Monday 21 December 2015

Pre-digital Christmas

... well, it's now 21st December, so probably a bit late for all that!

Sometimes, instead of being all plannerish and analytical, I like to simply revel in beautiful pieces of advertising from the past.

This year, I'm going back to my roots and 1960s Britain. I'm afraid I don't know the artists of these beautiful posters, but if anyone can enlighten me I'd be grateful.

And, finally, fifty-plus years later, this one from the COI is just as relevant today.
Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy & Healthy 2016!

Thursday 17 December 2015

Perfectly Positioned?

I'm often called upon to think of parade examples for great campaigns, and top-notch examples of brand positioning, and the more I read about Airbnb, the more I think I'm going to be including this one as a brand that's doing rather a lot right.

It's very much a brand of its time, tapping into several of the megatrends for the early 21st century, with a degree of healthy tension - between belonging and individuality, between exploration and feeling at home.  The slogan 'Live like a local, not a tourist' taps into something many can identify with. And it's all made possible by connection via technology, such that the digital and real worlds are seamlessly linked.

Airbnb is the world's 3rd most valuable privately-held start-up, operating in 190 countries, 34,000 cities with over 1m hosts. And they've only been going since 2008.

Those 1m+ hosts are the core of the brand, and Airbnb is completely dependent on them. This is what makes Airbnb so different, and potentially brilliant or disastrous. 1m+ human beings in all their diversity and irrationality. There can be no 'consistency guidelines' here.

It's interesting that the brand positioning or purpose, 'Belong Anywhere' taps mainly into the guest mode or point of view. Is it a weakness that the hosts (or people in host mode rather than guest mode, as I am sure there is plenty of overlap) have entirely different motivations (and a far greater risk) than the guests, yet they are not addressed in the core positioning?

It's certainly a brand to watch, but I have one other reservation (if you'll pardon the pun) before I use this an example. I haven't even tried Airbnb as a guest, let alone offered myself as a host.

Maybe one resolution for 2016 should be to give it a go.

Monday 14 December 2015

It is Christmas Day in the Workshop

If I could pick what has been the biggest change in the way marketing and advertising people work over the last twenty-five years or so, I'd have to say that it's the rampant rise of the workshop. Since I've been freelance, the majority of requests that come in are for designing and running workshops.

I looked at my trusty Oxford Dictionary (published in the 1980s), and at this point, the main definition of 'Workshop' referred to 'a room or building in which manufacture is carried out'. Maybe that's why I have always associated the word with the grim connotations of 'Workhouse'. There's a secondary definition, which does suggest a 'meeting of several persons for intensive discussions, seminars, learning' but the emphasis here is on something extra, for educational purposes.

These days, workshops seem ubiquitous. I have even heard 'workshop' used as a verb - 'let's workshop it.' What did we do before workshops? Well, we did have plenty of brainstorms, but I notice these have gone rather out of favour. The post-its, the flip charts, the marker pens are now the weapons of choice of the workshop facilitator.

With colleagues working on a project often dispersed geographically, one reason that workshops have gained popularity must be the need to use the limited time that people are together, face to face, wisely and effectively. There's a worry that a free-flowing discussion, or a simple meeting won't be productive, therefore the need for more planning and structure.

While this makes sense in a lot of cases, and a well-conceived, designed and run workshop should yield results, I'm sure we've all experienced so-called workshops that have over-run, gone off on another tangent, provided reams of indecipherable post-its, or have simply confirmed one or two lowest common denominators, aka 'alignment'.

Often these workshops are ineffective and focus on consensus rather than brilliance due to a lack of clarity at the outset of what the purpose is. For me, brainstorms are about ideas, while workshops are about specific solutions to specific questions. It's a bit like qualitative and quantitative research.

Before we go into automatic pilot and 'workshop it' - we should ask ourselves: what is 'it'? What is the question we want to find a solution to? Is a workshop the best way of doing this?

Or should we have a brainstorming session, or simply a good old-fashioned meeting?

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Great stories, well told

The connection between ad people and novels is one that continues to fascinate me, not least because of my own rather feeble attempts to be the next J.K.Rowling, ha ha. And I've blogged about ad people that write, most recently here.

There's an interesting article about copywriters and novelists, by Lisa Friedman, here, which looks at 10 reasons that great copywriters (should) make great novelists. There's knowing your audience, there's the killer work ethic, the ability to tell a story, the economical use of language, and more besides. Summing up, it boils down to having an innate feeling for people and what makes them tick, combined with excellent skills of expression. In other words, the ability to tell a great story, well.

And talking of novels, and ad-land, I can most heartily recommend the new book above, Spin My Little World, by Abigail Cocks. Less about ad-land as set in ad-land. The main character, Bo Simpson, crashes and blunders her way through life armed with high fashion, low-life connections, a refreshingly un-PC attitude and lashings of foul-mouthed humour. I'm sure I worked with her once.

I also worry that I was her once.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Sunday Drivers

The great Christmas-Ads-Who's-Going-To-Boost-Kleenex-Sales-The-Most race has revved up a gear or two with a recent entry from Germany. Like the John Lewis ad, the heartstrings being pulled in the Edeka ad are those guilty ones associated with elderly relatives and neighbours. Is there anything much more heartbreaking than thinking about an old person alone with their turkey leg and tinsel?

But much as these ads may play on our guilt and tickle our tear ducts, I wonder how many viewers will actually do anything to warm up Christmastime for a senior citizen. I always love to see promotions that are 'actions rather than ads' and I've found a great one, called 'Sunday Rides: Together for a brighter winter.' It's a co-operation between Avis and The Norwegian Organisation of Volunteers.

The idea comes from putting two problems together - a business problem (Avis don't have many car rentals at weekends) - and a societal problem (elderly people are lonely because they are housebound, and in the dark Norwegian winter, this is particularly so. So the PR company Good Morning came up with the nifty idea of free car rentals on Sunday (with one of the better models on offer, no less) to anyone who comes along with an elderly passenger. The renter gets to drive a great car for free, the passenger gets to see somewhere they'd never see under their own steam and Avis gets great publicity. And that's just for starters.

I particularly like the quote from Good Morning's Markus Lind about this promotion:
In a time where everyone talks (too much) about retargeting, programmatic and algorithms, it is liberating to create a concept that speaks to the hearts of people and is shareable enough by itself. We have still not used a penny on ad buys. 

Monday 30 November 2015

Schade & Schade

The last time I was in London, I made a nostalgic visit to Charlotte St to see the old Saatchi building, which I blogged about here. And, at the end of last week, I heard about the next of my old workplaces to go - Saatchi Frankfurt. They'd long moved out of the building I'd worked in, but that still didn't stop the nostalgia-tinged sadness, especially as I imagine the remaining staff will be offered 'come to Berlin/Düsseldorf or get out'.

I spent a couple of years using the Frankfurt office for my base, jetting around the 'new' markets of Eastern Europe for P&G, before settling in as Head of Planning in 1998. Account Planning was the latest thing in Germany in those days, and I was amused, and a little sad, to dig out some bits and pieces from early management away-days. Life really was so simple then.

Positioning the agency. No ghastly 200 slide Powerpoint, just a couple of hand-scribbled overhead transparencies. A brand personality with 5 elements: creative, innovative, no rules, little bureaucracy, 'nothing is impossible' attitude. We weren't the biggest or even necessarily the best, but what we could do - and had proved this - was 'Being First' - from First over the Berlin Wall to First ad on the moon. We were going to lead a communications revolution: everything would be new - new ways to focus on what is true, new media opportunities, new targets, new creativity.

We didn't muck about. Someone came up with the brilliant sperm visual - a bit provocative, a bit cheeky, very powerful and very Saatchi (after all, we'd conceived the Pregnant Man) and the plastic cards were produced:

 Know more than the client, get the idea before anyone else, solve problems before they turn into the same, discover talents before they develop, have ideas before they are needed, look for new opportunities where no-one has looked before, think what no-one else has thought, be first to clear the path for others ... and so on.

And these days we talk about agility. Agility, for me, means dog shows.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Needs must

As a marketer with a background in psychology, I'm always interested in discussions about human needs and how these can be classified. In the course of my working life, I've lost count of the number of times that the Maslow Hierarchy has popped up on various Powerpoint presentations, like a biblical plague of pyramids. And, apart from Maslow, there are all manner of other systems and classifications, such as those mentioned here and here.

The latest Needs Model that I've seen is the ladder, above, from The Book of Life. I'm happy to pass this on, as I'm aware that even if a particular ladder isn't my cup of tea, it may well float someone else's boat.

My first observation about the ladder is that there's some judgement going on here. In Maslow's model, the pyramid deliberately describes needs as 'lower' order and 'higher' order, as the higher order needs cannot be fulfilled unless the lower order ones are satisfied. But in this model, I feel that someone at the School of Life has made a decision that self-understanding, maturity and wisdom are more worthy needs than status, indulgence and entertainment. After all, that is what the School of Life is selling.

I am wary about the movement described in the article, which suggests that brands in the 21st century should strive to meet the 'flourishing' needs. Two reasons. First of all, I believe that a brand satisfies a basic need, first and foremost, through its product or service - something physical or physiological. There is then a psychological need (want, or desire) that the brand addresses on top of that (the added value of the brand), but this is likely to differ from individual to individual.

And, secondly, I believe that many of the needs in the 'flourishing' rung of the ladder - if they are needs at all - can only be satisfied through other human beings (and maybe nature, and spiritual beings if you believe in such things), not through packets of washing powder or cans of beans.

Friday 13 November 2015

Small ads and Big Ideas

I read an article in the FT magazine from Ian Leslie recently, entitled How the Man Men lost the plot which rung a few bells for me. It starts off with ad man Jeff Goodby's observation that cabbies used to know about our ads and what we did, when the Saatchis were as big as Persil and 'we made famous stuff, and we made stuff famous.' The author poses the question: has the ad industry, through 'embracing the digital gospel... lost sight of what made it valuable in the first place?'

The internet has changed how the game is played, but certain rules still seem to hold. Mass marketing works. Fame works. Emotion works. And so does a long-term coherence in the sum total of what a brand says and does. All of these work to inject the brand into what the author calls 'the cultural bloodstream' - so that those cabbies know about the ads.

Reading through, it did strike me that in the past, we also had a mass of cheap, throwaway ads that even a member of the general public could afford and compose themselves. They were called small ads. But in those days, small ads didn't frighten the industry, neither did we try and use them for our clients, except in cases where we were being clever and disruptive and ironic. We concentrated on our skills, our talents, what we knew how to do.

We had big ideas, we used big, bold media that we knew would generate emotion and build fame.

Surely there is a parallel here?

Friday 6 November 2015

Lust for Land

For the last year or so, a massive (42 sq m, so I'm told) patchwork blanket has hung on a house wall opposite our town hall. The blanket is made up of individual squares, knitted or crocheted by everyone from primary school children to pensioners.

For me, this comforting and colourful piece of art, along with the explosion of festivals, Tchibo weeks and Aldi special offers celebrating crafts, and home cooking, jams, marmalade, gardening, growing and making, characterises a particular aspect of the 10-year 'reign' of Angela Merkel.

Despite the fact that Germany is becoming more urbanised, German hearts still yearn for a simpler, slower, less technology-ridden life closer to nature. Probably the clearest manifestation of this trend is the success of Landlust magazine, which was launched 10 years ago and now enjoys a circulation of over 1 million - more than that of Der Spiegel.

And, yesterday, Landlust launched in the UK, with its German title and the tagline 'spirit of the countryside'. The British edition carries the same mix of crafts, nature and recipes, with a distinct German touch - the recipes include hazelnut cake, baked apples and Rouladen.

I suspect that an unashamedly German title launching in the UK would have been met with derision 10 years ago, but times have changed. I blogged about the subtle German invasion here. Can Landlust tread in the footsteps of Aldi and Lidl? Will the W.I be renamed Die Landfrauen?

Monday 2 November 2015

Memory lane

The Autumn school holidays took us to the UK and the inevitable trip up to London. On something of a whim, I dragged my family off to Charlotte St to see if tales of the demise of the Saatchi building were exaggerated. Thankfully, I was able to take one last look at the place where I started my advertising career, back in the 80s.

And, not too far away from 80, Charlotte St, I spotted two newish brands that I'd loved to have worked on back then (and wouldn't say no now.)

In the Carpenters' Arms, our old watering hole, I was delighted to see that Madness have started brewing beer. While other rock stars may favour giving their names to wine or Bourbon, I think the nutty boys have a brilliant fit, branding-wise, with pubs and pies and pints. The section of the website dedicated to The Madness Brewing Company ('Beers that go one step beyond with flavour and style') presents the wares - Lovestruck Ale, Gladness Lager and Night Boat Porter. I had a quick half of Lovestruck, which was tasty indeed. Good one, chaps.

And a bit further down Charlotte St, I saw an idea that I wish I'd had. Well, actually, I have had this idea, only someone else has been much quicker off the mark. Herman ze German is a German fast food cafe selling sausages 'made in the Black Forest' by Fritz. Clever idea, great branding.
And, how could I resist their slogan?

'Our Wurst is ze Best.'

Friday 23 October 2015

Piggy in the middle

I do wish that all those companies that rabbit on about being customer-centric would realise that it's not enough as a way of thinking, or a philosophy. It's an outcome: the proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating.

In the last week, I've had two instances of large service companies demonstrating a lack of customer-centricity in practice. In one instance, I did at least receive a satisfying resolution, which made me feel more pre-disposed to that company. But the other case still remains unresolved. In both cases, I had that well-known feeling that they were playing 'pass the parcel' with me to the tune of call-centre music that rarely stopped.

With Lloyds Bank, I made the mistake of trying to correct an error (on the bank's side) at my branch involving paper, stamps, letters, paying-in slips and human beings. The call centre system eventually realised that this could only be resolved through people from my branch picking up the phone and calling me. I also took the opportunity when I was in the UK to go into the branch and talk to a very helpful and friendly woman who offered me recompense for my time and trouble. But that's a rare opportunity.

With T-online, I wasn't so happy. I have a couple of email addresses. One is a simple t-online one, while others are associated with my Homepage (which is one of T-online's products and services). Now, get this. When something is amiss with my email, I have to go to completely separate departments to deal with the two addresses - which both come into my inbox - as that's how T-online is set up. I won't bore you with the details of different phone numbers, waiting times, passings around and all the rest. It wasn't just pass the parcel this time, it was piggy in the middle. And I never caught the ball.

There it is. Lack of customer-centricity in action. It shouldn't be so difficult in this day and age, I say to these companies. You have the technology. You have the people. Now, put the two together and get it right!

Monday 19 October 2015

Great Minds

60 years of TV advertising have recently been celebrated back in Blighty, with the first ever TV commercial - for Gibbs SR toothpaste - airing in September, 1955.

To celebrate, Marketing magazine has run a vote to find out the public's favourite ad from the last 60 years, and the marketing and advertising industry's choice. The results can be seen here.

No huge surprises, maybe, with Cadbury's 'Gorilla' carrying off the top slot for the public, Guinness' 'Surfer' from 1999 being voted No. 1 by Marketing readers, and 'Compare the Market' bagging second place for both groups.

What I find most interesting, as you scroll down the lists for both groups, vision bouncing off the usual suspects, old favourites and happy memories, is the similarity between the two lists. To some extent, this is inevitable, given the methodology (the public chose from a list, which had been generated via suggestions made on social media). But, apart from Smash 'Martians' on the public list and BT 'Maureen Lipman' on the marketeers', the same ads crop up in both.

What all these ads have in common is that they evoke a reaction in the viewer - you laugh, smile, giggle, think, wonder, maybe even cry. None of them are purely about pushing information into your brain or moving you along the attention-interest-desire-action customer decision journey.

They are all made by humans, for humans. And maybe that's the best pre-test of all - we probably know better than we think, through instinct, what makes for good advertising.

Sunday 11 October 2015

Slow Fashion

Image: Richard Pflaume for Manufactum

The fashion industry and sustainability is not exactly a marriage made in heaven, and the juxtaposition of 'fashion' and 'responsibility' is one that throws up a mass of contradictions. There's the whole ethos of the fashion world, with its ever-changing collections, trends, fads and must-haves. There are the horror stories from Asia associated with the cheap mass-production of fashion items. And then the throwaway mentality and problem of landfill - where does yesterday's fashion end up?  

I was delighted to attend an evening event last week put on by Manufactum in Frankfurt. One of my favourite retailers, Manufactum is known for quality household and garden products produced as they were in the good old days - 'the good things in life still exist.' Manufactum has always offered clothing, too, but it has to be said that this has had little to do with fashion. Rather, it's been the epitome of the high quality and sensible - the kind of thing Miss Marple would wear.

That has all changed now as Manufactum introduces a number of new designers to their range of women's clothing. The question posed is:

How can fashion and sustainability work in harmony, rather than at odds?

Last Thursday evening, we took part in a journey to meet 5 different designers, who have answered that question in different ways with their collections, available at Manufactum. From the Goodsociety  jeans, produced with minimum use of water and chemicals, to the striking Japanese-inspired designs of twins Anja and Sandra Umann (Umasan) to the beautiful silks of Johanna Riplinger, dyed using flower petals left over from Indian temples, there were fashions that not just look good, but feel good in every way, too.

Image: Richard Pflaume for Manufactum

Sunday 4 October 2015

Fortunate Happenstance

For all the Buzzfeed-esque headlines that claim 'You will be amazed...' I find that digitalisation has brought with it, in some ways, a lack of surprise. I have blogged about this before, here and here. Thinking about my behaviour as a shopper, I find the only area where I am frequently surprised and try new products and brands is in the supermarket, as I don't order anything in the way of food, drink, personal care or household products online.

It's been a long time since I have browsed in a bookshop, or - yikes - a record shop, and even with clothes, a lot of stuff is ordered online from retailers and brands I'm already familiar with.

The same goes for information and news, to some extent. Facebook is increasingly becoming an echo chamber where views and angles on stories are homogenous, exacerbated by an annoying recent development of inserting 'posts they think I may like' into my news feed. I presume this is the way Facebook want to cheat the ad blocker.

It goes back to the change in the way we use the internet. In the 90s, a few intrepid souls were surfing - adventurous, dangerous, even, and not for everyone. By the early 2000s, the pace had slowed down somewhat, from surfing to stumbling. The internet had become a giant, but rather jolly, obstacle course with people good-naturedly bumbling around and occasionally tripping up on something interesting.

These days we're fed. News feed. Titbits 'curated' by someone or something who thinks they know what we like - and certainly thinks they know best. I referenced a super article on this tendency here.

The Three Princes of Serendip were described by Horace Walpole as 'always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things that they were not in quest of.'

I'm not sure how much sagacity goes into my discovery of new food items in REWE, but surely there is more that can be done by brands to point people in the right direction to discover new products and innovations for themselves?

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Please Mr Postman

I like ideas that aren't brand sparkly squeaky new, but make use of existing products, techniques or networks, with a new twist.

We hear a lot about the Connected World today, but in 2017, half the world's population will still be 'unconnected' - that is, not online. While many people may now argue that 'online' and 'connected' are not necessarily synonyms, elderly people in particular may find that they feel excluded because they haven't got all the latest technology.

With elderly people in mind - and that's almost a quarter of Japan's population - there's an interesting new initiative coming from a partnership between Japan Post, IBM and Apple. It's an extension of the Japan Post Watch Over service, in which the friendly local postman checks in daily on older people and lets the relatives know if anything is amiss.

A new programme has now been developed, whereby older folk can be given an iPad, pre-loaded with basic social and health apps. This can be used as a 'senior support service' to co-ordinate and remind people about medical appointments, household maintenance, grocery deliveries, taking medication, as well as the nicer aspects of life, like chatting to the grandchildren.

And who tutors the recipients in how to use it, and checks now and then that they are getting the most of it? Again, the friendly local postman (or woman.)

Communication meant letters when the elderly generation was growing up, so who better to coach and support older people with the new technology than the trusted employees of the post?

Friday 25 September 2015

Getting sentimental over you

I read an interesting article from The Book of Life recently, entitled Sentimentality in Art - and Business.  In it, the author makes the observation that sentimentality has moved from the art arena to the business arena. I assume it's meant that sentimentality hasn't completely decamped from the art arena, as I see it as alive and kicking, especially when it comes to popular art and entertainment - from the moody photos of hunky man holding vulnerable baby to the paintings of Thomas Kinkade - and a large percentage of what's shared on Facebook, if you can class that as art.

The article includes Oscar Wilde's definition of sentimentality from De Profundis: 'the desire to feed off an emotion without paying for it' - so all of the positive elements with none of the shadow side.

I would contest whether the move into the business arena is a new thing. Advertising has always been  escapist, larger than life, a utopia, escapism - right back to the impossibly cute Pears children and before. But, by and large, advertising plays by rules that people accept as part and parcel. No one is so naive as to believe that this is a representation of reality. Even if, these days, so many brands are trying to populate the same utopia - see Vignette Roulette for a cruel but amusing illustration of just how interchangeable these various brand worlds are.

