Friday, 18 January 2019

Macho Metamorphosis

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.

Or are there no more (brand) heroes any more?

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Unchain your brain?

Photo from Francis Frith

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?  

Monday, 7 January 2019

The constancy of change

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.

OK, time to scurry off to catch that train.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Safety and Style

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.

Friday, 21 December 2018

The original pop-up stores

On a wet and windy weekend, the traditional Christmas Markets are selling off the last of the Glühwein and Lebküchen, and will be packing up on Sunday. Christmas Markets - like all markets really - are the original pop-up stores. There's still a good representation of craftspeople selling everything from knitted socks to wooden spoons to cookie-cutters in every shape and form imaginable, as well as Christmas decorations ranging from tacky to terrific.

But increasingly, the Christmas Markets are becoming more about the food, drink and "gastronomic experience" (or whatever we're meant to call it these days).  There's a growing tendency for places to sit indoors within the Christmas market, to guzzle your Glühwein in comfort.

And it was only a matter of time before brands would see the opportunity. At the Köln Heumarkt Christmas Market, you can enjoy a beer or two in the Allgäuer Büble Alpe - a beautifully constructed rustic barn with the feel of an Alpine hut.
Allgäuer Büble Bier is the sponsor of the Christmas Market, and the whole barn is splendid to behold, quite in keeping with the feel and tradition. But I rather hope that there won't be too much branding invading this brand-free zone in the future, particularly if some of the global food and drink brands try to get in on the act.

Meanwhile, have a wonderful Christmas and don't drink too much beer, Glühwein or anything else in case you too start to see ski-ing gnomes!

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The most wonderful ad of the year

Together Forever, the commercial for Ancestry is my Ad of 2019. I've been rattling on this year rather a lot about political or cause-related advertising that doesn't really connect with the product, but here's a great example of a commercial that does.

Where shall I start? The idea is insightful, clever, topical and makes me want to go off and try the product by getting my DNA checked out. The end-line is one of the best I've heard for a long time: We may be leaving Europe, but Europe will never leave us.

Then there's the execution - super casting, use of music, all of which adding up to a film you want to watch again and again - and talk about.

The ad was created by Dan Morris and Charlene Chandrasekaran at Droga5, London. I gather, in the interests of international alignment, the account will be leaving to go to a new agency, but with an ad like this, I wonder if it'll also be a case of the old agency never really leaving the client.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

A(n) ice experience

The first snow has fallen overnight, there's winter sports on the TV and my thoughts are turning to ski lifts and pistes.

Shopping for winter clothing is something I've always associated with struggling into padded jackets in over-heated changing rooms, with the faint smell of ski-wax in the air. As far as Customer Experience goes, it's not brilliant.

I've recently seen an excellent idea from Woolrich, famous for their Artic Parkas (originally developed for Alaskan pipeline workers). In their flagship store in Milan, there's an "Extreme weather condition" room - a 14 sqm freezer at -20°C where you can try on a new parka and see if it's up to the job.

When it comes to the coolest ideas for Customer Experience, this one has to be up there.