Damien Hirst divides the art world. No one thinks him a good artist, of course. But there are those who despise him for his commercialism, and those who recognise the ingenuity of the man and his innate sense of self-promotion and salesmanship. The apotheosis of this was undoubtedly Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, the infamous Sotheby’s auction held on the eve of the global recession. The diamond skull that was the centrepiece of the auction was described as a “vulgar publicity stunt” by The Economist. In the auction’s aftermath, the market for his works “bottomed out”; sales performed poorly versus the contemporary art market as a whole (see chart below). Despite such schadenfreunde, it was satisfying to read a positive review for the artist’s new retrospective, “Relics”, which opened last month in Doha. The exhibition is part of a major push by Qatar to make itself culturally relevant abroad. Indeed, the physical context in which the pieces are set do apparently allow the viewer to judge them anew, without all the tabloid baggage the artist’s works usually bring with them. But concessions have had to be made too:
“In a country where Muslim clerics hold sway, the titles of these works, many of which feature the word “God”, have not been translated into Arabic. Mr Hirst sees the sense in this, admitting that he wants his art to be “provocative in the right way”. Nudes are also virtually banned from public view.”
In an increasingly homogenised culture – by which we simply mean one where content from one nation is easily accessible and ultimately transferable to another – what does being “provocative in the right way” mean?
In New York, such questions were similarly asked in recent months, in particular at the city’s two opera houses. One, the New York City Opera, recently filed for bankruptcy. The house has long been suffering from financial difficulties, and despite a last-minute Kickstarter campaign that raised $300,000+ in a short space of time, the curtain will fall on this institution. Its strategy seemed sound – to not be, rather than to beat, the competition, in this case the Metropolitan Opera. In pursuing this end, they often used American singers and often produced avant-garde works, the most recent and famous of which was undoubtedly Anna Nicole, about a Playboy model who captured the hearts of America’s flyover states before meeting her tragic end. Such courage should be commended, and in a just world, rewarded, but sadly it was not to be. Indeed, the City Opera lost its biggest donor entirely because of this production.
The other of New York’s opera houses, The Metropolitan Opera, a stalwart of tradition, is battling with political ramifications that are happening thousands of miles away. In June this year, in another blow to any sense of fledgling democracy in Russia, President Putin signed into law an act that restricted discussion or promotion of homosexual acts, labelling such things “propaganda”. The New York Times cites one Anton Krasovsky, “a television anchor who was immediately fired from his job at the government-controlled KontrTV network in January after he announced during a live broadcast that he is gay, saying he was fed up with lying about his life and offended by the legislation”. Such news quickly became internationally relevant when mixed messages came from the Kremlin as to whether openly gay athletes would be welcomed at the Sochi Olympic Games next year. Boycotts are being considered. Just as there are openly gay people in sports, so in the arts. The controversy settled on the Metropolitan Opera as it prepared to launch its new season with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. The new law, the almost universally acknowledged fact that the composer was homosexual, as well as the presence of talent (soprano Anna Netrebko and conductor Valery Gergiev) that were known Putin sympathisers, served to create a perfect storm. It was not long before opera fans were pleading with the Met to dedicate its opening night performance in support of homosexuals. Gergiev, an indisputably great conductor, as well as being a “close Putin ally”, according to the Financial Times, has long been dogged by rumours of political favours from the President, and protesters are becoming increasingly vocal. His claim on his Facebook page that the law targeted pedophiles, not homosexuals, pleased few. The stubbornness was mirrored by the Met. Writing an article for Bloomberg, Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met, attempted to clarify why the house wouldn’t “bow to protest”. Gelb conceded he personally deplored the new law, as much as he deplored the 76 countries that go even further than Russia currently by completely outlawing homosexuality. He went on,
“But as an arts institution, the Met is not the appropriate vehicle for waging nightly battles against the social injustices of the world.”
Clearly, Gelb is declaring that such a mention before the performance would not have been – to return to Hirst’s words – “provocative in the right way”. But just as we have called it a perfect storm of political and cultural affiliations, was this not also the perfect opportunity for such a tremendously important institution to take a stand for those people who do not have such a prominent pulpit? Gelb asserts that the house has never dedicated a single performance to a political or social cause. Progressive thinking and innovation rarely develops from such thinking. Moreover, the Met has stood up for the rights of the marginalised in the past when it refused to play in front of black/white segregated audiences. So a precedent exists, which arguably is not being lived up to.
It would be naive to avoid acknowledging the pitfalls in the knee-jerk use of the arts to constantly promote change and stand against discrimination. In some cases, such calls to action can fall on deaf ears, or worse, provoke outrage that costs the institution and earns it an unfortunate reputation. Such damage to a reputation can be financially devastating (the New York City Opera is to an extent an example of this), which apart from anything else rules out any future opportunities to make such important statements. These organisations are, whether for profit or no, ultimately businesses that cannot afford to support every cause, no matter how relevant. Arts organisations have the rare distinction of often being at the intersection of culture, politics and money (which can often make for a murky combination). Perhaps what is needed is an entirely new fundraising model. Monied interests will usually be conservative in their tastes (why would someone want to change the status quo that allowed them to get where they are?). Increased use of crowdfunding, such as the City Opera briefly used with Kickstarter, will surely play a far greater role in the years to come. Such efforts could go some way to negating the worry of avoiding a few vested interests. What an organisation should or should not publicly speak out on must always rest with the individual situation, as well as how any statement is phrased, which does not necessarily need to condemn a party. As Andrew Rudin, the composer who started the petition to ask the Met to make a statement, implored, “I’m not asking them to be against anybody. I’m asking them to be for somebody”.
What a fantastic ad from Channel 4 advertising their showcasing of the Paralympic Games, beginning soon. Meanwhile, what of the Olympics? Though there have been tales of Tube and travel chaos, Zeitgeist has not personally experienced problems with public transport, either for commuting or for travelling to the Games themselves. And while our mayor may have been left dangling like a pinata the other day, he certainly seems not to have left London in the lurch in its preparedness for the Games.
LOCOG, however, have had to face two severe lines of questioning since the Games opened last Friday. The first, which became immediately apparent to anyone watching the first few days of events, was that thousands of seats were unoccupied, including for events LOCOG had deemed sold out. The fault, it seemed, lay mainly with the Olympic Family, who weren’t turning up to events. Seb Coe tried to shrug off the incident, saying it was normal for the few first events of an Olympic Games. It must be particularly galling for him though after the same thing happened in the 2008 Games in Beijing and he pledged to avoid such an occurrence in London. It is unfortunate then for all concerned then that, despite releasing more tickets, the problem is still not resolved as of today.
Moreover, this brings us to the second big problem. The selling of tickets. The whole balloting system originally set up was pretty arcane and inefficient to begin with. But now with tickets being released on a rolling basis throughout the day, the chaos is all the more apparent. Yesterday, eConsultancy published an excellent article with a blow-by-blow account of just why “the Olympic ticketing website is so bad”. Worst, for Zeitgeist, was firstly not having a mobile version / mobile-optimised site. Secondly it was not having anything informing users of when certain tickets became available. Thankfully, as in any well-functioning democratic society, where there is a market failure, substitute products or competitors will come in to correct the situation. Such was the case at the weekend, when the completely unofficial @2012TicketAlert account was launched on Twitter, which used automated tweets to alert followers when any Olympic tickets became available. It was a fantastic idea, and seemed much in keeping with the ‘hack’ trend we see nowadays, when companies like Microsoft and Transport for London open up their APIs for users to develop their own programs. Such examples clearly had not occurred to LOCOG though, and earlier this evening, after amassing over 8,000 followers, LOCOG denied the @2012TicketAlert account further access. As the administrator of the account, Adam, wrote,
It seems a poor PR move on LOCOG’s part, and more importantly a poor operational move because it makes it that much harder again to check for newly available tickets. Taking into account the immense budget that must have been allocated to the ticketing website, the result is severely lacking, and many thousands of people have been put off the Olympic experience because of it. Ticketmaster, which has branding on the website, has also come under fire. These acts, as we predicted in an earlier article, may well be the undoing of those involved, for, once lost, a good reputation is hard to recover.
As the clock in Trafalgar Square ticks down, so the fearful anticipation of the impact 250,000 extra people will have on London’s already struggling transport network has risen to a level not seen since the prophecies of doom surrounding the Millennium Bug.
Thirteen years ago we were warned that planes would drop out of the sky and nuclear power plants would meltdown due to antiquated software, written when the memory used up by a couple of digits was a precious resource, being unable to cope with the new millennium. As it turns out, it was either a real false alarm or people got their houses in order well in advance.
This time we might not be so lucky. How can a service for who a perfect day is an annual event be expected to cope with so many additional passengers, many of whom will be using it for the first time?
In preparation, over the last couple of weeks, commuters have had messages announcing delays punctuated by a recording of Mayor of London Boris Johnson asking us to make alternative travel arrangements and to get ready for ‘The Big One’.
So, while transport workers will get bonuses to help them cope with the stress of having to do their jobs over the Olympics, ordinary commuters many of whom have paid thousands for annual travelcards in advance will get no compensation – maybe it’s time for a Passengers Union – for not being able to get to their workplace.
A conspiracy theorist might conclude that all the warnings and scaremongering are an attempt to create a sort of tipping point for working from home whereby employers and employees who are able to use this option do so, realise how convenient it is and begin to do so more often, thus reducing the strain on the network in the long run.
When ‘on-time’ is ‘late’ and ‘good’ is ‘not good’
The recent revelation that fewer than 70% of UK trains run on time will not have surprised many who travel by rail despite train companies usually reporting much higher punctuality rates (they give themselves a larger margin of ‘lateness’).
Such fanciful redefinitions of what is ‘on-time’ do little to win the trust of travellers who must feel persecuted that when so few trains are officially late, why is it always theirs that is?
At the moment it is exclusively based on time and staff have discretion as to when to declare delays. For example, this article from the BBC highlights that a nine minute delay could still be deemed a good service.
But ask people to describe their journeys underground and as well as tardiness, they will complain about overheated and overcrowded trains.
Given the choice between getting somewhere ten minutes later in relative comfort or arriving earlier but having nearly melted on the way, many commuters would choose the former. Maybe we could be informed that ‘The Bakerloo line is running with a good but severely overcrowded service’ to help us pick how we want to get from A to B and to reduce the burden on overcrowded lines.
For all the fretting, there is little that can be done at this stage. We can only hope the ‘Big One’ is such an enjoyable experience that the abiding memory of the London Olympics is of athletes reaping the rewards of years of effort and not visitors suffering the consequences of years of underinvestment.
Dost thou know what reputation is?
I ’ll tell thee,—to small purpose, since the instruction
Comes now too late.
Upon a time Reputation, Love, and Death,
Would travel o’er the world; and it was concluded
That they should part, and take three several ways.
Death told them, they should find him in great battles,
Or cities plagu’d with plagues: Love gives them counsel
To inquire for him ’mongst unambitious shepherds,
Where dowries were not talk’d of, and sometimes
’Mongst quiet kindred that had nothing left
By their dead parents: “Stay,’ quoth Reputation,
‘Do not forsake me; for it is my nature,
If once I part from any man I meet,
I am never found again.’
– Duchess of Malfi, III, ii
Zeitgeist went to see Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic last month, a brilliant production, and was reminded of this fantastic quotation when thinking of the upcoming Olympic Games soon to descend on London. Though arguably less ephemeral than the brand of today’s salubrious celebrities – written about recently in Vanity Fair – the Games can hardly be said to provide any quantifiable burgeoning of brand to host countries of the past (except perhaps for Barcelona). As The Economist adroitly put it the other week, “When asked why the United States is a fine place, few would instinctively mention its hosting of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.”
Are Britain’s current economic woes related to anything that might be solved by hosting an Olympics? Probably not. Will the Games, much like the bloody affairs of ancient Rome, serve to please and distract the hordes? More likely. The Games themselves will have to be good enough to overcome the pre-event controversies of massive over-spending, Zil lanes, anti-missile protests and Olympic torches on eBay. Otherwise, as the above quotation describes, the reputation of many will be lost forever.
When you’re attempting to convey the virtues of buying confectionery, what is it that you want to communicate? Well, seeing as the product is most likely sugary in nature, mentioning or alluding to exercise or health is likely to be a no-no. And while Cadbury may be a principle sponsor of the Olympic Summer Games next year in London, seeing the Olympic rings on the side of a Crunchie Easter Egg does smack a little of incongruity, if not deceit.
Not taking yourself too seriously might also be an advantage then. Throw in some consumer research too as to what it is about your product that people enjoy the most. Above all, create a moment of magic for the consumer; show that by buying your product, they will be temporarily whisked away from temporal cares and troubles. With a very silly theme, the cognisance of a key attribute of their product, and the moment of magic, Rowntrees have really done jolly well in creating a very watchable ad for their Fruit Pastilles, one that brings a smile to Zeitgeist’s face. Kudos.
Poor usability and how brands and local authorities can work together for mutual benefit
One of the irritating side effects to working in the marketing industry is the unintentional automatic evaluation and critique of pretty much any form of communication we are exposed to.
And so last night in Casa Zeitgeist there was an unneccesary sense of frustration when reading a seemingly harmless and well-meaning letter from Watford Borough Council explaining the new ‘Communal Recycling Station’.
The front of letter introduced the new recycling scheme and explained the introduction of new communal bins with bright colourful stickers that would leave residents in no doubt as to what kind of waste went into each recepticle.
On the back was a ‘Handy Recycling Guide’ with tables showing which items did and, just as importantly, didn’t go in each bin.
Cunningly printed on the back of the original letter to save paper, the guide offered the opportunity to forever associate each colour with the appropriate contents.
At agencies we go on (and on and on and on) about the shopper journey and how effective communications can prompt behaviour change.
Whether this also happens are local councils is not known.
However, if the desired reaction to receiving the ‘Handy Recycling Guide’ was for thousand of households to pin it up on kitchen noticeboards or to take down beloved childrens artwork so that it could take pride of place on the fridge, one has to ask ‘Why the hell is it in black and white?‘
The sheet, reproduced below, misses a huge trick in usability terms. By saving money on coloured ink the council has made the guide a lot less user friendly as each colour is pointlessly represented by a slightly different shade of gray.
With spending cuts dominating the news the council’s decision to reduce spending on ink might be commended by some while others will point to increased environmental damage caused by coloured ink.
This would miss the point. The purpose of the letter is to introduce a new policy and encourage compliance. Doing it properly first time reduces the need for follow up letters and spoiled bins where people have thrown in general waste where there should only be glass or paper.
Making the most out of bad luck
While the council may have to cut its cloth ever smaller there is a fantastic opportunity to turn adversity into something positive.
Around the land there are plenty of brands for whom recycling is a topic of huge interest. They spend great deals of money communicating their ethical policies and would most likely jump at the chance to get their logo pinned up in kitchens around the land.
Identifying such a partner who would provide the required budget for some coloured ink in exchange for the guide being co-branded would not only save the council money but also increase the likelihood of residents changing their waste disposal behaviour.
As it is, the guide is only really fit for the bin. If only I could work out which one it should go in.
Retailers and brands in dire need of some Sexual Equality
Thanks to an increasing number of ill-advised comments by Andy Gray and Richard Keys and declarations by MP Dominic Raab that men get a raw deal from ‘obnoxious feminist bigots’, sexual equality has suddenly become such a hot topic across the UK that the economy-ruining snow has melted away.
However, before we start preaching about how middle-aged sports presenters need to brush up with what is and isn’t an acceptable way to behave in 2011, we may want to look closely at our own industry and address the outdated way many brands and retailers still deal with the reality of the modern male shopper.
The conclusions of a recent study by Saatchi & Saatchi X suggest that just as women are fully entitled to get offside decisions as wrong as their male colleagues regularly do, so men are encroaching onto the traditionally female territory of ‘shopping’.
The study further implies that the failure to create retail experiences that appeal to men’s needs limits their engagement and that we need a much better understanding of the whole male purchase journey. Their Director of Strategy Simon Goodall notes,
“Men love doing things they can do well. They like opportunities to demonstrate mastery, which means they like to go into a shopping environment knowing the answers to questions they might want to ask.”
Goodall also believes that retailers ought to do more to help men find the information that they need to make decisions before they reach the check out.
This view supports the findings of OgilvyAction’s 2008 global study examining the decisions that shoppers made in store. Managed and analysed across EMEA by yours truly, this research suggested that across a range of categories, UK males were generally less likely than females to know which brand they are going to buy before entering the store.
Anything that helps with that decision making process should be considered.
Craig Inglis, Marketing Director at John Lewis states that men dwell less than women when shopping and are more rational and pragmatic in their shopping habits. Thus, male-oriented areas of the store should be clean and modernist with obvious signposting to help men navigate their way around the store.
However, brands and retailers can begin to engage men long before they reach the store. Goodall cites Best Buy’s ‘Twelpforce’, which offers advice on Twitter as an effective example of a retailer engaging with men and empowering them with the information they crave.
Twelpforce: A good example of engaging men
What’s more, cracking the male shopper is something that will only grow in importance.
Yahoo’s Director of Research and Insights, Lauren Weinberg, commented that while panellists may have inflated their involvement in purchase decisions, male customers’ perceptions of, and interest in, shopping are changing fast.
Regardless of whether some respondents exaggerated their role or not, the results indicate that gender boundaries are disappearing and modern households no longer see grocery shopping as a ‘womans job’.
Within the set that is ‘Male Shoppers’, we also need to understand the different mindsets men have across different categories, retail environments and lifestages. For example, the Yahoo! study found that fatherhood was influential with 60% of dads claiming to be the decision maker across a range of categories including pet care, clothing and packaged goods.
All of this means that brands need to think not only about who they target, but also how they represent men in their adverts.
Domino’s Pizza: Not such a good way to get men onside
Not only do such depictions alienate men, but a 2010 multinational study by EuroRSCG found that there was a “pining for chivalry” from women in the developed world and that “young people want to see demonstrations of male strength and responsibility.”
Chivas attempt to celebrate chivalry
Dove celebrate ‘being a man’
Even a seemingly harmless campaign like P&G’s “Behind Every Olympic Athlete is an Olympic Mom“ Winter Olympics ads resulted in grumbling from underappreciated dads, who still make up the vast majority of volunteer coaches for youth sports.
There is clearly still plenty to learn about engaging male shoppers effectively, though with the Yahoo! research finding that men are more brand-loyal and less focused on promotions than female shoppers the rewards for those who are successful are huge.
Either way, just as it has become clear that old dressing room banter is no longer appropriate in a TV studio, so it is equally apparent that failing to engage such an influential and lucrative proportion of shoppers is just as unacceptable.
Charles de Gaulle once commented, “China is a big country, inhabited by many Chinese.” As astute as this observation was (and is), it was hoped that a trip that Zeitgeist paid to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum ten days ago, entitled ‘Going Global: Advertising Works UK China 2010’, might provide a little more insight. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising described the morning as,
A conference in association with UKTI and linked to London Design Festival looking at the value of advertising and how the UK can act as a creative hub to Chinese brands seeking to go global.
Hosted by the IPA, the conference involved talks from a series from numerous luminaries from Ogilvy, BBH, McCann Erickson and JWT. Our emcee for the morning, IPA Director of Marketing Ms Janet Hull, noted that the UK was the fourth largest market in the world for ad expenditure. Ms Hull also talked about the increasing interaction between UK and China advertising; senior BBH and M&C Saatchi people have been on IPA visits throughout China over the past 18 months.
The great Rory Sutherland (whom Zeitgeist has mentioned in previous articles on behavioural economics and neuromarketing) was next up, speaking in an introductory manner to the morning’s proceedings, stressing that “value is subjective”, that it is created at the point of consumption. Added value exists mostly in the mind, he went on, not in the physical atrributes – “the atoms” of your product. He gave luxury brands as an example of this. He also pointed out that China currently has six brands in the top 100 (six years ago they only had one), according to WPP’s BrandZ survey (which Zeitgeist played a small part in helping develop). He foresees many more Chinese brands entering this pantheon in the next few years. One of those brands is China Mobile, and it was the Chief Representative of this company, Henry Ge, who would speak next.
Launched in 1995, China Mobile is now a $53bn brand. A recent survey conducted revealed 74% customer satisfaction with the brand, higher than any landline or mobile provider in the US. Curiously, not only do they have a very high loyalty rate, they also have a very high return rate, suggesting that perhaps of those who do leave, most will come back. Mr. Ge talked next about brand strategy, talking about how the company offered different plans (divided by pricing, services and rewards) in order to exploit customer segementation, while also seeking differentiation from competition and pricing for sustainable growth. Also of interest was to hear the development of the brand’s USP over the last ten years. In 2000, the brand’s selling point was coverage. In 2010, it’s platform, referring to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS, as well as more specifically mobile shops and apps. The future? Well, according to Mr. Ge, the future is all about experience, putting the consumer in control. Nothing new you might think; it will depend on how China Mobile and others execute this. It gels well with a recent article in the New York Times which stated “spending money for an experience… produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff”. Of course, as a company comprised principally of engineers, Mr. Ge confessed that those at China Mobile would be understandably nervous about such a shift in power.
Orlando Hooper-Greenhill, Director of Global Planning at JWT spoke next on HSBC, aka Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, set up in 1865. Any regular traveller would be able to tell you of the bank’s perpetual presence on “jet bridges” – the bits linking the airport to the plane – the idea behind which, Orlando stated, was to say goodbye to you as you left one country, and for it to be the first thing that says hello in a new country. HSBC’s proposition rests on the suggestion that even though their offices are spread the world over, they still provide superior service through their local knowledge. This was exemplified when Orlando showed the room two TV ads for HSBC, one from the US and one from China. Zeitgeist has had a terrible time tracking down the Chinese ad, and at the time of publication Orlando hadn’t responded to our request for where we could get our hands on a copy to post here. Needless to say the ads demonstrated an insight into each audience that it was targeting more than simply laying its cards on the table as to what services the bank could provide. He also presented the audience with a fascinating graphic, which Zeitgeist did manage to track down, see below. It puts into context just what a large audience is waiting out there for your advertising messages (albeit an audience with some maturing to do still).
Next up was Li Fangwu, Assistant Secretary General of the China Advertising Association. He began by mentioning that it was in 1978 when the ad industry as we know it (or don’t) today was “restored”, presumably as part of the Beijing Spring, currently with 170,000 agencies and over a million employees, which is quite staggering. However, Mr. Fangwu was forthcoming as he showed that year-on-year advertising turnover had declined since 2005, which made Zeitgeist realise that China is not completely immune to the effects of a recession. Most amazing was the advertising law dating from 1994, currently under revision. The levels of bureaucracy involved in getting advertisements legally processed was stupefying. Hopefully the blurry pictures below of the numerous government bodies needed to rubber-stamp their approval of a campaign gives an impression of the dizzying complexity currently involved. The word ‘byzantine’ comes to mind.
Nick Blunden of Profero was up next, who spent part of the beginning of the conference polishing up his presentation sat on the row in front of Zeitgeist and a colleague. Mr. Blunden was full to the brim with interesting, topical statistics proving the oft-proved power of the Internet etc. One of the more interesting stats was that smartphone handsets will find their way into the hands of 250m pairs of hands this year, quite a figure. Among some of the more innovative and intriguing case studies he mentioned were Pepsi’s superb Refresh campaign, Lufthansa’s MySkyStatus and Diageo’s Windsor campaign in Korea. Last but certainly not least was Chris Macdonald, CEO of McCann Erickson did his best to convince Zeitgeist that he shouldn’t shoot off to the Cote d’Azur when the Olympics (and the unwashed masses in their millions) descend upon London in 2012. An informative talk all round, and surely but a taste of things to come as China’s sphere of influence grows.