What I would call "cause marketing" - anything that tries to elicit a behavioural change on a social or environmental issue - is something I've spent rather a lot of time whingeing about on this blog. Plinky piano music, "social experiments,"dubious "insights" - I have had a go at them all here.
This week, I've been pleased to see at least two ads where their creators have looked at social issues, but used real insight, cultural awareness and clever observation in the development of the creative strategy, then executed with charm and humour. One is DIVERSish for the Valuable500, created by AMV/BBDO, above, and the other is a completely different audience and issue - Eat them and Defeat them, from ITV and Veg Power, created by Adam & Eve/DDB.
I do hope this is a change in course from that cheesy morass of sentimentality we've been seeing in recent years.
I'm not going to wade in with my tuppence worth on the Gillette ad, suffice to say a couple of things. It's yet another prime example of this, employing the good old Procter & Gamble problem-solution formula, with a bit of band-wagon-jumping thrown in.
In addition, it's more ammunition for those who consider "Purpose" per se at best a fluffy marketing buzz word. But isn't it time to distinguish between "purpose-driven ad campaigns" (take a popular social issue and churn out a film that will polarise opinion/get lots of YouTube hits) and "purpose-driven brands" (everything the brand does is driven by its unique purpose, which is related to the product/service/experience the brand offers). I wonder what Unilever make of their arch rival's attempt? I first blogged 3 years ago on the Lynx/Axe turnaround in the direction of Find Your Magic. Here's a Lynx film from a little while ago as part of the brand campaign:
I find the Lynx/Axe approach infinitely better than Gillette creatively, but to me the strategy still feels awfully generic. It could have been hung on any number of brands targeting a broad audience of men. I fear that "male empowerment" will become as much of a cliche as "female empowerment" has become for brands over the last few years.
I do wonder whether the vogue for this men/women marketing en masse isn't just a little lazy.
Take this man:
He's famous for not holding back the tears.
He's done brilliant things.
He's even done heroic things.
But he's also been accused of sexual assault and racism.
He has (or has had) a number of mental illnesses.
But he has probably done unacceptable things just for the heck of it.
People are complex, and putting all men/women in the same box with a big "toxic" or "victim" label on it doesn't get us anywhere.
I'd like to see brands looking to their product, service, experience and values to find their unique purpose, and using that to drive all they do. And it doesn't have to be about the latest Twitterati issue.
If your brand does have a large proportion of men in its user base, how about looking at some masculine values that may be due for a revival (or maybe they never went away): courage, honour, strength, grit, decency, loyalty, respect.
I would imagine a New Year's resolution to work less, or at least work more productively when you're sitting at your desk, and unchain yourself from the desk(top) now and again, is a popular one this year.
There's even a movement, with the clever title Wednesday Offternoon , led by psychologists and behaviour change experts, to encourage companies to give their staff an afternoon off mid-week. It's not the full four-day week, but a step in the direction of increasing productivity and happiness in the workplace, and decreasing stress.
An admirable idea, but the cynical part of me suggests that the "free" afternoon will be used catching up on all the dreary bureaucratic must-dos that overwhelm the 21st century workplace, with its obsession with form-filling, controls, assessments and so on.
But looking around at semi-rural Germany, where I live, in some ways the glorious "Wednesday early-closing" days that I remember from my early childhood have never really gone away. There are shops in our town who still have early closing on Wednesdays. Many have a lunch break - which can be up to two hours - and it's not so very long ago that almost every retail establishment closed its doors at 13:00 sharp on Saturdays. Schools still finish at lunchtime, and the majority of workers seem to knock off on Fridays at mid-day, judging by the state of the roads at this time.
Is this a quaint leftover from the past, a stubbornly analogue way of working that doesn't quite fit in the 24/7 always-on digital world?
Or have the Germans maybe known all along that efficiency only comes from giving it a rest now and again?
Just before Christmas, I commented on a post by Paul Feldwick, of The Anatomy of Humbug fame. He'd compared two quotes about young people and advertising, over four decades apart:
Audiences these days, especially younger millennials, are super adept at seeing through cheap efforts to sell to them. If brands want to engage they need to be authentic and subtle.
Andrew Mole writing in Campaign Sept 2016
The under-30 generation loathes sham and hypocrisy... ‘tell it like it is’ is the touchstone.... more wit, honesty, verve, self-deprecation and irreverence.
Lee Adler writing in Business Horizons, February 1970
Can you spot the difference?
As I was in the midst of the annual deluge of innovation and trend reports, almost all of which start with some commentary about the "pace of change," I asked Paul whether he knew of any quotes from way back then about the extraordinary pace of change. He pointed me in the direction of this:
Whang! Bang! Clangety-clang! Talk about the tempo of today - John Smith knows it well. Day after day it whirs continuously in his brain, his blood, his very soul.
You can read the rest of A.B. Carson's 1928 description of an ad-man here.
There's a certain amount of arrogance in thinking that we live in times of greater change than ever before. But even the ancient Greeks knew that the only constant in life is change. I should think John Smith and his colleagues back in 1928 believed that the the electric, jazz world of the 1920s was "peak change" or whatever expression they used.
As I read yet again about autonomous this or that, gameifying whatever, cryptocurrencies, smart cities, extended reality, voice technology, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and all the rest, the real world outside continues to confound the shiny new world of the future where everything works on demand.
Maybe it's a fall of snow that makes everything grind to a halt. Maybe it's artificial stupidity instead of artificial intelligence. Things don't work, things get broken, unpredictable stuff happens.
Annoying, yes, but charming too, in the way that perfection lacks soul.
I've said before that the trick to a successful brand often lies in a paradox - either resolving it or celebrating it.
For my first post this year, here's another first: "A beanie that's as safe as a helmet."
Antiordinary is a helmet for skiers and snowboarders which is soft and flexible (and looks to all extents and purposes like a woolly hat) but which hardens on impact. This is achieved via use of non-Newtonian materials (I had to check that one, but it's liquids that don't obey the usual viscosity rules, such as quicksand, ketchup or do-it-yourself cornflour slime), which is a good association for the brand name.
The helmet is the brainchild of 3 jolly-looking Aussie guys, who use words like "rad" and "shredding" on the website, but assure us that the helmet, once launched (via Crowdfunder) will get all the usual required safety certification.
All of this leads neatly into the paradox this solves: safety and style in one, conforming in a non-conformist way - what could be more perfect for the young target market?
And why stop at ski-ing? I am sure there are helmet opportunities to be had far and wide.
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: