20 November 2014
Damned if you do
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Should brands bow down to social media ‘bullying’? Fleurieu Milk & Yoghurt Company, a small dairy in South Australia, has provided a good case in point. In order to secure a contract with Emirates Airlines, Fleurieu was obliged to stamp its yoghurt range with a Halal certification. Little did the company know that this would trigger a hate campaign.

Australia has a vocal anti-Muslim fringe. After the Halal-certification became known, Fleurieu was swamped with hate mail and its Facebook page became a sounding board for racist and bigoted sentiment. The company, citing fear for their staff and loss of revenue, was ‘forced’ to drop the certification, thus losing the contract.

Fleurieu isn’t the only brand that has received the wrath of anti-Halal lunacy in Australia. Four n’ Twenty Pies, a classic snack food down under, has also been a target. (With Indonesia a major trading partner, Halal foods is a booming business in Australia). But blessed with greater resources, their reaction has been calm, patient and considered. Each negative tweet or Facebook post has been answered personally, pointing out that Halal pies only make up 5% of their range, so the great Aussie icon is far from in danger of becoming Islam-ified.

Dealing with adverse social media is testing for any brand. As this article points out, there are no hard and fast rules, though in general, digital bullies should be dealt with in the same way as any other. Knowing when to respond (on a personal level), walk away or simply delete is key. Yet brands and their marketing departments are also in a unique position to turn the abuse into something engaging and entertaining, as these examples show. Sometimes just a witty tweet will suffice (Old Spice to Taco Bell: ‘Why is it that ‘fire sauce’ isn’t made from real fire? Seems like false advertising.’ Taco Bell to Old Spice: ‘Is your deodorant made with really old spices’?)

Fleurieu found themselves in the eye of the anti-Halal storm when South Australia’s investment and trade minister declared that prejudice had no place in Australia and urged brands to resist cyber bullying.

So in hindsight what could this small, local company have done? Creating an ally with Emirates themselves (a competition for flights for example) or providing an on-line platform for considered Halal debate are just two routes they could have taken.

Fleurieu’s Facebook page is still filled with odious comments, with as many lauding their decision as those criticizing them for bowing down to the bigots. Either way, the company has unfortunately, in many eyes, lost credibility.

So is responding to cyber bullies a case of ‘Damned if you do and damned if you don’t’?. No – it’s a unique opportunity to get your brand’s creative juices flowing, so always better if you do.

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.

 

 

24 April 2014
Is it really possible that technology can improve your health?
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In some parts of the world, the concept of a gym is a ridiculous proposition. Particularly in countries where agriculture is abundant and farming is a way of life, people work and interact in harmony with their natural environments, integrating health and fitness organically. The notion of going inside a room, to run on a machine that doesn’t move, and pay money for it, is strange and ostracizing.

Yet in many parts of the world, this man-made construct -- the gym -- is an accepted habitat necessary to become connected with one’s body and one’s health. While gyms are nothing new, other man-made health-saving constructs are on the rise, with 2014 witnessing the greatest shift towards technological inventions that are predicted to improve our health: mobile apps.

According to the International Herald Tribune, 500 million mobile users, or about 30% of an estimated 1.4 billion smartphone subscribers worldwide, will be using health and fitness apps by 2015.

The Apple’s US App store itself currently shows 43,689 healthcare-related apps. Predictions indicate that these health apps will grow from 154 million downloads in 2010 to 908 million by 2016, and the number of wearable wireless “gadgets” will grow from 8 million to 72 million over the same period.

Impressive numbers. So what are these apps all about? The apps themselves cover all sorts of health-related issues.

Popular ones this year include, MapMyWalk (http://www.mapmywalk.com/), which tracks the pace and timing of walking, while Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale (http://withings.com/en/bodyanalyzer)  tracks weight, BMI and body-fat mass, transmitting those details to a personally-password protected web site. Then there’s Fitocracy Macros (http://www.fitocracy.com/knowledge/macros-101/), an app that tracks calories one takes in from macronutrients.

Essentially, what these apps seem to have in common is some sort of tracking system: a way to monitor one’s own well-being, while providing an information platform, triggering the popular consumer behaviors of control and prevention.

 

Wellness has become about prevention:

It’s nothing new that the Western world is entering an enormous health care crisis, with obesity and diabetes’ rates higher than ever, and the focus of preventative care becoming central to a better health system.

These mobile apps allow us to move health care out of hospitals and medical centers and into our everyday lives. It’s already happening with the rise of apps that allow us to monitor our bodies from the inside, offering us more information, insight and control over our lifestyles.

The next question to consider is: if we know more about our bodies, can we save them? Or all these apps just another form of entertainment and coercion to buy more things?

 

If we consider the gym trend, has the rise of these fitness centers actually helped us towards healthier lifestyles, or simply allowed us to control them more?

 

While gyms and apps and other commodities allow us to control our bodies more, brands will need to provide a more legitimate sense of health security to create a shift in health care statistics.