Archive for July, 2008

Talking like children

Jake Goretzki writes:

I couldn’t help noticing recently just how widespread ‘childlike Innocence’ in visuals and creative has become in UK advertising. This was brought home to me sharply last week when I collected a friend’s elderly mother at Gatwick. She’d flown to the UK from Bosnia, and seeing the billboards at the railway station, remarked with mild horror that ‘your banks even have advertising for children here!’. Looking again, it occurred to me just how much of today’s communication, stylistically,  might be thought at first glance to be aimed at the average 8 year old.

I’m talking about simple, bold colours.  Geometric shapes: circles and squares. A degree of studied low production and naivety too – some ads looking like screenprints or even potato prints.  Lots of cutesiness too, through cartoon and animated characters. Cutesy animals, bunnies and teddies scurrying everywhere.

This may be nothing more than a current fashion in print advertising, reaching across campaigns and agencies. Fashions come and go: an earlier one was ‘punter + message on cardboard sign’, stolen from DA Pennebaker, last used by Apple Mac but also favoured by banksn. Another is ‘subversion of everyday lettering’ (one of the thrills of Photoshop), where lettering on photo-real shopfronts / street signs / embroidery is altered to carry the message and force a double-take (last seen in UK anti-smoking advertising and still going strong).

For all the ubiquity of this style though, ‘childlike innocence’  clearly strikes a chord with consumers and chimes closely with several current trends. It reveals a lack of patience in consumers’ ‘stop go lives’ for complexity, heavy copy and detail. It also reflects a caginess about risk and uncertainty, particularly potent in the realm of financial services, which means that clarity, hypersimplicity and even innocence can reassure.  While this might seem to be a great opportunity for marketers and communicators grow up and ditch the bunnies, in recessionary times ‘talking to you like children’ begins to feel even more resonant. It’s a cosy bedtime story and a tucking in.

29 July 2008 at 5:24 pm 1 comment

Brand impressions

From Brand Tags

From Brand Tags

Giles Powdrill writes:

The new media and marketing strategist Noah Brier has recently launched a simple, but fascinating website, brandtags. Its premise is “that a brand exists entirely in people’s heads. Therefore, whatever it is they say a brand is, is what it is.” Users of the site are presented with logos from different companies and invited to type in the first thing that comes into their head. The results are then displayed as a cloud, where the relative size of the words reflects the number of times it has been typed in.

Whilst ostensibly a bit of fun, the results are both revealing and potentially unnerving for brand owners who have spent time, money and effort to convey a certain set of attributes, only to then see their brands assessed in such a raw (and realistic?) fashion.

The site is a great example of the sort of visual and engaging research application which will surely become more commonplace as we enter the next phase of web development. It is also a long way from the traditional questionnaire typically used to measure brand awareness and perceptions and a useful reminder that methodologies will evolve just as fast a brands do.

The picture at the top of the post is a selection from the brand tags generated in response to the ‘International Olympic Committee’. There are also some more sympathetic responses in the full list.

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17 July 2008 at 11:12 pm 1 comment

dowconzki § 7

© Jake Goretzki

16 July 2008 at 9:09 am Leave a comment

It’s the planet, stupid

Source: ICM/Guardian 2008

Andrew Curry writes:

One of the more interesting pieces of data to be published this month was the result of a Guardian/ICM poll which showed that a majority of UK adults thought that it was more important to deal with environmental issues than the economy. Interesting, because the notion that people always turn back to financial self-interest when times are tight is so ingrained that my first thought was that the poll must be wrong.

But maybe not. Looking at the poll through the lens of our 2007 Green Consumer Segmentation (summary here), there are high degrees of consistency. The segmentation generated five segments: two small activist groups (about 8% of the population); a larger group, ‘Positive Choosers’, representing 31% of the population, who were informed about ethical and environmental issues, and expected companies and organisations to act on them; a fourth segment, the ‘Conveniently Conscious (35%), who are environmentally and ethically informed, but don’t tend to act unless choices are framed from them; and finally a group of Onlookers (26%), who are unaware or sceptical. The point is that the top three groups are all more likely to prefer that the government tackles environmental issues – and so is some of the fourth group. From this perspective, the 52% figure seems completely plausible.

There were also strong degrees of consonance between the ICM research and our findings. For example, both pieces of research find that young people and older people had the highest levels of environmental concern (with a sag in the age cohorts between), that women had slightly higher levels of concern than men, that there was a poor correlation between socio-economic class and environmental concern, and that there were relatively few differences between different regions of the UK. With one notable exception: in the South east, Britain’s richest region, 52% say the economy matters most, compared to only 38% of Scots, perhaps more evidence to undermine the widely held idea that environmental concerns are a product of affluence.

And as it happens, the Green Consumer Segmentation has just won an Atticus award from our parent company, WPP, for being one of the best pieces of work in the area of ‘Market Research and Insights’ across the whole group worldwide last year. The Atticus competition, named for the Cretan storyteller, is designed to encourage and promote new thinking across the company. We’re delighted, obviously.

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15 July 2008 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

Social networking for fun and profit

Beefy and Lamby\'s Summer BBQ

Pen Stuart writes:

The irresistible rise of social networking has long had media types trying to calculate the best ways to make some money from them. But marketers are increasingly finding that these routes work best when brands provide a service rather than just push their message, creating what’s become known as ‘branded utility’. There are recent examples. The Beef and Lamb Sector Company, EBLEX Ltd, has launched a Facebook application, “Beefy & Lamby’s Summer BBQ”, featuring – from the TV campaign – the sometime England cricketers Ian Botham and Allan Lamb to help people plan their summer barbeques. Leaving aside the question of whether 50-something cricketers are the best match for the somewhat younger Facebook crowd, it does give users a useful service that encourages consumption of their product and also raises brand awareness, even if it seems to be building its audience slowly (26 visitors on the day this post was written). The apparent selflessness of this service can help build brand loyalty in times when ravenous profiteering is increasingly frowned upon.

MakeTheTea.com, created by Cravendale, takes this one step further, devoting a whole site and social network to their utility. This allows office workers to input their tea (and coffee) preferences and link up with their colleagues. The site randomly selects one person to make the round, overcoming the reluctance of any individual to ask around and get stuck with the task. The site seems to be flourishing, with almost 70,000 brews made since its April launch

But there are still questions about the future of such ventures – they have the feel of short-term awareness campaigns which seem certain to be pulled in due course. Yet for low-maintenance promotion such as this, the best approach may be different, especially as these types of internet communities are endlessly discovered anew by different groups, each time creating waves of publicity through blogging and social network invites. In the world of social networking the fundamental assumptions of ‘offline’ publicity may need an overhaul. Or at least, as marketers like to say, more research may be required.

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4 July 2008 at 12:26 pm Leave a comment

Campaigning in ‘the Big Sort’

Rachel Kelnar writes:

I’ve been interested to see the noise generated by Barack Obama’s decision to deploy and maintain staff in every US state during the current US presidential election campaign. Leaving aside the politics of such a decision (there’s a useful overview of this here) what’s most intriguing is how this decision will play out within each state, in light of reading Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort, recommended to me by the Yankelovich CEO J Walker Smith.

Bishop writes about the growing clustering of like-minded individuals in small neighbourhoods across the US. His crunching of the data shows that over the last 30 years Americans have sorted themselves into homogenous neighbourhoods, where culture, economics and politics are alike. Individuals look to move to and settle in neighbourhoods of ‘people like me’, and so the political clustering has followed.

The big sort helps to explain the wonderful quote from the playwright Arthur Miller on the 2004 presidential race: “How can the polls be neck and neck when I don’t know one Bush supporter?” It’s about the company one keeps, locally.

The fact that people are less likely to have their views challenged or questioned, because they are less likely to come across individuals who disagree is a serious political (and indeed democratic) concern. Where we shop, who we meet at the school gates, and those we socialise with (physically and virtually) are all likely to share our views, rather than challenge them. And by reinforcing each other’s views our collective position becomes more extreme and more certain over time – thus shrinking the middle ground where political decisions tend to (have to?) be made.

In light of this ‘clustering of like-minded Americans’, it seems sensible decision for Obama and his campaign team to contest every state. For while one might think that California is a ‘blue state’ and Texas a ‘red state’ this simplification hides some real pockets of electorally significant dark red in the blue states, and dark blue in the red states (such as the liberal Austin in Texas, where Bill Bishop lives). So Obama has substantial pockets of support in some strongly red states.

But it’s not enough to know these supporters are there, deep in ‘enemy’ territory, and expect them to vote after getting a bit of attention from the campaign. Obama will need to work very hard to get such individuals to actually vote. That’s because, as Bishop illustrates, individuals are less confident about making their voice heard when their view is in the minority. Bishop quotes survey research on past presidential voting data by a fellow researcher, and concludes:

“rather than buck the majority and risk social sanction, citizens in the minority simply stayed away from the polls. They didn’t vote. In communities with large political majorities, people tend to give up battling over ideas…”

So, from Obama’s point of view, making such people feel that they are not alone and that his ideas are worth fighting for, should increase the likelihood that they will vote come November. If he succeeds, by Bishop’s account, Obama would have the significant challenge of trying to govern a country of ever more extreme groups, each of which is increasingly sure of its own extremist views.

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2 July 2008 at 10:12 pm 1 comment

The commoditisation of sexual relationships

The image is a plot of the sexual relationships of students at Jefferson High School occurring within the preceding 6 months

Trevor Harvey writes:

Over the past few years, society has moved stealthily from viewing sex as a commodity, to the commoditisation of sexual relationships – the ‘free availability’ of the relationship surrounding and driven by sex.

The development of technology has facilitated easier sexual relationships, including changes in pornography and sexual material. Top Ten Reviews reported in 2006 that 43% of internet users viewed porn, and 35% of all downloads were porn, while porn sales themselves have been dropping rapidly over the past few years. Technology means that anyone with a mobile camera can now be a porn star or producer.

In fact, technology has touched all aspects of sexual relationships – from user-generated content sites such as XTube, PornoTube and Gaydar, to the public spat between Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia co-founder) and Rachel Marsden (the end of whose sexual relationship was played out in Wikipedia and eBay), to the re-interpretation of pre-arranged marriages through online sites where daughters are promoted by the parents. MMOEGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Erotic Games), which provide a safe haven for people to have sex virtually, are showing a rise in numbers – showing perhaps that while sexual relationships are increasingly treated as commodities, we’re still concerned about their safety.

And for good reason. The effects on health and well-being are alarming. A 2007 BMC Public Health study showed that a third of 16 to 35-year-old men and nearly a quarter of women questioned said they drank to increase their chance of sex. HIV infection rates rose sharply (by 48%) in the US between ’05 and ’06, according to the US Center for Disease Control, and also increased (less dramatically) in Western and Central Europe in 2007, despite years of public health and education campaigns. Other disease infection rates are as alarming: the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV reported that sexually transmitted infection rates have risen rapidly over the past 12 years, with incidences of Chlamydia and HIV both tripling, gonorrhoea doubling, and syphilis increasing by twenty times.

There have also been disturbing changes in the sexual relationships of children and young adults. UNICEF reported last year that more children in the UK have had sexual intercourse by the age of 15 than in any other country. UK Government figures show that the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe, while the sexual health of young adults in the UK has deteriorated over the last two years. In the US, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Meanwhile, by way of further evidence that the commoditisation of sexual relationships is affecting teenagers and young people, media reports say that the number of teenage girls having breast implants have more than doubled in the past year in both Britain and the US.

Sex is a powerful motivator in human behaviour and society and when it comes to analysing trends we must understand it as a significant driver of change. But as a rule sexual relationships are something we prefer not to think about in this context. If we are to seek a rounded view of the behaviour of consumers, we need to consider the increasingly apparent commoditisation of sexual relationships, which is starting to raise moral issues for brands, and for products and services, as well as for society.

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1 July 2008 at 11:00 pm Leave a comment


The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.


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