A long time ago, when I was still in the UK and working on the British Airways account, they set up a fascinating piece of international 'Britishness' research which looked at impressions of Great Britain in a number of countries around the world. This was qualitative research, and people in each country were asked to imagine a typical British town and what the characters were like there: policeman, doctor, teenager, manual worker and so on. It was rather like that 'Heaven and Hell' joke, one version of which you can see above. And - surprise, surprise - there was little consistency in the way Britain was seen around the world - sweet and quaint in the US, compared to pushy and arrogant in Australia.
I've just read a long article in The Guardian about the rise of nation and place branding, which appears to be a booming business. Not just from the point of view of attracting tourists, but for governments to attract investors, workers, students, or to allocate resources and increase esteem generally internally and externally, much as you would use a Brand Purpose or Position.
It's not an easy job. Apart from an uneven playing field to start with (as in the differing impressions of US and Australia in the example above), just think how quickly the overall impression of a country can change due to a change in its leadership. Obama's USA and Trump's USA - worlds apart. Or how a personality associated with a country or place can make or break impressions. Or how a natural disaster can overshadow everything. The article quotes Naomi Klein: Diversity and debate are the enemies of branding. Is it folly to try and reduce something as complex and multi-faceted as a place to a mere brand?
As mentioned in the article, Institute for Identityare having a good try. Their work sounds like a dream job - travelling around, getting the feel of the place, talking with the people, everyone from historians to lace-makers to film-makers.
And even if it seems a step too far to attempt to distill an entire country with all its dynamism, history and diversity down to a slogan and a logo, in these days of globalisation it's increasingly important for brands to be unique and authentic. And part of that has to come from the provenance. How has where the brand came from, where it was founded, informed its purpose and values? Instid have some useful tools and techniques on their website for getting a clearer understanding of a place - through the intellect, emotions and senses.
For brands, as for people, it's important to never forget where you came from.
Films and songs are constantly being remade or re-recorded, so why not commercials? The now defunct Yellow Pagesdid it a few years ago, and I've recently seen an excellent new example from Xerox.
Now, I must admit that, growing up on this side of the Atlantic, I've never seen the original film from 1976, in which Brother Dominic has a little help from Xerox to achieve 'a miracle.'
More than 40 years later, so not to go the way of Kodak, the brand Xerox has to re-invent itself as going way beyond photocopiers, in order to stay relevant in the 21st century. So the new campaign - sorry, platform - 'Set the Page Free' has been created. The 500 copies must now be translated, personalised, shared around the world and so on.
By taking on where the old commercial left off, Xerox stresses its pedigree, trustworthiness and reliability as well as its innovative new side.
Sometimes the best - and most effective - creativity isn't about creating something completely new:
It's been a bit of a week for monks. Here in Germany (Hessen) we had a public holiday to celebrate 500 years of the Reformation. One of Playmobil's best-selling lines has been the Martin Luther figure.
But probably the strangest Martin Luther-related packaging that I've seen is this. I may be wrong, but surely tomatoes had not yet been brought to Europe in Martin Luther's time? Or does this celebrate the 500th anniversary of that event, too?
2016 was full of shocks for the pollsters and indeed, many bright young things working in advertising and marketing. How could we have got things so wrong? What? The collected opinions of my Facebook friends don't constitute what the Great British Public is thinking? I thought that if I 'de-friended' a few of those people whose views I didn't like, then they'd disappear into a puff of ether and I'd never have to be troubled by them again.
I blogged about the return of the Untrendy here and so far, 2017 has been full of references to bubbles, echo chambers and the like in everything from song lyrics through to advertisements (Heineken springs to mind) so I suppose at least there's awareness now that that the world is full of different views, not all of which may be palatable to us personally.
As a marketer, there's no way you can guarantee that your brand will be desired and bought only by people whose demographics appeal to you, or whose worldview co-incides with your own. So what can you do, to find out how other people tick? At the risk of sounding obvious, you have to go out and meet them, observe them, talk with them, listen to them. And not through the filter of the screen. The agency Ogilvy and Mather announced their intention, last year, of sending their planners out and about around the country, under the banner 'Get Out There.'
My first reaction as an old fogey in this world was a wry smile and something of a sense of bemusement. Surely this is what planners at ad agencies do? It appears not. Kevin Chesters, the Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy in London is quoted as saying that only 2% of creative briefs are informed by original first-hand research.
When on earth did we lose touch so badly?
Once I'd gulped and realised just how dire things had got, I had a look at the Get Out There blog. There are clips and articles about Oldies in Eastbourne, the question of Brexit in Boston, Christianity in Hereford and so on. Yes, you could pick holes in stuff like the journalistic approach (picking on towns that are 'extreme' in one sense or another and packaging it all up with video clips and snappy headlines) but that's the way of the world these days. I trust that there's some good substance and insight behind the public exterior and in the end, at least they are doing something rather than debating and pontificating.
I notice the Marketing Society is re-naming its 'Brand of the Year' 'BRAVE Brand of the Year' to reward risk-taking. I'm looking forward to seeing a brand marketing to appeal to people out of the hipster London bubble.
In my mid-teens, I'd already come up against the rigidity of the British education system which force-fits young people at an early age into boxes labelled 'scientist', 'artist', 'linguist' - or whatever. I rebelled against this in my own quiet way by adding Art to my science A-Levels. I wrote a post earlier this year bemoaning one effect that this force-fitting seems to produce - the 'I'm crap at maths and not ashamed to say it' syndrome.
I'm asked, on occasion, what makes a good planner. I rarely look to academic qualifications, and in the past, have been as likely to choose someone with an obscure degree or even no degree at all as someone with a business degree. In fact, the business degree people I often give a harder time to as they may already have been taught to think in a certain way.
My ideal planner would fit the artist-scientist archetype. By this, I mean someone for whom thinking or intellect is not the only way of revealing 'truth', but who is equally at home with other modes of perception. The artist-scientist is a creator, inventor, dreamer and thinker simultaneously. Their focus is discovery, not prediction and pinning down 'facts.' They are people driven by wonder and curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but it's what keeps the artist-scientists going.
These people are the source of change, the people who question, the people who keep their minds open and don't always go with the flow. From Leonardo da Vinci, to Nikola Tesla, to C.G.Jung, these people feel uncomfortable with the narrow designation (which includes all those 21st century prefixes to the word planner.)
To finish, here's Joseph Campbell on the figure of Daedalus, the archetypal artist-scientist:
Most curiously, the very scientist who, in the service of the sinful king, was the brain behind the horror of the labyrinth, quite as readily can serve the purposes of freedom. But the hero-heart must be at hand. For
centuries Daedalus has represented the type of the artist-scientist: that
curiously disinterested, almost diabolic human phenomenon, beyond the normal
bound of social judgement, dedicated to the morals not of his time but of his
art. He is the hero of the way of thought – singlehearted, courageous and full
of faith that the truth, as he finds it, shall make us free. And, maybe I'd want that too - 'the hero-heart at hand' - as much as this person is beyond social judgement, they should have a feeling, connectedness, empathy with their fellow human-beings. Not much to ask, eh?
Working on advertising for retailers used to be a relatively easy business. It was all about doing ads to tempt people into shops - proper bricks and mortar ones. With special offers, low prices, an irresistible range of goods, the promise of excellent service or some combination of those. Back in the early days of my career, retailers were just beginning to discover the power of good branded advertising that they'd run alongside 'this week's price offers' to build a picture in people's minds that would - perhaps - mean longer term loyalty than the latest price slashes could offer.
Then the new kids on the block arrived. Except they weren't on the block. They were floating around in the ether. There were long debates about who would 'win' - bricks and mortar, or online. And of course, the answer is - as almost always - that no-one 'won', rather the two formed an uneasy truce, merged a little, copied a little and are currently co-existing.
Although around 90% of the world's retail spend still takes place in bricks and mortar stores, there's a massive shake-up going on in what we used to call 'retail.' High Streets and malls are closing down, many of the old stalwarts have fallen by the wayside, 'phygital' and 'in-store experience' are the new buzzwords. New technology is making leaps and bounds, with voice-activated technology playing a bigger and bigger role.
amazon is No. 5 on Interbrand's Top 100 brands - bigger than Samsung, Toyota or Facebook, and growing at a whopping +29%.
And all of this means that people's expectations for how and when to shop - and where - are changing at a pace. What does 'convenience' or 'instant gratification' or 'service' mean today, compared to even 5 years ago?
One question we should ask is: is the category 'retail' even relevant any more? Anyone selling over Etsy or ebay is a retailer. The brands we used to know as retailers could just as well be called distribution, logistics or entertainment brands. Platforms or (social) media channels. Technology or lifestyle brands.
Who knows? One thing is clear to me as a communications and branding strategist: this new world requires strong brands more than ever to pull it all together, like a magnet.
And every piece of communication should act as an invitation to your brand.
Retro and nostalgic packaging for anything from washing powder to chocolate to fizzy drinks has become commonplace in the supermarket aisles, along with the increasing number of retro weekends and experiences to be had. I even had my old iPhone described as 'retro' by some young chap with an ironic beard last year. In the travel industry, ocean liners and steam trains (and even motor busses, I've seen) can take us back to more elegant and maybe simpler times.
But there are some areas where one might want to be a little careful when playing the retro card. Areas that stand for speed and being at the forefront and the latest technology. Despite that, a big smile came to my face at Frankfurt airport the other day when I spied one of Lufthansa's retro-liveried planes. They had several done to celebrate their 60th anniversary, and the design evokes the 70s beautifully.
I was even more envious when I discovered that the airline TAP have been going the whole hog and offering one-off retro-themed flights from Lisbon to destinations like Miami or Toronto. Just look at these funky uniforms!
But what of my reservations? (If you'll excuse the pun.) Well, maybe I am just showing my retro status myself. Airlines, in many cases, are positively ancient in branding terms, dating from the early to mid 20th century in most cases. The times that are celebrated in these retro packages are those when flying was a pleasure, when the skies were not quite so crowded and the pilots were some of the best, having probably been trained in the RAF or equivalent.
Times that evoke both trust and luxury, personal attention and quality as well as glamour and excitement.
However, I doubt they will be bringing back the smoking section.
One of the best campaign insights of recent years is that from Snickers: You're Not You When You're Hungry. I know my family will certainly attest to the truth of this one, and it's a great idea that the brand have been using in their advertising for seven years now. So it definitely has legs. Or peanuts.
The latest incarnation of the campaign idea is individual named Snickers bars with a choice of 21 alter-hungry-egos from Stroppy to Grouchy to Moaner to Drama Mama to Faffer to Grumpster. Sounding vaguely like a re-imagining of the 7 dwarfs, the idea is either to buy one for yourself (as a warning to others) or, better still, for a chum or family member.
I know that this idea is adapted from the 'Share a Coke' thought, but I find it even better. Not only is the personalisation element there, but it ties in with a long-running campaign based on a super insight into human nature, which Snickers have made their own. In the US, where they've already run this idea, they got an impressive uplift in sales, and I'm not surprised.
I can almost, almost forgive the brand its own name change from Marathon right back in 1990.
If you follow Cannes and Creative Awards, you won't have missed that a certain sculpture took a lot of the top prizes this year. But what you may have missed, if you don't live near Sheffield, is another sculpture which I think deserves just as many accolades is also really rather quite good.
IKEA have recently opened a store in Sheffield and part of the clever stuff dreamed up by their UK advertising agency, Mother, to accompany the opening was Allen the Peregrine Falcon, seen above. His creator is sculptor Jason Heppenstall, a wonderfully talented chap whose forte is sculpture of furred, feathered and scaled creatures as well as marvellous mechanical devices, all made from scrap steel. So what could be more appropriate for Sheffield than the town's symbol, a Peregrine Falcon, made of steel?
But it's not just any old steel. The beautiful bird of prey is constructed from a total of 17, 126 IKEA Allen Keys - hence the connection, and the name. The connection with IKEA doesn't stop there, either. The vision of IKEA is to help create a better everyday life for the many people, and I should think that the sight of this beautiful bird brightened many an everyday in Sheffield over the last week.
This, to me, is the essence of a great brand idea: something that combines the smallest, everyday element of a brand with its long-term higher reason for being in a way that's totally relevant for the people it's communicating with.
Now, who can remember which brand or company is behind the Fearless Girl sculpture? Anyone?
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?
I've got to the stage in my career where I expect there are far more planners who have come after me than have come before me. But one planner who came before me and is still active thinking, writing, strategising and planning is Paul Feldwick. Paul was one of the early BMP Planners in the 1970s and worked for BMP/DDB right up until 2005. I can thoroughly recommend his books and articles to young and not-so-young planners: they are classics. I still refer to What is Brand Equity Anyway? and much enjoyed Paul's most recent book, The Anatomy of Humbug. Most refreshing and intelligent after all those 25 Secrets Of Highly Successful Halfwits And How You Can Join Them business books.
On Paul's website are links to more articles, including one originally published in Admap March 2014, entitled, simply Brand = Image. This is a provocative title, as 'Brand Image' has become a dirty word - or phrase - for those of us in the industry. Why have something as ethereal as an image when you can have an Experience or a Platform?
Anyway, the article starts with the creation of what was to become the Nike logo, which earned its creator all of $35 initially. The point is made that maybe it's neither necessary nor desirable to start building a brand from a 'brand essence' definition in words. Many brands start with a visual image, which becomes imbued with meaning via the stakeholders of that brand.
Why does this work? Let me drag out my ancient copy of Man and his Symbols (see illustration above.) In this, Carl Jung states:
What we call a symbol is a term, name or even a picture that may be familiar in daily life, yet that possesses specific connotations in addition to its conventional and obvious meaning. It implies something vague, unknown or hidden from us.
Many brand symbols or logos seem to arise by chance - Paul Feldwick cites the Dulux Dog and the Andrex Puppy - rather than via a conscious process. Chance, yes, but intuition and serendipity also play a role. I have written about a couple of my favourite brand symbols here and here.
Paul talks about the strength of images: they are polyvalent, meaning they carry a multitude of meaning.
I wonder, especially in this global world, whether brands would do better to find a 'one symbol equity' rather than a 'one word equity.'
The Cluetrain Manifesto first surfed onto the internet (as you did then) in 1999, meaning that this famous piece of business literature has now come of age. A somewhat Lutherean piece, with its 95 theses, the manifesto explored the impact of the internet on marketing and corporate communications. The idea running through is that online conversations - the new 'markets' - would make traditional marketing tools and techniques obsolete.
The manifesto has a 'Brave New World' (in the original Shakespearian sense) feel about it, in its celebration of the human voice. This tonality is a far cry from the cute cats, grotesque gifs, saccharine motivational quotes, Trump memes and rants that made up my Facebook stream this morning. But let me think back to 1999. It was probably four or five years since I'd first gone online, my Homepage was Yahoo! and my social media activity consisted of something called the Wedding Forum (later Baby Forum) which was a kind of forerunner of Mumsnet. The internet was not for everyone in those days - we were surfing and stumbling, certainly not being fed.
So how is the Cluetrain Manifesto looking on its 18th birthday? I had a re-read, and was inspired all over again by many of the 95 theses. Some of these are basic truths that have nothing to do with the internet, and are just as relevant today as they were in 1999, and probably 1899 too: 2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. 12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies
do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they
tell everyone. 21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. 22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the
corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight
talk, and a genuine point of view. 23. Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position.
Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about. 24. Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the preeminent provider
of XYZ"—do not constitute a position. 86. When we're not busy being your "target market," many of us are your
people. We'd rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock.
That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar
website. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing's job. But I do think the authors over-emphasised the potential 'smartness' of the majority. 'Informed' covers a multitude of sins. Informed by whom? With truth or alternative facts? With what you choose to listen to? 10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized.
Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally. And more worryingly, it is the 'new' internet corporations that are taking the mantle of the 20th century bad boys, speaking in contrived voices (the chummy dude Californian tone Facebook adopts is just as contrived as the old-style corporate pomposity) , gathering data, invading privacy, controlling newsfeeds, bullying and manipulating. 15. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked
conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound
hollow, flat, literally inhuman. Another example, perhaps, of where Huxley got it right?
So, Happy Birthday, Cluetrain Manifesto - and let's see how things look in another 18 years. I do wonder what effect bots, Alexa and AI will have on the belief in the 'human voice.'
Back in the 20th century, Ogden Nash wrote a parody of Joyce Kilmer's famous poem, 'Trees' in which he stated:
I think that I shall never see A billboard lovely as a tree Indeed, unless the billboards fall I'll never see a tree at all.
And in a recent article in Campaign, writer and director Paul Burke also celebrates the billboard, or poster and bemoans its current state. He lays the blame partly on the renaming of the poster into 'out of home media' or 'OOH' for short (although very few examples these days elicit OOHs, it seems.) And partly on the clients, of course.
He has a good point, I think. But I wonder if there are other reasons for the demise of the poster. One of them may be the disappearance of what used to be called commercial artists, who weren't necessarily ideas people in the sense that modern art directors were, but who certainly had the craft and skill to touch people's souls through their art as any of the posters on this post will show.
And then there's the other thing. Certainly in urban areas, very few people are looking up at trees or indeed billboards these days. Their focus is on their device. I wonder what Ogden Nash would have made of that? I'd certainly rather be looking up at any of these billboards in its full size glory than down at most of the rubbish that floats across my smart phone screen, like so many falling leaves.
Three cheers for Sheryl Sandberg!A while ago, I wrote about how the harmless qualitative market research technique of 'brands as people' seemed to have erupted into a full-scale industry - 'people as brands.' I let out a quiet 'hooray!' as I read this article which quotes Ms Sandberg's answer to the question of how business people should manage their personal brands.
You don't have a brand.
She also added the expression made her shudder. Me too.
I have a number of reasons for rejecting the idea. First of all, I agree that stuffing yourself into a soap-powder-shaped box tends to be somewhat restricting:
When we are packaged, we're ineffective and inauthentic.
And human beings are so much more gloriously complicated and full of - emotion, conscious and unconscious thought, life, reason, intelligence - all those things no product or service can ever have.
And finally, because I just loathe all those snake-oil merchants who go around peddling their platforms and wares. Take an area I know a little about: authors. There are over 23 millions hits on Google in reply to 'author branding.' And so many of the articles and services offered include 'And Why You Need It' in the title.
So much time and energy is wasted by authors fretting about their 'author brand' and working with these charlatans instead of getting on and doing what they are good at.
Think about any human being who could possibly be considered 'a brand.' Einstein, The Queen, Salvador Dali, Che Guevara - take your pick.
Did they spend hours with a snake-oil salesman 'discovering their personal brand'?
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: