Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Second hand Rainbows

Sounds like a song title by an emotional rock outfit from LA. In fact they would probably like it so much that they'd use it for the Album title. No post really just liked the image... if they want it for the cover they can have it.

The Daily Me Readership up by 1 point

It often seems like no matter how many times things happen there is a tendency to get locked into a short sighted view of the word. I.e a few days of hot weather and you forget what season it is. This is especially true when it comes to technology adoption. The initial hype is always too much to early and the 'what were they thinking,' hangover is always quick and final. Of course some things do just die a death while others pick themselves up from their post hype exile and naturally and gradually move into our homes until one day you just wake up and see that there is a new piece of furniture that you hadn't noticed; or in the case of the internet a new house all together. Of course some things do go away but I would say that the massive hype is a clue that there must be some kind of far sighted potential in the subject otherwise journalists would not get so interested in the story. I saw a presentation on second life yesterday that seems to draw a line underneath the notion. I am not sure where it will end up but a more dynamic way to navigate and interface with the internet and other people online has to be the future (if not to create a load of pointless islands.) Anyhow I had the same experience over the weekend when I suddenly remembered an idea that has been kicking around for ever but for most of its life has been banded about as the stereo typical digital dream that hindsight showed us didn't come true. It was only after I spent a couple of hours building my very own Daily Me on Bloglines that it occurred to me that my news consumption had just plotted a new cross on the curve!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Increase in numbers who play on the 'Video Games'

I came across this today and found it quite sweet somehow. Its the use of the word 'the' that looks totally out of place. It reminds me of the film tron which was a world where the 'computers' were full of individual people called 'files' which just so happened to look like their 'users,' (just one file per user of course.) I wonder what words we are finding awkward and putting into sentences in slightly unusual ways, that we will look back at fondly seeing almost naivety in how little we were to know that they were going to become such ubiquitous norms of everyday life. My guess' would be that we might find books called;

'How to master the carbon costs' i.e. the idea that we did not equate the carbon cost of every action will seem quaint but also almost blind.

'How to master the virtual worlds.' (I know second life has flopped but when the interface, application, and integration is all sorted I think this will just end up becoming an more dynamic way of accessing the internet.)

Any more for any more?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The WAGS vs Paris Hilton

I was just reading an article in Fast Company where Alex Bogusky (the name that gets dropped from Crispin Porter,) was being interviewed about 'brand fame.' His favourite example of branding genius was Paris Hilton in her ability to stay in the news without bringing anything to the table. The argument goes that as an agency what they look to do is take a brand and personify it a little then make it famous. BBH used to talk about the 'fame factory,' but I think they have dropped it now? I agree that if you don't make news and are just relying on hammering a message using traditional media metrics then you are nowhere, but also that Fame is its own end. As Paris demonstrates perfectly its being seen without substance. I am not sure treating brands like people is a good idea. It sounds a bit fake personal.

My choice would be the WAGS (In-ger-land!) They represent a cultural invention - a lifestyle which denotes a behavior i.e. a WAG is something you can become. They have even helpfully created a video handbook to how you can do this. You could of course argue that this is implicit in the fantasy lifestyle of Paris Hilton but as a lesson for branding the WAG shows us how to invent a lifestyle which could change how people behave and hence consume whereas Paris just shows us how to become a famous person or famous brand but without how to use this to change anything... Or in this case change it back if we put our minds to it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Reinventing the Medium

Van Gogh suffered his entire life to try and force his way through the outward appearances of life into a new form of expression captured through art. In doing this he started everything we call modern art (FYI I have been watching Simon Schama DVD's.)

I also just caught a moment of Tim Burton being interviewed by Melvin Bragg talking about Van Gogh paintings as an inspiration. There is an obvious comparison in the way that he makes films that reveal themselves in the feelings and atmosphere that they create rather than the stories that they tell (FYI I have just been to see the Sweeney Todd film.)

Apart from it being more interesting to alter and interfere with the medium than to simply add to its body of comparable content, there must be other benefits. Well change the medium and culture can change with it; the two are part of the same system. Then you can start to work it back the other way. In other words to think about a change in culture you can think about the right change in the mediums that shape it to bring it about.

"Prada doesn’t do participation"

That’s something that I have heard a few times, (not sure why it tends to be Prada that gets selected,) as the example of a luxury brand that proves the rule that the conventional branding model of shaping an aspirational out of reach image is alive and well. The implication being that the new school collaborative kind of model is either a fad, isn’t to be trusted, or works in some situations but is not for everybody. As far as I can tell there are a four ways to assess this if you assume that a) Prada does not do participation marketing and b) this is something that serves them pretty well as they are generally successful.

1- Nor should it. As soon as it does then the distance, exclusivity and special-ness of the brand becomes dilute and less well… Prada
2- The new type of brand is made by communities and collaborative techniques is right only for the new school brands but the old school brands should stick to what they know and what has made them successful till now.
3- It varies by category. Some categories are driven by image and in these aspirational advertising is still the order of the day. For everyone else consumers can and should take centre stage.
4- Collaboration is universally the new currency and even though there are multiple currencies in circulation at the moment the older image driven approaches will become less and less effective

My tendency is to be warmer to the descriptions further down the list though as ever there is no certain answer. I can’t help thinking that the collaborative approach is just the new market situation and therefore affects everyone.

So the task is to find your place in the new landscape. And everyone’s place would be different. For high fashion maybe it would not start by asking ‘how do we come off our pedestal and start to take our lead from what consumers say and want to do by way of getting involved,’ that would not sit very well. It would probably start the other way round and stem from the brand view of the world.

A good starting point would be to think about all of the potential exclusive experiences that the brand could possibly deliver. The better these experiences were the more likely people would want to get involved. I watched a programme once about Haute Couture where it showed the treatment that the top fashion houses have given to its best customers over the years e.g. hand painted sketches of individual new pieces with samples of the materials attached were hand delivered.

I’m sure a modern day equivalent would be pretty easy… i.e. famously the man from Prada delivers individual photo prints of the new collection, is essentially a creative piece of Direct Mail. The select group of people that receive this special treatment amongst a whole host of others would be as useful an ally as the communities that fuel any of the new school inclusive brands.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

FIAT 500 against the Machine

I was just thinking today that it would be so easy to think of a small car that had street cred, was cheap and had really good fuel efficiency. Quite a lot of the indulgences of consumerism seem unshakable but this one just seems like common sense. Then I saw a 5 second ad that was announcing where we are in the count down to the launch of the Fiat 500. It seems to have it all. And the countdown seemed like a nice way to usher it in. What a great project it would be to launch that car. A few clicks later and a lot of the romance is lost. I started to get the overwhelming feeling that FIAT are going to totally mess up the marketing. It's screaming for the unveiling of the new kind of cool but now I'm thinking whether a retro cool product can take the onslaught of retired marketing. (Warning if you click through to this web site beware of what sounds like a cheering crowd of pleased Italian people as the background music) . Maybe better to make your own...

Digital World Real World Merger Planned

One of the most important blurred lines is between the internet and everyday life (look at what media is doing and thats what brands will end up doing but thats another post.) I have seen a couple of bits of research and arguments that talk about online behaviour shaping off line behavior and everyday objects becoming internet enabled, wifi everywhere etc... etc... The internet has spawned lots of new behaviours, many of which lack the meaning that would normally be associated with them in the real world like 'becoming a friend' or 'passing on gifts.' This is an interesting idea to inject some of the substance back in - see a full article from Fast Company here. A shop full of digital trinkets with good causes behind them that can be exchanged via facebook and the like. As its the internet the backdata of who has given what and linked the most people in is visible which adds a recognition factor. I wonder wwhat other digital behaviour could enable real world good deeds along this same track?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Customization Workshop

I have become a bit addicted to customization sites (not buying them always, January and all,) and I'm pretty chuffed with the results... but then I would be.

PUMA even lets you choose the materials and has the strongest idea behind it - a 'mongolian shoe barbecue.'

Vans is more simple but cheap $50 would buy you ether of these!
There must be a little business idea in the notion that everyone wants bespoke but not everyone is creative. A customization destination could bring all the brands together, offer a tailoring service, allow people to rate designs before they bought (MTV presented a trend towards every purchase being pre-approved by the social network to avoid mistakes,) a gallery and special guest designs. Someone else will have to judge if I should be offering my services or using the service myself!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nicked this presentation from think small. It gives the argument that a lot of people seem to be talking about for DOING stuff rather than SAYING stuff. The agency that created the presentation only think about communication as a physical application. I am all into the theory but the challenge I would say is to show where it fits in the great client marketing production!

Planners can make Movies II

- Reflective of existing trends i.e. if there is a new technology like 'computers' then films will reflect back on the trend i.e. films like Tron and the Lawnmower man. In the same way traditional advertising will pick up on a trend like skateboarding and latch on.

- We (brands and agencies) seek to bring about new trends and lifestyles that fit in with our products i.e. Reebok famously invented a new way to work out with the step system. Bisto tried to get us back around the table for meals once a week, Super-clubs created a whole new going out trend.

The first is a mirror, the second is an idea. We can relate to the first but the second captures our imagination. Could a film not define a new lifestyle idea and then build outwards from there?

e.g. the mods and the rockers are a cultural trend where youth groups split off - an imagined modern day fork between existing youth culture trends could be an interesting idea to investigate.

If you believed a film could affect real outcomes you would probably need a more positive spin on youth invention. Our culture favours the young, what would be the sequence of events and ideas that flipped this coin towards culture pointing up to old people rather than down to spolit teenagers - it already happens that way in some parts of the world!

Monday, January 07, 2008

Lets take over the movie business

Seems like a reckless title but its not without precedent. A while ago I watched a documentary called ‘the men from the agency,’ which tells the story about how advertising transformed itself from being a basic marketing function into mass market wonderland of glamorous brands and lifestyles. It then went on to tell the story of how the main protagonists had learnt so precisely how to amaze, entrance and engage an audience through their skill in making great advertising, that they would be able to remake the conventions of film making and create blockbuster movies instead of blockbuster ads; people like Ridley Scott and others. These days many people in the industry still believe in the blockbuster TV spot in the same way as these soon to be film makers did in the 70’s and 80’s. But a lot has happened since then (e.g. web 2.0) and so many other people believe in a totally different starting place. So imagine if we were to apply some of these new rules to the film business which arguably is stuck in a bit of a rut. For example, our current starting place is not to sit down and write the script of a TV ad. My little knowledge/guess work about the film business tells me that people probably wouldn’t think to start anywhere else than to sit down and start to write the script.

So planners think they have nailed a shed load of new principles as they refer to advertising; now over to Hollywood and to try their hand at the movie business. Would they be able to do the same thing as the 'men from the agency,' and unlock the key to a new way. If only they weren’t all introverts! Or maybe instead they will turn their attention to something of more substantial importance like the need for green ideas as per John Grants blog and latest post.

In the mean time here is a first stab at going all Hollywood...

A film starts with the convention of the plot first. I’m pretty sure that from this basic outline, there are a number of rounds of discussions before the film gets made around the potential audience that it will attract.

We as (consumer centric) planners start first with the consumer experience that we are trying to deliver above even the story itself. Traditionally a film would investigate a theme such as becoming an adult and leaving home and all of the trepidation and excitement that goes with it, by telling us a story about somebody going through it. A (consumer centric) planning perspective would be to think about how to bring to life the experience, my own experience, of this coming of age process. So for example, if the defined audience was a teenager of the 80’s, the music would be a journey through the emotive and angst ridden tracks of that era even where this was not necessarily in tune with the era or even the plot. The style and content would itself mature within the duration of the film. Cultural references relevant to the experience of the time would run throughout even if they seemed out of context with other elements.

(Incidentally I think Baz Lurhman films already contain some of these kind of elements I.e. Shakespeare meets MTV)

More to follow...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Another look at the medium is the message

This is an old idea but one where I generally think that the point was missed a little. The media industry used it the most to basically say, ‘media is really important don’t you know,’ i.e. your choice of media is as, or more important in communicating your message, than your message itself. This is somewhat right I think in opening out the idea that the message is not all that really matters. But the concept is much bigger than the realms of basic media planning e.g. so you want to be cool… then we will find you some cool environments like Vogue. This assessment diminishes the importance of what I think is one of the most crucial things to understand for the communications business. For me what this is really saying is that it is not what you say that defines what you are, its how you behave. (The same way that the medium is the message argument says that what's on TV is less important than the way it behaves and impacts on our behavior e.g. staying in the home.) On the one hand this is just common sense i.e. If I say I am cool it means nothing if I dress and act awkwardly... in other words my behaviour gives me away. On the other hand this shows the potential of what communications planning can be useful for. It should have the potential of a broader view of all of the elements that make up the way a brand behaves in all of the environments where this happens.

If for (traditional) advertising the 'message is the message,' and for media the 'medium is the message,' then for communications planning the line should read like this… 'The behaviour is the meaning.'

A quick example would be Dove – they have stopped trying to tell people directly that their products are kind and sensitive to women and have started to behave in a way that is more generally kind and sensitive to women with their Campaign for Real Beauty. The product will not make you feel good about yourself in the way that they are trying to help women feel good about themselves – this campaign is not driven by a proposition it is driven by a purpose. The first leads to a brand message, the second leads to a brand behaviour and that’s where the meaning comes from!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

More Brand Software

Would this count as brand software? In the past brand extensions and partnerships were seen as a way to milk the strength of a particular brand (usually a really expensive unattainable one) into something mass and affordable - think Ferrari key rings and clothing. These reeked of spin and image association - a badgeing exercise. Mini's approach is the other way round. They are using collaborations as a way to create additional hype for a new product, the Mini Clubman. In the spirit of the new car they have come up with some attention grabbing accessories to establish the lifestyle that goes with it. Not just putting a logo on a cap; some funky software that mediates the star product. I don't fully get the music player but the partnership with Onitsuka Tiger is a strong fit against the retro notion that you should have special shoes to participate in the sport of driving.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Utility versus Substance

Was reading a great post from Russell Davies that was a write up of a presentation that he was making at what I think was a widget conference (yes widgets have their own conference,) where part of the argument was for the idea of ‘brand utility.’ This to me means that the idea of the brand as a collection of abstract image statements about the kind of people who buy a particular product is over, and that the new type will have a usefulness and utility, a REAL point.

However the word utility leads to other words like practical or informative, which lead to words like dull and phases like ‘the creativity is seeping out of this great business.’ But to my mind this is the fault of the word and not the idea behind it. If you sat down and thought about all of the things that qualify as useful in your life i.e. the things that given the choice you would keep, then you would probably notice two things about the list. The first would be that great advertising would feature pretty low down. The other would be that as well as things like google, chairs, hoovers, TV news, etc… that simply perform a useful task, you would have to include things like art, books, surprises, the support of a friend etc… that can not be summed up in a functional way. In other words it’s the words that confuse the issue. ‘Brand Utility’ does not allow for the expansive scope of all of the many wondrous things that create meaning and substance in your life.

For this reason I would suggest the phrase BRAND SUBSTANCE to describe this development better. A brand that seeks to add real substance to your life with real things that you will appreciate.

Substance is also a better word for someone who works in the accounts department when assessing the value of a brand. In my mind this had been pretty much a finger in the air job till now. Brand substance will have real mass, can be measured, and its value assessed in a far more solid way. This is the stuff that brands should be made of in the future.

I am going to be looking for examples of brands adding rich and magical substance to products rather than just utility based value and will post what I find.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Brand as Software

When Sega and Nintendo were battling it out to be the best 16bit console it was not a fight between the two systems. Although some people who know more than me will be able to explain the pros and cons of the hardware alone, to most people it was all about the software. Did you want to play with Sonic or with Mario. This was not a simple question of which of the two characters had an image that attracted you more, they were part of the package which affected how much fun you would have with your console. The basis of the whole experience that mediated the product and showed you what it could do.

So any console developer would be foolhardy to develop a great console without ensuring that the software that came with it and in fact sold it in a market situation of parity was top notch. Again I am sure that people who know more than me would have a couple of great examples of where this happened – I seem to remember a console by Commadore that had no games for it.

Anyhow would this model benefit product developers and brand builders if they sat down and had these same conversations that console developers have about software and hardware. For example if you sat down and thought about the brand-software that comes with a running shoe then you would probably end up with something like Nike +. Or if you thought about the software that comes with a cartoon you could probably get closer to the many faceted world of Pokemon. The software that goes with a TV show would probably look like all the PR coverage and phone voting mechanisms of the X factor.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this to brand owner companies would be the fact that all of the above are money-spinners. Charging for the marketing… is that not the Holy Grail? If a product was always considered to be the hardware and the brand the software that goes with it, then it is likely that the branding would take on a life of its own as a viable reason to buy the product, a point of difference.

What would the software of a hit record be (aside from the music video)?
What would the software of a train journey look like (as I am on a train right now)
What would the software of a can of coke look like?

I’m going to have a think…

New Years Resolutions

1- Get my blog up and running and start using it regularly. This one speaks for itself (getting other people to read it regularly may take longer but you have to start somewhere)

2 - Only watch pre-recorded TV - Whenever I read about people who have found great success in a particular field, one thing that they seem to have in common is that they watch very little television. If I'm honest TV ends up being a pretty unrewarding thing to do in the evening. If you only watch stuff from the hard drive of a digibox then you are effectively saying the only things you will watch are the ones that you are bothered about enough to tape in advance. This is relevant to the context of this blog because it means that the TV ad has ceased to exist as a way of marketing to me when you factor in the FF button. I know a news presenter who does not have a TV. I'm not sure if there are any contradictions in this but for a comm's planner it just adds a personal example of the belief that brand communications are going to have to work harder than taking advantage of people's evening laziness to get through to them.

3- Do an audit of my carbon footprint and come up with a plan to reduce it over time. This is a personal and a professional one. Personally it makes sense that if you acknowledge that there is an issue to address and that you are part of the problem, then not doing anything about it is not really a comfortable option. But one of the main triggers of 'why now,' is that I want to become more involved in defining and growing sustainability products and services for my company. The first step of doing this has to be a personal one. One of the themes that will emerge through-out this blog is the idea of blurred lines; between brands and everyday life, between companies and brands, between brands and consumers etc... This is an early example of this as showing the blurred lines between personal and professional life. The natural question that springs to my mind here is this:

Why if for green marketing you have to look to your personal behavior and conduct first before you go and make recommendations to other people and companies, does the same truth not exist for any other type of marketing?

For example as per resolution number 2, can I really make a recommendation about an interuptive advertising solution when I myself choose to avoid advertising whenever I can. And if I don't want advertising from a brand what do I want? I think if we asked more of these kind of questions then everything would seem a lot simpler. Anyhow I will post the results of the green audit just to show how bad my starting point is I expect! Hopefully this will make me feel able to post sustainability examples and ideas and feel like part of the solution. While at the same time take part in what many people are saying is going to be bigger than the internet in its impact on business.