Friday 14 June 2024

Hell’s bells!


 

I’ve been harping on about Purpose for nearly as long as this old blog has been going. There’s this post, and this one here, then this one about all those Whys and Hows and Whats and their chums, or this about the lack of humility demonstrated by brands (or their managers), and musing on whether brands can save the world. Or not. 

Or you can do a search, or press “purpose” on the RHS, and you’ll undoubtably find many more.

Author Nick Asbury has been way smarter about his thoughts on Purpose, formulated them all into a coherent story, and published a book which was officially launched last night.

Here’s a review I did earlier.

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“Your business is none of my politics”

This book is the story of how the idea of a mandatory “higher social purpose beyond profit” gripped the corporate world, especially those involved in brand marketing and advertising. And the result: how purpose leads to bad marketing - and a worse world.

It’s a view, a perspective, backed up with substance, not an academic paper or text book (thank goodness). A lot of the argument resonated with me personally. Although I don’t agree with every word (which would be weird), this book has been an immense help to me in working out why I’ve felt some unease in my work as a freelance brand consultant over the last few years.

I guess everyone who works in brands or marketing has taken their own byway to Nick’s “Road to Hell”. Setting up as a freelancer in 2003, I was interested in how to reconcile integrity and responsibility with business. CSR was the buzzword of the time. Two ex-colleagues of mine from Saatchis, Giles Gibbons & Steve Hilton, had recently set up a consultancy called Good Business and written a book with the same title, described as a “radical manifesto for capitalism.”

To cut a long story short, I supported the concept of corporate (maybe not brand) purpose for many years, until I noticed that it had been hijacked and metamorphised into something else. In the book, this politicising of brands is covered in detail. I still remember the days when I worked for major brands who prided themselves on being “for everyone” and made a point of actively discouraging communication that could be perceived as political.

“The Road to Hell” is free of finger-pointing, preaching and ranting. It’s written with intelligence, charm, humour - and, most importantly, hope. There is redemption - it’s up to us to follow the pointers and find it. And not be too proud to retrace our footsteps.

I don’t buy business books often these days. So many of those lurking in airport bookshops tend to go stale very quickly. But “The Road to Hell” is one that will stand up to re-reading in years to come.

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As an interesting aside, that’s the version posted on Goodreads.

I tried with my friends at Amazon.

They told me to go to “H-word place” with my disgusting review.


No comment. 

Gone are the days when they lauded me as a Top1000 reviewer, but today they only really rate ratings.

Thursday 6 June 2024

RETROWURST: World Cup Beer June 2006

 



A bit of a funny this time - a World Cup with a difference ...

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Well, it is certainly a funny old tournament with a few surprises so far. Whoever would have thought that Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Spain would get knocked out in the first round? Or that the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Tunisia would make it to the quarter finals?

Some results have been a bit more expected, with Saudi Arabia, Angola, Iran and Trinidad & Tobago making a rapid exit with no points scored, or France sneaking though to the semi-final. Or what about the England: Germany clash in the first round of the knock-out stages? Expected, perhaps, but for England to get through against such an overdose of German pride and tradition on their home ground? Commendable, but then the tragedy of being beaten by an unexpectedly strong Sweden in the quarter final…

 

The stars of the tournament, as expected perhaps, are the Czech Republic but the dark horse has really been Serbia and Montenegro who have knocked out Holland, Portugal, the Ivory Coast and those pesky Swedes on the way to their place in the final.

 

Well, you’ve twigged, haven’t you? I’m not talking about that World Cup. But can you guess on what basis this “alternative World Cup” is? It’s not too difficult: Germans as we know pride themselves on their beer and someone at Stern magazine had the bright idea of testing the beers of the 32 World Cup football finalists.

 

Despite some difficulties in securing products- with tales of bottles exploding en route and non-alcoholic beers being held up at the border for alcohol tax, beers were obtained for all 32 participating nations, except Togo, where the beer from the Ivory Coast went to test twice, once masquerading in a Togo shirt! The beers were tested blind by four Sternjournalists plus one beer expert from Austria (who apparently did the tasting in full Austrian traditional costume).

 

The beers that made it through the first round were:

GROUP A: Germany (Beck’s), Poland (Masuren)

GROUP B: Sweden (Old Gold), England (Old Speckled Hen)

GROUP C: Serbia & Montenegro (Jelen Pivo), Ivory Coast (Flag)

GROUP D: Mexico (Corona Extra), Portugal (Sagres)

GROUP E: Ghana (Akosombo), Czech Republic (Budweiser)

GROUP F: Japan (Asahi), Croatia (Karlovacko)

GROUP G: France (Kronenbourg 1664), Togo (Flag)

GROUP H: Ukraine (Obolon), Tunisia (Celtia)

 

The quarter finals were between England and Sweden, Serbia/Montenegro and Ivory Coast, Ghana and Czech Republic and France and Tunisia.

 

England got kicked out at this point, with semi-finals between Sweden and Serbia/Montenegro and Czech Republic and France, leaving this as a very European contest at this stage.

 

The final featured two teams from the former Eastern Europe, Czech Republic and Serbia/Montenegro. It was a close-cut thing, but the favourites won in the end with four points to Serbia/Montenegro’s three.

 

The comments that the judges made about the beers are interesting. The Argentinean beer, “Quilmes” was described as “like water with beer flavour” while the Iran beer, “Golden Delster” was described as “alcohol-free with milk sugar – and it stinks of old hay.” The English beer, “Old Speckled Hen” was described as “amber coloured, lovely note of hops, light toasted aroma” and England fans will be pleased to hear that this beer kicked out Beck’s (the beer, not the footballer) 5:2 at the quarter final stage.

 

Note, of course, that it was the original Czech Budvar Budweiser that won and not the pale US imitation. The USA, by the way, was represented by “Miller Genuine Draft” and failed to progress beyond the group stage.

 

On another note, the Germans were the masters of anti-hype about their team here in the build-up. The team that has now gained that so-familiar horrible unstoppable momentum of efficiency that always ends in tears at penalty shoot-outs were all-but-written-off at the start of the tournament (“we’ll be really pleased to get through the first round”) and Stern even published a consoling article for fans should the team make an early exit: Things Germany is World Champion of. Some of these are predictable: in export, in number of tax laws, in submarine construction – but did you know that the Germans are also World Champions in running backwards, donating to charity, robot football (well, perhaps we knew that…), spitting cherry stones or the quaintly-named Arschbomben-Springen der Damen (“Ladies’ Cannonball/Divebomb)?

 

It’s enough to make you reach for a Jelen Pivo!

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I do wonder if this influenced me 14 years later, in the midsts of Covid, to hold an alternative Eurovision - with wine. And if I remember rightly - difficult in the circumstances - Italy won that one!

Thursday 23 May 2024

LinkedOut


 A German network pal of mine recently asked what gets people’s goat about LinkedIn, for a talk he was preparing. Although he called it a rant. 

Replies (in no particular order) included: toxic positivity and enthusiasm, humblebrags, Simon Sinek, “Great Leaders do ....”, banal everyday experiences dressed up as profound insights “My cat was sick in the kitchen today. Here’s what I learned”, or once-in-a-lifetime experiences dressed down as business tricks “I proposed to my girlfriend this weekend - here’s what it taught me about B2B sales”, being scammed - yes, you ghastly creatures that want your grubby hands on my pension, woe-is-me victim stories, self-righteous virtue-signalling posturing, AI-generated and AI-stolen bullshit content, a general lack of lightness all around ...

Phew. I recognised most of it, along with the cultish nature of the site as described here by Coco Khan. She bemoans that the site now has its own language - no surprises there as it’s all prompts and AI. It takes a bit of effort, but I refuse to sound like a 5-year old at a party with a bouncy castle and a clown ("super-excited and thrilled!”), to “reach out”, to blab on about authenticity and vulnerability or read posts that hundreds or thousands have already liked.

What made me sad was Coco’s description of her friend whose experience is rich and diverse, yet doesn’t fit neatly into the boxes of LinkedIn. Know the feeling. And she puts it well when she says: “It’s shifting how we see our accomplishments, what we assign value to and what we don’t.” 

I am not a brand, I am a free woman. Or something. 

But, as a freelancer I’m stuck with it. Sort of at its mercy.

I’ll play the game up to a point. But I’m happy to be LinkedOut when it comes to real life.

My German pal, who’s smarter than me with this sort of stuff advised doing some proactive culling to get the algorithm working more in my direction. And it was strangely satisfying.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Hung up

 


When I started this blog, I didn’t have an iPhone. It was iPod that brought me into Apple, followed by a MacBook and only then, the capitulation

I started using social media on a laptop, and as far as I'm concerned,  Facebook can stay there. I’ve never had the app on my phone, and it’s been a good decision. Ditto never joining Twitter. Although I’ll admit to having the Instagram app in my pocket. 

Have I missed out? Possibly. My biggest question is whether, had I leapt onto TikTok in the early days, might I have made something more of my children’s books? But somehow, I doubt it. I have a secretive nature (the clue's in the name) and I am now rather thankful that if I’m rising anywhere, it’s into obscurity.

The topic of mobile phones, social media and the potential damage they’re doing to people’s mental well-being, particularly the young, is hard to avoid these days. The sense of nostalgia for a world they never knew is strong amongst young people, as expressed in this article by Freya India. (Although I remember being obsessed with the 1950s and before in my teens, so maybe it’s part of growing up.)

There’s an interesting study out this week from More in Common  . The topline conclusion is that the Brits are more hung-up on their smartphones and more in favour of restrictions than people in France, Germany or the US. Here are just a couple of charts:



44% of Brits go for an hour or less without looking at their phone, compared to only 25% of Germans. That’s a major difference and one I can well imagine from my UK trips. 

Lots of questions, obviously.

Is it push or pull? It’s certainly more difficult to get by in the UK without a smartphone than in Germany, even with something as simple as paying for car parking. 

What are people checking their phone for? The weather? Messages from colleagues? News? Football scores? Or how many likes they’ve clocked up in the last 10 minutes?

Regulation and implementing restrictions is a huge area, and one where all parties - with conflicting interests - have to find common ground and work together. Government, social media platforms, telecoms companies, academics and health professionals ...

One thing the More in Common report does point out, which makes a lot of sense, is that all technology is not equal. This isn’t about technophobia, and of course smartphones have many beneficial functions. 

Surely it’s not too much of a challenge to make a helpful, useful phone for young people? With the functional stuff but less of the potentially dysfunctional? 

Thursday 2 May 2024

RETROWURST: World Cup Marketing May 2006

 


I was rather hoping this would come up: the 2006 World Cup, hosted by Germany. And what a fascinating insight into collective memory and how that works. I wrote this article in early May 2006, a few weeks before the tournament kicked off. It contrasts the doomful tone of the media (rubbish, no-hoper German team, hooligans, terrorists, worrying levels of flag-waving - where are the Neo Nazis?,  how’s the chap in the furry lion suit going to survive the heatwave ...

... with the cheap and cheerful to tacky and tawdry marketing and themed products (World Cup salamis and cheeses, an 11-bottle Schnapps team, the inevitable beach towels and Fußball sushi ...

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I’m afraid I can hold out no longer: since the beginning of this year, I’ve wanted to make some sort of comment on the preparations for the World Cup from a marketing point of view but have resisted. However, a walk through the town centre at the weekend was all it took to tip the balance. In short, I could hardly believe the extremes of silliness that some retailers and manufacturers will go through to make a quick Euro.

 

Although the bulk of what I am going to describe here can be classified under tacky, frivolous and throwaway, the overall climate of opinion regarding the World Cup in Germany as portrayed in the media is far from positive or optimistic. As well as the perennial discussion about just how badly or embarrassingly the German team will play, there are worries about whether stadium safety standards have been reached, how to control the hooligans (not just English: there are also severe concerns about punch-ups between Germany and its neighbours Holland and Poland), whether German efficiency will suffer a blow in the eyes of the world with it all simply not being ready in time, the possibility of Al Qaeda attacks (with the memory of Munich 1972 still strong in many minds) and, sometimes in the same breath, how the poor chap who has to wander around in the 35kg costume of the mascot “Goleo” will cope in in-costume temperatures of up to 50°C! All in all, one doesn’t get the impression that anyone here is looking forward to it much if you just read the papers.

 

However, if you watch a TV commercial break or pop into your local supermarket, it’s quite a different story. Let’s take TV and radio first: if you watch a typical commercial break at the moment, you’ll be hard pushed to find a spot that doesn’t reference football in some way. On radio, it’s even worse. While many companies might think twice about producing a TV spot that they can only run for a couple of months, radio is quick and cheap in comparison. The other problem is that everybody – absolutely everybody – is leaping on the bandwagon. The official sponsors and those that have a logical connection to football or at least sport are all fair enough, but unfortunately everyone wants to play the game with connections that get spurioser and spurioser, to misquote Lewis Carroll.

 

The TV and radio breaks are bad enough but at least you can turn off or zap through them. What you can’t avoid doing for the next few weeks – unless you’re into Home Shopping, which, incidentally, hasn’t really caught on here – is do your shopping. I thought that you might be amused by just some of the products that are “available for a limited time only” from the local stores here. As well the stuff we all expect, like heavily discounted TV sets, football shirts (Germany, Brazil, Italy & Argentina – very rarely Holland or England!) and caps, goals and balls and flags, there are rather a lot of nasty novelties where one wonders what the people had been on in the innovation sessions where these were conceived:

 

The local bakers all seem to have got hold of baking tins that give rolls the appearance of a football and fast-food outlets such as Nordsee are using these as buns for some of their products.

 

As this is Germany, you can’t move for masses of specially produced beach towels with FIFA logos, maps of Germany, German flags and Goleo himself (so you can experience those 50°C temperatures yourself, I suppose.)

 

Salami in the shape of the World Cup itself or a football boot. Well, I suppose it could have been cheese, talking of which: slices of cheese with a footballer design in darker/orange cheese - I am the only one who finds a connection between football and cheese rather unsavoury, it seems!

 

A pack of 12 hard-boiled eggs coloured black (4), red (4) and yellow (4). This is called “Fanblock” which I suppose is what happens to your insides if you eat them all at once.

 

Lebkuchen made and coloured in football shapes and designs.

 

A “team” of 11 mini-Schnapps bottles in different fruit flavours, complete with a free whistle, presumably to call help when you can’t walk or speak properly any more after these.

 

A cake mix to bake a special “Fußballtorte” or Football cake.

 

But perhaps the overall prize for the nastiest idea should go to the deep-frozen 8 Fussball-Sushi, including a pair of chopsticks. These really are Sushi in the form of footballs and look so unappetizing that I think you’d need to drink the entire Schnapps team before even considering eating them!

 

I can’t really see anything improving in the next few weeks as the shops pile up more and more of this junk and compete with each other for the tackiest products and displays. In the meantime, I am going to keep a close eye out to see if anyone is actually buying any of this stuff but I have a nasty feeling that, once the final and the tournament is all over and the poor chap in the Goleo outfit climbs out of his furry sauna for the last time, then all these tacky products will still be sitting on the substitutes bench, or at least the discount corner, waiting in vain for their chance to shine.

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Well, I didn’t see that coming ... Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden turned out to be a Sommermärchen - a Summer Fairytale. Italy won the thing, but the Germans - team and people won everyone’s hearts and third place. The best-organised World Cup ever. A month long festival of sunshine, football, optimism, family fun. People still talk about it with a misty-eyed reverence normally reserved for Woodstock or similar. 

Kaiser Franz is no longer with us, but I wonder how much of the golden memory will shine on when Germany host the Euros, kicking off in June.



  

Thursday 25 April 2024

Brands-with-a- small -“c"

 


There are a couple of words in the English language that are often suffixed - in speech - with a small “c”. One of these, catholic-with-a-small-“c”, means “universal, all-embracing, broad-minded, tolerant.” The other one is conservative-with-a-small-“c”. And this means - surprise, surprise - “tending to conserve (keep from harm, decay or loss, with a view to later use), averse to sudden changes".

In 2024, both of these words have a pretty bad rap. Blame the capitalised versions, but which brand today would dare to list “catholic” or “conservative” amongst its values?

No, brands today all want to be “progressive” - as an aside, this probably sounds more palatable than “activist” for some of the more conservative stakeholders. Progressive, advancing forward, open to new ideas, innovating all over the place, righting wrongs, acting with purpose, making agile leaps ...

And that’s fine, particularly for brands in tech, mobility, high fashion - and similar categories.

But I do wonder if, in this swarm of bright and buzzy continuous reinvention, a brand that’s unashamedly conservative stands out?

After all, people do look to brands for stability, reassurance and dependability. Particularly in categories like food and drink, banking and insurance - or even babycare and petfood. This comes from a sense of continuity, hanging on to what works, maintaining a consistent distinctiveness.

It’s well-known that the “modern mainstream” are less enamoured by progressiveness than the marketing community. Movement and change is not always in a positive direction.

And isn’t being conservative, by its very nature, more in line with sustainability? Conservation rather than constant updates, upgrades, pivots, redesigns and relaunches?

But doesn’t this all sound rather undynamic and stuck-in-the-mud? Far from it - after all, a conservatory is what allows tender plants to thrive.

And there’s a wonderful quote, often attributed to Gustav Mahler, Benjamin Franklin or Thomas More, but probably from French Socialist leader Jean Jaurès :

Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation (or passing-on) of fire.


Friday 5 April 2024

My name on it

 


For all the talking I do about personalisation, it’s only when I receive brand communication deliberately directed at me, and me only, that I realise its potential impact.

It’s six years since I was pleasantly surprised by a direct mail flyer from a local sports store - which, incidentally, I’ve kept to this day. 

My latest encounter happened today. I’ve recently been reviewing my insurance policies (always fun in Germany). Allianz have sent me a couple of little personalised videos about my revised policies.

To be honest, they are only personalised to the extent that my name appears from time to time, as in the screenshot above. And I know only too well now that there’s no magic about this with AI these days. But they’re well put together and quite entertaining (a dummy called “Johnny Crash” demonstrates the Accident Insurance - well, it made me giggle). 

I know this’ll become standard, and quite likely, I won’t notice this sort of communication in future. So why am I blogging about it?

I felt well-disposed towards these films, and there’s a simple reason for that. Context. My insurance representative spent two hours with me last week, in my sitting room, getting to know me and my insurance needs. Yes, he was selling me insurance, but that’s his job. By the time these films arrived, I’d already signed the new contracts and had the feeling that there’s someone working for Allianz who knows what’s necessary about what sort of person I am and what makes me tick. 

Contrast that with some bright agency spark “powered” by AI who decides to “serve” me brand communications out of the blue, featuring a short-sighted old bag with pasty white skin.

There’s personalisation, and there’s putting people in irrelevant boxes.