Tuesday 31 July 2007

Purity Values - The Connection Between Deepwater Horizon & Vodka

I remember vividly Mary Stow at HHCL & Partners urging me to push really hard on the VALUES of the clients we have in advertising and I've carried that important lesson with me for many years. All too frequently many 'wannabe' brands share only one common tangible value and that is shareholder return, or chasing money in plain language if you wish. There's nothing wrong with making money and indeed wealth creation has many positive effects, but if that's the raison d'etre for an organisation, it practically sweats from the pores of their executives and makes a squelching sound from the carpets of the boardrooms as we make our way about the C-Suite.

I've been saying to a bunch of communication thinkers around London that in an age of ubiquitous product parity, a legitimate (and possibly the most powerful differential) for a brand to leverage are its values. In the absence of any values there's not much to really talk about and this may well explain why so much advertising is rubbish. Its just talk.

The area that gets me most excited is the potential for brands to STAND for something and I can think of no finer example than this terrific commercial by JWT London with Digital by AKQA for Smirnoff Vodka. Of course its about purity but by reminding us of the dumping ground that we have made of the oceans Smirnoff are implicitly obliged from now on to take an interest in the purity of the seas, lakes and environment. An obvious value for a brand claiming to own purity. This is a good thing in my book and a reason to insist on the Smirnoff label from hereon because I'm interested in brands that have values - particularly ones that are about the environment as I've mentioned back here. Enjoy this well crafted commercial and thanks to Scamp for provoking a post out of me that has been simmering for a long time. I hope Diageo start to live up to some of their epic responsibilities with this type of advertising and begin to think about some branded utility, otherwise I'm back to ordering any old Vodka & Coke. They do after all taste the same with a mixer. Heresy, but the absolute truth nonetheless.

Monday 30 July 2007

Food of the Gods

I first came to live in London via Norbury, and so in a whimsical way even though I've lived all over the capital, including Belsize Park, Bloomsbury, Shepherds Bush, Camden, Clapham and more, there's a piece of me which always be a Sarf London boy. Recently its the massive South Indian community in this part of London that is pricking up my planning barometer trend antenna.

On my last business trip to Chennai (formerly Madras) in India I wandered around the back streets trying to observe and breath in a bit of the culture in a way that might contribute meaningfully to a market entry strategy report that I would later be writing for a multinational client. I've found that luxury hotels are the same all around the world, good for networking but awful for grasping how a country ticks and so on this particular sortie I found myself hungry for food but completely at a loss to even describe what may possibly have been a Tamil script menu in a clean but simple, open-front shop house. I plumped for the tried and trusted method of food adventurers around the globe and pointed vaguely at a bunch of ordinary Indians, indicating I'll have a bit of what they're having; and that's when my first dosa was brought to me.

Really good food should be simple and delicious. That's not actually as easy as it sounds and so ever since my first dosa I've been a proselytizing this simple but astonishingly tasty South Indian Fare. Its the "food of the Gods" as Mohammad Iqbal of Bangalore and I like to say. On my latest return to London I was really pleased to discover that a 'fast food format' of dosa food was available in my locale. When I say fast food, I'm sure the owners of this briskly expanding chain of restaurants would be a little annoyed at the term but what I'm getting at is an unfussy way of ordering and eating. The Chennai Dosa is a no nonsense, food-from-heaven kind of joint that I probably like to dive into and out of quicker than most of its patrons. The south Indian community in particular are some of the best and most welcome immigrants this country has ever had - and their cuisine is practically worth body-popping over, as its a little different from the Punjabi cuisine that most people associate with Indian food. Although this is a little like saying that European food is pretty much represented by Italian pasta and pizzas.

Southern Indians I find are hard working, family focused, low key and modest people. There's nothing I like more than dining at my local Chennai Dosa and studying this ethnic group of people who for me bring nothing but welcome diversity to this country. I've since worked my way through the Chennai Dosa menu and buffets over many visits and I think they've accepted me as a fan boy. Their food is inexpensive, tasty, healthy and all importantly; freshly made. Pretty much everything that Western (fast) food has moved away from and I pity the blinkered folk around these parts for whom the height of eating pleasure is either a Subway (sub way. I always think thats ironic) or other junk food fare, when world class eats are dotted all over the map in this neighborhood.

By complete coincidence, shortly after my discovery I thought I'd do a twitter search of my area and came across someone plugging the exact same Chennai Dosa I'm fanatical about, called Rory Sutherland. I thought I knew the name from somewhere and while adding him to my Twitter discovered that not only did he blog but that we were also in the same game - I've since discovered that he's a really top thinker in our business but more frequently Rory writes commercially dispruptive pieces for Brand Republic now, than the crafted and more literary posts I first came to enjoy . We've since had some twitter banter along with Giles about great Indian food spots as we're all Indian food fans but interestingly, Rory believes as do I, that the dosa food could quite possibly be on the cusp of something larger.

