From Russia with “love”

Russian Chocolatiers: Konfael have taken wooing your loved one a step further than most this year by celebrating its ‘Women’s Day’ with confectionery with a particularly ‘political’ flavour, satirically poking fun at Western sanctions against Russia over its armed intervention in Ukraine

_81128842_chocsThe selection boxes – adorned with famous Soviet-era-styled propaganda posters – are stylised to include biting couplets (such as “Don’t mouth off, gentlefolk dear/That Obama’s bound to hear!” blazoned beneath the image of a World War II female factory worker warning against gossip), and patriotic slogans like “For Western currency we have no need/A golden ruble – at full speed!” – used to emphasise the perceived power of Russia’s resource-based economy.

A man who needs no shirt

He is a man who needs no shirt.

One box (my favourite example)  features the verse “To be king, when all are ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’/You need a pair of rock-hard nuts” below a photograph of President Putin in sunglasses. This being the same man whose last presidential campaign featured an advertisement which saw a young Russian female visit a fortune-teller who (after being asked to reveal the girl’s “destiny”) informs the girl that her “first time” will be with the presidential candidate as she turns the card revealing Putin’s image.

Regardless on my distaste for Putin’s presidency (his KGB background is the least of my concerns despite perhaps explaining the mentality behind his foreign policy), its hard not to respect a leader who seems to centre a considerable amount of his party’s PR and advertising around how fabulously ‘manly’ he is.

Anyway, Konfael’s marketing strategy has resulted in a mixed response, appearing to leave the majority of its social media respondents with a bad taste in their mouths. Although a few users commented with their own witty comebacks (like Jonathan Grainger’s: “Confael’s Chocolates trigger Odium / Warning: May Contain Polonium!”), many more were disgusted at the brands politicising, some of whose statements I’ve listed below:

Anna Pavlova: “Konfael – I often took you gifts to kindergarten and school for children and teachers. So, our parent committees now [have to] find other gifts. Think next time [with] your head.”

Tatiana Glezer: “I have no words. Stupid, vulgar and beats all desire to buy your products.”

Andrey Lavrov “Just wondering, have you got a real Putinism-brain on the basis of television propaganda, or are you just such creatures that consciously decided to connect to the propaganda for the sake of an extra penny for your Business?”

It’s clear to see how Konfael has tried to tap into Russia’s internationally-famed nationalism, and, in the face of the country’s current political and economic concerns, it’s a little understandable as to why they’ve taken this approach. However, the brand has clearly not done a vast amount of market research prior to developing this product, and thus its request for feedback on its Facebook page (a platform that actively connects people across the world) was probably the first step in why the range’s launch has backfired so badly.

Politics is known for being a tricky and polarising topic for discussion at the best of times, and Russia’s recent actions have generated an increased level of drama and speculation across the world… Asking for feedback on an internationally open forum and for a product that not only raises issues in the country’s international standing (the version belittling regular Kremlin hate-figure, Jen Psaki (US State Department spokeswoman) is particularly callous) but also issues WITHIN its borders (judging from the numerous references to Soveit-nostalgia for gulags and pickled herring) is therefore probably not the smartest marketing ploy…

From soy sauce to bullet trains, the man whose designs shaped modern Japan

You’d know his work even though you might not know his name, but on Sunday, the famed Japanese industrial designer, Kenji Ekuan, died aged 85 from heart failure after spending the past few months in a Tokyo hospital.IMG_0101

His career, which is widely thought to have shaped the products that now define modern Japan, was inspired by the devastation he witnessed after an atomic bomb destroyed Hiroshima, his hometown, during world war 2. The blast, which killed first his younger sister, was also responsible for the death of his father a year later from a radiation-related illness.

In an interview for an exhibition in the city last year, he said the debris had spoken to him and expressed regret that they had not been used for longer. “Faced with that brutal nothingness, I felt a great nostalgia for human culture,’ he said, ‘I needed something to touch, to look at. Right then, I decided to be a maker of things.

‘The existence of tangible things is important; it’s evidence that we’re here as human beings.”

This belief stimulated Ekuan to start designing things, including the lean, long-nosed ‘Komachi’ bullet train used as part of the Shinkansen high-speed rail network, and the instantly recognisable red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce bottle which became one of the country’s most well known post-war exports.

ekuandesignThe dispenser – a product which took Ekuan’s company ‘GK Industrial Design Associates’ three years to make – struck a particular cord in me due not only to my love of sushi, but also its simplified and easy-to-use design being the solution to a traditional Japanese issue.

Inspired by watching the difficulty his mother had in lifting and pouring the large cans of soy sauce that were common prior to the 1950’s, Ekuan’s design of a smaller bottle for Kikkoman was aimed at being easy to stock but also acceptable on the dining table. Thanks to the prevalence and popularity of sushi in its native country, it was incidentally a design that proved to be instrumental in the development of packaging design in Japan.

To me, however, what resonates most about Kenji Ekuan was his simple philosophy and approach to design. He stated this philosophy best, I think, when he said, “Design to me has always meant making people happy. Happy in the sense of creating items that provide comfort, convenience, function, aesthetics and ethics.”

Rest in peace, Ekuan-San. Though the general public may not know your name, the impact of your work not only shaped Japanese society, but also brought happiness to the world.

Advertising done right

When done right and based on the right insights, advertising doesn’t bog down the creative concept with marketing artifice. Sometimes it’s about just stepping back and letting your subjects say what they really feel. The 2008 NHS Smokefree Generation was one of the first to get out of the way of its subject’s personal appeals to their parents, but this year’s #PutYourHeartToPaper Valentine’s Day campaign by Hallmark, to me, goes one better in bringing a couple together who’ve been married 56 years, and asking them to describe their feelings for each other without using the word “love”.

Top 5 Superbowl ads and the one I could’ve really gone without

So as anyone in the industry (particularly our US colleagues) will know that Sunday heralded in the 49th Superbowl game between the New England Patriots (the recent focus of ‘Deflategate’) and the Seattle Seahawks. Although many viewers will have tuned in their televisions for the game – American football after all has an estimated 400 million fans worldwide, the game also drew a significant focus from the advertising industry, with more than 70 advertisers paying a reported US$4.5 million (approx £2.9 million) for 30 seconds of air time that is expected to hit the eyeballs of 115 million viewers.

You can find a complete anthology of the ads televised between kick-off and the final touchdown, however I thought I’d list my top five favourites from the night. So, in no particular order of awesomeness, these are:

#1) Kia Sorento (starring Pierce Brosnan)

As a non-driver, car ads usually fall a little flat for me, but this ad starring one of Hollywood’s A-listers digs at the action lifestyle of James Bond films in a way that is both hilarious as it is mildly self-deprecating.

#2) Mophie “All Powerless”

Making jokes at Hollywood’s expense seems to be a recurring theme this year as phone brand ‘Mophie’ plays on the ridiculousness of disaster movies to advertise the power and length of its battery life.

#3) Budweiser #BestBuds “Lost Dog”

Released online before the game, this adorable ad clocked up millions of views, and let’s be honest, it’s hard not to see why. I was sucker for Homeward Bound growing up and this tugs all the same heartstrings.

#4) Mercedes Benz AMG GT “Fable”

Creating a modern twist on the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’ fable, this ad plays on the story of the overly confident hare speeding off into the distance before being outsmarted by the methodological and wise tortoise who, in this case, buys himself a luxurious 2016 Mercedes AMG GT S in which to quite literally fly across the finish line.

#5) Always #LikeAGirl

Always is known for its focus on globally empowering girls, bringing education on puberty to millions of adolescents around the world. This ad is the latest expression of this theme in raising the impact of the insult #LikeAGirl has on a girls confidence and kicking off an epic battle to show girls that “doing it #LikeAGirl” is an awesome thing throughout puberty and beyond.

And finally, the one I could’ve gone without…

McDonalds’ Pay with Lovin’

Now my “Everyone communicates” article on the growing role of corporate communications and stakeholder relations may have made my personal feelings about McDonalds pretty clear. I’m not one for junk food at the best of times, and McDonalds (to me at least) is the epitome of why that is. The pay with lovin’ campaign in which surrounding February 14th (also known as Valentine’s Day), McDonald’s will randomly select customers to “Pay With Lovin’”. As shown, this can be done by calling a family member, doing a dance, high fives, and otherwise being sickly sweet.

Personally given the issues the brand is facing with regards to its ingrediants, the treatment of animals and the subsequent quality of its food, not to mention its unfair working practices that have been given extensive media coverage, the campaign (and this ad in particular) just come across as fake and contrived beyond belief. Not a fan.

Introducing 500 word ‘fixes’: Subject 1 – Interflora

We use flowers to mark every occasion. They decorate weddings and holidays, mark births and deaths, and say ‘Thank you’ or ‘Get well soon’. Interflora: the largest and most experienced flower delivery network in the world, has been helping its customers’ “Say it with flowers” for nearly a century. Its reputation for excellence, based on the work of its award-winning florists, is centred on three specific brand values; ‘trusted’, ‘personal touch’, and ‘WOW! Factor’.

However, Interflora’s customers are invariably middle aged men and women. If you ask young adults where they would go to buy gifts for their loved ones, flowers has fallen down the ranks; even asking them where they would go to specifically buy flowers will rarely spark recognition of the Interflora brand. Instead, they’ll think of supermarkets, whose focus is on convenience and low prices, leading to supermarket’s market share rising so that over 70% of the UK’s £2.25 billion flower sales are now bought there.

I propose that to increase brand awareness within young people and regain market share, Interflora needs to tap into the mind-sets and consumption habits of young people so as to raise the profile of buying premium hand-delivered florist-made bouquets as opposed to a cheaper supermarket alternative.

Praised for their delicate beauty and heady aroma, flowers are often given to loved ones such as parents and grandparents, so I propose a digitally-led integrated campaign which focuses on them as the recipients. However, rather than using the standard sentiment of “I love you” for these recipients, I believe that saying “Thanks” holds more creative potential. Our parents and grandparents after all, are often those who’ve most actively shaped our childhoods and therefore the adults that we become. Centring a campaign around this fact can therefore have universal appeal, tapping into the gratitude of young people, the nostalgia of the elderly, and the sentimentality of all.

The campaign would consist of an initial series of short videos on Facebook showing, for example, how a grandmother’s role in teaching her granddaughter to bake sparked a passion for cookery, resulting in the granddaughter getting a job in a top kitchen. Simultaneously, under the hashtag #minetaughtme, a Twitter campaign can be used to tap into real people’s memories of growing up and how those experiences have shaped their lives, with the results being used to reward lucky users with a discounted bouquet delivery to their loved ones as well as to create additional videos which can be aired both on and off-line for maximum reach

I would also seek celebrity endorsement, as gaining their stories on how their parents’ and grandparents’ actions during their childhood influenced their success as adults would, without doubt, boost the campaign’s appeal and recognition amongst its target audience. I would also utilise their inclusion by hosting Interflora-sponsored events in shopping areas across the country to celebrate and reward particular parents/grandparents with a surprise bouquet whilst they’re shopping with their loved ones.

Despite its sparkle, do parts of this campaign fall a little flat?

Without doubt, the Christmas period is a competitive time for advertisers, particularly those managing big brand clients. The campaigns they’ve been polishing for the best part of the year are all now published and visible for the world – and its myriads of consumers – to see.

Why then is it that the launch of this year’s M&S TV advert (created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R), with its somewhat charmingly stylised ‘#FollowTheFairies‘ twitter campaign and ‘Christmas is better with magic and sparkle’ strapline, feels somewhat… contrived?

As you can see above, the two fairies named ‘Magic’ and ‘Sparkle’ zip across rooftops whilst painting their nails and rescuing cats, spreading joy and kindness (and examples of some of the brand’s Christmas clothing line) across the UK. The ad, which now has more than 3 million views on Youtube, has been hailed by the Independent as “one of the best Christmas campaigns for 2014” but, despite it being viral, and charming, and beautifully put-together, I’m not sure I’m sold.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Executive Director of Marketing and International at M&S said: “The magic of Christmas is how it brings out that little part in all of us that wants to believe in the extraordinary. It’s a moment to escape the realities of every day and give in to the joyfulness of the festive spirit.

“We wanted to capture that feeling and bring Magic and Sparkle to life in a fun and light-hearted way that spreads a little cheer.”

Don’t misunderstand me; tapping into what is lovingly referred to as “The most wonderful time of year” (to quote the Andy Williams classic) is very understandable… but also pretty… well.. boring, if I’m honest; if that was the SMP, particularly for what is supposed to be the most important campaign of the year, it just seems a bit obvious.

Saying all that however, there are aspects of this campaign that I do genuinely love.

Unity PR’s contribution of a mysterious Twitter account called @TheTwoFairies which trailed the ad’s release, spread the “magic” of Christmas via the hashtag #FollowTheFairies, and have been spotted in Birmingham, Newcastle, London, Glasgow and Manchester delivering surprise gifts of cakes, tea and make-up to people across the UK who had posted wishes on Twitter.

It’s most ‘magical’ gift (so far at least) has been to surprise the pupils of Britain’s most southerly school (Landewednack Primary in Cornwall) by covering the building in “snow”. With a lot of experience assisting in Primary classes growing up (Mum’s a Headteacher), I’m a sucker for happy children, and I’d argue its hard to find a child who does not get excited at even the mere hint of snow, so this particular ‘gift’, I find, really touching.

That combined with all sales proceeds of the ad’s accompanying single track (Gregory Porter and Julie London’s “Fly me to the moon”) going to the UK’s ‘Make a Wish’ charity, and it becomes hard to slate.

Advertising-wise, I don’t believe this is one of M&S’s best Christmas attempts, but its definitely hard to say “Bah Humbug” when the accompanying PR and CSR aspects are so sugar-plum sweet. Even if the concept itself isn’t something that I feel has particular consumer insight, I have to admit, there is something ‘magical’ about what M&S has tried to accomplish this year.

29 eye-tracking heatmaps reveal where people really look

29 eye-tracking heatmaps reveal where people really look is a great article on Business Insider by Gus Lubin and Hayley Hudson that was posted earlier this year.

Using eye-tracking software such as Sticky, they have created heat maps showing where consumers’ eyes gravitate to when looking at different things and how results can differ based on gender (male trends emphasise a focus on the face and groin, and spend more time looking at models, whereas women are shown to focus much more on the face whilst also reading the rest of the ad).

From an advertising perspective, I was caught when scanning this article by the difference in consumer focus shown in the two slightly different ads for Sunsilk ‘Passionately Red’ shampoo as, despite my own focus fitting the trend completely, I’d not considered that the featured model’s focus would subconsciously influence my own.

Interestingly, as well as an image showing that placing a product slightly left-of-centre in a store display gets the most attention from customers, there is also an example of a gaze plot which shows where eyes are focused when faced with a shelf of shampoo products. This is interesting because it raises the issue of how things are branded for the FMCG sector and the effectiveness of different approaches to packaging, as well as the impact of consumer psychology on the importance of where things are shelved in-store.

All in all, a great piece; definitely one to browse during a coffee break.

Top Ten Best Halloween Campaigns

It’s unmistakeably that time of year again. The nights growing longer; the morning’s are getting colder (or it seems so to me); and Christmas adverts have started sneaking their way back onto our television screens. It can only mean one thing…


Without doubt the best holiday of the year excepting Christmas. I prefer Halloween, despite its pretty much purely capitalistic bastardisation of the pagan festival, to even my own Birthday – don’t get me wrong, birthdays are great, but I’m the type who prefer’s giving presents to getting them. A fact which makes Halloween therefore, THE. PERFECT. HOLIDAY., particularly now I’m (apparently) too old to dress up myself.

So to ring in the most fun-filled/annoying evening of the year (depending on your personal perception), I thought I’d make a list of my favourite Halloween-based advertisements in all their spooky glory. Some are scary, some have a twist, and some… well some are just laugh-out-loud funny so keep scrolling, and if you feel so desired at the end, leave a comment. Who knows, maybe I’ve missed a cracker out there that needs to be added.

10) (1960s) Sugar Rice Crinkles ad features a vintage circus clown that is far too reminiscent of 1990’s psychological horror film ‘It’ for my liking.

9) Axe’s 2011 ‘Horror Thriller’ ad features all the best references to the genre before ending with ‘The Axe Effect’ splashed across our screens after the ad shows that even the walking dead come out smelling great with Axe Effect. Bit cheesy but a nicely creative idea.

8) DDB published this ‘Happy Halloween’ ad in the Philippines for STP Oil. I just love how simplistic yet effective this it is – something that often attempted for the occasion but hard to achieve in the print medium without appearing contrived.

DDB 'Happy Halloween' ad

7) Dirt Devil ‘The Exorcist’ is a legitimately creepy parody ad directed by the much acclaimed Andreas Roth. What makes it even better is that it has an extended version. All the more awesome cinematography to swoon over before the brilliant twist at the end.

6) One of Phones4You’s 2011 ads was almost censored after the Advertising Standards Agency received 260 complaints saying it was ‘too scary’ and the use of a little girl was ‘inappropriate’. Luckily it stayed on our screens and the “Missing our deals will haunt you” campaign remains one of my personal favourites.

5) Dulux’s ‘Wash and wear’ ad is my partners favourite (albeit only due to his love of the brand’s mascot and Old English Sheepdogs in general), but the funny twist at the end definitely ranks it up there in my top five.

4) Gainomax ‘Scary monkey’. Simply put, I love this ad. Clear concept. Brilliantly executed. Perfect and hilarious twist. What more could you want?

3) ‘Take this Lollipop’ by Jason Zada won twenty-three awards including an emmy. The 2011 interactive horror short film and Facebook app used the Facebook Connect application to bring viewers themselves into the film, and underscores the dangers inherent in posting too much personal information about oneself online.

2) The 2006 US ad for Snickers with the baseline: ‘Its what you would want’ was created by TBWA\CHIAT\DAY and won a Golden Lion at the 2007 Cannes festival. I’ve shared my two favourite examples, but there are more scattered about the internet should you want to check them out.

Snickers_2 Snickers_1

1) Nike’s: ‘Run for your life’. This ad for me epitomises a great Halloween-themed campaign. Brilliant concept that ties clearly into the brand identity and reinforces its values without detracting from the creative offering. LOVE IT