Thursday, 11 October 2018

Five build an awfully tough-as-old-boots brand

Nothing says childhood summer to me stronger than the works of Enid Blyton, and specifically, The Famous Five. Even if they didn't start off being famous, over 75 years ago, they certainly are now. I'm not a huge fan of calling fictional characters (or authors for that matter) a "brand" - I don't know why, but the reduction of a human being (albeit a fictional one) to the level of a packet of washing powder seems demeaning. But bear with me - this is more about what brands can learn from this frightfully long-lived five-some.

The original book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published in 1942, and others in the series soon followed, accompanied by games, birthday cards, stationary and, of course, jigsaws.


The books remain in print, and are still extremely popular, although the cover designs and illustrations have changed over the years. From the print medium, it was inevitable that the Famous 5's exploits would soon transfer onto film, and so it was, with the first feature film appearing in the 1950s, and TV series running in the 1970s and 1990s, complete with the associated annuals:

In marketing, we often talk about a brand becoming part of the culture, and a sure sign of this happening is when the jokes, parodies and T-shirts become part of the social fabric. Who, that was young in the 80s, will ever forget the Comic Strip's Five Go Mad in Dorset?

As brands get long-in-the-tooth, their managers begin to fret: are we keeping up to date? Are we still appealing to today's young generation? Is it enough to change the shorts and long socks of the original illustrations to hoodies and sweat-pants? The text of the books has been subject to a little bit of correction, some of it practical (decimal coinage) and some of it political (tweaking attitudes that are not acceptable today). 

As the Famous Five moved into the digital age, a new spin-off cartoon series was created, featuring the 5's offspring, right up-to-date with all the latest technology:

The parodies continue, and anyone that has been in a UK bookshop in the last year or so can't have failed to notice this and the others in the series:

Some brands get terribly huffy about parody and spoof. I don't know if there were any legal battles surrounding Brexit Island and Co. but as an outsider, it's easy to see how this bit of affectionate fun hardly damages the "brand" - rather, it reinforces it. I wouldn't be at all surprised if sales of the original books have taken off again since these take-offs hit the shelves.

Which all brings us nearly up to date. Where are the Famous 5 off for their next adventure? Well, in marketing terms they're doing a bit of a co-operation. Or is it a celebrity endorsement?

Mine's a meat paste sandwich with lashings of ginger beer.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

What looks good on paper ...

I've spent more than enough years working on brand extensions of this, that or the other and the question has always been - how far can you go? The answer to that one depends on the brand, and just how flexible and stretchable its essence really is. And what's vital to the brand's coherent meaning apart from its essence.

I saw a classic example (in my opinion) of a step too far in the supermarket this weekend: Kerrygold Irish Cream.

Now, I can just imagine the brainstorming or workshop that led to this one. The core of the Kerrygold Brand Onion (Cheese and Onion, anyone?) has probably got the words "Irish" and "Dairy" in it. So some smart Alec (or Alexa) no doubt put one and one together and thought: "I know! Let's copy Baileys!"

This probably looked like a great idea on a flip chart decorated with neon Post-Its.

But, if you have to take the onion model, what about all those outer layers? If you ignore those, you can quite easily come up with something that stands in opposition to them. I'm not a fan of the onion method for defining a brand - I prefer to get an intuitive feel for brands via long-term knowledge and experience, and from my feel for Kerrygold, I would suggest the following:

Kerrygold is an everyman/woman/child brand - for all the family, not just the niche segment of middle-aged girls who drink sickly-sweet liqueurs

Kerrygold, if it has a time of day, is about morning, the sun rising, breakfast-time, the twittering of the birds and the dew still kissing that lush green meadow

Kerrygold, if it has a place is outdoors, with beautiful rolling emerald fields, an azure sky, buttercups and daisies

And finally, Kerrygold is savoury in taste - lightly salted butter, mellow cheddar kind-of-savoury. Kerrygold wouldn't (I hope) go into chocolate, so why a chocolate liqueur?

I wouldn't want Lurpak to copy Häagen-Daz and go into ice cream.

And neither would I advise Cadbury's to start making cheese.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Red Spider Blues

It was with great sadness that I heard that one of my planning heroes, Charlie Robertson, has gone off to the great spiderweb in the sky. Charlie was one of the second generation of sparky British planners who worked in the London ad agencies of the early 80s - that generation which includes Paul Feldwick, Leslie Butterfield and Damian O'Malley.

Although I say second generation, Charlie was no follower. Having worked at the places to be in London in the 80s - BMP and BBH, he founded the planning department at the Leith agency up in Scotland, where he preferred to raise his family. Charlie already knew London wasn't the be-all and end-all of everything, and this led to his masterstroke - he founded Red Spider, the world's first virtual planning and strategy agency.

Why should strategy, and the bright minds behind it be confined to four walls in Soho, or Charlotte Street? This was pioneering with a capital P.

By the time I became associated with Red Spider, in 2003, the web had spread. I spent an enjoyable few years as an associate Spider, under the guidance of Charlie and George Shepherd, running training workshops on strategy tools and busily devising "Brand Redprints.". Those tools - which Charlie and Co. were generous enough to make public property, more or less (on the assumption that anyone can pick up a paintbrush, but only Picasso can create a Picasso) - are still being used around the world today. It was Charlie who urged me to join Facebook and a whole load of now defunct social media sites back in 2007 or so.

Charlie was astute, witty, sharp as a needle and humane. His hair seemed to have a life of its own. He didn't shy away from saying exactly what he thought and he was an enemy of both blandness and bullshit.

He'll be much missed. I'm grateful to have known him.

Monday, 24 September 2018

It's not just digitalisation

I have had a bit of an Aha Moment this week. I've been banging on in this blog and in my work, about digital and analogue, and how increasingly the division is disappearing. How customers don't really distinguish between on- and off-line, or the different online channels, and that it's the brand behind it all that matters.

I've now learned that we're in the 4th Industrial Revolution, a term coined by Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and that this isn't just about "phygital" - it's about the fusion of technologies blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres aka cyber-physical systems. Some of those technologies are robotics, AI, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things and 5th generation (5G) wireless technology.

For the record, here is the series of Industrial Revolutions:

1st Industrial Revolution: in the 18th/19th century, when rural moved to industrial and urban, powered by steam

2nd Industrial Revolution: 1870 - 1914, the age of mass-production, powered by electricity

3rd Industrial Revolution aka Digital Revolution: this started in the 1980s, it's about automation and the internet. We're still in the midst of it although we're now seeing the beginnings of the

4th Industrial Revolution aka Industry 4.0 which is about the embedding of technology into human beings and society

An interesting implication of this is found in the speech by Mark Carney entitled "The Future of Work".  Thanks to Good Business for highlighting this in their super newsletter.

While previous industrial revolutions meant that machines will take on tasks previously done by human hands, today, tasks involving cognitive (head) work are increasingly being automated. Does this mean a resurgence in the importance of the human heart? One can only hope so.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

When did hate become so hateful?

One of the most-loved and award-showered ads from the early years of this century was Honda's 2004 "Grrr" campaign from Wieden & Kennedy, otherwise known as "hate something, change something." In a novel and charming way, it told the story of how hate (in this case, of smelly, noisy, environmentally-damaging diesel engines) can become a force for change. I'm not sure how the "new" diesel engines now stack up as I'm not a engineer, or an environmental technologist, but that's another story.

Fourteen years on, and hate is still all over the place, it seems. Hate speech, hate crimes, haters who gonna hate, stop the hating, ad infinhatum. But to my perception, at least, "hate" has become political, and advertisers and marketers are firmly against it (when it's of the right type). PayPal, Airbnb and others of their ilk don't want your business if it promotes hate, violence or racial intolerance. I'm OK with the latter two, but listing "hate" in there implies that it's only hate directed in certain ways that's not acceptable.

Are Honda engineers allowed to hate polluting diesel engines?

Am I allowed to hate PayPal (if only temporarily) because despite being all high and mighty and putting the blockers on any hate they find unacceptable, they are completely inaccessible and couldn't give a toss that my account has been hacked, until I write to them in Luxembourg via good old pen, paper and stamps?

And yesterday, Contagious chose Channel 4's "Together Against Hate" as their campaign of the week. In the campaign against online abuse, insulting comments from people on social media are superimposed on ads that have run on Channel 4 recently.

I don't know.

Why give these witless morons yet more attention? I know, I know, I'm adding to it. I don't read comments on YouTube and the like because I know exactly what to expect, and it's minutes of your life you won't get back. When I was a child, we were told "ignore them, and they'll go away" if someone was calling you names. These nerds, sitting in front of a pile of empty pizza cartons typing their playground insults with greasy fingers, who wouldn't say boo to a goose in real life, just aren't worth anyone's time or trouble.

Meanwhile, I'd like to reclaim "hate" back from its specific, politicalised meaning. It can be a force for change, not only something to make a stand against.

Hate something, change something, make something better.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Bizarre Bazaar

I was up in Kensington High St a couple of days ago, and a little prowl around the shops brought to mind everything I've read lately about the future of retail and the ultimate retail experience. This, of course, combines the best of on- and offline, stimulates all the senses, is tailored to the individual and generally leaves the shopper - or experiencer, if there is such a word, with a breathtaking feeling of wow!

While there are without doubt some impressive stores in the area, the impression they leave is not particularly lasting, as they all seem interchangeable. Everyone is playing with the same building blocks.

And I thought back, more decades than I care to remember, to my ultimate retail experience from my teens.

Kensington Market: the impression is still there. I can still smell the musty second-hand velvets and afghan coats, the joss sticks and "herbal cigarettes". Genuinely diverse, inspiring and authentic (three words that are banded around so much today they've become meaningless), surprising and sometimes even a little frightening (thunderbolt and lightning: yes, Queen had a stall there, too.)

As the ad said, "a fairyland of treasures and fashions."

Kensington Market was not planned, or designed. Nor was it any way curated - its magic was in the higgledy piggledy mish-mash (or hish-hash). It probably contravened even the limited health and safety regulations of the time. And seamlessness or consistency were the antithesis of this marvellously fabulous place and its endless labyrinthine nooks and crannies.

Kensington Market didn't really live to see the 21st century, so I had to content myself with T K Maxx, across the road, in a building which may have been Hyper Hyper in the 1980s, and possibly Biba before that.

I longed for a whiff of patchouli oil.

Friday, 7 September 2018

A beautifully bright idea

A couple of years ago, I was wowed by an idea from the fashion industry - Manufactum's sustainable fashion, which included the beautiful silks from Johanna Riplinger, dyed using flower petals from Indian temples.

I was reminded of that when I saw this stunning idea from JAT Holdings and Leo Burnett Sri Lanka. Petal Paint is made from the flowers left in buddhist shrines and temples, which would otherwise go to waste.

There are 5 shades to reflect the Buddha halo - Lotus Red, Pigeonwing Blue, Marigold Orange, Temple Flower White and my favourite, Trunpet Yellow.

The paint is sold through JAT's normal channels, and also donated to local artists to restore murals in temples.

If that's not circular economy at its best, what is?

Monday, 3 September 2018

You can do magic

One of the strangest phrases to have crept into the marketing vocabulary in recent years is "data-driven insights." Now, I'm not keen on "insight" with the added "s", but it's the contradiction between "data-driven" and "insight" that I find tricky.

Firstly, there's the implication that no human mind is involved, that the data is crunched or analysed in a machine and the insights (sic) are churned out at the other end.

Then there's the suggestion that the insights are somehow superior in quality, and possibly more robust, as they come from data, rather than being plucked out the airy-fairy ether.

And wrapped up in all this is assumption that these superior insights, untouched by the human mind, represent absolute truths.

The few "data-driven insights" I've seen have been blindingly obvious statements which have nevertheless been backed up by an analysis of gadzillions of data points. But having that back-up somehow imbues the finding with a tremendous weight and importance that it wouldn't have had if some planner person had simply stated it.

AI is only so good at recognising patterns in data. To me, the skill of the planner is to combine rational thinking with other modes of perception - be it intuition, experience of the senses or the emotions. It's all of these combined that add up to true insight. And just because we can't measure something, or gather squillions of data points on it doesn't mean it's not important.

As the author Phillip Pulmann eloquently expresses in this article, a touch of magic belongs in our world.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Bed & Breakfast Boom

How many brands can really claim to have changed lives on a mass scale? There really aren't that many - even Facebook has probably changed behaviour more than it has changed lives en masse. I blogged about Airbnb three years ago, and unlike Facebook, it did take me a while to overcome my doubts and prejudices and become an Airbnb customer. Maybe because I sensed the enormity of the change it represented.

Airbnb has moved on in the three years since I wrote that blog, and is now 10 years old. A recent article in the Telegraph gives all sorts of facts and figures on Airbnb and its 150m customers. My own view is that what makes Airbnb not just game-changing but also life-changing is that it's not just about travel, as a brand like Uber is. It's as much about the hosts and their city as it is the travellers. Especially now that the focus is not just on homes, but on restaurants and experiences, too. Airbnb themselves claim it's about community, and it's probably true that the hosts' lives may be changed along with their guests'.

In some ways, Airbnb goes back to the days before organised travel and tourism. If you rolled up in a strange place on your trusty steed, you'd either have a letter of introduction for some distant relative, or you'd seek lodgings in the village via word-of-mouth then eavesdrop in the local hostelry as regards the Do's and Don'ts of the area. Today it's much the same, but enabled via mobile internet.

The article also questions whether, as Airbnb grows, it might lose direction or clarity. The brand has, like Facebook, suffered the onslaught of tabloid wrath when things go wrong: for every Facebook party story, there's an Airbnb trashing story. There have been protests (e.g. in Barcelona) about Airbnb and everything from huge hordes of tourists overrunning cities to more long-term worries about housing prices and affordability. Traditional hotels are jumping onto the air mattress in the spirit of can't-beat-'em-'join-'em.

Who knows? But I feel that if Airbnb stay true to their purpose and take their responsibilities seriously, they'll be here to stay (as it were.)

I just wish this had existed when I lived in Wimbledon.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

DO shoot me - I'm the piano player, or composer, or somebot

I've remarked on these pages often recently about the modern tendency to throw pull-on-the-heartstrings plinky piano music into advertising to evoke the "made me cry" reaction.

Here's a prime example, and here's the plinky piano music's depressing partner-in-crime - the ominous cello music. And here's an ad that takes the mick out of it all.

Seems I am not the only one who's crying with inappropriate laughter at all this tear-duct-squeezing mawkish music.

Here's what could have been a clever creative idea, ruined by the execution, particularly the plonky-plinky soundtrack. As the writer says, "best use of Generic Sad Piano Film Trailer Score #647" - could be a new award. There are enough contenders.

I blame all those clever people who suddenly discovered that human beings don't make decisions primarily based on their rational thoughts, but on their feelings, ergo we have to make an "emotional connection."

But why do emotions always have to be morose and mournful? Whatever happened to the jolly jingles of yore? I still remember them decades afterwards, and if that's not an emotional connection, what is?

So go ahead, shoot that plinky piano player. And I don't feel in the least bit mean or cruel saying that as in all likelihood it's just a robot anyway.

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.