Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Jam today and jam tomorrow

Carrying on from last week's post on the subject of Great (New) British brands, I'll turn my attention this week to a couple of British brands born on the other side of the millennium.

The received wisdom is, these days, that it's all about 'Experience' and 'Story'. Something the brand Colman's Mustard did, I feel, most admirably with the Mustard Shop & Museum in the Royal Arcade in Norwich. Sadly, it seems that this wonderful emporium closed down last year.

But just a little further south in East Anglia, Tiptree jam is opening up another tea room, this time in Chelmsford.

This tea room is slightly different from the brand's previous forays into retail and gastronomy in that it's in a rather more modern setting. It's easy to design an English tea room when you have a quaint country cottage or ancient mill at your disposal, but with a modern building, the designers have to think differently. I think they've succeeded with their blend of the past and the present:

Let's just hope that Tiptree isn't the next to be taken over by Unilever.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Tally Ho!

I always admire the organisation Trendwatching for their breathlessly optimistic tone of voice, something that old cynics like me would do well to take heed of. Back in 2016, in the light of Brexit and the rise of Mr Trump, the agency suggested that brands might like to join the backlash against globalism in a positive way.

It seemed naive at the time: surely all those that supported Brexit were dreadful flag-waving jingoists at best? But now, with Facebook in the particular limelight that's reserved for villains of the piece, maybe there is room for 'Nation Nurturers' to stand up as heroes for people 'seeking solace in the familiar.'

I've found two menswear brands that are doing just that, and combining the history and tradition of the British Services with bang up-to-date business models and media.

First, there's Realm & Empire, who have 'honest, original garments that offer modern fits with strong historical links.' Inspired the archives of the Imperial War Museum, this is just the ticket for those who'd like a piece of vintage kit but find only sizes S and XS on eBay. Wouldn't mind a job as a designer there!

And then there's a brand that's only been around half a year or so, Patria , which is a purpose-driven outfit, founded and staffed by veterans and committed to supporting Armed Forces Charities. The business model here is bang up-to-date, employing crowd-sourcing, which removes the necessity for stores and stock, and cuts down on waste. They're currently offering T-Shirts and Sweatshirts to celebrate the RAF centenary.

Patria's logo, the terrier 'Jack', is, quite simply, top hole.

Chocks away, chaps!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

(Home-grown) Problem:Solution Advertising

Advertising in the past (especially from the likes of Procter & Gamble) frequently featured a format known as Problem - Solution. The Problem would be dramatised in a way first to get heads nodding - oh-yes-I-have-those-stubborn-stains-too-but-never-dared-mention-them. Then, in a starburst of glory, the Solution would enter the screen in a heroic pose, possibly accompanied by a man in a white coat or a super-scientific nifty demo.

Once super-hero Solution had done its job, the end benefit would be celebrated with cheesy smiles all around (particularly if the Problem was unsightly yellow stains on teeth, or similar.)

However, after a while, 'Problem Fatigue' began to set into that style of advertising. Most of the world's household stain problems, washday woes and less-than-perfect skin, hair and teeth gripes had been tackled, if not completely eradicated by the various solutions on offer. Companies started inventing problems to which they'd already made the solution. Or dilemmas which no normal person in their right mind would ever entertain. It all got a bit ludicrous.

But a few years ago, advertisers started to strike a rich seam. Problems - less physical, more attitudinal - that the advertising and marketing industry had themselves created.

Take the picture above. Back in the 80s, 90s and even early noughties, clothes and toys for young children were fairly gender-neutral. With a few notable exceptions. But for the last couple of decades, more and more sparkly pink and girl/boy-designated books, toys, birthday cards, wrapping paper  and even cakes and sweets have crept in. So, all of a sudden, there's an issue - gender stereotyping - that brands can bravely fight against. While keeping quiet about who created the problem in the first place.

Ditto Objectified Women in Advertising. There are more than a few plucky brands taking a stand against this issue. Accompanying their efforts is a narrative that suggests that back in the dark ages of the last century, almost all women in advertising looked something like this, unless they were cast into the role of mother/housewife:

And, worst of all, women at the time meekly accepted their lot of how they were portrayed. Really? Maybe most of us had more important things than advertising to worry our pretty little heads about at the time.

While we're on the subject of women, there are those now well-known enemies: flawless beauty:

And stick-thin models:

Again, these 'issues' - which were manufactured by the advertising industry itself - are being used as societal problems which the new, virtuous, purpose-led brands can rush in and solve in a blaze of awards, social experiments and tear-jerking commercials.

What takes real bravery, though, is to admit to having created (or exacerbated) a real problem, like plastic waste,  or  unnecessary additives in foods and make a commitment to do something about it:

Sometimes the world of advertising, with its issues, problems and solutions, feels rather like the world of reality TV, where the winners of one ghastly show are recycled as contestants for the next.

And no-one outside the echo chamber really cares.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Meanwhile, down at the Old Bull & Bush ...

I've had the pleasure of working on several alcohol brands throughout my career - Courvoisier, Harvey's sherries, and Lanson champagne, to name a few. The 80s and 90s of the last century were something of a golden age for drinks advertising in the UK. Who could forget this glorious commercial?

Working on alcohol brands today is a different story. Much of the brands' budgets are taken up with promoting what's called 'responsible drinking' which must be something of a conundrum. How do you promote your brand, differentiate it but at the same time warn about not going overboard with the stuff? It's a bit devil you do, devil you don't, and I don't envy people working with this puzzle, to be honest.

If you look at the stats and that alarming rise in the early 2000s, you can see why something had to be done:

And this is what you end up with. It kind of swims or sinks depending on how much cred the artist in question has. And I must admit that I don't have a clue on that front.

There was another time in history when alcohol consumption was at alarming levels in the UK - and by all accounts easily available to children:

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, alcohol consumption levels were even higher than 100 years later. This gave rise to movements promoting 'abstinence' and 'temperance' rather than today's phrase 'responsible drinking.' These movements were usually linked to religions and certainly not to the alcohol producers themselves.

One such was the 'Band of Hope Union' which tried to nip the habit right in the bud. This was a club for children with the aim of preventing them from starting to drink alcohol. One method was to teach youngsters about the effects of alcohol on the human body, and certificates were awarded for 'reporting a lecture on alcohol and the human body' - the one above was awarded to my grandfather while he was in his early teens.

I know my grandfather grew up to enjoy a pint or two as much as the next man, but I wonder how much of the decrease in consumption seen in the pre-WW1 years above was due to the efforts of the Temperance Societies? Behind all the drum-beating and holier-than-thou stuff, they were at least treating teens as intelligent humans with an interest in the latest scientific findings.

Today, the UK alcohol industry is quite different to the one I knew 20 years ago. There are 10,500 less pubs in the UK today than there were in the year 2000.  Here's a recent article with this and other statistics on the Brits and drinking.

I'll end, I think, with a quotation from Hilaire Belloc which makes me slightly misty-eyed:

But when you have lost your Inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

A decade of drivel ;)

There's not a lot more dreary and self-congratulatory than a 'bloggoversary' crammed with statistics about post views, page views and your audience from Outer Mongolia to the Inner Depths of Brexit Island. Unless it's a Facebook anniversary - look-at-this-awesome-video-that-I-didn't-put-together-myself-with-pictures-of-silly-monkeys-and-sickly-cakes (oops.)

No-one cares.

So, to mark 10 years of this blog, I'll direct you to my first post, You know it's time to start blogging when, which reflected on a local exhibition of advertising from the past, and pondered on the difference between 'modern' and 'contemporary'.

Then, there's my most viewed post - quite why is beyond me - Spring Cleaning, all about that daffodil-yellow German equivalent of the Hoover, the Kärcher.

And now, to leave the stats alone, I'm going to pick a post from each year that I particularly liked at the time, a kind of curated (bleurgh!) best-of.

2008: Rafts or Rockets? Should agencies be bolder and not give the client a choice?

2009: The Palace of Wisdom - how all successful brands are progressed by Contraries

2010: Journey - the over-used word of the 21st century so far - and talking of which, have we really progressed since the old AIDA models of communication?

2011: Why, oh why? Planning made extremely easy by simply asking the right questions

2012: "Liking" ourselves to death - who got the future right, Orwell or Huxley?

2013: Data can't tell you anything - up on my soapbox!

2014: An element of surprise - the most important thing?

2015: Is the internet the new TV? - from surfing to being (force) fed

2016: The untrendy strike back - diversity is in as long as it doesn't mean diversity of opinion

2017: Measurement Madness - just because you can measure it doesn't mean it's important

2018: Circle of Life - the sooner we get rid of the notion of (mindlessly) produce - consume - dispose, the better.

Which neatly brings me full circle, having responsibly recycled some of the best of the (Extra)wurst!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Overabundance and overindulgence

I've remarked before on how, over the last 20 years, the internet has become more and more of a passive medium. More like the 'couch potato' picture of TV, in fact. Twenty years ago, we were surfers, springing from crest to crest in an invigorating new world, with just a few other cool young dudes for company. Fifteen years ago, the pace had slowed and we were stumbling over this or that in a mild-mannered absent-minded professor sort of way. And now, most of the world's population are online and content, in many cases, with being fed non-stop with digital drivel by Nanny algorithm, in the guise of a personal curator.

Another parallel is that of nourishment. In the early days, information was relatively scarce, and you had to forage for it. We then moved into what seemed like a golden agricultural age - everyone could grow and create their own stuff, and pass it around for the greater good. But somehow, that dream descended into a passive force-feeding in an age of overabundance.

Well, over-indulgence isn't good for anyone, and the signs are there that the digital honeymoon is over, that paradise is lost for more and more people.

Exhibit One: The Edelman Trust Barometer  this year shows that people trust platforms less than ever before, seeing Facebook and Co. as harbouring bullies and trolls, spreading extremist content and fake news, and not taking any responsibility for it. 'Woah! Hang on, we're just the platform' in a sort of 'don't shoot the messenger' sort of way.

Exhibit Two: Keith Weed, the CMO of Unilever, threatens to pull investment from online platforms that 'create divisions in society'. There's talk of 2018 being the year of the 'techlash' and that 'social media should build social responsibility.'

Exhibit Three: Belinda Parmar aka 'Lady Geek' in today's Guardian gets tough on the tech companies that launched her career, on a personal (locking away the family's devices) and collective level, calling out those who profit from our 'over-engagement' (now, there's an interesting euphemism!). For example, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, who said that the company's main competitor wasn't Amazon Video or YouTube, but sleep. Ouch.

This article is a cautionary tale for all parents. Children imitate their parents' behaviour. If you want your child to grow up a bookworm, he or she has to see you reading. Often. If all they see is their parent glued to Twitter in the bathroom, bedroom, while driving, well ...

Exhibit Four: Sludge - the new word for inserting a pesky seam into all that seamless stuff, making it more difficult to 'over-engage'. Breaking the passivity and forcing action.

So there we have it. Will 2018 be the year our beautiful digital paradise will be regained? And what will it look like with the benefit of experience?

Saturday, 10 March 2018


Kitzbühel, St Moritz, Davos - the names of famous ski resorts are so evocative, you can almost feel the tickle of snowflakes against your skin, and taste that first sip of Glühwein. When asked for my favourite examples of advertising from the past, I have to say that 20th century poster art, particularly in the area of travel and tourism, comes generally high on my list.

Maybe it is this pedigree (and quite possibly a budget as high as the Matterhorn) that leads to some of these mountain resorts being so clever with logo design. Back in the old days, there may have been consistency from year to year in the way the resort presented its signature, but often that wasn't the case:

What to do when you want to present your uniqueness beyond sun, snow and mountains, and when you need to do this throughout all online and offline media available these days - including merchandising.

Enter the cleverly designed logo - maybe accompanied by a slogan. It adds a visual dimension to the name, something that is understood intuitively, and stamped on the memory instantly.

Take Davos, for example. Very simple, very clear, very classy. Sunshine and mountain - unmistakeable.

The tourist logo may take its cue from the town's original coat of arms, for example, here are the town and tourist logos for Kitzbühel.

And of course, the practice is spreading to towns who may not have quite the budget or pull for tourists, but nevertheless see the advantages a logo can bring.

Not quite Davos, but it's home: