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.