2016 was full of shocks for the pollsters and indeed, many bright young things working in advertising and marketing. How could we have got things so wrong? What? The collected opinions of my Facebook friends don't constitute what the Great British Public is thinking? I thought that if I 'de-friended' a few of those people whose views I didn't like, then they'd disappear into a puff of ether and I'd never have to be troubled by them again.
I blogged about the return of the Untrendy here and so far, 2017 has been full of references to bubbles, echo chambers and the like in everything from song lyrics through to advertisements (Heineken springs to mind) so I suppose at least there's awareness now that that the world is full of different views, not all of which may be palatable to us personally.
As a marketer, there's no way you can guarantee that your brand will be desired and bought only by people whose demographics appeal to you, or whose worldview co-incides with your own. So what can you do, to find out how other people tick? At the risk of sounding obvious, you have to go out and meet them, observe them, talk with them, listen to them. And not through the filter of the screen. The agency Ogilvy and Mather announced their intention, last year, of sending their planners out and about around the country, under the banner 'Get Out There.'
My first reaction as an old fogey in this world was a wry smile and something of a sense of bemusement. Surely this is what planners at ad agencies do? It appears not. Kevin Chesters, the Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy in London is quoted as saying that only 2% of creative briefs are informed by original first-hand research.
When on earth did we lose touch so badly?
Once I'd gulped and realised just how dire things had got, I had a look at the Get Out There blog. There are clips and articles about Oldies in Eastbourne, the question of Brexit in Boston, Christianity in Hereford and so on. Yes, you could pick holes in stuff like the journalistic approach (picking on towns that are 'extreme' in one sense or another and packaging it all up with video clips and snappy headlines) but that's the way of the world these days. I trust that there's some good substance and insight behind the public exterior and in the end, at least they are doing something rather than debating and pontificating.
I notice the Marketing Society is re-naming its 'Brand of the Year' 'BRAVE Brand of the Year' to reward risk-taking. I'm looking forward to seeing a brand marketing to appeal to people out of the hipster London bubble.
In my mid-teens, I'd already come up against the rigidity of the British education system which force-fits young people at an early age into boxes labelled 'scientist', 'artist', 'linguist' - or whatever. I rebelled against this in my own quiet way by adding Art to my science A-Levels. I wrote a post earlier this year bemoaning one effect that this force-fitting seems to produce - the 'I'm crap at maths and not ashamed to say it' syndrome.
I'm asked, on occasion, what makes a good planner. I rarely look to academic qualifications, and in the past, have been as likely to choose someone with an obscure degree or even no degree at all as someone with a business degree. In fact, the business degree people I often give a harder time to as they may already have been taught to think in a certain way.
My ideal planner would fit the artist-scientist archetype. By this, I mean someone for whom thinking or intellect is not the only way of revealing 'truth', but who is equally at home with other modes of perception. The artist-scientist is a creator, inventor, dreamer and thinker simultaneously. Their focus is discovery, not prediction and pinning down 'facts.' They are people driven by wonder and curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but it's what keeps the artist-scientists going.
These people are the source of change, the people who question, the people who keep their minds open and don't always go with the flow. From Leonardo da Vinci, to Nikola Tesla, to C.G.Jung, these people feel uncomfortable with the narrow designation (which includes all those 21st century prefixes to the word planner.)
To finish, here's Joseph Campbell on the figure of Daedalus, the archetypal artist-scientist:
Most curiously, the very scientist who, in the service of the sinful king, was the brain behind the horror of the labyrinth, quite as readily can serve the purposes of freedom. But the hero-heart must be at hand. For
centuries Daedalus has represented the type of the artist-scientist: that
curiously disinterested, almost diabolic human phenomenon, beyond the normal
bound of social judgement, dedicated to the morals not of his time but of his
art. He is the hero of the way of thought – singlehearted, courageous and full
of faith that the truth, as he finds it, shall make us free. And, maybe I'd want that too - 'the hero-heart at hand' - as much as this person is beyond social judgement, they should have a feeling, connectedness, empathy with their fellow human-beings. Not much to ask, eh?
Working on advertising for retailers used to be a relatively easy business. It was all about doing ads to tempt people into shops - proper bricks and mortar ones. With special offers, low prices, an irresistible range of goods, the promise of excellent service or some combination of those. Back in the early days of my career, retailers were just beginning to discover the power of good branded advertising that they'd run alongside 'this week's price offers' to build a picture in people's minds that would - perhaps - mean longer term loyalty than the latest price slashes could offer.
Then the new kids on the block arrived. Except they weren't on the block. They were floating around in the ether. There were long debates about who would 'win' - bricks and mortar, or online. And of course, the answer is - as almost always - that no-one 'won', rather the two formed an uneasy truce, merged a little, copied a little and are currently co-existing.
Although around 90% of the world's retail spend still takes place in bricks and mortar stores, there's a massive shake-up going on in what we used to call 'retail.' High Streets and malls are closing down, many of the old stalwarts have fallen by the wayside, 'phygital' and 'in-store experience' are the new buzzwords. New technology is making leaps and bounds, with voice-activated technology playing a bigger and bigger role.
amazon is No. 5 on Interbrand's Top 100 brands - bigger than Samsung, Toyota or Facebook, and growing at a whopping +29%.
And all of this means that people's expectations for how and when to shop - and where - are changing at a pace. What does 'convenience' or 'instant gratification' or 'service' mean today, compared to even 5 years ago?
One question we should ask is: is the category 'retail' even relevant any more? Anyone selling over Etsy or ebay is a retailer. The brands we used to know as retailers could just as well be called distribution, logistics or entertainment brands. Platforms or (social) media channels. Technology or lifestyle brands.
Who knows? One thing is clear to me as a communications and branding strategist: this new world requires strong brands more than ever to pull it all together, like a magnet.
And every piece of communication should act as an invitation to your brand.
Retro and nostalgic packaging for anything from washing powder to chocolate to fizzy drinks has become commonplace in the supermarket aisles, along with the increasing number of retro weekends and experiences to be had. I even had my old iPhone described as 'retro' by some young chap with an ironic beard last year. In the travel industry, ocean liners and steam trains (and even motor busses, I've seen) can take us back to more elegant and maybe simpler times.
But there are some areas where one might want to be a little careful when playing the retro card. Areas that stand for speed and being at the forefront and the latest technology. Despite that, a big smile came to my face at Frankfurt airport the other day when I spied one of Lufthansa's retro-liveried planes. They had several done to celebrate their 60th anniversary, and the design evokes the 70s beautifully.
I was even more envious when I discovered that the airline TAP have been going the whole hog and offering one-off retro-themed flights from Lisbon to destinations like Miami or Toronto. Just look at these funky uniforms!
But what of my reservations? (If you'll excuse the pun.) Well, maybe I am just showing my retro status myself. Airlines, in many cases, are positively ancient in branding terms, dating from the early to mid 20th century in most cases. The times that are celebrated in these retro packages are those when flying was a pleasure, when the skies were not quite so crowded and the pilots were some of the best, having probably been trained in the RAF or equivalent.
Times that evoke both trust and luxury, personal attention and quality as well as glamour and excitement.
However, I doubt they will be bringing back the smoking section.
One of the best campaign insights of recent years is that from Snickers: You're Not You When You're Hungry. I know my family will certainly attest to the truth of this one, and it's a great idea that the brand have been using in their advertising for seven years now. So it definitely has legs. Or peanuts.
The latest incarnation of the campaign idea is individual named Snickers bars with a choice of 21 alter-hungry-egos from Stroppy to Grouchy to Moaner to Drama Mama to Faffer to Grumpster. Sounding vaguely like a re-imagining of the 7 dwarfs, the idea is either to buy one for yourself (as a warning to others) or, better still, for a chum or family member.
I know that this idea is adapted from the 'Share a Coke' thought, but I find it even better. Not only is the personalisation element there, but it ties in with a long-running campaign based on a super insight into human nature, which Snickers have made their own. In the US, where they've already run this idea, they got an impressive uplift in sales, and I'm not surprised.
I can almost, almost forgive the brand its own name change from Marathon right back in 1990.
If you follow Cannes and Creative Awards, you won't have missed that a certain sculpture took a lot of the top prizes this year. But what you may have missed, if you don't live near Sheffield, is another sculpture which I think deserves just as many accolades is also really rather quite good.
IKEA have recently opened a store in Sheffield and part of the clever stuff dreamed up by their UK advertising agency, Mother, to accompany the opening was Allen the Peregrine Falcon, seen above. His creator is sculptor Jason Heppenstall, a wonderfully talented chap whose forte is sculpture of furred, feathered and scaled creatures as well as marvellous mechanical devices, all made from scrap steel. So what could be more appropriate for Sheffield than the town's symbol, a Peregrine Falcon, made of steel?
But it's not just any old steel. The beautiful bird of prey is constructed from a total of 17, 126 IKEA Allen Keys - hence the connection, and the name. The connection with IKEA doesn't stop there, either. The vision of IKEA is to help create a better everyday life for the many people, and I should think that the sight of this beautiful bird brightened many an everyday in Sheffield over the last week.
This, to me, is the essence of a great brand idea: something that combines the smallest, everyday element of a brand with its long-term higher reason for being in a way that's totally relevant for the people it's communicating with.
Now, who can remember which brand or company is behind the Fearless Girl sculpture? Anyone?
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: