Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Older but no wiser?

A questionnaire landed in my letterbox yesterday, from the local council. They are looking to improve the offer for "older citizens" in our town.

There are questions about mobility (or lack thereof), whether I'd want to live in a care home, whether I attend tea dances for seniors and whether I have an internet connection.

I have a strong desire to write "I'M NOT THAT OLD!" all over it.

It seems I've been put in a box (yet again) and it's reminded me of some new start-ups I've observed in the last few weeks.

First and fearless is FEARLESS. An agency that believes creativity is ageless and promotes that belief with a provocative, badass/punk attitude.

On the either side of the pond is London agency Ancient & Modern - proudly proclaiming that they're "the oldest advertising agency in London" and championing care, craft and ideas rather than quick hits and performance marketing. The attitude (and experience) here draws on the golden age of UK long-copy and TV ads of the 70s and 80s.

Personally, I find the look and attitude of these two new agencies very appealing.

But I'm not sure what I'd think as an ambitious young marketing manager - or whether I'd know what "Ancient & Modern" referred to.

Another approach is to focus less on the demographic profile of the agency founders and more on the opportunity that's up for grabs - the huge discrepancy between the wealth/income that people over 50 enjoy and the minuscule % of the marketing budget that goes their way.

That's the angle the new consultancy Flipside are taking - which is seems a wise move to me.

And yes, full disclosure, I do indeed have a personal connection to the agency ;)

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Come together

Reading the stream of marketing newsletters and articles about younger people (or GenZ if you must), you'd think they are all utterly obsessed with social activism and eco-activism and think about precious little else.

I often wonder about the difference between my online reading (which is predominantly UK/US or other English language media) and what I observe around me here in Germany. So I was interested to come across the organisation More in Common who are dedicated to looking into the divisions in society, finding the source of these and working towards more social cohesion.

One report concentrates on Germany. The received wisdom in Germany is that society is divided politically (Right vs Left), geographically (former East vs West) and probably by age, although there isn't quite the obsession with Boomers, GenZ and the rest, which I find refreshing.

Instead of political views and demographics, More in Common groups people on the basis of values and beliefs - for example, authoritarian tendencies, perception of threat, personal responsibility and ability to take action and so on. Six groups emerge (I do question whether grouping people in this way and creating new "tribes" as well as talking about "fault lines" is possibly counter-productive, but I guess it's a means to an end). And what's interesting is that these 6 groups fall into three layers.

There are the Polarised, who are the loud and opinionated ones who dominate public debate and social media.

There are the Stabilisers, who are generally satisfied and optimistic, and could be called the backbone of society.

And then there are the Invisible Third - less integrated, less visible and less engaged.

There's little evidence of an East/West split, contrary to popular opinion.

How can marketers and brands use this? Well, instead of doing the easy and obvious thing, and getting embroiled in a debate with the polarised, through a "social experiment", for example, maybe brands can look to engaging and involving the Invisible Third, or harnessing the optimism and community spirit of the Involved and Established.

Going back to the young people, 45% of those aged 18 - 29 belong to the Invisible Third (Detached and Disillusioned).

Rather than listening to those that shout loudest, perhaps we should tune in to those on a different wavelength to see what they really care about.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

I can feel it in my bones

Back when I was a young thing, being a vegetarian was part-and-parcel of a slightly alternative, leftie lifestyle that probably also included protesting at Greenham Common and throwing paint at women wearing fur coats. I don't think I knew what a vegan was until the mid-80s (although the term has been in existence since the 1940s) when a friend of mine announced she'd "gone vegan". I remember thinking that not being able to eat any dairy products was tantamount to torture, and that refusing to eat honey was simply a bit batty.

As the 80s rolled into the 90s and I was working in London, I'd occasionally saunter off to Neal's Yard or Cranks and gobble up a plastic (hmmm) takeaway dish of something healthy. These occasions, it has to be said, usually followed a night of over-indulgence, of which there were many in those days.

I'm not sure whether I paid for this book or whether it's something my flatmate left behind. But I still have it. Sarah Brown was, I believe, the first vegetarian cook to be let loose with her own TV show.

Fast-forward 30 years and I must say that I probably hear or read the word "vegan" about four times as often as the word "vegetarian". To say it's gone mainstream is an understatement. In this article - which is already a year old - we read that a quarter of 18 - 24s in Europe have gone vegan in the last year.

The "why?" behind all this must be the direct link that is now understood between diet and sustainability. The 1980s vegetarians rarely mentioned the connection. Sarah Brown's cookbook stresses the healthiness (for the individual) and cost benefits (also to the individual) as well as the "deliciousness" of a vegetarian diet. Many vegetarians at the time would cite cruelty of meat-farming methods as well as the health benefit, but these arguments could usually be brushed aside by anyone not keen to have a nut-roast forced upon them.

With figures such as these, individual diet and responsibility for protecting the planet go hand-in-hand:

And the mainstream are already on the case:

My view is that this is going to move quickly. I foresee a not-too-distant future where meat-eating is consigned to a collection of decadent, shameful, unjustifiable crimes including smoking, drinking, driving a car, watching 1970s comedy shows and taking a flight.

I can feel it in my bones.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Loop-the-loop economy

Lufthansa have occasionally offered products that fall into the up-cycling and repurposing category in their World Shop, from messenger bags made from old life-vests through to on-board drinks trolleys to use in the comfort of your own home.

This year, there is a whole collection, made not just from the interior materials, but also from the aircraft itself, in this case an Airbus 340 that had been in service since 2001.

As well as the natty bags and wallets, there is now furniture. A coffee table made from the A340's aileron slats and a very stylish bar:

The beauty of these design items is, of course, not just the quirkiness of the item itself, but the story behind it. Who sat in the seat my sports bag is made of? Who has looked out of my "bar" window - and over which land or sea?

This may not offset flight-shame for the most hardy among us, but it does do something to forward Lufthansa's reputation in both design and responsibility.

A bit more down-to-earth is a new app brand that's hoping to aggregate all those return-your-clothes-for-money schemes: Stuffstr . Nice idea, and one that it would be good to see working.

But will you eventually be able to sell back your Stuffstr or even your World Shop up-cycled purchases there?

Tuesday, 21 January 2020


The other weekend, I slunk off on my own to the cinema to see Stanley Nelson's documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool. Some reviews have suggested the film is a little pedestrian with its cradle-to-grave and talking heads approach, but I found it fascinating.

What struck me most of all throughout the film was the contrast between complexity and clarity. We talk about change and the VUCA world today, but when I think what changes culturally, socially and technologically Miles Davis lived through in his (rather-too-short) life, it's quite extraordinary. The quick-cut stock-footage introductions to phases of Davis' life that Nelson uses are tremendously effective in bringing this home.

Parallel to the evolution of the times was the evolution in Miles Davis' music - influences, collaborators, band, styles - from hard bebop to cool jazz to funk fusion, and all the rest.

And super-imposed on all of this is the complexity of the man himself. He was complicated: a genius artistically, cool, proud and brave, but also arrogant, violent and jealous, anti-social and drawn into the self-destructiveness of drugs and alcohol.

I came out of the cinema with all that complexity swimming around in my mind, but above it, a sound. An unmistakeable, clear, non-vibrato, melodic trumpet singing "simple, pretty notes" (just 12 of them).

What's this got to do with brands? To me, it's yet another demonstration that brands are not "like people." Who in their right mind would attempt or even want to hang a personality like that of Miles Davis onto a brand?

But yet, who wouldn't want a voice as clear and distinctive as that of Miles Davis' trumpet for their brand? Forget the complex personalities and archetypes and character profiles: to make your brand distinctive, nail the voice and be true to it, whether you're playing funky stuff or lonely ballads.

My favourite example of a clear brand voice at the moment? Burger King.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Frydays for Future?

I haven't taken the plunge into Veganuary this year, but I have used the first week to catch up on some reading - and the subject of two reports that have been lingering around since last year is The Future of Food.

Sainsbury's Future of Food report is entertainingly written, with scenarios from 2025, 2050 and 2169 depicted visually and verbally. Jellyfish is on the menu.

And Knorr's Future 50 Foods concentrates on non-animal ingredients we should be looking to for healthier people and a healthier planet. Currently, the human race is limited when it comes to what we eat: 75% of global food comes from 12 plant and 5 animal species. The Future 50 covers cereals, grains & tubers, beans, legumes & sprouts, vegetables, mushrooms and nuts & seeds. I played a little game with myself to see how many I'd seriously never heard of. Here are the 16:

Laver seaweed
Black turtle beans
Bambara beans
Marama beans
Khorasan wheat
Orange tomatoes (yup, OK, I've heard of these as in not yet quite ripe ...)
Beet greens
Broccoli rabe
Pumpkin leaves
Enoki mushrooms
Maitake mushrooms
Saffron milk cup mushrooms
Lotus root
Ube (Purple yam)

It's distinctly possible I may have eaten some of these unknowingly, although I don't think I've consumed jellyfish without my knowledge.

And while I'm on the subject of food and future, there has been a flurry of articles this week about edible or consumable packaging and utensils, and doing away with packaging altogether.

The humble ice cream cone has to be the role model here. There are toothpaste tablets in bags - Just like paste, without the waste. Or how about toiletries packaged in soap? Or straws made from seaweed or flavoured flour?

Maybe jellyfish shopping bags will be the next big thing? Beats crocodile handbags.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Roaring reconciliation?

I visited the UK just before Christmas - my flight was on election day. I was dreading more-or-less every possible outcome of the election, but when I heard the result I felt a surprising sense of relief. I say sense, although it made no sense at all. I have been unhappy about Brexit since the referendum. Over three years of trying to explain, trying to understand ...

I turned up to a party with old friends. Some of them staunch Labour supporters, others keen Brexiteers. But the result was hardly discussed. I could sense my feeling of relief amongst the entire company. No, it's not necessarily what we all would have wished for, but that wish would never have been granted. There were no fights, no name-calling. We'll all still be friends at the turn of the next decade.

I was reminded of what I read in Most Contagious - in the preface, the Editorial Director, Alex Jenkins, says: So, if we can't predict the future, how can we prepare for the next decade? My advice is to hang onto this word: reconcile ... I believe that the people and the brands that will be successful in the next decade are the ones that can reconcile.

It's about changing the vs. to an and.

Digital and traditional
Computers and humans
Short-term activation and brand-building

When I returned to social media, it was all still there: vile name-calling for those that have another opinion, people expressing their distress and feeling of betrayal at the election result (often on the behalf of less-fortunate others who probably voted in the opposite direction), crude generalisations and plenty of prancing around on high horses. It all seemed so yesterday, so dated.

I wonder if one consequence of digitalisation is that our brains have become digital? When you look at an analogue clock, it's an analogy or representation of the passage of time. The infinite possibilities and the exact time now are viewable at a glance. All possible times can be seen, and they co-exist as a harmonious whole.

But a digital clock just gives you one time - now. You can't see the spread or scope. It's a "single version of the truth" and if you don't agree, you must be stupid. Or ill-informed. Or misled by enemy propaganda. Or in some foreign country where they do things differently.

Now, have I fallen into my own trap with analogue and digital? Quite possibly - and that's another area where there should be no vs, only coexistence.

The last 20s were roaring. I'm hoping the coming 20s will roar with reconciliation and resound with the things that bind and unite us.