Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Baaaaad Brand!

Well, at least one that seems somewhat uncompromising. Stroh rum, known as The Spirit of Austria, is a brand that turns all the current 21st century must-dos of branding on their heads.

From its beginnings in 1832, back in the imperial days, Stroh has made a virtue of being inauthentic. So inauthentic that it's authentic, in fact. Austria is land-locked and didn't have many colonies so it was unlikely that anyone would be able to bring enough sugar cane back from the Caribbean for an authentic rum. So the strong spiced rum was concocted from sugar beet, plus aromas and colours.

It's available in 5 different strengths: 38, 40, 54, 60 and 80 and, yes, those are the ° proof. The two highest are described as "overproof" which is about as blunt as "overweight."

Devoid of stories about crafting and palm trees and pirates, the pack design is also uncompromising. In fact, it could be mistaken for something you'd put in your car engine, rather than your mouth. The whole thing is redolent of last century ski holidays, tin signs, dark wooden huts, smoky bars, paper bags from picture postcard newsagents, the whiff of Jagertee.

The only time Stroh gets slightly less disreputable is when it's used as an ingredient in cakes and desserts. But those aren't terribly good for your waistline.

Please keep the branding consultants away!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Especially for you

2018, the trend forecasters inform us, will see yet more leaps forward in brands getting close up and personal with their customers.

Right on cue, I received the flyer above a couple of days ago, through the good old post. It's not from a huge global brand, but from a local sports store, informing me of a loyalty bonus I've earned. I have to say that receiving something with my name literally on it made me feel quite special. Especially as I am about to set off to the slopes. I was flattered by this little surprise, a lot more so than if it had been sent via email.

But maybe that's the point. The surprise is that it combines what we used to call old (flyer) media with new (personalisation) technology. No-one would be surprised to receive something of this sort via their smart phone, for example.

This raises an interesting issue about people's expectations. We say again and again that people's expectations from brand communication are changing, but we seldom stop to think what that really means. What it does mean is that personalisation will become so commonplace that it won't be a surprise any more. It will become par for the course, expected, maybe not even noticed any more, in the way that people want Smart Home technology 'so seamless it's forgotten.'

We all have the same tools at our disposal. Being first to use these may win you a few temporary points for novelty value. But it's only when the tools are used in a fashion and to a purpose that is unique to your brand and what it stands for that will build lasting attachment.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Magnificent Men (... and women)

One major anniversary in 2018 will be 100 years of the Royal Air Force. Those who're aware of my author-ego will know I have something of a soft spot for the RAF and I thought I'd kick off the New Year with a look at how the recruitment advertising for the RAF has reflected cultural changes across the last century. Well, actually, it's an excuse to go rummaging through some wonderful old ads.

When the RAF, born out of the Royal Flying Corps, started, it was all about honour and glory. The beautiful poster above looks and feels every bit of its hundred years old, from the typeface to the sentiments expressed. The 'See the World' poster is probably a little younger, and introduces a perennial theme for the RAF - the exciting possibilities and adventure that such a career opens up.

By 1941, in the middle of the 2nd World War, things were getting grittier and direct on target. There was no doubt here about what was required and what was the task that lay ahead. This image is courtesy of the very magnificent Aviation Ancestry - but I will issue a warning straight away - you are likely to be some time if you visit the site!

Moving into the 1970s and 80s, the promise of excitement and adventure was still writ large. The advert featuring a Tornado is also care of Aviation Ancestry. And changes in society were reflected too in the RAF - or maybe the services actually influenced some societal changes? The advert below is courtesy of the Advertising Archives:

As the century due to a close, the recruitment advertising went into full James Bond action mode, as seen here in a 1997 TV ad:

And now, almost up-to-date, one of the ads from the 'No Ordinary Job' campaign:

Being the youngest of the services, and being born into the golden age of poster advertising, the RAF does sometimes feel more like a brand than the other services. I feel that the RAF Roundel has a lot to do with that - one small symbol that says so much, so powerfully.

Chocks away, 2018!

Friday, 22 December 2017

A wonder-full 2018

I know, I know. It's only adverts.

But next year I would love to see less of platforms, engagement, driving this or that, KPIs, journeys of various sorts, digital disruption, millennials, Thought Leadership, embracing and empowering, reaching out, roadmaps, workshops, Change Drivers, seamless experiences, content, algorithms ...

And more:


From one of my favourite books, above:

"We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and the fear and dread and splendour of wonder have been banished.. Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel.  It is undemocratic, discriminatory, and pitiless."

A wonder-full 2018 to everyone!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Boxing Day, Decade, Century?

Around this time of year, I like to get nostalgic and have a look at advertising and brand communications from days gone by. Now, forgive me if I get lazy for once, but I have found a fascinating write-up of some Christmas ads all the way from the 1980s by Mike Oughton, Creative Director of McCann, in Campaign.

Have a look - you can marvel and revel in the pre-digital masterpieces of Oxo, IBM and Coca-Cola. It was a different world. But the one that makes me most nostalgic, maybe because the brand has disappeared from the UK High Street, is Woolworth's. 'The Spectacular Woolworth's Christmas Show' to be exact. It's got everything - celebrities, sports stars, technology - and tapes. Piles and piles of them.

Tapes aside, I'm quite amazed at how much technology (if you can call it that) was on offer at Woolworth's at the time. And just how much is crammed into the ad - apart from the celebrities, there are brands upon brands, and prices, and music, all-singing, all-dancing.

Now compare that with the Amazon ad above. I think it's a great piece of branding and definitely watchable, but there's also something slightly sinister about it. It's all about the boxes, and the Amazon logo, and whatever is inside those boxes doesn't get a look in. It's certainly single-minded.

Contagious, in their report on the coming trends, talk about 'Amazonification' and describe Jeff Bezos as 'The Man in the Cardboard Castle' - a reference to world domination if ever there was one. Where will Amazon go next? Banking? Pharma? Who knows?

Bots, boxes and Mr Bezos - the future belongs to you?

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Age of Confusion

If I had one wish for Christmas, or even for next year, I'd like to knock all those brands off their faux social mission bandwagons and take an axe to that plinky piano whose music always features behind such creations.

OK, maybe I'm being unseasonably miserable, and maybe the ad for Olay has a fantastic insight that will have women round the world cheering, but I find it patronising. There's the ad itself. Do people really take comments such as 'you're beautiful' and 'you've got a lovely smile' and 'I love your hair' from a random film-maker that they don't know as 'true compliments'? Oh, and incidentally, what if the film-maker had been male? Where would we have been then?

And I have never, ever heard anyone say someone has 'a lovely smile for their age.' Then the rallying call 'It's time we stop defining women by their age.' I wondered who 'we' means in this context. Who is the finger being pointed at? I can only come to the conclusion that it must be Olay pointing the finger at themselves. I wonder if they'll put their words into action?

As (Oil of) Olay, Ulay, Olaz, Ulan and maybe some other permutations and combinations, this brand has invested years in the idea of younger-looking skin.

Today, the product line-up includes products 'For fighting the 7 signs of ageing' while there are anti-wrinkle products classified into age groups 25+, 40+ and 55+. By the way, whether you're 55 or 95, you come into the 'deep wrinkles' category. Sorry.

And of course, the makers of Olay send you a wonderful magazine once you get over the age of 50, together with an incontinence pad sample. You see, they are allowed to segment and judge according to your age, but for the general public, it's a no-no.

I think Olay - or at least the people running the brand - need to work out what they stand for, and what they are offering. At the moment, the messages are mixed and contradictory. It would be a brave move, for example, to accept that many women do want to look younger, even if it's not the most PC, feminist right-on thing to want. (In the same way that many women in the Far East wish for fairer skin.)

And while much of the advertising from the last century is cringeworthy, there's a brilliant ad from the then Oil of Olay which I think captures the spirit of the brand and still works today. Better than 10,000 plinky pianos.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Colours reunited

This year, there's been rather a spate of what I'd call 'diversity' commercials, for example Levis' 'Circles' above. It's got a great soundtrack and definitely leaves you feeling good about humanity and wanting to get up and dance. So far, so good.

But the more of these rather generic-looking commercials I see, the more I get deja-vu, right back to the 80s, when I was getting up and shaking my stuff rather more frequently than I do now. And I think of The United Colours of Benetton.

Although Luciano Benetton had been going with his fashion emporium since 1969, it wasn't until 1982 that he met his partner in crimes against bland advertising, photographer and art director Oliviero Toscani. And the two of them changed the face of marketing and advertising forever.

These posters may look a little dated now (especially the clothes!). But we're going back over 30 years. Is the 2017 Levis commercial any different to this in terms of the idea behind it?

What came subsequently from the creative partnership maybe overshadowed these posters with their spirit of youthful optimism and a borderless future. As the decade turned, the idea of 'United Colours' was taken into a more controversial sphere:
And what happened in the early 90s is now advertising history: the newborn baby, the human hearts, the blood-stained uniform, the death row prisoners, the AIDs victim deathbed scene. Was it controversy for controversy's sake? And where, in all of this, were the clothes?

As an aside, for all the talk about the importance of the retail experience today, that was another area that Benetton pioneered and got absolutely right in the 1980s. Who of a certain age can ever forget the stores with their neatly-stacked piles of rainbow-coloured jumpers? It was a fashion sweet-shop if ever there was one.

Diversity, shopping experience, political and social causes - Benetton was definitely ahead of its time.

Toscani and Benetton parted ways as the millennium turned. But now they are back together, older and maybe wiser. In the new campaign, they have gone back to their roots in some ways with photography of an Italian primary school class with children from 13 different countries and 4 different continents.

It looks almost as if we could be back in 1984. But with one difference. These aren't models - this is real life.

Make of that what you will.