Thursday, 26 July 2012

P&G. Will this gamble work?


Only a day to go. My penultimate pre Olympic post is about P&G's, Proud Sponsors of Mums campaign (or Moms in the original US). This is their global branding for the event.

Much of this is well conceived, in that it is emotionally based. So that's good.There is a  fundamental if axiomatic insight, that the competitors are all children of some mother. This is at the core of the campaign, a relationship that is of potentially enormous significance, not just at the time of winning, but also during the time of early awareness of the child's potential, its upbringing and through the dark days of constant training.(You famously see this relationship at first hand when you watch the tight lipped Mrs Murray at Wimbledon).So that's good too.

It is well shot series, perhaps over-sentimentalised even by American schmaltz standards: they find it difficult to move beyond Fame or the Spielberg style of direction, and never quite get the John Lewis factor, but this may be a quibble.
It is also good that they have tried to find a creatively consistent theme that builds beyond the reality of track and field and takes us into family and feelings.
Many other brands that I have written about, eg Omega watches, have created such obvious "Olympic" ads that they blend into each other and merge with the broadcasters' own material.Thus the branding is lost and the money goes down the gurgler.
The irony in these instances is that at the time of creating these wasteful commercials (say 6-9 months ago) they might have appeared exciting and uplifting to the companies creating them, and the research companies testing them. They might even have researched quite well. But they would have been researched in the pre-Olympic environment before people had been exposed to all the other identikit ads.So a good research result then will almost certainly result in a poor commercial result when it's all over. This might be borne in mind by marketeers when the next big bonanza comes their way - project yourself into what other people ( inc broadcsters) are likely to do and avoid it.

(It is understandable, possibly even slightly commendable, that the loopy spin-mistress Siobhan in Twenty Twelve tries to promote the women's football team by specifically not mentioning either women or football, because she is aware of the overload already built up).

So P&G have cleverly sidestepped the first trap and set their own agenda. The campaign is also a fairly major departure for a company who have generally made their money on before-and-after, or comparison style ads, that use reason as the key selling platform: we took this half of  a meerkat, washed it in X and then compared it with the other half washed in Z.

Finally, of course, Proud Sponsors of Mums, as a campaign, is a logistical challenge of mind boggling proportions as P&G weave a plethora of their global brands through the campaign, in most of the 100 countries they operate in.

Creatively, then, this is new territory.

Is it wise territory? Will the departure pay off?
Given what I suggest in about the positive effect of emotionally based advertising approaches, I cannot but endorse the overall intention of the P&G campaign even if the saccharin aftertaste is strong. This is not to say that  an emotionally based route is per se self-justifying. It will only work if the background strategy is based on a truth that fits the overall brand or corporate need going forward, resonates with the target, is well branded and has direction associated with leadership into the future.What it asks people to believe and do as a result is the bit that matters.
This allows a few queries,quibbles and observations to be ventured. No more than that.
The campaign marks the first step into a corporate branding approach for P&G: up until now, it has generally, quite rightly, kept its corporate credentials obscured from view, in favour of its individual brand names. It has kept its bog cleaners and batteries apart.
If you make Pampers as well as Max Factor, and Tampax as well as Oral B this is wise so that people don't confuse which goes where.

The imagery of each brand has hitherto been marketed in a discrete, not corporate, manner. Indeed, most consumers would not know which brands P&G make and might be rather miffed if they did, preferring to revel in the image of say Vidal Sassoon shampoo as a stand alone entity rather than knowing it came out of some factory in NW England courtesy of  a monolith that also churns out Silvikrin next door.
Corporate brands like L'Oreal can leverage their corporate strength to consumers because they only make one group of products, all of which have the same emotional flavour. And this is in the glamour rather than the bog cleaning department. By unifying their disparate brands under one flag, might P&G risk a revelation that may back fire on them? It's just a question.
The theme, and its wording, are also worthy of quibble.

Whatever else P&G are they are not sponsors of Mums.
The idea of sponsorship is that the sponsor pays the sponsee; but the reality in the day to day relationship, aka when you go shopping, is that Mums pay P&G. Supporters of Mums might be nearer the truth but then it would not have quite the Olympic ring desired. It's a quibble but quite an important one.

(It is true that P&G are doing something on the ground at the Olympics to provide free hospitality/shelter/water for the mothers (and fathers?) of competitors but this is not what their ads are about).
To sum up, my conjecture is that this has strong elements to like, but  that  Marketing might have over-ridden Sense in some areas on this one. And that in the interests of manageablity a certain line has been crossed that may turn out to be pointless.

That line is the difference between a brand and a company.
Someone at High Command Cincinnati in 2005 just could not resist committing to a 7 year programme that would "put the company on the global stage like never before" ( I can imagine hearing some such words from the Chief  Marketing  Officer). Nice 7 year job if you can get it.
By creating a campaign linking it all back to P&G the thing became manageable, but I am not convinced it meant it became commercial. Or, word of the moment, sustainable: are we increasingly to see more P&G branding of pack?

Will people be searching for the magic logo before buying their batteries?
Will Mums be the main target from now on in?
Will men be out of the running?

My guess on all four would be no.
And that the campaign was (just) a major tactical exercise, of no real lasting value consumer-wise.
Because, when it comes to it, P&G punters buy the individual brand not the company. Someone simply blinked when the sponsorship deals for 2012 came round this time round ( P&G did not get involved majorly in Bejing) and that set the fuse alight.
Where this campaign might work strongest is both at staff and at trade levels.Internal love-ins will have convinced P&G employees that they work for a great global philanthropist.
Further, if you're P&G you are constantly seeing your profits chipped away by supermarket and own label products. If you can reverse this by saying words to the effect of  "this family makes better stuff than any one, whether it's bog cleaners or batteries", you may be able to hold back the wall of own label at a trade level, where the corporate brand does have some sway.
But it is unlikely to be a great stimulant to the consumer.
Er, I mean Mums.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

UPS Good delivery


In the series of Olympic ad reviews, the global logistic and delivery company UPS is next on the blocks. Their role in the Games is to be officially in charge of Deliveries, and they will have paid a handsome sum for this, many times greater than the value of deliveries they will be making. Have they wasted their money?

If you haven't seen their ad here it is:

This whole sponsorship seems right and quietly relevant.
UPS have managed to continue their approach of making delivering packages ( aka logistics) seem glam and professional. And at the same time, subtly calling into question the credibility of the hordes of lesser brands and white van men who compete with them, and who, by implication, perform on a lesser stage.
This ad has got it right too.
It's got the balance between its sponsorship and its ad message right. This means that the service it is offering to the Games a) makes sense and b) fits well with the reality of its day to day business: it has not had to try too hard to get them to coalesce.( Many brands in my previous reviews have struggled to see how to make their sponsorship deal relevant or differentiated).
It's got the overall strategy right: to be simultaneously big and small, global and local, professional but personal.

It's also got the tone right : it feels service orientated, understanding, approachable, inclusive.
It's got the "sponsorship symbiosis" balance in its favour. What I mean by that is that UPS has a clear image advantage in its favour via its association with the Games: this is not always the case with larger or more "famous" global brands for whom the additional kudos is far less tangible than they had originally imagined.In this context, because it has executed it well, UPS gets loads of positive borrowed interest from the Olympics and makes this work for their brand. ( If interested see the BP and Omega blogs below for how to get this balance working against you).
Further, this ad has many of the right ingredients to work.It's been conceived and built properly.


Within the solidity of the overall approach, UPS has neatly chosen key ingredients that are likely to result in success (and are detailed as a working blueprint at if you're interested). Whether they have done this knowingly or by luck is a matter of conjecture, but this ad is well designed.

As an aside, readers may be familiar with the BBC's hilarious Twenty Twelve. Perhaps not so well known is the fact that this is pretty much how it is in reality: in particular, the ad agency/PR portrayal is not over fanciful - clients are daily fed questionable rubbish, cooked up without design, on a whim, by amateurs. What such organisations tend to lack is a rigorous results orientated process to create and judge their own work. A suggestion for such a framework, and the necessary ingredients, is set out at Cambridge Comms if you're interested.
Of the ingredients I look at in detail, the key one UPS have chosen is Strong tribal leader message.
At Cambridge Comms I suggest that much human behaviour is based on auto responses, quite primitive sub conscious promptings, many of which are the result of an involuntary desire to belong to a group ( a tribe). Ads that show a range of people reacting positively to something have a built in advantage from the start as the message of mutual security in the tribe, and trust in the tribal leader, comes across.
In a recent survey of brands, the "generic cheddar" Cathedral City came high at No 13 in the list of the nation's favourites , and many commentators were falling over themselves to be surprised by this.

But Cathedral City has always based its approach on national popularity, and, by pitching itself as the nation's favourite, and showing a semi-romantic view of  families and individuals across the country tucking in from dawn to dusk, by showing family relevance and nostalgia, it has successfully created a movement that inveigles people in via the inherent perception of popularity: if everyone is doing it I will too. This is how the Olympic torch phenomenon works too (see my previous blog post). Cathedral City also got a number of other key building blocks right including naming, the use of specific colours, and parchment wrapping, all of which helped provide substance and natural "continuum".

There will invariably be more people willing to follow this sort of Pied Piper message than those (arguably with "minds of their own") who prefer to pursue their own course, and  that's why this approach works in so many cases.
Halifax, with their singing choir, have over the last 10 years or so built their brand around this foundation. Ditto Coke and BA.                                

UPS's choice of a range of different enterprises from sport to theatre, from hi-tech to bespoke tailoring, not only shows the constituent parts of the tribe, but also allow UPS to bask in the reflected glory of those constituents: will UPS be seen as a higher tech or more creative company in the future? Will UPS be seen as a company that's creative and  plays fair? Yes, subtly, on all counts.
Presumably, too, the featured tribal members ( the customers shown) are also those companies who are targets for UPS, customer sectors where they are currently light. It's part of the design.
Note, none of the above refers to creative egregiousness in any way.This ad is not going to win any creative awards ( except possibly within the logistics industry itself), but this will not diminish its power to work in the real world.

Of course, a true creative breakthrough, combined with the design ingredients shown above, makes for an even better final product, but too many "creative breakthroughs" fail because they are not grounded in what will work. In such cases the creative world may win, but the commercial world ( the advertising client who is paying) loses.
There are rare exceptions, but these need to be entered into knowingly: and some ads are meant simply to be art and the ad replaces the product story completely.(Benneton in the 80s was a good and rare example).
To conclude.When the post mortem comes after the Games, and the winners and losers in the casino of sponsorship are decided, how will UPS fare?
In image and relevance terms I  believe it's on a certain win. Its advertising should talk to the FD as much as the despatch manager, and to big and small businesses alike. Its brand image is likely to be enhanced as much to current and future customers as to current and  future employees ( so it is actually a decent recruitment ad too).
So, as far as image is concerned, the only way is up.
Prove this on the ground UPS, via meticulous professionalism and punctuality, avoid a GS4 style cock up and try not to lose the Polish long jumpers's jock strap and you can expect a podium finish.

Monday, 9 July 2012

British Airways: Strong idea - Wrong idea


Over the next few weeks I will be looking at how various brands have tried to exploit the vast amount of sponsorship pounds they've spent on the Olympics. For some this will be a salutary experience, for sponsorship is like marriage: where it works it works, but in many cases it's sponsor in haste, repent at leisure.

When it's all over, the post mortems round the boardroom tables will reveal, despite the persuasive patter of the marketing guys, that the tangible effects were limited to an improvement in internal staff morale, and in some cases client (trade) relationships. Except in very well organised instances, with a  high level of  data gathering activity, aka direct marketing,  any commercial effect as far as the consumer is concerned is likely to be difficult to justify for the money spent, non-existent or short lived.

In the sponsorship game, popular marketing theory dictates that a company should spend £10 on advertising the sponsorship for every £1 it spends on the sponsorship itself. This is to make "full use of it".

This has two effects: firstly, it allows the fee-hungry ad agencies to persuade their (generally complicit) client marketing departments to indulge in quite extraordinary levels of advertising activity around the sponsored event. Secondly, it often allows the long term thinking about the brand to yield to the short term of the sponsorship message: this in itself  encourages either sloppy strategic thinking and/or the game of torturously trying to combine the values of the brand and the event into one manageable whole.This is why we will see a lot of ads but we will either not remember them, or not understand what they're for. In the worst instances, we will see, as in BA's case, that sponsorship has played havoc with the brand message to the point of unintentional absurdity.

So for the next few weeks, prepare yourself: we are going to see an increase in activity of a generally dubious nature as brands make full use of their sponsorship deals. I'll be trying to keep up via this
blog, starting with a review tomorrow of the remarkable campaign behind the Olympic Torch.


BA embarked on a strategy that culminates in the message Don't Fly.If you haven't seen the ad here it is.

It's a well shot film, the plane driving through London and the special effects are intriguing: in this sense many could call it a "strong" idea. But a strong idea can also be a wrong idea. Indeed an idea can be nearly right, and then fall alarmingly on its sword.

By asking its UK customers not to fly, BA is showing the problem that sponsors have in trying to make their brand coallesce with the event: BA and their ad agency have struggled consistently to find a link in all aspects of the campaign they have run, not simply in this commercial. Their press campaign has been partly on a different strategy but equally flawed.

And the problem is clear: in terms of the UK audience, BA are sponsoring  something happening in this country when their main business is in flying people in and out it.There is no reason for BA to fly us in , we are already here.

What the brand is good at and in business to do - eg flying people in - could be well directed at a foreign audience and would have resulted in a campaign based on the following strategy:

Fly people from abroad to London to experience the Olympics in true British style.
This is essentially a campaign to foreigners, and the commercial BA have produced, with a few word and scene changes, would be perfect for the foreign market. (In fact, I assumed this film was made for overseas' use and then badly re-voiced for the UK, probably for an awards competition, but the BA Youtube page says it's UK only).

Given that this would not fulfil the UK domestic side of things, BA could have considered a few other approaches eg

Connect the emotional spirit of the Olympics with the spirit of BA.
Cliche potential, but an epic of Chariots of Fire flavour is not beyond BA. Think Nike/Rooney.

Offer an escape for those for whom the Olympics ( let alone the weather) are a turn-off
Clearly this is a delicate strategy, but could be easily pulled off: 80% how great the Olympics are and 20% well, if we still can't convince you, why not fly to Barbados with us? (As it happens, the rival airlines such as easyJet are adopting a get away from the Olympics/weather approach in the sure knowledge that BA have boxed themselves in and cannot respond).

Gently ask people to put country before holidays
This is the (misguided) approach BA took, but they allowed someone, somewhere along the line, to turn delicacy, which might conceivably have saved it, into crudity. Don't Fly is simply too crude and emphatic summation for the subtlety that this idea might entail. The writing, rather than the art direction, of this thought is the real villain of the piece, the crystalisation of the idea into Don't Fly. (There is an additional flaw: the message is that being there, at home in the UK, is somehow either more involving or more supportive. Like, er, there are plenty of seats available in the stadia, and that, er, the Olympics won't be wall to wall in every bar TV and internet connection in the world).

At I show how most advertising ideas will work if they appeal to our emotional and quite primeval sub-conscious brains, and, additionally, are characterised by what I call "tribal leadership messages". This allows marketers a frame of reference to create - and judge -potential campaign ideas, and reject those that do not fit. In this instance, the one thing that people need to rally behind and follow into the future, the rallying cry for the brand and its business - is not just counter-intuitive it is actively designed to dissuade people from following the objectives of the brand.

It is exactly the opposite of To Fly. To serve.

Gracious-minded folk would say it is all a bit tongue in cheek and of course it's not meant to be taken literally. Creative types will have been  hyping it in the corridors of  Cannes and Carnaby Street as the potential creative award winner of tomorrow, for its "brave" stance. Ordinary domestic and business consumers will be either passively non-plussed or actively mischievous, seeing in the slogan Don't Fly an albatross of significant proportions to hang round this once great brand's neck.

In fact, now you mention it, it's odd how little this ad has actually been shown on TV.

Has someone at the top of BA seen the light and stepped in to ground it before it's too late?

Stop press. News just in: Nike changing slogan to Just Don't It, L'Oreal to No way you're worth it, MacDonald's to I'm Hating It

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PS Here is the standard BA response to all enquiries about the message in this ad:
Thanks for your comments. The ad is a tongue-in-cheek way of encouraging people to get behind our athletes for London 2012. We understand people will still need to fly during this time and we will be happy to welcome them on board. However, we will be equally happy to fly people after the Games if they decide to stay home and be part of the #HomeAdvantage. We think the song makes a great soundtrack to the ad and the Games and we hope it is a rallying cry everyone can get behind.