Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Purely cosmetic

Photo by re_

In a world where consumers read emails and tweets with their breakfast cereal and watch YouTube clips for lunch, it is hardly surprising or new that TV ads are becoming more interactive.

It seems within the last few months, though, that a re-emergence of advertorial tv ads is occurring. Like the offline equivalent, the ads are pitched as information-based 'how-to's,' whilst clearly being sponsored by a particular brand.

Some might attribute this recent trend to the expanding information-based landscape grown by the last five years of YouTube, as explained in this classic video. However, the social and interactive element of the now expected two-way communications has evolved the need to advertise to a multiple-level of audiences, often requiring a multi-disciplinary approach.

Nowhere have I seen this become more apparent than a consumer industry such as cosmetics. Lauren Luke was a YouTube phenomenon, who has gone from a relative unknown to international success with her own make-up range, book, and even Nintendo DS game.

A BBC Inside Out documentary covering her rise to fame received over 2 million views alone, with many of her individual tutorial videos receiving over 3 million views each. It is no wonder brands are queuing up to appoint her influential skills, from launching her brand with make-up giant Sephora to guest tutorials for Barry M.

Maybelline recently tapped into the 16-24 age group in their 'how-to' advertorial with 'no stranger to red lipstick' T4 presenter Jameela Jamil interviewing a professional make-up artist. Taking this one step further for the next generation, P&G's recent Science Behind the Beauty campaign pulled together this trend with online content including a blog and accompanying website but the real proof point was taking the insight of experts a step further to scientists. The ads resemble more of a documentary reminiscent of This Morning or the One Show, and it is these longer and deeper adverts that seem to trick viewers into switching off 'advert' mode to paying attention to the informative content. When this is combined with a more interactive element, for the right audience and product this technique may prove increasingly effective.

In forthcoming months, it will not be a surprise to think that mobile and location-based apps will continue to bring this type of marketing to life, calling the audience to action in the right place at the right time.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Top of the pops

When you think about music, you may be forgiven if branding isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Indeed, quality songwriting, a good rift or beat and the genre of music may be top of the list for many. However, branding the band has always fascinated me, and you only have to look as far as The X Factor to see how much of a singing, dancing, attractive, charismatic starlet you have to be just to get your foot into the audition room (unless of course you end up there for an entirely different reason).

Photo by Mike_fleming

Girls Aloud, born from music reality show (Popstars: The Rivals 2002), although now you wouldn't necessarily know it, are living proof of successful band branding. Where the Spice Girls left off (with personalities being reflected in nicknames, colours and personal style), Girls Aloud and more recent bands followed suit, such as The Saturdays and JLS. As the bands mature, management ensure they keep their own identities, but also fit together well as a group, retaining a certain element of their characteristics which keep them in the public's hearts'.

It must be no coincidence that this is all linked together, and record labels start planning the successors for the next big band, well before the current band of the moment have even gone out of fashion. A trend in recent years has been for the new unknown act to support the larger already established act on their concert tour - designed to appeal to the same target audience.

From McFly supporting Busted on tour in 2004, to Girls Aloud inviting The Saturdays on tour with them in 2008, just as they released their first singles, both newer bands cite their early success as being thanks to advice and support from their more established counterparts. Rather than being competitors, it is almost as if these bands are inexplicably linked in some way, something which appears to be unique to this marketplace.

Photo by Gene Hunt

One band which certainly seems to have brand values and expectations perfectly aligned is The Sugababes. Now on their forth incarnation since the original members formed in 1998, there are now none of the original members left, and the brand seems to have actually outlived the band itself. Although the music and image may have gone more mainstream than originally set out, there can be no denying that the collective band has been a huge success, with 18 UK top ten hits and being named the most successful female act of the 21st century. This has been achieved through consistency of message, good management and of course a good recording team behind them.

It was with interest today that I watched the Help for Heroes concert where Robbie Williams and Gary Barlow famously reunited on stage after 15 years anticipation. The element that had me gripped to the TV, and had everyone talking on Twitter this evening, was the way in which the events unfolded. I must say that (although I would admit to having a soft spot for many a boyband in the past!), I have never been the biggest Take That fan, although I can certainly appreciate their music, and thought Robbie, although a complete showman on stage was actually very good at it. But what made the seeming start of the reincarnation of the biggest male band since The Beatles so fascinating was the delivery.

Robbie wasn't just performing at the gig to honour UK service people, which 60,000 people attended and was broadcast on BBC1, he was headlining. When he actually invited Gary onto the stage to perform alongside each other, in the style of a 'special guest' rather than arguably someone who he owed much of his personal success to, there was uproar from the fans. The reason this jarred so much (aside from all the various rumours and allegations leading up to these events) I feel is more related to the positioning of these two characters as individual stars (together with the rest of the band, to some extent) and therefore how public expectation would have had them more on an equal footing (as in their new single 'Shame' would depict).

When anyone's actions, whether a commercial or personal brand doesn't match up to expectations or perceived values the outcome would usually be disappointment, leading to regret or questioning decisions made. The takeaway for marketers here would be the importance of listening to expectations and taking risks with care. And, as any good PR knows, bad experiences can be very hard to reverse. Not that this will necessarily do Gary any long-term harm, if Twitter is anything to go by, the backlash against Robbie for this will be long-lived, and the management will need to work hard to prove Robbie's humility towards Gary, the rest of the band and last decade and a half of bad blood.

Robbie & Gary's performance of their new single 'Shame' via YouTube:

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Facebook - friend or foe?

Don't get me wrong, I love Facebook as much as the next person. However, recently I've found myself using it less and less, and wondering why.

It could be my love of Twitter, but I think it might be something deeper.

Image: courtesy of BBC Virtual Revolution

With the informal distinction created between the two top social media platforms as Twitter being more business led and Facebook generally being used more for personal use (albeit with a side of advertising), a segregation is being drawn between our work/personal time on these sites. Although the lines continue to be blurred between work and personal use, I don't suppose I am alone in that the most I see of my Facebook account during the week is through the news-stream on my mobile and Tweetdeck. Could this be why I am spending less and less time on

Whilst I don't buy into the idea that Facebook should own our online identities and be the browser of the future, I do think it has an ongoing leading role in our lives. Whilst Twitter is arguably more about online presence and demonstrating knowledge, many people wouldn't be without Facebook for organising social diaries and keeping in touch with friends.

Some of the nuances of Facebook leave me cold, something I rarely find with Twitter, even with the recently-added weighting of relevant 'promoted tweets'. Firstly, I know I'm not alone in finding the seemingly endless number of re-designs irritating, as well as the application and game requests and updates - no I don't really want to know how many tulips you have grown in your virtual garden. I know the updates can be turned off, but from a usability point of view is it right that we aren't given a prompt to choose the opt out first? Even more so now that applications now have unlimited access to our personal data.

Is Facebook really loosing its way? On the other side of the coin, all kinds of brands are finding benefits from targeted Facebook campaigns, and of course there is always going to be a requirement to utilise some of the 400 million active users. However, it cannot be missed that some of the recent additions to the Facebook platform have been 'borrowed' from some of the other recent social media successes, such as location features and followers. Also, with the idea is to publish a mini-blog based on your Facebook profile; allowing it to publish posts, comments, photos and other items. And who can forget the privacy scare of December 2009 where overnight Facebook had set all users' profile settings to 'allow' to appear in all search results?

In my opinion, Facebook could do no harm in addressing not what is making the service so popular, but what is turning some users off its' otherwise groundbreaking service, in order to keep one step ahead of the game.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Privacy is so 90's...

More than just a flippant tweet for a t-shirt, the subject of online privacy vs. openness is now very real.

Photo by Todd Huffman

Most recently, the well-documented media coverage of concern over our online lives came when the Dutch website Please Rob Me, developed by Forthehack, was found to publish tweeple's location information from sites like fourquare.

Whilst the brains behind it insist the site was developed to point out potential dangers of the fast-growing trend for location-based tweeting and information, it is clear that it was designed to create controversy. Is awareness raising the only intention and outcome, or is there something more meaningful happening here?

In my personal view, the site is nothing more than an aggregation of collective location-based tweets, already readily available by running a foursquare search through Twitter or looking at the foursquare homepage or area-based page. However, as the site's co-founder Boy Van Amstel points out, "there was once a time when we thought twice about sharing our full name online," now it almost seems the point of sharing basic information has become a dot on the horizon. Have we gone past the point of no return?

The sites' developers say they just want to make people think twice about the information they are sharing freely online. In a world of increasing openness of our innermost thoughts, location, and even breakfast, it was only logical that a backlash would arise in concern for our online privacy. In a society which in some ways becoming increasingly disconnected, is it human nature that we would want to connect in this way? What is really the worst that can happen? This is an area where the BBC's Virtual Revolution series started a lot of people wondering if we were really paying for free and open information with our privacy. What seems to be concerning is that we are less and less concerned about the implications. This is especially prevalent, as may be expected, in the younger generation.

One of the idiosyncrasies of virtual communication is that one of the trends behind it is actually more to do with making it easier for real people to keep in touch and meet up in the real world rather than from behind a computer screen. This is certainly the original intention behind Twitter, although of course vastly different now.

More and more, the link between our online and offline worlds are becoming blurred, and whilst this is dramatic and exciting, it also brings an element of risk. Not only that, but if you consider the elements of our life which revolve around our online presence the risk increases. It may seem there is an expectation that our social lives be organised and documented by Facebook, our music and entertainment come from MySpace, our professional lives be recorded and advertised through LinkedIn, and for all of the above and more, there is Twitter and geotagging. It is no wonder we are in this situation! However, when our security is compromised, in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs we are getting into the danger zone.

The irony of mobile social networking is what some people feel is the height of sociability feels completely unsociable to others. Whilst some people are merrily tapping away into their iPhones and synchronising is just another form of conversation, some react in the opposite way, purposefully reverting back to technology-free socialising, even committing Facebook suicide. However we choose to live our lives in the modern world, sometimes it can be refreshing and altogether less worrying to put the technology aside and enjoy a real conversation face-to-face.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Shop the window

Having long been a fan of the magic of retail window displays I was excited to see one of the most iconic flagship stores in London successfully translate this online.

Topshop's Shop The Window Meadow Collection

 Topshop have recently added a 'shop the window' function to their site which not only shows a shot of the current window display, but also allows shoppers to browse and buy the very products from the scene. Surely a useful concept for outsiders as well as Londoners and an ideal way to bring a real and tangible piece of the high street to the screen.

Sunday, 31 January 2010

Postcards from NYC

On a recent trip to New York City, i couldn't help checking out the advertising and use of digital media in the city.

In this highly-connected society, not too different from our own in the UK, advertising is of course everywhere and brands have to compete even more to fight for share of voice. Take Times Square for example!

The first thing that struck me about the culture, was that it was not what I expected it to be. The place I stayed in was my first taste of modern NYC. The living area was sparsely but well-decorated without a television, any CDs or DVDs visible. This was the modern, minimalist digital lifestyle which I had heard about; I liked it!

Pride of place in front of the sofa was an Apple, the source of all communications and entertainment we needed. When I was ill and felt like relaxing in front of the TV I was directed to sites like Veoh. and Hulu. It's not that watching TV online is a new experience for me, but that it is somehow more refreshing when it is the only option.

Whilst I was there I kept an eye out for emerging trends. and spotted this Puma campaign through Facebook on the subway. 'Employees' are promoted on various posters, who, when you log into the site, recommend various restaurants, hangouts, and of course Puma stores, in this increasingly popular location format. With almost 1.5 million fans already signed up, they must be doing something right.

Saturday, 30 January 2010


With the massive launch of Apple's iPad this week, regarded as one of the most well-covered product launches of all time, we are left wondering "is there anything that Apple can't do?"

Photo by iLounge

Whether you call it an oversize iPhone or iTouch, small notebook or laptop, this is the product which has got the whole world captivated. Without denying that this is an enviable and exciting product, it does make me wonder what is coming next. Apple's format, whilst revolutionary, could be criticised for being a very similar product to the current range, just with a faster chip and in another size.

How many upgrades will we need before there are enough memory and features to make it worthwhile? Apple famously added video, improved camera resolution and 'copy and paste' functionality to the iPhone 3GS, over two years since the iPhones' initial launch in 2007, and Apple continually bring out new models of the iPod, with enhanced features and more memory.

The iPad has also endured endless taunts in the online community for its name, whether humourous, or in confusion about the given name (what was wrong with iSlate or iTablet?). It is not just women and techies who are reacting to this, Japanese giant Fujitsu recently claimed that they first owned the trademark and seem to be set to battle Apple for the rights.

Regardless of Apple's product launch strategies, which will not endure any long-term harm to the brand, you cannot help love Apple products and recognise the way they are shaping our digital world, perhaps more than we realise. If your digital marketing campaigns are not already embracing mobile technology; from apps to geo-tagging, they soon will be.

Some have cunningly hopped on the back of the wide-scale iPad launch with brilliantly-crafted publicity stunts, such as US niche ethical clothing company Holstee, who created a spoof of their site being demonstrated by Steve Jobs in his keynote launch to launch their new e-shop. The real gem was the idea to follow up to their 2,000 Facebook and Twitter followers that anyone who got involved in the fun was to be rewarded (with a $15 dollar discount code to be redeemed in their store). True guerrilla marketing at its' best.

The essence of Apple model is one we would all love to replicate in the marketing agency world; for our own customers and our customers' customers. How great is it to launch a project which exceeds design expectations, is thoroughly well-developed with the customer in mind, intuitive, highly functional, and creates such a buzz around the launch that people are literally queuing up to get involved?