But these days, as we know, the borders between brand and corporate, employee and customer, business and private are blurring in a social media fog that's actually far from transparent. Sentimental language and behaviour has crept into the boardroom - 'Lovemarks', 'embracing' this and that, 'reaching out' to all and sundry, 'passionate' about anything from loo rolls to insurance.

This has spawned all manner of sentimental company manifestos and employee brand statements about a better planet, about mother love, about future generations.

No longer confined to external advertising, the sentimentality is flowing through companies in a syrupy tide and no-one is looking at the shadow side.

And this is where it gets tricky, because no-one wants to pay.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Back to life, back to reality ...

This one is really for my German-speaking readers, as it's a review of a book that is, as yet, only available in German. The book is Markenerleben by Ralph Ohnemus, who is CEO of K&A Brand Research AG. Without any further ado, here's what I thought:

The way in which people experience branded products and services in today's world has changed fundamentally as technological advances lead to the blurring of boundaries between people, media, channels and brands.

Yet many marketeers are still rigidly brand-theory focussed, clinging onto the models, theories and principles of 20th century marketing, seemingly oblivious to the reality out there.

This book gives a constant reality check on what's really happening 'out there', in terms of how people encounter brands and how human behaviour constantly confounds the outdated theory. A transformation in how we think about people - our customers and potential customers - is proposed - from 'Homo Oeconomicus' to 'Homo Heuristicus'.

There is no magic formula or black box model for Marketing in the 21st Century proposed (thank goodness!), but a few interesting suggestions of approaches and a constant reminder to look from the human point of view.

Although German is not my first language, I found the book very readable. It's a long way from a dry textbook and there are plenty of examples and sources quoted to follow up on, if one is interested in reading in a bit more depth. A slight criticism (of sorts) is that the book is bang up to date for 2015, but may well be out of date in parts within a couple of years.

But my advice would be to buy it and read it now!

It was certainly refreshing to read a marketing text book that acknowledges the real world out there.

Monday 14 September 2015

"I have been memorising this room..."

One aspect of marketing of durables that I find fascinating is the process via which ownership develops. For consumables, ownership is brief. But if I buy a car, a house, a sofa, there's an initial period in which, even though I've paid for whatever it is, it doesn't really feel as if it's mine. Until I've lived with it for a while - until it has gathered personal meaning and accumulated memories. And then, years later, when the thing is as far from shiny new as you can get, it's almost impossible to throw it away, precisely because of those memories that it has accumulated along with the dust.

The clip from Queen Christina, apart from one of the most classy interpretations of a one-night stand in a dodgy inn that's ever been shot, brings the point home. Garbo, or Christina, knows she will never be in that room again, so she tries to commit every aspect of it to memory, through touch, sight and smell.

Maybe these days the dodgy inn could offer a similar service to this lovely idea from Minnesota-based Faribault Woollen Mill and their agency, Fallon. To add value to their woollen blankets, which are often passed on as family heirlooms, The Memory Mill can collect memories-yet-to-be made. Through the ID number on the blanket's metal tag, the new owner can access, for example, a letter that their gift-giving relative wrote years ago.

What I like about this idea is the combination of the real and digital world and the long-term thinking involved. And in these days where we're going to be owning less, and paying more by the minute or hour (Car Sharing, for example), it's a great way for a maker of durable goods to remind us of the joy of ownership - of the object and the memories associated with it.

Monday 7 September 2015

Take your time

One criticism that was levelled at me in early school reports is that I was always rushing to get things finished - and sometimes spoiling my work. This tendency nevertheless saw me through numerous exams and even my driving test ("you take the corners too quickly, but you're under control so I'm passing you").The past few years, I did like to think that this ability stood me in good stead to cope with the deluge, tsunami, eruption, call it what you will, of stuff I had to read on or via the internet.

All those 125-page reports that colleagues send round as pdfs with "I thought you'd be interested in this". All those books that GoodReads is challenging me to read to put my reading tally from last year in the shade. All those links on LinkedIn and other linky sites that contacts urge me I "must read."

But sometime in the last little while, my fast-reading really has turned into superficial skimming. None of this stuff actually enters my long-term memory. And I don't feel bad about it because the more I think about it, the chances that any of the senders of those 125-page pdfs have actually read or understood the thing are pretty minimal.

I've taken a decision to cut down on the amount I attempt to read. I'm either going to read stuff properly and thoroughly or not bother.

Reading is not the same as understanding.

Having a reaction is not the same as having an opinion.

There's a good blog post (which I have read all the way through, although I haven't followed all the links) from Farnam Street on this topic - the brain needs time to make associations, draw connections, form opinions. Maybe even as much time as advocated by The Long Now, with their 5-digit dates.

One thing I left behind when I left the UK was buying drinks in rounds. More often than not, you tried to keep up with the fastest drinker and ended up with memory loss and a stinking headache the next day.


Tuesday 1 September 2015

Anthropomorphisation gone mad

IKEA products have had names since donkey's years, apparently because Ingvar Kamprad found them easier to remember than numbers. And articles of clothing and accessories from certain brands also carry names, increasingly it seems. But while many of these names are people's names (for example, IKEA gives chairs and stools Swedish male names and textiles Swedish names), quite often they'll be a place name (for example, Ben Sherman have 'Romford' polo shirts.) For IKEA, I think this touch adds personalisation, specialness and a friendly feel to what could simply be a mass-market, functional brand.

And, of course, we've had a couple of years now of named Coke bottles - and it's interesting to see these change as you travel through Europe, but the intention here is to share a Coke with someone of that name, rather than anthropomorphising the bottle itself.

Where anthropomorphisation has gone mad is very apparent each time I return to the UK, where there's a growing tendency for packets of food to describe themselves in the first person, rather like the odd potions that Alice encountered in Wonderland. From 'I'm fresh and naked' to 'Keep me in the fridge', it used to be a ploy for the likes of Innocent, to be a little quirky. But now they are all at it, even Own Label. There's a good article about this phenomenon here.

As many of the commentators on the article suggest, this isn't really a big issue, in the great scheme of things. I personally find it twee and slightly creepy and hope it doesn't start appearing here in Germany, although wooly hats did pop up on Innocent bottles last winter, so perhaps it's on its way. But the point is for marketers that it's simply lazy. It's understandable that you want your brand to have a clear tone of voice.


Why does everyone in the UK food industry want the same tone of voice? A lickle cheeky, a lickle chummy, a lickle baby-wabyish?

And, to remind you of the absurdity of anthropomorphisation when it comes to your products, back to IKEA. The TV commercial is probably not such a runner in these days of sustainability, but it's still a classic.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Wherefore art thou Romeo, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth ...?

AXE. Romeo Reboot Manuel | Trailer (english) from THE KUMITE on Vimeo.

Hot on the heels of the ad that writes itself (see previous post) comes the personalised ad, from Axe in Brazil. The brand has created 100,000 versions of its Romeo Reboot commercial via programmatics (yes, I know, I don't have a clue what that is, either.)

Four broad audience segments have been identified - based on music taste and previous purchase - with four top filmmakers each shooting their own version of the film. Within each of these, various scenes can be personalised, leading to 100,000 permutations in all.

This is, without doubt, impressive.

But is it yet another case of doing something just because you can? Something in this reminds me of those children's books where you can choose which way the plot turns at a number of points. And although these have an undoubted novelty effect, in the end most children would rather be reading Harry Potter.

Technology can never be a substitute for a great idea, based on human insight, that unites people - whatever their taste in music, deodorants or Shakespearean heroes.

Sunday 16 August 2015

Ads that write themselves?

I wrote a little while back about the brilliant idea of a coffee poster that started an outbreak of yawning on the Brazilian subway. Still on the theme of coffee, and posters, comes what's being hailed as the world's first artificially intelligent poster campaign. Rather an unfortunate choice of words there - I would hope that the world has already seen many, many non-artificially intelligent poster campaigns.

Anyway, it has been created by M&C Saatchi in London for a fictional coffee brand, Bahio, and it's a poster that evolves according to how people react to it facially. This goes on for a month until the 'best' ad evolves through a kind of high-speed natural selection.

You can read more in this article but I thought I'd list some of the key principles at work here:
- Darwinian natural selection
- powered by a genetic algorithm
- analyses strength
- 1,000 images/fonts/layouts/copy
- length of engagement ... and so on and so forth.

Human creativity and judgement seem to be absent, apart from thinking up the whole thing in the first place.

Creative nightmare or the way to the future?

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Branding like it's 1974

I've recently had the pleasure of viewing What is a brand? presented by Jeremy Bullmore and Stephen King of JWT, London in 1974.

It's well worth looking at, for marketing maestros as well as connoisseurs of culture. The period detail is wonderful, from the graphics and the music, to the mentions of "a pound and a half of nails from the ironmonger", "brown suits" and "Elton John-style glasses." Even the "perfectly ordinary people" answering that old chestnut about what kind of person Brand X would be if it came to life come up with descriptors including "dainty", "bovine", "mini-skirted", "go-ahead" and "catty".

The content of the talk is excellent. The two well-spoken chaps take us through The History of Brands, What makes a Brand Ssuccessful, and The Role of Advertising without needing childish infographics or any other dumbing-down props. Their talk is predictive of the power of retailers (mail order rather than internet in those days) and the emergence of consumerism, including boycott groups. For all the wet-behind-the-ears new marketers out there blabbing on about "empowered consumers" who are "in charge", please ask your elders about what happened to Barclays Bank in the 70s as a result of investing in South Africa.

There are also loads of ads - most of them from around the 36 minute mark from brands both classic and vanished - Homepride Bread, Brymay Matches, Ritz Crackers, Winalot, Monopoly, Mr Kipling's Almond Slices, Kodak Instamatic.

The best part of all is the case history from the toilet paper market: Andrex vs. Delsey. Delsey cut their ad expenditure and started discounting while Andrex invested in building a personality through its cute and charming commercials. Andrex, of course, ended up being valued far more despite having similar characteristics to its rival.

What on earth happened to Delsey?

Friday 7 August 2015

Women and children first

So many marketing activities seem rather insubstantial and throwaway in these digital days. But I've seen a couple of great ideas in the last couple of weeks that operate purely in the real world of things you can touch, hold and use to your benefit, both from brands thinking about the values of family and safety.

The first idea is from Hyundai, together with their agency CREO/Y&R in Slovakia. Slovakia is hit by reductions in hospital funding, with the result that many newborn babies are pushed around in supermarket trolleys. Hyundai have developed a hospital trolley specially for new borns, as a generous gesture to help young families while putting just a little branded hint in their direction exactly when they may be thinking about getting a new, safe, family-minded car.

And then there's an idea from Vodafone in India, together with Ogilvy Mumbai. It's an umbrella/parasol that doubles as a weapon (maybe inspired by the late, great Patrick MacNee?). The cultural observation and insight here is that many men from villages are forced to leave their wives and families to seek work in big cities. They send their earnings home via Vodafone's transfer service. Of course, women collecting the wages are feeling vulnerable enough anyway with their husbands away, but even more so carrying the cash around. So the umbrella can help to give them more of a feeling of security.

Simple, but effective ideas of substance. No deep philosophical insight, just a down-to-earth and practical understanding of people's needs at different times in their lives. And ideas that will still be there tomorrow.

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Provocative or plain stupid?

One characteristic of marketing in the 21st century is the way brands are increasingly taking a stance on societal issues. On the whole, I think this should be applauded and I've blogged about various good examples of this in the past.

But the way these good intentions are executed is often far from good. Take the example pictured above, from Weingut Strieth. The owners of this vineyard in Rüdesheim-Aulhausen have decided to take a stand against intolerance and have designed a new label for their Spätburgunder. The intentions are laudable, but I'm afraid that the label design just doesn't do it for me.

Their intention with the "middle finger" gesture and the thoughtfully-copywritten slogan (or is it a brand name?) is to irritate. Well, it certainly rubs me up the wrong way. I had to listen to one of the wine-growers and a radio commentator repeating the thoughtfully-copywritten slogan ad nauseam before 8am this morning on the radio.

Ah, they've achieved their aim, you might think. Disgusted of Bruchköbel is busy putting finger (middle one, actually) to keyboard and complaining about this rebellious affront to decency, bringing the wily wine-makers and their product to everyone's notice.

The thing is, there's irritation of the provocative, powerful sort, and there's the sort of irritation that the Germans call Fremdschämen - to be embarrassed  on a stranger's behalf. The use of English swear words as "cool/trendy and a little bit naughty" has been rampant in Germany for the last few years. It's bad enough when it's second-rate rock stars on casting shows, but when it gets to Angela Merkel talking about a "shitstorm" my cringing Fremdschämen needle goes off the scale.

Swearing in English just makes the wine-producers look as ill-educated and stupid as the Neo-Nazis that they're against.

Why, I wonder, didn't they use the German equivalent of their thoughtfully-copywritten slogan?

Sunday 26 July 2015

Warts and all

a relevant experiment from Jeff Scardino on Vimeo.
The relevant résumé is the first résumé that showcases your failures. To prove it works, I submitted two different applications for ten different job openings — one using my regular résumé and one using my relevant résumé.

Whether it's Facebook status updates or ghastly round-robin emails at Christmas, pumping up achievements to Zeppelin-sized accomplishments, I'm always amused when someone starts to take the mick and sends something out along the lines of 'What a year we've had! In May I had an ingrowing toenail diagnosed and in September the cat was sick on the patio.'

It's much the same with CVs. I haven't updated mine for years, and I'm well aware that it probably does nothing to sell me or my meagre talents. I feel slightly queasy at the idea of describing myself as a 'results-orientated team player who pursues perfection with passion' or some or other similar twaddle.

So I was very pleased to hear about The Relevant Resume from copywriter Jeff Scardino. He has well and truly burst the bubble of those pompous, over-inflated but strangely similar CVs with his idea to 'showcase your failures'. He put his idea to the test, applying for jobs with a traditional CV and the warts-and-all version, including 'missed honors', 'bad references' and 'non skills'. And the warts-and-all version attracted far more positive attention.

