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.