Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Don't join the professionals

Cricketer turned journalist Ed Smith has written an article in this quarter's Intelligent Life that I would like to stand up and applaud.

It's about how the concept of professionalism has taken over in every imaginable sphere, from sports to teaching to nursing to journalism.

The consequence being, that in our relentless pursuit of "professionalism", the word "amateur" has come to mean second-rate and slapdash.

He tells an horrific tale of the Kent County Cricket Team arguing for days over the exact wording of a "Core Covenant" rather than practising their cricket.

Modern-day professionalism is obsessed with coaches and consultants, with questionnaires and measurement, and with Mission Statements of the "to be the leader in creating value for customers through market leadership" sort.

Ed Smith quotes John Kay, academic, economist and columnist:
"Whatever our sphere of work, we have to distinguish between what is analytically soluble and what is essentially mysterious. And often the most successful methods fall into the latter category."

Hear, hear. "Amateur" used to mean someone who did something for the love of it. My Mission Statement for next year is to be decidedly more amateur.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The world is going T-shaped

Consistency is a bit out of fashion as a word these days - cue "only liars need to be consistent", "it's about coherence" blah, blah - but I was pleased to see some elements of consistency in the Campaign essays on integration from 12 agency experts.

First of all, you don't get anywhere with a "message" these days. Oh, no. You have to have a brand idea or agenda, or a brand experience, a brand story or transmedia narrative if you must, or at least a brand conversation. And whatever it is, for God's sake make sure it's not some under-nourished, lifeless little offering. It must be rich, expansive, generous - entertaining enough or useful enough to share. Again and again.

And there is the issue of participation. Some go as far to say that it's not about integration these days but participation. Letting other people develop the thing. Consumers in the driving seat. Adult to adult instead of parent to child.

The phrase "none of us is as strong as all of us" popped up a few times. This is the collaboration card. Leave your egos and hierarchies at the door.

It's OK to show your seams or VPL or any other kind of line these days. In fact we should be embracing and celebrating the differences between different channels. There was rather a lot of celebrating and embracing going on in these articles. But matching luggage isn't celebrated and embraced any more. That's reserved for the orchestra.

So who is going to be doing all the creating, celebrating and embracing of these transmedia narrative agendas and the like? Why, the new breed of T-shaped people, who have deep knowledge of one communications discipline with broad understanding and respect of the full range. I think I'll spend Christmas becoming T-shaped to face the Teenies or whatever ghastly moniker the next decade gets.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

So, the noughties were a load of balls

In the spirit of many others at this tired time of year, I'm going to be a bit lazy in this post and regurgitate one of those "noughties" lists rather than go for any original thought. This one is from UK Campaign and is for the Top 10 TV and Cinema spots of the last decade.

1. Sony Bravia 'Balls'
2. Cadbury 'Gorilla'
3. Honda 'Cog'
4. Guinness 'Tipping Point'
5. Stella Artois 'Pilot'
6. Skoda 'The baking of'
7. Orange 'Gold spot, Snoop Dogg'
8. Honda 'Grrrr'
9. Budweiser 'Whassup?'
10. Levis 'Odyssey'

There's plenty to admire here - spectaculars, amazing film techniques and lateral creativity. And it's good to see that those spots from UK-based agencies have an international feel about them. Inevitably, the spots are for those categories that seem to attract good ideas like a spray of Lynx - beer, cars, technology.

What would I like to see in the next ten years? Certainly that TV and cinema are still alive and kicking. It would be good to see more of the everyday; FMCG and retail done well. And, dare I say it, a bit more humanity, emotion and EQ. Because, by the end of the next decade, I expect every Tom, Dick and Harry will be perfectly capable of producing a spectacular of this magnitude on their own.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Take me to Shangri-La

Last night, I finished reading James Hilton's 1933 classic, Lost Horizon, where a group of British/US travelers are stranded in the mysterious and beautiful lamasery of Shangri-La. With its theme of the nature of time and human wisdom, this book is as relevant to the digital age as it was to the pre-WW2 world in which it was published.

The High Lama promises: "And, most precious of all, you will have Time - that rare and lovely gift that your Western countries have lost the more they have pursued it."

And immediately afterwards, I read this post by Steve Rothman, that seemed to encapsulate exactly my yearning for an escape away from all the digital diarrhoea, the insubstantial froth and banal banter that seems to clutter up the ether. "How about posting a little less and thinking a little more," says Steve.

Maybe I'd better get myself to a lamasery.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Invasion of the Kuddly Kreatures

I have an admission to make. I am one of those parents who doesn't protest too strongly at being dragged off to see "Alvin & The Chipmunks" or "G-Force". I have quite a soft spot for cuddly creatures. I do, however, draw the line at sending cute puppies and kittens around by email to people I haven't spoken to properly in the last decade.

Given my liking for jazz, how could I resist the latest spot for Drench? Apparently, Miles, Fats, The Duke and Dizzy were all discovered in the proper casting tradition through classified ads looking for talented hamsters. The result is a lovely little bit of entertainment, if your tastes are like mine - or the start of the annual YouTube Kuddlefest horror, if they're not.

But is it good communication for the brand? I expect I'll have to be a party pooper on that. There is just far too much of this stuff around, such that a brand can't own it unless that brand is exceptional. Coke got away with the singing gonks this summer although very few other brands would have pulled it off.

At the end of it, they're trying to sell water or refreshment and I'm afraid neither of those come readily to mind when I think of hamsters.

Sunday, 29 November 2009


I seem to be on a bit of a "wimmin" theme at the moment. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm not normally one to get a bee in my bonnet about sexism but very occasionally I read something that grates just a touch.

The Marketing Society recently celebrated 50 years with a huge jolly and awards all round. The accolade for The Greatest Contributor to Marketing was taken by A G Lafley of P & G.

In his video acceptance speech, he reportedly referred to P & G's customers as "she", which was thought to be patronising by many of those present.

I'm with them. It may sound harmless enough, and may even reflect that fact that more than 50% of P & G's sales are probably accounted for by women. But there's something behind the deliberate use of "she" that suggests a whole attitude, which I fear still prevails at the higher echelons of the likes of Procter & Gamble.

However much they try to "embrace" the 21st century, social media and all the rest, you get the feeling that many of these companies would feel much more comfortable in the golden age of the 1950s when TV advertising was the brave new world and the "consumer" - the good little woman at home - prayed in thanks every day at the altar of the great household god with his wonder products that made her life easier.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Belittled Women

Apparently, "bizarre sexist adverts" are doing the e-mail rounds in the pre-Christmas flurry. The Times has pulled out a few of these to compile a "Top 10", on top of the 1001 "noughties" Top 10s that are already hitting the press faster than you can say "Millenium".
But back to the sexist ads. There are none I'd call truly bizarre. Most are quaint, not terribly good and nothing for any right-minded Mad Woman to get herself in a tizz about. I actually thought the one for Dormeyer was pretty clever and could work today if it was for beauty and fashion items rather than household appliances - with a heavy dose of irony, obviously!
That's the thing. Terribly earnest young ad people seem to think all this stuff was for real. I'm sure that much of it was tongue firmly in cheek, the Tipalet ad being a prime example. Can anyone tell me how this is in any way more "bizarre" or primitive in its idea than the Lynx/Ax campaign?

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

With my rucksack in the Bauhaus

I'm working on a branding project at the moment and have noticed the reluctance of my German colleagues when it comes to names derived in some way from the German language.

Of course, there are some very good reasons for this, which I wrote about a few years back here. And you can see it clearly when you look at Top Global Brands - those that use names like Siemens, Porsche or Allianz hail from many years back while relative newcomers go for something more neutral such as SAP.

It's also apparent in the playground where there aren't too many Gudruns, Brunhilds, Helmuts and Gottfrieds running around these days - the more "all-purpose European" names such as Lena and Lukas are more prevalent.

In fact, the only ones who are really allowed to get away with good old-fashioned German names are bands or fashion brands, where a touch of irony is implied. Or non-Germans, like the New Zealand production house Krafthaus - check out the ironic militaristic imagery and gothic typeface here.

German is such a wonderful language that it does seem that some German brands are missing out on an opportunity here, if it's all handled in the right way. After all, "Vorsprung durch Technik" didn't do too bady for Audi.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


I've gone and done it! After twenty years on a PC I am defecting to the Other Side. Since Saturday, I am now part of the Apple lot, too.

I can already see that my technical defection is going to be one of those journeys (bleurgh!) that resemble my real defection to Germany.

There is the euphoria, the high when you make the decision and do it, followed by a period of intense frustration where nothing, but nothing goes right. Then you come to your senses and there follows a long period of learning and mastery before you finally come out at the Other Side, which becomes the new norm.

I am neck-deep in frustration as I type this - on my trusty old PC, naturally, and expect I'll be playing the Double Agent for some time yet.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Renaissance Plan

The APG Creative Strategy Awards a few weeks back brought with them much discussion in the UK trade press about the Future of Planning.
And what a future it is! The official word is that "it's a good time to be a planner" and even that "Planners will be the creative directors of the future" (Giles Hedger, Leo Burnett). I recently received an email asking if I knew of any suitable applicants for a "Planning Gig." Planning, it seems, is the new Rock 'n Roll.
But we're not going to get by with our trusty old tools of the trade. No, the Planner of the Future is going to have to embrace (sic) all manner of new Planning Channels from Content Planning to Channel Planning to Cultural Planning to Behavioural Planning to Real-Time Planning (is there also Unreal-Time planning?) to Micro Planning to Creative Planning.
Gosh. I felt quite overwhelmed when I realised the enormity of what my job entails. And wondered if I'm going to be able to get to grips with it. But then I remembered various projects I'd been involved in - many of them in the last century. A portfolio anlaysis for a drinks giant done up to Management Consultancy standard but for no extra cost. A delve into neurophysiology and the human memory in a paper to disprove that "ads have to be recalled to be effective". An anthropological essay on mother and baby relationships and baby care in African markets.
It's great that Planning is getting itself heard and on the agenda and that's there's such confidence in the industry as to its future. But most of us - including Planners of the Past - have always been polymaths.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The good things in life still exist

One welcome sound at this time of year is the thud of a good old-fashioned catalogue in the post box. It all starts with IKEA, of course, while the leaves are still green if a little dusty.

Another retailer who operates via the catalogue as main purchase channel and who, like IKEA, have a well-defined brand and philosophy is Manufactum. This retail brand has been going for 21 years now in Germany and was originally started by a politician from the Green Party.

The Manufactum catalogue is a 400 page delightful traditional emporium. The company seeks out products that are made to high quality standards, with excellent design and usually made from classic materials. These are objects built to last. There is everything you could want from bakelite phones, to Swiss Army blankets to copper saucepans to Florentine paper to deer-leather jackets to wild boar pate. In addition, there are charming traditional toys such as the "bulldog" tractor above.

Manufactum is now owned by the Otto/Heine group but the retailer's brand voice and philosophy remains firmly intact. There are stores, too - seven so far and a new one opening here in Frankfurt on 19th November.

For my UK friends, I was also interested to see that Manufactum is now operating in the UK, out of Bedford. As they say in the english translation of their slogan, "The good things in life still exist". And that's a Good Thing.

Friday, 23 October 2009

One-eyed Vision

Being away for a week on sunny Cyprus seems to have done wonders for my productivity and simply getting stuff done. I've now been back over 24 hours and have not taken one peek at Facebook.

It's a bit like giving up smoking. If you see enough unattractive people busy with the activity in your giving-up period, it makes chucking it in that much easier.

On holiday, I needed to pay a call of nature while sitting outside a cafe on a gloriously warm evening. Upstairs, next to the loo, was the "internet" part of the cafe. One miserable-looking older chap seemed to be scrolling through emails anxiously. Next to him was a rather frumpy looking middle-aged woman tapping obsessively into Facebook.

As I walked back down the stairs to the beautiful evening outside I thanked the powers that be that I was not up there with them.

An even more grotesque case could be found at our hotel. A large, lumbering man, dwarfing the laptop that he spent his days hunched over, looked almost like the mythological Cyclops. I had to check whether this digitally-enslaved colossus actually had two eyes.

OK, he may have been a best-selling author, inspired by the beautiful scenery, penning his next. But I doubt it. To me he was, like the others, a poor addict to be pitied.

But I suppose if he'd been an Adonis lookalike, I may have found giving up a touch more difficult.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Shameless Brands

In a somewhat hysterical article, entitled "Generation reveal: there's nothing they won't post online", a Times journalist muses whether the current tendency of "young people" to post everything online from miscarriages to STDs will "herald the death of discretion".
This all looks to me like a bit of a media frenzy. We're all becoming disinhibited and it's the beginning of the end is the cry. But wasn't it always so? In the old days, "Tracey shagged Gary" was probably scrawled on the lavatory wall - these days Gary and/or Tracey may well be "sexting" each other but the level of interest in their activities from anyone apart from Tracey's Mum or Gary's other girlfriend should, quite rightly, be zero.
But there is an interesting point here. The medium has changed and for those of us who spent our teenage/early 20s years pre-mobile, pre-internet, pre-texting, who remember standing outside pee-smelling telephone boxes with our collection of 2p pieces, sticking notes on doors or even writing letters, some of this behaviour may seem odd. Some people of a certain age that I know have adapted very well to Facebook and behave there like a "digital native", but others don't feel comfortable - and there's nothing wrong with that.
It's the same with brands. The new brands on the block are, mostly, savvy with social media and don't look out of place. There are "digital native" brands as well as people. But brands of a certain age need to be more careful. Some make the transition to new media well, but others stick out like the embarassing Dad at the youth club disco. For brands of a certain age, as with people, it's worth remembering that a touch of mystery is never a bad thing.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Foodies auf Deutsch

The latest trend in grocery retailing in Germany seems to be premium Own Labels and general foodieness. I've been wondering for years when the German supermarkets might catch up with the "Our Super Premium Better-than-Best Range" tricks that the UK shops play - and here we are!
REWE have recently introduced their "REWE Feine Welt" range under the banner "Expedition Genuss" - which means "Expedition Pleasure" roughly translated, although that does sound like a dodgy 70s film title. Under a logo featuring a parrot, a palm tree, a mermaid and a sailing ship as well as less exotic elements such as a whisk, REWE has gathered over 100 super-premium products from around the world. These range from Sicilian Blood Orange juice to Swiss Cheese bathed in Chardonnay.
Not to be outdone, Aldi feature their wines in the latest booklet "ALDI inspiriert" along with some rather exotic recipes. I'm not sure how many of the normal ALDI clientele will be rustling up a quick "Figs in Prosciutto with Käserösti" or "Ostrich Steaks with sugar-snap peas, chilli penne and chocolate jus" but it's a good try.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Manner from Heaven

Rushing through Vienna airport a couple of days back, I was stopped in my tracks by a vision of pink and blue - the shop of the Austrian cult brand Manner.

Now, us Brits are not very good at wafers. In fact, it was the suspiciously pink wafers that always got left to last in one of those Peek Freans or Rover Family assortment tins. But the continentals leave the pink colouring to the packaging (actually a rather salmony hue). Original Manner neopolitan wafers are made with hazelnuts from Naples, no less.

Josef Manner I - the chap with the impressive waxed moustache above - created his 5-layer wafer with 4 layers of hazelnut cocoa cream in 1898. His company was founded in 1890 on the democratic principle of "chocolate for all - good in taste and value" : really quite forward-looking back in those Imperialist days. And it may be the "living out" of this principle that has carried the brand forward to its strong cult status today.

Many brand managers may have felt the urge to tinker with the packaging over the years, but thank goodness they didn't. The pack design and colour is celebrated across the range of brand merchandise available on the website, from flip-flops and a rather cute cuddly babygrow through to the "sandbag" - the ultimate beach accessory with inbuilt speakers.

Manner is a textbook example of a brand getting it right, not just in what it says, but in what it does. The brand has expanded but remained true to its Viennese roots - the first brand shop opened in Vienna in 2004 in the Stephansplatz, where Josef Manner I first opened his business in 1890. And while other brands blab on about Corporate Social Responsibility as the latest buzzword box to be ticked, Manner have been quietly getting on with it. For the last 30 years, they have paid the stonemasons for the upkeep of Manner's trademark, the Stephansdom.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Recession winners and losers

As soon as a recession bites, those of us in branding automatically start scratching our heads to try to remember what happened last time. Which brands struggled along, which fell by the wayside and which managed to tap-dance their way through without losing a sequin?
Well, Interbrand's Top Global brands for 2009 is now in and a quick perusal of the tables shows us that the biggest losers are the financial services. UBS (-50%), citi (-49%), American Express ( -32%), Morgan Stanley ( -26%) and HSBC (-20%) are most certainly not in the money any more. The USA as a whole has taken a beating with some heavy declines on classic US brands such as Marlboro, Harley Davidson, Starbucks and Gap.
But it's not all doom and gloom for US-origin brands, especially some of the new-ish kids on the block (or at least those who still behave as if they were): Google (+25%), Apple (+12%) and (+22%) have seen good growth.
And some of the best news comes from Europe. Food companies such as Nestle and Danone have shown respectable growth in double figures. And the smart Euro retailers Zara, H&M and IKEA have grown at +14%, +11% and +10% respectively, showing us all how you don't have to be in so much money to have style.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Boys and Girls come out to pay

Exuberant "branding guru" Martin Lindstrom takes the topic of how children 8 -12 relate to brands as his latest topic: "Brand Savvy Tweens in Action!"
Now, the word "Tweens" has always disturbed me - what is it exactly that these youngsters are (be)Tween? The devil and the deep blue sea, perhaps? If it means between child and teenager, I'm quite happy for my son to remain in the child bracket until he's at least 12, thank you!
On Martin Lindstrom's website, you can view excerpts from a focus group where the youngsters recognise brands from sounds, smells or parts of logos. To be honest, I find this hardly surprising - wasn't it ever thus? My son recognised the McDonalds golden arches before he could read (luckily his Pavlovian response was always a disgusted "eerrgghh!") and before him, I remember long car journeys from my childhood livened up by spotting National Benzole and Esso petrol stations and even making up little jingles about them. And I'm sure that my father and grandfather were more than familiar with brand names of yore from classic posters or enamel signs.
And I have nothing against my son recognising, probably faster than I do, logos for Lego, Disney, Nike or Kellogg's. The only point at which I think Europeans still diverge slightly from the US is in the arena of fashion brands. My son doesn't have a clue what Abercrombie & Fitch is, for which I am grateful. Maybe it's because I'm not mad on that sort of brand myself. But if you've been dressing your "little princess" in Dolce & Gabbana or your "little man" in Tommy Hilfiger from the age of 2, then you probably have only yourself to blame if your "tweens" are "over-savvy" about brands.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Oliver with a Twist

It's not too often that marketing activities give you a nice fuzzy warm feeling inside but I was recently very impressed by what Pedigree are up to. The brand has been running The Pedigree Adoption Drive for a couple of years now, with the strapline "because every dog deserves a loving home." For a major petfood manufacturer to be doing something to help homeless dogs makes a lot of sense.
The latest element in the campaign for The Pedigree Adoption Drive has been the commissioning of children's author Liz Pichon to write a book, Oliver's Travels, about a dog who loses his home. I haven't seen the book but understand that the Pedigree branding is pretty low-key. You can link to the book's website here.
This is a nice new slant on brands commissioning short films. A children's book fits very well with the brand and it's great that this idea actually came from Pedigree's advertising agency. And as a longer-term brand positioning, Pedigree have been wise to move from their association with breeders to caring for all dogs - "We're for dogs." It's a brand stance that is far more in keeping with today's values and connects with dog-lovers everywhere.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Foxtrot Tango Disco

One aspect of German, Swiss and Austrian life that I've always found intriguing, if a little alarming is the rather regimented partner dancing that seems to go on wherever there's music. I first noticed this on ski holidays to Austria in the late 80s and early 90s.
Typically, a lady with a formidable "helmet" hairstyle and severe glasses would grab a man with a grumpy moustache and a paint-splash shirt and the two would march around the dancefloor with looks of grim determination on their faces. Woe betide anyone that should cross their path! Usually this would be to the accompaniment of some ghastly "eurodisco" song - "Macho, Macho" comes to mind.
I'd sigh with uncharacteristic relief as the DJ put on a fast techno beat. Surely they weren't going to dance in that manner to this? Oh, yes they were! It was as if someone had simply wound their clockwork motors up a tick faster.
You can probably gather that I am not a huge fan of Discofox, as this dance style calls itself, and I will not be signing up for a course at my local dance school. But each to their own, I suppose. Discofox has been on the scene in Germany, Austria and Switzerland since the 1970s, inspired partly by Saturday Night Fever, partly by the foxtrot and other ballroom styles and partly by the love of Germanic types for regimented but energetic movement.
But maybe I am too quick to criticise. Far from being a fad or trend for people who were young in the 70s or 80s, the younger generations are also taking to Discofox. A recent survey showed that half of the 15-20 year olds asked have taken part in a dance course and 38% claim to enjoy dancing with a partner as much or more as on their own.
The only thing that remains to be seen is whether these young people also adopt the helmet hairstyles and grumpy moustaches.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

