Monday, 22 May 2017

Thank you and you and you and you and you and you and you

How can a company with thousands of employees around the world recognise the work and commitment they put in? Of course, at the local level, it's up to immediate bosses and colleagues to say thank you and make gestures that acknowledge what people do.

And in these days, of course, technology allows companies to make gestures on a global level, while still recognising the contribution of each individual. I'm impressed with the 'Big Thank You' event that Delta ran over the weekend - a 50 hour Facebook Live Marathon to thank each of its 80,000 employees, whose names were read out by a cast of celebrities, along with stories and entertainment for the course of the weekend.

This is the second year that Delta has said 'Thank You' on an epic scale. Last year they got themselves into the Guinness World Records with a 50 foot tall Thank You card - see above.

I guess you could argue that the money spent on these events could go straight into the pay packets instead. But I'm not sure anyone would notice, let alone remember for years to come.

And a couple of dollars extra in the pay packet is unlikely to get you into the Fortune Top 100 Companies to work for.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Make 'em laugh

A week later, and I'm still on my soapbox about humour (or lack of) in advertising. I read a super piece by Paul Burke in Campaign entitled No laughing matter: Why Advertising isn't funny anymore. The guilty are all called out and charged, from the Client to Sir Martin Sorrell and his bean counters, from Tony Blair to the Creative Department. Well worth reading: even if advertising isn't funny anymore, this article is, particularly the paragraph with the ghastly client marketing-speak.

One potential culprit, or group of culprits not mentioned in the article, are what we used to call target audiences. The people 'out there.' With social media, the stereotype of 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' (usually a retired colonel) has been replaced by a whole army of militant social justice warriors, just waiting to spring onto your ad from Twitter, Mumsnet, Facebook, you name it, and give it a good savaging. Advertisers and agencies live in fear of causing offence and outrage. 'All publicity is good publicity' has its limits. It's one thing upsetting a stuffy retired colonel, but quite another offending an entire generation.

But I question: are the new audiences lacking in humour? Do they take a masochistic delight in ads 'making them cry?' I'm not sure. There's still plenty of humour around. But I feel sometimes that it's only the medium that's changed. Youngsters used to tell jokes in the playground, that they'd heard on TV, or through word of mouth. Now they flick through 9gag. And maybe show their mate if it's particularly funny. But the jokes haven't really changed. There's stuff on there that I remember from my schooldays, and that's going back.

20 years ago, it was cool for creative people to be finding inspiration on the internet. But, as I've said before, we've gone from surfing to stumbling to being fed as far as the internet goes. I think - and hope - that there's a huge opportunity for brands and the creative people who work on them to reclaim humour. Fresh, new humour that fits to the brand and comes from observation of life out there, not rehashed old chestnuts from the internet.

I'm convinced that people are even more well-disposed towards a brand that can make them laugh as one that makes them cry.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

When did ads get so po-faced?

I'm afraid that the words 'social experiment' in connection with advertising now have me running for the hills - or at least the fridge for a nice cool beer. Although it's not even safe there any more.

The latest ad for Heineken is over 4 minutes long, and is called 'Worlds Apart.' It takes two strangers who - unknown to them - have opposing views on political, social or environmental issues. The pair are given a task - to build some furniture together - and find out what they have in common. The big reveal then comes up and the hapless victims/actors stars then have a chance to walk away or sit down, have a beer and discuss their differences.

It would be churlish to dislike this ad. It's well-done, and it does kind of hit on a truth - sit down and put the world to rights over a pint - that's as old as those hills I was about to run to. Maybe it even draws something from Heineken campaigns of yore: Only Heineken can do this? My favourite part is at 3'40"

I guess that I'm no longer in the target audience for Heineken. When I was, back in the 80s, Heineken ads were brilliant. They were like this:

Brilliant, silly, unrealistic, and completely irresponsible (if you were to take them seriously.)

I still remember them through over thirty years' beer fuddle today.

Maybe young people these days are more serious, more responsible. Maybe the brewers have their hands tied, their mouths gagged against making outrageous claims.

But how realistic, exactly, is 'Worlds Apart?'

Would such pairs of people ever really come together, outside of a 'social experiment?' Or would they continue to rant forth to their social media followers in their echo chamber?

Would any of these people even find a pub to go and sit in and put the world to rights in the UK?

Personally, I prefer this new ad from Carlsberg. Probably.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Octogenarian Flaneuse

I do love a work of fiction about advertising and ad people, and recently enjoyed Kathleen Rooney's Lillian Boxfish takes a Walk. Before I get onto my review, the way I came upon this novel is also worth a mention. It was recommended by my long-lost pen pal from the US, who used the wonders of technology to seek me out and renew our correspondence after a gap of decades. One of the nicest surprises of the last year or so for me! Anyway, that's a whole other story.

The fictional Lillian Boxfish describes her career thus:

I wanted there to be something to do in life besides mate and reproduce and die, and advertising was that, or it was for a long while.

And here's what I thought of the story:

'Before Mad Men (and Woman), there was Lillian Boxfish, or in real life, Margaret Fishback, the 'world's highest-paid female advertising copywriter' in the 1930s. This book is somewhere between fact and fiction, taking the poetry and advertisements written by Margaret Fishback, plus some of the details of her career and private life, and weaving a fictional character, the sparky and spunky Lillian Boxfish, around them.

