Thursday, 18 July 2019

Aufschnitt 1: A bluffers guide to social media Sept 2006

I've discovered a bulging file of cuttings in my office amongst the clutter, and instead of chucking away the lot, I'll be sifting through them to give one or two of the best, the worst and those of particular significance eternal digital life in a new series on this blog.

Welcome to Aufschnitt! This is approximately translated as "cold cuts" and is what invariably greets you at the breakfast table of a German hotel. Which of my collected cuttings are still tasty morsels, and which are well past their sell-by date?

The first in the series is A bluffers guide to social media dated 28th September 2006, written by Antony Mayfield, who I see published a book in 2010 entitled "Me and My Web Shadow."

Why did I save this?
I wasn't really "on" any social media in 2006, although I expect I read the odd blog. I distinctly remember thinking that social media was something I ought to know about, but wasn't relishing the thought.

What is remarkable
Absolutely no mention of Facebook or Instagram whatsoever, although Google, YouTube and iTunes get name-checked. And, although social media are described as "online media", this would have meant someone sitting down, probably indoors, accessing the internet via a PC or Mac. Mobile was still very much the future.

What there's no mention of
The dark side of social media - the faking, the trolling, the bullying, the addiction. The shared characteristics mentioned - participation, openness (meaning accessibility), conversation, community and connectedness - still ring true today, but are tempered by experience.

Thirteen years later, social media has become such an integral part of life that it no longer requires a bluffers' guide.

Monday, 15 July 2019

You put the words right into my mouth

One of the biggest mysteries to me as a writer is this paradox: when asked what they're looking for above all else, literary agents and publishers will talk about Voice, and specifically, fresh new voices.

Yet most of the recent novels I've read recently have felt as if they could have been written by the same person - or even the same AI algorithm. There's very little out there that feels original in terms of Voice (if you must) or what used to be called style.

The homogenisation of language is observable wherever you turn. From novel straplines /Three painful secrets. Two passionate hearts. One forbidden love) through to clickbait headlines through to comments on social media through to newspaper articles.

And in the world of advertising, as this excellent article by Shai Idelson makes clear.

Predictive text is partly to blame, and worse still, what I call assumptive text (all those "Happy for you" "Congrats! Let's catch up" "What an achievement!" suggestions that pop up on something like LinkedIn).

But at the root of it is human laziness. It's so much easier to click on an off-the-shelf suggestion than think up something original and personal.

Please - let's not allow the richness of the English language (or any other language, for that matter) to be reduced to the superficiality of emojis.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Cruel to be kind

When I worked at Saatchis, the phrase "brutal simplicity of thought" was often used. Whether applied to strategy, media or creative ideas, it meant, in the end, hard-hitting advertising.

These billboards from Cancer Research UK are a brilliant example. It's a campaign to make people aware that obesity is the second biggest risk factor for cancer after smoking. The government has been effective in taking measures to reduce smoking, so the charity now wants to put on pressure to tackle obesity.

What could be a better stop-you-in-your-tracks-idea that mocked-up cigarette packets with the brand name "obesity"? Subtle it's not, but it's very clever, and can't be missed.

But "people" (as the news headlines always say) have been complaining. The complaints centre around "fat-shaming" and "weight-stigma".

Now, this isn't a fashion ad, or a cosmetics ad, or a diet ad. It's public information from a charity to raise awareness. It's neither sexist nor racist. It's the continuation of a campaign that has already proved very effective in raising awareness of the link between obesity and cancer.

Next time I hear ad people talking about the need for "bold" campaigns, I will remember this one.

Friday, 28 June 2019

The European Brand Contest

If the man (or woman) from Mars turned up on this planet and looked at a table of worldwide brand value rankings, they'd be forgiven for thinking that the USA was the only country that knew and understood how to build a valuable brand, with perhaps a little competition from that young upstart, China.

Take the BrandZ ranking table, for example. 13 out of the Top 15 brands have their origin in the USA, with numbers 7 & 8 pushing in from China to create at least a little break in the domination.

