Tuesday 27 December 2022

We weren’t so bad


As yet another year draws to a close, I have to admit that I’ve been having some angsty, existential pangs in a “and what have you done?” sort of mode. Not in a full-on George Bailey-James Stewart manner, but irritating twinges, nonetheless.

What am I still doing in this business, at my age?

Couldn’t I have put my education and talents to better use?

Why am I just a touch ashamed to admit, these days, that my working life has been spent in advertising?

Thirty years ago, in London, every taxi driver knew the name Saatchi & Saatchi. Respondents in group discussions regularly joked about enjoying the ads more than the programmes. Our agency hired Alexandra Palace for the Christmas party - and I nonchalently flew off to LA the next day on three hours’ sleep for client product experience with British Airways.

It’s fashionable to regard advertising as a rather sorry, grubby little business these days. The glamour has passed its sell-by date and attempts are made to elevate it from the snake-oil salesman via association with super-scientific data-driven rigour or a holier-than-thou world-saving loftiness. The rot set in already in the 1990s when Kevin Roberts proclaimed Saatchis to be an “Ideas Company” rather than an advertising agency. 

But now and again, I read an article which warms the cockles of my old ad woman’s heart. And I’ll end my blog posts for this year with this marvellous article by Tom Roach . Although the main theme is the much-hyped imminent death of advertising, the underlying message is that maybe those working in the business could be a touch prouder of what they do. 

How the advertising industry uses the power of human imagination for commercial impact should be something we’re all in awe of.

As a measure of that commercial impact, Tom quotes a Deloitte study which estimates that every $1 spent on ads generates $6 in broader economic impact. Not bad for a grubby little industry - one of the few true proven levers of growth.

The role we play in driving the economy, and therefore society, forward is something we should be proud of. We often highlight advertising’s societal impact when talking about social purpose, but advertising’s economic impact alone should be a sufficient source of pride.

Well, maybe if you put it like that ... I may hang on in here for a while yet!

Wednesday 14 December 2022

From Accenture to Zukunftsinstitut


Here we go again - it’s that time of year, when all the futurologists and trend forecasters and other shades of seers and sages get those reports out on what we might expect for 2023. There used to be a manageable handful of these, but now every agency worth its salt and pepper wants to have a go. Thankfully, these days, there are bright and helpful people who curate these things, or at least bundle them altogether on one convenient link. This collection, for example, is put together by a group of six strategists, plus various collaborators across Europe and Asia. They started their good work during Covid and have compiled the trend reports since 2020.

I hope I’ll get a chance when things calm down a bit to look at some of the better of these reports. But at the moment, it makes me weary just opening the thing up. There are 76 prediction-type reports and then, on top, 25 round-ups of the last year. Where to start? It’s at this point that I start to see the attractions of AI to plough through this lot and pull out the mega-ultra-über-meta trends.

Was it easier in days of yore? Well, maybe, as trend-forecasting was confined to the printed page - reports you’d pay for, articles in the better journals - and books. Queen of it all was Faith Popcorn (still popping around), and I’ve got here the 16 trends outlined in Clicking in 1996 - twenty-six years ago, before GenZ were born. ’Scuse the shaky technology:

Look at the first three. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was published yesterday, or at least some time once we’d got the worst of the pandemic behind us. Oooh. Virtual Reality! What’s that, then? Sounds new-fangled. Not that Metaverse business, is it? Where you can go on a Fantasy Clash of Clans Adventure from the comfort of your own Cocoon? What century is this, anyway?

And so it goes. Yes, it’s got a middle-class US bias, but ... “stressed-out”, “affordable luxuries”, “spiritual roots”, “personal statements”, “caring and sharing”, “warmly embraces the freedom of being an individual”, “busy, high-tech lives”, “simpler way of living”, “better quality of life”, “angry consumer - pressure, protest and politics”, “icon toppling”, “endangered planet, social conscience, ethics, passion and compassion” ...

One reason that Ms Popcorn’s predictions stand the test of time is that there is precious little mention of specific technology. The focus is not on what we’ll be doing, or how, but on the “why?” - the human motivations behind all this. 

Amid the change- and doommongers' obsession with the disruptive, VUCA, every-changing world, the panics, urgency and desperation, the conviction that things will never be the same again, it’s quite reassuring to pick up a paperback from the last century and realise that the summary of those 76 reports was languishing on your bookshelf all along. 


Thursday 1 December 2022

The new pester power

 In the old days of (ugh) Marketing to Kids, Pester Power was a well-known phenomenon: batallions of angry and sulky kids beating their hapless parents into submission to buy the latest Barbie, Lego spin-off set from some super-hero universe, crisp and soft drink flavours, sweets, sweets and more sweets - and, of course, mobile phones and all to do with gaming tech. 

But I noticed a subtle change in the nature of Pester Power, some twelve years ago, at the Christmas Market, where children were encouraged to write their Christmas wishes on a star, to be displayed on a wall. My son was still old-school at this point, with his wish for “Everything from Lego Star Wars”, but this rather greedy wish was over-shadowed by a mass of junior do-gooders, who wished for everything from World Peace to their granny getting out of hospital in time to spend a family Christmas together.

In the latest edition of Globescan’s Healthy & Sustainable Living Report (2022) we can see just how far things have developed. Pester Power has taken a moralistic and activistic turn: "our children are driving a sense of urgency about the climate” proclaims the writer of the report, somewhat pompously.  In the study amongst 30,000 respondents across 31 markets, 63% of those with children under 18 at home agree their children are worried about climate change and the environment.

I assume that the 23% who say their children are neither worried nor not worried have children under the age of 3 or so?

Source: GlobeScan

Of course, this is nothing new. When I was at school, back in the 70s, we were forever doing projects on pollution and the environment, for biology, geography or simply for assembly. I remember having a go at my mum for her fur coat and probably got into a tangled argument with my dad about nuclear weapons.

But it’s an important finding, and it must be difficult for parents, particularly those who are really strapped for cash. It’s one thing to say no to the latest Nintendo game, or Barbie’s pink plastic dream castle, but quite another to say sorry, family, can’t afford that good-for-the-environment detergent: it’s just too expensive and won’t get the mud and grass stains out of your football kit.

But without snuffing out children’s commendable environmental ardour, young people would be well-advised to have a look at their own desire:action gap. I know a young man who merrily voted for the Green Party while leaving his poor parents to sort out the three bursting black bags of completely mixed trash in his dump of a bedroom.

Sunday 27 November 2022

Sharing and caring


A couple of weeks ago, St Martin’s Day was celebrated in Germany. I’ve always thought that the traditions surrounding this Saint’s day were rather more charming and heart-warming than the gaudy, ghoulish and horribly commercialised Halloween. 

St Martin was a Roman soldier most famous for an act of sharing and generosity. It is said that he came across a beggarman dressed in rags in the depths of winter. Martin took his red cloak, cut it in half with his sword and gave half to the poor man to keep him warm. This act is celebrated by children in processions with (often home-made) lanterns, songs and a reenactment of the noble act. This may all take place round a bonfire and a real horse may appear if you live in a rural area. 

St Martin’s Day is all tied up with the end of harvest and the beginning of the “winter revelling season” - with roast goose and the first wine of the season. 

I was new to all this when I came to Germany, and learned about the customs when my son was at Kindergarten - many hours were spent making lanterns (more hours on the part of the parents than the children, usually). The story of St Martin is a universal one, which teaches children the value of sharing.

Sharing” is one of those words whose meaning has shifted quite dramatically in the last twenty years. Going back to St Martin, the verb used regarding the cloak is teilen - which bears the sense of “parting”. St Martin divides his cloak into two parts, and he has to part with one of them to provide the beggarman with warmth. He makes a sacrifice -  sharing involves giving something to someone else that you don’t get back. This is sometimes a hard lesson to learn - I remember when my brother was in hospital as a child. All sweets that were brought in by parents were put in a communal tin, then divided out equally so every child got a fair share. My brother wasn’t happy at some other child getting his favourite sweets!

Sharing, when it comes to non-material things, has always had connotations of “having something in common”. But the word seems to be shifting from a meaning that’s about apportion, giving and generosity to one that’s about passing on, informing, making public. In this digital world, the sharer keeps whatever it is - photos, stories -unlike St Martin and his cloak.

“Sharing” sounds kind and generous - but is it really? Sometimes sharing feels like passing on a burden, or covering your backside.

I wonder, sometimes, when someone wants to “share some thoughts with me” whether they might be better keeping them to themself.


Wednesday 16 November 2022

Joy (and thoughtful dads) to the world


When I wrote this piece a couple of years back, we sort-of thought we’d soon see the back of Corona. Little did we think that over the next 18 months we’d be hit with a war on the doorstep and heating bills going through the roof (especially if said roof isn’t insulated).

I don’t normally get that excited about Christmas ads any more, but this year I have to admit that I was intrigued to see how the agencies captured the mood and dreams - or not. In my 2020 post, I hoped for a return to joy (or even better, glee, mirth, merriment and frivolous frolics as joy always seems a bit sanitised and churchy). And, lo and behold, “joy” plays a leading role in the ads from retailers Boots, Tesco and Amazon

Amazon’s theme of a dad going to great lengths to make his daughter’s Christmas special is also taken up by John Lewis - with a heartwarming twist. Could this mean ordinary, middle-aged men are no longer persona non grata in the ad world (unless they’re portraying a toxic sexist or a bumbling fool)? I do hope so!

Meanwhile, back in Germany, things are more serious. Discounter Penny’s powerful film Der Riss, which portrays the divisions in society and the need to talk our differences through, human to human, is the talk of the ad world and media here.

It’s a brilliantly-made film, no doubt about that. But is it right for Penny, and Christmas? I’ll stick my head above the parapet and say no. People do not need reminding of hate and misery, especially not this year. Despite the hopeful ending, the dramatic film ensures that it’s the negative images and feelings they evoke that stay with the viewer. Last year’s film Der Wunsch, about a mother and son, and how Covid has messed up young people’s lives was gentler, the focus on the two characters and their relationship, not “society out there”. I find it the better film for the client and context - and ultimately closer to real life.

Another big German advertiser, Deutsche Telekom, has also taken up encouraging us to talk, and ask each other how we are. Here’s Teacher, which has shades of It’s a Wonderful Life for me. 

And that’s one of my all-time favourite Christmas movies. 

Wednesday 2 November 2022

RETROWURST: Old People November 2004


This month’s Retrowurst is particularly interesting from a personal point of view. I wrote it while in my 40s and it concerned my perception of “old people” in Germany at that time. It’s full of observations about the 60+ age group, Nordic Walking, the Verein and Gutbürgerlich food. My conclusion was that I’d far rather grow older in Germany than in the UK - that Germany was a friendlier and more respectful environment for the old.


Having just clocked up another year, I am feeling a little sensitive about getting older so I thought I’d turn my attention to the older people in Germany and give you some idea as to why I’d probably rather get old here than back in the UK.


If I had to choose one picture that symbolised the current social climate in Germany this year then it would have to be this: a few weeks back I was in Aldi and the place was packed full of ladies aged 60 + in a bit of a rugby scrum. It was a very genteel rugby scrum with lots of helpful smiling and friendly joking and, once I managed a few polite Entschuldigungs, I was close enough to see what all the fuss was about. Aldi had Nordic Walking gear on offer. Not just the sticks, but special jackets, shirts and leggings, headbands, socks and gloves. Now, I still don’t have a clue how a Nordic Walking jacket might differ from something you might go jogging in, but there you go. Obviously, to these ladies, all these items were much sought-after. Not long after, while I was out jogging (no doubt passé amongst the older generation) I saw a group of similar ladies (and their men folk) striding towards me briskly, resplendent in their co-ordinating Aldi outfits. The self-confidence and general Lebensfreude of this group seemed a stark contrast to the continual whining and whingeing of the 30 and 40-somethings that I seem to know in Germany. And, generally, one can see that the 60+ group in Germany are less worried about the future than younger age groups. It may be selfish, but it also stems, perhaps, from a belief amongst this group that the bad times are behind them. For someone born just before, during or just after the war, childhood was tough with families depleted and also divided geographically for years on top of the shortages and rationing.


