Monday, 22 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Make 'em laugh



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

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 With social media, the stereotype of 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' (usually a retired colonel) has been replaced by a whole army of militant social justice warriors, just waiting to spring onto your ad from Twitter, Mumsnet, Facebook, you name it, and give it a good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

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

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

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

Thursday, 11 May 2017

When did ads get so po-faced?



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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Octogenarian Flaneuse

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

The fictional Lillian Boxfish describes her career thus:

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

And here's what I thought of the story:

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Mommy Me

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

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

Here's the US launch ad:



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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Useless, hopeless, rubbish and crap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Nutty campaign idea

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

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

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

And the following campaign is the result:



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

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

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

Monday, 10 April 2017

Life's a game?



Moving on from my last post on measurement, it makes sense to take a look at how companies and brands use games and gaming in their communication and activities. I've posted a little about this before, here and here.

I like the way IKEA have turned something unexpected into a game in their TV ad 'Win at Sleeping,' from the agency Mother. It's clever and creative, through looking at something everyday - or everynight - in an unexpected way. And it's all done with a twinkle in the eye.

Is work a game? I'm not sure. Uber has recently come under criticism for using psychological gaming tricks to incentivise their drivers. How would you feel if you tried to log off and found that you were just a whisker away from hitting your earnings target? Would you squeeze in one more fare, even if you were feeling completely cream-crackered? Where does gamification stop being stimulating and start being sinister?

And finally, the CEO of Aviva is calling for companies to treat sustainability as a competitive sport. While his motivations are in the right place - to get companies thinking beyond the short-term pressure to make profits - I'm not sure that public league tables a la Champions League are really the way to go.

Just look at the corruption within FIFA.


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Measurement Madness

Some of the wisest words I have read in my career come from the social scientist Daniel Yankelovich, on the subject of measurement:

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. 

The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. 

The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important. This is blindness. 

The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide.
'Corporate Priorities: A continuing study of the new demands on business'

These words were written in 1972, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, and illustrated what is known as the McNamara fallacy or quantitative fallacy (Robert McNamara was US Secretary for Defence). This fallacy is making a decision based solely on quantitative observations (metrics) and ignoring all others. For example, basing the 'success' of a war purely on enemy body count.

I have often used these words to argue my point with clients and quantitative research agencies that marketing, like war or sport, is not an exact science. There is perhaps a fifth step to the argument:

The fifth step is to attach undue meaning and importance to that which is easily measurable.

These days, with digitalisation, we can measure so much more. And although company and even personal performance can't be put on a par with war and loss of life, we should guard against making the same mistake.

A few years ago, only business people talked about KPIs. Nowadays, people have personal KPIs - calories consumed, steps taken, words written, likes achieved - and all the rest, all enabled by digital technology.

I will continue to cite Yankelovich. And not just to the business clients that I work with, but to friends and acquaintances who are in danger, perhaps, of not seeing the truth for the data.


Monday, 27 March 2017

The content generation



I've always felt slightly queasy about the word 'content' when used in connection with creativity and ideas. As I mentioned here, my immediate association when I hear the word is with stomach contents - some kind of homogeneous chewed-up pap.

Even worse is linking the word 'content' with the verb 'to generate.' The idea of 'generating content' suggests the churning out of some sort of stuff that is completely devoid of any kind of creativity.

'Generating content' is a major preoccupation of the modern age. Indeed, many people are not living in the moment any more, but rather continually generating content for their Facebook or Instagram feed. The pressure is not just to keep up with the Joneses next door, but to keep up with every one of your five hundred Facebook friends. No wonder status anxiety is on the up.

Increasingly, I feel that this means for brands that they must surprise in their communication. Not just  generate more content of the sort that anyone with a Smartphone can load up to Facebook. For example, this beautifully batty campaign ('Did you mean?') from the email marketing platform MailChimp, by Droga5.

No deep psychological insights, no issues and attempts to save the world. In fact, the idea is no different really to that behind Compare the Market's famous meerkats.

But with the surreal films for Mail Shrimp, Jail Blimp and Kale Limp, along with all sorts of fake brands, products and even a band, the executions are thoroughly refreshing and original.

Not generated, but created.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Switzerland First



The best way to make the business news these days is to devise some form of ranking. There are numerous rankings and indices for brands - Meaningful Brands, Powerful Brands, Ethical Brands, Simple Brands - and so on ad infinitum, it seems.

On a slightly different tack, Y&R's BAV Consulting have got together with U.S.News & World Report and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to produce the World's Best Countries report for the second year running.

The survey asks 21,000 residents of 80 nations to rate countries on political, economic, citizenship and quality of life factors.

And is it America First? Well, no. In chaotic times, maybe it's no surprise that people yearn for stability and neutrality, as exemplified by the winner, Switzerland. Co-incidentally, Switzerland had one of the funnier 'America First' spoof films that hit the social media a few weeks back.

The U.S. has tumbled from 4th to 7th place in the last year, while Britain has (maybe surprisingly) held on to its third place.

In fact, with Switzerland first, Canada second and the UK third, the three best countries also sport some of the best national logos from around the globe. Coincidence?

Monday, 13 March 2017

A bundle of good

One of the biggest problems in the modern age is getting rid of stuff - and I know I certainly feel the pressure to get rid of stuff in a responsible way, not just 'chuck it out.'

Mothercare have estimated that there are some 183 million items of outgrown baby clothing lurking in UK cupboards and drawers, and they've come up with an excellent promotional idea in time for Mothering Sunday/UK Mothers' Day. The thought is Gift a Bundle , with Mothercare partnering with environmental charity Hubbub - pick up one of the promotional bags from your local store, fill it with 6-10 items of baby clothing, and return it to be given to a local family in need.

This is a nice down-to-earth idea that combines lots of good stuff: topical, local, sharing, bringing people together, good for the environment - and all of this through a simple action, not preaching from on high with questionable statistics, expensive film directors and heartstring-pulling plinky piano music.

This is called driving the band waggon (for a short trip, at least) rather than leaping on it.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Polite-ically Correct

I'm sure I am not alone in having a knee-jerk reaction whenever the words 'Politically (In)Correct' are uttered in the course of my work in marketing and advertising.

But when I ask myself why I react so strongly, the answer is hard to find. I suppose the words catalyse a mindset of what I see as restrictive, creativity-killing concepts: the Nanny State, over-sensitvity, social justice warriors, virtue signallers and the chattering classes in general. By which I mean all those people forever harping on in their Facebook and Twitter bubbles, who think that 'doing good' is hurling a few pounds at some crowd-funded JustGiving cause, rather than making the effort to get up and visit an elderly neighbour, or spend a weekend clearing rubbish from woodland.

However, the idea of treating everyone we reach or want to communicate with in a fair and respectful way is one to which I certainly subscribe. How can you write ads that make people laugh, cry, cheer when you're sneering at them behind their backs? (Or behind the one-way mirror in the research studio?)

I've found an excellent article in The School of Life  which addresses this issue. A mid-way between joining the Politically Correct Brigade and beating them up is suggested, which involves the (somewhat forgotten) idea of Politeness. The author/s of the article point out the similarities and differences between Politeness and Political Correctness. The differences that resonated with me are as follows. Politeness is:

1. Universal, not selective
2. About action, not thought
3. Apolitical.

Politeness is an aspiration, not a legal requirement, and perhaps we should see this too in the way our brands communicate. Brands don't have to be polite in their words and actions - and, indeed, some audiences and sectors have little need for courtesy in its traditional sense.

But I remain convinced that a basic understanding of and empathy with your audience, whatever their political beliefs, or whatever majority or minority they belong to, a fundamental respect for fellow human beings, makes for far more effective communication.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

#ISeeWallpaper



Apologies if I start sounding like a broken record (maybe 4 Non-Blondes?) as I've recently blogged about this subject. But with International Women's Day fast approaching (on March 8th), there has been a splurge of yet more brands and companies desperate to show just how determined they are to lead the fight against inequality.

International Women's Day celebrates women's social, economic, cultural and political achievements (although I don't think Marine Le Pen's or Frauke Petry's 'achievements' come high on the list to be celebrated). This is important, as there are many countries in the world where women do not have equal opportunities and it's vital to raise awareness and prompt action to change.

But I can't help thinking that when brands and companies start leaping on this rather over-loaded band waggon, that the people involved in creating the communications are either naive or cynical.

Take P&G's new commercial #WeSeeEqual. This 'shows men, women, boys and girls defying gender stereotypes.'

OK. I looked carefully, and unless the baby is a boy, there are no boys to be seen. Could this be because P&G don't make any products specifically for boys? Or am I being cynical now? And are these people really defying gender stereotypes? What century are we in? I'm afraid the only stereotypes I can see are a load of advertising cliches: the tattooed beefy dad changing a nappy (not very competently), the bungee-jumping granny, the brainy women in glasses. All accompanied by the rather tired 'What's Up' soundtrack.

I appreciate that P&G have made some positive steps forward in terms of women in their senior management, which is good to see. But I have a feeling that this film falls into the category of protesting too much. Maybe decades of advertising featuring housewives obsessing about stains and smells leaves a guilty corporate conscience.

And it's only a few years ago that the same company were busy 'thanking moms' in their communication.

I'd love to see a company the size of P&G really use their clout to change something in the world, instead of producing wallpaper.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Secondhand Rose

One of my favourite research methods for finding out about brands is to get people to talk about their memories and relationship with that brand. What part did it play in their life at various stages? What sounds, smells, images do they associate with that brand?

A recent news item (which I'll come on to) got me thinking about the brand Oxfam, which has long been part of my life. The brand, originally founded as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief had already been going over a quarter of a century when our family established a ritual of picking out the Christmas cards from the Oxfam catalogue. I don't know if Oxfam invented the charity Christmas card, but they were certainly one of the pioneers.

I also associate Oxfam in my late 60s and early 70s childhood with textiles and design. I am sure we had one of the Belinda Lyon tea towels, pictured above. And we still have a (well-used) Twit Twoo cushion.

 As the 70s moved into the 80s, and throughout that decade, the local Oxfam shop became a rich source of teenage/20s vitals: second-hand clothes from the 50s and 60s (no-one called them vintage then), books and records. The idea of the charity shop did come from Oxfam - they opened their first back in 1948.

Having dumped armfuls and box-loads of clothes, records and books back in Oxfam in the 90s, as I moved to Germany, I entered a rather Oxfam-lean period, although I now see that there are 42 shops in Germany, and the books are mounting up again ...

Oxfam has 1,200 shops worldwide and is the largest retailer of second-hand books. Another recent discovery for me is the website,  the store part of which is a treasure trove of everything from vintage dresses, to original art, to military memorabilia. An Ebay with a conscience.

This brings me full circle to the news. Last week's London Fashion Week kicked off with an Oxfam Vintage Runway Show, titled 'Fashion Fighting Poverty'. Styled by Vogue Fashion Editor Bay Garnett, supermodels strutted their stuff in gorgeous vintage outfits from Oxfam. Pictures and report here.

Back in the 80s, fashion and charity shops were worlds apart. It's wonderful to see them come together to put on a show of sustainable fashion.

Friday, 17 February 2017

What's the point?

I've been spending more and more of my time reading and talking about Brand Purpose in the last few years. And it occurred to me the other day: what would I say if asked what the difference is between Brand Purpose and Brand Position?

Tricky. Those hours I spend these days on Purpose used to be spent on Position and Positioning. Are they maybe one and the same?

I'm not sure, in the end, that the terms are interchangeable. I'm beginning to think that Purpose is maybe a more relevant term for the world of brands and branding today. I've already written here about the static nature of the idea of a Brand Position.

Furthermore, taking a position, or positioning a brand suggests we're looking at things in a market or category, in comparison to other brands in that category. It's the Spice Girls principle: oh, that's the expensive one, that's the fun one, that's the cheap and cheerful one, that's the grown-up one. It's all about differentiation of items that are all basically similar.

But with categories today such as 'mobility', or brands like airbnb, does that really work? I'm not sure.

What I like about the idea of Brand Purpose is that it gets you to nail down what is unique about that brand, not merely what differentiates it within its (artificially-defined) category. And it's something active, that can inspire and drive everything you do with the brand, rather than merely defending your corner, which positioning sort of implies.

I don't think Purpose necessarily has to be high-falutin' and about saving the planet. It is, in simple terms, the answer to the question: what is the point of your brand? Why does it exist (beyond making money)?

To continue the Spice Girls analogy, I suppose finding their purpose is what each of them had to do when the band split.

Answers on a postcard!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Stop talking about it?



The actor Morgan Freeman, when asked once about Black History Month, said that it was 'ridiculous', and maintained the way to get rid of racism is to 'stop talking about it.'

I'm getting a bit like that about sexism - at least as far as Western markets go. I don't deny that there is serious work to be done (and probably not by brands) to achieve gender equality in some parts of the world. But I wonder whether some of the recent (Dove/Always- esque) campaigns on this theme that I've seen create problems where maybe there aren't any.

Practically every female-orientated product that I buy these days seems to be promising to empower me in some way or another, whether I like it or not. And these are inevitably accompanied by campaigns of the sort above. Cue that melancholic keyboard, cue the cute little girls.

I'm beginning to wonder if it's a US issue. Somehow, growing up in the UK, where our best kings were queens, and living in Europe where female leaders are everyday, it just doesn't seem to be an acute problem. The campaign above, from BBDO and called Put Her on the Map is a public service campaign to get more US city streets and public landmarks named after women. The idea is: Let's inspire girls by celebrating inspiring women.'

Can't girls just get inspired by inspiring people? I know I was.

Maybe I am cynical, but I wonder if all this 'female empowerment' marketing is simply lazy. And, more worrying, whether it's the same old marketing trick: creating needs and problems in people's minds (in this case young girls') that aren't really there.

Yesterday it was stubborn stains, today it's gender equality.

(Written from Käthe-Kollwitz-Ring)

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

His ideas will live on

I am very saddened to hear of the death yesterday, at 68, from pancreatic cancer, of Hans Rosling. For those who are not familiar with this Swedish 'edutainer', I blogged about him here.

Hans Rosling had a talent for explaining the world, life and the human universe on the basis of facts. It sounds dry, but it never was. As an example, here's a short article about 5 ways the world is doing better than you think. 

In these days of negative thought and 'alternative facts', he will be sadly missed.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Political Shandy?

I must admit to having felt slightly queasy about the Budweiser 'patriotic rebrand' this summer, whereby the 'great American lager' was packaged in a new design where 'US' replaced 'AB' and 'America' replaced the brand name, along with the slogan 'America is in your hands.' Odd, really, as I have no qualms about brands from the UK getting all patriotic now and again .

Maybe the difference lies with the tonality: the British way is almost always tongue-in-cheek and rather self-deprecating whereas the Budweiser packaging seemed bombastic and taking itself far too seriously. I wasn't the only one, however: plenty of liberal-minded commentators found the Trump-style rebrand a little hard to swallow.

Budweiser is now coming in for criticism for its Super Bowl commercial: Born the Hard Way, which follows what I expect is a new advertising trope for 'story of our founder starring a moody and hunky young actor' - see Burberry.

Born the Hard Way tells the story of the founder of Anheuser-Busch, the brewers of Budweiser. Adolphus Busch was born just down the road from us, funnily enough, in Mainz-Kastel. He emigrated to St. Louis in 1857, at the age of 18, and the rest is history.

The film emphasises the difficulties faced by immigrants, and the hard work put in by Busch to found and develop what has become 'the great American lager.'



So now the criticism is coming in from the other side: the Trump supporters who see this as blatant anti-Trump propaganda.

I'm not too convinced that politics and beer is a good mix, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see a few more of these 'founder stories' doing the rounds.

Levis would seem to be a prime candidate.


Friday, 27 January 2017

Plastic Fantastic

As a manufacturer or retailer intent on doing Good as well as making a profit, you could do worse than using the UN's 17 sustainable development goals (aka 'Goals to transform our world') as a framework for action.

Announced recently at the World Economic Forum at Davos is an initiative from P&G that hopefully will have some impact on goals:

3. Good health and well-being
12. Responsible consumption and production
14. Life below water

... and maybe a few more besides.

Head & Shoulders in the '1st recyclable shampoo bottle made with beach plastic' will be available at Carrefour in France this summer. The bottle is made with up to 25% recycled beach plastic, (PCR = post-consumer recycled ) and P&G have developed this with recycling experts TerraCycle and SUEZ.  Numerous technical problems had to be overcome such as UV exposure and degrading of plastic.

Now, yes, it's 'up to 25%' and, yes, it's only going to be available in a limited run in France, and, yes, P&G haven't got the cleanest slate in other areas of responsible production (record on animal testing),  but I do think this is a great step in the direction 'part of the solution instead of part of the problem.' Hats off to P&G (which I can happily do if I use Head & Shoulders.)

Using beach plastic has also inspired adidas, who are co-operating with the organisation Parley for the Oceans to produce trainers using the recycled waste from the seas and beaches.

And, while P&G are claiming their 'first', there's a small but great brand who have been doing this for a while - Method.

If I was working at Method, I'd have a slight sly smile on my face about all P&G's ta-raaing about their Head & Shoulders bottle. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Age of Paradox?

Polarities, opposites, tensions, contrasts, paradoxes - whatever you call them, it's my belief that these are the key to a strong brand. I have blogged about how being able to synthesise apparent contractions in human needs and desires (the need for individuality and to belong to something bigger, the need to be effective without causing harm, the need for the familiar and the new and surprising) is vital to being a successful brand - here, here, here, here and here (!)

Nice to know I'm not the only one harping on about this. The 5th Trend Report of IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) is entitled The Uncompromising Customer: Addressing the Paradoxes of the Age of I.

The main theme of the report is, especially in this day and age, people don't want either/or - they want the best of both worlds: 'the best trade-off is no trade-off.'

I'm not sure whether this is particular to the age we live in: I can remember endless arguments about Health vs. Taste/Indulgence and Effectiveness vs. Care from my advertising days in the last century. But the authors of the report describe 'The Age of I' as reflecting one huge human paradox - the desire for inclusion in a meaningful group while protecting and expressing one's individuality.

Within this mega-paradox, the authors have defined 4 sort-of-mega paradoxes:

1. The Paradox of Separate but Connected: The new definition of connection
2. The Paradox of Abundant Rarity: The changing definition of luxury
3. The Paradox of Seeking a Better Me and a Better We: Responsible Individualism
4. The Paradox of Do It Myself and Do It For Me in My Way: Rethinking Consumer Control.

These are not a bad place to start in terms of positioning your brand. Think about which tensions or paradoxes exist within human needs, wants and desires associated with your product, service, market or territory. And what is the unique energy within your brand that you can use to resolve that paradox?

That's all folks!

Oh, sorry. Wrong cartoon.






Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Inventing and reinventing drinks

I've turned up rather late at the party for a new-ish drinks brand called Andalö, presumably because I don't attend enough hip events. However, a friend brought me a bottle to a 'Brexit Blues Party' - long story - and I was intrigued.

Drinks marketing these days is a subtle game. People want something new, but they must have the feeling that they've discovered or rediscovered something authentic. Maybe this is why one of the few survivors from the cocktail craze of the 1980s is Malibu. Amid all those faux brands (remember Shakers?), Malibu could at least claim a Caribbean heritage going back to the 19th century.



Andalö also claims to have its origins in the 19th century. The brand is described as a 'Swedish-inspired Liqueur' based on Sanddorn. (Common Sea-Buckthorn in English.)

I've noticed Sanddorn creeping into a variety of food and drink products here in Germany over the last few years, from yoghurts to tea. Apparently, the plant is a rich source of Vitamin C - and that takes us to the brand story.

A Swedish smuggler by the name of Carl Petter Andersson, whose boat was named the Andalö, got into trouble in a storm while smuggling alcohol from Germany, back in 1889. He mixed the smuggled alcohol with the fresh Sanddorn juice he had on board (presumably to prevent scurvy) and so the liqueur was born. I have sampled it and it's quite tasty.

So far, so good. However, other elements of the marketing don't really seem to tie in with this story or supposed heritage. There's an association with Swedish Midsummer, which is rather sub-IKEA in its portrayal. And then there is the bizarre choice of a brand ambassador, Pamela Anderson. Well, yes, she's blonde, called Anderson, and has Scandinavian roots, but they are not Swedish. And I have a feeling she doesn't drink.

I suspect that the (German) makers of Andalö have looked at the success of Aperol, on the back of the  Prosecco craze, and done the logic that Sweden is the Italy of the North for Germans.

There's even a cocktail recipe for Andalö and Jägermeister, mixed.

But it's a bit too early in the morning for that. Sounds like a recipe for sea-sickness.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Experience Pass

It's a bit alarming to think that I first went ski-ing 40 years ago. But maybe less alarming to think that I'm still keeping it up, with a trip or two almost every year. There have been huge changes, of course, in that time - with the equipment for a start. Skis are short and light and nippy these days, and boots warm and hi-tech and moulded to your feet if you so desire. It's difficult to spot someone without a helmet these days. And let's not get on to the fashions.

The lifts, too, have changed beyond recognition. When I started, there were drag lifts, single chairs or double (like the one above) if you were lucky, and a packed cable car to get everyone up from the valley. These days, chairlifts and gondolas have heated seats and probably Glühwein service.

In all this, we don't think much about the once-humble lift pass. These used to be a bit of card with your photo, which the lift operators checked manually to allow you on the lift, or not. But these days, the lift pass has evolved into more of an Experience Pass.

In combination with the SmartPhone, or even without, the lift pass can get you a printout at the end of the day about how many km you've skied, how many lifts you've used and many other metrics. If you wave the thing around at various photo locations, you don't even have to fumble around in gloveless hands for your camera or phone - holiday snaps will be delivered as though by magic.

All of this reminds me about how marketing people are talking about cities in the context of future mobility and urbanisation. Look at Urban-X (a MINI-backed start-up) for example who are 'Engineering the City as a Service' and whose Mission is:

We believe in a world of abundant, accessible technology that connects and empowers urban life. We believe every city will be a platform upon which the tools of the metropolis will be built. We are Engineering the City as a Service to meet the challenges of rapid global urbanization. We will achieve this via hardware and software that provide necessary infrastructure, technologies, products, and services.”

Wow.

A ski-resort is, of course, a microcosm of a city, brimming with early adopters, be it for the latest ski equipment or the latest technology.

But in all of this connection and participation and technology, I wonder if something gets lost. I love the action and bonhomie of a ski holiday as much as the next one, but I also love the silence of the mountains.

It's telling that the strapline on the Ischgl website is almost portentous: Relax. If you can ...

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy Anniversary, Darling

In 2017, I will celebrate – if that is the right word – ten years with Facebook. No doubt Facebook will let me know about this in no uncertain terms when the momentous day arrives. A video with plinky-plink John Lewis commercial-type music will appear, showcasing my most-liked photos, statuses, posts, shares, my best friends, most important memories and maybe a few suggestions for new friends – other folk who joined Facebook on the very same day. Wow.

Ten years in the traditional anniversary calendar is the tin anniversary. In literature – children’s literature at least – tin is tied up with characters who appear human, or humanoid, but are found wanting in the emotion department. Or are they? There’s the Tin Woodman in The Wizard of Oz who goes off in search of a heart. And the Steadfast Tin Soldier who yearns for the (similarly) one-legged ballerina and after a series of misadventures ends up cast into the fire, his melted remains forming the shape of a heart. The mystery of tin, the paradox of something non-human which nevertheless has the capacity for yearning seems central to my relationship with Facebook. But more of that later.

Do you remember the first time you went on Facebook? No, I don’t either, but then again I don’t remember the first time I went on the internet, sent an email or watched TV for that matter. It’s a different kind of thing to knowing where you were when you heard the news about Kennedy, or Princess Di, or your pick of the celebrities that have bitten the dust this year.

However, Facebook has an answer to all that in that I can easily look it up and see what I posted. Excuse me just a second while I hop into Safari and find out.

Hop.

Well, it’s disappointing. My first status was as follows: ‘out all day researching and IKEA-ing.’ The second: ‘working at home: last day of school today!’ The third is an attempt at wittiness: ‘half watching Live earth, half watching Tour de France and half baking birthday cake! Too many halves don’t make a whole.’

My first year on Facebook contains all the social media behaviour I love to hate in others. The first photo gallery is a carefully edited collection of shots of a family holiday hiking in the Austrian Alps. There are humble brags (‘doing a 10km run/stagger today’), not so humble brags (‘off to documenta on Monday’) and vaguebooking (‘mortified’ – with no further explanation). And there are photos of homemade cakes. Lots of photos.

In my defence, I was just trying it all out. I had 38 friends, and they were all people I knew, face-to-face. We were early-ish adopters, and although it wasn’t quite as shiny and new as thefacebook in 2005 (‘an online directory that connects people through social networks at colleges’), it felt like a private playpen for overgrown students. On my profile from the time, three lines seem to sum up the 2007 ethos of Facebook:
‘Send Susan a flower’
‘Write on my FunWall’
‘Susan has 3 beers.’



But perhaps the oddest aspect of 2007 Facebook is the complete absence of links to other websites.

I won’t deny that Facebook has been a huge boon to me socially. I’ve resumed contact with so many old school friends. I’ve become closer to pals in far-flung areas of the globe, to whom contact had previously been limited to the annual Christmas card. On top of that, using Facebook has enhanced my writing, through contact with other authors, promoting my books and maybe the most fun part: researching. I have joined all manner of obscure interest groups with gay abandon, from ‘The Gloster Meteor Appreciation Society’ to ‘RAF Steamer Point, Aden.’ It’s all there, at the click of a key.

Having said that, I do sometimes yearn (in a steadfast tin soldier type of way) for the early days of Facebook – or even the pre-Facebook days. Douglas Coupland ‘misses his pre-internet brain’ and I’m there, too. Not because of what Facebook is, but because of what it has become: an echo chamber where views and angles on stories are homogenous, exacerbated by an annoying recent development of inserting 'posts you may like' into my news feed. I presume this is the way Facebook want to cheat the ad blocker.

It goes back to the change in the way we use the internet. In the 90s, a few intrepid souls were surfing - adventurous, dangerous, even, and not for everyone. By the early 2000s, the pace had slowed down somewhat, from surfing to stumbling. The internet had become a giant, but rather jolly, obstacle course with people good-naturedly bumbling around and occasionally tripping up on something interesting.

And the last ten years? Sometimes it takes being away from something to notice changes that are, to the rest of us, imperceptible. Which is precisely what happened to blogger Hossein Derakhshan, author of a thought-provoking and very readable article: The Web We Have To Save

Derakhshan was imprisoned, in Iran, for his blogging among other things, between 2008 and 2014.  In the article, he points out a number of developments that have taken place on the internet during his incarceration, but that with the greatest impact is the growth of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. As he says, ‘lots of people start their daily online routine in these cul de sacs of social media, and their journeys end there.’  Social media is characterised by what Derakhshan calls The Stream – ‘...getting fed a never-ending flow of information that's picked for them by complex - and secretive - algorithms.’ He adds: ‘... and not only do the algorithms behind the Stream equate newness and popularity with importance, they also tend to show us more of what we've already liked. These services carefully scan our behaviour and delicately tailor our news feeds with posts, pictures and videos that they think we would most likely want to see.’

This is a fundamentally important point. People want an easy life and they want to be entertained. Nothing wrong in that except when it's to the exclusion of the way people used the internet, predominantly, ten or fifteen years ago: ‘The web was not envisaged as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.’

The very expression ‘newsfeed’ says it all – Facebook and other social media are feeding people a pre-determined (or is it pre-digested?) stream of pap and bile. Calling it ‘curated’ doesn't make it any better. When I look at my Facebook newsfeed with its fake news, ‘You Will Be Amazed’ and ‘People Are Sharing This Incredible Tweet’ articles, big shouty font, witch hunts, ill-informed opinions, rants, photos whose captions plainly don’t match the visuals (usually posted by people who should know better), strangely homogenised language and expressions (that most people wouldn’t dream of using in normal speech), angry outbursts and tantrums interspersed with unnaturally fluffy puppies and kittens and adverts that ‘Will Make You Cry,’ the bullying, the boasting, the boring and the begging – then I do sometimes wish I had never signed up for this. It takes me back to my university days and the idea of a homunculus.

A sensory or motor homunculus figure shows proportionately how much of the cortex area is taken up by various body parts. If you’ve ever seen one of these little characters, you’ll notice that it’s recognisable as a human figure (just) but some parts are distended or atrophied in comparison to reality. The overall effect is grotesque. This is, perhaps, the relationship that my Facebook newsfeed bears to what is really going on out there.

Derakhshan’s article is now 2 years old, and maybe it took the double-whammy of Brexit and Trump to punch his points, and the phrase ‘echo chamber’ into the public consciousness. I hope it will also prompt a return to proper journalism, rather than a lazy regurgitation of someone else’s digital diarrhoea (couldn’t resist that visceral mixed metaphor, sorry.)

And my answer to all this? Am I going to continue my relationship with Facebook? Well, yes and no. What I really want to do is change my attitude to Facebook.

I must stop anthropomorphizing Facebook. Facebook, as such, is inanimate. It has no heart and no soul, and never will have. It does not even yearn for a heart in a strange Tin Man sort of way. It does not annoy me deliberately, it does not spy on me, it does not tell me things, it does not manipulate the way I think. Nor does it know my innermost feelings.

Facebook is a digital platform. No more, no less. It’s a medium in the same way that the TV is a medium, or the radio. A medium that everyone in the world potentially has access to (except the countries that ban it, but that’s a whole other story.)

I can choose which people I connect with via Facebook, and if I don’t like their opinions, I can switch them off, in the same way we used to switch off the TV, or change channels.


If you’ll allow me one last anthropomorphic metaphor in relation to Facebook, I won’t be ending our relationship in 2017, but I’ll make sure I am the one wearing the trousers.