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.