Ad Rants 1.

Ford’s Unlearn Everything

The majority of times I encounter new adverts it’s in the cinema and I have to start by saying this new Ford image video is absolutely gorgeously shot. It piggybacks beautifully on the idea of unlearning behaviours, looking at the world with fresh eyes and an open mind – a sentiment that’s very much en vogue within society so much so that we have even invented unschooling for the sake of bringing this adventurous spirit of exploration and curiosity into education.

However, and it is a humungous however for anyone who believes branding is not so much about telling but showing, you simply can’t tell your (past and future) customers to just forgot what they’ve thought about you so far and start having a brand new association to your logo and cars just like that. You especially can’t do that if you are such a household name and millions of people have been bombarded with the previous positioning through countless years.

Can it be effective? Sure, operating with an already familiar concept and encouraging people to “let go of their limiting beliefs” creates and emotional connection, making the transition easier. I’d even say it makes some sense, looking at the new power range of models Ford has launched recently and their efforts to become a force to reckon with digitally. To step into a new era where digital services are as important as the car itself, a brand certainly needs to revive itself. But as I said, telling is never as strong as showing and this is what I miss here: we are told to unlearn but doesn’t get a clear image of what we should learn instead. We are told to replace our old concepts but not given a reason to believe other than “hey, we are much cooler than you thought and anyways, unlearning is just such a rad concept”. While I get the whole message is around opening our minds to possibilities, without a few tangible guiding breadcrumbs this re-branding for me falls punctured tyre flat.

How would I approach it? Part of their Unlearn video manifesto, they say:

“Unlearn is not about forgetting the past; it’s about re-imagining possibilities to make progress in all aspects of our lives.

But Unlearn doesn’t stop with vehicles. By looking into the future with mobility at the top of our agenda, we’re building a more connected and sustainable transport future.
Why not see what happens when you let go of what you know?”

If I may dissect it, the main point they are making is that they constantly innovate and build better products, backed up by a century of know-how.* Strategically, demonstrating this innovation and truly surprising the customers would be the way to go really. Start with a huge PR stunt, like building functional Transformers robots out of oldtimers and letting them fight it out somewhere central with a huge audience. Create a space for your customers to actually explore technology and the fascinating things the future may hold for mobility. New power range? Run your very own race with all the bells and whistles and celebrities. Invite customers (or even better, stunt drivers) to tweak and race themselves. And then use all the fantastic footage from all these fun spectaculars as you TV and print campaign elements. But you know what, really, do anything, but simply tell people to forget your previous branding and get on board with the next.

But you know what, really, do anything, but simply tell people to forget your previous branding and get on board with the next.

*I’m not sure this is a super groundbreaking claim, because a) how else would you innovate, b) every other company claims the same *sigh*

Branding workshop with Stemettes’ Outbox incubator

I’m about to leave for South London, to engage with a classroom full of female STEM students, from age 11 to 22. Now, aside from the fact that I feel a little bit like a fossil – some of these girls already have a startup, how amazing is that? – it is an interesting challenge to design a workshop that gives them a compact picture of the value of branding, especially meaningful marketing and is relatable to all project stages and ages as well.

Since you don’t want to cram too much stuff into 2 hours – keeping in mind general human attention cycles and that the idea is to teach and have fun, not just to push as much knowledge in their heads as possible – I decided to focus on how values can and should lend the base building blocks of a brand.

Three exercises help them to understand how branding works and evolves in the 21st century, thanks to the Internet, information availability and the rise of a conscientious, value driven consumer:

  • starting with the icebreaker, figuring out brand names based on the logo colours only,
  • an exercise to help unearth personal values
  • and the last one helping them to apply the personal values onto the business as well as understanding how they might get into their customer’s head to understand what aspects of the product/service will matter to them.

And of course, examples, examples, examples. From established names to smaller startups, we are going to have a look at how functional values, personal benefits and collective benefits a brand brings create coherent platforms to communicate from. I must say, I’m looking forward to a lot!

The Barista is Naked!

A couple of days ago when I first came across the new Nestlé Bliss creamer campaign my first reaction was giggles and delight. I mean sex is still part of advertising’s holy trinity and it’s unlikely you will ever fail to grab some attention with a few perfectly shaped boobs and butts. Plus points for employing both male and female actors, too. (and no, we are not discussing sexism today)

Then I started to think. It is one thing that the idea is not exactly new, Carr’s got naked butlers to hand out free crackers with nothing but an apron in 2010 and a Dallas restaurant is about to launch the male version of Hooters just now. Channeling Bliss’ only natural ingredients certainly makes more sense from conceptual point of view, than merely trying to grab attention with well toned backsides.

My issues start with the need of putting sugar and natural flavour into an au naturel creamer. Sure, both ingredients are found in the nature but there are countless non-healthy, however natural ingredients one might pick. (You probably don’t want to add flavour – and cholesterol – with lard or poisonous mushrooms to get a little more extreme.)

So first of all, can we stop fooling customers with overusing the word natural and try to find something more meaningful, or heaven forbid focus on producing healthy food instead?

Secondly, campaigning to show just how natural Nestlé products are might very well backfire in the light of all the activities they don’t exactly approach in mother nature’s best interest. In reality, the #NoNestlé hashtag is still alive throughout Twitter and activist will be fast to recite the list that gets them angry.

Focusing on the value peaceful co-existence between humans and nature, several stands out.
In the 1970’s huge waves arose around their mother’s milk substitute and the aftermath is still ongoing. Marketing their product as a natural start in one of the fuels for modern day boycotters. The palm oil scandal, a bitter fight between GreenPeace and Nestlé on their use of the ingredient whose production is the primary cause for deforestation was the loudest in 20120. Nestlé has committed to using only “certified sustainable palm oil” by 2015 and while they deserve the benefit of the doubt – and I haven’t done a lot of research to find out what is the state of their supply chain today – there is no thorough, third party monitoring in place to determine whether they’ve succeeded. The most current negative PR Nestlé received is the consequence of the California draught. Refusing to stop producing bottled water that they pump from already dry and endangered areas, not to mention getting around regulations by draining springs in reservation areas, that are not obligated to supply any statistics of the actual amount of water being processed.

Is the new Bliss campaign fun? Sure, it did make me smile. Is promoting how natural a product is, when natural doesn’t necessarily mean healthier (sugar, heavy cream, etc., etc…) uncool? Undoubtedly, even if it’s hardly an unusual thing as of today. Should you build a campaign around being 100% natural when the company’s actions are everything but pro-nature? With a bit of integrity, absolutely not. Human beings as consumers are becoming smarter and more responsible. Even if we are still not the utopian world where everyone only buys products they have zero ethical problem with, it is approaching fast. Build a brand where you make even grand statements and own values with a crystal clear conscience. That, or get used to the thought of perishing slowly.


How to Build a Startup Brand from Scratch

On the 9th of October I was giving a talk at itnig, the hacker accelerator of Barcelona. The first talk after a couple of workshops on the same topic, it was exciting and frightening in the same time to see so many people interested. Of course teaching requires a lot of practice and learning, just like everything, but I am happy to have been given positive feedback on this first occasion already.

Already thinking about how to make it better, more relevant for a startup and useful for small organisations, I am very happy to get more feedback. The slides are on SlideShare, so if you happen to give them a look and have any constructive criticism, feel free to comment! Thanks in advance!