Sunday 30 October 2016

Mad women

Throughout my whole career in advertising - which now spans 4 decades (!) - debates come around again and again with the regularity of theories of 'How Advertising Works.' The 'Women in Advertising' debate is one such - not just the portrayal of women in ads, but the status of women in the industry.

The Kevin Roberts debacle this summer stirred the debate again, and got me thinking about my experience as a woman and a mother in the industry. Maybe it's because I am a bit longer in the tooth than the average in what is a notoriously 'young' industry, or maybe people have short memories, but I notice that the players in each new wave of the debate seem to think they're the first to raise the subject.

For example, there a well-reasoned and thoughtful article this week in Campaign by Nicola Kemp, but at some point it references 'Back in 2014, when the conversation about the lack of women in senior positions was just getting started.'

In fact, while I was at Saatchis, in 1990, our then Head of Planning, Marilyn Baxter, was commissioned by the IPA to undertake a study as to why so few women were in top management roles in ad agencies:

I remember the study highlighting the woeful lack of women generally in UK creative departments, which was related to the extreme laddish/macho culture of the time. Ten years later, Debbie Klein updated the study. In 2000, her findings were rather more positive. Women in advertising were optimistic about opportunities for the future. Women made up half of ad agency staff, and compared to FTSE 100 companies, were four times as likely to reach a board position.

But since then, I've found references to reports that suggest that, although the 50:50 split of employees is there, the % of women in senior management is only creeping up slowly - 20% in 2009, 22.4% in 2011 and 25% in 2014.

The Nicola Kemp article rightly focusses on motherhood and paints a picture familiar to many women in advertising. All is well and good until you have children. Unless you are extremely lucky to work for an enlightened agency, or you take the decision to leave the upbringing of your children to your partner, or maybe a series of nannies, you are likely to meet what's described as  'toxic environment.'

And what's particularly alarming for agencies is that client companies are far more on the ball when it comes to flexibility for working parents. 

I don't like to be cynical, but I do wonder if, as long as agencies keep up their 'working relatively young (cheap) people all hours of the day and night to keep the client happy' business model, things will not change for mums in advertising.

And the agencies will miss out on a wealth of insight and wisdom - and potentially great creative ideas.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Mächtige Marken

I spent last weekend in Munich - which involved rather a lot of beer, and sport, but also a good amount of strolling around the city. In comparison to Berlin, or Frankfurt, it's noticeable just how many huge, grand buildings stand around every corner. And there's something about brands that hail from Munich that's similarly grand, pompous even. Even if Google, Facebook and amazon are leading the world today in terms of brand value, there is something insubstantial about their very nature.

Will they really be around in 100 years?

The three Mächtige Marken that dominate Munich are all centenarians.

There's Allianz, whose massive Arena has dominated the city since 2005. Allianz itself was founded in 1890, and is No. 51 in Interbrand's Top 100 brands by value - and growing at an impressive +12%.

Of course, you can't talk about the Allianz Arena without mentioning FC Bayern München, founded a decade later, in 1900. I often think brands have a lot to learn from sports teams - certainly when it comes to fans and loyalty. I visited the FCB Erlebniswelt - an absolutely up-to-date immersive experience and museum celebrating the story (so far) of the club.

Then we come to a modern-day version of one of those pompous Munich palaces: BMW's 'Four Cylinder' building above. BMW is the relative youngster of the three, celebrating 100 years this year. This brand is No. 11 in the world, according to Interbrand, and continuing in double-figure growth despite the doom and gloom about urbanisation and young people not buying cars any more.
There were enough young people milling around BMW World  and the museum - temples to the past, present and future of BMW cars and motorcycles, as well as Mini and Rolls Royce.

And this is the key to the success, and longevity of these proud and powerful brands. Strength from heritage and a focus clearly on the future.

Monday 17 October 2016

Discounter Duels

This Autumn, both Aldi and Lidl have launched noticeable new campaigns. But these couldn't be further apart in terms of approach.

Lidl is making the most of the fact that they have always stocked a certain number of brands as well as their own brand. And with Aldi taking on more and more brands (they used to only stock one of two, such as Haribo, but they've now got some biggies, like Nivea and Pampers) this is perhaps timely. The new campaign for Lidl is very simple, very hard-hitting: You have the choice. Strong brands and strong own labels. The advertising idea is a direct comparison of price - for example 15 iglo (aka Bird's Eye) fish fingers for €2.89 or 15 Ocean Sea (Lidl) fish fingers for €1.59.

In some cases, the branded product costs double that of Lidl, but the point is that the choice is yours, and Lidl stock both.

Meanwhile, over at Aldi, there's a completely different sort of campaign going on. This is not as grubby and straightforward as talking about price, but is on a much loftier level. The campaign idea is Einfach is mehr ('simple is more'). The website, posters, films and brochure are all full of philosophical musing about how our life has become too complex, how children smile more often than grown-ups because they don't need much to be happy, how we need more simplicity in our lives.

There's a cooperation with a rapper, Fargo, who has released a song on this topic, and, yes, you can buy the T-Shirt, too. And if that wasn't enough, there's yet another platform or website or something, Einfach. Ganz. Ich where you can sign up for all manner of training videos, expert tips, recipes and all the rest.

This route is backed up by Aldi's principles. For example, life should be simple: you don't need 9 kinds of lemons. The range in Aldi stores is limited, and everything is so cheap you can't make a bad choice.

But, much as I agree that the world is too complex and a lot of people have forgotten what simplicity means, I don't think Aldi is the solution. Aldi, if anything, increases complexity by its time-limited offers, which are usually things one doesn't actually need but feels never-the-less compelled to rush out to the store early on Monday or Thursday to snap them up before anyone else does. While you don't need 9 kinds of lemons, you may well have a favourite brand that Aldi don't stock, and have to make an extra trip to get that.

Admirable though the initiative is, I don't think Aldi is at all credible as the sender. And despite best attempts to do otherwise, the campaign has a distinct 'finger-pointing' feel to it.

So, who will win the duel of the discounters? My money is on Lidl.

My price or yours?

Friday 7 October 2016

Where are they now?

It's that wonderful time of year again when Interbrand come out with their report on Best Global Brands. It's always fascinating to look back into the dim and distant past to see who the top dogs were then and now:

2006                                                                       2016

1. Coca Cola                                                         1. Apple
2. Microsoft                                                          2. Google
3. IBM                                                                  3. Coca Cola
4. GE                                                                    4. Microsoft
5. Intel                                                                  5. Toyota
6. Nokia                                                               6. IBM
7. Toyota                                                              7. Samsung
8. Disney                                                              8. amazon
9. McDonald's                                                      9. Mercedes-Benz
10. Mercedes-Benz                                              10. GE
11. Citi                                                                 11. BMW
12. Marlboro                                                        12. McDonald's
13. Hewlett-Packard                                            13. Disney
14. American Express                                          14. Intel
15. BMW                                                             15. Facebook

As is my wont, I've categorised these brands into the sign of four:

Winners - huge value and rank gain
It's GAFA! (Now that we don't have Brangelina any more there's a new compound noun ...)
Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon

Staying Around - impressive growth, rank held/gain
Samsung, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota

Slippers - lost rank, small/moderate growth
McDonald's, Disney, Microsoft, Intel, Coca Cola

Losers - lost value and rank
American Express, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, GE, Citi, Nokia, Marlboro

I'm pleased to see a couple of classic German brands holding their own in the tables. But where are the Brits? Uh-oh ...

Monday 3 October 2016

Quite a Character

In previous posts, I've mentioned one or two of my favourite brand characters, such as the Michelin Man, and Mr Peanut, the Planter's character. Brand mascots or characters enjoyed quite a vogue in the first two thirds of the last century. And you can see why - a well-chosen character could encapsulate your brand values in a highly memorable and flexible form. The character could appear on the packaging, on billboards and metal signs, on promotional giveaways, on the radio and TV - and even make real life appearances.

Of course, the danger with brand characters is that they may become irrelevant, or even objectionable, as has happened with this little fellow:

In today's world, you would not assign your character a specific religion, as is the case with this chap:

Or associate him with a politically-incorrect sport:
Human and humanoid characters invariably become in need of a fashion update - at least according to the latest brand manager - although one may look back at 80s hairstyles and wish you'd left the characters in the timeless past somewhere.

Sometimes, the idea of the character survives, while the actual physical form becomes more symbolic, as has happened with Johnnie Walker's Walking Man (who I used to confuse with Force Flakes' Sunny Jim as a child. Luckily I didn't confuse the products!)

In the last few months, two characters who first appeared in the 1950s have had a revamp. KFC (founded in 1952 by Colonel Harland Sanders) has announced a rehaul of the brand under the banner 'Re-Colonelization.' It's a kind of back to the roots re-invention, with a push for quality and attention to detail: "The Hard Way") as well as various actors and comedians personifying the Colonel himself.

And another brand icon who hails from 1952 has been imbued with 'animatronic swagger', whatever that may be. Kellogg's Tony the Tiger is motivating tweenage kids to 'Let your Gr-r-reat Out' and think/act 'Like a Tiger.' As well as bearing some relation to what Nike and Always are doing, this was, of course a motivational technique deployed by Henry V, if Shakespeare is to be believed. Nice film, good sentiment, but not terrrrrrrribly original, I fear.

You can understand what these brands are trying to do. Decades-old brand characters do carry a potential richness of goodwill and positive association which it would be careless to lose.

Newer brands don't have this opportunity. The vogue for brand characters dwindled in the later years of the last century. In some ways it was 'Digital and Global killed the Brand Character'. Trying to create a new character who is understandable and acceptable to all, yet represents the brand's uniqueness, is not so easy these days. We have to think too much: just look at some of the truly dreadful creatures that have been spawned as mascots for the Olympic Games, or the World Cup, in recent years and you'll see what I mean.

But maybe, with the rise of grass roots local brands, the whole thing will go full circle again. Generally animals seem a better bet than human/oids as they don't need updating. I'll leave you with another of my all-time favourite brand mascots: Nipper.