Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Monday, December 31, 2007

Commercial: Tone of voice - The cat's whiskers

Puma, it is fair to say, has been one of those 'also-ran' brands throughout much of its life - despite it being the world's third-largest sports apparel brand after Nike and Adidas. Following its takeover by luxury goods conglomerate PPR, it appears to be successfully marrying its athletic supply heritage with a more difficult (and possibly transient) positioning as a fashion brand.

Hence why Puma's flagship store in London is in Carnaby Street rather than Oxford or Regent Streets, a thoroughfare strong associated with fashion and the rag trade in the last 40 years. And certainly why, on a brief visit there during the sales last week, it appeared to stuffed with fashionistas rather than athletes.

But fashion isn't the only way that Puma in the UK is trying to stand out. In addition to the obviously designed store, the brand is doing interesting things with its tone of voice - and certainly things that are strongly different from its nearest competitors.

Take the plastic bag that I carried my purchases home in. The quality of the vibrant red plastic (why isn't that paper yet?) is not great, but underneath is a cheery message:

Puma box 3

Obviously it's just a bag. OK, we didn't really think you would mistake it for a games consol (sic). All we mean is don't fool around and put it on your head, you'll just look silly."

There's also an extremely stylised re-cycling icon too, looking for all the world like Walt Frazier about to complete a thrilling slam-dunk.

Which is fine, if a little Innocent-y, as we must call this tone nowadays. But there are real flashes of something special tonally on the box itself. For example:

* on the sides of the box, it says: "Average contents: 2"
* on one of the fold-out flaps, it says: "Re-cycle: 1. As a doll's house, for a small doll. 2. As a container for useless stuff you really should have chucked out by now. 3. As a place for private (ital) photos you can't store on your hard disc."

Puma box 1

There's also heavy and clever use of ideograms all around the box, indicating in a tongue in cheek way the sort of activities that one might get up to while wearing the shoes. In this case, those include hula-hooping, parachuting, singing, watching TV and hoovering, all underpinned by the admonition to 'Take care out there'. And look at the back too, where the bar code has been subverted, and broken wide open.

Puma box 2

The best bit is on the back of the box, where a useful international show size conversion chart has an unexpected category: Your foot is as long as... (UK male sizes):

5 = a chopstick
8 = a small french stick
12 = a bottle of wine
14 = a party blower (blown)
15.5 = a gangster's gold chain

So useful information, wit, knowingness, understated charm, and not overloading it to boot (pun intended). It's a most fabulous shoebox, and shows what can be achieved by any brand in carving out a distinct tone of voice when some effort is applied.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

26 recommendations for December

can be found here. A new read for a new year, perhaps?


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On how to be original

The semi-annual partial clear-out of files, papers etc, turned up a clipping by Victoria Coren, on some advice her late father Alan had given her and her brother Giles. It's a very useful thought indeed:

'Don't write the first thought that comes into your head,' he said, 'because that is what everyone will write. And don't write the second thought that comes into your head, because that is what the clever people will write. When you hit on a third thought, pick up the pen. That one is just yours.'


Friday, December 14, 2007

On encouraging productivity

Well, maybe not yours, but certainly ours. You see, even in an agency that is officially the tenth best to work for in Adland (thank you Campaign), some of us can still struggle to make it in bang on the dot of 9am. So the powers that be have decided that it might be a good idea to motivate us to get in that wee bit earlier.

And the method? Be in on time, or get a blast of snow in your face...


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Commercial: Car park betrayal

There was something about this story that has wormed its way under my skin, and is leaving a profound sense of unease. Perhaps it is the sight of a brand that has yet to learn about the nature of relationship building, and not grasped that a few extra minutes in a car park will not significantly harm profit margins, and indeed make people more likely to come back and buy again. Or perhaps the fact that an outsourced company is gouging customers for what appears to be little reason.

Or perhaps its the chilling realisation that a government body can and do (and no doubt within full compliance of the law) share details with a private company with nary a thought for impact or consequence.

I think I'm scurrying out to buy The Shock Doctrine and Tescopoly at lunchtime.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Commercial: How brand might help to rescue Northern Rock

In case you were still unconvinced of the power that a brand can yield, consider this piece of evidence from Saturday's Lex column (subscription needed) on two of the competing bids for Northern Rock. Olivant, the private equity group run by ex-Abbey chief executibe Luqman Arnold, proposes to keep using the Rock name; Virgin doesn't. Lex writes:

Brand is the most important distinguishing factor. Central to both bids [Olivant and Virgin] is the rebuilding of deposits. If that fails, neither bid will end happily, and the government and debt holders, not to mention shareholders, will not see much of their money again. Virgin is not the great financial services brand it thinks it is. But will the public ever again give its money to a band called Northern Rock? Those who think the answer to that question is yes should back Olivant.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Commercial: Branded criminality

When this story first aired on Saturday's iPM on Radio 4, I genuinely thought it was a spoof. Apparently not. Key quote to bear in mind is:

"What they do is they tend to go out in a kind of uniform, if you see a kid in a brand of "hoodie" you can be pretty sure he'll be wearing that same brand of "hoodie" the next time he commits an offence."

Not for much longer, I doubt. How soon afore the Muji 'avoid camera detection hoodie' hits the shops? And is there a counter-intuitive approach that brands could take to avoid being detected? The 'Least seen brand index' surely cannot be too far away.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Commercial: More genius MOO tone of voice

... this time from Stef, their CTO, explaining why Big Moo went down. If only all companies were as clear and friendly etc etc etc.

Blimey. a non-happy day at MOO

Well, it’s nearly over, but that was the kind of day that CTOs tell their children at night if they want them to be daredevil stuntmen when they grow up instead.

Starting at around 6pm last night, we started experiencing beeeg trouble with our main disk array. All the alarms went off, and Mike, our Techy Infradoodads Manager dashed down to Brick Lane to recover it from the backup. It took almost about 20 hours to get the site fully operational (direct uploads were particularly stubborn) but things are now fine again.

I’m sorry to everyone who tried to place orders today and had trouble -we had a number of false starts where we thought we had it working and then it went wrong again. It must have been even more frustrating for you than for us.

There are a number of people whose orders may be in an incomplete state - we know who you are, and we’ll be contacting you to sort things out over the next day or so.

The mantra we have at MOO is to never let the same thing go wrong twice- this is the first severe non-scheduled outage we’ve had since we launched 14 months ago, but we already know the fixes we need to make to prevent it in future.

I’d like to repeat: I’m really sorry, and it won’t happen again.

Now, pizza has arrived.