Looking at past posts reminds me why I was never cut out for account handling - I can't spell. Unfortunately for suits, no amount of insightful thinking and quick wit makes up for getting your client's name wrong in the contact report.
This story from the Guardian is about Vanessa Redgrave's speaking out at the Transylvanian Film festival about a new mine in Rosia Montana, Romania. "Our planet is dying and we have no right to destroy an ecosystem," she said. The issue has divided the community.
Before you decide your point of view, take a look at this ad that ran the same day. I liked it at first since it made me think and it showed another, believable point of view. I began to get on my high horse about celebrities who pontificate without thinking about what effect their do-gooding might have on real people.
Then I was disappointed when I wondered who has payed for the ad. Gabriel Recources,a sponsor of the film festival have apparently,but the grumpy, cynical side of me wonders if it wasn't the mining company, and if so, how did they get the signatures?
Even if it was, it was useful to see both sides of the story - the points in the ad are still valid. It's also nice to see an ad that makes me think. What's your opinion?
Right. I wasn't supposed to be blogging today, I've got loads on so back to work,
I've spent a lot of time in train stations this month. It's made me wonder why train companies don't work harder at making this part of the experience better for their customers, since it's the beginning and end of their journey.
Two observations have revealed themselves.
1. It's annoying when you're desperate for the loo and you don't have the right change to get into the toilets (I still can't believe they charge you).
2. It's really hard to get a seat unless you're going to buy a drink or something to eat. Why can't you pay a small fee for a plain, simple seat. Better yet, wouldn't it be nice if some company that makes things to sit on, or maybe sells relaxation or just wants to show it cares, provided some extra seats for tired commuters. I'd thank them for that far more than polluting my plastic coffee cup with irrelevant, intrusive ads.
I really liked the new Mini when it was re-launched with it's cheeky, adventurous personality. Driving past this garage last week reminded me what changed my mind.
I don't like BMW. It's conservative, boring and obvious. They may be good cars, but not for me. So as soon as I discovered that Minis were actually BMW's with a different shell, well, forget it.
This tells you a bit about me, but also reveals a lot about the wrong associations and not being authentic. I've been going on about back stories for brands and being real and human; as soon as I found out that Mini was pretending to be something it wasn't it lost me forever.
Thanks to Russell Davies it seems clear that coolness is hard to define, which is probably what makes it so cool...
But when it comes to the dreaded question, "How can I make this brand cool?", is it something most brands should aim for, since it’s so hard to define and even harder to sustain?
Coolness is fleeting and fickle. By definition, if your 'in' , eventually you'll be 'out'. Even worse, by the time you get your 'cool idea' to market, the they've moved on to the next thing . The only thing that you can be sure of is that today's tastemakers will reject whatever people liked before them (unless it's retro, but don’t go there). Anyway, original, die hard fans tend to reject you when you go mainstream.
Instead of chasing cool, I think we should be looking for cultural gaps to fill. Sometimes people have a need nobody is addressing (and in a few cases, they don't even know they want it yet), then someone comes along and fills that gap. True. there may be a brief surge of newness (cool?), but as more people discover it they interact, add to it and pass it along; they develop into a movement which is as much theirs as it is yours.
And the root of it all is need, not the latest trends. For example, Ikea is for people who's taste exceeds their budget, Ebay creates a sense of community in an era where people feel isolated and I suppose Friends was the social group you wished you were a part of.
To evolve organically with your audience, rather than push marketing at them, you have to find ways of involving them. This means being multi-faceted and a bit rough around the edges; relationships deepen over time, thanks to shared experiences, they get more meaningful as people discover more about each other. Not all your relationships are the same either, different people like you for different reasons. For people to make you into they want you need to be complex with a host of meanings, not just one.
This means eschewing reductionist propositions and rigid brand frameworks in favour of a rich story that will grow and mature over time. It means lots of different ways of telling the story and growing numbers of participants to enhance it and pass it along.
Above all, it means something that feels like it’s come fromreal people, imperfect, unfinished and unpolished. Remember Agent Smith talking to Neo about the first Matrix? It was a disaster because it was perfect; no one believed it. No one believes in perfection; it’s our limitations and eccentric flaws that make us who we are, that's what makes us, and brands, individual, endearing and human.
So I’m not cool hunting, I’m looking for cultural gaps. Since we’re in an ever more sceptical anti-hype world, I’m not looking for polished brand onions, I’m looking for imperfection.
Waiting for the train I noticed that apparently cork isn't Jose Mourinho's only passion; apparently he he's so keen on the Bond films he's bought a phone that doubles as 007's gun.
We were running a bit late when we got to Kings Cross and rashly decided on a taxi. I was strangely grateful for the traffic jam since it's not very often you're made to feel affectionate towards The Tube.
After the meeting, we had a drink in the hotel bar, making the mistake of letting Garth get them in. Every sip of my G and T was accompanied by, "Enjoy it, that was £7.20!". He made me eat my slice of lime to get full value.
It was back to reality the next day, going through masses of quant results in Sheffield.
By the way, I love the fact that WH Smith understand that I don't want to queue to pay for a paper,and trust me to pay up.
I've been undecided about the new Orange ads. Part of me loves the craft and the 'open' thought, but part of me thinks it will confuse people with YET ANOTHER change of direction.
My wife(who hates advertising) saw the goldfish bowl ad and said, " I really like that, I could watch it again and again, I like the way they say there's no barriers, you always over-complicate things Andrew- most ads are boring, this one's really nice".
Just back from pitching in London- more later, but here's two things I learned from watching other people today:
When you do a presentation, you can do all the preparation you want but it's worthless unless you're really passionate and your interested in what other people have to say. If your enthusiastic about whatever it is you're saying it'll gloss over a multitude of sins.
I'm as cynical, dry and ironic as the next Englishman, but sometimes I wish I could be as warm, polite and genuine as Americans. They have such a pleasant outlook on things, it reminds you that sometimes you need a break from English reserve and archness.
It's hard reading The Scamp or the The Ad-pit and resist commenting on the work out there, so I give in.
Since wine is one of my favourite things in the world, I should have been interested in this poster persuading me to specify cork stoppers for my wine. But why the hell should I care when they only reason they give me is that Joes Mourinho thinks I should.
What makes it even worse is knowing how good it could have been. As the environment is increasingly becoming a mainstream issue, consumers are looking for ways to make changes that don't wreck their lifestyle. Imagine if they were told this fact from the Eden Project; every time you pull a cork you help maintain the habitat of 42 types of birds. It could have been that simple.
That's what Scott from work calls Gu ice cream. Idon't know what the ice cream tastes like yet, but he reckons it's better than anything else he's tried. The damn fine packaging makes me want to find out for myself.
I like these Durex ads. I like the insight that condoms will be used more if they can help people get better sex, I like the way the brand is against boring sex. Most of all, I love how they demostrate how that product benefits needn't be dull if you get the tone right.
It's not unusual to love the Star Wars films for people my age, they remind us of a happy time when the biggest worry was getting the Millennium Falcon for Christmas. What is unusual is being thankful for the second trilogy too like I am.
I don't like the films themselves, but this back story makes the first three even better. When you watch them again, the events and characters have been given a deeper significance. Darth Vader was always a great villain, but now you know how he got the suit he's a more interesting, tragic figure with a planet of regret and rage on his shoulders.
I think this is useful way to look at brands. A back story makes them more real and adds a deeper meaning our relationship with them. I'm a fan of Nike for example, but my memories of Agassi in denim shorts 16 years ago are at least as important as anything they do today, and makes it better. This takes consistency and I don't mean design guidelines. I mean having a consistent tone of voice; not sort you find in a brand framework, but the sort that comes from real people. Maybe it's not the really big ideas that matter, maybe it's having lots of good ideas that feel the same and makes a rich picture over time.
In his comment on 'Love the suit', Will raises a point I hadn't considered before. Planners are prolific bloggers, creatives are writing some interesting stuff and even clients are at it. So where are the account handlers? Maybe they've nothing to say, maybe they're too busy doing all those things planners and creatives hate. Am I missing something, has anyone seen any account handling blogs? Here's one for starters.
Why don't more people use science as a place to look for ideas and inspiration? Perhaps the problem with most science writing is the lumpy, impersonal way it's written, few seem to able to bring it to life. J.Bronowski's book on the rise of civilazation is an exception though.
A big theme is the idea of science as uncertainty rather than explanation. The big leaps forward come from asking brilliant questions, from looking at things in a slightly different way. Whenever we've been deluded into thinking we have all the answers, we've stagnated; We're at out best when we're uncertain. I like this point of view, I like the way it encourages me to look for people who will look at things differently to me.
So next time everybody agrees with me, I'll get worried, since I'll probably have missed something.
Did you know that many hamsters blink one eye at a time?
A big part of being useful to other people is having loads of information, so I like collecting stuff; facts, pictures, film and anything else that might come in handy. So here's some more useless facts for a rainy day.
As this article shows, everybody has something to learn. Stephen Hawking claims that despite being very close to discovering how the universe works, he's still light years away from understanding women.
After the news at 6 on Radio 4 this week, I chanced upon this fantastic programme. In 'Heresy' David Baddiel chairs a programme intent on challenging conventional wisdom, on the premise that many deeply held opinions are wrong.
Apart from being funny, witty and interesting, it's a useful framework for thinking. I'm not suggesting being controversial for the sake of it, rather finding a way to challenge the accepted agenda, or creating a new one.
"Leaving things up to the consumers' imagination is something you never want to do.Customers are dangerous, and if you let them decide how they want to be satisfied, you're going to have a terrible time living up to their dreams. It's better if you can control the promise and delivery"
Sergio Zyman, Head of Marketing, Coca Cola
" Let go of the fallacy that your brand belongs to you. It belongs to the market"
"Why choose? Work together, give everybody input""
Pitching next week against some big network agencies. I don't suppose I've any right to be amongst such company. Perhaps I should work on being slick, cool, charming and urbane? Nah, I'll just be myself.
I learned today that 80% of head lice are now immune to common treatments. In a classic case of Darwinism, just like the failing effectiveness of antibiotics, repeated use of the same methods has allowed them to evolve a resistance.
Useful analogy for why you should avoid attempting to bludgeon consumers instead of earning their attention.
By the way, you can still solve the lice problem with the painstaking effort of combing them out.
Over at Brand New Gareth Kay has found a New Zealand agency called The Department of Doing, one of the best names I've ever heard.I love the fact that their philosophy is about actually getting on with it and making things happen, as opposed to the usual agency 'ideas' mantra. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, espescially in the light of choice, but even one great idea is useless if it never sees the never see the light of day. Thank god foraccount handlers.
If you want a short, sharp relevant critique of today's advertising, take a look at The ad - pit. It's honest, genuine and totally without ego, everything that Campaign's Private View isn't (he dares to give DFS an OK review). Even better, he's Northern.
BT has commissioned itsfuturology department to predict some of the advances that will soon change the world. They may look fanciful, but the experts are adamant they'll happen. One that stood out was a team of robots beating the england football team by 2051. Here's a selection from the 2011 predictions:
There's loads of stuff to find out from National Men's Health Week. For example, men, are more likely to die from skin cancer because they refer themselves too late. In general, men don't take health as seriously as women, as they're mentally programmed to take more risks. That said, much illness is gender specific according to the Men's Health Forum. Women are more likely to suffer from depression and connective tissue problems, while men are more likely to have circulatory problems and developmental disorders such as Tourette's syndrome.
This is a fascinating article from the Observer. Geraldine Bedell argues that despite women having more choices than ever before, they're not as happy as they should be. It's actually the sheer scale of choice that's the problem. We've lost sight of how to be happy because we're always worrying about the alternatives we didn't choose.
This has implications for lots of things. You only have to consider a trip to the supermarket and the time you waste deciding between the thousands of lines on offer to see that. I went to a financial services conference a while back and a big theme was the shift in responsibility onto the individual. People have to make their own decisions on things like pensions and mortgages like never before. They have never been given so much choice, yet the quality of information to let them make a decision isn't there. So they make bad decisions quick, or just put it off.
It's certainly an argument for brands, what are they if they are not a way to help people choose? Maybe the brands themselves should be considering offering a simpler life.
It gives me pause for thought when I think about my job. I've always liked talking to people who have lots of ideas, but sometimes they don't know when to stop. It's easy to change your mind and do something else just because your bored, instead of working on what you already have. It's hard to pick one thing and do it well. Perhaps I should talk to more people who find it hard to get an idea, because if they get ideas rarely, they'll make sure they work.
That's my nickname at work. Ever since I noticed a few extra hairs in the plughole at the age of 23, I've suffered the slow decline of my once thick and lustrous mane. I don't really care anymore, especially since I'm married and don't have to worry about meeting women. My wife reckons I look better hairless anyway (or that's what she tells me).
Coincidentally, I think being bald helps you as planner. Here's are five reasons why:
1. People take you seriously. Looking older and cleverer than you really are gets attention. Since planners have to find a way to be heard amongst gregarious suits and flamboyant creatives, this is useful,as long as what you're saying isn't utter twaddle.
2. Bald people learn to be self effacing. Before anyone else pokes fun, you learn to laugh at yourself first and be generally good natured. This makes you quite approachable which can lead to you being a non-threatening sounding board for creatives, suits and anyone else that needs a friendly, objective ear.
3. Just like blind people develop a highly developed sense of hearing, bald people become very good at conversation. In the hope that it will make up for their looks, they work very hard on being interesting, good at listening and knowing lots of stuff. Since planners only get invited to meetings if people think they'll be interesting, good at listening and know lots of stuff, this is fortunate.
4. At some point, bald people stop fighting the inevitable and stoically accept their fate. Life as a planner is full of disappointments and setbacks. You'll make mistakes, but accepting this means that you'll use failing to teach you what to improve.
5. It's difficult to be vain and bald. Since planners need to be generous with their ideas and let other people take centre stage, losing your vanity can prove invaluable. It also means you get ready quickly, giving your other half more time to endlessly change outfits and make you late. Patience and persistence are also good skills to have.
Like most people in England, I lived every minute of Saturday's match against Paraguay. If England don't win the tournament though (and they won't) I'll be supporting Brazil. No one should be surprised they're favourites again with a population of 186 million football fanatics, but it seems the Italians have a lot to teach us about what we could do with our paltry 50 million in future.
Firstly though, here's an odd thought. In his book The Science of Soccer, physicist John Wesson argues that in England, you're birthday has a lot do with how good you're going to be. The chance of being a premiership footballer is more than twice as high for boys born in Autumn as for those born in Summer. Why? Children born in the first half of the year are favoured above their less mature, weaker classmates when it comes to picking the school team. The effect of this early boost for some, and rejection for others seems to be long term.
But it's class that has the biggest effect. A Populus study a couple of years back showed that watching football is class neutral in England, but when it comes to playing football is a working class game.
If you get the chance, read Gianluca Vialli's book The Italian Job. In comparing football culture in Italy and England he argues that in Italy, being a professional footballer is acceptable irrespective of your class background, while here it isn't.
The result? Italian footballers have a more intellectual approach to the game which, in turn, produces better managers who value formal education and are more creative tactically.
So, in a nutshell, if England want to increase chances of winning the world cup, we should be less worried about Rooney's foot and more interested in school.
Over at Plannerliness they've found this article from the RAC Foundation on happy drivers. Being cynical and British, I was also drawn to this report on how noisy environments drive UK people up the wall. Common annoyances include noisy car engines, car alarmsand noisy DIY. Doesn't this grumpiness feel so wonderfully British? We rule.
Imagine how much they would appreciate a car manufacturer making a quieter diesel engine to stop the early bird next door ruining their beauty sleep. As for me, the neighbours are fitting a new bathroom, they start at 8am every Saturday. Any new tools to speed them up would definitely get my vote.
I liked this statement from a local, Leeds PR company. It's got a strong opinion and you get an idea of what they like.
But hold on, they're human! There'll be some days when their heart's not in it and they'll just do okay. They do operate on payment by results basis, but who's to know how much effort it was to get there?
If always had a soft spot for Morrissey. I like the way he's never really changed all these years, he's always had this endearing mix of searing honesty and, well, daftness.
Many of his songs show a real insight into people's lives. 'Hold on to Your Friends' is a prime example and has never been more relevant.
As groups of friends begin to settle down with partners, it gets harder to meet up. There's two families to see, you start having friends who are couples, you have to spend time with your partner's friends too. Not to mention the fact that as you get older, you've less energy after work to simply do stuff. It's easy to lose touch.
But what happens if the relationship ends? Unfortunately, many do. Suddenly, people are finding themselves with no one. And if they've been fortunate enough to keep in touch with people, they're still attached. So we're seeing a growing number of people over 30 who suddenly find that they've nobody to see a film with, or share a drink. I wanted to see 'Good night and Good Luck', but everyone I knew didn't, so I went on my own. I still cringe at the distinct awkwardness of buying just one ticket.
And it's not like being in school, college and early jobs, where there was a ready made pool of potential friends. I'm not talking about romance either, just the simple pleasure of sharing everyday experiences with other people.
This is going to mean that dating agencies are going to face competition from companies that help people simply build new social groups, that faciliate social situations for you. It makes me wonder how brands might be more relavant to people's lives in the very near future. How long it will be before more of them provide experiences that get people together or help them stay in touch in the first place ?
It's useful to get another point of view on things, so Here's a great observation from The Scamp about the odd practice of celebrity ads that need a super to tell you who the celebrity is. I'd never really thought about that. That's what I like about working with creatives, they question everything and don't mince words. There's lots of other stuff on his site, you may not agree with it all but it will provoke a reaction.
When I did the The APG Training Network I quickly noticed was how nice planners are, from juniors to directors. You won't find a more self effacing, genuine and generous bunch of people. So maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that people have been kind enough to bring this blog to a wider audience's attention. I feel quite meek, since they're all far better at thinking and writing than I could ever hope to be. Thanks everyone.