Wednesday, 18 October 2017

What is retail, anyway?

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.

There were some super print ads from Sainsbury's.

(Image courtesy of The Advertising Archives)

And who can ever forget Dudley Moore's search for Tesco chickens?

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.


Wednesday, 11 October 2017

I'm retro, fly me!

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.

Friday, 6 October 2017

A Snickers by any other name would taste as sweet

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.

Almost. But not when I'm hungry.


Monday, 2 October 2017

Fearless Falcon

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?

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The hating gene



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.

I love it!



Thursday, 14 September 2017

Bob the (rather bronzed) builder

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.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Good news for you, bad news for me

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.