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 http://www.apgd.de/ is now redirected to http://www.strategieverband.de/ : 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.

Monday 7 April 2008

Big Lidl is watching you

A couple of weeks ago, the magazine Stern ran an expose about the grocery discounter Lidl,
with allegations that they had been somewhat over-zealous in their efforts to cut down on theft and pilfering. In techniques recalling the bad old days of the Stasi and DDR, Stern journalists reported on mini-micro hidden cameras and weekly reports on employees which go into minute detail (with accompanying catty remarks) about how often they go to the loo, body odour problems, fashion sense, financial problems, snogging behind the washing powder racks and possible association with undesirables such as drug-takers.

Amusing as some of the petty detail was, this set off alarms, not just about co-worker but also customer privacy. Was a camera up there noting my PIN as well as spying on Frau T's flirt with Herr K , advising that Frau S would be better off keeping her (probably home-made) tattoos covered up and speculating why Herr N was in the store acting the idiot for three hours on Friday afternoon even though it was his day off?

Lidl have now come out with a full-scale explanation, if not exactly an apology. The cameras are a normal measure to protect against theft but the personal reports from the private detectives on specific staff were "not requested by us". A poor briefing, perhaps? Whatever the reason, trust has been broken here between management and staff, between the brand and the customer.

Maybe it would not be too much here for Herr Dieter Schwarz, the founder of Lidl, to come out and make a public statement. But it seems that the man is about as camera-shy as the yeti, ironically.

Friday 4 April 2008

Do not covet your ideas

It was terribly sad to read yesterday that Paul Arden, the former creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, has died. The world of advertising is now missing one its greats - a man who was batty, baffling and brilliant. I'm going to reach for my copy of Paul's book "It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be" and re-read it.

There's a wonderful thought (among many) in this book that gives me encouragement that blogging is the right thing to be doing. I quote from Paul Arden: "Do not covet your ideas. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. Somehow the more you give away the more comes back to you."

There's an interesting article from the Independent here about Paul and his books.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

More from Willy Wonka and the cock-up terminal

I probably should lay off kicking them when they are down, but British Airways managed to annoy me again yesterday with an e-mail from the Director of Operations. There were so many apologies in this e-mail that it sounded like that dreadful yowling "hit" that we've been subjected to on the radio for what seems like the last year.

But in my case, it was unnecessary to apologise. I have my bags, I am back home and I just want to put the experience behind me. It is now rather alarming, but not altogether surprising, to learn that, with all their sophisticated methods, BA don't actually know if I am still waiting for my bag to reappear after its little holiday in Milan or not.

At the end of the e-mail, in case I was wondering, it states that "you have received this email because it contains important information regarding your relationship with British Airways." No it doesn't. And much as we may talk about "relationship marketing" among ourselves, I don't think that the average person really wants to be told that they have a "relationship" with British Airways.

So, for light relief, here's a fun game I found. I would suggest an extra level where Willie starts packing bags off to Milan, Barcelona, Timbuktu and the South Pole.