I'm not too sure how much of the "communications content" that I've been involved in over the last 30 years will be around in 80 or 90 years, if any of it. So let me take the opportunity of showing you some of my all-time favourite Christmas ads. They're all London Underground posters from the 1920s and 1930s - a less throwaway age - which I am sure did their job in their time, as well as brightening up people's days as they struggled from Hamleys to Fortnum & Mason. Above is a 1925 poster by Richard T.Cooper.
Clients had important messages back in those days too, of course, but no-one seems to have been insisting that the visual communicated the message as well as the copy. These examples are from Austin Cooper, 1923 and Horace Taylor, 1924.
Coca Cola didn't have the monopoly on the red-suited Father Christmas in the 1930s. This 1934 poster is from an artist named Anna Katrina Zinkeisen
And finally, from 1932, Dudley Dyer's Merry Christmas all around the town!
My memories of charity giving from childhood centre around coins and things - collecting boxes for the Lifeboats being rattled in the town, poppies or Queen Alexandra roses to pin on your coat, my RSPCA and PDSA badges, the Oxfam cards my parents bought each Christmas, putting pennies into a life-size model of a Guide Dog for the blind, raffle tickets...
These days, giving to charity has become not just easier to do, but easier to shout about, too. Buttons on your browser instead of your coat, crowdfunding platforms, Gift Aid, posting your donation on Facebook, PayPal links, timely emails whenever a world disaster occurs and all the rest.
And then there are all those big behavioural campaigns where you can be a walking awareness-raiser, from Movember to No Make-Up Selfie to Ice Bucket Challenge. These have come in for criticism on one side from those who say such actions trivialise the issues that they are trying to create awareness for, and find something sinister in what they see as "branding a disease." And the critics, on the other side, are dismissed as cynical killjoys with a bah, humbug mentality.
It's difficult to tell whether people are actually giving more to charity these days, or whether they are just talking about it more. There are some interesting stats from the Charities Aid Foundation, here. I must say that I was surprised to see which country shares first place with the USA in the World Giving Index.
The World Giving Index is not just about donating money. It also include the elements of giving up time and helping a stranger. And this must be the future for charities - using the possibilities of technology to encourage people to donate not just money, but time, skills and other intangibles. There's a super article by Lucy Aitken of Contagious with some great examples of just that, here.
A few years back, the world of online and offline/bricks and mortar retailing had a definite vs between the two factions, presented as an epic duel, swords unleashed, between the old guard and the young upstarts.
But a mediator has stepped in and changed all that. And this mediator takes the form of SmartPhones and other mobile devices. The trend now is that it's not either/or, but both and better. Ads from online retailers that criticise the bricks and mortar world - and vice versa - look dated indeed.
A brand that characterises this meshing of the physical and digital retail worlds perfectly is Hointerwhich recently won the Most Contagious Start-Up Award. Hointer is a technology platform that enables bricks and mortar retailers to leap into the brave new world where physical and digital are meshed together. As founder Nadia Shouraboura says: "Now it's time to bring digital and physical together to make it spectacular."
To me it's a metaphor for progress and creativity in all fields: reconcile two seemingly opposing factions and create something brilliant. The Whoosh Fitting Room in the video above is certainly evidence of that!
I've just read an amusing article from The Economist about euphemisms in marketing. It's about those products that most of the human race need at some time or another but we don't like referring to them - or the problem they solve - in polite company, or seeing lurid demos of the product's efficacy on our TV screens while we're eating.
I've never worked on the SanPro market (as we referred to it in the UK, aka 'feminine hygiene') but I have noticed that there's a bit of a movement away from the cliches in recent advertising, to the "heavily emotional and empowering" or to the "blunt and outrageous." But in other areas, twee euphemism still reigns. Nappies/diapers for school age children are called "sleepovers" or "pyjama pants."
I wonder, with the increasing number and purchase power of over 60s, whether we'll see a surge in acceptability of products and brands that were previously bought in plain brown wrappers or, at any rate, as discretely as possible, from constipation remedies to denture cleaners to incontinence pads.
Talking of which, I do remember being amused by P&G explaining that their collective term for SanPro and Adult Incontinence products was Catamenials. And, better still, my cabin crew friends at British Airways were told to refer to sick bags as Cuspidors. Cuspidors and Catamenials. It sounds almost Shakespearian!
Cars, or should I say Automobiles, were one of the obsessions of my generation. As children, boys and girls alike poured over Observer's Books. We collected Matchbox Toys, Dinky Toys, Corgi Toys. We were given a pedal car as a special present. We helped Mum and Dad wash their cars (by hand) and watched the neighbours polishing up their cars. On Sundays, it wasn't unusual to go out for a drive. Not to get from A to B but simply for the whole family to enjoy motoring.
The automobiles in those days were works of art - beautiful and characterful - and those still running can make us gasp today. And a few years later, in the 80s and early 90s, success was measured by what you managed to land as a company car, as well as the size of your wage packet.
Children these days still play with cars, of course, and brands such as Hot Wheels, which I remember from my childhood, are still with us. But there has been a fundamental shift in the way we think about cars - as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.
In the same way that many younger people these days don't have a landline, more and more young people, particularly those in cities, don't own a car. The car-sharing market, made possible by technology, is booming. Car-sharing, whereby one can set up an account, rather like a phone account, and have almost instant access to vehicles on a pay-by-trip basis has been driven (arf, arf) largely by companies of German-speaking origin. Brands like the Swiss Mobility and car2go - recently arrived in Frankfurt - are leading the way.
As trends go, Car-sharing ticks plenty of boxes. There's the meshing of the real and virtual world, the sharing economy, urbanisation, sustainability and so on. It's also a way for established brands - both car manufacturers and traditional car rental companies - to refresh their image and to be at the forefront of innovation.
Who knows - maybe one of these brands will introduce Classic Car Sharing, combining the dreams of childhood with the technology of today.
In my psychology student days, I was always rather wary of Behaviourism, that school of thought that says that psychology should be all about observable behaviour rather than unobservable events that take place in people's minds. Perhaps it was due to an uncomfortable feeling that the richness of human experience could simply be compared to rats pressing levers in cages to get a reward or a shock.
The language and principles of behaviourism, such operant conditioning - the modification of voluntary behaviour through reinforcement and punishment - have found their way into many aspects of life today and this is not necessarily a bad thing if those involved are acting with everyone's best interests in mind. We use rewards frequently in parenting and for our own self-improvement ("if I manage to lose 5kg I'll reward myself with a new pair of jeans.")
From Green Shield Stamps to AirMiles, brands have long used the idea of rewarding purchasing behaviour to build loyalty. And technology today means that brands also have the potential to reward other behaviours via wearable devices and smartphones. Trendwatching have identified "Currencies of Change" in their 10 Trends for 2015. The trend is sub-titled "because good behaviour should no longer be its own reward".
Some of the examples cited, such as a brand donating to a food bank when users try low-calorie recipes, are laudable. But as I read on, I began to feel uneasy, as I did with Skinner's caged rats. Not only did I feel that some of these "rewards" were treating adult humans as children (or worse still, lab rodents) but there seems something sinister about people being "rewarded" - sometimes financially - for something that they should be doing anyway. For example, a bank was mentioned that moves money into a higher-interest account for every step taken while jogging, or cyclists and motorists being rewarded for not using their mobile phones while cycling and driving.
Behavioural methods can be useful in the treatment of phobias, addictions and other psychological problems, but it's not the place of a brand to do this.
It's another example of "just because you can do it doesn't mean you should."
So many brands push for perfection. They want to offer a seamless service, a consistent experience. They claim to be passionate about high quality and strive to be the "gold standard" or "best in class".
But rather like a race of Brad Pitt lookalikes with 150 average IQ, doesn't this all become a little tiresome and, dare I say it, bland?
An alternative is to celebrate the odd, the eccentric, the ugly, the characterful. One of my favourite examples is the Intermarche Inglorious Fruits & Vegetablescampaign. Although, having said that, this is far more than a campaign - it's one of those brilliant ideas that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, like a good bowl of soup.
At Intermarche, the potato with a waspie waist, the aubergine that looks like an alien and the carrots that require an 18 certificate all get sold 30% cheaper as Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables. And they already have their own sub-brand or spin-off of soups and fruit juices, as it all tastes the same once it goes through the blender.
War on waste, increased sales for Intermarche and smiles on the faces of your customers. It's a marketing dream.
And on a similar theme, on the other side of the earth in Melbourne, is a restaurant which serves tasty soups and other dishes made from "organic waste" aka overripe or ugly vegetables. The name? Brothl. Brilliant!
I have to admit to loving logos. Not all those horrid swooshy ones, or whatever you get from 99designs, but clever, artfully designed logos with an idea - and a meaning. Or several meanings.
There's a wonderful collection of 40 brand logos with hidden messages here (care of oomph! who have a pretty good logo of their own). Some I've seen before, some are new to me. Some are just brilliant, like the Shelter logo with the "h" made into a house - so simple. Or the Baskin Robbins logo with its pink 31 in the middle. Or, seeing as I'm in Germany, the super Kölner Zoo logo above, complete with cathedral using up the negative space.
All good communication, from logos to TV ads, works best when there are layers of meaning for people to discover. These may work at the subconscious level and quite often the creative people involved will be consciously unaware of the symbolism that they have built into the design or ad. This is because most good creative people work with symbols instinctively, without any dreary analysis of the "which stimulus can we throw into this to trigger X response" sort.
It's time to dust down the baubles, pull on your Rudolf onesie, grab a mug of mulled wine and sit blubbing your eyes out to the latest Christmas ads. Well, if you're in the UK, that is.
As usual, John Lewis have come up with a tear-jerking spot, begging the usual question of whether this isn't actually part-funded by Kleenex. This year it's a cute kid and an adorable penguin called Monty (we know the name from the film title on YouTube. Not sure if it's clear if you're just watching on TV in the old-fashioned way, though.)
I suspect that retailers all over the world are now asking their agencies to "do a John Lewis" and there's certainly a touch of John Lewis schmalz in the latest spot for Tchibo:
But I wonder. Are Germans just as susceptible to this annual weep-fest as us Brits? Have a look at this Christmas spot from Otto, Germany's leading mail-order/online retailer. It starts very much in the John Lewis vein with cute kid and dad. Wistful music. Jingle bells. But then what happens?
When I first saw this, I thought it was dreadful. All that Christmas magic and father-son bonding destroyed by the only spoken line. But then again, it reminded me of the reality. A few years ago, children were writing Christmas Wishes at our local Christmas market. The heartfelt pleas for "my Oma to come out of hospital" "World Peace" and "for my parents to stop arguing" were joined by my son's contribution: "everything from Lego Star Wars."
Maybe in a pragmatic country like Germany, Otto are right. Forget all that misty-eyed tra-la-la about homemade presents and cute kids who put others' wishes before their own, or who have such a brilliant sense of make-believe that a toy penguin becomes real. That's all it is - make-believe for people nostalgic for Christmases that never were. Otto can provide what will really make your offspring's eyes light up - and with the minimum of bother.
But that doesn't stop me dreaming of a white Christmas.
"A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless." - Charles de Gaulle Who doesn't love surprises? From Christmas Crackers to Crackerjack boxes, our childhoods are packed with little surprises. There are whole brands, such as Kinder Überraschungsei that are built on the idea of surprise. I think we are surprised less and less as we grow older, which is a shame. And many brands these days are so intent on the pursuit of consistency and transparency that they forget surprise. The media we look at suggests the possibility of surprise through its sheer quantity, but the reality is different. All those headlines from Buzzfeed, now mimicked by what used to be quality dailies which claim "You Will Be Amazed" are tempting, but I find myself increasingly unamazed. Algorithms aren't terribly good at surprising, either. And reading this fascinating article by Tara Hunt, you'll see how so many YouTube videos use identical tropes (to use the hip word of the moment) /are formulaic (to be truthful.) And here are my thoughts about surprise from a couple of years back. Trendwatching have picked up on this in their latest Trend Report: "Accustomed to now long-entrenched control, transparency and endless choice, in 2015 millions of consumers will find light relief in pursuing just the opposite." I'm not sure about "light relief". I think that surprise - delivered through novelty and innovation in product, communication, service, pricing and all the rest of the marketing mix is key to keeping customers and potential customers "excited and breathless."
On a recent trip involving Frankfurt airport, I was convinced for a moment or two that David Beckham was launching yet another male fragrance, from the posters featuring his still boyish good looks and a square blue bottle. However, on closer inspection, I was taken aback to see the word "Haig." David Beckham is the so-called "Brand Partner" for a new whisky brand from drinks giant Diageo, called Haig Club.
I remember Haig whisky from the slogan "Don't be Vague ask for Haig." I seem to recall beermats with this slogan in my parents' cocktail cabinet, amid the bottles of Bols and Gordons. The whisky market has been in need of resuscitation in the UK for as long as I can remember and I expect that the launch of Haig Club is Diageo's bash at doing just that. But I'm not really sure that it's the right way of going about it.
There's a film commercial shot by the inevitable Guy Ritchie, featuring Beckham and his jet-set pals swanning around Scotland and other exotic locations in kilts and beards.
I can't say I am convinced about David Beckham as a "Brand Partner" for this launch. I am sure that most people would not go further than the assumption that he's launching a new fragrance. Beckham is fine for anything to do with football, fashion and perfume, but whisky? Couldn't they have found someone, um ... Scottish?
Then there's the claims and copy for the new brand. It's a "rediscovery" of something called a single grain whisky, which the cynical might see as a way of charging an exclusive price for something that's cheaper to produce than a single malt whisky. It's described as "a fresh clean style that showcases butterscotch and toffee". Eh? Since when was butterscotch and/or toffee fresh? And there's a few lines about how to mix the stuff if you're not quite up to the "light, clear and extra smooth" taste neat - "choose another from our exciting range of signature serves." Ugh. On top of all this, a ghastly nannying statement: "At the heart of HAIG CLUB lies a clear message of responsible drinking...It is important, therefore, that those who enjoy HAIG CLUB do so responsibly and in moderation."
Maybe I'll eat my words, or drink them, and this is the perfect way to attract youngish non-whisky drinkers into the category. But it just feels too plastic, too marketing-speak, too desperately trendy to appeal to me.
I like whisky. But part of the joy of whisky for me is authenticity, history, being treated like an adult, mystery, potency.
There are a few words that I have an unexplained aversion to - and one of these is "process". I don't know why, but it always conjures up horrible Powerpoint slides with boxes and arrows. It seems to suck the magic out of anything. I don't like the expression "creative process" or worse still "process for generating insights" as both of these seem to imply that one day, both could be turned over to a computer.
So digging back through my old psychology books, I was pleased to see that one of the seminal essays on creativity, written in 1926 by Graham Wallas (above) is entitled The Art of Thought. Wallas studied the writings of scientists such as Poincare and Helmholtz, to arrive at a theory of how creativity could work. The stages he defined were:
PREPARATION: focus on the subject or problem
INCUBATION: whereby the subject is internalised into the unconscious and nothing appears to be happening
INTIMATION: where the creative person has a hunch that something is coming
ILLUMINATION or INSIGHT: the idea bursts forth into consciousness
VERIFICATION: conscious elaboration
I was particularly struck by a quotation from Hermann von Helmholtz, the German physicist, speaking at a banquet on his 70th birthday, about the incubation phase:
“happy ideas come unexpectedly without effort, like an inspiration. So far as I am concerned, they have never come to me when my mind was fatigued, or when I was at my working table. They came particularly readily during the slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day.” It's the incubation stage that suffers most in the current day and age. Compelled to be "always on" we turn to the internet when we have a free moment - sometimes using the excuse of "finding inspiration". But we should have more faith in our own internal capacity for inspiration. Incubation requires time and space.
I read a very interesting blog post by Martin Weigel on his Canalside View blog recently, in which he argues for scrapping the "brand as human" metaphor in favour of a new metaphor more applicable to the 21st century - "brand as software."
The argument goes that human personality traits don't really differentiate brands and quotes Guy Murphy: "the democracy of information has allowed consumers to focus on more rational and "real" aspects of the product itself" - the observation here that a string on one-star product reviews can destroy even a strong emotional brand.
It's a thought-provoking article and well-worth reading, as are the comments relating to it.
But maybe I'm not geeky enough, or simply too old, but I didn't feel an overwhelming urge to adopt the "brand as software" metaphor.
A few reasons. First of all, I have never bought this "brand exists just in the consumer's head" stuff. All brands, as far as I am aware, exist in the world as products or services. I can't think of any brand that has no concrete products or services attached to it. And surely getting the product or service right was always the basis. In all the various models and metaphors that I have had the dubious pleasure of using over the years, all of them had some sort of stuff about what the brand is or does, or benefits, or attributes before you got onto all that airy-fairy personality and values stuff.
And, in the end, although metaphors may help marketers to think about brands, we shouldn't be held prisoner to them. And brands and marketers are different. Some brands may suit the software metaphor, if it simplifies the thought process. Others not. Some marketing people like all those pyramids and onions and keys. Others find them self-indulgent intellectual you-know-what.
The map is not the territory. It's one way of looking at it. You use the right kind of map to suit your purpose.
I wonder if "brand" has ever been used as a metaphor?
I had a visit from my insurance rep today. A personal visit. He knocked my door, came in and sat down in one of our armchairs. I offered him a cup of coffee and he chatted me through the various changes to my policies. Although I ended up signing on a dotted line that was on one of those nifty digital gadgets, it was otherwise to all extents and purposes like a visit from the man from the Pru, fifty years later and in German.
Yesterday I tried to get into my National Savings and Investments online account. Oh dear. When I set it up I had to remember a picture, a phrase, the answer to five or six silly security questions plus concoct a password containing at-least-one-but-not-all-of-upper-case-lower-case-symbols-blah-blah. It all ended in tears (or swearing) and a wait on a customer call line.
Personal, face-to-face relationships with private customers have not died out in Germany. I am sure that a lot of it comes from the natural German resistance to doing too much online, and a general risk-aversiveness.
Sometimes the bureaucracy, rules and regulations and wariness of just doing it drive me nuts. It must be a horror to try and set up a business in Germany, especially anything that's online-based. Just look at the pickle that Uberpop got themselves into here.
But a lot of it stems from a very real concern over privacy of the individual and openness on the part of companies, which can't be a bad thing. In my encounter with the insurance man, although I invited him into my home, I have the impression that my financial and household details are just between me and that firm, not floating around for all to hack into. And that the company won't have disappeared next year.
Although Germans still seem happy to use Google's services, the company has become something of a bogeyman here, described as octopoid by some. The cynical may say that it's the old-guard Germans, stuck in the 20th century with their reliance on manufacturing who don't want the cool geeks from Silicon valley snatching their business.
But I think we can all learn a bit of cautiousness from a people that spent 60 years under state surveillance of one sort or another.
Before all staff emails, there were all staff memos. I remember them well from my time at Saatchi in London. I've even kept a few, because they felt important, worth hanging onto. If they were written by one of the creative directors, they would be as carefully and brilliantly written as a long copy ad.
This 20 year old memo from the late David Abbott to all the staff at AMV has recently surfaced on the Creative Review. It's well worth a read as it makes an important point that is even more relevant today, I think, than in the 90s. The point is about ownership and responsibility, suggesting that one creative team should own a project and agencies should be focussing on quality rather than quantity of creative ideas.
Now, I think it may be unrealistic to go back to the days of taking the brief from the client and not letting him or her into the creative process at all until a few weeks later when THE one idea is presented with a flourish. But I do wonder if all the endless tissue meetings and briefings and rebriefings and presentation of ideas in double figures - and at the extreme, throwing the whole thing out to crowdsourcing - mean that we lose focus and quality.
In the end, it is about responsibility. To quote David Abbott: "the person who owns a house tends it more lovingly than the person who rents it."
It's all about making decisions and being able to fight for the choices we have made.
As David Abbott says, that's what we get paid for.
I'm reading a dystopian/speculative/sci-fi whatever-it's-called-these-days novel at the moment: Future Perfect by Katrina Mountfort. 150 years into the future, the human race live in CitiDomes rather reminiscent of Center Parcs, subscribe to a set of MindValues that wouldn't be out of place on a boardroom wall and have given up worshipping anything remotely spiritual. Instead, the idols are those that have BodyPerfect status and are the media darlings of the non-stop diet of reality shows. Needless to say, the BodyPerfect guys and girls look as if they have swooshed out of advertising stock photos.
It's fiction but it doesn't feel so far from the truth that we're seeing now. Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail is now 8 years old and while it's true that we do have endless choice, not only does Google make it difficult for us to find the end of the tail (or even the beginning of the end of the tail) - did you mean X? Show results for etc. etc. etc - but when it comes to it, most people are more comfortable not having to bother. Who goes beyond the first page of search engine results on a regular basis?
I wrote about conformity in my last post and I sometimes wonder in branding and advertising if we are seeing a mass-homogenisation, a group tending towards the mean. Although globalisation does have its benefits, it does mean that everyone is using those same corporate values, chasing the same perfect customer experience, latching onto the same cultural insights while believing they're creating something unique. It's not just the stock shots that we're all dipping into, but the strategic part, too.
I read a brilliant article in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, which mentioned Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School regarding "Pop Culture as an instrument of economic and political control, enforcing conformity behind a permissive screen."
Are we offering genuine choice with our brands and communication? Or, to quote Adorno, "Freedom to choose what is always the same?"
In this blog post from Contagious, Sam Ball of Lean Mean Fighting Machine introduces the recently-published book about the future of the UK advertising industry, entitled Hacker, Maker, Teacher, Thief.
Ball's main point is that the creative industries are becoming more and more conformist, a tendency that ties in with the increased use of pre-testing, ratings and other research that claims to be predictive of market success. Rather than taking a risk on something new and innovative, creative departments don't want to rock the boat and stick to tried and tested formulae.
And when one looks at advertising and other creative industries for signs of rebellion, one sees only a sort of sanitised version, a plastic toytown rebellion, not the real thing. In my son's school book, Christina Aguilera is named a singer of protest songs in the same breath as Bob Dylan. Protesting all the way to the bank, if you ask me.
And advertising? Well, Puma have decided to "call all Troublemakers" in their Forever Faster campaign. I can't say hand on heart that Mario Balotelli and chums are really up there for me, breaking boundaries and rules like the rebels of old:
Beyond this kind of bland, ersatz rebellion, where are the brands and creative that is really challenging the status quo? My worry is that the more we rely on the safety net of database norms derived from the past, the less likely we'll be to fly.
Seeing these German gender-specified crisps recently got me thinking about the whole area of gender marketing. I'm not talking about who you target your campaign at, but at product development itself. And I get the impression there's much more of it about these days.
Now, there are plenty of products and brands out there that target men or women specifically, with pretty good reason in the main. Toiletries and clothes, perfume and cosmetics are all areas where there are male products and female products (including the oddly named "boyfriend jeans" for which there seems to be no equivalent for men who might fancy the "just squeezed into my girlfriend's jeans" look once in a while.)
And there have always been attempts into cigarettes and beer specially for women. Do Kim ciggies still exist?
But the area where the gender-specific stuff seems to be have really taken off in the last few years is the area of children's products. I don't remember such a preponderance of pink and purple when I was little. Lego, for instance, has gone girly mad with its Friends series, leaving the boys (one presumes) to their Star Wars and Transformers. And in the books market, the Die Drei ???(The Three Investigators) have been joined by Die Drei !!!
After 50 years of the boy detectives solving mysteries, I can only guess that the girls were called in to solve such tricky cases as Duel of the Top Models, Cheating in the Casting Show, Danger in the Fitness Club and The Mobile Phone Case.
Of course, when I was young, there were stories specified for boys or girls too, but the girls didn't have to to be styled up like Germany's Next Top Model to have adventures. And note that the title is not pink, it's blue:
Which brings me back to the crisps. OK, there were always certain brands of comestibles that positioned themselves for men, or women (Yorkie). But I always assumed that was ironic.
The Chio Chipsabove come in the variants Mädelsabend and Männerabend (Girls'/Boys' Night Out). The girl pack is purple and the flavour is Creamy Paprika, while the guys get a more butch Smoky Bacon colour with a Flamed BBQ flavour.
The expression "the paperless office" has been on my radar for the last twenty years or so, but when I look around my workplace, it seems that I'm not moving on trend. True, I'm a lot less wasteful with paper these days - possibly because I have to pay for it myself and I'm stingy like that - but I do still hoard the stuff, even if I do have multiple copies backed up electronically on my various devices.
Talking of devices, I've seen a couple of ads this week on the theme of paper flapping back at all this new-fangled technology. The first of these is from last year, from Le Trefle loo roll, featuring the long-suffering Emma and her tablet-mad hubby.
And the paper flaps (or maybe twacks) back again in the splendid new IKEA Catalogue spot from Singapore, "Experience the power of a BookBook." To give IKEA credit, their catalogue is now not just a paper thing - there are all sorts of codes and augmented bits and such if you yearn for more than a paper experience. But I love the way that the wheel (or the paper catalogue) has been reinvented in this spot in that charming tongue-in-cheek way that IKEA do so well.
What's due for a revival next? Tin signs? Town criers?
Whatever - better the paperless office than the paperless toilet.
There's a lot of pressure on marketers these days to have their brand "doing stuff". It's all about the customer experience, the here and now. Real time. Being "out there". Acts not ads. Agility. Brand as verb. Participating.
I've written enough about it in this blog.
And it's true that there are lot more possibilities open to brands to communicate with their users and potential users than there were even 10 years ago.
But it's a mistake to be doing stuff just because we can, in the same way that it's a mistake to lose track of why we're doing it. While I'm not a fan of spending months sitting pontificating about what is an emotional benefit or what is a physical attribute in some complex brand model that bears little relation to reality, I do believe that senior marketers have a responsibility to take a long-term view - maybe not quite as long-term as the Long Now foundation (!) - but certainly beyond the latest app and viral campaign. What is my brand's purpose? Where is it heading? What is our vision - and how does all the "stuff" we're going to be doing fit with that?
That is certainly the thinking behind P&G's recent re-organisation of their Marketing Division into Brand Management, with former Marketing Directors becoming Brand Directors.
If you pump an athlete full of drugs, they might be able to attain short-term success in one performance. But where is their health going long-term?
For the last couple of years, the advertising industry seems to have been intent on making the world cry. Commercials that tug on the heartstrings have always been popular, but sharing on a worldwide scale means that your 60 seconds of schmalz can now be seen from Nigeria to New Zealand within a few seconds of its release. From P&G's Moms to John Lewis' Christmas weepies to the faithful friend comforting his widowed master in the Cesar spot to the dad who makes birds from the Extra chewing gum silver paper, every Hollywood trick is there.
All the Buzzfeeds and their ilk are chock a block with lists of "X commercials guaranteed to make you cry" while composers of maudlin music must be having a field day.
A lot of these ads are brilliant, and will go down in history as greats, but there are plenty that (for me) veer into being just that little bit cheesy - and don't necessarily have a strong connection to the brand. Tapping into emotions is a neat way to get remembered, and to associate your brand with strong and positive feelings.
But there are other emotions besides making you laugh and making you cry and I have a feeling that brands who want to stand out should look beyond these.
Perhaps one route that is a little neglected these days is that of wonder. Instead of making you cry, commercials that take your breath away, make you feel wow, a sense of awe, a feeling that I couldn't have done that. With the emphasis on CGC these days, I feel there is also room for brands to also spend their budget to surprise and enchant us - to produce commercials that are almost works of art.
My recent favourite is the latest IKEA commercial in "The Wonderful Everyday" campaign, from Mother and Juan Cabral. It's beautiful to look at, doesn't dumb anything down or seek a lowest common denominator and has tapped into cultural relevance with its echoes of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.
But back to all those weepies. Is it perhaps a big marketing ploy by Kleenex? This is the brand most often mentioned in all those articles about ads that make you cry.
The pursuit of engagement has become the Holy Grail for marketers, as I blogged here a few years back, and the enthusiasm for the creation of Engaging Experiences has certainly not abated. Engagement is an objective written loud and clear on many a marketing plan. Even the humble owner of a Facebook page with a couple of hundred likes is informed continually about how many people are engaged with the page that week.
But the problem arises when it comes to measurement. Engagement is a slippery fish to pin down and fit into a nice KPI pigeon hole, if you'll excuse all the mixed metaphors.
Perhaps that's because engagement has become one of these words that people use without really thinking what it means.
I looked up engagement in one dictionary and found "The act of engaging or being engaged."
The Advertising Research Foundation defined it, in March 2006 as "Turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context." And Wikipedia offers the following for engagement when used in a marketing context: "The extent to which a consumer has a meaningful brand experience when exposed to commercial advertising, sponsorship, television contact or other experience." This last mouthful brings to mind rats in cages having full-strength carcinogens painted on their raw flesh by sadistic scientists.
To get away from these tortuous and tautologous definitions, maybe it's easier to look at the verb rather than the noun. To engage is to occupy or attract someone's attention, from one perspective, or to participate or become in involved in, from another.
Interesting that the words attention and involved appear in this definition. Do desire and action follow? Has a wheel been reinvented somewhere?
Engagement is here to stay but it's worth questioning what is behind the word for our particular case. First of all, the question is "engaged with what?" - a piece of communication, be it a TV spot or an app, some aspect of the brand, or the brand as a whole? And what are the terms of that "engagement"? Is it something longterm, or is it something specific to a discrete period of time. Is it short and intense, or more of a longterm undercurrent of commitment? Once you know the nature of the engagement, then you can work out how you might measure it.
Engaged can change rapidly to vacant, devoid of meaning.
I've been lucky in my time as a freelancer to work with some of the biggest names in marketing - such as P&G - and also with a number of very creative small organisations and individuals, for whom the cost of an ad agency on their business is prohibitive.
As a general rule, a top marketer at a company like P&G and a creative entrepreneur will tend to move in different worlds, and play by different rules, but I was impressed to see a new development from Unilever that attempts to bring the two together, for mutual benefit.
In the spirit of co-creation and collaboration, Unilever have launched The Foundry - a platform whereby the marketing people for the big brands can get together with entrepreneurs and inventors to work on challenges to improve people's daily lives.
It's a kind of David meets Goliath - and they make friends. Your ingenuity, creativity and agility for our investment, mentorship and marketing muscle.
Under the heading of "Collaborate. Experiment. Pioneer," a number of projects and challenges based around Unilever brands or groups of brands, are put up for pitch to technology start-ups. These range from the Young Entrepreneurs' Award - for anyone under 30 with a new product, service or app that could make a big difference to enable sustainable living - to Smart Bathroom - enabling families to plan/predict/recommend, organise and enjoy their personal grooming products more effectively and efficiently - to Smart Wardrobe - backed by Persil/Omo to maximise value from the family's clothes while reducing environmental impact.
I'm sure this will result in more breakthrough innovations than yet another new air freshener fragrance.
When I started in the advertising business, the military metaphors held sway, whether we were talking strategy and targeting, or training, or even how we were going to build our dream battalion, sorry, team. People got sent on "Bootcamps" and who can forget the horror of paintball games dreamed up to help us work better together?
These days, things are very different. The new metaphor for brands and business seems to be heading in the direction of a festival, rather than a war. Here's a great example of what I mean: The Happy StartUp Summer Camp, which takes place from the 19th -21st Sept near East Grinstead, Sussex, UK. 3 days of learning, inspiration and play are promised, with not a paintball gun in sight. No military types here, just thinkers, doers and makers. The programme looks like a dictionary of current buzzwords - digital detox, camping or glamping, yoga, DJs and live music, craft ales, mindfulness, empathy, storytelling, happiness with awesomeness sprinkled liberally in between.
It's all set up by an outfit called The Happy StartUp School who are on a mission to help people start businesses that have a purpose beyond profits, which seems a pretty good reason for being to me. I haven't read them yet, but they are generous enough to provide a couple of useful-looking downloads about all those "P" things - people, purpose, profits and piranhas (or maybe I got that wrong!)
I suppose the cynical amongst us could look at this and say that it doesn't pay the bills at the end of the day and that in twenty years we'll find the idea of grinning kidults having a midnight feast in an overgrown teddy bears' picnic as absurd as all the wannabe Rambos paintballing each other.
But, I don't know. I find it curiously appealling, especially the price, which is less than half of what you'd pay for an "average, boring business conference". And there are still a few places left.
There are plenty of blog posts around about advertising to children, but today I'm going to have a look at advertising with children, and celebrate some classic little brand ambassadors from the UK and Germany.
A few posts ago, I mentioned the new pack stars of Kinder Schokolade - some of whom are now World Champions. The picture above shows the changes in the pack since its introduction in the late 60s. Günther was the chocolate chap for years, sporting a variety of hairstyles, until Kevin kicked him out in the early years of the new millennium.
Another cult kid is the boy on the Brandt rusks pack - the hairstyle and clothes change, but the blue eyes, blond hair and perfect white teeth have been there since the 1920s.
Another picture of glowing good health is the little girl on the Pomps Kindergrieß (semolina) pack - at least, I think she's a girl. She's been around since the early 70s so must be well into her 40s by now.
Another little girl, reminiscent of a character from Grimm's Fairy Tales can be found on Rotbäckchen - literally, "little rosy cheeks" - a range of vitamin-packed juices.
Of course, I didn't grow up with any of these, but there are English counterparts who I recall dearly: the cheeky chappie on the Rowntrees posters, for example.
Or the Start-Rite Kids.
And their slightly disreputable cousins, the Bisto Kids.
All of these brand ambassador boys and girls are advertising products that are specifically for children, or families anyway. But I was rather tickled to see a product with a lovely little laddie as the logo which is certainly not for children:
Here he is in all his Hummel-figure glory - the Allgäuer Büble. He harks back, apparently, to the tradition pre-beer bottles, where children were sent with an empty Stein or jug to the pub to collect beer for their elders and betters. On the beer's website, you can buy all manner of paraphernalia from glasses, trays and metal signs to Trachten shirts and jackets.
Can you imagine the uproar if such a thing were suggested in the UK?
In my early days in branding, there was a lot of talk about brands being like people. One brand had a "sophisticated, witty, inspiring" personality. There was another one that was continually "reinventing itself according to the Zeitgeist", like Madonna. Yet another was "your best friend, who truly understands you and is always there when you need her, for tips and advice."
This stuff was all very well up to a point, as long as those bright young marketing people remembered it was just an analogy. But it often got out of hand, with those oh-so-keen execs wittering on about what their brand "wanted" or "needed" or being obsessed with consistency, such that the sophisticated, witty and inspiring personality was apparent at every possible touchpoint - and any signs of imperfection or irrationality were clouted promptly with a large Corporate Design manual.
The point is, it is a mistake to attribute human emotions to something non-human - or worse still - inanimate. You are welcome to love a brand but it is not going to repay your love. Your loyalty, perhaps, but not your love, because it can't.
The tables have now turned with the rise of social media and we hear less about brands as people, and more about people as brands. An entire industry of writers, coaches, courses and programmes is devoted to Personal Branding. 27m plus Google results popped up on the subject. There are thousands of books on the subject on amazon.
Some people have set out to be brands - it's their personal ambition, which is OK if you too want to be "as famous as Persil." But for others, I'd be very wary of being treated (or treating yourself) like a packet of soap powder (or a luxury car if the soap powder stuff makes you squeamish!).
Self-promotion is not the same as self-expression. Self-promotion is about self-packaging - defining everything from your appearance, your online presence and which areas of your skills or knowledge are going to pushed - and what is going to be hidden. And someone - you or your publicist - will be making a decision about which of those factors will be associated with success.
If you are going to blow your own trumpet, it's a good idea to learn to play it first.
For all the trivial jingles and frivolous apps that we get involved in creating in the ad business, it's always gratifying to see strategic and creative communication skills used for good. I don't just mean those brands that decide to leap on to whatever is the latest "issue" band wagon with some tenuous connection to their product, but agencies who get together with NGOs and grass roots organisations and combine their skills and knowledge.
One such partnership is that between Ogilvy and Mather, India and Breakthrough, a global human rights organisation that uses culture to change culture. Working together on a campaign to stop domestic violence, they created the Bell Bajao (Hindi for "ring the bell") campaign.
The challenges for tackling such a complex issue were many. But a simple and elegant solution was found - through the insight that a simple action from a bystander can break the momentum of violence and maybe deter it in future. In the film above, for example, the main character uses "can I use your phone?" as his excuse to ring the bell, even though it's clear he has a working mobile with him. Other spurious excuses included asking for the time or collecting a lost ball.
The campaign employed a mix of mass media such as the film above as well as community outreach. Its success is apparent in that the campaign idea is now being rolled out across the globe.
Sometimes the most effective ideas are the simplest ones.
Which team will win on Sunday? The two semi-finals couldn't have been more different - a glorious walkover and humiliating defeat, and a drawn-out stalemate finally decided on penalties. But in football, anything can happen - we will wait and see.
Success in any field - sport, business or personal life - depends on your definition of success, and how you approach reaching it. Jeff Bezos of amazon is quoted as saying:
"We are stubborn on vision, we are flexible on details."
As a small aside, you might comment that details such as dodgy tax practices, less than ideal conditions for employees and monopolistic bully behaviour may display too great a degree of flexibility. But as a general principle, he's right.
All too often, brands - or the people who manage them - are stubborn where they don't need to be: on details. They compile an exhaustive corporate identity rulebook. They set unrealistic goals on irrelevant parameters, just because these can be measured. They insist on documents being rewritten and rewritten again to reflect the brand tone of voice. And all the time, forgetting their vision.
In the end, you remember who won, but you don't necessarily remember in what formation they played.
One of the main arguments against the wholesale adoption of online shopping has to be that of the shopping experience. I don't just mean all the super techy gizmos and gadgets that you get in some shops these days, but the aura of the shop itself - the smells, sounds, sights and tactile experiences that the shopper has while they are there, which become traces on the memory associated with buying that brand, whatever it was.
Take the shop above - a quirky place if ever there was one - Gewürz-und Teehaus Schnorr - in Frankfurt, established in the immediate post-War years. It comes into the niche retail category of "Spice and Tea House" but the product range doesn't stop there. There are teas, yes, from distant shores, from Sri Lanka to Japan, as well as Fortnum & Mason. And every spice known to man and woman, mysterious and beckoning.
But in addition, there are shelves of jams and preserves and chutneys and lemon curds, stacks of shortbread. Nougat, nuts and honey. Joss sticks, china and tea accessories. Even ornaments, small items of furniture and fans.
It's an emporium of the exotic.
But is it? There are some familiar brands here for me - Walker's Shortbread, and sauces from Stokes and Lea & Perrins. And somehow, the value of these increases when bought from such a shop. In comparison to an English Tescos, you feel as if the products have earned their right to these exclusive shelves via a gourmet tasting, rather than some buyer's deal.
It's worth remembering that the company your brand keeps has an influence on how it is perceived as well as what it says or does.
And on that note, I'll leave you with my discovery from Schnorr. This is absolutely delicious!
I'm all for brands being a force for good in the world, not just fulfilling individual needs and dreams, but making a difference in the community and the world at large. But I find that this kind of goodness works better for everyone when it involves action and when it comes from the heart.
What do I mean by heart? Well, to me, it's not usually enough to say that we're a product used by women so we'll have a big brand message that's all about empowering girls. No, the best ideas go back to the heart of the brand which I think is the product, not some vague philosophical "essence".
What is your product? What can it do? And what can it do to make the world a better place? A great example is the Let's Colour project from Dulux, which aims to colour 1 million people's lives by 2020 since its start in 2011. Communities have already been brightened up from London to Rio de Janeiro, from Paris to Jodhpur.
Also making a difference in the community, but in the opposite way, is Cif in Romania. The brand has launched an app which gives people an easy way to report racist or otherwise offensive graffiti. A cleaning team in a Cif-branded van turn up to remove the stupid scribbles.
Not only do such initiatives do communities good, they do the brand good. Because if you link to what's at the brand's heart, what the product can do, that's the best kind of branding of all.
I started work in the 80s, the Thatcherite, loadsamoney, yuppy era when success was very clearly defined. It was primarily about money and, after that, power. When the decade changed, however, I clearly remember believing that the 90s would be different. We talking about the "caring, sharing 90s" at the ad agency, and, although "sustainability" didn't have quite the omnipresence that it has today, "green" was definitely on the agenda. I believed all this because I'd already seen colleagues in their 20s suffering from stomach ulcers, breakdowns and other stress-related illnesses.
In the 90s, I made a career move that wasn't incredibly clever in terms of money and power. I moved to a country where I could order beer but was otherwise clueless about the language, where Strategic or Account Planning was in its infancy in the ad agency world and where being a mother and having a career sat uneasily together.
But I gained so much more personally. This was followed by my decision to go freelance twelve years ago. I have found my own way and success on my own terms.
It's sad that not much has changed in thirty years in the way that Western culture measures success. And that there seem to be even more people suffering from burn-out and stress-related illnesses. Part of it, I am sure, is that many people have become slaves to technology - that double-edged sword that both simplifies and complicates our lives.
The latest book on the subject is from Arianna Huffington - Thrive. In it, she talks about the "money and power" definition of success as being like a two-legged stool. At some point you fall off. And that the 3rd leg of success is about Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving.
You may not be able to stop the world and get off, but you can certainly switch off the virtual world every evening.
I was chatting to an old pilot chum of my dad's the other day who was bemoaning the fact that everyone has become an collector and interpreter of data these days, to the extent that pilots don't pilot, teachers don't teach, engineers don't engineer and doctors don't doctor - we are all too busy trying to keep on top of the data. It's the same for those that work in Marketing and Advertising - we're so busy with KPIs and goals, justifying this expense and filling in that form, rating this colleague or informing that one that we don't have that much time to do what we're really paid for.
A new book has been published this week, by Adam Ferrier of cummins&partners, called The Advertising Effect. In the blurb for the book, Adam asks those in advertising to do something that some may consider radical: forget rational messaging and creating an emotional brand connection and focus on affecting action and behavioural change.
And furthermore, he asks us to "get over and accept" a simple premise: we are in the behaviour change business.
This is all fine stuff, but I confess that I'm a little surprised. This is precisely what I have always understood advertising to be about. Early on in my career, we always had a part of the brief which was titled something like "what would we like people to think, feel and do as a result of this campaign"? And although these were laid out in this order, I don't think it was ever implied that the thinking resulted in the feeling which resulted in the doing.
In the end, advertising works in many weird and wonderful ways. The same campaign can have different effects on different people. One TV spot, say, can give one person a nice warm fuzzy feeling about the brand that's so strong that it's still around a year later when she's in the market for one of those. And for the next person, it may simply act as a catalyst for buying one of those (that he needs) tomorrow, and the ad is forgotten the next day.
What's important to me is that advertising is about change. Whether it's an emotional connection that leads to a change in behaviour or behavioural change that triggers a perceptual change isn't the point.
And it's a permanent change in how someone thinks, feels or behaves regarding that brand, not just change for change's sake.
Do you ever get paralysed by process, fed-up with frameworks while working on positioning a brand?
In the past, I can remember long debates about semantics - was "long-lasting" a benefit or a feature or a reason to believe? And, if it was a benefit, was it an emotional benefit or a rational benefit?
This kind of discussion usually leads nowhere and is often missing the point: what is really important about my brand? What makes people love it? What makes it indispensable?
Ulli Appelbaum is currently developing a new way (I hasten to call it a tool as actually it's more like a game) to help position brands and tell brand stories. It's currently in beta mode, so Ulli is open to thoughts, additions and subtractions.
It's called Positioning-Roulette. The thought behind it is that the act of brand positioning is as much about creativity and ideation as it is about intellect and process, although pre-given frameworks, agendas and philosophies often force marketers into thinking only along certain lines.
Positioning-Roulette helps you to find more creative solutions in a shorter space of time to a Brand Positioning task.
It's all about approaching the task from different angles - 25 of them, in fact, which are selected by random. These 25 areas include the usual suspects, such as Brand Purpose and Benefits, through to areas that you may not normally consider, such as Appeal to the Senses or Romancing how the Product Works, through to turning the task on its head - Conventions Disrupted, Problems & Paradoxes.
Just what you need, maybe, to move your brand from the red to the black.
With football fever revving up in earnest, it's mildly amusing to see which brands are joining in with the fun, and who's opting out of the mad samba spectacle.
I'm a bit disappointed with Coke's creativity. After the wonderful "share a Coke with..." personalised bottles last year, all they've done is recycle that one, with the names of the team - and just the German team as far as I can see.
A much sweeter and cleverer idea is that from Kinder Schokolade with the Fußball-Star-Edition. The usual smiling youngster has been replaced by some less familiar-looking Jungs. Or are they less familiar? On closer inspection, they are young versions of famous German players from good old Rudi Völler, through to Michael Ballack and Jens Lehmann to stars of today such as Lukas Podolski and Sami Khedira.
Brilliant idea - it has everything: collectability, multi-generation appeal, topicality, limited edition rarity, the awww factor for the mums, and totally in character with the brand.
All they have to do is win and those packs will be worth a bomb one day.
But then again, England are going to win this time, aren't they?
It was L.P.Hartley who wrote 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' When I first saw the classic TV ad for Yellow Pages, which told the story of an elderly man tracking down his long-lost book, Fly Fishing, I think I got my Hartleys muddled up and they merged into one.
The gentleman in the ad is J.R.Hartley and his creator, David Abbott, who founded the advertising agency AWV BBDO, passed away on May 17th. Although I never had the experience of working in his agency, his work was a huge influence on me in my choice of a career. Just one example is the series of posters for The Economist.
Why do I love the Yellow Pages ad? Well, it is classic storytelling at its best, and I bet David Abbott didn't need to go on an academic seminar on story arcs and heroes' journeys to learn his craft. And the brand is integral to the ad - not tacked on, not plonked in. Everyone remembers it's for Yellow Pages. And then the way it's put together - the music, the actor Norman Lumsden's performance, the Joss Ackland voiceover - wonderful! The ad was even recreated in 2011 in an updated version, with a middle-aged DJ searching for his 90s vinyl hit, aide by his young daughter and the Yell app.
Claire Beale, the editor of Campaign, wrote of David Abbott: 'Abbott's writing was created to sell, but to sell with an integrity and a humanity that truly respected the consumer.' And that's where the other Hartley quote comes in. Is this a thing of the past? Did David Abbott "do things differently" from the young copywriters of today?
As soon as summer breezes in over the green poppy-lined fields, there's something inside us that gets all nostalgic for the tastes of our childhood. Retro-style sweet shops seem to be dibdabbing up all over the UK and here in Germany, Aldi even has a retro-style own brand offering conserves like Oma used to make as well as flying saucers, sweetie watches and other tooth-rotters from yesteryear.
But it's on the drinks front that most of the action is. In the UK, asking for a ginger beer used to be a case of "do you mean Ginger Ale?" It's now something of a science, with a number of brands on offer, some of them offering alcoholic variants as well as quaint sounding alternatives such as Rose Lemonade and Dandelion & Burdock. Yes, Fentimans - I mean you!
And in Germany, there's another species of drinks that are being pushed, I would guess as the breweries' defence against Bionade. This lot are known as Fassbrause and you can see them up there in all their glory. As far as I understand it, Fassbrause is a sort of brewed lemonade, using malt extract as well as various fruits and herbs that you find knocking about in Wald and hedgerow - typical flavours include Holunder, which is Elder, and rhubarb.
There's a lot of "artisan/Handwerk" chat in the communication as well as "no nasties" - although some of these products are based on alcohol-free beer so are not entirely child-friendly. Krombacher and Veltins are prominent brands, as is Malvit from Bitburger.
Fassbrause was purportedly invented in Berlin in 1908, but I have to say that Fentimans got there first - they date from 1905.
I was wondering if there is an element of rose-lemonade-tinted specs about all this, though. Thinking about it, I didn't spend those long lost summers of childhood drinking Dandelion & Burdock. My memory takes me back to Cresta, Corona, R.Whites and Tizer - a dentist's nightmare if ever there was one!
In the old days, you could spot a bad brand miles off. They spilled oil, or invested in countries with dodgy regimes, or tested cosmetics on baby kittens. And, if you felt strongly enough, you could quite easily boycott them.
But these days, rather like James Bond villains, the bad brands have evolved. Their villainy is less about a big event - it's more subtly ingrained in their way of operation. These brands are quietly instrusive. They insinuate their way into your life through the back door, bearing gifts, posing as a friend. They do a deal with you - your info for my added value. You may go hand in hand for years, singing their praises. But occasionally, they will breach your deal. It may be something small and insignificant, like automatically posting something on your Facebook feed without you having to tick a box. It will make you wonder for a second or two. But the value you get from that brand will probably outweigh the bother of closing the account.
But if it gets more serious? What if a series of articles and documentaries about dodgy practices combined with bad personal experiences pushes you to want to boycott that brand? Unfortunately, these days, it is almost impossible to extricate yourself. I used to love amazon - as someone living abroad, they were a godsend. I started giving something back by writing reviews and, of course, when the time came, Kindle was the obvious choice for my ebook reader.
Amazon, I see, are currently looking for a European agency to help them with their image problem. I expect I could delete all my reviews and my account, and buy another e-reader and all the books I have on my Kindle but, well, life's too short. So I grudgingly continue with amazon, and feel a pang of conscience when I read yet another article about how they treat their staff.
Would it be possible to boycott Google? I doubt it. Even if you did, as from today, your traces remain. Once it's out, it's out.
Privacy is one of the biggest issues for brands today. There's a good report from Flamingo research here which shows how privacy is a pact.
I just hope that privacy, as the new luxury, will not end up being something that can be bought at a price.
For global brands, especially those in retail or fast-food, consistency is still high on the list of desired ways to communicate and behave. We want to be sure that the customer has a similar experience in each of our outlets, and that the picture of the brand he or she gets from our communication is clear and doesn't contradict the reality.
This is fair enough up to a certain point. Of course we want someone in a strange town to recognise our coffee shop and feel a sense of familiarity and knowing what to expect. And design manuals do have a place in terms of making sure that our badges and logos don't start running off and doing their own thing. This is the positive side of consistency - stability and constancy, reliability if you like.
But is it enough? The buzz words describing brands in the 21st century also include a lot about flexibility, adaptability, agility and 'embracing diversity'. And can you really stay ahead if you never pleasantly surprise your customers? Consistency can also mean lack of change, lack of deviation, uniformity.
When people talk of consistency in relation to brands, it is worth looking behind the word to see what the speaker really means. If it starts to sound like speaking with one voice (dictated from some global HQ), regardless of who we are speaking with, dressing in a brand uniform with no regard for individuality, carrying our "matching luggage," then warning bells should sound. This is about control of the organisation, not doing the best for the customers.
I prefer to use the word integrity with its dual meaning of unity/coherence/a whole and the quality of honesty.
It's more difficult to achieve, but in the end, which is more likely to attract more support - a consistent brand or a brand with integrity?
I have always loathed the word "consumer", particularly when prefaced by "the". Yes, I know it's an economic term meaning the person or people who are the end users of products and services and yes, I know it's long-winded to talk about "the people who use Bloggo or the people we'd like to use Bloggo," but I still loathe it because it's de-personalising and lazy.
One characteristic of "consumption" is that the product is not normally improved through the consumer's use of it. OK, this is all fair enough in the case of products which are literally consumed, but in the case of durables or technology, I'm not sure. If I add a personal touch to my IKEA bookcase, or a super-groovy playlist to my iPod, I've certainly improved the product in my eyes through individualisation. It's worth a lot more to me, not just because it's got my name on it, as it were, but because I've invested time and creative energy in it.
And that's just products. Now, consider brands. I'd argue that brands, even those where the product is consumable, are improved through people's use of them. Co-creation has become a bit of a cliche these days, but all brands are co-creations and always were.
Creativity is a fundamental human need. Strangely, it doesn't pop up as such in the 16 Basic Desires of Reiss, but it's on Manfred Max-Neef's 9 Fundamental Human Needs and Maslow has it up in the pinnacle of the pyramid somewhere in the lofty heights of self-actualisation.
Please pause for thought next time the phrase "the consumer" comes trotting out of your mouth. People use or consume your product, but do they consume your brand? I'll leave you with a quote from Bruce Nussbaum's Creative Intelligence from the chapter in which he talks about "A Making Renaissance" and how Making can create a more satisfying life and a stronger economy:
"Perhaps the biggest barrier to making things is the fact that we don't really have to. You can lead a comfortable life without ever lifting a hammer or directing a video or even making dinner from scratch. But all around us are hints that a life without making might not be as satisfying as one in which we do not just consume, but also create."
In Napoleon's day, the English may well have been kings of the retail trade, but the crown in the 21st century for the European country with the most successful retail brands goes elsewhere, according to Interbrand's Best Retail Brands 2014.
Yes, it's the shopkeeping Swedes who have the Top 2 places, with H&M and IKEA, two brands that have rather more in common than their provenance.
Spain takes third place with Zara, while even Napoleon's country of origin beats the Brits with Carrefour in fourth place - and the French have two other retail brands in the top 10. Britain occupies the 5th and 6th spots with Tesco and M&S respectively, but the future doesn't look too rosy for either of these brands, with double-digit year-on-year declines in value (-16% and -14%). One has to look much further down the table to find the relatively small star of British retail - John Lewis at position 39, growing by 36%.
Given the size of the country, Germany is not particularly well-represented in the retail world, with Aldi popping into the Top 10 at number 10. But that may well change, especially with Lidl showing healthy growth of 15%.
For the meantime, though, the Swedes are Top of the Shops.
P.S. The advertisement above is from my grandfather's shop!
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: