What on earth gives networking platforms in the internet their legitimacy? Quite simple: they are supposed to bring people together, for the growth of their networks and enterprises. Simple as that. Bamm.

For this reason I am wondering where LinkedIn derives its legitimation from. Because, instead of bringing people together, it gets them lost in a maze of useless information.

Originally, I joined the platform because it had been brought to my attention that it enjoys a greater popularity amongst English and US American colleagues and entrepreneurs, than for example Xing. Those are quite frankly the markets that interest me most due to their role model function for many other markets.

However, the more I get to know LinkedIn, the more bewildered I get about its success. Those of you who know or use the platform will know exactly what I am talking about.

For years I have also been using Xing, another business networking platform which is more popular with the continental European as well as South American business people and with Xing you at least get reasonable value for your money. You pay something like 5 Euros a month, can approach as many people directly with a contact request as you like and can see precisely who of the members has been looking at your profile so you can follow up if you find any of the “voyeurs” interesting.

LinkedIn however charges between 25 and 500 dollars a month (wtf?!?? NO, there aren’t any hookers, designer drugs or short holidays included!), limits the number of people you are allowed to contact directly and gives you no exact information on who has checked you out. No value for lots of money, I would say.

You get reports stating things like: “In the last 12 days your profile has been viewed by 25 people”. Full of expectation you hit the link curious to find out who these people were. You are then bound to be disappointed because the answers you are hoping for are not given. Instead, you are fobbed of with statements like: “Somebody from the marketing and communications industry in the London area”… Now, what sense does that make? And when you try to research a little bit deeper, you land on a page where you are presented with about 5.000 different and unknown people who are in the biz in the London area… Well, thank you very much, LinkedIn.

We are all busy people and time is a rather precious and limited resource. Have I got time to be linked out by LinkedIn? Have I got enough money to get ripped off and spend on a service which doesn’t deserve the name?

I don’t think so. What about you?

Yours,

Brian B. Ashes


Generally, I bear no grudge against the Bionade brand and its products. On the contrary, their business case is one of those success stories we love hearing about.

It tells the tale of a company set up from scratch with the only start up capital being a good and modern product idea – sustainable organic lemonade based on natural regional produce – for a morally and qualitatively good product.

And, yes, I belonged to those who cheered every time they fended off take over approaches from evil big guns, i.e. Coca-Cola.

We all found it amusing that a company based in rural German Ostheim in Unterfranken could actually cause the mega brand from Atlanta serious headaches as Bionade has cost conventional soft drink brands consumers and purchases. GOOD FOR THEM!

But, let’s face it: Bionade has grown so quickly and to such an extent that you have to acknowledge the brand has lost its niche status bit by bit – but very definitely – and has ultimately established itself in the mainstream today selling almost 300 million units per annum.

So, their new campaign, which plays with their former underdog and moralizer status is a bit cheeky if you take a closer look. They are pretending to be what they once were and desperate to preserve their status as an ethical alternative to immoral global brands and products, realizing that this once was the brand’s strongest muscle.

It seems as if Bionade has been hibernating for a couple of years and upon awakening forgot to re-assess the development of its market.

Or how else can you explain slogans like the one pictured above where they ask presumably relevant social and moral questions to open a dialogue with a maybe more conscious and concerned consumer as it is becoming trendy to adopt certain aspects of an alternative mindset: “Can you drink against conventions?” or “Can you bottle and sell an attitude?” Bionade asks, for example. PLEASE!?! WAKE UP!!! You’re available in every second f****** soft drink outlet nationwide and have become a standard yourself!

What also caught my attention – and led me down memory lane – is the mechanic of the campaign, which reminds me of the early years of the internet, when brands used ATL campaigns as a mechanism to open up “dialogue” and guide the consumer to brand owned websites in the web: use a poster campaign to pose questions potentially relevant to the consumer and invite him online to find or debate answers. Isn’t that soooo naughties?

I could go on to comment on all the other slogans of this multi-motif campaign, but I think you’ll get my point. It just seems clear that once again tons of dosh has been wasted on an environment polluting poster campaign. A more sustainable, communicative campaign would have felt more like the good old Bionade, if you ask me, and would also have been more in line with the campaign strategy.

To be fair: I like the visual style of the campaign and the letter figures seemingly hanging in to the picture on individual threads…

But, does this campaign bring me closer to drinking “an attitude”?

Guess!

Hm, I wonder if Bionade’s heyday decade was the one that just ended…

Yours,

Brian B. Ashes


Looking back into the past 60 years or so, Austrians aren’t exactly known for an outstanding humour or making us laugh.

Yesterday, however, I spotted this new print campaign by the Austrian airlines and had to smile. Good for them, because according to their claim, they “fly to make you smile”. Well, this one put a grin on my face.

For those of you who don’t understand German, the slogan translates into: “The closest net in Eastern Europe since the KGB”. Twenty-one years after Gorbachev’s Perestroika, it seems that one can joke about the then dreaded and infamous Sowjet secret service.

I was wondering whether younger generations will actually get the pun or whether the airline is targeting a more mature business audience that a) recognizes the economic potential that lies East of the former iron curtain and b) remembers the cold war and the KGB, which was one of its protagonists for a couple of decades.

Whatever, I just wanted to share this rare moment of me approving of some conventional advertising with you. In a way, this is an example of one of the small, positive things advertising can do for its recipients, and that is: entertain!

Have a great day.

Yours,

Brian B. Ashes


Something is happening in the cigarette market. Maybe it has got to do with the dark market – the legal end of tobacco and cigarette advertising – which looms on the horizon. And then again, maybe the brands are just going bonkers. But, going hand in hand with a shift in images and positionings, there is a lot of confusion out there…

The other day I simultaneously spotted two new campaigns up in the ad and communication wilderness begging for my attention. So, I complied, documented and gave them some consideration, only to come up with a verdict one of the them will like… but the other one won’t.

To make a change, I will start with the positives.

I was extremely surprised when I discovered the new L&M ABOUT campaign. I don’t know anything about the creative development, but if you bear in mind that up until a short while ago L&M was just another so-called VFM brand (value for money) and used Above-the-line advertising to communicate the most reduced  of contents – pack shots and prices – then they have now after some endeavour reached the point where you can say: ok, guys, they’re actually building a brand image.

By designing more advanced, arty, very visual and untypical motifs, the new L&M ABOUT LEP (Limited edition pack) focussed campaign certainly sticks out and attracts attention, two key aspects of successful advertising in times where consumers are surrounded by too much information and becoming immune towards advertising anyway.

It remains to be seen, how successful L&M will be with their surge into the market of the premium brands who are normally the ones to try to build a brand image, but man, are they determined to get there and what we are seeing is the uprise of a former discount, price-driven brand building an image world that through cooperations with artists and designers is actually generating ok imagery and thus building a brand image world.

In stark contrast, we are becoming witnesses of the decline of a former cult brand and the descending from a premium to a mediocre positioning. Or how else would you explain the new Lucky strike campaign?

Whoever within British American Tobacco came up with this initiative certainly suffers from a bad strategic judgement. A new logo design might cost millions and take ages. The news value for the consumer however is extremely low. Infact, who cares?

Do they really believe that the consumer will notice any difference when a pack or logo design is re-worked? This matter of fact would go unnoticed if they wouldn’t explicitly point fingers at it, yet the information is superfluous in itself. Wouldn’t the money have better been invested in some modern face to face brand communication?

The current Lucky campaign – it seems to consist of outdoor posters and POS advertising – makes the brand look boring and cheap. And while it might really be boring, it’s far from cheap in terms of the purchase. If you go to your trusted newsagent or off-license you will find that Lucky Strike costs more per pack than L&M for example does.

But, seriously, folks, do you think these Lucky motifs and the tool – a plastic flag!!! – look anything like a premium brand communication should? FAIL!

What a topsy-turvy brand battlefield! I look forward to further twists which I believe we can all rely on.

Yours,

Brian B. Ashes


You might think this is a nice commercial. You might also think: wow, finally the ad biz big guns are reacting to their own downfall and the consumer’s growing immunity. Take a good peek at The last advertising agency in the world.

Well, now think again. Because they – the dinosaurs – like heavyweights are moving veeeerrrryyy slowly and only reciting what others have been saying, but most importantly doing for years already. As far as I can recall, the dinosaurs didn’t live to adapt to their environment in flux.

But, the message is right, basically…

Yours,

Brian B. Ashes


For once, somebody has had the guts to speak out what so many of the people I know in the ad and marketing biz only dare think and tolerate on a daily basis.

I must say, I was deeply touched and impressed when a colleague forwarded an article that was published on XING.com a couple of weeks back and for those of you who speak German, please take a look at Maximilian Rothermel’s open farewell to the biz letter. http://bit.ly/d6TeXf

In his letter, Maximilian describes a business encounter of the most frustrating kind that forced him to reflect and reconsider his personal attitude towards his profession.

He states that he had been working in the industry for 20 years and always believed that one of his services as a creative was firstly and foremost about quality IDEAS, unique and creative concepts and campaigns. Isn’t it so?

He goes on to describe a meeting with a brand manager at BOSE, an established premium Hi-fi manufacturer based in Germany, who – despite the job title and the competence you would expect to come with it – knew close to nothing about the brand, its products, the current marketing goals of the company and the reason for inviting Maximilian to a creative brief meeting. According to Maximilian, his counterpart had sufficient qualities to take on an active role in a fashion show, but otherwise was an insult to his common sense.

It must have hit Maximilian like a sucker punch straight in the nads, that this fairly typical situation in the daily marketing business bore a deeper insight, this being:

1. The advertising and marketing business is not about good ideas.

2. The advertising and marketing business is not about creativity.

3. The advertising and marketing business is not about quality.

4. Advertising and marketing budgets are given to

a) buddies, friends and relatives and/or

b) the lowest bid and/or

c) to those offering the highest kick back and/or the most attractive other “presents” (I’ll leave this bit to your imagination but will say, yes, you’re assumptions are right!).

And I agree with the poor sod. Especially in the last 18 months, where the industry has been hit by the so-called global economic crisis, agents and agencies have been tripping through hell and most often, intense strategic connection management and getting involved in client staff policies gets you closer to an account than a good claim or campaign idea.

Anyway, what I found most remarkable was Maximilian’s decisiveness. Within days of his depressing assessment he closed his agency and publicly declared his retirement.

Despite the truth in his ‘famous last words’, I remain convinced, that while advertising most often sucks and is a pollution both of our environment as well as our media channels, that advertising and marketing will prevail, BUT, that the money spent can be used more wisely, for the better both of the advertisers and the recipients. However, as long as the business works as analyzed by Maximilian Rothermel, you might as well as the agency janitor to come up with the ideas while the CEO and account manager go smooching with the client.

Yet, I will not give up on the idea and the concept of: QUALITY. Quality is the solution to all the relationship problems corporations face with their consumers, quality is the key to sustainable dialogue, success and relevance. Couple quality with success and creativity and you have the formula for a place in the history books PLUS rising profits.

Somehow, I envy Maximilian for his newly gained perspective and freedom and wish him the best of luck whatever he decides to do with his life…

Respect, dude.

Yours

Brian B. Ashes


In recent months I came across two fairly similar ad campaigns. The first – by Lucky Strike – I discovered last Autumn and while I found the lack of creativity and level of misdemeanour debatable, it didn’t do enough to me to deserve its own article.

Then, only a few days ago, I more or less bumped into a poster by Anson’s and yet again it was the familiar heart/slogan combination that caught my eye and reminded me of the aforementioned campaign.

So, here we have two produces from an economic branch which likes to regard itself as part of the ‘creative industries’.

Their creativity in these cases consists of taking a globally established, renowned and fairly ok icon – I luv NY – and tweaking it to fit a brand or product advertising. Nothing against the motif behind producing these adverts, mind you, there are always good reasons behind advertising…

But, let me ask a simple, blatant question: is this all the creative industry has got? Thievery? Copywriters ‘copycatting’? And then not even producing something funny or otherwise attractive around it?

Note: You cannot copy success and you cannot ground success on other people’s creativity and achievements!

If the adaptations of the famous logo had ended up in a glorious piece of advertising, I would probably just let the industry, that admittedly also feeds me, live.

But, this low level of creativity and vision coming from the so called creative, but in reality extremely uncreative, industries turns me off. Come on guys, the crisis isn’t that bad that your brains have to switch to stand-by and client’s aren’t that resistant to good consulting that we have to make do with this shameful level of quality just to keep an account!

Apart from cheap plagiarism, there is something about the Lucky ad that pisses me off even more. The highest level of embarrassment you can achieve in advertising is when a brand expresses a love for itself! Congratulations, Lucky Strike, a brand which regards “inspiring” as one of its core values, you may be losing market shares all over the globe but in terms of arrogance and presumptuousness you are No. 1. This isn’t even the cool kind of bad taste, this is simply devastatingly shameful. And so not funny!

Or is the brand calling upon us to love it? Well, whatever, wtf have you done for us lately?

Up yours.

Brian B. Ashes


What the fuck did Bifi’s product development unit have in mind when they thought of their new ‘guarana sausage snack’? I didn’t know that pot smoking and tripping was allowed in corporate research and development units.

The first time their advertising attracted my attention, I was sure that this was some kind of hoax or at the most a teaser for something completely different. But, fail on my side, THEY ACTUALLY MEAN IT!

So, what do we conclude from their initiative? What do we read into this new strategy?

1. Bifi regards teenies and early twens as an unexploited target group.

2. Bifi is obviously aiming at suburban and rural ravers and pill kids. Wow, now this is a sustainability approach that gets my full admiration. Why? Because Bifi seems to think: if I can win over this target group as consumers while they are still developing their personalities and lifestyles, they might remain as loyal customers in the future and switch to the regular Bifi snacks for themselves and possibly even their kids, once their “wild” days are over?

3. Bifi expects more sales and new revenue streams by introducing a product that – unlike their other snacks – will be consumed at night, instead of during the day?

I can’t help giggling when I think about both product and campaign. You sort of imagine a wild underground techno party and neon clad disco nerds putting bits of sausage in each others mouths where they traditionally used to feed each other pills.

Worse still: picture hordes of pill dealers without income because their customers refrain from the thrill of obtaining illegal energy boosters and settle for the more comfortable acquisition of power sausages in supermarkets and at garages. Poor sods. I fear an increase in street crime already!

The one that really has me in stitches is imagining a bunch of ravers on a club toilet grinding an energy  sausage with their credit cards and sniffing sausage powder like there’s no tomorrow.

Nothing against innovations in general. But, this, my dear friends at Bifi, is one of those products and campaigns the world doesn’t need and without a doubt won’t be remembered… except for those at Bifi whose heads will roll once recognizing the fail becomes inevitable.

Yours.

Brian B. Ashes


bootlickerWhy is so much crummy advertising and marketing going around? Why are millions and millions more spent on irrelevant, meaningless and unsustainable brand communications? Why does so little the ad biz creates and produces appeal to those it is actually supposed to reach?

Often enough, the process of developing ads and communications kicks off quite well. I have experienced companies giving true and honest evaluations of their brands and products problems and often enough, our creative briefs pose us with extremely desirable challenges. How often have I been asked, to make a brand more relevant for consumers, to improve a brand’s image or create brand-related contents people can talk about and the press wants to report on?

Basically, these tasks are easy. However, only under one condition! You need to turn to the target persons and groups and find out what they find relevant, how they would like to be approached or what benefits they believe a certain brand should give them with its products, its communications, its behaviour in general.

But, in the end, brands and products, communications and marketing aren’t made to suit the liking of the people out there (us!), but are made to comply with the perception the CEO’s, general managers and marketing directors have of the people out there.

You get people, who themselves last participated in real life and interacted with normal people at college or uni, telling their agencies what contents or activities will work with the “target group”, what they desire, what makes them click. And although agencies often know their clients are wrong, they don’t consult them for fear of losing the account.

The ad biz is – to a great extent – a boot licking trade.

I’ll give you an example: I know a brand that for some years now would like to be seen as urban, cool, stylish and relevant for opinion leaders, you name it, the way most global brands want to be seen. They would love to be consumed by 25-35 year old urbanistas. Yet, the brand’s CEO happens to love ballooning and horse-jumping, so a great share of all strategy and communication budgets goes into sponsoring these sports, regardless of the investments ineffectiveness, before the needs of the desired consumers are even researched! And the agents even dare voice a doubt.

How often have I sat with 50-year old CEO’s or marketing managers telling their agencies’ creatives that the concepts they have presented are crap and – in their deteriorated, life-detached view – what 22-year old urban slickers really need to spice up their lives. Sometimes our jobs are hilarious, sometimes it just gets sad…

Next I could be complaining about the market research that often undeservedly determines the contents of our creative briefs or co-decides which campaign proposals actually get executed in the end, despite manipulating both the research techniques and the results to suit the demands of their customers.

In the end, the ad biz is a farce. All it has in mind is retaining its existence, its wealth, its clients and its networks. The people out there, the so called consumers, are merely victims arbitrarily penetrated with the results coming from the process of ad agents sticking their heads up their clients arses.

This is the reason why there are so many unhealthy brands and billions of disillusioned, pissed off and increasingly immune consumers out in the market place.

And there’s the dilemma for you: according to the brief, we seek solutions and mean to be meaningful to the people out there. According to reality however, we are meaningless to those supposed to purchase and adore, because we adore the ones paying the cheques too much, without looking them in the eye and telling them how life really works…

And that their butt’s stink.

So, as long as advertising and communication is not made for the consumer, but for the brands executives, as long as the consumer is not involved in brand, product and communication development and as long as agents act like bootlickers, the whole ad biz is superfluous and basically doomed!

Yours

Brian B. Ashes


P1000849We all know, that tobacco brands are slow death dealers and if it wasn’t for their lobbies and the substantial amount of tax they contribute to economies all over the world (thus buying toleration), they would probably even be deemed illegal and forbidden by law.

In times, where other global players are at least beginning to understand the need for moral and ethics for their futures and are ocassionally responding with corporate social responsibility programmes, the cigarette industry is pre-occupied with itself trying to invent ways around the legal restrictions which have been imposed upon tobacco advertising.

Well, they’re still around and as eager as ever to market their venom to the masses. So, consequently, they are looking for alternative ways of communicating their brands and products.

I always find it hilarious, that so many brands battle for the consumers on one and the same ground, i.e. urban nightlife and then try to present themselves as cool, in the know, edgy, up front and trend setting. Marlboro joined this trek many years ago and their sub-lable “Marlboro Vibes” was probably founded on the grounds of the legal limitations mentioned above. I do wonder why basic marketing rules, such as “create a unique positioning for yourself to fend of competition and become visible for the consumer”, seemingly don’t apply to all the tobacco, spirits and fashion brands that come to mind and regard urban nightlife as a vital “consumer touchpoint”.

Traditionally equipped with no moral concept at all, Philip Morris, probably best known for their far right wing political attitude, enjoy adding thievery to their shameful record. The other day I came across the posters pictured herein and couldn’t believe how blatantly the brand has stolen an artists idea for its own marketing purposes.

The promoted virtual battle implies a DJ duelling himself, with two different sets, in two different places. As far as I know, this concept was originally created by DJ Phono (also member of the cult German art group Deichkind) in 2004 for three special events within the legendary 120 MINUTES guerrilla party series in Germany, when he played at two different locations at the same time, actually running the distance between the places after every new record.

He later went on to refine the concept and only last year did he present an entirely new and sensational interpretation with him appearing as a threesome on an event, with two virtual DJ Phono’s playing different dancefloors while the “real” DJ Phono acted as a host to his own event.

Naturally, Marlboro, like so many brands and their wannabe creative agencies, think they can nick ideas and concepts from the underground and (sub-) culture and get away with it unscathed, because they believe their own “target group” to be stupid, uneducated and out of the know. So, to put it in a nutshell, Marlboro is insulting not only artists they steal creativity from, but at the same time audience they are appealing to. Now, how’s that for a promotion campaign? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Whoever is in charge here? I’d like to have a word! Surely this can’t be the avantgarde of brand communication in the works?

So, people, what other can I say than: don’t come to where the (sour) flavour is! Stick to the originals instead!

Much smoke about nothing, I would say.

Yours

Brian B. Ashes