Monday 27 November 2023

Penny for your thoughts?


I’ve been writing an article for one of my clients about Christmas advertising. Because it’s for an international audience, most of the focus is on ads from the UK and other English-speaking markets. In Germany, Christmas advertising is a thing, but not such a colossal humongous thing (literally, in the case of this year’s John Lewis ad) as it is in the UK. 

You can see what I mean if you scroll down this article about German supermarkets’ Christmassy commercials. Apart from Edeka’s slightly weird meaty mumblings, there’s nothing really unexpected and many of the ads are a little lacklustre and conventional. 

There’s cuteness, kids,  magic and animals with Lidl and REWE. Some “get the tissues” from Co-op. And a bit of fun and nostalgia from Aldi with grown-ups behaving like big kids.

But that’s me with my London ad person hat on (also looking a bit lacklustre these days, to be honest). Time and time again, we hear that the ads that do well at Christmas are those that do all the cuteness, tears, smiles, entertainment and general warm fuzziness. And do it well.

So what the heck were Penny thinking? Over 3 minutes, entitled “The Kids” with the message “It’s our future, please listen to us.” Four youngsters, discontented, sad and angry about the grown-ups in their immediate family, or society in general. A girl forced into ballet when she’d rather dance freestyle. A little chap who can’t bear his mum’s social media obsession. A young lad upset by all the “six-pack” bodies he sees on his phone. A junior environmentalist striding around the house switching lights and appliances off.  

Then a montage of sulky glum faces, school protests, “Fridays for Future”-style activism clichés accompanied by a childrens choir rendition of a song from P!nk (I think).

Maybe it seemed like a good idea when the agency made this back in the Spring or Summer. But at this time of year, and given the news of the last few weeks, it feels completely tone deaf. As I said last year, no-one wants to be reminded of misery, hate and division. Especially not now. 

A long time ago, when I worked on P&G, I’d often have to steer the clients away from anything that felt like finger-pointing. I’d remind them that new mums often felt inadequate and hopeless enough without ads suggesting that if they didn’t use the new-improved super-ultra-Pampers (or whatever), they were a crap mother. Especially if they couldn’t afford better than Aldi.

That attitude from advertisers and their agencies is sneaking back into commercials, and this is a prime example. Finger-pointing, parent-shaming (if you like) manipulative stuff to make people feel lousy about themselves. Backed up by some sort of agency bullshit that they’ve “got out there” (where is “there”, anyway?) and listened to “real” children’s wishes. Well, I have my own experience of that.

I quoted an article from Richard Huntington in my last post and this was one of the stand-out sentences for me:

Everyone is trying in their own way to be a good person living a good life.

In the end, it shouldnt be more complicated than that.

Thursday 16 November 2023

Perennial bloomers


The older I get, and the more years I notch up as a one-woman band here in rural Germany, the more amusing I find the antics of some of my marketing and advertising partners-in-crime. It’s that slight shake-of-the-head, roll-of-the-eyes kind of amusement with a muttered “what planet are they on?” under my breath. 

I heard a marketing director speaking on a panel discussion yesterday, who was (I think) seriously suggesting that the following could be a good idea. AI could, in the future, “serve” an ad featuring a person of the same skin colour as the recipient - presumably all in the name of personalisation, diversity and “feeling seen.” 

Where do I start on how wrong this is? What next? I’ll be “served” an ad featuring someone of exactly my age, so I don’t feel ancient, left out and invisible? What a ghastly notion!

Whenever I’ve ventured onto LinkedIn these days, there do seem to be plenty of people (at least in my feed) talking about bursting bubbles and getting back to reality. A recent WARC article by Richard Huntington is titled The Future of Strategy 2023: Marketing is in desperate need of a reality check. 

Richard makes the point that we both work and live in a parallel universe he calls Marketingland. I’d rather use that nasty, twee “Adland” moniker. By the way, when did that creep into the language? It’s not the word itself, it’s the way people use it, as if it’s some exclusive place to be proud of. Whatever, this universe is populated by the well-educated, metropolitan, relatively young middle class.

And why do people not just work but live there, too? Because this world is conjured-up “through distaste for the real one with all its ugliness, mess and complexity.” Richard then takes aim at various of Adland’s favourite tools (so to speak), including “the stinking edifice of generational marketing". This is described as “a charlatan’s business” and “should be given as much credence in sensible organisations as astrology.”

I’m with him. The whole Generations stuff, beloved of lazy journalists and denizens of “Adland,” is more full of holes than a Boomer’s string vest. Or was it the lot before them that wore those? Not only do the generation years chop and change as often as the UK cabinet, but the whole thing is utterly US-focussed. Where you are born is just as important as when, as Ipsos show. And I’m quite tickled that “GenZ" are refusing to behave as many marketers want them to, as Nick Asbury points out.

What to do? Richard Huntington makes a call to “love and respect the people we serve”. I’d leave out the love part, personally, but respect and value their perspective (even if you don’t agree) - I’ll take that. As Richard says, “Everyone is trying in their own way to be a good person living a good life.”

Another perspective on the generations thing is to Adopt the Perennial Mindset as in this article by Tara McMullin. The thinking is based on a book by Mauro Guillén: The Perennials: The Megatrends creating a Postgenerational Society. This challenges the idea of linear lives, moving from play to learn to work to leisure/retirement, and age-appropriate activities. Getting rid of the concept of milestones beyond referring to babies and child development. A Perennial is defined as someone not constrained by their age and what theyre supposed to be doing at any given stage of life.

Despite being a Planner, Ive never been that great on planning my own life. I recognise the inevitability of change and the unexpected. But I liked what this article had to say about a broadened definition of work whereby people can stay active and connected to friends - work more along the lines of mentoring and support as one grows older and hopefully wiser. Tara writes that the idea of retirement feels elusive to anyone under, say, 55 today.

Well, that just proves a point. Its a while since I was 55, and although I do have a bookmarks file of retirement jobs (mentoring, teaching, pivoting) the idea still seems pretty elusive to me!

I know this way of thinking cant be a replacement for all that generations guff. Or indeed for media planning based on age breaks. But I do like the principle of getting away from pigeon-holing and rigid categories of age, life-stage, or when exactly you were born. Away from the sequential model of life. And from many of these frameworks when they are too strictly applied. I have said here often: The Map is not the Territory.

And, back to that panel discussion and what AI can do. One point that does give me hope are the increasing opportunities for contextual media planning. Catching me in the right mood, at the right place and the right time is going to be far more effective than serving me some old bag with pasty-white skin who doesnt look a bit like me. 

Wednesday 1 November 2023

RETROWURST: Nutella November 2005


Eighteen years ago, I was celebrating the 40th birthday of Nutella in Extrawurst, and my hm-hm-hm-hmth birthday. For those with a sweet tooth, here’s the history and cult status of the chocolate hazelnut spread as I saw it in 2005.


As I have recently been celebrating my birthday, I thought I would write a piece about a brand that is celebrating its 40th birthday this year in Germany.


On the subject of brands having birthdays, this does seem to have become “this year’s thing” for marketers here, perhaps in the absence of anything new to say. We had thirty years of IKEA last year and now every corner shop, local newspaper and frozen pizza seems to be celebrating some birthday or another. Just as the market here has been deluged with “flavour of the year/season” for the last few years, we now seem to be beset with birthdays. Most of it seems to be an excuse to dig out some “retro” pack designs and revel in the worst excesses of the 70s, 80s or whatever decade your brand was born into in a rather self-congratulatory way rather than offering people any new benefit or real reward for buying you in the first place.


In this case, however, I feel that the celebrations are justified: the brand in question is Nutella which I believe is one of the most “present” brands in the German psyche. Over 100 million jars of the stuff are sold per year with the average buyer consuming something like 1kg of the stuff per year (oh dear, think of the calories!) and Nutella really is a brand that one could say has achieved cult status in this country. A client of mine (non-German) recently made something of an error of judgment (in my opinion) when she recently turned down the prospect of a co-operation between her brand and Nutella on the basis that Nutella “was too unhealthy”. While, of course, she is right in thinking that Nutella is not among the list of top 5 healthy things to put in your mouth, what she missed is that Nutella is allowed to be unhealthy just because it’s so loved here – like  Bratwurst and Pils it may pile on the calories but it is an integral part of German culture – a rare accolade for a non-German brand!


Although officially only 40 years old, Nutella’s origins go further back: to the 1940s in fact. During the war years, chocolate was a rarity, a delicacy and cocoa was in short supply so the Piedmontese confectioner Pietro Ferrero experimented with making a cream out of cocoa and roasted hazelnuts. From the beginning onwards, Ferrero’s experiment was a success and even incorporated an interesting retail concept in 1940s/50s Italy whereby schoolchildren could go to the local corner shop with a piece of bread and get it spread with the forerunner of Nutella.


In 1964 the nut-nougat crème got the name Nutella. Ferrero Germany had already opened its doors in 1956 and introduced Nutella in 1965. Nutella really created a whole new market in Germany for a country used to either jam or honey as sweet spreads for the breakfast bread.


There are now several generations of Germans who have grown up with Nutella – it’s rather like Marmite in the UK but it doesn’t have quite that extreme love-hate relationship: everyone loves Nutella except for a few extreme health campaigners. Nutella signifies childhood and family: there is something very motherly and reassuring about the name, the pack design (almost unchanged from the original of 1965), the shape of the jar and the sweet, creamy product itself. And, unlike Marmite, it is pretty versatile stuff: you can make cakes with it, slap it on pancakes and Nutella seems to be a fairly major component of most of the confectionary products that Ferrero produces these days.


The cult status of Nutella in Germany is observable through the sheer presence of the brand in Germany. It’s not just on practically every breakfast table but also highly visible on pancake stands in the city centre or at Fests, on T-shirts (the aforementioned unchanged pack design), in bookshops (“Das große Nutella Kochbuch”), on e-Bay (collectors of promotional jars or giveaways) and there are even Nutella cafés in some city centres where you can have a cup of coffee and eat your fill of various Nutella concoctions – all this in addition to the expected supermarket and classic media presence. Of course, anything that is successful and cult spawns cover versions. In Nutella’s case they are numerous and quite blatant in their copying of the mother of all hazelnut spreads, from Lidl’s Choco Nussa to Aldi’s Nutoka but none of them have quite managed to copy the subtleties of Ferrero’s secret recipe.


Of course, cult status brings you more than your fair share of urban myths. In Nutella’s case these include the positive (“Nutella is a wonder cure for cold sores and other forms of Herpes.”) and the not-so desirable (“Nutella gets its colour from cow blood.”). But none of these myths seem to be so extreme as those associated with McDonald’s or Procter & Gamble’s brands – maybe Nutella’s “Italian Mamma” personality makes it less vulnerable to attack than those brands which are assumed to be run and controlled by George W. Bush doppelgangers.


Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Nutella’s cult status is that much of this comes not so much from TV advertising but from in-store and on-pack promotions. While there have been some memorable TV campaigns (involving some of the usual suspects here such as the ubiquitous Boris Becker), it is the special promotions that have become collector’s items. A 2kg jar was available in 2000 for the millennium, for example, and the 40th birthday promotional packs were soon sold out. These included stencils of characters from Asterix concealed in the lid which was a repeat of a promotion originally from the 1970s or 1980s.

It seems to be fitting, then, that Nutella celebrated its 40th birthday with a spectacular promotion: the biggest breakfast in the world. No less than 27,854 Nutella fans turned up to the event which earned Nutella a place in the Guinness Book of records. So, here’s to the next 40 years unless the extreme healthy-eating killjoys get there first!


Only a few months after writing this article, I suffered a public humiliation that I’ll never live down. I took part in an on-air radio quiz and was asked to name which German football players featured in the Nutella ad for the 2006 World Cup. I didn’t know. Me, working in advertising, with a football-crazy husband. 

I still hang my head in shame.

As for Nutella, well, the healthy eating police are still stomping around, but not to any great effect. The latest member of the Nutella family is biscuits.

And me? Sorry, but I still prefer Marmite. I’m not that German.