Thursday 19 December 2013

Ranting about Ratings

Tearing opening an amazon package in the rush to get my presents all packed up in time, I noticed a request to "rate this packaging", directing me to both the UK and German amazon sites. Just out of interest, I typed in the link and left some ratings as to the size, adequacy and ease of opening of the packaging.

It's not just amazon who bother you for ratings - of the item itself, the seller, the packaging. All around airports, stations and other public places, neon smilies await your rating of the "toilet experience" or similar. I don't usually bother as these rarely allow you to clarify, justify or explain your rating - which can't be very helpful if a problem arises.

I can take all this rating business as long as it's about practical, factual stuff. Difficult packaging or dirty toilets are much the same to all of us. But once we get into the area of personal opinion, it gets difficult. I have written reviews on amazon for years, for books mostly, and I still feel uneasy about giving out stars. Quite frankly, I'd much rather just write a review of the book. But the trend is going such that the stars and ratings and averages are becoming far more important than what people actually think or feel.

It's the same in marketing. There is a growing tendency for KPIs to become goals or objectives in themselves. It becomes more important to achieve a certain score on some numerical indicator than to work out what we want to do with our brand. "Make our brand famous" is, for me, a valid objective. How you measure that, if you can, is another question.

I see too much application of positivism in marketing, with the misconception that what can be measured must be important and what can't, isn't.

There was only one star that the wise men followed that first Christmas, but it was a good one.

Friday 13 December 2013

Brand Bauble?

Bored of Brand Onions? Peed off with Positioning? Miserable about Missions?

Then look no further than this wonderful seasonal antidote to Marketing blah-blah, The *Santa* Brand Book, from Quiet Room.

My favourite pages are the one that discovers that Hagrid is encroaching on *Santa*'s space, based on the dimensions of fattiness and beardiness. And the instructions, with example, in "How to deploy language in the customer relationship."

A couple of choice quotes:

*Santa* - the industry standard for child-cenric gift-delivery solutions


Our brand essence is the very essence of our brand

Ho, ho, ho!

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Bright sparks

Brand models have their uses. It's good for everyone working with a brand to know what it stands for, long-term. But I have always felt that most models lack dynamism and energy. They are usually something two-dimensional on a piece of paper, with lots of words that have been carefully honed and slaved-over. When I worked on the agency side, it was difficult to take a client model and develop creative work from it that was stunning, brilliant, breath-taking - and relevant.

Quite often the breath-takingness would come from somewhere external - a clever film technique, an audacious topical joke, some cute furry creatures. Mainly because the agency wouldn't know where to start. Yes, this is your brand positioning for the next five decades, but what is it that we want to focus on right now?

I recently dug out a paper I wrote twenty years ago at Saatchis which proposed a way of thinking about people and brands and the energy that connects them. I found that I still go back to this again and again:

* a brand has many properties
* a group of consumers may have a variety of human motivations or desired end benefits
* one brand detonator can deliver the energy from the brand to consumers to achieve the desired end benefits - this energy is produced when the the brand and user come into contact and, once experienced, it acts like a magnet to draw the two together.

This "spark" should be the basis of the communications proposition.

So, it comes back to overlap and connection. What are all the properties of the brand? Everything from character to physical attributes? What is the user focused on? Wants, needs, desires, motivations?

And what's the connection? Find it and push to detonate.

Friday 6 December 2013

Build me a Bridge

It seems to be OK, even admirable these days to say you were useless at maths at school. Well, I wasn't. I was good at maths, although I couldn't add up without counting on my fingers or scribbling on paper so maybe my mental arithmetic wasn't so hot. But when it came to algebra and that sort of thing, my strategy was always to go back to first principles - what are we trying to do here?

It's worth doing the same these days in my job, as marketing communications becomes an ever more complex field. I do sometimes need to remind myself about what strategy is all about. It's about being in one place, and wanting to get to another place, then building the bridge (the strategy) to get you there.

With brand communications, those places involve people. What are people thinking, feeling and doing in relation to your brand and the market it's in at the moment? What would you like them to think, feel and do in your future - that your brand communication could potentially influence?

I sometimes get myself in a tangle, still, when thinking about objectives. "Communicate that our brand delivers XYZ benefit better than any other" isn't a communication objective, it's a message or bit of content. But what change in people's perceptions or behaviour do we want to see? That is a communication objective. Whether we can measure it such that it becomes a numerical goal is another question.

Business objectives are usually couched in the language of profit or growth. Marketing Objectives may include brand/market share, or % penetration. And these objectives need all elements of the marketing mix (4, 5, or 6 Ps depending on how you see it).

But communications objectives must relate back to something people will think, feel or do. Make the brand more famous than Victoria Beckham. Sign up a friend for the customer club. Give them a sense of self-esteem. Cry. Say yes. Say no. Dig their hand in their pocket and contribute.

And the more it's about doing, the better.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

An equal and opposite reaction

This is the time of year when you get all those ingeniously named trends for the next year, such as this latest little lot from Trendwatching. I'm always amused by picking out the counter-trend to each one that's mentioned, sometimes in the same article.

My eye was caught by the Mychiatry trend - not content with people quantifying their bodies and bodily functions, people are now going to use technology to measure their minds. This trend is manifested via ideas such as an app to record, share and analyse dreams (as if other people's dreams weren't dull enough, you can now access a whole internet full of strangers' dreams) or headphones that detect the user's mood and play music accordingly from a database (I do hope that a human being of some description has been involved in the compilation and classification of the database.)

This trend, according to Trendwatching, is being fuelled by "those for whom mental health is (like physical fitness, career progress, and academic achievements) a new benchmark, yet another area for them to outperform their peers." Well, yukkety yuk. Can't wait for all these outperforming benchmark junkies to start wiring their kids up to these devices, too.

Swallowing back the admission that I did post a score I got on some pointless Facebook quiz the other day, I'll move quickly on to the next trend: No Data. This is much nicer. This is all about "brands that offer brilliant service while loudly and proudly eschewing the collection of personal data." There is certainly a need for this, with 82% of people on a global basis believing that companies collect too much information on consumers.

Unfortunately, Trendwatching can't offer up any examples on this yet.

Reaction, counter-reaction. Who's to say which way people will go in 2014? But one thing is certain - there will be no one certain answer. Planners and Marketers are best keeping their minds open, their antennae on alert, using all modes of perception.

Quoting Blake:
"May God us keep
From single vision & Newton's sleep."   

Thursday 28 November 2013

Me, us and the world

Where does a brand stop and a company start? Or vice versa? This is one of the tricky questions we have to ask when positioning a brand that is the company - or a company that is the brand. Take Google, for instance. Do most people out there think of it as a company or a brand?

The truth is that people simply don't think in a convenient boxes type of way. It used to be easy to think of the commercial side of a brand and set down a "desired consumer response" - and then to switch over to the corporate side and envision what we'd like "the opinion leader audience" to think. Just as brands play many roles these days, so do people in relation to a brand. Those opinion leader people may be leading opinions here there and everywhere during the day, but when they go home in the evening, they could be using your product, or helping their daughter with a work experience application to a local branch of your company.

And conversely, on the other side of the street, that once docile "consumer" could be ranting off with his own opinions of the poor service he got via the internet.

You don't have to be a consumer, or even a customer. There are plenty of brands and companies whose products may not be relevant to me, but that doesn't stop me expressing my opinion if I admire or loathe them or what they are doing.

The context in which we think about a brand or company is important. Is it personal or collective? Me, us or the world? Me - my own personal experience, specific and most likely product- or service-related. Us - my family and friends, my neighbourhood, bricks and mortar, or on social media. And The World - the broader implications of how the company is acting.

Rather than recruiting different types of "stakeholders" from consumers to opinion leaders, perhaps it would make more sense for market research studies to look at the context of people's thoughts about a brand or company - me, us or the world?

The world's a big place, but it's getting increasingly impossible for brands to be discreet.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

The Kids vs The Kids

I love good use of infographics, probably because I don't have a clue about how to use them myself. But that's probably a generational thing as I'm at the tail end of the Baby Boomers.

The presentation here is from Bhavesh Patel on Slideshare, and although it's probably based on US rather than global figures, it shows the differences between the post-war generations in a charming and engaging way. The main contrast is between those born pre-1980 (Baby Boomers and Generation X) or "Kids of the Past" and those born after that (i.e. anyone young enough to be my child, gulp!) namely Generation Y, or Millenials and Generation Z, who are yet to be named or defined.

While most of the media behaviour documented tends to follow a linear progression with age, there are some odd exceptions. For example, Generation X are more likely to watch more than 1hr of TV than either the Baby Boomers or Millenials.

As far as Generation Z goes, my bet is that they will have sorted out the public/private thing as far as self-projection goes. There are already signs that things are going this way, with "self-destruct" social media such as Snapchat.

And one more request. Now that the Baby Boomers are grey and snapping up the anti-age treatments, can we call ourselves Generation W for Wrinkly?

Thursday 14 November 2013

Life in the old dog yet

In a post a few weeks back, I noted how Coca Cola has been toppled off Interbrand's top spot by those relative new kids on the block, Apple and Google. Despite this, the brand is showing healthy growth and could even teach a few of the new boys a thing or two about marketing.

One of my very first memories of Coke advertising was a groovy, happy-clappy film of a crowd of young things on a summer hilltop singing "I'd like to buy the world a Coke". You could run that film today - on other screens of course - because Coke is still about refreshment and happiness, all wrapped up in good-natured global togetherness. It's less about the strict consistency of corporate design manuals and more a feeling of being true to your self in your outward expression.

The "share a Coke with" named bottles this summer - and it was fascinating to see the names change as we travelled across Europe - was a stunning idea that I am sure will be talked about in years to come. And another innovation is Coke becoming a channel or medium. Instead of the usual corporate web page, Coke has launched CocaCola Journey, a digital magazine buzzing with stories from how to make a Coca Cola Cake to sending a Coke can into space, as well as plenty of the obligatory CGC.

It's a refreshing, happy online magazine, with something for everyone. The corporate facts and figures are still there, but not on the front page.

 A good example of how brands in the 21st century should behave, even if they are 127 years old.

Thursday 7 November 2013

I should Co-Co!

Anyone who works in marketing cannot have avoided the barrage of c-words that have characterised the marketer's vocabulary so far this century. Or more strictly said, Co-Words.

Thanks to the marvel that is the internet, we are all connected these days, cheerfully collaborating, co-creating and co-operating in our communities.

But is it all really so co-sy? If you just stick to the areas of the internet that you feel at home in, with like-minded communities, you probably feel co-mfortable most of the time. But under the co-ver, it's there. There are followers and leaders, there are hierarchies. And more often than not, if someone decides to do something that involves active participation beyond liking and agreeing, it will fall apart unless some of the participants actually meet face-to-face.

A recent book by Richard Sennett, Professor of Sociology and Humanities, called Together, is all about co-operation between human beings. Current politics (and indeed media) encourage tribes rather than cities, which is why co-operation, rather than being on the up, is a vanishing skill.

Because communities and co-operation are two very different things. Communities are a group of like-minded people, while co-operation describes working/doing together to a common end, often with people who are very different to oneself.

Next time I'm blithely buzzing those co-words around, I should remember that compromise and coalition also belong in that part of the dictionary.

Friday 1 November 2013

Best supporting role?

It's generally agreed that, to be relevant, brands have to play a role in people's lives. And perhaps beyond that, a role in society. Havas have defined that a Meaningful Brand is one that makes a Contribution to improving the quality of people's lives (via a number of defined Personal and Collective Outcomes) and one to which people show Attachment - they would care if the brand were to disappear.

I don't think having a role is under dispute, but I do wonder whose job it should be to define that role. Have you ever tried to define a brand's role? It's not an easy job, and you tend to keep coming back to a rather fuzzy area where the brand is a helper/enabler/facilitator/deliverer in or of the brand's benefit or some other aspect of its positioning. Or else you get into the relationship metaphors and the brand is a friend, or a chum, or a buddy, or even an ally - but invariably with the adjective "helpful" plonked in front. Or you might simply state that your brand's role is to stand on a pedestal and be an Icon of whatever your one-word equity is.

In reality, the roles that brands really play in our lives are multi-faceted, complex and individualistic. Where does the brand Audi stop and my car, Red Freddie, start?

Maybe we shouldn't try too hard to define a brand role, as long as we're clear what that brand stands for. In the end, it's the user who writes the film script of their life - and probably does the casting.

Friday 25 October 2013

My brand, right or wrong!

Every now and then, I come across a presentation or a blog post that's a refreshing antidote to the usual marketing and advertising hubris blah-blah where toilet cleaner brands are regularly raised to the status of demi-gods.

This time it's a presentation from Martin Weigel of Wieden & Kennedy entitled How to (not) Fail, and he's blogged about it in a post entitled A tale of humility and indifference.

Well worth reading to take you down to earth, Martin stresses the over reliance of marketeers on metaphor and specifically that metaphor of relationships with brands reflecting human relationships. And when he's taken you down to earth, he inspires you again by showing exactly how important stunning creativity is to overcome indifference.

One of the words in the marketing vocabulary that most gets my goat is one of the older ones: loyalty. The use of this word in describing the relationship between a person and a brand (or even a company) has always made me queasy. Loyalty is defined, usually, as "true, faithful to duty, love or obligation (to a person)" or possibly "faithful in allegiance to sovereign, mother country".

Now, one of the reasons that all that "King and Country" stuff has gone out of the window in the last century is that people have realised that you don't get much back for your investment of your love, duty or even life. And it's the same with brands. They cannot return or reward this "faithfulness" except with a  few Airmiles or a 25% discount when you've collected twenty five stickers on that annoying card cluttering up your wallet with zillions of others.

I've heard marketers getting quite huffy when talking about their "unloyal (sic) customers", as if they'd committed some ghastly act of betrayal. But seriously, what are you going to do if your customers decide to try another brand? Shoot them? Track down their new flame and peel its brand onion with a rusty knife?

At the end of it, "your" customers are usually someone else's, too.

Friday 18 October 2013

A gloriously broad beacon

I've learned a couple of new words today, thanks to a thought-provoking article in Contagious, by John V Willshire of Smithery.

If you work in marketing, you spend countless hours discussing two things:
1. What is a brand, anyway?
2. What does our brand stand for?

John V Willshire quotes Richard Sennett's Together in defining two types of conversation - the Dialectic, which is all about aligning people around a mutually agreed resolution, a consensus if you like, to move forward from there - and the Dialogic, which is about exchanging views without forcing them together, and moving forward choosing the view or idea that seems best in the circumstances.

Brand Management has traditionally been about the dialectic - reduction, compression, or distillation of a brand's components and essence into some kind of rigid model - a key, an onion, a pyramid or even a one-word equity.

But, questions the author, is this the best way in the internet age? Is this kind of thinking redundant? Should we not be happy to live with the indefinability of a "gloriously broad brand"?

It's worth pondering. But my feeling is that the world was always complex, internet or no internet, and it will continue to be so. People will always look for lighthouses and beacons for orientation, safety, ease, reassurance - which is the role of brands.

No-one but the most naive junior junior brand manager seriously thinks that a brand onion is real. The map is not the territory. Maybe we can improve on our cartography but we can't change the territory, only the way we represent it.

A gloriously broad beacon?

Thursday 10 October 2013

What a difference a decade makes...

There are all manner of Brand Rankings these days - Havas have made a big noise about Meaningful Brands, while WPP are pushing Culturally Vibrant Brands. No, say Siegel & Gale, it's all about Simple Brands, while umpteen organisations have lists of Top Green or Sustainable Brands.

But we're still driven by money at the end of it all and the one list that is of interest to everyone is that from Interbrand - the Most Valuable Brands.

In the highest echelons of this list, you don't see huge changes from year to year, although I do think the toppling of Coca-Cola from the top spot is a major event. But what is fascinating is to look more long-term:

2013                                                                   2003
1. Apple                                                              1. Coca-Cola
2. Google                                                            2. Microsoft
3. Coca Cola                                                       3. IBM
4. IBM                                                                4. GE
5. Microsoft                                                        5. Intel
6. GE                                                                  6. Nokia
7. McDonald's                                                    7. Disney
8. Samsung                                                         8. McDonald's
9. Intel                                                                 9. Marlboro
10. Toyota                                                          10. Mercedes

The 2013 Top 10 really is dominated by technology, while the 2003 list actually included a tobacco brand: how quaint! And you can more-or-less divide these movers and shakers into a few categories. There are the real stars, with double-digit growth - in reverse order of achievement, Samsung, who have moved up from position 25 to position 9. Then the Number 1 Brand, Apple, which was only at position 50 in 2003. Finally, the phenomenon that is Google - this did not appear on the 2003 list, of course.

There are those stable giants, who are growing, albeit in single figures, but who have been pushed down the table to make room for the dynamic new kids. Loads of brands here, from the erstwhile king Coca-Cola, to IBM, GE, McDonald's, Microsoft and Disney, as well as Toyota and Mercedes.

The slipping giants are beginning to see erosion in their Brand Value as calculated by Interbrand - examples here are Intel and HP.

And finally, the losers, who have fallen from the dizzy heights. There's Nokia, now at position 57, and Marlboro, nowhere to be seen in the newest Top 100.

Anyone care to predict the Top Global Brands for 2023?

Saturday 5 October 2013

Market research made friendly

When I started my first job, market research was something of an arcane art - not terribly accessible to outsiders. Most quantitative surveys were still done on paper via an interviewer with a clipboard and ideas like CATI (Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews) were considered most avant garde.

It wasn't just the interviewing, either. Presentations were endless tables of numbers and bar charts, with a few pies here and there if you were lucky. Some poor so-and-so would have drawn many of these by hand.

The first time I saw a "smiley scale" it was either for children, or for a multi-country study in an attempt to achieve consistency in the questioning where language failed. No-one at that point imagined that adults might actually enjoy taking part in research survey if they were more like a game.

These days, quantitative market research is as fun and funky as any part of the communications process, with great blogs like ilovecharts showing the very best of infotainment today. Take your pick there at the moment between 'Most visited websites per country' or 'Acceptable/Unacceptable facial hair.'

And then there's the beautifully cute IKEA online questionnaire about 'My Life at Home' in Germany. As part of the campaign 'Time for more Home', this interactive survey is fun and easy to do - as you'd expect of the original participative brand!

One word of warning though, if you don't come into the spring chicken category. You're OK up to age 54, but from 55 onwards your cartoon representation is definitely the grey-haired granny!

Tuesday 1 October 2013

On yer bike!

... and here's another one of those ideas that feels good and feels right. Peddler's Creamery is an ice-cream business for the 21st century. Ben & Jerry's has long been part of Unilever so maybe there's room for a new kid on the block. This particular kid is Edward Belden, an Environmental Sciences graduate who launched his idea via Kickstarter.

And what an idea! Described on their website as providing "high quality artisan bicycle-churned organic ice cream and frozen desserts, Peddler's Creamery is one of those ideas that combines the best of contemporary and traditional thinking. The name is brilliant, and the idea fits so many current trends, from "living local" (local ingredients and supporting the local community) to "handmade" to "delicious indulgence" (Honey Lavender! Chile Mango! mmmmm!) to, of course "sustainability" - the ice-cream is churned via bike power.

That's not just a lucky co-incidence, I feel. Ice cream and bikes have had a long association, as portrayed in the brand logo, which adds a touch of nostalgia for long summer days when things were simpler to a very modern brand.

The Peddler's Creamery are striving for happy, satisfied customers with a smile on their face and a smaller footprint on earth.

They've certainly put a smile on my face.

Friday 27 September 2013

Good Ideas that Do Good

I see plenty of ideas in my daily trawl through the internet - and in real life - and a fair few of these make my think, make me wonder, make me smile. But every now and then, I see an idea that does all of those but has an additional indescribable quality of just feeling good and right.

For example, there's the winner of the new D&AD White Pencil Award for work with a purpose beyond profit (a good idea in itself). This is idea from the agency Droga5 for their pharmaceutical client Help Remedies. The full name of the product is "Help I've cut myself & I want to save a life". (From the "I can't believe it's not butter" school of brand names!).

It's a super nifty idea to increase Marrow Donor Registration, which could ultimately save the life of someone with leukaemia. The idea is this: you make marrow registration part of an everyday act. And that "everyday act" is a minor household accident - you cut yourself shaving, or your nick your finger on a paper edge. You're already bleeding - all you need to do is take a couple of swabs, stick it in a pre-paid envelope and you're registered as a Marrow Donor.

There's a super little film about it here.

Brand Aid takes on a whole new meaning.

Friday 20 September 2013

Snakes & Ladders

I'm still in two minds about the Customer Decision Journey way of thinking: a model of how people make purchase decisions and what influences them along the way. Of course, the McKinsey model is a vast improvement on those funnels of bygone years. And it's good to see them adapting and updating the model to the digital world, and putting more emphasis on experience and advocacy.

But... as McKinsey themselves describe it, it's about "a series of interactions with a brand where a customer makes a decision or completes a task." This makes two assumptions:

1. It's about a sequence of events, where one follows another. Yes, I know that it's circular and not linear, and that feedback loops are probably implied at all stages but it's still about one thing following another in time. Experience comes after purchase.

2. Brand, product, communication, media, customer, company are all separate and clearly defined entities.

On real journeys, life's not like that. Unexpected events occur, things don't go in sequence and sometimes you end up back where you started - or lost. A wise research agency once compared the purchase decision process as being more like a game of snakes and ladders.

I'm not suggesting that the CDJ is not a useful tool - and I know many people find it a great method of clarify thinking and generating communication ideas.

But any kind of thinking should also be complemented by your own personal experience.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Innocence Regained?

Lloyds Bank is undergoing a divorce from TSB, imposed by the European Competition Authority. The bank was bailed out by the British government aka the taxpayers in 2009 and will now be operating as Lloyds Bank and TSB with the intention of making the market healthier and more competitive.

It's interesting to see how the rebranding of the two "new" banks is going. The head of marketing at Lloyds Bank has said that the "area of focus will be our heritage and our quality of service. We have a long history and customers are familiar with us."

So far, so good. It certainly makes sense to return to where you were before you were bad and dirty and maybe pick up from there. And the cover of the customer brochure I got the other day took me right back to the 70s when my parents opened an account for me at our local Lloyds Bank. Back to the caravanning holidays in Scotland that we had in those days.

But the letter that accompanied the brochure destroyed that first kindling of goodwill towards the "new" Lloyds Bank. Customers may well be familiar with the bank but just how familiar is the bank with its customers?

Not very, if the letter is anything to go by.

"Over the coming days you'll start to see changes on the High Street." Um ... if you look at my address, you'll see I live in Germany and the only changes I'll be seeing on my "High Street" are the graffiti on the election posters, not the kind of changes that you mean.

And then all this "new Lloyds Bank/becoming Lloyds Bank" stuff. I know it's 18 years ago, but I never could get used to Lloyds TSB. The campaign is obviously designed and written by people who were about 6 in 1995.

In the great scheme of things, none of this will annoy me enough to start looking around for a new bank. But for brands that revert, for whatever reason, to an old name have to be careful how this is managed.

It could be the difference between being welcomed as the prodigal son or suffering the fate of Thomas Wolfe's hero: "You can't go home again."

Monday 9 September 2013

Always on - even After Hours

In today's "always on" 24/7 world, it's easy to forget some occupations were never a 9 to 5 job. This is true for any kind of applied creativity, where you can't simply switch off that part of your brain that makes connections and juxtaposes unlikely things with each other. After all, what is dreaming?

The ad above was written in the 1920s or 1930s by O.B.Winters of Erwin, Wasey & Company and is one of the classic all-time best long copy ads. Ad agencies are not always that great at selling their own wares, but I think this ad says it all - and does a cracking good generic selling job for creative businesses everywhere:

It is after hours and most of the people have gone home. There is a chess game in the office of the production manager and a light still burns in the cashier’s cage. From the outer room comes the untutored click of a typewriter—an office boy is taking the Y.M.C.A. course in advertising. Across the area way a man bends over his desk, writing. A green visor shades his eyes. From his twenty-eighth story window as he glances up from time to time he can look down on the jewelry of lights. It is after hours, but he works on. He will whip his copy into finished form before he leaves. One of the layout men has put his drawing board aside and is going out to the elevators. Under his arm he carries a tissue pad. A new idea is stirring in his mind. It will be roughed out in pencil before morning comes. Six months from now you will feel it tugging at your purse strings.
It is after hours and most of the people have gone home. But out in Bronxville and Great Neck, in London and Paris, in Chicago and San Francisco—in hotel rooms, on Pullman cars, on speeding planes and ocean liners this company’s people are thinking about other people’s businesses, working for men who are all unaware such work is going on. A few hurried notes scrawled on the back of an old envelope tonight may be the key to next year’s most productive advertising campaign. Between the acts at the theatre an idea may come that will make sales history. At home beneath the reading lamp a man may solve a merchandising problem. Once a famous trademark came back from a camping trip.
These are the phases of our service that perhaps not even our own clients have ever thought of before.  There is no mention of it in our Terms and Conditions. But all our clients have been the gainer for it and will be many times again. Why such devotion on the part of men who have already given us their day? Of no one here is asked more than he can do. The client does not require it. Again, why? Anyone who deals regularly with men will tell you this is the kind of work that money alone cannot buy. It is work done purely of free will and its real pay is pride in work well done. Those who understand the creative mind will know just what we mean by that. They know that the good workman, in advertising as elsewhere, asks no question save, how well can this be done?
Most of our men turned to this organization because they felt that with us they could approach their work in just that spirit. All of us here hold that good advertising is advertising which is seen, is read and is believed—advertising which makes friends, builds good will—advertising which returns to the advertiser his investment with a profit. To contrive with words and pictures advertising which can do these things is a challenge to men of fine talent and quick imagination who like to write and like to draw. It is not an easy thing to do, and if we have been unusually successful at it, that is because we love the job and have given it our best. The men who write advertisements for the clients of this firm would succeed in any branch of journalism. Some of them have been on university faculties. One has edited a newspaper. Others are contributors to the magazines. They know how to appeal to the public in the printed word. They know how to sell. The men who lay out and design our advertising are men at the top of their profession. They are men who, were they not advertising men, would be well-known illustrators and artists. They know how to catch the public’s eye by picture and design. They know how to sell.
The men in charge of merchandising and contract responsibilities are seasoned business men. One of them headed a great selling organization for many years. They know how to fit the wings of advertising to the fuselage of business. They know how to sell. Research department? Expert media men? Direct advertising department? Merchandising department? Export facilities?—We have them all. We have them all developed to a degree not equaled by any other organization that we know. And these departments are all essential in the rounding out of the service this house has made its own. But quite the finest thing we have to give to those who come to us for counsel is the high enthusiasm of our men and a devotion to their work which is measured neither by the dollar nor the clock.
This, too, was written after hours.
420 Lexington Avenue, New York

I love the quiet sincerity and the picture that these words paint. And next time I'm slaving away in the wee small hours, I'll read it again. 

Tuesday 3 September 2013


This is an important book. It’s one of those books that you may find on the business shelf, but it has implications for the individual, for business, for the economy and for society and humankind as a whole.

Bruce Nussbaum’s book is easy to read, but not simplistic. It covers and draws inspiration from a wide range of disciplines, from anthropology and psychology to education as well as design and business. The bulk of the book is devoted to what Nussbaum terms the “5 competencies of Creative Intelligence” which he defines as Knowledge Mining, Framing, Playing, Making and Pivoting. In discussing all of these, he brings a wealth of super examples as well as how-to tips. I like the inclusion of the “back end” competencies Making and Pivoting, as creativity doesn’t end with ideas!

I also found the section on the Economic Value of Creativity in which Nussbaum describes the new economic system of Indie Capitalism inspiring. I think I cheered aloud at least once! This system values chance and human unpredictability rather than reducing to what can be measured as in the efficiency of markets system.

I have a couple of very minor criticisms. Firstly, I found there were rather too many clichés of the “see them as challenges, not problems” type, as well as the repetition of the “we don’t think of ourselves as creative” line. Well, some of us do! The examples in the book have, inevitably, a US bias.

Overall, this is a book that is well worth reading, and I’ll be referring back to it. I particularly like the dispelling of the “lone genius” myth and the focus on the social conditions that lead to creativity. Nussbaum knits together a number of disparate trends, from gaming and crowd-funding, the renaissance of making and the return to local production in a readable and thought-provoking book.  

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Wish you were here

When I walked into my Motel One room last week, I was reminded somehow of the Pink Floyd song in the title, especially the line "we're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year".

Unfortunately the music to accompany the swimming and the giant aquarium wasn't Pink Floyd, but that ubiquitous "Chill-Out" music, on a loop like the film. Both got switched off after the second or third cycle.

I do think Motel One is one of the best new brands to come out of Germany recently. A true millennium baby, the company was established in 2000. The underlying idea, a low-price design hotel, is an excellent one. And I know that when I first saw those turquoise chairs a few years back, I was blown away.

And yet... that fish-bowl bothered me. Along with the chill-out music, the "Summer Feeling" place sets,  the flickering fire on the flatscreen, even the brown n' turquoise look - it's all beginning to feel of its time, the noughties.

Although the 'One Lounges' are more individualised with local themes incorporated into the look, Motel One is a very standardised experience, which has its good and bad points.

I just hope to see a little rebellion as the brand expands into its teens.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Perfect Planner

In those bygone days when I was responsible for recruiting and managing a Planning department, I was often asked by management what I was looking for in my new recruits. My usual answer was that I couldn't spell it out, but I'd know it if I saw it.

I read a post recently by Richard Huntington where he outlines his three requirements. All good things come in threes, so here goes:
1. Safe-looking people with dangerous minds
2. Crafty with the craft skills
3. Forward-thinking mother f**ckers (my asterisks, not his, or Julian Cope's either who Richard attributes this one to)

It's pretty well there. I also found one of those exhaustive lists in my file, which may be from the last century, but I still think it's pretty good. Unfortunately I don't know who to attribute it to. I'm sure it came from Saatchi somewhere and I'm equally sure it didn't come from me. Here goes:

Hiring A Planner?

Most CEOs look for someone who is “smart”, “cerebral”. Someone who is “well read”.  Preferably someone with a “psychological or anthropological background”.  Who understands human behaviour.  And who speaks in a “convincing” manner.

What is often forgotten are the qualities it takes to acquire true understanding. The qualities that are required to not only sound convincing, but to be convincing.  The qualities that allow a planner to stimulate, nurture and protect great ideas.

The following outlines 10 characteristics often forgotten when hiring a planner.

1.    X-ray Vision: The most powerful communication between individuals and groups is non-verbal.  And if your potential planner talks more than they watch, chances are they will miss 90% of what is actually being communicated.

2.    Sonic Ears: What people say and what they mean are often two different things.  Many planners can get caught up in the words, when it’s the tone and the manner in which the words are delivered that is communicating the loudest.

3.    Explorer:  Many planners base their understanding of consumers on theory.  What they have learned in research or from books.  What they don’t do is get out of their office, away from their books, and submerge themselves in the real world.

4.    Imagination:  A planner’s job is not just to understand human behaviour, it is also to inspire creative solutions.  And all the understanding in the world is useless to our creative people …if it doesn’t inspire them.

5.    Instinct:  Human behaviour is not always predictable.  A good planner will rely as much on their gut as they will on the numbers.

6.    Curiosity:  People change all the time.  And a planner who assumes they know the answers is a planner who has lost their ability to accept change.

7.    A Player: The result of creativity is not always predictable … essentially because of the huge unknown called human emotions.  A good planner needs to be able to accept when an idea may be bigger than what the focus groups or the numbers have told them.

8.    Open Minded: Understanding people means that you can’t judge them.  A good planner will see things from multiple perspectives … not just their own. 

9.    Motherly:  Brilliant ideas need to be protected and nurtured, not judged.  A good planner will discover ways of improving ideas, not killing them.

10. A Hunter: Being a planner is not about gathering information.  It’s about hunting down insights.  It’s about getting to the kill quicker.  It’s an active role, not a passive one.

I'm with most of that, too. But interesting that people ask what you're looking for. And Richard H mentions "safe-looking". A lot of the planners I recruited did bear some resemblance to Brains from Thunderbirds. 

But there were others who looked like Lady Penelope.

Friday 16 August 2013

P...pick up a Puffin

Which brands from our childhood have the most impact on our lives? In my case, Puffin Books stands out as a major contributor to my obsession with both reading and writing - and the way the brand was marketed in the late 60s and 70s is still a text book example of marketing to children - and getting it right.

For those not in the know, Puffin books was Penguin's children's imprint. In the late 60s, Puffin's  chief editor, Kaye Webb launched the Puffin Club, whose main medium was the quarterly magazine Puffin Post. This was packed full of book reviews and previews, interviews with authors, jokes, competitions and contributions from Puffin Club members. The whole package (including the envelope) was wittily and charmingly designed by the illustrator Jill McDonald.

Kaye Webb was a woman before her time when it came to marketing. She had a Mission - to get children reading, a strategy to do this - to connect children to authors and illustrators and held the belief that the world would be a better place if more children read books. She's even quoted as seeing her role to spread "Puffinness" - a most modern idea of branding!

So many elements of the Puffin brand and Kaye Webb's approach ring a bell for 21st century marketers: added value and brand extension, a social network, 360° marketing, edutainment - it's all there. Just from the top of my mind, I remember diaries, badges, bookplates, even a Puffin glove puppet to make yourself. And there were holidays, although I never got to go on those. That's on top of all the wonderful books with their brilliant cover illustration and design.

Now, that's what I call making a difference to someone's life.

P.S. For the Puffin nerds amongst us, have a look at The Puffin Club Archive for some wonderful memories.

Friday 9 August 2013

Avaricious Brands

When I first started in this game, the military metaphor was de rigueur when it came to talking about marketing. If you couldn't quote Von Clausewitz, you weren't anyone. And of course, old habits die hard. Although Sport metaphors made a brief appearance in the 90s, these have been more quickly consigned to the cliche bin than the more aggressive military terms. After all, why team up with someone or coach them when you can just shoot them instead?

Wars are usually fought with an aim - to gain something, such as power or territory. Or, ideally, both. And brands (or the people that speak for them) do tend to be rather avaricious.

Not content with owning the market, or a sizeable share of it, brands covet all sorts of weird and wonderful things, from the High Ground (whatever that may be) or the Heart and Mind of The Consumer (no one is terribly interested in bladders or bowels) to bizarre notions such as "family rituals" or "me-time" to the frankly absurd - Love, Happiness and Freedom.

The thing is, most of these things are not material, and no-one, let alone a brand, can own them. In the same way, you can "love" a brand all you like, but it can never reciprocate that love. It just can't. It's not human.

Even if all this ownership stuff is just a figure of speech, it is all about power, control and competition.

In the new spirit of generosity and cooperation, it would be refreshing to see brands (or the people who speak for them) giving something back, instead of pontificating about ownership.

Or maybe our brand could "own" generosity?

Monday 5 August 2013

Kentish Crisps or Crisps of Kent?

The regional card is one that's been played by clever manufacturers for a few years now, tapping into all those feelings of local identity and anti-globalism. Who cares if the handmade crafting pushes the price way up over that of the big boys with their economies of scale?

Just back from holiday and I've seen two examples of doing it right, both of which play cleverly with local pride.

First exhibit is Kent Crisps, "from the Garden of England" whose flavours include Oyster & Vinegar and Roast Beef & Spitfire Ale. Just the thing for a lazy afternoon in the sunny garden of the local pub.

Crossing over the Channel, we discovered Breizh Cola, although it's been around for the last decade. This is what is apparently known as an "Altercola", rather like Afri Cola here in Germany. No personalised bottles, though...

Maybe one day, even these regional products won't be specific enough. Can we expect to see Kentish Crisps and Crisps of Kent one day? Or even Finistere and Morbihan Colas? Or whatever the equivalents are in Breizh?

Thursday 18 July 2013

Where it all began Part 3

... and the final installment of my words of wisdom about advertising, aged 14. Part 2 is here.

"Advertising has changed greatly in the last hundred yeras. In the 19th C and at the beginning of this century, advertisements were very drab and had no impact, but crammed in a lot of small writing with a small or no picture. Adverts today say more in less space and seem to have more effect on the population.

But has advertising progressed too far? No doubt it has a great effect on the public. It is frightening to see how people can be taken in by things like this. Hitler realised this and used this to his own advantage by churning out reels of pro-Nazi and anti-Jewish propaganda. The adverts of today are of little importance, but if anyone uses this in a more sinister aspect, which they could, there could be disasterous consequences.

Do people really believe in these unrealistic adverts? Do they really think that if they buy certain products they can have a happy family all dressed in shining white, or, in the case of men, beautiful mysterious women fainting all around them?

Advertising is not evil to the more intelligent people who can distinguish between reality and fantasy, but to more easily-led people, it can definitely have harmful effects.

But although advertising can be misleading, it also has a need. Advertising is useful because it tells people of the variety of products, what products exist, what they are and how much they cost."

So there you are. A dilemma of conscience even back then.

Monday 15 July 2013


We tend to think of business as a force for good as a 21st century concept, with global ambitions to raise women's self-esteem, or save rain forests, or clean the world's water, while selling a few packs of this or that.

But business has a history of doing well and doing good. Just think of those 19th century philanthropist industrialists who built whole towns and villages for their workers. And in the mid 20th century, the ambitions were slightly closer to home but centred very much on culture and education. One of my prized possessions is the Shell Nature Book, which must date from the 50s, full of beautiful artwork of the flora and fauna of this sceptred isle.

Another wonderful example is the Lyons Teashop Lithographs, currently on show in Eastbourne. This was one of many mid-20th century initiatives aimed at democratising art. Interestingly enough, the need arose from a practicality: after the war, J Lyons' Teashops were looking in a rather shabby state of repair and the lithographs were actually commissioned to cover over worn decor.

The work of 40 artists was represented from 1946 to 1955, including famous names such as Edward Bawden (see The Dolls at Home, above), Edward Ardizzone (whose book illustrations I remember fondly from my childhood) and David Gentleman (who I always think of as the stamp man.)

The lithographs, with their palette of faded brick, austerity grey and Air Force blue, are a wonderful and quirky evocation of a vanished but very British way of life.

The branding was subtle, by association, but there can be no doubt that perceptions of the J Lyons brand were enriched by this initiative, even if Millward Brown weren't around to prove it with a Link Test!

Thursday 11 July 2013

Summertime Sadness

The creativity bar has been raised somewhere to the heavens for UK retailers in the last few years, so no doubt Leo Burnett relished the challenge to develop a Summer Food ad for the Co-Op.

Unfortunately, it seems that the "search and re-apply" tactics applied have turned this particular summer spot into a real turkey.

You can imagine the client brief:

'Let's borrow some of the success factors of the John Lewis campaign - you know, they always build an emotional connection with music, and their Christmas ads are always fab!'

So the creatives scuttle away and pull an old idea out of the drawer - and cut to fit for the Co-Op. It's clever and ironic and the trick is that your ears think it's Christmas, but your eyes tell you it's summer! (And your clever, clever brain picks up little Christmas rituals-restaged-in-summer...)

Sorry, but this is not the way to engage the emotions. In psychobabble it's cognitive dissonance, and it makes people annoyed.

If you don't like psychobabble, you can go for common sense and experience, as the many customers and Co-op staff who complained about the ad did. When do you not want to be reminded of Christmas? In summer, and especially not by a supermarket. Is there anything more depressing than seeing Christmas puddings and mince pies in the shops before the schools have even gone back?

To quote from one of the staff:

'Get rid of the bloody christmas song its driving us demented and sick of customers moaning about it.'

Happy holidays!

Monday 8 July 2013

The data tsunami

One of the commonest complaints that I hear from marketers these days is that they simply have too much information and data. This over-abundance is sometimes described as a mountain or an overload, but more often than not, metaphors from the destructive world of water are used.

There's a data deluge, or data tsunami. People feel that they are swamped with information or drowning in data.

And lately, I have also heard the term "infobesity", with the analogy to fast food. Too high a quantity of too low a quality, making our brands distinctly unhealthy.

My approach to data has always been to take a deep breath first. Then to see what I've got and start to skim through it, with the following in mind:

1. Just because it exists and someone has paid for it, doesn't mean you have to use it
2. Hone your instinct for what is useful. If you read case histories, they generally don't use much information or data, but the stuff that's there is crucial. Ditto, most presentations, even if they are 100 page ppts, will only have two or three killer slides.
3. It's all about making choices and making hypotheses early - then using the data or information selectively to back these up. Remember, in this job, there's seldom one right answer, but the right answer is the one you decide on and stick with.
4. I like to organise data and information around a few key themes - these will start to occur to you as you skim through what you have.

And, finally, don't feel bad about ignoring information that doesn't feel right, or is simply inaccessible. The next time someone circulates a 200 page pdf with the comment "useful/interesting report," ask them which bits, exactly. The chances are that they won't have read it, either.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Why advertising may be the last refuge for creativity

It's well known that these days, the entertainment industries - particularly music and film - use algorithms to assess hit potential, based on past performance. 'Creative Risk Management' company Epagogix proclaims loudly on their website:

"Data-based decision-making is on the rise all around us!"


"The art of quantitative prediction is reshaping business and government."

Now, it is debatable whether "quantitative prediction" should be classified as an art, especially when you observe the results of this omnipresent rise. The last time I checked what was on at the local cinema, I was offered Fast & Furious 6, Scary Movie 23, Hangover 99 or Alvin and the Chipmunks 666.

It used to be that if you weren't good enough to be a Hollywood producer, you might be able to scrape a living in the grubby world of advertising. And these days, that may even be a preferable existence. You see, much as Epagogix and their like may rub their hands together in glee when they see the advertising budgets of the big global brands, it's hellishly difficult to predict advertising success based on the past, despite what certain market research agencies may tell you.

For all our shift to "conversations instead of disruption", advertising is still, for the most part, uninvited. The fast-forward button on the video, the channel change on the remote control have been joined by the AdBlock app. You won't often see a queue of people like the one above eagerly awaiting your next TV ad, unless you're John Lewis.

All of this means that the element of surprise, newness, chance is still vital in creating good brand communications. Creativity, in other words.

Finally, I would always question a claim for "prediction". Prediction of what, exactly? In most cases, the talk is of box-office success - bucks and billions. And, fair enough, money still makes the world go round.

But can anyone "quantitatively predict" which films will change the world, which will be hailed as classics in a hundred years? I doubt it.

Thursday 27 June 2013

My little car park

I must have seen too many bad films involving car parks, but the places give me the creeps. The low ceilings, the dim lighting, the sinister odour they exude. Shiver. I am all for the German law which requires the allocation of a number of designated parking spaces for women at no extra cost.

But I have to say I was rather taken aback at my last trip to Frankfurt airport. They have redesigned the women's parking areas from top to toe in a look that wouldn't be out of place in a Barbie or My Little Pony toy set.

It's, well... pink.

There are pink walls and pink ticket dispensers. There are flowers and the words 'Ladies (sic) Parking' just in case you were in doubt.

I have nothing against pink in the right place. I noticed that my deodorant  has a similar pink packaging, but, well, it's from adidas, which is normally a manly sort of brand, so they have to make things clear. And the whole thing is only about 10cm big and tucked away in the bathroom.

But this expanse of pink, and flowers - I'm not sure. It's not clear what the advantages are for me to park here rather than in one of the grey unisex bays, other than it's prettier and girlier. I would hope that this area has more thorough CCTV monitoring (there were some nasty incidents at Frankfurt Airport a few years back) but it's certainly not nearer to the terminal.

The thing is, most women who park at the airport are surely business women. Exactly the sort of women who don't want a pink laptop or mobile phone.

I note that the agency responsible, Damm & Bierbaum in Frankfurt, is run by two chaps called Dirk and Philipp. They even had flyers (arf, arf!) designed in "handbag-look" for the launch. Hmm.

And another thing I didn't like. I've got a red car. It clashes dreadfully against those pink walls.