Archive for November, 2008

The return of zombie brands

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Jake Goretzki writes:

Jake Goretzki writes:
The world of brands has always had a lively lexicon (those ‘wheels’, ‘onions’, ‘keys’ and ‘prisms’), but I came across a new face recently when I was listening to BBC World Service’s ‘Global Business‘ – the evocatively named ‘zombie brand‘.

Zombie brands are dead and delisted brands which retain emotional value, decades after they’ve been buried – and can, with clever handling, be reanimated by adapting yesterday’s positioning to new trends while retaining core truths.

The example which the programme cites is ‘Brim’, a decaf coffee in the US with an unforgettable jingle (something about ‘goodness to the brim’) that has, apparently, been resurrected as a vitamin-enhanced coffee. Brim, it is claimed, had been retained in the American collective memory as an idea of a coffee ‘that you could drink and it would not be bad for you…even good actually’. The Ford Taurus and Coke Tab also fit the bill.

In Eastern Europe, countless decommissioned Communist-era favourites, many gradually returning, behave in similar ways. Back in the UK, I hear the wailing of our own brand zombies – and nostalgia websites are teeming with them. Can it be long indeed before the dream return to the shelves of Spangles, this time single source and fairtrade? My hopes are still alive; sorry, undead.

The programme, presented by the incomparable Peter Day, can now be heard online.

The Brim poster at the top of the post is courtesy of Gasoline Alley Antiques.

26 November 2008 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Almost like the real thing

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by Giles Powdrill

Counterfeiting has, in all likelihood, been around for as long as currency itself but as the exchange of goods and services has become more complex, so has the trade in fakes. The forger’s business goes well beyond banknotes, art and documents these days. Everything from aircraft parts and microchips to pharmaceuticals and even baby milk powder can be, and is, reproduced for an illicit profit.

Globalisation and the internet means that our exposure to the phony has increased dramatically in recent times (the catchily-named International Anti-counterfeiting Coalition says the problem has grown 100-fold in the past two decades). The Counterfeiting Intelligence Bureau, run by the International Chamber of Commerce, estimates that the fakes business accounts for between 5 – 7% of total world trade, worth around $600 billion a year. And while it’s generally in the interests of such organisations to talk up the threat from fakes, by way of comparison, global advertising revenue runs at around $70 billion a year.

Asia is undoubtedly one of the principal sources of the world’s fake brands, while China is the largest contributor. Counterfeit products could account for a sixth or more of all products made in China, representing 8% of China’s US$2.6 trillion GDP. For the largest global brands it’s a large and growing concern. It’s also quite a tough business problem, since they typically hope to expand in markets which apparently originate much of the imitation merchandise.

And much of the anecdotal evidence suggests that in a post-modern world consumers are getting more tolerant about fakes. A survey last year by a British law firm deduced that one in eight Britons had bought a fake handbag or watch over the previous twelve months. The three most-purchased fake products purchased were Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Burberry.

These cultural attitudes are likely to be reinforced as economies stall. Louis Vuitton, according to the 2008 brandz study by our sister WPP company Millward Brown, has a brand value of $25.7bn. This is a substantial figure, and only a small dent in this from the sales of fakes is a significant problem. It seems more likely that they’ll have to learn to live with it, as Microsoft did when it tolerated copies of Windows circulating in China because it realised it might build a long-term market for the company’s software. There is some good news on the consumer side: the survey mentioned earlier found that almost a third of the buyers of fakes said that the experience made them more likely to buy the real thing.

Perhaps the lesson to be learned is from judo rather than boxing; to find ways to work with the grain of the counterfeit business, rather than trying to confront it.

The image at the top of the page is from the Chinese site jjunda.net, which has a whole gallery of pictures of fake products.

24 November 2008 at 12:11 pm Leave a comment

Credit crunch cliches

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Andy Stubbings writes:

One of the great lines in the film Network is when the news anchor Howard Beale covers the news of the 1970s recession by telling viewers,

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad! Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression!”

But in the days of 24-hour rolling news channels and multi-supplement newspapers, such brevity is no longer good enough. There’s a correlation between the amount of actual ‘news’ anyone can report, their level of knowledge of the subject, and the amount of cliche they generate. The formula for this is probably M x I = C, where M is how massive the story is, I is the journalists’ general level of ignorance, and C is the volume of cliche. There are even blogs which celebrate the best crunch cliches. Here’s my list of current favourites.

  1. Brokers with their hands on their faces. The first and possibly still the best.
  2. The dramatic falling red line on a graph. It’s like the classic cartoon graph, which plunges off the edge of the chart, and never (well hardly ever) has scales or axes.
  3. The knock on effect. The human interest story designed to explain economics’ multiplier effect: the local corner shop skimps on window cleaning, so the window cleaners have cut back, so the chammy leather business is struggling, and in no time at all we’re at 3 million unemployed by Christmas.
  4. The unlikely winners. The little-known (but still beaten-to-death-in-popular-journalism) phenomenon of unlikely goods, usually discretionary luxuries, succeeding in the prevailing economic environment. Examples cited include pizza home delivery, condoms, dining in for a tenner, and even Karl Marx.
  5. The unfortunate loser. Sometimes seen alongside number 4. This sometimes appears to be the publication’s revenge on things it’s never liked much, from smoothies to BMWs.
  6. The credit crunch as Malthusian check to greed and selfishness. To achieve full cliche status needs to include the phrase ‘financial wizardry’.
  7. The undeserving bankers. If they aren’t about to be sacked (see number 1), they will be drinking champagne at an ING-sponsored party on the proceeds of the tax-payers’ bail-out.
  8. The worst….since the great depression. Or other periods of general purpose crisis, such as the Second World War, Roosevelt’s New Deal, rationing, the Blitz, etc. The Sun is the runaway leader here. Its “Backing British Business” campaign even uses the slogan “Your country needs you“.
  9. The list (ahem). Usually money saving tips which can be constantly recycled from one story to another.
  10. ‘The credit crunch’. The biggest cliche of the lot. Used as shorthand for everything, and shoe-horned wherever possible into every other Sunday supplement article e.g. ‘credit crunch chic’, ‘credit crunch lunch’. And now being seen in other company as well – as in “the oil crunch“.

Thanks to Josh Hunt and Joe Ballantyne for their contributions. The picture at the top of this post comes from Brokers With Hands On Their Faces, and there’s a lot more there.

20 November 2008 at 12:07 pm 3 comments

Grant Park’s tipping points

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Editor’s note: Walker Smith, who runs The Futures Company’s Yankelovich division in the United States, has sent a long post reflecting on the 40-year context of Barack Obama’s Presidential victory this week. The conventional wisdom is that blog posts should be short and pithy. But we think that from time to time it’s better to give an argument the space and time it needs to unfold. Walker’s short essay is one of those occasions.

Walker Smith writes:

Barack Obama’s victory on Tuesday night was not unexpected. Three weeks out, political pundits knew that Obama had a lead that has never been overcome in modern political history. (Horse race political junkies will enjoy my favorite campaign resource, www.fivethirtyeight.com.) The real drama came an hour later when Obama took the stage with his family to honor this historic moment in his moving victory speech.

Chicago’s Grant Park, the scene of the victory rally, is a beautiful, expansive park bordering Lake Michigan that to this day still stirs up grueling memories for Baby Boomers like me, of the police violence at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The question that hangs over Barack Obama’s election is whether it really does represents the end of a 40-year cycle of deep political and cultural division, even though his electoral victory was built on effective party-political organisation rather than cutting across party-political lines.

(more…)

7 November 2008 at 12:29 pm 1 comment

The world in your pocket

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Tom Ding writes:

When I discovered last week that my brand new phone gives me unlimited Google Maps on-the-go, I had one of those ‘The Future Has Arrived’ moments, able to locate the nearest pubs and bus stops at a glance. Which got me to thinking about the different functions of a map, and how cleverly Google has partitioned them. You see, Google Maps is useful indeed: It can be a Sat Nav in your pocket or a route-finder on your PC and it has an interface perfectly suited for such quick tasks.

Perhaps though, we should regard it as the latest evolution of the 1920s ‘wrist-mounted, wind-up Sat-Nav’ shown in the picture at the top of this post. Google Maps gives you no context. It is great, so long as you know exactly where you want to go to. It is a road map, not an atlas, and definitely not a globe.

And this is where Google Earth comes in. Here, exactly the same data has been used for something completely different, and this time it is all about looking, rather than finding. Instead of the watch, I think of Google Earth as being a modern equivalent of the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican- somewhere that you go when you cannot see a place first-hand, somewhere that you could easily lose a few hours and somewhere that not enough people know about.

And Google Earth is getting better. We are now all free, in a Wikipedia-esque spirit of collaboration, to hack the program, at least a little bit, and create our own ‘layers’ dedicated to whatever topic we choose. Just this week, someone has published a layer called “Crisis in Darfur“. There is a layer of “Lighthouses in New Zealand” and another of Frank Gehry buildings. With all of this within a couple of clicks reach, I can’t help but feel like Google is biding their time here- waiting for their user-generated library to reach a critical mass before they tell the world about it.

By then, it will not just be an old fashioned globe, but an encyclopedia inside a globe. We will be able to visually explore almost any subject by geography, by topic and by time. And then, well, then the future really will have arrived.

5 November 2008 at 10:49 pm 1 comment


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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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