Tuesday 26 February 2013

The Golden Age

It must be quite satisfying to be deemed to have been part of the "Golden Age" of something. I'd like to  think that I belong to the "Golden Age of Saatchi & Saatchi" but I'm afraid that I was born too late to have been in the UK's first generation of planners.

The current Chief Strategy Officer at JWT, Tracey Follows, has recently interviewed twenty of the pioneers of planning from the late 60s and 70s. She describes a world where planners had invariably collected some experience in another field before going into planning - from media, "HR" (umm, don't think it was called that back in them days...), market research or even creative. I've always considered this eminently sensible - and even if you can study planning at college these days, I would far rather recruit an archaeologist or maybe an ex-detective any day.

Tracey points out that the JWT T-Plan in its day was revolutionary in that it considers "response". And it's important to remember that "response" was never meant in the narrow experimental psychology context of rats in cages. This meant a human being responding to something that they had experienced and probably processed, with thought, word or deed. Or emotion or sensation. The most telling comment that struck a chord with me was this one: "Across the communications industry, something in the response approach has been lost in the mists of time. Some of the greatest advertising from that golden era embedded sensorial and sensual elements, rather than relying on the twinned towns of rational and emotional."

Or as John Keats put it: "O for a life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts."

Thursday 21 February 2013

Endorsement from another era

Celebrity endorsements of products are always a risk, and the last few months have seen at least two extreme cases from the world of sport where brands have had to backpedal very rapidly.

Perhaps the boldest celebrity endorsement is one that goes beyond the sponsoring and the advertising and onto the packaging itself, with the star's name being assumed as the brand name and their picture and autograph incorporated into the pack design. Examples are few and far between: there are food products, where the celebrity has created the recipe, as in Paul Newman's dressings and sauces, or Linda McCartney's range. And, of course, perfumes, although I have often wondered who on earth would want to smell like Britney Spears.

Caruso Cough Sweets, above, are an obscure oddity, available only in certain German Apotheke stores, but that only adds to their quirky charm. It's all a modern re-interpretation, of course, of a story that did have some basis in fact (Caruso was indeed recommended some cough pastilles made to a 1877 recipe when due to go on stage in Hamburg) but it's a story you want to believe, as much as you want to believe that the packaging has been around for a century or so.

Caruso, like Houdini, is one of the few stars of the early 20th century whose name is still currency today. I feel that it's because he was one of the first stars who really was well-known around the Western world and, in today's horrible parlance, he embraced the new technology of the day. Phonograph, gramophone, telephone, film, Caruso could be described as phonogenic. And when it came to voices and keeping them clear and powerful and cough-free, his endorsement works as well today as it did one hundred years ago.

But, back to those risks. Caruso was indeed charged with an indecent act in November 1906, in New York Central Park Zoo. But before too many minds start boggling, let me assure you that this was no more than reinforcing the Italian stereotype and involved pinching a lady's bottom.

Caruso blamed a monkey.

Friday 15 February 2013

The mind moves in mysterious ways

Traditional market research has always been criticised on the grounds that, generally, people don't often do what they say they do. It's clear to anyone who has ever watched a group discussion that there are many motivators at play for each of the individuals taking part:

- social pressures, not wanting to appear socially undesirable
- intellectual pressures, not wanting to appear stupid or unknowledgeable
- pressure to be liked by the moderator, to say what they want to hear
- the fee and the spread of free wine and snacks
-and so on

Although group discussions seem to have gone out of fashion, especially here in Germany, I must confess to having found them useful on topics such as creative development or exploring brand image, especially when conducted sensitively with plenty of projective techniques. But they have never been that useful for uncovering the reasons, if "reasons" they are, why people buy one brand over another.

These days, a lot of "insight" is gleaned from listening into discussions on the internet, but, to be honest, this is just as full of the do:say contradiction as a typical group discussion, even if the people involved are doing this unpaid with no wine and snacks. In fact, I think there may be even more posturing and taking stances on the internet as you can hide behind anonymity.

I catch myself doing it. No, I never buy frozen processed meat products anyway. Yes, amazon is a big bullying company that puts little bookshops out of business. I have ordered from amazon yet again this week and last week I bought a 1kg pack of "beef" tortellini...

Getting underneath the do:say contradiction is a holy grail for marketers and another book, from behavioural psychology roots rather than the analytical psychology roots of qualitative market research attempts to throw some more light on the subject: Unconscious Branding, by Douglas Van Praet. Mr Van Praet is an ad-man turned behavioural therapist turned ad-man again (I think) and has looked at the way that behavioural therapists work with their clients. This he's turned into a 7-step process to change people's behaviour, via communication, with regard to buying brands:

1. Interrupt the pattern
2. Create comfort
3. Lead the imagination
4. Shift the feeling
5. Satisfy the critical mind
6. Change the association
7. Take action

The success of the viral sensation "The Force" for VW is explained in terms of the interruption in the pattern of how we view Darth Vader by introducing a cute version.


I am very happy to believe that this process may well lead to success when working intensively with individual clients who consciously wish to make a behavioural change over a period of month. But applying it to mass communication for people who are probably quite happy with their current brand behaviour?

I'm not sure.  

Monday 11 February 2013

Bad reputation

With the horse meat scandal galloping through many of Europe's best known brands, corporate reputation will be in the spotlight in the coming weeks for many companies.

Corporate reputation used to be referred to as "Corporate Image", but in today's connected world, the idea of image, with the implication that it has nothing to do with reality, belongs to the past. It will be interesting to see which of the brands caught up in the purveying of horse meat will emerge with their reputations intact. I expect it will be those who have already given serious thought to their reputation before the scandal broke.

Femke de Man, from the agency Globescan, gives her predictions for developments in the area of reputation for 2013. She expects that we will be seeing more Chief Reputation Officers, in the same way that we are seeing Chief Sustainability Officers in more forward-looking companies and, related to this, a view of reputation less in the context of risk management and more in the context of an ongoing, integral part of company process and function.

Building and managing reputation is no longer an optional luxury - and it's certainly a more demanding job that polishing up the corporate image from time to time.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Would you rather be trusted or famous?

Victoria Beckham once said that she wanted to be as famous as Persil, an objective that she has probably more than achieved. For the former Spice Girl, fame was an end in itself, and that's fair enough. Who's to say whether it's brought happiness or any other more lasting and possibly valuable benefits.

There's evidence that, for brands, the fame route may well be easier to achieve and pay off more profitably, in the short-term at least. The IPA 2008 study "Marketing in the era of accountability" shows that brands who use "fame" as a communication objective rather than image, awareness or trust are more likely to see success where it matters - at the business end.

And "fame" may well prove a more tempting proposition for marketeers, given the tendency to move on to the next brand after a year or two. Surely it's better on your cv to show how you made Bloggo famous, the brand everyone's twittering about, rather than attempting to build something as nebulous as trust, which is surely just a synonym for the rather dull values of reliability and dependability?

Trust is a tricky objective. It's hard to pin down, it's a long-term thing and, importantly, it has to be done through-and-through, not just via communication. Every time any of your stakeholders encounter your brand or company, there is an opportunity to build or lose trust. Most companies simply aren't structured to deliver that as yet.

But just because it's tricky doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. For all manner of organisations - not just brands - trust is taking on increasing importance as the 21st century progresses. Unless people trust you and your organisation, they will not support it.

Any brand can become famous through excellent communication. But trust has to be earned.

I do wonder if any up-and-coming soap powder brand has an objective that they'd "like to be as famous as Victoria Beckham."