Running the thin line between good PR and bad PR

I was getting in touch with my gay side whilst working on some fashion-based concepts for a lovely bunch of people north of the city. Subliminally, I must have also been getting in touch with my youthful side as I sat in front of my mac with a full fat coke on my desk and screaming dayglo orange trainers on my feet. Yup, at my age I should know better.
I took a double take at the limited edition can and noticed that it was promoting Peace One Day (POD). If you think about it, the ‘genius’ of the back-to-basics design created by Attik allows plenty of scope for a plethora of ongoing promotions. Founded by film maker Jeremy Gilley in 1999, POD drives peace initiatives around the world, many of which have included world leaders such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama and Shimon Peres.
Maybe it was a slug of coke that triggered the synapses but I then performed another double take; this time at my luminescent shoes and the three crinkle-cut stripes that adorned each side. It was then the old grey matter really got into gear and remembered an event that should have received far more publicity than it actually did.
Adidas, giant of the sportswear world was playing a football match against Puma, giant of the sportswear world. Great idea you say, but why all the fuss? Well, it’s not until you delve a little deeper into the history of these two monumental brands that you realise there’s a little more to it than a simple kickabout on the park with jumpers for goalposts.
In the town of Herzogenaurach, northern Bavaria where the two companies were founded, the match is being hailed as the end of the Battle of the Boot.

Thing is, back in the 1920s, that small Bavarian town was home to the Dasslers - a happy family, consisting of Adolf (Adi) and Rudolf (Rudi) Dassler – two sons of a master cobbler. Pretty soon, the two brothers started to display their own talent for turning leather into highly effective sports shoes.
Adi, in particular, designed spiked running shoes and was responsible for helping Jesse Owens win four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
By now, a successful sports shoe company was firmly established in Herzogenaurach. The good news story didn’t last however when a feud broke out between the two siblings. Anecdotes suggest that things kicked off (sorry) when Adi and his family were sheltering from an Allied air raid. “There come those Schweinehunde,” he shouted when his brother’s family entered the shelter. He tried to explain later that the “pig dogs” insult referred to the RAF bombers rather than his relations, but with a comment like that in public, the damage had been done.
Later Rudi, a fully paid-up member of the Gestapo, became a US prisoner of war, whilst Adi, more than happy to do business with Jewish firms, was in full control of the factory and unwilling to make much space for Rudi on his return. The two went their separate ways with Rudi opening a new factory on the other side of the Aurach river to his brother’s Adidas factory. First it was called Ruda but this was replaced by the sportier sounding moniker, Puma. Both Adidas and Puma are now major employers in the cobblestoned town of 23,200 residents.
As the feud intensified between the sporting giants over the years, both companies invested fortunes, attempting to outbid each other for superstar endorsements; David Beckham, Muhammad Ali and Madonna all wore Adidas; Pele, Boris Becker and Usain Bolt were signed by Puma.

Tales are rife from the 1960s and 70s of sabotage, underhand scheming and of Olympic athletes being handed secret payments to wear one of the rival brands.

But just last week in a momentous reconciliation the two companies met on the football pitch in support of Peace One Day.

The result? A blinding spot of positive PR for both brands. Or, should people be more inspired by this story than Puma bargain for and unearth the company’s links to the Third Reich, potentially a lot of negative publicity. As for the overall competition: may the best team win.

Council in driving seat for service innovation

A recent expansion of the family has filled the home with more than its fair share of love, laughter, stress and noise. With that infusion, space becomes a seriously premium commodity. Especially as chaos reigns supreme over the King of Disorganisation (that’s me).

I scored a major victory against the chaos the other day with a bit of lateral thinking. The missus would tell you it’s a very minimal, teeny weeny victory, but hey I’m a bloke, so I’m rightly proud.

We, the Royal ‘We’ that is, needed space; a space to list everything required on our next shop – pretty essential when your key skills are forgetting the baps on a bacon butty breakfast run. But when I tell you that, in our kitchen there isn’t a spare inch that isn’t covered with a cardboard moon rocket or a handprint spider you hopefully get the idea that we’re pretty damn short of somewhere to stick any kind of notice board. Until, that is Captain Creativity steps in (sorry, that’s the bloke talking again) and remembers that amongst the similar state of chaos in the garage, there’s an old tin of blackboard paint. See where I’m going with this? Yes, the back of a cupboard door. Here’s the clever blokey bit: not just the back of any old door, but the single most visited cupboard in our kitchen’s history – packed full of dried herbs, spices and toddler-bribes (that’s breadsticks and dried apricots to you and me.) Yup - it’s now covered in a splash of the black stuff - a spangly new chalkboard that never lets a tin of beans, bread or a crate of beer slip through the net of havoc. Amount of space taken up in the kitchen? In terms of volume, approximately 0.0002m3. Amount of items left off the next shop? Exactly none. Genius.

And talking of space, lateral thinking and downright great innovation, the Council of The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has just scored a direct hit. The Council registered itself as a seller on eBay and is putting parking permits for guaranteed parking spaces under the hammer.

Initially, only three-month permits are up for grabs, but if successful, the authority hopes to extend the scheme to provide six and twelve-month contracts.

A reserve will be placed on each auctioned permit to ensure that the Council doesn’t make a loss. However, in true eBay style, it could still be possible to obtain a permit cheaper on the site than directly from the Council, officials said. The reserve price has yet to be fixed.

Councillor Colin Rayner, cabinet member for Highways and Streetcare, said the idea came about after the Tory council successfully sold a surplus of old workmen's boots and gloves on eBay. This they had to do for three months, in compliance with eBay rules, before they could become a corporate seller. Fair play to them; I haven’t even got my backside in gear yet to get my pine furniture, unused tools and children’s toys out of the garage mayhem, never mind under the online hammer.

Councillor Rayner continued, "Most motorists want to be able to find a parking space quickly in the mornings on their way to the office and this scheme will guarantee the same space for the same car every day for the duration of their contract.

"It’s all about providing a premium service for motorists. As a council we are committed to signing up to the use of new media to communicate our messages to our residents and we are hoping the use of eBay will take our message to more residents and make this scheme a successful one.”

The campaign will be launched with adverts on eBay explaining other incentives, including constant CCTV surveillance and free weekly car wash vouchers for successful bidders.

I loved this story when I first stumbled across it because it made me realise, rather like my ‘genius’ blackboard idea, you don’t necessarily have to look for new things to provide great service solutions; you can always innovate with the stuff that’s already around you.

10 steps to permanently damage your own institutional brand in less than a year

1. Ensure you’re a publicly funded body.

2. Use a huge chunk of that capital to vastly overpay a mediocre performer – ensuring said ‘artist’ has a one-trick-pony style stock in trade – namely puerile, sexist, schoolboy humour.

3. Use one of your prime products (in this case, Strictly Come Dancing) to get tens of thousands of the public (who, remember, are both your funders and your customers) to needlessly spend money phoning-in votes that will not count a jot as the producers have already decided the outcome.

4. Make sure you’re including all your target audience in your plan of self-destruction: Use a lesser product (preferably in another area of interest, say cooking), such as Saturday Kitchen to create the perception of a live phone-in when in actual fact, the result is another done deal. Again this will get your customers to needlessly spend money, not to mention betray your core audience’s trust.

5. If by now, you don’t think you’re doing enough damage to your own brand, go for the one area that should be an absolute taboo: Children. Use another prime product, this time from the kids’ range - Blue Peter is a great choice for mass exposure. Hoodwink thousands of six to thirteen year olds into thinking they still have a chance of winning a competition, when in actual fact the producers have already chosen the ‘winners’ from little angels who happen to be on set.

6. Not done yet? Well how about getting the aforementioned overpaid one-trick pony to get together with an equally immature ass and pull an obscene stunt on one of the nation’s best-loved performers? A victim such as Andrew Sachs would garner plenty of public outcry from the masses.

7. Continue to bleat about the Government’s attempts to rejuvenate the commercial broadcasting sector in opening up more avenues of revenue with product placement and suchlike, claiming for the umpteenth time that yours is a brand that doesn’t advertise. This, despite the fact (and this is one of my personal favourites) that, with a massive array of channels, programmes and events to publicise, you are one of broadcasting’s biggest advertisers.

8. Allow one of your main channel’s controllers, the very talented Lesley Douglas (who just happens to be responsible for dragging Radio 2 and thousands of happy listeners into the 21st Century), to leave the organisation, whilst the aforementioned pony gets a measly and insulting 3 month unpaid ban.

9. All that a bit so-last year? Well why not bring things bang up to date by introducing another fly-in-the-face-of your-public debacle on your latest flagship product? Namely, against all sensibility and sensible opinion, replace Arlene Phillips with Alesha Dixon. One is a choreographer of many top West End shows, talent scout and former dancer; the other is a singer who happens to have won the show once.

10. Repeat any of the above steps as often as you like, whilst ensuring a real lack of two things: strong leadership at Board level and real empathy with your audience.

Please note, I’ve nothing against Alesha Dixon – in fact I’m currently wincing at the backlash she’ll endure over the forthcoming weeks – it’s not her fault, but the sages who chose eye candy over insight, fluff over experience.

On a more positive note however, I’d like to offer my simple 3-point plan to get the BBC’s once mighty brand back on track – and back in favour with the great British, and indeed, global public:

1. Jordan to replace furniture expert Jon Bly on The Antiques Roadshow. She’d be just the job at comparing mahogany chests.

2. Jack Tweed, husband of the late Jade Goody to replace any one of the real-life coppers on Crimewatch UK. An inside job if ever there was one.

3. Gordon Brown to replace Michael McIntyre on his brilliant series. So yes, it would now become Gordon Brown’s Comedy Roadshow.

If anyone from the Beeb would like to consult me further on the above advice, I’m available Tuesdays and Thursdays after nine-ish. Failing that, if they could do just one thing that all great brands should do, it would form the basis of a massive turnaround: You expect your customers to watch you, so start listening to your customers.

Will Ikea go back to the Futura?

As Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, reports, Ikea have caused a bit of a storm by making a change in the way they communicate with us. After 50 years of hard work, gone is the customized version of Futura to make way for Verdana. Sound familiar? Well that’s because Verdana is one of those so-called ‘web-safe’ fonts so it’s pretty standard on the Net and probably the machine on which you’re reading this.

Designed by Matthew Carter and included by Microsoft as part of their operating system, Verdana quickly spread like a rash through most Office software applications and Internet Explorer on both Mac OS and Windows way back in 1996. According to Wikipedia (yeah, I know), Verdana is available on 97.46% of all Windows and 94.13% of the world’s Macs, making it the 5th and 6th most common font respectively.

And therein lies the flashpoint of this storm, (currently being driven by on online petition to reinstate Futura) at least for the design denizens and typeface snobs, that is. And as I write this slightly irked by the fact it will appear in Arial rather than the far more elegant Helvetica, I guess I count myself amongst those cocking a snoop. Created purely to play ball on the Internet, Verdana holds little sway with designers. The same designers and indeed a wider communication-savvy community, who have come to love Ikea’s ethos of stylish, low-budget products for all. The emotional ties that Ikea have established with millions cannot be understated. How many of us have set up our first homes with functional flat-packs and great looking household stuff; stuff that keeps us braving the horrendous weekend crowds even now in our should-know-better middle age?

That love has nurtured a relationship with the public since Ikea’s inception in 1943. And with the seemingly harmless introduction of Verdana as Ikea’s main body font, I think many feel that trust has been dented.

Will the outcry and accompanying online petition, currently running at around 6,000 signatures, make Ikea reverse their decision and stick with the much more appropriate, Swedish-speaking Futura? Who knows, but there is definitely one huge positive that Ikea can take out of all the furore: it has proved that consumers feel they own the Ikea brand. And when there is that depth of feeling, you know you’re a big-league brand that’s well and truly part of the family.

We’re getting spammed on telly

As Tristan O'Carroll reported a couple of days ago in mediaweek, Ben Bradshaw, our culture secretary is expected to reverse the Government’s opposition to product placement later this week at the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge.

This news has been heartily welcomed by ITV. Apparently, Bradshaw will ‘outline a timetable for a consultation into plans to allow product placement on TV based on certain rules regarding the frequency of placements.’

Just read that last sentence again. That sounds like something might happen in… oh around May 2035. And God knows, what with an onslaught of dodgy digital channels and its own investment into crap programmes, ITV needs as much help as it can get right now. And that help may well come in the form of an estimated £35m that Ofcom says product placement could generate over the next five years in the UK. Of course, the BBC, it’s been argued, will not be one of the main benefactors, but who cares? They’ve been pulling the wool over licence payers’ eyes for years by hammering us all with their own advertising for this channel, that channel, this season, that online project.

But on the subject of pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes, who the hell do ITV (and our Government for that matter) think they’re trying to kid? Check this statement, released this week from ITV: "If the Government does decide to permit product placement, it will be warmly welcomed by the commercial broadcasting industry and advertisers alike.
ITV plc has led the campaign for product placement in the UK, which could be an important new revenue stream - as it already is in Europe.
Reforming the UK prohibition would also be a welcome acknowledgement of the pressures currently faced by an industry in transition. New sources of revenue mean better funded content, which can only be good news for viewers."
If you’re going to give the green light on product placement, fair enough – it’s simply another viable channel option in what should be any brand’s integrated marketing mix. But don’t tell us you’re just thinking about it. You’ve been spamming us for ages with product placement, as this clip from last Friday’s Coronation Street shows to Ouchrageous effect.

Ouch rule of marketing, #531: Market to us by all means but do it relevantly, and most importantly, do it honestly.

Footnote: You’ll notice at the top of this I wrote ‘Ben Bradshaw, our culture secretary’ and not, ‘Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary.’ That’s because our MPs are supposed to work for us, not the Government, or themselves for that matter.

Britain is a nation of great microbrands

Sad but I don’t get much more pleasure than seeing the pull of a great big juicy brand in action; musing over what it is that gets the juices flowing; what they’ll do next to innovate. Brands like Howies for instance that, whilst they do sell good quality clothing, bang out a lot of merchandise from their campervan through sheer personality and strong projection of their values; brands like Apple who through outstanding design, illuminating innovation and an extremely charismatic CEO, persuade people to part with a little more cash than they really need to (I still mention Apple despite my Macbook's battery popping last week.)

But right now I’d like to celebrate the one-man bands, the husband-and-wife teams and the old school-friend partners who, for me, are still the backbone, not only of our economy, but of our sanity. I’m talking about the people who, through their very names, keep our collective peckers up with a smile; the Trim&Propers, the Beauty Spots, the Floristry Commissions of this world and of course, the three crackers you see here. All in their own way projecting a brand personality through their name, their staff and their service; laurels, which by very dint of their size, they can never rest on in the daily fight to keep the customers coming back for more.

It was only a matter of time

As posted on the great Adverblog, there’s a lot of hoo-haa going on about the supposed ad from DDB Brazil for WWF, and more discussion around the never-forgotten 9/11 outrage and tsunami disaster. It started life as a print ad but now a full commercial has reared its very ugly head, which isn't making things any easier for WWF.

Well it’s certainly getting people talking – one of the main objectives of many campaigns – and I couldn’t help but be sucked in to the debate.

Extremely bad taste or not (and personally I agree with the people who say this subject should not be touched out of respect for every single person affected by the 9/11 tragedy) the concept does not work for this reason:

The fact that our planet is supremely powerful is not reason enough to take care of it. The reasons we should take care of our planet are manifold including the fact it's our home for generations to come, it's home to just about every other living thing we know and as well as being beautiful in some places, it needs our undivided attention in many other areas.

Adolf Hitler was powerful for God's sake - should we have taken care of him? 'Yeah, too bloody right we should have taken care of him' I hear you cry, 'before he got chance to take care of himself'. Ill-thought-through concept I'm afraid, as well as being poor taste in the extreme. And talking of Hitleresque bad taste you could argue my latest YouTube shenanigans is bad taste. Does the fact that this human tragedy happened many more years ago make lampooning now acceptable? You decide.

Not so good brand tOuch - LCC

At my age, a certain condition takes over your body that forces you to peek out of the window every now and then. The other morning, it was bin collection day, which rather excitingly, gave me extra incentive for a bit of curtain twitching.

There was my green bin being duly emptied but then I clapped eyes on our neighbour’s being somewhat pillaged and one or two items thrown onto the grass verge by the grump in the dayglo jacket. When I finally got my sorry self ready for work and out onto the drive I noticed the said items weren’t of the correct recyclable nature. Okay, fair enough, slightly naughty neighbour, but come on, don’t people pay their taxes to get some sort of customer service on a human level? Surely a service that expects people to behave like robots could quite easily be performed by robots.

I’d love to get my hands on the Leeds City Council brand because like every other Council in the land, it’s an organisation that has the opportunity to touch so many people’s lives in a positive way but just as many chances to make a bit of a mess of it.

Good brand tOuch - ECC

My missus says my 20 year old Muddy Fox is not fit for sticking our three year old daughter on the back to ride pillion. So I’ve had to park the trusty boneshaker I’ve been riding for donkey’s in favour of a newer model. No, not the wife, the bike. Handily, there’s an Edinburgh Cycle Cooperative just up the road from me, full of extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff – you can tell they don’t take people on who aren’t geekishly into bikes. Apparently, all new bikes need tweaking and adjusting after six weeks and I was told to expect a postcard through my door on a certain date informing me that my free maintenance check was due.

True to their word and bang on time, ECC sent my reminder and now all I have to do is take my new baby in, discuss any issues and they’ll tweak it to perfect running order. They build up their email and postal database every time a new customer tips up but they also use it, not to pester previous customers, but to offer value, which of course reinforces the fact that a new bike is not just for the first six weeks, but for life.

Banksing on keeping everyone happy?

Bristol Council has adopted a new policy to deal with the city’s burgeoning graffiti prob... I was going to say problem, but of course many Bristolians don’t view it as a negative issue. For many, it adds to the city’s allure; its attraction; its edge if you will.

You can see why. How many people have taken the tour round Brussels to see the magical HergĂ© characters and murals that adorn walls and back alleys – now ingrained in the city’s culture? And if he isn’t already, surely Bristol’s own Banksy should be a part of the culture. Or do we all have to arrogantly wait for him (or her) to pop (his) or her clogs until they become fondly remembered?

Like it or not, through the humble spray can, the artists of Bristol have layered another level of personality onto the city's image and indeed, its brand. The most famous is already responsible for not only raising the profile of Bristol, but also boosting the economy. And Banksy tours will be taking place on open topped buses within a decade I promise you. As a proud citizen of a famous northern town headed up by a stiff-lipped Council, I admire the boys and girls of Bristol Council for giving the go-ahead for Banksy’s brilliant exhibition at the city’s museum and even more so for their seemingly democratic handling of the graffiti issue in asking Bristolians to vote online for what should stay and what should be unceremoniously scrubbed out. Trouble is, and I risk a severe generalisation here, I fear the majority of the people who disapprove, and have as much right as anyone else to say so, will not have an equal say because they will have likely never used a computer in their lives - or at least think the only reason they need a poll is to help them walk.

Not quite so democratic then.