Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You don't have to be perfect, just human.

If you follow American sports, you'll know the furore caused by NBL star LeBron James' move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat a few months back.

Twice the league's MVP,'King James'was considered the lynchpin to his team's hopes of winning a first-ever championship.

His announcement to leave was televised live to a breathless nation, the response in his hometown was singlet-burningly vitriolic.

Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert immediately published an open letter to fans, denouncing the decision as a "selfish", "heartless", "callous", and "cowardly betrayal", while guaranteeing that the Cavs would win an NBA title before the "self-declared former King".

If you were LeBron, the sensible thing would be to keep your head down, right? And if you were his major sponsor, you'd try and gloss over the fact that half of America despised the behaviour of your star asset, right?


This is a great spot. It's great because it treats the viewer with intelligence, asks us to challenge our pre-concieved views, and invites debate.

It's great because it doesn't set out to be a monopoly of information, or try to provide you with an opinion.

It's great because it doesn't mind if you walk away unconvinced. It puts its faith in the argument and in the smartness of its viewer.

To be a great brand, you don't have to be perfect. Because you can't be. It doesn't hurt to admit your imperfections if they are there for all to see.

In fact, they might be the key to the way ahead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Being useful

Precocious bike brand Rapha have this last weekend launched their new iPhone app.

For us it serves as a pretty handy marker as to where brands might be headed.

It doesn't tell you where to buy their expensive bike attire, or show you styles and prices. Perhaps it already assumes you own a piece or two, or have at least heard the talk.

It simply allows you to organise groups of people who like riding to and from the same places at the same time as you do. Which if you are a rider (Campbell isn't but Chris is) is incredibly useful.

From the Rapha site:

We all know the problem. Organising a ride with friends. Or maybe not friends, more likely adversarial training partners, or perhaps someone you have never ridden with before. Arranging meeting for a ride can be a thankless task spread over a multitude of devices and communication methods.

And then, further to this complication of arrangement is the uncertainty involved in the act of meeting. An unforeseen puncture, a headwind from hell, getting lost, another unforeseen puncture (after two they become foreseen) – the epic could begin before the planned epic (or perhaps just a light training spin) has even begun.

It strikes right in the heart of a human being that likes nothing more than getting up in the dark at 5am to ride in the rain with a bunch of people he or she never sees at any other time of his life.

It appeals to the human quarter that he or she believes sets them apart from everyone else. And could anything be more useful than that?

Able and Baker's travel budget didn't extend to sending delegates to last weekend's Caxtons. But we're reliably informed that keynote speaker, R/GA's Nick Law spoke on this very subject.

"If advertising tries to compete on storytelling, you're up against (Pay-TV channel) HBO and Hollywood," he said.

"We think the new formula is innovation plus demonstration. When you create a social (application) you're designing a system of engagement. It's less about telling stories.

"In the systematic space, make it useful, for God's sake," he said.

R/GA has proved this point with their much lauded Nike Plus campaign. Rapha have managed to get to the heart of their people with this app.

But perhaps what's most striking about the Rapha app, and what's most counter-intuitive for marketers, is that you don't have to be a customer to use it.

It's free. No cash, no credit card, no proof of purchase required.

It recognises that while you may not yet be a customer today, if we spend a little time together, you just might be tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Australia the 'dumb blonde' of the world?

In a Sydney conference yesterday, branding expert and author Simon Arnholt labelled Australia as the world's 'dumb blonde', attractive but shallow and unintelligent.

He pointed to the current tourism advertising campaign, Tourism Australia's move to bring Oprah to Australia and the lack of a cultural exchange programme like Germany's Goethe Institute or France's Alliance Francais.

''What you have is an image of a country that is considered to be very decorative, but not very useful,'' he said.

Mr Anholt said Australia relied too much on ''logos and slogans'' in its efforts to change people's minds about the country.

In a similar vein, Paul Hogan who starred in the 'Shrimp On The Barbie' ads of the early 80s, commented;

"If I go to your house to visit and I want to come back, it's because I enjoyed your company not the furniture," he said.

Campaigns like this address the furniture. If you took them at face value, and I'm not sure how much other value there is, the world would get the impression that we all spend our days beach-frolicking in the shallows, communing with kangaroos and watching fireworks in sequinned dresses.

And you've got to wonder what kind of hook that is.

Brand uber-guru Wally Olins, who's been working in this space for decades and amongst other things, helped Spain transition from the Franco-era poor man of Europe to the country that hosted the Olympics less than twenty years later, points out, sun, sand and sea are commodities. As soon as someone else can provide it closer and cheaper, your brand is diminished.

'You have to sell your culture, your history, your food your background,' says Olins. 'Otherwise, you are in the commodity business.'

Compare and contrast the 'Nothing Like Australia' campaign with Tourism Victoria's current campaign featuring Daylesford.

Simon Arnholt probably has a good point.

(If you are a Wally Olins fan, here's an excellent presentation on branding and nations in four parts. It's long but excellent)