Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Blimey, did I really say that?

I'm reading a delightful novel at the moment: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The story is that of a Russian aristocrat who is placed under indefinite house arrest by the Communists in the 1920s for writing a subversive poem. And that house arrest is in one of the grandest hotels in Moscow. The story rambles around the hotel with the Count, the eccentric characters he meets and the absurd situations in which he finds himself.

One such is the Second Meeting of the First Congress of the Moscow Branch of the All-Russian Union of Railway Workers. The Union's Charter is under discussion, particularly the 7th sentence of the 2nd paragraph, which concludes with what we marketeers (shhhh!) might call a Mission:

"... to facilitate communication and trade across the provinces."

And, oh dear, does the word 'facilitate' ever come in for some stick! Far too tepid and prim to suggest pounding steel and rippling manly muscles and shovelling coal! Some alternatives are suggested, such as to spur, to propel and to empower, which all come into hot debate. Eventually:

"... a suggestion came from a shy-looking lad in the tenth row that perhaps 'to facilitate' could be replaced with 'to enable and ensure.' This pairing, the lad explained (while his cheeks grew red as a raspberry), might encompass not only the laying of rails and the manning of engines, but the ongoing maintenance of the system ..."

And so, after more hot debate, the alternative is adopted.

If that one amused you, you may also find that this tickles your fancy, too. Perfect for collecting a few meaningless phrases to throw into the next strategy meeting. And I don't think many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say we've never used this kind of lingo.

I'm convinced that when researchers from the future find some of our strategy documents, they'll be as bemused as if those documents were in Russian - or Ancient Greek.

Talking of which ...

Friday, 7 July 2017

Local (retail) hero

Now and again you think of a brand that gets it just right. A couple of weeks ago I visited the flagship store of a retailer just down the road from us, and thought: Jawohl!

Quite often, the shining examples of hero brands that get regurgitated again and again in Powerpoints are brands that we marketers blab on about about, but don't actually use or experience. Or they are from some funky new techy category, enabled by mobile blah blah.

Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG  is none of these. It's a German workwear retailer, a family firm that was founded in 1948 and still run by the son and grandsons of the original Engelbert. Norbert, Steffen and Henning, should you be interested.

The story goes back even further, as the great-grandfather Strauss was a trader in brooms and brushes. It was his son Engelbert who founded the firm and soon added gloves and protective workwear to his wares. In the 60s and 70s, he started mail order and a catalogue and there are still people in the local area who recall 'Engelbert Strauss in his van selling brooms.'

The 90s saw two giant leaps for the company - opening their headquarters and logistics centre and starting e-commerce in 1998. And in the 21st century they have come on in leaps and bounds to become the well-loved workwear/outdoor brand, successful company and award-winning employer that they are today.

It's maybe because Engelbert Strauss started in mail order that omnichannel thinking has come naturally to them. The workwear stores are a fairly recent development and these embody the idea of 'retail experience' at its best. Design is at the heart of the brand - look at the neat little details like saws on the end of the zippers - and this shows in the design of the stores.

Everything is themed around the joy of handwork from the installations of tools on the walls:

to the children's play area:

The company claim also comes to life in the provisions for co-workers, which include a fitness centre, Wellness area, their own trattoria, ice cream vendors and cafe complete with chill-out music.

What is the claim? Enjoy work. 

Well, I'll try to.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

O Canada

I make no apologies for today's post being low on words and high on visuals and nostalgia. I've commented before that the Canadian flag is one of the best logos going, and what better way to celebrate Canada's 150 years today than with a parade of Canadian brands.

I visited Canada as a young girl in 1967, the year of the Centennial. It wasn't my first visit - that was as a toddler - but this was the visit where I think Canadian brands first made an impression on me. In these days of globalisation, it's very easy to forget that there were days when almost all brands were unfamiliar when you travelled abroad, and they were crucial in building up your picture of that country overall. The roadside signs, the posters, the packaging - they all seemed exotic and wonderful, even if they were commonplace for those that lived there.

I've subsequently found out that some of my original 'Canadian Brands' were more correctly 'American'. Those things that interest young children like popcorn - with a surprise toy:

Or sweets - sorry, candy:

Or diners serving Snoopy's favourite - Root Beer:

But there was another side to Canadian Brands - a sophisticated, grown-up dreamland of shiny locomotives and aeroplanes, with elegantly-dressed passengers clinking glasses, gliding over, or through, acres of breathtaking landscape:

And here are more wonderful Canadian images on the I.Am:Canadian Pinterest board.

Happy Birthday, Canada!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Logo to Go

The Michelin Man, Bibendum, has to be one of my favourite brand characters. So I've been slightly wary in the last couple of weeks on hearing that the Michelin Man has been 'slimmed down' and made 'more in tune with the 21st century.' But I think all the cries of 'pandering to the pc-police' aren't warranted. The new-look Michelin Man, above, is his jolly, friendly, dynamic self and would still probably command a BMI above 25. In fact, I welcome the return to a 2-D look - far more classic and adaptable than its 3-D predecessor.

The Michelin Man was conceived by the Michelin brothers Andre and Edouard in the 1890s, who remarked, on seeing a pile of tyres: Look, with arms it would be a man.

The famous poster that launched Bibendum's career was illustrated by the cartoonist Marius Rossillon, aka O'Galop. Here is some more of his work for Michelin:

I love the style of some of the early posters, even if some of Bibendum's accessories might be deemed 'inappropriate' today.

Quite the ladies' man - and look at those shapely calves!

Don't drink/smoke and drive? Ah, well.

You can have my spare tyre?

Spot the Beau Geste influence. Or was it The Desert Song?

Ton-up tyreman? No helmet necessary.

And he's still popular today with the meme set.

Maybe all this goes to show that sometimes random, intuitive thoughts (" would be a man") lead to better longevity for company logos and mascots than painstaking definition of brand values, essences and character traits and the careful construction of brand models.

Bibendum is a character that has taken his company from bike tyres to the 21st century 'mobility' market. I'll leave you with a picture of him and some of his advertising chums having a bit of a shindig on the London Underground.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Creative direction by numbers?

I've already bemoaned - or at least questioned - the use of 'predictive software' in the film industry, both here and here. And I see the phrase 'data-driven decisions' everywhere I turn, it seems.

The latest company I've become aware of plying their wares in this are is ScriptBook whose tagline is 'Hard Science. Better Box Office.' Moving on from the 'Hard Science,' they have quite a hard sell - 'subjective decisions lead to box office failure.' And they have the data to back it up. 87% of films lose money.

Now, there may be something wrong in the logic that making a film involves subjective decisions, and most films lose money therefore subjective decisions mean failure, but anyway. What ScriptBook  offer is Script2Screen, which employs artificial intelligence to analyse screenplays, delivering an objective assessment of a script's commercial and critical success. Out with hunches, intuition, bias, gut feeling and in with fairness and objectivity.

Not only do ScriptBook promise commercial and critical success, but innovation and originality, too:
'At ScriptBook, we believe that by unifying technology and storytelling, we will enhance innovation and bring back originality in film and television.'


Do tell me how a 'predictive algorithm' which works by looking at a database of existing scripts can bring back originality? Unless it means oh, RomComs are successful and so are Zombie films and Historical Biographical, so let's have Gandhi meeting a zombie for a madcap affair.

Let's go back to the data-driven decisions. I remember a few years ago, panic about how e-commerce would destroy existing bricks and mortar retailers. But what's happened is not an 'either or' situation. Everyone is going multichannel in retailing.

It's the same with data. In the same way that Millward Brown and other pre-testing research agencies used to claim to 'predict' the success of your TV spot based on the analysis of their database of tested commercials, companies like ScriptBook are no different. it's just that there's even more data, and what we can do with that data is ever more sophisticated.

Perhaps data-informed is better than data-driven. 'Driven' suggests someone cracking a whip at a herd of cattle. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, while speaking about House of Cards: 'We start with the data ... but the final call is always gut. It's informed intuition.'

Before we leave this subject, here's some light relief for my German-speaking friends. Who needs artificial intelligence when you have monkeys? Comedian Jan Böhmermann composed this smash-hit single with the help of monkeys who chose which of either the four most frequent words in German Chart Hits ('Menschen' 'Leben' 'Tanzen' 'Welt' ) or phrases from TV commercials should come next in the lyrics:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Don't just find your purpose

In the current depressing political atmosphere following the UK general election, I've been looking around to find something more upbeat and inspiring. I get the impression that it's time for some new blood on the UK political scene. It's positive that the younger people turned out in greater numbers to vote than for the referendum. Let's hope some of them get inspired to be more involved, actually change things. It can be done. This young man, at 33, is the youngest person to deliver a Commencement Speech at Harvard.

Mark - now Doctor - Zuckerberg addressed today's graduates as being from his generation. - the Millennials. His main message was about purpose:

My message was about purpose. As millennials, finding our purpose isn't enough. The challenge for our generation is to create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose.

What Mark Zuckerberg was saying is don't just pin your purpose on your (Facebook) wall, like a corporate mission statement, but get out and get doing. Where are the new generation-defining public works?

It's a good message for brands, too. So much time is spent in workshops and brainstorms trying to find a purpose, and even more in trying to articulate it. Your purpose doesn't have to be high-and-mighty . But once you've got it, get out there and do something with it.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Passing off and faking usually involves a one-way traffic: downwards on the price scale. But a month ago - or so - an amusing story made a bit of buzz on social media as the designer Balenciaga brought out a tote bag costing around $2,000 that appeared remarkably similar to the famous IKEA FRAKTA blue bag which costs, well, about a two thousandth of that.

IKEA responded in typical IKEA style - see above. This response has all the IKEA hallmarks - a quirky sense of humour and a matter-of-fact pride about the product - and its low price.

The story could have stopped there, but it didn't. It could well have been IKEA's participation that fuelled a whole host of hacks, some of which are more fun and comfortable-looking than others. You'll see what I mean if you click here.

And the great thing is that IKEA didn't walk away from the party. They stayed, and joined in with the fun. It's difficult to tell which of those ideas come direct from IKEA and which from the outside hackers, and it doesn't matter. IKEA have even made a short how-to film on the subject:

And maybe the FRAKTA bag deserves celebration in its own right, too, as a symbol of what IKEA stands for.  Maybe it should become a film star. It just so happens that IKEA have thought of that too:

Friday, 2 June 2017

Holy Logo!

Reader's Digest have recently published the third annual Trusted Brands Survey. The main survey is carried out in the US, where 5,500 people were asked which brands in 40 product categories they trust the most, and would recommend to family and friends. The study backs up, with numbers, a lot of stuff that marketers know intuitively - for example, that people are prepared to pay more for brands they trust.

From the results, Reader's Digest have created the Trusted League, giving the brands superhero names and personas. So McDonald's becomes 'The Satisfryer', or Dove 'The Beholder', and then there's 'Swoosh', representing Southwest, above.

It's a lot of fun and probably a nice pat on the back for the people working on these brands, but without being a total dreary killjoy, I'll add a note of caution: don't take this too seriously when you're creating your advertising. It could land you into a spot of hot water or holy hubris.

There's also a German version, with fewer product categories and no superheroes, although there are plenty of the usual suspects: Nivea, Milka, Haribo, Allianz, Persil.

I was a little surprised, however to see C&A on the list, as well as Deutsche Telekom and - wait for it - VW.

Maybe it goes to show that goodwill built up can go a long way when you do tell one or two porky pies.

Monday, 29 May 2017

For what it's worth

I recently visited the Strathisla Whisky Distillery, of Chivas Regal fame, and as well as having a thoroughly enjoyable time, I was reminded of two fundamental truths in Marketing:

- seeing, hearing, experiencing how food and drink is crafted can all add further enjoyment to the consumption of  that food or drink
- knowing the story behind a product or brand can add greatly to its perceived value

These truths are known by most marketers intuitively, and we can all back up our assertions with any number of examples or personal experiences.

I was interested to find a 'literary and anthropological experiment' which has sought to value the effect of storytelling on the value of objects. The experiment was started around 10 years ago, and is called Significant Objects. The experiment - which has taken on a life beyond the initial round - was conceived by journalist and author Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, who conclude that: Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object's subjective value can actually be measured objectively.

What the experimenters did was to buy a load of jumble-sale bric-a-brac, then give a number of writers a piece to write a short story or flash fiction about. The objects were then put on ebay, together with the accompanying story.

You can see the objects on the website, divided into 'significant' categories - Fossils, Talismans, Idols, Totems, Evidence. There's all manner of tat, from a Charlie's Angels thermos to a lighter in the shape of a pool ball. And the stories range from 6 words to minor epics.

In the first round of the experiment, the experimenters sold items that had cost $128 for $3612.

Now, I know you can pick holes in this. The stories were fiction, and were clearly marked as such. Would true stories about the objects, well-written have had the same effect? Did the well-known status of some of the authors have an influence? Was there knowledge that the proceeds would be going to charity? Was there a word-of-mouth element amongst the experimenters' literary and journalistic friends and contacts?

Still, you have to admire a writer who can raise the value of a 'mystery object' from 99c right up to $103.50.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Thank you and you and you and you and you and you and you

How can a company with thousands of employees around the world recognise the work and commitment they put in? Of course, at the local level, it's up to immediate bosses and colleagues to say thank you and make gestures that acknowledge what people do.

And in these days, of course, technology allows companies to make gestures on a global level, while still recognising the contribution of each individual. I'm impressed with the 'Big Thank You' event that Delta ran over the weekend - a 50 hour Facebook Live Marathon to thank each of its 80,000 employees, whose names were read out by a cast of celebrities, along with stories and entertainment for the course of the weekend.

This is the second year that Delta has said 'Thank You' on an epic scale. Last year they got themselves into the Guinness World Records with a 50 foot tall Thank You card - see above.

I guess you could argue that the money spent on these events could go straight into the pay packets instead. But I'm not sure anyone would notice, let alone remember for years to come.

And a couple of dollars extra in the pay packet is unlikely to get you into the Fortune Top 100 Companies to work for.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Make 'em laugh

A week later, and I'm still on my soapbox about humour (or lack of) in advertising. I read a super piece by Paul Burke in Campaign entitled No laughing matter: Why Advertising isn't funny anymore. The guilty are all called out and charged, from the Client to Sir Martin Sorrell and his bean counters, from Tony Blair to the Creative Department. Well worth reading: even if advertising isn't funny anymore, this article is, particularly the paragraph with the ghastly client marketing-speak.

One potential culprit, or group of culprits not mentioned in the article, are what we used to call target audiences. The people 'out there.' With social media, the stereotype of 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' (usually a retired colonel) has been replaced by a whole army of militant social justice warriors, just waiting to spring onto your ad from Twitter, Mumsnet, Facebook, you name it, and give it a good savaging. Advertisers and agencies live in fear of causing offence and outrage. 'All publicity is good publicity' has its limits. It's one thing upsetting a stuffy retired colonel, but quite another offending an entire generation.

But I question: are the new audiences lacking in humour? Do they take a masochistic delight in ads 'making them cry?' I'm not sure. There's still plenty of humour around. But I feel sometimes that it's only the medium that's changed. Youngsters used to tell jokes in the playground, that they'd heard on TV, or through word of mouth. Now they flick through 9gag. And maybe show their mate if it's particularly funny. But the jokes haven't really changed. There's stuff on there that I remember from my schooldays, and that's going back.

20 years ago, it was cool for creative people to be finding inspiration on the internet. But, as I've said before, we've gone from surfing to stumbling to being fed as far as the internet goes. I think - and hope - that there's a huge opportunity for brands and the creative people who work on them to reclaim humour. Fresh, new humour that fits to the brand and comes from observation of life out there, not rehashed old chestnuts from the internet.

I'm convinced that people are even more well-disposed towards a brand that can make them laugh as one that makes them cry.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

When did ads get so po-faced?

I'm afraid that the words 'social experiment' in connection with advertising now have me running for the hills - or at least the fridge for a nice cool beer. Although it's not even safe there any more.

The latest ad for Heineken is over 4 minutes long, and is called 'Worlds Apart.' It takes two strangers who - unknown to them - have opposing views on political, social or environmental issues. The pair are given a task - to build some furniture together - and find out what they have in common. The big reveal then comes up and the hapless victims/actors stars then have a chance to walk away or sit down, have a beer and discuss their differences.

It would be churlish to dislike this ad. It's well-done, and it does kind of hit on a truth - sit down and put the world to rights over a pint - that's as old as those hills I was about to run to. Maybe it even draws something from Heineken campaigns of yore: Only Heineken can do this? My favourite part is at 3'40"

I guess that I'm no longer in the target audience for Heineken. When I was, back in the 80s, Heineken ads were brilliant. They were like this:

Brilliant, silly, unrealistic, and completely irresponsible (if you were to take them seriously.)

I still remember them through over thirty years' beer fuddle today.

Maybe young people these days are more serious, more responsible. Maybe the brewers have their hands tied, their mouths gagged against making outrageous claims.

But how realistic, exactly, is 'Worlds Apart?'

Would such pairs of people ever really come together, outside of a 'social experiment?' Or would they continue to rant forth to their social media followers in their echo chamber?

Would any of these people even find a pub to go and sit in and put the world to rights in the UK?

Personally, I prefer this new ad from Carlsberg. Probably.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Octogenarian Flaneuse

I do love a work of fiction about advertising and ad people, and recently enjoyed Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish takes a Walk. Before I get onto my review, the way I came upon this novel is also worth a mention. It was recommended by my long-lost pen pal from the US, who used the wonders of technology to seek me out and renew our correspondence after a gap of decades. One of the nicest surprises of the last year or so for me! Anyway, that's a whole other story.

The fictional Lillian Boxfish describes her career thus:

I wanted there to be something to do in life besides mate and reproduce and die, and advertising was that, or it was for a long while.

And here's what I thought of the story:

'Before Mad Men (and Woman), there was Lillian Boxfish, or in real life, Margaret Fishback, the 'world's highest-paid female advertising copywriter' in the 1930s. This book is somewhere between fact and fiction, taking the poetry and advertisements written by Margaret Fishback, plus some of the details of her career and private life, and weaving a fictional character, the sparky and spunky Lillian Boxfish, around them.

Being a fan of walking around cities and having worked in the advertising industry, I was charmed by the premise of this book, in which the elderly but sprightly Lillian takes a walk (in her mink coat) around New York on New Year's Eve, 1984, conversing with the various characters she meets while reflecting on her colourful life. She's a wonderful character, witty and acerbic, and it made a change to have to look up quite a few words in the dictionary while reading. Lillian remarks on how her long-copy ads, often in the form of verse, respected the intelligence of the reader, and I did wonder what she would have made of some of the dumbed-down advertising of today.

The book captures the sights, smells and sounds of Manhattan from the Jazz Age right through to the 1980s beautifully - the fire escapes, warehouses, smell of burnt toast, Italian restaurants - as well as the characters: not just the ad men and women, but taxi drivers, barmen, street gangs and shopkeepers.

*Slight spoiler alert* I was slightly disappointed with the last part of the story, which started to feel a little phoney and stretched credibility somewhat. For those who have read the book, I'm referring to what felt like a sequence out of 'Crocodile Dundee' which grated a little.

Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed Lillian's reflections and observations on life, and the insight into advertising, writing and life.'

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Mommy Me

Dove. The brand that kicked off a million 'Purpose Campaigns', some better conceived than others. Marketing people still cite Dove as the Grandmommy of all purpose campaigns, so it's not surprising that all eyes are on the brand when it makes its next move.

Well, Dove has had a baby. Called, unsurprisingly, Baby Dove. So far so good. And to extend the idea of empowering (women) and building self-confidence that the mother brand has, the brand communication is focussing around the idea Trust Your Way. There are no perfect moms. Only #RealMoms. At first glance, a logical extension of an idea that'll probably strike a chord. There can't be a mother alive who hasn't felt pressure from friends, relatives, society to do things in a certain way.

Here's the US launch ad:

This, apparently, sets out to 'shatter stereotypes about motherhood.' Hmm. I wouldn't go that far. Some would describe it as 'heart-warming'. I'm afraid I'd put it in the wallpaper category, with its patchwork of different moms, straight out of 21st Century Diversity Central Casting.

For the UK launch, Baby Dove went for something more controversial. A poster at Waterloo Station asking the question 'Is there a perfect mum' with the visual of a Stepford-Wife-style mother and baby.  The twist was that this image was revealed to be that of an AI-generated woman rather than a real (albeit retouched) photo - that is, a woman who does not really exist. This was all done to provoke debate. You can read about it here.

I'm not sure how much debate was provoked. I only know that if I'd caught sight of that image as a sleep-deprived mum in a hurry to get somewhere, I would probably have merely been irritated and later, felt rather stupid if I read that it was all a marketing trick. And, indeed, I question why Waterloo Station was used. Because of the large numbers of new mums who happen to be passing through, with or without their babies? I think not.

Then we get onto the next subject. Dads. There are one or two references to Dads on the Baby Dove website, but only one or two. Doesn't it make sense in the 21st Century to acknowledge that more and more young fathers take paternity leave?

And finally, isn't this all a bit 'me' focussed? What about the babies? Years ago, when I worked on Pampers and later on Hipp, we learned that mums aren't really interested in other mums. They are interested in babies, and their baby in particular. They're fascinated by their little miracle, how he or she grows and develops, and they're thirsty for information. While I worked on Pampers, the whole advertising direction changed from a focus on Expert Moms to Learning from Babies.

But maybe the new parents of the Millennial generation are different.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Useless, hopeless, rubbish and crap

I've commented before about this rather annoying tendency, and I'm going to comment again.

Why do so many people in the creative industries boast about not being good at maths? Or something like physics, come to that. It's not even - oh, I was better at English/History/Art and my maths was OK - oh, no! To do the true boast you have to say you were useless, hopeless, terrible, rubbish or totally crap at maths. And add a little grin or chuckle.

How many people in those professions would want to own up to being bloody dreadful at reading or writing? And, apart from slinging a few insults at the duller and more obscure aspects of grammar, who wants to boast about being a complete dud at English? Not many.

This tendency has long been commented on, for example in C.P.Snow's lecture The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. In this passage, Snow remarks on the (literary) intellectuals who bemoan the illiteracy of scientists:

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?”

I would certainly never employ a planner who claimed to be crap at maths. Or an account manager, brand manager or even a creative. Except in a few rare cases, everyone can be OK at maths. It just requires a bit of work, like everything else. I wouldn't want anyone working for me who had no feel for numbers and statistics and what meaning one can find in them. Or who was deliberately clueless  about how much of our world today works - money and markets, algorithms, Google - you name it.

Quite apart from the fact that maths trains the mind in puzzle-solving, in a particular way of thinking.

Having said all that, there is hope. A lot of those 'useless at maths' people can be spotted solving Sudoko puzzles. And not being so bad at it at all.  

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Nutty campaign idea

Co-creation has to be one of the marketing community's absolute favourite buzzwords since media became social. It can be done well, of course, but all too often it ends up being terribly worthy and simply ticking all the 'correct' boxes.

The reality of most customer reviews is that they're minimal and rather unremarkable. But I was amused to see a campaign for Emerald Nuts that neatly turns this unremarkableness on its head. Thinking out of the shell?

The agency trawled through the customer reviews for the brand and found one that's typical, slightly odd, and consists of the 'two most positive words ever' - Yes, good.

And the following campaign is the result:

This campaign appeals to me for the same reasons as Mail Shrimp. No deep insights, no Pepsi-style trying to save the world. Because, as I've been reminded in this article, advertising is predominantly there to sell stuff.

Good though it is, I fear that encouraging people to join in and write their own reviews for Emerald Nuts may fall flat, though.

Once people know they might be used in advertising, they go all self-conscious.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Life's a game?

Moving on from my last post on measurement, it makes sense to take a look at how companies and brands use games and gaming in their communication and activities. I've posted a little about this before, here and here.

I like the way IKEA have turned something unexpected into a game in their TV ad 'Win at Sleeping,' from the agency Mother. It's clever and creative, through looking at something everyday - or everynight - in an unexpected way. And it's all done with a twinkle in the eye.

Is work a game? I'm not sure. Uber has recently come under criticism for using psychological gaming tricks to incentivise their drivers. How would you feel if you tried to log off and found that you were just a whisker away from hitting your earnings target? Would you squeeze in one more fare, even if you were feeling completely cream-crackered? Where does gamification stop being stimulating and start being sinister?

And finally, the CEO of Aviva is calling for companies to treat sustainability as a competitive sport. While his motivations are in the right place - to get companies thinking beyond the short-term pressure to make profits - I'm not sure that public league tables a la Champions League are really the way to go.

Just look at the corruption within FIFA.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Measurement Madness

Some of the wisest words I have read in my career come from the social scientist Daniel Yankelovich, on the subject of measurement:

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. 

The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. 

The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important. This is blindness. 

The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide.
'Corporate Priorities: A continuing study of the new demands on business'

These words were written in 1972, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and illustrated what is known as the McNamara fallacy or quantitative fallacy (Robert McNamara was US Secretary for Defence). This fallacy is making a decision based solely on quantitative observations (metrics) and ignoring all others. For example, basing the 'success' of a war purely on enemy body count.

I have often used these words to argue my point with clients and quantitative research agencies that marketing, like war or sport, is not an exact science. There is perhaps a fifth step to the argument:

The fifth step is to attach undue meaning and importance to that which is easily measurable.

These days, with digitalisation, we can measure so much more. And although company and even personal performance can't be put on a par with war and loss of life, we should guard against making the same mistake.

A few years ago, only business people talked about KPIs. Nowadays, people have personal KPIs - calories consumed, steps taken, words written, likes achieved - and all the rest, all enabled by digital technology.

I will continue to cite Yankelovich. And not just to the business clients that I work with, but to friends and acquaintances who are in danger, perhaps, of not seeing the truth for the data.

Monday, 27 March 2017

The content generation

I've always felt slightly queasy about the word 'content' when used in connection with creativity and ideas. As I mentioned here, my immediate association when I hear the word is with stomach contents - some kind of homogeneous chewed-up pap.

Even worse is linking the word 'content' with the verb 'to generate.' The idea of 'generating content' suggests the churning out of some sort of stuff that is completely devoid of any kind of creativity.

'Generating content' is a major preoccupation of the modern age. Indeed, many people are not living in the moment any more, but rather continually generating content for their Facebook or Instagram feed. The pressure is not just to keep up with the Joneses next door, but to keep up with every one of your five hundred Facebook friends. No wonder status anxiety is on the up.

Increasingly, I feel that this means for brands that they must surprise in their communication. Not just  generate more content of the sort that anyone with a Smartphone can load up to Facebook. For example, this beautifully batty campaign ('Did you mean?') from the email marketing platform MailChimp, by Droga5.

No deep psychological insights, no issues and attempts to save the world. In fact, the idea is no different really to that behind Compare the Market's famous meerkats.

But with the surreal films for Mail Shrimp, Jail Blimp and Kale Limp, along with all sorts of fake brands, products and even a band, the executions are thoroughly refreshing and original.

Not generated, but created.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Switzerland First

The best way to make the business news these days is to devise some form of ranking. There are numerous rankings and indices for brands - Meaningful Brands, Powerful Brands, Ethical Brands, Simple Brands - and so on ad infinitum, it seems.

On a slightly different tack, Y&R's BAV Consulting have got together with U.S.News & World Report and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to produce the World's Best Countries report for the second year running.

The survey asks 21,000 residents of 80 nations to rate countries on political, economic, citizenship and quality of life factors.

And is it America First? Well, no. In chaotic times, maybe it's no surprise that people yearn for stability and neutrality, as exemplified by the winner, Switzerland. Co-incidentally, Switzerland had one of the funnier 'America First' spoof films that hit the social media a few weeks back.

The U.S. has tumbled from 4th to 7th place in the last year, while Britain has (maybe surprisingly) held on to its third place.

In fact, with Switzerland first, Canada second and the UK third, the three best countries also sport some of the best national logos from around the globe. Coincidence?

Monday, 13 March 2017

A bundle of good

One of the biggest problems in the modern age is getting rid of stuff - and I know I certainly feel the pressure to get rid of stuff in a responsible way, not just 'chuck it out.'

Mothercare have estimated that there are some 183 million items of outgrown baby clothing lurking in UK cupboards and drawers, and they've come up with an excellent promotional idea in time for Mothering Sunday/UK Mothers' Day. The thought is Gift a Bundle , with Mothercare partnering with environmental charity Hubbub - pick up one of the promotional bags from your local store, fill it with 6-10 items of baby clothing, and return it to be given to a local family in need.

This is a nice down-to-earth idea that combines lots of good stuff: topical, local, sharing, bringing people together, good for the environment - and all of this through a simple action, not preaching from on high with questionable statistics, expensive film directors and heartstring-pulling plinky piano music.

This is called driving the band waggon (for a short trip, at least) rather than leaping on it.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Polite-ically Correct

I'm sure I am not alone in having a knee-jerk reaction whenever the words 'Politically (In)Correct' are uttered in the course of my work in marketing and advertising.

But when I ask myself why I react so strongly, the answer is hard to find. I suppose the words catalyse a mindset of what I see as restrictive, creativity-killing concepts: the Nanny State, over-sensitvity, social justice warriors, virtue signallers and the chattering classes in general. By which I mean all those people forever harping on in their Facebook and Twitter bubbles, who think that 'doing good' is hurling a few pounds at some crowd-funded JustGiving cause, rather than making the effort to get up and visit an elderly neighbour, or spend a weekend clearing rubbish from woodland.

However, the idea of treating everyone we reach or want to communicate with in a fair and respectful way is one to which I certainly subscribe. How can you write ads that make people laugh, cry, cheer when you're sneering at them behind their backs? (Or behind the one-way mirror in the research studio?)

I've found an excellent article in The School of Life  which addresses this issue. A mid-way between joining the Politically Correct Brigade and beating them up is suggested, which involves the (somewhat forgotten) idea of Politeness. The author/s of the article point out the similarities and differences between Politeness and Political Correctness. The differences that resonated with me are as follows. Politeness is:

1. Universal, not selective
2. About action, not thought
3. Apolitical.

Politeness is an aspiration, not a legal requirement, and perhaps we should see this too in the way our brands communicate. Brands don't have to be polite in their words and actions - and, indeed, some audiences and sectors have little need for courtesy in its traditional sense.

But I remain convinced that a basic understanding of and empathy with your audience, whatever their political beliefs, or whatever majority or minority they belong to, a fundamental respect for fellow human beings, makes for far more effective communication.

Thursday, 2 March 2017


Apologies if I start sounding like a broken record (maybe 4 Non-Blondes?) as I've recently blogged about this subject. But with International Women's Day fast approaching (on March 8th), there has been a splurge of yet more brands and companies desperate to show just how determined they are to lead the fight against inequality.

International Women's Day celebrates women's social, economic, cultural and political achievements (although I don't think Marine Le Pen's or Frauke Petry's 'achievements' come high on the list to be celebrated). This is important, as there are many countries in the world where women do not have equal opportunities and it's vital to raise awareness and prompt action to change.

But I can't help thinking that when brands and companies start leaping on this rather over-loaded band waggon, that the people involved in creating the communications are either naive or cynical.

Take P&G's new commercial #WeSeeEqual. This 'shows men, women, boys and girls defying gender stereotypes.'

OK. I looked carefully, and unless the baby is a boy, there are no boys to be seen. Could this be because P&G don't make any products specifically for boys? Or am I being cynical now? And are these people really defying gender stereotypes? What century are we in? I'm afraid the only stereotypes I can see are a load of advertising cliches: the tattooed beefy dad changing a nappy (not very competently), the bungee-jumping granny, the brainy women in glasses. All accompanied by the rather tired 'What's Up' soundtrack.

I appreciate that P&G have made some positive steps forward in terms of women in their senior management, which is good to see. But I have a feeling that this film falls into the category of protesting too much. Maybe decades of advertising featuring housewives obsessing about stains and smells leaves a guilty corporate conscience.

And it's only a few years ago that the same company were busy 'thanking moms' in their communication.

I'd love to see a company the size of P&G really use their clout to change something in the world, instead of producing wallpaper.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Secondhand Rose

One of my favourite research methods for finding out about brands is to get people to talk about their memories and relationship with that brand. What part did it play in their life at various stages? What sounds, smells, images do they associate with that brand?

A recent news item (which I'll come on to) got me thinking about the brand Oxfam, which has long been part of my life. The brand, originally founded as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief had already been going over a quarter of a century when our family established a ritual of picking out the Christmas cards from the Oxfam catalogue. I don't know if Oxfam invented the charity Christmas card, but they were certainly one of the pioneers.

I also associate Oxfam in my late 60s and early 70s childhood with textiles and design. I am sure we had one of the Belinda Lyon tea towels, pictured above. And we still have a (well-used) Twit Twoo cushion.

 As the 70s moved into the 80s, and throughout that decade, the local Oxfam shop became a rich source of teenage/20s vitals: second-hand clothes from the 50s and 60s (no-one called them vintage then), books and records. The idea of the charity shop did come from Oxfam - they opened their first back in 1948.

Having dumped armfuls and box-loads of clothes, records and books back in Oxfam in the 90s, as I moved to Germany, I entered a rather Oxfam-lean period, although I now see that there are 42 shops in Germany, and the books are mounting up again ...

Oxfam has 1,200 shops worldwide and is the largest retailer of second-hand books. Another recent discovery for me is the website,  the store part of which is a treasure trove of everything from vintage dresses, to original art, to military memorabilia. An Ebay with a conscience.

This brings me full circle to the news. Last week's London Fashion Week kicked off with an Oxfam Vintage Runway Show, titled 'Fashion Fighting Poverty'. Styled by Vogue Fashion Editor Bay Garnett, supermodels strutted their stuff in gorgeous vintage outfits from Oxfam. Pictures and report here.

Back in the 80s, fashion and charity shops were worlds apart. It's wonderful to see them come together to put on a show of sustainable fashion.

Friday, 17 February 2017

What's the point?

I've been spending more and more of my time reading and talking about Brand Purpose in the last few years. And it occurred to me the other day: what would I say if asked what the difference is between Brand Purpose and Brand Position?

Tricky. Those hours I spend these days on Purpose used to be spent on Position and Positioning. Are they maybe one and the same?

I'm not sure, in the end, that the terms are interchangeable. I'm beginning to think that Purpose is maybe a more relevant term for the world of brands and branding today. I've already written here about the static nature of the idea of a Brand Position.

Furthermore, taking a position, or positioning a brand suggests we're looking at things in a market or category, in comparison to other brands in that category. It's the Spice Girls principle: oh, that's the expensive one, that's the fun one, that's the cheap and cheerful one, that's the grown-up one. It's all about differentiation of items that are all basically similar.

But with categories today such as 'mobility', or brands like airbnb, does that really work? I'm not sure.

What I like about the idea of Brand Purpose is that it gets you to nail down what is unique about that brand, not merely what differentiates it within its (artificially-defined) category. And it's something active, that can inspire and drive everything you do with the brand, rather than merely defending your corner, which positioning sort of implies.

I don't think Purpose necessarily has to be high-falutin' and about saving the planet. It is, in simple terms, the answer to the question: what is the point of your brand? Why does it exist (beyond making money)?

To continue the Spice Girls analogy, I suppose finding their purpose is what each of them had to do when the band split.

Answers on a postcard!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Stop talking about it?

The actor Morgan Freeman, when asked once about Black History Month, said that it was 'ridiculous', and maintained the way to get rid of racism is to 'stop talking about it.'

I'm getting a bit like that about sexism - at least as far as Western markets go. I don't deny that there is serious work to be done (and probably not by brands) to achieve gender equality in some parts of the world. But I wonder whether some of the recent (Dove/Always- esque) campaigns on this theme that I've seen create problems where maybe there aren't any.

Practically every female-orientated product that I buy these days seems to be promising to empower me in some way or another, whether I like it or not. And these are inevitably accompanied by campaigns of the sort above. Cue that melancholic keyboard, cue the cute little girls.

I'm beginning to wonder if it's a US issue. Somehow, growing up in the UK, where our best kings were queens, and living in Europe where female leaders are everyday, it just doesn't seem to be an acute problem. The campaign above, from BBDO and called Put Her on the Map is a public service campaign to get more US city streets and public landmarks named after women. The idea is: Let's inspire girls by celebrating inspiring women.'

Can't girls just get inspired by inspiring people? I know I was.

Maybe I am cynical, but I wonder if all this 'female empowerment' marketing is simply lazy. And, more worrying, whether it's the same old marketing trick: creating needs and problems in people's minds (in this case young girls') that aren't really there.

Yesterday it was stubborn stains, today it's gender equality.

(Written from Käthe-Kollwitz-Ring)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

His ideas will live on

I am very saddened to hear of the death yesterday, at 68, from pancreatic cancer, of Hans Rosling. For those who are not familiar with this Swedish 'edutainer', I blogged about him here.

Hans Rosling had a talent for explaining the world, life and the human universe on the basis of facts. It sounds dry, but it never was. As an example, here's a short article about 5 ways the world is doing better than you think. 

In these days of negative thought and 'alternative facts', he will be sadly missed.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Political Shandy?

I must admit to having felt slightly queasy about the Budweiser 'patriotic rebrand' this summer, whereby the 'great American lager' was packaged in a new design where 'US' replaced 'AB' and 'America' replaced the brand name, along with the slogan 'America is in your hands.' Odd, really, as I have no qualms about brands from the UK getting all patriotic now and again .

Maybe the difference lies with the tonality: the British way is almost always tongue-in-cheek and rather self-deprecating whereas the Budweiser packaging seemed bombastic and taking itself far too seriously. I wasn't the only one, however: plenty of liberal-minded commentators found the Trump-style rebrand a little hard to swallow.

Budweiser is now coming in for criticism for its Super Bowl commercial: Born the Hard Way, which follows what I expect is a new advertising trope for 'story of our founder starring a moody and hunky young actor' - see Burberry.

Born the Hard Way tells the story of the founder of Anheuser-Busch, the brewers of Budweiser. Adolphus Busch was born just down the road from us, funnily enough, in Mainz-Kastel. He emigrated to St. Louis in 1857, at the age of 18, and the rest is history.

The film emphasises the difficulties faced by immigrants, and the hard work put in by Busch to found and develop what has become 'the great American lager.'

So now the criticism is coming in from the other side: the Trump supporters who see this as blatant anti-Trump propaganda.

I'm not too convinced that politics and beer is a good mix, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see a few more of these 'founder stories' doing the rounds.

Levis would seem to be a prime candidate.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Plastic Fantastic

As a manufacturer or retailer intent on doing Good as well as making a profit, you could do worse than using the UN's 17 sustainable development goals (aka 'Goals to transform our world') as a framework for action.

Announced recently at the World Economic Forum at Davos is an initiative from P&G that hopefully will have some impact on goals:

3. Good health and well-being
12. Responsible consumption and production
14. Life below water

... and maybe a few more besides.

Head & Shoulders in the '1st recyclable shampoo bottle made with beach plastic' will be available at Carrefour in France this summer. The bottle is made with up to 25% recycled beach plastic, (PCR = post-consumer recycled ) and P&G have developed this with recycling experts TerraCycle and SUEZ.  Numerous technical problems had to be overcome such as UV exposure and degrading of plastic.

Now, yes, it's 'up to 25%' and, yes, it's only going to be available in a limited run in France, and, yes, P&G haven't got the cleanest slate in other areas of responsible production (record on animal testing),  but I do think this is a great step in the direction 'part of the solution instead of part of the problem.' Hats off to P&G (which I can happily do if I use Head & Shoulders.)

Using beach plastic has also inspired adidas, who are co-operating with the organisation Parley for the Oceans to produce trainers using the recycled waste from the seas and beaches.

And, while P&G are claiming their 'first', there's a small but great brand who have been doing this for a while - Method.

If I was working at Method, I'd have a slight sly smile on my face about all P&G's ta-raaing about their Head & Shoulders bottle. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Age of Paradox?

Polarities, opposites, tensions, contrasts, paradoxes - whatever you call them, it's my belief that these are the key to a strong brand. I have blogged about how being able to synthesise apparent contractions in human needs and desires (the need for individuality and to belong to something bigger, the need to be effective without causing harm, the need for the familiar and the new and surprising) is vital to being a successful brand - here, here, here, here and here (!)

Nice to know I'm not the only one harping on about this. The 5th Trend Report of IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) is entitled The Uncompromising Customer: Addressing the Paradoxes of the Age of I.

The main theme of the report is, especially in this day and age, people don't want either/or - they want the best of both worlds: 'the best trade-off is no trade-off.'

I'm not sure whether this is particular to the age we live in: I can remember endless arguments about Health vs. Taste/Indulgence and Effectiveness vs. Care from my advertising days in the last century. But the authors of the report describe 'The Age of I' as reflecting one huge human paradox - the desire for inclusion in a meaningful group while protecting and expressing one's individuality.

Within this mega-paradox, the authors have defined 4 sort-of-mega paradoxes:

1. The Paradox of Separate but Connected: The new definition of connection
2. The Paradox of Abundant Rarity: The changing definition of luxury
3. The Paradox of Seeking a Better Me and a Better We: Responsible Individualism
4. The Paradox of Do It Myself and Do It For Me in My Way: Rethinking Consumer Control.

These are not a bad place to start in terms of positioning your brand. Think about which tensions or paradoxes exist within human needs, wants and desires associated with your product, service, market or territory. And what is the unique energy within your brand that you can use to resolve that paradox?

That's all folks!

Oh, sorry. Wrong cartoon.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Inventing and reinventing drinks

I've turned up rather late at the party for a new-ish drinks brand called Andalö, presumably because I don't attend enough hip events. However, a friend brought me a bottle to a 'Brexit Blues Party' - long story - and I was intrigued.

Drinks marketing these days is a subtle game. People want something new, but they must have the feeling that they've discovered or rediscovered something authentic. Maybe this is why one of the few survivors from the cocktail craze of the 1980s is Malibu. Amid all those faux brands (remember Shakers?), Malibu could at least claim a Caribbean heritage going back to the 19th century.

Andalö also claims to have its origins in the 19th century. The brand is described as a 'Swedish-inspired Liqueur' based on Sanddorn. (Common Sea-Buckthorn in English.)

I've noticed Sanddorn creeping into a variety of food and drink products here in Germany over the last few years, from yoghurts to tea. Apparently, the plant is a rich source of Vitamin C - and that takes us to the brand story.

A Swedish smuggler by the name of Carl Petter Andersson, whose boat was named the Andalö, got into trouble in a storm while smuggling alcohol from Germany, back in 1889. He mixed the smuggled alcohol with the fresh Sanddorn juice he had on board (presumably to prevent scurvy) and so the liqueur was born. I have sampled it and it's quite tasty.

So far, so good. However, other elements of the marketing don't really seem to tie in with this story or supposed heritage. There's an association with Swedish Midsummer, which is rather sub-IKEA in its portrayal. And then there is the bizarre choice of a brand ambassador, Pamela Anderson. Well, yes, she's blonde, called Anderson, and has Scandinavian roots, but they are not Swedish. And I have a feeling she doesn't drink.

I suspect that the (German) makers of Andalö have looked at the success of Aperol, on the back of the  Prosecco craze, and done the logic that Sweden is the Italy of the North for Germans.

There's even a cocktail recipe for Andalö and Jägermeister, mixed.

But it's a bit too early in the morning for that. Sounds like a recipe for sea-sickness.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Experience Pass

It's a bit alarming to think that I first went ski-ing 40 years ago. But maybe less alarming to think that I'm still keeping it up, with a trip or two almost every year. There have been huge changes, of course, in that time - with the equipment for a start. Skis are short and light and nippy these days, and boots warm and hi-tech and moulded to your feet if you so desire. It's difficult to spot someone without a helmet these days. And let's not get on to the fashions.

The lifts, too, have changed beyond recognition. When I started, there were drag lifts, single chairs or double (like the one above) if you were lucky, and a packed cable car to get everyone up from the valley. These days, chairlifts and gondolas have heated seats and probably Glühwein service.

In all this, we don't think much about the once-humble lift pass. These used to be a bit of card with your photo, which the lift operators checked manually to allow you on the lift, or not. But these days, the lift pass has evolved into more of an Experience Pass.

In combination with the SmartPhone, or even without, the lift pass can get you a printout at the end of the day about how many km you've skied, how many lifts you've used and many other metrics. If you wave the thing around at various photo locations, you don't even have to fumble around in gloveless hands for your camera or phone - holiday snaps will be delivered as though by magic.

All of this reminds me about how marketing people are talking about cities in the context of future mobility and urbanisation. Look at Urban-X (a MINI-backed start-up) for example who are 'Engineering the City as a Service' and whose Mission is:

We believe in a world of abundant, accessible technology that connects and empowers urban life. We believe every city will be a platform upon which the tools of the metropolis will be built. We are Engineering the City as a Service to meet the challenges of rapid global urbanization. We will achieve this via hardware and software that provide necessary infrastructure, technologies, products, and services.”


A ski-resort is, of course, a microcosm of a city, brimming with early adopters, be it for the latest ski equipment or the latest technology.

But in all of this connection and participation and technology, I wonder if something gets lost. I love the action and bonhomie of a ski holiday as much as the next one, but I also love the silence of the mountains.

It's telling that the strapline on the Ischgl website is almost portentous: Relax. If you can ...