The Cottage on a sunny Saturday
“It’s tough out there for people right now, and life is painful. Having the guts (and creativity) to reflect this poignantly will lead to a connection with people that no amount of ‘new and improved’ will ever do.”
Earlier this year, in my New Year’s Resolutions blog post, I made this point. I wanted to ‘be a bit darker’ in my creative thinking in 2013, in response to a wider demand from audiences for honesty in advertising and for brands to emotively connect to more interesting, painful parts of the human psyche.
A few months on I thought it was worth revisiting as I am pleased to see this approach taking precedence already this year. Some brands are seeing the impact of telling darker, more painful stories and positioning their brands as emotionally complex rather than simply positive and upbeat. Below is a brief showcase of some of the best of this work:
The Kiss - Vodafone
This is a beautiful journey through the most touching, and at times troubling, moments in a couple’s life and how their kiss defines their relationship. I challenge you to watch and not be moved. It’s link to an unlimited mobile tariff is a touch tenuous, but in terms of getting the viewers attention and connecting to the brand, it does the job:
Funeral - The Co-operative
Selling funerals without getting morbid and depressing is a long-standing challenge, but Leo Burnett tackle it sensitively here without descending into schmaltz. The simple tribute to a passed friend is touching, without missing the darker side of the burial business. Whether they can deliver on this kind of personal service is another question:
Amy - NSPCC
Understandably, the darker side of life is omni-present in this short film about child abuse from the NSPCC. However, the lack of clichés - hungry, dirty children, shouting fathers, screaming mothers, etc - whilst retaining impact is both intelligent and welcome.
As Google’s ‘Project Glass’ nears public launch, we are forced to confront the question: ‘what is the value of knowledge when we can wear every fact in the world on our faces?’
In other words, when we can call up any piece of online data in split-seconds and augment our world with it uninterrupted, then what value will we place on retaining facts or remembering things?
In the ‘Google Glass’ world, I am infinitely knowledgeable - important dates, measurements, historical facts, live journalistic reporting - all available to me through my lenses. However so is everyone else. My access to these facts is purely democratic. It’s the ultimate leveller.
So what does this mean for intelligence? Edward de Bono speaks of intelligence as the ‘horse power’ of a racing car - having more is great, but you still need a skilful driver to win races. In the Google Glass world we are all now driving a Ferrari, so suddenly something different will become the differential.
In this new age intelligence will be about emotions, intuition and judgement. Those that can persuade, influence and evaluate will be the ones we will look up to. Using your glasses, you can check in seconds if you are being lied to, but there is no way to stop yourself being influenced by someone who is able to emotionally connect.
Sir Ken Robinson touches on this in his brilliant (and very funny) TED talks on education. He argues that we need to make education more about inspiration and creative thinking. He argues that in an age where information is easily available it will be the creative thinkers who will change the world. He’s also a very persuasive man in himself - a fantastic illustration of precisely the sort of talents we will need in the ‘age of intuition’.
Google’s project poses many challenges for our rapidly evolving ‘always on’ society. One senses it creates more problems than it solves. Our etiquette, manners and mores have not evolved as quickly as our tech and the prospect of people watching YouTube videos in their lenses whilst trying to have a conversation is dismal.
However, if it moves us closer to an age where feelings and intuition are valued over facts and rote learning, then I think they may be challenges worth taking on. We will evolve and improve as a species and be better-off for it.
Over the last month Jessops, Blockbuster, HMV and a number of other stalwarts of the high street have entered administration. The industry largely blames the internet, where prices on the same product range are cheap due to low overhead costs. This follows a market-wide trend of consumers shopping online over Christmas in search of better deals.
It is unlikely these retailers will be alone in 2013. There are rumours about Waterstones, whilst GAP and a number of other fashion retailers are rumoured to be cutting stores. A two pronged attack of internet shopping and a recession have kicked the high street hard. The British Retail Consortium reports that one in nine high street shop units now stand empty.
There is huge sympathy for high street brands, of course. The face of retail has changed at a rapid pace over the last ten years, in ways no-one was fully prepared for. Yes, they have been slow to respond, but national businesses can’t change overnight. The level of ‘teching up’ and automating they have had to do to face up to online challengers is time-consuming and expensive.
However, the nature of their response leaves me less than sympathetic: rabid discounting. This year the ‘January’ sales started the week before Christmas. Many stores have been running a sale of some description on a constant basis. Consumers are bombarded with new ways to save money - loyalty cards, promotions codes, group-buy discounts, mutli-buy offers. These can generate short term spikes in sale, sure, but the long-term effect of persistent discounting is damaging beyond belief.
Consumers suffer discount fatigue. Like a patient on morphine, the effect wears off and you keep having to up the dosage. 10% looks attractive, until your competition goes to 15%. When things are on sale all year round, then the sale price becomes the expected price and you just need to discount again to get attention.
