A bit of a mini-trend that's been going on for a year or two is the idea of getting your DNA analysed. This plays into human narcissism, of course - certainly a step better than all those personality tests or getting your colours done or blood group analysis. And it's been used creatively, usually in the form of those 'social experiments' where a tough, shaven-headed and tattooed bloke with nationalist leanings is horrified to find some of his ancestors coming from the Indian sub-continent (for example.)
But now this trend has been used in what may be one of my favourite TV spots of the year so far, for one of my favourite brands - Marmite. In a wonderful piece of not-quite-science, The Marmite Gene Project has taken cheek swabs from over 250 individuals to try and find if there are genetic markers for loving or hating the gunky savoury stuff.
To the sounds of Elgar's Nimrod, we have a collection of characters - the expectant new parents, the stroppy teenager, the nervous young man, the affronted wife and many more - reacting to the results and those of their nearest and dearest. Beautifully acted, some lovely observation and a bit of a mickey-take of all those po-faced 'social experiment' ads.
It makes me proud to be British. Thank you, Marmite and Adam & Eve/DDB.
Now, the clever trick here is this: the agency didn't latch onto a random piece of pop culture and force-fit it into the brand, or try and 'claim it.'
What they have done is to start with the brand truth and show and tell this in a fresh new way using current pop culture.
As the deluge outside continues, and Autumn winds bash incessantly at my office window, I thought I'd write a short post about one of my favourite ideas from this summer.
The team that dreamed this one up are Wickes DIY, Skin Cancer Charity Skcin and agency Iris. The idea is to raise skin cancer awareness in the construction industry through a new product, Tradesman's Suncream.
There's a wonderful insight behind this, combining a fact with a bit of target-group psychology:
Construction workers are particularly high-risk for skin cancer, but many don't use suncream because they're afraid of their mates taking the mick.
The solution is beautifully simple: suncream in paint pots , with variants Apprentice White, Plasterer's Pink and Brickie's Bronze.
Stores were used for events and UV skin checks.
It's a winning combination of ingredients: clever insight, a smart idea that's more than communication - and ultimately does good.
But unfortunately, it's now too late to collect a free pot from your local store: Summer's over.
With the hurricanes bashing America, the catalogue of terrorist attacks and the fighting talk between Mr Trump and North Korea, it's all too easy to get depressed about the future of the human race. And hot off the press is the CAF World Giving Index, which shows a decrease across the globe of the % of people claiming to help a stranger, donate money to charity or volunteer time. More bad news.
I read a fascinating article in The Guardian a few weeks back, which looks in detail at the 'New Optimists' - a group of academics and commentators who take the fact-based view that, actually, if you look at it longer-term, life for the human race is improving as a whole. Diseases are being eliminated, child mortality is down, literacy is is on the up, there's less poverty and so on. I've blogged before about Hans Rosling, one of the key figures in this group.
The article gives the New Optimists' main argument for why people are nevertheless pessimistic and fearful for the future: it's an evolutionary one to do with survival. If your default setting is that there's a wild beast about to jump on you and gobble you up, you're more likely to survive long-term than if you take the view that gobbly wild beasts are the stuff of fairy tales.
The author makes a point towards the end of the article that these long-term, objective fact-based views are all well and good, but unfortunately all of us, as human beings are prone to being selfish, childish, egotistical, and emotion can take over from the sensible 'view from outer space' in the heat of the moment. Why should I care about infant mortality in the third world when I've just lost my job?
I agree - happiness works through the specific, the personal. Much as we may mean it when we say 'I'm really happy for you' to a friend, in our heart of hearts, we know our own feelings of happiness are so much more intense. When we use facts and stats in brand communication, it is important, too, to allow for personal relevance. How does that connect with me, and how I feel? Getting to the human beings behind the statistics may sound like a cliche, but it has been said loud and often for a reason.
Another thing about joy, and happiness is that it only exists when we have also experienced the opposite. As human beings we need melancholy, sadness, fear and the rest of the so-called negative emotions.
Only then do our lives - and the world - start making sense.
We live in Hessen, but not far at all from the border with Bavarian - a matter of about 10km, I think. But this is not deepest Bavaria as in absolutely everyone in lederhosen and hats with shaving brushes attached, but rather what is known as Franconia or Frankenland. It's that part of Germany which lies neatly on the beer/wine border on the above map, and it happens that our near neighbours are rather good at both. The map, incidentally, is one of 18 stereotypical maps of Europe from Spain-based Bulgarian Yanko Tsvetkov. Well worth a look, but please don't take them too seriously!
One brand that seems to have been omnipresent in our lives this summer is Schlappeseppelbeer:
Maybe it's because my son is now also legally allowed to drink (is Germany the only country in the world where you're allowed to buy alcohol at 16?) so the house is full of crates of the stuff, or maybe because every village Fest we've attended seems to be sporting sunshades/umbrellas from the beer brand.
Schlappeseppel is a great name to pronounce even if you have had a few, and is another beer brand that features what appears to be a child on its logo, which all adds to the charm. It originated in the Lower Franconian capital of Aschaffenburg amidst a story involving the 30 Years' War, the King of Sweden and a lame soldier named Joseph, which is where the name hails from, if all the hokum can be believed.
I believe that the brand's success has to do with its unashamed appeal to authenticity, roots and tradition while being promoted in a 21st century way. The slogan translates to 'on/in everyone's lips for hundreds of years' and the website offers all manner of amusing gifts from felt slippers to Skat cards.
