Monday, 20 April 2015

My pre-internet brain

Probably the most resonant of the "21st century slogans" at the Douglas Coupland solo exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery is this one.

I miss my pre-internet brain.

Now, I imagine that my son (born 2000) would wonder what a pre-internet brain was, and having worked out that it was some sort of vestigial remain belonging to those born way back in the last century, would then question what on earth there was to miss about such a thing.

Douglas Coupland is now 52 and explains his nostalgia so: "I feel like I have willingly or unwillingly become a new person ...we've all been completely, neurologically rewired." Or so: "The internet has burrowed into my head and laid eggs, and it feels as though they're all hatching."

The re-wiring is fact, not just fancy, and it's estimated that 10,000 hours of exposure to a medium - say, the internet, is enough to rewire the neurones. That is less than 1.5 hours per day on the internet for the last 19 years, which I'm sure I must be approaching.

So, for the benefit of those millenials, what was a pre-internet brain like? While the internet brain is spontaneous and even a little flighty, the pre-internet brain was considered, ponderous, deliberate. The internet brain is agile, nimble and smart, but a touch superficial. The pre-internet brain had depth. The internet brain is extrovert, has all the answers. The pre-internet brain was an introvert, and knew that it didn't know.

Pre-internet: never forgets, faithful, with a questioning attitude.
Internet: easily distracted, faithless, demands instant gratification, credulous.

And finally, I have the feeling that my internet brain is transparent, a standard issue, and public property.

Whereas my pre-internet brain was mysterious, original and my own. Private. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Work that works

A few years back, there was an outbreak of manifestoes (or is it manifesti?). I'm not sure what the collective noun is for manifestoes, but I'll go for a manifest of manifestoes. They were everywhere, from boardroom walls to your TV screen.

But, like every fad, manifestoes were popular for a reason. They are a nifty, shorthand (usually) way of reminding you what you're about. I have recently found a great example for Planners on the Canalside View Blog. It's a few years old now, but just as relevant for Planners old and new as it was then.

The first point is the best one. Stimulate work that works. I say it's the best one as, years ago, this was our single-minded proposition for Planning at Saatchis. Note that it's about stimulation, not inspiration. There is a difference.

The other 23 points (OK, a bit much, but I always knew Planners did more work than anyone else in the agency!) are mostly good, with some gems and one or two duds (or, rather, generalisations):

Give a sh*t about the work
Create the conditions for great work
Be brave
Go beyond the brief
Speak with authority
Make research your friend
Be multi-faceted
Be a source of clarity (hooray!)
Speak the truth
Define the problem
Embrace iteration
Offer solutions, not just strategies
Shape behaviour
Deal in the specific
Cultivate many relationships
Work through conversation
Beware of Case Studies
See people not consumers (hooray!)
Balance the new and the old
Be interesting
Make something
Work comfortably in public
Have fun

Not much to it, is there?

Friday, 10 April 2015

Who wants to be beautiful, anyway?

I don't think of myself as beautiful. And, do you know what? I don't really care. If anyone did call me beautiful, I'd probably find it rather slimy and creepy - in fact, there's something about the word that makes me want to gag. Perhaps it's something to do with James Blunt.

Much as I think that the long-running Dove campaign is admirable, on a number of levels, I'm not too sure about the latest - #ChooseBeautiful. When they started the campaign off, there was a joyfulness, a spontaneity and always a touch of the unexpected about it. But the last few years have seen a succession of formulaic ideas (a "social experiment", mournful music, rather sad women, manipulative pulling-at-the-heartstrings filming with mum-and-daughter, best friends, woman in a wheelchair...). And, interestingly, other advertisers such as Always are beginning to copy the format. Surely this is the time for Dove to make the next leap and move on? Challenge us again?

Maybe Dove should look behind the figures (ha, ha!). It may be true that 96% (or whatever) of women don't think of themselves as beautiful. But do they want to be beautiful?

There are many, many adjectives that I'd prefer to beautiful: attractive, individualistic, bright, eccentric, wise, wild...

And as for those doors, I don't think I'd go through either of them.


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The peaceful invasion

Seventy-five years ago, Britain was bracing itself for a German invasion of the classic sort - aggressive and unwanted - and the way the island fought back is, of course, history. I invaded Germany myself nineteen years ago and a recent trip back to Blighty made me smile at the signs of a more subtle, but ultimately more effective invasion by our Teutonic cousins.

Back in the 90s, German brands were welcome in the UK as long as they were connected to German engineering in the broadest sense - or alternatively, sports and beer. But I was surprised just how many German cars now roll along those British roads and lanes. I suspect that more and more British homes are cleaned and serviced with Miele equipment, with the outdoor areas kept spick and span with a Kärcher.

All of this - cars, sports, beer, engineering - reflects areas where the Germans are generally, if grudgingly, acknowledged to be better than the Brits. At the same time, the Germans lapped up anything from Britain with cheerful abandon and lack of discrimination. Until recently, it was a rather one-sided love affair.

The German exports so far this century have had a different flavour. Less to do with steel and mechanics and more to do with cosiness, family, cooking, tradition, home, childhood. Just look how many German-style Christmas markets spring up in December. Or Easter-egg painting and hunting, as I blogged here.

So many German brands in the area of family and children's food have been successful in the UK in the last fifteen years - often up against stiff competition. Müller, Hipp and Haribo are just three examples. And perhaps the biggest success of all is one often mentioned on this site - Aldi and especially Lidl now dominate the UK grocery scene. It may be taken for granted now, but twenty years ago, challenging the might of Sainbury's and Tesco's was almost unthinkable. And the retail invasion hasn't stopped there. Deichmann now features in many city centres, and there are plenty more shoe and clothing chains where that one came from. Perhaps dm fancies taking on Boots?

Who knows - maybe the British Royal Family will revert back to one of their former names and the whole thing will go full circle.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Makes even the dullest brands sparkle!

It's sometimes said that advertising agencies are catastrophic when it comes to promoting themselves. That certainly has a ring of truth about it when you look through some of the agency websites, which can start to appear terribly samey in feel, language and content. And so dreadfully serious!

Ex-Saatchi man Graham Thomas recently posted this gem on YouTube and Facebook. I remember this well from my early days at Saatchi in the late 1980s. It's a delightful pee-pee-take of Ariel and the clever use of the retro look means that it hasn't dated, 25 years later. It was created by Cliff Francis.

Well, I'm off for an Easter Babycham with Barbara and Marjorie, so see you after the break, chaps.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The next big thing isn't going to leap out of an algorithm

The publishing industry is one that's dear to my heart and my alter ego as a children's author. Interestingly, publishing is one of the world's oldest industries, which proves a certain amount of resilience to the slings and arrows, but it's also one of the most panicky and paranoid sectors and one of the slowest to catch up with modern technology and marketing.

I recently read an article in the Journal of the Society of Authors by Michael Bhaskar of the digital publisher Canelo and author of The Content Machine. The article is entitled "Big Data is watching you", which of course feeds directly into the publisher panic and paranoia.

Bhaskar relates how publishers have looked at amazon's winning ways with data, such as the data-driven recommendations and have established 'consumer insight' teams:

"These executives, sometimes drafted in from Wall Street or big retailers, crunch numbers on a grand scale. They aim to better understand their audiences and sales patterns, and to ensure that publishing  is tightly targeted at specific demographics... their clout is growing by the day...More than ever sales and marketing departments will require editors to back up their acquisitions with hard data."

Maybe it's no wonder that the publishers are paranoid.

But there is a flaw in all this, and it's something that industries with more sophisticated marketing departments can tell you. It's true that we can potentially learn far more from data these days. But this data only informs on the past and perhaps the present, if it's real-time.

Data can't tell you anything, as I have written here before. And people can rarely tell you what they want or desire in the future. Bhaskar acknowledges this in his article: "looking at past bestsellers is no guide to what will come next; nothing about 'The Hunger Games' suggested it would give way to erotica in the bestseller lists."

The point is that publishers have something that amazon don't have. Amazon is a retailer, simple as that. What publishers have is a nose for literature, intuition and empathy for human beings, for what makes them tick. And they have a duty to innovate, to seek out the new, to be bold, to take chances and to have an impact on culture and society long-term.

Which is all a more satisfying calling than crunching spreadsheets.


Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Good for Lidl!

When I first arrived in Germany, back in the 90s, the grocery discounters Aldi, Lidl and their imitators were rather depressing, soulless places. There was a grim warehouse feel to them and you had to gather up strength for a visit - was it really worth braving that strangely alien totalitarian-style experience for the few pfennigs that you might save?

Things have changed since then, of course, and the German discount giants are now giving Tesco, Sainsbury's et al more than a run for their money in the UK. What has interested me is that these retail chains seem to have learned from their expansion into different cultures, and have re-applied that learning to their home operations.

Take Lidl's new multi-media campaign, for example. Back in the 90s, I don't suppose Lidl would have dreamed of spending money on TV, but if you view the commercial above, you'll see that they haven't just coughed up for media, they've invested rather a lot in the production itself.

The campaign is all about quality, although that word itself is not mentioned too frequently. Lidl uses the word gut - good. The image film is all about how do we tell what's good? It's not about what people say or tell you, or what's expensive, or what everyone else thinks is good. It's about what is good for us personally - through the evidence of our senses - what feels good.

The story continues in the weekly brochures, each taking a theme. We've had coffee, where the elements of "good" - how it's roasted, the selection of beans, the drinking experience and character, the proof through stamps and tests, and a good price - are explored. Or this week it's chocolate, where it's about melt-in-the-mouth, and ingredients, and responsible production - and the price.

Over on the website there are plenty more stories about bread, about meat, about fruit and veg, about wine. And links back to the TV spots, such as this one for chocolate.  It's scrumminess captured on film.

Quality is one of those Holy Grails in marketing that many advertising campaigns have tried to capture, but failed.

It's ironic that one of the few that has succeeded should be a lowly discounter.