up as I'm not a engineer, or an environmental technologist, but that's another story.

Fourteen years on, and hate is still all over the place, it seems. Hate speech, hate crimes, haters who gonna hate, stop the hating, ad infinhatum. But to my perception, at least, "hate" has become political, and advertisers and marketers are firmly against it (when it's of the right type). PayPal, Airbnb and others of their ilk don't want your business if it promotes hate, violence or racial intolerance. I'm OK with the latter two, but listing "hate" in there implies that it's only hate directed in certain ways that's not acceptable.

Are Honda engineers allowed to hate polluting diesel engines?

Am I allowed to hate PayPal (if only temporarily) because despite being all high and mighty and putting the blockers on any hate they find unacceptable, they are completely inaccessible and couldn't give a toss that my account has been hacked, until I write to them in Luxembourg via good old pen, paper and stamps?

And yesterday, Contagious chose Channel 4's "Together Against Hate" as their campaign of the week. In the campaign against online abuse, insulting comments from people on social media are superimposed on ads that have run on Channel 4 recently.

I don't know.

Why give these witless morons yet more attention? I know, I know, I'm adding to it. I don't read comments on YouTube and the like because I know exactly what to expect, and it's minutes of your life you won't get back. When I was a child, we were told "ignore them, and they'll go away" if someone was calling you names. These nerds, sitting in front of a pile of empty pizza cartons typing their playground insults with greasy fingers, who wouldn't say boo to a goose in real life, just aren't worth anyone's time or trouble.

Meanwhile, I'd like to reclaim "hate" back from its specific, politicalised meaning. It can be a force for change, not only something to make a stand against.

Hate something, change something, make something better.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Bizarre Bazaar

I was up in Kensington High St a couple of days ago, and a little prowl around the shops brought to mind everything I've read lately about the future of retail and the ultimate retail experience. This, of course, combines the best of on- and offline, stimulates all the senses, is tailored to the individual and generally leaves the shopper - or experiencer, if there is such a word, with a breathtaking feeling of wow!

While there are without doubt some impressive stores in the area, the impression they leave is not particularly lasting, as they all seem interchangeable. Everyone is playing with the same building blocks.

And I thought back, more decades than I care to remember, to my ultimate retail experience from my teens.

Kensington Market: the impression is still there. I can still smell the musty second-hand velvets and afghan coats, the joss sticks and "herbal cigarettes". Genuinely diverse, inspiring and authentic (three words that are banded around so much today they've become meaningless), surprising and sometimes even a little frightening (thunderbolt and lightning: yes, Queen had a stall there, too.)

As the ad said, "a fairyland of treasures and fashions."

Kensington Market was not planned, or designed. Nor was it any way curated - its magic was in the higgledy piggledy mish-mash (or hish-hash). It probably contravened even the limited health and safety regulations of the time. And seamlessness or consistency were the antithesis of this marvellously fabulous place and its endless labyrinthine nooks and crannies.

Kensington Market didn't really live to see the 21st century, so I had to content myself with T K Maxx, across the road, in a building which may have been Hyper Hyper in the 1980s, and possibly Biba before that.

I longed for a whiff of patchouli oil.

Friday, 7 September 2018

A beautifully bright idea

A couple of years ago, I was wowed by an idea from the fashion industry - Manufactum's sustainable fashion, which included the beautiful silks from Johanna Riplinger, dyed using flower petals from Indian temples.

I was reminded of that when I saw this stunning idea from JAT Holdings and Leo Burnett Sri Lanka. Petal Paint is made from the flowers left in buddhist shrines and temples, which would otherwise go to waste.

There are 5 shades to reflect the Buddha halo - Lotus Red, Pigeonwing Blue, Marigold Orange, Temple Flower White and my favourite, Trunpet Yellow.

The paint is sold through JAT's normal channels, and also donated to local artists to restore murals in temples.

If that's not circular economy at its best, what is?

Monday, 3 September 2018

You can do magic

One of the strangest phrases to have crept into the marketing vocabulary in recent years is "data-driven insights." Now, I'm not keen on "insight" with the added "s", but it's the contradiction between "data-driven" and "insight" that I find tricky.

Firstly, there's the implication that no human mind is involved, that the data is crunched or analysed in a machine and the insights (sic) are churned out at the other end.

Then there's the suggestion that the insights are somehow superior in quality, and possibly more robust, as they come from data, rather than being plucked out the airy-fairy ether.

And wrapped up in all this is assumption that these superior insights, untouched by the human mind, represent absolute truths.

The few "data-driven insights" I've seen have been blindingly obvious statements which have nevertheless been backed up by an analysis of gadzillions of data points. But having that back-up somehow imbues the finding with a tremendous weight and importance that it wouldn't have had if some planner person had simply stated it.

AI is only so good at recognising patterns in data. To me, the skill of the planner is to combine rational thinking with other modes of perception - be it intuition, experience of the senses or the emotions. It's all of these combined that add up to true insight. And just because we can't measure something, or gather squillions of data points on it doesn't mean it's not important.

As the author Phillip Pulmann eloquently expresses in this article, a touch of magic belongs in our world.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Bed & Breakfast Boom

How many brands can really claim to have changed lives on a mass scale? There really aren't that many - even Facebook has probably changed behaviour more than it has changed lives en masse. I blogged about Airbnb three years ago, and unlike Facebook, it did take me a while to overcome my doubts and prejudices and become an Airbnb customer. Maybe because I sensed the enormity of the change it represented.

Airbnb has moved on in the three years since I wrote that blog, and is now 10 years old. A recent article in the Telegraph gives all sorts of facts and figures on Airbnb and its 150m customers. My own view is that what makes Airbnb not just game-changing but also life-changing is that it's not just about travel, as a brand like Uber is. It's as much about the hosts and their city as it is the travellers. Especially now that the focus is not just on homes, but on restaurants and experiences, too. Airbnb themselves claim it's about community, and it's probably true that the hosts' lives may be changed along with their guests'.

In some ways, Airbnb goes back to the days before organised travel and tourism. If you rolled up in a strange place on your trusty steed, you'd either have a letter of introduction for some distant relative, or you'd seek lodgings in the village via word-of-mouth then eavesdrop in the local hostelry as regards the Do's and Don'ts of the area. Today it's much the same, but enabled via mobile internet.

The article also questions whether, as Airbnb grows, it might lose direction or clarity. The brand has, like Facebook, suffered the onslaught of tabloid wrath when things go wrong: for every Facebook party story, there's an Airbnb trashing story. There have been protests (e.g. in Barcelona) about Airbnb and everything from huge hordes of tourists overrunning cities to more long-term worries about housing prices and affordability. Traditional hotels are jumping onto the air mattress in the spirit of can't-beat-'em-'join-'em.

Who knows? But I feel that if Airbnb stay true to their purpose and take their responsibilities seriously, they'll be here to stay (as it were.)

I just wish this had existed when I lived in Wimbledon.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

DO shoot me - I'm the piano player, or composer, or somebot

I've remarked on these pages often recently about the modern tendency to throw pull-on-the-heartstrings plinky piano music into advertising to evoke the "made me cry" reaction.

Here's a prime example, and here's the plinky piano music's depressing partner-in-crime - the ominous cello music. And here's an ad that takes the mick out of it all.

Seems I am not the only one who's crying with inappropriate laughter at all this tear-duct-squeezing mawkish music.

Here's what could have been a clever creative idea, ruined by the execution, particularly the plonky-plinky soundtrack. As the writer says, "best use of Generic Sad Piano Film Trailer Score #647" - could be a new award. There are enough contenders.

I blame all those clever people who suddenly discovered that human beings don't make decisions primarily based on their rational thoughts, but on their feelings, ergo we have to make an "emotional connection."

But why do emotions always have to be morose and mournful? Whatever happened to the jolly jingles of yore? I still remember them decades afterwards, and if that's not an emotional connection, what is?

So go ahead, shoot that plinky piano player. And I don't feel in the least bit mean or cruel saying that as in all likelihood it's just a robot anyway.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Pity the Postmaster

In days gone by, the postman's main fear was being bitten by an aggressive dog. These days, the email postmaster is probably more at risk of being attacked by angry customers, but more of that later.

A new study by consultants Globeone shows that only 18% of German companies communicate a purpose (the benefit to society at large) in their claims. But, as Globeone point out, having a claim with what appears to be a higher purpose expressed in it is not enough:

"However, the use of a strong purpose goes far beyond the development of a brand claim – it must be lived by the entire organization, because otherwise the credibility of such a positioning is not given. "

Quite often, even if the management are behind the purpose, it doesn't filter down to those who are actually communicating with customers.

Take an example: Deutsche Telekom. To cut a long story short, I seem to be unable to send emails to BTinternet users. You'd think that 2 of the largest providers in Europe might actually be able to work out that their users want to communicate with each other, but it seems not.

Here are just some statements from my email conversation with the Postmaster:

"unfortunately, there is no way for us to force other providers or
administrators to accept messages from our servers. We think that BT's
policy is not wrarranted and that "SPF" really does more harm than good.
Thus we do not have an solution for you at this time."

"we are afraid that it will take some time until our customers can send
e-mail to customers of BT again."

"We are familiar with the behaviour of the servers from
and we stay in contact with btinternet. But we can't promise you a fast

These emails were inevitably signed off with the claim "Life is for Sharing", which I would like to amend to "Life is For Sharing. Except with BT customers."

I don't blame the Postmaster. He/she/they have a fairly thankless job, dealing with problems and customers that make a rabid Rottweiler look like a poodle puppy.

But I do think that people on the customer interface should have training on the implications of what the purpose means for them in their customer-facing role. Of course, there will be problems and hitches.

But it's how these are dealt with that makes the difference.