Wednesday 22 December 2010

Advent, advent - mein Kalendar brennt!

I don't know if anyone else feels that they have been bombarded with Advent Calendars this year, or whether it's just me.

Each year, there seem to be new and hugely pricey Advent Calendars piled high at Toys R Us, including an absolute "must-have" (from 10-year-old viewpoint) from Lego Star Wars (very seasonal.)

Then there are those sales promotion jobbies that normally sell for 49 cents in Aldi that are thrust at you by the furniture stores and the like.

And this year, more and more online offerings. I have definitely had them from Telekom and from my bank. The things pop out of every website you attempt to look at like manic Yuletide jacks-in-the-box and have to be carefully negotiated around.

The first Advent Calendars date back over 100 years and were originally for children to "sweeten" the time before Christmas. In terms of behavioural economics, they make a complex concept (time) concrete - how many times must a sleep before Father Christmas comes? It's the same principle as taking a ticket at the deli counter or being told how many people are in front at the Post Office counter. The idea is to make you feel a little less helpless.

Although I am not sure that any parent who gives in to buying a Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar feels less, rather than more, helpless.

Tuesday 14 December 2010


Nearly six years after first seeing the Web in mobile, I have capitulated and got myself an iPhone.

What may be of interest to anyone looking at this particular Customer Journey is, firstly - how long it was. I mean, six years of knowing that I could have all the benefits of mobile internet at my fingertips and not doing anything about it!

And then there were the two "nudges" or "moments of truth" that shoved me to the point of no return. The first of these will have all the Customer Journey Academics nodding sagely. Last time I was in England, I couldn't check in over the internet. Which meant that, but for the legendary kind-heartedness of Lufthansa (what?), I would have been separated from my young son on the plane.

But the second one is both silly and frivolous. You see, when I was in London, I bought a rather natty iPhone cover. So I just had to get something to put in it.

Right - off to become a fully-fledged Apps bore.

Wednesday 8 December 2010


Everyone seems to be on a journey of some sort these days. And decisions about what we buy, whether it's a car or a coffee can be mapped out in detail in Customer Journeys or Customer Engagement Cycles.

Customer Engagement appeared in the marketing lingo in the early 2000s, along with the concept of Touchpoints. In some ways, CE has become the Holy Grail, replacing such simple measures as Customer Satisfaction (which only looks at one point in time) or even Customer Loyalty (which doesn't have the emotional component.)

Gallup introduced an 11 question metric for CE back in 2001 which includes 3 measures of loyalty (overall satisfaction, intent to repurchase, intent to recommend) and 4 overall emotional attachment factors:

CONFIDENCE : always trust X, X always delivers what they promise
BELIEF IN BRAND INTEGRITY: X always treats me fairly, X can be counted on to reach a fair and satisfactory resolution of problems
PRIDE: proud to be a customer, X always treats me with respect
PASSION: X is the perfect company for people like me, I can't imagine a world without X

Back to the Journey - this is then the stages that a customer travels through, typically something like awareness - consideration - inquiry - purchase - retention. And there are plenty of visual depictions of this ranging with funnels, arrows, boxes, cycles and all the other delights to be found on Powerpoint.

Just two words of warning here. The idea of "stages" and names that echo old communication models such as AIDA do tend to suggest a linear and rational process. While it may be helpful to try and visualise the Journey, it's always remembering that "the map is not the territory", as Captain Scott and others found out to their cost.

And however much we may try and rationalise this into a process, human decision-making is not rational. Think back to the last time you bought, say, a pair of jeans. Did you draw up a nice "consideration set" with a table of prices and availability? Thought not.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Internet in analogue

You can't turn on the internet these days without hearing something about the internet. If it's not protests about Google Street View, it's the latest fuel for disrupting diplomatic relations from WikiLeaks - or some chat about the Internet of Things, which will soon be upon us.

I ought to remember the first time I saw the internet, but I must admit that I can't. I do remember email addresses with numbers longer than an IBAN or whatever those things are called and we did have it all up and running at home by the end of the last century.

As part of something called Internet Week Europe, the digital arm of RKCR Y&R, Saint, had a clever idea - to get people in the industry and schoolchildren to draw the internet. The results are here. There are plenty of Google logos, worlds, 60s graphics, brains and lolcats.

Although it's a great idea, unfortunately the website suffers from at least two of my frustrations with the internet. Maybe I am being thick, but I can't seem to view the pictures properly in full size without going through a complicated procedure.

And the commentary is littered with apostrophe-related mistakes: "the industry with all of it's wisdom" and "the industries finest." (sic)


Tuesday 23 November 2010

Go East

Back in the 1980s, Phileas Fogg escaped from the pages of Jules Verne and travelled the world in search of snack products. He was single-handedly responsible for introducing the tortilla chip to the UK - or at least the brand of the same name would have us believe.

Nearly thirty years later, the products from MeiAsia caught my eye in my local Tegut. This is a range of Asian sauces and ingredients from Thailand, Japan, China, Indonesia, India and Singapore. Behind the brand is Heuschen & Schrouff Oriental trading, a Dutch company who have been distributing Asian food brands for years.

Well, now they have developed their own brand and they seem to have ticked all the right boxes. They have a damn good story - traveling Asia for two years tracking down the favourite recipes of the Asian people. The packaging is gorgeous, National Geographic-style photos of people and their recipes. I don't know how authentic it really is, but it certainly feels that way. The company also runs the Frits Schrouff Foundation, supporting social projects in Asia.

Oh, and if tonight's prawn jalfrezi is anything to go by, the products are pretty yummy, too.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Party on, not fade away

When I was a devil-may-care young thing in advertising, we often used to wonder what happened to people in our business once they hit 40. Such ancient specimens were, to all extents and purposes, invisible.

Last week, at the Charlotte St 1970 - 2000 reunion, there were precious few people to be seen under 40. So, with a whole club filled to bursting with old ;-) people who had been in advertising and who I hadn't seen since we were all in our 20s and early 30s, it was time for an answer to that question.

Well, there were a few who were still in the business and quite possibly still working in Charlotte St. And a CEO or two of some thrusting young start-up. But what was delightful was that I also met mature students, farmers, charity workers, a novelist or two, the happily retired, ladies of leisure - and even a builder!

There were a few wrinkles, a few paunches - mostly mine (!) - but the spirit and joie de vivre and energy were all still there. Not in a mutton-dressed-as-lamb way, but with the realisation that in our "work hard, play hard" ethos we shared a golden age of young adulthood that no-one can take away.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Surprise, Surprise

I always look forward to the IPA Excellence Diploma essays that come in a supplement with Campaign. I commented on the last lot here and I've just read the four that achieved distinction this year.

Tim Jones of BBH has a great new metaphor for a brand - instead of all those onions and keys, he's looked at gaming as a way of moving from brands as message transmission devices to behaviour change systems.

And, maybe influenced by a game or two, Simon Robertson of Dare believes that brands should embrace their Dark Side. I'm not convinced that it must always be the Dark Side, but I'm convinced that brands need an edge, a quirk, a bit that doesn't fit.

What really got me was that two of the essays, both excellent, seem at first sight to contradict each other. Sarah Morning of Agency Republic argued for the counterpart to the spatial-based Big Idea in the temporal-based Long Idea, with the reintroduction of myth and ritual into the digital world. And then James Hamilton of McCann Erikson argues the case for putting surprise and serendipity back into marketing, believing that our lives are increasingly predictable as we're driven more and more by algorithms that tell us what to read, watch, know....?

But both can be part and parcel of one brand and its communications - and maybe this is the trick. IKEA comes to mind, surprise, surprise. There are new ideas, surprising products, inspirational combinations. But the elements of ritual from KNUT to following to arrows to the hot dog at the end are there too. A seeming paradox but the key to success.

Friday 5 November 2010


A horrifying scandal has been exposed in Germany. It seems that the Hamburger Sparkasse is using devious and shadowy methods of psycho-profiling its customers to sell them more financial services. Who would have thought something like that could happen in this day and age? Just when you thought you had a good relationship with your advisor at the bank, you realise that he's got you pigeon-holed as a "Performer" or a "Hedonist" and will be following some fiendish ploy to get right inside your head to your innermost thoughts.

The point is, it was always thus. What do people think selling and marketing is about, if not psychology? To me, the only scandal is just how unsophisticated and cliche-ridden the "segmentation" is - you can see it here. I would hesitate to describe it as "neuromarketing" myself.

Personally, I find some of those ghastly stock shots of shiny happy people far more terrifying than Norman Bates.

Wednesday 3 November 2010


On a recent trip to the UK, I popped into Lidl just to see how much thinking global and acting local was going on out there in the chill cabinet.

It was a rather interesting mix with familiar German specialities such as Lebkuchen (it was October, after all) rubbing shoulders with Indian-style ready-meals (the closest you'd get to this in a German Lidl might be a chilled Currywurst.)

It looks as if Lidl has certainly claimed some of the UK's stomachs, if not their hearts.

So I wasn't surprised to see two German brands up in the 20 final contenders for The Marketing Society's Brand of the Year. This will finally be decided at their Annual Dinner on 18th November by text vote amongst the top five.

And the nominations from Germany are...Audi - not surprising as Vorsprung durch Technik is one of the few German phrases that most Brits know that isn't connected directly with the Second World War. And the other brand that is up for it couldn't be more German if it tried - Jägermeister.

But our old friend Leberkleister has been very cleverly marketed in the UK, via music festivals, playing on the "heavy metal" look of the brand. Jägermeister experienced 100% year-on-year growth in 2009 in the UK and should do well again this year.

Somehow I don't think this would have happened if they'd called it "Hunt Master."

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Generation 50Minus

Lady Gaga is one. So are Barack Obama and David Cameron. And Wayne Rooney. Oh, and my ten-year-old son.

They are everywhere these days.

I'm talking about Generation 50Minus. You know, that consumer segment also known as First Agers, Immature Consumers, Junior Citizens and Bronze Agers? Only, of course, you should never directly refer to them as such in your marketing. For some reason, they don't like it.

Actually, they are a very interesting group for advertisers: when it comes to brands, they aren't interested in substance or quality, only in brands as superficial badges or cult objects to compensate for a not-yet-formed personality.

And they are pretty easy to market to as they have precious little knowledge, wisdom or life experience. Reliability and responsibility are foreign concepts to them.

Can we please stop this absurdity right now?

Saturday 16 October 2010

Wining and Mining

To go with our meal last night, I admit to being drawn to a rather nice Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. And I am not the only one, it seems.

I read a report in the English press that the coverage of the rescue of the miners in Chile seems to have had an influence on wine-buying habits. Oddbins reported a general 10% lift over the past few weeks and Waitrose customers apparently showed their solidarity with a +25% uplift in sales on the day of the rescue.

I have friends from Chile and I am pleased that the media coverage seems to be having a positive effect, not just on the image of the country, but possibly on the economy as well.

And it makes a change from the "forced" marketing of produce from a particular land that we have to suffer during, say, a World Cup. I still haven't quite recovered from the onslaught of "South African" products that hit the stores this summer!

Tuesday 12 October 2010


I do like this blog to be mainly a channel for my own musings, but I occasionally read something that I wish I'd written and take the opportunity to pass it on.

Some time ago, I think it must have been the early 90s, I noticed that almost every print ad had the same look. That was the time, of course, when art directors started doing layouts on their Macs. It led to a certain conformity of style.

Jim Carroll, the Chairman of BBH London, remarks that a similar thing happened to cars around 1983. They all started looking the same, because they'd all been through the same wind tunnel. And in this article, well-worth a read, Jim bemoans what he calls "wind-tunnel marketing" that has resulted in a conformity of output of advertising agencies.

Expertise and judgement losing importance in favour of systems and testing, Jim says. And while we learned, back in the 80s, that branded communication should be relevant, motivating
and different, relevance, in Jim's words "has trumped difference."

Is this just another "sour grapes" agency chairman, trotting out the cliche about "research killing creativity"? No. Like me, Jim started his career in market research where I expect he received a good grounding in what research can and cannot do.

Did you spot the deliberate mistake? Of course, "research" cannot do anything. It is inanimate. Nor can it speak, last time I looked, so do remember that the next time someone uses the expression "but the research says..." They probably have fairies at the bottom of the garden, too.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Devils (and angels) in the detail

I commented in a recent post that neuroscience seems to be the flavour of the year when it comes to understanding that age old question: "How does advertising work?"

While I am still incredibly cautious about anything that involves "subjects" lying in a brain scanner, unable to move more than a few mm, I was interested to see that Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV in the UK, have released their first neuroscience study.

And the topline is - when it comes to creativity in advertising, the little things can make all the difference. It seems that very small details - that often cannot be recalled consciously - can have a significant effect on how people process and store an ad in the brain, and thus its eventual effectiveness. Little details, such as facial expressions, and the timing of music.

Now, I am not sure that we need a neuroscience study to tell us this. Good creatives, directors and producers know these things intuitively. But it sure as anything adds weight to the argument that quantitative pre-tests, particularly those employing storyboards, may not be testing what we want to test. I'm all for creative development research to look at the potential of an idea but I don't like the idea of people's preference for the facial expression of one orange-faced drawing of a Hausfrau over another determining the creative direction of the brand.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Creativity at Work

There seems to be a lot of creativity buzzing around the ether at the moment - or at least ideas about the creative process itself.

One book that I've come across this week is "The Creative Process Illustrated: How Advertising's Big Ideas are Born" by W. Glenn Griffin and Deborah Morrison. The two professors of advertising asked hundreds of creative professionals the question: What does your creative process look like?

Their replies are fascinating, from a fly fishing metaphor to a 16-step process worthy of the best of Procter & Gamble to the totally enigmatic.

And I love this video to support Steven Johnson's "Where good ideas come from". Chance favours the connected mind - yes, indeedy!

Perhaps what is most enlightening for me is that I recognise the way I go about Planning here. Does that make me a Creative Planner or am I just in the wrong job?

Monday 27 September 2010

The third dimension

For me, the best campaigns are not those that are merely "integrated", whatever that means. The best campaigns are those that, like people these days, flit effortlessly from the real world into the virtual world and out again, edges between one world and another blurring as they go.

But I don't think it stops at two worlds. Take the IKEA Campaign for the catalogue start from Germany - Der neue IKEA Katalog kommt nicht allein. At the centre of this campaign is (arguably) a rather traditional and old-fashioned medium - a paper catalogue. But IKEA has surrounded this medium with a story (IKEA designers coming into real German homes to do makeovers) which is played out in the real world, and on the internet via IKEA's own community and what are now known as "earned media".

It could have stopped there. But what I particularly like about this campaign is that it adds a third dimension. After virtual and real, this is a sort of hyper-reality, the world of larger-than-life. The designers don't just sidle into Germany with the next train from Malmo - they are parachuted in. And it's this hyper-reality, which uses the film medium to its best extent that adds stature, greatness and good old entertainment value to the campaign and the brand. Here's some content I couldn't have created myself. And sometimes people need that.

Tuesday 21 September 2010


While developing brand communications, we often have to consider the part that the provenance of the brand in question plays. And often, this can be quite different in different countries. While working on British Airways, years back, one of the difficulties of developing a global campaign was the differing perception of Britishness around the world. In the US, this could be summed up as "cute and quaint" while in Australia it centred around "colonialism and whinging Poms."

The latest "internet sensation", Mapping Stereotypes, may be a fun place to start if your brand has European roots. This is a series of maps from a Bulgarian graphic designer (he lives in London) showing Europe from seven different viewpoints. That's Germany, above.

While certainly not PC, the maps are at least a little diplomatic - I am sure that Germany is associated with arguably worse things than "dirty porn" by large sections of the US and UK populations. But what's interesting to me are the brand names that pop up - VW, Nokia and Volvo, for a start.

And what is most gratifying to me personally is that the whole of Sweden is rechristened "IKEA" as far as the Germans are concerned!

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Brutality or generosity?

The celebrations for 40 years of Saatchi are underway, with a well-publicised do at the Saatchi Gallery last Thursday. It has to be said that Saatchi is a phenomenon - and I am still proud to have been a part of it.

I joined Saatchis in London in 1988, which was somewhere near the peak of their success. I learned a lot, much of which stays with me today. Saatchis were always good at getting ideas to stick in people's minds.

I suppose most of what stuck can be filed under Jeremy Sinclair's idea of "brutal simplicity of thought" which underpinned the notion of a Singled Minded Proposition and of only presenting one creative idea. I remember a short film - "Hold fast to the original idea. Do not give in to the pressures of the moment." In those days, if the one creative idea was seriously shot down in flames by the client, it was a case of "Rip it up and start again" - or even dropping the client!

I don't see so much of that these days. There are tissue meetings all over the place, pre-tissue meetings, chemistry-tissue meetings, re-briefings and God knows what. There's a lot of cut n' paste and incremental tweaking, and bolting on of this mandatory and that. Many would argue that the world has moved on. It's become more complex. "Consumers" have become more "empowered" or "savvy". Generosity, not brutality is the order of the day.

But when I look back at the way Saatchis worked in the 80s, I do wonder. Was it arrogance, or positive self-belief? Was it inflexibility or was it having the courage of your convictions? Brutal simplicity of thought can also lead to beautifully timeless, highly emotional work - "Real Fires", "Lanson" and "Intercity Relax" were three TV spots of the time that are as fresh in my mind now as then.

Times have changed. Now that we have had a real pregnant man, the poster above loses some of its shock value. In the words of the Kinks, it's a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world. Which is why, I believe, brutal simplicity of thought - and I am not talking messages or propositions here - is our main hope against wooly, vague and indecisive thinking in communications.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

The great Rock & Roll swindle 2010

A new perfume has been developed by the French fragrance company, Etat Libre d'Orange under the Sex Pistols name. Available in France and the US, the fragrance claims to "exude pure energy, pared down and pumped up by leather, shot through with heliotrope and brought back down to earth by a raunchy patchouli." The publicity material for the perfume also includes a list of must-dos for the potential wearer (resist tradition, fight conformity, express yourself with abandon...) and a reference to the "unruly turbulence of a prune."

