Wednesday 30 January 2013

The First Time

Back in the days when "Insights" were all the rage at Procter & Gamble, among our favourites was the one on which a long-running Head & Shoulders campaign was based. It went something like this: because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Of course, this is just as true for brands as it is for people. I don't know if it's just me being a weird marketing person, but for some brands, I can remember my first impression very clearly. Take McDonald's. The first I ever, ever heard of McDonald's was through my pen-friend (how quaint!) Amy from the US. And I'll never forget my first visit to McDonald's: it was High Street Kensington in the 1970s and we were on a school trip. I don't actually recall how the burgers tasted, but the whole experience was tied up in my mind with hip establishments like The Hard Rock Cafe and Kensington Market.

Classic advertising didn't really play a part in my first impressions and you could argue, as many brands do, especially these days, that so much about a brand is out of the marketer's control.

But is it really? Maybe, if you take an old model where "the brand" and how it is positioned is a theoretical construct, depicted in an onion, or a key, or a pyramid somewhere in the marketing department archives.

But if you take the brand and the positioning as the core meaning of what the company is all about, that is acted on, acted out, lived and breathed every second of the day, not just via the marketing department, you may not have everything strictly "under control", but you'll certainly have a huge influence over who decides to talk about your brand - and in what context.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Come on, 'fess up!

Everyone is getting a conscience these days, even those of us in the big, bad world of advertising. And there's now a place on the internet where creatives can seek forgiveness for their worst sins - The Creative Confessional. A lot of it is distinctly unfunny stuff from nerds who have obviously watched too many episodes of Mad Men, but there are some goodies in there that got a nod and an absolution from this Planner-turned-Priest:

'I immediately throw resumes in the trash if I see the word "visionary" or "ninja"'

'No, I don't enjoy designing wedding invitations for free.'

and my favourite this morning:

'I'm repulsed by those who believe that we emit creative juices and their uninspired brief can get them flowing'

Planners aren't sin-free by any means. For each creative sin of re-cycling or borrowing ideas, I'm sure we can match it with re-cycling of strategies and positionings. The most cunning of us actually set up consultancies specialised in this very activity and make lots of money from it. Or there's the trick that preys on the fact that ad people have very short memories - dig out a business book from ten years ago, give it a snappy title and throw the word digital in here and there then get it published as original work. And the old chestnut of making up data. Who's to know?

My worst sin, I think, was running out of patience with a creative team, writing my own script and presenting it to the client. Inevitably, they liked it (and, an awful admission, so did I).

Mercifully for all involved, the budget was cut and the film never got made.  

Saturday 19 January 2013

The illusion of inclusion

I'm sure that there are very few of us who haven't seen this before: it's called the Kanizsa Triangle and is just one example of how our brains "fill in the gaps". With the written word, of course, textspeak is another everyday demonstration of how the human mind can make sense of something that is theoretically incomplete.

It was interesting this week to see an example from the world of branding in Selfridge's "No Noise" initiative to "celebrate the power of quiet, see the beauty in function and find calm among the crowds."
Selfridges are offering "de-branded" products as part of this initiative, including these:

The thing here is that these products aren't really "de-branded" at all - all that has been removed is the brand name. This is an important lesson in any discussion of branding - branding is about much more than a logo or name. Branding can be carried through all manner of visual cues - from the shape of a bottle to a signature colour to a specific typeface - as well as auditory, kinaesthetic and olfactory cues.

In fact, one of the measures of a truly strong brand must be its absolute inability to go anonymous.

Sunday 13 January 2013

A Happy Collaboration

Collaboration used to be something of a dirty word with its connotations of letting out secrets, saving your own skin, sleeping with the enemy, being a traitor and that sort of thing. Even in the world of brands, collaboration used to be eyed with suspicion - would association with another brand sully your reputation? Would the so-and-sos discover the secret of your brand essence?

However, things are opening up. For the last decade or so, co-operations, certainly in terms of promotion, but also in terms of product have become increasingly the norm. Ten years ago it was surprising to see two confectionary brands producing a hybrid - something like Haribo Goldbären and Smarties - but these days, it's perfectly normal.

The latest collaboration that has impressed me is McDonald's Happy Readers activity, where the fast-food chain is collaborating with book publishers such as Dorling Kindersley, retailers such as WHSmith's and the National Literacy Trust to encourage reading. The kick-off will include books being given away instead of toys in the Happy Meal. By the end of 2014, McDonalds will have given away 15m books in the UK, making them Britain's biggest book distributor.

For a long time, I wasn't a great fan of McDonalds and I have to admit that I still find their products pretty yucky. But I do admire the way they have turned around their marketing.

This is a collaboration that shows both generosity and responsibility - and possibly a better fit for McDonalds than Ronald McD encouraging "the kids" to do sport!

Thursday 3 January 2013

Doing well and doing good

It must be ten years ago that the book "Good Business" by Steve Hilton and Giles Gibbons came on the market, and a few years have passed since John Grant's excellent "Co-opportunity". "Who cares wins" is the natural successor to these ground-breaking books on business as a force for good.

What David Jones cleverly does in "Who cares wins" is to bring the idea of good business into the mainstream, highlighting it as a necessity for all businesses, not just new start-ups as we enter the "Age of Damage". In addition, he joins up the dots between Social Media and socially responsible businesses. Social media is the  means by which people (please, not consumers or even prosumers!) will work together with companies and organisations to Do Well AND Do Good.

The underlying premise of the book - that to succeed in the 21st century, businesses have to do both - "well" and "good" is excellent and the idea of the Age of Damage is a strong one (and was confirmed at the tail end of last year with the various tax-related stories involving Starbucks et al). Overall, the book is clearly written and enjoyable to read.

The marketing-cynic in me can't resist a few minor nit-picks about the odd cliche: there's a lot of embracing going on here, usually involving empowered consumers, and words are often unnecessarily qualified by "really, truly or genuinely", but perhaps I just notice these things because I'm guilty of them in my own presentations ;-)  In addition, to make the point clear, a black and white picture of then (silos, profit-greedy companies, captive consumers in front of TVs) and now (brave new world of benevolent young green-blooded business people with responsibility at the heart of all they do, think and say) comes over which isn't strictly accurate.

This is an important and forward-thinking book with some excellent examples from the whole spectrum of business. I also liked the optimism, clarity and action-orientation of the author's style.

I think I'll make "Do well and do good" a New Year's resolution.