Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The Aviatrix, the Algorithm and the Roulette Wheel

Ever wondered what an algorithm would make of a photo of you? In the  Milan exhibition Training Humans, Trevor Paglen and Kate Crawford show an exhibit which looks at how machine learning classifies people, based on the ImageNet dataset. ImageNet was created in 2009 to "map out the entire world of objects."

There are 2833 sub-categories under "person", and some of these are described as "problematic, offensive or bizarre." If you are intrepid enough, you can upload your own photo here.

I had a shot with my author photo, and bizarrely enough, given the theme of the books, it came up with "aviatrix." Even more bizarrely, my husband's photo prompted the label "co-pilot."

In order to dispel my worry that it was all going to be aviation-themed, I uploaded my son's photo.

The one he used for his CV. And the label? "dissimulator, pretender, phoney."

Luckily, the CV (and the photo) got through and he has an apprenticeship. One assumes that the humans were still in control at his place of work (ironically, an aviation engineering company).

But it does all give you pause for thought on who - or what - is sifting through the CVs, and the basis for acceptance or rejection.

Would a roulette wheel perhaps be fairer?

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

More than skin-deep

I wrote a while ago about old dogs and new tricks and here it comes - a brand new and very impressive trick from a positively ancient old dog - or at least its great-grand puppies.

Beiersdorf's first new brand to be launched for over 30 years is Skin Stories, a skincare brand for tattooed skin, including a sun stick, UV moisture lotion and a special repair serum. The new brand recognises that tattoos are mainstream these days (nearly half of all German women aged 25 - 34 have a tattoo - or two).

The cleverness lies in the winning combination of experience/trust (skincare expertise) and innovation - a skincare brand not targetted to gender, age or skin-type, as has been done in the past, but to a segment of the market who have chosen to modify their body in this way.

And there's a brand purpose, too - better and safer tattoos - with the brand going beyond product to set up a think-tank for modern tattooing, for example.

Let's hope it comes up roses for Beiersdorf.

Monday, 9 September 2019

To all the clothes I've loved before

I've made a real effort this year to cut down on buying clothes. It hasn't been easy, and I have caved in on a couple of occasions (notably to replace shoes that have worn through - why don't shoes last these days?). And it seems I'm not the only one - the world is has been waking up to recommerce for some time - see my posts here, here, here and here - and even the everyday retailer Asda is having a go with its Re-Loved section in the Milton Keynes store, where donated clothes of all brands, not just Asda's own, will be sold.

Second-hand clothes have always been part of my wardrobe, from hand-me-downs as a child, and later jumble sales and the Army Surplus Store (still going as "H.M. Government Supplies) to Kensington Market. And what a joy to hear that Flip is still going, albeit up in Newcastle as the Covent Garden branch with its Hawaiian shirts and naval jackets - like a giant cast outfitter for South Pacific - has long gone the way of the rest of the 80s.

As well as the re-use/re-sale angle, there's the re-purpose thread of sustainable fashion, too. And maybe an even bigger opportunity is fashion rental. Changing the mindset away from weddings and ballgowns and fancy-dress costumes to the everyday. The clothes rental market is heading to become a multi-billion dollar business  and subscription models are springing up everywhere from children's shoes to plus-size clothes.

But whether the subscription models are really sustainable remains to be seen. The danger is that people will continue to hunger for the latest fashions, but once the responsibility for the cleaning, repair, passing on and responsible disposal is in someone else's hands, they'll turn a blind eye to the cost to the environment.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Conspiracy Communication

Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

The answer to these questions - even in Germany - is likely to be "no" from most people, and should you answer yes, the likelihood is that you've been brainwashed by THEM. The rumour is - since the early days of the internet 25 years ago - that Bielefeld doesn't really exist.

While devising a campaign for the town, how clever of the Bielefeld Marketing team to avoid the usual route of raiding the happy-smiley stock photos and turning the negative on its head.

The campaign, Die #Bielefeldmillion is offering €1m to anyone who can prove incontrovertibly that Bielefeld doesn't exist. And the campaign has had huge national and international resonance - emails from Azerbaijan to Brazil,  news reports from Australia to India, local firms such as Dr Oetker joining in on the fun.

There 's a lesson here - not just for place marketing, but for any brand. It takes a healthy dollop of self-confidence and humour to admit your brand isn't perfect, and is even the butt of jokes. But something imperfect is also lovable, as both Marmite and IKEA have long proved.

Coming back to Bielefeld, though - if you want to win the €1m, you'd better be quick: the closing date is 4th September.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

What is a better world, anyway?

The recent death of Lord Bell has made me realise just how much the politics of the average ad-person has shifted in the last couple of decades. OK, back in the 1980s, I was working for the agency that were Margaret Thatcher's "favourites", but nevertheless, it would have been a brave person in almost any of the top agencies who openly admitted to voting Labour. They would have been thought a dreadful hypocrite at best.

These days, according to The Empathy Delusion by Reach Solutions, 44% of UK advertising and marketing people identify their politics as "left", 36% as "centre" and only 20% as "right." The report is fascinating, as it reveals that despite priding ourselves on our superior empathy (a delusion), people in the ad industry are as out-of-touch with the man or woman on the street (aka the "modern mainstream") as were their Bollinger-swilling yuppie 1980s predecessors - but living in a bubble of a completely different character, on the opposite side of the political battlefield. And quite possibly even more out of touch.

Someone with a mind set that's liberal/left has a narrower (or more focussed, if you prefer) moral compass, where more emphasis is given to the more "individualising" moral foundations - care/harm and fairness/reciprocity - than those characterising "binding/ethics of community" - in-group loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity - when making decisions on right and wrong, better and worse. The sample of advertising and marketing people in the study exhibited "different cultural and ethical settings" to the "modern mainstream."

I could take issue with all sorts of things in this report - were the two samples age-matched, for example? And isn't this sort of analysis divisive, therefore stirring up a hornet's nest while not being terribly helpful in terms of offering solutions? But some of the findings made me question my own biases and assumptions - obsession with "the cult of the individual"? Guilty as charged.

And it explains a lot about the current debate on Brand Purpose, especially the blurring of edges between purpose and cause-related marketing.

If brand purpose is about a positive contribution to a better world, maybe we should ask ourselves what we mean by "better". No-one wants a worse world, surely? Could it be that, for a lot of advertising and marketing people, a "better world" is mainly about care/harm and fairness/reciprocity relating to the individual?

For all its conservative leanings, at the agency Saatchi & Saatchi, we did always try and find a Simple Universally Recognised (Human) Truth. Something that united humans despite differences.

Perhaps it's not looking for purpose as such that's wrong, but we should broaden the scope of where we look - and what comprises a "better world."

A world with fewer pubs closing, for example?

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Aufschnitt 3: The modern rules of advertising, 2005

It's off cut time again. This could well be Bierwurst, although I'm not entirely sure. If it is, it makes a nice link to the first point in an article from the BBC News on Friday, 2nd September 2005, all about advertising cliches. It's an interesting one, as I posted last week about the heavy-handed mission of the ASA to eliminate anything that could possibly be construed as a harmful stereotype from advertising.

So, here we go - 26 advertising cliches from 2005:

I'm not sure whether this is a cause for celebration (plus ca change) or whether it makes me mildly depressed about the state of this industry.

But one thing is clear - the more creative we can be, the less obsessed with "slices of life", and the more we can keep a perspective and a sense of humour about the work we're doing, the better the results. Both in the creative work and what it does for the brand.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Tiptoe through the tulips

I'm afraid that this post may have me sounding like a rabid Daily Fail reader, but sometimes I wonder what I'm still doing in this business.

I read that the ASA have banned the first two TV ads under the new rules put in place to "reduce gender stereotyping." Complaints had come in from the public to say that these ads "perpetuated harmful stereotypes." I took a look at the ads, expecting to see something outrageous. Offensive, even.

But I don't think I've seen anything so harmless in my life.

According to the BBC, three people (no, that's not a typo) complained that the VW ad showed women in a passive/stereotypical care-giving role. I'd assume those three people were taking the piss. But the ASA, in their infinite wisdom, have concluded that "this ad presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm."

Cause harm? To whom? In whose view? What possible harm could be caused by seeing a woman on a park bench by a pram for a couple of seconds in a TV commercial? What kind of a world is it where depicting someone as care-giving is "likely to cause harm"?

Maybe the woman in the ad finally had a longed-for baby after several miscarriages. Maybe she's a lesbian. Maybe she used to be a man. Maybe she used to be a wombat for all I know and care.

What on earth happened to imagination? I've posted before about the way everything seems to be taken so literally these days, with demands here, there and everywhere for people of all sorts to "see themselves reflected in advertising".

Please, please, please:

Bring back creative ideas.

Bring back universal human truths.

Bring back advertising as entertainment not a dull bloody reflection of real life.

All that will happen if this policing continues will be the emergence of new stereotypes which will quickly become as irrelevant and yawn-inducing as the old ones.

Who remembers the "new man" of the 1990s?