So I'm unashamedly plugging and suggesting bigger things for The Chennai Dosa Group. You heard it here first (think McDosa) and I believe their next outlet is opening in Tooting. Try also their Idli or the Idiyapam) and more importantly for UK planners I'll be wrapping this up later into a broader post about third millennial cultural observations and trends that I've found both provocative and inspiring this time round in these parts of London.

Wednesday 25 July 2007

trashbat dot cock

My clever academic and designer chum (Uni lecturer too come to think of it) pointed out to me a few weeks ago that computer operating system upgrades have a lot to answer from their impact on the environment. Each time Windows or Apple (and its not just computing platforms) launch an upgrade, the impact on our planet both in terms of resources 'screwed' from the ground, and waste chucked back into it is huge. All so we can work faster and less smarter while seemingly avoiding any thinking about the planet heating up. Go figure.... I say bring back a mandatory siesta. China? The U.S.? Just do it.

What makes it even more ugly is that each software upgrade just raises the hardware game so that the need becomes a self fulfilling prophecy - duh. Far more intelligent would be to encourage a proper geek culture for a tweaked and patched extended operating system life span. Windows 98 kept me happy far longer than the last notebook that ran it did. That piece of Japanese state of the art kit eventually buckled under the weight of huge CPU requirements for software upgrades (Adobe, MS Office, Symantec, Real, Java, Flash) around the same time as the physical keyboard.

So reading this today, I feel even more uneasy with the relentless and senseless upgrade to New New New New culture. (Terror, Terror, Terror anyone?). I understand that technology designers have a weakness called 'feature creep'. It means that they can't help but add functions that are largely useless to all but the biggest swinging remote control user. Anyway I thought I was going to cut my waffle down for this post but I've gone on like the bores I claim to be so mindful of. In any case when the President of Acer calls it like it is and says Vista is a turkey, I think its time to start telling Microsoft to Change the world or Go Home.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Yer 'avin a laugh

Matt Baker

Just found this little number on my 'puter that I'd all but forgotten about! I really enjoyed this part of the day, but I was in good company with Sam who knows how to milk a good situation for best results as indeed do I. Our laughs were theatre of the absurd meets Kafka with a knowing wink and unexpected gusto. Which is a completely new genre of laugh that we invented that day. Anybody know where I can link to Matt Baker for using the photo?

Video: Interesting 2007

Friday 20 July 2007


A couple of nights ago I met up with the Creativistan gang at The Commercial Tavern. It was good to catch up with London's young creative talent and get an idea for people who I may one day be working with. If you are looking for a creative break in advertising you should really make an effort to meet Wal who organises these things because he's got a bright future ahead of him and is a social hub for young creative talent. One small criticism aimed squarely at the British creative wannabes of adland is that none of you were present on this night and frankly were conspicuous by your absence. I met Germans, Scandinavians, French, Baltic States, Italians, Russians and more, all speaking spot-on English but no Brits; which tells me something about our ability to broaden the creative gene pool. I've said it before that homogenous advertising agency cultures produce homogeneous work. I think there were three planners there, that I knew of which confirms something about 3rd Millenium Planners too. We're a much more social bunch than the old guard because there really is no better social research than socialising.

And on that subject of research, I met a young man outside The Commercial Tavern who worked as global research for insights with Nokia. I've been rattling on a bit lately how Nokia have their shit together because of their ability to embrace social sciences into the corporation and putting people over profits as the objective which of course is a more profitable long term strategy as I wrote about over here and which you can watch a related online video over here.

Anyway we got talking about Motorola who are clearly having a hard time of things over in Chicago. Knocked off their number two spot by Samsung for market share and having just posted their second quarterly loss I guess the iPhone is starting to look like a corporation killer. I hear the CEO is on his way out too, no doubt with one of those Platinum Parachutes that the American corporation magnificently rewards failure at the highest level.

I started to recall when the Motorola Razr arrived because it was a huge hit in Asia - absolutely massive and unprecedented. The first one I saw belonged to my German boss while we were running around The Philippines, Indonesia, Malayasia and Thailand. I was fascinated how he had developed an automatic reflex to keep the screen clean of smudges, flicking the screen open, wiping, check and closing; a case of techno design-lust I guess.

Nobody could deny that for style it was a killer phone and for a time it was THE must-have accessory. But what struck me later when I got talking to Jens about the product, provided me with a valuable insight. He told me that the camera was rubbish, the interface so difficult to use that he didn't bother to learn all the functions, and that the only reason for purchasing it was style. Style of course is great but style over substance is a long term problem. Pretty much like putting money before people I guess. So 100 million phones later the Razr has been gang raped into submission by the relentless demand for volume sales and profits by Motorola and is now less of a supermodel and more of a crack whore thrown into a mobile tariff plan for free. I believe even the chavs are reluctant to be seen with them these days. Ironic really if the Razr phone is responsible for Motorola slashing their corporate wrists.

Update: I first saw the RAZR in Penang, Malaysia where Motorola have a plant manufacturing wireless radio products. It was just after the Tsunami which clipped the island I was on so that was around January 2005.

