Thursday 31 March 2011

Mum's the word

In time for Mothering Sunday in the UK and to lead up to the London Olympics 2012, Procter & Gamble are about to unleash their first-ever corporate advertising for the general public. Interesting, because I've been involved in discussing the rights and wrongs of such an approach in the past. Interesting, because arch-rival Unilever has had its corporate logo on all its brand advertising since 2009.

Of course, newer companies don't have this headache. There aren't shadowy corporations lurking behind the brand names when it comes to the amazons, Googles and Virgins of this world. And even some of P&G's fellow-centenarians from Coca-Cola to many car brands have put their company name forward as brand name from the start.

You have to sympathise with P&G and their ilk to some extent. In the brave new internet age you can't hide. And if you don't take some kind of stance about who you are and what you stand for, someone else will do it for you. But however much I believe that P&G should have done something, I'm afraid that they've done the wrong thing.

Part of this comes out in the way both P&G and Unilever talk about why they've gone for the corporate-to-general public approach:

"(The Olympics) a great opportunity to talk to consumers about P&G and what we stand for." The phrase "talk to consumers" says it all. Isn't it about conversation these days? It's true enough that people these days want to know more about the companies that they buy products from - but they won't learn by being "talked to," like a naughty child standing in the corner.

Or this: "Our research says that consumers...are increasingly marketing-savvy and know that there are people who are behind brands." Well, I never!

While I'm sure that P&G have done their research, I'm a little uneasy that they appear to have done their usual version of copy & paste, which is known as "search and reapply". A successful campaign that ran for the Vancouver Olympics will be used in the UK - "Proud Sponsors of Mums."

I do find this a slightly patronising - and exclusive approach - after all, men and women without children have to clean their homes, wash their hair, use denture fixative, do the laundry and all the rest, too.

And when it comes to it, do I really want to be thinking about Pampers when I'm buying perfume? And talking of Pampers, what would be really fantastic is if P&G ditched the corporate budget when it comes to Germany and ploughed the money into an action-led campaign - from Pampers - that really did something to change the lot of mothers in Germany, as suggested here.

Thursday 24 March 2011

Second Hand Brand

One of the little email highlights of the week is seeing what new ideas are percolating around the world via Springwise. And, like myths and legends, similar ideas seem to spring up independent of each other in countries as far flung as the Philippines and the USA. You can either blame the internet or maybe it's just a touch of the good old Collective Unconscious.

The trend I just love at the moment is new from old in the fashion industry. The Fortune Cookie purses from Diana Eng pictured above just make you want to smile. They are made from scrap leather from the furniture, upholstery and garment industries and each comes with its own history as well as a fortune - in words rather than coins, I hasten to add.

Over in the Philippines, Rags2Riches are also using discarded scraps from the fashion industry to make handbags and rugs - and helping disadvantaged women at the same time. And Saved is an idea from Do The Green Thing which rescues unloved and unwanted T-Shirts to give them a new story and a new home.

I have to say these companies, organisations and enterprises have brilliant names and Worn Again is no exception. They are a UK company who make bags and the like from old aircraft seat covers from Virgin Atlantic - and they are also in partnership with Eurostar and the Royal Mail.

Interesting to speculate who may have sat on your new shoulder bag?

Thursday 17 March 2011

Labyrinthine Reality

I have just finished reading one of Alain de Botton's books, The Architecture of Happiness, and have come out not just a little wiser about architecture but also grasping a few general truths about people and how they tick.

Putting his finger on why some buildings, despite genius architects, splendid plans and sweeping vision, leave us feeling just that little bit uncomfortable, de Botton says this can be traced back to "architects who forgot to pay homage to the quirks of the human mind...seduced by a simplistic vision of who we might be, rather than attending to the labyrinthine reality of who we are."

Hear, hear! Let's stop trying to the predict the future, whether it's with:

- all those patented market research techniques that claim to predict how a piece of communication will "perform"

- those creative briefs that state what people will think, feel and do after they have seen said piece of communication

- or even all those clever-clogs algorithms that tell me that because I liked this, then I will also like that...

...and rejoice in the labyrinthine reality of the here and now!

Friday 11 March 2011

Corporate Playground

I have been spending rather a lot of time at airports recently and before I get onto this blog, I feel compelled to say that unlike the lady above, I never travel in a white suit. The probability of turbulence plus coffee has always been a touch too much on the high side for me.

One thing that always strikes me about airports is that they are the one public place where all the corporate ads can come out to play. Images rarely seen outside the Annual Report & Accounts or Trade Journals can present themselves to a captive audience of movers, shakers and decision-makers in all their glory. Unfortunately, they have all had the same idea.

The truth about air travel is still this: no-one in an airport is in a normal frame of mind, with the exception of the people who work there every day - and my guess is that these corporate ads aren't aimed at the girl that hands out see-through plastic bags or the guy that drives elderly passengers around on one of those buggies.

No, everyone is jet-lagged, disorientated, tense about the forthcoming meeting, annoyed that they'll be late home, miffed that they'll miss their connection, nervous about just how good the security controls are, insulted by being manhandled and demands that they remove yet more articles of clothing...and the sum total is that, however big a mover, however huge a shaker, however ginormous a decision-maker, nobody is in control.

And so, the gallery of corporate visual delights of a parallel world - of calm seas, endless skies, reflections of nature's glory, vast expanses of green, hopeful sunrises, satisfying sunsets, rowing teams pulling together in perfect harmony and the intricacies of a humming bird's wings seem to mock rather than inspire. They feel like the visual equivalent of the calming music played to cattle before the slaughter.

In combination with the contrived names that many of these companies sport - which give no clue as to whether they are in pharmaceuticals or insurance, engineering or financial consultancy - the net result is that they bypass the busy executive and float, unattended to, like the aluminum intricacies of the airport's roof structure.

Friday 4 March 2011

This Hun for Hire

The world of advertising is probably more littered than any other profession with creative, clever and downright absurd ideas to bypass the normal recruitment process and land yourself a job.

One of my contemporaries at Saatchis, Paul Arnold, famously pulled off a similar stunt to the chap on the left with a sandwich board: "I'm P...P...P...Paul and I want a job in advertising."

And I remember literally begging a young man not to sever the end of his purple tie in a graduate interview. He thought he'd invented branded performance art for Silk Cut. I thought otherwise...

So I'm intrigued to see what one young Art Director is trying to get herself noticed - "Hire a German." On Kristin's website you can see her buying and building an IKEA desk with alarming efficiency. Kristin comes with a plastic budgie, a signed photo and rather fetching white socks and Adiletten.

It's probably not all to everyone's taste but I certainly admire her cheekiness!