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Aunty Jane used to live in Stockwell. When we went to visit, I always looked forward to walking past the brilliantly named:
‘Curry & Pizza World – The Best of Both Worlds’.
Of course, in many respects, it was an absurd, messy proposition. Certainly no prissy pizza producer or self-respecting curry chef would likely want to find him or herself working there. But the customers loved it: you want a Margarita, your brother wants a Chicken Jalfrezi, Pauline has Rogan Josh, and Granny will always go for a Quattro Stagioni. Brilliant; everyone is taken care of, no one gets left out.
Curry & Pizza World had looked at their potential customers, what they wanted, and decided there was a niche; a rich seam that they could tap. As a result, they did a roaring trade. Maybe they still do.
In 1990, Chrysler, GM and Ford had combined revenues of about $250bn.
They employed over a million people, and their total market capitalisation was around $36bn.
In 2012, Google, Facebook and Apple also had revenues of about $250bn. They employed just 130,000 people. And their market capitalisation was $790bn.
I’ve written a lot about the pressure, disintermediation and commoditisation wrought on Western business by both the rise of Asia and the explosion of digital. But nothing, for me, has brought that macropicture to life as vibrantly as these Detroit vs Silicon Valley statistics: three companies that, in 1990, either didn’t exist, or – like Apple – were a bit of a joke, enjoying more than 20 times the market cap of their long-established Motown counterparts.
They’re overvalued, of course. But that isn’t the point. The point is that the iterative, focus-on-efficiences, refine-and-hone model that was for years the supposed source of competitive advantage for corporations and their senior executives alike – ‘Operational Excellence’ – has now reached a tipping point where it offers only ever-diminishing returns.
The car industry is a fabulous example, but there are countless others besides.
Because of this, businesses in the West have to reinvent themselves; fundamentally, relentlessly.
Here’s the good news. That reinvention ain’t gonna come from the ‘tried and tested’ methodologies of the big management consultancies. Those methodologies have been tried, been tested (not least by Detroit-based automobile businesses). Fresh thinking isn’t what the consultancies do.
It is, of course, with differing degrees of success, what agencies think they do – and so it should come from them. But agencies are not, typically, particularly switched on when it comes to really understanding strategy (despite talking about it endlessly), and certainly not when it comes to charging for the stuff – indeed often they give it away, in order to get the TV campaign, the website, the DM, whatever.
The real difference to clients will be made when grown-up, credible thinkers take needle-moving ideas to corporations; providing them with the fuel and the know-how for real, tangible and much-needed change – and crucially without the institutional expectation that such assistance will always, necessarily manifest in some sort of classic external advertising or marketing campaign.
That’s what the corporations want, and that’s certainly what they need. So that’s what we should supply.
Just like Curry & Pizza World.
Last week, I went to the ballet and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I love the ballet. It is not about the grace (and it is graceful) or the beauty (and it is beautiful); it is the effortlessness with which the dancers execute moves of tremendous strength, often in synchrony with many other dancers. It never ceases to amaze or surprise me. Among my many hobbies, I am a yoga teacher in training. I know (or at least can guess) just how much effort must be going in to making that hard work effortless and into making the difficult look simple. But it is all the better for looking so simple and so effortless.
We don’t really do religion in our family.
Indeed, the catch-all, non-denominational, multi-faith, woefully inaccurate moniker that we afford to all religions is ‘Jesus Games’.
Some people like to go and play Jesus Games on a Sunday, some on a Saturday, and some on a Friday.
But as easy as it is for us heathens to take potshots at religion, as marketers there’s a huge amount to admire.
Purpose. Amongst all the abject bullshit spouted about ‘purposeful’ brands these days, here’s some that indisputably are. Religions know, to Simon Sinek’s point, ‘why’ they exist and, as a result, their employer brands are to die for. Literally, sometimes.
Visual Identity. The redacted, nuanced sophistication of the cross is so powerful it is uncanny – the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost all neatly encapsulated in one infinitely reproducible shape. The ancient symbolism of the Seder plate would put a Michelangelo to shame, and – whilst the use of symbols is prohibited in Islam – there is no denying the importance of (easily recognisable) geometry in Muslim architectural expression.
Storytelling. Religions know how to spin a good yarn. This week’s Freak-The-Kids-Out includes either a zombie or the ‘Angel of Death’ depending on how much ‘Jesus’ you like with your ‘Games’. And in 8 short months’ time, we can look forward to the self-styled ‘Greatest Story Ever Told.’ However bizarre, these stories have endured, and they work on many different levels. No mean feat.
Tech. Leveraging the latest technology has always been a strength. The printing press enabled, for the first time, scalable storytelling: the Bible, the Qu’ran. And the advent of television ushered a whole new cadre of telegenic, sparkly-eyed ‘GamesMakers’; from the Tora Bora caves to the churches of middle America. As a result, the stories have gone viral.
Integrated. Above-The-(Tree)Line spires and minarets are visible in our landscapes, and – consciously or otherwise – remind us of the various ‘brand promises’, whilst the DM that pours through the letterbox is seemingly as endless as His Love. There’s sonic branding, in the form of song, and – for the really dedicated – ‘uniforms’ to ensure you can stay bang on-message 24/7.
All of which perhaps gives food for thought in our world - courtesy of those who believe in the next.
Happy Easter. And a Healthy Passover.
Last week, we were treated to another one of those surveys, listing Britain’s most trusted brands. This time, the top 3 positions were held by the AA, the Post Office and Boots. All famous names, to be sure, and all companies full of integrity. So no doubt we should congratulate them for this momentous achievement. But perhaps our praise should be somewhat muted.
You see, all the empirical evidence suggests that trust alone is actually a pretty poor predictor of commercial success. The truth is that trust is clearly necessary for success but not nearly sufficient. In fact, I’ve long believed that placing too much emphasis on this metric can actually be positively unhelpful, as it can lull executives into a false sense of security, suggesting that everything is well when it is not.
A much more telling measure is “brand fame”. As Les Binet and Peter Field noted in their seminal 2007 work for the IPA (“Marketing in the Era of Accountability”), this is “not the same as awareness: it is a perception of authority in the category rather than a state of knowledge”. According to Binet and Field’s exhaustive analysis, brands which adopt “brand fame” as a key metric are significantly more likely to report very large effects on sales and market share than those who pursue other measures (including “trust”).
Many other studies point to the same conclusion: that brands succeed where they have energy, drive and salience. While the specific terms used may differ from one report to another, these are all forward-looking, positive dynamic descriptors – not just the retrospective absence of a negative.
So while we applaud last week’s winners, perhaps we shouldn’t trust trust too much.
Piers North is strategy director at Yahoo
Native advertising is one of the buzz words of the moment and it generally provokes one of two reactions. Either a sense of confusion, or the feeling that it’s an over-hyped phrase which is just a new way of describing what we do already – creating advertising which is relevant to the editorial experience. Read More
Chris Chalk is global chief strategy officer at Cheil Worldwide
One of the most interesting discussions at Adweek Europe last week was around ‘agility’ and what it means for businesses, brands and agencies. We’ve been tracking the agile consumer for some time and believe they will fundamentally change the way we work as marketers and communicators. Read More
I took one of my sons to Paris this weekend.
We had a good time.
But I was struck by the sheer volume of tourists in the city centre; many more so, it felt, than here in London.
Some say the centre of Paris is prettier than the centre of London. That may or may not be true. What is true is that physically Paris has changed a lot less than its British counterpart in the last 150 years.
Pyramide and Pompidou notwithstanding, Baron Haussman’s grand vision is remarkably intact, and so consequently attractive to tourists that, at times, the city can feel like one big theme park. Irony upon irony then, that the uniquely French ‘exception culturelle’ and so the concomitant instinct to preserve has in fact led to Paris’ Disneyfication. Quelle horreur!
London, on the other hand, is dirty and gritty, emanating not so much from a fastidiously planned top-down approach, but from the bottom-up. The result is, admittedly, not always pretty, but it is diverse.
And it’s not just in architecture or town-planning where we see this difference.
The French tendency to dirigisme extends to fashion (compare London’s embracing of ‘the street’ with Paris’ haute-couture), cuisine (it might well be the best in the world, but it has to be prepared – and consumed – according to a very strict formula; don’t dare order anything other than a Sauternes with your foie gras), wine (look at how silly the Aussies made the French look when they started labelling wine by the grape, as opposed to terroir); the whole kit and caboodle.
This goes deep – to each nation’s understanding of the rule of law, and nature of freedom. The underlying tenet of the common law of England and Wales is an assumption towards things being permissable unless they have previously been expressly prohibited. In France, and indeed most of the rest of the continent, informed first by Roman law and then the Napoleonic Code, the starting point is a list of things one cannot do. A nuanced, but hugely important, distinction.
For creativity, all of this has a profound impact.
Not only does the relative uniformity produced by France’s dirigisme rob creative minds of the diversity that inspires but also the implicit green light of individual empowerment that a bottom-up culture offers; the basic, instinctive freedom to express at every level of society.
I don’t hate France, or the French. I speak the language and spent a lot of my childhood growing up there. And this isn’t a perfidious Englishman simply taking a cheap shot at the old enemy.
It’s a bona fide, one-time francophile lamenting the needless shackles that for too long have put a nation that once led the way, creatively speaking, in such a bureaucratic bind.
That, and the inexplicable, continued tolerance of these:
Advertising often reflects the zeitgeist, when it isn’t helping to shape said zeitgeist. Thus it is that the advertising industry is no stranger to memes – both the creation of them and leveraging them for stand-out potential. So, although the Internet has caused a proliferation of memes, they’ve been around for a long time.