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.