Marketing Remix, Reuse, Recycle.
Good Artist’s Copy; Great Artists Steal
So, we’re calling it: what goes around comes around. The belief that new marketing ideas are simply old ideas remixed. It’s about how established brands continue to stay relevant and their ability to unlock and unleash deep consumer insights Chris. That’s the topic of this week’s show and I’m going to start off with a story about Apple. No, wait, listeners, don’t switch off. I know you think you’ve heard every single Apple analogy out there but this on- trust me- is something you perhaps haven’t heard before.
Take your mind back to 2008 and I’m living in Frankfurt, Germany and I’m working in Kronberg, a little town about ten-fifteen miles north of Frankfurt. And in the office buildings I would regularly see people coming to visit the Braun collection, because I’m working on the Braun appliances brand. So, a little mini museum where you can see the designs of Dieter Rams. Now Dieter Rams, a little more about him, he’s a design icon and he’s world famous, very well known for his principles of good design. I won’t go into all of them, but his principles include: good design is innovative, good design makes a product, good design is aesthetic, good design is honest, good design is environmentally friendly. But what we now know is that over the last decade or so, the last couple of decades actually, his designs have been beautifully, eloquently copied or emerge as created by Apple brand.
I was working on the Braun brand in 2008 and we started to take a closer look and we saw more and more articles saying that Apple designs transform, copied or combined the work of Braun, which had originally created a lot of these visions and these visuals. If you go back and take a look at the very first iPhone calculator app- it’s actually based on a 1970’s Braun ET66 calculator. It had these similar round buttons and I think they subsequently made them squarer to make it less obvious. But then the Apple iMac screen with its eloquent design, it’s closely based on the Braun LE1 speaker. Then the classic one, if you remember the original iPod, with the white wheel that looks very very similar to a Braun T3 pocket radio. And so, Apple stood out for using white, when really it was an emergence from what Braun had been doing and the work of Dieter Rams. So, why am I telling the story? Well, it’s actually a story that helped motivate and inspire us. It actually gave us some swagger when working behind the brand. It helped us reframe how we talked about the brand, internally and externally with customers and we actually started including these Apple stories into our selling stories. So, in effect, we’re really saying hey we’re the original source of these ideas, we had the gravitas, we had originality, that the Braun products were essentially the iconic ideas that stood the test of time. So, it’s kind of inevitable that we’re seeing Braun ideas come into the market because everything we do would be a copy or a remix of it. So, Chris, did I manage to convince you?
I’ll tell you what, while you were chatting away I was googling Braun calculators and yeah, that’s amazing actually, you can really see that, so yes I totally understand that. I think also again, you listen to those principles and they sound very very similar to the Apple design principles as well. What that leads me to is the show’s title is that there are no new ideas- everything is a remix, or a revision and I get that. You look at other industries and that’s pretty well established. In fashion, it’s widely agreed that there’s a twenty/thirty-year cycle before it all repeats itself, and a theory proven out by the fact that the vintage of the second-hand market is worth twenty-five billion pounds in the US, reportedly, which I thought was pretty amazing. The reasons for this is, like it or not, we hark back to our childhood and remember what we saw in the wardrobe, or what we wore, depending on our age, economics plays a role as well, in downturn people buy more investment pieces and reign back their spending. Then there’s the fact that there are early adopters in a traditional product cycle, just like any other market as well. Media plays it’s part as well; Friends with it’s 90’s style. Stranger Things with its 80’s style. It all plays a part into bringing fashion back around the cycles.
Interestingly, there was a man called James Lather, in the 1930’s and he totally called this. He was a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum and he talked about a fifty-year cycle. He said, if you were ten years ahead of your fashion cycle you were considered as indecent, if you were five years ahead you were considered shameless, if you were on trend you were seen as smart and as soon as you pass that trend, as long as you’re one year past, it’s started to be seen as hideous, then amusing, before it comes back as charming and beautiful and romantic.
It’s a really interesting concept that maybe that cycle has speeded up over time but there does come a point where things actually look different and he felt you could apply this to all of the arts and not just fashion, and the same applies to gaming. Radar have just released a great article- help you work out the difference between a remake and a remaster in the gaming world. A very popular genre, but basically: a remakes are a lick of paint, sometimes quite deeply disappointing while the remasters are reimagination. History as well, we talk about that repeating itself, although in a way that’s taking it to extremes but there’s this countless examples where events appear to go in cycles and deliver similar results throughout history.
Look at products and services. We took the first selfies in 1912, scooters were used by the US mail in 1911, chain mails were so popular that the US mail had to ban them, a fore runner of viral marketing. So, again you see parallels from the past and where does that leave marketing? Well, does it go around in cycles? I think sometimes its only because we’re in the thick of it that we may not see those cycles and we may not see that we’re repeating ourselves but if we can take a step back, I do think there’s lessons that we could learn and I think it could help us predict the future and understanding those cycles as well, so yes a really interesting subject I think Sam.
The Name’s Lawson and Monnie…Chri- Doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?
Yeah, and as you were talking there Chris I was thinking is there an example we could have, knowing your history, knowing products, knowing business art culture and psychology and engineering and all of those things, but how can you link back? I think you talked about the timing, getting it right whether you’re shameless, whether you’re quaint or amusing. If you get that timing right, you’re actually on trend and fit culture. For me, I can’t separate marketing and advertising from all of that area and the references. For me, a great example is James Bond. The thing about James Bond is something always stays the same, something’s always relevant, the Bond, the spy, the characters and there’s a bond villain and perhaps the bond theme. Those things have always stayed the same but some things have had to change and evolve with the time even thought they’re still present they’re done in a better way. The sexism; the ‘bimbos’ now have gone. Women are empowered and women actually come and save James sometimes, so it’s not all about him saving the vulnerable women who are helpless, actually he can even be vulnerable himself and the new masked villain now, it’s not the stereotype we used to have perhaps thirty years ago where certain ethnicities were always the bad people. You have female characters now which are replacing male characters and Moneypenny and Q is changing so, what I love about James Bond, in 2020 they’ve actually got a new movie coming out and it’s because they can and they have found a way to be relevant, even though technically the characters maybe sixty or seventy years old. For me, that’s a great example because there are no new ideas, I hate to say. I’d break it down into: it’s either a copy or transforming something existing or a combination. And that’s what a remix is and that’s why I love that expression to describe what we’re doing.
You’re Not Special
Yeah I think that’s a good one. Interestingly, every time a new James Bond movie comes out everyone goes ‘is it still relevant?’ ‘Is this franchise dead and buried?’ And I think people evaluate it every time but still, one of the most successful franchises in the world. Some of this I also think is about how we adapt human behaviour and I think this is a really interesting part as well –the psychology of it. There’s a brilliantly smart guy, a VC called Andrew Chen and he talked about the fact that people stay the same and have stayed the same for thousands of years. It’s technology that changes. And I think you can critique that, we try to work with human behaviour and psychology in marketing sales and the human behaviour remains the same, it’s the technique, the tech, the macro picture that changes around us. So, I think that is something that’s worth exploring. What does this mean? You stick with tried and tested principles and look at how marketing tech enables you to do what you do, easier and better than before. How do you enable what actually is a common psychological belief? So, self-expression. How do you foster community? How do you individualise? What do you appeal to? How do you continue to look for convenience? Again, transport, communication, retail has all been about convenience, all about making life easier. So, these are natural human behaviour traits and I think as marketeers it’s thinking around how does technology advance and what do we learn from that to help improve the consumers lives of the future. So, Sam, what would you say is a classic marketing technique you think is going to make a resurgence and how does that play out?
We seem to be in an era right now where the data implies you need to keep things short and sweet. Interrupt with short bursts of messages and content and just fire it all out there. But I disagree. I believe you can tell longer stories and generate engagement and actually sell more, and as I get longer in tooth in the digital space, I’m less old school in how I see brands and differentiate. And I truly believe that long form content is evergreen. And if you are audience-first and understand when and where they’re doing things and how they do it, then blogs, stories, ads beyond the thirty second advertisement do really work. Let’s go back to the mad men days or the ad men days, yes the David Ogilvy’s of this world. I thought actually a lot of his stuff’s still relevant for today. Again, for the younger listeners, go back and check out the writing; books such as Confessions of an Ad Man or Ogilvy on Advertising- they are all full of the craft and art of writing and writing long form. Long copy, whether people read it or not it actually implies you’ve got something to say. If you write the long copy and your target is reading it, they’re more interested and are more likely to convert- there’s data to show that. You also have the ability to answer more questions, more comments and of course in the digital world you actually provide a more key rich copy. The great bloggers are actually spending more time on their content and the average post is actually getting longer. Information I was looking at from Orbit Media says that in 2019, blog posts longer than 2000 words actually overtook the posts that were less than 500 words. So, my argument is don’t limit yourself by thinking of it as content or content marketing, which implies functional or transactional, think of what you create as stories. Stories are the most powerful form of communication, they’re how we share experiences, how we engage our emotions, they help us share our values, they reveal our unconscious thoughts. So, for me it’s all about stories.
I think that’s a powerful place actually. Any stories particularly come to mind?
Sam’s Story Selection
Yeah, for me examples of great advertising, when I try to think of them they were formed when I was growing up. Back in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s, it’s the classic Oxo family, the series of commercials that came out in the 80’s and 90’s and they’re focusing on a mother, played by a lady called Linda Bellingham, unfortunately she’s passed away recently, but she binds her family together by cooking them meals featuring oxo stock and broth products. And they’ve brought that back, but they’ve simply updated and modernised the narrative for today’s Britain. A family that’s a bit more chaotic and less perfect and teasing each other and more arguments, but they still love, and togetherness brings them back together. And you know what, I still buy that brand and I bring it back to the USA whenever I can, because those stories still mean something to me. The point being Chris, these ads played out over decades. It wasn’t an instant gratification of current creative landscape with all the sensory overload, everything’s got to be done in seven or ten seconds, the nuggets of that insight about family life and being a part of it gave the brand the opportunity to just evolve it and to reflect that family of today through great stories.
Absolutely, if that’s not a brilliant example of content marketing I don’t know what is really. I think that works really well and I think its worth you checking out, listeners if you haven’t, Andrew Chen’s website, he’s got a brilliant resource and many different articles. Again, longform articles, he sets himself, although he’s a successful VC he sets himself the target of one or two essays per month. And when you see how in depth they are- some of them can run into fifty or sixty pages it’s absolutely huge, but in one of his articles he talks about the Michelin Guide. And I knew some of this Sam, but not all of it. So in 1900, you’re trying to create an eco system in France around the automobile. There’s over three thousand automobiles and they’re not really efficient, they’re pretty damned dangerous as well and you’re a company selling tyres. Michelin tyre company. And of course you’re there going well to get people to buy tyres we’re going to have to get people to drive more and there’s only three thousand automobiles out there. So, the solution was to create a guide with all the great restaurants in France and give it out free to drivers. To be honest, I bet most people now will associate the Michelin guide with restaurants- not with tyres. But it absolutely gave people a reason to drive. Another fantastic content marketing example, a real clever effort to do that. And I think it just shows really that these examples have existed for decades, if not centuries before the current raft of content marketing that we now bring to life.
Culture is Crucial
Yeah, as you were saying that Chris, it all rests on really understanding that deep human insight and explaining what’s going on. And I think you can do that really well these days through really understanding what culture means and there’s a culture anthologist called Grant McCracken, and you should check out his work. I was at one of his events and, all of a sudden, things just became so much clearer, because he was using an analogy of the phenomenon of binge watching. We should think about that in a very different light. Binge watching sounds very negative, you think of couch potato, wanting to do nothing, not move off of the sofa, watching this useless information which isn’t very intelligent or sophisticated but actually, he started doing some research and he said we’re not bingeing- a lot of the great content that’s actually being watched is actually a signal of feasting. Because, it’s high quality content, high quality dialogue. The House of Cards of this world and The Wire and all these things are great sophisticated dialogue, complex characters, scenarios where good things actually happen to good people, but also bad things happen to good people. It’s not always the baddie that dies, sometimes the good people die. It’s indulgence, it’s entertaining, you look forward to it, it’s the best stuff. So, when he describes it as feasting it then says, well that’s why people are sharing it, they’re engaged in it, they’re co creating and championing it and talking about it incessantly so that everyone’s suffering from Fear of missing out and spreading it like a virus. The great content is about feasting, and that’s the true insight there that people are actually enjoying it; it’s great quality content.
Yeah, if you think back the a few decades earlier, where there was less choice, fewer channels and perhaps less competition for the audience to choose from, that feasting concept would probably still sit. There was an appointment to view, where everyone would sit down to immerse themselves with the limited technology. So, again, a good repeat there, a good cycle I think.
So, as we think about this Chris, the buzz isn’t about short attention spans, it’s about people who have basically spent twenty-four hours of minimal bathroom breaks, really investing their time in content because it’s all about great story telling. And in culture that’s more important now than ever. As a brand you have to play into things like Instagram stories and Instagram tv, you have to have the production and creative resources to transform he narrative and see it through. BBC news does a great job, we just talked about Netflix and Sephora. Remember Netflix launched as the first DVD rental site and started selling things through Netflix, and they pivoted completely into online streaming content house. Another brand that I think you could take a look at is Adidas. They’re up to some interesting stuff as well.
The other thing that strikes me is that there is a move back to a simpler life. Then, of course, there is that remix moment again that you talked about earlier on. Medium makes a virtue of telling you that some articles are essays and long reads, a number of bloggers and futurologists dedicate serious amount of times to releasing thought pieces and books that are hugely valuable to put together. So, I can absolutely see how that plays out.
If you were starting out again, what would you do?
Good question. I think I would read. I would look at history, I would look at some of the wisdom from before and see my twist on it and I would try to absorb as much as I possibly could. I would look at trends and see which ones I thought would be coming back soon, and make sure I had a good early warning system to look at trends. Looking back in the day- that would have been reading countless magazines from all different sectors, now there’s people that would do it all for you, there’s a great website called Trendhunter- well worth checking out. They believe it’s the most powerful trend platform, that’s what the marketing spiel says anyway. But basically they’ve got a network of a couple of thousands of hunters that would look at trends, and there is every single category you could imagine there and it will look at, a topical one for me- looking at baby trends, baby wearables, checking breathing, sleeping bags and subscription service to recycle clothes, smart stuff, again, if you’re looking for inspiration in your own specific sector it’s a good place to start. And I would also look at the marketeers, some of the great writers we’ve talked about in previous episodes and see how the philosophies and values and prophecies can be applied next time around, how often do you listen to a band that you like and someone says they sound like the stooges or the clash, you should go back and listen to the original. And I think the same applies here really. Listen to the original then come up with your own take and make sure it’s your own personal take on it.
Chris, before you move on there I was just thinking, that’s what a lot of the great artists do. They actually do study the originals and the masters and they incorporate them in new ways, perhaps in a new tempo or a different backing track or a different orchestration or instrumentation, because again it’s the art of the transforming or rebinding and remixing is so true, to music and entertainment, film, art, they are great examples and I’m sure we can find some of those in brands as well.
Yeah, I think so, and I would look at those brands who constantly reinvent themselves but also manage to remain relevant in difficult circumstances. What is it about them that makes that happen? The values, the relevance, the constant reinvention and nod to the past as well as being completely focused on the future, looking at new channels and new media and making sure we got the same message as well. Brands such as Adidas or Nike I think do that exceptionally well. A lot of the time they’re taking a nod to the past, looking at their retro lines, bringing back the Sam Smith of the trainer alike, so, certainly worth checking out those brands to see how they approach it over the decades. A huge area I think Sam, again, something we will come back to. For me, I think the most important thing to take out of this is that there is always stuff you can learn from history. Whether that’s the trends or looking at the cycles or looking at the philosophies and then looking at how you can re-apply it. But Sam, you do it so well every week. What would be your three takeout’s?
Three Key Takeouts
Well something you said at the beginning, right upfront earlier on is that people stay the same but the tech changes, there is a lot of truth behind that, so as we stay relatively similar, what’s changing around us and what can we learn about that and how can that be applied to how we think, how we work and how we live our lives.
Secondly, I would say appreciate culture. Don’t laugh when people mention that in the board room or in offices or meetings, you won’t find culture in the PNL you’ve really got to understand what’s going on and why are things culturally relevant and current. And understanding that to be part of that is critical, for you brand to thrive and survive.
Finally, I would say the power of storytelling. We talked about content and what it is and isn’t, but for me the truth behind great content is great storytelling. And I am going to end on that as our last point Chris.
And that is a great, great Segway, you did it well this time, into the next show which is going to be about good story telling. We look at some of the great sure fire ways of telling a great story and some inspiration from outside of marketing in the non-for-profits space. Lots more on that episode too. Definitely not one to miss.