Brands with purpose; the story do far

‘Brands with purpose’ were all the rage for about twenty minutes or so.  Unilever said it was the right thing to do.  So obviously it was the right thing to do.

Then came Pepsigate.  An overzealous attempt to appropriate a world of virtuous resistance against all the evil in the world, while simultaneously calling for world peace, racial harmony and please can we all just start being nice to each other again.  Remember the anti-Vietnam war poster with the girl putting the flower in the barrel of the soldier’s gun?  Except Pepsi misjudged the popular mood and was ridiculed.

My own view is that, while Pepsi’s attempt to tap into this ‘purpose’ was pretty woeful, it wasn’t so much worse than a lot of other work from other brands who just about got away with it.  Pepsi didn’t have any credits in the bank here (as opposed to Coke for example who do) so once social media turned against them, the hole just got deeper and deeper.  Before they knew it, they were a laughing stock and had to withdraw the advertisement in question.  This in turn made them headline news and so doubly a laughing stock.

Harsh but fair.

This debacle has spawned a host of ‘told you so’ coverage.  Most of it is simply accountable to people wanting to score points by dancing on Pepsi’s grave (who wouldn’t?)  I’ve seen lots of other corporate pap which is equally risible, but escaped with barely a word of censure (special mention here for Hewlett Packard’s corporate video).

But I did quite enjoy this:

Moving on, in the wake of Pepsigate, brands should be getting very wary of doing the vision thing.  This idea for Heineken was, presumably, too far advanced to pull out.  In a worlds where Pepsi is ridiculed, this shouldn’t work either.  But it does.  Why?

Two reasons:

  1. Heineken is a brand we like.  It has a history of entertaining us and being witty.  It’s not explicitly a crusading brand (like say, Dove whose influence is very evident here) but it’s well-meaning enough to be credible.
  2. The craft.  It’s very nicely done.

That’s my opinion today.  If it gets lambasted and withdrawn tomorrow, I will of course disown all of this and claim I was being ironic.

And you fell for it right?

Food Dancing

This feels like an important new development in the world of advertising.  After a billion years settled at the home of all things grown up and civilised – AMV – Sainsbury recently moved its advertising to the home of all things yoof -Wieden & Kennedy.

The result is ‘Food Dancing’.  On first viewing, it feels a bit like a student’s speculative reel for his first proper advertising job interview.  One or two visual cliches have sneaked in when no-one was looking.  Overall though, it does just what the nice but mundane supermarket needed – it gives it an injection of fun energy.  On reflection, I think I’m a fan.


Perception, reality and Islamaphobia

Last week I was delighted to find some data which completely supported my existing prejudice.  That’s how social media works, right?

Ipsos Mori had conducted a survey in 40 countries to find how many Muslims people believed there were, living in their country. And unsurprisingly (to me) most people massively over-estimated the number.


For example in Britain, we believe Muslims make up about a sixth of the population.  The real figure is less than a twentieth.  The variations were even wider in most other countries. In France, the perception was nearly five times greater than the reality.   All of this explains why immigration has become one of the fiercest areas of political debate, despite being one of the smaller problems we face.  Whereas Islamaphobia threatens to become a real problem.

I have friends who talk as though there were no longer any white faces to be seen in their High Street when I know the local population where they live is virtually 100% white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.  They genuinely believe that beyond the perimeter of their own village, the world is full of threatening aliens who are somehow out to get them.

How could this happen? Do you really need to ask?

This overwhelmingly supports my long-held belief: that there’s nothing in our world that wouldn’t be made better simply by closing down the Daily Mail.


Blame the Poles, no blame the polls, just blame someone

There has been a good deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth following the supposed failure of the opinion polls to predict the result of the US Presidential election. It follows similar complaints after the Scottish independence referendum, the British general election and most other polls in recent years.

The Washington Post is typical of many observers in talking about “the polling disaster of 2016”.

“The disaster of the 2016 election forecasts is not dissimilar (to a plane crash) with a series of mistakes building upon one another to lead prognosticators astray. Pollsters now are sifting through the wreckage to find the black boxes and assess what went wrong in order to prevent it from happening again.”

It has even popped into popular parlance.  You now hear ordinary people, on the proverbial Clapham omnibus, musing that the polls got it wrong – again.   There’s a certain irony about observers’ rush to blame the polls for this state of affairs, in an election, itself so characterised by ‘blame culture’.

In any case, their angst is wholly misplaced.

I’ll just make two points about polling.  First; for a host of reasons, they cannot be wholly accurate predictors and second, to expect them to do this is to misunderstand the nature of quantitative research.

Opinion polling cannot ever be a truly reliable predictor of behaviour.  Firstly there are a bunch of reasons specific to the particular research design adopted.  For example, in the last UK general election, the industry’s post mortem concluded that the Labour vote was overstated and the Tory vote understated because when you approach people to respond to the survey, Labour voters (ordinary working people and poorer types) are disproportionately likely to be available to answer your questions than Tories (busy senior managers and professionals) who are too busy.  This is just one of many ways in which the best-laid plans of market research designers fall down on the intricate trivialities of daily life.

If we weren’t already sceptical about the accuracy of the polls then we should be alarmed by the fact that the “poll of polls” often shows results which differ by large margins even when the surveys were only a few days apart. If nothing else this reminds us that the findings are ‘directional’ and can’t be considered objective.

There’s a more fundamental issue here too.  Contrary to appearances, quantitative research isn’t really about asking people questions.  It’s about designing experiments.  And this particular design falls down because of what particle physicists have called the Observer Effect.  This means that the act of observing will influence the phenomenon being observed. For example, for us to “see” an electron, a photon must first interact with it, and this interaction will change the path of that electron.  Tha same is true of opinion polls in general elections.  Because poll results are published, seeing your party down in the polls may encourage you to turn out and vote.  Seeing your party up may encourage you not to bother.  Either way, the poll is likely to be undermined by its own findings.

This isn’t intended to be a damning indictment of opinion polls.  Quite the reverse.  They are mostly a good thing – if I were plotting a political campaign I would want to know if my messages were getting through.

But if we expect them to predict the result, we’re misguided.  The nature of voting is simply too fluid and subject to too many influences.  And in any case, expecting quantitative research to predict future events is never likely to be that accurate in this or any other area of study.  When we use quantitative research to ask people how likely they are to buy a new product, we don’t expect that the numbers will literally represent the number of buyers.  We take it as a guide. We compare it with other similar studies in the past and some other benchmarks to help guide our judgements.  We don’t simply take the numbers and treat them as some kind of truth.

Nobody should have these expectations of ‘truth’.  And the practitioners themselves have scored a massive own goal by allowing these unrealistic expectations to spread – well it must have appeared good for business I suppose.  Until now.  Now the pollsters have become one more group to blame for everything going wrong.  Talk about shooting the messenger.


All swap clothes for Christmas

Christmas is coming and that means one thing.  Lots of new retail advertising.  Here’s the newest entrant – it’s House of Fraser, brought to you by an agency I much admire – 18 Feet and Rising:

I have to admit I rather like it.  But here’s my misgiving.  It’s a Marks & Spencer ad.  Everything about it screams M&S except the logo.  Which is a bit tricky.

So imagine my surprise when I saw the new M&S Christmas commercial:

It’s also quite nice (though I’m not overwhelmed).  Except for one thing.  Like many advertisers, the client appears to have gone to their agency and said: “Please give me a John Lewis ad”.  And unlike most agencies, they have done exactly that.

So House of Fraser is now morphing into M&S who are, for their part, impersonating John Lewis.

So it’s like a weird version of retail clothes swapping.  Or one of those bizarre questions that crop up in philosophy tutorials about how much of your brain you can merge into another entity before you become them or they become you.

Maybe that’s what they mean by Shwopping.