Monday 30 December 2019

Roaring reconciliation?

I visited the UK just before Christmas - my flight was on election day. I was dreading more-or-less every possible outcome of the election, but when I heard the result I felt a surprising sense of relief. I say sense, although it made no sense at all. I have been unhappy about Brexit since the referendum. Over three years of trying to explain, trying to understand ...

I turned up to a party with old friends. Some of them staunch Labour supporters, others keen Brexiteers. But the result was hardly discussed. I could sense my feeling of relief amongst the entire company. No, it's not necessarily what we all would have wished for, but that wish would never have been granted. There were no fights, no name-calling. We'll all still be friends at the turn of the next decade.

I was reminded of what I read in Most Contagious - in the preface, the Editorial Director, Alex Jenkins, says: So, if we can't predict the future, how can we prepare for the next decade? My advice is to hang onto this word: reconcile ... I believe that the people and the brands that will be successful in the next decade are the ones that can reconcile.

It's about changing the vs. to an and.

Digital and traditional
Computers and humans
Short-term activation and brand-building

When I returned to social media, it was all still there: vile name-calling for those that have another opinion, people expressing their distress and feeling of betrayal at the election result (often on the behalf of less-fortunate others who probably voted in the opposite direction), crude generalisations and plenty of prancing around on high horses. It all seemed so yesterday, so dated.

I wonder if one consequence of digitalisation is that our brains have become digital? When you look at an analogue clock, it's an analogy or representation of the passage of time. The infinite possibilities and the exact time now are viewable at a glance. All possible times can be seen, and they co-exist as a harmonious whole.

But a digital clock just gives you one time - now. You can't see the spread or scope. It's a "single version of the truth" and if you don't agree, you must be stupid. Or ill-informed. Or misled by enemy propaganda. Or in some foreign country where they do things differently.

Now, have I fallen into my own trap with analogue and digital? Quite possibly - and that's another area where there should be no vs, only coexistence.

The last 20s were roaring. I'm hoping the coming 20s will roar with reconciliation and resound with the things that bind and unite us.

Thursday 19 December 2019

Naughty or nice?

In the rush to buy last minute presents, there's one gift idea of yore which I can guarantee won't be found under any family Christmas tree - or left out for Santa:

But - oh! The glamour of days gone by!

A good alternative to socks for Dad?

I wonder which gift ideas of today will be seen as not just naughty, but definitely despicable in decades to come?

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Polish up those tin signs

I was rather cheered to read in the JWT trendletter that analogue marketing, or the "renaissance of non-digital mediums (sic)", is back.

On closer inspection, the article is more about music and musicians - Coldplay and Radiohead's Thom Yorke, bringing new albums out on cassette and advertising them in quaint old-fashioned ways, such as small ads in local papers, or personally-typed postcards to fans delivered in the good old post.

But there's no reason to stop there. There are so many ways to advertise your brand or cause in real life, from posters to trams to vans to blimps - even on bricks and mortar.

I did learn a new word from the article that I'll have to use somewhere soon: anemoia - nostalgia for a time you've never known.

In the meantime, let's market like it's 1899!

Monday 9 December 2019

The war against plastic (words)

Good advice, generally, doesn't go out of fashion. I make no excuses for posting this memo from David Ogilvy. Nearly 40 years on, it's as important as ever.

I particularly like points 2, 3 and 4, which always remind me that the best presentations are the ones that are to the point. They get into your mind and stay there. They do this through using everyday, natural language, not what Ogilvy calls jargon and others have called "plastic words."

Plastic words have that Humpty-Dumpty quality that they mean whatever the user wants them to mean in that context - or sometimes they mean diddly-squat because the user doesn't really know what they want to say, only that a particular word gets a head-nod and ticks a box somewhere.

As the authors of that article point out, our language is polluted with these words. I often wonder what on earth we said before we started started talking about engagement, or agility or diversity. Not to mention purpose, impact, sustainability ...

Time to battle with the verbal plastic, as well as all that junk in the sea?

Wednesday 4 December 2019

How green was my valley?

In the last few weeks, I have noticed crosses by the side of fields while driving. The first couple, I probably didn't register - assuming they were shrines put up at the site of road accidents. But then I noticed something unusual - the crosses were green.

While walking the other day, I came across (ha, ha!) one by a local field, and attached to it was a notice addressed to walkers:

This campaign - Grüne Kreuz - is a "silent protest" from German farmers to lobby the government and powers-that-be to respect their work. It's about everything from dumping prices at the supermarkets, importing cheap goods and giving in to public pressure (maybe too hastily) on environmental protection issues, such as the use of fertiliser and pesticides.

The protest took on a new angle last week when thousands of farmers (and tractors) descended on Berlin. That, I expect, wasn't so silent.

Whatever your views on the issues regarding agriculture and the environment, this does strike me as a masterstroke in terms of campaigning. Using fields as a medium for the campaign and a symbol that immediately evokes interest. The mainstream press tends to be one-sided on this topic and I know I've heard a lot more in the last year about saving bees than I have about farmers' livelihoods.

Farmers for Future, perhaps?

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Off-the-peg strategies

Five years ago (gosh, how time flies when you're enjoying yourself) I wrote a couple of posts about crowd-sourcing: not crowd-sourcing the general public for ideas for a new flavour of crisps, or naming a boat, but going into a creative pool (I hesitate to say community) for design and creative ideas.

My conclusion at the time was that I was sceptical, especially when it came to what the creatives got out of it - and that the logical next step, which I rather hoped wouldn't happen, was a similar set-up for strategy.

Since then, I have joined one freelance pool for writers, and I must say upfront that I don't have a problem with the idea of freelance pools in general, and matching up freelancers to clients.

But it's the competitive element that I find destructive.

In theory, accessing good thinkers ("an exclusive, worldwide community of the finest Creative Directors and Planning Directors") to solve tough strategic problems sounds fine. But if this organisation (and others like them) are throwing the client brief out to a number of "the world's best thinkers" then picking the best of what comes back (in their view) for the client, then that is worrying.

It devalues the work of any one particular planner and turns strategic thinking into a commodity that can be bought in bulk.

As a freelancer, I take pride in becoming an independent plug-in for my clients for as long as I'm working with them. I take time and care to listen and learn about their organisation - how things work today, and where their hopes and vision are leading them tomorrow. I ask lots of questions. I'm a part of the organisation for the duration, but an outward-facing one.

I see that as my responsibility, and it goes far beyond the weeks or months that I am working with the brand.

I've tracked down the 1994 all-staff memo from David Abbott that talks about the dangers of "a giant ad factory where quantity is more important than quality". It's just as relevant for strategy as it is for creative: "great work comes with ownership, understanding and time."

I may be old-school, but I firmly believe that strategy is not something where you can fail fast, test and learn and all that design-thinking tra-la-la.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Manhattan or Mainhattan? My favourite campaign of 2019

2019 is far from over and can still throw us a few surprises, but I'm going to stick my neck out and say that this is my favourite campaign of 2019.

Normally, expressions such as "programmatic advertising", "data-driven creativity" and "personalised ads at scale" leave me cold (and feeling old, to boot.)

But the campaign from Deutsche Bahn to encourage summer holidays in Germany is all of those, and a masterclass of how it should be done. You see, behind it all is an idea. It's a clever idea that would make a fine poster campaign. Indeed, it may have stuck at being a poster idea had the client had a higher budget.

The genius of the campaign is how Ogilvy Germany personalised the campaign, using destinations that people were searching for online, and matching them with their German Doppelgängers, faster than you can say ... Doppelgängers.

It's a triumph of collaboration - at times over adversity. As well as the budget, which forced the thinking down the "digital only" route, there were challenges sourcing images ("how many do you want"?), with GDPR (using people's Facebook data). And that's before you start on the different mindsets of advertising creatives (the BIG Idea) and the digital performance people (trained to test and learn).

But Ogilvy, Getty Images, Spirable and Facebook all got it together for the client, resulting in the 2 million special price train tickets being sold out in two thirds the normal time.

Who needs exotic locations to do a wunderbar ad campaign?

Monday 18 November 2019

Real Life Rebels

I've read a number of articles recently about how young people are shopping less than older generations online and more in real bricks and mortar shops. OK, most of these articles focus around the US, and malls, and Black Friday.

But I wonder - in the same way that Facebook now resembles the Darby & Joan club, and grocery online shopping and delivery services are mainly used by the well-heeled and grey-haired - whether younger generations will start to rebel in more and more areas by using the real life option.

Maybe rebel isn't the right word. It's more a sense of doing something different than what you grew up with, or to what your parents did. Discovering, experiencing, trying stuff out - and on.

The wild world of the Internot is ripe for discovery.

Friday 8 November 2019

In Flanders fields ...

When most people think about campaigns, they are usually short-term. Branded advertising campaigns, election campaigns, even military campaigns - they are all relatively short-lived compared to the granddaddy of all charity campaigns - the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal.

The Poppy Appeal had its roots not in the UK, but in France, and the author of the 1915 poem who inspired it all was a Canadian Medical Officer, Lieutenant John McCrae.

After the war, a French woman involved in fund-raising, Anna Guerin, had the idea of selling poppies made by widows and orphans of the conflict in remembrance of the fallen. The idea was adopted by the British Legion and the first "Poppy Day" held on November 11th in the UK.

The poppies have changed over the years a little in form, and the material from which they are made, and the meaning has shifted from the 1st WW to encompass military personnel in subsequent conflicts too. But the overall idea - and the symbol - has remained constant - unique, meaningful and relevant - for nearly 100 years.

There are questions, of course. Recently, many feel that the profusion of poppies at this time of year is over-the-top (sorry) - undignified, garish. The ceramic poppies at The Tower of London were spectacular, but maybe that should have be kept as a one-off, without later attempts for increasingly dramatic shows and installations. And it has all become politically charged. How predictable. Surely many of the brave men and women who died in conflict would turn in their graves if they could see some of the petty social media spats on the subject.

But all of that aside, kudos must be given for one of the longest-running campaigns ever.

Back in Germany, a different kind of campaign starts on November 11th: the beginning of Fasching or Karneval.

I am sure the Daily Mail could write a suitably barbed article on the subject.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Immersed, wrapped or trapped?

The latest theme or buzzword from Interbrand to characterise their Best Global Brands is "Iconic Moves." It's nothing to do with John Travolta, though, rather that brands today are operating in a world where "people are moving faster than businesses". I agree with some of Interbrand's issues with Brand Positioning as an idea. It does imply a couple of things that don't work so well in today's world of brands - the concept of well-defined categories as well as the notion of static rigidity. However, I wouldn't go as far as to say that "positioning is dead" - rather that brands should take the metaphor of the mobile searchlight these days instead of the lighthouse.

The king of Iconic Moves, for Interbrand is Amazon. Over the years, these include the 2005 launch of Amazon Prime, the 2007 launch of Kindle, the 2014 launch of Echo (Alexa) and the 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods.

But: I wonder - why is Interbrand celebrating this stuff? Presumably because Amazon is No. 3 brand on their list, with a gob-smacking growth of +24%,  and they feel duty-bound to. But outside the impressive statistics and Iconic Moves, there are other stories.

People feeling they've been tricked or trapped into signing up for Amazon Prime.
Amazon taking a 60%+ cut, putting many small players out of business.
What used to be a super opportunity to review books turning into a annoying ratings system.
And that's before you've gone behind the scenes.

And on a personal note, I complained to amazon when a number of tacky-looking soft-porn books appeared under one of my children's books as "sponsored products related to this item." I asked for an explanation in what way these tawdry titles could be "related to" a book targeted at 9 - 12s. I have heard nothing in reply.

Why is Amazon continually held up as a paragon of branding? What Amazon is about is immersing customers in a complete shopping/lifestyle/search/payment ecosystem. There are now over 100m Amazon Prime subscribers in the US alone.

Amazon want to "be the world's most customer-centric company: to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they want to buy online."

"Customer-centric" sounds all well and good, but there's a huge difference between that and "people-centric". It's not just semantics. Amazon couldn't give two hoots about its business customers, or its staff. In Amazon's case, "customer-centric" is looking more and more like the customer trapped in the middle of the ecosystem, with no choice, helpless and unable to get out, while the vultures (or eagles) feed.

Amazon can go on making Iconic Moves because the customer sure as heck can't.

Monday 21 October 2019

Aufschnitt 4: How brands are changing 1999

My latest offer from the cold cuts counter is a very special one. It's not technically a cutting, because it's one of my very own charts from twenty years ago, back in the last millennium. I apologise for the way it looks - there are no fancy graphics, cute icons or co-ordinated colours. The title is everything but snappy: How Brands are Changing - Positioning Spectrum.

The idea here was that different brands take up different positions on this spectrum when communicating. Some just shout in a loud and cheerful voice that they're here while others try and press-gang you into their mission to change the world. In the middle are a whole host of functional and emotional benefits and attributes of the sort beloved by onion-builders.

My point was that a brand doesn't need to have all of this - well, it probably does, but you don't have to sit through ten hours of Post-It deluged workshops to define it all.

I'm quite begoggled that the word "experience" is there, and that what's sitting under "mission/philosophy" could quite happily pass for a description of "purpose" today.

I honestly can't remember if I made this up, or whether I pinched it from somewhere but nevertheless:

Here you go - start planning like it's 1999.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

The Purpose Onion

It's inevitable, I expect, with Purpose proliferating all over the world of marketing and business, that we should brace ourselves for a plague of Purpose Models to replace the crop of Brand Onions, which are slowly slipping off the boardroom walls and mouldering in corners.

It's over ten years since marketeers and consultants started raving about Simon Sinek and his Golden Circle. (Guilty) Although these days, I look at the Golden Circle and see it for what it is: an onion with a big "Why?" bunged in the middle.

In the past, personal development and coaching has borrowed from the world of brands and marketing. But now this field has leapt ahead (yes, I know a leaping field is a slightly tricky mental image) so far that the marketeers are borrowing back.

Here's an example of something that's been borrowed from an untranslatable Japanese concept and twisted into shape for personal development. It's just a small step from there to reapply it to a brand or a corporation. I can understand the appeal - it's not an onion, more like a lotus blossom, and has the hygge factor of an untranslatable word.

But besides the fact that brands and people are not interchangeable entities, which is my hang-up about Lovebrands and Brand Loyalty, there's another issue with these Purpose Models. Whether an onion or a lotus bloom, the thing that sits in the middle is doing just that. It's sitting, trapped, suffocating from all the layers and blah around it. Purpose should be actionable, something that directs, a navigation needle.

By the way, if I try to squeeze myself into a lotus blossom, all the petals fall apart. Probably another slightly tricky mental image.

Monday 7 October 2019

Sober October?

Could there be a better way to celebrate the end of summer than a drop of something rich and red? As marketeers seem to be developing a conscience these days, for some, the wine might taste even better if it comes from Garçon Wines .

"Sustainable wine packaging solutions" may not sound that exciting, but just take a look at the Eco Flat Wine Bottle:

The company has been going since 2016 and originally designed their wine bottle to fit through a UK letterbox. Of course, it has additional benefits. While respecting tradition in terms of its proportions and colour, it's 40% spatially smaller and 87% lighter than a typical glass bottle. It's made of pre-existing plastic and recyclable, so it is doing its bit to offset the climate crisis and reflect changes in people's attitudes and behaviour.

The traditional glass wine bottle was invented in the 17th century, but selling wine in bottles is a relatively recent thing, dating only from the early 20th century. Before that, you came along with your own container and wine was sold direct from the barrel. The new bottle shares this "disadvantage" in that the wine only maintains its quality for around a year.

Although the design and virtuous part of me likes the flat bottle, I'm afraid that the hedonist in me feels a bit yuk about it. But then again ... I don't say no to wine boxes for quaffing wine, or plastic bottles in aeroplanes (although I draw the line at tins). And, I'm sure ten years ago or so, I was very snooty about screw-tops, but completely accept them now.

But what a thing to virtue-signal with if you can't quite face Sober October!

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Brilliant or bullsh*t?

I've worked on the client side, the agency side and somewhere in the middle, as a consultant. And I still feel these conflicting personas, rather like the Good Cop and the Bad Cop, leaping around in me trying to gain supremacy when I see communication ideas.

Take the recent Burger King "Meltdown" campaign in the UK. The agency side of me is terribly excited about this one. It ticks all the boxes and then some. Where to start? Well, the idea originally came up as a result of a petition from two eco-conscious schoolgirls, Ella and Caitlin, aged 7 and 9. It's big and bold and involving and exciting. It's about actually doing something (people donating unwanted toys, Burger King working with up-cycling partners to convert the unwanted plastic into play areas and trays) rather than just blabbing on and empty virtue-signalling. The execution, from the melting logo to the giant sculpture, is terrific.

And it takes a good pot-shot at McDonald's in tune with the brand's recent edgy attitude campaigns.

My agency side is practically having a meltdown, screaming "what's not to like?" at my less easily-enthused bah-humbug client side.

I don't know. A year or two ago I might have found this original. But now it feels, however good the execution, rather like an opportunistic stunt. One of these. Does it come from the core of the brand? Not really. And sniping at the main competitor merely deflects from the real problem. As pointed out in the article linked above, the campaign broke on the same day that Burger King was presented with an award by Greenpeace for "flame-grilling the Amazon." Perhaps the "Meltdown" campaign name and logo are a little insensitive?

I wonder what our junior eco-warriors think of that?

Talking of which, I'm won't be surprised by a flood of Greta Thunberg wannabes and Fearless Girls appearing in forthcoming brand communications. It has already started, for example, in this campaign for Zürich's public transport (admittedly timed to coincide with Ms Thunberg's visit to the city). The ads are telling us that if we take the tram or trolleybus, we're a little bit Greta.

I'm not convinced there's such a thing.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Just book it

I felt a particular pang of sadness this week at the news of the demise of Thomas Cook. For the people who worked there, and the people who are stranded, but also for the brand and what it stood for. There are few brand names that go back as far as Thomas Cook - 178 years all in all from its beginnings in 1841.

I've probably always been vaguely aware of the brand, but it was the game Go that consolidated that awareness. Landing on the Thomas Cook square in the game was almost as good as the jackpot in the Casino - you could buy tickets for air, sea and rail, book a car and change money to boot. I guess this was an early introduction to a kind of "everything travel-related under one roof" positioning that the brand had.

It's difficult to say what went wrong with this brand. Hubris and Ozymandias syndrome? Or simply head-in-the-sand and fear of change? In the end, it was probably a bit of both. Thomas Cook hung onto their old model and bricks & mortar when they should have hung onto the values and purpose and adapted that for the 21st century.

The irony is that the famous end line - "Don't just book it, Thomas Cook it" - is exactly what people don't want or need these days. From no-frills airlines to direct booking online.

I'm surprised didn't launch under the name

Will they still be around in 178 years? It seems unlikely.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

The Aviatrix, the Algorithm and the Roulette Wheel

Ever wondered what an algorithm would make of a photo of you? In the  Milan exhibition Training Humans, Trevor Paglen and Kate Crawford show an exhibit which looks at how machine learning classifies people, based on the ImageNet dataset. ImageNet was created in 2009 to "map out the entire world of objects."

There are 2833 sub-categories under "person", and some of these are described as "problematic, offensive or bizarre." If you are intrepid enough, you can upload your own photo here.

I had a shot with my author photo, and bizarrely enough, given the theme of the books, it came up with "aviatrix." Even more bizarrely, my husband's photo prompted the label "co-pilot."

In order to dispel my worry that it was all going to be aviation-themed, I uploaded my son's photo.

The one he used for his CV. And the label? "dissimulator, pretender, phoney."

Luckily, the CV (and the photo) got through and he has an apprenticeship. One assumes that the humans were still in control at his place of work (ironically, an aviation engineering company).

But it does all give you pause for thought on who - or what - is sifting through the CVs, and the basis for acceptance or rejection.

Would a roulette wheel perhaps be fairer?

Wednesday 11 September 2019

More than skin-deep

I wrote a while ago about old dogs and new tricks and here it comes - a brand new and very impressive trick from a positively ancient old dog - or at least its great-grand puppies.

Beiersdorf's first new brand to be launched for over 30 years is Skin Stories, a skincare brand for tattooed skin, including a sun stick, UV moisture lotion and a special repair serum. The new brand recognises that tattoos are mainstream these days (nearly half of all German women aged 25 - 34 have a tattoo - or two).

The cleverness lies in the winning combination of experience/trust (skincare expertise) and innovation - a skincare brand not targetted to gender, age or skin-type, as has been done in the past, but to a segment of the market who have chosen to modify their body in this way.

And there's a brand purpose, too - better and safer tattoos - with the brand going beyond product to set up a think-tank for modern tattooing, for example.

Let's hope it comes up roses for Beiersdorf.

Monday 9 September 2019

To all the clothes I've loved before

I've made a real effort this year to cut down on buying clothes. It hasn't been easy, and I have caved in on a couple of occasions (notably to replace shoes that have worn through - why don't shoes last these days?). And it seems I'm not the only one - the world is has been waking up to recommerce for some time - see my posts here, here, here and here - and even the everyday retailer Asda is having a go with its Re-Loved section in the Milton Keynes store, where donated clothes of all brands, not just Asda's own, will be sold.

Second-hand clothes have always been part of my wardrobe, from hand-me-downs as a child, and later jumble sales and the Army Surplus Store (still going as "H.M. Government Supplies) to Kensington Market. And what a joy to hear that Flip is still going, albeit up in Newcastle as the Covent Garden branch with its Hawaiian shirts and naval jackets - like a giant cast outfitter for South Pacific - has long gone the way of the rest of the 80s.

As well as the re-use/re-sale angle, there's the re-purpose thread of sustainable fashion, too. And maybe an even bigger opportunity is fashion rental. Changing the mindset away from weddings and ballgowns and fancy-dress costumes to the everyday. The clothes rental market is heading to become a multi-billion dollar business  and subscription models are springing up everywhere from children's shoes to plus-size clothes.

But whether the subscription models are really sustainable remains to be seen. The danger is that people will continue to hunger for the latest fashions, but once the responsibility for the cleaning, repair, passing on and responsible disposal is in someone else's hands, they'll turn a blind eye to the cost to the environment.

Monday 2 September 2019

Conspiracy Communication

Do you know anybody from Bielefeld?
Have you ever been to Bielefeld?
Do you know anybody who has ever been to Bielefeld?

The answer to these questions - even in Germany - is likely to be "no" from most people, and should you answer yes, the likelihood is that you've been brainwashed by THEM. The rumour is - since the early days of the internet 25 years ago - that Bielefeld doesn't really exist.

While devising a campaign for the town, how clever of the Bielefeld Marketing team to avoid the usual route of raiding the happy-smiley stock photos and turning the negative on its head.

The campaign, Die #Bielefeldmillion is offering €1m to anyone who can prove incontrovertibly that Bielefeld doesn't exist. And the campaign has had huge national and international resonance - emails from Azerbaijan to Brazil,  news reports from Australia to India, local firms such as Dr Oetker joining in on the fun.

There 's a lesson here - not just for place marketing, but for any brand. It takes a healthy dollop of self-confidence and humour to admit your brand isn't perfect, and is even the butt of jokes. But something imperfect is also lovable, as both Marmite and IKEA have long proved.

Coming back to Bielefeld, though - if you want to win the €1m, you'd better be quick: the closing date is 4th September.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

What is a better world, anyway?

The recent death of Lord Bell has made me realise just how much the politics of the average ad-person has shifted in the last couple of decades. OK, back in the 1980s, I was working for the agency that were Margaret Thatcher's "favourites", but nevertheless, it would have been a brave person in almost any of the top agencies who openly admitted to voting Labour. They would have been thought a dreadful hypocrite at best.

These days, according to The Empathy Delusion by Reach Solutions, 44% of UK advertising and marketing people identify their politics as "left", 36% as "centre" and only 20% as "right." The report is fascinating, as it reveals that despite priding ourselves on our superior empathy (a delusion), people in the ad industry are as out-of-touch with the man or woman on the street (aka the "modern mainstream") as were their Bollinger-swilling yuppie 1980s predecessors - but living in a bubble of a completely different character, on the opposite side of the political battlefield. And quite possibly even more out of touch.

Someone with a mind set that's liberal/left has a narrower (or more focussed, if you prefer) moral compass, where more emphasis is given to the more "individualising" moral foundations - care/harm and fairness/reciprocity - than those characterising "binding/ethics of community" - in-group loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity - when making decisions on right and wrong, better and worse. The sample of advertising and marketing people in the study exhibited "different cultural and ethical settings" to the "modern mainstream."

I could take issue with all sorts of things in this report - were the two samples age-matched, for example? And isn't this sort of analysis divisive, therefore stirring up a hornet's nest while not being terribly helpful in terms of offering solutions? But some of the findings made me question my own biases and assumptions - obsession with "the cult of the individual"? Guilty as charged.

And it explains a lot about the current debate on Brand Purpose, especially the blurring of edges between purpose and cause-related marketing.

If brand purpose is about a positive contribution to a better world, maybe we should ask ourselves what we mean by "better". No-one wants a worse world, surely? Could it be that, for a lot of advertising and marketing people, a "better world" is mainly about care/harm and fairness/reciprocity relating to the individual?

For all its conservative leanings, at the agency Saatchi & Saatchi, we did always try and find a Simple Universally Recognised (Human) Truth. Something that united humans despite differences.

Perhaps it's not looking for purpose as such that's wrong, but we should broaden the scope of where we look - and what comprises a "better world."

A world with fewer pubs closing, for example?

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Aufschnitt 3: The modern rules of advertising, 2005

It's off cut time again. This could well be Bierwurst, although I'm not entirely sure. If it is, it makes a nice link to the first point in an article from the BBC News on Friday, 2nd September 2005, all about advertising cliches. It's an interesting one, as I posted last week about the heavy-handed mission of the ASA to eliminate anything that could possibly be construed as a harmful stereotype from advertising.

So, here we go - 26 advertising cliches from 2005:

I'm not sure whether this is a cause for celebration (plus ca change) or whether it makes me mildly depressed about the state of this industry.

But one thing is clear - the more creative we can be, the less obsessed with "slices of life", and the more we can keep a perspective and a sense of humour about the work we're doing, the better the results. Both in the creative work and what it does for the brand.

Thursday 15 August 2019

Tiptoe through the tulips

I'm afraid that this post may have me sounding like a rabid Daily Fail reader, but sometimes I wonder what I'm still doing in this business.

I read that the ASA have banned the first two TV ads under the new rules put in place to "reduce gender stereotyping." Complaints had come in from the public to say that these ads "perpetuated harmful stereotypes." I took a look at the ads, expecting to see something outrageous. Offensive, even.

But I don't think I've seen anything so harmless in my life.

According to the BBC, three people (no, that's not a typo) complained that the VW ad showed women in a passive/stereotypical care-giving role. I'd assume those three people were taking the piss. But the ASA, in their infinite wisdom, have concluded that "this ad presented gender stereotypes in a way that was likely to cause harm."

Cause harm? To whom? In whose view? What possible harm could be caused by seeing a woman on a park bench by a pram for a couple of seconds in a TV commercial? What kind of a world is it where depicting someone as care-giving is "likely to cause harm"?

Maybe the woman in the ad finally had a longed-for baby after several miscarriages. Maybe she's a lesbian. Maybe she used to be a man. Maybe she used to be a wombat for all I know and care.

What on earth happened to imagination? I've posted before about the way everything seems to be taken so literally these days, with demands here, there and everywhere for people of all sorts to "see themselves reflected in advertising".

Please, please, please:

Bring back creative ideas.

Bring back universal human truths.

Bring back advertising as entertainment not a dull bloody reflection of real life.

All that will happen if this policing continues will be the emergence of new stereotypes which will quickly become as irrelevant and yawn-inducing as the old ones.

Who remembers the "new man" of the 1990s?

Tuesday 6 August 2019

Goodbye yellow (and red) plastic sea

Even sixteen or seventeen years later, the inspiration for Toy Box Club founders Jess Green and Sheela Berry rings true for me: "... drowning under a sea of unloved, predominantly plastic toys." Which parent doesn't remember the take-over of their living space by this deluge of plastic, wondering why the smallest people in the house had the biggest (and most) belongings.

At least in my son's toddler days, it was mostly in primary colours, before the onslaught of pink and lilac lamas and unicorns for girls and poison-green pirate ships for boys. With more and more categories moving to a subscription model, what a brilliant idea to set up a brand offering toys and books for pre-school children on a "new toy box every month" basis.

All the boxes on the toy box are ticked (sorry!) - the box is recyclable, the toys are thoroughly cleaned with Ecover before being passed on to the next family, it's all gender-neutral, so no pink ponies with sultry eyelashes, and all is thoroughly safety-tested.

But, but, but - toddlers don't understand about sustainability and subscription business models and all that, and when it comes to it, they are possessive little blighters.

And here, the Toy Box Club has the answer, too. If your child should get attached to a particular toy, of course you can buy it from them, too.

Thursday 1 August 2019

Old dogs and new tricks

Perhaps it was ever thus, but I've noticed a distinct divide developing in the world of brands, certainly as reported by the marketing press.

There are the legacy brands, the old school. At best traditional and comfortable, with a certain staying power, solid and dependable. At worst, introspective and out-of-touch, hopelessly irrelevant, weighed down by their analogue past.

Then there are the disruptors, the start-ups and upstarts. They're busting norms, moulds, conventions and the old order. Possessed by more superpowers than the Marvel universe, they're shaking up spaces and zapping categories into oblivion.

And, increasingly, there are agencies springing up to service (sorry, co-create with) these trailblazers - agencies who talk their language and are disruptors in their own game. There's TwentyFirstCenturyBrand , staffed by data-geeks and storytellers (amongst others), or Nimbly, an "agile, daring, bold" insight agency.

What's a brand of a certain age to do? You can't teach an old dog new tricks - or can you? In the same way that designers introduced diffusion lines in the 1990s, established brands are introducing offshoots where they can collaborate, innovate and generally play the start-up game unrestricted by the usual processes and structures. There's a post about Unilever's Foundry here, and other examples include Henkel X and Oetker Digital

Beiersdorf are also in on the act, with Oscar&Paul - Corporate Indie Brands and the relaunch of the deodorant 8x4, originally introduced in 1951.

The question is maybe not whether an old dog can learn new tricks in theory, but whether he's genuinely agile enough to show them off in practice, without doing himself a nasty injury.

Friday 26 July 2019

Aufschnitt 2: Brits, Yanks agree/disagree over social concerns March 2007

Here comes the second in my series of offcuts from the archives. Apologies as usual to my vegetarian friends for the visual.

At the end of a scorching week, I've got a topical one - an article from March 2007 about Millward Brown's ReputationZ study about the main social concerns on both sides of the Atlantic.

The astonishing thing here is that, while the Fridays for Future protestors were crawling around in their not-terribly-environmentally-friendly nappies, Climate Change was the number 1 concern in the UK. But this topic didn't even feature in the US top 10, with Obesity being the main concern there.

Another finding for those marketers who have suddenly discovered Purpose is that more than twelve years ago there was already a strong feeling that companies should behave responsibly and ethically, although the tendency was for "buycotting" rather than boycotting - supporting those companies you approve of rather than punishing those whose ethics or working practices you find to be lacking. Of course, back in those pre-mainstream social media days, it required a lot more effort to "call someone out".

What about today? I did search around to try and find a comparable study, but failed miserably, so if anyone can help, please leave a comment. I suspect that smoking risks and irresponsible drinking may be lesser concerns today. I did find this article from Grayling which lists the main social issues for the UK as:

1. Hate
2. Mental Health
3. Climate Change
4. Obesity
5. NHS

In addition, I suspect that plastic, inequality, poverty and immigration would be issues for both UK and US. But look at those top 2 - linked, without a doubt, to each other and related to the explosion of social media over the last decade. Of course, social media is here to stay, so the question is how technology and brands in this area can support solutions rather than further contributing to the problems.

If anyone can tell me where "climate change" now stands amongst concerns in the US, I would love to know.

Monday 22 July 2019

A heart-warming idea

How often do you see an idea that deftly combines human emotion, the latest technology and doing good for society that's also absolutely on-brand? Not so often.

The idea "Memory Lane" from the energy-provider Stockholm Exergi and their agency Accenture Interactive does all that. The claim (or maybe it's the purpose) of the brand is "Together we make Stockholm warmer" - which can of course be interpreted in both physical and emotional terms.

The technology is reversed-engineered AI voice, so that rather than you asking your voice assistant for information, it will ask you questions - about your early memories, your first love - and record the conversation, eventually capturing this in a book. The agency placed 10 Google Home devices in the homes of people aged from 75 right up to 101-year-old Ingegerd, so that they could tell the stories of their lives.

It's a brilliant idea. Of course you can argue that this would have been perfectly possible to do ten or even thirty years ago, with dictaphones and interviewers.

But. Sometimes the barrier to actually doing something isn't the idea, or the will to do it. It's something purely practical - the expense, the time-consumption, the hassle.

This is a perfect example of how AI can work with human emotion and intelligence, accelerating and supporting it, rather than replacing it.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Aufschnitt 1: A bluffers guide to social media Sept 2006

I've discovered a bulging file of cuttings in my office amongst the clutter, and instead of chucking away the lot, I'll be sifting through them to give one or two of the best, the worst and those of particular significance eternal digital life in a new series on this blog.

Welcome to Aufschnitt! This is approximately translated as "cold cuts" and is what invariably greets you at the breakfast table of a German hotel. Which of my collected cuttings are still tasty morsels, and which are well past their sell-by date?

The first in the series is A bluffers guide to social media dated 28th September 2006, written by Antony Mayfield, who I see published a book in 2010 entitled "Me and My Web Shadow."

Why did I save this?
I wasn't really "on" any social media in 2006, although I expect I read the odd blog. I distinctly remember thinking that social media was something I ought to know about, but wasn't relishing the thought.

What is remarkable
Absolutely no mention of Facebook or Instagram whatsoever, although Google, YouTube and iTunes get name-checked. And, although social media are described as "online media", this would have meant someone sitting down, probably indoors, accessing the internet via a PC or Mac. Mobile was still very much the future.

What there's no mention of
The dark side of social media - the faking, the trolling, the bullying, the addiction. The shared characteristics mentioned - participation, openness (meaning accessibility), conversation, community and connectedness - still ring true today, but are tempered by experience.

Thirteen years later, social media has become such an integral part of life that it no longer requires a bluffers' guide.

Monday 15 July 2019

You put the words right into my mouth

One of the biggest mysteries to me as a writer is this paradox: when asked what they're looking for above all else, literary agents and publishers will talk about Voice, and specifically, fresh new voices.

Yet most of the recent novels I've read recently have felt as if they could have been written by the same person - or even the same AI algorithm. There's very little out there that feels original in terms of Voice (if you must) or what used to be called style.

The homogenisation of language is observable wherever you turn. From novel straplines /Three painful secrets. Two passionate hearts. One forbidden love) through to clickbait headlines through to comments on social media through to newspaper articles.

And in the world of advertising, as this excellent article by Shai Idelson makes clear.

Predictive text is partly to blame, and worse still, what I call assumptive text (all those "Happy for you" "Congrats! Let's catch up" "What an achievement!" suggestions that pop up on something like LinkedIn).

But at the root of it is human laziness. It's so much easier to click on an off-the-shelf suggestion than think up something original and personal.

Please - let's not allow the richness of the English language (or any other language, for that matter) to be reduced to the superficiality of emojis.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Cruel to be kind

When I worked at Saatchis, the phrase "brutal simplicity of thought" was often used. Whether applied to strategy, media or creative ideas, it meant, in the end, hard-hitting advertising.

These billboards from Cancer Research UK are a brilliant example. It's a campaign to make people aware that obesity is the second biggest risk factor for cancer after smoking. The government has been effective in taking measures to reduce smoking, so the charity now wants to put on pressure to tackle obesity.

What could be a better stop-you-in-your-tracks-idea that mocked-up cigarette packets with the brand name "obesity"? Subtle it's not, but it's very clever, and can't be missed.

But "people" (as the news headlines always say) have been complaining. The complaints centre around "fat-shaming" and "weight-stigma".

Now, this isn't a fashion ad, or a cosmetics ad, or a diet ad. It's public information from a charity to raise awareness. It's neither sexist nor racist. It's the continuation of a campaign that has already proved very effective in raising awareness of the link between obesity and cancer.

Next time I hear ad people talking about the need for "bold" campaigns, I will remember this one.