Friday 23 December 2011

All I want for Christmas is...

I was going to post something deep and meaningful about insights as my last post this year, but then saw this corker on a friend's Facebook wall.

For my non-German-speaking friends, Father Christmas replies to Kevin as follows: "I've no idea what you're talking about. You're getting a book."

Wishing all readers a happy Festive Season and hope you all get what you wish for!

Monday 19 December 2011

Drinking around

If you are anything like me, your wallet is probably bulging with silly little loyalty cards from the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the hairdresser, the chemist, the sandwich shop...

Now, here's an idea that I've seen before, but something about it tickles me. In Singapore, the Be Disloyal card has been introduced to benefit the city's independent cafes. The idea is simple - instead of slavishly frequenting one of those plastic corporate coffee places, you get the opportunity to visit 8 different coffee shops, then go back to the first to claim your free cup (or whatever.)

It's encouraging drinking around, which must be a Good Thing.

And it makes me wonder - which other old marketing chestnuts can I subvert next year?

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Beg, steal or borrow - and share

These days, market research agencies devote a lot of interview time to establishing the potential "buzz" value of a piece of branded communication in their pre-testing as well as tracking studies.

How likely would you be to "share" this on social media?

Would you "like" this on Facebook?

As well as the old standards about "this is an ad I'd talk about with friends."

Sharing, these days, is big business. On the Unruly Media list of "most shared" commercials, The Force for VW has had 4.8m shares - over twice the number of its nearest rival - and 46m views. That's about the size of the population of Spain.

In the Top 5 were also DC Shoes, T-Mobile (twice, with Angry Birds Live and Royal Wedding) and Kia, with Party Rock Anthem.

If you look at the Top 20, and think about the "share" factors of entertaining, informative or useful, it's obvious that entertainment wins hands down. And, sifting through the usual internet suspects - cute kids, celebrities, music, dystopia, cars, apes & gorillas, laser swords and furry creatures - something striking emerges.

Almost everything in the Top 5 is borrowed: from movies, theme parks, games or real events.

Perhaps "borrowed interest" is not such a dirty word any more.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Curiosity killed my free time

Curiosity, at least in its form of Openness to Experience, is said to be one of the Big Five factors of human personality.

I do wonder sometimes, though, how much of the time I while away chasing information is genuine curiosity and how much could be classified as some sort of morbid addiction.

Years ago, I didn't spend hours in the library poring over encyclopedias unless I had to, for an essay or an exam. Yet, these days, a substantial portion of my day is taken over by googling and Wikipedia-ing, chasing after useless facts and confirming half-lost memories.

I do it because I can. And I don't always feel any better for knowing whatever it was.

Sometimes it feels like a food addiction. It's so easy that it's difficult to stop and, the more you eat, the less satisfied you get. Rather like chomping your way through a packet of Pringles instead of preparing a healthy meal from scratch, laying the table, sitting down and eating in company.

The more I know, the less satisfied I am.

I just hope that there won't be a Pandora- or Bluebeard's wife- style nasty surprise at the end of it.

Thursday 1 December 2011

The dustman and the supermum

Planners in Germany have a regular spot in the trade magazine New Business, under the title Strategy Corner. The last two articles have interested me, as there seems to be a direct connection between them.

In "The Dustman as Role Model", Bärbel Boy discovers that the public standing of people who work in advertising in Germany is on the bottom rung, below that of politicians and bankers. Cheery stuff. And, what's more, our reputation has worsened over time. Cheerier still is that the dustman is the rising star - well, cheery for dustmen, at least.

And, this week, in "Women - the real economic power", Anne Brit Maier shows how the portrayal of women in advertising has shifted all of a mm or two over the last 50 years. The cliche of Supermum with her baby and laptop is every bit as unrealistic as the perfect Hausfrau of the 1960s.

I think it's telling that both of these women have founded their own Planning agencies and don't work for any of the multi-nationals. Because I'm convinced there is a direct connection between these findings. I expect half the people that were interviewed about reputations were women. As Bärbel Boy points out, there is sometimes a feeling of living in a navel-gazing hermetically-sealed capsule when it comes to German advertising agencies - not all, but many - rather like living in "2nd Life" (what was that?) and about as relevant and interesting to the outside world.

So, come on, German agencies! Over on YouTube, the John Lewis Christmas Commercial from the UK has over 3m clicks and is hotly debated all over Mumsnet and beyond. It's about time we stopped churning out yet more cliches for the dustman's bin.

Friday 25 November 2011

Entertaining, Interesting and Useful

In these days of so-called "distraction culture", we are constantly reminded that for branded content to work, it must fulfill at least one - and preferably more - of the three following criteria:
- entertaining
- interesting or informative
- useful

Even in the days when we didn't have so many distractions demanding our time and our attention spans were slightly above that of the average butterfly, I think the same thing was true.

I can still recall many TV commercials from my childhood that were genuinely entertaining, probably more than I can from the last twenty years, although that's possibly a sign of age. Interesting or informative is a little more difficult, although I think many of the classic long-copy print ads fall into that category - there were some great ones on the London Underground platforms.

The useful category had me stumped until I started thinking beyond what was called "advertising" at that time. And then they came, tumbling back into my memory - those often subtly branded items that became part of of everyday life - and, dare I say it, improved it in some little way.

The Be-Ro cookbook, with its recipes for Fairy Cakes and Victoria Sponge. The National Benzole set of "touring maps" of Great Britain - a must for those caravan holidays in Wales or Scotland. And the Lloyds Bank "Black Horse" money box for young savers which apparently evoked many a Godfather joke amongst the bank staff at the time. But - I still hold an account with that bank to this day!

