Monday 24 July 2023

Coutts, Farage and the inclusivity paradox


A couple of years ago, I wrote a post entitled Your customers choose you. At the time, I believed that it was nigh-well impossible for a brand of any size to pick and choose its customers. Much as they’d like to. Coutts for example, state on their website that “Coutts clients are trailblazers and pioneers, the disrupters and challengers who help to shape the fabric of UK society.”

Dream on, Coutts, I would have thought a few weeks ago. You may have a few photogenic dazzling young movers and shakers, who you’ve displayed prominently on your website. But you’ve also got a heck of a lot of retired brigadiers and boring old conservative farts. And, people like Nigel Farage.

Well, we all know that didn’t end well. But while FMCG brands from bog cleaner to baked beans would have difficulty stopping Mr Farage, Mr Trump or anyone else from buying their product, banks can close accounts. Social media platforms, too. What has been revealed in the case of Farage is that the resaons were nothing to do with insufficient funds in the account, or being a politically-exposed-person. It was a case of Farage’s views and opinions - as catalogued in a multi-page dossier - “not aligning with the bank’s values.”

I’ve done a lot of work on brand (rather than corporate) values, and the challenge was always three-fold. First of all, finding descriptors that could legitimately be described as “values” - generally nouns. Secondly, for the combination - and I’d advise not picking more than four - to be distinctive and fitting to that particular brand. And finally, things that weren’t so vague, intellecually airy-fairy or obscure that no-one had a clue how to put these into practice.

Whether it’s the B-Corp/ESG movement or the interest in Purpose, I don’t know. But values - whether applied to corporate or brand - seem to have become simultaneously samey and vague over the last years. Many companies don’t divulge what they’re for, rather what they’re against - all the usual suspect -isms and -phobias along with hate and toxicity in general.

Is “diversity” a value? I don’t think so, any more than “equity”. These words have taken on very particular meanings in corporate-speak. 

And when it comes to the third member of this particular trio, then Coutts are really tying themselves up in knots. Even putting aside the financial requirements to become a customer, just take a look at the screenshot from their website. Under the section on “Inclusion” comes the text “when you become a client of Coutts, you’ll be part of an exclusive network.”

To me, it all illustrates a lack of that good old-fashioned brand value, integrity.  

Monday 10 July 2023



During the 20-teens, pre-Covid, I got terribly excited about “The Sharing Economy”. My trusty trend-forecaster newsletter contacts did, too - forever sending little examples of apps for sharing anything from leftover food to power tools to skills. My response was always the same - wow! Great idea! Must try it out. Then I’d look at the app, or the website and remember that I live in Bruchköbel, a German town in rural Hessen with 20,000 inhabitants who are unlikely to be early adopters of such gizmos. Why not? Well, I’ll come to that, but the clue is in the photos above.

There’s an article about the death of the Sharing Economy in Fast Company. Or at least what we all got excited about ten or fifteen years back. The article goes through the history of the idea - how tech put us on the path away from ownership and towards collective peer-to-peer good. Looking back, some of the orignal Sharing Economy players are still going strong - from Airbnb to Uber. And I think the food sharing app OLIO is doing OK, too, having gone into toys, toiletries, tupperware and stuff. Ditto, Peerby - although the nearest neighbourhood I could find is in Holland.

But generally, the article concludes that the sharing power drills with neighbours concept hasn’t really taken off. While people like the idea in theory (and of course, it ticks a few virtue-signalling boxes), in the end they can’t be a**ed because for a few quid more you could get the thing delivered from Amazon. Many of the original Sharing Economy players that have survived have - rather like ebay - started off peer-to-peer then ended up becoming more and more dominated by companies and corporates rather than private individuals.

I still get those newsletters, though - and here’s a recent-ish sharing economy thing that’s trying to make fashion more sustainable with its “community of expert seamstresses” - Sojo. And looking at the website, I was reminded the following:

    - someone in the Bruchköbel Facebook Forum offering a box of limes and lemons to whoever was        first to come and collect

    - a hand-written sign on a garden gate to say that they had fresh eggs to give away today

    - walking past the two local tailors/seamstresses that are practically next door to each other (and I am sure there are one or two others in the town)

And I wonder - who needs the diversion, the middleman, the app? Both from a point of view of fiddliness and inconvenience, but also something more fundamental when it comes to “local” and “community.” I’ve had hotel owners requesting me to please, please book direct rather than through one of the big booking websites. It’s to do with money, of course, but also maintaining individuality and integrity.

I can understand the reluctance of many small local businesses to get caught up on these global platforms - in the same way that I won’t be touting my wares on Fiverr.  


Monday 3 July 2023

RETROWURST: Hipp July 2005


Working on a brand that’s particularly relevant to your stage in life is usually a joy. When my son was a baby, I worked on Pampers at Saatchi, then on HiPP at TBWA. And this month, here are my musings on the subject of HiPP from July 2005.


The subject of this month’s Extrawurst is the world’s biggest processor of organic food products. Or is it a leading baby food brand? Or is it the grandson of a Bavarian pastry chef? Claus Hipp and his brand Hipp is all of these. Herr Hipp was recently awarded the Stern/McKinsey StartUp prize for life achievement in the marketing of Organic products. This month, I’m going to take a look at the secrets behind his success.


Claus Hipp is a familiar figure in German advertising. He regularly appears in print and TV advertising- an elderly man dressed in traditional dark-green Bavarian jacket and hat, striding across beautiful rolling fields, rather like Heidi’s grandfather or a more ideologically sound Bernard Matthews. He always ends his TV spots with a line that translates roughly to “and I’m proud to give my name to it.” In addition to his commercial responsibilities, Herr Hipp is also something of an artist and oboe player in a Munich orchestra. The man seems to exude balance and harmony in all things; a distinct contrast to the usual image of the stressed, power and profit-obsessed, cultural philistine businessman.


Hipp is a family business that has remained in the family for over 100 years. The story goes that Claus Hipp’s grandfather, Joseph, who was a pastry-chef with a Konditorei in the little Bavarian town of Pfaffenhofen, produced a rusk flour mixed with milk to help his wife with their twin babies, who she was having problems breast-feeding. The babies thrived, as did five subsequent offspring and Hipp’s first “formula” became in demand. One of those five offspring, Georg, took over the business in 1932 and founded his own firm in Pfaffenhofen. Georg Hipp developed the business and introduced the concepts of organic farming and baby food based on vegetables in glass jars in 1956 and 1957 respectively. The current generation of Hipps- Claus and two brothers- took over in 1967 and over the last nearly 40 years have continued the development of organic farming and processing.


Hipp today is the world’s biggest processor of organic raw materials. Annual sales are €240m, 1000 workers are employed and 1m jars of baby food are produced each day. Hipp has 207 products, from Fennel tea (from 1 week) to young carrots (from 4 months) to a toddler meal of Spätzle mit Karotten und Rinderrahmgeschnetzlte (South German noodles with carrots and beef strips in cream sauce) through to a relatively new line of Müslis aimed at adults.


Hipp products are sold at a considerable premium to other baby foods. On the rational level, most people will cite the organic and quality elements. Baby food is a clear case where the end consumer is not the purchaser and, even more so than for dogs and cats (even fussy little ones!), parents need a brand where they can really put their trust. But there is also a strong emotional element to this price premium. It is well known that many adults (primarily young women who are not yet mothers) also buy Hipp for their own consumption in Germany. Part of this is a certain cult element but part of it is the same emotional magnet that draws so many parents into the brand.


It’s often said that buying into a brand involves buying into a world that that brand creates. The world of Hipp is very clear. It’s a rural idyll of green countryside, happy cows and chickens and fresh fruit and vegetables ripened under a benevolent sun, tended with loving care by the benevolent grandfatherly Herr Hipp himself. It’s a world of innocence and happiness, symbolized by the child-like, sunny logo with its paint box colours of pink, turquoise, orange and violet and its heart dotting the “i”. It probably wouldn’t be going too far to say that Hipp takes us back into a forgotten world of innocence - the original Garden of Eden. For a young mother in a Berlin apartment stuck indoors with a colicky baby on a rainy January day, one can see the appeal.


Of course, a lot of brands create equally seductive worlds and images but in the case of Hipp, this isn’t a dream world. It really exists. I have been to Pfaffenhofen which is approached via rolling green fields and fruit orchards, interspersed with little villages with coloured houses and onion-domed churches. In Pfaffenhofen itself you can still enjoy delicious cakes in the original Hipp Konditorei. The Hipp headquarters itself is more like a chalet for a skiing holiday than an office. There are wooden beams everywhere, crucifixes on the walls of the conference rooms and water from the Hipp spring to drink.


It is this integrity and consistency of brand and reality that is the key to Hipp’s success. In many ways, although the brand is now over 100 years old, it has more of a feel to it of more modern brands such as Body Shop or, more recently, Innocent Drinks. The brand itself (or at least the first product) arose from a real personal need. The company has grown and developed but never moved away from its roots, either physical or philosophical. It is a company with transparency and integrity and a clear point of view or philosophy above and beyond the product- the belief in “the best from nature; the best for nature.”


In addition, there is a lead figure that represents the company and its philosophy in the person of Claus Hipp. While Corporate Social Responsibility may be the latest bandwagon for many large companies these days, this was always there for Hipp as a normal and natural part of the company’s belief system. And while we are talking about belief, one cannot avoid the strong spiritual element in the Hipp philosophy, particularly when one thinks about all those crucifixes in Pfaffenhofen. The Hipp family, with Claus Hipp as no exception, is strongly Catholic and the company is run on un-ashamedly Christian principles. 


While it may not be everyone’s cup of organic red berry juice with spring water, Hipp as a company has a clear stance and clear principles. All of these elements add up to a brand ethos that cannot be copied. This, combined with a strong product range in terms of quality and breadth, make for a unique and sustainable brand.


The little chap in the photo is about to turn 23 and has a proper job servicing and repairing aircraft. And what about HiPP? Well, really very little has changed. Stefan has taken over from father Claus as main spokesman and they’ve launched nappies. (I suppose the associations are slightly less yukky than Pampers introducing baby food.)

The organic credentials have stood the brand in good stead, although they have been accused of slight over-enthusiasm with their talk of “climate-positive.”

It’s also interesting to see how an openly Christian company fares these days - and the international website does make some rather pompous-sounding remarks about “the moral decay of society” which may not go down well in some quarters.

Do today’s young parents want to see the authentic sick-cloth-no-sleep-screeching-baby world that some brands like to use in their advertising? Or the reassuring green fields, apple orchards, avuncular Stefan and smiley tots of HiPP? That remains to be seen.