Friday, June 29, 2007

Laugh and the world...

Someone once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people”. If your job is to try and make connections with consumers, then that thought has to make you sit up and take notice. We start to laugh when we are around four months old – and (most of us) don’t stop. What an amazing human quality laughter is. Contagious, relaxing, sociable. There’s even academic research that reveals that laughter is how we show we want to be friendly. With all that running in its favor, who’s surprised that advertising has always used the power of laughter? Check out http://www.veryfunnyads.com/ for recent examples from around the world.

I’m thinking about laughter right now because I suspect that what makes us laugh, like everything else, is changing. It is no longer enough for advertising to throw funny lines out to an audience like a desperate stand-up comic. At best that becomes boring, and at worst it alienates people altogether. From what I see, humor today is becoming more interactive. Now, that does not mean you put a funny story up on the Web and we all vote for the punch-line that makes us laugh most. What it does mean is that the tone of humor is shifting. It’s tending to become more ambiguous, more random, and to me, more emotional. Those emotions often play with our embarrassment or simple confusion (TV shows like The Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm have got it absolutely right) on behalf of the characters.

We are more like participants in the action rather than observers, and the emotion of empathy is absolutely central. This is why YouTube thrives on people sharing what makes them laugh with their friends. Humor brings us together, allows us to drop our guard and open up to new ideas. If you want to make connections with people, what better place to start?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

6 billion Others

Recently someone sent me a link to 6billionothers created by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. I know his earlier book The Earth from the Air well. It struck an immediate chord with me. Here was someone who could look down on the planet and see the same emotional patchwork that I saw as I looked out of countless airplane windows. Arthus-Bertrand’s latest project explores another important emotional idea - storytelling. 6billionothers is an amazing archive of stories told by people all over the world. Best of all, these stories come to us in full sight, sound and motion. We can watch as these people share their thoughts, experiences, dreams and stories.

Arthus-Bertrand and his team visited 65 countries, interviewed 6,000 people, and produced 450 hours of video portraits. The results are inspirational, often heart wrenching, and always compelling. I will keep returning to this site to follow this growing mosaic of human experience. Here are some revealing statements from the people interviewed on the subjects of dreams, family and happiness.

“For everyone to have enough food, receive medical care and have a decent home. That's the good life. When you have everything and your neighbor has nothing, you aren't happy in life.”
-Indonesia

"Man is made to develop love towards others and family is where he can have his first try. There's no interest in just living for oneself. It's like being a black bulb. You bring light to no one."
-Moscow, Russia

"There is a secret in music. If you have a problem, once you start listening to music, you'll feel the happiness deep down in your heart."
-South Africa

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Travel Connections


I’ve always taken a personal interest in the travel agency business. The first reason is because I travel so much, and the second is that my wife Ro worked in the industry for a long time. Over the years I watched many travel agencies struggle against the onslaught of the internet. In the 1980s, agencies booked nearly 80 percent of all airline tickets, but by the mid-1990s many were struggling to survive. Their challenge was simple: how to protect their expertise from being commodified big-time. At the same time as commissions were being squeezed, travelers were gaining confidence and going it alone. They learned how to do their own research, make their own bookings, and share experiences without any help from travel agents. The word ‘agency’ is a flashing red light: Watch out! Risk of commodification ahead. If your job is to act on behalf of someone, there is a lot more room for competitors – whether they are software or cheaper and faster new guys – to get in between you and your customers.

I feel the pain of the travel industry. We changed Saatchi & Saatchi from an advertising agency into an ideas company because of similar threats. From a model based on margins and percentages, travel agents are headed to the brave new world of people paying for their ideas. They are changing from an information business (which the collective might of the Internet does better than even the smartest travel expert) into an empathy business of foresight and imagination (which the Internet still struggles with). Knowing stuff is easy. Knowing the right stuff and how to connect it emotionally with people is another. Language matters, so I think that travel agents should not just change what they do, but change who they are. From Travel Agents, to Travel Reagents. It’s just like you learned in high school chemistry - reagents are the ones you use to create a reaction in combination with some other substance. The travel people that excel in the coming years will be the ones with an intimate understanding of the personalities, interests and passions of their customers. They have to come so close to our dreams that their prescience seems uncanny. It is no longer enough to book someone who’s into art into a hotel near an art museum. People are starting to expect their hotel to have decent art on display, to know the most helpful dealers in town, to have introductions to interesting private collections, to be able to get a room in an art fair town that is overbooked every year.

How will we know when we have found a great Travel Reagent? Try these three questions:

1. Have they ever called you unannounced and suggested an expedition that makes you think, “How did they know I’ve always wanted to do that?” It could be the Galapagos Islands in the mating season or the October get-together in Marfa, Texas, but only people with empathy for these special passions know why they are so important.

2. On your return from a trip, have they ever listened very carefully to what you had to say – and taken notes?

3. And finally, here’s a radical one, have they ever been some place you’ve been to first, simply because they trust your judgment.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

If music be the food of love, dance on

I traveled across to London yesterday to meet with Tony Wadsworth and his EMI team in the UK. Under Tony’s leadership, and with Ronn Werre’s passionate pioneering, we (Saatchi & Saatchi) have just put together a first for the industry in a partnership with EMI. The first project out of the box? We have been appointed to market the entire Beatles back catalog globally. How do you like them onions!

On the way to the meeting, I was listening to stuff recently added to the playlist on my iPod. Four albums are staples for me this week. Springsteen’s Live In Dublin, with the Sessions band, is his best album since Born to Run. The Boss keeps growing and keeps reaching out to more and more people. Recently, I had a session with David Lauren and the Ralph Lauren team on ‘American Living’, their new concept for JCPenney. If anybody epitomizes this quality, it’s Springsteen. Ok, you can’t beat the E Street Band; but the band Springsteen has with him playing the Seeger Sessions is the next best thing. The album combines some amazing favorites like 'Atlantic City' and staples I was brought up on in the Pete Seeger days. 'Deep Protests' has been completely updated and hammered home; Springsteen on top form musically and vocally. Thinking about it, 'How Can A Poor Man Stand In Such Times And Live', is probably seventy years old now but has been updated so it can rage at today’s US political environment. I never tire of hearing 'We Shall Overcome' – it takes me back to more innocent times – and The Boss’ duet with Mrs. Springsteen on 'If I Should Fall Behind' is one of the great love songs of all times.

Here’s a leap. Springsteen to Springfield. Dusty Springfield was the first of the UK pop divas and the first white woman to sing with a black voice. The BBC have dusted (that’s not the worst pun that’s ever been made) off their archives and put together the best of her music from 1962 to 1970. The big songs are sung beautifully from 'I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself' to 'In the Middle of Nowhere' and 'You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me'. Then there is the Bee Gees' 'To Love Somebody', a track I had never heard from Dusty before. Apparently she recorded it for her greatest album Dusty In Memphis, but somehow the tape got lost in a fire. Typical of the times. Don’t miss it this time round.

A contemporary of Dusty’s, but from Queens, New York, was Mary Weiss, the lead singer of the Shangri-Las. Who will ever forget 'Leader of the Pack' and 'Remember'. I’ve always considered Mary the forerunner to people like Debbie Harry and Cyndi Lauper, but with a more dangerous sexy edge (very Queens!). Forty years on, she has finally released a solo album. The track 'Heaven Only Knows' is sensational.

And finally, iTunes have at last put The Traveling Willburys’ two albums into play. My great friend and colleague, Jim O’Mahony, alerted me to this and I downloaded them on the spot. I’m going out to Virgin this morning to buy the ‘got-to-have’ three disc deluxe set which has previously unreleased bonus tracks. Twenty years ago, The Traveling Willburys, Vol. 1 appeared with one of the world’s greatest songs, 'Tweeter And The Monkey Man'. And can you believe it the song is now a tv show! On top of that, 'Dirty World', 'Congratulations', 'Last Night', 'Margarita', and 'End Of The Line' are all just brilliant. To top this all off, Roy Orbison steals the show on 'Not Alone Anymore', which puts 'Pretty Woman' and 'Running Scared' into the shade.

Was that flight to London six hours? I barely noticed.

A bigger idea than advertising

The other day I was asked the difference between branding and advertising. It’s a good question. At Saatchi & Saatchi we believe advertising is just one of the many ways that brands come alive to consumers. Successful brands draw on experiences in-store, great service, events, and conversations online and off-line. But over the last five or so years we have seen a major power shift - it’s not about what brands can use to reach consumers, it’s about what consumers are prepared to engage with. They have taken control of brands and the advertising industry is starting to get the picture.

Slowly. People are no longer interested in being preached to about functional benefits and features. In their lives they are looking for connections and that’s what they expect from brands they care about. We call those brands Lovemarks. We are heading from the Attention Economy to the Attraction Economy where Lovemarks thrive. In the Attraction Economy, advertising agencies have to step up and out, or be buried. We changed Saatchi & Saatchi from an advertising agency to an Ideas Company many years ago so our focus is on compelling, exciting ideas to attract consumers. They don’t spend any time considering the differences between brands and advertising, so we don’t either.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Listening to Leonard Cohen

I first heard Leonard Cohen in the late 1960s at a dinner party. It was being held at the two room Kensington studio of Pamela Rowlands, a Mary Quant makeup artist, who was going out with Ian Gillian of Deep Purple. As we drank some very rough burgundy and dipped our skewered meat into the fondue broth (as I said, it was the 1960s), we listened to the Cohen debut album The Songs of Leonard Cohen. We were transfixed. None of us had ever heard such truth told with such melancholy. Now 40 years later, his publishing company have released (re-mastered) Songs from a Room, The Songs of Leonard Cohen, and Songs of Love and Hate. I haven’t listened to these albums for 20 years and it’s amazing how fresh and relevant they sound. I’ve also got a bunch of bootleg live Leonard albums from the 1970s and 1980s (thank you Bleeker Street Records) and all his recent stuff too.

Cohen’s voice has weathered beautifully. His time on the Greek island of Hydra (my eldest daughter Nikki made the pilgrimage there two weeks ago), coupled with his retreat into Buddhism, has resulted in a weather beaten, mellow, knowing storyteller, as comfortable as the 20-year old adidas sweatshirt I’m wearing this morning. Cohen’s poetry, spirituality, pain, dreams and romanticism are timeless. Listening to him today, I feel I am still close friends of Suzanne and Marianne. Cohen is the creator of true intimacy. My advice? Buy these three re-mastered albums, put on your headphones and close your eyes. Tonight the world can go on without you.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Imagination@Lancaster

About a year or so ago I was talking about innovation and creativity to Paul Wellings, the Vice Chancellor of Lancaster University, and Cary Cooper, one of his professors. They were asking me how I could help at Lancaster - already one of the premier universities in the UK with a top notch business school. Imagination@Lancaster was born and we enticed Cary’s wife, Rachel, from her design professorship in Salford to head up the effort. A couple of weeks back, we had our inaugural dinner at Paul’s house where he gathered together ex-alumni from Lancaster representing creativity, academia and the government. We had Brian Collins, the Chief Scientific Adviser of the Department of Transport; David Shackleton, the Vice President of Sony BMG Records; Duncan Rycroft, the head of regional programming at Granada TV; Richard Murray, Creative Director at William Murray Hamm, and several other notables. Three hours (fuelled by great food and wine) were spent discussing how we could re-imagine the way universities interact with industry and government, and the impact we could all have by pooling resources in one university. It was a terrific evening; one that happens too rarely. I have been a firm believer in bringing business and academia together whenever possible and it was terrific to see it at this forum, with imagination and creativity at the hub, not one agenda, one function. We are meeting again in Lancaster in July to lay out the dream and purpose for Imagination@Lancaster. Watch this space.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jack Reacher

“Nobody knew where Jack Reacher was. He had left the Grange Farm two hours after the backhoe had shut down, and there had been no news since.” These are the last lines of Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher book, The Hard Way. Child is a terrific storyteller and Jack Reacher, a tough ex-army MP, a compelling character. Why? Because we know so little about him. He is literally a man of Mystery – that plus his ability to crush anything that’s thrown at him!

Lee Child gets that what makes a good story a great story is pointing, not explaining. As you race through the entire Jack Reacher series (and I promise you that you will), Reacher’s past emerges in intriguing snippets, not great chunks of backstory. You grow to know him as you do a real person. When you first meet someone, they don’t launch into a detailed narrative of their life – or if they do the relationship is going to be a short one. Sure we do the ‘I am a big Stones fan’ and 'live in the coolest part of (name your own city or town)' shorthand to get that stuff out of the way, but then it’s a far more subtle exchange.

We drastically edit the information we offer. The story we tell about ourselves is as much about the gaps as about the facts. We pump up the Mystery and others jump in to make our story theirs. Lee Child is genius at this. He strips Jack Reacher down to the essentials – this is a man who regards his toothbrush as an important possession! You should try to get to know him.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Past

Nostalgia is not my usual state of mind. And yet the other night I was pondering over some icons that are vanishing in our new digital world. Take the telephone box. I was born in the UK and grew up with the classic red phone box. To me they will always be Dr Who’s mysterious gateway to the past, the present and the future. In the US, Clark Kent of course used a phone box for his transformation to Superman. Then there are the more personal experiences. The intimacy of being shut inside a telephone box talking to someone you love - the weather and other phone users beating on the door.

Today the phone box is battling with irrelevance. Contemporary Dr Who’s and Supermen make other arrangements and all lovers have cell phones. Yes, cell phones are pushing phone boxes into history. In the UK, there are apparently still 64,000 of them but no one uses them much and most are unprofitable.

A few years ago, there was a flurry of interest in payphones that did more. You know the kind of stuff – go on the Web, get tourist information, etc. The problem? Cell phones can do all this and sit in your pocket. So the phone box as a symbol of connection is being hollowed out and icons without substance don’t survive.

The same digital transformation is ushering the postcard to the same fate. Still with us but their vitality is slipping away. Sending your own personal images by email or cell phone is so much more intimate. How can a picture printed on cardboard compete with a sisomo sound clip via YouTube? It can’t. And so it goes. I’m also told that on February 17, 2009 those icons of the television age, the roof top aerial and the v-shaped rabbit’s ears will become victims of the digital age, at least in the United States.

My point is not to bewail the past, but to make sure our future holds the best of the past. We need past, present and future. My digital icons of today are more about attitude and motion than physical objects. Cell phone styles change with the seasons, so what’s iconic to me is people head-down smiling into the palms of their hands; people talking to themselves with energy and confidence; people rocking in their own iPod world.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Remember Brian Clough

There have been a handful of great managers in British football. Sitting at the very top of the game are four Scots: Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Alex Ferguson, and Jock Stein. They led enormous clubs: Manchester United, Liverpool, and Celtic. Right up there with them is an Englishman who never managed England, and never managed a giant club. For 20 years he was the manager of unfashionable Nottingham Forest, with spells at Derby County, Hartlepool and for 44 days, Leeds United. With zero resources, Clough took Nottingham Forest to two European Cup wins, and that’s as many as the mighty Manchester United have accumulated. There have been quite a few books written about Clough, including two biographies (and while I remember, make sure you read David Peace’s The Damned United. It is the best book of football fiction ever written).

Last week a new book was published about Brian Clough called Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years with Brian Clough by Duncan Hamilton. Cloughie died in September 2004 at the age of 69, and this book goes places no other sports book has ever been. It describes a huge personality, a man with god given gifts and a man flawed in every way. Someone who grabbed life and most of his players by the throat, and didn’t let go until he got his way. His idea of a meaningful meeting with a star player was – “We talked for twenty minutes and then he did what I told him”. Provided You Don’t Kiss Me is lit up with joy and darkened by sadness. It’s a must read for anyone who cares about sport, life, humanity, and life on the edge.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Measuring Love

I read recently that someone looked into 100 women’s purses. The reason? To get consumer insights. Now, that’s more like it. One of the things that I find constantly amazing is people who ask me how do you measure love? My answer is, intuitively, the same way you decide to give love or accept it. So here’s some love measurement ideas based around the spirit of the purse quest I have just mentioned. Here’s a few questions you can ask:

  • What things do you own that you always have a spare of. (I’m not talking automobile tires here but that extra pack of soap powder or the spare can of soda in case things run out).
  • Can you think of anything you purchase that would make you very upset if it ran out?
  • What do you pack in your suitcase when you go on holiday?
  • What things are always in your car that were not there when you purchased it?
  • What do you always carry with you?
  • What three things would your children fight for the hardest if you said you were going to remove them from their bedroom?
That’s how you measure love. Keep it personal, keep it focused on daily life and make it fun.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Family

I’ve been playing rugby since I was eleven. For me, it is the game they play in heaven. Last week, I was in New Zealand for the two French tests and was lucky enough to be invited into their box by the New Zealand Rugby Union. It was just great, a chance to catch up with friends from way back, like Eddie Tonks, a former Chairman of New Zealand Rugby Union; Jock Hobbs, the current Chairman, ex-All Black Captain and ex-Vale of Lune Captain!; Peter Keen and Steven Smith the Lion Nathan Supremus.

Friday night in Wellington saw a great dinner at Shed 5 with Stephen Overend, New Zealand’s most friendly maitre d’, in charge. Murray Mexted, an All Black legend and No. 8, put together an entertaining table headed by Dave Loveridge, probably New Zealand’s greatest ever halfback, and along with Gareth Edwards, one of the two best halfbacks the world has ever known. Nigel Melville, ex-England Captain, British Lion and USA Rugby CEO, held up the Northern Hemisphere’s end and, we were joined by the most passionate rugby guy I’ve ever met, Bill Middleton, another Kiwi who is on USA Rugby’s Board. A bunch of old Wellington and All Black players also joined us, including Earle Kirton who was my boyhood hero. Families being what they are, his younger son Dan was having a few beers with my eldest son Ben in London as his Dad and I were pouring them back in Wellington. Graham Henry, Wayne Smith, Steve Hanson, Mike Cron and the All Black coaching team were also at Shed 5. Even the French coaching team showed up there, but they took one look around at their Kiwi counterparts and headed to another restaurant. I guess being in such close proximity the night before a game was too much even for rugby families to endure.

Saturday came with a lot of catch-ups with ex Lion Nathan friends such as Dennis Pickup, Peter Keane, Steve Smith, Fraser Holland and other Steinlager advocates. Steinlager, New Zealand’s finest beer, has been revamped brilliantly with a new flanker called Steinlager Pure. It comes in very modern packaging, with no additives or preservatives, and beautifully captures New Zealand’s pure green global positioning. For those of us brought up on Steinlager, it has suffered over the years from its reputation for delivering the most potent of hangovers. When I worked for the company, our brewers always told me this was not justified and had more to do with the quantity consumed! Steinlager Pure, however, really attacks this issue head-on and in a positive way. It is a terrific piece of positioning. Unfortunately, Sod’s Law kicked in and I wasn’t wasn’t able to taste it as the product didn’t arrive in time for the Wellington test. They did have some in the Air New Zealand Koru Club Lounge on the way home, but 8:30am on a Sunday morning was too much for even for me.

The global rugby community is something special and is unparalleled in sport. Our dream at US Rugby is “to inspire Americans to love rugby the way we do”. A big part of that is the lifelong international community that goes with the game. If you’ve got kids, throw them an oval ball and get them a DVD of Dan Carter. They’ll thank you for life.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Living in a Virtual World

Jack Myers has always been a good friend of Lovemarks. He was one of the people who got it straight away. Like me, he believes that emotion will be the driving force of this century rather than twentieth-century rationality. That’s why, when Jack writes a book, I sit up and take notice. His latest is Virtual Worlds: Rewiring Your Emotional Future and it’s a fascinating deep dive into how these virtual worlds are changing the emotional DNA of future generations. Jack is an optimist and he believes our emotional range is expanding as people participate in a new world of community and identity. I often quote the brain guru, Donald Calne, who tells us that reason leads to people drawing conclusions, while emotion compels them to take action. Jack would agree and he takes the argument right into the heart of the virtual realm. Jack points out that virtual worlds are different because they empower emotions and reward emotional connections. He predicts that the generations born in the twenty-first century will demote the brain from its position of dictatorial power over emotional well-being.

This is heady stuff for anyone trying to attract people to their ideas and images and also to their stores and entertainment. Underlying Jack’s entire argument is his conviction that we are in a "don’t sell me, engage me” environment. I’ve called the same thing the Attraction Economy. In virtual worlds, success depends on what you bring to it; on participation and contribution. In places like Second Life, MySpace and Facebook, the creators keep their own intellectual property so they have a different kind of personal commitment. No wonder these virtual worlds are proving controversial as questions around commercialization and safety increase. A couple of years ago in my book Sisomo: The Future On Screen, I commented on the emotional potential of the screen. Jack has taken the emotions deep into the virtual world. Join him and also check out his storytelling project here. A community creating a virtual world. Take a peak into the future.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Grasmere

One of the best feelings in the world is to be out and about with old friends. Last Friday I was back in Grasmere, deep in the heart of the Lake District and one of the prettiest villages in the UK. Grasmere was the home of Beatrix Potter, the creator of Peter Rabbit; the inspiration of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth; and where I reconnected with my Lancastrian roots. A few months ago we bought the gardener’s cottage at Michaels Nook Hotel, and as it is now completely fitted out, I spent my first three days there over the bank holiday weekend. We christened the place with three old school friends, Dave Bennetts, Eric Rigg and Barry Parsonage and their wives, Jill, Jan and Janet. I hadn’t seen two of them for 40 years and both had weathered a lot better than me. I had played rugby and cricket with the guys for nine years at primary school and later at Lancaster Grammar. We had a terrific night at one of the world’s most eclectic restaurants, The Jumble Room, which is tiny, crazy and fun. It was classic Lakeland cuisine in a distinctive atmosphere. Think Rupert Bear books, album covers from the 1970s, cushions from Morocco, and hard to find local ales served by a family that has lived in Grasmere for generations. “We look forward to feeding you” is their mantra and this kind of forthright personality permeates the place. We then literally christened the cottage with some English Bluebird Bitter, inspired by speed legend Donald Campbell and made by the nearby Coniston Brewing Company, and spent the next six hours reminiscing about old times. The evening culminated in the heart of this new home – the kitchen of course – at around 2:00am, with a knees-up to sixties classics from The Beatles and the Stones. In today’s overcrowded, over-hectic, over-sophisticated world, it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fly Buys

I really enjoy flying – I’d have to say that since I spend so much time in the air! I look on long haul flights as a personal challenge to keep inspired. So here’s what I take on board to keep my spirits up, my mind in gear and my heart warm.

  • My iPod filled with the soundtrack of my life. The lyrics are an inspiration, the sound takes me to all the places I most love.
  • A bunch of my favorite magazines. The current must-reads include: Wallpaper, Architectural Digest, Art Forum, Business Week, Fast Company, Wired, Fortune, Ad Age, Adweek, Campaign, Four Four Two, NZ Rugby World, GQ, Details and Vanity Fair.
  • Two good non-fiction books and two fiction. The business books change from month to month. A sports book is always close to hand, and you can always rely on one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher stories to stir the spirits. You should get a copy of 'Bad Luck and Trouble' (his latest). Great reads.
  • A sleeping pill as a back-up on the longest flights.
  • A load of work emails that have been sorted and are ready to be dealt with.
Put that lot together, and time and the plane both fly.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Saddle up at the Hotel ZaZa

As the Pat Green song goes, I woke up this morning with Texas on my mind. In fact, I was thinking specifically of Austin – such a great place for live music – but Dallas is also a favorite place in the Lone Star State. Dallas is a big city in all senses of the word, so if you want big experiences, this is the place to come. And if you want the full-on five senses tingle with a Texas experience, there is only one place to stay: Hotel ZaZa. It is a hothouse devoted to propagating Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy for its guests. "Divine decadence", as Liza Minnelli put it, simply proving in the words of Mae West, that “too much of a good thing can be wonderful".

Where to start? How about in one of the Magnificent Seven suites? Each room is outrageously themed and, definitely not to be missed is my favorite room, 461 – the Texas suite. Hold on to your hats cowboys, this is a hotel suite with attitude. For a start, there is a set of bull’s horns hung over the bed, a fully rigged-up saddle and magnificent horsehair furniture. It’s all good fun. OK, the hotel pool is a bit small but it’s full of beach balls and water jets constantly criss-crossing to keep you fresh. The Dragonfly restaurant and bar serves great Tex-Mex food and cold Heineken to a very cool crowd. People are ultra friendly and Bice is just across the street. In this world of beige-on-beige furnishings, cream fixtures and ivory towels, the ZaZa stands out for its bizarre, eclectic, funky sense of fun. If a couple of nights at the ZaZa doesn’t put a smile on your face, you need an oil change.

Friday, June 8, 2007

With the Five Senses

Never underestimate the power of the senses. Bringing touch, taste, smell, sound or sight to your brand can make a huge difference. How often do we find our spirits lifted by music? So why wouldn’t you want to associate this emotionally compelling sense to everything you do? You know from this blog that my iPod has the soundtrack of my life. When I hear one of my favorite songs in a store, or as part of a promotion, I’m already inclined to take notice. The same connections can be made by all the senses but sometimes I reckon we take the senses in very strange directions. Like these Middlesex University researchers who discovered that the effects of tasting chocolate were greater than kissing. It seems bizarre, but the BBC reported that when they monitored the heads and hearts of ‘romantically involved couples’ they reacted more strongly to chocolate melting in their mouths than to kissing. The head researcher Dr David Lewis summed up, “Chocolate beats kissing hands down when it comes to providing a long-lasting body and brain buzz”. I was relieved when even he admitted he was surprised. Then he lost me again. “A chocolate buzz in many cases lasted four times as long as the most passionate kiss.” Four times? I refuse to believe it. Kissers of the world unite!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Champions League

My son Ben and I were in Athens for the soccer. It was the Champions League final, and there is nothing like a world class sporting event to get the juices flowing. We were hosted by Nick Drake, who heads up Adidas Rugby, and caught up with a lot of old friends from around Europe, including the indomitable Andrea Formica, Head of Marketing at Toyota Europe, a staunch Milan fan. Was Ben happy or what! The game was a superb chess match with the result going down to the wire. If Benitez had brought on Crouch immediately after half-time, and moved Gerrard into central mid-field, who knows what might have happened. It was also great to see Paolo Maldini, who will be 39-years old this month, still standing. Maldini collected the cup as his father had several years before. His young son looks like he can play too.

The Olympic Stadium in Athens is a terrific venue for a big game, although the police had their hands full when 15,000 Liverpool fans turned up without tickets. The authorities had mistakenly let many fans with forged tickets onto the ground, creating some unrest (to say the least) amongst those who had real tickets and were denied entry. Liverpool received only 17,000 tickets for the game with 30,000+ going to neutrals/corporates. This is completely unsatisfactory. The sport urgently needs to find a way to balance commercial realities with the passions of grassroot fans.

Ben and I finally made it to bed at 3:00am and had to get up at 6:00am for an EasyJet flight home to London. We arrived at the airport only to be shepherded into a “holding pen”. I now know how New Zealand sheep feel before slaughter. On top of that, there were 4,000 red-shirted Liverpool fans, many of whom had slept at the airport all night, surrounding us as we struggled to get on the charter flight. No food, no refreshments, no toilets and a reminder of how the real world operates. Two hours later we finally made it to the plane only to find no crew - their bus hadn’t picked them up! So we lost our spot with air traffic control. Then it was revealed that we had seven people on board with no boarding passes and bound for Liverpool, Dublin and Glasgow. This was not so flash because the plane was heading for London Gatwick! When we finally relocated the magnificent seven, we were two and a half hours late and had been up for five hours. As we finally took off for our four hour flight, we were then told the plane had no food on board. But such is our love of sport – it was worth every second.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Google Zeitgeist

Last week, I was invited to Google’s Zeitgeist forum at The Grove in Hertfordshire to host a panel on "Branding Today and Tomorrow". The session was opened by David Miliband, Secretary of State for the Environment. He made a compelling argument that in the UK, we have moved politically and socially from the “I want” and “I need” generations to the “I can” generation. It’s a great moment when even the politicians have come to understand that the consumer is boss!

I had the honor of opening the business sessions with a heavyweight panel comprising Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, BSkyB CEO James Murdoch, Robin Harper from Second Life, and Mercedes-Benz's Olaf Goettgens. The panel was passionate about consumers, connectivity and community, optimism and technology. And they offered some broad brush global perspectives: looking east towards China, India and Indonesia is an imperative; the Middle East remains positive given the likely continued rise in oil prices and, while US resilience and pragmatism deserve praise, Europe is set to remain sluggish.

In a stroke of dramatic timing, the conference took place 24 hours after Google’s acquisition of Double Click, Microsoft’s acquisition of aQuantive, and WPP’s acquisition of 24/7 Real Media. It was a day for frenemies and froes, co-opetition at its finest - spiced with proximity. Many of these companies, like Microsoft, BSkyB and Google, are now becoming buyers and sellers of advertising. It reminds me of the retail business, where Wal-Mart is both P&G’s customer and competitor. It is definitely a world of and/and. Should be fun.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Zinzan Brooke

Last week I woke up to hear that Zinzan Brooke was in a coma with head injuries in a Spanish hospital. He was coaching the Barbarians in a game against Spain and suffered the injury in Elche later in the night. Zinny is one of life’s originals. His wedding in New Zealand was a wonderful occasion, full of joy, song, laughter and rugby. With wife Ali and his mate Bernie McCahill, he spent the millennium New Year’s Eve in our London apartment overlooking the Thames, and was in irrepressible form. Zinny is one of the most competitive men I’ve ever met. No matter what is involved, he is always sure he can do it faster and better than you. As Jeremy Guscott once said of Lawrence Dallaglio, if you told Lawrence you lived at Sevenoaks in Kent, he would tell you he lived at Eightoaks. Zinny is cut from the same cloth. He was a fantastic No.8, certainly one of New Zealand’s best ever, and the only one who could drop goals from half-way in Test Matches. Zinny is a cavalier; a true renaissance man. The latest news is that he has been discharged from hospital and is now back home in London.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Innovation Challenge

I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, but you’d have to have your eyes and ears shut not to know that most new products fail in the market. The latest stats I’ve come across were from Phil Lempert quoting The Nielsen Company. The facts are grim. Of the 88,000 bar-coded products introduced in the year up to 24 March 2007, just under 3 percent made more than a million in sales. No surprise that over 56 percent of them were food or beverages, and no surprise either that of the top 100 products that took off, 96 percent of them were brand extensions. Ninety-six percent. As Phil Lempert points out, ‘new ain’t what it used to be'. To me this experience alone makes a strong argument for Lovemarks. Looking at product development from the brand’s perspective puts you on the starting line along with all your competition. You are all working with the same market analysis, the same trends, the same game plan. Starting with Lovemarks and the idea that consumers own the brand puts you ahead immediately. Instead of looking sideways at the competition, you can look straight ahead at shoppers, mothers, parents. You need to explore their world. As our head planner at Saatchi & Saatchi, Sandy Thompson says, “If you want to learn about how a lion hunts, don’t go to the zoo. Go to the jungle”.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Learning from Star Wars

This week is the thirtieth anniversary of the first Star Wars movie. Anyone who saw it the first time round will remember the opening crawl that started this epic story. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Thirty years later it still thrills with the promise of a world of adventure and the unknown. Why did Star Wars become such a cultural icon of the twentieth century, and why is its power still felt into the twenty-first? The answer is as simple as it is obvious; it is the ability to tell a great story well.

Now, it’s is well known that George Lucas drew on Joseph Campbell’s ideas about archetypes and how the same tensions and roles inspire myths across time and culture. What made George Lucas special, however, was not that he knew how to analyze and structure a story. What made him special was that he turned out to be a great storyteller – not a great theorist. I am often astonished in advertising how often the stories are muddied, complicated and even plain boring. They sound good when they are explained and fall apart when they are told. If you want a master class in storytelling I suggest you watch the Star Wars trilogy through a couple of times. Take notes, see how the characters build, watch how the visuals move the plot and listen to the studied rhythms of the dialogue. Every story has to create its own world to some extent, but Star Wars is such an extreme example of world-building that you can see the principles in action.