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.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Local Beer-o

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 Schlappeseppel beer:

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.

Mine's a large one, please!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Analogue revenge

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.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Mental Jerks

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.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Empathy by numbers?

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?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

From Brand Image to Brand = Image

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.'

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Cluetrain comes of age

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.'

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ads are made by fools like me

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.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017


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'?

Did they heck!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Speed Queen

Procter & Gamble are still sending me Victoria magazine, with its yoga for the over 50s, handy household tips, myths about bladder weakness, menopause horror stories and patronising advice on how to use Facebook. I've blogged before about how dreadfully depressing this all is.

As a complete contrast, here's part of a smashing brand campaign from Renault celebrating 40 years in Formula 1. It features Irish rally driver Rosemary Smith, who is pushing 80 (years, not mph - she's way faster than that!). In the Swinging 60s, girls dreamed of being fashion designers and boys dreamed of being racing car drivers, Rosemary Smith did both - and in this film she fulfills another dream - and so becomes the oldest person to drive an 800 bhp Formula 1 racing car. There are some super photos of Rosemary in action in all her 1960s glory, and the film conveys her zest for life - past, present and future.

Bravo to Renault for this campaign, and standing up to the potential criticism that they make cars for little old ladies. I wonder - is this maybe a crafty admission on Renault's part that yes, they do - and they're both happy and proud to do so?

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Blimey, did I really say that?

I'm reading a delightful novel at the moment: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The story is that of a Russian aristocrat who is placed under indefinite house arrest by the Communists in the 1920s for writing a subversive poem. And that house arrest is in one of the grandest hotels in Moscow. The story rambles around the hotel with the Count, the eccentric characters he meets and the absurd situations in which he finds himself.

One such is the Second Meeting of the First Congress of the Moscow Branch of the All-Russian Union of Railway Workers. The Union's Charter is under discussion, particularly the 7th sentence of the 2nd paragraph, which concludes with what we marketeers (shhhh!) might call a Mission:

"... to facilitate communication and trade across the provinces."

And, oh dear, does the word 'facilitate' ever come in for some stick! Far too tepid and prim to suggest pounding steel and rippling manly muscles and shovelling coal! Some alternatives are suggested, such as to spur, to propel and to empower, which all come into hot debate. Eventually:

"... a suggestion came from a shy-looking lad in the tenth row that perhaps 'to facilitate' could be replaced with 'to enable and ensure.' This pairing, the lad explained (while his cheeks grew red as a raspberry), might encompass not only the laying of rails and the manning of engines, but the ongoing maintenance of the system ..."

And so, after more hot debate, the alternative is adopted.

If that one amused you, you may also find that this tickles your fancy, too. Perfect for collecting a few meaningless phrases to throw into the next strategy meeting. And I don't think many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say we've never used this kind of lingo.

I'm convinced that when researchers from the future find some of our strategy documents, they'll be as bemused as if those documents were in Russian - or Ancient Greek.

Talking of which ...

Friday, 7 July 2017

Local (retail) hero

Now and again you think of a brand that gets it just right. A couple of weeks ago I visited the flagship store of a retailer just down the road from us, and thought: Jawohl!

Quite often, the shining examples of hero brands that get regurgitated again and again in Powerpoints are brands that we marketers blab on about about, but don't actually use or experience. Or they are from some funky new techy category, enabled by mobile blah blah.

Engelbert Strauss GmbH & Co. KG  is none of these. It's a German workwear retailer, a family firm that was founded in 1948 and still run by the son and grandsons of the original Engelbert. Norbert, Steffen and Henning, should you be interested.

The story goes back even further, as the great-grandfather Strauss was a trader in brooms and brushes. It was his son Engelbert who founded the firm and soon added gloves and protective workwear to his wares. In the 60s and 70s, he started mail order and a catalogue and there are still people in the local area who recall 'Engelbert Strauss in his van selling brooms.'

The 90s saw two giant leaps for the company - opening their headquarters and logistics centre and starting e-commerce in 1998. And in the 21st century they have come on in leaps and bounds to become the well-loved workwear/outdoor brand, successful company and award-winning employer that they are today.

It's maybe because Engelbert Strauss started in mail order that omnichannel thinking has come naturally to them. The workwear stores are a fairly recent development and these embody the idea of 'retail experience' at its best. Design is at the heart of the brand - look at the neat little details like saws on the end of the zippers - and this shows in the design of the stores.

Everything is themed around the joy of handwork from the installations of tools on the walls:

to the children's play area:

The company claim also comes to life in the provisions for co-workers, which include a fitness centre, Wellness area, their own trattoria, ice cream vendors and cafe complete with chill-out music.

What is the claim? Enjoy work. 

Well, I'll try to.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

O Canada

I make no apologies for today's post being low on words and high on visuals and nostalgia. I've commented before that the Canadian flag is one of the best logos going, and what better way to celebrate Canada's 150 years today than with a parade of Canadian brands.

