Thursday, 22 March 2018

A decade of drivel ;)

There's not a lot more dreary and self-congratulatory than a 'bloggoversary' crammed with statistics about post views, page views and your audience from Outer Mongolia to the Inner Depths of Brexit Island. Unless it's a Facebook anniversary - look-at-this-awesome-video-that-I-didn't-put-together-myself-with-pictures-of-silly-monkeys-and-sickly-cakes (oops.)

No-one cares.

So, to mark 10 years of this blog, I'll direct you to my first post, You know it's time to start blogging when, which reflected on a local exhibition of advertising from the past, and pondered on the difference between 'modern' and 'contemporary'.

Then, there's my most viewed post - quite why is beyond me - Spring Cleaning, all about that daffodil-yellow German equivalent of the Hoover, the Kärcher.

And now, to leave the stats alone, I'm going to pick a post from each year that I particularly liked at the time, a kind of curated (bleurgh!) best-of.

2008: Rafts or Rockets? Should agencies be bolder and not give the client a choice?

2009: The Palace of Wisdom - how all successful brands are progressed by Contraries

2010: Journey - the over-used word of the 21st century so far - and talking of which, have we really progressed since the old AIDA models of communication?

2011: Why, oh why? Planning made extremely easy by simply asking the right questions

2012: "Liking" ourselves to death - who got the future right, Orwell or Huxley?

2013: Data can't tell you anything - up on my soapbox!

2014: An element of surprise - the most important thing?

2015: Is the internet the new TV? - from surfing to being (force) fed

2016: The untrendy strike back - diversity is in as long as it doesn't mean diversity of opinion

2017: Measurement Madness - just because you can measure it doesn't mean it's important

2018: Circle of Life - the sooner we get rid of the notion of (mindlessly) produce - consume - dispose, the better.

Which neatly brings me full circle, having responsibly recycled some of the best of the (Extra)wurst!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Overabundance and overindulgence

I've remarked before on how, over the last 20 years, the internet has become more and more of a passive medium. More like the 'couch potato' picture of TV, in fact. Twenty years ago, we were surfers, springing from crest to crest in an invigorating new world, with just a few other cool young dudes for company. Fifteen years ago, the pace had slowed and we were stumbling over this or that in a mild-mannered absent-minded professor sort of way. And now, most of the world's population are online and content, in many cases, with being fed non-stop with digital drivel by Nanny algorithm, in the guise of a personal curator.

Another parallel is that of nourishment. In the early days, information was relatively scarce, and you had to forage for it. We then moved into what seemed like a golden agricultural age - everyone could grow and create their own stuff, and pass it around for the greater good. But somehow, that dream descended into a passive force-feeding in an age of overabundance.

Well, over-indulgence isn't good for anyone, and the signs are there that the digital honeymoon is over, that paradise is lost for more and more people.

Exhibit One: The Edelman Trust Barometer  this year shows that people trust platforms less than ever before, seeing Facebook and Co. as harbouring bullies and trolls, spreading extremist content and fake news, and not taking any responsibility for it. 'Woah! Hang on, we're just the platform' in a sort of 'don't shoot the messenger' sort of way.

Exhibit Two: Keith Weed, the CMO of Unilever, threatens to pull investment from online platforms that 'create divisions in society'. There's talk of 2018 being the year of the 'techlash' and that 'social media should build social responsibility.'

Exhibit Three: Belinda Parmar aka 'Lady Geek' in today's Guardian gets tough on the tech companies that launched her career, on a personal (locking away the family's devices) and collective level, calling out those who profit from our 'over-engagement' (now, there's an interesting euphemism!). For example, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, who said that the company's main competitor wasn't Amazon Video or YouTube, but sleep. Ouch.

This article is a cautionary tale for all parents. Children imitate their parents' behaviour. If you want your child to grow up a bookworm, he or she has to see you reading. Often. If all they see is their parent glued to Twitter in the bathroom, bedroom, while driving, well ...

Exhibit Four: Sludge - the new word for inserting a pesky seam into all that seamless stuff, making it more difficult to 'over-engage'. Breaking the passivity and forcing action.

So there we have it. Will 2018 be the year our beautiful digital paradise will be regained? And what will it look like with the benefit of experience?

Saturday, 10 March 2018


Kitzbühel, St Moritz, Davos - the names of famous ski resorts are so evocative, you can almost feel the tickle of snowflakes against your skin, and taste that first sip of Glühwein. When asked for my favourite examples of advertising from the past, I have to say that 20th century poster art, particularly in the area of travel and tourism, comes generally high on my list.

Maybe it is this pedigree (and quite possibly a budget as high as the Matterhorn) that leads to some of these mountain resorts being so clever with logo design. Back in the old days, there may have been consistency from year to year in the way the resort presented its signature, but often that wasn't the case:

What to do when you want to present your uniqueness beyond sun, snow and mountains, and when you need to do this throughout all online and offline media available these days - including merchandising.

Enter the cleverly designed logo - maybe accompanied by a slogan. It adds a visual dimension to the name, something that is understood intuitively, and stamped on the memory instantly.

Take Davos, for example. Very simple, very clear, very classy. Sunshine and mountain - unmistakeable.

The tourist logo may take its cue from the town's original coat of arms, for example, here are the town and tourist logos for Kitzbühel.

And of course, the practice is spreading to towns who may not have quite the budget or pull for tourists, but nevertheless see the advantages a logo can bring.

Not quite Davos, but it's home:

Friday, 2 March 2018

Me Johnnie. You Jane.

I don't mind a bit of a brand drag party when it's done in the spirit of fun, even if there is a serious message underlying the carry-on. But with some gender-themed promotions I've seen, I do wonder  what the real motivations are. With International Women's Day coming up, my cynicism radar starts bleeping overtime.

Take the limited (to the U.S. market) 'Jane Walker' Black Label edition. This has been conceived to 'draw more women to the brand' and 'acknowledge a broader push towards gender equality.' OK, on the second part of that, there are donations to organisations supporting women's progress such as Monumental Women. (Whether building statues supports women's progress today is another matter.) But I question whether this is really going to attract women to the brand. Looking at Jane, with her cane and shiny boots, I think she's more likely to attract more men of a certain sort.

The VP of Johnnie Walker, Stephanie Jacoby, says that 'Scotch is seen as particularly intimidating to women'. Now, I don't ever recall having been seriously intimidated by a bottle of Scotch, but there you go. Ms Jacoby is allowed (maybe) to make sweeping generalisations about women because she is one. And she continues '... we like to think of our striding man and our striding woman as really walking together going forward.'

Going forward? Not after a few measures you don't. You go from side to side.

Well, I suppose if the hidden agenda was publicity, I've given them a little more.

I do wonder what awaits us next. Perhaps a gender fluid version, Jo Walker? And what about a few other famous brand icons attempting to attract more women? Can we have a Michelin Woman, maybe? Or a Mrs Peanut?

None of this is new, of course. A Pillsbury Doughgirl was around back in the wonderful gender-bendering 1970s.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Elastic Fantastic

One benefit of the wonderful digital age in which we live is that agencies have become so much more generous with their information and knowledge. You may argue that there's no such thing as a free report, or that if it costs nothing, then it has no value, but I beg to disagree.

JWT Intelligence has recently released a report on the women of what they term 'The Elastic Generation'. It's a UK report, based on research amongst women aged 53 - 72. That age group, born from the late 40s to mid-60s, are more commonly known as Baby Boomers, especially in the US. The re-name has been chosen to reflect this generation's inner resilience, energy, strength and potential - as embodied by, for example, Pauline Black of The Selecter , above.

The report, which you can download here, is pretty comprehensive, substantial, and a million miles from the kind of customer-facing horrors that, for example, P&G put out. There are all manner of interesting links and references, including the fascinating Age of no Retirement

So, many thanks to JWT Intelligence, and I'll finish with two remarks:
It may be my age, but I'm afraid I immediately associated 'elastic' with comfy elastic waistbands, much as I get your reasons for the name.
And - the big question - what happens after 72, or do I have to wait to find out?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Live to work to live

I realised, with a large gulp, that this year, I'll have been a strategic planner for 30 years. I've been in this business longer than many of today's top brands have been around. There was no amazon when I started, and certainly no Google or Facebook. No one was wittering on about platforms, except for the man who told you to 'mind the gap' in the London rush hour.

I have been lucky with my work. I'm a stayer, rather than a flitter, not due to inertia, but rather due to change just happening as soon as I got itchy feet, rather as if I'd willed it. A new account, a completely different market, an international role. And then, of course, the changes in the world - through technology, which has had a huge impact on the ways of working. I remember the days when you didn't have to schedule a phone call. Yes, there were phones back then (but very few of them were mobile.)

But in terms of what I'm doing, rather than how I'm doing it, the same things are on the agenda. What makes people tick? Why do they behave the way they do? What drives them? And how can brands help to meet this infinite palette of human needs, dreams, desires, wants and hopes?

The agenda has widened for me - on top of this, what is the relation between brand and business? What role or responsibility have brand - and business - in society? These questions retain their fascination.

Back in my college days, I think I did one of those vocational questionnaires that guided me towards suitable fields of work. I seem to remember the legal profession and HM Inspector of Taxes being high on the list. Here is another kind of work-related questionnaire, and rather a good one, from The Book of Life. Rather than suggesting specific careers, it highlights what is important for you in your work, more in terms of what moves you.

I'm pleased to say, that for me, it was creativity. Some things don't change.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Is segregation progress?

Back in the last century, the sexes were segregated - certainly when it came to books and learning. There were boys' schools and girls' schools, and at universities, women's colleges and men's colleges. I considered myself lucky to be growing up when all that was changing, and even made a little bit of history myself as one of the first women undergraduates at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Over the last few years, there seem to be increasing calls for segregation - in car parks, in railway carriages, and more in more in the way some products are sold and marketed. Maybe International Women's Day has brought out the worst in them, but here are just a couple of examples from the (UK) publishing industry.

Penguin are going to pop-up in Shoreditch with their "Like a woman bookshop" from 5th - 9th March. This bookshop will stock only books written by women. A Penguin spokeswoman is quoted as seeing this as a push for "women's voices being heard and taken seriously ..."

Meanwhile, there's the publisher And Other Stories who will only be publishing works by women in 2018.

In my admittedly limited (to children's books) experience of the UK publishing industry, I've noted that it seems, if anything, to be more female-orientated than male. It is rare to find a literary agent for children's books that's male.

Are these activities creating a problem where there is none? Fiction-writing, with its calls for empathy and communication skills seems to be one area, to me, where women might just have the upper hand.

Where there is a problem is in countries whose regimes and cultures still suppress women. This will not be solved by a pop-up shop in Shoreditch. It will only be solved by publishers actively seeking out authors from these countries (and I don't mean comfortable middle-class third-generation UK-based women) and taking on the risks and dangers involved, if they believe that strongly in "making these voices heard/insert next cliche."

Incidentally, I've been invited to join something called Trinity Women's Network and attend several events that they host. Having gone to a mixed college, why on earth would I entertain the idea of segregation now?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Circle of Life

So many years have passed since the word 'sustainability' entered the language of business that I believe many people have forgotten the difficulties they may have had in understanding exactly what that word means. Although I use the word, it's one I've always had misgivings about. It's a heavily-laden word,  weighed down by its own worthiness, implying a lot of hard graft for not a lot of reward. It has associations with endurance, with injury and suffering, but none with anything positive, be it people, purpose, planet or profit. It's a must-do rather than a want-to do.

I'm pleased that businesses have started talking about the 'circular economy.' Like the idea of the 'sharing economy', it's an idea you can understand intuitively. I'm surprised the term has been around since 1989 (raised by British environmental economists) as I have only been aware of it in the last two or three years.

Rather than a linear economy, with its produce - consume - dispose beginning, middle and end, the circular economy, as you see above is all about keeping resources going and giving value for as long as possible, and then re-cycling.

Incidentally, this ties in well with my abhorrence of the word 'consumer' - in this model, people are active participants, creating, selling-on, adapting, repairing and recycling as well as using the goods.

It's only a pity that many of the major tech companies with their in-built obsolescence don't seem to have got the hang of this just yet.

Friday, 2 February 2018

The Funeral of a Computer

I've said before that one of the hazards of being a trend forecaster is that sometimes, you get it wrong.

But apart from the nuclear bomb and the new ice age, there's very little in the predictions of these teenagers, asked in 1966 by the BBC's Tomorrow's World what life might be like in the year 2000, that's so completely wrong, even if some of it took a little longer to start happening. I wonder what these people - now well into their 60s - think today of their predictions?

Robots and computer funerals, madmen and atomic bombs, overpopulation and radiation.
Automation and people out of work.
People will be regarded as statistics and not actual people.
Boredom, everything the same, people the same.
Housing problems, people squashed together and cramped - or living under the sea.
Battery farming, artificially-reared animals.
Rockets and sputniks interfering with the weather. The sea rising.
Black and white, rich and poor all living mixed together.

Very dull, no fun or anything.  And - cabbage pills.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Tack, Ingvar!

(Image via

Many of my readers will know that two brands have dominated my working life: Saatchi & Saatchi, and in the 21st century, IKEA. The sad news from Sweden this weekend is that the IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad has passed away in his sleep at the grand old age of 91

I have often pondered the factors behind the success of IKEA. The various press articles and books written on the subject cite everything from product names to meatballs. And they are all (partly) right.

Some of the factors I always come back to when thinking about IKEA are these:

Demographic Design and Vision: Long before it was fashionable to talk about such things, Ingvar Kamprad laid out the Idea and Purpose of IKEA: to create a better everyday life for the many people through affordable Home Furnishings. Those few words say so much and highlight the uniqueness of IKEA. You can copy a product or two, or the hot dogs. But the whole lot? Nah.

The original participative brand: At the risk of repetition, here's another factor that's been in the IKEA DNA long before it was fashionable. IKEA has always involved effort on the part of the customer. 'You do your part, we do ours, and together we save money.' It's well known ('The IKEA Effect' ) that you value more objects to which you've made a contribution.

Then there are a couple of paradoxes at the heart of IKEA which provide a healthy tension, and maybe the 'Marmite' nature of the brand that means it's rarely out of the conversation.

Universal and individual: yes, it's mass-market and yes, the stores look and feel the same. Everyone has collective stories and jokes about IKEA. But once you get BILLY into your home, and fill the bookcase with your stuff, it's uniquely yours.

Change and Ritual: In the same way that our lives at home follow a dynamic of familiar ritual and change, so it is with all aspects of the IKEA brand. The way through the store may be standardised, but there are surprising new products around every corner. 

As I write this, I'm looking at a table in my office. I bought it 22 years ago as a dining table when I first moved to Germany, expecting it to last a few years before we bought something more solid. It's been through three different homes now and although it's currently enjoying something of a holiday from dining (it's the winter indoor home for a couple of hibiscus plants), I suspect it will have a new lease of life in a few years, maybe as a dining table once more when my son moves out.

And maybe this will be Ingvar's legacy. A recycled, renewed IKEA for the 21st century.
'Most things still remain to be done. A glorious future!'  

Monday, 22 January 2018

Go, amazon, go!

It's  official, I think. The store of the future is here today. Well, not here in downtown Bruchköbel, but in - where else? - Seattle. Amazon have launched their first no queues, no check-outs Amazon Go grocery convenience store. To get into this cornucopia of convenience, all you have to do is scan your Amazon Go app and it's 'Open Sesame.'

In you go, pick stuff off the shelves, put it in your bag and out you go again. Change your mind? Dither? It's all covered, via the crafty technology (computer vision, sensor fusion, deep learning - as used in self-drive cars) There are loads more photos here.

Part of me is excited about this, but part is alarmed. Not so much by the shot in the link of that flock of cameras, but by seeing the Amazon branding all over those food products and meal ideas. Being a little behind the times, I still associate Amazon primarily with books and stuff.

I suppose the source of the alarm is the audacity of it - the assumption from the Amazon people that they have a right to infiltrate every area of my life, including those where their competence is questionable. What'll be next? Pharma?

I read another article this week, in The Economist, about Google, Facebook, Amazon and Co. These brands have such power in terms of data held that they do pose a threat to healthy competition. What is the solution? Difficult to say.

But I have a feeling that, in the end, people need something more than convenience alone. However fast and seamless 'shopping' (if I can call it that: it seems more like shop-lifting) at Amazon Go is, if those make-a-meal kits taste as bland as they look, people will vote with their stomachs and seek out fresh ingredients, or their friendly local bistro, or a greasy junk-food fix. At least for some of the time.