Being a fan of walking around cities and having worked in the advertising industry, I was charmed by the premise of this book, in which the elderly but sprightly Lillian takes a walk (in her mink coat) around New York on New Year's Eve, 1984, conversing with the various characters she meets while reflecting on her colourful life. She's a wonderful character, witty and acerbic, and it made a change to have to look up quite a few words in the dictionary while reading. Lillian remarks on how her long-copy ads, often in the form of verse, respected the intelligence of the reader, and I did wonder what she would have made of some of the dumbed-down advertising of today.

The book captures the sights, smells and sounds of Manhattan from the Jazz Age right through to the 1980s beautifully - the fire escapes, warehouses, smell of burnt toast, Italian restaurants - as well as the characters: not just the ad men and women, but taxi drivers, barmen, street gangs and shopkeepers.

*Slight spoiler alert* I was slightly disappointed with the last part of the story, which started to feel a little phoney and stretched credibility somewhat. For those who have read the book, I'm referring to what felt like a sequence out of 'Crocodile Dundee' which grated a little.

Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed Lillian's reflections and observations on life, and the insight into advertising, writing and life.'

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Mommy Me

Dove. The brand that kicked off a million 'Purpose Campaigns', some better conceived than others. Marketing people still cite Dove as the Grandmommy of all purpose campaigns, so it's not surprising that all eyes are on the brand when it makes its next move.

Well, Dove has had a baby. Called, unsurprisingly, Baby Dove. So far so good. And to extend the idea of empowering (women) and building self-confidence that the mother brand has, the brand communication is focussing around the idea Trust Your Way. There are no perfect moms. Only #RealMoms. At first glance, a logical extension of an idea that'll probably strike a chord. There can't be a mother alive who hasn't felt pressure from friends, relatives, society to do things in a certain way.

Here's the US launch ad:

This, apparently, sets out to 'shatter stereotypes about motherhood.' Hmm. I wouldn't go that far. Some would describe it as 'heart-warming'. I'm afraid I'd put it in the wallpaper category, with its patchwork of different moms, straight out of 21st Century Diversity Central Casting.

For the UK launch, Baby Dove went for something more controversial. A poster at Waterloo Station asking the question 'Is there a perfect mum' with the visual of a Stepford-Wife-style mother and baby.  The twist was that this image was revealed to be that of an AI-generated woman rather than a real (albeit retouched) photo - that is, a woman who does not really exist. This was all done to provoke debate. You can read about it here.

I'm not sure how much debate was provoked. I only know that if I'd caught sight of that image as a sleep-deprived mum in a hurry to get somewhere, I would probably have merely been irritated and later, felt rather stupid if I read that it was all a marketing trick. And, indeed, I question why Waterloo Station was used. Because of the large numbers of new mums who happen to be passing through, with or without their babies? I think not.

Then we get onto the next subject. Dads. There are one or two references to Dads on the Baby Dove website, but only one or two. Doesn't it make sense in the 21st Century to acknowledge that more and more young fathers take paternity leave?

And finally, isn't this all a bit 'me' focussed? What about the babies? Years ago, when I worked on Pampers and later on Hipp, we learned that mums aren't really interested in other mums. They are interested in babies, and their baby in particular. They're fascinated by their little miracle, how he or she grows and develops, and they're thirsty for information. While I worked on Pampers, the whole advertising direction changed from a focus on Expert Moms to Learning from Babies.

But maybe the new parents of the Millennial generation are different.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Useless, hopeless, rubbish and crap

I've commented before about this rather annoying tendency, and I'm going to comment again.

Why do so many people in the creative industries boast about not being good at maths? Or something like physics, come to that. It's not even - oh, I was better at English/History/Art and my maths was OK - oh, no! To do the true boast you have to say you were useless, hopeless, terrible, rubbish or totally crap at maths. And add a little grin or chuckle.

How many people in those professions would want to own up to being bloody dreadful at reading or writing? And, apart from slinging a few insults at the duller and more obscure aspects of grammar, who wants to boast about being a complete dud at English? Not many.

This tendency has long been commented on, for example in C.P.Snow's lecture The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. In this passage, Snow remarks on the (literary) intellectuals who bemoan the illiteracy of scientists:

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?”

I would certainly never employ a planner who claimed to be crap at maths. Or an account manager, brand manager or even a creative. Except in a few rare cases, everyone can be OK at maths. It just requires a bit of work, like everything else. I wouldn't want anyone working for me who had no feel for numbers and statistics and what meaning one can find in them. Or who was deliberately clueless  about how much of our world today works - money and markets, algorithms, Google - you name it.

Quite apart from the fact that maths trains the mind in puzzle-solving, in a particular way of thinking.

Having said all that, there is hope. A lot of those 'useless at maths' people can be spotted solving Sudoko puzzles. And not being so bad at it at all.  

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Nutty campaign idea

Co-creation has to be one of the marketing community's absolute favourite buzzwords since media became social. It can be done well, of course, but all too often it ends up being terribly worthy and simply ticking all the 'correct' boxes.

The reality of most customer reviews is that they're minimal and rather unremarkable. But I was amused to see a campaign for Emerald Nuts that neatly turns this unremarkableness on its head. Thinking out of the shell?

The agency trawled through the customer reviews for the brand and found one that's typical, slightly odd, and consists of the 'two most positive words ever' - Yes, good.

And the following campaign is the result:

This campaign appeals to me for the same reasons as Mail Shrimp. No deep insights, no Pepsi-style trying to save the world. Because, as I've been reminded in this article, advertising is predominantly there to sell stuff.

Good though it is, I fear that encouraging people to join in and write their own reviews for Emerald Nuts may fall flat, though.

Once people know they might be used in advertising, they go all self-conscious.