I want to ride my beercycle

Sometimes I am amazed by the ingenuity that goes into new ideas. The other night I saw something in Frankfurt that combined the trends to green and personal fitness with the growing interest in hen and stag parties here in Germany.
This unlikely vehicle is the BierBike and you can read all about it or even hire it here. It's basically a bar on a trolley powered by the pedalling of up to 16 guests. And while their legs are doing the work, their mouths are knocking back beer, Apfelwein or Sekt...oh, and there are soft drinks available too but I'd imagine there isn't much call for those.
It's an opportunity for branding, if you are happy for your brand to be associated with a rabble of pedalling revellers - Licher is the "beer partner" in Frankfurt while Rotkäppchen Sekt have got onto the bandwaggon - or beerwaggon - with all haste as the resident bubbly.
Although it's enviromentally friendly in some respects, I'm not sure about others, such as noise pollution from the boozed-up bicyclists. And I was uncharacteristically concerned about Health & Safety until I read that the thing does actually have a driver to steer it - who I assume is the only one who goes near the soft drinks.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The lady's not for branding

I'm always amused when I read articles in the British press about Angela Merkel. They don't really know what to make of her. You see, the British love branding, from Brand Beckham to Brand Obama. People that can be branded (for that, read put in a convenient box and given a snappy nickname like "The Iron Lady") or that set out to "brand" themselves are beloved of British marketeers and journalists alike.

In The Times, Melanie McDonagh comments on Frau Merkel's coming top in Forbes list of The 100 most powerful women. While Ms McDonagh poo-poos the nature of the list, quite rightly, and does make some interesting observations about the German Chancellor, she also ties herself up in knots.

Frau Merkel is described as "dowdy to the point of frumpiness" yet she "stands out in any photograph of world leaders with her bright little jackets". She is compared to Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown, which is about as relevant as comparing Ronald Reagan with Denis Thatcher.

And, in the title of the piece, a pathetic attempt is made at branding, not even worthy of The Sun: "Frau Frump gives us the finest showing of girl power."

When will the journalists learn that a World Leader has very little in common with Victoria Beckham?

Friday, 21 August 2009

Go Trabi Go

Twenty years after the fall of the Wall, one of the symbols of the DDR is to be given a new lease of life. The new Trabant will be unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show next month.
More than any other brand, the Trabant symbolises the positive and negative nostalgia ("Ostalgie") for communist Germany. Families had to wait months or even years for the little car and once it arrived, you had to open the bonnet and fiddle around mixing 2-stroke every time you needed fuel - and you'd only know you needed fuel once you opened the bonnet and checked the dipstick. There was no heating except for your own blankets in those cold Eastern Bloc winters. Yet you could fit the whole family and your luggage into the compact little car and despite - or maybe because of - its failings, it was much loved.
The new Trabant will take a new direction. Gone is the 2-stroke in favour of envirnomentally-friendly electrical power. On first hearing, this sound odd. How can a brand that was associated with belching out black smoke reinvent itself on a green basis? But maybe the core of the Trabant brand is about frugality and saving and this translates for the 21st Century into saving resources. Go, Trabi, go!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A parallel England

I have to admit that most of my impressions regarding the "state of the nation" of my homeland have come from the internet, and specifically, the UK media, since I've lived over here. Maybe it's part of a justification that the grass isn't really greener, but I had built up a picture of "Brown's Broken Britain" deep in recession-depression, where a CCTV can steal your identity in a flash, where children don't dare venture outside the door for fear of road-rage paedophiles, where the whole nation is caught up in swine-flu paranoia and everyone is Twittering while the country goes steadily down the drain.

Having just got off the boat after two weeks' holiday in England, I have to say that the reality that I experienced was different and hooray for that! OK, I expect that most of the people I know are middle-class and middle-aged-ish (although these are meant to be the worst hit by the recession) but I got the impression that in England, people are having a wry smile at all the gloom and doom in the papers then simply getting on with it in their own world. Yes, there is "cutting back", but it's done in a spirit of self-determined no nonsense. None of the five families we visited was buying bottled water any more (except for special occasions). The over-priced ex-pubs with their pretentious menus and fussy food were spurned in favour of good home cooking.

At the end of it, I did get the feeling of parallel worlds and wondered just how much of what we soak up on the internet is real. It's sad that even the once quality papers in the UK have sunk to the level of doom-laden rags. But, in the end, it was a cheering experience that all that you read in the media is not true. I expect I really do need to get out a bit more.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Martini Time

If you've ever wondered how you might have looked in those chain-Martini-drinking days of the early 1960s on Madison Avenue, wonder no more.

It's now possible to MadMen yourself. Look at the wonderful Doyen of Digital Diarhorrea on the left.

All this is a marvellous timewaster for the summer as well as being a neat way to advertise the next series. It appeals to the same basic motives as those cardboard dressing-up dolls from years back. And who could be more narcissistic as advertising folks?

I'm just hoping they will take the idea further so that you can order the clothes. I'm quite taken with that furry thing round my neck and I'd be happy enough with acrylic - as long as the Martinis aren't alcohol-free!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Wir sind We

Trendbüro and have updated their analysis of advertising
slogans from the German-speaking world. I blogged about last year's study here.

Interesting that only one of the trends has remained - Gemeinschaft, or "Feeling of Community". I'll come back to that later. As far as the others go, I guess that brands have taken a step down from idealism onto a lower but more realistic rung. Which is not a bad thing in the current climate.

So Exklusivität has become the more accessible Qualität, the rather idealistic Nachhaltigkeit (Sustainability) has moved to a more basic Leistung (Performance) and the theoretical, non-specific Orientation has outed itself as a clear direction: Optimismus. It seems that brands have to give a good specific account of themselves in the here-and-now to appeal to people today.

Going back to "Gemeinschaft". The experts at Trendbüro detect a broadening of the "Wir" feeling across borders to "We", suggesting a sort of Global Cuddlefest. They could be right, but I take a different angle. I am convinced that Mr Obama has succeeded in making English socially acceptable once more, after the rejection of the language by "Old Europe" a few years back. And I expect we'll see English slogans in German advertising gain ground once more. As long as Douglas don't go back to "Come in and find Out."

