Archive | April, 2011

You Really Can Suck & Blow at the Same Time

17 Apr

In 1781 Dr. Samuel Johnson, man of letters and compiler of the English dictionary wrote a poster announcing the auction of Thrale’s Brewery.

“We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats,” Johnson opined, “but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”

This aspirational phrasing did the trick and the brewery fetched £135,000 roughly equivalent to £13M today.

With rich beyond the dreams of avarice Johnson arguably invented the benefit and became an early practitioner in the trade of advertising, an industry that centuries later would think different to him about English grammar.

Some 120 years later, in 1903 King Gillette was faced with a conundrum.

His safety razor was simply too expensive for the marketplace, purchasing one would cost a working man around half his weekly wage.

Until Gillette devised an ingenious scheme to sell each razor at a loss and make his money on the blades.

So Gillette, who did not invent the safety razor, did invent the loss leader, making a considerable contribution to the creation of Marketing, (while pissing off generations of men with the inflated price of razor blades).

And for the next hundred years or so, the separate, but interrelated disciplines of Advertising and Marketing were fairly well-defined.

Advertising was a vehicle for the delivery of a message through paid media; essentially advertising pushed the message towards you.

Even when it elicited an unambigous  response, as in the case of direct mail, it was exactly that  — a response to a media stimulus.

Marketing, on the other hand, sold you the razor and essentially pulled you towards the blade, it was more about the big picture, more about creating demand through adjusting factors like pricing and packaging, than tailoring a message.

At the risk of over simplifying things, Advertising was a push mechanism while Marketing was a pull mechanism.

(I’m referring to the sharp end of Marketing here –the sales end, and not the broader context of the Marketing Mix.)

And that was basically the status quo until the advent of web 2.0

When social media in particular, blurred the distinction between pushing and pulling, because the internet has the unsettling ability to push and pull simultaneously.

You tweet, or upload a clip to YouTube, initially your tweet or video is simply a message you’re pushing, but if it gains any traction at all, it rapidly starts exerting a pull of its own.

And if it goes viral, the pull becomes cyclonic without diminishing and in fact, accelerating the push.

This almost contradicts the old wives’ tale, about the impossibility of sucking and blowing at the same time. Which goes some way to explaining why as Google’s  Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt memorably said, “The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand.”

Because we’re hard wired to sink or swim, not sink and swim.

And the Internet is riddled with contradictions: personal and public, 0ne-to-one and one-to-many, targeted and random.

It’s hard for us to understand anything that performs so many opposite actions simultaneously – it’s just not natural to suck and blow at the same time.

Or it wasn’t until recently.

But there’s a lot of fusion going on.

Are you ready for Marketising?


The Emperor’s Black Turtleneck & the Kaiser’s Diet Soda

4 Apr

Legend has it that brands emerged from the fog of war.

Back when both sides wore similar suits of armour and visors covered their faces, it was hard to distinguish friend from foe.

Until 1127, when the Count of Anjou solved the problem by introducing a shield emblazoned with golden lions.

This decorative yet practical idea caught on, and the small but influential industry of heraldry was born.

Now the guys with the golden lions could club the guys with the black dragons with far less chance of maiming one of their own.

Medieval trade guilds rapidly adapted this heraldic system by devising their own symbols to mark the quality of goods made by their members.

During the 17th Century, war became more sophisticated as widespread use of gunpowder and muskets made armour and shields redundant.

All the major Europeans armies were kitted out in uniforms to readily distinguished friend from foe.

Brands and uniforms are still intrinsically connected.

Take major sports franchises, whether it’s the pinstripes of the Yankees, or AC Milan’s rossoneri, the brand and the uniform are indivisible.

But brands and uniforms can also interact on a more personal level.

What would an Apple product launch be without Steve Jobs in his jeans, black turtleneck and sneakers? A uniform the Emperor of Apple  has worn consistently for close to 20 years.

{Image Fast Company}

It’s a look that speaks of simplicity and authenticity, but also of the confidence to be oneself, and perhaps a dash of stubbornness or single-mindedness.

So much so, that a younger version of the look was co-opted by TBWA/Media Arts Lab in 2006, for Apple’s “Get a Mac” TV campaign, facing off against a young Bill Gates lookalike.

At which point it gets a bit confusing as to where Mr. Jobs stops and Apple starts.

Just how much Mr. Jobs’ personal style has been responsible for Apple’s success is a question many financial analysts have also asked about Apple, albeit arriving at it via spreadsheets and not sneakers.

There’s another legendary figure with a uniform who’s possibly even more recognizable than Mr Jobs.









Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, or The Kaiser as he’s called by  fashionistas, although I imagine not to his face. Mr Lagerfeld is also known as the hardest working man in fashion and very  possibly the world.

He also sports a similarly distinctive uniform.

True, Mr. Lagerfeld’s uniform is a little less uniform than Mr. Jobs’, as it undergoes subtle variations, but it’s every bit as recognizable.

So recognizable in fact that, Mr. Lagerfeld’s trademark look can be reduced to a simple graphic silhouette on these limited edition bottles he designed for Diet Coke.

Given Mr. Lagerfeld’s whiplash thin frame, this is undoubtedly an inspired piece of cross branding.

His emblematic representation reminds me a little of Don Quixote, is it too far-fetched to imagine it adorning a shield and glinting in the early morning sunlight centuries ago, upon the field of battle?

I don’t know whether Mr. Jobs and Mr. Lagerfeld have ever met, or indeed whether they would have much in common aside from their respective uniforms and a dislike of mediocrity.

But maybe that’s enough for an alliance of the uniformistos.

I can see them now, riding forth like knights of old astride their steely chargers, in a sacred and unceasing quest for excellent design.

Maybe their alliance would bear the fruit of an inspired collaboration.

Karl Lagerfeld for Apple – an iPhone 5 limited edition.

Sires, what sayest thou?