I do wonder at what point the tide of opinion will turn that Amazon has Gone Too Far?

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Baaaaad Brand!

Well, at least one that seems somewhat uncompromising. Stroh rum, known as The Spirit of Austria, is a brand that turns all the current 21st century must-dos of branding on their heads.

From its beginnings in 1832, back in the imperial days, Stroh has made a virtue of being inauthentic. So inauthentic that it's authentic, in fact. Austria is land-locked and didn't have many colonies so it was unlikely that anyone would be able to bring enough sugar cane back from the Caribbean for an authentic rum. So the strong spiced rum was concocted from sugar beet, plus aromas and colours.

It's available in 5 different strengths: 38, 40, 54, 60 and 80 and, yes, those are the ° proof. The two highest are described as "overproof" which is about as blunt as "overweight."

Devoid of stories about crafting and palm trees and pirates, the pack design is also uncompromising. In fact, it could be mistaken for something you'd put in your car engine, rather than your mouth. The whole thing is redolent of last century ski holidays, tin signs, dark wooden huts, smoky bars, paper bags from picture postcard newsagents, the whiff of Jagertee.

The only time Stroh gets slightly less disreputable is when it's used as an ingredient in cakes and desserts. But those aren't terribly good for your waistline.

Please keep the branding consultants away!

Friday, 5 January 2018

Especially for you

2018, the trend forecasters inform us, will see yet more leaps forward in brands getting close up and personal with their customers.

Right on cue, I received the flyer above a couple of days ago, through the good old post. It's not from a huge global brand, but from a local sports store, informing me of a loyalty bonus I've earned. I have to say that receiving something with my name literally on it made me feel quite special. Especially as I am about to set off to the slopes. I was flattered by this little surprise, a lot more so than if it had been sent via email.

But maybe that's the point. The surprise is that it combines what we used to call old (flyer) media with new (personalisation) technology. No-one would be surprised to receive something of this sort via their smart phone, for example.

This raises an interesting issue about people's expectations. We say again and again that people's expectations from brand communication are changing, but we seldom stop to think what that really means. What it does mean is that personalisation will become so commonplace that it won't be a surprise any more. It will become par for the course, expected, maybe not even noticed any more, in the way that people want Smart Home technology 'so seamless it's forgotten.'

We all have the same tools at our disposal. Being first to use these may win you a few temporary points for novelty value. But it's only when the tools are used in a fashion and to a purpose that is unique to your brand and what it stands for that will build lasting attachment.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Magnificent Men (... and women)

One major anniversary in 2018 will be 100 years of the Royal Air Force. Those who're aware of my author-ego will know I have something of a soft spot for the RAF and I thought I'd kick off the New Year with a look at how the recruitment advertising for the RAF has reflected cultural changes across the last century. Well, actually, it's an excuse to go rummaging through some wonderful old ads.

When the RAF, born out of the Royal Flying Corps, started, it was all about honour and glory. The beautiful poster above looks and feels every bit of its hundred years old, from the typeface to the sentiments expressed. The 'See the World' poster is probably a little younger, and introduces a perennial theme for the RAF - the exciting possibilities and adventure that such a career opens up.

By 1941, in the middle of the 2nd World War, things were getting grittier and direct on target. There was no doubt here about what was required and what was the task that lay ahead. This image is courtesy of the very magnificent Aviation Ancestry - but I will issue a warning straight away - you are likely to be some time if you visit the site!

Moving into the 1970s and 80s, the promise of excitement and adventure was still writ large. The advert featuring a Tornado is also care of Aviation Ancestry. And changes in society were reflected too in the RAF - or maybe the services actually influenced some societal changes? The advert below is courtesy of the Advertising Archives:

As the century due to a close, the recruitment advertising went into full James Bond action mode, as seen here in a 1997 TV ad:

And now, almost up-to-date, one of the ads from the 'No Ordinary Job' campaign:

Being the youngest of the services, and being born into the golden age of poster advertising, the RAF does sometimes feel more like a brand than the other services. I feel that the RAF Roundel has a lot to do with that - one small symbol that says so much, so powerfully.

Chocks away, 2018!