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.