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…

Lobbying for change

Should a political party tell the public what it believes, or should it ask the public what it wants? So goes a beloved dilemma of political theorists and party policy-makers over the years – from long since before the internet came to prominence.

Of course, there is no easy answer to it; particularly when individually each MP (irrespective of party affiliation) may be subject to external influence by PRs or the corporations for whom they are working.

The UKPAC definition of lobbying claims that it means working:

in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.

In the UK, lobbying plays a significant role in the way that policies and decisions are made at local, regional and national levels, as lobbyists attempt to influence the formulation of legislation in ways that benefit their clients. Most lobbying activity is undertaken by professional public affairs agencies who represent multiple clients and primarily focus on lobbying within the corporate, charity and trade sectors.

Although I believe that working to influence political decisions regarding policy and legislation is a legitimate and moreover a necessary part of the democratic process, I do think that there needs to be a wider and more fair level of engagement in the process, with more transparency as to the dealings between Whitehall and lobbyists.

In 2010, David Cameron said that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” and subsequently ‘promised’ to “sort it out”. However last year, the issues within lobbying reached a level where (according to a TI poll) 90% of UK respondents believed that “our government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest”

A Lobbying Act was implemented in January 2014 in an attempt to rectify the poor reputation of lobbyists that had been steadily growing over the past decade (some of which are shown below).

07120215_Liftingthelid_TI_web

On February 10th however, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations revealed its manifesto for the upcoming year which raised seven key areas that the public relations profession wants to see addressed (both in the industry and beyond), namely:

  • Lobbying
  • The future of corporate governance,
  • Independent practitioners and future skills needs,
  • The gender pay gap,
  • Data protection,
  • Internet governance and broadband.

Lobbying

For the last few years, the CIPR has been calling on government to actively support higher levels of accountability and standards within lobbying. Althoguh this did pay off last year in the Lobbying Act, but understandably (as shown in the above infographic), there is still a fair way to go.

CIPR president, Sarah Pinch, says, “The next UK Government should seek to restart the dialogue with stakeholders on the role of lobbying in our democracy, and actively support the development of a highly skilled, qualified and ethically competent group of public affairs professionals that serve the needs of a modern complex democracy. Ensuring that the law that introduced a statutory register of consultant lobbyists genuinely provides the public with more information about how policies and laws are shaped should be considered a priority. Failure to do so will result in lobbying genuinely being the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is another prominent issue that is regularly discussed in the public relations industry. The CIPR suggests that future governments need to dedicate themselves to strengthening the Equal Pay act, ensuring it is universally applied. The State of the Profession report, due to be revealed sometime this week, will contain up-to-date information on the size of the current income gap, but last year’s study showed that the gap between men and women was as large as £12,390 in senior roles.

Pinch adds, “Looking outside of our traditional areas of influence, some of the really big questions facing our society – internet governance, data protection – have (so far) not figured largely in contemporary political debate, but our future government will need to take a lead on finding answers to them.’

“Most of these issues are not ones for which a government can simply legislate, and most of them do not have a simple, straightforward solution. Rather, they require an open and informed public conversation which will allow us to arrive at a sustainable set of policies and maintain the UK’s world lead in what are critically important areas.”

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.

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.

Managing alignment with the Highlands on the line

I’m half Scottish. That may come as a surprise to some of you since I have a non-regional accent (perks of growing up abroad) but if you met my father, it really wouldn’t. Typical Scotsman with a pride in his homeland that would rival anyone’s despite his now living in England. This of course gives me the opportunity for a decent debate when it came to the topic of the Scottish Independence vote and the approach of Alex Salmond/the SNP. Simply put, my fathers opinion of Salmond’s politics is not a positive one and I’ll admit that the term ‘propaganda merchant’ was used repeatedly.

Alex Salmond, Head of the Scottish National Party that is at the forefront of the Independence debate.

Alex Salmond, Head of the Scottish National Party that is at the forefront of the Independence debate.

Despite my own misgivings about the referendum, and my own feelings that a ‘No’ would be a political, economic and social disaster for both Scotland and the remaining countries in the UK, I can’t help but admire Salmond’s technique. From a Comms perspective, his winning near 50% of my fellow Scots over to his ‘Better off alone’ viewpoint (compared to only 23% two years ago) makes for a fascinating case study on strategies for change management.

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