Archive for November 16, 2008

Posted: November 16, 2008
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Cheers to Czech creativity


In the run up to the festive season, as everwhere else in the world (well almost!), Czech commercial TV is inundated with drinks advertising.  This example, which, I think, first aired this time last year, apart from making me chuckle, is one of a handful of commercials that make me think there’s a chance yet for Czech agencies and that there are at least one or two clients there who know what they are doing.  Its not the “big idea”, but its a neat commercial all the same, especially when you consider its for something that tastes like toilet cleaner!

It was produced by Dan Ruzicka at Young & Rubicam – nice one Dan!  I don’t think it needs translation.  I’m sure there are a few men and women around the world who would apprecaite this “optional extra” fitted to their partners (can you get one retro-fitted?).  The fact that it’s unashamedly sexist and that nobody in CZ would even bat an eyelid at that fact, even if there were something like the ASA operating, makes it that much more authentic Czech.  As does the fact that drinking (anything alcoholic) is generally acknowledged by Czechs to be mankind’s escape from a nagging wife.

Posted: November 13, 2008
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I don’t want to be a celebrity. Get me out of here!

Results of a UK survey announced today and discussed on BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme suggest that the aspiration of most school kids is to be “famous”.  There’s no thought of how and no appreciation of the work involved, and why should there be? Programmes like Big Brother and The X-factor and parasites like Paris Hilton have proved to us all that celebrity can be an occupation.  Why should our kids commit to working for recognition?

This thinking isn’t as new as you may think though and it certainly isn’t confined to the UK.  For one thing, I have been seeing it every day for as long as I have been hanging around Prague.  Here, you’ll find scores of young Czechs with aspirations to be important, high-profile business people, driving their Mercedes to their newly-built villas on the edge of town and not the vaguest idea of how they would achieve this and usually little hope of ever succeeding.  Its what has driven, what seems like an entire over-mortgaged generation who, facilitated by easy loans and sharp salesmen, are often driving the flashy cars before they have a real job.  It makes recruitment difficult too and in a land where unemployment is barely measurable, has driven salary levels ever-upward as kids fresh out of college demand salaries higher than their bosses purely on the basis of their school certificates.  I once challenged a young graduate to tell me why she thought she was worth 20,000 Koruna a month (a decent living at the time) and she replied “Because I am educated and speak English”.  She didn’t get it that I was hoping for something more tangible and actually got up and stormed out of the room saying that I didn’t understand when I started to explain that if I paid her the figure she was asking for she would have to deliver more than that in revenue!

But also, somewhere, in some land that I have yet to discover, I swear there is a Head-In-The-Clouds Business Academy that churns out no end of business executives who are also destined never to “get it”.  I come across them all the time.  I tend to be called in and arrive moments before the Official Receiver at which point I have it explained to me that business isn’t good and asked can I “help them fix it?”.    A short “discovery” period is usually enough to reveal that “isn’t good” was an understatement and often the business is effectively bankrupt.  I had one a few months ago where every sale the organisation made was actually costing them money.  They literally couldn’t afford to sell anything, but that’s another story.  Sometimes there’s a way that disaster can be avoided, but drastic measures are called for and almost without exception, this means changing the management perspective.  The trouble I find though is that whilst the theory is never questioned, when it comes to implementing the remedy these organisations just aren’t prepared to bite the bullet.  As the great Tom Lehrer said “… like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis …”. “Can’t you just do something to get us through without being so drastic?” is a question I often hear and the answer is “Yes, but after all the effort it will only mean that you go broke next month rather than this”.  The real surprise is how willingly so many managers will accept this as a solution.  No pain, no gain.

I have written and spoken many times in the past about the similarity between sportsmen and women and businessess and I was reflecting earlier today on the achievement, but most of all the determination and work of people like Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man.  I also recall an interview that I heard in the last few weeks with someone involved in youth sports initiatives in the UK, who was saying that too many young kids with talent just aren’t prepared to put in the work it takes to realise their full potential.  The truth is that in most of the developed world life has been too cushy for too long to expect a rich vein of hungry young men and women prepared to sacrifice everything in the pursuit of true achievement and we are increasingly seeing sports champions from less privilaged societies rise to the top – four of the world’s top ten squash players are Egyptian, Usein Bolt is Jamaican (as if he hadn’t made his pride in this reality more than obvious!). 

In a world where dot-com billionaires still seem to be created at the drop of a hat, just because they are in the right place at the right time, I can’t tell you how great it is to, as I have this week, embark on a project with a small team of people with a great idea, tremendous passion and a commitment to 24/7 full-on physical effort (I don’t know how they do it) that defies normal human capability.  I really hope that I can help them make it work.  The world needs a few more business “celebrities” who got there by dint of real hard work and these guys really deserve a break.  Somehow, though, I get the feeling that they’ll make it regardless, just by shere determination.

Posted: November 7, 2008
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The world is watching!

barack-capitolMuch has already been written about the Obama victory in the US elections and I am sure there will be much more to come.  This is, after all, a momentous event to so many people, for so many reasons that it could take a long time to raise and explore them all,  but, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts on this and I’d like to raise two in particular that are close to my heart.

This week the American people have said “enough” in the most emphatic fashion.  Enough talk, enough manipulation, enough aggression and above all, enough indifference.  This is no mere electoral vicissitude, the turn-out tells us that.  This is proof that the criticism levelled at the US in recent years by many Middle Eastern spokesmen and increasingly from their counterparts in other parts of the world, that the US is not a democracy, is bollocks.  The people have reclaimed democracy, this is it in action – big time!  For once at least, the pollsters were right and despite the predictions of the Republican die-hards people were as straight-talking at the exit polls as they were in the main event - they said they had voted Obama and they did.  Make no mistake about it, the American people have spoken and, at what I believe was the eleventh hour, they have said to the world “Bush is not what we are”.

Of course, there has been a great deal of damage done to at least a couple of brands along the way.  Firstly the Republican brand has taken a hammering beyond belief, which itself is an illustration of how a wayward son or sub-brand (in this case Bush) can damage the corporate brand.  I have been saying for years that there’s corporate DNA in every sub-brand and batting on about how this relationship works in practice.  I couldn’t have wished for a better demonstration.  After the most expensive campaign in US history the Republicans are about to discover that it can cost a hundred times as much to bring a disappointed customer back to your store than it does to build on the relationships you already have a sell again to existing customers.

However, the greatest damage has been done to brand USA.  This result can leave no compos mentis person in any doubt that it was voter apathy that put Bush into the White House, but life is a learning process and the lesson of the last few years has been that there’s more to this presidential gig that the electorate had realised.  The President is your representative in every way possible.  What he or she (for that day will dawn too) says and does, is taken by the people of the rest of the world to demonstrate the attitudes of the American people and at last, I think the message has hit home!  If you elect a buffoon, we think you are all buffoons, if you appoint an aggressive war-monger we take this as a fair indication of your general state of mind.  And who would blame us?  You have, after all, always told us you are a democracy.

Just as the president is not just a local act, neither is he or she just a figurehead.  As many corporate brands with high profile and popular spokespeople have discovered, its not just a case of putting the right celebrity with an attractive message on your promotional material you have to deliver, and that’s the hard part and my second point!  The enormity of the task facing Obama right now is mind-boggling.  He has to be certain that his promise is clearly defined – in Full Effect Marketing terms create a brand model.  Just as we do with Brand Discovery he then has to ensure that every one who is enlisted by him understands the promise and its implications and is totally committed to playing their individual role in delivering that promise.  This much alone could be a lifetime of internal marketing, given the way that governments and civil servants operate.  However, only when he has done this can he be confident that every government action or initiative is consistent – that’s consistent with each other and with the brand promise.

Nevertheless, I’m not worried about whether Obama understands this.  I am sure he does.  What I’m worried about is the possibility that having nominated a driver for this bus the rest of America might think that they can sit back and enjoy the ride.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  This thing is only going to work if the people play their part too in demonstrating to the world that the brand USA promise has substance.  Having mustered the strength of purpose to stop the rot, it would be one of the world’s biggest disappointments if the American people were to slide back into apathy and indifference.

If the lessons have been learned, this could be the biggest watershed in American history since the declaration of independence.  This is not just the appointment of a new President, its not even the nomination of the first black President, nor is it just the re-birth of democracy in the land that was founded on that principle, its the chance for the American people to stand around and behind their President and the promise he represents and tell the world this is what they stand for and above all, play their part in making sure America delivers.  It never was more true.  The world (really) is watching!