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The most common words and tags on this blog

Just came across a brilliant little tool called Wordle (thanks to Now In Colour). Punch in a URL or a piece of text and it will create a word cloud using the words appearing most often in the text. From the looks of things, we’re not where I originally thought this blog was going to go, but I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.

...a story that is never completely told...

...a story that is never completely told...

A great brand is a story that is never completely told.”

I just clocked this over at TIGS, what a great quote. I was sitting having breakfast with a good friend yesterday morning and he was wondering aloud why some brands that couldn’t possibly have been bigger all of a sudden become tiny before disappearing completely. He was talking about a particular American beer (whose name I can’t remember) that was the Budweiser of its day (I couldn’t imagine saying anything more insulting about a beer, except maybe this).

This has me thinking about brand extension – do brands therefore extend themselves because they finish the story they set out to tell? Once extended, do they find their story wasn’t al that interested in the first place?

Thinking about the uber-brands, Cadbury certainly has story left to tell, as does Apple, Nike, Vogue, who else? Contrast that with brands that we perhaps know too much about, like Microsoft or McDonalds. Those are easy targets though, who else is out there that seems to have run out of things to say?

(This also has me thinking about luxury brands, how open would not beat closed in that situation, and how not knowing the story adds to their appeal…hmmm that’s another post entirely.)

Image courtesy of Mikey G Ottawa, with thanks to compfight.

My latest column is up over at Marketing Magazine’s site. I said a couple days ago I was thinking a lot about intent this week, call it a cosmic quest for something deeper than the window dressing. If I wasn’t in advertising, that would actually be a good thing.

There’s a lot of talk lately about brands and the voices they speak with. Be it through products or services, conversation is the new currency through which everyone wants to be measured. If what we’ve been saying for a while now is true, and our brands are to be imbued with human traits and personalities in order to inform the way they speak to their audience, then we need to look at intent…

The rest of the piece is over at Marketing Magazine.

The women going to work!Driving to work this morning I snapped this pic. I realise its not a great one, blame Blackberry not me (as a complete aside, how do you manage to put a measly 1.3 megapixel camera in your phone guys? Honestly! But when you’re capable of stuff like this, a lousy camera should be of no surprise…). Anyway…the car in front was advertising a female house-painting service called Women @ Work Painting. “98.5% testosterone free” apparently – whether they’re being cute or that is level of testosterone in the average woman I don’t know.

The service was apparently born out of bad experiences with trades people, they promise four things:

  • turn up on time
  • work on consecutive days
  • complete job by the due date
  • clean up after ourselves

This may be a generational thing, but I don’t give myself over to gender stereotypes. If they can actually guarantee that level of service, if any business could guarantee that level of service, then they would have me as a customer. I should add I don’t quite get the “work on consecutive days” part, I can only assume other tradies out there will spread jobs out and work on multiple houses at once, frustrating the clients they have in some cases.

The only thing I’m thinking on top of this though is if a business went around branding itself as “98.5% estrogen free”, I don’t know how well that would play…reminds me of a billboard I saw a couple years back, a massive rare steak on a plate and a tagline: Brisbane’s worst vegetarian restaurant.

Dear Mr. Mechanic,

You did a great job on my car, fixed the glove box brilliantly. You sent a follow up letter which was brief and to the point, you did everything right. Except you put a sticker on my back window without asking me and in a spot I was unlikely to see until the next time I put my guitars in my car.

Which happened a couple days ago.

Permission marketing is just that, it requires permission. Otherwise you’re just forcing yourself on people, and that doesn’t work anymore. Earn people’s trust, respect their time AND their dollar. Don’t try to put words in their mouths, because that only works as long as you’re in the room, and you don’t have time to be there in the room with everyone of your customers (even if you did, you’d just breed resentment, not loyalty).

The rest of this post is available at Marketing Magazine.

When people talk about campaigns being exposed, what they’re seeing is the revelation of the intent behind the activity. Julian Cole talked about a Ford ad last week which summarised this perfectly. Ford had made it reasonably clear their ad was fake and they were just having some fun, prompting Julian to write.

people enjoy…content for what it is…This is a great example of why full disclosure works in the social media space.

The intent here was to entertain, not to fool. The result is engaging and hats off to Ford for having the stones to do this, and not have an intent to deceive at the core of what they were doing. The added bonus here is they get blogged about for All The Right Reasons(TM), and what could be better than that?

So, we’ll refer to it as intent, but what is at the core of the campaigns you’re building for the brands you work with?

Fender(“player” is for the Jay-Z trainspotters, you know who you are…)

I was thinking this morning about the things that are intrinsically us. Not you and I, us as in you. The things that, try as we might, we cannot escape.

I say this because I wanted a new suit. I saw a great one, tried it on, fit like a glove, I looked (and felt!) great. The problem is I don’t want a new suit, or at least don’t have enough call for it in my day to day to warrant it, so there was a quandry.

I was wandering around thinking about this a couple weeks back when I stumbled into a second hand music store and suddenly lost an hour to a beautiful near-mint left-handed Stratocaster. I saw in the back room of this music store playing away, lost to the world. I was even joined at one point by a guy on bass, who just wandered through and thought this looks like an ideal spot for an impromptu jam; it was great.

Reconciling wants and needs is, most of the time, like dragging together magnets with the same charge; you can hold them in place for a bit but they don’t naturally fall that way. Our businesses and brands are like that too, wants and needs can be so distant at times. The brand wants to be Coke, but it needs to be springwater. It wants to be Nike, but it needs to be a solidly-made shoe your podiatrist can recommend.

That of course is fine, if it is true. Nailing down the things that are fundamentally true is what is important, finding the things that cannot be easily ignored or argued with gives you a platform you can build on. Me in a suit is a pretty good imitation of a guy in a suit.

Me with a guitar in my hands I don’t have to fake for a second.

Everything Web 2.0Do me a favour, open a new tab or window in your browser and punch in What happens? It re-directs to the Vogue website where we’re given a token sampling of the current issue in the midst of the Australian Vogue website.

Hold up (wait a minute).

Vogue. We’re not Vogue, we’re GQ! Since when is the GQ man subservient to the Vogue woman? Understand, this isn’t gender politics, this is branding 101. The GQ man is strong and independent, he is a law unto his own stylish self. He can have epic, swinging-from-the-chandeliers-sex with the Vogue woman, but he is in no way beholden to her, certainly not a subset of her environment.

Contrast this with British GQ. Being the digital guy that I am, I’m going to call a spade a bloody shovel (thanks Grandpa), the British GQ site isn’t much better, but it is its own beast. Girls, gadgets, films, music, motors, style, grooming, bars, restaurants and only right at the end is the magazine mentioned – which makes me think, nay, hope Conde Nast’s UK operations have an inkling that print still has a role to play but its digital offering needs to have its own legs.

(I am however biased…moving on…) should be something the magazine is not. Nobody is going to read a printed page’s worth of content online, pieces are shorter, they’re a single idea (or they should be). You have people’s attention in a place where they’re willingly engaged by your brand. Not only that, you probably have the attention of some fairly articulate and intelligent people (and then me) who are in a medium where they’re familiar with exchanging ideas in public forums; why not give them an appropriate space to do that?

What about a showcase for Australia’s best menswear designers? You have such limited inventory in the magazine, online is as good as limitless. We’re all guilty of salivating over the same foreign labels, though I was in a bar Saturday night and a guy in Zegna asked where I got my coat – it was Saba, home grown. If a site conveniently put together a shopping list of Australian labels I would seek them out and wear them proudly.

Let’s recognise there’s a whole audience around men’s grooming and fashion that is unique to Australian culture, why is Australian GQ not the epicentre of that the way GQ is in every other territory? Because we still all aspire to Paul Smith suits anyway? Perhaps. But if we don’t back our own nobody else will, and GQ Australia is in a privileged position where it can and should make that happen.

In conclusion…

I’m a huge fan of the GQ brand – to me it perfectly nails a combination of aspiration and accessibility. The GQ man is James Bond without the inconvenience of having to save the world (though he probably could…), it is working hard and playing much, much harder. We all have brands or products we love that have somehow fallen by the wayside, as consumers we can demand they do better, and we should! If they do better, then everyone wins, if they don’t, it is a one-sided victory that isn’t even ours – it goes to that brand’s competitors.

