Monday 30 June 2014

Redefining success

I started work in the 80s, the Thatcherite, loadsamoney, yuppy era when success was very clearly defined. It was primarily about money and, after that, power. When the decade changed, however, I clearly remember believing that the 90s would be different. We talking about the "caring, sharing 90s" at the ad agency, and, although "sustainability" didn't have quite the omnipresence that it has today, "green" was definitely on the agenda. I believed all this because I'd already seen colleagues in their 20s suffering from stomach ulcers, breakdowns and other stress-related illnesses.

In the 90s, I made a career move that wasn't incredibly clever in terms of money and power. I moved to a country where I could order beer but was otherwise clueless about the language, where Strategic or Account Planning was in its infancy in the ad agency world and where being a mother and having a career sat uneasily together.

But I gained so much more personally. This was followed by my decision to go freelance twelve years ago. I have found my own way and success on my own terms.

It's sad that not much has changed in thirty years in the way that Western culture measures success. And that there seem to be even more people suffering from burn-out and stress-related illnesses. Part of it, I am sure, is that many people have become slaves to technology - that double-edged sword that both simplifies and complicates our lives.

The latest book on the subject is from Arianna Huffington - Thrive. In it, she talks about the "money and power" definition of success as being like a two-legged stool. At some point you fall off. And that the 3rd leg of success is about Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving.

You may not be able to stop the world and get off, but you can certainly switch off the virtual world every evening.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Action Men (and Women)

I was chatting to an old pilot chum of my dad's the other day who was bemoaning the fact that everyone has become an collector and interpreter of data these days, to the extent that pilots don't pilot, teachers don't teach, engineers don't engineer and doctors don't doctor - we are all too busy trying to keep on top of the data. It's the same for those that work in Marketing and Advertising - we're so busy with KPIs and goals, justifying this expense and filling in that form, rating this colleague or informing that one that we don't have that much time to do what we're really paid for.

A new book has been published this week, by Adam Ferrier of cummins&partners, called The Advertising Effect.  In the blurb for the book, Adam asks those in advertising to do something that some may consider radical: forget rational messaging and creating an emotional brand connection and focus on affecting action and behavioural change.

And furthermore, he asks us to "get over and accept" a simple premise: we are in the behaviour change business.

This is all fine stuff, but I confess that I'm a little surprised. This is precisely what I have always understood advertising to be about. Early on in my career, we always had a part of the brief which was titled something like "what would we like people to think, feel and do as a result of this campaign"? And although these were laid out in this order, I don't think it was ever implied that the thinking resulted in the feeling which resulted in the doing.

In the end, advertising works in many weird and wonderful ways. The same campaign can have different effects on different people. One TV spot, say, can give one person a nice warm fuzzy feeling about the brand that's so strong that it's still around a year later when she's in the market for one of those. And for the next person, it may simply act as a catalyst for buying one of those (that he needs) tomorrow, and the ad is forgotten the next day.

What's important to me is that advertising is about change. Whether it's an emotional connection that leads to a change in behaviour or behavioural change that triggers a perceptual change isn't the point.

And it's a permanent change in how someone thinks, feels or behaves regarding that brand, not just change for change's sake.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Brands on the Black

Do you ever get paralysed by process, fed-up with frameworks while working on positioning a brand?

In the past, I can remember long debates about semantics - was "long-lasting" a benefit or a feature or a reason to believe? And, if it was a benefit, was it an emotional benefit or a rational benefit?

This kind of discussion usually leads nowhere and is often missing the point: what is really important about my brand? What makes people love it? What makes it indispensable?

Ulli Appelbaum is currently developing a new way (I hasten to call it a tool as actually it's more like a game) to help position brands and tell brand stories. It's currently in beta mode, so Ulli is open to thoughts, additions and subtractions.

It's called Positioning-Roulette. The thought behind it is that the act of brand positioning is as much about creativity and ideation as it is about intellect and process, although pre-given frameworks, agendas and philosophies often force marketers into thinking only along certain lines.

Positioning-Roulette helps you to find more creative solutions in a shorter space of time to a Brand Positioning task.

It's all about approaching the task from different angles - 25 of them, in fact, which are selected by random. These 25 areas include the usual suspects, such as Brand Purpose and Benefits, through to areas that you may not normally consider, such as Appeal to the Senses or Romancing how the Product Works, through to turning the task on its head - Conventions Disrupted, Problems & Paradoxes.

Just what you need, maybe, to move your brand from the red to the black.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

A sweet idea

With football fever revving up in earnest, it's mildly amusing to see which brands are joining in with the fun, and who's opting out of the mad samba spectacle.

I'm a bit disappointed with Coke's creativity. After the wonderful "share a Coke with..." personalised bottles last year, all they've done is recycle that one, with the names of the team - and just the German team as far as I can see.

A much sweeter and cleverer idea is that from Kinder Schokolade  with the Fußball-Star-Edition. The usual smiling youngster has been replaced by some less familiar-looking Jungs. Or are they less familiar? On closer inspection, they are young versions of famous German players from good old Rudi Völler, through to Michael Ballack and Jens Lehmann to stars of today such as Lukas Podolski and Sami Khedira.

Brilliant idea - it has everything: collectability, multi-generation appeal, topicality, limited edition rarity, the awww factor for the mums, and totally in character with the brand.

All they have to do is win and those packs will be worth a bomb one day.

But then again, England are going to win this time, aren't they?

Tuesday 3 June 2014

A tale of two Hartleys

It was L.P.Hartley who wrote 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.' When I first saw the classic TV ad for Yellow Pages, which told the story of an elderly man tracking down his long-lost book, Fly Fishing, I think I got my Hartleys muddled up and they merged into one.

The gentleman in the ad is J.R.Hartley and his creator, David Abbott, who founded the advertising agency AWV BBDO, passed away on May 17th. Although I never had the experience of working in his agency, his work was a huge influence on me in my choice of a career. Just one example is the series of posters for The Economist.

Why do I love the Yellow Pages ad? Well, it is classic storytelling at its best, and I bet David Abbott didn't need to go on an academic seminar on story arcs and heroes' journeys to learn his craft. And the brand is integral to the ad - not tacked on, not plonked in. Everyone remembers it's for Yellow Pages. And then the way it's put together - the music, the actor Norman Lumsden's performance, the Joss Ackland voiceover - wonderful! The ad was even recreated in 2011 in an updated version, with a middle-aged DJ searching for his 90s vinyl hit, aide by his young daughter and the Yell app.

Claire Beale, the editor of Campaign, wrote of David Abbott: 'Abbott's writing was created to sell, but to sell with an integrity and a humanity that truly respected the consumer.' And that's where the other Hartley quote comes in. Is this a thing of the past? Did David Abbott "do things differently" from the young copywriters of today?

I do hope not.