Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Rebel bands and brands

I went to an open-air rock concert at the weekend, something I hadn't done for some time. One aspect of the experience that intrigued me was that they seemed to be giving away ear plugs at the bar. Rather weird, if you ask me. I asked the girl behind the bar what that was all about and she didn't really seem to know but commented that "maybe some people are sensitive."

A strange remark, I thought, but there seemed to be a streak of concern for the sensitive running throughout the show. At the entrance was a security sign telling you what was allowed and not allowed in terms of bringing stuff into the show. All very well. But then there was an extra section listing what is not liked at the venue: racism, sexism, homophobia and so on, but also stuff like overstepping personal boundaries, coming on to people inappropriately and that sort of thing. Look, I don't like that stuff either - but does it really need to be spelled out to adults?

It reminded me of the sort of sign you get at swimming pools: no running, no jumping, no diving and all the rest. And even though I've left my adolescence behind long ago, those sort of signs always make me want to do exactly the opposite.

The band's singer gave us some cod philosophy about "the rules are there to be broken", but I felt pretty sure that no-one would look kindly on anyone breaking those rules of desirable behaviour that the venue has laid down. I wondered vaguely if the venue's management go through the back-catalogue of lyrics with a red pen each time some rock dinosaurs come to strut their stuff.

Hate is only acceptable when it's channeled in approved directions.

Perhaps the conversation Johnny has in The Wild Ones would go like this today:

- Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
- What's on the approved list?

This is important for brands, as I sense an increasing homogeneity: brand values are interchangeable, and even "rebel" brands seem to be more and more conformist. I am not a great fan of those "12 Brand Archetypes" tools, for a number of reasons. Not only is there rather too much over-simplification involved, but the whole thing seems to be about fitting in rather than standing out. ("Which Disney Princess is your brand?" to which a real rebel brand should really answer "None of 'em!").

Are the "usual suspects" who get held up as Outlaws or Rebels really so? Harley Davidson, Virgin, Diesel et al? Or are they merely the establishment's idea of an acceptable rebel?

I'm on the lookout for brands that do something genuinely rebellious. Existing only in the Internot, for example.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Not-so-smart addiction

Yesterday, I nearly got into a fight, or at least a slanging match. A man crossed the path of my car (yes, I was on the road), glued to his SmartPhone, not looking, oblivious. If I'd been paying as little attention to my surroundings as he was, he'd be dead or seriously injured. Yet, he seemed to think I was in the wrong.

The news (which most people probably read on their SmartPhone) is cram-full of articles about SmartPhone addiction (or is it social media addiction, or internet addiction? And does it matter?) and as long ago as 2014, the McCarthy Group's Trust and Attention Survey found that, for millennials, access to the internet is more important than access to their best friend. The word Nomophobia has been coined to mean "the fear of being without your phone."

We're not just heading for the dystopia depicted in this cartoon (inspired by The Fleischer Bros.' Bimbo's Initiation), we're active - or passive - participants already.

The Googles, Facebooks, Instagrams and YouTubes of this world are responding by a focus on "Digital Wellbeing", building take-a-break features into their services, amongst other measures. This move towards "responsible devicing" feels familiar - rather like the booze companies encouraging responsible drinking. A little bit "nanny knows best?"

The man on my local street aside, it's difficult to say how much of this is real and how much is media hype. And I wonder if just as much anxiety and mental distress comes from well-meaning and "look at my perfect world" posts as it does from hate speech and the like.

One thing is for sure: the (social) media companies dealing with the problem head-on isn't new.

One famously-long TV program title from my youth was Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead? 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Recycled paradigms

Vancouver is one of my favourite cities, and this week it has been playing host to Sustainable Brands 18 "Redesigning the Good Life", where the good and great in branding and marketing get together to talk about how brands can help make the world a better place. Vancouver seems an apt choice for the host city, as it aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.

One of the speakers at the event was Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at P&G. In this interview for Sustainable Brands, he talks about what needs to be changed in the world of branding. No huge surprises, but it's a useful summary of the way that branding has evolved over the last decade or two:

*Lead disruption rather than trying to follow
*Focus on growing the market, not just gaining share
*'Built-in' doing good rather than 'bolted-on'
*Big is beautiful when it's good
*Sustainable is mainstream, not niche

So there we are. It seems that one place to start with being a sustainable brand is to recycle your old marketing paradigms and models - and possibly re-purpose them as frameworks ;)

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Purpose Parody

As someone who has worked in advertising for more years than I'd like to admit to, the thought that often provided me with the best guidance is: "it's only advertising." Perhaps that hides a regret that I never became a brain surgeon, or something equally useful, but it has certainly saved my sanity more than once.