But then, at position 16, comes SAP, making this the most valuable brand from Europe.

Here are Europe's Top 10 valuable brands:

1. SAP  (Germany) Technology +4%
2. Louis Vuitton (France) Luxury +15%
3. Deutsche Telekom (Germany) Telecom Providers +7%
4. Chanel (France) Luxury NEW
5. Hermes (France) Luxury +10%
6. L'Oreal (France) Personal Care +9%
7. Vodafone (GB) Telecom Providers -8%
8. Gucci (Italy) Luxury +13%
9. Mercedes Benz (Germany) Cars -9%
10. BMW (Germany) Cars -9%

Germany leads Europe in the world of branding, with a mix of cars, technology and telecom. For the moment, anyway. But just look at the growth rates of those French luxury and personal care brands.

Maybe there is something German brands can learn from the French. Those brands prove that you don't have to be a young US or Chinese tech-y brand to enjoy double digit growth.


Monday, 17 June 2019

Big idea from a tiny brand

It's the season of Fests on every corner here that cracks off on the 1st May and sees us supplied with outdoor food, music, drink and fun until the early Autumn. I'm not usually on the lookout for great examples of branding during these events, but it's always an added plus to see a clever piece of marketing.

The Apfelweindeckel above is from Kanne Ebbelwoi (for the uninitiated, that's how those round here pronounce the word Apfelwein). The slogan is nice, but (I expect) pinched from somewhere. What's really clever here is the slogan in conjunction with the logo illustration, which is at first sight a traditional Apfelwein Bembel.

But look at the design more carefully (possibly difficult if too much Apfelwein has gone down the hatch) and you'll see that it's a map of the world. Neat, neat, neat.

I couldn't find out much about Kanne Ebbelwoi from the internet, apart from the possibility that they are what is called a Besenwirtschaft or Straußwirtschaft, a peculiarly German phenomenon which is a seasonally-open little pub or drinking place, usually on the premises of a vineyard or cider-press, that sells its own wine, along with small snacks.

I'll leave you with a couple of pictures of such places - can you imagine anything more delightful on a sunny afternoon?

Friday, 14 June 2019

Comic consultancy

I sometimes wonder if people in the marketing and advertising business have as much fun as they did years ago. It does all seem to have become terribly serious and worthy, with the only source of amusement Tom Fishburne's excellent cartoons.

But every now and then I see something that I wish I'd done. This time, it's Waccenture, a parody of all those smart-arse consultancies:

Turning the obvious into insights, customers into data-points and creativity into algorithms.

From the ghastly stock pictures, to ample use of placeholder text, to clickbait "insight article" headlines quoting phoney research, to the "6-D Process", it's just a little too close for comfort.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

How green is your alley?

I sometimes wonder just how green environmental activists are in their everyday lives, or whether the collective will disintegrates when it comes to everyday behaviour. Do Fridays for Future teenage activists all religiously sort out their rubbish and avoid unnecessary packaging? I'm not convinced ;)

When it comes to helping solve the world's problems, brands can and should play a role.

The obvious role is perhaps in the big actions which draw attention to issues facing people and planet. For example, Le Grand Defi, which took place at the end of May. Rather like a glorified version of a school class tidying the playground of rubbish, this event set to draw attention to the fact that the Mediterranean represents only 1% of the world's marine waters but contains 7% of the  micro-plastics in the world's seas. The event was a race for swimmers and kayakers to collect plastic rubbish from the sea.

But arguably the more difficult task is to ingrain a new way of behaving into people's lives. More difficult, because this isn't about a collective noise for a day. It's about every individual, every day of his or her life.

There have been plenty of news reports about Waitrose Unpacked this week. This is a trial where you can refill your own containers with anything from pasta to beer and wine to cleaning materials (hopefully not mixing them up). But it's only in one store for 3 months. Imagine the enormity of the task of rolling that out nationally.

Let's hope it's a task the supermarket is prepared to invest in, and that the initiative is more than a PR stunt.