Sep 01
Digital culture is an inescapable part of modern living that typically functions to provide ease and efficiency within our day-to-day lives. Technological devices such as computers, smartphones, tablets and soon to be wearable technology have an omnipresent in nearly every aspect of our daily lives; in most cases we are never more than two devices away from being ‘connected’ and because of this there is little distinction between online and offline. The saturation of digital culture often means there is an overlap of business and pleasure making it harder to effectively separate the two. The result of this is digital has strong association with the practices of work; and as connected as we all like to be or feel, we recognise consciously or unconsciously a need for disconnection with a return to non-digital activities or experiences.

 

The need for disconnection in the form non-digital activities and physical pursuits provide an escapist outlet. We see this with the continual growth of the home baking category; though this has been linked to the recession and a comforting feeling of nostalgia, the rise has been running in parallel with the increased popularity of shows such as the Great British Bake-Off and the MasterChef franchise. Whilst I agree this is most definitely a factor, it does not stop there. When the trend is analysed in a broader context with other activities such as cooking or food movements such as the DIY food movement championed by food writer Tim Hayward and alongside gardening and allotments especially of the urban variety a pattern begins to emerge. These activities create moments of simplicity and distraction from the norm of modern living. Not to mention trending physical hobbyist pursuits such as cycling and running that offer similar respite.

 

Looking at this trend from a brand perspective, there are two clear examples that offer nostalgia and disconnect through definitive experience. The first being the appointment only Ted Baker Ottoman lounge a specialist male grooming parlour housed within Ted’s Grooming Room in Holborn; it is themed around the aesthetics of a Turkish barber providing treatments and service inspired by authentic historic art and techniques as the unique selling point. The employment of an appointment system adds to the mystique and the effect of this is a level of mental preparation, separation and compartmentalisation to accommodate ‘disruption’. 

 

The other example which is by far the most befitting is Match.com and their recent service innovation Match.com nights, allowing website members to be accompanied by up to three single friends to attend the Match.com branded nights in local bars in an informal setting, to meet other singles. The premise of the Match.com night’s are by no means new, but as a business that inhabits the digital sphere, they have developed a strategy that still maintains the integrity of the core service. Managing to extend the brand into new territory through facilitating offline interaction between users providing a ‘traditional’ analogue meeting. 

 

What the Match.com and Ottoman lounge demonstrate is potential opportunity to innovate in an arena of ‘niche’ products and services that can provide an experience of momentary disconnect - feeding a desire - but most importantly the feeling for slow gratification a welcome change from the usual fast pace that comes from digital living.

Digital culture is an inescapable part of modern living that typically functions to provide ease and efficiency within our day-to-day lives. Technological devices such as computers, smartphones, tablets and soon to be wearable technology have an omnipresent in nearly every aspect of our daily lives; in most cases we are never more than two devices away from being ‘connected’ and because of this there is little distinction between online and offline. The saturation of digital culture often means there is an overlap of business and pleasure making it harder to effectively separate the two. The result of this is digital has strong association with the practices of work; and as connected as we all like to be or feel, we recognise consciously or unconsciously a need for disconnection with a return to non-digital activities or experiences.

 

The need for disconnection in the form non-digital activities and physical pursuits provide an escapist outlet. We see this with the continual growth of the home baking category; though this has been linked to the recession and a comforting feeling of nostalgia, the rise has been running in parallel with the increased popularity of shows such as the Great British Bake-Off and the MasterChef franchise. Whilst I agree this is most definitely a factor, it does not stop there. When the trend is analysed in a broader context with other activities such as cooking or food movements such as the DIY food movement championed by food writer Tim Hayward and alongside gardening and allotments especially of the urban variety a pattern begins to emerge. These activities create moments of simplicity and distraction from the norm of modern living. Not to mention trending physical hobbyist pursuits such as cycling and running that offer similar respite.

 

Looking at this trend from a brand perspective, there are two clear examples that offer nostalgia and disconnect through definitive experience. The first being the appointment only Ted Baker Ottoman lounge a specialist male grooming parlour housed within Ted’s Grooming Room in Holborn; it is themed around the aesthetics of a Turkish barber providing treatments and service inspired by authentic historic art and techniques as the unique selling point. The employment of an appointment system adds to the mystique and the effect of this is a level of mental preparation, separation and compartmentalisation to accommodate ‘disruption’.

 

The other example which is by far the most befitting is Match.com and their recent service innovation Match.com nights, allowing website members to be accompanied by up to three single friends to attend the Match.com branded nights in local bars in an informal setting, to meet other singles. The premise of the Match.com night’s are by no means new, but as a business that inhabits the digital sphere, they have developed a strategy that still maintains the integrity of the core service. Managing to extend the brand into new territory through facilitating offline interaction between users providing a ‘traditional’ analogue meeting.

 

What the Match.com and Ottoman lounge demonstrate is potential opportunity to innovate in an arena of ‘niche’ products and services that can provide an experience of momentary disconnect - feeding a desire - but most importantly the feeling for slow gratification a welcome change from the usual fast pace that comes from digital living.


1
May 16
The interest in Budweiser stems from the strategic solutions offered in response to two of its biggest challenges faced as a brand over the course of the last two years; growing its already established global presence and capturing a new core younger demographic in light of declining sales. The brand in recent years has looked to incremental innovation in redesign and can structure to address these issues.

 

As an American classic, the Budweiser brand image and marketing strategy has been inextricably led by patriotic virtue. It has been embedded with traditional American values, underlined with a strong sense of masculinity that particularly appeals to an ageing demographic. It has positioned itself as such through self-proclamation as the ‘Great American Beer’ and alignment with American sports through sponsorship and the longstanding tradition of advertising at the Super Bowl.

 

The patriotic spirit of the brand has inevitably dictated design; particularly the previous incarnation of the can that placed heavy emphasis on heritage with subtle changes over the years until 2011. The cans were predominately red, blue and white representing the colours of the American flag, alongside symbols of the nations national bird the bald eagle. With the red frame enclosing the cursive Budweiser font and emblem crest loosely resembling the design layout of American money. The 2011 redesign of the can marked a radical shift to a sleek high gloss contemporary design retaining enough familiar features that would not alienate current consumers. The dominant colours became red and white with accents of gold. This presented a more covert approach to suggest the beer’s American origins, allowing the brand to leverage existing awareness whilst building to occupy greater space across their global markets particularly in China. 

 

One element that is especially crucial to the new design is the bow tie logo becoming the central feature, replacing the traditional Anheuser Busch emblem. The bow tie was not an entirely new introduction having been a company trademark since 1956. Budweiser further capitalised on the bow tie’s equity with the introduction of the bow tie can. This is partly in effort to provide something that is both ‘ownable’ and visually recognisable like the iconic Coca Cola contour bottle. 

 

The prominence of the bow tie symbol is indicative of the cues that the brand wishes to tap into. It wants to remain appealing to both the older American consumer, but also the younger domestic and global segmentation. It is both nostalgic and traditional, but suggestive of refinement and formality. This is not something that you would associate with the typical all American Budweiser consumer and far removed from the communications of their most famous adverts of the nineties such as the ‘Bud Weis Er frogs’ and ‘Wasssup’. The refined sensibility is in effort to appeal mostly to millennials and become more aspirational through discerning sophistication by way of design. This is something that brand is trying to do across their portfolio, with the hiring of Justin Timberlake as the creative director of the Bud Light Platinum. Timberlake’s campaign for his return to music saw him exhibit a gentlemanly aesthetic similar to the rat pack, appearing with tuxedo and bow tie in promotional appearances for his album. It may be a case of style over substance but this conveying of sophistication and refinement challenges the aforementioned nineties adverts message of getting drunk and ‘behaving badly to enjoy a Budweiser. The underlying message is now more than just to enjoy responsibly for the purpose of CSR but drink moderately to fit in with a cultured and distinguished lifestyle. This thought is supported by the rise of lower strength beers both in the US but also in the UK with the introduction of products such as Fosters Radlers and Carling Zest where moderation works in tangent with evolving attitudes towards drinking. 

The interest in Budweiser stems from the strategic solutions offered in response to two of its biggest challenges faced as a brand over the course of the last two years; growing its already established global presence and capturing a new core younger demographic in light of declining sales. The brand in recent years has looked to incremental innovation in redesign and can structure to address these issues.

 

As an American classic, the Budweiser brand image and marketing strategy has been inextricably led by patriotic virtue. It has been embedded with traditional American values, underlined with a strong sense of masculinity that particularly appeals to an ageing demographic. It has positioned itself as such through self-proclamation as the ‘Great American Beer’ and alignment with American sports through sponsorship and the longstanding tradition of advertising at the Super Bowl.

 

The patriotic spirit of the brand has inevitably dictated design; particularly the previous incarnation of the can that placed heavy emphasis on heritage with subtle changes over the years until 2011. The cans were predominately red, blue and white representing the colours of the American flag, alongside symbols of the nations national bird the bald eagle. With the red frame enclosing the cursive Budweiser font and emblem crest loosely resembling the design layout of American money. The 2011 redesign of the can marked a radical shift to a sleek high gloss contemporary design retaining enough familiar features that would not alienate current consumers. The dominant colours became red and white with accents of gold. This presented a more covert approach to suggest the beer’s American origins, allowing the brand to leverage existing awareness whilst building to occupy greater space across their global markets particularly in China.

 

One element that is especially crucial to the new design is the bow tie logo becoming the central feature, replacing the traditional Anheuser Busch emblem. The bow tie was not an entirely new introduction having been a company trademark since 1956. Budweiser further capitalised on the bow tie’s equity with the introduction of the bow tie can. This is partly in effort to provide something that is both ‘ownable’ and visually recognisable like the iconic Coca Cola contour bottle.

 

The prominence of the bow tie symbol is indicative of the cues that the brand wishes to tap into. It wants to remain appealing to both the older American consumer, but also the younger domestic and global segmentation. It is both nostalgic and traditional, but suggestive of refinement and formality. This is not something that you would associate with the typical all American Budweiser consumer and far removed from the communications of their most famous adverts of the nineties such as the ‘Bud Weis Er frogs’ and ‘Wasssup’. The refined sensibility is in effort to appeal mostly to millennials and become more aspirational through discerning sophistication by way of design. This is something that brand is trying to do across their portfolio, with the hiring of Justin Timberlake as the creative director of the Bud Light Platinum. Timberlake’s campaign for his return to music saw him exhibit a gentlemanly aesthetic similar to the rat pack, appearing with tuxedo and bow tie in promotional appearances for his album. It may be a case of style over substance but this conveying of sophistication and refinement challenges the aforementioned nineties adverts message of getting drunk and ‘behaving badly to enjoy a Budweiser. The underlying message is now more than just to enjoy responsibly for the purpose of CSR but drink moderately to fit in with a cultured and distinguished lifestyle. This thought is supported by the rise of lower strength beers both in the US but also in the UK with the introduction of products such as Fosters Radlers and Carling Zest where moderation works in tangent with evolving attitudes towards drinking. 


Mar 20
‘Insourcing’ has been used to describe the return of manufacturing goods in established markets, as opposed to being outsourced to China. In recent months major U.S companies, such as Apple, G.E and Starbucks have been leading the movement. The decision for this shift in business strategy is not out of dutiful national pride, but based on financial practicality. 
Consequently, insourcing is driving a series of cultural propositions that can benefit brand or product image. 
Now with the cost of Chinese labour rising annually, this has begun to close the gap with local labouring production costs. Leading to the creation of new jobs in the respective home markets. In turn manufacturing at home provides a more sustainable and greener effect through a reduced carbon footprint due to lower transportation and energy costs. The most significant cultural proposition, that insourcing offers is the adding of value through product provenance as a premium afforded by domestic manufacturing. Consumers are willing to spend more on home produced goods as it underlines a sense of ‘chic patriotism’, and as such companies like American clothing retailer J. Crew have created and marketed collections based on ‘Made in the U.S.A’ to cash in on the labels new found status.
The premium value that comes from insourced goods is built on a perception of being better quality and of prestige, especially if the locale of production has heritage and a particular association with the specific products being made. Doing so strengthens the brand narrative, just as start up UK denim brand Hiut has done by manufacturing in the Welsh town of Cardigan.  A town that made jeans for the thirty years until the factory closed down and had not done so until Hiut settled there. Hence the brand story includes the tag ‘Our town is going to make jeans again’ with a long term vision of eventually hiring back all the workers when the business, steadily grows, ensuring standards of long lasting quality. With this emphasise on quality it easily justifies the price and is acceptable to the consumer.
The perception of quality is important to the consumer but also the producers in some in cases, particularly when companies trade on an image of quality. As in the case of French high end furnishing company Geneviève Lethu who returned its porcelain production back to France after quality concerns with some of their product lines.
The growing affinity for insourced products is the direct result of years of the ‘Made in China’ label associated negatively with cheap labour and inferior products. The origin of a product is not only beneficial to the brand or product in its home market but also when exported. As demonstrated by the Chinese’s growing affinity for goods bearing ‘Made in the U.S.A’ stamp.

‘Insourcing’ has been used to describe the return of manufacturing goods in established markets, as opposed to being outsourced to China. In recent months major U.S companies, such as Apple, G.E and Starbucks have been leading the movement. The decision for this shift in business strategy is not out of dutiful national pride, but based on financial practicality.

Consequently, insourcing is driving a series of cultural propositions that can benefit brand or product image.

Now with the cost of Chinese labour rising annually, this has begun to close the gap with local labouring production costs. Leading to the creation of new jobs in the respective home markets. In turn manufacturing at home provides a more sustainable and greener effect through a reduced carbon footprint due to lower transportation and energy costs. The most significant cultural proposition, that insourcing offers is the adding of value through product provenance as a premium afforded by domestic manufacturing. Consumers are willing to spend more on home produced goods as it underlines a sense of ‘chic patriotism’, and as such companies like American clothing retailer J. Crew have created and marketed collections based on ‘Made in the U.S.A’ to cash in on the labels new found status.

The premium value that comes from insourced goods is built on a perception of being better quality and of prestige, especially if the locale of production has heritage and a particular association with the specific products being made. Doing so strengthens the brand narrative, just as start up UK denim brand Hiut has done by manufacturing in the Welsh town of Cardigan.  A town that made jeans for the thirty years until the factory closed down and had not done so until Hiut settled there. Hence the brand story includes the tag ‘Our town is going to make jeans again’ with a long term vision of eventually hiring back all the workers when the business, steadily grows, ensuring standards of long lasting quality. With this emphasise on quality it easily justifies the price and is acceptable to the consumer.

The perception of quality is important to the consumer but also the producers in some in cases, particularly when companies trade on an image of quality. As in the case of French high end furnishing company Geneviève Lethu who returned its porcelain production back to France after quality concerns with some of their product lines.

The growing affinity for insourced products is the direct result of years of the ‘Made in China’ label associated negatively with cheap labour and inferior products. The origin of a product is not only beneficial to the brand or product in its home market but also when exported. As demonstrated by the Chinese’s growing affinity for goods bearing ‘Made in the U.S.A’ stamp.


1
Feb 27

James Bond: Everyone needs a hobby. Raoul Silva: So what’s yours? James Bond: Resurrection.

 

As the James Bond character celebrated his fiftieth anniversary on film in the October of last year, he should just be hitting his stride. Some would say that when Daniel Craig took over the role in 2006 the franchise had rebooted the character from the rather clean-cut and slick iteration of the spy - to the grittier, harder more physical portrayal seen in ‘Casino Royale’. Undoubtedly the character has undergone a transformation seemingly more of an anti-hero, with an outward expression of emotion. He is also propelled into the 21st century more spiritedly aligned with new action heroes such as Jason Bourne.

 

Whilst that film may have been seen as Bond’s genesis, the view I hold is that this is not the case, ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘The Quantum of Solace’ were simply the gestational period. The character’s reincarnation happens in ‘Skyfall’. Where the latest release sees the franchise make bold moves and takes risk by removing some of the long upheld Bond traditions. The boldest move of them all being the shooting of Bond that leads to his ‘death’. Craig’s Bond is exposed to realistic endangerment as opposed to the camp mild peril of his predecessors but the supposed killing of the protagonist in the opening scene leading to the credits could be considered quite extreme. This death however is incredibly significant to both the films themes and future direction. When Bond falls off the train and plunges to his death fully submerged in water, he drops to lowest abyss before entering a black hole, then rises. This is not only a representation of the characters journey throughout the film, but it’s the visual metaphor of Bond’s ‘rebirth’ it is both a symbol of baptism and the incubation in an embryonic state. Part of the opening sequence has undertones of new life development in the human body, using iconology that relates to the film plot abstractly to represent this, for example the blood that seeps from Bond’s gun wound collects in a formation similar to that of a network of veins carrying blood. There are also the dancing Chinese dragons within the sequence that bears resemblance to moving red blood cells. This lays down the foundation for one of the films dominant themes of the ‘new’, more specifically as in new life, through rebirth and regeneration of character, but also beginnings and transition of relationships and identities. Some supporting examples are Bond’s metamorphosis, field agent Eve reintroduced as Miss Moneypenny becoming M’s secretary, another reintroduction comes in the shape of a much younger ‘Q’, but also the appearance of Gareth Mallory and his eventual promotion to ‘M’.

 

As with all new life there has to be death, and ‘Skyfall’ is filled with an imminent sense of ‘end’, not to mention the resurfacing and confronting of the past and any linked demons to this passage in time. This is also signified in the opening sequence through signs of death and macabre atmosphere, such as gravestones in a cemetery, and falling weapons. This is the equally dominant opposing theme within the film. We see the announcement of Judi Dench’s ‘M’ forced into retirement and eventual character’s death. Bond also kills his personal demons in the destruction of his childhood home. But it is villain Raoul Silva a cyber terrorist who is the accelerant for the chain events, but his character uniquely dies twice, once off screen in his previous life (another example of rebirth) as Tiago Rodriguez a talented former MI6 operative. Silva is psychologically and physically scarred after a failed suicide attempt with cyanide, but interestingly enough unlike Bond he seemingly revels in his new life/persona. The supporting thought behind this theory is his ‘Think on your sins’ calling card that has an image of a skull in the style of those seen on display when celebrating the Mexican holiday ‘Day of the dead’, but on a more obvious level he also plans to celebrate ‘M’s downfall both figuratively and literally; preempting the event even before its happened.

 

Bond’s transient characterization after his ‘death’ is another central element to the story. He is nursed back to health after being washed up. But his being ‘washed up’ becomes reflective of his state of mind. The Bond that is skillfully competent mentally and physically, with effortless cunning to outsmart his adversaries is absent. We are left with a man who becomes a shadow of his former self, spiraling into alcohol and drug abuse. He stumbles through his mission haplessly; lacking the finesse and calculating resolve we expect of Bond. He is unfit for duty and perpetually coming up short and succeeding by sheer luck in most instances. It was easy to draw comparisons to another British icon Derek ‘Delboy’ Trotter who often followed a similar trajectory. By all means not directly similar it makes good for illustrative purposes. A good example is the fight scene where he falls/dragged into the pit of two Komodo dragons in the Macau casino.  In a matter of seconds he manages to allude getting shot twice by chance; first the opposition takes Bond’s gun that luckily, only operates with the touch of his palm-print. The second attempt at his life was thwarted through intervention of Moneypenny. This trend continues to the very end in the penultimate scenes in his childhood home the films namesake ‘Skyfall’ in Scotland, where he is reliant on crude booby traps to narrowly escape defeat. What we see here is Bond at the stage of ‘learning to walk again’. Silva was aware of this as he stated ‘She sent you after me (M), knowing you’re not ready, knowing you would likely die. Mommy was very bad.’

 

New beginnings means new learning curves and this is ultimately what ‘Skyfall’ presents. In many respects this challenges the audiences expectation of a Bond film. We see charming nods to the past in the form of the sixties Aston Martin DB5, and the small grey glen plaid material with a modern twist to the suits is homage worn by Sean Connery’s Bond.  All of which is very much endearing on the franchise’s anniversary. This is all familiarity we get, and the franchise took the old adage familiarity breeds’ contempt to heart. So any views that the moral of the story is ‘The old ways are the best’ and a flagrant tribute to Bond of yesteryear is pretty much invalid as ‘Q’ told Bond  were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that any more’. James Bond is clearly taking a new direction and future films hopefully will show him to be more adaptive and as resourceful as he was at Skyfall.


2
Feb 01
Brand communication for cars has previously tended to veer toward portraying them as machines designed to perform with specific purpose and functionality. They are depicted as being mostly devoid, and disconnected from anything remotely natural. Although this makes sense, given the urbanized context in which they are typically used. Audi have deviated from this approach choosing to show one of their cars in a ‘spirited’ manner, combining nature and technology. Seemingly naturally intuitive, rather than mechanical, the car appears ostensibly living and endowed with a ‘soul’. This suggestion of soul gives the car a sense of animism.  

 

Animism is an ideological discourse rooted in cultural anthropology, used to describe primitive religious and philosophical beliefs of early man, in an effort to comprehend the natural phenomena and the world they inhabit. Nineteenth century anthropologist, Edward Burnett Tylor in his most formative work ‘Primitive Culture’, first originated the term. The principle idea that emerged from Tylor’s work was that all humans, and elements or objects of nature even the inanimate have an immaterial spirit that is the manifestation of a living soul within them. It is this soul that characterizes the entity that it embodies. The notion has since evolved from Tylor’s initial theory of religious rites and spirituality has since been broadened and has been applied to a number of disciplines from psychology, film, art and design to branding. 

 

It is this adapted form of animism more in line with Piaget’s theory that has been recently applied to an outdoor advertising print campaign for premium car manufacturer Audi. The visually striking advert is for the new luxury S7 executive sedan model, the high performance sports version of sister model the A7. The advert uses animism to demonstrate the dual power of the cars cylinder engine and technological prowess as the cars unique selling point.

 The duality and engine power is represented through visual metaphor by the juxtaposing of one half of a snow leopard and domestic cats face. With one half superimposed with the other, alongside the copy ‘8 cylinders when you need it’ beside the half of the snow leopard and ‘4 cylinders when you don’t’ next to the half of the domestic cat.  The ‘soul’ of the car is personified by the hybridity of these two different species of cat, the engine has the capacity to ‘purr’ like a domestic cat when in 4 cylinder mode and ‘growl’ like the snow leopard albeit it in a controlled manner when using the 8 cylinder. The advert references the idiom of car engines purring like a cat, but in this instance the engine is like no other and goes beyond the usual purring. 

 

As Barthes said in ‘Mythologies’ ‘the concept closely corresponds to a function, it is defined as a tendency’ (Barthes:118:1991). The concept of the metaphor is appropriated by the knowledge of the cultural myth surrounding the given idiom. 

 

The symbolism of the two cats goes beyond the primary communication of selling the engines versatile capabilities.  Audi use the imagery to intimate a suggestion of ‘natural’, the S7 is being characterized as a natural part of the environment rather than operating merely as a machine. The dichotomy of the cars personality allows the functioning in multiple conditions and climates, basically in its element everywhere. Particularly in extreme conditions such as snow and ice, in the mountainous and alpine terrain. These typologies are often seen in Audi advertising and other promotional communication. Particularly with models inclusive of ‘Quattro’ and ‘Allroad’ technology. The aforementioned typologies are the same habitat that the snow leopard can be found living in. The domestic cat is indicative of urban city driving - the ‘lighter’ driving. Whereas the snow leopard the hunter and explorer is more adaptable than its domestic cousin, suggestive of being naturally better at road handling for all other ‘heavier’ driving experiences outside of the usual city drive. Outside of the functioning and operating of the car, the cat comparison also works well at illustrating the feline-esque aesthetical form of the car’s design. 

 

 

It must be noted that Audi describe the cylinder management system as being ‘at the very heart of the S7’ on the Audi website. Further supporting the proposition of the car being with ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’. The adverts composition and layout very much alludes to this thinking with the main focus being the hybrid cat, dominating at least half of the space. In comparison the image of the S7 in the bottom right hand seems unimportant; it is tertiary in terms of dominance with the Audi logo and strapline. For other brands this would be a risk, not giving the product itself centre stage.  But this is a trait of Audi print branding, sometimes negating the product completely to sell a new feature that’s innovative and perpetuates ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’, and this advert is no exception.

 

While the advert’s use of animism is successful in its intent of communicating the engines competency. As mentioned briefly in the opening paragraph, the combining of the nature in a spiritual manner to sell technology is a markedly unusual shift for the Audi brand. Up till now there have been little if any examples of doing so. Preferring to present their innovative technology as being smart in an A.I sense - computerized and automated. By design cars are disconnected from the natural world but if you are to ground the car engines design in the current narratives surrounding the environment, fuel consumption and vehicle regulation. The cylinder management system helps to reconcile with most of the issues. Improved efficiency and economy through lower carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Immediately proposing a more naturist car rather than ‘gas’ guzzler’. The mimicry of nature is by all means nothing new but by the standards of Audi’s technological advancement it is a powerful sentient to connect with.

Brand communication for cars has previously tended to veer toward portraying them as machines designed to perform with specific purpose and functionality. They are depicted as being mostly devoid, and disconnected from anything remotely natural. Although this makes sense, given the urbanized context in which they are typically used. Audi have deviated from this approach choosing to show one of their cars in a ‘spirited’ manner, combining nature and technology. Seemingly naturally intuitive, rather than mechanical, the car appears ostensibly living and endowed with a ‘soul’. This suggestion of soul gives the car a sense of animism.  

 

Animism is an ideological discourse rooted in cultural anthropology, used to describe primitive religious and philosophical beliefs of early man, in an effort to comprehend the natural phenomena and the world they inhabit. Nineteenth century anthropologist, Edward Burnett Tylor in his most formative work ‘Primitive Culture’, first originated the term. The principle idea that emerged from Tylor’s work was that all humans, and elements or objects of nature even the inanimate have an immaterial spirit that is the manifestation of a living soul within them. It is this soul that characterizes the entity that it embodies. The notion has since evolved from Tylor’s initial theory of religious rites and spirituality has since been broadened and has been applied to a number of disciplines from psychology, film, art and design to branding.

 

It is this adapted form of animism more in line with Piaget’s theory that has been recently applied to an outdoor advertising print campaign for premium car manufacturer Audi. The visually striking advert is for the new luxury S7 executive sedan model, the high performance sports version of sister model the A7. The advert uses animism to demonstrate the dual power of the cars cylinder engine and technological prowess as the cars unique selling point.

 The duality and engine power is represented through visual metaphor by the juxtaposing of one half of a snow leopard and domestic cats face. With one half superimposed with the other, alongside the copy ‘8 cylinders when you need it’ beside the half of the snow leopard and ‘4 cylinders when you don’t’ next to the half of the domestic cat.  The ‘soul’ of the car is personified by the hybridity of these two different species of cat, the engine has the capacity to ‘purr’ like a domestic cat when in 4 cylinder mode and ‘growl’ like the snow leopard albeit it in a controlled manner when using the 8 cylinder. The advert references the idiom of car engines purring like a cat, but in this instance the engine is like no other and goes beyond the usual purring.

 

As Barthes said in ‘Mythologies’ ‘the concept closely corresponds to a function, it is defined as a tendency’ (Barthes:118:1991). The concept of the metaphor is appropriated by the knowledge of the cultural myth surrounding the given idiom.

 

The symbolism of the two cats goes beyond the primary communication of selling the engines versatile capabilities.  Audi use the imagery to intimate a suggestion of ‘natural’, the S7 is being characterized as a natural part of the environment rather than operating merely as a machine. The dichotomy of the cars personality allows the functioning in multiple conditions and climates, basically in its element everywhere. Particularly in extreme conditions such as snow and ice, in the mountainous and alpine terrain. These typologies are often seen in Audi advertising and other promotional communication. Particularly with models inclusive of ‘Quattro’ and ‘Allroad’ technology. The aforementioned typologies are the same habitat that the snow leopard can be found living in. The domestic cat is indicative of urban city driving - the ‘lighter’ driving. Whereas the snow leopard the hunter and explorer is more adaptable than its domestic cousin, suggestive of being naturally better at road handling for all other ‘heavier’ driving experiences outside of the usual city drive. Outside of the functioning and operating of the car, the cat comparison also works well at illustrating the feline-esque aesthetical form of the car’s design.

 

 

It must be noted that Audi describe the cylinder management system as being ‘at the very heart of the S7’ on the Audi website. Further supporting the proposition of the car being with ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’. The adverts composition and layout very much alludes to this thinking with the main focus being the hybrid cat, dominating at least half of the space. In comparison the image of the S7 in the bottom right hand seems unimportant; it is tertiary in terms of dominance with the Audi logo and strapline. For other brands this would be a risk, not giving the product itself centre stage.  But this is a trait of Audi print branding, sometimes negating the product completely to sell a new feature that’s innovative and perpetuates ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’, and this advert is no exception.

 

While the advert’s use of animism is successful in its intent of communicating the engines competency. As mentioned briefly in the opening paragraph, the combining of the nature in a spiritual manner to sell technology is a markedly unusual shift for the Audi brand. Up till now there have been little if any examples of doing so. Preferring to present their innovative technology as being smart in an A.I sense - computerized and automated. By design cars are disconnected from the natural world but if you are to ground the car engines design in the current narratives surrounding the environment, fuel consumption and vehicle regulation. The cylinder management system helps to reconcile with most of the issues. Improved efficiency and economy through lower carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Immediately proposing a more naturist car rather than ‘gas’ guzzler’. The mimicry of nature is by all means nothing new but by the standards of Audi’s technological advancement it is a powerful sentient to connect with.


Oct 30

The commercial value in culture value has been an idea toying in my mind for a while now. The prompt for this was an article included in ES magazine in September for London Fashion Week. The article discussed the recently renovated 121 Regent Street, now the flagship home to British luxury brand Burberry. The store has been defined as an innovative retail hub for the 21st century shopper, blurring the digital and physical shopping space. This was interesting enough, but it was a comment made by the brands Chief Creative Director Christopher Bailey about pet project Burberry acoustic. ‘It has absolutely no commercial value, it’s just that I love music, a lot of people enjoy the music we do at shows and events and I have a lot of friends in that world… I am looking at the 360.’ The project highlights new emerging British musical talent that are mostly unsigned, giving them a platform to showcase their music.  This statement made me question the importance of cultural value to a brand image and how this translates into commercial value. Having been one of the driving forces in reviving the brands fortunes, after revising their image after ‘chav-gate’ in the early 2000’s, under the tutelage of his creative strategy and vision. Subsequently transforming the brand into the luxury fashion darling that it is today. No brand should be wise to the cultural implications better than Burberry, given the previously mentioned situation. With a clearly defined and consistent brand image that strikes the balance in its representation of Britishness with a cool modern twist, remaining respectful of the brands 156 year-old heritage. The integration of technology and strong social media presence is clear indication of the brands commitment to securing future longevity.

In light of this knowledge, Bailey’s statement about Burberry Acoustic seems very dismissive, given his success as a strategic marketer it could be a case of downplaying the marketing element of the project in an effort to make the projects conception seem more ‘authentic’. Whether this is the case or not, the commercial value in projects such as Acoustic provide the brand with an experiential extension of ‘Cool Britannia’ that extends beyond the remit of fashion. It remains aligned with the brands core fundamentals; by spotlighting British unsigned artists is evidence of remaining cutting edge with future forward brand thinking and devotion to the perpetuation of Britishness. These are ultimately the symbolic values Burberry wants their ‘fans’ to engage and associate with the brand.

Acoustic goes beyond the usual endorsement or sponsorship, as technically the artists are not endorsing the brand, it’s a means of self-promotion. However the associations that are generated through the collaboration, such as the artist’s music and the brands clothing being worn by the artist is mutually beneficial exchange of status. The project also capitalizes on the long established relationship between fashion and music, both on a trend forward and musing/inspirational level. More importantly both respectively heighten the others visual experience i.e. catwalk chows and music videos.

 

As we know today’s brands are selling a lifestyle an ideological disposition that is representative of their product. The selling of the lifestyle/ideology now goes beyond the traditional advertising marketing campaigns, requiring consumers to actively engage at a more emotive level through cultural interactions.

One brand in particular that has invested heavily in its cultural value is Red Bull. The brand is the perfect example of refuting Baileys view. They continue to demonstrate their preeminent understanding of creating cultural equity that is exchangeable for commercial value. Done so by sustaining a creative cultural ecological system, that goes beyond selling just a drink.

Red Bull has done this by building upon its famous strap line Red Bull gives you wings pertaining to its main selling point of maintaining or boost flagging energy. The brand image that has been created to signify the brands identity as an energy drink is through the visualization of extreme sports and adrenaline induced activities through its advertising and marketing events that are dedicated to providing an experiential extension to the brand image. The events are branded content and media owned by Red Bull that locates itself in a specific cultural context that is related to the thrill seeking buzz brand position they purport. So sporting teams such as the Formula 1 and MLS Football teams, with some of its 500 events such as Rampage and Flute tag, credibly strengthen the brand DNA. The game changer however has to be the most recent and hugely successfully Red Bull Stratos. The event saw Felix Baumgartner free falling from the stratosphere and parachuting back to earth. The event saw Baumgartner set the record for becoming the first person to travel at the sound of speed.

The Red Bull Stratos became a worldwide sensation with 8 million viewers watching the live stream, not to mention the TV channels and other digital platforms showing a feed. The event generated buzz during and after the event huge through immeasurable online engagement via social media. This was in fact how I came to learn of the event. This sense of engagement created not only a sense of ‘community spirit’. As people were deeply emotionally invested, whether they were rooting for him or doubting his success.

Undoubtedly Stratos was a marketing event and does not pretend to be otherwise. It was designed to continue to define and spread the brand message through a clear and constructive narrative of pushing yourself to the limit mentally or physically.  The marketing becomes blurred and secondary, as it is superseded by the cultural and historical element of the event. Though it will always be remembered for pushing the boundaries of marketing. Not only by the sheer magnitude of the event itself but more so on an innovative level. The residual effects that go beyond extreme adventure, such as the scientific value and advancement both in medicine and engineering, not to mention the massive data collated can be used to provide further scientific contributions.

The hype and buzz of the event will have no doubt parlayed into commercial value through increased brand awareness and personification by creating the ultimate branding cultural interaction. Continuing to strengthen the brands image. So if Bailey is downplaying he may want to rethink that idea and celebrate Acoustic for what it is, marketing just more emotionally and culturally connected.


4
Oct 19

This month saw the release of R&B singer Miguel’s sophomore album, Kaleidoscope Dream. The release saw the singer adopt a new business model in the lead up to its release. With music sales dwindling year by year, both new and established acts continually have to find ways to engage the consumer with their music and brand.

Following the current trend in the industry releasing a free mixtape or a Fre(EP) as a precursor to the release of the album. Miguel released the ‘Art Dealer Chic’ EP in three volumes, with each installment containing three songs.

The release was intended for promotional purposes and as an introduction to the artistic direction of the album. With some of the records later being featured on the album.

This project later provided thematic inspiration for the release of a further two official EPs Kaleidoscope Dream: The Water Preview and Kaleidoscope Dream: The Air Preview. The purpose of the EPs were just that; digitally previewing a total of 6 songs that were set to appear on the album.

The thinking behind the strategy, according to the artist is to be different. Whilst I get this, and yes it’s true in today’s saturated market there needs to be difference to stand out. The skeptic in me believes that being different may have played a small part, I feel it is more so financially motivated. As aforementioned album sales are on a steady decline; digital singles continue to increase, due to the iTunes and other major digital outlets.

As we know the ‘iTunes culture’ reformatted the consumption and the selling of music to the consumer. Leading to the adoption of ‘playlist listening’, where people select the songs they want, this is particularly true when discovering new music or artists. I had this discussion with friends recently that although iTunes sells albums it has been detrimental to the format. For someone who always took pride in buying an album and listening to the CD from back to front. Having an appreciation for the CD and wearing it out for months at a time (if the album was good). In recent years I have been guilty of buying an album and simply going through listening to the tracks I like, leaving some to grow and discarding the rest.


The preview EP offers a ‘bite sized’ middle ground to both the single and album format. Where the consumer may feel reluctant to spend money on an album, they may do so on a preview EP. The other proposition the EP  offers  is a means to maintain steady promotion, especially if there is a significant time period between first single and album.


This strategy by Miguel and his team is an indicative of trying to cover all bases by offering an alternative option, and perhaps generate lost revenue from illegal downloading or hoping loyal fans are willing to part with their money potentially twice or three times in this case.

It will be interesting to see the sales of all music connected to this album after the era is complete, to determine whether or not the inclusion of the Preview EP in the promotional campaign had any real impact.

As Miguel is still a relatively new artist it would be exciting to see how this model would work with a more popular established artist, such as Flo Rida for example. As he is an artist who has built an incredibly successful and lucrative career driven on selling mostly digital singles but not so much with albums. The Preview EP could prove successful for this sort of artist. It will be interesting if this strategy is adopted widespread across the music industry.


3
Oct 19

Miguel-Adorn

The video is directed by Jason Beattie. The video has been out since July, but for whatever reason I cannot stop watching it recently.


1
Aug 05

There was a recent battle of wills between media giant Viacom and US satellite content distributor DirecTV. The dispute led to the removal of the Viacom channels such as Nickelodeon, MTV and VH1 from the DirecTV network. Causing station blackouts for Directs almost 20 million subscribers.

 

The cause of the dispute was due to Viacom wanting a 30% increase in royalties on renegotiation of the subscription contract for the satellite company to continue carrying the networks. Viacom believe that DirecTV had been paying below market rates.  Viacom say they are only asking for a few pennies more per subscriber and will not cost the consumer anymore. DirecTV counteracted this by arguing that this increase equates to almost a billion dollars, and will mean an increase to the consumer’s monthly subscription fee, adding that the rise is also unjustified due to falling ratings on the channels. What’s particularly interesting about the situation is that both parties have used social media such as twitter as a tool of manipulation to defend their respective corners- publicly taking shots at one another and essentially ‘passing the buck’.

 

One point that DirecTV CEO Mike White made that resonated with me, (although the cynic in me says this it was a thinly veiled attempt to appear as the ‘customers champion’) is that the consumer should have the choice to pay for only the channels they watch in an ‘unbundled’ package, rather than the current business model which see’s the consumer paying for all networks in the media conglomerates portfolio.

 

What the companies fail to realise this dispute and the handling afterwards was bad business for both of them as they are intrinsically reliant on one another to generate revenue. But more importantly they are no longer the ‘gatekeepers’ to the content as they once were 10- 15 years ago, making their positions less safe. Viacom is ultimately in a stronger position than DirecTV as they are the content provider, and DirecTV relies on them to offer a service to the consumer. Nonetheless, with the advent of web 2.0 introducing streaming services both illegal and legal via services such as Netflix and Hulu+. If consumers choose to go the illegal route both parties lose out.  Which might have been the case given that Viacom had taken down all new content from their channels website to put pressure on DirecTV to hastily end the situation.

 

It must also be noted that Netflix reported that their subscribers watched more than one billion hours of content in the month of June; making it more popular than any cable network. Although DVRs have given people the ‘choice’ to watch what they want when they want. The Netflix distribution model offers this also due to its vast licensing agreements – but why it poses a threat to traditional content distributors such as DirecTV and its competitors is simply down to affordability. Netflix is very affordable at $10 a month in comparison to cable and satellite packages costing upwards of $65 to view the same content. The recently launched UK version of the service is equally affordable at £5.99.

To quote Robert Johnson founder of the BET Network, who sold the station to Viacom in 2000 ‘Online services such as Hulu LLC and Netflix that don’t force consumers to buy channels they don’t watch will pressure cable operators to offer individual networks at lower prices, Johnson said. Smaller channels may have to merge, he said. Surging prices for sports and other cable TV content are being passed along to consumers in higher monthly bills, according to Johnson. “They can’t keep passing on to consumers 10 percent increases,” Johnson said. “At some point consumers are going to say, ‘Enough is enough’ Robert Johnson’s new venture RLJ Acquisitions recently acquired Acorn Media Group and Image entertainment and plans to merge, naming the operation the RLJ Entertainment. The aim of the venture is to provide and create content that can be distributed through new alternative digital channels. Given that YouTube has also extended its brand reach by entering the market to create content enlisting tastemakers such as Ashton Kutcher, Pharrell Williams, Madonna and Jay-Z to create original content. Not to mention their premium Channel WIGS (where it gets interesting) aimed at women with all original material featuring a host of notable Hollywood players, such as Julia Stiles, Alfred Molina, Virginia Madsen and True Blood’s Stephen Moyer. This is testament to the changing dynamics and the innovation within the world of entertainment content.

 


Jul 16

One of the more memorable ideas seen at the Camberwell School of Art 2012’ Final year degree show. The piece is entitled ‘The Wheel Of Doom’ by Imogen Reekie and Harry Winteringham. A disruptive guerrilla ‘installation’ of Apple’s infuriating spinning wheel in 3D. The aim of the collaborative project is to explore the relationship of digital and technological frustration. Exploring a rage of behaviours and emotions from annoyance, anger, to waiting and slow progress.  The 3D wheel is designed to emulate this in the real world, using one of the most recognizable symbols synonymous with this sort of interaction.

The results were hilariously captured on a number of video’s and uploaded to a specially created YouTube channel ItsLoadingTV. Here’s a video montage of various clips of the making of the series.