For now though, I’m going back to work, There’s a new British GQ out on the shelves of Borders, and I’m stuck back in March. I suppose in the absence of Australian GQ, I’d at least have more time…

…something the GQ man can never get enough of.

Image courtesy of Stabilo Boss with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction
  4. Audience & Competitors
  5. Online (you are here)

I may very well be the only straight man in Australia with this opinion, but I’m not interested in buying magazines with girls flaunting themselves on the front cover. If I want that, I can go to almost any bar on a Friday night and see pretty young things who can’t hold their pre-mixed vodka. And if for some bizarre reason I’m really desperate to see girls tarted up and air-brushed to within an inch of their cosmetically enhanced lives, I’ll google “porn star” and see what I find. In fairness, British GQ are as guilty of this as anyone, and Australian GQ actually have Guy Pearce on the cover for their April/May issue.

Regardless, put a stunning David Bailey portrait on the cover (better yet, an Australian photographer – Robert Paul Mee has a lousy website but is brilliant) and I’m 10 times more likely to buy than a bikini-clad actress. I realise I have now put myself in an even smaller subset of beings who know a David Bailey photograph on sight, but nobody said this was going to be easy.

The first part of this is something I don’t have an easy answer to, but I think about it a lot, and that’s we need a new definition of masculinity because the old one isn’t working, and while that is something that informs this argument, it is itself a separate post (and one I look forward to).

The second part of this is looking at the space GQ exists in. Australian GQ competes on the shelves of newsagents and Borders against British GQ, American GQ (only marginally better than ours, but full of white-bread Hilfiger and Polo ads, therefore beyond saving) and Esquire (here the US version is actually better than the English one) among others.

It does not compete (or at least it shouldn’t) with Ralph, FHM or any other “lad” magazine purporting to appeal to stereotypical male culture. Who writes this drivel? Who sees enough value in its pages to shell out for it? FHM are certainly aware of how low-brow they are, to the extent that they’ve started releasing dedicated Style issues in an attempt to reach people like me. Sorry guys, your brand doesn’t stretch in that direction, no matter how hard you pull (pun intended).

Does the GQ man lust after models in magazines or does the GQ man party with them on his private yacht? Right. So get them off the cover and let’s replace it with some men we can actually respect and who have earned the spot. British GQ used to run “Britain’s leading quality men’s monthly” across their masthead, and while you could argue you shouldn’t have to say it, they at least knew where they were headed.

Tomorrow, we’ll finish up by looking at online.

Image courtesy of Proserpina with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction
  4. Audience & Competitors (you are here)
  5. Online

Art directionI’ll raise a hand here and say this is a subjective one, everyone likes something different. So, be something different! The art direction on Australian GQ is so clinical as to give the appearance of robotic overlords having taken control, operating on a paint by numbers basis.

In fairness though, British GQ has an ace up its sleeve; it’s called Jo Levin. Jo has been the magazine’s director of chic for a long time, and does it so well a book called GQ Cool was published a couple years ago, highlighting her best work which went a long way to making every person in the pages look like a bonafide superstar, even when all the person staring back at the camera had managed was an ungraceful early exit on Pop Idol. British GQ’s writers are extraordinary, but, with a picture being worth a thousand words and all, Jo Levin gives the magazine a hundred thousand more each issue.

Overall, the layout and art direction in GQ OZ seems more an after-thought than a seized opportunity to extend the brand’s visual identity. I don’t know GQ’s circulation, maybe it does indeed lose money each issue and is actually the poor cousin of the rest of the publisher’s stable. If that is the case then there’s no attempt going on right now to hide that, but I don’t think anyone is capable of mounting an argument that GQ should ever appear second best to anything.

Much like the Editor, the Art Director needs to take that vision of GQ and wash that through the magazine. If you need glasses to read and don’t have them handy, then the colours and shapes on the page should still feel like GQ, and currently it has all the passion of of a senior’s pharmaceutical brochure. All the words used to describe the clothes on display (crisp, fresh, modern) should be employed for the layout. This will forever remain subjective, but if I may employ the words of Malcolm X on a far more trivial matter than he had in mind, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

Still to come: audience & competitors.

Image courtesy of Simon Pais-Thomas, with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction (you are here)
  4. Audience & Competitors
  5. Online