How an Itsy bitsy teeny (and controversial) bikini can help explain brand integrity

This week in class we were debating if there is ever such a thing as ‘bad publicity’?

Although many were aligned with Phineas T. Barnum’s statement that “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”, I believe this stance can only go so far.

True enough, if someone is seeking notoriety and a scandalous reputation, perhaps this opinion may have some credence. But if publicity is centred on a product or service that has been shown to be physically detrimental to the consumer or the environment ala BP after their latest oil spill, then there is little likelihood that that publicity of the issue is going to increase sales or improve brand awareness in a valuable way for the business.

Our focus led us to looking at Protein World‘s ‘Beach Body Ready!’ OOH campaign which a few days ago was pulled by TFL.

Launched on platforms across the London Underground, the campaign’s bright yellow poster (shown below) is illustrated by the requisite (although allegedly un-photoshopped) woman in a tiny bikini as well as examples of some of their protein-based meal-replacement products. 45775830-2510-465f-a8cb-bda9b5a82951-620x372

Reactions, perhaps surprisingly, were mixed.

Call me cynical but this campaign’s message doesn’t really stand out (neither amongst its competitors, or within the general media). Maybe I’ve become desensitised, who knows…

Others however, have taken a stand against the ad on the principle beachbodydeface2that any ‘body’ which makes it to a beach this summer is a ‘beach body’, and that Protein World – and by extension, Richard Staveley (Head of Marketing) – are adding to the commodification of women’s bodies within society, and are ‘fat-shaming’ those who do not meet their body ideals.

Campaigners claim that the company is “directly targeting individuals, aiming to make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model in order to sell their product” and have not only taken to social media to express their views, but have also defaced ads across the London Underground and started a (now successful) petition to have the campaign pulled.

As a self-acknowledged chubster, its easy to understand why some women might find these ads offensive, but it was the brand’s response that really threw me for a loop. Instead of apologising and taking a softly-softly approach centred on the ad’s role as a motivational device, they doubled-down and held their own.

The resultant outcry and subsequent media attention has meant that in four days, Protein World has secured 20’000 new customers, over 113 million media views, and has made over 1 MILLION in revenue.

By causing a debate on such a fraught issue as obesity, the brand Picture1has polarised the media and its audiences in a way that (because they are in a niche market) means they can be completely unrepentant in their stance whilst meeting the ideologies and general attitudes of their key consumers – those who are or want to lose weight – even if that causes an awful lot of controversy.

Rightly or wrongly, the campaigns objective was to increase sales and, by creating a newsworthy story that everyone had an opinion on, social justice campaigners didn’t just give the brand a MASSIVE boost in exposure but also meant that those who agreed with their ideology would be more interested in actually making a purchase.

INGENIOUS!!!

Think about it.

They secured free coverage in several key national publications and news outlets as well as even more in women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan. Coverage that would have otherwise cost them thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – to pay for themselves.

All it took was them maintaining their brand’s integrity.

If your brand is consistent in its actions, values, principles and behaviour, then it is seen to have integrity, and as such, will be meaningful to the audience to which it is aimed – however distasteful it might be to the rest of us.

It’s not about trying to be good anymore (though that might be one aspect of your brand) and its not about being ‘nice’ or even looking good in a yellow bikini; it’s trying to be honest, authentic and representative of the people who really matter – if only to your brand.

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Marketing ‘vermin’: Strategies to combat a plague-ridden reputation

sellings rats
Rats.

Not the easiest animal to convince people make good pets, but ones which I’ve found in the four or so years of owning them to be the cheekiest, most playful and surprisingly easiest small pet you could own.

A quick list of their benefits can include:

  1. Unlike Hamsters, Degus and Chinchillas, they’re not nocturnal and so will be awake when you are.
  2. Personality-wise they are a cross between a dog (playful, attentive, loyal) and a cat (wants cuddles/to be stroked, relaxed)
  3. Each rat has their own individual personality that can be developed depending on how you respond/act with them.
  4. Once you’ve gained their trust, they will consistently want your attention/to play/be stroked.
  5. They are very food-orientated as a species. No pet meets ‘the way to your heart is through your stomach’ mantra more than a rat.
  6. They are as clean as cats, especially if you litter-train them.
  7. They eat (or will at least try) pretty much anything (though high fat diet or citrus foods will have negative health effects).
  8. They grind their teeth together when happy (bruxing) and (when really happy/relaxed) they boggle their eyes.
  9. They’re both friendly and independent so bought in pairs or a trio, they will play with themselves when you’re doing other things.
  10. They are ridiculously intelligent. Check out the video below and see some of the many tricks you can teach them.

But, admitting to owning rats as pets does come with some interesting (and occasionally offensive) stereotypes – mainly born out of fear or even sheer ignorance.

rat

  • Assuming my home is filthy because of their presence?
  • Assuming they carry diseases like rabies and the plague (yes, as in the bubonic plague…which was carried by fleas.. not rats..)
  • I even had one classmate warn me that they could escape and attack me and my partner…

Don’t get me wrong, I can semi-understand why some people might find the tails off-putting, or why some may not like the threat of being bitten; but then saying that, you have a threat of being bitten by any pet if you hurt/upset it enough and the tails… well they’re easy to get used to after a while.

My original and aptly-named ‘Rat Pack’ consisted of five boys which I semi-rescued from a woman living in Sheffield (luckily for me she agreed to deliver them on the understanding that I’d pay petrol costs). Ranging in age and temperament from about 6 months and almost feral (never been handled) to approximately a year and a half year old love-bug, they quickly stole my heart, particularly after one of them suffered a stroke/severe fall shortly after arriving and so spent three days cuddled in my pocket so I could feed him medicine mixed in yoghurt every two hours.

The downside to caring for rats (or any rodent) however, is their short lifespan which averages at about 2-3 years, so my original rat pack are now all what is known as ‘over the rainbow bridge’ ie) rattie heaven.

Houdini (left) and Pebble. My current babies.

Houdini (left) and Pebble. My current babies.

I do however currently have a very licky, very attention-seeking, very food-orientated pair of boys whose faces I couldn’t resist when visiting Pets at Home last November.

*Saying that, I really do not recommend purchasing any small animal from a Pet store, particularly rats, due to the high risk of health or temperament issues that come from those environments – many pet store rats are bred and treated as snake food. Seriously, if you’re a novice or don’t want to risk having to trust train them, buy from trusted breeders; you’ll be saving yourself a lot of stress and hassle.

Very quickly, Houdini and Pebble came home to live – Pebble, named for the colour of his coat and the way he often sleeps (curled up in a ball as if about to do a forward roll), and Houdini who came by his name for the ridiculous speed in which he managed to escape not one but three of the cases I was expected to carry him home in.

Winning over the hearts of those who are afraid or flat-out dislike rats however, is not an easy task. Historically they’ve been a species cursed with a bad reputation, and counteracting the ‘plague-ridden, aggressive, you-will-die’ stereotype is often a task that meets a lot of resistance. People are comfortable in their own world view and questioning that/showing them that a belief/fear that many have held since childhood is false, isn’t always appreciated unless approached with care.

There are five key strategies that I have tried to take in building and defending ratty reputations. These are:

1. Be authoritative

Communicating strongly and knowledgeably goes a long way to making everyone else believe you understand what you’re talking about and that you’re the leader and authority in your area. Conveying your message with powerful, emotive words as well as with conviction will make you more believable and will make your audience more receptive to your message.

2. Be specific

Your message needs to be clear and easily conveyed. In this case, that’s pretty easy given the simplicity of both the subject and the stance ie) ‘Rat’s are awesome and everyone should love them!’, but in most cases, issues and brands can have more complex, more multi-layered connotations and thus need focused and specific communications to be believed by the recipient audience. It’s no good telling someone how great rats are if you can’t explain to the person why you like them and what makes them a good pet.

3. Be consistent

Being consistent when showing pictures and videos that contest the ‘ewwww gross’ mentality reinforces the message and shows people how loving and playful rats truly are without overcomplicating or confusing the issue.

4. Be honest

Every pet (and brand for that matter) has annoying quirks and habits. Being honest about them (they chew anything rubbery or wooden, and will use your clothes to make nests given half the chance) and admitting the downsides (they can smell if not cleaned regularly) increases your credibility and means that when you talk about the good things, you’re more likely to be believed. Integrity goes a long way after all.

5. Be relentless

Commit yourself to getting the positive message out there. People are inundated with a myriad of messages each day and when it comes to rats – lets be honest – the vast majority are not going to be positive ones. It’s not only critical therefore that you try to stand out amongst the static but equally that you are not forgotten. Follow up with people you’ve had past discussions with to reinforce not only your message but also the relationships you are building.

Overall, I’ve had a lot of success.

I mean it’s hard for people to retain the belief in the evil/disgusting/diseased stereotype when they are faced with the grabby-handed puppy eyes of two very adorable fluffballs.

There are of course going to be a small percentage of people whose opinions will be immovably negative. The RepTrak Alignment Monitor, developed by Cees van Riel for The Reputation Institute, measure employee alignment and contribution to the objectives and performance of an organisation. It suggests that although 10% of employees will automatically respond positively to change and 70% respond given adequate persuasion, 20% will remain consistently negative in their response.

The key I think is making sure to reinforce the positive messages I’m promoting to the 80% majority whilst never giving up on winning over that remaining stubborn 20% to my way of thinking – after all, their stubbornness gives me plenty of opportunities for rodent evangelism on a personal one-on-one basis.

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…

Is necessary for students to have a personal brand, or is demonstrating competencies/qualities better?

In a recent Adweek article, Cheri Eisen, Head of HR at Fusion, raised the point that when hiring new employees, employers don’t think we (by which I mean: students, recent graduates, and even entry-level employees) really need to develop a personal brand for ourselves.

Given the post I published earlier this week outlining my ‘Personal Branding cheat sheet‘, this revelation, I have to admit, was a little annoying,. After all, I did spend a fair amount of time noting all the ways to build and hone our personal brand so that we can get noticed by employers.

Instead, she says, “[we] need to know who [we] are, what [we] want to do, what [our] strengths are, and where [our] passions lie”, as, “depending on how many years [we’ve] been in the marketplace, [we] may still be experimenting with different types of roles.”

It makes sense really when you think about it. Until we’ve truly worked in an agency or in-house role where our work can directly impact on our client(s) bottom-line, how can we possibly know where our skills and approaches fit best?
I’m not talking what sectors or disciplines we’re interested in. Being interested in a sector doesn’t necessarily translate to being effective within it (or vice versa, as a matter of fact). I’m talking whether we fit a particular organisations corporate culture; whether we are capable in a range of roles or better if specialised in just a few.

The more practical skills you have when job hunting can of course lead to a higher chance of getting your foot in the door for an interview.
But, saying that, when it comes to scoring an internship, or even a job after graduation, it seems to me that the key to getting your foot past the door and into the role isn’t to reel off a list of skills as long as your arm, but to be authentic in the qualities/competencies you claim to demonstrate (and humble in your willingness to learn/work your butt off).

So, with that in mind, I thought I’d use the rest of this post to outline (in draft form) a couple of the qualities I feel I can offer an employer.

1) Authentic
What you see with me is what you get, and I don’t believe in hiding myself behind lots of jargon and marketing artifice (my advertising copy maybe, but not myself). I believe in honesty, integrity and creativity, rooted in getting work done both on-time and to a high standard.

2) Committed
I’m secure not only in my abilities but also in my willingness to learn. I know that my academic studies and professional experiences have provided/are providing me with the theoretical frameworks and competencies that can be applied to a range of roles, and I have dedicated myself to advancing not only my awareness of the marketplace in a range of sectors, but also to my own professional development through my memberships with the PRCA and CIPR.

3) Confident
This commitment and willingness to learn has resulted in my being confident in both my current abilities/competencies, and my ability to successfully build on areas which I need to improve. I am part of the ‘three screen generation’ which allows me to quickly learn and become proficient in new software, and I actively enjoy presenting and engaging in discussions which (I like to think) is an aspect of my friendly disposition.

These qualities, in addition to my ‘professionalism’, ‘energy’ and ‘talent’ have been recognised by past employers such as, Simone Kidner, Managing Director of PAPER CIC, who said:

“Ashley is a very talented young lady with a lot of energy for work. She is incredibly professional and confidently applies herself to every project that she is given. She’ll be a fantastic asset to any company and a joy to work with. I wish her all the best.”

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.