Thursday 29 January 2015

Send in the clowns

Two very different pieces of communication from McDonald's have hit my radar this week. The first is in a blog post from the brilliant Ad Contrarian who never fails to bring me back to earth and have a laugh at myself and my fellow marketeers. In this post, Bob presents an internal McDonald's video of their newish CMO, Deborah Wahl. If you like playing marketing bullshit bingo, this one is for you.

The self-confessed "hockey mom" soon gets into her stride, or onto her platform, with her brand transformation journey. This is a journey, you understand, to change the relationship and the conversation. It's open transparent dialogue. Keeping the customer at the centre. Engagement leads to customer experience. Communities. Iconic. Shape the vision. At the heart of. Re-igniting the lurve....

Actually, this makes me cringe because there, but for the grace of God and all that. I do use some of these expressions, although I like to think that I don't cram quite as many into each minute as in this example.

And now for something completely different. A piece of advertising from McDonald's new agency here in Germany - the Leo Burnett and Thjnk co-operative, Thjnk Tank. This is a cinema ad to celebrate 60 years of McDonald's. And the creative idea is to use the clown Oleg Popov, who is also celebrating 60 years of making people happy.

Now, I can't normally abide clowns, especially Ronald McDonald, but I think this film is terrific. It has a substance and quality in the way it's made and it's wonderfully moving. OK, people will argue that it seems tonally odd for McDonald's and that it's  "not consistent" with their other communication, but that isn't the point. It's beautiful and brave and that can only be good for the brand.

I do wonder about something that Deborah Wahl quoted from Ray Kroc, though. "We're not in the hamburger business, we're in the People Business."

Maybe that is our trouble, these days. We are so busy being in the Journey Business or the Engagement Business or the Customer Experience Business that we forget what it is that makes us unique. Everyone's strategy looks the same and has the same objectives.

And it's left to the creatives to do the difficult work of sorting through all the bullshit (or maybe ignoring it) and using their own intuition to create something different.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Insights or Insight? In which the singular is probably more valuable than the plural.

It seems popular in marketing circles to talk, in a kind of pseudo-scientific way, in plurals where the original word is better known in the singular. Learnings, behaviours and, of course, insights.

It didn't really occur to me until I read this excellent blog post by Martin Weigel (careful if you're at work - the accompanying illustration is rather more racy than the one above) that there's a world of difference between some people's use of the word "insights" and the general meaning of "insight."

Insight in the singular is one of the abilities, facilities or ways of thinking that a good planner - or in fact, any ad person - should have. Having insight is one of those uniquely human abilities, along with intuition, intelligence and empathy. It's getting behind the facts, the observed data, to the why. An insightful creative brief should lead to creative work that connects to people, giving the advertiser relevance in their lives.

However, there is a growing tendency to put "insights", in the plural, on a pedestal as an end in themselves, to fetishise them, if you like. And the "insights" referred to here are invariably Things, not an ability or way of thinking. These Things are sentences, phrases, whose wording is discussed ad infinitum and whose claim to wear the insight crown is debated hotly before they are included in a box on the creative brief. In the worst case, with a dictate that the Insight should be dramatised in the execution.

Equally worrying is the idea that these Insights can be "generated" via some kind of process.

I would far rather see a creative brief that is insightful than one jam-packed with these kind of "insights."

So, let's kick off that "s" when we are talking about insight. And let's not start talking about "knowledges" or "understandings" either!

Sunday 18 January 2015

Brand Bravery

Over the last ten years, one of my favourites amongst those email digest thingies that you sign up for is the newsletter from Contagious. It's so much more intelligent than those dreadful lists of lists that LinkedIn is convinced will appeal to me. Contagious is a magazine that's been going for 10 years now and moves from old-school marketing into the intersection between marketing, culture and technology.

The recent digest contained a link to an article from one of the co-founders, Paul Kemp-Roberston, entitled The Contagious Commandments: Ten Steps to Brand Bravery.

It's really rather good, so here are those 10 steps, with my comments:

1. Be useful, relevant and entertaining - or at least, as Meatloaf would say, two out of three ain't bad. This is what it's all about - value
2. Be generous: don't ask what's in it for you, ask what's in it for them - or better still these days, what's in it for us
3. Have a purpose - or go home
4. Join the 5% club - this is all about experimentation - but for me it's about testing in the market and "just doing it" rather than behind-the-scenes research
5. Ask heresy questions - this is an oldie but goodie - but these days, we should think about what exactly is heresy. To me, increasingly, it might be about being non-PC. Really going against the grain. Breaking some of these terribly right-on commandments, even
6. Align with behaviour - fine, just as long as you don't become a stalker
7. Good technology is not an excuse for a bad idea - Yes! I'm looking at all those pointless apps that exist "just because you can"
8. Prioritise experience over innovation - this is connected to the last one. It's all about real world, real people
9. With great data comes great responsibility - too true. Privacy is already a huge issue for brands. And, mirroring my comments on technology, don't collect data just because you can. If you're not going to use it, put your energies elsewhere.
10. Weaponize your audience - the author himself points out the irony of this one, having poured scorn on military metaphors earlier on in the article. The point is to make sure you are empowering your customers, not exploiting them, which brings us back to the bold fellows of the Light Brigade pictured.

In the end, brave brands need brave people behind them.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Brands at the Museum

Back in the last century, working at Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the highlights of a visit to my clients at Harvey's of Bristol was a visit to the Harvey's Wine Museum. Located in dockyard cellars, the museum had a slightly raffish air, a teeny bit disreputable car boot sale of a place with its dusty decanters and blowsy barrels. The highlight was a drawing of the historic occasion in the 19th century during which a lady sherry-tasting proclaimed 'if that be the milk, then this is the cream.'

I'm not sure if the museum still exists, but brand museums are now all the rage. Not just museums of packaging and print ads and other ephemera, but museums or even theme parks dedicated to one particular brand.

There's the McDonalds No. 1 Store Museum (housed in a replica of the first restaurant opened by Ray Kroc in Des Plaines), the Willy Wonka-esque Cadbury World, the nostalgic Colman's Mustard Museum and Shop in Norwich, the Levis Strauss Museum in the home of his birth in Buttenheim. And almost every brand has a virtual museum of sorts on their website these days.

Whether it's food, drink, fashion or cars, all these brands have a story or two to tell, and enough belief in their meaning to the general public out there. Maybe the idea of a museum ties in well with the increasing fashionability of Brand Curators.

One brand museum due to open in 2016 will be the IKEA Museum, in the first IKEA store which is being restored to its 1950s glory. And there's a chance to participate here, with your own stories of BILLY and KLIPPAN.

Maybe this is the ultimate test for Marketing Directors - or Brand Curators - does my brand have enough magic, meaning and affection to warrant a museum?  

Saturday 3 January 2015

Alcohol is not the solution. Or is it?

Did you have a few drinks too many on New Year's Eve? Was one of your resolutions to give up the booze, or at least have a dry January? If so, you may just find your creative problem-solving ability diminished.

Thinking back to my early days in advertising, there were a lot of long and liquid lunches which inevitably spawned some pretty damn good ideas, creative and strategic. Certainly, it seemed a more effective method than locking everyone in a "workshop" to drown in Post-It notes.

I'm now quite amused to see a new product which, on the basis of "scientific research", enables you to get to the optimum alcohol level for creative problem-solving: The Problem Solver Beer. 'A delicious way to reach your creative peak'.

Apparently, creative thinking peaks at a level of 0.075 percent alcohol, which is achieved through drinking half the bottle if you're a slim woman, or the whole lot if you are a relatively chunky man. There's a useful scale on the bottle calibrated to indicate your intake for optimum creativity. 'All you have to do is drink and think.'

Professor Jennifer Wiley on the University of Illinois at Chicago is quoted on the brand's website, saying that - amazing, this -  alcohol may help by making people less focussed which can open their minds to new and novel possibilities.

Well, I never!

I think I prefer red wine, though.

Cheers, and here's to plenty of creative problem solving in 2015!