I visited Canada as a young girl in 1967, the year of the Centennial. It wasn't my first visit - that was as a toddler - but this was the visit where I think Canadian brands first made an impression on me. In these days of globalisation, it's very easy to forget that there were days when almost all brands were unfamiliar when you travelled abroad, and they were crucial in building up your picture of that country overall. The roadside signs, the posters, the packaging - they all seemed exotic and wonderful, even if they were commonplace for those that lived there.

I've subsequently found out that some of my original 'Canadian Brands' were more correctly 'American'. Those things that interest young children like popcorn - with a surprise toy:

Or sweets - sorry, candy:

Or diners serving Snoopy's favourite - Root Beer:

But there was another side to Canadian Brands - a sophisticated, grown-up dreamland of shiny locomotives and aeroplanes, with elegantly-dressed passengers clinking glasses, gliding over, or through, acres of breathtaking landscape:

And here are more wonderful Canadian images on the I.Am:Canadian Pinterest board.

Happy Birthday, Canada!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Logo to Go

The Michelin Man, Bibendum, has to be one of my favourite brand characters. So I've been slightly wary in the last couple of weeks on hearing that the Michelin Man has been 'slimmed down' and made 'more in tune with the 21st century.' But I think all the cries of 'pandering to the pc-police' aren't warranted. The new-look Michelin Man, above, is his jolly, friendly, dynamic self and would still probably command a BMI above 25. In fact, I welcome the return to a 2-D look - far more classic and adaptable than its 3-D predecessor.

The Michelin Man was conceived by the Michelin brothers Andre and Edouard in the 1890s, who remarked, on seeing a pile of tyres: Look, with arms it would be a man.

The famous poster that launched Bibendum's career was illustrated by the cartoonist Marius Rossillon, aka O'Galop. Here is some more of his work for Michelin:

I love the style of some of the early posters, even if some of Bibendum's accessories might be deemed 'inappropriate' today.

Quite the ladies' man - and look at those shapely calves!

Don't drink/smoke and drive? Ah, well.

You can have my spare tyre?

Spot the Beau Geste influence. Or was it The Desert Song?

Ton-up tyreman? No helmet necessary.

And he's still popular today with the meme set.

Maybe all this goes to show that sometimes random, intuitive thoughts (" would be a man") lead to better longevity for company logos and mascots than painstaking definition of brand values, essences and character traits and the careful construction of brand models.

Bibendum is a character that has taken his company from bike tyres to the 21st century 'mobility' market. I'll leave you with a picture of him and some of his advertising chums having a bit of a shindig on the London Underground.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Creative direction by numbers?

I've already bemoaned - or at least questioned - the use of 'predictive software' in the film industry, both here and here. And I see the phrase 'data-driven decisions' everywhere I turn, it seems.

The latest company I've become aware of plying their wares in this are is ScriptBook whose tagline is 'Hard Science. Better Box Office.' Moving on from the 'Hard Science,' they have quite a hard sell - 'subjective decisions lead to box office failure.' And they have the data to back it up. 87% of films lose money.

Now, there may be something wrong in the logic that making a film involves subjective decisions, and most films lose money therefore subjective decisions mean failure, but anyway. What ScriptBook  offer is Script2Screen, which employs artificial intelligence to analyse screenplays, delivering an objective assessment of a script's commercial and critical success. Out with hunches, intuition, bias, gut feeling and in with fairness and objectivity.

Not only do ScriptBook promise commercial and critical success, but innovation and originality, too:
'At ScriptBook, we believe that by unifying technology and storytelling, we will enhance innovation and bring back originality in film and television.'


Do tell me how a 'predictive algorithm' which works by looking at a database of existing scripts can bring back originality? Unless it means oh, RomComs are successful and so are Zombie films and Historical Biographical, so let's have Gandhi meeting a zombie for a madcap affair.

Let's go back to the data-driven decisions. I remember a few years ago, panic about how e-commerce would destroy existing bricks and mortar retailers. But what's happened is not an 'either or' situation. Everyone is going multichannel in retailing.

It's the same with data. In the same way that Millward Brown and other pre-testing research agencies used to claim to 'predict' the success of your TV spot based on the analysis of their database of tested commercials, companies like ScriptBook are no different. it's just that there's even more data, and what we can do with that data is ever more sophisticated.

Perhaps data-informed is better than data-driven. 'Driven' suggests someone cracking a whip at a herd of cattle. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, while speaking about House of Cards: 'We start with the data ... but the final call is always gut. It's informed intuition.'

Before we leave this subject, here's some light relief for my German-speaking friends. Who needs artificial intelligence when you have monkeys? Comedian Jan Böhmermann composed this smash-hit single with the help of monkeys who chose which of either the four most frequent words in German Chart Hits ('Menschen' 'Leben' 'Tanzen' 'Welt' ) or phrases from TV commercials should come next in the lyrics:

Friday, 16 June 2017

Don't just find your purpose

In the current depressing political atmosphere following the UK general election, I've been looking around to find something more upbeat and inspiring. I get the impression that it's time for some new blood on the UK political scene. It's positive that the younger people turned out in greater numbers to vote than for the referendum. Let's hope some of them get inspired to be more involved, actually change things. It can be done. This young man, at 33, is the youngest person to deliver a Commencement Speech at Harvard.

