Thursday 23 January 2014

Individually the same

The other day, I came across the website of a self-confessed avatar collector who admits to having "too much free time on his hands." The man's name is Albert Huberts, he's from Holland and this is his site.

Next time you have too much free time on your hands, take a look. He's grouped avatars together by theme, from No Forehead Girl to Hair-stache. Fascinating, that we hear so much about social media with its continual parade of selfies being an outlet for individuality and self-expression, but so many of the avatars are similar. Mr Huberts remarks on 'the ease with which we surrender our individuality to the collective identity,' and quips that 'selfies are as individualistic as slices of bread.'

And it's not just a 21st century phenomenon. Albert Huberts points to 1920s family photo albums, which all look remarkably similar. And I don't suppose my 1970s teenage photo booth poses are too different to anyone else's.

Brand logos have the same problem. A lot of logos are interchangeable and are characterised by the design vogue of the decade in which they were created - or updated. There's the famous millennium  swish and swoosh, above, inspired (if one can use that word) by Nike. Or the chunky typefaces and orange/brown look of the 70s, the neon sign on black 80s style or all those badges and petrol blues from the 1930s.

The latest logo trend seems to be to remove the name of the brand. In a world of interchangeability, where will that leave us?

Sunday 19 January 2014

Food, glorious food!

My favourite brand idea of the year so far is one that appeals to my taste buds as well as my sense of zeitgeist. Cooking with Mama has been around for a couple of years, but tickled my taste as to being just right, just now.

The brand is a cookery school, based in London in Berlin so far, which offers unique cooking experiences to individuals and groups representing a range of worldwide cuisines. The clever idea that the founders had was based on an observation - big cities like London and Berlin are increasingly multi-cultural, a trend - people are hungry for cooking experiences, and an insight - there's no cooking like Mama's.

If you mix these ingredients together, you get a great idea: you recruit "Mamas" - super cooks from a variety of cultural backgrounds who have learned the secrets of delicious home-cooking from their mothers before them, and facilitate them to lead cookery classes.

It's a brilliant fusion of the traditional and new: harnessing wisdom, expertise and culinary tips and tricks that might or might not get passed down the generations with the new spirit of sharing, social generosity and community. The backgrounds of the "Mamas" include Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Brazil, Cameroon, Beirut and Mexico.

Best of all, it's empowering for the cooks involved - using food as a force for good.

Monday 13 January 2014

Graven Images

Most retail or service brands that I worked on in the past sooner or later came up against the dilemma:

How much of my communications budget do I put behind my brand image?

And how much should go on directly driving traffic?

With British Airways, for example, most of the money as well as the blood, sweat and tears went on building the image, with rather less outgoings on advertising special prices and offers, especially in those early days of CRM. However, my colleagues down the corridor who worked on Currys and Dixons spent very little time worrying about anything as lofty and pretentious as image. It was roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in time.

I'm rather pleased that the huge changes in media in the last few years have put paid to this kind of compartmentalised thinking. The point is, that no car, motor-bike, pony-trap or any other kind of traffic (can you tell I hate that word in that context?) is going to drive itself to your store or your website if your brand is a grey nonentity. And conversely, if you spend your whole time pontificating about your Vision to 2030 without letting anyone know what's new this season or when your sale is, people aren't going to turn up in droves, either.

All advertising should be an invitation to your store or website, if you are a retailer - communications that convey some mysterious, ethereal image that is detached from who you are and what you sell are money wasted.

Communications work in three ways - through the mind, through the emotions, through the senses (or persuasion, involvement and salience as laid out originally by Hall & Partners in 1991.)

And modern brands are tangible and substantial, not just a collection of images in "the consumer's" mind.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Wafer Wars

The German-speaking peoples do love their wafers. While wafers are relegated to the biscuits eaten last in the UK Family Assortment, wafers have whole brands dedicated to their existence in other countries.

The Germans have Hanuta, via the Italian Connection Ferrero, while the Austrians delight in the mega-brand that is Manner, which I blogged about here.

In the South Tyrol, that delightful part of Italy where you're not really sure which country you're in and everything has at least two names, Loacker is the local hero as far as wafers go.

While Manner may well be smarter in terms of their branding and marketing, my preference is for the Loacker products in terms of yumminess. There's more chocolate involved and generally a few spoonfuls more indulgence.

Although I'm sure they're not exactly good for the waistline, it was cheering to see the company sponsors some of the ski-schools, echoing the Milka and Manner involvement with the sport.

OK, mine's a Tortina or perhaps a Rose of the Dolomites.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

The ghost of advertising past

I'm going to be contrary and start my blog this year with a look back into the past instead of looking forward.

In these days of self-destructing posts on social media and ad-blockers of all varieties, it's interesting that there has been a renewal of interest in the medium of hand-painted signs on buildings, now known as ghost signs. There is a website dedicated to documenting and preserving such signs in the UK here, and a blog full of examples, including France and Germany here.

Most of the signs hail from the first half of the twentieth century and say a lot about everyday life in those days. Matches, cigarettes and beers are often featured, as are long-forgotten remedies, perhaps to put right an overindulgence in those vices.

But more extraordinary is the glorious optimism inherent in this medium. Who, these days, would dare to imagine that their brand might still be around in a hundred years, let alone that the price would stay constant? While some of the household names who advertised in this way, such as Bovril and Hovis are still with us, most, like Black Cat cigarettes have gone to the big brand graveyard in the sky.

It's a case of advertising long outliving the brand.