When I worked in the UK, I admired the way that the ad industry constantly took the mick out of itself, from ridiculing preposterous product demos to beer brands sending up pompous and pretentious perfume ads.

I've commented before that the industry seems to have lost its sense of humour of late, and it seems ironic that it's a beer brand that's being parodied in the video from Oasis (owned by Coca Cola) above. The Togetherness Bottle campaign, created by The Corner, London, has a subversive swipe at all those worthy ads with their plinky piano music and social experiments: "Brands acting holier than thou while everyone knows it's about sales, not saintliness," as its creators say. It's all part of an overall marketing strategy from Oasis, #RefreshingStuff, that the brand has been pursuing since 2015.

It's a fun idea with a serious point behind it for all marketers. Purpose is important for brands, but it really doesn't need to be about stopping wars, obliterating sexism/racism/anyotherism, empowering women, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or saving the world in any other way.

It could just be about refreshing people with a cooling fruity drink and a bit of a laugh when advertising people get too up their own bottoms.

Monday, 28 May 2018

A stitch in time

I have always been fascinated by the Bayeux Tapestry - not just for its awe-inspiring ancientness, but also from the juxtaposition of the medium and the content. An action-packed bloody battle depicted through that most ladylike, refined and patient of crafts - tapestry, or more exactly, embroidery.

There's a similar juxtaposition going on with the BBC's FIFA World Cup 2018 launch commercial, created by their in-house agency BBC Creative, and Blinkink. The thrills, spills and action of past World Cups have been captured in 600 individually embroidered frames. The style of the embroidery and the soundtrack to the resulting film are inspired by the host nation, Russia.

A 7m long tapestry will live on after the winner has hoisted the trophy in July. This is only 1/10th the length of the Bayeux Tapestry, but it certainly reflects the tagline of the film: History will be made.

I'm sure there are other interesting and creative ideas for combining medium and content in unexpected ways that this could inspire.

And will it perhaps still be there to marvel at in 1,000 years?

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Eat more fruit!

I am sure I have remarked before on the preponderance, still, of independent butchers, bakers and candlestick makers in Germany compared to the UK. When my son was young, shopping was never a chore, as it seemed that just about everywhere we went, he'd be offered something to nibble on.

A little packet of Gummibärchen in the Post Office, an apple at the greengrocer, a corner of currant bun at the baker and a slice of sausage (indeed, sometimes a whopping great chunk of sausage) at the butcher. I can imagine the shock-horror reaction to that last one in health & safety-allergy-obsessed UK.

This all reminded me of my own childhood shopping trips, when greengrocers had brown bags proclaiming Eat More Fruit! and extras were always slipped in over and above what showed in pounds and ounces on the weighing scales.

This was all brought back to mind on a recent trip to Tesco in the UK, where I saw a tray of free fruit for kids:

This initiative, launched in 2016, has been a huge success for Tesco and they reckon they've given away 50m pieces of fruit since its launch. It's part of an overall renaissance for the retailer, since its low point in 2015. Since then they're on their ninth consecutive quarter of growth.

The principle is so simple: put yourself in the customer's shoes - and why not take a lesson or two from retailers down from you in the food chain, for a change. The kind who haven't got a high and mighty Corporate Purpose Statement on the boardroom wall, yet know their customers personally, and put purpose into practice every day, in all they do.

It could be a case of: An Apple a day keeps the losses away.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Internot

I read a fascinating article this week in the HBR, entitled Marketing in the Age of Alexa. The article charts the rise of AI platforms and voice assistants, painting of a picture of a life where the skilled digital assistant accompanies its human owner? partner? master? slave? 24/7 in home, car, mobile device and so on and so forth.

But hang on. Voice assistants may become increasingly skilled, through AI, I don't debate that. However there will be some aspects of our lives that they will never have information about, unless we so choose. And that includes most of what happened or was made more than, say, 10 years ago.

Spotify won't have a clue that I may decide to dig out old vinyl from my teens and play Iggy Pop at full blast from my 1980s sound system. Or set up my wind-up gramophone from the 1930s outside on a sunny day and listen to 'On the road to Mandalay.'

The are furniture items, books, toys, crockery, photographs, letters, bicycles, bedknobs and broomsticks that will never be connected to the internet of things (unless we want them to be.)

Beyond that, there is the whole of nature, which grows without a code or chip.

And beyond that, there is the future.

The AI platforms have no connection to this world and don't "know" - as far as they can know anything - that it exists.

Maybe it's one strategy for rebel brands today to plant themselves firmly in the world of the internot.