Mark - now Doctor - Zuckerberg addressed today's graduates as being from his generation. - the Millennials. His main message was about purpose:

My message was about purpose. As millennials, finding our purpose isn't enough. The challenge for our generation is to create a world where every single person has a sense of purpose.

What Mark Zuckerberg was saying is don't just pin your purpose on your (Facebook) wall, like a corporate mission statement, but get out and get doing. Where are the new generation-defining public works?

It's a good message for brands, too. So much time is spent in workshops and brainstorms trying to find a purpose, and even more in trying to articulate it. Your purpose doesn't have to be high-and-mighty . But once you've got it, get out there and do something with it.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Passing off and faking usually involves a one-way traffic: downwards on the price scale. But a month ago - or so - an amusing story made a bit of buzz on social media as the designer Balenciaga brought out a tote bag costing around $2,000 that appeared remarkably similar to the famous IKEA FRAKTA blue bag which costs, well, about a two thousandth of that.

IKEA responded in typical IKEA style - see above. This response has all the IKEA hallmarks - a quirky sense of humour and a matter-of-fact pride about the product - and its low price.

The story could have stopped there, but it didn't. It could well have been IKEA's participation that fuelled a whole host of hacks, some of which are more fun and comfortable-looking than others. You'll see what I mean if you click here.

And the great thing is that IKEA didn't walk away from the party. They stayed, and joined in with the fun. It's difficult to tell which of those ideas come direct from IKEA and which from the outside hackers, and it doesn't matter. IKEA have even made a short how-to film on the subject:

And maybe the FRAKTA bag deserves celebration in its own right, too, as a symbol of what IKEA stands for.  Maybe it should become a film star. It just so happens that IKEA have thought of that too:

Friday, 2 June 2017

Holy Logo!

Reader's Digest have recently published the third annual Trusted Brands Survey. The main survey is carried out in the US, where 5,500 people were asked which brands in 40 product categories they trust the most, and would recommend to family and friends. The study backs up, with numbers, a lot of stuff that marketers know intuitively - for example, that people are prepared to pay more for brands they trust.

From the results, Reader's Digest have created the Trusted League, giving the brands superhero names and personas. So McDonald's becomes 'The Satisfryer', or Dove 'The Beholder', and then there's 'Swoosh', representing Southwest, above.

It's a lot of fun and probably a nice pat on the back for the people working on these brands, but without being a total dreary killjoy, I'll add a note of caution: don't take this too seriously when you're creating your advertising. It could land you into a spot of hot water or holy hubris.

There's also a German version, with fewer product categories and no superheroes, although there are plenty of the usual suspects: Nivea, Milka, Haribo, Allianz, Persil.

I was a little surprised, however to see C&A on the list, as well as Deutsche Telekom and - wait for it - VW.

Maybe it goes to show that goodwill built up can go a long way when you do tell one or two porky pies.

Monday, 29 May 2017

For what it's worth

I recently visited the Strathisla Whisky Distillery, of Chivas Regal fame, and as well as having a thoroughly enjoyable time, I was reminded of two fundamental truths in Marketing:

- seeing, hearing, experiencing how food and drink is crafted can all add further enjoyment to the consumption of  that food or drink
- knowing the story behind a product or brand can add greatly to its perceived value

These truths are known by most marketers intuitively, and we can all back up our assertions with any number of examples or personal experiences.

I was interested to find a 'literary and anthropological experiment' which has sought to value the effect of storytelling on the value of objects. The experiment was started around 10 years ago, and is called Significant Objects. The experiment - which has taken on a life beyond the initial round - was conceived by journalist and author Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, who conclude that: Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object's subjective value can actually be measured objectively.

What the experimenters did was to buy a load of jumble-sale bric-a-brac, then give a number of writers a piece to write a short story or flash fiction about. The objects were then put on ebay, together with the accompanying story.

You can see the objects on the website, divided into 'significant' categories - Fossils, Talismans, Idols, Totems, Evidence. There's all manner of tat, from a Charlie's Angels thermos to a lighter in the shape of a pool ball. And the stories range from 6 words to minor epics.

In the first round of the experiment, the experimenters sold items that had cost $128 for $3612.

Now, I know you can pick holes in this. The stories were fiction, and were clearly marked as such. Would true stories about the objects, well-written have had the same effect? Did the well-known status of some of the authors have an influence? Was there knowledge that the proceeds would be going to charity? Was there a word-of-mouth element amongst the experimenters' literary and journalistic friends and contacts?

Still, you have to admire a writer who can raise the value of a 'mystery object' from 99c right up to $103.50.

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.'