These days, of course, many of the "useful" ideas will be apps rather than something solid and tangible. But if brands can develop digital gizmos that are half as useful as the examples above, it's one way to keep people involved for more than the distraction culture's seven minutes.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Fuzzy Objectives

I'm sure I am guilty of it as the next person. I'm talking about fuzzy objectives when it comes to developing a brand communications strategy. It's often all too easy to resort to the vague, the wooly, to that that sounds impressive and "high brand" but is, on closer inspection, unspecific and probably not measurable.

Objectives like:
- to strengthen the brand image of being good quality and trusted
- to communicate the brand positioning of uniquely understanding the consumer's needs
- to consolidate perceptions of the value advantage over our competitors.

OK, I don't think I've ever been quite so fuzzy, but you get the idea. So it was very refreshing to read Charlie Snow's commentary on the recent IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards and see that, even on a relatively small budget, if you think differently, ask the right questions and, most importantly, think specifically instead of in generalities, you can make a difference.

There's the campaign to demobilise Columbian guerrillas in which the right question was "can we change the medium?" and the answer was to bring Christmas to the jungle. And then, a simple idea - can we change the usage occasion? - which worked to get people drinking a traditional bedtime drink, Ovaltine, for a daytime break. Or - can we change the role for advertising? - the Marie Curie Daffodil Appeal did just that by advertising for collectors instead of for donations.

And another commonality between all these ideas is that it's not just about getting people to think differently, or even feel differently, but about behaviour. And as behavioural change is often the trigger to perceptual change, rather than the other way around, it's no wonder that these ideas create effects that are observable.

So let's consign the wool and the Fuzzy Felt to the needlework basket and think about the active, the specific, the behavioural - and not just when the budget is limited.

Monday 14 November 2011

The Box of Delights

Shopping these days has, for me, evolved into a somewhat functional, even utilitarian process. The DHL van turns up sometime in the early afternoon, bearing its cargo of brown packages from dot coms and dot de's with names entirely written in lower case.

Sometimes the packages are for me, but usually they are for neighbours. But they all look alike, distinguished only by the inscription on the address label. There's nothing unexpected, nothing inspired, just a sense of mild annoyance when you've been out and will have to make the trek to the Post Office with its strange idea of opening hours, which you can never remember.

Now contrast that with dusk on a late afternoon in mid-November and a stroll along Piccadilly and up Regent Street. The Christmas lights are still freshly turned on and there are long-legged elves outside Fortnum and Mason, causing a hold-up to the pedestrian traffic. From the childhood memories of Hamleys to the 21st century hi-tech of Uniglo it's a world of glitter and magic, enchantment and surprise.

In the same way that rumours of the death of TV have been exaggerated, so too has the need for wonder, for sensory participation been played down in the progress of retailing. In the end, media are not replaced - we simply add more layers of experience. It's not either:or. We still watch TV, albeit with a laptop to add extra texture and layers of meaning.

And as Christmas approaches, we still need the allure of Santa's grotto and the sensory carnival of Aladdin's cave.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Doin' it for myself

Advertising agencies are notoriously bad at doing their own marketing. With one or two notable exceptions, who grab a unique bit of something and stick with it, most of the positionings and marketing efforts adopted are pretty much interchangeable. It's rather like those doctors who are useless at diagnosing their own ailments.

Now I am in the position where I must roll up my sleeves and market something that I have produced. Without getting into a virtual game of charades, it's a book.

And what I've discovered - or maybe knew all along - is that having the ideas, putting together the theory, the grand plan is the easy bit. Where I know I am going to lose sleep is over the nitty-gritty. How much does that cost, exactly? Should I get that set up before I - or? Which bits need to be linked to what, and in what order?

Maybe all Planners should spend more time doing rather than thinking.

Thursday 3 November 2011

What's the big idea, then?

The Big, Media-Neutral Idea.

How often do clients ask agencies for it?

And how often are they then disappointed when the agency fails to deliver?

Robert Senior of Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon Group makes a very good point or two in Campaign, to quote: "There are very few big ideas - and the really big ones had no sense of their destiny at birth." It's quite true - huge oak trees don't just appear overnight. His advice to clients when assessing work is, therefore: "Ask not 'Is this a big idea?' but 'Could it become big?'"

On the media-neutral question, my son asked me recently which came out first, the Star Wars films or the Star Wars books? Star Wars started life, as far as I know, as a film (or at least a screenplay), but it didn't have to. It's a media-neutral idea, along with Pirates of the Caribbean, which started life as a ride. Either of these could have started life as a game.

Just because an idea comes attached to a particular medium when you first see it does not detract from its media-neutrality.

Looking forward to an acorn or two in the next agency meeting!

Friday 28 October 2011

A Good Gestalt

I'm probably a bit slow on the uptake for this one as far as Germany goes, but thought my UK and US friends might like to see a lovely example of branding done right.

I love it when every bit of a brand - the idea, the product, the name and the packaging - is outstanding in itself, but when it all fits together so beautifully, you get an extra dimension to the wow!

These drinks are both organic and Fair Trade and the names are knockout - LemonAid and ChariTea. Apparently this stroke of genius in nomenclature came to one of the young founders of the LemonAid company in a 3-in-the-morning Eureka! moment.

More about the drinks can be found on the company website here under the slogan "The Liquid Revolution."

Hope that the company continues to push its boundaries and, meanwhile, cheers to the two social entrepreneurs behind it!

Sunday 23 October 2011

Blistering Brandbuilders!

I'm all a-gog for the new Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson film of Tintin, which opens here this week. It's a project that's been in the offing ever since Spielberg first laid eyes on the Tintin comics thirty years ago (what a deprived childhood the poor man must have led.)

Apart from the film living up to its expectations, my main hope is that Tintin does not become brand/blandified, in the way that other children's characters have. I'm talking about the process by which a once quirky character has all its edges filed down to a uniform "soft play" surface which then takes over the world via pyjamas, rucksacks, reduced-sugar yoghurts and "sleepover" nappies. Thomas the Tank Engine and friends are one major culprit, but the prize for the most successful blandification must surely go to Winnie the Pooh. For a Bear of Very Little Brain, he certainly knows how to make money.

But with Tintin, I feel that there are just too many edges, nooks and crannies for comfort. Too many bits which probably don't warrant much digging and delving. Too much of an un-PC, non-bland nature.

In the end, my advice to Tintin is this - don't let them cut off your quiff, young man!

Thursday 13 October 2011

Planning and Propaganda

Years back, reading through the awards for Planning, you were rarely treated to a story more world-changing than a cheeky competitor knocking the brand leader for birdseed off its perch. Of course, this is what our job is all about and what keeps us and our clients happy. And there's nothing much wrong with that.

But occasionally, when reading through an award paper for a charity, say, we might be tempted to feel that our talents could be put to better use for the greater good of humanity than pushing birdseed.

This year, the Grand Prix in the APG Creative Strategy Awards has been won by Colombia-based Lowe-SSPS for their work with the Colombian Ministry of Defence entitled Operation Christmas - a campaign to encourage guerillas to demobilise.

The insight was that even hardcore guerillas, like all human beings, are most susceptible to a message to lay down their arms at Christmas - and an amazing campaign that resulted in 331 guerillas demobilising was created.

A great achievement, without doubt, but probably worth a pause for thought. Propaganda became a dirty word in the course of the 20th century, largely through its very effective use by those on the "wrong side."

It's doubtful that a recruiting campaign for the guerillas, however effective, would win any prizes.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Beautifully simple thinking - inside the box

There's a new book out about the Saatchi driving philosophy: "Brutal Simplicity of Thought."

As Maurice Saatchi says, "(to achieve the impossible) will need a deep distaste for waffle, vagueness, platitudes and flimflam - a strong preference to get to the point."

I'm definitely with that, but I've often wondered about whether the phrase is "brutal simplicity" or "beautiful simplicity." OK, "brutal" is a better word for a copywriter. But one of the examples he gives, of the Central Park blind man whose takings are much improved as he changes his hand-scrawled sign from "I am blind" to "It is spring and I am blind" shows a transformation from the brutally obvious to the beautifully human.

On that note, I've discovered a clever new brand, Scandango. They can take a shoebox full of your old photos and scan them, for 50 GBP. The idea, the logo and the website are simple, fun, human and practical.

Everything fits beautifully.

Thursday 6 October 2011

If social media were really such a revolution, wouldn't we be making a song and dance of it?

In the last week, I've noticed more than a little social media fatigue. Not only have a couple of bloggers that I read written about "disciplining" their social media behaviour, but I've also seen the phenomenon of "Facebook Suicide" - in dubious taste, but complete with note.

Of course, it's people of my sort of age doing all this. As far as I can tell, younger people just get on with it and use social media as an everyday part of their lives. A teenager hasn't known a world without Facebook, so they are not going to make a song and dance about it. Which leads me on to my theory that, if you want to know what's really important in the lives of young people, listen to their music.

Going back to the days when a career in account planning wasn't even a twinkle in my eye, there were a few songs about that made references to media or means of communication. Hanging on the Telephone, Video killed the Radio Star or that awful thing with the guy whose girlfriend is killed in a car crash and he calls her answerphone to hear her voice one last time.

And these days, although the artists may have risen to fame via MySpace (what was that?) or use a bit of textspeak in their lyrics, I haven't heard any of these songs:
Digital killed the Video Star
Facebook Love
I'm in love with a German blogger
Every breath you take, I'll be following your Twitter stream

No, rather predictably, the songs are about the joy and pain of love or partying on Saturday night.

Just as they were when communication involved a handful of 2p pieces and a phone box that stank something rotten.

Friday 30 September 2011

What's your line?

When I was a very little girl, we had a Sainsbury's in the High St. I still remember clearly the decoration and tiling and the store interior, a broad corridor with counters at either side where shop assistants would carve ham, cut cheese with wire or simply hand you a packet of Sainbury's own brand cornflakes.

A few years later, Sainbury's opened a supermarket in the new town centre. I recall the simple but striking graphics of their own label range - from the cola to the golden syrup.

It's interesting to see that Sainbury's have changed their endline from "Try something new today" to "Live well for less". To put that in context, I have pinched a list of Sainsbury endlines from this article.


1882: Quality perfect, prices lower
1918: Sainsbury's for quality, Sainsbury's for value
1945: It's clean, it's fresh at Sainsbury's
1959: Good food costs less at Sainsbury's
1991: Sainsbury's - everyone's favourite ingredient
1997: Fresh food, fresh ideas
1998: Value to shout about
1999: Making life taste better
2005: Try something new today
2011: Live well for less

It's amazing to think that the endline that is most familiar to me was knocking around for 32 years. And I think that the reason for its longevity was that it's more than an advertising endline, tagline or jingle. It is more a statement of what the brand is about - a brand slogan, if you like, than simply a neat summary line of the advertising campaign.

I'm a bit sorry to see the "try something new today" line being ushered out so quickly. As I understood it, this was more than a catchline for the advertising - it's actually a positioning for Sainsbury's which is based on a clear commercial strategy of increasing the average spend per shop, and casts Sainsbury's in the role of the shop where you find interesting and inspiring new ideas - more competitive, I would have thought, than yet another creative iteration of the value equation.

Or maybe the ad agency just decided to act out their own slogan.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Green Te

I'm pleased to see the supermarket Tegut taking up the "Taste the Waste" banner. In the September issue of the customer magazine, Marktplatz, there are features on the film and the supporting book, as well an interview with the filmmaker Valentin Thurn.

Recipes using leftovers, tips about what sell-by and best-by dates really mean and examples of what the retailer does to minimise the problem are a good start. But the most important job to be done, along with optimising the supermarket planning and logistics system is to change people's expectations.

We're used, in these instant gratification days, to being able to get anything we want, at almost any time of day. That will have to change. And there is some interesting data to show that it may be amongst the young people that the biggest change is needed. Tegut commissioned a survey that asked, amongst other things, what people do with food that's past the sell-by date. Do they look at it to see if it's still usable, or automatically chuck it away?

Overall, 17% automatically chuck it out, but this figure was only 13% amongst the 50+ group and 22% amongst 14-29s.

Maybe this is one area where the younger generation can't blame the older ones for having messed up the world.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Dealing with modernity

I've just read a speech which I think is a superbly constructed and argued case for the internet's impact on all our lives in the early 21st century. It's from Ben Hammersley, editor of Wired and was given to the Information Assurance Advisory Council in the UK.

The speech is not just an excellent statement of truths - such as that the internet is the dominant platform for life in the 21st century, but also makes provocative statements which will ring true for many people in the light of politician's reactions to the UK riots a few weeks ago. For example: "The world is currently run by a generation whose upbringing has left them intellectually unable to be (sic) deal with modernity."


As well as politicians, advertising agency bosses, please take note.

But, although an excellent speech, there may be one or two areas where Hammersley's obvious zeal for the wonder of the internet lets him get carried away. For all that he sees his 30-something generation as a "translator function" between those digital natives (in the most extreme form, a toddler who tries to use a TV as a touchscreen) and those no-hoper 50+s who are unable to "deal with" modernity, he should perhaps remember from which generation all the internet and digital pioneers came!

And finally, I did love one comment on the speech, from a Tim Green, which I'll quote:

" Excellent stuff. My only comment would be to disagree with your contention that “The internet isn’t a luxury addition to life; for most people, knowingly or not, it is life.”

I think this is an over-exaggeration of the significance of the online space. We shouldn’t forget that people post restaurant reviews because they like eating, watch youtube because they want to play the guitar better and join dating sites because they like kissing other humans.

Real life will always win, for all but the most insane anoraks. The Internet just gets us there faster."

Well said.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Green Guide

Back when I was in the Girl Guides, we collected badges. There were badges to be awarded for anything from orienteering to childcare and, once awarded, the badges were carefully sewn onto your uniform sleeve (particularly neatly if you had the needlework one!). In some ways, having the badge and being able to display it gave you more of a kick than the possessing the knowledge or skill to get the badge in the first place.

I'm pleased to see that the supermarket REWE has launched a green initiative, Hallo Erde! I've noticed already from the UK that supermarkets, of all retailers, are probably best-placed to lead the way to sustainable shopping. They are bang in the middle of local communities and supply one of the most basic needs of human beings, regardless of age, class or tastes.

Hallo Erde! is, luckily, not accompanied by a glossy TV film banging REWE's own drum about how much they do for the planet, but is rather a collection of smaller and bigger initiatives, many of which have been running for years, untrumpeted. There's lots of good stuff here - and plenty to participate in, including a free packet of wild flower seeds (although, REWE, it's not really the season, is it?).

However - and I have noticed that this is the way a lot of green initiatives are going - looking through the brochure, I was reminded of my girl guide days. There are badges and logos everywhere. PRO PLANET, MSC, Fairtrade, NATURECotton, GOTS, Blauer Engel, Cotton Made in Africa, Die Taflen, DGNB...not to mention 30+ logos from partner brands plus those from all the other REWE Group companies.

In the end, thinking, acting and living sustainably should be more about getting the stamp or sewing on the badge.

Friday 9 September 2011

Waste not, want not

A new documentary film, Taste the Waste, has just opened in Germany. It's about the subject of food wastage across the globe, or more specifically, amongst the Western countries.

The trailer is full of alarming data-based statements: for example, the food that's wasted in Europe could feed the hungry people of the world twice over.

What's interesting about this issue is that it's one where everyone can immediately take action, in their own home. And, on top of that, it's an area where it shouldn't take the food manufacturers and retailers too much effort to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.

I still have one of Pret a Manger's founding principles in mind - at the end of the day, all unsold sandwiches are given away to the homeless.

So maybe the big supermarkets and food companies can turn their attention away from "3 for 2s" and BOGOFS, grotesquely large packs and silly sell-by dates and focus on this issue instead.

In the long run, only good can come of it.

Monday 5 September 2011

Everyday magic

At our most deluded in this industry, we think of advertising as being a dream factory - producing spectacular works of high art that will inspire and uplift to the heavens.

But sometimes that's difficult when your client makes toilet cleaner.

However, when you think about it, most of the products and services that we do end up planning and creating for are everyday for some people. Even that premier car brand, which might be out of reach for most, is the family car for someone. Or the luxury spa and fitness club will become part of the everyday routine for its members.

Sometimes by focussing too much on dreams means we lose touch with the everyday and its own magic. Every now and then, a book comes out that deals with just that: the history of everyday life. There was "Queuing for Beginners" by Joe Moran a few years back, and I'm currently getting stuck into Bill Bryson's "At Home".

And if anyone doubts that there is magic in the everyday, think about the fascination of discovering an old newspaper in a trunk in the attic - the small ads, what was on TV, the minutiae of daily life. Or that section in the Science Museum about everyday life - or the Mass Observation archive.

While there's always room for the spectacular and fantastic in this business, some of the best advertising has always focussed in on the amazing fascination of the everyday.

Monday 29 August 2011

Jumping on the oompah-bandwagon

We're not out of August yet, but the Oktoberfest is already banging on the door, dressed in a jaunty Dirndl and bearing an unfeasible number of Mass beer glasses.

The celebration of Germany's most famous Fest is not confined to Munich. Increasingly, brands, especially retailers, are cashing in on the act. A few years ago, this was restricted to a little display of tinned Weisswurst and a few Bavarian-pattern paper napkins in the local supermarket. But these days, it's big business and - like Christmas - starts earlier every year.

If you're looking for something to wear, then look no further than C&A where the selection of Dirndls ranges from the matronly and Landfrauisch to the simply saucy - definitely the place to kit out the entire family.

And Tchibo have a fine selection of cooking gadgets and gimmicks from a kitschy Bambi timer to some seriously professional knifery to help you recreate the Wies'n in the comfort of your very own home. All demonstrated by charming Trachten-clad models, including a Japanese couple to add to the authenticity.

But maybe the best selection I have seen this year so far is from the pet superstore Fressnapf. From comfy Herzilein cushions to a smart checkered collar, the furry friends don't need to miss out on the fun, either.

Thursday 25 August 2011

We are what we are

One sign, I think, when a brand or an industry is in danger of losing its way is when it starts trying to be something it's not. Instead of holding fast to its original purpose, it grabs onto a rising star and tries to fly heavenwards.

Although there may be debates about how accurately the world of 1960s Madison Avenue is portrayed in MadMen, I expect no-one in those agencies at the time had any doubt about what their job or the role of the company that they worked for was. Ditto in London in the 1980s. We worked for an advertising agency and we were proud to do so.

These days, of course, advertising is a dirty word and agencies try to position themselves as anything other, trying desperately not to use the "a" word, rather like the game of Taboo. For the last twenty years or so, my role, the Account Planner, has adopted various personas removed from the world of advertising to try and justify its existence.

There was a Management Consultant phase where we went through an "Agency MBA" and shelled out our hard-earned cash on forbidding textbooks on Corporate Strategy and Organisational Management, when all we really wanted to do was make ads.

And the current mode seems to be Account Planner as programmer geek, where I expect a touch of a Californian accent, a name like a 19th century farmer (Seth, Josh, Abe) and a smattering of facial hair takes you a long way. There don't seem to be any training courses anymore to learn to be an Account Planner (apart from the odd Bootcamp) - instead, you "share stuff" at unconferences, barcamps and Open Sources.

I've nothing against learning from other industries - but in the end, I'm here to help make ads that work.

Thursday 18 August 2011


When I first saw an iPhone, three or four years ago, I was singularly unimpressed. A guy from one of the ad agencies had bought one in the US and while he had fallen head-over-heels in love with it, I saw it simply as an impractical, complicated and expensive gadget.

I'm coming up now for my one year iPhone anniversary and I note that even primary school kids seem to have iPhones these days.

The difference between the ad agency guy and me is that he's one of the early adopters in this market and I'm one of the early majority. Doesn't sound like a huge difference, but it is. We tend to think of the adoption curve for new products as continuous, but it's not, always. If you're not familiar with it already, I recommend a look at a book from 1991, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. And in this book, you'll see that, for discontinuous innovations - those requiring a behavioural change, there is a huge difference between those two "early" groups. A chasm, in fact. The guy from the agency is a visionary. I'm a pragmatic conservative.

Crossing the chasm between these two psychologically vastly different groups is even more relevant these days. With the fast churn of technology, there are simply more discontinuous innovations around. This may explain the huge interest in behavioural economics amongst the marketing community. And, it's also vital to hang onto your visionaries aka early adopters for long enough to let you cross the chasm, before they flit off to this month's (week's?) thing.

The book was originally written with hi-tech markets and products in mind. But the theory may also be applicable in areas where a behavioural change is required - like moving to a carbon-neutral lifestyle, for example.

And that may be a chasm we're all going to have to cross one day.

Friday 12 August 2011


However hard you try, however well-honed your target audience description may be, brands often get hi-jacked by groups way outside the "intended" users.

I expect most whiskies are a case in point. Despite the many descriptions there are floating around of dynamic, cosmopolitan, happening, sporty 30-somethings, the reality is that most of the consumption comes from the over 60s.

It happened to Burberry a few years ago, in the UK, when the formerly exclusive fashion label with its trademark tartan became an essential part of chav uniform.

And this week, we've heard that, whoever the thugs are co-ordinating the riots (and there seems to be a great deal of discrepancy in the reporting), they are using BlackBerry, specifically the messenger service, as their chosen communication system.

I suspect, in BlackBerry's case, the dust will settle and not too much of it will stick - somehow it is not quite such a visible brand as Burberry.

It's strange that it works both ways. For every "exclusive or professional" brand that ends up in the hands of the rabble, there is at least one brand that positions itself at the young rebels and outsiders but is lapped up by the middle-aged mainstream. Just look at Levi's and Harley Davidson.

Although some of that is the difference between targeting and positioning.

Friday 5 August 2011

Thanks for not sharing

There seems to be an epidemic of oversharing these days in the world of brands. Every logo tweak is accompanied by a lengthy exposition from the design agency, every piece of communication is justified with a full-length feature on the making-of by the ad agency, brand managers are obsessed with collecting Brand Touchpoints with the same enthusiasm little boys show for Pokemon cards and a huge array of soul-baring corporate films clutters up YouTube.

I'm all for transparency in the sense that companies, at least, should not be trying to pull the wool over people's eyes, but many brand managers seem to confuse this noble virtue with picking their noses in public.

It has long been said that successful brands - especially those in certain categories, such as luxury goods or fashion - owe their greatness in many cases to maintaining an aura of mystique. Angostura Bitters is one of my favourite examples.

So let's hear it for mystery, aloofness, even - and a few more "Please Do Not Touch" points.

Monday 1 August 2011

Narcissistic Brands

I've never been a huge fan of the "brands are like people" mantra. OK, it's a reasonable metaphor up to a point. But I start feeling queasy when people start applying essentially human terms to brands. Loyalty is bad enough, but love? And while some brands can be annoying, or provide a less than enjoyable experience, is hate maybe too strong a word?

The "hate" that's expressed in a temporary irritation with Ryan Air, or that slightly sick feeling at being stuck with eating one of McDonald's goo-ridden burgers due to lack of alternatives is the sort of "hate" that a five-year-old expresses - it'll be gone in the morning.

But the latest attack on social media from Baroness Greenfield has reminded me of a way that some brands have of behaving that really is reminiscent of some people who get a little carried away on Facebook and Twitter. The Baroness comments that social media is making people narcissistic, rather like a toddler stuck in the "Look at me, Mummy. I've done this!" stage of development.

And, yes, there are brands who are guilty. They use the social media platforms to tweet mindlessly or get people to upload photos wearing a silly branded hat in the interests of participation. While a bit of fun now and again is fine, it would be good if the people managing these brands could remember that they need to offer people something - from a solution to an everyday problem, to a fulfilling experience, to satisfying a fundamental human drive.

No one is that interested when a brand learns to stand on its head.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Bangers and Bier

With a blog titled as mine is, it was only a matter of time before I'd be contacted by the Rate my Sausage blog. For sausage lovers everywhere, this is a must.

I would ask my German friends to keeps their tongues firmly in cheek, though, as they read through. And maybe prepare for a little shock. Rate my Sausage has recently run a "Which European Country Makes the Best Beer To Drink When You're Eating Sausages" challenge.

I'm afraid to tell you that the Veltins beer chosen to represent Germany, although valiantly picking up points for flavour and sausage-ability generally, finished a miserable last.

There are rumours that a Russian linesman may have been involved.

Wednesday 20 July 2011


A little while ago I bloggered on about reinventing the wheel and I meant to mention Hipstamatic as a cracking example of just that.

It's the perfect combination of old fashioned and cutting edge with its promise "Digital Photography Never Looked So Analog."

In fact, the whole retro film thing seems to be unstoppable at the moment - every second car ad seems to feature nostalgic scenes from some golden 70s summer. Not to mention Spielberg's film Super 8.

I wonder what will be next - an app to get your iTunes songs sounding scratched and sticky as the result of an accident with a bottle of Pomagne?

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Worst nightmare?

One of the worst nightmares for a client is when the agency simply regurgitate something left over in the drawer that another client obviously didn't buy. Or sometimes it's a general "one size fits all" idea that can be passed from client to client with different logos until someone is dim enough to buy it, or clever enough to fire the agency. In fact, I distinctly remember one bright copywriter set up a program to generate random scripts for a client who favoured a certain straight-jacketed TV format.

Now you don't even have to waste any money on layouts. On Wheel of Concept, you're invited to "Spin the Wheel" to generate new media ideas for your favourite brand. Anything from Social Gaming to Crowd Sourcing.

I tried it for my friends at ENTEGA and got the above. I also tried it for two of my least-favoured brands and was offered "iPayPal" which will bring me "brand-centric updates" from the PayPal-centric brand as well as Augmented Reality for Ryanair. The reality of Ryanair being bad enough, I don't think I want it augmented!

So, minutes of harmless fun. Thanks to Graham Thomas for pointing it out, although I expect clients will get something rather better from Radical Company.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Let's reinvent the wheel

I've just downloaded the IPA's Planning App - Fast Strategy, which is a series of tips for when you get bogged down in a particularly sticky strategic conundrum.

If I was to give a hint for this deck, I'm quite keen on "Reinvent the Wheel." I quite like the subversive idea of turning all those "creativity" cliches on their heads. Another one would be to "stay inside the box" - who knows what you might find there!

It's all a bit like Ecclesiastes Chapter 1:

"What has been will be again
What has been done will be done again
There is nothing new under the sun."


"There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow."

Now, you can either take this as world-weary philosophising on the futility of living, or you can see the positive side. People in marketing have such short memories that the revisiting of an idea whose time had not yet come could be gold dust for your brand.

Or, "new" from whose point of view? To a new-born baby everything is new and yet to be experienced.

And then, there is the moon. And other suns...

Monday 4 July 2011

Facts, gaps and headaches

My immediate pre-holiday period was marred this year by the annoying minutiae of the internet, specifically two companies that are products of the internet age. I'm still debating which caused me more headaches; PayPal for their inability to attend to someone hacking into an account I set up a couple of years ago and have only used once or Ryanair for their ghastly, horrid booking system. I know, I know...if you want a cheap holiday, you just have to grit your teeth...

So, a week of no internet, no emails, no global brands shoving their logos in my face (OK, I did spot a Lidl and an IKEA from a distance but their blue and yellow logos actually look quite jolly against a sun-saturated sky) was just what was needed.

And a link to a wonderful organisation from a colleague on my return has restored my faith in the power of the internet when in the hands of the right people. Gapminder is an organisation dedicated to replacing myths with a fact-based world view. Data and graphics are used to great effect in their presentations and videos to explain what is happening in the world.

Particularly recommended is a TED talk from Hans Rosling, pictured above, on the magic washing machine that produces books and professors. Much more constructive than PayPal.

Friday 24 June 2011

Price is just a number

I'm going to be very lazy today and direct you to another blog rather than having too much original thought.

I have spent more hours than I care to remember over the years discussing the merits of price campaigns vs. value campaigns. And I've usually come down on the side of value, although that always seems infinitely more difficult to get right.

In this blog by Inese Smidre of my old pals The Value Engineers, the issue is discussed in detail, with some great examples from John Lewis to the latest British Airways vs. Ryan Air campaign.

The big truth that shines out for me in this is that price is just a number - which is, of course, not unique, while value is a unique human benefit.

The trick is then to define and communicate what value means for your brand. Which is difficult, as value is something personal and different for every human being.

But just because it's difficult doesn't mean that we shouldn't try.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Read the book, seen the film, bought the T-shirt - now eat the ice-cream

There's nothing I love more than a good brainstorm, thinking up names and ideas for new products. And some of the most fun can be had with food and drink products. A couple of years ago, I noticed a new tea variety from Meßmer - "Romeo & Juliet" - with flavours of raspberry and marzipan, and wondered if this would start a trend.

It seems that it has. No longer happy with mint choc chip or rum 'n raisin, Langnese Cremissimo has named a couple of new ice cream flavours after classic movies. The variety pictured has raspberry and dark chocolate ice cream with raspberry sauce. In English, of course, I am rather concerned about the juxtaposition of raspberries with "Gone with the Wind" but they can probably get away with that in German. There's also a "Dr Zhivago" flavour with a kind of snow 'n vodka theme going on.

I just hope they don't get too carried away and introduce a "Silence of the Lambs" variety.

Tuesday 14 June 2011


The talk on Facebook, funnily enough, is that usage of the social media site has dropped in Britain, USA and other countries where it enjoyed its initial boom.

And it's not just doom and gloom in virtual - social media sites and their use/abuse are dominating conversations from the dinner table to the halls of government.

Of course, the "glass half empty" among us will cite MySpace, Second Life and the rest of the "flash in the pan" casualties of the social media revolution, but I think Facebook has simply made too many inroads into too many people's lives to disappear in a puff of smoke.

I must admit that my own relationship with Facebook is uneasy. I've been part of it for at least four years and never really fallen in love with the place. In fact, my news feed often reminds me of one of those sensory or motor homunculus figures that show proportionately how much of the cortex is taken up by certain body parts - in that it gives an unnatural view of who my real friends are and how important they are to me.

I know I should get wise and delete a few people or at least remove them from my news feed, or create some sub-groups or other such cleverness. But it's just not worth the bother. In fact, what worries me most of all is exactly how you delete your account should you decide to vote with your feet.

It'll be interesting to see if I'm still hanging in there in four years' time.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

I put away childish things

I don't seem to remember my parents being obsessed with who was top of the "Hit Parade", or finding Brutus jeans a "must-have" item, or needing to be an absolute ace when it came to Clackers when I was growing up.

So why are so many people who are old enough to know better (let's say 40+) so much in need of the latest Hollister sweatshirt, so desperate to download the latest game app or so enthusiastic about reading Harry Potter?

Apparently, such creatures are known as "Kidults" - grown-ups who don't see why they should put away childish things. They used to known as "mutton-dressed-as-lamb" which is, incidentally, a great idea for a fancy dress party if you're of a certain age.

But I'm not saying that all apps per se are childish - in fact, a recent report suggests that children these days only really know about those that aren't terribly useful, which is kind of reassuring.

Wednesday 1 June 2011

From Capital-list to Social-list in two decades

In the 1980s, there was pressure to be rich, especially if you were young and going places. I'm pretty sure that this was the era when The Sunday Times Rich List was born. People boasted about salaries and, in one case, a salary was even named after a person.

These days, there's pressure to be social. Not in terms of a 1980s socialite throwing glitzy parties at Stringfellow's but by being a mover and shaker as far as social media is concerned. And The Sunday Times has now launched a Social List through the agency VCCP.

I refrained from joining up and calculating my "social networking activity and prowess" on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Foursquare, because I already know the answer to that.

While it's OK, in my view, for a bit of entertainment, if you're into that sort of thing, I really don't like the language associated with the press releases about the site - "competition, climbing the ratings, jostling for position" - it all sounds as vulgar as Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney character did in the 80s.

So, if you'll excuse me, I'll just go and scuttle off to my virtual hermit hole where I can continue to talk to myself.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

A thousand boring Powerpoint Slides

Everyone in marketing and advertising needs a reality check now and again, if you'll excuse the ghastly buzz word. And you may get yours from playing buzz word bingo in boring client meetings, or putting together absurd brand positioning models as I used to do in my Saatchi days - reminder to self, pull those out - they could be worth something to someone.

So this blog entry is a blatant plug for a very funny man who knows his marketing and can see the absurd side of the brand onion. (What? An onion doesn't have sides?) I used one of his cartoons here and hope you have time to have a look at Tom Fishburne's site.

I love the Mission Statement cartoon and the ones about the fun you can have with focus groups as well as the brand positioning cartoon that introduces the splendid concept of a Brand Butterfly. And check out "The Tower of Eco Babel" if you're working on a sustainability project.

Most of all, I love this quote: "If a picture tells a thousand words, a cartoon tells a thousand boring Powerpoint slides."

Thursday 19 May 2011

Bad Hair Play?

I've just bought a new Wella product from the local supermarket. I suppose that this possibility has been in the (h)air since Procter & Gamble bought up the established hairdresser brand a few years back - and since Schwarzkopf Henkel launched the affordable professional haircare brand Syoss last year.

I'm not a great haircare junkie, but I was interested to read the blurb on the back of the Wella Pro Series product. It's of the "close but no cigar" variety. It's going to help me become a hair expert - me, one of the great unwashed - although, of course, nothing can replace a professional stylist. I'll just come close to that just walked out of the salon feeling.

Funnily enough, I did walk out of a hairdressing salon yesterday, with a bag of products that my hairdresser charmed me into buying. Funnily enough, she is a bit off Wella these days and terribly enthusiastic about a new range of products from Tigi.

They're owned by Unilever, by the way. But I don't think we'll be seeing them in the supermarket.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Toying with brands

Visualising the essence or personality of your brand has always been a challenge but here is something new from JWT to help you with just that.

Brand Toys combines data from Millward Brown's BrandZ study plus real-time online buzz from Social Mention to create a toy for your brand.

There are - I think - 9 different body shapes which reflect Potential and Familiarity, then different body parts, sizes, accessories and facial expressions represent the values and qualities of the brand. So, size of legs/feet represent trustworthiness. Not good news for someone with size 37 continental, but there you go. A cloud or sun in the background shows current level of sentiment - no prizes for guessing what the weather conditions in the land of the BP toy are!

It's probably my age, but they all look curiously similar to me - like the choice of avatars when you join a new chat site, or proposals for the mascot of the next big sporting event.

Overall, though, what do you think? The ultimate dumbing-down or a blast of fresh air in the midst of all that fuggy Brand Onion breath?

At the very least, you could always use them as a voodoo doll for your most hated brand.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Creative Circle

One development I noticed going on back in the UK a couple of years back was advertising and communication agencies actually getting into new product development. Not just on behalf of their clients, which is something that we've always tinkered with, but for real.

Now I'm pleased to see that this is happening in Germany, too. The range of bathroom products with the Can't-believe-it's not-butter-esque name above have been developed and launched by Korefe, the design (including product design) arm of Kolle Rebbe, one of Germany's leading independent creative agencies.

The idea is of the IKEA variety - you do your part (what it says in the tin, um, bottle) and we do ours (stop using artificial ingredients, testing on animals, wasting energy in production...)

In a way, I suppose it's a logical development. If you're going to give the responsibility for creating communication over to the people in a magnanimous sweep of CGC, what's left to do? Or maybe it has something to do with maturity, the urge to generativity, to produce something of more than ephemeral value. I've often noticed what particularly enthusiastic Dads guys in German advertising agencies make.

The Mums aren't always so enthusiastic - but that's a another story!

Tuesday 3 May 2011

What's the Big Idea?

Sometime in the 90s, possibility not for the first time and probably not for the last time, "advertising" became a dirty word. We felt it particularly strongly at Saatchi in those days as the out-of-love suffix was wrenched away from our letterheads, our telephonist's lips, our pencils.

We were no longer "Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising". We were "Saatchi & Saatchi - The Ideas Company". Nothing wrong with that - we were all quite cock-a-hoop about being an Ideas Business in an Ideas Economy. When I went freelance, I toyed for some time with the name "Ideas for Sale" before settling on "Secret Agency."

But I recently found the website of The Joined-Up Company which reminded me that ideas are not ideas are not ideas. And, it may be worth saying that there are some of these idea genres where The-agencies-formerly-known-as-advertising do have a more natural talent than others:

Business Idea - it's about beliefs, structure, objectives: what makes the business profitable?
Brand Idea - classic long-term meaning and mission
Communications Idea - how media in the broadest sense are used to keep the brand strong and the business profitable - and, not to forget...
Creative Idea

I was also going to mention Advertising Idea. But that may simply be a Bad Idea.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Just do it

If I was a decade or two earlier in my career - and still lived in the UK - I think I'd be signing up for the course run by the apg "21st Century Planning for integration and behavioural change."

The blurb about this course points out that planning is not just about what "message" you need - if you need one at all - but that's it's vital to plan campaigns around desired behavioural change.

This sounds good to me, but it does remind me that we did sort-of pay lip service to this aspect in our creative briefs a decade or two ago, with the "desired consumer response" section. In this, we would state what we'd like people to think, feel and do as a result of the campaign.

Unfortunately, I don't think many of us thought past "buy the brand" when we filled in that section. It would be great if this course can get people beyond that sort of thinking.

By the way, why is Behavioural Economics trendy and a buzz-phrase while Behavioural Psychology is not? Is the clue in the picture?

Monday 25 April 2011

Ozymandias Airways

I was lucky enough to cut my planning teeth on the British Airways account, at the end of the 80s.

It may seem odd to people starting out in their careers now that working on an airline was the jewel in the crown as far as accounts went back then - just as cigarettes had been a few years before. But it does occur to me that the best communications tend to happen when the category is a "happening" one - like Apple or Google today.

Airline advertising had a dromedary of a golden age - the first hump ran from the late 40s to the early 70s and comprised mainly of print advertising which just oozed the glamour of air travel and the exoticism of the destinations.

A slight oil crisis/cheap packages on charter flights/hi-jacking fears dip held things down for a few years in the 70s, but with the privatisation of British Airways and the increased popularity of long-haul business flying, airline advertising entered the second hump of the golden age, with some of the best TV commercials the world has seen.

Working on an airline account must be a challenge these days. Horrendous acts of terrorism have led to ever more intrusive security checks. Cheap n' cheerful no frills budget airlines have stripped the whole sector of its glamour and dreams. And anyone with a smidgeon of conscience will surely wonder if it's not just Concorde that should be pensioned off as being non-sustainable.

Perhaps it's no wonder that airlines reach back to those carefree golden days for their communications, whether it's Virgin celebrating 25 years in glorious 1980s style, or Lufthansa selling retro-style travel bags via Tchibo.