Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Back To Burberry: A Careful, Concentrated Brand

I've said before that Burberry is one of the great examples of brand building in the past ten years. And luckily for me, this assertion happens to be backed up by facts. As of just the other day, Burberry is the most valuable British brand in the world – and well within the overall world top 100, at 73.

With credit to the Scotsman. We Scots can always be trusted to follow fashion brand news.
They’ve fought their way back up. Not by thoughtless expansionism. Not by forcing their presence upon everyone in media blitzes. But by being single-minded in the pursuit of one trait. 


It’s that relentless focus on remaining premium, on establishing a premium quality in everything that they do, which builds and maintains their position. They adapt with the times to be sure. But they never lose sight of the core brand. And they don’t let themselves be lost in a plethora of new lines and new products as they did in the 1990s.

When they do add new products or expand on old ones, it’s carefully planned. The brand comes first, before words like “market diversification” or “upscaling”.

A great recent example of this was seen in the launch of the new personalisation service for their famous scarves.

Watch here.

As AdFreak noted, personalisation can have a certain way of undermining the premium value of a product. After all, if anyone can have it personalised, what makes it special and valuable?

(Even spam emails seem to manage it these days. No I don’t want to email you my account details Halifox. Nor you, Clivesdale Bank.)

How do you combat that cheap perception? By highlighting the work that goes into the product. By showing exactly why it commands a high price tag. And most of all, by demonstrating that the personalisation isn’t a cheap tag-on – it’s a part of the construction of the product, an intrinsic step to its creation.

So in their launch, personalisation plays an important role – but only as part of the Burberry brand equity of quality and character. It’s treated less as a new feature so much as a deepening of the existing brand value. And it’s one of many qualities highlighted in the launch film.

(Including, apparently, teasels. Which I like to imagine are just weasels who make mean jokes.)

This is an actual teasel. Disappointing.
And thanks to the brand mentality and focus I spoke about earlier, the film isn’t just on-message about this new offering. It’s also a beautiful, watchable, absorbing wee film. The new product isn’t what resonates. It’s the brand value that informs the product and the film that is what is so engaging.

For Burberry that means premium quality in everything they create, care and attention, their definition of English style and English values. When Burberry sells, it never just sells the product. It sells the Burberry brand, and just as importantly, the Burberry values.

And in showing the careful, caring process of creating a personalised Burberry scarf, Burberry implicitly gives a reason to buy into them – because Burberry stands for careful, caring, focused fashion. 

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Burberry shows that "why" in everything that they do.

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Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Gillette’s Innovative Advertising Strategy Cuts Both Ways

(I know, I know.)

Gillette is getting yelled at on that place where people yell at companies (Twitter). And it’s pretty much all their fault.

They chose to promote tweets which criticised their competitor and praised Gillette. Problem is, it wasn’t just any competitor. It was much-loved, up-and-coming challenger brand Dollar Shave Club.

(Now where have I heard insightful commentary about them before?)

Attacking a small, popular challenger brand without looking mean-spirited and insecure is a difficult feat. Frankly, it’s virtually impossible. No one reads the story of David and Goliath and thinks “man, it would have been cool if the big guy had squished David”. Everyone, up to and including AdWeek, has piled on them in response.

So not the best move for Gillette, image-wise.

But I wanted to flag something else about this.

That one initiative was certainly a bad idea. But the fact that Gillette are experimenting with unusual marketing ideas in this way is genuinely commendable. If they hadn’t chosen to use it in a negative way, that concept – promoting and supporting tweets about their brand – could have been an extremely powerful, authentic way to get attention.

And it’s this willingness to play around with formats and try unconventional ideas that stands them in good stead in the social media age.

For a more effective example, try their viral campaign in China. By faking a (barely) risqué “candid” film with Chinese actress Gao Yuanyuan, they created a tension, a buzz around their category and their product that had huge implications for their sales.

If you’re sitting there thinking that maybe that’s just Chinese people being silly and gullible, you’d be wrong.

(And also kind of racist. Come on reader. What would your mother think?)

Apart from anything else, there was a smaller but similar example made with tennis player Roger Federer not so long ago. 

And it took a very long time for it to come out that the stunt was faked. It looks real. It's unexpected. It's cool. Much like the X-Files, we want to believe.

Now, is hoodwinking the audience the right thing to do? Questionable. But it’s also pretty harmless in a situation like this.

(I mean, who ever got hurt by a razor?)

And beyond all those questions lies this one:

In this roiling media landscape, how can you hope to survive without trying to innovate?

Innovation means a willingness to make the odd misstep. It means risking, taking leaps, trying every option. It means walking in stupid. Creating interesting, playful films like "100 Years of Hair", also featured here a while back.

Does it always work out? Of course not. But inaction for fear of making a misstep – that’s a misstep in of itself. Better to reach out and burn your fingers than stay back and get cold.

And if you need a good shave – well, you’d better not be afraid of cutting yourself.

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Friday, 16 October 2015

Can You Hold Your Laptop Like This?

This is a pretty old-school ad.

There’s something very refreshing about the simple question, the implied claim. Often computer advertising gets bogged down in facts and lists. It’s too often forgotten that the vast majority of us are not so bothered about the quantum-core-quasar-swordfish-processor. We just want something that does the job, looks good, and is easy to handle.

(Although now I say it I kind of want that quantum-core-quasar-swordfish-processor. That sounds both high class and possibly a delicious meal.)

Besides, nowadays, pretty much any laptop will do pretty much any of the tasks you ask of it. So we worry less about what it does, since we already know that it’s good enough.

And sure, you could argue that it’s embarrassing to advertise a computer based on its weight, rather than its capabilities. Or to play upon a simple claim rather than the true complexity of a computer.

But I think you’ll find that Apple won that argument long ago. Computers are status symbols. They’re all about the look, the feel, the incitement of jealousy in others.

So I like this. It gets to the point, with a simple reason to buy.

I do have a couple of minor criticisms though.

The first is that trying to add a note of glamour might not really be necessary. It’s a computer, and it isn’t an Apple computer, so you’re always going to struggle to sell people on the idea that it’s sleek and sexy, no matter how much red lipstick you put on it. It’s a nice ad, but I don’t know that we really needed to be convinced with bright red and a look that could kill.

And secondly, on the note of Apple, there’s also a certain risk there that, rightly or wrongly, people will see that ad, think of a thin, light computer, and think: Apple.

Apple makes thin, light, sleek, sexy computers. That’s what we all know.

But all that aside, it’s a good execution. Simple selling point, nice art direction, clever copy. It feels like one of those old ads, like “Think Small” or “At 65 miles per hour…”; challenging, arresting. Just a little bit unexpected. 

Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what you want.

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Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Writing Is A One To One Conversation

This is a piece inspired by a great article by Lois Geller from a couple of years back, in Forbes. Give it a read if you can.

In effective writing, good sense of wording, grammar and flow are important.

(Speeling is important too.)

But too often what’s overlooked is the need to sound, well, human. It’s an obvious point in a way, but writing should sound natural. Outside of a few situations, it needs to sound like one human being, talking to another.

That’s nowhere more true than in advertising. No one is obliged to read an ad. So if you want people to pay attention, it helps to make them feel like something similar to a human being is talking to them.

It’s nothing short of amazing that even today you find ads that talk at you with all the mood and humanity of a barking dog wearing clothes and a wig.

(Still more surprising is the number of big-budget movies which fall into the same trap.)

So how do you go about sounding more human?

It’s simple. By writing the way that you talk. You don’t need to add heaps of ums and ahs to every pause. You don’t need to keep the mumbles and repetitions and meanderings. Just try to bring the rhythm and feel of speech into each sentence you write. 

Think about the way in which you would say those words – and if it sounds right, if that line sounds like you. That’s the fundamental test for each word – the authenticity.

Lines breaks are important, because we don’t just speak in sentences. We speak in a conversation, with real, solid pauses and ebbs and flows.

So each fragment should be accessible, engaged – and sometimes a little playful.

(Using asides can help with this I hear.)

Above all, your writing needs to come out sounding like the best version of you. That doesn’t mean sounding fancy. It doesn’t mean leaning on long words to enhance your meaning (unless it makes sense in the context). It just means sounding like a structured, thoughtful, directed speaker.

Tone and feel are everything. Sounding human is essential. Listen to one of those injury claim robocalls and tell me that isn’t the case.

You’re a human being. But your writing is how you prove it.