The first time I remember seeing a laptop was in a meeting at P&G Brussels, in the early 90s. I was horrified. And I felt somewhat inadequate, as the woman using it could type properly. And fast. Since then, of course, laptops in meetings have become the norm, although I must admit that I am still old school with my notebooks. In fact, I'd rather be without my laptop in a meeting than without my notebook.
I am pleased to see that paper notebooks have had something of a renaissance in the last few years. Where I used to have to slip into the stationary store and buy something designed for schoolchildren, the choice of notebooks is endless these days. And you can get them at stations, airports, supermarkets - even TKMaxx. Joe Gebbia of Airbnb claims to have written his original idea for the platform in a paper notebook.
Paper notebooks are back in vogue in the same way that we see ebook sales slowing in favour of paper again. They are more tactile, more individual, more intimate. You can doodle. You can embellish. You can create. Notebooks have become objects of desire and design. Moleskine is the obvious example, and look at my current favourites here from Penguin.
By setting a price point that's more than a normal book, Penguin et al imbue blank paper with value.
But as with all the analogue vs. digital wars, it has become clear that 'winning' comes through collaboration, through the intersections, whether it is between bricks and mortar and e-commerce, or paper and bytes. Not only are Moleskine (for example) collaborating with Evernote, but apparently on Twitter and Instagram their are whole groups dedicated to the photographing and sharing of their pen, ink and paper notebooks.
When I was running a department and recruiting new planners, I was usually more interested in how they thought than what they knew. Of course, an interest in advertising, brands and people as well as a reasonable level of numeracy and comfort with statistics were basic essentials. But what really made people stand out was their ability for fresh thinking: analysis, synthesis and creative thought in general.
I recently saw a list of super tips on the Account Planning Facebook page to get your brain ticking away, thinking like a planner. The list comes from Mark Pollard, who is an Australian planner working in New York:
Career secret - if you think for a living, here are ten easy ways to practice thinking things:
1. In your mind, re-caption the first 10 photos you see in your Instagram feed. Give the photos new meaning.
2. In one day, eavesdrop on 5 conversations and write down 1 interesting exchange from each.
3. Watch your favourite Ted talk 3 times and break it down into sections on index cards - understand the 3-act arc and techniques at play.
4. Take two disconnected things - your favourite dessert and novel - and force yourself to write down 5 things they have in common.
5. Ask a barista to tell you something about the world that you probably don't know.
6. Watch stand-up comedy or read a poem and write down 3 insights.
7. Take a recent presentation and challenge yourself to only use pictures to make the same points - find the pictures.
8. Open your favourite novel, write out the first page then rewrite it in your own words.
9. Interview a stranger.
10. Read relevant research then go for a two-hour walk without writing equipment and devices and think about the 3 main ideas you found in the research.
These have obvious application as workshop warm-ups or interview tasks, but I think they can also be applied to cracking a brief or writing a strategy or solving a business problem. I have the feeling that good planners do a lot of this kind of thinking intuitively, without the formal 'oh, let's look in the toolbox and see which trick I can use ...'
There was some criticism on the Facebook page along the lines that this is 'fluffy' and not impressive in the boardroom, but surely the point is that you don't need to bore people with your working as to how you came to your brilliant idea. And you can back it up with all the statistics and technical tricks that you think people need to buy into it.
A few years back, I invested in the heavy tome above: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World of Crisis. I started reading the book with good intentions, and I did get a good way into this history of human civilization, the evolution of empathy and where we might be going. Can we achieve global empathy before we self-destruct and take the planet with us? An even more pertinent question today, perhaps, than when the book was published in 2010.
I'm ashamed to say that I got stuck, and stopped reading. I wasn't bored, nor was it too much for me. Blame it on my 21st century attention span if you like. Other things simply took over. It's not to say I won't take it up again someday, but for the moment the heavy tome remains on the shelf.
Since then, empathy has become a marketing buzz word. Even more so in the last year, when marketeers have become aware of their filter bubbles and we're seeing initiatives such as that of Ogilvy: Get Out There. Nothing wrong with going back to the roots of what market research and planning is all about, I suppose, but the article at least is phrased in some most non-empathetic terms. 'Planning in the wild' - suggesting that the people the planners are going to talk to would rather tear them limb from limb and gobble them up than give them their views. 'Real people' - as opposed to - what?
There is now an agency dedicated to 'transforming the world of business through empathy'. They are called The Empathy Business and are an evolution of an outfit known as Lady Geek, who championed women in IT and technology.
They define Corporate Empathy as follows:
We define corporate empathy, not compassion or sympathy, as the emotional impact a company has on its people -staff and customers- and society-the next generation.
And true to the new business tool requirement these days (as in Meaningfulness Index, Simplicity Index, Sustainability Index) they have an Empathy Index, based (I assume) on a model with the convenient but slightly cringeworthy acronym EMBRACE which lays out the aspects of Empathy.
This does make a lot of sense, but I do wonder whether empathy should be a pre-requisite for anyone working in communications rather than something that we have to discover and learn.
Surely the ability to stand in someone else's shoes and see the world - or just a brand - from their point of view is simply the starting point of what makes a good planner - or creative?
When I was little, I wanted to be a spy. I got off to a good start, studying Psychology at Trinity College, Cambridge but somehow got side-tracked into the wonderful world of advertising and marketing.
My children's books: