Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Mächtige Marken

I spent last weekend in Munich - which involved rather a lot of beer, and sport, but also a good amount of strolling around the city. In comparison to Berlin, or Frankfurt, it's noticeable just how many huge, grand buildings stand around every corner. And there's something about brands that hail from Munich that's similarly grand, pompous even. Even if Google, Facebook and amazon are leading the world today in terms of brand value, there is something insubstantial about their very nature.

Will they really be around in 100 years?

The three Mächtige Marken that dominate Munich are all centenarians.

There's Allianz, whose massive Arena has dominated the city since 2005. Allianz itself was founded in 1890, and is No. 51 in Interbrand's Top 100 brands by value - and growing at an impressive +12%.

Of course, you can't talk about the Allianz Arena without mentioning FC Bayern München, founded a decade later, in 1900. I often think brands have a lot to learn from sports teams - certainly when it comes to fans and loyalty. I visited the FCB Erlebniswelt - an absolutely up-to-date immersive experience and museum celebrating the story (so far) of the club.

Then we come to a modern-day version of one of those pompous Munich palaces: BMW's 'Four Cylinder' building above. BMW is the relative youngster of the three, celebrating 100 years this year. This brand is No. 11 in the world, according to Interbrand, and continuing in double-figure growth despite the doom and gloom about urbanisation and young people not buying cars any more.
There were enough young people milling around BMW World  and the museum - temples to the past, present and future of BMW cars and motorcycles, as well as Mini and Rolls Royce.

And this is the key to the success, and longevity of these proud and powerful brands. Strength from heritage and a focus clearly on the future.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Discounter Duels

This Autumn, both Aldi and Lidl have launched noticeable new campaigns. But these couldn't be further apart in terms of approach.

Lidl is making the most of the fact that they have always stocked a certain number of brands as well as their own brand. And with Aldi taking on more and more brands (they used to only stock one of two, such as Haribo, but they've now got some biggies, like Nivea and Pampers) this is perhaps timely. The new campaign for Lidl is very simple, very hard-hitting: You have the choice. Strong brands and strong own labels. The advertising idea is a direct comparison of price - for example 15 iglo (aka Bird's Eye) fish fingers for €2.89 or 15 Ocean Sea (Lidl) fish fingers for €1.59.

In some cases, the branded product costs double that of Lidl, but the point is that the choice is yours, and Lidl stock both.

Meanwhile, over at Aldi, there's a completely different sort of campaign going on. This is not as grubby and straightforward as talking about price, but is on a much loftier level. The campaign idea is Einfach is mehr ('simple is more'). The website, posters, films and brochure are all full of philosophical musing about how our life has become too complex, how children smile more often than grown-ups because they don't need much to be happy, how we need more simplicity in our lives.

There's a cooperation with a rapper, Fargo, who has released a song on this topic, and, yes, you can buy the T-Shirt, too. And if that wasn't enough, there's yet another platform or website or something, Einfach. Ganz. Ich where you can sign up for all manner of training videos, expert tips, recipes and all the rest.

This route is backed up by Aldi's principles. For example, life should be simple: you don't need 9 kinds of lemons. The range in Aldi stores is limited, and everything is so cheap you can't make a bad choice.

But, much as I agree that the world is too complex and a lot of people have forgotten what simplicity means, I don't think Aldi is the solution. Aldi, if anything, increases complexity by its time-limited offers, which are usually things one doesn't actually need but feels never-the-less compelled to rush out to the store early on Monday or Thursday to snap them up before anyone else does. While you don't need 9 kinds of lemons, you may well have a favourite brand that Aldi don't stock, and have to make an extra trip to get that.

Admirable though the initiative is, I don't think Aldi is at all credible as the sender. And despite best attempts to do otherwise, the campaign has a distinct 'finger-pointing' feel to it.

So, who will win the duel of the discounters? My money is on Lidl.

My price or yours?

Friday, 7 October 2016

Where are they now?

It's that wonderful time of year again when Interbrand come out with their report on Best Global Brands. It's always fascinating to look back into the dim and distant past to see who the top dogs were then and now:

2006                                                                       2016

1. Coca Cola                                                         1. Apple
2. Microsoft                                                          2. Google
3. IBM                                                                  3. Coca Cola
4. GE                                                                    4. Microsoft
5. Intel                                                                  5. Toyota
6. Nokia                                                               6. IBM
7. Toyota                                                              7. Samsung
8. Disney                                                              8. amazon
9. McDonald's                                                      9. Mercedes-Benz
10. Mercedes-Benz                                              10. GE
11. Citi                                                                 11. BMW
12. Marlboro                                                        12. McDonald's
13. Hewlett-Packard                                            13. Disney
14. American Express                                          14. Intel
15. BMW                                                             15. Facebook

As is my wont, I've categorised these brands into the sign of four:

Winners - huge value and rank gain
It's GAFA! (Now that we don't have Brangelina any more there's a new compound noun ...)
Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon

Staying Around - impressive growth, rank held/gain
Samsung, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota

Slippers - lost rank, small/moderate growth
McDonald's, Disney, Microsoft, Intel, Coca Cola

Losers - lost value and rank
American Express, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, GE, Citi, Nokia, Marlboro

I'm pleased to see a couple of classic German brands holding their own in the tables. But where are the Brits? Uh-oh ...

Monday, 3 October 2016

Quite a Character

In previous posts, I've mentioned one or two of my favourite brand characters, such as the Michelin Man, and Mr Peanut, the Planter's character. Brand mascots or characters enjoyed quite a vogue in the first two thirds of the last century. And you can see why - a well-chosen character could encapsulate your brand values in a highly memorable and flexible form. The character could appear on the packaging, on billboards and metal signs, on promotional giveaways, on the radio and TV - and even make real life appearances.

Of course, the danger with brand characters is that they may become irrelevant, or even objectionable, as has happened with this little fellow:

In today's world, you would not assign your character a specific religion, as is the case with this chap:

Or associate him with a politically-incorrect sport:
Human and humanoid characters invariably become in need of a fashion update - at least according to the latest brand manager - although one may look back at 80s hairstyles and wish you'd left the characters in the timeless past somewhere.

Sometimes, the idea of the character survives, while the actual physical form becomes more symbolic, as has happened with Johnnie Walker's Walking Man (who I used to confuse with Force Flakes' Sunny Jim as a child. Luckily I didn't confuse the products!)

In the last few months, two characters who first appeared in the 1950s have had a revamp. KFC (founded in 1952 by Colonel Harland Sanders) has announced a rehaul of the brand under the banner 'Re-Colonelization.' It's a kind of back to the roots re-invention, with a push for quality and attention to detail: "The Hard Way") as well as various actors and comedians personifying the Colonel himself.

And another brand icon who hails from 1952 has been imbued with 'animatronic swagger', whatever that may be. Kellogg's Tony the Tiger is motivating tweenage kids to 'Let your Gr-r-reat Out' and think/act 'Like a Tiger.' As well as bearing some relation to what Nike and Always are doing, this was, of course a motivational technique deployed by Henry V, if Shakespeare is to be believed. Nice film, good sentiment, but not terrrrrrrribly original, I fear.

You can understand what these brands are trying to do. Decades-old brand characters do carry a potential richness of goodwill and positive association which it would be careless to lose.

Newer brands don't have this opportunity. The vogue for brand characters dwindled in the later years of the last century. In some ways it was 'Digital and Global killed the Brand Character'. Trying to create a new character who is understandable and acceptable to all, yet represents the brand's uniqueness, is not so easy these days. We have to think too much: just look at some of the truly dreadful creatures that have been spawned as mascots for the Olympic Games, or the World Cup, in recent years and you'll see what I mean.

But maybe, with the rise of grass roots local brands, the whole thing will go full circle again. Generally animals seem a better bet than human/oids as they don't need updating. I'll leave you with another of my all-time favourite brand mascots: Nipper.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Stand up to live!

I wrote a post a little while ago about creativity, and particularly how the incubation phase, where 'nothing appears to be happening' can be much enhanced by a walk outside, or a 'slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day', as Helmholtz put it.

I often come back to this thought, and to John Le Carre's assertion that 'a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.' Whether we are creating something, or merely putting previously unconnected ideas together to gain a deeper understanding of something, the process needs time and space.

There's a fascinating article here about the connection between walking, thinking and writing, with some of the physiological basis for why a leisurely, or even brisk, walk may stimulate thought and creativity. But it seems that if you're trying to find the definite answer to a specific question, then walking ain't the way to find it.

And, furthermore, if you do go for a walk in search of original thought, then best to leave the mobile behind. This excellent article warns of the dangers of distraction: living online rather than going online now and then.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Joy of Words

If you look at the history of advertising, it's been a three-parter so far. Back in the very early days, many people couldn't read, or didn't have access to a daily paper, so advertising worked primarily through visuals and symbols. The first part of the 20th century was dominated by words - copy -  and there was a golden age (I think) where art directors and copywriters were put together as teams and produced some of the best advertising ever. This co-incided with the rise of commercial TV.

Then there's this century so far, where screens are all around us, and the emoji has taken the place of the text-speak.

I still have a hankering after words, maybe because I write in my spare time. I recently got the book version of Shaun Usher's brilliant website, Letters of Note. Shaun Usher's favourite of his collected letters (and mine so far) has to be the 1934 covering letter from Robert Pirosh, who at that time was a Madison Avenue copywriter, but had designs on a career as a Hollywood scriptwriter.

How could anyone resist a letter that starts: 'I like words'? And, here it is in its full glory:

Dear Sir:

I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave "V" words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land's-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.

I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around. 

I have just returned and I still like words. 

May I have a few with you?

Robert Pirosh
385 Madison Avenue
Room 610
New York
Eldorado 5-6024


I have a belief that if we work in Marketing or Advertising, even if we aren't copywriters, we should be able to put together words in a way that shows we like them, love them even. We are in the business of communication, so surely our documents and presentations should be written with care and feeling and attention to the richness our vocabulary gives.

Instead we (self included) so often fall back on whatever the flavour of the year buzz words are. Engagement (which to me is nothing more than an amalgam of the first bits of that AIDA model - awareness/attention and interest/involvement.) Experience. Insight. Content. KPIs.

Next time, I'll see if I can replace those with fat, buttery words, suave 'V' words or even sullen, crabbed, scowling words.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

New Improved iPhone!!!

I've been wondering for the last year or so whether I should upgrade my iPhone. I have a tendency to hang onto mobile phones so long that they end up being retro. My iPhone 3G has a poor excuse for a camera, and most apps only half work, but, I don't know, I'm kind of attached to it. When I first got it I felt terribly leading edge and I take a strange satisfaction in showing that off in a subtle way.

Apple have recently launched the iPhone 7, so I thought I'd have a quick reccy as to what's on offer. Here's an introductory film, voiced-over by Greg Joswick, VP Worldwide Product Marketing:

What do we have here:

Better, faster, more powerful, even better, larger, brighter, better, longer, more detailed, even better ...

A load of adjectives in the comparative form, culminating in 'the best iPhone ever.' So the comparison is with previous iPhones, not with the competition that's snapping at their heels. 'Best iPhone Ever' is supported by a catalogue of technical product details. Apple have gone all Procter & Gamble, old style, with a claim, a demo and a load of 'reasons to believe.'

Where's the magic? Where's the wow? The only genuine new points seem to be that the iPhone 7 is water resistant (big deal) and there's no little hole to stick your headphones in (so you either have to get an adaptor, or buy the super new AirPods at huge expense.)

Apple have been having some rough times recently. Revenues are down, and the company has been ordered to pay a large tax bill in Ireland which hasn't done wonders for the corporate image.

I'm not sure that going back to 1970s-style detergent marketing is the right way to go.

I think my trusty iPhone 3G will stay with me for a bit longer.