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Insider News

Picture by holyfucking shit

I've long been a fan of Mohammed Iqbal of O&M Bangalore. Not just because he's bright and writes really interesting papers such as the origin (and resiliance) of aphorisms or the long tail of brand communication, but because there's nothing more exciting than when an agency hires some top thinking talent outside of Europe or the States for rapidly growing markets.

Well, more than this, Iq has just posted a vertical Google search engine for all the blogs on the plannersphere which means that I can now find those posts that I failed to bookmark. I've already checked it out and it worked a treat for some posts I was hunting down about Nicolas Taleb's Black Swan. Well done and thank you Iq for doing something really useful. Go check it out, add your blog if you're not listed and make time to read his blog archives too!

Monday 9 July 2007

Passat, Sirocco, Bora

Check this Cannes Gold Lion Winner:

Following on from the last post and unrelated to cars, this comes via the excellent Iain Tait's Crackunit and is reminiscent of the sadvertising theme which is just going to get bigger as necessity forces us to adapt and move away from superlative images of superficial, shiny happy people with shiny white teeth. Well done Epuron.

Thursday 5 July 2007

Public Showers

If you haven't come across Rob Campbell's blog yet I'd always suggest nipping over there and see why getting a good public shower is actually very important to some people. Musings of an opinionated sod is in a class of it's own. Sure he's got a hardcore, vocal and devoted fan club including me; yes he's very funny, generous and seemingly gets no sleep judging by the number of posts he does while holding down an important planning job and being a partner in cynic - a conversation starting company. But more importantly than that he's got a good heart and that counts for something in my book. Go check out this post and see why artists from Australia, Dead Artists from Germany and London Punks are sticking their thinking caps on and jumping in to help out with a mission that is not the usual fare in advertising and planning blogs. Get stuck in. Life is to short to count your worth in the currency of your choice.

Sunday 1 July 2007

Mao - The Unknown Story

I'm reading Mao: The unknown story, by Jung Chang who wrote the first book that ignited my fascination with Chinese history, Wild Swans.

A few years ago sitting in a painfully and aesthically hip bar in Shanghai's Xintiandi district (real gold leaf walls, solid coloured glass bar, candles and Buddhas on postmodern plinths) with an extremely bright, hard working and well educated Coca-Cola native-Chinese client in Shanghai, we serendipitously stumbled across a mutual realisation that we both harboured a dirty political hypothesis.

Not only were we both big political history fans but as the banter ranged over Mao Tse Tung's rapacious reading habits and
Tsing Tao beers, we concurred that there might also be some credence in the idea that in the big scheme of things, maybe the Cultural Revolution and The Great Leap Forward were statistically a reasonable thing to pursue. That is in an armchair-General, moral relativism course of discourse. Post Yugoslavia break up, and the Balkan states subsequent internecine warfare it's arguable that losing tens of millions here and there to hold a country as huge as China together is an ugly but a priori, reasonable price to pay. I still suspect it might be in a desperate kind of way for the Shan, Karin, Mon, Kachin and other ethnic groups of Burma; you know save a million lives here and ignore a million rapes there - who knows anyway?

Prior to starting this book I had already concluded that Mao's power had ebbed significantly during the cultural revolution with one of those political fratricides that takes almost everyone out, and isn't unique to communism, although it was certainly most visible say in the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror (that's proper terror, not the overblown petrol bombs that delayed a few punters bound for the Balearic isles this weekend) in Tuol Sleng. If you think you're life is a bit shit and stuff closer to home like asymetrical warfare in Lebanon doesn't hit the radar, you should try to get out to the killing fields a few clicks south of Phnom Penh in Choeung Ek and see the infamous tree where in the mid 70's the Khmer Rouge (who were once backed by Prince Norodom I might add) was used as a target to swing babies by their feet so that their skulls smashed instantaneously on the bark of the trunk. I guess that's better than say the women who for example had their breasts cut off in Tuol Sleng.

Anyway I've changed my mind. Reading this book its clear that Mao wasn't some sort of freedom fighter who galvanised China on a path that is unambiguously now paying debatable dividends and then made philosophical judgements on social engineering, that will in time see the occidental variant of capitalism crushed. He was a brutal thug that intuitively knew that the times were right to divide, and kill, and rule, to achieve his own agenda. Sorry Winnie, I'd love to get a bottle of red in and sit through another intelligent discussion on this one but as this well written book is not allowed on the mainland, having a debate isn't the same if both parties aren't fully informed. Even if that is to discuss the veracity of the text.

Update: I got into a very feisty discussion with an extraordinarily stylish Chinese lady in The
Endeavour Endurance Pub on Berwick Street about this book, and she was very angry that it portrayed Mao as having bourgeoisie tendencies. I accept her point about the possibility of bias in this book but not about Mao's innocence to kill his own. It was a good argument though. Sexy actually and I really liked the protection sock she gave me for my iPod as a gift.