Thursday, 23 June 2022

Games of Life


It’s often been observed that we learn how to live through play, starting with playing shops or house as toddlers. My childhood included games that involved a historic or sci-fi fantasy world, such as Escape from Colditz or Thunderbirds, but also games that later found direct application in the grown-up world: Monopoly or Go-The International Travel Game.

But these days, do children really aspire to be a jet-setter or propery tycoon? I was interested to hear this week about a new game, developed by a group of young entrepreneurs, whose theme is a little closer to today’s aspirations - tackling climate change.

The group in question is Carducation from a school in Kelkheim, just down the road from here. They quote the inventor of the Kindergarten concept, Friedrich Fröbel - The source of all that is good lies in play (or thereabouts) and their business idea is to educate about important issues via card games. It’s a sort of “Cards for Humanity."

The first card game is called Ecucation - a strategy game in which businesses must balance profit with environmental responsibility, and, as in real life, catastrophes such as flooding or forest fires can turn up unexpectedy to scupper the best-laid plans.

The young start-up has been declared the best school firm in Germany by the Junior-Projekt, which encourages and fosters entrepreneurial business in schools. And the cards have already been seen in the hands of Chancellor Scholz and Vice-Chancellor Habeck.

All-in-all, a neat idea, and one that a few brands could learn from in their ESG communication. All the best to Carducation for the European final in July! 

Friday, 10 June 2022

Here we go again


I’m always amused when clever young things at ad agencies rediscover topics and stories that are as old as the hills, with the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed conviction that they are the first to do so. One story that’s been going round and round and round and round like a broken record (showing my age here) is the one about the 50+ generation.

The latest study to cop onto the fact that over-50s hold 99.9% of the wealth but are only featured in 0.1% of the ads (or whatever the latest figures are) is The Invisible Powerhouse from MullenLowe Group UK. 

I know I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to blabbing on about this stuff - and I can recommend this report in that it’s well put-together and thought through. There’s a useful segmentation based on approach to life which I can see having application.

But ...

Why do the old chestnuts still persist? “You’ll become invisible” “Older people are either portrayed as frail old dears or 90-year-old sky-diving super-heroes” “Old people don’t think of themselves as old” “It’s important because - gasp! - we’ll all be old one day” “Age does not define them”

There’s a certain lack of logic in it all, though. If Age is not Identity, if In our Minds, none of us is Old, if A 60-year-old Happy-Clappy-Activist has more in common with a 20-year-old Happy-Clappy-Activist than a 60-year-old Karen Brexit-Gammon, then ...

Why the heck should representation on the basis of age be so important?

I can identify with a 25-year-old man or quite honestly, an ageless, sexless cartoon character in an ad if it hits the nail on the head about a desire or need I have - and is presented in an entertaining way.

Maybe the real insight here is not “we’re all going to be old one day” but “all old people have been young, but no young people have been old” (not going to get into Buddhism here). I suspect that is where this is all going wrong.

By the way, if you’re an over-50 yourself, you might need your reading glasses for the Mullen Lowe report if you’re looking at it on the laptop. It’s a tiny typeface. 

Thursday, 2 June 2022

RETROWURST: National Pride June 2004


With the British Isles bursting out into a mass attack of Jubilee Jollity and Jubilee Jadedness, it seems particularly apt to drag this item out of the Retrowurst archives. The subject is about marketing on the basis of German-ness (I don’t really want to repeat the title as some algorithm might misconstrue it and have me kicked off Blogger as some hate-spewing, trolling Karen Boomer-Gammon or however such creatures are referred to these days).

Re-reading it, I winced a little at some of the choices of words, but was amused to see that I mentioned Boris Becker and his broom cupboard exploits which the press even today seem reluctant to forget. So, here we go, in a flourish of black, red and gold ...


I was interested to read recently that, 20 years after Audi introduced their Vorsprung durch Technik claim to the unsuspecting British public, that Volkswagen plan to introduce their German slogan ‘Aus Liebe zum Automobil’ or ‘For the love of cars’ in the UK. It will be interesting to see how this claim fares for VW; will it be understood? Will it generate the same sort of positive brand associations and image improvement as Audi built with their German claim? Or will it fall flat on its face in the light of the current overdose of Love, Lovin’ it, AmourLiebe and whatever other manifestations of lovey-doveyness are flooding the world of marketing and advertising at the moment. Because, when it comes to it, Boris Becker and his broom cupboard exploits aside, Germans are not really known for their prowess in matters love and romance. Audi really hit on one of the key German strengths with Vorsprung durch Technik (‘progress through Technology’). A lot of the British public were not too sure what it meant but it certainly sounded impressive. 


Of course, the Germans always have to be a little careful when playing on their national strengths abroad. I remember reading a rather alarming piece during the 1996 European Football Championship (I am sure no England supporter needs reminding of how that ended for the England team) of how the pharmaceutical and chemicals giant Bayer had advertised a fly spray product in Latin America with a line that translated as ‘Sudden death is a German speciality’. A somewhat unfortunate choice of headline, I feel. And that is a big problem for German marketers – because of the past, marketing any product, event or service on the basis of nationalism or national strengths inevitably lands one in rather deep water.


The problem is, of course, that the Nazis may not have been the master race, but they were certainly masters of propaganda or marketing, as it would be called today. Almost every time one looks for values, myths, archetypes or even fairy stories to support a German brand, we see that someone else got there first, probably in the 1930s. Want to use a stirring piece of Wagner as background for your brand’s TV spot? Forget it. How about a nice dynamic logo in red, black and white? No chance. What about an advertising campaign that associates the brand with mythical or historical characters, in the same way we might use the Knights of the Round Table in the UK? Err…not today, Siegfried. How about a spectacular TV spot for Lufthansa (as in British Airways) with lots of people waving flags and forming patterns? A bit too reminiscent of Nürnberg, I’m afraid. Is it any wonder that much German advertising shies away from the symbolic and emotional and concerns itself only with fact and product performance? Not only does the devil get the best tunes – in Germany, he has certainly spoilt a lot of good advertising and marketing ideas for anyone else.


The wariness of the German people in showing any kind of national pride is particularly apparent at the moment, during Euro 2004. While it may well all be over for the German football team tonight, the lead-up to Euro 2004 has been very low-key here- extraordinary when you think that, through luck, skill, or sheer determination, they were the runners up in the World Cup. From a marketing and sponsoring viewpoint you would hardly know that it is on. Apart from a few TV spots from an alcohol-free beer sponsoring the team, a few footballs and children’s football kit (choice of Portugal, Turkey, Italy or Germany) on special offer in Aldi and Burger King offering something called a King Kahn Burger , there is precious little going on. Contrast that with the St George flag hysteria in England where you can’t move for flags, shirts, tie-ins, sponsorships, promotions, events and all the rest.


One way that German brands, particularly in the food and drink categories, can capitalise on their authenticity and history without getting too bogged down in undesirable associations is by using their regional, rather than national provenance, which makes a lot of sense, given that Germany has only really existed for less than 150 years. Many products such as beers, sausages or cheese position themselves on the town or region from which they come. To some extent this can provide differentiation and positive association but there is also the danger of losing oneself in the standard, nostalgic-but-not-too-specific-as-to-when-it-was, rural idealised village worlds that many of these products employ in their advertising.


For technical and financial brands, such as Audi, Siemens, Lufthansa or Deutsche Bank, it is more difficult. Not only does it make sense for such brands to want a positioning for today and the future rather than harking back to the past but many of these brands really do have associations from the past that they would rather not dwell on – just think of the beginnings of Volkswagen, for example. Thus the most fruitful area is to take an accepted German strength such as technical expertise, engineering competence or financial acumen and exploit that. 


One area where going back to the past is not fraught with difficulty is the more recent past. There is a real wave of nostalgia here for former DDR brands and whole websites where these brands are discussed, bought and sold, such as . Many brands from this time are being successfully revived and marketed with the sort of fervour of 70s revived brands in the UK.


We will have to see how the Volkswagen line ‘Aus Liebe zum Automobil’ will work. Perhaps it will be a step to adding some emotion to the cold, robotic image of German companies. After all, at least Germans do love their cars and Volkswagen has produced some of the most ‘lovable’ character cars of all time. Perhaps, if the Czechs really want to let Germany through tonight rather than Holland then we might even see a few German flags hanging out of Volkswagens as football fans drive over to Burger King to grab their King Kahn burgers.



Sue Imgrund 23rd June 2004 


Well, some of that was quite extraordinary. I had forgotten how little flag-waving there was here pre-2006 and the “Sommermärchen” that was the hosting of the World Cup. Everything seems to have come full circle again, though in recent years, within Germany and without, with more and more pressure on brands and companies to show some sensitivity to the less desirable (through today’s lens) aspects of their history. But I’ll leave a discussion of decolonisation for another time. Ot maybe not.

What is certainly true is that the local/regional positioning has boomed. This is helped immensely by the part that local plays in sustainability generally, and there have been some great examples of communication, and even new brands based on clever mash-ups of local/nostalgic plus global/hip, in a sort of LaBrassBanda style.

The Ossiladen is still going strong, but I’m not sure that Soviet-era nostalgia is quite the thing these days. Oh, and Aus Liebe zum Automobil disappeared in a puff of emissions scandal somewhere along the way.

And what happened on the evening of 23rd June 2004, a few hours after I wrote this piece? Well, Germany lost to Czech Republic and were kicked out of Euro 2004, so it was goodbye to all that.  

Friday, 27 May 2022

On your bike


I was asked yesterday if I’d be getting an eBike. 

The answer to that is no, certainly not in the immediate future. Why not? For the same reason that I sigh when I read all about the latest “sustainable innovations” praised in the various marketing and innovation newsletters I receive, be these fashion, electronics, cars or bikes

I have a perfectly good bike and don’t need a new one. Ditto T-shirts, trainers or cars. And I particularly resent “built-in obsolescence” which isn’t just a feature of mobile phones these days. 

The uncomfortable truth is that infinite economic growth on a finite planet just isn’t possible. A recent report by Unicef found that if everyone in the world consumed resources at the rate of OECD and EU countries, 3.3 earths would be needed to keep up with the consumption rate.

I do sometimes wonder what’s going to happen to all those eBikes once the novelty wears off - and to the perfectly good bikes languishing in dusty garages and cellars as a result of this boom.

“Within the constraints of the planet" is often added as an afterthought when marketers talk about growth, but perhaps it’s something that should be brought to the forefront more often. The planet is something we must all share. Share in the sense of apportioning something finite, not the more current use of sharing as a term for making public - and quite often, showing off.

Monday, 16 May 2022

The me-me-me-nopause


There seems to be no pause whatsoever in the media’s current obsession with menopause. The unstoppable flow of articles from female journalists of a certain age, with their intent on playing a sort of symptom Top Trumps are bad enough. And now there’s a hot flush of “taboo-breaking” ads each trying to out-do the next in terms of “reflecting authentic experiences”, smashing stigmas and general mawkishness.

“Our many, varied experiences are brushed under the carpet by shame and indifference” boldly proclaims one agency representative responsible for these ads. An unfortunate choice of metaphor, possibly, when describing “occasional pelvic floor betrayals (sic)”.

“We hope this campaign can reinject humanity and beauty into the life stage, subvert damaging and demeaning stereotypes and help women feel better supported and less alone. We also hope it’ll inspire people to talk to their own loved ones about the menopause — we all know someone going through it, yet we so rarely talk about it. It’s no wonder one in three feel alone during the menopause” gushes another. Does Pseuds Corner still exist? Talk about a high horse!

Now, I know some women have a hard time during the menopause, but I do find this “suffering victim narrative patronising and insulting. Not much better is the shock tactic approach employed by the brand Elvie - not directly about menopause, but certainly confronting one of the symptoms. Im glad I didnt have to walk past this billboard with a few small children in tow.

Why does a normal, natural phase in life have to be obsessed over in this way? My own feeling is that this could backfire and do women more harm than good. It brings out the very worst in the loud and narcissistic look-at-poor-me brigade.

And the cynical part of me thinks back to a whole category of feminine hygiene products that was introduced round about the time I was growing up - panty liners. Are these environmentally-unfriendly products really necessary for the majority of women? Probably not - yet they were marketed as a hygiene essential - the clue is in the name Alldays

Both Tena and Elvie have products to sell to help prevent or deal with urinary incontinence. How much of the normalisation is geared to getting new users, who could probably cope perfectly well without them, to buy these? Hunger for growth wrapped up in a saving hu(wo)manity script - it would be nice to just press the (meno)pause button on all this.

Monday, 2 May 2022

RETROWURST: Insurance May 2004


Back in May 2004, I tackled the potentially dreary topic of insurance in Germany, and discovered some fascinating insight into the German psyche. Why wasn’t I being taken seriously at parties? Should I be concerned about my young son pulling a local pooch’s tail and causing untold canine trauma? Why was I so blithely oblivious to the catalogue of disasters just waiting to befall me if I didn’t follow rules and regulations to the letter?


We are moving house at the moment, which is what has inspired me (if that is the right turn of phrase!) to write about the German insurance market. Before you decide that this is only marginally less dull than the market for fishing tackle in Finland, please read on as some of this is surprising and provides an interesting insight into the German character in general.


When I first moved over here, I was a little disappointed when I met people and, on asking what I did and who I worked for (the answer at the time was that I was setting up – no, pioneering – a Strategic planning department for Saatchi & Saatchi Frankfurt) I was answered merely with polite coughing and a rapid change of subject. In the UK, those that work with brands, be it in a marketing department, advertising or brand consulting agency are generally regarded as fascinating folk at parties, full of clever ideas and witty repartee. But, here in Germany, I felt as if my profession was shunned and about as glamorous and fascinating as an estate agent – or an insurance salesman!


I soon came to learn that this comparison was a decidedly unfair one on the side of the accountants, tax advisors and insurance representatives (although estate agents appear to be a reviled species the world over.) Indeed, if someone announces themselves as belonging to any of these worthy professions at a party, they are practically revered rather than reviled. Such professionals deal with the important substance of life, in the Germans’ eyes rather than the hot air and froth that is the province of those of us in marketing and advertising. Rather than being a necessary evil, to be dealt with as quickly and painlessly as possible (and preferably at a good cyber-arm’s length away via the Internet so one doesn’t have to actually talk to any of the low creatures who make this their business) as it is regarded in the UK, insurance in Germany is a fascinating subject to be taken very seriously, even studied, by the layman.


And insurance in Germany is Big Business. In a survey last year, Germans were asked which of a list of areas they would be prepared/happy to spend a bit more money. The results were compared with 1999 data. In both years, top of the list was ‘good food and drink’ with around 50% of the sample citing this as an area where they’d be prepared to spend more. In the carefree days of 1999, ‘travel and holidays’ came joint first place, followed by fashion/clothes and then cosmetics/body care. However, last year, ‘pensions and insurance’ leapt into second place with 44% citing this as an area to spend more on in 2003 compared to only 30% in 1999.


The market for insurance in Germany has some of Germany’s best-known brand names. The biggest and most well-known insurance company is Allianz; 28% of the German population have at least one insurance policy with Allianz. Other well-known players include Aachener und Münchener, ADAC, Hamburg-Mannheimer, HUK-Coburg, R&V Versicherung, Victoria and Volksfürsorge. Most of these big players advertise heavily in the classical media, often with surprisingly creative campaigns. 


The range of insurance in Germany is quite bewildering. While we’re happy in the UK with our car insurance, house contents and buildings insurance – and may well toy with the idea of private medical insurance or life insurance, these are just the tip of the iceberg in Germany. Maybe because Germany is so crammed full with rules and regulations (you’ll all have heard the horror stories about not being allowed to use your washing machine between certain hours for fear of disturbing the public Rühe, or peace and quiet, or having to do Hausordnung once every three weeks and keep the pavement in front of the house or apartment block swept clean and free of banana skins and other booby-traps that could catch a passing Fussgänger unawares) that insurance is required should any of these rules and regulations be broken, with drastic consequences. As soon as I set foot in Germany, I was asked to sign up for Haftpflichtversicherungwhich would let me off the hook should someone slip on the ice in front of the apartment block that I’d failed to grit or clear because I’d forgotten it was my turn to do the Hausordnung that week and had better things to do on an icy Saturday morning at 8am. Now that I am a house-owner, I have learned that the house has to have its own Haftpflichtversicherung on top of my own personal policy – the mind boggles.


Perhaps the most bizarre example was, soon after my son was born, I was beset with offers of child insurance policies, covering such eventualities of my son breaking someone’s Wintergarten window with a well-aimed ball or terrifying some stranger’s poodle, necessitating canine psychotherapy. Being rather foolhardy, I didn’t take any of these offers up. I find something rather alarming about the very idea of child insurance. No doubt there were reciprocal policies being sold to grumpy old things to insure against a nasty brat doing their pooch some serious psychic damage.


Perhaps the biggest difference to the UK is the way that people buy insurance here. No-one is terribly keen on buying something so serious and fundamental over the internet – only 18% of the population see online availability as an important factor in deciding on an insurance company. By far the most important attributes are that the company is efficient, trustworthy, stable/serious with a good reputation – even price takes a back seat compared to these attributes. Personal consultation through face-to-face meetings with the representative, either at home or at one’s place of work is how most business is done here in matters of insurance. After all, the internet may be the place to go for something frivolous and frothy like a piece of advertising but when it comes to insurance, there is nothing more reassuring to the Germans than someone in a smart suit who can talk knowledgeably for hours about different tariffs and eventualities. By the end of it, you will even feel like inviting him or her along to your next party to impress your friends about the kind of company you keep and just how well-insured you are!


Eighteen years on and not a great deal has changed, although the big insurers have cottoned on to apps and suchlike. But given the horror of what I experience dealing with UK banks, insurance and financial institutions - from chatbots to being passed through the call centre circles of hell through being asked if I’d like to chat about my finances on Facebook (clue: the answer is NO) - I’m rather pleased that they haven’t gone full digital-first. It’s still possible to see a man or lady in a smart suit, sitting in an office. That’s reassuring for an old-timer like me.

And a quick look at Interbrand’s Top 100 Brands showings the Allianz at No. 34, growing at 17%, and bigger than Netflix, PayPal or VISA


Sunday, 24 April 2022

Bloomin’ Lemons


In my last post, I referred to a talk by Orlando Wood, which sent me down an Orlando-shaped rabbit hole in search of more of his wise and wonderful thinking. He has published two books, Lemon and Look Out, which sound well worth reading. And as a preview, there’s a 20 minute film, produced in June 2020, those heady days when we thought the pestilence was as good as all over ...

I don’t think a marketing-related film has ever made me feel homesick before, but I’m afraid this one did, with halcyon scenes of the Thames in all its midsummer glory. Where the Lemons Bloom starts with an anecdote about Goethe, and how working as an administrator for the Court of Weimar stifled his creativity, so much so that he took off and fled to Italy in the middle of the night.

This reflects Orlando’s premise: that advertising has become less effective over the last fifteen years or so, due to a shift to the left-brain mode. Flatter, more abstraction, less holistic, less employment of metaphor and humour. No doubt a consequence of the obsession with being “data-driven”.

And it’s not just marketing communications. Culturally, the effect is only too apparent - intense focus on particular words, often taken out of context. Obsessions with categorisation and labelling people. A widespread sense of humour failure and lack of appreciation of nuance. 

Is human intelligence becoming more artificial, I wonder?