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.