Sunday, 9 December 2018

Can a brand be humble?

Although "Feeling Humbled" seems to be the stock phrase from marketing people whenever their particular  brand or campaign is up for whatever award, a lot of the behaviour of brands - or the people behind them - is far from humble these days:

* banging on about how brave and bold they are, as if they've climbed Everest without oxygen, or swum the Atlantic in winter
* launching high and mighty "purpose" campaigns that often have precious little to do with the products they make
* pontificating in the language of religion, or psychology, about "icons" and "fans" and "heroes' journeys" and "archetypes"
* not accepting that they are the cause of many of the issues they are trying to solve
* and most worrying of all, as well as "curating" people's lives for them, brands are beginning to dictate what their employees should and shouldn't do

In amongst all this bragging, it's good to find a new (to me) brand that seems to do what it says on the tin - or handle in this case. The Humble Brush, from Sweden, has been around since 2013. The simple toothbrush has a bamboo handle, purchasing helps to fund dental-related projects for children in need, and the website asks users to help with co-creation and ideas.

I'm not quite sure how easy removing the nylon bristles with pliers is going to be, but I'll find out in 6 months. Meanwhile, this does seem to be a brand that's putting money where its mouth is.

Maybe the meek really will inherit the earth one day.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Sitting Pretty

We stayed in a hotel this weekend - a good, old-fashioned classic hotel, full of bygone charm. It reminded me of my first tour of Europe as a small child in the 60s, where every different country was a different country, with idiosyncratic ideas about what breakfast should consist of. Or my discovery of the "new" parts of Europe in the 1990s, gradually shaking off the dusty trappings of the communist bloc. About the only concession to modern life that that the hotel had was WiFi. Oh, and we did find it via TripAdvisor.

Now, if I'd been part of the generation where my mobile was my home-from-home, I expect I would have gone for something of a less classic nature. For example, an Ibis hotel. If you go away on holiday, you can delegate a house-sitter and dog-sitter to take care of things while you're away. And now, thanks to a campaign from Ibis by Jung von Matt/Limmat, you can also get a social-media-sitter (a "top influencer") to do all that pesky social-media curation while you enjoy yourself (if you know or remember how to).



There's a whole report from JWT Intelligence here about "Social Hotels."

Where do I start? This new generation of hotels are "encouraging meaningful connections" and "building visitors' stays around social networking." You can have a "safe, inviting and inclusive" space to meet your Bumble date at the Marriot Moxy hotel. Or "connect with vetted locals" at some other place. I hope they have all had a good dusting of flea powder.

There's also an idea to "share experience with the past and future occupants of your room." Eeek! The last thing I want to think about.

What on earth happened to wandering into the hotel bar, or better still, outside to discover for yourself what's going on?


Friday, 30 November 2018

Anglo-Hessisch

It's been official for a few weeks, but I didn't feel properly bona fide Beutsch or Gritish until I picked up my passport today. I am now proudly Anglo-Hessisch, along with goodness knows what else in my DNA.

Will I need to rename my blog "Additional Sausage Thrown In"?

Doesn't sound too catchy.

However, I am working on a new logo.


Friday, 23 November 2018

Free Electric Van

I listened to Les Binet and Sarah Carter talking about their new book (one of those ones I wish I'd written) on a WARC seminar yesterday, and one point they reminded me of was: don't believe all those myths about traditional advertising being dead. Far from it - Facebook advertise in magazines, and both Apple and Google employ posters - yes, old-fashioned billboards - to communicate their wares.

Outdoor advertising still makes so much sense, especially if we really are going to be more and more concentrated into urban areas. And, this week, I also saw a new brand, a start-up in the area of electric mobility.

UZE Mobility, from Aachen are looking to smarten-up and relieve the strain and congestion in Germany's cities, via electro-power, AI, blockchain and all that modern stuff. Their flagship - or flagvan - offering is free of charge van-sharing. As well as running on electricity, the van runs on advertising revenue and data-dealing. The sides of the van are mobile billboards, which can even be bought as the van is in motion. In addition, data about road quality, traffic jams and so on, collected as the van drives around, will be sold to local authorities.

Perhaps the vans will soon be generating their own adverts, too. Also in the news this week was a commercial for the Lexus ES, written by AI:



I do wonder what the creative brief looked like.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Knocking Purpose off its pedestal

The Edelman Earned Brand 2018 report is another useful chapter in the development of brands, what they are, how they work, and how they can progress as the 21st century grows up out of its teens.

The big soundbite to come out of this research is that nearly 2/3 (64%) of people around the world say that they "buy on belief" - a massive 13 percentage point increase over 2017. Even taking into consideration the inevitable amount of virtue signalling that this involves, the scale of the increase is pretty impressive.

But somewhere along the line - in this report, too - I have the feeling that two quite different ideas (which may, and possibly should be linked)  are being muddled.

Is it about brands taking a stand? Or about brands standing for something?

Taking a recent example, of what might go down in history of as the most unlikely brand taking a stand and achieving a huge impact, at least in the short-term, there's the story of Rang-tan.

I first saw this beautifully-made and moving commercial in Campaign back in August. I think one Facebook friend posted it, and it got a couple of likes. I don't know how many people signed the petition. Now, it's difficult to escape the news coverage. It took Iceland's collaboration with Greenpeace, a "ban" and social media outrage to get the commercial noticed on a wide scale. It's interesting that it was the relatively small and unlikely player Iceland that took up Greenpeace's challenge and not one of the big guys.

No-one can deny that this has been an effective act of brand activism, but I'm not sure how much it has to do with purpose. I may be wrong, but I doubt Iceland's purpose is to save orang-utans, or even to reduce palm oil in their products. These may well be related to the overall purpose, but in my book, purpose is broader than one or two campaigns on social, environmental (or even political) themes.

Purpose is connected to a company's products or services and to its values. It can be high-and-mighty, but it doesn't have to be. Not every brand is Patagonia. In fact, a more down-to-earth purpose that's closer to people's everyday lives is often easier to put into practice, and is more authentic for a brand that has no history of standing on a soapbox and shouting about major issues.

The Effective Use of Brand Purpose Report 2018 from the WARC talks about the idea of "purpose" going mainstream. Here, it's not about campaigns, or jumping on the latest cause bandwagon, but finding a genuine, unique purpose for the brand which can act as a navigation compass for the whole company. With product, purpose and profit working together symbiotically.

In this way, purpose can be seen as the new boss for the 21st century.






Friday, 9 November 2018

Hybrid

I've always been proud of being something of a mongrel as far as my DNA goes, but now I can officially call myself a hybrid, with dual nationality - British (my Heimat) and German (my adopted home).

I do notice that this mongrel business is getting more and more on-trend with people proudly presenting their pick 'n mix DNA credentials on social media. And products and brands are going for it too - there's a huge push in the world of whisky to re-elevate the blend as something special in its richness, for example in this ad from Chivas:



I'm not entirely sure what that says about single malts (or the people who drink them) but never mind.

The lady at the Standesamt told me I could be German in Germany and British in Britain. I don't know - I think the other way round is more fun. Or perhaps I can be best of both, wherever I am. Or a humourless fat slag who can't cook if I'm merely feeling spiteful and perverse.

Getting back to brands, it occurs to me that all-too-often, simplicity is confused with clarity. Simplicity in the sense of straightforwardness, obviousness, a sort of inoffensive homogeneity, without Ecken und Kanten, as we say in German.

A brand to me can have clarity or coherence, yet still be rich, have paradoxes and contradictions, many facets, yet you can perceive and appreciate its wholeness. It may well have a one-word equity, if you're into that, but that word itself may have many facets and nuances, and be brought to life in many contrasting moods and styles.

This quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald seems apt here: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."

Let's try out my ability to function with that Chivas.

Chost!

Or is that Preers!


Sunday, 4 November 2018

Through a glass darkly

The theme to Interbrand's Best Global Brands 2018 is "Activating Brave", which is another variation on the theme of "long-term agility" - the acknowledged approach for brand growth in the 21st century.

In this article, Daniel Binns from Interbrand explains a little more about how the best brands grow:

“What are these brands doing to achieve success? They are harnessing the ability to take bold short-term action in pursuit of a clear and aligned long-term vision. The key to Activating Brave is to simultaneously look through a microscope and a telescope, and have the courage to intercept the future, not just flow with it,”

I like the idea of the simultaneous microscope and telescope - but does it miss something? Or, rather, are we in danger of missing something if we are forever looking through this lens or another - the customers lens, the consumer lens, the competitor lens. In marketing workshops these days, there seem to be more lenses than at Specsavers!

How would it be if we also used those perfectly good lenses behind the aqueous humour and looked at how brands exist out there in the real world, too?

As the Good Book says (1 Corinthians Chapter 13, v12): 
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Meanwhile, down at the Brexit Arms ...

A taste of things to come?

I noticed this piece of communication in a local town pub, here in the Home Counties. Note that this is one of those cheap-and-cheerful chain pubs, not some fancy-pants Gastro place (by the way, I can never think of Gastropubs without thinking of either Gastropods - not so bad if you're into Escargots - or Gastroenteritis. Not so good at all.)

In addition, there was a huge display of gins with as many flavours on offer as the Vape shop across the road. I'm guessing one reason that gin has become popularised is that it is so unashamedly British (if you forget the Dutch connection, but then again, didn't we have some Royalty from over there at some point?).

While the Gastropubs are carefully framing their British offering in "locally-produced, hand-farmed, pan-fried by hipster artisans, sustainability heaven" kind of terms, the cheapo pubs are blunt about it - see above. It doesn't actually say "don't waste yer hard-earned cash on that over-priced filthy foreign muck" but it might as well.

What next? Will Irn-Bru launch an Aperol alternative?

Will it be a return to "British Sherry" this Christmas?




Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Riding my hobby-horse

"If you're doing 'consumer safaris', your alienation from the real world is total and complete."

That's one of my favourite lines from Martin Weigel's latest blog post, Escape from Fantasy.

A lot of blog posts I read tend to approach one ear, then turn around and slink back off into the morass of jargon that is LinkedIn. But this one hasn't just stuck in my mind, it feels worthy of regurgitation so I can rapidly find it again. It would have been pinned on the wall in the old days, I guess.

It's well-written (if a little finger-pointy with its "we do this/that, we think this/that" style which I have a personal aversion against), compelling, funny and pinpoints the biggest problem of the brand communication industry today - this industry is based in a parallel fantasy world.

The evidence for this is not difficult to find and ranges from giving groups of people super-heroesque labels, through to my particular hobby horse - the aversion of a lot of planners these days to getting away from their desks and screens. "Far too many planners are no longer in constant, direct, unmediated contact and dialogue with people."

The solution - to "do what others do not, can not or dare not do to" is simple. It's about finding the truth - "the truth of real people in the real world."

One small area where I'd take issue, though, is the area of "we are nothing like the people we serve." It's simply not true, if you go under the surface demographics. We are all human beings, with the same basic needs and motivations, even though these may be expressed or fulfilled in different ways. And this is part of the solution, as far as I'm concerned. Advertising, or whatever it calls itself now, is probably always going to be dominated by young people. But if those young people are worth their salt as planners and creatives, they will at least try to get into the mindset of someone older, someone different, someone who is outside their immediate experience. Perhaps by finding common ground in the way that person feels, what's important to them.

And always remember - "the consumer" only exists in Fantasy Land.


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.

(c/o www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk)

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 btinternet.com
and we stay in contact with btinternet. But we can't promise you a fast
solution."

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:

Perfectibility
Optimism
Individualism
Exceptionalism
Meritocracy
Anthrocentrism
Romanticism
Novelty

And 8 "consolations" for these:

Brokenness
Melancholia Universalis
Dependence
Ordinary Life
Tragedy
Transcendence
Good enough
Recurrence

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.