What’s more, the damage done to the brand by heavy discounting is difficult to measure, but clearly apparent. Typically, brands are either perceived as premium or value-led. In the first case they compete on quality of product, service and customer experience. In the second, they compete on price. Doing both is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, not least because consumers don’t believe it. People inherently know that reducing costs must mean saving money in the chain somewhere. For a consumer looking for a quality brand, discounting is a sign that the quality may be suffering. Once that impression sets in, reversing it can be nigh-on impossible.
So what should retailers be doing instead? First, use discounts wisely and carefully, with a long-term promotional strategy in mind. Moving last season’s stock to make way for the new season is fine, but when the new season comes in get rid of the sale signs and end the promotions. Ignore sites like Groupon. Build loyalty schemes around added value and experience rather than discounts.
Second, focus on adding value to the retail experience. Focus on what the customer wants: advice, guidance, human opinion, help and hands-on product experience. These are things the web still struggles to do well, but so often poorly trained staff let high-street retailers down. Technology can help with this. Arm shop assistants with tablets featuring a mine of information and ideas to help guide customers through the purchase process.
Finally, be an online retailer too. High-street retailers may not be able to compete on price with Amazon, but they have assets Amazon does not - store fronts for accepting returns, the attraction of ‘try before you buy’, reserve online pick up on your lunch break, etc. And make sure this is fully mobile optimised. John Lewis have led the way on this and reaped the benefits. For consumers there is no ‘online / offline’ experience, merely a shopping experience. They want it to be seamless, so make sure it is.
What do you think? Has discounting killed the high street, or is the internet really to blame? I’d love to hear your views below.
This is a classic and well worth your time.
[source: Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist]
[I]nterview data with participants that did conform to the majority group on at least one-half or more of the trials, and thus, “yielded” to the group also exhibited certain reactions to the experiment. Some participants reacted with a “distortion of perception”. These participants (very few) conformed on nearly all trials and actually believed that the confederates incorrect answers were true. They were never aware that the majority gave incorrect answers. Other participants exhibited a “distortion of judgment” (most belonged to this category). This meant that participants got to a point where they realized that they must be wrong and that the majority must be right, leading them to answer with the majority. These individuals lacked confidence and were very doubtful. Lastly, participants exhibited a “distortion of action”, suggesting that they knew what the correct answer was, but conformed with the majority group simply because they didn’t want to seem inferior.
— Winston Churchill
Nectar are offering me (and presumably, everyone else on their mailing list) 250 points to watch TV ads on their website. This is pretty much the best example of marketing and advertising eating it’s own shit I’ve ever seen. Essentially, Nectar’s partners are paying me £1.25 to watch an ad, for a product that presumably they are advertising, so I can give the £1.25 back to them. Utterly pointless. It insults my intelligence and makes them look desperate.
If there was ever an argument for content-driven marketing, or ‘advertainment’, call it what you will, then this is it. Did it ever occur to these advertisers to make something interesting? Worth watching? Funny? Exciting? I don’t recall Red Bull having to pay people £1.25 to watch Felix Baumgartner’s skydive. No, instead they invested the money in making something worthwhile and people couldn’t watch it enough.
Advertisers have to realise a very simple truth - 99% of people HATE advertising. The don’t hate the concept of it, rather they hate it’s boring, repetitive, unimaginative execution. Make something interesting. Inspire a thought. Generate laughter. Do something which makes someone say - fuck, that was awesome, I want to see that again. Then it’s not advertising any more, it’s entertainment.
Then you don’t have to pay me £1.25 to watch it.
If 2011 was the year that twitter hashtags entered the public consciousness, 2012 was the year they became ubiquitous. It was pretty impossible to see a branding campaign anywhere without a #hashtag attached - from the Olympics to Susan Boyle’s accidentally hilarious album launch: #susanalbumparty.
But something strange also started happening last year, the use of hashtags in totally inappropriate places. Facebook posts cropped up with them in. We began to see them in emails. This doesn’t make sense - these platforms don’t support this kind of tagging. So why were people using them here?
They seemed to be used, primarily, to denote something which has been impossible to get across in the typed word up till now - Sarcasm. So we had the brilliantly sarcastic #blamethemuslims which trended earlier in the year, highlighting the ridiculous way in which the media blames muslims for everything:
We also had more directly sarcastic uses to pass comment on the subject of a tweet, such as the use of the #bellend hashtag loved by Joey Barton:
For those that didn’t understand why hashtags were used (and there are millions) it became synonymous with a sarcastic remark and grew a life outside of twitter, making it’s way into every typed communication like a virus.
Now a lot of linguistic snobs are firmly against this, but actually I think it’s a good thing. We’ve been missing a sarcasm mark forever, it’s a huge hole in out punctuation structure. We have them for questions and exclamations, but we surely use sarcasm far more than either of those?
And our written language is far poorer without the use of sarcasm. Consider the two following statements and tell me which gets the sentiment across better:
“Off the drink and back in the gym for January. Can’t wait! #CrappyNewYear”
“Off the drink and back in the gym for January, not looking forward to that.”
Clearly the second is, well, boring.
Also, it’s absence causes huge issues. How many times have you been asked if you wanted to do something and responded with a hastily typed, sarcastic:
“yeah, sounds great!”
Only to realise you’ve actually just agreed to it? Wouldn’t it have been better to say”
“yeah, sounds great!” #IdRatherKillMyself
So bring on the sarcasm mark as the hashtag. Start using it everywhere. Lets get it officially recognised. I’m going to start the campaign now, are you with me?? #NeverGoingToHappen
So, new year, new resolutions. Here are my four marketing commitments for 2013:
1: Be brave, and be honest
Being honest is, remarkably, a concept which seems to instil a sense of cold fear amongst marketers and businesses whenever it is mentioned. So much of our industry is based around hype, spin and style over substance, yet time and time again we see consumers are not so easily duped and respond amazingly well to honesty.
I’m enjoying a book at the moment which tackles this topic; ‘Tell the Truth’ (Unerman and Baskin) - review to follow soon - and I want to take some time this year to explore the concept of honesty with brands and see how being brave and open can drive greater loyalty between people and businesses.
It’s not easy being honest, sometimes it’s not even easy to know what honesty really means, so it’s a hard task. But I firmly believe that people respond better to an honest ‘I don’t know’ than a bullshit answer.
So 2013 is going to be the year brands learn to use honesty as their greatest asset.
Some interesting thoughts on honesty:
2: Be a bit darker
I don’t think I’ve seen a single TOV guide in the last year that hasn’t described the brand tone as ‘Warm, Friendly and Human’ - or some variant. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but the predilection for linking these three words together and using them to describe almost every brand interaction seems to be a contagious disease.
First, humans are, in many cases, not warm or friendly. Indeed some of the most intelligent and interesting people are offish, indifferent and imperceptible, and it’s their distance that makes them desirable. One can also be funny, caustic and cutting, or weak, vulnerable and scared. These are all equally human characteristics.
Second, why would want brands to be these things every time? Why don’t we want brands to be a bit more three dimensional? Brands that are sincere and knowledgeable? Or open and self-deprecating? Or even angry and hilariously insulting?
The fact is, humans are drawn to the dark, to the moody or weak. We connect on our most basic and visceral level to shared pain and vulnerability and I believe brands that reflect this will touch nerves far deeper than repeatedly telling people that life is perfect, sanitised and happy all the time.
It’s tough out there for people right now, and life is painful. Having the guts (and creativity) to reflect this poignantly will lead to a connection with people that no amount of ‘new and improved’ will ever do.
The dark, menacing mood of this Maserati / B&W video gets it just right, and it damn cool to boot:
3: Avoid meaningless words
I already posted some stuff on meaningless marketing buzzwords last year so I’m not going to cover old ground, simply to say this year I will be trying to avoid words that mean nothing - or having meanings so vague and intangible as to be simply unhelpful. These will include ‘engagement’, ‘curation’, ‘content’, ‘authenticity’, ‘seamless’, ‘social’, ‘viral’ and ‘experience’.
Of course, these all have true, genuine uses and meanings which I will allow for. But calling a post on Facebook an ‘immersive branded content experience’ is just bullshit and hype. So it’s got to stop.
4: Don’t forget about good old-fashioned instinct
4: Don’t forget about good old-fashioned instinct
2013 is going to be the year of data, no two ways about it. Last year the world and his wife switched on to the idea of big data and what it could do for consumer insights. This year they’re going to be spending money on putting those ideas into practice.
So we’re going to be swamped with articles on how big data can transform campaigns, which tools to use to decipher insights and how to apply them in the real world. All of this is great and as a total data nerd I am totally in favour of it.
That said, in the midst of the data revolution I think it’s important to remember that, as marketers, we’re paid and valued for our instincts. Our capacity to know what the data is going to tell us before we see it. Our ability to draw from psychology, philosophy, anthropology, sociology and so many other disciplines and get under the skin of a problem or challenge.
In short, sometimes we need to trust our instincts even when the data doesn’t give us the answers, so that’s one more thing I’m going to be reminding myself to do this year.
So here’s to a brave and honest 2013!
when I'm under a time crunch and try to take shortcuts
Eddie Murphy Raw
Murphy delivers a well-received segment on Italian-Americans, on their stereotypical behavior, especially how they behave after...