I think there's something that can be learned here for brands, too. Sometimes it's the non-perfect bits that don't fit, the stuff you're not good at, which makes you the perfect choice.

Monday 20 July 2015

Is the internet the new TV?

The question in the title, and its answer, may seem obvious to some. Well, of course! Surely we've known that for some time now. But has it ever occurred to you that the internet is becoming more and more like TV in its nature, too?

Sometimes it takes being away from something to notice changes that are, to the rest of us, imperceptible. Which is precisely what happened to blogger Hossein Derakhshan, author of this thought-provoking and very readable article: The Web We Have To Save. Derakhshan was imprisoned, in Iran, for his blogging among other things, between 2008 and 2014. The year before he went to jail, I joined Facebook, which was still at the early adopter phase and a very different place to what it is now. I was rather late to blogging, starting with that in 2008.

Derakhshan points out a number of developments that have taken place on the internet during his incarceration, but that with the greatest impact is the growth of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. As he says, "lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul de sacs of social media, and their journeys end there." What characterises social media is what Derakhshan calls The Stream - "...getting fed a never-ending flow of information that's picked for them by complex - and secretve - algorithms." These days, you don't even need to go via a browser - just press the Facebook app button on your smartphone and you mustn't even leave the confines of your cosy social media world. He adds: "... and not only do the algorithms behind the Stream equate newness and popularity with importance, they also tend to show us more of what we've already liked. These services carefully scan our behaviour and delicately tailor our news feeds with posts, pictures and videos that they think we would most likely want to see."

The anthropomorphising of algorithms aside (an easy mistake to slip into), this is a fundamentally important point. People want an easy life and they want to be entertained. Nothing wrong in that except when it's to the exclusion of the way people used the internet, predominantly, ten or fifteen years ago: "The web was not envisaged as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking."

The very expression "News Feed" says it all - the social media is feeding people a pre-determined stream of pap. Calling it "curated" doesn't make it any better.

And the internet is less and less about seeking out the obscure, the diverse, the non-conformist and the individual.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Have Marmite, will travel

Around this time of year, you'll find me in somewhere like dm rifling through all those travel/trial size shampoos, conditioners, sun creams, hand creams and all the rest that they have displayed so attractively, like a grown-up pick 'n mix. I don't care that value for money doesn't come in to the equation - I am a huge fan of these little packs.

I'm also a huge fan of my UK food favourites, from Marmite to OXO, from Colman's Mustard to M&S Fruit Sherbets. And now, those clever people at Marmite have put two and two together and have launched a 70g travel size of Marmite, available for £1.

The rationale, as if it isn't obvious, is that Marmite is second on the list of Top 10 confiscated foods for Brits travelling through UK airports. And, in fact, it's the No. 1 confiscated brand, given that jam/marmalade (generic) tops the list. The 3rd position, incidentally, is taken by another of my favourites, Lyle's Golden Syrup.

A little pot of marmite is just the thing when you are suffering from an overdose of powdered orange juice, over-sweet cakes, liver spread and mysterious cheese triangles that require no refrigeration  for your hotel breakfast.

Spread the word.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Imperfect Variety or Flawless Focus?

As a freelancer, I sometimes feel as if I have even more problems with work/life balance than those that are employed. Talking to other freelancers, the same issue always comes up:

How do you ever achieve the ideal level of work? Enough to live on, keep you stimulated and fresh, but not so much that you can't do a good job or have any time at all to do other stuff.

I've blogged about the School of Life before, and their series of short, instructive YouTube videos, such as the one above, are well worth a look. The Work/Life balance argument comes to the conclusion - it's a choice, and a good one - for imperfect variety vs. flawless focus.

Being a freelancer, you don't have an office to leave (well, you do, but it's likely to be in the same building where you live), or a company to love or be loyal to, but I still find this passed-around-Facebook quote from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam a good maxim to live by:

Saturday 4 July 2015

Advertising - what is it good for?

I've never been to Cannes, mainly because in my advertising agency heyday back in the last century, it just wasn't the done thing for planners to go along to this sort of jamboree. It was a rare account person that got to go, come to think of it. Of course, things are different now. There are all sorts of geeks there now from clients to planners of various persuasions to all kinds of techy people. I'm not even sure if creatives still attend.

In the aftermath of Cannes, there has been a spate of articles bemoaning the state of the industry, questioning what exactly Cannes is celebrating and asking the question - who is advertising actually for these days? Here are some that caught my eye:

Tracey Follows, in the The Guardian asks When will advertising ever again be about the people it serves? It's a thought-provoking piece, slightly let down by the ghastly c-word (you know what I mean) when talking about people, about how advertisers' obsession with technology has meant a trade-off in humanity.

Sean Boyle, of BrainJuicer argues that those creating advertising have become over-thinkers, too tricksy, too enamoured of technology and technique - 'how much time we spend nervously over-thinking what never, ever needed to become this difficult.' His simple solution: Aim for Fame.

Keith Weed's speech from Cannes is also worth a look. He's the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever. His argument is that we've moved from Marketing To People (broadcasting to a captive audience) to Marketing With People (curating and creating with an audience) and we should move to Marketing For People (connecting purpose with purchase).

I'm not sure I buy that. Surely marketing was always about people - finding out what moves and motivates them, developing products and services that meet their needs and desires, and communicating these in a compelling way. And I think the image of the captive audience is a myth. We had remote controls to flick through channels back in the last century - and there were some great ads around that you didn't want to fast forward, in the UK at any rate. Maybe he means 'captivated audience'?!

That little disagreement aside, I like what he's saying - purpose and purchase, engaging people's hearts, not about technology but ideas, yes, yes, tick, tick.

The final link is also to the Guardian, a piece by Tom Goodwin from Havas, who argues that advertising is 'an industry that's in love with technology and itself, not the people it purports to sell to.' Now, while it's a great article, I think there's the same slight problem with vocabulary. Yes, you sell to people. But have we ever marketed to them? I'll leave you with a great quote form the article:

I’ve never met anyone who has seen a vending machine reward them for laughing, I’ve never walked through a door marked ugly, got a Coke from a drone, or been offered a crisp packet with my face on. I’ve never had a friend share their personalised film, I’ve not seen outdoor ads that are also street furniture or had an ATM give me a funny receipt. I’ve not received a magazine with a near field communication thing and I’ve not had a virtual reality experience outside advertising conferences. I’ve not once seen a member of the public 3D print anything. The one thing that binds together the more than 200 Cannes winners I’ve seen, is that they are ads only advertising people have a good chance of seeing. I’m not sure that’s what the industry should be about.

Monday 29 June 2015

Daddy Cool

The advertising and marketing industry has a current obsession with women. It's a strange thing, as the top echelons of power in agencies are still dominated by men. The barrage of campaigns in the last few years "celebrating moms", "empowering girls", "embracing plus size bodies" almost feels like a smokescreen, put up to distract mumsnet and other pressure groups from the real issues.

In all of this, dads get lost. Is there a dadsnet? I'm not sure. But there is an interesting new study out from Y&R Toronto, which looks into dads in North America in terms of their shopping behaviour and relationship with brands. It's called Who's Your Daddy?  - and more details can be found here.

Maybe not surprisingly, given the way parenthood has changed even in the last few years, with paternity leave becoming the norm, the authors of the study conclude that dads are well-worth targeting by advertisers. Fathers are less frugal and bargain-hunting than mothers, more brand loyal than men in general and especially younger fathers (under 35) see "dad" as a real badge of honour.

Is it time for the Mad Men to out themselves as Dad Men?

Monday 22 June 2015

Pre-teen Queen

The Queen is coming to Frankfurt on Thursday, and, despite never having had the slightest inclination to join the throngs at Buckingham Palace all the years that I lived in London, I may just go along to have a peek, for fun. I guess it's the same sort of ex-pat patriotism that has me carrying my iPhone in a Union Jack cover.

I have a pet theory which says that the Queen's generation may be the longest-lived generation of all time. Although I'm not a fan of all that generation twaddle that makes sweeping statements about tastes, views, beliefs of entire cohorts of people around the globe, I think it's fair to say that people born in the Western world in the 20s and 30s (assuming they survived the war) escaped the worst of poverty and infectious diseases yet managed to attain adulthood before diets got completely crammed with dubious chemicals. Even in my day, an obese child in the class was an exception. Look at films of London in the 1950s on YouTube and there are very few overweight people to be seen.

This generation was probably the last to escape the greedy clutch of commerce and advertising. The word "teenager" first appeared in 1941, but the term was not really in common use and associated with "youth culture" until the 1950s, by which time these people were starting families. Elvis would have been 80 this year, but even someone born in 1939 may have considered themselves too old to have been screaming at his hip-swivelling antics in the late 50s. And marketers aren't terribly interested in this age-group, with most surveys having a cut-off point at 65.

I wonder if the Queen has ever worn jeans? For those that spent their teenage years during wartime or the immediate post-war period, jeans are not an automatic uniform. But the Queen's generation certainly can't be accused of lacking in style. Many of Hollywood's most glamorous actresses belong to this generation, and there continues to be interest in them today, as fashion role models - see this article on Tim Walker's Granny Alphabet in Sturm und Drang, or the blog Advanced Style

Too old for rock & roll, too old to be teens, to wear jeans, this generation is also the last not to have flocked en masse to social media. But, strangely, the younger generations find plenty in their lifestyle to admire - The Women's Institute, the vegetable garden, gin, twin-sets and cupcakes are all enjoying revivals.

A quick internet search tells me that people born between 1925 and 1942 have been dubbed 'The Silent Generation'. It's apt, in a way, but I do ask myself if that silence is self-imposed, a wise choice.

Sunday 14 June 2015

A big yawn

Sometimes you don't need deep philosophical insight for a great piece of brand communication, just a simple observation used in a smart way.

I love this promotion from Brazil for the brand Cafe Pele. From advertising agency Lew'Lara/TBWA, the idea uses a poster of a man's face on an underground platform in Sao Paulo. Sensor technology means that the poster yawns every time a commuter comes near. The more people approach, the more yawning, which, as everyone knows. is contagious. The result - a yawning epidemic.

At that point, Cafe Pele girls pop up with the solution - shots of espresso.

The Contagious Billboard is a super idea of what you can do to get attention for your brand, catching people in the right mood, in the right place, at the right time. Anything but a big yawn!

Monday 8 June 2015

Mad Man

Given that ad agencies are crammed full of writers, it's a surprise that there aren't more novels set in the world of advertising. Although a few copywriters make the transition into full-blown author-hood - Salman Rushdie and Fay Weldon spring immediately to mind -  they tend to avoid the agency and their former workplace as subject matter, perhaps wanting to distance themselves from it.

Films and TV series seem a more fruitful fictional home for ad people, especially since Mad Men has graced our screens in all its Martini-era glory. And every now and then, a film will pop up featuring an ad man whose conscience gets the better of him, such as Crazy People or What Women Want.

Looking at the handful of novels there are, the most obvious route seems to be to play it for laughs, as in the books by Matt Beaumont. There is dark humour and satire, too in Frederic Beigbeder's 99 Francs, of which I have an English translation that suffers a little, apparently, from the transplantation out of its native tongue. I even admit to having made a start to an ad agency saga myself, with a friend, in the early 90s. It was third-rate chick lit and thankfully, we soon got bored with the project.

I was therefore pleased to come across The Zoo, by ad man Jamie Mollart. He has taken the bold step of writing serious fiction about a completely obnoxious advertising director on a self-destructive downward spiral. I should say as a warning that, despite its title, there's nothing remotely fluffy here. It's a gripping, gritty, nightmarish tale with no holds barred. And it pays off - best if I leave you with my review from amazon and recommend that you read The Zoo yourself:

Almost everyone I know who has worked in advertising or marketing has had attacks of conscience, from the small twinges of "isn't this all a bit trivial" to the full blown attacks of "why I am wasting my life and talents as the mouthpiece for dubious companies." For James Marlowe in "The Zoo", the full blown attack surfaces as part of a heavy cocktail of drink, drugs and family problems as the once-successful ad man's life smashes and fragments into psychosis. "The Zoo" intersperses chapters chronicling this descent into madness with chapters where James is in a psychiatric hospital, his thoughts dominated by "The Zoo" of the title - an enigmatic collection of toy figures. Are these malevolent, or do they represent meaning and possibly redemption?

This story is original and compelling, and like the substances James abuses, totally addictive. The descriptions of the psychotic episodes are nightmarish and visceral - there are touches of William Burroughs here, as well as Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis. It's an ambitious work, with plenty of social commentary as well as a fascinating glimpse into the subject of blood minerals, via the fictitious African country, Nghosa.

The ad agency lifestyle portrayed is recognisable to anyone who has worked in the business, but I felt it reflected the way things were in the last decades of the last century, rather than how things are today. Advertising agencies in the 21st century are struggling to survive, and have had their wings of excess cut by the bean-counters.

However, I'm pleased that the author created the obnoxious anti-hero James Marlowe. It makes a change to read a story about someone who has next to no redeeming features, but in whom you can recognise (unfortunately) some of your own worst characteristics. "The Zoo" has something in common in this respect with Frederic Beigbeder's "9.99" - it's a mirror to the dark side of ourselves.

Not easy subject matter, but very easily read, "The Zoo" gets a thumbs-up from me.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

The Guilty Generation

OK, my generation is probably guilty. Of all that generational cohort naming business, that is. I was born at the end of the Baby Boomer generation, and I think it's us that named ourselves, then went on labelling subsequent generations. Previous generations were, I think, too busy fighting wars and surviving the after-effects of wars to bother about something so trivial.

Now that even the youngest Baby Boomers are over 50, all of us that still work in advertising have got over all those "oh my God, I feel so ancient, everyone else is younger than me" moments and it's now funny to watch our younger Gen X or Y colleagues nervously looking over their shoulders at the next cohort to come along. And the attitude of the authors of such articles is always a sort of make-the-reader-believe-I'm-one-of-this-generation-they-are-just-so-great tone.

Here's an example from Brand Republic: Forget Millenials, brands need to win over Generation Z. The imaginatively-named Generation Z are those born mid 1990s to mid 2000s, so today's teenagers. The article is full of wisdom such as "they are active rather than passive" and "books and music are downloaded, games are played online..." or "they want to be part of debates, they want to feel involved in world issues - look at the recent hit of the Ice Bucket Challenge." There are facts, too: "They make up a quarter of the UK population and have huge spending power." Hmmm, yes, given that half of them aren't legally allowed to work, I wonder where the huge spending power comes from...  now, here's a clue: There's even a chipper head of an ad agency gushing in a Proud Mummy way about how "lucky" she is to have "classic Gen Z" daughters - the engaged, active and empowered young things have started a group called Teenage Feminists!

I have blogged about this stuff before, and I know that it's really just a bit of fluffy marketing fun. But I would warn against taking it too seriously, or basing your entire marketing plan on it. Remember where it comes from: 12-19s saying in a survey (probably online) what they think, believe, do.

For a real look at teenage attitudes, try a WhatsApp chat - you'll be lucky to find a monosyllable amongst the candy necklaces of emoticons. Or for teenage behaviour, try mumsnet for vile things found in teenage rooms - although, who knows, maybe these are all made up, too.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Anyone for Pimm's?

I've blogged about seasonality before, and it's now that wonderful strawberries and asparagus (and yes, you can eat them together) season here in Germany. And back in Blighty, it's time for a Pimm's. Pimm's have been quite smart with their marketing in the last few years, making a choice to throw all their media budget into a seaside bucket and associate the brand with the Great British Summer in all its unpredictability.

Their latest clever trick is a nifty use of digital technology in the form of posters that activate when the temperature goes above 21°C. Now, that's what I call working with audience receptivity!

Pimm's have always been pretty good at marketing, it seems. This article looks at the phenomenon of the Pimm's Party in the 1950s/1960s, when the Pimm's bottle looked like this:
21st century marketers can learn plenty from this 360° Participative Co-Created Big Brand Idea, as I guess we'd call it today. Pimm's provided invitations for the party, suggestions for Jolly Party Games, such as passing the matchbox by nose, or flipping kippers (not entirely sure about either of those after a few Pimm's), snack recipes (fancy Nut Balls, Prune Surprises or Shrimp Thrills?) and some excellent tips (providing plenty of ashtrays, locking up the kids & neighbours, keeping cats away from the drinks, that sort of thing).

Potential party-givers are also reassured that there's "no need to bother about other drinks", in a blatant steam-rollering of any competition.

But there's a warning issued from the brand. It's not something about responsible drinking or being over 18 or any of that business, though.

No, it's the warning to be prepared for "lots of fun and maybe a bit of flattery."

Bottoms up!

Thursday 21 May 2015

Shame Masks

I must admit that I don't worry too much about privacy. Maybe I should, but somehow I don't get the feeling that the NSA or anyone else is terribly interested in what I'm up to. But every now and then I see a piece of brand communication that makes me gulp.

Like this one.

What's going on here is a campaign from an initiative called Hong Kong Cleanup, whose agency Ogilvy and Mather has developed an undeniably clever campaign called The Face of Litter to deter litter louts on the streets of Hong Kong.

What they've done is to collect random litter samples and analyse them using Snapshot DNA phenotyping to create portraits of the culprits (or, presumably anyone that has touched that coffee cup including the friendly and responsible barista who handed it out).

There's not enough info to say exactly whodunnit, but enough to create a likeness on posters and online.


My first thought was this might be just the thing for publicity-seeking extroverts to get their next kick. The ultimate selfie, all over town and all over the net.

And then my thoughts ran deeper to tarring and feathering, or the shaved heads and placards round the necks of wartime collaborators, or indeed the Schandmaske of mediaeval Germany.

Back to the future? I find it all a little sinister.

Friday 15 May 2015

Reinventing the Middleman

The internet has had a profound effect on so many aspects of our daily behaviour. Shopping is the obvious one of interest to marketeers, but almost every area of daily life has been affected, from how we learn and educate ourselves to how we stay healthy and treat illness. The overwhelming trend is towards cutting out the middleman, whether it's self-diagnosis to avid a visit to the doctor, or cutting out that time- and energy-consuming trip to the physical store.

One area that has fundamentally changed is booking a holiday. The first step towards booking a hotel used to be through the high street travel agents, but for many people now, it's straight to TripAdvisor to see what other people (we assume like ourselves) have said about the hotels in our chosen resort. We have learned to go beyond the images in the glossy brochures and to seek out reality. So much so that sensible hotels are now putting TripAdvisor comments on their websites.

But there is always the counter trend. I was very interested to witness a complete reinvention of the travel agent in Black Tomato. This new-style travel agent is bringing personalisation back into holiday planning and using the internet to bring the experience to life before and after the actual holiday. The insight and basis is all about the need for individually tailored experiences and great value for time. Using the power of the internet and the possibilities that digital technology brings to the brand's advantage, rather than moaning that the internet is killing off the industry.

I wonder which other moribund services or industries can be reinvented in this way?

Monday 11 May 2015

Today's trash and tomorrow's art

Do you ever catch yourself doing it? Complaining at length about your offspring's addiction to What'sApp/Minecraft/YouTube/Instagram, yet in the same breath getting all nostalgic and misty-eyed about obscure 1970s TV shows?

Marshall McLuhan, the great communications theorist, expressed it thus: Each new technology creates an environment that is itself regarded as corrupt and degrading. Yet the new one turns its predecessor into an art form.

We can see this in the world of advertising, too. I posted here about the beauty of 1920s London Underground Posters, and our cellar bar is full of replica tin signs, mirrors, and postcards of posters from that marvellous age of advertising.

And, coming more up to date, YouTube itself is packed with compilations of TV ads from the 70s and 80s, some of which are already being hailed as works of art.

Perhaps, in the future, we'll be seeing exhibitions of branded apps turned art.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Marketing with mother

I have written from time to time here about the futility of "marketing to the over 50s". A similarly futile exercise, as I see it, is "marketing to mums." I don't know if anyone else felt vaguely uneasy about the much feted P&G campaign a few years back, around the time of the Olympics: Proud Sponsor of Mums. My uneasiness came from a number of angles - first, the obvious, what about Dads? There was also the manipulative, cheesy tonality of the films. But the uneasiness also came from knowing the agenda at P&G, a company whose main brands are household and baby care products. I even worked on Pampers for a few years and I hate to say this, but there were precious few mums around, on either the client or the agency side. More of that later.

There's a article entitled Marketing to mums is broken in Marketing magazine which touches on this issue. It's written by a woman, who is a mother herself, Nicola Kemp. But, curiously, even in this article, three of the six people who are quoted are men, and it's not clear how many of the women are mothers. Now, I know you don't have to belong to a target group in order to market to that group, but the bias in advertising agencies against mothers still seems to be extreme. Of the three women quoted, one of them said this: There aren't enough female creatives and there aren't enough creatives that are mums. If we changed this, we would do a better job.

The woman who said this is Roisin Donnelly, of P&G. So that, at least, gives me hope.