As I see it, the only unruly turbulence that prunes are probably creating for the Sex Pistols these days is in their stomachs in combination with too much All Bran in an over-zealous middle-aged breakfast. But the perfume launch has brought plenty of comment ranging from the dreadful puns ("Pretty Fragrant") through to the disappointment that it smells of heliotrope and patchouli rather than cat piss/gasoline/stale sweat/ spilled beer/sick or cold cigarette smoke (sic.)

And there are those who are saying punk is dead.

But punk isn't dead. It's alive and laughing all its middle-aged way to the bank. And if Malcolm McLaren is turning in his grave, it's only because he's not getting his cut this time.

Friday 3 September 2010


It's ironic that I learned my alphabet in a country where the literacy rate for females is still only around 35% (c/f males at over 70%). So maybe I have never really taken being able to read and write for granted. If I'd been born a native of that country, the chances are that I would not be able to read or write today, in 2010.

When you think about it, one of the developments of the modern world is the increased presence and power of the written word. We very rarely make phone calls these days when we can send an email, tweet or message of some sort. OK, some of this "written word" may be barely intelligible as English (or whatever language) - from text messages to YouTube comments.

Next Wednesday, September 8th, is International Literacy Day and my friends at Red Spider have been working with the non-profit organisation Room to Read, which promotes literacy and gender equality in education around the world to develop a campaign via social media to raise awareness and invite donations.

Without giving too much about the campaign away, it will be an ingenious way of using social media to show what it's like not being able to read. Check out the Facebook Page if you're interested in getting involved in the campaign.

Which reminds me - I've got Facebook running on Pirate English at the moment - which I understand even less than most YouTube comments.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Radical Solutions

As a freelancer, I sometimes wonder if I should set myself up as a proper company, rather than carrying on as the flexible sort of one-man-band that I am. I've got a cracking name in Secret Agency so I guess it would probably involve getting a proper logo done and a sign by my door and maybe tightening up exactly what my offer is a touch. But usually, the whole idea of the bureaucracy and admin that's involved in Germany for setting up a company makes me shy off.

But I'm always interested when people I've worked with in the past set something up. The latest one I've seen is the Radical Company, newly opened for business in Camden and a number of other locations around the world. Apart from their radical attitude, the company has made a focus on digital media their point of difference.

I suppose that I would not have been surprised had the Radical Company been set up by an ex-colleague of recent times, one of my former interns or someone of similar youth. But the great thing about it is that it's the brainchild of someone who I associate with the golden age of Saatchis and TV advertising - Graham Thomas. Instead of joining the "things were better in my day" crew of old advertising hacks with their Mad Men-wannabe tales of non-stop champagne, cocaine and rock & roll, Graham has looked where things are heading and sprinted right off in that direction with the speed of a teenager.

I wish them all much success.

Friday 27 August 2010

Appliance of (neuro)science

I studied psychology many moons ago but I still like to see if anything I learned in those far-off days can be applied to my daily work. I also need to catch up with new developments.

Neuroscience seems to be one avenue that is opening up to marketeers these days. Martin Lindstrom's book Buyology uses findings from neuroimaging techniques and a number of media companies are dallying with the appliance of neuroscience.

The big boy amongst agencies who know their stuff when it comes to these techniques is Neurosense. They describe themselves as "a next generation consumer research enterprise" who use "applied neuroscience to see into the consumer's mind." Their website is well-worth a visit and I certainly intend to dig deeper into the subject.

However, however...I do hear a few faint warning bells which remind me of those that drove me away from Experimental and Cognitive Psychology all those years ago. The website describes "subjects" "performing a task" or "being subjected to marketing stimuli". This is the language of rats in cages, being given an electric shock as a punishment for not "performing a task".

I also wonder what creatives would say - particularly those critical of group discussions held in studios for being "unnatural" - to their precious "marketing stimulus" being "subjected" while "the consumer" lies in a brain scan machine in which they may not move their head more than 3mm and which may employ a bite bar to reduce motion.

I am all for progress, but I'll continue to use intuition and common sense in large doses along with the scientific evidence.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Teddy Bears' Picnic

The market for children's toys must be one of the most dynamic of what could be called "durables". Normally, any one toy is only likely to be played with by any one child for a couple of years maximum before it's broken or passed on to the younger sibling or the flea market.

But there is one toy brand, which happens to be German that I believe will not just still be going but could well be producing exactly the same models in fifty or even one hundred years time. I wouldn't put a bet on even Lego still being around in 100 years, but I reckon Steiff will still be producing its teddies and other furry creatures.

In the same way that the company itself has longevity and durability, so do its products. Toys from Steiff are very rarely thrown away and will more likely than not find new homes on ebay, often changing hands for hundreds of Euros.

In these days where brands are told that they have to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances, Steiff is the antithesis. Still a family firm after 130 years, the company continues to be true to the motto coined by the founder: "Only the best is good enough for children".

Sometimes it's good to be steif , or stiff, as a brand.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Social Media Mumbo Jumbo

It may be my age, but I am still a little uncomfortable about the prospect of being T-shaped, having a transmedia narrative or even being responsible for the creation of an engagement platform.

Which is why it was heartening to read Justin Gibbons of WorkResearch in Campaign, reminding us of what good advertising (or brand communications of any sort) is based on:
1. Brand Understanding
2. Consumer Insight
3. A great idea (creative and media)

Getting to 1 & 2 and distilling this into a punchy creative brief to inspire 3 has always been at the heart of what Planners of any flavour should be about.

But...if you are ever the position where you have to write a social media strategy, this gem from Mike Phillips should help. You can mix verbs and nouns to come up with something that makes something quite straightforward sound as clear as mud.

