The Piccadilly Lights have to be my all time favourite outdoor advertising site. As a teenager, the Claes Oldenburg picture above was one of my favourite art works, and possibly one influence that drew me into advertising as a career.
What I love about the Piccadilly Lights is the combination of tradition and innovation, and the way this advertising site reflects the changing social, cultural and technological landscape.
The first illuminated sign in the area appeared over a century ago - for Perrier, in 1908.
In the 1930s, neon technology took over, with signs for brands such as Bovril, Schweppes and the first appearance of the famous Guinness clock.
Coca Cola first appeared in 1954, and in the 1960s, brands such as BP, Skol, Players and Cinzano had their names in lights. Here's a picture from the early 70s.
By the 80s, tech brands had taken over largely from food and drink, although McDonald's first appeared in 1987. Here's a scene from 1985.
Not all these tech brands are still with us, and as their fortunes changed, so did technology itself. In the 1990s, the lights began to go digital, and in the new millennium, LED displays came to the fore.
The Piccadilly Lights will relaunch in late 2017 as 'the largest single digital screen in Europe' aka 'The Curve.' Participating brands will include Coca Cola, Samsung and four more. The digital LED screen will be able to do all sorts of nifty stuff - real time, co-creation, social media and all the rest.
As my last post before Christmas, to get into the right spirit, I thought I'd show you a rather charming piece of branded content from bygone years - the spirit of Christmas Past, if you like.
The first excuse I need to make about Gordon's Recipes for Cocktails and other Mixed Drinks is that it refuses to go digital. The little booklet has a spine as stiff as a subaltern's upper lip, and I'm certainly not going to destroy it through flattening on the scanner. It has survived (I'd estimate) sixty odd years, so that doesn't seem quite right.
It may be a little book, but it has a Big Attitude, as we'd say these days. If anyone wants to learn anything about Brand Voice, look no further:
We should, therefore, like to emphasize the fact that, to obtain the desired results, GORDON'S LONDON GIN and no other products must be used where mentioned. No other brand would be 'just as good'
When calling for your favourite Cocktail or other Gin drinks at your Club, Hotel or Bar, always specify 'With GORDON'S GIN,' ...
The little book is full of recipes, should you wonder how to make the perfect Gimlet, Gin & It or Singapore Sling. In addition, there are some delightful pictures of the product range:
No-one could accuse Gordon's of not moving with the times, either. There is even a recipe for a 'Television Special'. I wonder if the company employed an army of Trend Scouts and Insight Miners to come up with this one?
I'll end, as the little Gordon's book does, with a toast:
A TOAST "Here's a toast to all who are here, No matter where you are from: May the best day you have ever seen Be worse than your worst to come"
Do you remember the first time you went on the internet, meaning the www? I was thinking about this the other day, and I came to the rather sad conclusion that I remember it no clearly than the first time I saw TV. Maybe there are people who recall exactly which site it was, and when they did it, and the sense of wow and awe and everything else, but for me it seems to have been something of a non-event. Ditto email. Here, I can only remember impossibly long and unmemorable email addresses composed mainly of digits. It all seemed a dreadful faff compared to picking up a phone.
This must have been mid-90s at some point, although I have no idea whether it was '95 or '96, or even '94. I suspect '95, as I'm pretty sure that by the time I came to Germany, I even had an email address on my business card. Anyway, it was over 20 years ago, that's for sure.
Although I was probably 'early majority' rather than 'early adopter', I do have a pang of nostalgia for those early days. From a design point of view, the last-century websites already have an Olde Worlde charm - just take a look at some of these, including TheFacebook, Ask Jeeves, AT&T and Yahoo!
Even more fascinating are the 'antiquated websites that still exist in their natural state' - for these, have a look at the wonderful collection on 404pagefound . It's a great name for a great site, started in 2009 by Tim Katlic and dedicated to the survivors of Web 1.0 - news sites, games, graphics, academic sites, all in their blue hyperlink, Comic Sans, black background glory!
The number of websites leapt from around 100,000 in 1996 to around 1m in 1997, and I'm grateful to Mr Katlic for his work in excavating some of those still active.
I do wonder what websites will look like in 20 years, if they still exist. Will we be talking about a post-internet world already?
It's been a while since I wrote about sausages, and every time I see my blog title it's a little reminder that I should find something sausagey. So here we are - a great British brand, the man behind it and a special message for Christmas.
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones bought his farm on the Devon/Cornwall borders in 1999, following a successful career as a TV producer and director. The locals who helped him while starting out inevitably referred to him as 'The Black Farmer,' so when Mr Emmanuel-Jones had an idea for a sausage brand for those with coeliac disease (and anyone else who fancied tasty gluten-free sausages, produced with the RSPCA's assurance), this was the natural choice for the brand name.
A brave brand name, which reflects the character of its founder. The TV ad above was a co-operation with the legendary Tony Kaye, and is quite unlike any sausage commercial ever seen before, with its mix of music, poetry, flamenco, Morris dancing - and bangers.
The product range has extended beyond sausages to meatballs, burgers, chicken, bacon, eggs and cheese. In addition, Emmanuel-Jones set up The Black Farmer Scholarship to encourage young people from inner cities and ethnic minorities into farming.
The Black Farmer has so many of the qualities of a great brand: uniqueness, integrity and attitude a-plenty: 'I am black, red, white and blue.' 'I will not be confined by race, convention or tradition.'
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones has had leukaemia in recent years. The treatment has - ironically - destroyed his skin pigmentation in places. But for this Christmas, he has produced another extraordinary TV ad, this time to help raise funds for the charity Hope for Tomorrow, who provide mobile chemotherapy so people can get treatment closer to home.
Coming to your TV screens - I believe - just after the Queen's speech.
I was amused (and a little dismayed) to read Charles' Vallance's perceptive piece in Campaign recently - Trends aren't trendy any more.Starting with the story of the hipster trendspotter who wouldn't bother interviewing Brexit voters as they "... don’t set trends, they tend to be older. They’re less experimental and don’t live in London," the article examines the rather "untrendy" but clearly happening trend of social conservatism. This mass trend underlies movements in politics and society from the knitting revival to the election of Donald Trump. I've already blogged about why the polls got the Brexit vote so badly wrong, and I think exactly the same dynamic happened in the US election. We don't learn. The article addressed a number of things that have been puzzling me recently: 1. The tendency for people who work with brands and in consultancies to put their heads in the sand (or ignore the elephant in the room - choose whichever overworked African wildlife cliche you prefer) when it comes to what really drives and motivates people - the majority of everyday people, mainstream people, if you like. Because it doesn't fit with their worldview. I am against Brexit, but that doesn't stop me wanting to find out why people think, feel and vote as they do. 2. Maybe worse than the first option is consultancies who recognise this trend, and then try and sugarcoat it so it does fit their worldview, which is exactly what Trendwatching have done. This consultancy, in their 5 Trends for 2017 has made the distinction between the 'New Global Citizens' and the 'Nation Nurturers'. This latter group, or trend (it's not really clear which) will 'favo(u)r a turn inwards, seeking solace in the familiar.' Which seems all very well, but brands are warned that 'branded displays of faux patriotism won't fool consumers for long.' Not sure. It will depend on who is defining what 'faux' is. 3. Having been a bit sniffy about Trendwatching and their slightly naive (or is it patronising?) attitude, I must say I enjoy reading their bulletins, and those from Springwise, as well as reading 1843 magazine. Here, I can step into a bright and shiny world of apps for everything, contactless payments, smart homes and reality in at least three variations on virtual. But then I go back to my car that's 10 years old and my 'new' iPhone which is an iPhone 5, and argue with my son about the pointlessness of Spotify for someone of my age who has as many CDs as I do. 4. When I started out in this business, we used to do Group Discussions (they weren't called Focus Groups then) in people's homes. These tended to be in very untrendy towns and suburbs at addresses that were almost impossible to find in those pre SatNav days. And I must admit I would often feel uncomfortable in those homes. There was no one-way mirror and soundproofing to hide behind and make snidey comments. As a junior from the client or agency, it was easier - you'd be passed off as the researcher's assistant and could sit there and help with the tape-recorder. But more senior clients had to be instructed on how to behave - take off their tie, don't arrive late, don't interrupt, don't snigger. Needless to say, you often heard opinions you didn't like. Not just about your brand, but about the world in general. The move from Group Discussions in suburban homes and face-to-face street interviews to the internet via research studios and telephone has meant that we have lost touch with the people who buy our brands. Yes, of course we can analyse Tweets and Instagram posts to see what people are saying about a brand or a market, but this is all what they choose to project, not what's really there. And if one thing has characterised this year in marketing for me, it's a leap forward in diversity and inclusion in some respects, but a huge step back in others. It seems these days, in the world of advertising and the media, that diversity of opinion is not welcome.
Seeing the rather splendid Wes Anderson Christmas Ad for H&M has reminded me yet again of how close the worlds of branded communication and entertainment have become. The current interest in storytelling, which I've blogged about here, shows no sign of abating, and, while I have some misgivings about the way storytelling is being pushed by naive and/or unscrupulous consultants, it's a subject which is close to my heart.
There's a good article in The Atlantic by John Yorke which poses the question of whether All stories are the same - and if so, why?
The article starts off with looking at the similarity of many story-lines: Avatar and Pocahontas, for example, or Jaws, Beowulf and Jurassic Park. My favourite that I always use is those three great 19th century novels - Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary and Effi Briest, along with the 20th century true story of Princess Diana - unhappy wife commits adultery and comes to a sticky end.
Story shapes and structures are remarkably similar. But is structure something that can and should be learned? Screen and novel-writing courses, and increasingly courses and services for brands and companies include a lot of theory about structure, narrative arcs, inciting incidents, heroes' journeys and all the rest. I have ploughed through Joseph Campbell myself, and it was a bit of a slog.
Some would argue that it's not necessary to learn all that stuff consciously, that it's better to assimilate it naturally through listening to, watching and reading plenty of stories yourself. I was at a school class of 10 and 11 year olds recently, and gave them a simple bit of theory about beginning, middle and end aka the 3-act structure. But I honestly don't think they needed it. All the short stories they produced had a shape, a structure, that made sense.
I belong in the camp not of rejecting all the theory outright, but of not getting too tangled up or constrained in it. The author of the article warns: 'It is all too tempting to reduce wonder to a scientific formula and unweave the rainbow.' Furthermore: 'all great artists ... have an understanding of the rules whether that knowledge is conscious or not.'
For anyone involved in telling brand stories, it's the same. Imagination, a way with words and pictures and an understanding of the brand - where it's come from and why it exists - as well as a big dose of human empathy will get you further than knowing what % of the way into the narrative the second inciting incident should come.
Once you know the rules, you can break them.
Now, get me on that train to the Grand Budapest Hotel!
With Black Friday and its antidote, Buy Nothing Day (which has been going since 1992), I thought I'd have a look at boycotting brands.
