Thursday, 16 August 2018

Pity the Postmaster

In days gone by, the postman's main fear was being bitten by an aggressive dog. These days, the email postmaster is probably more at risk of being attacked by angry customers, but more of that later.

A new study by consultants Globeone shows that only 18% of German companies communicate a purpose (the benefit to society at large) in their claims. But, as Globeone point out, having a claim with what appears to be a higher purpose expressed in it is not enough:

"However, the use of a strong purpose goes far beyond the development of a brand claim – it must be lived by the entire organization, because otherwise the credibility of such a positioning is not given. "

Quite often, even if the management are behind the purpose, it doesn't filter down to those who are actually communicating with customers.

Take an example: Deutsche Telekom. To cut a long story short, I seem to be unable to send emails to BTinternet users. You'd think that 2 of the largest providers in Europe might actually be able to work out that their users want to communicate with each other, but it seems not.

Here are just some statements from my email conversation with the Postmaster:

"unfortunately, there is no way for us to force other providers or
administrators to accept messages from our servers. We think that BT's
policy is not wrarranted and that "SPF" really does more harm than good.
Thus we do not have an solution for you at this time."

"we are afraid that it will take some time until our customers can send
e-mail to customers of BT again."

"We are familiar with the behaviour of the servers from
and we stay in contact with btinternet. But we can't promise you a fast

These emails were inevitably signed off with the claim "Life is for Sharing", which I would like to amend to "Life is For Sharing. Except with BT customers."

I don't blame the Postmaster. He/she/they have a fairly thankless job, dealing with problems and customers that make a rabid Rottweiler look like a poodle puppy.

But I do think that people on the customer interface should have training on the implications of what the purpose means for them in their customer-facing role. Of course, there will be problems and hitches.

But it's how these are dealt with that makes the difference.

Friday, 10 August 2018

People in glass houses

Careful - your corporate culture is showing!

In the age of rising demands for transparency from brands and organisations, the phrase "Glass Box Brands" is one that's rarely off the brand agenda these days.

I haven't been in the job-seekers' market for a long time, but I do get involved now and again in the question of Employer Brand. Job-seekers' platforms are probably not quite as developed here in Europe as in the US, but a future is certainly round the corner where job seekers can find out anything about a company - warts and all - from TripAdvisor-like review sites.

One such is Glassdoor, no new-fangled shiny thing, this, but established since 2008. It's a site where employees and interviewees can do anything from share salary information to posting reviews of their interviewer, the management, the culture and so on.

It's an interesting development. Over time, to avoid the platform becoming a receptacle for bitter and twisted personal rants, Community Guidelines have been introduced as well as a "Give to Get" policy. The Glass Door has a lock - there's no casual browsing, and after a few peeks through the windows, all becomes opaque until you sign on or sign in.

Does all this policing destroy the object of such a site? Are enough people contributing to make the information valuable?

Or will the increasing wariness of "wot I read on the internet" mean people would rather trust their own experience and instinct when seeking a new job?

Friday, 3 August 2018

Age fluidity

When I was a lass, our corner shop was always well-stocked with sweet cigarettes. As well as packs that mimicked grown-up brands, all the TV stars of the day, human, animal and robot, had their own offering, complete with cards to collect - just like Grandpa.

And, if you got bored of getting your pretend-smoking kicks in this form, there was always Spanish Gold:

Mmmm: can still taste the coconut!

Fast-forward a few decades, and my husband recently tried to get some e-cigarette refill in the UK with a vague taste of tobacco and failed, miserably. Instead, he was offered a vast array of flavours that wouldn't be out of place at a 6-year-old's birthday party:

Caramel, Cola Pop, Juicy Blueberry, Liquorice Torpedo, Bubble gum, Marshmallow, Blue slush - need I go on?

It was all rather reminiscent of those over-priced milkshakes in Starbucks that masquerade as coffee - vanillacaramelbutterscotchcheesecakefrothochinos - or whatever they call themselves.

Or the alluring colourful bottles of homogenised baby food dressed up as trendy hipster smoothies.

Not to mention alcopops, alcoholic ginger beer and beer with banana flavour.

I've blogged about Kidults before, but maybe, as all these items seem to be liquids, perhaps the correct term for this trend is Age Fluidity.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Humans vs. Androids

Summer always seems to be a time for catching up with reading, and I've noticed a flurry of articles on two opposing (or are they?) themes.

There are articles heralding doom and gloom for advertising and brands because, after all, in the very near future, we'll be delegating absolutely everything to our AI assistants and there ain't no room for good old advertising, or, if there is, a robot will be "creating" it.

And on the other hand - no! Intelligent humans - real intelligence - are going offline and experiencing JOMO - Joy of Missing Out. Enough is enough with Smart this and Smart that.

Or maybe the two aren't mutually exclusive - delegate everything that doesn't bring you joy and fulfilment to your AI assistant, leaving you more time for that that does.

But how to judge what does and what doesn't? Something else for the too-difficult pile.

A lot of this can be summed up in an excellent article from The Book of Life which lists 8 ills of modern life:


And 8 "consolations" for these:

Melancholia Universalis
Ordinary Life
Good enough

OK, until an AI assistant can "understand" the subtlety of why the top list are labelled "ills" and the bottom "consolations", I'm off for a bit of JOMO!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

A load of hot air?

The Trump Baby balloon is a timely reminder of the power of outdoor advertising and the potential of the biggest medium in (or around) the world - the sky.

Another aerial campaign that kicked off this month is from Hunter as part of the strategy to be recognised as a classic British export.

The 120-foot inflatable welly was launched in Scotland, and will appear at festivals, sporting and other events in the UK and Europe before crossing the Atlantic for some US appearances in the brand's biggest export market.

This is, I think, what's known as a "Big Idea."

I am sure there are some who would have loved to see the Flying Welly boot the Trump Baby up the backside!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

SPAM's people

Over the years in this blog, I've dug up enough evidence to show there's not much new under the branding sun whatever fancy new terminology and buzzwords are introduced. For example, my Christmassy piece of branded content, or some useful branded guides to baking and motoring.

I came across a fascinating article by consumer behavioural researcher Ayalla A. Ruvio this week, entitled How Spam became one of the most Iconic American brands of all time. Definitely worth reading in full, it shows how a not terribly exciting product became an iconic brand through involvement and emotional connection with people, employing all manner of ingenious "brand experience" ideas decades before the term was coined.

The article is brimming with historical examples of collaboration, co-creation, tapping into culture and generally being informative, useful and entertaining.

Yes, entertaining. The Spam story that caught my imagination the most was that of the Hormel Girls, a musical troupe of female WW2 veterans. So there's even female empowerment in there too!

But maybe the biggest example of Spam's iconic status is the passing of the brand name into everyday vocabulary. Of course, the brand could have kicked up a huge fuss and not wanted their name sullied with connotations of junk mail.

But I am sure that would have done more harm than good.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Her Royal Brandness

There's a rather good series of articles running at Marketing Week to celebrate the publication's 40th anniversary. I remember Marketing Week if not 40 years ago, then - ahem - certainly 30 years ago. Of the "trade publications" we received, it was my second favourite after Campaign, and certainly infinitely more readable than The Grocer, which seemed to smell vaguely of brown paper.

The articles are written by industry luminaries, and I was pleased to see my old boss from my Saatchi days elevated to branding royalty with this excellent article . Rita Clifton reflects on brands and branding over the last few decades and concludes that for success, strong brands must remain the anchor point, organising principle, heart, call it what you will, of a business.

One thing that hasn't changed in my decades of marketing and advertising is the continual dichotomy: (long-term) building the brand and (short-term) sales - today characterised as "taps, clicks and bricks." I expect our arguments in the last century weren't helped by so much mumbo-jumbo surrounding the idea of a brand. The whole idea seemed vague and airy-fairy, with the continual reference to 'brand image', as well as the contrived and frankly up-their-owm-backside ways that various practitioners conjured-up an enigmatic 'brand essence.'

Images and essences aside, it's interesting that today's most powerful brands are what we used to call single-shot or mono-brands in terms of brand architecture. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Instagram, Pinterest and Co. don't lurk in the depths of mysterious 'brand temples' - more mumbo-jumbo - these are completely clear and upfront in their presentation.

One more reflection on the article: back in the last century, brands were dominated by what we used to call FMCG - Fast Moving Consumer Goods. Groceries in plain language.

It's ironic that the biggest changes that have impacted on branding in the last couple of decades are to do with speed and scale.

When those 20th century marketeers talked about Fast-Moving, they didn't know the half of it!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Three Lions

In much of the coverage of the concept of Purpose in the marketing press, there's often confusion between two separate, yet connected ideas:

1. Brands - or indeed - businesses as a force for good in society and the world as a whole
2. Brand Purpose - the reason a brand exists, which defines its uniqueness and differentiates it from everything else.

This post is more about the first of these ideas - that brands and businesses have the scale, reach and wherewithal generally to do some good in the world. And that people are expecting this more and more as trust in traditional institutions declines. It's worth pointing out (as anti-capitalists tend to forget this) that most businesses have always done good in terms of providing employment, developing the skills their of people and contributing to the local communities as well as the economy. But this is often overshadowed by the negative effects on people and planet that irresponsibly-run businesses can have.

The first lion in this post is the recently-concluded Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It was at this forum that the second lion was premiered.

The second lion is an initiative created by Mars and The United Nations Development Fund, along with creative partners BBDO and Finch. The initiative is called The Lion's Share Fund and here it is introduced by the wonderful Sir David Attenborough:

It's refreshing to see a different theme picked by advertisers to the usual suspects amongst the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and Conservation is particularly apt, seeing as 20% of advertising uses images of animals. Many of the animals featured in ads are endangered species - think of all those tigers, pandas and gorillas. 0.5% of a company's media spend for ads featuring animals won't make a huge dent in profits, but it'll certainly add up to giving something worthwhile back - an appearance fee, if you like.

So, well done to Mars. I do wonder if their arch-rival, Nestle, who make Lion Bar, will join up.

And as for the third lion, well, after last night, I hope you'll forgive me my little indulgence at the top of this post.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Driving traffic to the stores

I'm still not a huge fan of McDonald's burgers, but I do find I'm liking (if not lovin') McDonald's as a brand more and more. Despite having been in the world of advertising for decades now, my heart still misses a beat (well, half - it's only advertising) when I see an idea I instinctively know is right. And damned bloody good.

Here's one:

"Follow the Arches" by McDonald's Canada, from their agency Cossette, has just won the Outdoor Grand Prix at Cannes.

There's no heavy philosophy or high and mighty purpose here, but instead there's first of all an ingenious and brilliant use of the medium. Plus a nod to popular culture - all those "guess the logo" games. Human insight, too - who doesn't identify with tiring car journeys with hungry kiddies, driving round and round a strange city? And then, positive use of brand consistency, values, global presence. Stunningly simple.

Best of all, it's useful and helpful, which means it'll work.

It puts the ghastly phrase "driving traffic to the stores" in a whole new light!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Rebel bands and brands

I went to an open-air rock concert at the weekend, something I hadn't done for some time. One aspect of the experience that intrigued me was that they seemed to be giving away ear plugs at the bar. Rather weird, if you ask me. I asked the girl behind the bar what that was all about and she didn't really seem to know but commented that "maybe some people are sensitive."

A strange remark, I thought, but there seemed to be a streak of concern for the sensitive running throughout the show. At the entrance was a security sign telling you what was allowed and not allowed in terms of bringing stuff into the show. All very well. But then there was an extra section listing what is not liked at the venue: racism, sexism, homophobia and so on, but also stuff like overstepping personal boundaries, coming on to people inappropriately and that sort of thing. Look, I don't like that stuff either - but does it really need to be spelled out to adults?

It reminded me of the sort of sign you get at swimming pools: no running, no jumping, no diving and all the rest. And even though I've left my adolescence behind long ago, those sort of signs always make me want to do exactly the opposite.

The band's singer gave us some cod philosophy about "the rules are there to be broken", but I felt pretty sure that no-one would look kindly on anyone breaking those rules of desirable behaviour that the venue has laid down. I wondered vaguely if the venue's management go through the back-catalogue of lyrics with a red pen each time some rock dinosaurs come to strut their stuff.

Hate is only acceptable when it's channeled in approved directions.

Perhaps the conversation Johnny has in The Wild Ones would go like this today:

- Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
- What's on the approved list?

This is important for brands, as I sense an increasing homogeneity: brand values are interchangeable, and even "rebel" brands seem to be more and more conformist. I am not a great fan of those "12 Brand Archetypes" tools, for a number of reasons. Not only is there rather too much over-simplification involved, but the whole thing seems to be about fitting in rather than standing out. ("Which Disney Princess is your brand?" to which a real rebel brand should really answer "None of 'em!").

Are the "usual suspects" who get held up as Outlaws or Rebels really so? Harley Davidson, Virgin, Diesel et al? Or are they merely the establishment's idea of an acceptable rebel?

I'm on the lookout for brands that do something genuinely rebellious. Existing only in the Internot, for example.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Not-so-smart addiction

Yesterday, I nearly got into a fight, or at least a slanging match. A man crossed the path of my car (yes, I was on the road), glued to his SmartPhone, not looking, oblivious. If I'd been paying as little attention to my surroundings as he was, he'd be dead or seriously injured. Yet, he seemed to think I was in the wrong.

The news (which most people probably read on their SmartPhone) is cram-full of articles about SmartPhone addiction (or is it social media addiction, or internet addiction? And does it matter?) and as long ago as 2014, the McCarthy Group's Trust and Attention Survey found that, for millennials, access to the internet is more important than access to their best friend. The word Nomophobia has been coined to mean "the fear of being without your phone."

We're not just heading for the dystopia depicted in this cartoon (inspired by The Fleischer Bros.' Bimbo's Initiation), we're active - or passive - participants already.

The Googles, Facebooks, Instagrams and YouTubes of this world are responding by a focus on "Digital Wellbeing", building take-a-break features into their services, amongst other measures. This move towards "responsible devicing" feels familiar - rather like the booze companies encouraging responsible drinking. A little bit "nanny knows best?"

The man on my local street aside, it's difficult to say how much of this is real and how much is media hype. And I wonder if just as much anxiety and mental distress comes from well-meaning and "look at my perfect world" posts as it does from hate speech and the like.

One thing is for sure: the (social) media companies dealing with the problem head-on isn't new.

One famously-long TV program title from my youth was Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead? 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Recycled paradigms

Vancouver is one of my favourite cities, and this week it has been playing host to Sustainable Brands 18 "Redesigning the Good Life", where the good and great in branding and marketing get together to talk about how brands can help make the world a better place. Vancouver seems an apt choice for the host city, as it aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.

One of the speakers at the event was Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at P&G. In this interview for Sustainable Brands, he talks about what needs to be changed in the world of branding. No huge surprises, but it's a useful summary of the way that branding has evolved over the last decade or two:

*Lead disruption rather than trying to follow
*Focus on growing the market, not just gaining share
*'Built-in' doing good rather than 'bolted-on'
*Big is beautiful when it's good
*Sustainable is mainstream, not niche

So there we are. It seems that one place to start with being a sustainable brand is to recycle your old marketing paradigms and models - and possibly re-purpose them as frameworks ;)

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Purpose Parody

As someone who has worked in advertising for more years than I'd like to admit to, the thought that often provided me with the best guidance is: "it's only advertising." Perhaps that hides a regret that I never became a brain surgeon, or something equally useful, but it has certainly saved my sanity more than once.

When I worked in the UK, I admired the way that the ad industry constantly took the mick out of itself, from ridiculing preposterous product demos to beer brands sending up pompous and pretentious perfume ads.

I've commented before that the industry seems to have lost its sense of humour of late, and it seems ironic that it's a beer brand that's being parodied in the video from Oasis (owned by Coca Cola) above. The Togetherness Bottle campaign, created by The Corner, London, has a subversive swipe at all those worthy ads with their plinky piano music and social experiments: "Brands acting holier than thou while everyone knows it's about sales, not saintliness," as its creators say. It's all part of an overall marketing strategy from Oasis, #RefreshingStuff, that the brand has been pursuing since 2015.

It's a fun idea with a serious point behind it for all marketers. Purpose is important for brands, but it really doesn't need to be about stopping wars, obliterating sexism/racism/anyotherism, empowering women, one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals or saving the world in any other way.

It could just be about refreshing people with a cooling fruity drink and a bit of a laugh when advertising people get too up their own bottoms.

Monday, 28 May 2018

A stitch in time

I have always been fascinated by the Bayeux Tapestry - not just for its awe-inspiring ancientness, but also from the juxtaposition of the medium and the content. An action-packed bloody battle depicted through that most ladylike, refined and patient of crafts - tapestry, or more exactly, embroidery.

There's a similar juxtaposition going on with the BBC's FIFA World Cup 2018 launch commercial, created by their in-house agency BBC Creative, and Blinkink. The thrills, spills and action of past World Cups have been captured in 600 individually embroidered frames. The style of the embroidery and the soundtrack to the resulting film are inspired by the host nation, Russia.

A 7m long tapestry will live on after the winner has hoisted the trophy in July. This is only 1/10th the length of the Bayeux Tapestry, but it certainly reflects the tagline of the film: History will be made.

I'm sure there are other interesting and creative ideas for combining medium and content in unexpected ways that this could inspire.

And will it perhaps still be there to marvel at in 1,000 years?

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Eat more fruit!

I am sure I have remarked before on the preponderance, still, of independent butchers, bakers and candlestick makers in Germany compared to the UK. When my son was young, shopping was never a chore, as it seemed that just about everywhere we went, he'd be offered something to nibble on.

A little packet of Gummibärchen in the Post Office, an apple at the greengrocer, a corner of currant bun at the baker and a slice of sausage (indeed, sometimes a whopping great chunk of sausage) at the butcher. I can imagine the shock-horror reaction to that last one in health & safety-allergy-obsessed UK.

This all reminded me of my own childhood shopping trips, when greengrocers had brown bags proclaiming Eat More Fruit! and extras were always slipped in over and above what showed in pounds and ounces on the weighing scales.

This was all brought back to mind on a recent trip to Tesco in the UK, where I saw a tray of free fruit for kids:

This initiative, launched in 2016, has been a huge success for Tesco and they reckon they've given away 50m pieces of fruit since its launch. It's part of an overall renaissance for the retailer, since its low point in 2015. Since then they're on their ninth consecutive quarter of growth.

The principle is so simple: put yourself in the customer's shoes - and why not take a lesson or two from retailers down from you in the food chain, for a change. The kind who haven't got a high and mighty Corporate Purpose Statement on the boardroom wall, yet know their customers personally, and put purpose into practice every day, in all they do.

It could be a case of: An Apple a day keeps the losses away.

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Internot

I read a fascinating article this week in the HBR, entitled Marketing in the Age of Alexa. The article charts the rise of AI platforms and voice assistants, painting of a picture of a life where the skilled digital assistant accompanies its human owner? partner? master? slave? 24/7 in home, car, mobile device and so on and so forth.

But hang on. Voice assistants may become increasingly skilled, through AI, I don't debate that. However there will be some aspects of our lives that they will never have information about, unless we so choose. And that includes most of what happened or was made more than, say, 10 years ago.

Spotify won't have a clue that I may decide to dig out old vinyl from my teens and play Iggy Pop at full blast from my 1980s sound system. Or set up my wind-up gramophone from the 1930s outside on a sunny day and listen to 'On the road to Mandalay.'

The are furniture items, books, toys, crockery, photographs, letters, bicycles, bedknobs and broomsticks that will never be connected to the internet of things (unless we want them to be.)

Beyond that, there is the whole of nature, which grows without a code or chip.

And beyond that, there is the future.

The AI platforms have no connection to this world and don't "know" - as far as they can know anything - that it exists.

Maybe it's one strategy for rebel brands today to plant themselves firmly in the world of the internot.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Change happens. Get over it.

One of the core questions for marketing people has always been centred around how to adapt and transform in an ever-changing world. There's an interesting and useful analysis here by two authors from the agency Flamingo, who have examined change in a wide variety of fields, and constructed a simple model showing four strategic directions a brand could choose - Guide, Translate, Create and Pivot - along with good examples of brands who have used those different strategies.

I like this analysis, although it does tiptoe into an area that seems to be, in my mind, rather over-played currently: that of the VUCA world "out there."

There can be few readers who haven't heard about VUCA from some source or another, but in case you haven't, the acronym stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

This acronym didn't come from some marketing consultant, but from the U.S. Military, in the context of Afghanistan and Iraq in the 1990s.

Is this really how we want to see the world we're operating in? Are our brands weapons in some kind of war?

I don't think so.

What if we thought of it this way:

For 'Volatile', read 'Spontaneous'

For 'Uncertain', read 'Surprising'

For 'Complex', read 'Diverse'

And for 'Ambiguous', read 'Enigmatic'

Because it's not us against them, there is no world "out there", "external" and "internal". We are all part of the world.

It's the role of brands not to provide stability in the sense of stasis and resistance to change, but rather to provide a clear purpose and direction as part of a wonderful, multi-facetted, animated, rich and mysterious world.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Curator's Egg

Photo: Tyler Orehek

Today's post leads on from my last one, as well as picking up a theme a looked at over 5 years ago: curators and curation

Since I wrote about Brand Curators (which on balance, I still think is a good idea), the use of the word and its variants - curated, curate as verb - has exploded. it's almost as omnipresent as the dreaded "journey" - in fact, "curated journeys" abound.

Curation is a good and necessary thing in the present day, with digital overload, and it does suggest a degree of discernment, skill and knowledge. But have a look at a typical brand activity - I've picked Amazon - which involves "curation."

Amazon Prime's Book Box Service is one of those ideas that it feels a little churlish to criticise. I do take the points about encouraging children to read and love books and all the rest.

But. The books are described as "hand-picked" as well as "curated". Does that mean a human being is doing the choosing? But how much is that human being aided and abetted by algorithms? And does this kind of "curation" involve an aspect of "nanny knows best"? The word "curate" does come from curare - "to care." 

Where does curation stop and censorship (of a gentle sort) begin?

Is it the curators who have their knives at the ready to dock the long tail?  

Friday, 27 April 2018

Is the Long Tail being docked?

Twelve years ago, a book came out which celebrated the almost unlimited choice enabled by the internet: The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson. Four years ago, I questioned the notion of choice: were we maybe living more in an age of pseudo choice, where increasingly, the internannies Google, Facebook and YouTube were knowing better what we were looking for: Did you mean ...?

I'm still irritated by Did you mean .....? as in most cases, no, I didn't. If I looked up something obscure that 99.9% of people would never search for, the chances are I did it on purpose. But in the four years since I wrote that post, the internannies have become increasingly sneaky, manipulating what we might or might not like to see behind the screens.

And, reading this excellent article from Contagious, about Voice. It's estimated that, by 2022 55% of US homes (48% of UK) will have a Smart Speaker in their home. And within two years, 30% of web-browsing will be done by voice.

Of course screens won't disappear, in the same way that bricks and mortar shops won't disappear, or TV advertising, but imagine this: if you search for an item on amazon via your device, you'll probably look through a largish number of the options presented. You can process visual information pretty rapidly.

But if you ask Alexa, how many options are you likely to want to listen to? Not many. Processing of auditory information takes far longer.

Whether you dock a dog's tail is a matter of choice and fashion, but I can't say I particularly like it.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Drinking with Purpose

Brand Purpose seems to be the 21st century equivalent of Brand Positioning - everyone wants to have one, and for good reason. There's maybe a tendency, though, for Purpose to be confused with Doing Good, in that what used to be called CSR activities are now labelled as Purpose.

It's probably the subject of another blog, but ideally, Purpose should drive the entire brand, with the 'Doing Good' activities stemming from it. But Purpose itself does not have to be about saving the world single-brandedly.

Still, whether its an overall Purpose, or activities that stem from that, it's important that these are true - and unique - to your brand. It's only too easy to look at something like the UN Sustainable Goals and pick something you like the sound of or is flavour of the month in the media.

To be true to the brand, the Purpose or activities should:

- reflect the brand values and beliefs
- connect in some way to the products
- be motivating for customers
- be relevant for what's going on in society.

A great example of a very simple brand "doing good" activity is the tonic water brand Fever-Tree which supports the eradication of the disease malaria via Malaria No More UK (since 2013) as well as recent lobbying of Commonwealth Heads of Government via Malaria Must Die. So Millions Can Live.

The connection is very simple: the ingredient that gives tonic water its bitter taste is quinine, derived from the Cinchona tree, known as the "fever-tree" - hence the history with the colonial time in India. This may be an association that is not particularly desirable these days, but it is great that the brand hasn't shied away from this, rather turned it around to look to the future and doing good.

It would be great if they had an underlying brand purpose, too, from which a wider range of activities could stem - or maybe they have already?

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Jam today and jam tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Tally Ho!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chocks away, chaps!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

(Home-grown) Problem:Solution Advertising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And stick-thin models:

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

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

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

And no-one outside the echo chamber really cares.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 March 2018

A decade of drivel ;)

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

No-one cares.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Overabundance and overindulgence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 10 March 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not quite Davos, but it's home:

Friday, 2 March 2018

Me Johnnie. You Jane.

I don't mind a bit of a brand drag party when it's done in the spirit of fun, even if there is a serious message underlying the carry-on. But with some gender-themed promotions I've seen, I do wonder  what the real motivations are. With International Women's Day coming up, my cynicism radar starts bleeping overtime.

Take the limited (to the U.S. market) 'Jane Walker' Black Label edition. This has been conceived to 'draw more women to the brand' and 'acknowledge a broader push towards gender equality.' OK, on the second part of that, there are donations to organisations supporting women's progress such as Monumental Women. (Whether building statues supports women's progress today is another matter.) But I question whether this is really going to attract women to the brand. Looking at Jane, with her cane and shiny boots, I think she's more likely to attract more men of a certain sort.

The VP of Johnnie Walker, Stephanie Jacoby, says that 'Scotch is seen as particularly intimidating to women'. Now, I don't ever recall having been seriously intimidated by a bottle of Scotch, but there you go. Ms Jacoby is allowed (maybe) to make sweeping generalisations about women because she is one. And she continues '... we like to think of our striding man and our striding woman as really walking together going forward.'

Going forward? Not after a few measures you don't. You go from side to side.

Well, I suppose if the hidden agenda was publicity, I've given them a little more.

I do wonder what awaits us next. Perhaps a gender fluid version, Jo Walker? And what about a few other famous brand icons attempting to attract more women? Can we have a Michelin Woman, maybe? Or a Mrs Peanut?

None of this is new, of course. A Pillsbury Doughgirl was around back in the wonderful gender-bendering 1970s.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Elastic Fantastic

One benefit of the wonderful digital age in which we live is that agencies have become so much more generous with their information and knowledge. You may argue that there's no such thing as a free report, or that if it costs nothing, then it has no value, but I beg to disagree.

JWT Intelligence has recently released a report on the women of what they term 'The Elastic Generation'. It's a UK report, based on research amongst women aged 53 - 72. That age group, born from the late 40s to mid-60s, are more commonly known as Baby Boomers, especially in the US. The re-name has been chosen to reflect this generation's inner resilience, energy, strength and potential - as embodied by, for example, Pauline Black of The Selecter , above.

The report, which you can download here, is pretty comprehensive, substantial, and a million miles from the kind of customer-facing horrors that, for example, P&G put out. There are all manner of interesting links and references, including the fascinating Age of no Retirement

So, many thanks to JWT Intelligence, and I'll finish with two remarks:
It may be my age, but I'm afraid I immediately associated 'elastic' with comfy elastic waistbands, much as I get your reasons for the name.
And - the big question - what happens after 72, or do I have to wait to find out?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Live to work to live

I realised, with a large gulp, that this year, I'll have been a strategic planner for 30 years. I've been in this business longer than many of today's top brands have been around. There was no amazon when I started, and certainly no Google or Facebook. No one was wittering on about platforms, except for the man who told you to 'mind the gap' in the London rush hour.

I have been lucky with my work. I'm a stayer, rather than a flitter, not due to inertia, but rather due to change just happening as soon as I got itchy feet, rather as if I'd willed it. A new account, a completely different market, an international role. And then, of course, the changes in the world - through technology, which has had a huge impact on the ways of working. I remember the days when you didn't have to schedule a phone call. Yes, there were phones back then (but very few of them were mobile.)

But in terms of what I'm doing, rather than how I'm doing it, the same things are on the agenda. What makes people tick? Why do they behave the way they do? What drives them? And how can brands help to meet this infinite palette of human needs, dreams, desires, wants and hopes?

The agenda has widened for me - on top of this, what is the relation between brand and business? What role or responsibility have brand - and business - in society? These questions retain their fascination.

Back in my college days, I think I did one of those vocational questionnaires that guided me towards suitable fields of work. I seem to remember the legal profession and HM Inspector of Taxes being high on the list. Here is another kind of work-related questionnaire, and rather a good one, from The Book of Life. Rather than suggesting specific careers, it highlights what is important for you in your work, more in terms of what moves you.

I'm pleased to say, that for me, it was creativity. Some things don't change.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Is segregation progress?

Back in the last century, the sexes were segregated - certainly when it came to books and learning. There were boys' schools and girls' schools, and at universities, women's colleges and men's colleges. I considered myself lucky to be growing up when all that was changing, and even made a little bit of history myself as one of the first women undergraduates at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Over the last few years, there seem to be increasing calls for segregation - in car parks, in railway carriages, and more in more in the way some products are sold and marketed. Maybe International Women's Day has brought out the worst in them, but here are just a couple of examples from the (UK) publishing industry.

Penguin are going to pop-up in Shoreditch with their "Like a woman bookshop" from 5th - 9th March. This bookshop will stock only books written by women. A Penguin spokeswoman is quoted as seeing this as a push for "women's voices being heard and taken seriously ..."

Meanwhile, there's the publisher And Other Stories who will only be publishing works by women in 2018.

In my admittedly limited (to children's books) experience of the UK publishing industry, I've noted that it seems, if anything, to be more female-orientated than male. It is rare to find a literary agent for children's books that's male.

Are these activities creating a problem where there is none? Fiction-writing, with its calls for empathy and communication skills seems to be one area, to me, where women might just have the upper hand.

Where there is a problem is in countries whose regimes and cultures still suppress women. This will not be solved by a pop-up shop in Shoreditch. It will only be solved by publishers actively seeking out authors from these countries (and I don't mean comfortable middle-class third-generation UK-based women) and taking on the risks and dangers involved, if they believe that strongly in "making these voices heard/insert next cliche."

Incidentally, I've been invited to join something called Trinity Women's Network and attend several events that they host. Having gone to a mixed college, why on earth would I entertain the idea of segregation now?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Circle of Life

So many years have passed since the word 'sustainability' entered the language of business that I believe many people have forgotten the difficulties they may have had in understanding exactly what that word means. Although I use the word, it's one I've always had misgivings about. It's a heavily-laden word,  weighed down by its own worthiness, implying a lot of hard graft for not a lot of reward. It has associations with endurance, with injury and suffering, but none with anything positive, be it people, purpose, planet or profit. It's a must-do rather than a want-to do.

I'm pleased that businesses have started talking about the 'circular economy.' Like the idea of the 'sharing economy', it's an idea you can understand intuitively. I'm surprised the term has been around since 1989 (raised by British environmental economists) as I have only been aware of it in the last two or three years.

Rather than a linear economy, with its produce - consume - dispose beginning, middle and end, the circular economy, as you see above is all about keeping resources going and giving value for as long as possible, and then re-cycling.

Incidentally, this ties in well with my abhorrence of the word 'consumer' - in this model, people are active participants, creating, selling-on, adapting, repairing and recycling as well as using the goods.

It's only a pity that many of the major tech companies with their in-built obsolescence don't seem to have got the hang of this just yet.

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Funeral of a Computer

I've said before that one of the hazards of being a trend forecaster is that sometimes, you get it wrong.

But apart from the nuclear bomb and the new ice age, there's very little in the predictions of these teenagers, asked in 1966 by the BBC's Tomorrow's World what life might be like in the year 2000, that's so completely wrong, even if some of it took a little longer to start happening. I wonder what these people - now well into their 60s - think today of their predictions?

Robots and computer funerals, madmen and atomic bombs, overpopulation and radiation.
Automation and people out of work.
People will be regarded as statistics and not actual people.
Boredom, everything the same, people the same.
Housing problems, people squashed together and cramped - or living under the sea.
Battery farming, artificially-reared animals.
Rockets and sputniks interfering with the weather. The sea rising.
Black and white, rich and poor all living mixed together.

Very dull, no fun or anything.  And - cabbage pills.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Tack, Ingvar!

(Image via

Many of my readers will know that two brands have dominated my working life: Saatchi & Saatchi, and in the 21st century, IKEA. The sad news from Sweden this weekend is that the IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad has passed away in his sleep at the grand old age of 91

I have often pondered the factors behind the success of IKEA. The various press articles and books written on the subject cite everything from product names to meatballs. And they are all (partly) right.

Some of the factors I always come back to when thinking about IKEA are these:

Demographic Design and Vision: Long before it was fashionable to talk about such things, Ingvar Kamprad laid out the Idea and Purpose of IKEA: to create a better everyday life for the many people through affordable Home Furnishings. Those few words say so much and highlight the uniqueness of IKEA. You can copy a product or two, or the hot dogs. But the whole lot? Nah.

The original participative brand: At the risk of repetition, here's another factor that's been in the IKEA DNA long before it was fashionable. IKEA has always involved effort on the part of the customer. 'You do your part, we do ours, and together we save money.' It's well known ('The IKEA Effect' ) that you value more objects to which you've made a contribution.

Then there are a couple of paradoxes at the heart of IKEA which provide a healthy tension, and maybe the 'Marmite' nature of the brand that means it's rarely out of the conversation.

Universal and individual: yes, it's mass-market and yes, the stores look and feel the same. Everyone has collective stories and jokes about IKEA. But once you get BILLY into your home, and fill the bookcase with your stuff, it's uniquely yours.

Change and Ritual: In the same way that our lives at home follow a dynamic of familiar ritual and change, so it is with all aspects of the IKEA brand. The way through the store may be standardised, but there are surprising new products around every corner. 

As I write this, I'm looking at a table in my office. I bought it 22 years ago as a dining table when I first moved to Germany, expecting it to last a few years before we bought something more solid. It's been through three different homes now and although it's currently enjoying something of a holiday from dining (it's the winter indoor home for a couple of hibiscus plants), I suspect it will have a new lease of life in a few years, maybe as a dining table once more when my son moves out.

And maybe this will be Ingvar's legacy. A recycled, renewed IKEA for the 21st century.
'Most things still remain to be done. A glorious future!'