I like "leverage conversations to maximise social currency and foster engagement."

Wednesday 11 August 2010


In the days before digital, the PR department of every brand and company spent hours scouring the press and cutting out snippets of interest. It's a habit that dies hard and I am also guilty of hoarding papers and magazines years past their publication date on the principle of "that might come in useful".

Campaign is just about the only trade press thing that I have in paper form these days and every so often I have to cull the stack that sits in my office. So here, at random, are four articles or thoughts that caught my eye 2008/2009:

Austerity and Brightsiding: Joyce King Thomas of McCann Erickson says it's "a good chance to get back to basics and teach my kids good values and not so much consumerism." Still on trend, still relevant.

Brand Invention: This was all about agencies, such as BBH's Zag, getting into creating, developing and launching new products full time. From their website, it looks as if they are still going strong - the best of luck to what I think is a clever venture.

Insights: More of a soundbite than a big idea, from Simon Law via Adliterate. "An insight is a revelation, which elevates it from being simply an observation." For ever and ever, Amen.

The Long Now: A very thoughtful piece c/o Laurence Green about long-term thinking, which introduced me to The Long Now Foundation, founded in 01996! Must find out more...when I have time.

Friday 6 August 2010


Returning from the sun to gloom and rain gives you an instant yearning to retrace your steps to whence you have come.

For me, nothing captures the spirit of Northern Italy more than those famous Aperitifs such as Aperol. While the Germans and Austrians are more focussed on what you knock back after the meal, the Italians have had the Aperitif off to a fine art for at least a hundred years.

I'm not talking Martini and Cinzano here: these brands have become too international, too ubiquitous. For me, it's the Bitters that sum up the quirkiness of the Aperitif. The ingredients are odd (artichoke), contradictory (bitter orange), mysterious (thirteen herbs and plants). The bottles, with their dark blues and oranges and gold-framed letters look like trinkets of Murano glass. Nothing looks as if it has changed since the early days of the last century when drinks like Aperol, Campari and Cynar were introduced.

I suppose you can drink the stuff at home, and dream, but I don't really want my Aperol gespritzt with grey German rain.

Monday 26 July 2010


We often ask our clients to think long and hard about the business that they are in. Sometimes, when I think about what business I'm in, it comes down to a rather beautiful word. Brand communications are, as often as not, ephemera.

Ephemera used to refer to printed matter but I would include film, audio and internet on top of that. Like a mayfly, most pieces of brand communications are not intended to endure for any length of time, however long-lived the brand behind them may be.

But it's good that there are people devoted to keeping such ephemera alive. One place I really must get round to seeing next time I'm in London is the Museum of Brands, housing the collection started by Robert Opie. Because even though the posters, wrappers, packs and print ads of my past have long exited into the great recycling machine in the sky, the impressions that they made have left permanent traces in my mind.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Paperback Writer

Like most bloggers, I rather fancy myself as a writer. And now, helped by a fantastic new idea that's been doing the rounds of the internet since last Friday, I know which writer I am most like.

Apparently, sections of this blog are comparable to Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace (I'm not sure I like this one as a. I'd never heard of him and b. once I google'd him, I found out he'd topped himself...)

The link to this new way of wasting time is here.

And why stop at your own writing? Why not try it on some of your brand communications? Is your brand more of a James Joyce or a Dan Brown?

Monday 12 July 2010

Funny old game

One of the things that makes working in brand communication so interesting is that you can never predict what exactly is going to catch the public imagination.

Take the recent World Cup. Apart from the football itself, what got people talking? And what scenes and images from the whole circus are we left with?

The sound that is most likely imprinted on the collective audio memory is not Shakira, or Waving Flag, or any of the other songs, but the monotone drone of the onomatopoeically- named vuvuzela.

And the visual image has to be a character with whom I feel a certain kinship. Born in England, living in Germany, Paul the psychic octopus.

And what have they in common? Well, without over-analysing, I suppose you could say that both a vuvuzela and Paul are a little rough and ready. Unpolished. Definitely not high-production, high-gloss.

Football and brand communications - both are a funny old game.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Behavioural Economics, Choice Architecture and the book "Nudge" are not just the current buzzwords in politics: many of advertising and marketing's leading lights are making it their mission to incorporate more of this thinking into our profession.

Rory Sutherland wrote a very good article on decision-making in Campaign a couple of weeks back on this theme. I'm not sure about whether I want to become a "Choice Architect" myself. Firstly, Choice Architecture suggests a structure to me and a structure suggests a PowerPoint presentation full of arrows and boxes and filters and funnels and the sorts of decision-making models that we are trying to get away from. And I don't really want the title on my business card.

But the basis of his article is spot-on. Why do we continue to ignore the evidence of our own minds and slip back into describing the decision process as a sort of "brand beauty pageant" when it comes to that creature quite unlike us, "the consumer"?

Rather than lining all our "consideration set" up and rating them, the decision process is far often more an iterative one, determined by context as much as by absolute measures of value.

Rory also points out the importance of "immediacy bias" - we are "disproportionally affected by the ease and attraction of the first step rather than the long-term consequence".

This is vital for those working in marketing - how can we make our first step even more attractive and easy? And for those in communication - perhaps we should focus on showing what makes our first step so easy and/or attractive rather than on relying on the appeal of the long-term benefit.

Friday 2 July 2010


There are some brands that seem to be completely entangled with one particular point-of-sale, which often adds another thread to their brand voice.

Apart from the category example of tomato juice and aeroplanes (does anyone drink the stuff anywhere else?), I associate Paynes Poppets with vending machines on London Underground in the days before it was smoke-free.

Toblerone lives in duty-free shops. Which rather suits the brand as it has a hint of the exotic - if not of Eastern Promise, then certainly the promise of Swiss luxury, expensive watches and dashing ski instructors. Like its fellow honey and nut concoctions such as Montelimar, nougat or halva, it hints at something rather more European-sophisticated than Cadbury's Dairy Milk.

Toblerone is one of these great brands that has both coherence and a touch of mystery - or bits that don't quite fit. Is the shape derived simply from the Matterhorn or from the rather more Ooh La La Folies Bergeres dancers? The graphics and pack are instantly recognisable but where exactly is the bear in the logo? Toblerone has over one hundred years of consistently being there, but there are always new variants - after the snow-topped variant I am expecting a springtime Alpine flowers version.

But maybe for Cadbury's fans, the most encouraging thing about Toblerone is that it maintains its distinctiveness despite now being part of the massive Kraft empire.

Wednesday 23 June 2010


I don't know who I'd least like to be at the moment - Raymond Domenech or Tony Hayward. Domenech is on the way home with one goal and a mutiny to show for France's World Cup campaign, the reputation of French football in tatters.

Disasters happen, from losing a football match or two to serious disasters like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Any company or brand has to be continually aware that something can happen that will cause damage to human and animal life and to the planet, as well as their company's reputation.

But many seem to make the mistake of worrying about the company's reputation, their life and their job first and foremost. The Chief Executive of BP seems to be doing just that - trying to shrug it off, reacting too slowly, dodging questions, passing the buck. Surely it is better to overreact, to act in any case quickly and, importantly, to put people first when such a disaster occurs by a genuine expression of empathy and compassion.

Monday 21 June 2010

A question of loyalty

I am sure I am not alone at the moment in not having much else other than football on my mind. Four years on, it's interesting to look back and read my scrawlings on the Sommermärchen that was the World Cup 2006.

Football teams, both national and league, do have a lot in common with brands, of course. Those that build up a good reputation over the years can be excused one bad performance once in a while. And it does look to me as if the German team, despite their recent defeat, has held on to a lot of the values that they developed when the tournament was on home ground.

But I worry about England. They just seem to be lacking in cohesion - like some big conglomerate corporate brand that has bought up a collection of brands from here and there that don't seem to fit together or have many values in common. Just about the only thing that seems to be shared and consistent is the hype surrounding them.

And, although he has since apologised, this is why Wayne Rooney's sarcastic words to booing fans - "that's what loyal support is" - were so troubling. These days, whether it's to your country, your marriage partner, a political party, your team or a brand, the concept of unconditional loyalty is a dying one.

These days, people are only too prepared to vote with their feet when they are let down by poor performance or bad service. Let's hope England start doing something with their feet soon, too.

Sunday 13 June 2010

A mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world

I've heard the same theme from a number of reliable sources over the last few weeks: when it comes to young people, in Germany at least, the dream is not sex and drugs and rock 'n roll, but rather more conservative, "grown-up" values.

It does make sense: a generation that has grown up with such a high level of insecurity not just in the world outside but right close to them at home is not going to hanker after risk and adventure.

In the long-lost days of my youth, the fear was that you'd become old, boring or an accountant. And my generation is still hanging on to that dream in its mutton-dressed-as-lamb clothing and attitudes. But when the real fear is to spiral down into unemployment, poverty and failure, it's no wonder that 16-24 year olds today seek out the sensible, the secure, the stable.

And brands can play a role in this. But more by providing a real added value service or product that people can rely on over time rather than some 40-year-old's idea of a "totally awesome app" that's plugged in today and chucked out tomorrow.

Monday 7 June 2010

Useful or entertaining

I am going to use a bit of a Marmite approach to social media in this blog as well as playing by the rule of only passing stuff on that's useful and/or entertaining.

First to the useful stuff. Love social media? Then look no further than the Ethority Social Media Prism. A handy guide to all species of social media so that you can know your micromedia from your curated network, your y!gg from your Digg, your tumblr from your Flickr.

But it may be that such an abundance of social media flora and fauna soon begins to raise your hackles and you flip into full-on hate mode. In this case, I can highly recommend this comic strip: "8 websites you need to stop building". Awesome Jim, take note.

Wednesday 2 June 2010


I have blogged here and here about what a wonderful thing a paradox is in a brand. How the best brands derive their energy from solving a seeming paradox - health & taste, price & quality, belonging & individuality or innovation & trust.

Or there are those brands whose communication is cleverly built on a paradox within the brand. Marmite: love it or hate it?

But I am noticing more and more that, as the world changes, many brands are heading towards a showdown where they will have to make a stand for one thing or another. This is, more often than not, due to outside forces. A brand like Zara has built its success on quick-turnover, good value up-to-the-minute fashion. But how long will it be before the critical mass see this as "irresponsible throwaway culture"? And Apple is at a crossroads in its development - individual creativity or mass entertainment?

Tension is one thing but full-blown conflict is another.

Thursday 27 May 2010

The icing on the cake

Marketing is no longer the icing on the product cake. Not according to Alex Boguski and John Winsor in their neat little book, "Baked In".

Well-produced and chatty in style with plenty of examples, "Baked In" takes the argument that marketing should be integral to a product rather than bolted on.

The book summarises much current thinking about marketing and how it works in the 21st century.

It's always easier to see how this sort of thing works with new, innovative products, especially those that blur the medium/product/consumer line. But what if you are stuck working on an age-old fmcg brand where the product is indistinguishable from the competition? One example that occurred to me was what used to be called "added-value" - something perhaps extraneous to the product but integral to the brand. Take Maggi and Knorr here in Germany. The products are parity in a blind taste test. But Maggi has the whole "Maggi Koch Studio" property that perhaps they could develop and make more of.

But maybe that's a "cooked-in" rather than a "baked-in" example.

Friday 21 May 2010

Get Real

Spontaneous acts of dancing in public places, singalong-an-employee, makeovers for your face, your wardrobe, your home, your children and your pets: the appetite from clients and agencies to produce chunks of "realism" as brand communication seems never-ending. It's fuelled by the public obsession with all things Reality Show, of course, and by the mantra that brands should be doing rather than simply telling a well-chosen message or two.

The thinking behind this is all sound enough. Yes, brands should show how they make a difference in real people's lives, rather than merely projecting some sort of unrealistic and insubstantial image. But maybe we should stop and think about what exactly we are doing here.

"Reality" may not always be the answer. "Reality" may be, all too often, the warts and all approach that rides roughshod over dreams and desires. And "reality", as in Reality TV, can mean the very opposite of identification on the part of the viewer. As often as not, this sort of treatment creates distance, from the mild "there but for the grace of God go I" through mocking and Schadenfreude to the full blown freak show.

Rather than "reality", perhaps we should be looking to Real Life to connect and to invite personal identification. Real Life is about what makes real human beings tick - their dreams, hopes and desires. And this can be portrayed better through a piece of beautifully constructed and produced fiction than through that latest makeover for Mr Freak's warts.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Change to conserve

I recently got an email from an internet-based retailer of branded fashion goods, telling me how much they missed me (= my custom). And they were offering me a whopping great €20 voucher for my next purchase. In the past, I have bought one or two items from this company - the things are reasonably priced and the service is good.

So, in automatic consumer mode I started browsing - hmm, maybe that bag, maybe that belt. But then I stopped. I read on the small print that the voucher was only for stuff over €80. And, no - I didn't really need any of it.

I find myself more and more in a dilemma these days. The commercial part of me realises that the business I am in is basically there to help companies sell more stuff. But the human and Jiminy Cricket part of me increasingly jumps up, taps me with his brolly and questions that.

So I was happy to find the online debating chamber Conservation-economy for likeminded people to debate and discuss these issues.

Of course, it is Utopian to expect huge corporations to change their business model overnight. But here, at least we can make a start with raising the issues. And perhaps changing our own behaviour. Because conservation starts at home.

Monday 10 May 2010

Saying, thinking, doing and feeling

This blog post from Sue Unerman of MediaCom is well worth a look.

Referencing split-brain experiments of the 1960s, it's about the tendency of human beings to (post) rationalise verbally their feelings and behaviour, when asked by a third party.

In a telephone interview, for example, or in a group discussion with eight strangers. Now, working from home much of the time, I am frequently beset by telephone interviews. And it has often struck me that this must be just about the worst possible interview method for trying to get to anything that links back to the visual mode of perception - such as ad tracking.

So often we fall back on research methods that are quick, relative cheap and simple to administer, such as the telephone interview. When instead, we should be making far more use of ethnological methods and observation of actual rather than reported behaviour - and less direct questioning.

And when it comes to quantitative research and brand communications tracking, technology has opened the door to real-time research methods, such as those employed by Mesh Planning.
Hopefully, some time in the near future, the telephone interview will be as good as resigned to the market research dustbin along with punch cards.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Muttley, do something!

Back in March I blogged on the Planner's dilemma: what relevance does a 20 year-old Creative Brief Form have for today's media landscape? The conclusion I came up with was - not a lot, but what do you do in the absence of anything better?

Luckily, Gareth Kay has put together an excellent presentation on "The brief in the post-digital age", which I'd like to draw your attention to if you're also floundering around in the mire of post-digital dissonance.

Gareth has a list of "better questions" that we should be asking on our Creative Brief - "why might they talk about this idea?", "how do they get involved?" and "what keeps the conversation going?". But, as he rightly says, the piece of paper itself is less important than what you do. Everyone should understand that the shift is "from saying things at people to doing things with and for people."

Which is where Dick Dastardly and Muttley come in.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Spring cleaning

It's that yellow time of year. The daffodils may be on their way out but the fields and roadsides are aglow with rape and dandelions. And on patios all over Germany and, indeed, the world, the Kärcher is out, high-pressure cleaning as only it can.

Kärcher ("makes a difference") is one of those great brands that could only be German. With a core area of expertise in pressure cleaning outdoors, now extended to indoors, this is engineering ingenuity at its best. The company was founded back in 1935 and continues to go from strength to strength, even getting involved in huge public cleaning projects such as the Brandenburg Gate or Mount Rushmore - the ultimate "expert endorsement", I suppose.

Kärcher, in a way, is Germany's Hoover. Herr Alfred Kärcher's name has not just become a household one - in every sense of the word - along with his fellow Württembergers Bosch, Daimler and Count Zeppelin, but he's also had the honour of becoming a verb. Even if some, such as the current French president, have been known to use the verb a little unwisely.

Sunday 25 April 2010


A few weeks ago, I finally departed company with my family's Decca portable record player. It had been hauled down from the attic and, taking one look at the perished rubber ring inside and the decidedly dodgy plug wiring it was sentenced to the tip. I consoled myself with the fact that it was at least forty years the senior of any other item discarded in the "electricals" skip.

The old Decca had done me well - I used it doggedly throughout my college years and early twenties - I saw the hi-tech hi-fis of others as a waste of money. It was only when CDs really took hold that I eventually took the plunge to buy a new system.

I have a similar attitude to my trusty mobile phone, an 8-year-old Nokia 6310. I had been meaning to update this year but after my experience of being stranded, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not going to bother. I'm proud of my phone. It's robust, simple and still lasts ages before it needs charging up.

I can also give myself a pat on the back to say that keeping my historic handset is one little way of acting sustainably. The innovation consultancy More Associates have even developed a brand, Kept, to celebrate this way of thinking with the tagline "things don't have to be rubbish".

And, although the Decca may be gone, I still have three other record players in my possession. And one of them uses no electricity at all, just good old hand power.

Saturday 17 April 2010


In all my years of travelling on business, I'm quite amazed that I haven't been affected by any major disasters before. So I'm taking my current predicament on the chin and accepting that is going to be my favourite website for the foreseeable future.

What's interesting about this disaster is that, although I'm grounded, I don't feel in any way stranded. Of course, it helps that I'm stuck in Blighty, but the thing is - the way technology has moved on, the one thing you can do on the ground that you can't do up in the air is communicate by phone, by web, anywhere and anytime.

The news websites haven't been a great help, with their over-dramatising and doom-mongering ("a cloud of almost biblical proportions" - oh, pur-lease!). But it is just great to pop onto Facebook and see which pals and colleagues are grounded where - and you know that you are not alone in wondering when exactly you should buy that pack of new pants.

Sunday 11 April 2010

National logos

During my visit to the UK last week, I chanced upon the Cool Britannia store in Piccadilly. Once I'd got over the shock of thinking that I'd fallen into some kind of time warp and that the British will be re-electing Mr Blair in May, I had a quick look around this palace of patriotism.

As well as the "Best of British" brands such as Burberry, Marmite and HP Sauce, the national logo is served up here on everything from cars to underpants. "Cool" is not exactly how I'd describe it, but there is a rather glorious tastelessness about it that is strangely compelling. I felt taken back to the days when I envied Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor's waistcoat (Union Jack, naturally, for those too young to remember).

I am sure that having an "iconic" (bleurgh!) national logo is partly responsible for our collective delusion that we still rule the waves, or the world, or something. This we share with our friends from over the pond. Other nations do this on a smaller scale, such as Brazil, or Canada.

But within Europe, the only country that comes even close to us when it comes to shameless commercial plugging of the national logo are the Swiss - is it any coincidence that they too are resistant to the single currency?

Friday 2 April 2010

Rising above the cloud of consumerism

I'm currently reading "Co-opportunity" by John Grant. It's a great book and something of a departure for John, in that it's far, far more than a marketing book. At the moment I'm trying to get my head round the alternatives to a GDP/growth-based economy.

A little bit more in my own comfort zone is the chapter about consumerism. In this, John dons an uncharacteristically negative-tinted pair of spectacles to paint a picture of consumerism as a kind of "infantilising of society". The promise of consumerism is that we will never go without, the "fantasy of cornucopia". People adopt a passive mode of behaviour, like cuckoo chicks clamouring for more and more - and then flying into fits of rage on the rare occasions when they "don't get".

This certainly rings bells with me and some of the projects I have worked on. And for all their missions and visions that promise to "improve people's lives", a lot of consumer companies are stuck in the same profit hamster wheel that demands that they sell more stuff to more people.

What I like about John's books is that he always offers an alternative view, a fresh perspective. So here are his thoughts about human needs that companies and organisations might look to answering that let us rise above the cloud of consumerism:
Reconnecting with nature
Lifelong learning
Social production, craft

Right. I am going unplugged for a while now to pursue one or two of those myself.

Sunday 28 March 2010

The single-minded propositional emotional true insightful thought springboard starter

It used to be easy. OK, not so very easy, but easy enough. That bit in the middle of the Creative Brief that was the Holy Grail for all planners. Whatever you called it, that was the bit that would really get the creatives going, get the agency a killer campaign and maybe a little recognition for the planner that dreamed it up as a reasonably useful brain to have around the place.

At Saatchis, it was a Single-Minded Proposition. And it was all about focus down to the brutally simple, which would then inspire the creatives to great things.

In these days of Web 2.0, it's not so easy. Or simple. We're not just about messages any more. We're not in the world of "what our advertising should say", because we're not just interested in what our communications "say", we're interested in what people pick up and what they do with it.

I don't work in an agency at the moment, but I can imagine there's been a lot of wringing of hands about what to call that pivotal part of the brief. Is it a "start point" or "conversation catalyst"? It's a thought, yes, definitely a thought - but is that "thought" disruptive or merely "central" or "key" somehow? Or is it a "brand truth" or "emotional connection"?

Whatever we call it, never mind what used to be called the "target audience" - what exactly do we expect or want the creatives to do with this thing once we've given it a label? All of this can lead us into areas of vague and wooly thinking - I know, because I've been there.

I don't have the Archimedes-style answer, maybe because there isn't one. I'd certainly be interested in any other views and experiences on this. In the meantime, I'll try my best to hang on to those past ways of thinking that still make sense with one hand while grasping the changes in the ways that brand communications work in the other.

Sunday 21 March 2010


I remember in my early days in advertising our Group Account Director (now a revered senior statesman of the advertising world) missing a plane to our international conference. As juniors, we were all amazed and a little amused. He'd made the mistake of believing his own advertising - we'd just done a campaign promoting the North Terminal at Gatwick and how you could get to it in 45 minutes from central London (or something.)

But I've seen this sort of naivety time and time again in a number of intelligent and inspirational ad men that I've worked with (strangely enough, less so with women.) And as I read a report on Maurice Saatchi's speech at a recent NABs fundraiser, the same spirit came over again. Saatchi has a conviction that advertising people really do believe that they can change the world for the better: "they share a romantic belief in man's ability to change the world by an act of will." And he put to the audience "when you get home and you are standing in front of the mirror, ask yourself if you can say yes to three statements. One: I'm doing something I believe in. Two: It's going well. Three: I think, even if nobody else does, it's important."

Maybe my youthful zeal for my chosen career has dimmed a little over the years but in all honesty, I can't always say yes, yes and yes.

But perhaps that's why Maurice Saatchi is a Lord and a multi-millionare and I'm just a little-known freelance planner.

Sunday 14 March 2010

Teddy Takeover

The Cadbury's takeover and announcement of the rollout of Milka in the UK have had some people up in arms along the lines of "they're taking over our chocolate".

Interestingly enough, the "damage", if you see it that way, has already been done in the realm of sweet confectionary. Although I suppose it's been obvious for some while if you take a look at a grocery sweetie fixture, I was quite interested to hear that Haribo is the number 1 brand of sweets in the UK.

This is definitely something that has happened since I've been out of the UK (Germany got me and the UK got Haribo) and Haribo have managed it, I think, by simply being nice - and, dare I say it, a little bit bland?

With bright colours and fun shapes, pack sizes and formats to please everyone, Haribo have managed a kind of sweet ubiquity that's nevertheless clever in its fit to the way people buy and consume sweets these days. It's lowest common denominator stuff, albeit tremendously successful. Haribo makes our home-grown old favourites like Rowntrees and Trebor look slightly niche-y and ungenerous.

But while a whole generation of Brits have now grown up with Haribo as their childhood companion, I still have nostalgia and occasional yearning for those sweetshop specials, be it Sherbert Fountains, Black Jacks, Spangles or even oddities such as Pontefract Cakes.

Only Pontefract Cakes are now produced by Haribo.