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Monday, 12 October 2015

Aria Fritta

A very short one. I found out the other day that Italians have a fantastic term for empty speech, words without meaning. They call it aria fritta – literally, fried air.

That is an amazing phrase. You immediately get it.

Fried nothing. Fried space. Fried air.

Slightly unhealthy, mostly empty. Pointless but fun.

It almost sounds like the name of an ad agency. You’d have to hope your clients never looked up the true meaning. Probably wouldn’t inspire confidence (I mean, we shouldn’t really be selling fried nothing).

It is a fun thought though.

(If I ever start a company selling popcorn, I guarantee you that it’ll be called Fried Air.)

(Don't you just love Creative Commons?)

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Friday, 9 October 2015

Brands Go To Space For Some Reason

It appears to be the year of strapping branded content onto a rocket and firing it skywards.


Because it’s the time to boldly go, to innovate, to connect with audiences in thrilling ways. Because companies want to excite our imaginations, to soar in our minds, to be a brand to which you can aspire.

Or, possibly, because everyone else is doing it and it’s pretty cheap and easy and we want to go viral like that guy with Red Bull.

(Felix… the cat? I’m not on Wi-Fi right now to check as I write this. Let’s go with the cat.)

(Puss in Boots is not the only one doing space-y things anymore.)

Whether its “space beer”, “space phones”, or even “space cocktail menus”, there’s not much of a pause from anyone to question exactly why jumping on this bandwagon so readily (and for so little reason) is such a good idea.

It’s hard sometimes to see the brand logic in going with the crowd and tying yourself to the next space balloon. Not everyone needs to join the space age buzz.

Nothing screams “we have no coherent brand message” more than

spinning wildly in the wind, copying whatever trend appears next.

(Well, except literally screaming at people “we have no coherent brand message”. Strategy meetings can get tense sometimes.)

That’s not to say there’s no point to any of this.

For beer brands like John Smith it’s a gimmicky selling point, but it does have a unique value to sell.

For Jose Cuervo, the frozen margarita may be a little silly, but at least it makes some kind of sense. Frozen margaritas are a thing.

(A delicious, delicious thing.)

And for Red Bull, the original, it of course tied in entirely with their brand ethos and message – Red Bull means extreme stunts and adrenaline.

(So Mog’s supersonic jump made a lot of sense, brand-wise.)

But for far too many brands now, space is just a shortcut to ‘cool’. It’s a thing you can do to make a nice film which doesn’t involve thinking too hard – and you can pray that it becomes famous in amongst a crowded market of near-identical “unique” events.

If you’ve got a distinctive, defined brand, you’ll know if it makes sense to do some kind of space stunt. But if you’re just doing it because you’re jealous of Bagpuss and Red Bull, you probably need to spend a little more time working out exactly what it is that you stand for.

(With apologies to Felix Baumgartner, who is an extremely impressive individual and doesn’t deserve to be repeatedly confused with various mildly-famous cats.)

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Thursday, 8 October 2015

A Brand So Successful That Basically No One Knows About It

(I swear, that title will make sense in a moment.)

There are rare people who can claim to be globally, universally famous. Andrea Palladio isn’t really one of those people. 

(Though he does have a Wikipedia page. Which isn't bad.)

But he has had a singular impact on the world, by reintroducing Roman architecture to his building designs across Italy during the Renaissance – and soon spawning imitations all around him.

If you see a portico on a house – a porch roof with pillars – that’s him. Like this.

Even the reintroduction of intentional symmetry in architecture takes its cue from his ideas.

Outside of the world of architecture, he really isn't a household name.

(I mean I’m writing an article about him and I have to keep re-checking it. I keep thinking his first name is Pablo. Pablo Palladio.)

But his is a style of architecture that you can see traces of across the world, in city after city, in town after town.

In a very real way he spread his brand, his logo, his Palladian style, to every part of the world – without anyone even knowing it. It’s an anonymous brand in a way. But it’s ubiquitous. It’s universal.

Above all, it’s so infused into world architecture, so natural, so “right”, that it’s hard to imagine a world without Palladio’s influence. He created something that seems too obvious to be artificial. How can you imagine that “some guy” was the creator of so much of what we see around us?

To be sure, there’s more to the story than just Palladio. To call him the single root of modern design is to overreach. But it’s an amazing thought regardless. Everywhere. Easily identifiable. But almost unknown.

Perhaps that’s the best sell of all. Millions of people, around the world, buying into your brand, and your ideas, without even knowing that they’re doing it.

And perhaps the Palladio “brand” is the fulfilment of a thoughtful line from the TV series Futurama.

When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all.

(Told you it would make sense.)

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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

On Coke, But Only Socially

My first post, lost in the mists of time*, was about Gawker’s ridiculous, unnecessary attack on Coke’s Happiness campaign on Twitter.

(*Mists of time in this case being February of this year. A whole eight months. I should throw a party or something.)

I stand by that piece. Bitterly attacking a company, not for what they’ve done, but just for having the inclination to say something positive on social media, isn’t good for anyone.

But there’s something to expand upon here. 

Recently the Center for Science in the Public Interest created a viral attack on Coke, again playing upon the Happiness campaign. By exploiting the popular label maker which allows you to create a personalised Coke (with the tagline “Share a Coke with X”), they created “Share a Coke with Obesity”.

I mean you have to admit that that’s pretty clever.

And it’s a smart stunt to undermine Coke’s credibility. It almost feels like a “here’s what they really think” message, hitting home precisely because it ties in with something that many people already believe about the company. Still more so because it’s dressed in Coke’s own colours.

So I think it’s a more incisive attack than Gawker’s. If nothing else because we know that sugar makes you fat. It’s a little bit more of a stretch to call Coke “literally Hitler”.

(Normally there would be a joke here. Let’s just leave it this time though.)

In any case, it caught people’s attention.

I still maintain that there’s a place for Coke. We don’t have to vilify it for every vaguely upbeat campaign it launches. But as with Gawker, this latest episode with “Share a Coke with Obesity” is a reminder of something important.

If you put an ad, a program, an idea out into the public domain, on social media – you give up control over it. Let people play around with and control your brand, and they will surprise and amaze you in both the best and the worst ways.

Coke can ban words from the label generator. It can turn off the Twitter message bot. But like it or not, the criticism will exist. And if you create a target for that criticism, you have to be ready for anything.

The internet is a strange beast. Remember that it can’t always be tamed.

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Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Good Grief, A Character Generator From Peanuts

In exciting high culture news, there’s a Charlie Brown movie about to be released. 

(You can't say I don't bring you the most niche, serious, in-depth marketing stories here on Idle Advertising.)

One of the executions they’ve taken on to generate buzz around the film is “Peanutize Me”. It’s a (fairly simple) Peanuts-themed avatar generator; you can see a demonstration here:

And it’s a solid move when it comes to getting people interested, engaged and excited about the movie.


This is a simple point again, but “Peanutize Me” taps into one of the most important rules of social media. It’s an obvious point; it’s a point that no one should have to keep making.

Your content has to be something that people would be sharing even if it wasn’t your brand creating it.

That doesn’t mean “brand-generic”. It means “good”. It means genuinely engaging, genuinely funny, genuinely shareable.

People around the world love Peanuts. It was a great comic strip series, pushing boundaries, written insightfully, often impactful in so many different ways. And if nothing else, Snoopy is one of the most recognisable cartoon characters on the globe.

So there’s an obvious nostalgia element to play upon, a long-running affection for the characters and for the world created around them.

But just as importantly, people around the world love making themselves into cartoons.

(Humanity: we’re kind of vain.)

After all, a quick Google search will find you dozens of other examples of cartoon-isers, be it for South Park, for the Simpsons, or any number of othersMore to the point there already was a Peanuts-style character generator on the web before Fox's one. People use these things, unprompted by any brand. 

Case in point:

(Channeling my inner Charlie Brown.)

That’s the kind of engagement you have to shoot for. Far more impactful than any banner ad or paid social “boost”. If people would use and enjoy your content even if you weren’t trying to sell to them, there’s a much better chance that they’ll pay attention even when you are selling to them.

Now. It doesn’t mean you have to throw out the selling side of the equation. Far from it. But you have to make that sell move in lockstep with engaging content. You have to give people a reason to be involved.

It’s no one’s job to enjoy your brand message. It’s your job to make people enjoy it.

(Maybe I should start calling this “Deans’ Law of Social Media” and see if it catches on.)