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.