Tuesday 29 March 2022

Talkin’ ‘bout my generativity


Towards the end of the last millennium, at a time when today’s mighty oaks were saplings and I was navigating the first stage of adulthood amid a neon excess of cocktails and heartache, I read The Man who planted trees by Jean Giono. This short story - may the correct term is parable - had been originally published in 1954 and enjoyed a renaissance in the 1980s. The tale starts in 1913, when the young narrator meets a 55-year-old shepherd, Elzéard Bouffier, who has taken it on himself to plant acorns in the Provence countryside over the last three years. 

Even if you haven’t read it, you can probably see where the story is going, and it does, most charmingly, accompanied by beautiful woodcuts. Two World Wars cannot destroy the consequence of one man’s simple act, regenerating a whole community and landscape.

Elzéard Bouffier and his story is the perfect example of generativity, a concept Ive touched on here and here. Generativity - a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation - is the main focus of the 7th Stage of Life in the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Interestingly, Erikson extended his stages from the Shakespearean “7 Ages of Man” in that he envisaged eight in total. Maybe this has something to do with increasing life expectancy - more of that later.

The 7th Stage of Life, or second stage of adulthood, typically occurs at what we’d call middle age - 40-64 approximately. Interestingly, once Erikson passed this age (he lived to 91) he reviewed his theory and admitted that generativity continues to play a major role beyond retirement age, too. Even more interestingly, his wife and collaborator Joan later added a 9th Stage of Life to the theory. She was 93 at the time.

Generativity, in its human/social meaning, has a lot of nuances as an idea. There’s a strong sense of altruism, but the “self” is not absent from the concept. It encompasses an inner desire for immortality in the form of leaving something of value as a legacy, making one’s life count for something. And there’s a strong component of responsibility to others, both now and in the future.

The language of generativity has been much used in sustainability communications. “For future generations” has become a cliche, usually accompanied by stock photos of carefree cute children running through sun-kissed meadows or fields of wheat. But maybe there’s an opportunity for companies and brands to use the generativity of their (ageing) co-workers to positive effect beyond tired sustainability tropes. 

The idea of “purpose” has been criticised due to its association with short-term activism and “cause of the moment”. It should be less about “high(er) and mighty” and more about the long-term. Passing on values, skills and knowledge. Mentoring within the company. Keeping the culture alive. Creating something new taking into account both what the brand and company does well and new human needs arising from our changing world.

The opposite pole to generativity is stagnation - and that’s not healthy for brands or people. 

Friday 11 March 2022

Reinventing the past


My dad used to annoy me something rotten when we were watching something like Colditz or The Great Escape by pointing out inaccuracies in anything from the pilots not wearing masks through to how many stripes a colonel should or shouldn’t have on their uniform.

Now that I’ve reached a certain age, I find myself doing exactly the same when it comes to advertising. When some bright spark starts talking about how such and such a campaign has revolutionalised, disrupted or utterly transformed the category’s communication, it’s usually to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Yes, I know - people want simple stories of from:to, of heroes turning things on their heads, of creatives taking humungous leaps. Short attention span and all that. The vogue for storytelling has a lot to answer for.

Still, it’s sometimes worth putting the record straight.

Recently, in Campaign, I read an article from a chief strategy officer from a major international agency praising Persil’s Dirt is Good campaign. Now, I also admire this campaign, despite its occasional forays into false directions. The campaign has been running for 17 years, which is pretty good going. The chief strategy officer makes plenty of good points about the campaign, yet dismisses all pre-2005 detergent advertising with a sweeping generalisation:

"Historically, the casting and scenarios for washing powder ads were dreadfully homogenous, typically oppressive portrayals of perfect Stepford mums beaming at a neat stack of clean clothing.

I wonder if he ever saw this Ariel ad from 1997 as a lad? Can you spot any of these:

    - Mums perfect kitchen?

    - perfectly folded piles of clothing?

    - oppression?

    - Stepford mums?

No, me neither. All I can see is a brilliant piece of communication, based on a universal human truth: the younger generation think they invented the world.


Wednesday 2 March 2022

RETROWURST: Tea March 2005


In marketing as well as my life here in Germany, I sometimes find the things that don’t change more thought-provoking than those that do. In this month’s Retrowurst, I’ve rummaged in the antique tea caddy and found an article on that very subject - tea - written back in March 2005. 

It could have been written yesterday, or at least, the day before yesterday.

So sit down, make yourself a cuppa, and read on:


It’s tea-time! 


Tea may not be one of the things that one immediately associates with Germany; sausages, beer and bad footballer haircuts come more readily to mind to most people. However, anyone who has spent any length of time in a German supermarket will probably confirm that the tea fixture is one of the brightest and most bizarre of the entire store. British ex-pats who venture out in their first week of living here to buy some provisions are regularly overwhelmed by the array that confronts them and often need a strong cup of one of the many brews on offer to recover from the shock.


Anyone looking for Tetley, PG Tips or anything remotely familiar on the tea fixture is likely to be out of luck. You may find Twinings (with varieties such as English Breakfast, Earl Grey or Ceylon Orange Pekoe) tucked away in a separate exotic food and drink section, nestling uncomfortably between Paul Newman’s Salad Dressing and Green Tabasco but the tea fixture itself will only offer the false security a couple of obscure sub-brands with vaguely British-sounding names, such as “Sir Winston”. The majority of the fixture is likely to be made up of brand names and tea varieties that most of us would never have let out of the first, wildest phase of brainstorming.


Even ten years ago the tea fixture offered a startling variety with many ‘traditional’ herb and fruit-based variants in addition to Schwarztee, or black tea. In the last two or three years, however, the NPD departments of the tea brands seem to have gone onto overdrive (or have been on some rather strange tea themselves) as the number of lines offered seems to have almost doubled! Interestingly, many of the new varieties are reflections of trends seen in other markets so maybe we can use the tea fixture here as a sort of trend barometer into what’s the average German’s cup of tea, figuratively speaking, at the moment!


Tea is not just drunk at teatime in Germany or, rather, any time of the day or night seems to be teatime. Tea is very much a beverage in its own right rather than an accompaniment to food, be it breakfast or a few biscuits. Tea is normally drunk without milk but maybe with the addition of lemon, sugar or honey.


The little German starts on tea very early on in life. In fact, there are special teas for nursing mothers to encourage the milk flow. These are called Stilltees and consist of a whole dried herb garden including aniseed, fennel, caraway, melissa and basil. It’s probably no wonder that many new mothers prefer the alternative traditional method to encourage the milk; namely, a little bottle of Sekt in the evening! The teas for babies and young children come from the baby food manufacturers such as Hipp and Alete and include Baby’s erste Tee- Baby’s First Tea, a fennel tea to be given from the first week onwards. Other variants include Apple & Melissa (4 months +), Peach tea (8 months +) and Fruit Tea (8 months +). Special bottles and teats are also available for these teas, which are thought to help with everything from colic to hyper-activity.


As well as helping new mothers and babies with little health problems, there really is a tea for all ills in Germany. Many minor complaints are treated as a first step with tea, which can be bought from the Apotheke or even from the Supermarket. One well-known Supermarket brand, Bad Heilbrunner, offers a range of teas for colds, stomach and intestinal problems, kidney and bladder complaints, sleep and nerve problems, coughs and bronchial conditions and even something called Blutreinigungs Tee- literally, blood-cleansing tea, which promises to be entwässernd und entschlakend (diuretic and purifying). If the brand name isn’t enough to put you off, the taste of these teas is generally so unpleasant that the minor ailment normally conveniently clears itself up in no time to prevent further ingestion of these potions.


Aside from this medicinal niche, there is a vast range of interesting and drinkable teas in Germany. The basis of the market is black tea and then herbal and fruit teas. The basic herbal teas include peppermint, chamomile and nettle, while fruit teas include rosehip, forest fruits and citrus combinations. Green tea is also popular in Germany and the well-known brands often offer “English” varieties such as Earl Grey under British-sounding sub-brand names such as Sir Winston.


Of the innovations mentioned earlier, most of these play with weird and wonderful new flavour combinations rather than the UK obsession with tinkering with the shape of the teabag and packaging. Three of the more interesting directions that I’ve spotted recently are as follows:


The eastern Wellness kick

Germany is still obsessed with Wellness with just about everything from socks to bed sheets commanding a few Euros more if it has the “Wellness” description slapped on it. Examples of this direction in the tea market include Meßmer’s Quelle (Source) range; Quelle der Erholung (rest/recovery), claiming to be ausgleichend und wöhltuend (balancing and well-doing) with chamomile and linden petal, Quelle der Erfrischung (refreshment), said to be belebend und erfrischend (invigorating and refreshing) with Lemon Grass and Honey bush. Teekanne have a couple of ranges in this direction: Harmonie für Körper und Seele (Harmony for Body and Soul), with varieties Träume Schön (Sweet Dreams, relaxing), Hol dir Kraft (Give you strength, invigorating) and Einfach Schön (Simply nice, purifying) and another range with more of an Eastern positioning, Zeit für Wellness (Time for Wellness), including Honeybush & Hibiscus, Peppermint & Lemongrass and Orange Lapacho tea.


Around the World in 80 Teas

Meßmer in particular seem to be on a bit of an Atlas of the Tea World exploration at the moment with a large range of teas from around the world, including Masir tea, with mint and honey, described as “fresh and sweet” and Ovambo tea, with red bush and vanilla, described as “sweet and mild”. More varieties can be found on the website www.messmer.deor in any German supermarket.


Sex and the Citea

This is one of the more amusing new trends and one that all the brands have leapt on. Rather than using characters from Sex and the City (rather inappropriately) in the TV advertising as in the UK, German tea brands are trying to bring romance and passion into the product itself. Messmer have a “Moments” range including Moment der Liebe (with Cherry and Rose petals, said to be full-mouthed and fruity) and Moment des Glücks (with banana and clover blossom, described as sweet and fruity). Milford have a range including Süße Affäire, Süße Verführung and Süße Romanze (Sweet Affair, Sweet Seduction and Sweet Romance) while Teekanne really get steamy over the kettle with Pure Lust (Strawberry and Rhubarb-Cream), Sweet Kiss (Cherry and Strawberry) and Heiße Liebe (Hot Love, with Raspberry and Vanilla). More details about the Teekanne range can be found on www.teekanne.de – but you’ll probably have to take a cold shower afterwards!


A revisit of all those tea websites has shown that the tea merchants are still playing the same (presumably successful) games, seventeen years later. Yes, there have been a few new market entrants, of the Yogi Tee ilk, their business further accelerated by the pandemic, by the self-care obsession and the cosiness trend, no doubt. 

Maybe the most interesting development is our own rather charming tea merchant in downtown Bruchköbel. This emporium is going from strength to strength it seems, despite lockdown. A quick glimpse at the website will tell you all you need to know when it comes to why: authenticity, storytelling, digital and physical channels well-used to their best advantage, great choice and a pretty unique offer. 

But ... PG Tips is still almost impossible to find outside the internet. We did have an “international food store” here until a couple of weeks ago, but sadly it has had to close. Some teas simply remain elusive.