Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sugar, spice, slugs and snails

Seeing these German gender-specified crisps recently got me thinking about the whole area of gender marketing. I'm not talking about who you target your campaign at, but at product development itself. And I get the impression there's much more of it about these days.

Now, there are plenty of products and brands out there that target men or women specifically, with pretty good reason in the main. Toiletries and clothes, perfume and cosmetics are all areas where there are male products and female products (including the oddly named "boyfriend jeans" for which there seems to be no equivalent for men who might fancy the "just squeezed into my girlfriend's jeans" look once in a while.)

And there have always been attempts into cigarettes and beer specially for women. Do Kim ciggies still exist?

But the area where the gender-specific stuff seems to be have really taken off in the last few years is the area of children's products. I don't remember such a preponderance of pink and purple when I was little. Lego, for instance, has gone girly mad with its Friends series, leaving the boys (one presumes) to their Star Wars and Transformers. And in the books market, the Die Drei ??? (The Three Investigators) have been joined by Die Drei !!!

After 50 years of the boy detectives solving mysteries, I can only guess that the girls were called in to solve such tricky cases as Duel of the Top Models, Cheating in the Casting Show, Danger in the Fitness Club and The Mobile Phone Case.

Of course, when I was young, there were stories specified for boys or girls too, but the girls didn't have to to be styled up like Germany's Next Top Model to have adventures. And note that the title is not pink, it's blue:

Which brings me back to the crisps. OK, there were always certain brands of comestibles that positioned themselves for men, or women (Yorkie). But I always assumed that was ironic. 

The Chio Chips  above come in the variants Mädelsabend and Männerabend (Girls'/Boys' Night Out). The girl pack is purple and the flavour is Creamy Paprika, while the guys get a more butch Smoky Bacon colour with a Flamed BBQ flavour.

I really do hope it's all tongue-in-cheek.

I wonder if they breed if you mix them up?


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Paper Flaps Back

The expression "the paperless office" has been on my radar for the last twenty years or so, but when I look around my workplace, it seems that I'm not moving on trend. True, I'm a lot less wasteful with paper these days - possibly because I have to pay for it myself and I'm stingy like that - but I do still hoard the stuff, even if I do have multiple copies backed up electronically on my various devices.

Talking of devices, I've seen a couple of ads this week on the theme of paper flapping back at all this new-fangled technology. The first of these is from last year, from Le Trefle loo roll, featuring the long-suffering Emma and her tablet-mad hubby.

And the paper flaps (or maybe twacks) back again in the splendid new IKEA Catalogue spot from Singapore, "Experience the power of a BookBook." To give IKEA credit, their catalogue is now not just a paper thing - there are all sorts of codes and augmented bits and such if you yearn for more than a paper experience. But I love the way that the wheel (or the paper catalogue) has been reinvented in this spot in that charming tongue-in-cheek way that IKEA do so well.

What's due for a revival next? Tin signs? Town criers?

Whatever - better the paperless office than the paperless toilet.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Short-term performance and Long-term health

There's a lot of pressure on marketers these days to have their brand "doing stuff". It's all about the customer experience, the here and now. Real time. Being "out there". Acts not ads. Agility. Brand as verb. Participating.

I've written enough about it in this blog.

And it's true that there are lot more possibilities open to brands to communicate with their users and potential users than there were even 10 years ago.

But it's a mistake to be doing stuff just because we can, in the same way that it's a mistake to lose track of why we're doing it. While I'm not a fan of spending months sitting pontificating about what is an emotional benefit or what is a physical attribute in some complex brand model that bears little relation to reality, I do believe that senior marketers have a responsibility to take a long-term view - maybe not quite as long-term as the Long Now foundation (!) - but certainly beyond the latest app and viral campaign. What is my brand's purpose? Where is it heading? What is our vision - and how does all the "stuff" we're going to be doing fit with that?

That is certainly the thinking behind P&G's recent re-organisation of their Marketing Division into Brand Management, with former Marketing Directors becoming Brand Directors.

If you pump an athlete full of drugs, they might be able to attain short-term success in one performance. But where is their health going long-term?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

I wonder...

For the last couple of years, the advertising industry seems to have been intent on making the world cry.  Commercials that tug on the heartstrings have always been popular, but sharing on a worldwide scale means that your 60 seconds of schmalz can now be seen from Nigeria to New Zealand within a few seconds of its release. From P&G's Moms to John Lewis' Christmas weepies to the faithful friend comforting his widowed master in the Cesar spot to the dad who makes birds from the Extra chewing gum silver paper, every Hollywood trick is there.

All the Buzzfeeds and their ilk are chock a block with lists of "X commercials guaranteed to make you cry" while composers of maudlin music must be having a field day.

A lot of these ads are brilliant, and will go down in history as greats, but there are plenty that (for me) veer into being just that little bit cheesy - and don't necessarily have a strong connection to the brand. Tapping into emotions is a neat way to get remembered, and to associate your brand with strong and positive feelings.

But there are other emotions besides making you laugh and making you cry and I have a feeling that brands who want to stand out should look beyond these.

Perhaps one route that is a little neglected these days is that of wonder. Instead of making you cry, commercials that take your breath away, make you feel wow, a sense of awe, a feeling that I couldn't have done that. With the emphasis on CGC these days, I feel there is also room for brands to also spend their budget to surprise and enchant us - to produce commercials that are almost works of art.

My recent favourite is the latest IKEA commercial in "The Wonderful Everyday" campaign, from Mother and Juan Cabral. It's beautiful to look at, doesn't dumb anything down or seek a lowest common denominator and has tapped into cultural relevance with its echoes of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

But back to all those weepies. Is it perhaps a big marketing ploy by Kleenex? This is the brand most often mentioned in all those articles about ads that make you cry.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Beware! Engaged can be vacant.

The pursuit of engagement has become the Holy Grail for marketers, as I blogged here a few years back, and the enthusiasm for the creation of Engaging Experiences has certainly not abated. Engagement is an objective written loud and clear on many a marketing plan. Even the humble owner of a Facebook page with a couple of hundred likes is informed continually about how many people are engaged with the page that week.

But the problem arises when it comes to measurement. Engagement is a slippery fish to pin down and fit into a nice KPI pigeon hole, if you'll excuse all the mixed metaphors.

Perhaps that's because engagement has become one of these words that people use without really thinking what it means.

I looked up engagement in one dictionary and found "The act of engaging or being engaged."

The Advertising Research Foundation defined it, in March 2006 as "Turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context." And Wikipedia offers the following for engagement when used in a marketing context: "The extent to which a consumer has a meaningful brand experience when exposed to commercial advertising, sponsorship, television contact or other experience." This last mouthful brings to mind rats in cages having full-strength carcinogens painted on their raw flesh by sadistic scientists.

To get away from these tortuous and tautologous definitions, maybe it's easier to look at the verb rather than the noun. To engage is to occupy or attract someone's attention, from one perspective, or to participate or become in involved in, from another.

Interesting that the words attention and involved appear in this definition. Do desire and action follow? Has a wheel been reinvented somewhere?

Engagement is here to stay but it's worth questioning what is behind the word for our particular case. First of all, the question is "engaged with what?" - a piece of communication, be it a TV spot or an app,  some aspect of the brand, or the brand as a whole? And what are the terms of that "engagement"? Is it something longterm, or is it something specific to a discrete period of time. Is it short and intense, or more of a longterm undercurrent of commitment? Once you know the nature of the engagement, then you can work out how you might measure it.

Engaged can change rapidly to vacant, devoid of meaning.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Innovation Foundation

I've been lucky in my time as a freelancer to work with some of the biggest names in marketing - such as P&G - and also with a number of very creative small organisations and individuals, for whom the cost of an ad agency on their business is prohibitive.

As a general rule, a top marketer at a company like P&G and a creative entrepreneur will tend to move in different worlds, and play by different rules, but I was impressed to see a new development from Unilever that attempts to bring the two together, for mutual benefit.

In the spirit of co-creation and collaboration, Unilever have launched The Foundry - a platform whereby the marketing people for the big brands can get together with entrepreneurs and inventors to work on challenges to improve people's daily lives.

It's a kind of David meets Goliath - and they make friends. Your ingenuity, creativity and agility for our investment, mentorship and marketing muscle.

Under the heading of "Collaborate. Experiment. Pioneer," a number of projects and challenges based around Unilever brands or groups of brands, are put up for pitch to technology start-ups. These range from the Young Entrepreneurs' Award - for anyone under 30 with a new product, service or app that could make a big difference to enable sustainable living - to Smart Bathroom - enabling families to plan/predict/recommend, organise and enjoy their personal grooming products more effectively and efficiently - to Smart Wardrobe - backed by Persil/Omo to maximise value from the family's clothes while reducing environmental impact.

I'm sure this will result in more breakthrough innovations than yet another new air freshener fragrance.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Carry on Camping

When I started in the advertising business, the military metaphors held sway, whether we were talking strategy and targeting, or training, or even how we were going to build our dream battalion, sorry, team. People got sent on "Bootcamps" and who can forget the horror of paintball games dreamed up to help us work better together?

These days, things are very different. The new metaphor for brands and business seems to be heading in the direction of a festival, rather than a war. Here's a great example of what I mean: The Happy StartUp Summer Camp, which takes place from the 19th -21st Sept near East Grinstead, Sussex, UK. 3 days of learning, inspiration and play are promised, with not a paintball gun in sight. No military types here, just thinkers, doers and makers. The programme looks like a dictionary of current buzzwords - digital detox, camping or glamping, yoga, DJs and live music, craft ales, mindfulness, empathy, storytelling, happiness with awesomeness sprinkled liberally in between.

It's all set up by an outfit called The Happy StartUp School  who are on a mission to help people start businesses that have a purpose beyond profits, which seems a pretty good reason for being to me. I haven't read them yet, but they are generous enough to provide a couple of useful-looking downloads about all those "P" things - people, purpose, profits and piranhas (or maybe I got that wrong!)

I suppose the cynical amongst us could look at this and say that it doesn't pay the bills at the end of the day and that in twenty years we'll find the idea of grinning kidults having a midnight feast in an overgrown teddy bears' picnic as absurd as all the wannabe Rambos paintballing each other.

But, I don't know. I find it curiously appealling, especially the price, which is less than half of what you'd pay for an "average, boring business conference". And there are still a few places left.