Thursday 23 May 2024


 A German network pal of mine recently asked what gets people’s goat about LinkedIn, for a talk he was preparing. Although he called it a rant. 

Replies (in no particular order) included: toxic positivity and enthusiasm, humblebrags, Simon Sinek, “Great Leaders do ....”, banal everyday experiences dressed up as profound insights “My cat was sick in the kitchen today. Here’s what I learned”, or once-in-a-lifetime experiences dressed down as business tricks “I proposed to my girlfriend this weekend - here’s what it taught me about B2B sales”, being scammed - yes, you ghastly creatures that want your grubby hands on my pension, woe-is-me victim stories, self-righteous virtue-signalling posturing, AI-generated and AI-stolen bullshit content, a general lack of lightness all around ...

Phew. I recognised most of it, along with the cultish nature of the site as described here by Coco Khan. She bemoans that the site now has its own language - no surprises there as it’s all prompts and AI. It takes a bit of effort, but I refuse to sound like a 5-year old at a party with a bouncy castle and a clown ("super-excited and thrilled!”), to “reach out”, to blab on about authenticity and vulnerability or read posts that hundreds or thousands have already liked.

What made me sad was Coco’s description of her friend whose experience is rich and diverse, yet doesn’t fit neatly into the boxes of LinkedIn. Know the feeling. And she puts it well when she says: “It’s shifting how we see our accomplishments, what we assign value to and what we don’t.” 

I am not a brand, I am a free woman. Or something. 

But, as a freelancer I’m stuck with it. Sort of at its mercy.

I’ll play the game up to a point. But I’m happy to be LinkedOut when it comes to real life.

My German pal, who’s smarter than me with this sort of stuff advised doing some proactive culling to get the algorithm working more in my direction. And it was strangely satisfying.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Hung up


When I started this blog, I didn’t have an iPhone. It was iPod that brought me into Apple, followed by a MacBook and only then, the capitulation

I started using social media on a laptop, and as far as I'm concerned,  Facebook can stay there. I’ve never had the app on my phone, and it’s been a good decision. Ditto never joining Twitter. Although I’ll admit to having the Instagram app in my pocket. 

Have I missed out? Possibly. My biggest question is whether, had I leapt onto TikTok in the early days, might I have made something more of my children’s books? But somehow, I doubt it. I have a secretive nature (the clue's in the name) and I am now rather thankful that if I’m rising anywhere, it’s into obscurity.

The topic of mobile phones, social media and the potential damage they’re doing to people’s mental well-being, particularly the young, is hard to avoid these days. The sense of nostalgia for a world they never knew is strong amongst young people, as expressed in this article by Freya India. (Although I remember being obsessed with the 1950s and before in my teens, so maybe it’s part of growing up.)

There’s an interesting study out this week from More in Common  . The topline conclusion is that the Brits are more hung-up on their smartphones and more in favour of restrictions than people in France, Germany or the US. Here are just a couple of charts:

44% of Brits go for an hour or less without looking at their phone, compared to only 25% of Germans. That’s a major difference and one I can well imagine from my UK trips. 

Lots of questions, obviously.

Is it push or pull? It’s certainly more difficult to get by in the UK without a smartphone than in Germany, even with something as simple as paying for car parking. 

What are people checking their phone for? The weather? Messages from colleagues? News? Football scores? Or how many likes they’ve clocked up in the last 10 minutes?

Regulation and implementing restrictions is a huge area, and one where all parties - with conflicting interests - have to find common ground and work together. Government, social media platforms, telecoms companies, academics and health professionals ...

One thing the More in Common report does point out, which makes a lot of sense, is that all technology is not equal. This isn’t about technophobia, and of course smartphones have many beneficial functions. 

Surely it’s not too much of a challenge to make a helpful, useful phone for young people? With the functional stuff but less of the potentially dysfunctional? 

Thursday 2 May 2024

RETROWURST: World Cup Marketing May 2006


I was rather hoping this would come up: the 2006 World Cup, hosted by Germany. And what a fascinating insight into collective memory and how that works. I wrote this article in early May 2006, a few weeks before the tournament kicked off. It contrasts the doomful tone of the media (rubbish, no-hoper German team, hooligans, terrorists, worrying levels of flag-waving - where are the Neo Nazis?,  how’s the chap in the furry lion suit going to survive the heatwave ...

... with the cheap and cheerful to tacky and tawdry marketing and themed products (World Cup salamis and cheeses, an 11-bottle Schnapps team, the inevitable beach towels and Fußball sushi ...


I’m afraid I can hold out no longer: since the beginning of this year, I’ve wanted to make some sort of comment on the preparations for the World Cup from a marketing point of view but have resisted. However, a walk through the town centre at the weekend was all it took to tip the balance. In short, I could hardly believe the extremes of silliness that some retailers and manufacturers will go through to make a quick Euro.


Although the bulk of what I am going to describe here can be classified under tacky, frivolous and throwaway, the overall climate of opinion regarding the World Cup in Germany as portrayed in the media is far from positive or optimistic. As well as the perennial discussion about just how badly or embarrassingly the German team will play, there are worries about whether stadium safety standards have been reached, how to control the hooligans (not just English: there are also severe concerns about punch-ups between Germany and its neighbours Holland and Poland), whether German efficiency will suffer a blow in the eyes of the world with it all simply not being ready in time, the possibility of Al Qaeda attacks (with the memory of Munich 1972 still strong in many minds) and, sometimes in the same breath, how the poor chap who has to wander around in the 35kg costume of the mascot “Goleo” will cope in in-costume temperatures of up to 50°C! All in all, one doesn’t get the impression that anyone here is looking forward to it much if you just read the papers.


However, if you watch a TV commercial break or pop into your local supermarket, it’s quite a different story. Let’s take TV and radio first: if you watch a typical commercial break at the moment, you’ll be hard pushed to find a spot that doesn’t reference football in some way. On radio, it’s even worse. While many companies might think twice about producing a TV spot that they can only run for a couple of months, radio is quick and cheap in comparison. The other problem is that everybody – absolutely everybody – is leaping on the bandwagon. The official sponsors and those that have a logical connection to football or at least sport are all fair enough, but unfortunately everyone wants to play the game with connections that get spurioser and spurioser, to misquote Lewis Carroll.


The TV and radio breaks are bad enough but at least you can turn off or zap through them. What you can’t avoid doing for the next few weeks – unless you’re into Home Shopping, which, incidentally, hasn’t really caught on here – is do your shopping. I thought that you might be amused by just some of the products that are “available for a limited time only” from the local stores here. As well the stuff we all expect, like heavily discounted TV sets, football shirts (Germany, Brazil, Italy & Argentina – very rarely Holland or England!) and caps, goals and balls and flags, there are rather a lot of nasty novelties where one wonders what the people had been on in the innovation sessions where these were conceived:


The local bakers all seem to have got hold of baking tins that give rolls the appearance of a football and fast-food outlets such as Nordsee are using these as buns for some of their products.


As this is Germany, you can’t move for masses of specially produced beach towels with FIFA logos, maps of Germany, German flags and Goleo himself (so you can experience those 50°C temperatures yourself, I suppose.)


Salami in the shape of the World Cup itself or a football boot. Well, I suppose it could have been cheese, talking of which: slices of cheese with a footballer design in darker/orange cheese - I am the only one who finds a connection between football and cheese rather unsavoury, it seems!


A pack of 12 hard-boiled eggs coloured black (4), red (4) and yellow (4). This is called “Fanblock” which I suppose is what happens to your insides if you eat them all at once.


Lebkuchen made and coloured in football shapes and designs.


A “team” of 11 mini-Schnapps bottles in different fruit flavours, complete with a free whistle, presumably to call help when you can’t walk or speak properly any more after these.


A cake mix to bake a special “Fußballtorte” or Football cake.


But perhaps the overall prize for the nastiest idea should go to the deep-frozen 8 Fussball-Sushi, including a pair of chopsticks. These really are Sushi in the form of footballs and look so unappetizing that I think you’d need to drink the entire Schnapps team before even considering eating them!


I can’t really see anything improving in the next few weeks as the shops pile up more and more of this junk and compete with each other for the tackiest products and displays. In the meantime, I am going to keep a close eye out to see if anyone is actually buying any of this stuff but I have a nasty feeling that, once the final and the tournament is all over and the poor chap in the Goleo outfit climbs out of his furry sauna for the last time, then all these tacky products will still be sitting on the substitutes bench, or at least the discount corner, waiting in vain for their chance to shine.


Well, I didn’t see that coming ... Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden turned out to be a Sommermärchen - a Summer Fairytale. Italy won the thing, but the Germans - team and people won everyone’s hearts and third place. The best-organised World Cup ever. A month long festival of sunshine, football, optimism, family fun. People still talk about it with a misty-eyed reverence normally reserved for Woodstock or similar. 

Kaiser Franz is no longer with us, but I wonder how much of the golden memory will shine on when Germany host the Euros, kicking off in June.