Despite the blah-blah about empowered consumers or prosumers or whatever they're called this week, people have been boycotting brands, companies and organisations for as long as Captain Charles Boycott (that's him above) gave his name to this particular form of protest. This was back in the 1880s, Boycott was a land agent and it all happened during the Irish 'Land War.' Captain Boycott was the subject or victim of boycotting, by the way.
Historical examples include the boycotting of Nestle over their unscrupulous marketing of infant formula in the 1970s, and also from that era, the boycotting of Barclays over their South African apartheid connections. No student worth their salt would have been seen dead banking at Barclays in the late 70s and early 80s. I blogged about these 'bad brands' here.
The spreadsheet also provides Trump-free alternatives to amazon, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Zappos and the rest. Full marks to the hashtag in terms of creativity, but none to the spreadsheet. Still, it's the thought that counts.
Boycotting brands is one way of expressing your distaste and making a protest. I read another article this week that shows that brands can also be used to spite your partner when relations aren't tip-top and rosy. I suppose it's similar to turning on your other half's least favourite music at top volume if you want to annoy them.
I'm sure there are a few US couples who agree about everything except politics. And, for every potential boycotter, there's probably a Trump supporter examining that spreadsheet in glee to see how they can further rub the nose of their better half in his victory.
Anyone who ever says that TV advertising is dead should just take a look at what happens in the UK - and other markets - at this time of year. The John Lewis Christmas ad, with its resulting discussions, polls and parodies, has become as much a part of the British advent tradition as Love, Actually on the TV.
And it's not just John Lewis. There's a shop-load of retailers out there all fighting it out over laughter and tears, and who can bag the most. Waitrose's homesick robin probably wins the Kleenex prize this year, while M&S have gone all-out on middle-aged girl power with Mrs Santa Claus. I have a sneaky suspicion that they probably wanted Emma Thompson for this role.
Now to the bad, sad, bizarre and ugly. Argos have speed-skating day-glo yetis, while Sainsbury's have got a cringemaking song and a tired-looking animation that ticks all the diversity boxes but failed to charm me. And finally, Aldi features an intrepid carrot called Kevin who is variously seen awaiting the John Lewis ad and clambering over a Christmas dinner that will be stone cold and congealing come Christmas Day. I think I prefer the seriously weird German Aldiadvertising.
The other thing that occurs to me about this yearly Christmas laughter-and-tears contest is that in some cases it smacks of fiddling while Rome burns. M&S along with a few other retailers are in serious financial trouble this year. Wouldn't their time and money be better spent improving their offer, experience and service?
But my favourite TV ad so far isn't for a retailer, it's a French ad for Milka directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The story of an advent calendar with more than a nod to H.G.Wells.
When I started in advertising, the work you did for causes and charities tended to be very different from the work you did for commercial clients. It's maybe one of the biggest - and most welcome - changes that I've seen in the nature of marketing: large corporations really are doing good business as well as big business.
For example, look at the brilliant idea from IKEA Norway, created by the agency POL, to raise money with the Red Cross. What could be more effective than stumbling across a replica of a Damascus apartment bang in the middle of all those cosy Scandinavian room settings?
One result of this change is that the causes and charities must also up their game when it comes to marketing. And it's gratifying to see them do so, borrowing ideas and imagery from the commercial world.
Marketing for poorly children used to look like this:
But look at this powerful ad for The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (colloquially known as SickKids). Using imagery and music straight from performance brands such as Nike, the spot redefines 'sick kids' as fighters and warriors, with a good dose of positive anger. Using real patients and workers at the hospital gives this a glorious feeling that yes, these Superheroes actually exist:
And finally, a topical one, which is also about rethinking and redefining. This time it's for the Royal British Legion, by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R.
Are these old soldiers' reminiscences? Think again:
I'm a big fan of WD-40. It's such an un-brandy brand, if you see what I mean. From its unlikely beginnings over 60 years ago (in missiles and rockets) to its technical but strangely memorable name (short for Water Displacement, 40th formula). And the product is useful in so many ways, some of which I probably haven't thought of yet.
It's totally in character for WD-40 to have a communication idea that's small-scale, neat, clever and utterly on the ball. The Haunted Door app (from BIMM Media, Toronto) is something that can lighten the tedium of Halloween for adults, while reminding you of the product benefit at the same time.
And nothing like a squirt of WD-40 to get rid of those Halloween make-up stains the day after.
Throughout my whole career in advertising - which now spans 4 decades (!) - debates come around again and again with the regularity of theories of 'How Advertising Works.' The 'Women in Advertising' debate is one such - not just the portrayal of women in ads, but the status of women in the industry.
The Kevin Roberts debacle this summer stirred the debate again, and got me thinking about my experience as a woman and a mother in the industry. Maybe it's because I am a bit longer in the tooth than the average in what is a notoriously 'young' industry, or maybe people have short memories, but I notice that the players in each new wave of the debate seem to think they're the first to raise the subject. For example, there a well-reasoned and thoughtful article this week in Campaign by Nicola Kemp, but at some point it references 'Back in 2014, when the conversation about the lack of women in senior positions was just getting started.' In fact, while I was at Saatchis, in 1990, our then Head of Planning, Marilyn Baxter, was commissioned by the IPA to undertake a study as to why so few women were in top management roles in ad agencies:
I remember the study highlighting the woeful lack of women generally in UK creative departments, which was related to the extreme laddish/macho culture of the time. Ten years later, Debbie Klein updated the study. In 2000, her findings were rather more positive. Women in advertising were optimistic about opportunities for the future. Women made up half of ad agency staff, and compared to FTSE 100 companies, were four times as likely to reach a board position.
But since then, I've found references to reports that suggest that, although the 50:50 split of employees is there, the % of women in senior management is only creeping up slowly - 20% in 2009, 22.4% in 2011 and 25% in 2014.
The Nicola Kemp article rightly focusses on motherhood and paints a picture familiar to many women in advertising. All is well and good until you have children. Unless you are extremely lucky to work for an enlightened agency, or you take the decision to leave the upbringing of your children to your partner, or maybe a series of nannies, you are likely to meet what's described as 'toxic environment.'
And what's particularly alarming for agencies is that client companies are far more on the ball when it comes to flexibility for working parents.
I don't like to be cynical, but I do wonder if, as long as agencies keep up their 'working relatively young (cheap) people all hours of the day and night to keep the client happy' business model, things will not change for mums in advertising.
And the agencies will miss out on a wealth of insight and wisdom - and potentially great creative ideas.
I spent last weekend in Munich - which involved rather a lot of beer, and sport, but also a good amount of strolling around the city. In comparison to Berlin, or Frankfurt, it's noticeable just how many huge, grand buildings stand around every corner. And there's something about brands that hail from Munich that's similarly grand, pompous even. Even if Google, Facebook and amazon are leading the world today in terms of brand value, there is something insubstantial about their very nature.
Will they really be around in 100 years?
The three Mächtige Marken that dominate Munich are all centenarians.
There's Allianz, whose massive Arena has dominated the city since 2005. Allianz itself was founded in 1890, and is No. 51 in Interbrand's Top 100 brands by value - and growing at an impressive +12%.
Of course, you can't talk about the Allianz Arena without mentioning FC Bayern München, founded a decade later, in 1900. I often think brands have a lot to learn from sports teams - certainly when it comes to fans and loyalty. I visited the FCB Erlebniswelt - an absolutely up-to-date immersive experience and museum celebrating the story (so far) of the club.
Then we come to a modern-day version of one of those pompous Munich palaces: BMW's 'Four Cylinder' building above. BMW is the relative youngster of the three, celebrating 100 years this year. This brand is No. 11 in the world, according to Interbrand, and continuing in double-figure growth despite the doom and gloom about urbanisation and young people not buying cars any more.
There were enough young people milling around BMW World and the museum - temples to the past, present and future of BMW cars and motorcycles, as well as Mini and Rolls Royce.
And this is the key to the success, and longevity of these proud and powerful brands. Strength from heritage and a focus clearly on the future.
This Autumn, both Aldi and Lidl have launched noticeable new campaigns. But these couldn't be further apart in terms of approach.
Lidl is making the most of the fact that they have always stocked a certain number of brands as well as their own brand. And with Aldi taking on more and more brands (they used to only stock one of two, such as Haribo, but they've now got some biggies, like Nivea and Pampers) this is perhaps timely. The new campaign for Lidl is very simple, very hard-hitting: You have the choice. Strong brands and strong own labels. The advertising idea is a direct comparison of price - for example 15 iglo (aka Bird's Eye) fish fingers for €2.89 or 15 Ocean Sea (Lidl) fish fingers for €1.59.
In some cases, the branded product costs double that of Lidl, but the point is that the choice is yours, and Lidl stock both.
Meanwhile, over at Aldi, there's a completely different sort of campaign going on. This is not as grubby and straightforward as talking about price, but is on a much loftier level. The campaign idea is Einfach is mehr('simple is more'). The website, posters, films and brochure are all full of philosophical musing about how our life has become too complex, how children smile more often than grown-ups because they don't need much to be happy, how we need more simplicity in our lives.
There's a cooperation with a rapper, Fargo, who has released a song on this topic, and, yes, you can buy the T-Shirt, too. And if that wasn't enough, there's yet another platform or website or something, Einfach. Ganz. Ichwhere you can sign up for all manner of training videos, expert tips, recipes and all the rest.
This route is backed up by Aldi's principles. For example, life should be simple: you don't need 9 kinds of lemons. The range in Aldi stores is limited, and everything is so cheap you can't make a bad choice.
But, much as I agree that the world is too complex and a lot of people have forgotten what simplicity means, I don't think Aldi is the solution. Aldi, if anything, increases complexity by its time-limited offers, which are usually things one doesn't actually need but feels never-the-less compelled to rush out to the store early on Monday or Thursday to snap them up before anyone else does. While you don't need 9 kinds of lemons, you may well have a favourite brand that Aldi don't stock, and have to make an extra trip to get that.
Admirable though the initiative is, I don't think Aldi is at all credible as the sender. And despite best attempts to do otherwise, the campaign has a distinct 'finger-pointing' feel to it.
So, who will win the duel of the discounters? My money is on Lidl.
My price or yours?
1. Coca Cola 1. Apple
2. Microsoft 2. Google
3. IBM 3. Coca Cola
4. GE 4. Microsoft
5. Intel 5. Toyota
6. Nokia 6. IBM
7. Toyota 7. Samsung
8. Disney 8. amazon
9. McDonald's 9. Mercedes-Benz
10. Mercedes-Benz 10. GE
11. Citi 11. BMW
12. Marlboro 12. McDonald's
13. Hewlett-Packard 13. Disney
14. American Express 14. Intel
15. BMW 15. Facebook
As is my wont, I've categorised these brands into the sign of four:
Winners - huge value and rank gain
It's GAFA! (Now that we don't have Brangelina any more there's a new compound noun ...)
Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon
Staying Around - impressive growth, rank held/gain
Samsung, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Toyota
Slippers - lost rank, small/moderate growth
McDonald's, Disney, Microsoft, Intel, Coca Cola
Losers - lost value and rank
American Express, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, GE, Citi, Nokia, Marlboro
I'm pleased to see a couple of classic German brands holding their own in the tables. But where are the Brits? Uh-oh ...
In previous posts, I've mentioned one or two of my favourite brand characters, such as the Michelin Man, and Mr Peanut, the Planter's character. Brand mascots or characters enjoyed quite a vogue in the first two thirds of the last century. And you can see why - a well-chosen character could encapsulate your brand values in a highly memorable and flexible form. The character could appear on the packaging, on billboards and metal signs, on promotional giveaways, on the radio and TV - and even make real life appearances.
Of course, the danger with brand characters is that they may become irrelevant, or even objectionable, as has happened with this little fellow:
In today's world, you would not assign your character a specific religion, as is the case with this chap:
Or associate him with a politically-incorrect sport:
Human and humanoid characters invariably become in need of a fashion update - at least according to the latest brand manager - although one may look back at 80s hairstyles and wish you'd left the characters in the timeless past somewhere.
Sometimes, the idea of the character survives, while the actual physical form becomes more symbolic, as has happened with Johnnie Walker's Walking Man (who I used to confuse with Force Flakes' Sunny Jim as a child. Luckily I didn't confuse the products!)
In the last few months, two characters who first appeared in the 1950s have had a revamp. KFC (founded in 1952 by Colonel Harland Sanders) has announced a rehaul of the brand under the banner 'Re-Colonelization.' It's a kind of back to the roots re-invention, with a push for quality and attention to detail: "The Hard Way") as well as various actors and comedians personifying the Colonel himself.
And another brand icon who hails from 1952 has been imbued with 'animatronic swagger', whatever that may be. Kellogg's Tony the Tiger is motivating tweenage kids to 'Let your Gr-r-reat Out' and think/act 'Like a Tiger.' As well as bearing some relation to what Nike and Always are doing, this was, of course a motivational technique deployed by Henry V, if Shakespeare is to be believed. Nice film, good sentiment, but not terrrrrrrribly original, I fear.
You can understand what these brands are trying to do. Decades-old brand characters do carry a potential richness of goodwill and positive association which it would be careless to lose.
Newer brands don't have this opportunity. The vogue for brand characters dwindled in the later years of the last century. In some ways it was 'Digital and Global killed the Brand Character'. Trying to create a new character who is understandable and acceptable to all, yet represents the brand's uniqueness, is not so easy these days. We have to think too much: just look at some of the truly dreadful creatures that have been spawned as mascots for the Olympic Games, or the World Cup, in recent years and you'll see what I mean.
But maybe, with the rise of grass roots local brands, the whole thing will go full circle again. Generally animals seem a better bet than human/oids as they don't need updating. I'll leave you with another of my all-time favourite brand mascots: Nipper.
I wrote a post a little while ago about creativity, and particularly how the incubation phase, where 'nothing appears to be happening' can be much enhanced by a walk outside, or a 'slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day', as Helmholtz put it.
I often come back to this thought, and to John Le Carre's assertion that 'a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.' Whether we are creating something, or merely putting previously unconnected ideas together to gain a deeper understanding of something, the process needs time and space.
There's a fascinating article here about the connection between walking, thinking and writing, with some of the physiological basis for why a leisurely, or even brisk, walk may stimulate thought and creativity. But it seems that if you're trying to find the definite answer to a specific question, then walking ain't the way to find it.
And, furthermore, if you do go for a walk in search of original thought, then best to leave the mobile behind. This excellent article warns of the dangers of distraction: living online rather than going online now and then.
If you look at the history of advertising, it's been a three-parter so far. Back in the very early days, many people couldn't read, or didn't have access to a daily paper, so advertising worked primarily through visuals and symbols. The first part of the 20th century was dominated by words - copy - and there was a golden age (I think) where art directors and copywriters were put together as teams and produced some of the best advertising ever. This co-incided with the rise of commercial TV.
Then there's this century so far, where screens are all around us, and the emoji has taken the place of the text-speak.
I still have a hankering after words, maybe because I write in my spare time. I recently got the book version of Shaun Usher's brilliant website, Letters of Note. Shaun Usher's favourite of his collected letters (and mine so far) has to be the 1934 covering letter from Robert Pirosh, who at that time was a Madison Avenue copywriter, but had designs on a career as a Hollywood scriptwriter.
How could anyone resist a letter that starts: 'I like words'? And, here it is in its full glory:
I like words. I like fat buttery words, such as ooze, turpitude, glutinous, toady. I like solemn, angular, creaky words, such as straitlaced, cantankerous, pecunious, valedictory. I like spurious, black-is-white words, such as mortician, liquidate, tonsorial, demi-monde. I like suave "V" words, such as Svengali, svelte, bravura, verve. I like crunchy, brittle, crackly words, such as splinter, grapple, jostle, crusty. I like sullen, crabbed, scowling words, such as skulk, glower, scabby, churl. I like Oh-Heavens, my-gracious, land's-sake words, such as tricksy, tucker, genteel, horrid. I like elegant, flowery words, such as estivate, peregrinate, elysium, halcyon. I like wormy, squirmy, mealy words, such as crawl, blubber, squeal, drip. I like sniggly, chuckling words, such as cowlick, gurgle, bubble and burp.
I like the word screenwriter better than copywriter, so I decided to quit my job in a New York advertising agency and try my luck in Hollywood, but before taking the plunge I went to Europe for a year of study, contemplation and horsing around.
I have just returned and I still like words.
May I have a few with you?
Robert Pirosh 385 Madison Avenue Room 610 New York Eldorado 5-6024
I have a belief that if we work in Marketing or Advertising, even if we aren't copywriters, we should be able to put together words in a way that shows we like them, love them even. We are in the business of communication, so surely our documents and presentations should be written with care and feeling and attention to the richness our vocabulary gives.
Instead we (self included) so often fall back on whatever the flavour of the year buzz words are. Engagement (which to me is nothing more than an amalgam of the first bits of that AIDA model - awareness/attention and interest/involvement.) Experience. Insight. Content. KPIs.
Next time, I'll see if I can replace those with fat, buttery words, suave 'V' words or even sullen, crabbed, scowling words.
I've been wondering for the last year or so whether I should upgrade my iPhone. I have a tendency to hang onto mobile phones so long that they end up being retro. My iPhone 3G has a poor excuse for a camera, and most apps only half work, but, I don't know, I'm kind of attached to it. When I first got it I felt terribly leading edge and I take a strange satisfaction in showing that off in a subtle way.
Apple have recently launched the iPhone 7, so I thought I'd have a quick reccy as to what's on offer. Here's an introductory film, voiced-over by Greg Joswick, VP Worldwide Product Marketing:
What do we have here:
Better, faster, more powerful, even better, larger, brighter, better, longer, more detailed, even better ...
A load of adjectives in the comparative form, culminating in 'the best iPhone ever.' So the comparison is with previous iPhones, not with the competition that's snapping at their heels. 'Best iPhone Ever' is supported by a catalogue of technical product details. Apple have gone all Procter & Gamble, old style, with a claim, a demo and a load of 'reasons to believe.'
Where's the magic? Where's the wow? The only genuine new points seem to be that the iPhone 7 is water resistant (big deal) and there's no little hole to stick your headphones in (so you either have to get an adaptor, or buy the super new AirPods at huge expense.)
Apple have been having some rough times recently. Revenues are down, and the company has been ordered to pay a large tax bill in Ireland which hasn't done wonders for the corporate image.
I'm not sure that going back to 1970s-style detergent marketing is the right way to go.
I think my trusty iPhone 3G will stay with me for a bit longer.
I've just finished 98% Pure Potatoby John Griffiths & Tracey Follows. Was it pure genius? Or 98% Rotten Tomatoes?
Here's my review:
The curiously-titled '98% Pure Potato' is the history of the origins of advertising account planning, taking us from the beginnings in the mid-60s in the UK up to 1980. In addition, the authors take a look at the 'state of the art' of planning today, and a glimpse into the future. I started my career in advertising in the 80s, so many of the contributors to this book were known to me by name if not in person.
The book starts with some scene-setting - the context of the advertising industry in the 60s as well as the social and cultural background of the time. Next, the creative leap in thinking about advertising and its effectiveness (less about what message/s we put in and more about how people respond) that inspired the birth of planning at the agencies BMP (under Stanley Pollitt, pictured above) and JWT (under Stephen King) is introduced. The bulk of the book is about the first planners and the contribution they made at those agencies in the late 60s and 70s. Finally, changes and developments in planning since 1980 are discussed.
It seems fitting to the topic that the research for the book was qualitative in nature - the authors conducted depth interviews with a number of those early planners as well as friends, family and associates. In addition, the theme of collaboration carries through into the way the book was published, via crowd-funding and Unbound. The tone is very different to most business books - informal, anecdotal, reflecting those early planners who 'made it up as they went along.' The over-riding feeling about account planning that comes through is that it's about a mindset, not a process, and it all starts with people, not with data points.
While I appreciate that the authors didn't aim for a LinkedIn-style '10 Lessons We Can Learn From Planning Pioneers' approach, the anecdotal nature of the book means that it is very wordy - at 350 pages plus. I did sense rather a lot of repetition, and I felt that the text could have benefitted from further editing. Perhaps a few more specific examples of contributions to individual commercials and campaigns would also have been of interest.
It was good to see the photos of some of the cast, and the book token and book mark from Unbound were a nice touch. A round of applause to the authors and contributors for bringing all these fascinating anecdotes together.
I'm currently reading a book with the intriguing title 98% Pure Potato , which is a history of the origins of Account Planning through interviews with its pioneers - the early planners in the agencies JWT and BMP in London in the late 60s and 70s.
So far, it's a fascinating, if rather wordy, glimpse into the past, with plenty of quotes from those who were there. I started my career in the 80s, so many of these people were known to me, by reputation if not personally.
One theme that comes out strongly in the book is the belief that those early planners had that advertising should connect, human to human. This is described by Leslie Butterfield as follows: It was a kind of 'cuddle up to you' model of how advertising works and I think that advertising was something that could win people over through affection, through charm, through nudging, through cuddling ... put your arm around the consumer, entertain them, involve them, engage them, persuade them, but do it gently, do it with charm, do it with panache, not a bang over the head.
I sometimes think that as advertisers, we have forgotten this. Our attachment to data means that we've become detached from the human side. The early planners crunched plenty of data, but they also talked with and listened to hundreds of people in sitting rooms over sandwiches, biscuits and cups of tea - or even wine in the evenings. In a flood of nostalgia, I dragged out one of the first contacts I had with advertising as a potential career, in the form of the Oxford & Cambridge Careers Guide - this is from the early 80s.
I remember clearly reading the piece by another Lesley - female this time - Lesley Nevard, who was an Account Planner at BMP. What is fascinating to read here is this, unlike the book, is not coloured by decades of hindsight - this is as it was back then.
I hope it's readable - it definitely inspired me in my career choice. I do wonder what Lesley Nevard is doing now.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Hot on the heels of my last post about airports, here's another super smart piece of advertising, this time from Samsonite.
