Wednesday, 18 September 2019

The Aviatrix, the Algorithm and the Roulette Wheel

Ever wondered what an algorithm would make of a photo of you? In the  Milan exhibition Training Humans, Trevor Paglen and Kate Crawford show an exhibit which looks at how machine learning classifies people, based on the ImageNet dataset. ImageNet was created in 2009 to "map out the entire world of objects."

There are 2833 sub-categories under "person", and some of these are described as "problematic, offensive or bizarre." If you are intrepid enough, you can upload your own photo here.

I had a shot with my author photo, and bizarrely enough, given the theme of the books, it came up with "aviatrix." Even more bizarrely, my husband's photo prompted the label "co-pilot."

In order to dispel my worry that it was all going to be aviation-themed, I uploaded my son's photo.

The one he used for his CV. And the label? "dissimulator, pretender, phoney."

Luckily, the CV (and the photo) got through and he has an apprenticeship. One assumes that the humans were still in control at his place of work (ironically, an aviation engineering company).

But it does all give you pause for thought on who - or what - is sifting through the CVs, and the basis for acceptance or rejection.

Would a roulette wheel perhaps be fairer?

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

More than skin-deep

I wrote a while ago about old dogs and new tricks and here it comes - a brand new and very impressive trick from a positively ancient old dog - or at least its great-grand puppies.

Beiersdorf's first new brand to be launched for over 30 years is Skin Stories, a skincare brand for tattooed skin, including a sun stick, UV moisture lotion and a special repair serum. The new brand recognises that tattoos are mainstream these days (nearly half of all German women aged 25 - 34 have a tattoo - or two).

The cleverness lies in the winning combination of experience/trust (skincare expertise) and innovation - a skincare brand not targetted to gender, age or skin-type, as has been done in the past, but to a segment of the market who have chosen to modify their body in this way.

And there's a brand purpose, too - better and safer tattoos - with the brand going beyond product to set up a think-tank for modern tattooing, for example.

Let's hope it comes up roses for Beiersdorf.

Monday, 9 September 2019

To all the clothes I've loved before

I've made a real effort this year to cut down on buying clothes. It hasn't been easy, and I have caved in on a couple of occasions (notably to replace shoes that have worn through - why don't shoes last these days?). And it seems I'm not the only one - the world is has been waking up to recommerce for some time - see my posts here, here, here and here - and even the everyday retailer Asda is having a go with its Re-Loved section in the Milton Keynes store, where donated clothes of all brands, not just Asda's own, will be sold.

Second-hand clothes have always been part of my wardrobe, from hand-me-downs as a child, and later jumble sales and the Army Surplus Store (still going as "H.M. Government Supplies) to Kensington Market. And what a joy to hear that Flip is still going, albeit up in Newcastle as the Covent Garden branch with its Hawaiian shirts and naval jackets - like a giant cast outfitter for South Pacific - has long gone the way of the rest of the 80s.

As well as the re-use/re-sale angle, there's the re-purpose thread of sustainable fashion, too. And maybe an even bigger opportunity is fashion rental. Changing the mindset away from weddings and ballgowns and fancy-dress costumes to the everyday. The clothes rental market is heading to become a multi-billion dollar business  and subscription models are springing up everywhere from children's shoes to plus-size clothes.

But whether the subscription models are really sustainable remains to be seen. The danger is that people will continue to hunger for the latest fashions, but once the responsibility for the cleaning, repair, passing on and responsible disposal is in someone else's hands, they'll turn a blind eye to the cost to the environment.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Conspiracy Communication

Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

The answer to these questions - even in Germany - is likely to be "no" from most people, and should you answer yes, the likelihood is that you've been brainwashed by THEM. The rumour is - since the early days of the internet 25 years ago - that Bielefeld doesn't really exist.

While devising a campaign for the town, how clever of the Bielefeld Marketing team to avoid the usual route of raiding the happy-smiley stock photos and turning the negative on its head.

The campaign, Die #Bielefeldmillion is offering €1m to anyone who can prove incontrovertibly that Bielefeld doesn't exist. And the campaign has had huge national and international resonance - emails from Azerbaijan to Brazil,  news reports from Australia to India, local firms such as Dr Oetker joining in on the fun.

There 's a lesson here - not just for place marketing, but for any brand. It takes a healthy dollop of self-confidence and humour to admit your brand isn't perfect, and is even the butt of jokes. But something imperfect is also lovable, as both Marmite and IKEA have long proved.

Coming back to Bielefeld, though - if you want to win the €1m, you'd better be quick: the closing date is 4th September.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

What is a better world, anyway?

The recent death of Lord Bell has made me realise just how much the politics of the average ad-person has shifted in the last couple of decades. OK, back in the 1980s, I was working for the agency that were Margaret Thatcher's "favourites", but nevertheless, it would have been a brave person in almost any of the top agencies who openly admitted to voting Labour. They would have been thought a dreadful hypocrite at best.

These days, according to The Empathy Delusion by Reach Solutions, 44% of UK advertising and marketing people identify their politics as "left", 36% as "centre" and only 20% as "right." The report is fascinating, as it reveals that despite priding ourselves on our superior empathy (a delusion), people in the ad industry are as out-of-touch with the man or woman on the street (aka the "modern mainstream") as were their Bollinger-swilling yuppie 1980s predecessors - but living in a bubble of a completely different character, on the opposite side of the political battlefield. And quite possibly even more out of touch.

Someone with a mind set that's liberal/left has a narrower (or more focussed, if you prefer) moral compass, where more emphasis is given to the more "individualising" moral foundations - care/harm and fairness/reciprocity - than those characterising "binding/ethics of community" - in-group loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity - when making decisions on right and wrong, better and worse. The sample of advertising and marketing people in the study exhibited "different cultural and ethical settings" to the "modern mainstream."

I could take issue with all sorts of things in this report - were the two samples age-matched, for example? And isn't this sort of analysis divisive, therefore stirring up a hornet's nest while not being terribly helpful in terms of offering solutions? But some of the findings made me question my own biases and assumptions - obsession with "the cult of the individual"? Guilty as charged.

And it explains a lot about the current debate on Brand Purpose, especially the blurring of edges between purpose and cause-related marketing.

If brand purpose is about a positive contribution to a better world, maybe we should ask ourselves what we mean by "better". No-one wants a worse world, surely? Could it be that, for a lot of advertising and marketing people, a "better world" is mainly about care/harm and fairness/reciprocity relating to the individual?

For all its conservative leanings, at the agency Saatchi & Saatchi, we did always try and find a Simple Universally Recognised (Human) Truth. Something that united humans despite differences.

Perhaps it's not looking for purpose as such that's wrong, but we should broaden the scope of where we look - and what comprises a "better world."

A world with fewer pubs closing, for example?

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Aufschnitt 3: The modern rules of advertising, 2005

It's off cut time again. This could well be Bierwurst, although I'm not entirely sure. If it is, it makes a nice link to the first point in an article from the BBC News on Friday, 2nd September 2005, all about advertising cliches. It's an interesting one, as I posted last week about the heavy-handed mission of the ASA to eliminate anything that could possibly be construed as a harmful stereotype from advertising.

So, here we go - 26 advertising cliches from 2005:

I'm not sure whether this is a cause for celebration (plus ca change) or whether it makes me mildly depressed about the state of this industry.

But one thing is clear - the more creative we can be, the less obsessed with "slices of life", and the more we can keep a perspective and a sense of humour about the work we're doing, the better the results. Both in the creative work and what it does for the brand.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Tiptoe through the tulips

I'm afraid that this post may have me sounding like a rabid Daily Fail reader, but sometimes I wonder what I'm still doing in this business.

I read that the ASA have banned the first two TV ads under the new rules put in place to "reduce gender stereotyping." Complaints had come in from the public to say that these ads "perpetuated harmful stereotypes." I took a look at the ads, expecting to see something outrageous. Offensive, even.

But I don't think I've seen anything so harmless in my life.

According to the BBC, three people (no, that's not a typo) complained that the VW ad showed women in a passive/stereotypical care-giving role. I'd assume those three people were taking the piss. But the ASA, in their infinite wisdom, have concluded that "this ad presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm."

Cause harm? To whom? In whose view? What possible harm could be caused by seeing a woman on a park bench by a pram for a couple of seconds in a TV commercial? What kind of a world is it where depicting someone as care-giving is "likely to cause harm"?

Maybe the woman in the ad finally had a longed-for baby after several miscarriages. Maybe she's a lesbian. Maybe she used to be a man. Maybe she used to be a wombat for all I know and care.

What on earth happened to imagination? I've posted before about the way everything seems to be taken so literally these days, with demands here, there and everywhere for people of all sorts to "see themselves reflected in advertising".

Please, please, please:

Bring back creative ideas.

Bring back universal human truths.

Bring back advertising as entertainment not a dull bloody reflection of real life.

All that will happen if this policing continues will be the emergence of new stereotypes which will quickly become as irrelevant and yawn-inducing as the old ones.

Who remembers the "new man" of the 1990s?

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Goodbye yellow (and red) plastic sea

Even sixteen or seventeen years later, the inspiration for Toy Box Club founders Jess Green and Sheela Berry rings true for me: "... drowning under a sea of unloved, predominantly plastic toys." Which parent doesn't remember the take-over of their living space by this deluge of plastic, wondering why the smallest people in the house had the biggest (and most) belongings.

At least in my son's toddler days, it was mostly in primary colours, before the onslaught of pink and lilac lamas and unicorns for girls and poison-green pirate ships for boys. With more and more categories moving to a subscription model, what a brilliant idea to set up a brand offering toys and books for pre-school children on a "new toy box every month" basis.

All the boxes on the toy box are ticked (sorry!) - the box is recyclable, the toys are thoroughly cleaned with Ecover before being passed on to the next family, it's all gender-neutral, so no pink ponies with sultry eyelashes, and all is thoroughly safety-tested.

But, but, but - toddlers don't understand about sustainability and subscription business models and all that, and when it comes to it, they are possessive little blighters.

And here, the Toy Box Club has the answer, too. If your child should get attached to a particular toy, of course you can buy it from them, too.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Old dogs and new tricks

Perhaps it was ever thus, but I've noticed a distinct divide developing in the world of brands, certainly as reported by the marketing press.

There are the legacy brands, the old school. At best traditional and comfortable, with a certain staying power, solid and dependable. At worst, introspective and out-of-touch, hopelessly irrelevant, weighed down by their analogue past.

Then there are the disruptors, the start-ups and upstarts. They're busting norms, moulds, conventions and the old order. Possessed by more superpowers than the Marvel universe, they're shaking up spaces and zapping categories into oblivion.

And, increasingly, there are agencies springing up to service (sorry, co-create with) these trailblazers - agencies who talk their language and are disruptors in their own game. There's TwentyFirstCenturyBrand , staffed by data-geeks and storytellers (amongst others), or Nimbly, an "agile, daring, bold" insight agency.

What's a brand of a certain age to do? You can't teach an old dog new tricks - or can you? In the same way that designers introduced diffusion lines in the 1990s, established brands are introducing offshoots where they can collaborate, innovate and generally play the start-up game unrestricted by the usual processes and structures. There's a post about Unilever's Foundry here, and other examples include Henkel X and Oetker Digital

Beiersdorf are also in on the act, with Oscar&Paul - Corporate Indie Brands and the relaunch of the deodorant 8x4, originally introduced in 1951.

The question is maybe not whether an old dog can learn new tricks in theory, but whether he's genuinely agile enough to show them off in practice, without doing himself a nasty injury.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Aufschnitt 2: Brits, Yanks agree/disagree over social concerns March 2007

Here comes the second in my series of offcuts from the archives. Apologies as usual to my vegetarian friends for the visual.

At the end of a scorching week, I've got a topical one - an article from March 2007 about Millward Brown's ReputationZ study about the main social concerns on both sides of the Atlantic.

The astonishing thing here is that, while the Fridays for Future protestors were crawling around in their not-terribly-environmentally-friendly nappies, Climate Change was the number 1 concern in the UK. But this topic didn't even feature in the US top 10, with Obesity being the main concern there.

Another finding for those marketers who have suddenly discovered Purpose is that more than twelve years ago there was already a strong feeling that companies should behave responsibly and ethically, although the tendency was for "buycotting" rather than boycotting - supporting those companies you approve of rather than punishing those whose ethics or working practices you find to be lacking. Of course, back in those pre-mainstream social media days, it required a lot more effort to "call someone out".

What about today? I did search around to try and find a comparable study, but failed miserably, so if anyone can help, please leave a comment. I suspect that smoking risks and irresponsible drinking may be lesser concerns today. I did find this article from Grayling which lists the main social issues for the UK as:

1. Hate
2. Mental Health
3. Climate Change
4. Obesity
5. NHS

In addition, I suspect that plastic, inequality, poverty and immigration would be issues for both UK and US. But look at those top 2 - linked, without a doubt, to each other and related to the explosion of social media over the last decade. Of course, social media is here to stay, so the question is how technology and brands in this area can support solutions rather than further contributing to the problems.

If anyone can tell me where "climate change" now stands amongst concerns in the US, I would love to know.

Monday, 22 July 2019

A heart-warming idea

How often do you see an idea that deftly combines human emotion, the latest technology and doing good for society that's also absolutely on-brand? Not so often.

The idea "Memory Lane" from the energy-provider Stockholm Exergi and their agency Accenture Interactive does all that. The claim (or maybe it's the purpose) of the brand is "Together we make Stockholm warmer" - which can of course be interpreted in both physical and emotional terms.

The technology is reversed-engineered AI voice, so that rather than you asking your voice assistant for information, it will ask you questions - about your early memories, your first love - and record the conversation, eventually capturing this in a book. The agency placed 10 Google Home devices in the homes of people aged from 75 right up to 101-year-old Ingegerd, so that they could tell the stories of their lives.

It's a brilliant idea. Of course you can argue that this would have been perfectly possible to do ten or even thirty years ago, with dictaphones and interviewers.

But. Sometimes the barrier to actually doing something isn't the idea, or the will to do it. It's something purely practical - the expense, the time-consumption, the hassle.

This is a perfect example of how AI can work with human emotion and intelligence, accelerating and supporting it, rather than replacing it.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Aufschnitt 1: A bluffers guide to social media Sept 2006

I've discovered a bulging file of cuttings in my office amongst the clutter, and instead of chucking away the lot, I'll be sifting through them to give one or two of the best, the worst and those of particular significance eternal digital life in a new series on this blog.

Welcome to Aufschnitt! This is approximately translated as "cold cuts" and is what invariably greets you at the breakfast table of a German hotel. Which of my collected cuttings are still tasty morsels, and which are well past their sell-by date?

The first in the series is A bluffers guide to social media dated 28th September 2006, written by Antony Mayfield, who I see published a book in 2010 entitled "Me and My Web Shadow."

Why did I save this?
I wasn't really "on" any social media in 2006, although I expect I read the odd blog. I distinctly remember thinking that social media was something I ought to know about, but wasn't relishing the thought.

What is remarkable
Absolutely no mention of Facebook or Instagram whatsoever, although Google, YouTube and iTunes get name-checked. And, although social media are described as "online media", this would have meant someone sitting down, probably indoors, accessing the internet via a PC or Mac. Mobile was still very much the future.

What there's no mention of
The dark side of social media - the faking, the trolling, the bullying, the addiction. The shared characteristics mentioned - participation, openness (meaning accessibility), conversation, community and connectedness - still ring true today, but are tempered by experience.

Thirteen years later, social media has become such an integral part of life that it no longer requires a bluffers' guide.

Monday, 15 July 2019

You put the words right into my mouth

One of the biggest mysteries to me as a writer is this paradox: when asked what they're looking for above all else, literary agents and publishers will talk about Voice, and specifically, fresh new voices.

Yet most of the recent novels I've read recently have felt as if they could have been written by the same person - or even the same AI algorithm. There's very little out there that feels original in terms of Voice (if you must) or what used to be called style.

The homogenisation of language is observable wherever you turn. From novel straplines /Three painful secrets. Two passionate hearts. One forbidden love) through to clickbait headlines through to comments on social media through to newspaper articles.

And in the world of advertising, as this excellent article by Shai Idelson makes clear.

Predictive text is partly to blame, and worse still, what I call assumptive text (all those "Happy for you" "Congrats! Let's catch up" "What an achievement!" suggestions that pop up on something like LinkedIn).

But at the root of it is human laziness. It's so much easier to click on an off-the-shelf suggestion than think up something original and personal.

Please - let's not allow the richness of the English language (or any other language, for that matter) to be reduced to the superficiality of emojis.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Cruel to be kind

When I worked at Saatchis, the phrase "brutal simplicity of thought" was often used. Whether applied to strategy, media or creative ideas, it meant, in the end, hard-hitting advertising.

These billboards from Cancer Research UK are a brilliant example. It's a campaign to make people aware that obesity is the second biggest risk factor for cancer after smoking. The government has been effective in taking measures to reduce smoking, so the charity now wants to put on pressure to tackle obesity.

What could be a better stop-you-in-your-tracks-idea that mocked-up cigarette packets with the brand name "obesity"? Subtle it's not, but it's very clever, and can't be missed.

But "people" (as the news headlines always say) have been complaining. The complaints centre around "fat-shaming" and "weight-stigma".

Now, this isn't a fashion ad, or a cosmetics ad, or a diet ad. It's public information from a charity to raise awareness. It's neither sexist nor racist. It's the continuation of a campaign that has already proved very effective in raising awareness of the link between obesity and cancer.

Next time I hear ad people talking about the need for "bold" campaigns, I will remember this one.

Friday, 28 June 2019

The European Brand Contest

If the man (or woman) from Mars turned up on this planet and looked at a table of worldwide brand value rankings, they'd be forgiven for thinking that the USA was the only country that knew and understood how to build a valuable brand, with perhaps a little competition from that young upstart, China.

Take the BrandZ ranking table, for example. 13 out of the Top 15 brands have their origin in the USA, with numbers 7 & 8 pushing in from China to create at least a little break in the domination.

But then, at position 16, comes SAP, making this the most valuable brand from Europe.

Here are Europe's Top 10 valuable brands:

1. SAP  (Germany) Technology +4%
2. Louis Vuitton (France) Luxury +15%
3. Deutsche Telekom (Germany) Telecom Providers +7%
4. Chanel (France) Luxury NEW
5. Hermes (France) Luxury +10%
6. L'Oreal (France) Personal Care +9%
7. Vodafone (GB) Telecom Providers -8%
8. Gucci (Italy) Luxury +13%
9. Mercedes Benz (Germany) Cars -9%
10. BMW (Germany) Cars -9%

Germany leads Europe in the world of branding, with a mix of cars, technology and telecom. For the moment, anyway. But just look at the growth rates of those French luxury and personal care brands.

Maybe there is something German brands can learn from the French. Those brands prove that you don't have to be a young US or Chinese tech-y brand to enjoy double digit growth.


Monday, 17 June 2019

Big idea from a tiny brand

It's the season of Fests on every corner here that cracks off on the 1st May and sees us supplied with outdoor food, music, drink and fun until the early Autumn. I'm not usually on the lookout for great examples of branding during these events, but it's always an added plus to see a clever piece of marketing.

The Apfelweindeckel above is from Kanne Ebbelwoi (for the uninitiated, that's how those round here pronounce the word Apfelwein). The slogan is nice, but (I expect) pinched from somewhere. What's really clever here is the slogan in conjunction with the logo illustration, which is at first sight a traditional Apfelwein Bembel.

But look at the design more carefully (possibly difficult if too much Apfelwein has gone down the hatch) and you'll see that it's a map of the world. Neat, neat, neat.

I couldn't find out much about Kanne Ebbelwoi from the internet, apart from the possibility that they are what is called a Besenwirtschaft or Straußwirtschaft, a peculiarly German phenomenon which is a seasonally-open little pub or drinking place, usually on the premises of a vineyard or cider-press, that sells its own wine, along with small snacks.

I'll leave you with a couple of pictures of such places - can you imagine anything more delightful on a sunny afternoon?

Friday, 14 June 2019

Comic consultancy

I sometimes wonder if people in the marketing and advertising business have as much fun as they did years ago. It does all seem to have become terribly serious and worthy, with the only source of amusement Tom Fishburne's excellent cartoons.

But every now and then I see something that I wish I'd done. This time, it's Waccenture, a parody of all those smart-arse consultancies:

Turning the obvious into insights, customers into data-points and creativity into algorithms.

From the ghastly stock pictures, to ample use of placeholder text, to clickbait "insight article" headlines quoting phoney research, to the "6-D Process", it's just a little too close for comfort.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

How green is your alley?

I sometimes wonder just how green environmental activists are in their everyday lives, or whether the collective will disintegrates when it comes to everyday behaviour. Do Fridays for Future teenage activists all religiously sort out their rubbish and avoid unnecessary packaging? I'm not convinced ;)

When it comes to helping solve the world's problems, brands can and should play a role.

The obvious role is perhaps in the big actions which draw attention to issues facing people and planet. For example, Le Grand Defi, which took place at the end of May. Rather like a glorified version of a school class tidying the playground of rubbish, this event set to draw attention to the fact that the Mediterranean represents only 1% of the world's marine waters but contains 7% of the  micro-plastics in the world's seas. The event was a race for swimmers and kayakers to collect plastic rubbish from the sea.

But arguably the more difficult task is to ingrain a new way of behaving into people's lives. More difficult, because this isn't about a collective noise for a day. It's about every individual, every day of his or her life.

There have been plenty of news reports about Waitrose Unpacked this week. This is a trial where you can refill your own containers with anything from pasta to beer and wine to cleaning materials (hopefully not mixing them up). But it's only in one store for 3 months. Imagine the enormity of the task of rolling that out nationally.

Let's hope it's a task the supermarket is prepared to invest in, and that the initiative is more than a PR stunt.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Silence of the brands

"If you can't find something nice to say, keep your mouth shut" is good advice, in my view, for brands (or the people running them) as in life.

I'm generally not keen on brand communication that's based on the "slag off the competition" strategy. There are a few rare cases where this is done well, but in the usual scheme of things, it ends up sounding like bitching. Or politics (if there is a difference).

Maybe that's no surprise these days. In the days of people "demanding" that brands have values, a purpose, stand for something and/or take a stand, and gushing and cooing all over the latest trendy issue-based film, maybe it's no wonder that some brands - who just want to sell their loo cleaner/razors/fast food - get a bit narked.

For example, if you're up against Starbucks, you may well lose patience with all the politically-correct ballyhoo that could possibly take some of your higher-minded customers. So you might be tempted to put out a message that reinforces what you are all about, plain and simple, while also taking a swipe at all that political purpose conversation codswallop.

Which is what Dunkin Donuts have done: the VP Brand Stewardship has put a message around social media - "it's donuts and ice cream - just be happy." As reported in the (conservative) magazine Human Events.

Part of me kind of agrees with the sentiment, but the cynical part has a question.

In this day and age, maybe refusing to go political is a political stance in itself.

In a world where free speech is OK, so long as it's the right political hue, and where brands are encouraged to take a stand as long as it's for something in the liberal-left arena, maybe a brand like Dunkin Donuts looks at its customer heartland and decides that the safest way to get those people on side is to take a swipe at the competitor, knowing that it's not the coffee that's up for criticism, it's the politics.

I prefer my brands strong and silent - doing what they do best, without taking potshots at others.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

You can't put customers anywhere

The notion of "customer-centricity" has always seemed an odd one to me, and one of the hugest gulfs between what brands and companies rattle on about via their websites, and what they actually do in the day-to-day.

I have nothing against "customer-centricity" if it means providing goods and services that customers need or desire, and ensuring an excellent experience before, during and after purchase (or similar).

But shouldn't businesses be doing this as a matter of course?

Didn't we move on, in the last century, from a production-led world through a sales-led world to a marketing-led world?

Why do companies have to boast about "customer-focus", "true customer-centricity", or "looking through a lens of customer-centricity"?

Possibly the worst cliche of the lot is the one about "we put the customer at the heart of our business." Apart from having an aversion to customer/consumer in the singular (if there is just one, it's easily understood and controlled), I find this yet another example of the arrogance of brands - or I should say, the people behind them.

The whole phrase suggests a glorified game of piggy-in-the-middle, with the (single) hapless customer pushed into the centre of an organisation by an omnipotent brand, then held there trapped while balls fly over their head. The reality is that no organisation can "put" any customer anywhere - they will come of their own accord if you get your marketing right. And then move onto the next thing that takes their fancy.

I mentioned the 2019 Workforce Purpose Index from Imperative last time:

People are more likely to report being fulfilled when they perceive that leadership makes employees a higher priority than customers.

This makes so much sense. With your employees, you stand a good chance of:

Reaching them in the first place.
Knowing and understanding them - at least in certain aspects of their lives.
Building a relationship with them.

And with employees who are not just engaged and satisfied, but fulfilled too, you stand a far better chance of fulfilling your many individual customers' needs and desires, too.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Blooming Amazing!

There used to be a joke that BA stood for Bloody Awful, and I have to admit that I found the official ad to celebrate the centenary of British Airways this year, if not completely awful, then certainly underwhelming.

Retailers, airlines and other service brands are highly dependent on their people. Employee Engagement is often spoken about in conjunction with Purpose when it comes to brands with a significant public interface. But is Engagement enough? I read an interesting document from Imperative - The Workforce Purpose Index 2019 recently, which puts forward the notion that perhaps we should move on from Employee Engagement to Employee Fulfillment. Probably not a bad thought - "Engagement" for me has connotations either of busy bees or toilets. The report also contains a radical suggestion - "put employees before customers" - which is definitely worthy of discussion at a later stage.

Cut back to BA, and I was delighted to discover another idea to celebrate the centenary. To me the film above - and the idea behind it - couldn't say more about the ingenuity, creativity, dedication, skill and teamwork of BA people. 

BA Quality Engineer Lyndon Ooi is also a composer, violinist and leader of the BA Colleague Orchestra. He has taken the Flower Duet aria from Delibes' opera Lakme, that everyone associates with the airline, and composed/arranged 10 variations to take the listener through 10 decades of the airline's past, present and future.

What a supersonic idea - blooming amazing, in fact!

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Past my sell-by date?

Last week, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. There, in my local REWE store was a giant array of wine bottles, on sale for the price of €1 each. Just in time for Mother's Day, I thought. I started rummaging through the bottles, slightly embarrassed that I appeared to be the only customer with any kind of enthusiasm for these bargains. There was a lot of dross, but also some good-looking labels, possibly past their best but certainly worth taking a chance on at that price.

Amongst my haul were three bottles of Schloß Johannisberg Gelblack Riesling 2015, which my Vivino app tells me normally retail at around €15. I felt almost heroic, rescuing these wines of noble pedigree from the rummage sale in a one-pig town where hardly anyone would recognise their class, quality and heritage.

The experience, for some reason, brought to mind an article I'd read about ageism in the ad world, particularly in relation to creatives. It's by Madeleine Morris, who has formed a Society of Very Senior Creatives to strike back at feeling of being "invisible and expensive."

Normally, when I'm feeling bright and chipper, and have plenty of work, I don't take too much notice of these articles about ageism, in the same way that I take a lot of the sexism articles with a pinch of salt. I get the feeling that such articles send out messages about how I should be feeling and what I should be experiencing, and there's a slight sense of victimhood about it, which makes me uneasy. I'm sick, for example, of hearing that "women over 50 are invisible in the media" - turn on any medium and you're likely to see Angela Merkel or Teresa May within the first headlines. I think planners may have it easier than creatives in general - it's easier to play the "wisdom and experience" card when you are a strategist.

But sometimes, when I'm having one of my pathetic days (and I do have them), when people don't reply to emails, when I come up against closed doors, when I hesitate about filling in an application form as I know some algorithm has been set up to chuck out anyone born before 1970, then I do start to have nagging doubts.

We drank the bottles of Riesling at the weekend, by the way. The first was distinctly musty and I began to get depressed.

But the second, and third - we couldn't stop at two - were deliciously splendid - in their absolute prime.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Gordon(s) Bennett!

You can't beat a good G&T, and it has long been a tradition in our family to knock back one or two on Christmas Eve. It's always been Gordon's and Schweppes, mainly because, until a few years ago, that's all you could lay your hands on in rural Germany.

When the gin craze started, both here and back in Blighty, I felt a little smug, but also pleased that gin was becoming more available as an alternative to the ubiquitous Aperol Spritz. But as time went on, I wondered about Gordon's and how it would fare. The brand did seem to feel a bit staid and dusty in comparison to all the new pretenders to the throne down at the Gin Palace.

But while all those new pretenders are trying to outdo each other on authenticity and pedigree and  credentials, Gordon's have gone unashamedly for the mass market. It's a move that I am sure will rake in the sales short-term, but what will it do for the brand?

I tried Gordon's Premium Pink Distilled Gin  the other day and rather wished I hadn't. It tastes of sickly strawberries, a bit like what they call Gummibärchen here. It has absolutely nothing to do with what I know as Pink Gin, beloved of retired navy officers, Royal Air Force heroes and people from Somerset Maugham stories. That was made mixed with Angostura bitters.

But back to the sweet new abomination. It is promoted with a rather questionable nod to authenticity: Inspired by Gordon's original 1880 pink gin recipe.  That's on the bottle. On the website, however, it's slightly different: Inspired by an original Gordon's recipe from the 1880s. This makes it clear enough that this concoction has precious little to do with any original recipe for Pink Gin. Most of the "usual suspect" 21st century descriptors are used: "crafted" "balance" "blushing" "berries" "vibrant."

This stuff is undoubtably enjoyed by overgrown girls at Ladies' Day and the Gin Bar down at the Brexit Arms, and I am sure it will rake in some good short-term profits. I can't help thinking, though, that they might as well have put a unicorn on the packaging instead of the traditional wild boar and been done with it.

Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but I think Gordon's have sold out.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Just right

Sometimes advertising and communication ideas feel just right. Perfectly simple and hit exactly the right spot. No more, no less.

That is how I feel about the IKEA campaign The Lagom Collection from Proximity London. What's clever here is that it's not about products as much as ideas - ideas and inspiration being as much in the IKEA DNA as the unmistakeable product range. And of course, the Swedish concept of Lagom fits beautifully to the Swedish retailer. The simple executions reflect typical IKEA style and that quirky lateral thinking humour.

Finally, the message of reuse, recycle, repurpose couldn't be more spot-on for today, culturally. IKEA may have been responsible for the perpetration of a "throwaway" mentality in days of yore, and, yes, you could argue that this is another example of Homegrown Problem:Solution advertising.

But when something is done with such charm and aplomb, that would surely be churlish.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Accentuate the negative?

I've always found going into a T K Maxx store rather like stepping into a Baz Luhrmann musical. You're not quite sure what will happen, but it will certainly be vibrant and colourful and over-the-top. The latest ad in a series of quirky films for the store uses the creative ploy of turning doubts into full-blown dance-til-you-drop "definite dos."

It's an off-the-peg creative strategy, to turn potential negatives into unique positives for the brand, but the execution is definitely made-to-measure for T K Maxx. It's completely in brand character, and there's never the risk of the brand taking itself too seriously.

Which brings me to my second exhibit. Carlsberg. The Orson Wells voiceover "Probably the best lager in the world" signed-off one of the classic campaigns of the 70s, 80s and beyond. That "probably" was a word that said 10,000 other words - understatement, wry humour, self-deprecating amongst them.

But what have the Carlsberg marketers and their agency partners done now? Taken a classic advertising line at face-value, re-brewed and redesigned their product and all that goes with it and "launched its most ambitious and honest consumer facing campaign ever." The line is now:

Probably not the best beer in the world. So we've changed it.

This article by David Mitchell sums up much of what feels simply not right about this approach. As he says, "Probably the best lager in the world didn't feel like a serious claim - it just made you fond of the brand because it was humorous."

Fond of the brand - that's what marketers want, isn't it? Instead of the understatement and wry humour, will all the hand-wringing and hair shirts and po-faced blah-blah about honesty and higher purpose really lead to people having a little place for the brand in their heart, at least now and then?

Probably not.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Fighting with Algorithms

LUSH UK announced last week (on social media, of all places - Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) that they would be stepping back from social media. The reason? Social media is making direct conversation with community and customers more difficult: We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. If you want to talk to LUSH UK, from now on, you can do it through live chat on their website, email (remember those?) or by - shock horror - picking up the phone.

There is a sense of disillusionment with the internet in general these days, particularly in terms of authenticity and trust. Should people really trust in the stars? This article illustrates the prevalence of fake ratings (I am reluctant to call them reviews) which isn't just an issue for cheap electronics: business books are No. 3 in the "highest % of fake reviews Top 10". Presumably because the people who write and market them also know how to manipulate the system, and have the cash to do so.

Are we really heading for The Inversion, where the internet becomes more bot than human, not only numerically, but perceptually, too?

With an author named Max Read, this article has really made me wonder.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Cheers to Purpose!

Like Brexit, the debate on the subject of Purpose seems to be on an ever-loudening crescendo. Sticking the word "Purpose" into the headline of an article that's about something completely different is guaranteed clickbait for the marketing community, in the way that "digital" was a decade ago.

And, like Brexit, both sides - as this is what it has become - are capable of persuasive argument and rhetoric.

My own view is that, in many of these articles, the language is wrong. The use of the words "higher" and "beyond" and "above" suggests a judgement that purpose is noble and profit is dirty.
Whereas surely they should work symbiotically?

A brand does something positive for the individual user. This can be practical, cognitive, sensory, emotional, or some combination. Some used to call this the benefit.

And that brand - or business - does something positive on the collective level - for the family, community, society or the world. For many brands and companies, this was always so, but maybe not vocalised. Changes in the world, in society, and in technology mean that this collective positive contribution - purpose, if you like - is becoming an imperative, rather than a nice to have.

It doesn't have to be about the UN sustainable goals. It doesn't have to be a "cause." It doesn't even have to be totally exclusive to your brand or company, as long as you do it in your own distinct way. But I believe it does have to relate back to the product or service your brand offers, and what it does for the individual.

A good example, for me, is what the brand Carling have done in the UK. 3 pubs a day there close their doors for good, and with the high level of Beer Duty in the UK, that will continue or worsen.  A movement has started via Britain's Beer Alliance to celebrate the positive role that Britain's pubs play in individual lives and communities: Long Live the Local

As part of the movement, Carling have produced a music video with the band Slaves, who started in pubs, which looks at the role pubs - and beer - play in music and creativity as well as community. It's not high and mighty, yet reflects brand belief and values, moving from the individual to the community.

Mine's a pint, thanks.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Only Marmite can do this

Probably the only good thing about the whole Brexit circus is the creativity it has unleashed from comedians around the globe. I have advised friends here in Germany that the best way to understand Brexit is to look at the jokes, not the news.

I'm not a fan of brands hi-jacking current affairs stories, mainly because the attempts are often done in haste, aren't funny and seem opportunistic.

But for Marmite, I'll make an exception. This ad couldn't be more on-brand if it tried.

Like Brexit, Marmite is peculiarly British, not understood by foreigners and extraordinarily divisive.

And it gets my vote, every time.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

AI: Master, Servant or Something Else Altogether?

The use of AI in the entertainment industry has been the subject of a number of posts here - there's Creative Direction by Numbers  and Why advertising may be the last refuge for creativity - and if you put my entire blog through your super-advanced AI platform, you'll doubtless find many more.

I was talking with a friend about the publishing industry recently - and how new novels seem to be identikit these days - from the reviews ("heartbreakingly sad yet life-affirming") through to the interchangeable cover designs. Many new novels seem throwaway and forgettable - with a superficiality and lack of edge that suggests they are the literary equivalent of the selfie.

Films seem to have gone this way a long time ago, and this week, I read an interview with the CEO of where, yet again, I got the impression that entertainment is increasingly data-driven, and not necessarily in a good way. The company "have successfully developed a quantitative model of how various narrative structures drive performance for movies, trailers and marketing campaigns." And here, I'm assuming "performance" means pure commercial performance, not awards or reputation won, or whether the film will go into the annals of history as a classic.

Here again, if you look at the entertainment example given on the website, the analysis is all about "what were" and "what have been" - that is, the old rearview mirror method of predicting the future based on the past. A self-perpetuating system.

No creative person needs evidence derived from AI to understand that what people find interesting is a balance between "known" and "novelty" - nor can AI really help you to get this balance right for any particular individual. It's part intuition, part good judgement plus a large sprinkling of luck.

In contrast, another AI agency,, presents a different philosophy. Less concerned with Hollywood (although I am sure Hollywood could benefit from this approach) and more with brands, this agency makes it clear that expertise in AI and expertise in people work hand-in-hand. The blog post Why we should embrace bias gives another perspective to the one that suggests bias is a negative in research that AI can help eliminate. It's well worth reading, with some points dear to my heart - "No objective truth", "Data is not reality" and "People make decisions, not data". I particularly like the quote from Gary Smith )"The AI Delusion"):

While computers are very good at discovering patterns in data, they are useless in judging how best to apply them in the real world because they lack human wisdom and common sense.

AI is best used to accelerate and augment human intelligence, not substitute for it.

I'm jolly excited by AI - in the way that I'm far more excited by a springboard than a straitjacket.

Friday, 29 March 2019

More than a destination

This time last week, I was whizzing down the slopes of the sunny Dolomites, enjoying a swig or two of Lagrein, munching my way through a Speckplatte and generally admiring the marvellous efficiency of the ski lifts.

I have blogged before about destination marketing, but the South Tyrol, and the way it is marketed, is far more than a destination. The remit of the marketing stretches beyond tourism to agriculture, food and wine and now natural products, for example, in the health and beauty category.

At the heart of it is the umbrella brand created for this unique region, which was originally created and launched in 2005, and has evolved further since. The idea behind it all, or the essence of South Tyrol, if you like, is about "symbiosis of contrasts." Now, that might sound rather intellectual-bullsh*tty (and I am translating from German and Italian here) but it makes a lot of sense. In South Tyrol, Alpine meets Mediterranean, spontaneity co-exists with reliability and there's the best of both nature and culture. It shouldn't work, but somehow it does.

The logo is based on a real Dolomites panorama, and the colours are chosen to reflect the contrasts and variety. It's used from a quality sticker for apples through to livery for trains:

I even saw a ski-lift or two sporting these colours!

Normally, a dual-language brand expression could be a challenge. But, in another example of "symbiosis of contrasts", the use of both Italian and German adds richness rather than complexity.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Busy doing nothing

The two most over-used words in emails have to be "sorry" and "busy". Here's a typical example from an email I received the other day:

I hope you  are well. sorry for the delay in getting back to you we are extremly busy at the moment. (sic)

On the face of it - OK. I suppose an apology of sorts and an answer are somewhat better than the wall of silence I've been experiencing lately. When exactly did "no response" become the new "no", anyway?

But let me scratch below the surface of those copy-and-pasted words. And all I can see is a lack of respect. You assume you and your colleagues en masse have got far, far more on your plates than I could possibly ever dream of, silly me, and that throwing in a quick "sorry" will make it all OK. You can't even be bothered to check your spelling or punctuation.

Things are frantic
I'm rushed off my feet.
We're inundated.
I just can't spare the time.

What the heck are all these people doing with their time? Everyone has exactly the same amount of seconds, minutes and hours as the next person.

My suspicion is that they are composing this sort of gobbledegook:

Just a quick reminder - we'd love to know more about the experience you recently had with us during your payment experience.

I am sorely tempted to ask them about their "feelings" during the questionnaire-composing experience. This was all about paying a bill (a necessary evil that takes a few seconds) for goodness' sakes, not a round-the-world cruise!

I read an excellent blog post by Richard Huntington yesterday, about deep thought vs. all this headless chicken-style busyness, presumably prompted by the requirement to be "agile."It's about "getting to the bottom of things rather than staying on top of things."

I know I've been guilty in the past of using the "b-word" but I think I'll make it taboo from now on.

Along with "just", "quick" and "sorry" - when it's not meant wholeheartedly.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Book Branding Part 2

In my last blog post, I talked about Author Branding vs. Book Branding, and today I'm going to launch something rather special that's been waiting in the wings (or the hangar) ready to fly.

If I'd decided to go down the Author Brand route, I expect I would have put something together that would have ended up looking like every other Author Website, with a few fun facts about my schooldays, how much I love cake and how many cats I have (none).

But I decided early on that people aren't that interested in me, rather in getting a glimpse into the world of my books: characters, cars and planes featured, links and more. And all my websites do allow a little bit of author-ego indulgence as I'm not completely immune to the lure of the limelight.

The original idea for the look of the website came from Stefan Lochmann, the designer. In the stories a 21st century boy, born into the digital age, travels back in time to the mid-20th century. In the same way that the book design reflected an old book "found" in an attic, Stefan wondered what an "analogue website" would look like.

The idea translated into the websites for the first two books, each reflecting the specific setting and atmosphere of each story, but with the central idea of an "analogue website" made up from signs and materials from those times. So here, for example, we're whisked into a Cold War winter of 1957.
Website for Trouble in Teutonia

As with the book covers, the websites all reflect the essence of the book series: The Past is a Dangerous Country, and play with the digital/analogue theme as well as each having its own individual feel and atmosphere.

The latest story, The Al-Eden Emergency, is set in a 1966 Middle East and Swinging London jetpunk world. There's a preview shot at the top of this post to entice you in, and I can now proudly present the finished website.

Just be careful you don't tread on any scorpions!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Book Branding Part 1

I've mentioned a few times how the concepts of Personal Branding and its subset, Author Branding make me shudder and squirm, which may seem odd for someone with a background in marketing who is running a (slightly bedraggled) literary career on the side.

Looking back at those posts, I found a phrase that turned the shuddering up to full-blown convulsions: "curating and sharing a version of yourself." What the heck is that supposed to mean?  Was Ernest Hemingway occupied with "curating and sharing" a version of himself once he'd spent precious hours and dollars with some snake-oil salesman intent on "discovering his personal brand"?

I'm in the throes of launching a third book, and I rather proudly posted the photo above. A social media acquaintance praised the "great branding" and the comment made me wonder - how did that happen?

I certainly didn't spend any hours or dollars with snake-oil salesmen. Neither did I run off to construct a key, or an onion, or a pyramid, or trawl the thesaurus to find 3 or 4 adjectives to reflect the essence of my brand.

But I did realise that, unlike the narcissistic generation that fall prey to the marketing gobbledegook, I hadn't created an author brand, I'd created a book series brand.

This wasn't a Powerpoint boxes-and-arrows process. The brand had evolved organically and intuitively.

It had started with the story, and from the story, the cover. What kind of image and design could reflect what this book was about: A Boy's Own Adventure for the 21st century boy - or girl. I briefed the publisher with this picture, amongst others:

That went some of the way, but together we decided that the book shouldn't merely look retro, it should look and feel "found," as if a youngster from today had discovered it in an attic, or an old toy-box. We were lucky to have a super illustration, a composite of some of the elements of the story - a ferocious tiger, a Sunderland Flying Boat, and the young hero with his RAF officer "Grandpop" peering through some jungle vegetation. The first goes at design took the route of comics - bright colours and power-packed typefaces.

But, we hummed and hah-ed. It looked action-packed, and retro, but maybe too reminiscent of Commando Comics. And they were great but unashamedly trashy. Would people - especially young readers - get the irony?

I went to a different designer who tried a different approach - to get the "found book" feel in the cover design, with muted, slightly yellowing tones, and less in-your-face graphics. The publisher was inspired - and chose paper quality and colour, as well as the matt cover finish to complement the design.

When it came to the second book, a pattern was set - the illustrator had two characters, an aeroplane, a beast (which would also appear on the spine) and action to play with, in a very different setting. The strap line came almost as an afterthought - I stuck with "The past is a dangerous country" because I couldn't think of anything better. And it was growing on me.

With the latest book, things could have gone pear-shaped. My publisher didn't have the time or resource at that point to see it through, and the original illustrator was no longer available. But we had built up enough "branding" by now for the designer and I to understand what was needed. The illustration is of a slightly different style, but this reflects the focus on older readers and a more complex narrative structure as the series evolves. The consistency in the two characters in action, the creature and the aeroplane remains.

What's interesting is that it was only with the third book that I realised I had a brand. And it wasn't just to do with the stories themselves, or the alliterative titles, or the "found book" design and style. I had a strap line that summed the whole thing up: "The past is a dangerous country."

If we must talk about brand essence, then that strap line is it.

My next blog will be about creating an "analogue website." Keep your wireless tuned.