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Dilapidation Paranoia

They're picking on me. All those marketeers of products for those whose bodies are falling into a state of rack and ruin. And I don't like it.
It started with Facebook. I noticed ads jumping out at me about tricks to get rid of Bauchfett. OK, while it's in the virtual world, you can pretend it's not real. Because it isn't, really.
But then on Saturday I was accosted by two very real young women from CaloryCoach outside my local supermarket. I'll be honest, I did take it personally. But I fended them off with what I hope was a humorous comment. I refrained from saying that they both looked rather more in need of CaloryCoach than I do - or maybe self-delusion is just another symptom of ageing.
Finally, I was attacked in my very own home by a suspiciously squashy direct mail piece. "Do you know the feeling too? In Summer we feel more active, less tied down, somehow more free...But many women feel limitations on their freedom. The reason is a weak bladder..."
And yes, a free sample of TENA Lady Ultra Mini was enclosed. It was suggested, should I have no use for it, to pass it onto a friend. Now, who's going to be the lucky recipient? Don't all shout at once! And, should I prefer, I could test the TENA Lady Mini Magic, the TENA Lady Ultra Mini, the TENA Lady Mini (sounds a bit dull, that one) or the TENA Lady Mini Plus (an oxymoron?).
I could go on and on about how their marketing could be improved on so many levels. But I won't. It will just make me sound like a grumpy old woman.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Biergarten of Eden

Seasonality and regionality are always the big themes when it comes to German food and drink and what could represent Bavaria better in the summer than a typical Biergarten?
A Biergarten combines everything that is dear to the Germans, particularly the Bavarians. Beautiful old chestnut trees, conviviality, warm summer evenings that go on forever, hearty food, and the best beer in the world, in large (but not indecent) quantities.
A Biergarten is a multi-sensory experience. The sight of all those blue and white Bavarian coats-of-arms, the sound of heavy glasses clinking and maybe a brass band, the feel of the cool beer trickling down your throat and the heaviness of the Maß as you lift it, the smell of Schweinshaxe and the taste of salty Pretzels or sweet mustard with your Weißwurst.
No wonder that there are beer brands, for whom the Biergarten is their spiritual home. If all this is making you thirst for more, take a look at Paulaner's virtual Biergarten here.

Monday, 6 July 2009

In yer face

I have been rather amused by the latest scandal and "breach of security" to hit the UK government. The wife of the newly appointed head of MI6 has been splashing holiday snaps all over Facebook.
One of the comments on the Telegraph website described this incident as "not a risk but impossibly vulgar." I'm glad that there are still a few old-school Telegraph readers left. Another mused over what various fictional spies might have on their Facebook profile.
Given that I'm calling myself Secret Agency, I did wonder how much or how little of my latent exhibitionism should come through on Facebook. If you're employed by a company, there may well be rules about when, where or what you can do on Facebook in office hours. As a self-employed planner it leads to an interesting dilemma. On the one hand I don't want to run the risk of coming across as "impossibly vulgar" - especially if potential clients are Telegraph readers, Old School.
But I also don't want to come over to potential clients as a digital Luddite. So I tow a slightly uneasy balance. And, at the end of it, I know that there aren't that many people who are desperately interested in the detail of my Facebook page.
By the way - do you remember how Facebook used to be? Glad I made that screenshot.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Generation Uh-Oh

My attitude to those generational studies is rather akin to my feelings about astrology. I used to be quite into both (and I am sure that the keen astrologers amongst you will point out that these generational descriptors do have a planetal basis. If I remember rightly, some of the planets furthest from the sun stick around in the astrological signs for years.)
However, I now take a lot of it with a pinch of salt. It's quite possible, after all, to trawl through Wikipedia and find fundamentally different individuals who were born under the same sign, in the same year. And another thing that used to get my back up was being lumped in with the Baby Boomer generation. Vietnam and Woodstock had zero influence on me. I was too young and on the wrong continent.
But now I find out that I'm actually part of Generation Jones. I'm not sure what that means or which Joneses it refers to (Tom? Bridget? Davy?) but it does mean that I'm in there with President Obama, which can't be bad.
Talking of President Obama, what was Generation Y (always a sorry excuse for a name, I thought) has now been rechristened Generation O, after the great man himself. These are people born in the 1980s and early 1990s. Levis are launching a new campaign Go Forth, on 4th July, aimed at this group. It's all about rebuilding America and the new American pioneer.
I had a look at the campaign and it seems very worthy (I mean that in a good way) but possibly a bit too earnest. Call me a superficial old floosie from Generation Jones, but I prefered that chap in his pants in the launderette.
Has anyone got any good names for Generation Z? These are "today's kids", born from the mid 1990s onwards.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Rebuilding of the German Man

It's an oft-discussed topic at the Elternbeirat - the lack of male staff as role models for boys in Germany's schools and Kindergartens. And this, in turn, leads to a debate much in the media in Germany generally these days - the crisis of German men. Of course, the Germans love having a crisis and beating themselves up about something and, since this one covers 50% of the population, it can run and run.
In the latest newsletter from Sturm und Drang, there's another article about the crisis. And it's pointed out that 98% of Kindergarten personnel are female, along with 87% of primary school teachers. This is one factor, it is believed, in the lack of orientation experienced by many men in Germany. The old role models have been toppled, but nothing positive has filled their place. This dilemma was summed up in Die Welt: "Machos are out. Softies aren't in."
While the feminisation of German culture and commerce has been long overdue, one does wonder where the male role models are. While internationally top-of-their class females are everywhere, from Angela Merkel to Heidi Klum, where are the men? Of course, there are good German sportsmen and there always will be, but otherwise, who is there? The Pope, of course. But these days, Boris Becker is more famous for his serial marriages than his tennis skills.
Where are the great artists, musicians, statesmen and captains of industry? In the world of advertising, it's also not much better. Most of the characters in TV ads here fall either into the category of hapless fools or Superstar-winner clones. Or maybe they are the real thing. Who could tell the difference, anyway?

Friday, 19 June 2009

Brand Story

Various metaphors seem to come in and out of vogue in the world of brands. Now Storytelling is up there again. At Cannes this year, the Wildfire Seminar will be on the subject of the ultimate brand story, to be unveiled on Wednesday 24th June at 4pm.
There's a website with a bit of background to this, plus the opportunity to nominate examples. Some of the examples given include "Coca Cola - The American Dream in a bottle" or "Apple - prodigal son returns, steers company to design immortality". What I find interesting here is the difference between these two: Coca Cola is about the brand, Apple is about the company. And I believe that this little game only really works well when the brand and the company are one and the same - one integral whole.
This latest incarnation of the storytelling story seems to have emerged from the book "The Seven Basic Plots" by Christopher Booker. Now, for those that feel that this is a bit limited when searching around for their Brand Story, I will draw your attention to Georges Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations. Here is the perfect framework for really getting up your own bottom with your brand. How about "Slaying of kin unrecognised"? Or the ultimate aim for all marketeers, surely, "Conflict with a God."

Monday, 15 June 2009

What was the year?

I used to be terribly good, to the point of nerdishness, at telling you in which year a particular song came out. In fact, in my teenage years and early twenties, I could probably specify the month, too.
This ability has faded with the years, mainly because there are more of them (years and songs), although I'm still pretty good at anything between 1976 and 1981.
I was amused to see this little game from About Time, which tests this (useless but charming) ability on brands and ad campaigns. It's worth a go. I managed to notch up more than 300 points which wasn't too bad for an old crock. Or is that clock?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit

Trendbüro have recently developed a "Value Index" to look at which values seem to be particularly pertinent to Germans today. Rather than the usual practice of constructing a questionnaire and interviewing, Trendbüro have analysed 150,000 German-speaking blogs, forums and communities. This method strikes me as one of the great new things you can do now with data in Web 2.0 - analyse real behaviour in terms of conversations, rather than confronting people with an artificial interview situation and words out of context.
Anyway, the results are as follows - the Top 11 German values:
1. Freedom
2. Success
3. Family
4. =Health and Safety (these two always seem to pop up together!)
6. Nature
7. Simplicity
8. Recognition
9. Justice
10. Authenticity
11. Self-realisation
Trendbüro seem to be rather surprised at the results, not because punctuality and efficiency are nowhere to be seen, but because those marketing darlings Authenticity and Self-realisation are on the lowest rungs. I'm not that surprised. Authenticity has always seemed a bit of a phoney thing to me. I know I'm authentic, if the value is being ascribed to me. And if a brand has to bang on about its authenticity, well, then I think it protests too much. Passion falls into the same camp.
In fact, it's just as well that the German National Anthem doesn't start off with "Authentizität und Selbstverwirklichung und Leidenschaft" as this would sound like a musical Mission Statement.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

The next big Bing?

Microsoft are launching Bing in the U.S today. Bing (still in beta here in Europe) is Microsoft's challenge to Google. Interestingly, they are insisting that it's a "discovery" engine and not a "search engine", in order to suggest the next generation, I suppose. Although to suggest the next generation, I might have tackled the word "engine", which brings to mind steam fairs and the Rev. Awdry and gone for something like "rocket" or "missile".
And the ad agency don't seem to be letting this insistence get in the way of a good slogan: "The Sound of Found". I would have thought that "found" has a lot more to do with "search" than "discovery". But it's a lovely slogan, even if oldies like me still think that Bing is actually "the Sound of White Christmas".
Trying the thing out today, I did the usual narcissistic thing of typing in my name and finding images. Totally spookily, when I put "Susan Imgrund" in, a picture of my old boss, Rita Clifton, popped out! Nice to know she's still watching over me after all these years, anyway.
Has anyone else tried it? Is it really the next big Bing?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Coffee Wars

The Financial Times reported this week that McDonalds wants to overtake Starbucks as the biggest coffee seller on the continent.
McDonalds plan to open around 500 more McCafes in addition to the 700 that already exist in Europe. Meanwhile, Starbucks continues to reduce and close its European outlets.
I'm rather pleased that these two global giants have decided to go head-to-head. I can't say that I am particularly enamoured of either, but at least McDonalds don't give me the feeling that they are ripping people off.
Hopefully it will take their eyes of the ball of the real, independent, traditional coffee houses of Europe. The CFO of McDonalds Europe is quoted as saying "We can become the biggest seller of coffee in Europe". Well, good for you. I know that, when I'm looking for a decent cup of coffee, I couldn't give a toss of sickly vanilla syrup about how "big" the chain is. I am just looking for - to quote Special Agent Dale Cooper - "A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee".

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Citizen (Yes we) Can

One of the many consequences of Barack Obama's presidency has been the question in marketing circles: what does this mean for brands?
Much has been said of the "remake of America", which calls for people to act as citizens, rather than as consumers. This move from passive consumer to active citizen has also been hailed as the new Zeitgeist when it comes to brands.
Brands are now expected to behave as citizens, too, with the buzz words of today being responsibility, sustainability, transparency, accountability and trustworthiness. Citizens (people and brands) have the emphasis firmly on save, not spend with calls for less consumption and more value. Companies are still looking for profit and growth, but through value rather than volume.
As an overall movement and trend, this is all very worthy super-ego stuff and to be applauded. But we must never forget that not all brands are created equal. Not everyone can be a Lovemark. And this is a good thing. We need brand diversity (to bring in another buzz word) simply because citizens remain human beings. They have moods, modes and moments and they also have an Id (or whatever you care to call that most basic part of our psyche). And sometimes the Id simply must have irresponsible, instant gratification.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Spot the Difference

I know I blogged about birthdays not long ago. But unfortunately I am a bit overcome by seeing the display of patriotically coloured foods in my local Plus under the banner of "60 Jahre Deutschland" - tri-coloured taglietelle in black (presumably squid ink), red and gold was one of the more restrained choices on offer.
Even in my home country there's no escape from the jubilee jamboree. I can just imagine long discussions about the importance of reminding customers of our heritage, our roots, our core values, particularly in these difficult times...
But can anyone tell me the difference between this and this? And the answer's not 15 years!

Friday, 15 May 2009

Shortcut through the stamp collectors

For one reason and another, I have had to get my hands on some UK stamps this week. Now, I suppose I could have just asked a friend to buy a few and send them over but in today's world of long tails and 24 hour home shopping I decided it must be not only possible but easy to order these over the internet.

One option I had was to forget the stamps and get something called an International Reply Coupon but these seem to be about as rare as a Penny Black and furthermore, you have to go through Deutsche Post, who are not my best friends (see Return to Sender).

So I had a look at the Royal Mail shop. There weren't any 56p stamps for sale, so I thought I'd order a sheet of 10p ones. After giving Royal Mail my full details a few times over, probably including my shoe size and passport number, I sat back and waited for my stamps to arrive. What did arrive was an email, informing me that, despite having every country in the world as an option on the various forms, this service was only for UK customers.

Luckily, there was a number to ring. That of "philatelic enquiries". I gave it a go and spoke to an extremely helpful man with a wonderful Scottish accent. He was a little disappointed that I only wanted common-or-garden 56p stamps, but he didn't let that deter him. He responded to my enquiry with the same interest and genuine "customer-orientation" as if I'd ordered a bulk lot of the rarest First Day Covers.

If only all Customer Call Centres could be like this!

Friday, 8 May 2009

Digital Diarrhoea

I had a good old chuckle at Claire Beale's Opinion piece in last week's Campaign. Having wasted another morning reading yet more uninformed opinions on newssites and hopping mindlessly from one obscure blog to the next (more paddling than surfing), all in the name of trying to put my finger on the Zeitgeist, Claire hit the spot.
She was actually writing about the "Complaints Culture", specifically complaining about ads. People do - in their thousands - because they can and because it's easy:
"Yet our complaining culture is not simply a result of an effortless system for lodging dissatisfaction. It's also a result of the cult of the individual, the growing sense of our own importance and a growing belief in the wider significance of our ideas and opinions that has been nurtured by the digital revolution.
We're all blogging, Tweeting, telling everyone we know as often as we can what we think and feel about everything. And, of course, we all assume everyone's interested in this digital diarrhoea.
The media has helped drive this sense of importance, falling over itself to encourage comment from audiences and, in turn, eagerly using this wealth of opinion as fresh content (which the audience is invited to comment on, creating a terrifying cycle of comment on content on comment that might never end)."
Oh dear, now I'm guilty, too, after regurgitating that lot. Someone pass me the blog roll!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Go, logo!

There's been a rather hot-under-the-collar debate recently in the usually delightfully restrained-in-a-gentlemanly-way blog Unmitigated England, one of my favourites. But it's a subject that is bound to raise tempers: the destruction of perfectly good brands and logos in the name of globalisation.
The Walls/Langnese "Heartbrand" case is one example, as is the Norwich Union/Aviva story that I commented on a couple of blogs back.
It has to be said that, whatever their current problems, the automobile industry doesn't play this game, thank goodness. Can you imagine BMW deciding that the "Bayern" part of their initials was too parochial and small-fry for the brave new global world? Or Mercedes deciding that their 100 plus year-old logo wasn't really reflecting innovative international synergy? Maybe it's because these "logos" are badges made of good old metal substance rather than Powerpoint will o' the wisps. Perhaps some of the FMCG companies could bear that in mind when they next babble on about "brand value".

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Anticipation of Participation

I have just read the best of the IPA Diploma essays in the supplement that came with Campaign a couple of weeks ago and very good they are, too. Brilliant thinking and writing from some of the bright young(ish) things of the advertising and communications industry. If you can get your hands on them, do!

I noticed a theme running through all the papers. Collaboration, community, "we-actualisation" - call it what you will, this seems to be the new era in branding and communications. Every one of the six papers touched on this theme:

In "Data is our future: welcome to the age of Infomagination", Matt Sadler shows us the bright future of data. If you think data is numbers, think again. Matt draws his evidence from the willingness of the coming generation to share data and quotes the New York Magazine in saying that the willingness of young people to share their lives online is "the greatest generation gap since Rock & Roll."

In a visionary essay, David Bonney argues that "We believe the people should control the means of branding." He paints a radical picture of a world not far in the future, where consumers in search of "we-actualisation" will become the brand owners - a movement from the Self to the Common Good.

Richard Cordiner in his "Brand Story" provides my favourite quote: "The consumer was demanding the brand become a better corporate citizen and a more entertaining plaything simultaneously, and balancing ethics and entertainment turned the brand into a dancing bear with a remit to save the planet." His is a great story about the relationship between brand, advertising, media, consumer and a few other bit parts, past, present and future.

Chris Galley, in "Yes, we can learn how to change from Brand Obama", neatly contrasts Obama's collaborative, adaptive approach with the traditional, authoritative approach of Hillary Clinton.

In "I believe brands should only invest in marketing communications through existing users of their brand", Chris Stephenson writes of how brands and their existing users can collaborate to create advocacy and word-of-mouth communication.

Finally, as I was beginning to think that this collaborative utopia was the only future, I was brought down to earth very cleverly by Alex Dunsdon in "Beware the Age of Conversation. Embrace the Age of Osmosis." Alex reminds us that not all brands are an Apple. There is Pears Soap as well! Conversations may well be the exception, as "the vast majority of brands simply aren't that important to people."

He's right. A lot of the examples in the essays are from things/people that I would hesitate to call brands, from politicians, to football clubs, to bands, to films. Or the sort of brands that have a cause, or an extreme view on life, or that people feel passionate about. I would also include brands that participative in nature, like iPod or IKEA. But there a lot of brands that don't fall into this category. As Alex says, do you really want an active relationship with Always sanitary towels? His conclusion is - "maybe in a lot of cases, the brand's role is in helping us not to think."

OK, I've done enough thinking for now.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Interesting Berlin

Berlin will be following New York, Amsterdam, Sydney and London in hosting an "Interesting" event on Friday 12th June. This is a great idea whereby speakers give very short (5-15 minute) talks on subjects that they are simply nuts about. The subject can be absolutely anything as long as it's fresh, fascinating and thought-provoking. Past subjects have ranged from Finity, to The Truth about Quicksand to How to split a log with an axe. Although most of the speakers and organisers work broadly in advertising or communication, the subjects come from beyond our normal world of work. So you don't get to listen to someone dribbling on about The Changing Media Landscape or selling you their Social Media Consultancy.

One of my German/English hybrid Planner pals, Max, is one of the organisers and all the details can be found on Interesting Berlin's blog . I'm sure that a few readers of my blog have got an interesting talk or two up their sleeve. You can also contact the team on

Sunday, 19 April 2009

That's not my name

These days, very little of my savings (not that they amount
to much), insurance, pension or any other financial affairs are sitting in the UK. For members of my family, it's a different matter. I was recently amused and a touch annoyed to see a customer missive from the insurance company formerly known as Norwich Union.

Now, Norwich Union are changing their name and luckily I missed the mega-budget TV ads put together to inform people of this fact. But I soon caught up with these and the company's ridiculous justification for their name change on the website for the "new" name, Aviva.

The TV ads and the blurb on the website commit just about every error in the argument that it's possible to make. In the TV ads, we're treated to a "host of A-List celebrities" who seemingly only reached that stellar status through carefully chosen stage names. But none of these people achieved success but then decided to change their name to something completely different just because they wanted to play on the global stage, did they? The blurb on the website tells us that "sometimes a simple change of name can unlock the potential that was there all along. Celebrities do it all the time..." Hmmm, I can't recall Madonna, the queen of re-invention, changing her name with each new persona or new man. And while we're on the subject, just remember you're an insurance and financial services company, not a celebrity. Some celebrities do all manner of distasteful things "all the time", but I don't really want my insurer following suit.

Then Norwich Union start really getting a bit too big for their boots, throwing in the statement that "for us, it was just a case of outgrowing the name we started out with". If you look at Interbrand's fastest growing brands, I think you'll find that most of them stick to their names. Can you imagine Apple thinking: "oh dear, an apple is, sort of...small. Can't we call ourselves one-million-acre-banana-plantation instead to give more an idea of scale?"

The name itself - Aviva - is described as "perfect for us because it's short, memorable and feels positive and lively." Apart from sounding like either a product for people of a certain age with bladder weakness or a Eurovision Song Contest entry, I am not sure that I want my pensions and insurance company too positive and lively. How about solid, honest and reliable?

But the customer letter is the worst item of the whole sorry lot. Here we are reassured by those lively, positive Aviva people (who I am now convinced are transvestites in sequins with bladder problems) that "our name change will make absolutely no difference to your relationship with us."

I think the customers should be the judge of that, thank you.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Idea Pioneer

I suppose it must be well over ten years ago now that Saatchi & Saatchi stopped being an advertising agency and became The Ideas Company. Looking back, I think it was all a symptom of those i-words that became terribly "in" some time in the 1990s. I've already had a go about Icons recently and I'm sure that I must dragged Insights out for a dust-down somewhere in this blog. I was Queen of Insights for a brief but glorious spell at Saatchis. And I suppose that I should look at Innovation in a future piece.

Going back to Ideas, the life of a freelancer can be a trifle lonely at times and you don't always get the strokes and feedback that you need on those days when you feel that your ideas are losing their sparkle. So, for anyone who is feeling that way, I would recommend a look at The Economist's Ideas People site. This is, of course, nothing more than a glorified media selling tool. In the old days, media owners used to produce glossy brochures telling us how stinking rich their readers were. This is a little more subtle. We find out that They (the Ideas People aka Economist Readers) don't live in our world; we live in Theirs. And Ours (rather a lot of possessive pronouns going on here...) is the age of Innovation...Ideas are the currency of the modern economy. Entire new industries and many existing ones have turned from creating products to producing ideas...

Hmm. You may think this a touch disrespectful to all those wonderful inventors and discoverers of bygone years and wonder if you really would rather be "producing" than "creating" but, letting that pass, you probably are really burning to know if you could, perhaps, actually be an Ideas Person.

There's a handy little quiz on the site for just that purpose. I am proud to announce that I am a Pioneer. The sort of person who is always seeking new and interesting ideas and is fascinated by the world. A Pioneer tends to be a big thinker and Ideas People are the stars of the 21st Century. Well, that's a relief. That person who spends too long reading trashy gossip news sites and doing mindless quizzes on Facebook obviously has absolutely no connection with the real me whatsoever.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Jaded Jubilees

Although Marketing budgets are being cut, it does appear that, at the moment here in Germany, most of what is left is being shoved into the "let's celebrate our birthday" pot. They are all at it, from Tchibo with their 60 years, to MediaMarkt with their 30 years, to our local Kaufhof Sport who pushed a plastic cup of something alcoholic and fizzy into my hand last Saturday.

Tchibo, in particular, are going great guns on the subject with a rather bizarre attempt to link their original advertising character, The Tchibo Expert (the old black and white gent above) with their current range. As I understood it, this old fellow used to travel the world in search of the best coffee, but in his most recent incarnation, he seems to be delving into not only wine glasses and men's fashion, but also satin sheets and silky pyjamas - places that I'm not sure if he has a right to be!

At least there is some attempt here to celebrate what Tchibo has brought to Germany ("Ein Idee bewegt Deutschland"). However, all too often, celebrating an anniversary is an excuse for lazy, self-congratulatory marketing and for dragging out a few "retro" pictures.

I guess that, in these times, people are looking to brands to be anchors that provide some sense of stability, trust and authenticity. Reminding people of a brand's heritage is not a bad strategy for these times. But you have to really communicate what the brand has contributed and continues to contribute to peoples' lives - what is in it for them, apart from a couple of hastily slung-together offers.

If you're not careful, it can all end up being as much hot air as in the celebratory jubilee balloon.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Plastic Fantastic

Someone, somewhere, probably in Denmark, has worked out that there are 62 lego bricks for every person on the planet. Even given that I'd estimate that we have the share of an entire medium-sized country spilling out of plastic crates and strewn around the floor of the messiest room of our house, that's pretty impressive.

Lego is proving itself not only recession-proof but also successful despite the dwindling birthrate in the Western world. On the face of it, the brand should not be a roaring success. The core target group is declining, the products are damned expensive (ask any parent) and the indirect competition is immense and growing - just look at Nintendo, Wii and the rest.

In fact, Lego was in something of a parlous state financially, a mere five years ago. In the 1990s, they had leapt onto licensing and diversification with glee, going into clothing, retail and all the rest, but had lost hold of their core. What has rebuilt Lego and made it the success that it is was to hold onto the core and develop.

So, they have held onto their core product. The standard brick from the 1950s is not only recognisable to today's children - it can also still be used. So little Johnny can happily mix all Dad's 60s or 70s Lego up with Indiana Jones, Sponge Bob or Power Miners and it will work. The core user is still (mainly) boys 6-12 but this has been extended both upwards and downwards. And, in the upward direction, there are not only products directed at teenagers but there is the whole world of Afols (Adult Fans of Lego) who do everything from break records to make films - just look at YouTube. And, finally, the core value of Lego remains: creativity. Lego the word is derived from the Danish leg godt (play well).

The success of Lego is best exemplified in the new approach to what was licensing in the 1990s. With their joint ventures, Lego creates a new world or universe that takes on a life of its own and is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. This world is physical, virtual and the bits in-between. Perhaps the best current example is Lego Star Wars. There is a whole generation of young boys out there for whom the Lego Star Wars figures are more real and have more meaning than the original characters from the films.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Gender-bender Blog

I've got a dreadful confession to make. I am really a man. That is, if this blog is anything to go by, according to the clever people at Gender Genie.
Have a look - they have looked at which words are used more frequently by males or females and have worked out an algorithm for predicting whether you're a pink bootie person or a blue bootie person based on a sample of your writing.

I fed Gender Genie the last three posts on this blog and the answer that came up was that I am uncategorically male. Three out of three times.

I suppose I'd better break this to my family at the weekend. On the other hand, at least my Brand Voice seems to be consistent.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Twit Lit

e:A Novel was first published back in 2000. The author, Matt Beaumont, had been a copywriter in a large London advertising agency and the novel - a modern mutation of the epistolary genre - is a genuinely funny farce of a tale that captures the mood and atmosphere of the advertising industry at the turn of the millenium.

I haven't read the book recently, but I'm sure, although still funny, I'd also find it quaint and dated in places.

This got me thinking: has the Twitter Novel been done yet? I'm sure that this must be an idea whose time has definitely come.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Tea and (lack of) sympathy

I thought one of the buzz words for brands these days was "generosity" - customers owning the brand, letting go of the reins a bit, that sort of thing.

But it seems that the overly possessive anal-retentive intellectual property junkies are also alive and kicking. I read in The Times today that the mighty Teekanne brand has been threatening to come down heavily on a little Richmond tea shop - The Tea Box - on the grounds of possible logo confusion. Now, have a look to the right and you'll see the two logos. Could they be easily confused? After all, they do both feature a teapot. On the other hand, Hakle toilet paper and Pedigree dogfood have a picture of a dog on the pack and I don't think too many people have been confused there (or at least, I hope not...)

Now, I expect there is more than a degree of the tiresome tendency of British journalists to extend WW2 into the 21st Century and beyond here - after all, if there's no football on or if no German politicians have made any comments on how dodgy the pound is recently, why not go for a storm in a teacup story?

But, at the end of it, hasn't Teekanne got better things to spend its time and talents on? This story has certainly left a bad taste in my mouth as far as Teekanne tea goes.