Somehow the whole education system and social structure of Germany means that everything is shifted 5-10 years upwards compared to the UK. Children don’t start school until they are 6 or even 7 and stay until they are 19. The compulsory military or social service means that further education may not be completed until the late 20s or early 30s. The result of this is that if you set foot in a German advertising agency, for example, and you’re the wrong side of 40, you wouldn’t get the same feeling of being totally out of place that you might in London. And ‘youth’ TV presenters regularly pop up who are pushing 40. All of this means, of course, that you are still described as ‘young’ well into your 40s and middle-age doesn’t really seem to set in until mid-50s.


In Germany, it seems more acceptable to be older. The whole country seems to be more set up for the tastes and needs of older people. Restaurants unashamedly offer Gutbürgerlich food and good wine in traditional surroundings, served by formal but friendly waiters and waitresses who address one with respect rather than the ‘Hi guys my name’s Max specials today are sauerkraut wraps and bratwurst with pesto mash’ approach. The independent butchers, bakers and greengrocers, along with the weekly markets where you can ask exactly which field the cow came from or whose apple trees your Cox’s are from do a roaring trade, especially with older people who have time for good service quality as well as the socialising opportunities that these shops provide. And one sees rather less of the mutton-dressed-as-lamb look and rather more independent ladies’ and gentlemen’s outfitters selling good quality classic clothes in dark greens and browns.


Older people seem to be present somehow in Germany, which is perhaps not surprising as the over 60s comprise 25% of the population currently, which is forecast to rise to 40% by 2050.TV is not dominated by youth – there are plenty of light entertainment and folk-music shows with jolly-looking 60-,70- and 80-pluses linking arms and singing along in the background – and none of this is tongue-in-cheek. In advertising, older models are often used – Nivea pioneered the ‘mature skin’ segment with Nivea Vital over 10 years ago and companies like Davidoff feature older men in their advertising campaign (‘the more you know...’).


Another unique feature of German life where the seniors hold much power is in the notion of Verein or clubs. Even a little village will have dozens of clubs, from rabbit-fanciers to carnival clubs, from handball to opera-singing. These clubs often have a long tradition and will play a major part in the social life of the town, organising local Fests and other events.


Many older people are also politically active. There is a political party called Die Graue Panther (see www.die-grauen-graue-panther.de ) who are calling for a radical reform of the Social Security System, amongst other issues.


As in the UK, there are plenty of Internet sites hosted by and run for older people, such as www.seniorenchatring.de or www.feierabend.de where you can even see a photo of my friends the Nordic Walkers!


What is extraordinary is despite the obsession of marketing trend reports with change and disruption, tearing up the playbook, smashing taboos and stereotypes, there being no “new normal”, a frankly terrifying VUCA world enveloping us and all the rest, things seem to have stayed comfortingly stable. 

Yes, of course digitalisation has happened in the last 18 years, but it has been assumed organically, almost naturally, as part of human progress. www.feierabend.de is still chugging along, but in the meantime Facebook and WhatsApp are where the older people are online. 

Germany is still a comfortable place for the old. I don’t hear the whinging about “older women being invisible” that seems to wail out of the UK. Maybe because, until recently, we had one in charge.

While Germany with respect to the old hasn’t changed, of course I have. My parents and parents-in-law are all gone now, so I am the older generation. I’m in a couple of Vereine, and have been known to buy comfy merino-wool loden-style shoes. There’s nothing quite like a plate of Gutbürgerlich food, especially at this time of year when the leaves are falling and nights are drawing in.

But I still haven’t succumbed to the joys of Nordic Walking. Not yet.   

Monday 24 October 2022



News came of the death of Dietrich Mateschitz this weekend, the richest man in Austria, with an estimated fortune of $20 billion, the energy behind the brand Red Bull. I have long been an admirer of the brand , which couldn’t be clearer about what it is and what it stands for. If anyone wants an example of boldness in brand form, this is it.

Although Mateschitz didn’t do anything by the textbook, Red Bull is a textbook example of the difference between a product and a brand - an example of how an entire brand empire has been built around a single product that Red Bull don’t actually produce themselves. That empire extends from the energy drinks to motorsports, extreme sports of all sorts, football, media, hotels, music and goodness knows what else. 

The brand is a powerful concoction of conviction, consistency and unconventionality. Very little seems to have been developed through workshops and market research, needs analyses, consideration of consumer journeys and pain points, competitive analyses and concept testing. As far as I know. 

It’s a bit early in the morning for a Flying Hirsch, but then again ...

Tuesday 11 October 2022

A noble yet undervalued craft


I’m pinching someone else’s article this week, because it deserves something more than getting lost in my sprawling bookmark system. It’s by Alex Vuocolo: The Disappearing Art of Maintenance and was spotted by Good Business in their weekly newsletter.

Amongst other things, this article for me highlighted the disconnect between all those trend reports and innovation newsletters and sustainability innovation alerts, and the life that most people lead. My own life is one lived in constant dread of updates, especially as far as my MacBook goes. I’m tottering along with my 2015 model, but fear that the next OS upgrade could wreak even more damage than the last, which rendered two printers obsolete in one fell swoop.

Maintenance, as Alex Vuocolo points about, is about making things last, not repairing what’s broken. It’s conspicuously absent from the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra as it doesn’t really fit with the ideas of reduction or anything prefixed by “re-“ as it’s about steady state, not change. That alone doesn’t make the concept of maintenance sound progressive or innovative.

But why must the idea of “sustainability” inevitably be coupled to the idea of “change”?

I’ve mentioned eBikes before - and this article talks about how, for example, the electro vehicle boom, driven by the promise of cutting emissions has caused a surge in demand for metals such as nickel, cobalt and lithium. Using up a different set of the earth’s resources while attempting to conserve another. 

Also highlighted in the article is the abstract nature of the climate debate and emissions goals:

Emissions goals are not unlike GDP targets. Both are administered abstractions, somehow all-powerful and impotent at the same time. They reduce action to aggregates and strip human actors of agency.


The pragmatism of maintenance work is sorely needed in the climate debate, which is so often preoccupied with end-states that it has no earthly or humanly way of achieving.

Of course, in the real world that most of us live in there are people that service your car, your boiler, your bike - and keep the roads and the railways and the buses in good order. But perhaps it would help to bring this mindset into other areas of modern life, too.

In the end, this is one reason I cannot abide the term “the consumer” being applied to everything beyond that which is actually consumed - from smart phones to cars.

Now, pass me that spanner.

Tuesday 4 October 2022

RETROWURST: Germany’s European Neighbours October 2004


I was a little startled when I read this Extrawurst from October 2004 about Germany’s European neighbours. As well as a write-up on the two European countries that Germans are most in love with, there’s a quick round-the-clock of the nine immediate neighbouring lands.


Germany is often described as the centre of Europe- the word ‘heart’ has perhaps too many emotional connotations for a people who pride themselves on Ordnung. And, being one of Europe’s largest countries, Germany has a lot of neighbours, nine in total. I thought it would be interesting this month to have a look at how the Germans typically view their neighbours and which products and brands are associated with these countries.


As is typical with neighbours, the German view of the people of the lands surrounding them is not all roses. Views range from ‘dull but tolerated’ to out-and-out rivalry and hate! But before we come onto that, let’s have a look at the European countries that can- in the eyes of most Germans - do no wrong. Number one for most Germans has to be Italy. Italy is far enough away and separated by mountains and a couple of other countries not to suffer the over-familiarity and thus contempt of the countries on the doorstep. Italy stands for the ideal lifestyle for many Germans and there is something for everyone from the beaches, to city style and culture, to the mountains of the South Tyrol. Italian food and drink are adored by the Germans, the supermarkets are brimming with Italian brand names such as Barilla, Averna and Ramazotti and there is an Italian restaurant or ice cream parlour on just about every street corner. One needs look no further than the irritatingly successful Ferrari/Schumacher combination of German efficiency and determination combined with Italian passion and flair to see this relationship in action.


A little further away but also beloved by the Germans is Ireland. The combination of Celtic tradition, a pride in beer brewing and a love of music is seen by a lot of Germans as an idealized version of themselves. Groups such as The Corrs or The Kelly Family are very popular and Kerrygold and Guinness are well-known brand names. Irish pubs can be found in even the tiniest of villages in Germany and the only cheese you are likely to find in a German supermarket from the British Isles will be Irish, rather than English, Cheddar.


So, back to the neighbours, going around in a clockwise direction. We’ll start with France. Germany has a rather uneasy relationship with France. Although Germany ganged up with France last year to form the backbone of ‘Old Europe’ against Bush’s war, past history still bears its influence. On the one hand, there is a grudging admiration for the French ‘Joie de Vivre’ and general enjoyment of the good things in life but there is some feeling that the French are rather too much in love with themselves, don’t work hard enough and don’t take enough pride in their homes, towns or environment generally. Products and brands associated with France are Citroen, Peugeot, Renault, Elf, cheese and wine, President and L’Oreal.


Luxembourg is associated with very little except money, more money and yet more money, so we’ll move quickly on to Belgium. The Germans view the Belgians as down-to-earth and a bit dull. Belgium is associated with cycle-racing, chocolates and beer, although the beer is not considered as good as German beer. This brings us on to Holland where the relationship seems to be a mutual hate: hate! There is a bit of a paradox with Holland as the Germans grudgingly admit that Amsterdam is actually quite a fun, interesting and cultural city but that the rest of Holland is full of big, narrow-minded, people who pollute the German autobahns with their caravans and litter at holiday-time! There are a fair number of brands and products associated with Holland: - Phillips, Heineken, Amstel, Cheese (Gouda & Edam), flowers and vegetables. But the overall impression is that be it beer, tomatoes, cheese or the people themselves, everything is a bit kitschy and tasteless. Needless to say, the people of Holland don’t have many kind words for the Germans either!


Moving further north we come to Germany’s Scandinavian neighbour, Denmark. Of all the neighbouring countries, Germany’s relationship with Denmark is perhaps the most positive. The Danes are considered to be a happy people, proud of their country with a very fair and modern social system. Products and brands associated with Denmark are Beer (Tuborg and Carlsberg), dairy products (Arla), bacon (Tulip) and fish products.


Unfortunately, the Germans generally have a negative view of Poland and the Polish people, perhaps because, reading between the lines, they feel threatened and still guilty about history. At its most bigoted, which, sadly, seems to include a fair proportion of Germans, particularly older people and those from the former East Germany, the Polish are regarded as car thieves or at very best casual workers for the harvest. Although the Germans are quite happy to adopt a sportsman such as a boxer or footballer with Polish origins as one of their own, the general view seems to be that the Polish are lazy and unmotivated. Perhaps this will change if more young Germans can throw off their prejudices and see for themselves the dynamism and development of Poland in the last ten years or so. Products associated with Poland include certain types of sausages and poultry (ducks and geese) traditionally consumed in Germany in November and December including the Advent and Christmas period.


The German view of their Czech neighbours is much kinder. The Czechs are respected for their sporting success in Ice Hockey and Football. They are thought to be a nice bunch of people who one could drink a gemütlich beer with. The Skoda/VW partnership symbolizes this relationship and other brands associated with Czech Republic are beers such as Budvar.


Austria is a very popular holiday destination in winter and summer and the people are described as simple (in the positive sense), straightforward, a slow pace of life and gemütlich. There are plenty of food and drink products associated with Austria including wine, Schnapps, dried sausages (Landjäger), coffee, cakes such as Sachertorte and Germknödel (a sort of giant sweet dumpling). Also associated with Austria are crystal ornaments (Swarovski) and many products and brands associated with mountains, hiking and skiing such as Blizzard skis or Meindl hiking boots.


Finally, we come to Switzerland to complete the circle. The Swiss are thought to be somewhat snobby, stuck-up and obsessed with money. They are considered by the Germans to be proud and obstinate. Brands and products associated with Switzerland include Swatch and Smart, dairy products (Gruyere and Emmental, yoghurt, Emi, cheese fondue and raclette) plus big food corporations such as Nestle.


I have made a lot of generalisations here which probably do the Germans a disservice but it’s certainly a lot milder than a typical article in the Daily Mail about the Germans!


The startling came not so much from what’s changed (not much, to be honest - the love affair with Italy is alive and well, fuelled by Aperol Spritz), more from how I have changed.

I admitted to generalising in the article and, boy - I certainly wouldn’t write something like that now! Is it ageing? Am I simply more sensitive and aware to nuances (for example, how there’s a kind of blending and merging aroud the borders rather than a sharp change)? 

Or was life just simpler then? 

Friday 23 September 2022

Local Yokel?

September is a time when I’m intensely aware of the local region I’ve landed up in here in Germany. Maybe it’s because we’re a bit out in the country, surrounded by orchards and Apfelwein presses, where mountains of local apples are delivered every morning, growers paid by the kg for their wares. There’s a Kurbisfest one Sunday in our town, with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes lined up ancient steps and round the well in the town square.

Germany has always been more intent on regional and seasonal produce than the UK. It could be that showing regional pride and loyalty is slightly more palatable for many Germans than nationalistic flag-waving. Or perhaps it’s simply because Germany is a far bigger, federal land, less centred than the UK on its capital.

The main supermarkets here have generally got their act together about regional produce. Given that the roots of these supermarkets were in local co-operatives, maybe it's no surprise. Incidentally, the word Kolonialwaren had always puzzled me - you can still see the word on old shop signs - it was used to describe imported goods such as coffee, tea and sugar as well as spices. 

Of the two biggest supermarkets, I’m more familiar with the No. 2, REWE, founded in 1927 and based in Köln. (No. 1 is Edeka - where the “k” comes from Kolonial - which was founded in 1907 and is now based in Hamburg.) REWE offers a wide regional selection of products, labelled up as so:

These products are mainly fruit and vegetables, eggs, dairy and meat products, but also honey, flour and wine. Local brands of, for example, jam or pickles may also be offered under the regional banner. 

But this summer, I noticed a new development for REWE - a beer named Hessebub, which is roughly translated as “Hessen Lad”. The packaging looks very much as this could be a small local brewer who has been crafting beer for centuries that REWE have picked out of obscurity and given a helping hand.

But the reality is different: this is an Own Label masquerading as a brand. It’s an interesting one, a kind of manufactured authenticity. The beer is brewed in Darmstadt, so the product is as authentic as could be. But the name and label design were brewed up in a 21st century office. 

A genuine local brand, or the equivalent of a flashy advertising executive pulling on hired Lederhosen once a year for the Oktoberfest? 

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Having a moment


There’s one High Street slogan that’s been around since before the late Queen was born, but like Her Majesty, has recently become history.  Never Knowingly Undersold was not originally intended as a customer-facing slogan, but became so in 1925, when it was first used by the Peter Jones store in Sloane Square.

Although this slogan is not exactly slick (it’s a bit of a mouthful), it is unusual not just because of its longevity, but also because it’s a firm promise to the customer, rather than an imperative of how the customer should live their life, in the style of something like Just Do It, or a statement of attitude or belief as in Life is for Sharing.

The point about a customer promise is that, even if few customers go to the bother of asking John Lewis to refund the difference on an item bought more cheaply elsewhere, it builds trust in the brand and demonstrates serious commitment to its users.

Of course, shopping has changed beyond recognition since 1995, let alone 1925, and in these days of online retail giants and price comparison platforms, the slogan itself could not sensibly survive. John Lewis have undertaken an 18 month brand positioning process to find a replacement - something that will attract new and younger customers to the retailer.

With my nerdy branding hat on, I must say that it was fascinating for me to see the fruits of this year-and-a-half of branding labour. Some of the positioning statements/slogans (the source articles don’t make it completely clear whether these are strategic/internal or executional/customer-facing) that were considered were these:

  • John Lewis: Life is beautiful
  • John Lewis: Life well loved
  • John Lewis: For every moment
  • John Lewis: For the love of life
  • For the joy of life: John Lewis
  • Life & happiness: John Lewis
  • For every beat: John Lewis
  • Life made beautiful
And the final slogan is John Lewis: For all life’s moments.

I can’t be the only planner who has also played the “moments”, “life”, “happiness”, “joy” permutations and combinations game at some time in the quest for the ultimate positioning statement. I remember back in the 90s, there was a brand (it could have been chocolates) that advertised with the song Magic Moments, which would be hummed whenever an unsuspecting planner or account person strayed too close to generic “moment” territory.

But moments seem to be having a moment in marketing, if you’ll excuse the trite expression. I keep hearing conversations about targetting moments and have seen some rather contrived but frightening “moments universes” from research agencies to help in this task.

My concern is that the new slogan is terribly generic. IKEA could use it, but they don’t in the UK as they have something infinitely better - a slogan and campaign idea that’s a statement of attitude and a promise in one - The Wonderful Everyday

There’s nothing wrong with the new slogan, but there’s not a lot right with it either. It’s not a promise, it’s not a challenge, it’s not an attitude or philosophy. It has no edge, rather like “We’re there for you.

The new ad to introduce the slogan is similar - sweet enough, hummable music, but ultimately rather beige and wallpapery.

Some new slogans grow on you over time, but I fear this one will simply go in one ear and out the other. 

Sunday 4 September 2022

RETROWURST: Chemicals in Home & Garden September 2004


In September 2004, I wrote on the rather unpromising-sounding topic of chemicals in home and garden. Nevertheless, the article references schoolboy bombs, drinking your own urine and packs of fags for under £2. So here goes:


In September, everyone in Germany is back from their holidays, feeling a little glum as the first leaves start falling in the beer gardens and the mini-golf courses close up for the Autumn. People retreat back into their homes, start packing away the summer clothes, inflatable boats, garden furniture and barbeques. It’s the time of year to make a bit of an effort in the garden and a recent visit to the garden centre has inspired the theme of this month’s Extrawurst - the German war against chemicals.


It may seem a paradox that the country that spawned so many chemical and drug giants - Hoechst and Bayer to name but two - should be waging war on chemicals, but please hear me out. To illustrate my point, let’s pop back to the garden centre. I was after something to kill off a few weeds- in the lawn and growing up between the patio stones. I didn’t anticipate any difficulty and had the German word for weeds - Unkraut, literally ‘un-herbs’ – in my head. In the UK, of course, it’s completely in order to pick up products off the shelf to rid your lawn and garden of dandelions, thistles, slugs and even unwanted cats. Only the neat Sodium Nitrate (or whatever it is) that my brother used to combine sugar with to make schoolboy bombs back in the 1970s is probably under slightly stricter control these days. In Germany, however, I searched high and low and couldn’t find any easily accessible products on the shelves of the garden centre. I eventually saw a locked cabinet behind an information desk and enquired hesitatingly if they had anything to rid my lawn of a few dandelions. I was subjected to a complete interrogation as to the dimensions of my lawn (who, other than the average German, knows exactly how many m² their lawn is??!!) and given a lecture as to how the products were not to be let near any footpath, pavement, road or any other public place (accompanied by pointing at large handwritten signs to this effect) before the cabinet was unlocked and my weed killer handed over.


Maybe some of this attitude can be put down to the inherent closeness and responsibility that Germans feel for the Umwelt, or environment. There are many words that exist in German which relate to the environment which don’t have a direct English translation- such as Mülltrennung, or ‘rubbish-sorting’. But the war against chemicals is also fought on fronts with a less direct connection with the environment. Some of you may remember my piece about the Kräuterhexwhich looked into the reluctance that Germans have about treating ailments with something that might actually work. While it’s quite easy to sneak into Superdrug in a UK high street and buy copious quantities of Anadin and Alka-Seltzer (or your preferred poison) to deal with the hangover from Hell, in Germany it is rather different. None of these remedies are available in the Supermarket or even the Drogerie. You are expected to go to the pharmacist where you will be questioned carefully as to the nature of your headache and will be asked which dosage level, pack size and even possibly dosage form (don’t think about this too closely - let’s just say suppository or Zäfpchen and be done with it. Yes. For a headache.) The moral of all this is, go easy at the Oktoberfest.


Within the household cleaners category, the same rules seem to apply. Finding an oven cleaner that is at all effective is hard work, almost as hard as cleaning the oven itself. Ditto stuff to unblock drains - everything proudly promotes its Bio mode of action, which seems to actually mean elbow grease and sheer man (or woman) power. Needless to say, the lurid Oxy-this and Vanish-that types of products with their day-glo packaging haven’t really caught on here. At my last ‘real’ job I remember hours spent trying to convince brand managers at a well-known US detergent company that ‘anti-bac’ variants of washing powder were the ultimate turn-off to German Mums - this is the country, after all, where quite normal women’s magazines run articles about the health benefits of drinking your own urine (although marginally preferable to drinking someone else’s, I suppose.)


The reluctance to spray chemicals everywhere also has its consequences when buying fresh produce. It is not unusual to buy a lettuce and find it crawling with caterpillars or buzzing with bugs, and this is not just from the Bio, or organic section - I imagine one would find a whole menagerie lurking in the Lollo Rosso there! Rather than throwing up their arms in horror and demanding a refund, most Germans would find this reassuring that their salad leaves had been properly raised in a natural ecosystem.


Of course, it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and suppose that, as long as we stay away from chemicals and unnatural substances, then we are giving the Germans what they desire. But there are always exceptions to the rule. While paranoid about polluting the environment, many Germans have no such qualms about their own bodies when it comes to smoking. Smoking still bears almost no social stigma here, cigarette vending machines are on every street corner at a height that a four-year-old can reach and even Aldi Süd have capitulated and are now selling cigarettes. At €2.90 for a packet of 19 ‘Giants’ (that is just under £2), there is not much financial motivation for anyone to give up!


Covid has made a little dent into the “germ/ans are good” perception, but other than that, the view on chemicals is just as strong as before.

Plus ca change? Well, not exactly. Remember those £2 ciggies? In your (pipe) dreams. At last, it appears, the tide is turning and we may well be at the fag-end of the great German smoke-fest (to mix more metaphors than is good for me). 

Monday 22 August 2022

News of the World

Back in the last decade, it was social media - Facebook, Mumsnet, various writing forums - that were my trap for getting tangled up in when I should have been doing something better. These days, I’m more likely to end up scrolling through endless articles and related comments on regular news sites.

It’s easier to justify because:

1. I’m paying a subscription

2. It’s a good thing to be informed about what’s going on in the world, surely?

Yet these news sites often leave me with that nasty bingey mental junk food feeling that I used to get from Facebook:

    - that wasn’t paricularly nutritious or satisfying

    - and I couldn’t stop: the “enough is enough” button was having a day off

I’ve been reading How Modern Media Destroys Our Minds, from The School of Life, which analyses this phenomenon and offers a few curative suggestions. 

The click-baity title I could have done without - another example of the mismatch I wrote about here. That aside, the book shows how the modern media preys on the less desirable aspects of human nature - passivity, celebrity, nastiness and distraction, which encompasses all sorts of stuff like helplessness, outrage, mawkishness, schadenfreude and sanctimoniousness.

It’s a relief to know that my own reaction to the modern media diet is not unusual.

On to the suggested cures. There are 9 of these, of which two particularly appealed to me:

Become an aristocrat (of the spirit)

This is inspired in part by Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly who declared that “the most beautiful destiny: to have genius and be obscure.”

The book says of Aristocrats of the Spirit: they are set apart not by haughty contempt but by a melancholic certainty that the disputes of the populace will be chaotic, brutal, partisan, deeply illogical and unfair because this is the normal, unfortunate lot of the human animal.

And that obscurity leads to the idea:

Never Be Famous

I’ll admit it: 10 years ago I loved the idea of collecting clicks and likes, for blog posts to go viral, for my books to be picked up by a top publisher and top director and all the rest. But the idea of that now is quite hideous. I like retreating back into obscurity, which is my “safe place”.

In a world without fame, certain books, sofas, cheeses or lamps will still be better than others, certain ideas will still be more valuable, certain people will still have hearts that are kinder and more sensitive, but none of these would have to be identified by the destructive and manic spotlight of the media.

Having said that, of course, this is one area (or many) where brands are not like people.

Tuesday 9 August 2022



Among the many newsletters I subscribe to, those from The School of Life are less likely to be binned straight away than almost any other. (The most likely to be binned, by the way, are those that appear at the weekend, despite multiple attempts to unsubscribe).

What do I like about The School of Life? Well, I think it’s the tonality and attitude of the articles - calming, reassuring and wise. Universal, the opposite of throwaway. A recent article alerted me to the subtle difference between self-acceptance and self-love. Others talk about the value of melancholy, or failure, or other contributions to the human condition. It’s all so much more insightful than all that “being your best self” blah. I’ve always wondered - “best” in whose judgement?

However, what I encountered on my last visit to The School of Life was a rather unseemly mismatch between the tone of the articles and the website itself.

Hardly had I got into the site when a box popped up and more-or-less grabbed my wallet:

Not so much self-hatred as a disregard for the reader as a human being in favour of a nice source of income.

It got worse. The money-grabber was quickly pushed out of the way by the stalker:

“No” is the answer. It irritates me that many in the Anglo-Saxon world seem to think Berlin is the be-all and end-all of Germany. 

And to complete the mismatching tonality, the “feedback” for a site that is all about the depth and complexity of human emotion is reduced to a few silly emojis:

I’m not a huge fan of Brand Books the size of War and Peace that give strict instructions about style and tone, but surely an organisation like The School of Life could use their insight and understanding  so that their content and design isn’t quite such a case of chalk and cheese?

Wednesday 3 August 2022

RETROWURST: Grillen August 2004


It’s going up to 36°C today and 39°C tomorrow, and I am rather wondering if our garden BBQ will fire up on its own accord. It was no surprise to me, shuffling back in the Extrawurst archives to find that I wrote about BBQs and Grillen from the German perspective back in August 2004. For more on this meat-and-mayo-fest, read on ...


Now that summer has finally taken hold of Germany in a big way, after a couple of false starts, the season of barbequing or Grillen and general al fresco eating is officially open.

While we are used to a BBQ being a rather special event (and, out of necessity, often a moveable feast, with the moveable element often consisting of moving rickety old garden chairs, burnt sausages and a lukewarm box of white wine back into the kitchen to escape the unexpected downpour) the average German family will probably eat outside in summer four or five times a week. Given the frequency of this event, there is much bigger business to be had in Germany than in the UK with the food and accessories associated with Grillen. Just a cursory look at Heinz’ website dedicated to the joys of Grillen,the Heinz Mitgrillzentrale (www.unverzichtbar-zum-grillen.de ) will give you just a little taste of just how seriously BBQ-ing is taken here.


Let’s start with meat. In the UK, we’ll typically throw a few sausages, hamburgers and chicken legs on the BBQ to get nicely black outside and raw inside, accompanied by a few ‘grilled veggies’ as a concession to the trendy and vegetarian amongst us. However, steaks seem to be regarded as ‘a bit of a waste’ to BBQ by a lot of in the UK. Maybe it’s because our barbeques themselves are not quite up to the technical standards of the Germans (and any self-respecting German has at least two BBQs – from a rustic briquette burning device built into the garden to a sophisticated gas grill to cater for parties of fifty hungry people) or maybe it’s because we don’t get quite so much practice on this rainy little island at the art of barbequing, but somehow we don’t quite trust ourselves to throw anything costing a reasonable amount of money onto the barbeque.


In Germany, however, steaks are staple barbeque fare. Either pork or beef, they are bought in huge catering packs of at least six large steaks, even for a family of three. The steaks themselves are bought ready-marinated in a range of different flavours from herby-garlicky to spicy-peppery. In summer, butchers offer a wide range of ready-prepared steaks, including steaks stuffed or filled with mozzarella or bacon for example. In fact, apart from a few Bratwurst, usually just provided for the children or for adults as a sort of appetizer for the real feast to come, you won’t see much on a German barbeque other than steaks, more steaks and even more steaks.


If steaks have the starring role at a German barbeque, then the role of the best supporting player must always go to the salads. There is a whole strange culture relating to salads in Germany, with its own idiosyncrasies, rules and regulations. While ready-made salads are available in vast variety at the butcher’s, in the deli counter at the supermarket and pre-packed in the chill counter, it’s really not the done thing to turn up at a barbeque with a salad that someone else has made. In fact, there are some very close parallels with baking - just as every mother in the UK is expected to bake some creation for the school fair or nativity play, mothers in Germany are expected to produce a salad as well as a perfect Schwarzwälderkirschtorte for the Kindergartenfest. And there are many other occasions on which one is simply expected to appear mit Salat - at the local street party, for example, or at a Polterabend, which is a sort of informal pre-Wedding party where everyone smashes plates (don’t ask!) or even for someone’s birthday do – in the UK we have PBAB whereas in Germany it’s more likely to be ESMB (eine Salat mitbringen, bitte). I have even recently invested in an interesting device called a Salatkurier- a salad bowl with a lid and carrying handles which allows one to transport salads from one Fest to the next in complete safety.


Part of the salad culture involves a strange pecking-order which you are only likely to find out about if you contravene its unwritten rules. For example, you may make the mistake of providing a salad involving something quite acceptable to our tastes - a potato salad with new potatoes, skins on and a bit of mint - only to find that, in your circle, Frau Schmidt and Frau Schmidt alone is allowed to make her potato salad - a calorific concoction involving buckets of mayonnaise garnished with hard-boiled eggs - and that anything in the food and drink category other than tea involving mint is viewed by most Germans with deepest suspicion.


In typical fashion, while Germans are very proud of their homemade salads, they are also a little rigid when it comes to experimentation. It is often quite fun to slip in a slightly unexpected creation just to see how they react. It’s probably true to say that there is a fairly standard repertoire of salads to be had in Germany. There’s Frau Schmidt’s potato concoction as mentioned above plus its Bavarian cousin (no mayo but stock, oil and vinegar, bacon bits and a few radishes and certainly no potato skins), a Nudelsalat which I normally avoid - noodles with more mayo plus chopped ham and cold tinned peas, Wurstsalat, of course, which normally involves slivers of sausage drowning in more mayo (although there is a slightly healthier Swiss cousin with cheese slivers, sliced gherkin , onion and vinegar/oil dressing) or a plain Mix- or Bunte-Salat which is normally a mixture of leaves, carrot and tomatoes smothered in yoghurt dressing.


You’ll have noticed that few of these salads would win many prizes at Weightwatchers. Although you’ll occasionally see a green salad, or perhaps a Bauern- or Hirtensalat (which is rather like what we’d call a Greek salad, with peppers and feta), generally German salads are a bit of a mayonnaise fest, filled with danger for unsuspecting vegetarians (it’s difficult to find a German salad without some meat content). While there has been a bit of interest in flavours and ingredients from, say, Italy, the staple calorific salads still have pride of place.


Overall, taking the barbeque/outdoor eating category, it is big business in Germany. Aside from all the ‘hardware’ of barbeques, utensils, salad bowls, briquettes and so on, there is a huge market in sauces, dressings and ingredients, flavourings and other accompaniments. The big players in this area are partly the multi-nationals we know, such as Heinz, Knorr and Kraft, with the omnipresent Miracle Whip (see www.miraclewhip.de ) but there are also some local players who are onto a fairly sizeable portion of the cake (or steak!). These include Kühne (see www.kuehne.de )  Develey (see www.develey.de ) and Feinkost Dittmann (see www.feinkost-dittmann.de ). There seems to be an opportunity to help Germans to expand their ‘outside eating’ repertoire by taking them by the hand via countries and themes. For example, a huge range of Italian-influenced anti-pasti and ingredients from Deluna (Switzerland) has appeared in Supermarkets this year and the Greek flavour of this summer’s sporting events has clearly had an influence on the nation’s palate with supermarkets putting together their own displays of feta for grilling, tzatziki and stuffed vine-leaves.


While Frau Schmidt’s potato salad is unlikely to be completely usurped by Moroccan Couscous and Coriander salad in the near future, there certainly does seem to be an opportunity for food manufacturers to take advantage of the German love of eating al fresco for as long as the sun shines.


Eighteen years on and there’s been something of a shift - but as with all these things, it’s been a shift to more variety and choice rather than a “From-To” thingy as beloved of strategy powerpoint charts, where stuff gets swept aside into obsolecence and replaced with new shiny stuff.

Turkish, North African and Mediterranean influence has grown, with the inevitable Halloumi and other cheeses for grilling, as well as Merguez and a wider choice of sausages that don’t involve pork. Plenty more lamb, poultry and beef cuts to grill are available.  And yes, couscous has made an appearance on the German grill accompaniments scene. 

Ditto vegan/plant-based alternatives to meat, for example from The Vegetarian Butcher  . But those marinated pork steaks are here to stay - you’re just going to need a bigger table for the greater selection of grilled goodies.

In 2004, it seems, I hadn’t discovered the mayonnaisy horror that is Schichtsalat, (or maybe I just blocked it from my consciousness) but that’s alive (probably with listeria) and kicking, too.

Wednesday 27 July 2022

Good Pop Bad Pop Good Book


I’m back in the UK, in the old house, busying myself with sifting through junk. Well, not really junk, rather my past, which makes the task simultaneously more fascinating and more tricky.

I’m being accompanied by Jarvis Cocker. Not musically, but in a literary sense. I’m part way through Good Pop Bad Pop which is described as “An Inventory”. Another way that Jarvis puts it is “self excavation” - a sort of archeology of the self via artefacts rediscovered in the loft.

In Chapter 9 of the book, those rediscovered artefacts are FMCG brands, starting with a sliver of soap, worn down to the “distinctive brand asset” and not much more:

Jarvis kept this soapy remnant because the Imperial Leather design changed. Other examples he cites are Marmite, which used to have a metal lid and Rose’s Lime Juice, which had a glass bottle with tiny limes in relief. All of these packs and designs were tied up with memories.

And while I’m not a famous musician, so my Castrol and Rover tins will never end up in an art gallery or hard-backed book, I’ve got a few branded memories of my own.

Most people of my age are nostalgic for the crinkly orange cellophane of the old Lucozade bottle. And what about the Strepsils tin? The empty tin was repurposed by resourceful children for all sorts of things - I kept dried shredded sunflower leaves in one - maybe it’s best not to ask.

Jarvis Cocker’s analysis of why he would have kept a useless scrap of soap is about the aspect of his personality that resists change. He concludes (in one of my favourite passages of the book so far):

I am “over” my problem with change. I embrace change. (Maybe “embrace” is too strong a word: more like “I awkwardly shake hands with change.”) I can move on.

I’ll awkwardly shake hands to that. 

Thursday 14 July 2022

Take out your earpods and listen!


Back in the last century, when such things were aspirational and fashionable, I was a high-flying young advertising executive. I have undoubtably been in the British Airways Executive Club more years than those runningit have been alive, and made it to the dizzy heights of Gold Card Level.

Things have changed, to state the obvious, but I still hang on in there in the club, clutching my meagre points in the hope of having a “free” glass of fizz next time I fly to the U.K. However, given the grim news on cancellations and airport chaos, I’m not sure I risk booking a flight, let alone one with BA.

What are my Executive Club friends doing, meanwhile? Sending out cheery newsletters. OK, we all need cheering up, and they must have enough data collected on me by now to be able to make some reasonable guesses about what kind of content might be the most cheering. 

A recent newsletter offered me “inspirational stories from LGBTQ+ writers and explorers” as well as “luxurious and remote desert hotels.” I was invited to “take a peek at family-friendly pads” and to do the “which cabin bag is right for you” quiz and fill it with “this season’s must-have travel essentials.”

The ghastly, cliche-ridden trash journalism style is bad enough (written by AI?) but as for an attempt at empathy or customer-centricity or whatever marketers are meant to be good at? It sounds as if they are writing for a not-so-bright 12-year-old with stinking rich parents. Which I’m not.

Equally dreadful is a recent email from P&O Ferries who say: “We’d love to still be your preferred ferry operator for your next trip, and are truly passionate about showing you all that travelling by sea has to offer on board our ships.” Like heck you are. Why would I be enanmoured of a ferry operator that sacks hundreds of its staff without consultation, then replaces them with desperate people paid peanuts?

I don’t want to take transparency to extremes and know every last little detail of corporate comings and goings, but surely people can be treated like adults? 

I breathed a sigh of relief when I got this from Lufthansa’s Executive Board. By no means perfect (these things never can be) but at least they are talking the right language: