Monday 22 December 2008

Brightening Up

As from today, the days will be getting longer. So, to accompany this meteorological brightening up, I was cheered to read this article by John Parker in Intelligent Life to counteract all those doom-mongers with their "dumbing down."

It is argued that we are now in the "Age of Mass Intelligence" and that, in rich countries at least, there have never been so many educated people. There are more visitors to museums, literary festivals and the opera than ever before.

Now, the cynical and the cultural snobs and the doom-mongers will all argue back: Ah, but those museums themselves are "dumbed-down". "More educated" doesn't mean "better-educated". This is just about the popularisation of culture, surely, not about intelligence?

Do you know what? I don't want to split hairs, nor do I want to get into an intellectual debate about what constitutes high culture or intelligence these days. Along with the book "The Long Tail", this article has brought to my attention just how much choice is now accessible to all of us, in terms of film, reading, music, thought, entertainment, art and culture in the widest sense, if we choose to seek it out. And I believe that only the worst cultural snob in the world could begrudge a fellow human being discovering the wit of Jane Austen via Gwyneth Paltrow, the beauty of Chopin through Classic FM or the splendour of Puccini through Paul Potts.

Monday 15 December 2008

German Anglophilia

The recent sniping between Germany and the UK over economic policies has stimulated discussion about the relationship between the two nations.

In this article by John F Jungclaussen, the London correspondent of Die Zeit, the author reassures readers of a very British newspaper that all is well on that front (apart from Gordon) and a difference in opinion over something as trifling as the economy won't make a dent in the Germans' unconditional love of all things British (except Gordon).

I wrote a similar article a year or so ago. What occurred to me then is that Germany is not in love with the reality of Britain, but rather in the idea of Britain, as expressed through various archetypes. Some of these are mentioned by Herr Jungclaussen: others can be found in my piece - from Rosamunde Pilcher's Cornwall, to Gaslit London, to British Humour, to Braveheart. But, as the article pointed out, the love does not extend to chavs, teenage girls puking in town centres, hoodies - or now Gordon himself.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Let's not join the lemmings...

Living 90% physically in Germany and probably 60% virtually in the UK - if my media consumption is anything to go by, I was really pleased to find this blog by Mark Mardell, the BBC's European Editor.

I'm no expert on economics but this seems to sum up for me just why Britain is heading for disaster, while Germany - I hope - will plod steadily onwards. When I first arrived here, twelve years ago, I was annoyed that my credit card was viewed with disdain and distaste, but now I'm thankful.

Monday 8 December 2008

Getting it wrong

It must be tough, sometimes, being a trend forecaster or a futurologist or whatever, especially when annoying people like me dig up your works for a quick re-visit. I always feel a bit sorry for those people who are quoted as saying that the Beatles would never amount to anything or those who turned down the first Harry Potter manuscript.

But sometimes it's fun anyway to consult an ancient tome of trends and to see exactly what they got right or wrong. I think that Nostradamus probably had the right idea to make his predictions so vague and open to interpretation that he couldn't really be held up for criticism. But 20th Century authors had to be a little more precise. I have a book entitled "Megatrends 2000" which was first published in 1988. While much of what the authors predicted was spot-on, I couldn't resist a smile at a piece singing the praises of the "facsimile machine".

"Facsimile machines empower people everywhere to operate at the individual level...Ever wonder why fax machines have become so popular while high-tech electronic mail is such a slow poke? It is the principle of high-tech/high touch described in Megatrends.
Through the technology of the telephone you receive a fax, which you then rip off the machine and proceed to cut up, photocopy, mark up, and otherwise be physically engaged with - high touch. Also, you can write (or draw) something long-hand and send it over the wires. With electronic mail there is no high-touch, just high-tech."

Oh, dear. This all brings back memories of valiantly trying to collect, un-roll and re-order umpteen pages of rolled up shiny paper spread around the grey office carpet like giant cigarettes. And jammed-up shiny paper. And shiny paper that's inconveniently run out during a 50-page document. Didn't toilet paper used to shiny, too? High-touch? No, thanks!

Monday 1 December 2008

Not recall

I got rung up by a market research agency last week, which is not unusual. But I decided to take part in the survey, which is. Usually I mumble something about not being able to speak German or hope that they'll ask if I work in Marketing or Advertising. They didn't, this time, so something made me plunge in and answer their questions.

Unfortunately, I didn't answer them very well. Although the questionnaire was well-structured enough and the interviewer perfectly understandable and polite, the questions themselves were nigh-on impossible to answer if one took them seriously.

It was an advertising tracking study for banks , insurance and other financial institutions and most of the questions were asking me to recall not only which financial organisations I'd seen advertising (defined as TV, radio, poster, print, personal direct mail and flyers) for in the last week but also the content of the advertising.

Put on the spot, nothing, but nothing, surfaced except a few logos and snatches of jingles. But I could not honestly say that I had seen or heard these in the context of a piece of advertising in the last week. Yet I know, with almost complete certainty that I have indeed seen communication for banks and the like in the last week: driving along the Hanauer Landstrasse, flicking through the Stern or out of the corner of my eye in a commercial break. It's just that I have long internalised these impressions and added them to my overall inner picture of that brand...and it's something I did not do consciously.

Sixteen years ago, I wrote a long and rather academic paper questioning "Do ads need to be recalled to be effective?". The answer was a resounding No! And yet, I still sit in tracking study presentations and get as excited as the next person when we get a good Awareness Index. I don't like to admit it, but it's true. Sixteen years ago, I wrote that the tide was turning as far as research methodologies go. It's a slow tide. There are some super new methodologies around today which embrace new technology to pick up real-time response to brand communication.

But unfortunately we fall back only too often on measuring what we can and assuming that, because we can measure something, it must be important. And it only took a ten minute interview to remind me that, in doing this, we are only kidding ourselves and probably wasting a lot of money into the bargain.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Brands of Substance

Barry Silverstein has written an interesting piece on German brands on Interbrand's Brand Channel . Of the Top 100 Global Brands, no less than 10 are German, with Germany being second only to the USA in the roll-call of Top Brands.

The ten brands include - unsurprisingly - five automobile brands (Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Porsche and VW) as well as SAP, Siemens, Adidas, Allianz and Nivea. Actually, it is always quite an amusing exercise to see how well a country's top brands reflect the country stereotype. With Germany it's a pretty good match: a sporty, technically astute, financially solid car-freak with a rather good tan from all those sunbeds (had to get that in somewhere!).

On analysing the success of German brands, Barry Silverstein puts this mostly down to the factors of "discipline and quality" with a downside of being somewhat "lumbering". I'd say this is pretty spot-on, but I'd like to look at that "lumbering" and see if I can find anything positive there.

I would re-interpret that "lumbering" into a few other, more desirable qualities. There is a sense of substance and staying power with these brands. They are damn good products first and foremost, with a minimum of frivolous marketing hot air. While certainly innovative, this is genuine and considered innovation, rather than flash-in-the-pan stuff. I can't see any of these brands suffering from the hubris of over-expansion like that of my "favourite" coffee company!

Finally, although I am sure all of these brands have the usual German skeletons in the cupboard from the 1930s and 1940s, there is a sense of responsibility about them. You could almost say it's part of the brand engineering.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Research that entertains

Don't you just hate it when one of the less enlightened market research agencies turns up brandishing their latest 300 page Powerpoint presentation on a USB stick?

I'm not sure if Powerpoint has made life better or worse for the audiences of market research presentations. I'm tempted to say worse, but then I remember the horrors of stacks of framed overheads that wouldn't have been out of place in the IKEA warehouse, or even reading hand-drawn Nielsen charts on what was called microfiche (younger readers can ask their grannies...)

So I was delighted to receive the following link to the Japanese clothing company Uniqlo from my friend Charlie at Red Spider . Now, the subject matter is probably more interesting to all (for a variety of reasons) than the average Nielsen presentation, but isn't it just super? My question is: are they real respondents or is it all just a bit of show? Either way, I'm impressed!

Thursday 13 November 2008

Back to School

It's not often that I wish I lived in London again, but seeing this brilliant new idea: The School of Life , has given me a yearning for the Big City.

I'm someone who's a little bit cynical about all those personal coaches who seem to have sprung up over the last few years. It's probably OK for some, but I suspect that, for me, it would be rather like that feeling "when you lend a management consultant your watch and he tells you the time." I am also slightly stingy by nature so I have also always shied away from splashing out on any kind of wellness or beauty treatments for myself.

But here is something on which I'd willingly spend my money: a sort of indulgence for the intellect, I suppose, if that doesn't sound too pretentious. At the School of Life, you can go to lectures and sermons, take an expert on almost anything under the sun out to lunch, have a bibliotherapy session (I'd never heard of this but it sounds like a Personal Shopper for books), or arrange a quirky one-off holiday via someone in the know.

All-in-all a fantastic idea and a great antidote to the usual dumbed-down diet of pap that we're fed by popular culture.

Monday 10 November 2008

When did you last see a good ad on TV?

I can't remember when I last saw a good ad on TV. In fact, the last ad I actually noticed on TV was one for coffee which wound me up, because it was a blatant rip-off of an ad that Saatchis did back in the last century for Ariel - the one where Mum shocks just-returned-from-Glastonbury-son with the "in my day, we didn't wear clothes" line. Now we have coffee and granddaughter and granny. I was half expecting granny to say that they took rather stronger drugs than coffee in her day, but boringly, granny comes out with the old clothesline (as it were ) again. Now, what on earth has that to do with coffee???

Anyway, the point is that I do get to see lots of TV ads these days, but not on TV. I get round-ups of the best new ads sent to me by e-mail, or I have a poke about on YouTube, or sometimes friends pass on a link or an mpg. My consumption of TV advertising has completely changed. It is now selective and active. And I think it's not just people who have a professional interest in TV advertising who consume as I do.

One site which is a great source of new ads in the UK is Thinkbox . There are also some extremely good articles on the site, including this one by the great Paul Feldwick . In it, he argues that we should stop talking about messages when it comes to TV advertising. I can imagine it must be frustrating for someone who has spent so long in the business to see that some thinking doesn't seem to move on.

Monday 3 November 2008

The generation game

I was very interested to read about a new (ish) phone called the Jitterbug, over on Brand Channel. This is a "no frills" phone that's easy to use with just the essentials. I was looking for a mobile phone for my mother a few months back and it's a shame that this hasn't hit Europe yet as it would have been just the ticket.

However, as ever in an article about a product for "seniors", the terms started to get confused in the article. We started off with "65 and over", then moved on to the familiar territory of "seniors" and the rather curious description "older adults". And then the author launched into something about "Baby Boomers" - which I think is my generation, so rather alarming as I don't think I'm a "senior" just yet.

Later, all was revealed as the author told us the origins of the name Jitterbug: "Jitterbug was a dance style made popular in the mid 1930s, so the name squarely targets consumers who remember that era." Well, that makes the target group at least 80, then.

Maybe the problem is that all this marketing putting-generations-in-boxes stuff didn't really take off until those famous Baby Boomers were running the show (and dismissing the next generations as X, Y and Z, rather unimaginatively.) They never really got round to finding a nice snappy label or two for the generations before. What do you call those born before 1945? War babies? Depression Kids?

I don't know, but it must be quite nice not to have been put in a box.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

What goes around comes around

I was at an interesting presentation yesterday where the experts at the Media Agency who specialise in Social Media presented their tracking and analysis of my client's online "buzz". This was all new stuff to me and I realised that even at my ripe old age (birthday coming up soon...), there is still plenty new to learn in the business of brands and communications.

And it got me thinking, which is a good thing. About how we classify and try to measure Social Media. For good reasons, the guys at the agency restricted their analysis to a known (virtual) universe of communities, forums (fora???) and blogs. But, of course, in real life, things are different. Conversations and ideas burst effortlessly out from the blogosphere into the "traditional" Social Media of the pub, the coffee morning, the club - and slip just as effortlessly back in again, no doubt augmented by their experience in the real world.

I would find it fascinating to follow a "conversation" (or whatever you're supposed to call it these days - a conversation certainly sounds more friendly than a meme) from its original spark (a blogger, say), through the online world and see at what point it obtains critical mass to burst out into the "real world" and perhaps even get taken up by the traditional mass media. Maybe a pipe dream, but there are some researchers who are having a serious bash at an holistic approach for tracking brand, at this point, I'll give a serious plug for my friends at Mesh Planning, who are developing a great approach in this direction.

Thursday 23 October 2008

ALDI in the Limey-light

The UK media are obsessed with the credit crunch and the resulting recession. Not a day goes by without an article in the papers whereby a bright young journalist has to manage on five quid a week, or a Yummy-Mummy type has to to without shopping (except for absolute essentials) for a year. Yesterday, I even saw an article on "how to be a Recessionista" - whatever that may be.

One result of this, I am convinced, is going to be Aldi and Lidl really taking hold of the UK grocery market. For years, UK consumers have turned their noses up at the drab German discounters in favour of the twee Tescos and Waitroses with their lush advertising campaigns, over-packed fruit and vegetables and their "twenty different kinds of shopping trolley to make your life easier".

Well, the figures are beginning to speak for themselves. Last month, sales at Aldi and Lidl grew by 14%, while Tesco's growth slowed to 3.5%. And Tesco have even introduced their own "discount brands" such as Daisy washing-up liquid. A case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery?

Sunday 19 October 2008

My cup of tea

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, there was a super sampling sales promotion which really hit the spot as far as I was concerned. I discovered Yogi Tee a few months ago and it's a great product: something I tend to have in those "me being a bit esoteric and slightly intellectual and vaguely inspired" moments when I'm onto a good roll when working at home. It's a brand that's all mine and certainly doesn't have any place in shared family mealtimes or anything like that.

So it was just right that, while off my own today, doing my thing for once (husband and son would be as likely to go to the Book Fair as drink Yogi Tee), I was handed a bookmark with a sachet of Yogi Tee. Good one, Yogi Tee!

Monday 13 October 2008

An epidemic of possession

Each time I go back to the UK, I'm particularly sensitive to the latest trends in brands and communications in a way that I wouldn't be if I lived there the whole time.
On my latest visit, I noticed what an epidemic of possessive pronouns is spreading in brand communications, rather like an unstoppable rash of playground capitalism.
There was a time when the only brand names to incorporate possessive pronouns were toys for spoiled darlings, like My Little Pony, but it now seems that the whole brand world is divided into My and Your.
I can't be the only person who sometimes feels that "My Pictures" "My This" and "My That" every time I turn on the computer is just an ickle bit babyish, can I?
Now I know that there are good reasons for all this: in this virtual world, it's nice to be able to claim something as "My Space"...and I know that I have praised brands like My Muesli on this blog for their custom-made individuality. And of course I believe that brands "belong" to the people that use them and make them their own, anyway. But do we have to be reminded of this with all these twee names?
Retailers and services are particularly prone to this: Your M&S probably started it off in the UK. But, interestingly, while it's all "Your" when they are talking in general, the products suddenly become repossessed when they want to show off a bit: "OUR cashmere sweaters can be washed at freezing point so WE don't contribute to global warming". And what about all those banks that seem to forget that they are playing around with MY money?

Thursday 2 October 2008

Bog Roll

I am fascinated by brand naming and, being British, particularly intrigued by the names given to all things relating to the toilet. So, in a totally frivolous post, and in the tradition of that great British TV show "Call my Bluff", let's have a look at some of the names that German discounters dream up for their Own Label bog roll.
1. Is "Floralys"
a. A nasty disease you get from toilet seats in dodgy clubs?
b. A new colonic-irrigation procedure?
c. Lidl's Own Label Bog Roll?
2. Is "Kokett"
a. A promiscuous and foul-mouthed girl from the North of England?
b. A processed potato side-dish?
c. Aldi's Own Label Bog Roll?
You get the idea. My second prize for the best German discounter Bog Roll name has to go to Plus, who not only call their Bog Roll "Touching" but follow that one up with calling their tissues "Feeling". Both of these names make me feel distinctly queasy in this context.
And the winner is....Penny, with the best Bog Roll name of all time:"Happy End". Now, what on earth can the thought process leading to that one be?

Sunday 28 September 2008

Free Planning for the neighbours?

I've found the ideal solution to "Predictably Irrational": a friend has lent the book to me. I'm now about half-way through and it's not bad: Dan Ariely has an amusing way of putting things and his writing does have you questioning things you do in your work and in your own life.
On that very topic, the chapter on social and market norms is of particular interest to me as a freelancer, as I think that what is work and what is social is probably even more blurred for us than for employed folk.
I now know why I feel uncomfortable when neighbours ask me to run a workshop or do some positioning work for their business: I know I can't charge them my normal rates, however much they insist, nor do I really want to do it for free. I can also understand the unpleasant feeling (this hasn't happened to me yet) when a "friend" suddenly produces an invoice for that brand name brainstorming you had over a couple of glasses of red wine.
Dan Ariely has the answer: these are all instances of when social and market norms become blurred: "Asking a friend to help move a large piece of furniture or a few boxes is fine. But asking a friend to help move a lot of boxes or furniture is not - especially if the friend is working side by side with movers who are getting paid for the same task...Similarly, asking your neighbor (who happens to be a lawyer) to bring in your mail while you're on vacation is fine. But asking him to spend the same amount of time preparing a rental contract for you - free - is not."
There are also interesting implications for relationship marketing. Again, Dan Ariely has the answer: "If you're a company, my advice is to remember that you can't have it both ways. You can't treat your customers like family one moment and then treat them impersonally - or, even worse, as a nuisance or a competitor - a moment later when this becomes more convenient or profitable."
Interesting stuff. Now, I wonder if I should offer my friend money for the loan of the book or not?

Monday 22 September 2008

Books that are the business

I'm not a great one for buying business books but sometimes, if something jumps out at me often enough from the right sort of places, I may weaken.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely has jumped out at me a few times in the last week: I spotted it on someone's desk and it was referenced in a couple of blogs that I respect.

The question is this: shall it join my dust-covered collection? Looking at what business books I possess, I've noticed that they tend to be read once (if at all) to say that I've read them - or to appear knowledgeable when a client starts going on about Blue Oceans or whatever...but there are very few that I go back to again and again.

My business books seem to go in phases: the first books I bought (or had given to me) in the early 1990s were very serious stuff by David Aacker and Jack Trout all about Building Strong Brand Equities and suchlike. At the turn of the millenium, everyone went all Brave New World with titles like The New Marketing Manifesto (still a great book, pity about the political party!) by John Grant or A New Brand World by Scott Bedbury or Welcome to the Creative Age by Mark Earls. We then got all those virus and meme-type books and the start of those from the New Business gurus, like Malcolm Gladwell.

The last good business book that I read - that is, one that won't be gathering dust - was Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. So, what does anyone think? Who's read Predictably Irrational? Is it one that will stay with me? Or just another dust-catcher?

Wednesday 17 September 2008

21st Century charades

When was the last time you played charades, or whatever the branded hugely-expensive board game version is called? When I used to play charades, we had three media categories: a book, a film or a play. I think that was then supplemented by "a TV show", but that was about the time I put away childish things, or at least pretended to.

I've been catching up on reading lately, having a go at a lot of those classic books that I think I've read, but in reality have only seen a TV adaptation for. Now, most of these books are over one hundred years old and their authors had little choice as to the format or medium in which they told their story. The original format for stories was good old word-of-mouth, but a hundred years ago you were pretty much stuck with the printed word or the stage if you wanted a relatively mass audience.

These days, it's all different of course. Your original medium doesn't have to be the printed word or even film, as Pirates of the Caribbean or Tomb Raider has demonstrated. And with all the merchandising, tie-ins and spin-offs, it's getting quite hard to say what the lead medium for many stories is. It's all like that silly old Watership Down joke: "You've read the book, seen the film, now eat the pie!"

I did wonder what many of the old classic authors would have gone for as original medium if they'd been bright young 21st Century things. Sherlock Holmes would most probably have launched as a real-time internet game, perhaps in an alternative Second Life-like universe. Samuel Pepys, of course, would have been Blogger Supreme. The 39 Steps would have made a great video game, while Jules Verne may have gone straight to Lego for his underwater adventure. Dicken's novels did start their life as serialisations and I can imagine he might have gone for a London-based TV soap opera, full of realism and colourful characters. Treasure Island may have started life as a theme park ride, rather like its modern-day pirate equivalent. George Bernard Shaw may have missed out on the "Pygmalion" stage and gone straight to "My Fair Lady"- style musical spectaculars on stage, in cinema and on DVD.

And I wonder if we would have had a series of biting comedy shows under the banner of "Oscar Wilde presents" with Mr Wilde himself as the cleverest, bitchiest judge of all time on the world's best talent show ever.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Tick Tock

A lot of brands seem to want to be like Madonna. Have you been caught up into one of those "we don't want to be seen like the Rolling Stones, stuck in one groove, we want to be like Madonna, continually re-inventing ourselves" conversations?

I went to see the Queen of Reinvention on Tuesday in Frankfurt. Madonna seems to sing "Tick Tock" rather a lot these days (I think it's taken over from "waiting...anticipating...hesitating" as her favourite phrase...) and it did occur to me that as well as being the Queen of Reinvention and the Queen of Pop, Madonna is the Queen of Tick Tock. Everything in her shows runs like clockwork. A Madonna performance is a triumph of straight-jacketed spontaneity, of disciplined decadence, of controlled creativity.

It was somewhat ironic that, once we left the concert, everything fell into chaos. You would expect the Commerzbank (as in Arena) and the German Police to be masters of efficiency and organisation. But a lack of basic signage and zero presence of anyone to shepherd thousands of concert-goers, mesmerised by the Queen of Tick Tock, back to their car parks resulted in countless distraught and tired people desperately seeking their cars in a pitch-black wood.

Now, if Madonna had only been in charge of car parking and signage as well, we wouldn't have had any waiting or hesitating and we would have all been tucked up in bed at least two hours earlier.

Friday 5 September 2008

Hanging on the telephone

I'm sure that knocking Telekom's Call Centre is rather an unoriginal thing to be blogging on but it's Friday afternoon and I'm not otherwise inspired.

I was amused and a touch annoyed with my latest encounter with these people (I assume there are some people there somewhere!). Having got an e-mail congratulating me on my choice to have my bills (Rechnungen) online, I thought I'd better call them to say, no, I have never made that choice and I'd quite like old-fashioned paper through the post so I don't have to be fussed with printing the things out for the taxman.

Well, they now have a sort of voice-activated selection system where you have to pronounce the subject of your call instead of pressing "1 für Rechnungen" and so on. I expect this has been installed to save time and reduce frustration. Unfortunately, in my case, it increased my frustration. Having been told a number of times that my beautiful pronunciation of Rechnung was not valid, I got put through to that part of the Call Centre which I suspect is reserved for foreigners, people with speech defects and the mentally subnormal. I was feeling like all three by this time.

The cheery lady at the other end immediately enquired as to the name of my tariff. I mumbled that I didn't know offhand, feeling completely humiliated. She then gave me some prompting. Could it be the "Call & Surf Comfort" tariff? I recalled that the tariff did have some meaningless pseudo-English name. Now, come on Deutsch Telekom, make up your minds! Are you an International concern with English product names? Or are you a foreigner-unfriendly blast from the past?

By the way, the Call Centre lady wouldn't have passed my pronunciation test on their ridiculous tariff there!

Monday 1 September 2008

Endangered species

There seems to be a report in just about every newspaper or magazine these days about Germany's population problem and it's all beginning to evoke that glazed-over "come-on-tell-me-something-new" reaction. After all, just how many different ways are there to present the "ageing population"?

But last week a news report came out which opened my eyes again. By 2060, Great Britain will be the biggest European country, population-wise. Now, I think it's debateable whether my countrymen will have admitted to being part of Europe by then, but it is quite extraordinary to think that before too long, that group of little islands will support more people than the vastness of Germany.

While immigration is a factor, the over-riding difference, of course, is in the birthrate. And I have to say that, had I known what I know now about the difficulties of combining parenthood and career in Germany, I might have done things differently. It seems wrong that, as I start to think about the next school for my son, my first criterion is whether they provide ganztags education or facilities, rather than academic standards, philosophy or even location.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Wake me up when September comes

Now, I did make a rule for myself not to push too much of my clients' work on here, but today I had to make an exception for something that is utterly brilliant. A live webcam of a man by the name of Nils in a rather sad and empty looking apartment as he goes about his normal life, with the intruiging title "warte bis September". What can he be waiting for? Only a few days now before all will be revealed!

Monday 25 August 2008

Old and new media symbiosis

I'm always cheered to see "old" and "new" media working in partnership and one of my favourite examples of this was the original idea behind amazon: an on-line bookshop.

I have just seen another great example from the world of books: Penguin Dating. The idea here is that Penguin Books have got together with to create a dating site for people interested in books. And, although I'm not in the market for this, I can see the attraction for singles. A shared enthusiasm for Dickens or Doskoyevsky will probably get you a lot further than knowing that someone is Aquarius with a GSOH in your search for a mate!

And, the idea plays on the old archetype or myth of the power of the written word in love that stretches from Cyrano de Bergerac, to those glamorous Hollywood librarians through to that T-Mobile ad a couple of years back where an author was actually invented as part of the campaign, which took the whole thing back full-circle.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Global Genie

Discussion of the good and evil of global brands seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon, arising, I would guess, about 15 years ago in the wake of "No Logo".

So I was amused to read one character's rather zealous viewpoint in a much older novel: “Now what you need in this little old island, and what is needed in all the countries of Europe west of the so-called Iron Curtain, and even more I imagine…in all the countries of Europe east of the so-called Iron Curtain as well as in the backward lands of the Far East and the backward lands of Africa, is some greater precognition of and practice of (but practice cannot come without knowledge) our American way of living. I should like to see a bottle of Coca Cola on every table in England, on every table in France…When I say a bottle of Coca Cola I mean it metaphorically speaking, I mean it as an outward and visible sign of something inward and spiritual, I mean it as if each Coca Cola bottle contained a djinn, and as if that djinn was our great American civilization ready to spring out of each bottle and cover the whole global universe with its great wide wings.”

The novel is Nancy Mitford's "The Blessing" from 1951, a wonderful study of culture-clash, often overlooked for her more famous works. The character is the superbly verbose Hector Dexter, who I am sure would be one of the top bananas at P&G if he was around in the 21st Century.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

If you go down to the woods today...

One of my first strong impressions of Germany was the view from the plane on landing at Frankfurt airport: far and wide, there are just trees. And, in fact, almost a third of Germany's land mass is covered with woods or forest.

So I was intrigued by the flyer from the Zukunftsinstitut announcing the latest trend that they've discovered: "Neo-Nature". According to the flyer, there is a new longing in the German soul to get back to nature and into the woods. Nature is the new luxury and the market for Wandern is booming at €12 bn.

While it may well be the Zukunftsinstitut's perogative to wrap this up as an exciting new trend (we all have to make our money somehow!), I would argue that love of the woods and forests is a basic part of the German DNA, stretching right back to when whichever Germanic tribes jumped on the Romans, upsetting their little plan for world domination, and probably before that. Go into any German wood or forest any day and you are guaranteed to see most of the following: gathering wild mushrooms/herbs, Nordic Walking, BBQ-ing in the specially designated place, children's playground to blend in with nature, mountain biking, jogging, gathering horse chestnuts (I've always wondered what for - they don't play conkers here!), photographing and sketching, birdwatching, Keep-Fit (Trimm-dich Pfad ) as well as good old Wandern.

Thursday 7 August 2008

My, my, muesli!

Just in case anyone is beginning to think that I'm a grumpy old woman who spends her whole time whingeing about modern brands or wallowing in nostalgia, I must introduce you to what I think is going to be my "brand of the year" - and I haven't even tried the product yet!

mymuesli is a super idea that's been going for just over a year - custom made organic muesli to mix and buy online. It's the baby of three smart young German chaps who - if their website can be believed, were so irritated by the radio advertising of a certain Schwäbisch muesli company (anyone who lives around here will know what I mean!) that they decided to go one better and create their own muesli company.

The good news for my pals in the UK is that mymuesli is now available to you, too: have a look at the UK website .

The only slightly odd thing about all this (which maybe confirms my status as a grumpy old woman) is that I didn't hear about mymuseli through word-of-mouth or via a blog or chatroom or anything 2.0 like that: no, I heard about it through good old TV advertising. Odd, that.

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Brands through rose-tinted glasses

I was interested to read that Cadbury's, after pressure from a Facebook group, are bringing the 1980s brand Wispa back to the UK for good. This got me thinking about my recent experience in Canada, where I tried to reaquaint myself with some of those "blue-remembered brands" from the North American holidays of my childhood.

I was in Canada a few times as a child in the 1960s and there are certain products and brands that made an impression on me: Cracker Jack, Lifesavers, grape soda (can't remember the brand) and root beer. When I started on my quest, the first thing that struck me about the soft drinks/candy/snack fixtures was how disappointingly familiar everything was. Coca-Cola, Mars, Pepsi Co and their ilk really do rule the world. There was even our own Ritter Sport in great abundance.

I did track down Cracker Jack. It's now in a bag (no surprise as the brand now belongs to FritoLay) and while the nutty popcorn was as yummy as I remembered, the magic of the box and the surprise was gone. Ditto Lifesavers, which is now part of Wrigley: the remembered foil tube was nowhere to be seen so I bought a plastic bag of - get this - individually wrapped candies at the airport. They taste much the same, too, but I winced every time I unwrapped yet another layer of totally superfluous packaging.

I know that brands have lifecycles and maybe these two are past their sell-by date. But I can't help but wonder if the continual succession of new brand owners and brand managers doesn't really help. After all, there are plenty of brands of the same age that go from strength to strength - just look at Coca-Cola.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Yodel all night long

Have you ever wondered what it looks like when Red Bull crashes into a saucy version of "The Sound of Music"? Just in case you haven't, I thought I'd share the result with you above: Frank's Energy Drink.

I am always interested in new brands, especially those that a little quirky or downright cheeky. While in Vancouver we just happened upon Frank's Energy Limo, parked in a sidestreet. There was no sign of the girls: I expect they had popped out to replait their hair or tighten up their Lederhosen.

Frank's Energy Drink seems to be the brainchild (if that is an appropriate expression) of automotive parts and horse-racing mogul Frank Stronach, originally from Austria but now well-established in Canada. For anyone who is really interested, have a look at the website, where you can read that Frank's Energy Drink "boosts physical performance and mental alertness" and learn what Heidi, Gretl and Liesel's favourite hobbies are.

Thursday 24 July 2008

The spider and the fly

On holiday, I went semi-voluntarily unplugged. Not being near a computer to look at e-mails or the internet was easy enough for two weeks, but I also became disconnected from the mobile phone when the wretched thing stubbornly refused to have any reception from the moment I landed at Vancouver airport. (I must ask T-Mobile about that: my husband's phone seemed to have no problems...strange.)

Anyway, once I had got used to the idea, I felt a wonderful sense of freedom and release. I asked myself: why is it assumed, these days, that you have to be connected, that you have to have your network at your fingertips, that you have to be "in touch"?

I think a lot of us kid ourselves. We think we're spiders, spinning our wonderful complex nets and webs, in full control, at the centre of things. But away from it all, I realised that I am often just a poor fly, caught up, buzzing helplessly in a sticky, suffocating net of someone else's making.

Friday 4 July 2008

Falling Star

Some are talking about hubris, while others are trotting out the "wake up and smell the coffee" cliches, but it certainly seems that Starbucks is going through a tough patch in its home market. It was recently announced that 500 stores will be closed in addition to the 100 announced earlier this year and that the workforce will be reduced by 7%.

Now, it does seem that Mr Howard Schultz does have some insight into his predicament with talk of the wounds being "self-inflicted" through too much emphasis on growth at all costs and a proposed refocus on quality, innovation and service rather than over-rapid expansion.

But I then read a rather alarming comment that "the International business is cushioning the weakness in America at the moment" from Mr Schultz, who plans to license 150 new coffee shop locations in Germany, Britain and France in the next three years - with 120 of these in Germany. So, rapid expansion in Germany is going to bolster up the mistakes made back home.

Please, Mr Schultz, when you open your new stores in Germany, can you learn from your mistakes and try to do so with a little understanding of local wants and needs? You are already quoted as saying that "coffee drinking culture in Europe is vastly different than in the US". Well done, that it the understatement of the year! I, for one, have no interest in buying any of your sickly, over-priced beverages that seem to masquerade as the McFlurry's expensive big brother in order to help bail you out.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Follow the leader

I've just got back from the city of the fish-heads and am feeling a little like a headless herring myself after the annual APG Open Source. I have to say that the session was a little disappointing this year: there was a distinct lack of dottiness amongst the professors and there were moments when the mood of the room lurched depressingly into that typical German "we need leadership but, no, not that kind of leadership again..." mentality.

First off was Prof. Jansen who took us wittily and entertainingly through the history of organisational leadership, aspects and trends in leadership. With a fast-paced delivery Prof. Jansen managed to throw everything from herrings to Paul Gascoigne into his talk. Next up was Prof. Langguth whose talk on political leadership in Germany, contrasting Kohl, Schröder and Merkel was interesting enough but I have to admit not so relevant to me personally as someone dissecting Thatcher, Major and Blair (and I am sure there are enough people who would like to see that literally!). So I am afraid that, by the time Herr Jörges from the Stern came on with more state of the nation stuff and answers to questions that were longer than the original talk, I was only aware that I was stuck in Hyde Park Corner, German-style, and that my feet were freezing cold!

Prof. Haberfellner (who looked alarmingly like Bianca Castafiore, the opera singer from Tintin), provided a change in theme and gave a talk about leadership in education, with a particular focus on her own school, Schloß Salem. While lacking a little in depth, Prof. Heberfellner's talk was pleasant to listen to and provided a welcome injection of optimism into the proceedings. I was pleased to see that the next speaker, Dr Ditzer, was going to do a presentation, rather than a talk. At last, having been deprived of Powerpoint for a whole day, there would be something to look at! Unfortunately, this particular presentation, about leadership Japanese-style was rather like the origami paper before you start folding: flat and with unfulfilled potential.

Finally, with about half of the delegates already gone, came Herr Geyer, the mountain guide. And at last, we had visuals: glorious pictures of mountains and plenty of them! And here, finally, was the quirky, bizarre element of the Open Source that I had missed up to now. I could sense the audience becoming increasingly intrigued and amused by the superimposition of the clunkiest Powerpoint arrows, stars and boxes in the most unnatural colours littering the peaks of the Alps and Himalayas!

Overall, I feel that the organisers could have cut out at least one of the speakers: and a wider spread would have been nice - spiritual leadership would have been an obvious candidate for me. Herr Geyers's main point was that a mountain guide's decisions are always based on the trade-off between potential risk and potential experience. I'll certainly have to bring that one into play in my decision whether to come next year. Or maybe I'll just be a headless herring.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Getting my post in order

One of the joys of being freelance is that I get to do all that information-gathering and web-surfing that's normally efficiently handled by the Agency's Information department...or whatever the current name for these good people might be.

This is brilliant in some ways, mainly because I never really know what I'm looking for until I find it and because I've always loved stashing interesting snippets away for later use.

These days, subscribing to various newsletters about what's going on in business or branding or strange new media makes life a lot easier, too. Well, as long as I'm sitting at my desk, that is. I'm shortly going to be disappearing for two weeks for the first time in 13 years and I have vowed not to look at any e-mails during this time. And now, having coped with all those spammy people who want to sell me something for non-existent parts of my anatomy or offer me their entire wealth as a sixty-first cousin twelve-removed, I am wondering if I really need to wade through out-of-date updates on a new radio ad for the Fun 'n' Friends Mobile phone tariff on my jet-lagged return.

So I am going through a process of unsubscribing and weeding out. I'm keeping all those that I've paid for or may possibly look at, like Brand Channel or Contagious. But the rest can go, especially all those from Social Networking Sites telling me who's poked a sausage at me or that my "friend" Santa Claus is a 88.395% match with me on My Favourite Tiddlywink colours.

But, for anyone else doing this, be warned. A lot of these e-mails cling like barnacles. So far, McAfee seems to be the worst offender. Trying to unsubscribe from their pointless reminders is a task as difficult as finding out, definitively, How Advertising Works.

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Staying Home

I've never heard of Savanna Dry Cider, let alone drunk it, but they've certainly made me laugh. As every team I have supported up to now goes crashing out, I'm quite glad that England weren't there to slip over in that torrential rain while taking a penalty or any other such nonsense.

Anyway, here's the film from the cider boys. At least we're still good at the funny stuff.

By the way, if anyone knows how to embed a YouTube video into Blogger, I'd be very grateful!

Sunday 15 June 2008

Rafts or Rockets?

I read a great post on Richard Huntingdon's Adliterate the other day entitled "Spoiled for Choice." In it, Richard takes the Planner's favourite briefing example one step further and points out that it was unlikely that Michelangelo was asked to present three different concepts for the Sistine Chapel roof concept to go into research.

He's absolutely right: nor, I suspect, did J.K.Rowling approach publishers with a boy wizard idea, a teenage werewolf idea, a girl nun idea and a baby musical star idea to see which had the best chance of running. I also read an interesting piece on Contagious about visionary product designers and here, too, we didn't see everyone from Edison to Steve Jobs presenting a range of alternative ideas in case the client or "the consumer" didn't like the light bulb or i-Pod.

In my years at Saatchi London, we only ever presented one idea: the idea we were all behind and that we believed in. It came from our single-minded way of thinking. But, gradually, around the time I came to Germany (which was when Charles & Maurice did their bunk), things changed. There were Schulterblicks and "tissue meetings" to present various different Ansätze, directions or approaches in the name of "client involvement and buying-in."

Around this time, I first heard someone use the (to me) silly expression "a whole raft of ideas". I wondered if I had missed something in the use of the word "raft" so I checked in my dictionary. Now, OK, "raft" can be used colloquially to mean a "large collection or crowd" but interestingly this comes from the word "raff rubbish, perh. of Scand. orig.". This is as I suspected. To me, unless you're Thor Heyerdahl, a "raft" smacks of desperation. All manner of flotsam and jetsam cobbled together to get you out of a tricky spot. It doesn't really matter what it is, as long as it floats.

No. We don't need rafts. I know the world has changed and I know that in these days of customer-generated content everything is a lot more complex than in those single-minded 1980s. But...I do sometimes wish that agencies would sometimes have the boldness to leave their ragbag rafts and dragnets in the agency and just bring the client their rocket.

Monday 9 June 2008

Because it's there.

At this time of year, I have my usual dither about whether to attend the apgd annual "Open Source" and following AGM. On the one hand, it's at least a day out of my busy freelancer working life where I'm not earning any money and paying for hiking up to Hamburg (can't they hold it just once in Frankfurt?). On the other hand, I have found the Open Source in the past to be pretty entertaining one way or another and probably justifies my apgd membership fee. For every "dud" speaker who's trying to sell something there's usually a totally dotty professor, or a comedy act, or someone off the top of the intellectual pretentiousness scale. I adore the feeling of sitting in the auditorium trying to work out whether the speaker is serious or taking the Mickey.

This year, it's all about Führung, a word that has connations of "direction" and "management" as well as "leadership" in German. I see that there are two professors (hopefully totally batty) on the speaker list as well as someone from the Stern and - get this - the Worldwide leader of Mountaineering Training from the German Association of Mountaineers and Alpine Skiers. Well, that's done it. In the words of one of Britain's most famous mountaineers, I'll have to go. "Because it's there."

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Brand-tunnel vision: guilty?

Stuck in Europe, as I am, I get to read Campaign at least a week after everyone in the UK. I was a little amused and a little annoyed about the "Best of the Blogs" article this week (sorry, about two weeks ago), from Dave Trott. This was from a post entitled "The answer is 'brand', now what's the question?"

In the post was the complaint that most Planners are obsessed with brands, to the point of having tunnel-vision: every problem has to be a branding problem. The example of a Sainsbury's repitch is cited, where (one assumes) all the highly-paid brand boffins sat down to discuss onions and pyramids until a young Planner (in the style of 'The Emperor's New Clothes') suggested that they have a look at the numbers - store visits, average check, that sort of mucky stuff.

I was amused because the out-of-touch-with-reality Planners worshipping their cubes, dodecagons, archeological artifacts and garden vegetables are always a bit of a joke, but annoyed because I hoped I wasn't being tarred with the same brush. After a bit of soul-searching, I convinced myself that I wasn't (or at least, only in rare lapses).

My advice to young Planners is this: stay close to reality. Reality of people and reality of business. For the first, this means not sitting cooped up in the agency every night and available weekend. For the second, it means having a stint on the client side - even a month or so as an "exchange" should knock out brand-tunnel-vision before it takes root. Even better if you make that in Sales rather than Marketing.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

It's started...

The good weather in Germany has taken everyone back to the glorious Sommermärchen of the 2006 World Cup. Now, I know it won't be of much interest to my chums in the UK, but the football is nearly upon us again. In fact, I heard a rather annoying radio ad for radio advertising (if you get my drift) today: "for my English friends, what do Malta, Aserbajan and Kazakstan have in common with England? Their football teams will be watching the championship on their TVs too." Ha, ha. We always said you Germans weren't very good at humour!

Anyway, the silly season has started here. The car flags have been dusted down and shops are stocking up with face-painting sets, triangle bikinis in red, gold and black (a somewhat frightening thought when worn by Gundula, the president of the local Landfrauen ) and those Hawaian garlands to drape over and obsure your rear-view mirror.

I do remember writing a piece about World Cup marketing gone crazy which is over on my Secret Agency site, which included such wonders of the World Cup as sushi footballs and tomatoes in black/brown, red and gold.

I am convinced that it will get even more ingenious this year and I will now officially start a challenge for the tackiest/weirdest/most inappropriate Euro 2008 item from any category you like. All entrants in the comments below, please...

Friday 23 May 2008

Oh, to be in Germany now that June's nearly there

Much has been written about the trend back to regional produce and the revival of Farmer's Markets in the UK. And, at this time of year in Germany, you don't even have to go to a Hofladen or Wochenmarkt. As you drive through the beautiful lush green countryside, you cannot avoid the countless little booths and stands at the side of the road selling the two main delicacies of the season: strawberries and (white) asparagus.
Of course you can buy both at other times of year, but most people tend to concentrate their consumption of these two (sometimes, surprisingly, eaten together in a rather interesting salad!) into the months of May and June when supplies are plentiful and freshness and tastiness are guaranteed.
I've often thought that seasonality is an interesting marketing approach for products outside of the food and drink arena, too. After all, we still have an internal clock that governs much of our behaviour and desire, even in these days of 24:7 365 day availability.

Saturday 17 May 2008

Subway's not sleeping

I was quite surprised to see that in the "Marketing" (UK) annual brand popularity survey, Subway is the 2nd most-loved fast food brand in the UK. OK, it's also the 4th most-hated, but the love:hate ratio is rather healthier than that of poor old McDonald's.

The growth of Subway in Germany has been of great interest to me as, back in the late 90s, when I came over here, I thought that it would be a cracking business idea to establish a Pret-a-Manger-style sandwich/filled rolls chain in Germany. And it was around this time, in 1999, that Subway opened their first franchise in Berlin.

I wouldn't have put my money on Subway in Germany, to be honest. I am quite surprised that a country where the bread is so varied and tasty has taken to Subway's offering. And I did also anticipate something of a Starbuck's effect where maybe people wouldn't be prepared to shell out quite so much money for something really quite basic.

But it seems that I have been wrong: Subway have over 400 outlets in Germany and the expansion doesn't seem to be slowing down. So, respect where respect is due. I guess they must have done their market research. But give me a yummy slice of Bauernbrot mit Hausmacherleberwurst any day!

Sunday 11 May 2008

Insights out

Back in 1995, when I worked for Saatchi & Saatchi, I was in the full throes of the "Insights Net European Tour" on behalf of my then-clients Procter & Gamble.

With an alarming evangelism and armed only with a rudimentary Powerpoint presentation and a few spiral-bound A5 booklets - one of which I still have in my possession - I was on a mission to tell the world of Saatchi & Saatchi and P&G about the brave new world of Insights.

A lot has happened in the last 13 years. There are now "Consumer Insight Directors" in client companies running huge departments of Consumer Insight Executives or whatever Market Researchers call themselves these days - although I have always thought that the term "Consumer Insight" was in itself not particularly insightful! For a good few years now, we've seen a lot of "Brand Aid" brands find their insight (no little piddly "product insight", this, but the huge holy grail of a "category insight"), pump it up into a Cause and go forth to Save the World with their Brand.

In a lot of cases, this is good and admirable and has broken new ground - I would be churlish to criticise Dove, for example. But when everybody tries to do it, particularly in a "watch out, your strategy may be showing" kind of way, those pesky "consumers" begin to see through you. It brought me right down to earth recently to sit through some Group Discussions to look at an internationally-developed campaign of the "social problem - solved by Brand X" variety. If not done well, this sort of stuff is depressing and met with bored cynicism. I am not saying that we should give up on Insights but rather that taking our brands so seriously is not always the only way. Sometimes people just want to escape and to be entertained - by a drumming gorilla if necessary.

Monday 5 May 2008

Bring on the cliches

Now, here's an interesting challenge. In their recent analysis of 5,732 advertising slogans in Germany, and Trendbüro have identified the latest themes in German advertising to be Orientierung, Nachhaltigkeit, Exklusivität and Gemeinschaft. That's orientation, sustainability, exclusivity and (feeling of) community to my non-German-speaking friends.

Apart from finding it a terribly interesting job to sit down and analyse 5,732 slogans on a socio-linguistic basis (not kidding!), I also thought it would be quite an amusing exercise for anyone with copy writing ability to try and write a slogan containing all four. Now, I appreciate that it will end up sounding earnest beyond belief, but I'd love to see any ideas...and don't forget to say what the brand is!

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Mobile Marketing

I've always found trams rather exotic and romantic in a continental sort of way. Here in Frankfurt, the trams are a rather lurid shade of turquoise but this almost adds to their charm. It's certainly not a shade of paintwork you'd choose for your own car.

I love the way trams glide past you when you're sitting in a traffic jam on the Hanauer Landstrasse or somewhere. And even better than the standard aqua issue are the trams in full advertising regalia. There's one I see regularly done up like hundreds of Maggi enamel signs and I saw a real beauty today: a Lufthansa tram with a clouds and sky artwork to rival that of Michelangelo (well, almost). Maybe there's something not quite right about an airline pushing its wares via an older and more mundane form of transport but as I watched it serenely sailing past, I didn't really care. This streetcar evoked exactly the "consumer response" that I'm sure was desired.

Thursday 24 April 2008

More secrets to give away!

I have recently rehauled my website and added more new articles than Secret Squirrel has nuts in his pockets...the main addition is the entire Extrawurst back catalogue. This is a series of articles, originally written for my friends The Value Engineers, about brands, communications and life in Germany in general. There is everything there from the Tchibo phenomenon to the beer World Cup: have a look under "articles."

Before anyone asks, I don't know if they had "Secret Squirrel" in Germany. Does anyone out there know?

Sunday 20 April 2008

Ich liebe es...well, actually, I don't

I'm afraid I have to admit to having been seduced by advertising. I like hamburgers. But I don't like McDonald's. Every time I go there (which is not often and has become even more of a rarity since my son declared his utter hatred of McDonald's, even the toys) I leave disappointed and annoyed that I have succumbed again.
Now, I hadn't been near at McDonald's for about a year until yesterday but at the edge of my consciousness, their communication had been working in mysterious ways. I had a vague idea about quality scouts from an upmarket magazine campaign. There was the clever PR answer to "Supersize me". There were McCafes and TV spots with the wholesome and fresh-faced Heidi Klum. There was some memory of an article that said they were getting their CSR act together. And all this cumulated in being hit between the eyes as I was reading my Stern by some absolutely stunning photos, spread across pages and pages, of glorious-looking food. It was for something new: the "M von McDonald's."
I just had to try one. But from the moment I walked into McDonald's on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I knew I was going to be let down again. Heidi Klum and other beautiful people were nowhere to be seen. The place was full of wet and disgruntled youth and harassed parents with podgy children. The disappointment continued as I looked at my "M", which bore about as much resemblance to its promotional photo as I do to Heidi Klum. Wilting brown lettuce, a glob of melted cheese in the corner of the box and a burger glistening with grease met my gaze. Things didn't improve as I bit into it. Far from being "pur", the thing was covered in that ubiquitous nasty white goo and tasted, like all McDonald's products do: fatty. Talking of fatty, the final nail in the coffin came as I read the thoughtfully-provided nutritional information on the side. This greasy fatty gooey thing was going to provide nearly a third of my daily calorific requirement.
I left feeling quite sick and as if I'd been had. Which I had. It will be well over a year until I set foot in one of those places again.

Thursday 17 April 2008

What's in a name?

It seems that there are a few ruffled feathers at the Account Planning Group Deutschland. For some time now, there's been talk about changing the name of the group. This seems fine to me although I tend to find academic discussions about what we should call ourselves even more academic than discussing what it is that we actually do.

But, fair enough, perhaps it is time for a change. After all "Account Planning" is a term left over from the 1960s when people worked on "Accounts" in "Advertising Agencies". I remember that word "Account" seriously putting me off in my days as a naive graduate when Monty Python's derision of Accountants was still fresh in my mind.

And, as a German group, maybe an English name is sending out the wrong signals. I won't get into that particular debate here but I do have my views...

So some options were kicked around and the "working title" of Strategie Verband has been decided on - or has it? Some have it that this has yet to be officially agreed while others note that what used to be is now redirected to : a fait accompli?

I won't go into my view on the proposed new name just yet - maybe next time - but I know how I would have gone about the name change if I were on the apgd Vorstand: from grass roots up. The joy of Germany is that it's still a collection of princely states in some ways: surely each Vorstand member could have taken one of the big cities: Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, München - oh, and Hamburg of course, held an informal evening meeting there then reported back to base with ideas and views. That would surely have got round any accusations of not being 100% democratic.

Sunday 13 April 2008

Dumbed-down Bionade

Brand Channel is one of my favourite websites and a brilliant source of information and ideas. But every now and then an article appears that I feel I must take issue with. This week, there was a piece in which North American marketing experts criticised the Bionade website in the light of the brand's North American market entry.

The website was pooh-poohed by the experts for having a "distinct lack of marketing" and for have "too much information" on how Bionade is made, rather than "talking about how it tastes". Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but I don't think many people spend sleepless nights trawling the Web to chance upon descriptions of how new products that they might like to try taste.

And then comes the comment "it should at least tell an interesting story about the company, the founders or the origin of the product. It doesn't even have to be real, just a good yarn." Excuse me, but the joy of Bionade is its authenticity. They don't need marketing hype and spin because they have a real story to tell, as compelling as that of any malt whisky or Real Ale.

Finally, the Canadian expert also suggested changing the name: "it lacks the zest of same-suffixed beverages such as Gatorade or Powerade. It sounds like I'm drinking some sort of medicine. I'd change the name to something snappier that reflects the product more or come up with a story and market that." I suppose the English pronunciation is a little different to the German one...but I think it has some nice associations with "bionic" which sounds pretty "zesty" to me.

I did wonder whether the article was written on April 1st but I fear not. Let's just hope that Bionade don't take it too seriously otherwise we'll have "Mega-tasty Schnappi-Ade, brewed by cute baby polar bears" on the North American market before we know it. Cheers!

Thursday 10 April 2008

You old smoothie!

I had one of those "kick yourself" feelings a little while back when I was confronted by the growing range of "smoothies" on offer in the supermarket. You see, about five years ago, a friend and ex-colleague of mine, who was out in Australia at the time, had the idea to bring the "smoothie" idea over to Germany. I wrote back encouragingly but said you'd have to be careful about the price and maybe make sure the packaging was environmentally friendly.

Well, "True Fruits" beat my friend to it and, for the last two years , more and more of these "baby bottles for grown-ups", as the Stern puts it, have smoothed their way into the chiller cabinet. It started with the Innocent lookalikes, such as True Fruits, but the big brands (interestingly, from quite diverse categories) such as Schwartau, Chiquita, Knorr and Mövenpick have also been quick to leap on the bandwagon. And the discounters have their own versions, too: Lidl's presumably with a micro-camera for surreptitious consumer research into "how do you slurp yours?"

By all accounts, the market is growing healthily (it should: it has only been in existence for two years) but a sneaky feeling inside me wonders if I really should be kicking myself. Germany has no real chilled fruit juice culture like the UK or USA and when it comes down to it, these seductive little bottles are incredibly expensive. Leaving aside the niche of urban on-the-go young singles, I have the feeling that the bulk of pragmatic, thrifty, down-to-earth Germans will vote with their wallets and stick to munching fruit in its original form.