Colour Prejudice

Researchers have issued a fascinating report on the perception of colour around the world. They conducted online interviews with 13,000 adults in 17 countries. It is written for branding professionals, but some results are just too interesting to be hidden in that industry's closet.

For example, I was amazed to find that in every one of the 17 countries, blue was the favourite colour of most people. I was less surprised to find that twice as many women than men choose purple as their favourite colour. 95% of Canadians associate Canada with "red", while 95% of Brazilians connect Brazil with "green."

The headline-grabbing find was that 20% of the world think of the colour black when they think of the United States.

"France in particular takes a “noir” view, with 34 percent of French respondents seeing the U.S. as black. The French are not alone as 31 percent of Swedes, 29 percent of Brazilians, 27 percent of Russians and 24 percent of Germans all take a dim view of America. This is in strong contrast to American respondents’ vision of themselves - only 4 percent associate their country with black."
Just as interesting to me as the finding, though, is the stated assumption of the researchers that "black" is considered a negative expression ("take a dim view").

October 21, 2004 in Branding / Marketing, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Air Freshener Madness

One of the defining characteristics of consumer capitalism is waste. A good example of this in practice is the extraordinary air freshener market.

Do our homes really stink that bad? $2.8 billion bad (in 2002)? That's just crazy! OK, so the bathroom often needs some aromatic assistance, and once in a blue moon the kitchen garbage fights back. But that's it. That sure shouldn't be $3 billion worth of commercialism. And every time I turn on the TV I am assaulted by one air freshener ad after another. Plug-in air fresheners, battery-operated air fresheners, air fresheners with a puff, air fresheners that look like CD players. This is just marketing. This is just the creation of one more false need. This is a product that needed a market niche and went out and created one.

As a review of the air freshener market in the UK agreed:

"Air fresheners sought to decrease their seasonality by marketing the link between cleanliness and fresh air and by assigning them a life-style function (enhancing home atmosphere)."
Are we that scared of what we all smell like? Bizarre. Wake up people! Open your windows! Light some candles! Save your money!

August 11, 2004 in Branding / Marketing, Capitalism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Advertising is Soul Destroying

It is not often that the Holy See and I see wholly eye to eye. However:

"While addressing members of the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools, on ethics in business and advertising during a mass in Loyola, Spain, Vatican official Archbishop John Foley said the evils of advertising make people believe "having is more important than being."
Amen to that!

But ... this ad by Media Matters for itself that thoroughly skewers the insane rightwing by using their own words is well-worth watching.

July 20, 2004 in Branding / Marketing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Branding The Unnatural Beauty

Josephine Esther Lauter nee Mentzer was born in Queens, NY, 97 or 96 or 95 years ago. By the time she died this week, the woman she had become -- Estee Lauder -- had helped create celebrity culture and had built a cosmetics empire conservatively valued at $5 billion.

"Lauder was among the first of the great beauty titans, men and women such as Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Revlon's Charles Revson, who trafficked in hope. Lauder began her career in 1946 at a time when women spoke openly and earnestly about appearance without fearing the wrath of feminists, intellectuals and spoilsports who would accuse them of being shallow and narcissistic. Great beauties were celebrated without irony or dismissiveness back then. And Lauder tapped into the desires of the average woman to look her best and to be pampered ...

"A relentless saleswoman, Lauder was an early advocate and adopter of celebrity marketing. She envisioned her product in the hands of the world's most prestigious women, and so Lauder was profligate in sending out samples of her products to prominent women, such as the Duchess of Windsor. She wanted her goods sold in the most expensive department stores of the day, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus ... Lauder used signature models to personify the company and helped to transform the beauty business from one that was simply a blend of luxurious creams, science and hucksterism into one that also incorporated romance, sex appeal and fantasies."

The closing paragraph of the Post's obit nails it quite perfectly:
"The entire beauty business has changed significantly since Lauder began concocting skin creams in her kitchen with the help of an uncle who was a chemist. Indulging in beauty products and attempting to stave off the signs of aging have become activities fraught with negative social connotations; they have become flashpoints for social commentary. As a businesswoman, Lauder proved what determination and savvy can build, but she also helped to set the groundwork for a culture obsessed with a narrow range of beauty -- often to the detriment of the individual."
The lessons of Estee Lauder, "whom history will judge as one of the world's great entrepreneurs", are worth mining. Study capitalism's successes, understand the limitations, identify the weaknesses.

April 26, 2004 in Branding / Marketing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Brands exist in people's heads..."

Did you know that Britain's famous spy agency, MI5, has its own website? It does, and I was led to this fascinating fact from an article by Chris Grannell at

"That a notoriously secretive organization even has a website is in itself a sign of the times – but in a world where just about everybody has a website promoting just about anything perhaps this shouldn’t surprise us. What makes this development all the more interesting is that, according to the Financial Times, “MI5 plans to use the cachet of its brand as a strategy to encourage businesses and the public routinely to access its website ...

Many will be surprised to learn that MI5 has a brand – but that it does is hard to deny. And yet there’s not much of a logo, no advertising campaign, only a small PR program, and very few spokespeople or celebrity endorsers ... Without doubt, MI5 is widely viewed as a premium product within its sector, but its brand is very different from that of, say, Cadbury or Coca-Cola. MI5 is by its very nature a secretive organization – and in this sense it is more like a corporate or investor-facing brand.”

Grannell makes note of the fact that
" ... organizations do not always choose whether to have a brand. Any organization or business about which people have opinions and perceptions by definition has a brand ... Brands exist in people’s heads, which means that your organization can have a brand even if you haven’t paid someone for a fancy logo ... With the launch of its public-information website (which comes complete with cartoons and Flash programming), MI5 has clearly opted not only to manage its brand, but to actively exploit it within the public arena. This reflects a popular line of reasoning used by brand owners: namely that once you accept your brand is going to appear in the public domain, then you might as well use it to further your goals."
Knowledge is the essence of defensive power. Articles like this help us understand the way the Corporations are playing with our heads.

April 24, 2004 in Branding / Marketing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mash Marketing Vice

Mash marketing and alpha consumers are the current new face of marketing wisdom.

Mash culture is a term borrowed from the music industry by designer David Gensler. According to a self-published transcript of an interview with WGSN, Gensler is well known for his "insight and understanding of today's global marketplace, how to tap it, harness it and make it work for a client's bottom line, with Madonna, Eve, Beyoncé Knowles and BMW previously seeking his help. He doesn't mind being called an expert of the urban market, but just don't call it urban, which he says is an outdated term."

Ten years ago [the urban market] was in its infancy," said Gensler. "It was a culture that was literally getting its footing, especially on the commercial side of the cultural fence, but now it is has reached its second age where a lot of the founders are all grown up and running multimillion-dollar global companies. As with any culture, this one has evolved and is now regenerating itself. The evolution right now is more about its maturity." This maturity is why the word "urban" is also no longer applicable.

"The term we use now is mash culture. We stole that from the music industry in the UK," said Gensler about the creation of new music from borrowing and stealing (for example, the work of 2ManyDJs or Richard X). That is what youth culture is about today - borrowing from previous generations and creating this kind of mish-mashed, customised culture that involves hip hop, action, sports, and is very much involved in fashion, music, entertainment and content development. Mash applies more than urban because a lot of the consumers that push forward this urban marketplace don't live in cities."

Mash market, today's youth market, is far more encompassing and far-reaching than just trends permeating the US, such as the growing Hispanic and Asian influences. It is instead a ubiquitous value system suited for an interconnected audience.

"It has nothing to do with your skin colour, your religion, or your geographic location," said Gensler. "It has to do with a style sensibility and a way that people approach things. It's youth-driven, not urban. Hip hop is just a part of the thread in the fabric of youth culture. It is 100% not about a black market or anything like that. If you stay focused on making a great product with value you can stay apart of the fray."

The next big thing is always just a heartbeat away waiting for its turn, according to Gensler.
"There is so much copying of other people's styles it personally just makes me sick," said Gensler about the men's urban apparel market. "Everyone literally sees the brown, orange, and white colour story and suddenly the whole world uses brown, orange, and white. These people are not designers. They are basically graphic stylists. It is so boring."

The market is devoid of ideas and he blames that in part on the frenzy over celebrities. Apparel companies are trying to hard to react quickly to them and failing to realise it is about designing a quality, innovative product. Although celebrity affiliation and star power is still hugely important to marketing a product or building a brand, "when it is done right it is very popular, but it can go wrong. Look at what Arnell did with Celine Dion."

As for Gensler's own future...
He has plans to buy a magazine and morph it into his own vision, launch a luxury street fashion brand, a footwear brand, and a boutique in Beverly Hills. "All of this is in actual development, not just hot air."
And how will he know what to market? According to another article, he'll probably be trolling for some alpha consumers. He'll find them by using something called "cool hunting,"
"a type of marketing research that has received a good bit of ink in the last year or two and developed something of a mystique along the way. Basically it involves some very cool-sensitive souls sniffing out the latest trends the way French pigs sniff out truffles. But instead of having their noses to the ground, cool hunters are attuned to consumption's leading edge and the ultra-hip people who reside there. These so-called "alpha consumers" are like alpha wolves; they lead the pack. What they wear, use, listen to, watch, eat, drink and think today sets the pattern for what the rest of us will be doing and consuming tomorrow."

The challenge for the cool hunter is to spot a trend as it's beginning to happen and then alert mass marketers in time to build cool brands and peddle cool merchandise to the people H.L. Mencken called the "booboisie." If you want a current synonym for Mencken's term, "unhip" will probably do as well as any. The booboisie live mostly in that vast region referred to dismissively, at least by residents of America's two coasts, as flyover country. So it's no surprise that geography informs cool hunting's core principle: Cool begins at the edges and moves to the middle.

If you're a marketer, of course, you hope cool doesn't arrive at its in-between destination before you've had a chance to gin up a product and get it in the pipeline. Never mind that by the time it's on shelves, the edge-dwelling alphas will have moved on to something else, consigning the fad you're pushing to the dustbin of the formerly cool. No matter. The inhabitants of the middle won't know that; it's their fate always to be a few beats behind.

However, as the article explains, the Internet has broken that easy equation, so that those in the middle can now learn about a fad and join it in real time, closing the opportunity gap for marketers. This has of course made life considerably harder for the trend spotters. Style used to come from a predetermined number of places, making it easy to trcak. Now it can erupt even in Cleveland or Oklahoma City or Des Moines. From this position, the article brings us to the profession's latest axiom: "The edges are the middle."

But no matter where the new things come from, we'll no doubt be reading about them through the influence of Vice magazine, which received an interesting writeup in

"We've been seeing Vice on the floors of fashion boutiques for a long time now ..." admits Phelan. "It's not the new kid on the block. But everything's got a lifecycle, and I don't think the thrill is gone. I think people know what they're getting, they're familiar with the magazine, and they're familiar with the brand, it doesn't mean they don't look forward to it. People still get excited about Vice."
Vice has had an interesting life of its own.
There was a time when U.K. magazine The Face was like a bible to Shane Smith. He and two other "snot-nosed punks" in their early 20s used their welfare cheques to help finance the production of a black and white, Montreal urban culture rag called Vice. Unlike The Face, which was a slick, high-gloss magazine, Vice was printed on cheap newsprint, the kind where the ink rubbed off on your hands. Ten years later, The Face is gone. It was pushed out of the market in March, according to some in the British media, by the U.K. edition of a slick magazine called Vice

The business model was simple and effective. The free magazine was available at independent records and retail shops across the country. By bypassing the rigmarole of newsstand distribution, Vice was able to boast a 100 per cent pick up rate to potential advertisers, who appreciated that their products would be showcased in a magazine located in the store the products were available. In terms of editorial content, the streamlined method of distribution meant that the magazine could go uncensored. Stories, which revolved around a self-destructive, nihilist, skate-rocker aesthetic, grew more raw with each issue. It wasn't long before Vice had secured a major following.

Big money investors took interest too. In 1998, dot-com millionaire Richard Szalwinski bought the magazine, making the Vice guys sudden millionaires.

[Now,] Smith is overseeing Vice's operations in five countries; the launch of a record label boasting an impressive roster of emerging acts, such as Montreal's The Stills and Chromeo; the production of films and TV shows, including one film that will be directed by revered director Spike Jonze; and publication of Vice books (its first, The Vice Guide To Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll, was a bestseller). Did I mention the retail boutiques in Toronto and New York? In 10 years, Vice has evolved from a Montreal pulp, to a 10-times-a year, big-money, international institution built on a foundation of f--- you cool.

I guess I'm not in the market segment they're aiming for as I have never seen the mag. But I'll look for it now.

April 18, 2004 in Branding / Marketing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack