Friday, 16 April 2021

Planting a change


Last year, I wrote about the (warning - horrible word) mainstreamising of plant-based/Vegan products, that I reckon is being driven partly via the connection to sustainability.

The trend doesn’t seem to be slowing, and there are plenty of start-up (ish) brands following Oatly’s example and being all activisty about farting (or is it burping?) cows.

But this is no way to go if you’re a mainstream brand that makes its money by churning out meat or dairy-based products at scale. On this note, it will be interesting to see how Ben & Jerry’s  develops in light of a potential clash between social and environmental activist factions. 

There are some examples in fast-food that get it right: Burger King, with its unapologetic Rebel Whopper.  McDonald's are hot on their heels with McPlant. And Dunkin’ Donuts, who seem to be introducing plant-based donuts at scale. At least in the Low Countries.

And there are a couple of useful studies I’ve come across that mainstream brands can use as a framework for encouraging people to eat more plant-based food, or any other aspect of healthy & sustainable living. There’s this recent one from Globescan, which describes 7 Unlocks (another ghastly word, but the idea is good) - make it:




yes ... and




This is all echoed in a report from last year, from the Behavioural Insights Team - Menu for Change which emphasised:

make it appealing

make it normal

make it easy

I’d add to all that: make it about choice, and treat people like the adults they are. Often a meal or eating together is about socialising, and can create common ground.

Although we may not want “what she’s having”, we can all agree to enjoy our burgers, donuts, pizzas or whatever without thrusting personal preferences (literally) down each other’s throats.

Monday, 5 April 2021



The next in the Retrowurst series, articles written in the early 2000s from a recently-exported Brit’s point of view, is this piece. It relates my early forays into Aldi and was written - wait for it - on an Aldi PC that cost DM (what were they?) 1,000 or thereabouts. Did I think Aldi would catch on in the UK? Come in and find out. (Or was that another German retailer?)


For this month’s Extrawurst, I’d like to turn my attention to two octogenarian German brothers - Theo and Karl Albrecht. If they sound somewhat unpromising, let me just throw in the fact that they achieved third place on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people last year and are valued at around US$ 28 bn. The Albrecht brothers (who, incidentally, make Charles Saatchi look positively camera-hungry - the latest photos of them available to the press are 20 years old) started their retail operation over 50 years ago - Albrecht Discount or Aldi as we all know it.


The standing of Aldi in Germany is very different to that in other countries such as the UK. According to a study by Young & Rubicam in 2000, Aldi is the best- known brand name in Germany. This is a pretty good achievement, given that the brothers have never given as much as a pfennig to any advertising agency throughout the history of Aldi. It is estimated that 85% of the German population shop at Aldi. This, of course, cuts across the entire age, social and ethnic spectrum although there is one particular group who are the focus of the media attention at the moment.


Germany has an unemployment problem and, in comparison to the ‘traditional’ demographic profile of the unemployed (lower education level, older); the ‘new’ unemployed in Germany includes many well-educated professionals in the 25-45 age group who were working in the media, communication or academic field. This has given birth to the idea of ‘Discounter Mode’, where it is positively hip to be seen carrying an Aldi bag. Some of the cleverest and most talked about advertising campaigns in Germany at the moment are for retailers, based 100% on a price strategy. (Geiz ist Geil or Stinginess is Fab/Brill/Hot is the slogan for electronics retailer Saturn, with TV and film personalities happy to be snapped by the gossip press carrying one of their carrier bags!).


Aldi’s continuing success has been further fuelled by this trend and I thought I’d examine my own relationship with Aldi to get some insight into the reasons behind this success. My first trip to an Aldi in Germany was a mistake. I went in there one Saturday lunchtime to get some potatoes, I think, as they had run out in my usual store. Even given my years’ experience of how dreadful German supermarkets can be, I was in for a shock. The store was packed full of pushing, sweaty people and looked even more like a warehouse than I’d imagined. I had done some travelling in the former Eastern Europe with my previous job and what I witnessed in Aldi could have come straight out of late 1980s Warsaw as far as I was concerned. I vowed never to set foot in the place again.


However, over the next few months, something strange happened. People who I liked and respected began to ‘out’ themselves as Aldi freaks. One friend who is an excellent cook confided in me that he bought the meat for his Venison Ragout from Aldi. My husband bought a new PC (on which I’m writing this!) for around DM 1000 from Aldi. I admired one toddler’s denim dungarees at our playgroup. His mother – a slim and elegant blonde with a fantastically rich husband – told me they were from Aldi. And at the pool barbeque of our friends the beautiful people who have everything, the delicious food and cocktails were care of Aldi.


This all surprised me. Had these people perhaps been in a completely different store? Had I just hit Aldi on a bad day? Gradually, through a combination of asking and experience, I learned my way into the Aldi cult. First of all, I had to rid myself of the idea of the Shopping Experience. Brought up on the UK’s Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s and Waitrose, I had to drop the idea that shopping itself would be pleasurable or give any sort of added value. You have to choose your time to go in order to get through it as quickly as possible. Interestingly, Aldi does have incredibly efficient staff and they are rather more highly paid than the average check-out person here, earning the equivalent of nearly £20K per year. Secondly, I had to understand that Aldi carries standard items and then variable specials each week. The specials are promoted (as an ex-ad person I can’t bring my self to say advertised!) via the ominous sounding Aldi Informiert which is an in-house produced flyer with, simply, the products pictured and the prices. This also appears in daily newspapers and on the website. As the specials are available only in limited quantities, queues form regularly outside before opening time.


In addition, you have to get used to the little Aldi idiosyncrasies. Cash only- absolutely no plastic allowed. You have to line the shopping trolley up exactly where the cashier can put things back in for maximum efficiency and you’re frowned upon if you start any time-wasting activity like trying to pack things into bags! The different names Aldi Nord and Aldi Süd have less to do with geographical location and more to do with whether it’s part of Theo’s (Nord) or Karl’s (Süd) empire. Apparently, they divided it up in 1961 - Theo wanted cigarettes and Karl didn’t - not for any philanthropic reason but just because cigarettes were particularly prone to pilfering and thus lost profits!


Finally, you have to get to know which products are good and which not. Most of the products are made by well-known manufacturers and given a name and packaging that are rather reminiscent of those copy perfumes that started appearing on market stalls in the 1980s. So the Ferrero Kinder Chocolate copy also uses the orange, white, blue and brown colour scheme of the original. In some cases, Aldi have established their own brand name such as Medion for electronics or Formicula for children’s clothing. And sometimes, the original brand name is retained, as is the case with Haribo confectionary.


And it is worth it! The prices really are amazing and the quality (usually) good. If you can make the leap of faith that the shopping experience is not worth paying for, you will be rewarded. This week, there is a ‘15 in one Multi-Talent PC’ which can burn DVDs, has Cinema-quality screen picture, acts as a video, radio, TV, music-centre and so on for €1,179 (£813) or a DVD player for € 99.99 (£69). There is a special on on tennis equipment with a Titanium Tennis racquet for €39.99 (£27.58). In the wine department you’ll find Champagne for €9.99 (£6.89), Cava for €3.49 (£2.41), Rioja for €2.29 (£1.58) or Bourdeaux (A.C) for €1.99 (£1.37).


I mentioned earlier that it took me a while to get into Aldi as a result of my UK experiences. This could be one of the reasons that Aldi has not repeated the German success in the UK. Or, conversely, I think there is a real opportunity for a UK-style grocery retailer in Germany. The shopping experience here is ghastly-that’s a given. Your choice is between ghastly and average price (Tengelmann, Real, Minimal) or ghastly and low prices, with a bit of Discount Chic thrown in (Aldi). But maybe it doesn’t have to be ghastly. Maybe Germans could learn about the Shopping Experience, in the same way that I unlearned it.


Maybe it’s an idea that Theo and Karl or their sons have already got up their sleeves. Watch out for Allux?!



Well, Theo and Karl have both ascended to the great discounter in the sky, in 2010 and 2014 respectively, no doubt to swop thrifty tips with Ingvar Kamprad. As for plastic and cash, Aldi is leading the field not just in modern payment methods, but in sustainability, too. Who’d have thought it? And the UK? Around 900 stores and counting. Even more extraordinarily, the only Aldi TV commercial I’ve seen recently was a Christmas one where the UK Kevin the Carrot idea had been translated into German, with “Kevin” inexplicably renamed “Kai”. Unnecessary, in my view, as Kevin is a popular enough name here, although maybe Karl could have been an idea as a nod to one of the founders.

Some things go on much as always, though - this week’s Aldi  brochure features running shoes for €12.99, Campari for €8.88, Nordic Walking sticks and riding jodhpurs. 

Still, I have moved on from the Aldi PC, and the beautiful people with the pool and Aldi canapés have long since split up.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021



During the first wave of the pandemic, advertisers from retailers to telecoms, food to insurance, appeared to all have received the same script for their TV commercials, which was executed in a remarkably similar fashion worldwide: plinky piano music, an "empathetic" yet rather sombre tone, vignettes of human despair and hope, and a promise of "being there for you.

Meanwhile, on social media, people created and shared their own entertainment: OK, there were plenty of mawkish poems, but much inventive and fun stuff too - horse-riding and mountain-climbing illusions created within the confines of a small apartment, toilet-paper jokes a-plenty and song parodies that most of us still have stuck in their heads. Which seems unlikely for any of those "we're here for you" ads, let alone whichever brands they were attached to.

Those few weeks really brought into focus the challenge facing the advertising industry today, which Paul Feldwick examines in his latest book, "Why does the pedlar sing?". Advertising is less liked and less effective than it was a decade or two ago. 

While many of those in the industry may put the blame at the door of the client, for not being brave enough to buy their edgy, disruptive ideas, Paul Feldwick asks the question: what is good advertising, actually? Is it the bold, kick-ass, "stuff that matters" that's celebrated on LinkedIn and at awards ceremonies?

The answer to this question is drawn from Paul Feldwick's previous book, "The Anatomy of Humbug" as well as a fascinating look back to the origins of modern advertising, 20th century examples from his own experience, and recent studies/works from Binet & Field, Orlando Wood and Byron Sharp: good advertising is popular, something people like and something that makes brands famous.

The book is full of good advice on how to develop - and even create - better advertising. I work as a strategic planner, and I found the idea of getting away from the "essentialist" theory of brands a good wake-up call: instead of theorising about brand essences in a Platonic sort of way, get down to a direct appeal to the senses through a brand's "distinctive assets". And let the "creative process" - if it can be described as such - take its chaotic, iterative, not logically-predictable course.

The book raised questions with me, which is a good sign. Is fame (in a mass-media, mainstream sense) different for niche or local brands? And how does the call for more representation/reflection of people's lives in advertising tally with a return to the fun of the fair, the cartoon animals, the wild and wonderful, satire and general nonsense? Not to mention the much stricter regulations and guidelines imposed on the industry?

Like "The Anatomy of Humbug" before it, "Why does the pedlar sing" is engagingly-written, with a good dose of personal experience and opinion thrown in. I'd recommend it to anyone who works in brand communications and advertising.

And once lockdown is over and I can get back to the UK, I'm heading to the Museum of Brands.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Unique vs. Original


In the last few years, I've often been involved in those conversations about differentiation and distinctiveness when it comes to brands and advertising. In the early part of my career, differentiation was the thing: setting your brand apart from competition by focussing in on some aspect of the brand - how it's made, a secret ingredient, what it can do for you, and how it can deliver these benefits better than any other brand in the category.

But things changed, and the internet happened, and a new genus called platform brands grew up, and lots of clever bods did smart analyses, and the point of view now is that brands should be distinctive, that is, to stand out via impactful brand assets.

I've been wondering recently, in a similar fashion, about "uniqueness". It was always my belief that brands should strive for uniqueness in their totality - to be unequalled - the opposite of "generic" or "interchangeable" and to emerge out of that cliched "sea of sameness."

But does uniqueness alone really do anything for a brand? I could create a unique brand but that wouldn't necessarily make it desirable, or relevant. Uniqueness is not necessarily good. It could be quite the opposite.

Uniqueness is like a statement of fact. It doesn't involve human emotion or judgement in a positive or negative way. A landscape or a micro-climate can be described as unique.

Now think about the word "originality". A far richer word, which has associations with the word "origins" and thus, authenticity. It feels fresh, newly-created, pioneering, not imitative, absolute, novel. You know there are stories to be discovered. A past, present and future. You say "Oooooh! That's original", but you'd never say "Ooooooh! That's unique."

We talk about "original thought", "original ideas". The human is entangled in the concept of originality. It's not detached, like "uniqueness."

"Unique" should mean unusual or remarkable, but quite often it doesn't.

I am sure that a unique new brand could easily be generated by a machine these days.

But an original new brand can only be created by humans.   

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

RETROWURST: Carnival in Germany March 2003

Time to rummage around in the archives of my pre-blogging days again, and this month I have a special treat. My first ever Extrawurst, which also gives you a little bit about the origins of my blog name. This delight dates from March 2003, and is accompanied by the sound of slightly tiddly oompah music.


Seeing as this is my first Extrawurst, I’d better give you a quick explanation as to what an Extrawurst is. Yes, it literally means a ‘sausage thrown in’ if you’ll excuse my German. A typical use of the phrase is ‘The problem with Franz is that he always expects his Exrawurst’ or, in better English ‘Franz always expects his added extras (at no added charge)’. I’ll be giving you some thoughts on life and brands from behind the Sauerkraut curtain every month which I hope will amuse and inspire. 

My theme for my kick-off Extrawurst is Carnival, or Karneval, or Fasching which you just can’t avoid here at the moment. I’m pretty sure that if you ask people in the UK about Carnival at this time of year, Notting Hill aside, they are far more likely to bring to mind the jazz bands of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, the sequinned costumes of the Rio dancers or the romantic masked balls of Venice than the goings-on here around the Rhine. But Carnival has been building up to a climax here since November, when the Carnival Clubs officially launch their campaigns with the high points of Rosenmontag and Fastnacht before Ashermittwoch (Ash Wednesday).


You may have noticed the mention of Clubs and Campaigns there, which is one little element of Carnival, German style. Everything is meticulously timed and organised with parades starting at 11 minutes past the hour precisely. There are also very strict rules of behaviour for the revellers- even though you may call the colleagues you’ve worked with for 20 years by the formal ‘Sie’ for the rest of the year, not calling them by the familiar ‘Du’ if you happen to bump into them at a Carnival party will mark you down forever as being hopelessly stuffy. 


What are some of the typical elements of German Carnival? Well - the skimpy costumes of Rio are not recommended in February temperatures in Germany- far more popular is something with maximum coverage and minimum shape, to disguise the number of beers you’ve downed - variations on clowns are a perennial favourite and furry cow suits seem to be this year’s fad. Of course, the powers-that-be in the Carnival club have their own special costumes and fools’ caps in the carnival colours of red, yellow, blue and white, with the most extravagant costumes worn by the Carnival Prince and Princess (who are likely to be called something like Prince Gunther II and Princess Gundula IV). Gunther could well sport a fine Rudi Voller hairdo and moustache with his costume while Gundula is likely to be a little on the portly side with a particularly severe pair of glasses. Who needs the glamour of Rio?


Whoever thinks that German carnival is all frivolity and foolishness is very wrong. The Carnival had its origins in satire against the government and politics still plays a huge part. In the parades, there are huge paper-machée models of Herr Schroeder, Fischer and other (un) popular figures with our friends from the US being high on the agenda for satire this year. Germany must be the only country who would think of sending a Spitting Image puppet of its Chancellor as representative at the Eurovision Song Contest! It’s no surprise that Carnival was very definitely verboten during the 1930s.


Carnivals isn’t Carnival without food and, most importantly, drink. Traditional fare is doughnuts, called variously ‘Kreppel’ or ‘Berliner’ depending on where you come from - hence JKF’s infamous statement on his visit to Berlin in the early 1960s. ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’. But the main course on the Carnival menu is drink, and plenty of it. Here the Germans really come into their own. Carnival is strongest around the Rhine, which is wine country and half litre white wine ‘spritzers’ where the wine is probably just given a quick look at the water bottle are a typical drink to get people into the mood. Beer is also not to be avoided, especially in the carnival centre of Cologne (Koelsch) plus little bottles of Schnapps with innocent –sounding names like ‘Pflaumchen’ or ‘Little Plum’ or ‘Kleine Feigling’- ‘The cowardly little fig’.


 So, what relevance does all this have for brands? Apart from not calling German colleagues too early in the morning on Ash Wednesday or the obvious product and promotional opportunities (buy a furry purple Milka cow outfit and get ten doughnuts free) I think that it says something important about brands. Sometimes, I feel we (brand owners, managers, stewards, whatever) get just a little bit too precious about what Brands should and shouldn’t do, rather than thinking about how the brand in question might do whatever it is, and, importantly, what effect that might have on the brand’s fortunes. Carnival is certainly a way of getting noticed and eliciting plenty of sympathy (and hangovers) amongst the brand’s community (or potential community).So, just because the brand Germany may have values such as efficiency, organisation, duty and obedience to authority at its core (along with the more Carnival-friendly attributes such as oompah-music, jolly good beer and no worry about wearing ridiculous clothes in public) doesn’t mean to say that these values can be brought to play in celebrating Carnival, as we have seen, in a way that is 100% true to the brand.


That’s my first Extrawurst- I hope that you enjoyed it. I’m off to eat some doughnuts because tonight it all has to come to an end and the offer of ‘Traditional Aschermittwoch herrings in our local town hall’ tomorrow doesn’t sound that appetising!


Well, a lot of readers will know where it went from there. The music got worse as the years went by, the costumes even more grotesque (1980s shell suits were very popular last time I looked) and, in a tip of the clown's hat to inclusivity, we had a gay Prinzenpaar locally.

Last year, I made one of my biggest mistakes ever. We spurned the local carnival parade in a self-righteous manner and went jogging, for about 10km, around it. How smug and holier-than-thou can you get? I really don't know what on earth got into us. Certainly not alcohol.

We paid for this error. Last year would have been the last carnival as we know it for some time. Carnival parades 2020 were some of the first super-spreader events, and this year it's all been online and making cute YouTube videos with Playmobil figures. Yawn.

At least I don't have to eat pickled herrings, though.

Friday, 19 February 2021

The dinosaur had a baby - and they called it O.W.N.


A couple of years ago, I addressed the question of old dogs and new tricks, and a little while later wrote about Beiersdorf's first new product launch in 30 years, Skin Stories.

I'm back to Beiersdorf again today, with the launch this week of O.W.N. - a personalised skincare brand for cleansing, day and night care.  

Now, to look at O.W.N. you'd be forgiven for thinking it's yet another of those hip, start-uppy new brands that flood Instagram

All the boxes and more are ticked: 

A pure digital D2C business model

On self-care mega-trend and need for individualisation


Personalised at scale, with 380,000 formula combinations on offer

All driven by A.I. and algorithms, which get to know your skin better day by day

Brand identity fits current aesthetic, including brand name (which stands for "Only What's Needed"), and of course your own name on the packaging

But what's different here is the role of the dinosaur mother company. Only with 140 years' knowledge on skincare and the backing, in development, of a study of 10,000 women in Europe and Asia, with 2.5m "skin measurements", are you going to get the trust and buy-in at scale that O.W.N. is really going to do what it says on the recyclable tin.

And it's all part of the grand (yet flexible) strategic plan and purpose of the matriarch.  

Now, notice I said "mother company", not "mother brand". Did Beiersdorf consider bringing out the new brand under the Nivea name, or at least make some allusion to it? I'm sure that was hotly debated.

Maybe there's something to be learned here for the companies where brand and corporate name are one and the same. 

Whatever, this is a clear sign that some of those legacy dinosaurs aren't going to die out just yet.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

World sanitiser


                                                            The author in Paros, October 2005

Nine months ago, I was maybe foolishly optimistic about the return of travel and the re-emergence of a revived travel industry. With all the talk of building back better and big resets, the industry that is still suffering from the pandemic fallout is travel. The hoped-for recovery just isn't happening, whether it's airlines, hotels or tour operators. Not surprising, as we have just had lockdown extended for the umpteenth time.

There's an article here from Springwise that tries to take a positive tone, about clever innovations within the travel industry to adapt to people's changed behaviour and need expectations as a result of the pandemic.

But can I be the only one that finds this dreary, and rather missing the point?

Whether it's art exhibitions or travelling exotic lands, there is a limit to how much virtuality you can take. Like those virtual shoes and outfits that some people apparently pay astonishing sums of real money for, the novelty wears off at some point. 

Virtual reality Japanese Onsen bathhouse experience? I'd prefer to wait for the real thing. One day.

Guest rooms in bubbles? Haven't we had enough of bubbles, from the filter sort to the friends and family sort?

Robots doing all the stuff that, in years gone by, came with a twinkling smile, a drink on the house that stretched into six, and stories about the days and nights they shot that famous Hollywood film in the bay round the coast ...

Contactless hotels, facial recognition technology ... yes, good. But the photos are cold and perfect and devoid of any human touch. Contactless, indeed.

All this stuff may be about "needs" and "changed behaviours", but what about desire?

I've got a yearning for dirt. Greasy spoon cafes and restaurants without a menu at all (and I don't mean it's all online). Heat and dust, colourful chaos, mess, adventure, surprises - the bad ones, too, that you can laugh about afterwards. Places so windy wearing a mask is laughable. Laughing about everything and anything.

A pre-pandemic, pre-Instagram, unsanitised world.