Wanting for nothing and why brands have a crisis coming

Brands have got a real problem coming. It’s also going to have a huge effect on some of the biggest economies around the world too.

We all have enough stuff.

Back in Spring 2008, my favourite brand Howies sent a card inside my quarterly catalogue asking if I’d fallen out of love with them, or maybe whether I just have enough clothes for the time being. It has been something that has stayed front of mind for nearly ten years now as I think we are at a stage where we probably all have enough stuff.

I just have enough stuff thanks
I just have enough stuff thanks

I have a newish computer, my car is fine (even with 130,000 miles on the clock) and I have quite a few watches. My Phone is reasonably recent and I really don’t need an Apple Watch, a new TV or another bluetooth speaker. In fact we have TV’s all over the place, bluetooth speakers all over the place and a lovely old valve amp for playing proper music.

I have outerwear coming out of my wazoo, at least six pairs of jeans, two gilets, jumpers, shorts, socks and shirts in every material for every eventuality.

I have access to almost every song ever produced with Spotify and every film ever made, with a combination of Amazon Prime, Netflix and a mildly chipped Firestick.

I adore Oxford United and should make more effort to see them home and away. That’s tribal, it isn’t about the brand. This is an opportunity for tribal experiences like football and they will be one of the few areas to do well out of this.

I love holidays, exploring new places and going to the pub. In fact, probably my favourite thing to do is walk to the pub with the dog, have a few pints and walk home again.

But in effect, I want for nothing.

Which is the problem that any brand faces.

We all have too much stuff.

There is no consumer good that creates real desire, real anticipation and a real need to have it in your hands.

New products are all derivations. Small but barely discernible differences that the brands create to try and make us want them. But the differences aren’t real enough. They don’t add value to our lives and as such, they just become normal, within a moment of owning them.

Social media makes things worse. You can now see that everyone owns everything and we are all bored of this. It’s why so many people are turning away from Facebook and it’s dying on its arse. No-one lives that perfect a life and we can all see through it for what it is.

Showing off.

But if everyone has everything anyway, who is there to show off to and what with?

It’s also why everyone needs to pay less than full price for anything. Why else do you think the outlet villages and discount sites are so prevalent? The only thing left to give you a buzz is the bargain, rather than the brand you’ve bought.

So what do brands do to overcome this?

The answer is to fulfill something deeper than a need to own something. My clever friend Leila pointed out that this is why there’s a huge rise in Mindfulness and Wellness. We are all searching for something more than just the diminishing thrill of owning things. I know with the challenges I’ve been through in the last year, I couldn’t care less about material things, I’m quite pleased to be vertical and pretty much pain-free again.

That’s one hell of a challenge and one thing I can say is that not all brands will survive this imminent crisis.

You can summarise it all very easily in just one line.

If there is no actual need, then the only way to sell is by creating desire.

maybe that is what marketing is all about. Creating desire. The issue I have is that we are all losing our desire for material things and therefore selling anything material is just going to get harder and harder.

It’s a self-imposed austerity that could run for quite a while. With an economy built entirely on buying such things and a Chinese economy built on making these things, I suspect things are going to get a little rocky in the manufacturing-based economies.


Why plain packaging for cigarettes is a bad idea

The UK is about to become the second country in the world (after Australia) and the first in Europe to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes. It is due to be implemented by 20th May 2016, although it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. I wrote about it here in 2011 and my view still hasn’t changed.

Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK
Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK

And I think it’s a bad idea for a few reasons.

  1. Taking away the branding will allow cheaper brands to compete on a level playing field with the big brands. Rather than making it less attractive they will make it more affordable. If you can’t see the difference in the packs and you’re new to smoking, why would you buy the bigger and more expensive brands?
  2. It will make it easier for fakes to come into the market as the packaging is even easier to copy. Fake cigarettes aren’t made to the same standard and could even be more dangerous and contain all sorts of additional nasties.
  3. You will make it cooler. It is now so obviously a bad thing that it becomes something that is more attractive to do. Anyone who has ever smoked, knows the dangers and ignores them. In Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology he proves using brain scans that when smokers see the warnings on packs, rather than put them off smoking, it creates an almost religious like fervour. They become more desirable – despite all good sense saying otherwise. The more you try and drive it underground, the more prevalent it will become. As a parallel, it’s not exactly difficult to get hold of Cannabis these days and that’s meant to be banned altogether.
  4. It appears that the tobacco industry are going to take the government to court for loss of trademark value. According to the Telegraph, this could be for up to £11 billion.
  5. Smokers pay their own way – Because they kill themselves with smoking they have finite lives. they pay fortunes into the NHS through the taxes on cigarettes and on average, die much younger. The cynic in me says the government know this and by taking this route, they will maybe even make more money in tax revenue on smoking. The UK government take £11 billion PER YEAR from smokers. Are they really trying to kill this golden goose?

The only good plan (according to the Sun) in my mind is to ban packs of ten cigarettes and Menthol cigarettes. These are definitely entry products for young smokers. There will always be enterprising kids at school who will break bulk and sell singles (or loosies as they were in my day) but it will make smoking a little harder to start.

It’s only my view, but I am convinced I see more young people smoking than ever before. Putting cigarettes behind doors in the retail outlets doesn’t appear to have made any difference – It may even have had the opposite effect to the one they claim they were aiming at – And they are ploughing on anyway.

Real engagement for brands is more than just online engagement

I saw this video today by Gary Turk and shared it on Facebook on my personal account. Without any form of promotion, today it has been shared 40 times which is exceptional. If you watch the video it talks about real engagement.

Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on facebook Johnny Lyle
Brand engagement is about more than just likes and shares on Facebook

As a brand and social media specialist who shows real brands how to treat their customers and behave online, it is a very, very timely reminder that real engagement is about far more than likes, shares and a few extra follows. You have to be brilliant offline to allow people to get you online.

Real engagement is about getting inside people’s heads. It’s about becoming part of their lives, so they can’t live without you. It’s about building proper relationships where you give things as well as just take them.

Real engagement is real life and that’s what Gary’s film shows us.

There’s nothing wrong with Google Glass, but they defined their audience wrongly

Google Glass courtesy of Fast Company
Google Glass courtesy of Fast Company

One of the most important elements of creating a brand is deciding who your audience is. Most of us think we know intuitively. And yet for me, really putting the work in here is often overlooked. The more you understand the needs, thoughts, desires and motivations of your REAL audience, the more fully you can wrap the brand around them. You create something they need before they realise they need it, rather than reacting to others.

So, in the last few weeks, Google have just admitted with Google Glass that they got this audience definition completely wrong at launch. It was aimed at techies and geeks. All of us have probably laughed at someone at a trade show talking to their glasses whilst recording everything they see?

So whilst there has been some celebration in it being scrapped as it has been unpopular with consumers for reasons of privacy invasion, its real use was in a professional environment.

With the need for medical staff to both protect themselves from litigation and bring in external help when they need it, Glass is perfect. It allows a paramedic at a scene to call upon external expertise in an instant. Who would laugh at that? And it also allows a doctor to record every part of a procedure and log it with a patient’s records, in case anything goes wrong, or more positively if anything unexpectedly goes right and they can refer back as to why.

So, good on Google for admitting their mistake and repositioning. It’s not often a product that was given such a big launch and failed is given a second chance. In the longer term, I can see this, or its derivative, becoming standard headwear for anyone who has to deal with the general public.


The risks in Social Media – Direct Line style

It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of security with social media.

We’ve lured a world famous actor to come and be our ‘face’ and recreate the look of Pulp Fiction’s Winston Wolfe.

We’ve produced a great series of TV ads with our new character ‘Mr Wolf’. They are genuinely different ads for the space in which Direct Line operate.

And then they throw it to the real wolves by using sponsored posts all over Facebook and their existing customers get hold of it.

Direct Line Harvey Keitel Mr Wolf. Social Media is more difficult to handle than you think













There are have been 224 comments in the first 14 hours and as far as I can see, every single one of them retells a story of how they have been badly treated by Direct Line or commenting on Harvey Keitel’s decision to work in the insurance market.

For me, this can be nothing but bad for the Direct Line brand. Assuming most people have 250 friends on Facebook, these negative comments have already been seen by at least 50,000 people with a negative endorsement. If you add the 223 shares, this problem could be much worse than it first looks.

Compare this to the number of views on YouTube (only 3,573 after eight days) and you can see that the negative power has been at least FIFTEEN times more effective at reaching people. It may have gone viral, but hardly the type of viral they were hoping for.

One week on and only 3,573 views for the Harvey Keitel ad on YouTube for Direct Line
One week on and only 3,573 views for the Harvey Keitel ad on YouTube for Direct Line

Social media is both friend and foe. If you open yourself up to comments and feedback on such a public platform you need to be 100% sure you can cope with the responses. The old adage of ‘never asking a question you don’t already know the answer to’ may have been a prudent way of thinking before they ran this campaign.

I suspect a few people in the team at Saatchi (who produced the campaign) will be getting an ear bashing for their decision to try and amplify the positive effect of their advertising spend by engaging with Facebook and REAL customers.


Speaking at Blooloop Live

This was a little talk that my good friend Simon Egan and myself delivered at Blooloop Live – the best Industry event for themed attractions across the world. Whilst there is a bit of messing about in it, there’s lots of sensible points hidden in there too.

Norton Anti Virus – Getting it right on Social media

A while ago I laughed at O2 for trying to get down wiv da kids and getting it horribly wrong. What they did was try to speak in the voice of their audience rather than in the voice of their brand .

Norton, on the other hand have stuck to their script and still intervened with one of their customers. This is a far cleverer way of handling it and shows a great choice of strategy for social media. Nice one Norton.

Norton Anti Virus getting down wiv da kids

The new rule of SEO

Matt Cutts - The new rules of SEO I have spent lots of time working on SEO strategies over the last few months. For years it was getting more and more complicated, but now it looks like it’s getting simpler again with the latest article by Matt Cutts of Google which puts an end to pretty much all external link building. So, how do you continue to rank your sites when Google have so much power and how do you try and force your way up the SERPS (search engine results pages)? The simple answer is that you don’t. What you have to do now is build a brilliant product or service, gather great reviews and then encourage social traffic through all of the main channels (including Google+). It’s a slow process, but the old saying ‘grow slow, grow strong’ is now 100% correct for SEO too.

A bit of a problem for the Abercrombie and Fitch brand

When you set out to create a brand you can design in certain criteria. By pricing it high, you exclude certain buying groups, by not even making XL sizes for women, you naturally exclude the larger ladies. They also place ‘beautiful people’ in a state of undress outside their stores as greeters. These decisions form the basis of the whole brand and who you target and appeal to. I am far to old/fat to be in their target audience (but so is their own MD!) and I am now quite proud to say I have never owned any of their products.

Mike Jeffries Abercrombie and Fitch Managing Director
Mike Jeffries Abercrombie and Fitch Managing Director – looking a little like a bad advertisement for facial surgery – and certainly not in his own target audience

But Abercrombie and Fitch have taken this brand separation to a new level by destroying all damaged or returned goods rather than giving them to the homeless, as many other brands do. All very deliberate and all very elitist. the assumption being that seeing homeless people in A&F would embarrass their own beautiful customers.

But here comes the brand backlash. 7.5 million views in less than a month, and growing fast. Watch this space. It may be the next Gerald Ratner moment for the A&F brand.