July has been surprisingly dramatic, with yet another winner stripped of the Cannes Lions, US presidential candidates debating on Twitter and Whole Foods, The Hyatt and Starbucks making layman’s PR mistakes. BP is back with its first TV ad since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. News Corporation, on the other hand, is going through a very rough patch, investigated by authorities on three continents. Google bought an URL shortener, shared plans to open a university,  learnt to detect malware and semi-unveiled its latest Social Media endeavour to a test audience. Despite the fact that it currently doesn’t really do much, most people found Google+ very interesting.  E


Scent of a man

Scent of a man

The last time I bought an Old Spice product was over fifteen years ago. At that time I switched to Axe (Lynx), whose advertising unconditionally and wholeheartedly appealed to my youthful spirit. As I grew older, my taste changed in favour of the more mature brands that barely advertise at all. One thing seemed certain: the chances of Old Spice appearing on my polished bathroom shelf were close to those of a pleasant school reunion- non-existent.

In 2010 my perception of the brand changed completely. I even considered buying a set just to remind myself of the fragrance. The campaign developed by Wieden+Kennedy is pure genius. Immaculate both in copywriting as well as artistic execution, it not only created a lot of buzz- something many marketeers see as an achievement by itself; with over 1.4 billion impressions, it skyrocketed Old Spice Bodywash sales and practically reinvented the brand.

A year later, after the actor Isaiah Mustafa became famous and was, deservedly, offered 11 roles in various projects (as oppose to 3 in 2010), Old Spice was in need of a new face. Hiring the legendary actor/model Fabio seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, the “old” Old Spice guy turned out to be an image hard to top. So, P&G not only brought him back within just a few days of the first responses, they even organised a duel between Mr Mustafa and Fabio, a fight mano-a-mano for the affection of the public. Whether part of the strategy all along or an example of rapid reaction, both agency and client deserve the highest praise for this outstanding collaboration.

The uncertain Lions

Everyone within a mile of the marketing industry knows about the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. One of the most prestigious awards in the business, it is something like an Oscar for Mad Men. Being rewarded with a Lion is a career-changing experience, propelling the fortunate ones into the hall of eternal fame. The drama started with the independent Brazilian agency Moma Propaganda winning two awards in the Print and Outdoor categories. The highly controversial work has caused quite a storm in the professional community. The story took an unexpected turn when the suggested client, Kia Motors Brazil, announced it had never commissioned the work in the first place. In an unprecedentedly harsh decision, the creatives involved in the hoax have been stripped of the awards and banned from the next festival.

One would think that scandals like this are exceptionally rare. Well, in the curious world of the Cannes Lions this is not strictly true. In 2010 the Grand Prix was taken away from Ogilvy Mexico when it was found that the work granted the highest mark of the industry had already been submitted a year before and not even shortlisted.

And then there was the 2009 WWF debacle with DDB Brazil submitting a work that suggested that the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York was nothing next to the losses the world annually endures due to tsunamis. Both the US office of WWF and DDB Brazil (!) managed to convince the public they knew nothing of the campaign.

The good

Who said video ads ought to be 30-45 second long? German car-maker BMW has released what seems to be the first advertising music video. Almost ten times the length, it doesn’t actually say much but demonstrates the creation of the latest 1 Series vehicle. While unlikely to revolutionise the company’s branding, it sets an interesting precedent: product placement is yesterday; the game has reversed.

Google has introduced a special AdWords credit card to help the small- and medium-sized businesses that don’t have the budget for the campaigns they believe they require. The first vendor financing initiative, probably one of many to come, is good news for all the cash-strapped start-ups.

The bad

Just a week after introducing a healthy low calorie range, Starbucks was forced to recall the products in the states of Georgia and Alabama. Allegedly contaminated with listeria, the operation delivered a heavy blow to the otherwise successful launch.

At some point in our careers most of us have wanted to leave the workplace and never come back. Usually we compromise. Sometimes we make a little row. The nameless employee of Whole Foods went out with a bang. An over 2000-word resignation letter accuses the “faux hippy Wal-Mart” of a remarkable number of sins from greed to indifference to the environment (!). Frustrated employees are nothing new – it happens – but the decision by the allegedly human- and eco-friendly chain to ignore the story picked up by a range of international media, CBC to The Washington Post is astonishing.

The ugly

Hyatt is in a conflict with the unions. According to the latter, the chain has been replacing long-term employees with low paid temp workers all across the United States. Hyatt management is of a somewhat different opinion, which, for the purposes of this note, is beside the point. It is a conflict like many others. They provide some negative publicity but, unless something extraordinary happens, mostly in the left-wing media. Well, guess what? Something has happened. On the day the temperature hit 43C, the manager of Park Hyatt Chicago decided to disperse the loud protesters by turning on the heat lamps installed in front of the building.

The story of the Starbucks’ Chilean baristas demanding decent pay has escalated from “a plan to walk out for several days” on 7th of the month to a hunger strike on 26th. The bad story turned worse when Forbes announced that the founder and the CEO of the company who “always believed that businesses can – and should – have a positive impact on the communities they serve” had become a billionaire.


Sweat, tears and expensive furniture

Sweat, tears and expensive furniture

We have all heard of fake Louis Vuitton handbags. One buys them in the most random of places, wherever the disciples of Derek Trotter feel safe selling. It may be a stall at the far end of Portobello Market, an obscure underpass or a perfectly on-brand store in the centre of the city. This month saw China hit by two scandals, one after the other. On the 19th the general manager of the DaVinci retailer, the provider of the luxurious European designer furniture to country’s elite, broke down on national television when accused of selling fakes. Apparently, a number of items (and we are talking of products like a $100,000 bedroom set) were not actually produced by Versace, Fendi or Armani but by their skilful Chinese colleagues.

Aple to the people

Just a few days later the western press screamed, writhing in righteous wrath. An American blogger found a fake Apple store in the beautiful Chinese city of Kunming. Just to be clear: we are talking of a building designed and built almost perfectly in line with Apple’s brand guidelines for the sole purpose of selling counterfeit Apple goods. Contrary to the expectations of the western media, the would-be employees of Steve Jobs who, allegedly, were unaware of the legal status of their store, when confronted didn’t seem to care.

It is back!

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has its own wiki-page; and a quite an expansive one. A month into the disaster it seemed BP might not survive the blow and be taken over by one of its rivals. A few months later, getting back on track was expected to take a considerable amount of time. In April 2011, marking the anniversary of the event, BP’s tone became a little calmer, more self-assured and proudly humble. Having spent tens of billions of hard-earned US dollars, the company dared to stop self-flagellation and investigate whether it could get some return on investment. The posters featured the perfectly blue Gulf of Mexico and promised the continuation of BP’s commitment.

This month saw the launch of the company’s first TV ad since the spill. After all, BP is one of the main sponsors of the 2012 Olympic Games and the merry event is just around the corner. At the same time the gentlemen decided to stop the payouts since the affected have been handsomely compensated already. Sean Smith of Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs was part of the team that led the Obama administration’s communications response to the largest accident in the history of the industry.


Tomorrow Never Dies

Tomorrow Never Dies

News Corporation’s founder, chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch, is one of the most famous personalities of our times, an archetype of a gifted, clever and without any doubt ruthless businessmen. Sufficient to say, the gentleman is rumoured to be the prototype of Elliot Carver, the James Bond villain from “Tomorrow Never Dies”. In 2010, News Corp made a bid to take over BskyB and even got the governmental backing to do so- there seemed to be no limits for the “billionaire tyrant”.

The case of Milly Dowler made even the most passionate gossip girls turn on to their former bible. It was discovered that not only the journalists of the News of the World hacked the missing girl’s voicemail, looking for new stories, they deleted some of the voice messages in order to free space for the new ones, making the girl’s family, as well as Scotland Yard, believe she was still alive.

The tabloid was closed; a number of senior managers including the CEO of News International have resigned. Both Rupert and his son James, who oversees the European and the Asian arms of the empire, were summoned to the House of Commons to answer some uncomfortable questions. The FBI has launched an investigation into claims that the British tabloid tried to bribe the police to get hold of the personal information of the 9/11 victims. Considering the exorbitant length of waves the affair is still making, what we have seen so far may very much be just the first drops of a downpour.


G+ going places

G+ going places

It is hard to imagine someone actually challenging the might of Facebook. Replacing MySpace as the world’s most popular Social Media platform, its valuation soared from $15 billion in 2007 to $100 billion last month. The number of people not yet on the platform is shrinking, the advertising rates have risen 74% in the last 12 months – Facebook is doing well.

Under these circumstances, the idea of Google launching a direct competitor seemed to entail more bitterness then business practicality. The events of late did not make a particularly strong case for Google+ but demonstrated that successful competition is quite real, making the Guardian look rather stupid. Unveiled in the invitation-only mode at the very end of June, the system saw the invites selling on eBay just a few days later. As for the big rival, Mark Zuckerberg was one of the first to check the platform out. Ironically, the most followed user of the project, he was clearly impressed: both the friend export tool and the G+ ads were banned on Facebook.

People never change

Microsoft lived up to its reputation when it reached an agreement to power English language queries on Chinese Baidu. Filling the gap, after Google left the market a year ago, the deal will get the company a little closer to a slice of the 470 million people pie.

iAd in free fall

With almost half a million Apple apps downloaded over 15 billion times, the company seems unstoppable. As rumoured last month, the gadget manufacturer is moving its chip production from Samsung to a new vendor. Fortunately for all involved, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company does not produce handsets and is therefore unlikely to become a rival. The only project that doesn’t seem to work out for the Californians is the one targeting business people and not the general public: apparently the charm of Apple’s branding doesn’t work so well when it comes to people seeking value-for-money. Whilst Facebook ad rates are up 74%, those of iAd had to be cut by up to 70% to avoid an exodus.

Twitter’s valuation up over 216% in 7 months

Twitter is maturing fast: following the registration of its millionth app, the service has launched its own Developer site. A week later it was announced that the company have lost four of its core product managers. The departed were the last key employees closely affiliated with the previous management who decided to “get out of the way” of the company a month ago. In the meantime, the microblogging service saw its valuation more than double in seven months from December 2010.


Marketing today and tomorrow

Marketing today and tomorrow

Three men of experience share their views of the future of marketing. The distinguished professionals that steered their respective companies through the ups and downs of the last few decades share their vision on staying relevant in the world of new media. Experts in the field, they equally understand the potential of the “old school” ABL ads as well as mobile apps. The enthusiasm of Steve Ridgway, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic, even made me forget my various experiences with the airline, which, sadly, were rather far off the path envisioned by the customer experience guru.
John Hayes, the CMO of American Express talks of technological revolution in marketing, the subject very close to our heart, and building a club of customers who would stay passionate about the brand for decades. Finally, Duncan Watts, the director of Yahoo’s Human Social Dynamics group, throws the scientific approach into the debate.

Just deal with it

Every year life seems to flow a little quicker; the days feel shorter; competitors more agile, their teeth- sharper. Considering the circumstances, the class of yuppies that has been around for some thirty years should have either adapted to the ever-rising pace or vanished. Instead, the young professionals (young being a rather relative factor here) get ever more insecure, nervous and fragile. This book of lullabies is a highly emotional outcry of the over-stressed infantile parents. A few decades ago, we would be talking of teenagers, “accidentally” promoted to parenthood; today the target audience of the bestseller is the successful upper-middle class urban professionals that run offices and, believe it or not, manage other people. As a joke, the book seems to be quite hilarious; as a symptomatic product created to vent the frustration of weak, capricious parents- not so much.

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