Monday 29 April 2019

Accentuate the negative?

I've always found going into a T K Maxx store rather like stepping into a Baz Luhrmann musical. You're not quite sure what will happen, but it will certainly be vibrant and colourful and over-the-top. The latest ad in a series of quirky films for the store uses the creative ploy of turning doubts into full-blown dance-til-you-drop "definite dos."

It's an off-the-peg creative strategy, to turn potential negatives into unique positives for the brand, but the execution is definitely made-to-measure for T K Maxx. It's completely in brand character, and there's never the risk of the brand taking itself too seriously.

Which brings me to my second exhibit. Carlsberg. The Orson Wells voiceover "Probably the best lager in the world" signed-off one of the classic campaigns of the 70s, 80s and beyond. That "probably" was a word that said 10,000 other words - understatement, wry humour, self-deprecating amongst them.

But what have the Carlsberg marketers and their agency partners done now? Taken a classic advertising line at face-value, re-brewed and redesigned their product and all that goes with it and "launched its most ambitious and honest consumer facing campaign ever." The line is now:

Probably not the best beer in the world. So we've changed it.

This article by David Mitchell sums up much of what feels simply not right about this approach. As he says, "Probably the best lager in the world didn't feel like a serious claim - it just made you fond of the brand because it was humorous."

Fond of the brand - that's what marketers want, isn't it? Instead of the understatement and wry humour, will all the hand-wringing and hair shirts and po-faced blah-blah about honesty and higher purpose really lead to people having a little place for the brand in their heart, at least now and then?

Probably not.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Fighting with Algorithms

LUSH UK announced last week (on social media, of all places - Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) that they would be stepping back from social media. The reason? Social media is making direct conversation with community and customers more difficult: We are tired of fighting with algorithms, and we do not want to pay to appear in your newsfeed. If you want to talk to LUSH UK, from now on, you can do it through live chat on their website, email (remember those?) or by - shock horror - picking up the phone.

There is a sense of disillusionment with the internet in general these days, particularly in terms of authenticity and trust. Should people really trust in the stars? This article illustrates the prevalence of fake ratings (I am reluctant to call them reviews) which isn't just an issue for cheap electronics: business books are No. 3 in the "highest % of fake reviews Top 10". Presumably because the people who write and market them also know how to manipulate the system, and have the cash to do so.

Are we really heading for The Inversion, where the internet becomes more bot than human, not only numerically, but perceptually, too?

With an author named Max Read, this article has really made me wonder.

Friday 12 April 2019

Cheers to Purpose!

Like Brexit, the debate on the subject of Purpose seems to be on an ever-loudening crescendo. Sticking the word "Purpose" into the headline of an article that's about something completely different is guaranteed clickbait for the marketing community, in the way that "digital" was a decade ago.

And, like Brexit, both sides - as this is what it has become - are capable of persuasive argument and rhetoric.

My own view is that, in many of these articles, the language is wrong. The use of the words "higher" and "beyond" and "above" suggests a judgement that purpose is noble and profit is dirty.
Whereas surely they should work symbiotically?

A brand does something positive for the individual user. This can be practical, cognitive, sensory, emotional, or some combination. Some used to call this the benefit.

And that brand - or business - does something positive on the collective level - for the family, community, society or the world. For many brands and companies, this was always so, but maybe not vocalised. Changes in the world, in society, and in technology mean that this collective positive contribution - purpose, if you like - is becoming an imperative, rather than a nice to have.

It doesn't have to be about the UN sustainable goals. It doesn't have to be a "cause." It doesn't even have to be totally exclusive to your brand or company, as long as you do it in your own distinct way. But I believe it does have to relate back to the product or service your brand offers, and what it does for the individual.

A good example, for me, is what the brand Carling have done in the UK. 3 pubs a day there close their doors for good, and with the high level of Beer Duty in the UK, that will continue or worsen.  A movement has started via Britain's Beer Alliance to celebrate the positive role that Britain's pubs play in individual lives and communities: Long Live the Local

As part of the movement, Carling have produced a music video with the band Slaves, who started in pubs, which looks at the role pubs - and beer - play in music and creativity as well as community. It's not high and mighty, yet reflects brand belief and values, moving from the individual to the community.

Mine's a pint, thanks.

Monday 8 April 2019

Only Marmite can do this

Probably the only good thing about the whole Brexit circus is the creativity it has unleashed from comedians around the globe. I have advised friends here in Germany that the best way to understand Brexit is to look at the jokes, not the news.

I'm not a fan of brands hi-jacking current affairs stories, mainly because the attempts are often done in haste, aren't funny and seem opportunistic.

But for Marmite, I'll make an exception. This ad couldn't be more on-brand if it tried.

Like Brexit, Marmite is peculiarly British, not understood by foreigners and extraordinarily divisive.

And it gets my vote, every time.

Wednesday 3 April 2019

AI: Master, Servant or Something Else Altogether?

The use of AI in the entertainment industry has been the subject of a number of posts here - there's Creative Direction by Numbers  and Why advertising may be the last refuge for creativity - and if you put my entire blog through your super-advanced AI platform, you'll doubtless find many more.

I was talking with a friend about the publishing industry recently - and how new novels seem to be identikit these days - from the reviews ("heartbreakingly sad yet life-affirming") through to the interchangeable cover designs. Many new novels seem throwaway and forgettable - with a superficiality and lack of edge that suggests they are the literary equivalent of the selfie.

Films seem to have gone this way a long time ago, and this week, I read an interview with the CEO of where, yet again, I got the impression that entertainment is increasingly data-driven, and not necessarily in a good way. The company "have successfully developed a quantitative model of how various narrative structures drive performance for movies, trailers and marketing campaigns." And here, I'm assuming "performance" means pure commercial performance, not awards or reputation won, or whether the film will go into the annals of history as a classic.

Here again, if you look at the entertainment example given on the website, the analysis is all about "what were" and "what have been" - that is, the old rearview mirror method of predicting the future based on the past. A self-perpetuating system.

No creative person needs evidence derived from AI to understand that what people find interesting is a balance between "known" and "novelty" - nor can AI really help you to get this balance right for any particular individual. It's part intuition, part good judgement plus a large sprinkling of luck.

In contrast, another AI agency,, presents a different philosophy. Less concerned with Hollywood (although I am sure Hollywood could benefit from this approach) and more with brands, this agency makes it clear that expertise in AI and expertise in people work hand-in-hand. The blog post Why we should embrace bias gives another perspective to the one that suggests bias is a negative in research that AI can help eliminate. It's well worth reading, with some points dear to my heart - "No objective truth", "Data is not reality" and "People make decisions, not data". I particularly like the quote from Gary Smith )"The AI Delusion"):

While computers are very good at discovering patterns in data, they are useless in judging how best to apply them in the real world because they lack human wisdom and common sense.

AI is best used to accelerate and augment human intelligence, not substitute for it.

I'm jolly excited by AI - in the way that I'm far more excited by a springboard than a straitjacket.