Do you remember those 'My other car is a Porsche' stickers? I'd guess the creative people who thought this one up did. Samsonite suitcases are durable - we all know that if prompted, but is it really top of mind, outside the holiday season?
The idea, created by Publicis Paris, was to offer free luggage wrapping (SAMSO'WRAP) to people with other makes of suitcase at Palma airport. This was on the condition that they were prepared to act as ambassadors for the brand, as the wrapping carried the message 'I wish I had a Samsonite.' So this would be seen by all as they rolled their nicely-wrapped bags through the airport terminal and beyond.
What I like most here is the thinking. It doesn't start with budget or media. It starts with thinking about people and where they are likely to be receptive to the message. Brands today spend a lot of time on the internet - indeed, most of today's really big brands didn't exist or couldn't have existed pre-internet (amazon, Google, airbnb, Facebook, Uber).
But I think tangible brands, especially when they are talking about something physical and experiential, such as strength and durability, need presence in the real world, in exactly the right place at the right time. This cheekily provocative idea is worth so much more than a beautifully produced film featuring hundreds of tap-dancing elephants on a suitcase - because it is connected 100% to real life.
As we're right in the thick of holiday time, I thought I'd look at a couple of ads associated with airports. The first one is First Flight, Heathrow's first ever TV ad, to celebrate the airport's 70th birthday. Using the tried and tested John Lewis formula of a cute kid and music to pull at the heartstrings, this is the story of a first flight through the eyes of a little girl with an owl trolley and a very fetching pilot's cap.
It's a watchable enough ad, but I'm not sure it really captures the magic in the way it should. Is flying still as magical as it was when I was a young lass, when we'd go to the Queen's Building as a day out, just to watch planes take off and land? This film doesn't show anything of the crowds, the delays, the mangled and lost luggage, the confiscated drinks and children's scissors (I speak from experience ...)
But, OK. I still think it's a brave thing for Heathrow to do, especially in these times of terrorist threat. And it's marvellous to hear that Bowie track again.
My second example is something I saw on my way back from a week away on business, when I arrived back at Frankfurt. An ad for the Bad Homburg Casino in the baggage hall. I hope my pictures will do it justice:
A baggage carousel disguised as a roulette wheel. OK, again the cynical may say that putting your luggage in the hold is a bit of a gamble, but I don't care.
After a long and hard week away, this idea, involving no apps or digital cleverness simply made me smile.
There's a weekly feature in Campaign called something like ' Three Great Ads I Had Nothing To Do With'. Well, I make no secret of the fact that I work with IKEA, but I had very little to do with the commercial above, which is why I think I'm entitled to write a post about it.
Why is this a great ad? Well, where to start?
It's watchable. I defy anyone not to keep going to the end. What is this 18th century scene all about? Why does the meal have to be painted? Why is the painting being carted around for approval?
Involvement with the story results in active processing, which means it ends up in the long-term memory.
It's bursting with insight. It's not just an observation that people these days are always taking photos of food and putting them on Instagram and Facebook. The insight is how absurd this behaviour is, if you think about it, and how this is just one of many expectations these days that prevent people enjoying the simple pleasures of life at home.
It's beautifully done. From the casting, to the scenery, to the costumes to the lovely few bars of that jazzy number at the end, this is a beautifully conceived, directed and produced film. One that you can watch again and again and discover something new each time.
It's very IKEA. Finally, although the first part of the film may be unexpected for IKEA - 18th century costume drama? - this is maybe what makes this commercial so very IKEA. IKEA is a combination of the familiar and the surprising. This spot is for the catalogue launch and sets the theme of the year - Let's Relax - and the whole idea and thought behind it exemplifies the IKEA attitude - common sense, pointing out the absurdities of our behaviour with a twinkle in the eye, and ultimately showing that there is another way. This is exactly the tonality of the famous 'Lamp' commercial from over a decade ago. Not so fitting to today's times with sustainability upfront on the agenda, but nevertheless classic IKEA.
A long time ago, in the last century, I travelled to Los Angeles with some colleagues on business. At the weekend, we took a trip to Universal Studios and had great amusement in a magazine cover-shooting booth, dressing up and becoming cover girls and boys for Cosmopolitan, Playgirl et al.
How quaint that seems now! Technology means that we can get our name or picture on just about anything these days, in a matter of seconds and at minimal cost. Brands have been picking up on this for a few years now. The 'Share a Coke' promotion was the biggy, and since then many brands have followed suit.
At Christmas, Oreo capitalised on the craze for colouring books with 'You make the wrap, we send the pack', a promotion whereby people could design a gift wrap online. This summer, Lay's have had a 'Lay's Summer Days' promotion partnering with Instagram. The first 200,000 to register online with a special code got to have their summer photo printed on a packet of crisps.
A marketing spokesperson for Frito-Lay commented: 'Engaging our consumers is really important to us, so we want to continue to give them a voice and a way to connect with our brand in a meaningful way ... during the summer Lay's plays an important role in their lives and in their moments.'
An aside: Marketing people - please imagine a 'patronisometer' whenever you speak to the press. You are not 'giving them a voice' - people who buy crisps are generally not bound and gagged with duct tape, imprisoned in some inhumane jail.
Moving on, closer to home. At my local dm I noticed the Sofortsticker service. In-store, in a matter of seconds, you can knock up a sticky label with a photo for your homemade jam or for a personalised gift - a bottle of mouthwash or tube of hair-removal cream, maybe?
Although Ms Frito-Lay thinks that a packet of crisps plays an important role in people's lives and 'moments' (come on, make up your mind!) I think that may be over-doing it. What are you going to do with a greasy, empty, crisp bag with a photo of your kids in the paddling pool? Chuck it out, most likely. It's a throwaway thing, just as that sort of personalisation is a throwaway idea. One of those ideas people have because they have heard 'individuality is a megatrend', and because they can - due to technology.
