16 April 2015
The time for Sacrifice
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As far as traditions are concerned, we have just emerged from a period of repentance. The calm and restraint of Holy Week has traditionally been considered a time for self-discipline and self-reflection. What have we not been doing right? What things could we improve? These are just a few of the questions that spring up. This does not only happen to individuals -- brands also examine their consciences.

This is also the case if we consider the latest trends in global brand management. After decades of discourse about evil companies capable of doing anything and everything to make a bit of money, people have started to become aware of the need to work for the common good. And not just any old deed is good enough: a worldwide study by Accenture & Havas Media revealed that 72% of people believe that companies don’t do enough for the planet and society in general. Consumer skepticism has succeeded in ensuring that brands see the benefit of really making a difference and being about action rather than just talk. The effects of many initiatives are starting to be seen via something once seen as unthinkable for a brand: sacrifice.

The good of the individual, the community and the planet

Signs of what was once unheard of are appearing everywhere: downsizing, changes, slogans and product recalls. What is this new age and what is it in reaction to?

Sacrifice for the sake of the individual: British supermarket chain, Tesco, recently announced that it would be removing all chocolate and sweets from cash register areas. Results of a study done by the company clearly revealed that this part of stores was at the root of impulse purchases. In a country in which child obesity is increasing annually and now considered of epidemic proportions, the campaign was seen as a natural response to global awareness and was much appreciated by customers.

Sacrifice for the community: the brand that perhaps most epitomizes Ireland, the beer giant, Guinness, withdrew it sponsorship of New York’s traditional Saint Patrick Day parades in 2014. This was no minor occasion as it is the day Ireland is celebrated the world over. The reason? LGTB groups in Boston had been denied participation with their emblems and flags. “Guinness has a strong tradition of supporting diversity and equality among human beings. We hoped that the exclusive policy would be withdrawn this year”, said a representative of the company who made it clear that there would be no backing down. Six months later, authorities reassessed their policy for the parade this year.

Sacrifice for the planet: after an extensive campaign orchestrated by animal rights organization, PETA, it came to light that angora wool caused unnecessary suffering to rabbits. The video revealing these facts went viral shortly after being released and millions of signatures were collected all over the world demanding a clear response from brands that reap the benefits of its production. The result? The world’s most popular clothing brands, H&M, Top Shop, Mango and ASOS, among others, came to an unprecedented agreement: to withdraw all garments containing angora and ban sales of such products in several European countries.

So it’s not really so much about making large-scale public welfare gestures as it is about making occasional sacrifices in order to contribute to overall improvement. Consumers have changed and now demand social responsibility and the possibility of consuming with a clear conscience. Brands that are willing to identify potential sacrifices that are truly constructive and not just to put on a show and who are able to offer them to their clientele are, in the long run, creating an improved image and promising future for themselves.

14 April 2015
What I’ve learned by looking at more than 100 CVs.
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A few days ago we published an ad, looking to cover an in-house position. Before this, just as we always do, we got in touch with various schools, but as we received relatively few responses, we had to publish the ad on different specialized websites. From that moment on, the avalanche of emails was pretty much constant for a week or two.

It’s not a job I do regularly, and perhaps an HR department would take an altogether different view, but the fact that I received so many resumes and had to choose several candidates from among them to interview, made me think about the advice I would give to my kids, when, in a few years’ time, when they try to enter the job market. And it also made me think about all those folks that might be interested in what I’ve gleaned -- above all young hopefuls.

My advice is as follows:

- A short text in the covering email will suffice. Saying nothing and attaching a CV is the kiss of the death. An exhaustive presentation text is going too far the other way.

- Leaving the “Fwd:” prefix in the subject line or any other indicator that the email has been sent and resent many times is a definite faux pars.

- Always attach a PDF. It’s all well and good adding links in the body of a presentation email, but an attached PDF is essential. This enables the attachment to be printed easily if you are selected for the next phase.

- These days, links in a CV should be activated, so that when clicked upon, they take you to the site in question.

- Images of completed projects aren’t necessary in a CV. On the other hand, do add links that go to a personal website, Behance, etc.

- Never, ever say, “I don’t know you, but you seem great” or phrases of that ilk.

- Have a LinkedIn profile. Mention it, add a link, and above all, don’t contradict yourself with what your CV says and what you put on LinkedIn. I found that various applicants said they had a basic level of English in one place, and in another, claimed they had a high level.

- Many CVs were too similar, and presented in the same style. If you claim that you’re creative, prove it and show that you’re different – within reason.

- If you don’t meet the criteria, don’t waste your time sending your CV. Going back to the question of languages, if a company asks for high-level English and you don’t speak it, you’ll be disqualified immediately.

- Personally, I like it when CVs incorporate a personal photo. It’s a delicate subject. I do understand that they give a first impression of the applicant -- for better or worse, but don’t lie too just because you’re a whizz with Photoshop. If looks aren’t you’re strong point, don’t add a film-star photo. If you’re a little on the heavy side, don’t erase your love handles, and if you’re a mature candidate, don’t try to appear as a spring chicken… and vice-versa.

- I really like CVs where the information is displayed as a timeline, where it’s easy to get an idea of a person’s life.

- And last but not least, another delicate subject: If you want to make a living, logically, you’ll work doing whatever’s up for grabs (Ikea, Decathlon…) but try to work in the field you want to pursue because it will bear fruit further along the line, even if they pay less, or nothing at all. Stick it out for a few months: holding down two or three jobs in the sector in which you wish to work, and adding these positions to your CV, will open more doors for you.

- Ah, and learn English ASAP. If you don’t think you’ve time to do so, bear in mind, that later on you’ll have even less time and it will present even more of a challenge.

23 May 2014
The wondrous act of eating and how one app has revolutionized it
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Food – it’s a rather complex system of structures connoting customs, behaviors, beliefs. There’s the ingredients, the sourcing of ingredients, the recipes, the art of recipe-making, etc etc.

 

Then there’s the experiential element “the eating.” The ritual of eating is, in fact, something that we participate in, consciously or not, multiple times a day. And the culture of eating is somehow engrained in our cultural codes, customs and lifestyle.

 

Take countries like Spain and France. A 1-2 hour lunch break involving a sit down meal is standard, while in the UK and the USA, the popular “eat at your desk” concept is readily adopted for efficiency and brownie points at work.  Then take Israel. Shabbat is central to everything in the country, including the bus schedule and bank hours, affording the entire country to come to a ritualistic standstill every week.

 

It’s no more apparent that contemporary eating practices seem more complicated than ever, demanding a multidimensional analysis that strives not for a reductive overview but for a complex understanding.

 

Here’s a mobile app that has found a clever way to facilitate the practice of eating, taking into account the cultural codes, customs and traditions that bring a dish and a meal to life. What’s fascinating is the way that it has skyrocketed success in one city – Tel Aviv – while still dwindles along the lines of touristy and experimental in another – Barcelona.

Referenced as the Airbnb for breaking bread with locals in their own homes, EatWith defines itself  as “a global community that invites you to dine in homes around the world, connect with amazing hosts, share stories and unforgettable experiences, and enjoy delicious homemade cuisine.”

 

Users create a profile and either sign up to attend EatWith gatherings – lunches, dinners or classes – or become host to their own. The transparency of the app allows users to see who else is attending the gatherings, guests who already ate with that particular host, and reviews from those that have experienced it.

 

From “vegetarian cooking according to ayurvedic medicine”, to a traditional Shabbat dinner, experiences offered by hosts are authentic, social and usually unforgettable.

 

In Tel Aviv, EatWith gatherings are proposed almost every night of the week, attended by up to 50 people per time, while many are simply just sold out.

 

In contrast, EatWith’s second launch city, Barcelona has had a rather different response. While certainly not unsuccessful there, it seems to be more like riding the way of a new initiative that is explored a few times and then slowly fizzles out.  EathWith gatherings pop up on the website a few times a week, and are attended by a handful of eager tourists or those wanting to try something new.

 

What’s different about the Tel Aviv version is that it is has created an enormous buzz around town, becoming popular among locals as much as tourists. In Israel, half of the bookings come from Israelis—like 34-year-old Tel Aviv-based foodie Orly Burstein, who first went for the culinary aspect, but is now hooked on the human element. She has gone to two dinners in Tel Aviv in the past three months. “There are two things that happen that you don’t get in a restaurant,” Burstein explained. “One is that you meet other people; that’s the X-factor. Everything is around the food and the story of the person who’s cooking it, but there’s something that’s not discussed: the fact that there are other people at that evening, strangers, all sharing the same experience. You’re not going to get that in a restaurant or bar. I met some very, very interesting people from around the world that I’d never meet otherwise. You become like a traveler in your own city. That’s the extraordinary experience.”

 

This sort of collaborative consumption is certainly prospering in Tel Aviv for two main reasons: The city dwellers are constantly driven to meet new people. Out almost every night of the week, the outgoing nature of its inhabitants means that EatWith offers a unique option for a night out. That and Tel Aviv’s uber-expensive cost of living, means that people are always on the lookout for more cost-effective experiences,.

For the app’s founder, Guy Michilin, he explains that it all comes down to the people. “The host plays a very important role. If they’re welcoming and hold a crowd, are a good storyteller and know how to bring people together, then everything else falls into place. The food still has to be good, but it’s how people connect.

 

I’m not a foodie, but I love to eat.”

In his own words, Guy distills the distinction between food itself and the experience of eating, which is central to the apps success.

EatWith is about eating, and eating together.

 

 

 

16 May 2014
City Breakers
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I (Heart) New York, LA is my Lady, Sin City, The Windy City, The Big Easy, Motor City – city tags and monikers have existed long before ‘city branding’ became a respected practice. The new era of city branding was born in Barcelona. As almost everyone is aware of, Barcelona reinvented itself as host city for the 1992 Olympic Games, spending millions on improved infrastructure, urban planning, eye catching architecture and street art – a formula that suddenly hurled it from a grimy, off the radar second city to the place everyone wanted to be.

City governments and tourist boards have since tried to imitate the ‘Barcelona effect’ but rarely with the same dramatic result. Perhaps Barcelona’s secret was a mixture of not only physical readiness but emotional as well. After decades of political and cultural repression, Catalans were itching to tell the world ‘We Exist!’. The same can’t be said for Sydney, which was already a confident, modern city before the 2000 Olympic Games hit town.

The Guardian newspaper has recently published a Global City Survey, or breakdown of the strongest city brands, and the results caused a fair bit of media chatter. The report took into account the city’s ‘assets’ (transport, safety, local economy and other factors that contribute to ‘liveability’) as well as media buzz -- which the agency admits gives the results a decidedly western bias. That said, the results were surprising…

LA -- a city long thought of as polluted and crime ridden -- came in at number one, one place ahead of New York. London and Paris scored predictably high, but then so did (unpredictably) Seoul and Las Vegas. Venice, despite being undeniably one of the world’s most beautiful cities and hosting two of the most prestigious international cultural events (the biennale and film festival) was placed below Lima. Copenhagen, generally perceived as one of the ‘coolest’ cities in Europe, was also in the bottom tier (apparently Marrakesh has better infrastructure or at least a larger abundance of luxury, instagram-worthy riads).

In the same newspaper, Sharon Zukin, a professor of sociology at New York’s City University asks just what use do these sort of polls serve (The Guardian is not the first, nor will be the last to invest in them) and  who benefits from the current penchant for ‘city branding’. “In the end, the most important metrics in city branding are increases in property values and tourist spending”, he argues.” Yet these are not necessarily good for city dwellers….”

The makers of ‘Bye Bye Barcelona’ would certainly agree.  This recent documentary shows the downside of the huge increase in tourism in Barcelona, and how it has, over a decade after the 1992 Olympic Games, become a victim of its own popularity. Overall the message is simple, a top tier city maybe a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t necessarily want to live there.

 

 

 

 

5 May 2014
About Face: Selling to (and from) the ‘anti-establishment’.
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Once in a while, a commercial comes along that manages to put into focus pre-established ideologies and makes us question where our own values lie. Such is the case of the new spot for the bank ING Direct in Spain.

The commercial features the images and music of Bob Dylan, musical icon and king pin of the anti-establishment movement. It starts with the famous sequence of Dylan, at the height of his fame in the 1960s, creating a spontaneous, poetic and hilarious play on words from a shop sign (the scene forms part of the Martin Scorcese documentary ‘No Direction Home’) and ends with his battle cry ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ under the title ‘People in Progress’. The message is that ING Direct is the bank for free thinkers (of whatever age) – a flexible, left of centre, ‘different’ institution that speaks your language. The reaction on the web was immediate – with as many loving the simplicity and elegance of the commercial as those opposed to the idea of Dylan selling out to capitalist devil (Although no information is available, it can only be assumed that Dylan received payment for the use of his music, if not his images).

Anyone who has seen the aforementioned documentary will know that Dylan is an incredibly complex and often contradictorily personality. He is also not the first counter culture hero to lend it to the mass marketing machine.  John Lydon, the singer of the sex pistols and punk agitator did it for Country Life Butter whilst Johnny Cash endorsed the fast food chain Taco Bell. From a marketing perspective, the question is do these ads work, or fall flat in their attempt to hip-ify the brand for a new audience.

In the case of ING Direct the answer would have to be a resounding si! The spot was created by the Madrid-based agency Sra. Rushmore, who themselves eschew the slick persona of many advertising agencies in favour for one of a cosy bunch of young, offbeat creatives.  In this interview (in Spanish), the agency’s creative director César García explains how the commercial is a reflection of the evolution of the ING Direct brand. “ING started as ‘sole product’ bank, with its ‘Orange Savings Accounts’. Then little by it became more than a ‘bank’ with new ways of doing things- We wanted the whole world to know that they do things differently.”

By using Dylan to spread this message the agency has done so eloquently and admirably. And has shown that when it comes to appropriating our cultural icons for different scenarios, the times really are a’ changin.