Wednesday 29 February 2012

Brand Autonomy

In these days of globalisation, it's always refreshing to see brands that haven't succumbed to international "consistency", despite being bought up by a global corporation.

The Elmex dental care range is a good example in Germany. It's made by the Swiss company GABA International AG, which is, in turn, owned by Colgate-Palmolive, although you wouldn't know it. It would have been tempting, when the brand was bought in 2004, to stamp the Colgate name on the brand and let the Elmex name fade out. Or, worse still, an "Elmex is now Colgate" campaign.

But, sensibly, the brand has been allowed autonomy, which reflects local values and sensibilities. Elmex is a serious brand. While the P&G, Unilever and Colgate brands push their luck with "whitening" on the German and mid-European audience, Elmex isn't having any of that. It remains single-minded on caries prevention, with a range of products that covers just the necessary - and does not veer into the cosmetic.

The un-gimmicky children's range and recommendations from dentists during kindergarten visits means that customers are locked in early, and the worthy and dependable tone appeals to German mothers. There is even a menthol-free range for people on homeopathic treatment - which touches the German or Swiss psyche much better than the promise of Hollywood whiteness.

Elmex is a brand that shows how global ownership and local relevance can be compatible.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Mood boards a go-go

When I was starting out in advertising, almost nothing gave me more pleasure than making mood boards. Whether it was to research a tricky-to-articulate concept, or to sell a bold visual idea in to the client, there was something satisfying about collecting scraps and bits and putting together a collage.

In the last few weeks, it's been difficult not to trip over articles about Pinterest - the newish social networking site that's all about "self-expression through curation". Like Facebook, with its analogue in Friendship or Year Books, the appeal of Pinterest can be traced back to behaviours like the student's pin board, or children swopping stamps or Panini cards in the playground. If gaming appeals to the hunter in us, then Pinterest is there for the gatherer.

I've tentatively joined up and, despite the oddities of being forced in via Facebook and being provided with "ready-made" people to follow, the correspondence from Pinterest (or at least from a friendly-sounding guy called Ben) is reassuring. As well as providing me with a new language about pins and pinning, Ben assures me that there will be no nudity.

That's good, as the combination of pins and naked flesh is a painful one.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Catching the Zeitgeist

The WARC have recently commented on the rise of Cultural Insight in branded communication. Rather than staying within the more easily quantifiable confines of "consumer insight" and "brand truth", brands are looking to the broader cultural context in which a brand operates for their communication ideas.

And companies such as Douglas Holt's Cultural Strategy Group are there on hand to help in this pursuit.

This is all good stuff, particularly if it raises brands above the banality of the "which-scent-of floor-cleaner-best-suits-your-personality" Facebook app syndrome, of which I'm sure we've all had more than enough.

But the challenge to us all is how to find and nail down the thing - if it can be nailed down. Often you only know when you've caught the Zeitgeist years later. Like the Will O'the Wisp or ignis fatuus, our friend is somewhat elusive.

One of the first ads I worked on was the famous British Airways "Club World" launch ad, affectionately known as "Red Eye". With its Wall Street-esque characters and Machiavellian mini-plot, this was 60 seconds (I think...) of pure late 80s Big Business.

And, as far as I know, the "cultural insight" certainly didn't come from some huge mega-quantitative Übertrends to the New Millenium study, but from a few chats with business travellers and a sensitivity and empathy to what was going on culturally in their world.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Bricks & Mortar Brands

On my way to work, while navigating the tangle of Autobahns east of Frankfurt, a landmark stands out for me: a red-brown industrial chimney, proudly branded Dunlop in brick.

It's just one example of bricks-and-mortar branding that includes the Oxo Building, all those mills in Britain's docklands, and the granddaddy of them all pictured here.

There's an assumption taken in these buildings that's rather more than slapping your name on a football stadium - an assumption of permanence, stability, visibility and staying-power: these brands were literally "built to last".

As to the World's Oldest Brand, this is a matter for discussion. There are some hotel names in Japan that go back to the millennium before last, and at least one German brewery heading for the 1,000th anniversary.

The brand Lyle's Golden Syrup has made it as far as Guinness World Records go, with more than 125 years of continuous branding and packaging.

And, interesting too, to consider Mr Lyle's business partner, Mr Tate, especially while we're talking bricks (and mortar)!

Wednesday 1 February 2012

The Straight and Narrow

About twenty years ago, I sat with my Planning colleagues at Saatchis on one of those Awaydays where you reinvent Planning. We had some great ideas - we were going to dispense with going through linear processes and running round in circles, or cycles, and the Brave New World was going to be Quantum Planning. Great in theory, but I suspect that, a couple of decades later, most young Planners at Saatchi - or anywhere else - will still be able to draw you a Planning Cycle but may draw a blank at the suggestion of Quantum Planning.

Maybe we could have done with this new book: No Straight Lines - Making sense of our non-linear world by Alan Moore. I haven't launched into this "book" yet - of which more later - but what I've seen so far promises to be visionary: a new organisational, social and economic model based on a more human-centric, participatory society. Less about process, hierarchy and straight lines and more about networks, humanity and sustainability.

What is particularly interesting is how the "book" presents itself - as a read/write book that is described as both personal and collaborative. "No Straight Lines" is a idea, a way of thinking, which can be discussed, experienced, disputed, built-on, applied and so on through communities and workshops as well as "book" media.

It does sound as if it's worth looking into. But I do sometimes wonder why Quantum Planning never caught on. Maybe the answer is that sometimes you just want to get from A to B. And the best way is along a straight line.