But there are instances where this idea is used in a thoughtful, imaginative and meaningful way. Who wouldn't want one of these?
Anyone that works or worked for Saatchis can't have missed the brouhaha surrounding Kevin Roberts, the Saatchi CEO, this weekend.
Following remarks made in an interview for Business Insider, Roberts has been suspended for a month. The Publicis Groupe has made it clear that opinions expressed in the article didn't agree with a policy of inclusiveness.
I can't say my heart bleeds for Kevin Roberts, but I was a little surprised about the wrath and ire that the remarks seem to have inflamed around the internet. Apart from some rather catty personal comments addressed in the direction of Cindy Gallop, the main thing that seems to have stirred things up was the observation (perhaps not well-expressed) that there are people in the ad industry who are less motivated by wealth and power and more motivated by happiness and personal fulfillment via creativity. And that some of these people may even turn down promotions because it'll mean being a manager and getting involved in dreary financial, political and HR stuff that you can do in any company, instead of creating bloody good ads.
My observation on my colleagues, past and present, is exactly that. Although I don't really notice how many females fall into one camp vs. males, because that's not the way I've been brought up.
One of the best comments I read on the whole storm in a teacup is from Rory Sutherland:
"Also his critics miss the main point, just as he does. The real question to ask is why so many of the financial rewards of the advertising industry now end up in the hands of administrators and managers and financial engineers, rather than accruing to the many (male and female) people who create the real value. It's now much more lucrative to spend your day twiddling with a spreadsheet than creating an idea worth millions.
This business will soon end up like 1960s English Football, where the administrators end up rich while the players spend their retirement running a chip shop.
I have never understood why people in this industry want to work in management. Running an agency is really boring. If I wanted to run a company, I'd work for a big mining conglomerate where you could do really interesting things like staging coups and hiring mercenaries, not settling arguments about meeting-room allocation."
Why do you think I went freelance?
Talking of which, no doubt Kevin can always fall back on his other business (see above) if times get hard. Plumbing leave?
Interbrand are well-known for their Best Global Brands annual report, which is something of a marketeer's bible, chronicling the good and great of the branding world. Now there's something new from Interbrand, which takes a look at the new kids on the brand block, the movers and shakers, maybe the star global brand of the future.
Interbrand Breakthrough Brands is like one of those '30 under 30' or 'faces to watch' lists that you get in the marketing press. Rather than a ranking or rating, it's more of a hand-picked selection of emerging brand-led organisations, all of whom are 10 years old or under.
200 brands were nominated by a group of 'key influencers', chosen by Interbrand people, and their partners in this exercise from Facebook, NYSE and Ready Set Rocket. These were whittled down to a list of 60 featured in the report, using criteria such as Change, Growth and Buzz. All those represented could be described as 'the start-ups, upstarts, challengers, problem-solvers, innovators and category creators.'
So, to the 60. Goodness me, this made me feel old. There are brands featured that were founded in 2014. That was yesterday, wasn't it? Of the 60, I'd heard of a handful, maybe 6 or so.
... are both perhaps present in time future' T.S.Eliot, Burnt Norton
I have noticed two examples of brands that have made news this week by combining past and present to (maybe) create the future.
I'll start with the one not absolutely everyone has heard of, which is Polaroid Swing. I've often wondered how the Polaroid brand lives on, while the Kodak brand seems to have died, or at least retired and disappeared from view. This is one reason: a nifty little app that combines the heritage of Polaroid (for the name inspiration, see the groovy ad above) with bang up-to-date technology. In this case, moving photos. These are kind of like gifs, put different. 60 frames are captured in 1 second and the picture comes to life when you tap it or get swinging your iPhone. The world of Harry Potter has nothing on this!
The people from Polaroid and their collaborators at Swing have high hopes - could this be the visual version of Twitter? The insight is that we perceive the world as a series of (very short) moments. I'm not 100% convinced, but let's see.
The other new launch needs no introduction - Pokemon Go . You can't avoid having heard about it unless you're living under a stone (although that, too, is unlikely as you're probably sharing your under-a-stone space with a funny little yellow creature.) As well as combining old (well, 90s) with new to appeal to at least a couple of generations, much has been made of the combination of real and virtual worlds. Here is one of the better articles about the success factors.
So there you have it - for a successful brand extension, maybe we have to think like a bride and combine the old, the new, the borrowed (preferably via collaboration) and the blue - or yellow.
And just last week, I received a trend report from Trendwatching, entitled 'Big Brand Redemption', all about how Big Brands can be the solution (not the problem) when it comes to a sustainable, ethical, brighter future for us all, citing examples such as Unilever's Lifebuoy.
But, but, but. To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, or whatever. For every brand with high falutin' ideas about saving the world, there's another who wants to come down to earth. One of the biggest brand repositioning stories in the last year is from Coke with the move from 'Open Happiness' to the more functional 'Taste the Feeling'. To quote Marco de Quinto, the Coke CMO: We are a simple pleasure, a product that refreshes. Not one that's going to save the world. If by refreshing, you save the world, fine. We are going back to this truth.
And then, in Millward Brown's BrandZ: Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands, this view is reflected:
pg 27: Brands may not need a purpose as high as saving humanity
Intro pg 5: Brands seem to be shifting from higher purpose (making the world better) to narrower purpose (making the customer's life better)
Brands do not need a higher purpose ... they need to be seen as improving the life of the consumer in some way
Hang on - isn't that what we used to call a benefit?
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: