Friday 22 December 2017

A wonder-full 2018

I know, I know. It's only adverts.

But next year I would love to see less of platforms, engagement, driving this or that, KPIs, journeys of various sorts, digital disruption, millennials, Thought Leadership, embracing and empowering, reaching out, roadmaps, workshops, Change Drivers, seamless experiences, content, algorithms ...

And more:


From one of my favourite books, above:

"We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and the fear and dread and splendour of wonder have been banished.. Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel.  It is undemocratic, discriminatory, and pitiless."

A wonder-full 2018 to everyone!

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Boxing Day, Decade, Century?

Around this time of year, I like to get nostalgic and have a look at advertising and brand communications from days gone by. Now, forgive me if I get lazy for once, but I have found a fascinating write-up of some Christmas ads all the way from the 1980s by Mike Oughton, Creative Director of McCann, in Campaign.

Have a look - you can marvel and revel in the pre-digital masterpieces of Oxo, IBM and Coca-Cola. It was a different world. But the one that makes me most nostalgic, maybe because the brand has disappeared from the UK High Street, is Woolworth's. 'The Spectacular Woolworth's Christmas Show' to be exact. It's got everything - celebrities, sports stars, technology - and tapes. Piles and piles of them.

Tapes aside, I'm quite amazed at how much technology (if you can call it that) was on offer at Woolworth's at the time. And just how much is crammed into the ad - apart from the celebrities, there are brands upon brands, and prices, and music, all-singing, all-dancing.

Now compare that with the Amazon ad above. I think it's a great piece of branding and definitely watchable, but there's also something slightly sinister about it. It's all about the boxes, and the Amazon logo, and whatever is inside those boxes doesn't get a look in. It's certainly single-minded.

Contagious, in their report on the coming trends, talk about 'Amazonification' and describe Jeff Bezos as 'The Man in the Cardboard Castle' - a reference to world domination if ever there was one. Where will Amazon go next? Banking? Pharma? Who knows?

Bots, boxes and Mr Bezos - the future belongs to you?

Wednesday 13 December 2017

The Age of Confusion

If I had one wish for Christmas, or even for next year, I'd like to knock all those brands off their faux social mission bandwagons and take an axe to that plinky piano whose music always features behind such creations.

OK, maybe I'm being unseasonably miserable, and maybe the ad for Olay has a fantastic insight that will have women round the world cheering, but I find it patronising. There's the ad itself. Do people really take comments such as 'you're beautiful' and 'you've got a lovely smile' and 'I love your hair' from a random film-maker that they don't know as 'true compliments'? Oh, and incidentally, what if the film-maker had been male? Where would we have been then?

And I have never, ever heard anyone say someone has 'a lovely smile for their age.' Then the rallying call 'It's time we stop defining women by their age.' I wondered who 'we' means in this context. Who is the finger being pointed at? I can only come to the conclusion that it must be Olay pointing the finger at themselves. I wonder if they'll put their words into action?

As (Oil of) Olay, Ulay, Olaz, Ulan and maybe some other permutations and combinations, this brand has invested years in the idea of younger-looking skin.

Today, the product line-up includes products 'For fighting the 7 signs of ageing' while there are anti-wrinkle products classified into age groups 25+, 40+ and 55+. By the way, whether you're 55 or 95, you come into the 'deep wrinkles' category. Sorry.

And of course, the makers of Olay send you a wonderful magazine once you get over the age of 50, together with an incontinence pad sample. You see, they are allowed to segment and judge according to your age, but for the general public, it's a no-no.

I think Olay - or at least the people running the brand - need to work out what they stand for, and what they are offering. At the moment, the messages are mixed and contradictory. It would be a brave move, for example, to accept that many women do want to look younger, even if it's not the most PC, feminist right-on thing to want. (In the same way that many women in the Far East wish for fairer skin.)

And while much of the advertising from the last century is cringeworthy, there's a brilliant ad from the then Oil of Olay which I think captures the spirit of the brand and still works today. Better than 10,000 plinky pianos.

Thursday 7 December 2017

Colours reunited

This year, there's been rather a spate of what I'd call 'diversity' commercials, for example Levis' 'Circles' above. It's got a great soundtrack and definitely leaves you feeling good about humanity and wanting to get up and dance. So far, so good.

But the more of these rather generic-looking commercials I see, the more I get deja-vu, right back to the 80s, when I was getting up and shaking my stuff rather more frequently than I do now. And I think of The United Colours of Benetton.

Although Luciano Benetton had been going with his fashion emporium since 1969, it wasn't until 1982 that he met his partner in crimes against bland advertising, photographer and art director Oliviero Toscani. And the two of them changed the face of marketing and advertising forever.

These posters may look a little dated now (especially the clothes!). But we're going back over 30 years. Is the 2017 Levis commercial any different to this in terms of the idea behind it?

What came subsequently from the creative partnership maybe overshadowed these posters with their spirit of youthful optimism and a borderless future. As the decade turned, the idea of 'United Colours' was taken into a more controversial sphere:
And what happened in the early 90s is now advertising history: the newborn baby, the human hearts, the blood-stained uniform, the death row prisoners, the AIDs victim deathbed scene. Was it controversy for controversy's sake? And where, in all of this, were the clothes?

As an aside, for all the talk about the importance of the retail experience today, that was another area that Benetton pioneered and got absolutely right in the 1980s. Who of a certain age can ever forget the stores with their neatly-stacked piles of rainbow-coloured jumpers? It was a fashion sweet-shop if ever there was one.

Diversity, shopping experience, political and social causes - Benetton was definitely ahead of its time.

Toscani and Benetton parted ways as the millennium turned. But now they are back together, older and maybe wiser. In the new campaign, they have gone back to their roots in some ways with photography of an Italian primary school class with children from 13 different countries and 4 different continents.

It looks almost as if we could be back in 1984. But with one difference. These aren't models - this is real life.

Make of that what you will.

Monday 4 December 2017

We're only human

It is estimated (by Gartner) that by 2020, the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse.

One of the things that interests me in the development of AI is just how closely we'll be able to replicate human - not just thought - but perception in all its forms.

I've recently (probably late to the game) come across some nifty resources about understanding our human quirks, from The School of Thought. The first is on the subject of Cognitive Bias and here you can find (and download a poster) 24 biases stuffing up your thinking.

These range from the 'Barnum Effect' beloved of astrologers, through to the ever more prevalent 'Group Think' and 'Just-World hypothesis', beloved of many a spat on Facebook. There are plenty of these that saw me nodding, from 'The Curse of Knowledge' to the 'Dunning-Kruger Effect.'

What can you do with this stuff? Well, of course, you can use it for your own self-knowledge - and it is always reassuring to know that you're not the only one that's fallible. Beyond that, it's vital for anyone involved in the planning and creation of brand communications. People do not behave rationally, as rational thought is only one mode of perception. By the way, I don't necessarily hold these biases to be 'bad' - they are short-cuts, which we need increasingly in an overloaded world. What is bad is not being aware of them, and being convinced we are driven only by rational thought.

And then there are Logical Fallacies, flaws in reasoning, which are also helpful to bear in mind for most of what passes for journalism today.

As The School of Thought says on its website: isn't it more important to teach children how to think rather than what to think?