Monday 29 January 2018

Tack, Ingvar!

(Image via

Many of my readers will know that two brands have dominated my working life: Saatchi & Saatchi, and in the 21st century, IKEA. The sad news from Sweden this weekend is that the IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad has passed away in his sleep at the grand old age of 91

I have often pondered the factors behind the success of IKEA. The various press articles and books written on the subject cite everything from product names to meatballs. And they are all (partly) right.

Some of the factors I always come back to when thinking about IKEA are these:

Demographic Design and Vision: Long before it was fashionable to talk about such things, Ingvar Kamprad laid out the Idea and Purpose of IKEA: to create a better everyday life for the many people through affordable Home Furnishings. Those few words say so much and highlight the uniqueness of IKEA. You can copy a product or two, or the hot dogs. But the whole lot? Nah.

The original participative brand: At the risk of repetition, here's another factor that's been in the IKEA DNA long before it was fashionable. IKEA has always involved effort on the part of the customer. 'You do your part, we do ours, and together we save money.' It's well known ('The IKEA Effect' ) that you value more objects to which you've made a contribution.

Then there are a couple of paradoxes at the heart of IKEA which provide a healthy tension, and maybe the 'Marmite' nature of the brand that means it's rarely out of the conversation.

Universal and individual: yes, it's mass-market and yes, the stores look and feel the same. Everyone has collective stories and jokes about IKEA. But once you get BILLY into your home, and fill the bookcase with your stuff, it's uniquely yours.

Change and Ritual: In the same way that our lives at home follow a dynamic of familiar ritual and change, so it is with all aspects of the IKEA brand. The way through the store may be standardised, but there are surprising new products around every corner. 

As I write this, I'm looking at a table in my office. I bought it 22 years ago as a dining table when I first moved to Germany, expecting it to last a few years before we bought something more solid. It's been through three different homes now and although it's currently enjoying something of a holiday from dining (it's the winter indoor home for a couple of hibiscus plants), I suspect it will have a new lease of life in a few years, maybe as a dining table once more when my son moves out.

And maybe this will be Ingvar's legacy. A recycled, renewed IKEA for the 21st century.
'Most things still remain to be done. A glorious future!'  

Monday 22 January 2018

Go, amazon, go!

It's  official, I think. The store of the future is here today. Well, not here in downtown Bruchköbel, but in - where else? - Seattle. Amazon have launched their first no queues, no check-outs Amazon Go grocery convenience store. To get into this cornucopia of convenience, all you have to do is scan your Amazon Go app and it's 'Open Sesame.'

In you go, pick stuff off the shelves, put it in your bag and out you go again. Change your mind? Dither? It's all covered, via the crafty technology (computer vision, sensor fusion, deep learning - as used in self-drive cars) There are loads more photos here.

Part of me is excited about this, but part is alarmed. Not so much by the shot in the link of that flock of cameras, but by seeing the Amazon branding all over those food products and meal ideas. Being a little behind the times, I still associate Amazon primarily with books and stuff.

I suppose the source of the alarm is the audacity of it - the assumption from the Amazon people that they have a right to infiltrate every area of my life, including those where their competence is questionable. What'll be next? Pharma?

I read another article this week, in The Economist, about Google, Facebook, Amazon and Co. These brands have such power in terms of data held that they do pose a threat to healthy competition. What is the solution? Difficult to say.

But I have a feeling that, in the end, people need something more than convenience alone. However fast and seamless 'shopping' (if I can call it that: it seems more like shop-lifting) at Amazon Go is, if those make-a-meal kits taste as bland as they look, people will vote with their stomachs and seek out fresh ingredients, or their friendly local bistro, or a greasy junk-food fix. At least for some of the time.

I do wonder at what point the tide of opinion will turn that Amazon has Gone Too Far?

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Baaaaad Brand!

Well, at least one that seems somewhat uncompromising. Stroh rum, known as The Spirit of Austria, is a brand that turns all the current 21st century must-dos of branding on their heads.

From its beginnings in 1832, back in the imperial days, Stroh has made a virtue of being inauthentic. So inauthentic that it's authentic, in fact. Austria is land-locked and didn't have many colonies so it was unlikely that anyone would be able to bring enough sugar cane back from the Caribbean for an authentic rum. So the strong spiced rum was concocted from sugar beet, plus aromas and colours.

It's available in 5 different strengths: 38, 40, 54, 60 and 80 and, yes, those are the ° proof. The two highest are described as "overproof" which is about as blunt as "overweight."

Devoid of stories about crafting and palm trees and pirates, the pack design is also uncompromising. In fact, it could be mistaken for something you'd put in your car engine, rather than your mouth. The whole thing is redolent of last century ski holidays, tin signs, dark wooden huts, smoky bars, paper bags from picture postcard newsagents, the whiff of Jagertee.

The only time Stroh gets slightly less disreputable is when it's used as an ingredient in cakes and desserts. But those aren't terribly good for your waistline.

Please keep the branding consultants away!

Friday 5 January 2018

Especially for you

2018, the trend forecasters inform us, will see yet more leaps forward in brands getting close up and personal with their customers.

Right on cue, I received the flyer above a couple of days ago, through the good old post. It's not from a huge global brand, but from a local sports store, informing me of a loyalty bonus I've earned. I have to say that receiving something with my name literally on it made me feel quite special. Especially as I am about to set off to the slopes. I was flattered by this little surprise, a lot more so than if it had been sent via email.

But maybe that's the point. The surprise is that it combines what we used to call old (flyer) media with new (personalisation) technology. No-one would be surprised to receive something of this sort via their smart phone, for example.

This raises an interesting issue about people's expectations. We say again and again that people's expectations from brand communication are changing, but we seldom stop to think what that really means. What it does mean is that personalisation will become so commonplace that it won't be a surprise any more. It will become par for the course, expected, maybe not even noticed any more, in the way that people want Smart Home technology 'so seamless it's forgotten.'

We all have the same tools at our disposal. Being first to use these may win you a few temporary points for novelty value. But it's only when the tools are used in a fashion and to a purpose that is unique to your brand and what it stands for that will build lasting attachment.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Magnificent Men (... and women)

One major anniversary in 2018 will be 100 years of the Royal Air Force. Those who're aware of my author-ego will know I have something of a soft spot for the RAF and I thought I'd kick off the New Year with a look at how the recruitment advertising for the RAF has reflected cultural changes across the last century. Well, actually, it's an excuse to go rummaging through some wonderful old ads.

When the RAF, born out of the Royal Flying Corps, started, it was all about honour and glory. The beautiful poster above looks and feels every bit of its hundred years old, from the typeface to the sentiments expressed. The 'See the World' poster is probably a little younger, and introduces a perennial theme for the RAF - the exciting possibilities and adventure that such a career opens up.

By 1941, in the middle of the 2nd World War, things were getting grittier and direct on target. There was no doubt here about what was required and what was the task that lay ahead. This image is courtesy of the very magnificent Aviation Ancestry - but I will issue a warning straight away - you are likely to be some time if you visit the site!

Moving into the 1970s and 80s, the promise of excitement and adventure was still writ large. The advert featuring a Tornado is also care of Aviation Ancestry. And changes in society were reflected too in the RAF - or maybe the services actually influenced some societal changes? The advert below is courtesy of the Advertising Archives:

As the century due to a close, the recruitment advertising went into full James Bond action mode, as seen here in a 1997 TV ad:

And now, almost up-to-date, one of the ads from the 'No Ordinary Job' campaign:

Being the youngest of the services, and being born into the golden age of poster advertising, the RAF does sometimes feel more like a brand than the other services. I feel that the RAF Roundel has a lot to do with that - one small symbol that says so much, so powerfully.

Chocks away, 2018!