Monday 20th Oct 2014

Thoughts and insights from the World of Initials

Supporting parents in the workplace makes business sense for agencies

Posted on October 6, 2014 by

INITIALS Account Director Natalie Wright has contributed a feature to the Guardian on issues faced by working parents within the marketing industry.

In her piece, Natalie outlines some of the ways parents are discriminated against in the workplace and offers valuable advice on how agency managers can be more accommodating.

The article, which is sponsored by the MAA and appears on the Guardian Media Network’s Agencies Hub, can be read here.

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Hello Ello, goodbye Facebook?

Posted on October 2, 2014 by

People have been predicting the demise of Facebook for years, citing factors like the popularity of Twitter and young people’s disillusionment with social media as reasons for the apparently inevitable downfall of the digital giant. However, despite these challenges, the social network is still going strong: with 1.28 billion monthly active users, Facebook is showing no signs of fading.

But could new social network Ello, popularly described as ‘the anti-Facebook’, be a game changer for social media? Ello, which has taken off over the past week, is an advertising-free network and apparently has no space for brands. Ello’s manifesto says of its users “you are not a product”, and the people behind the website aim to establish a purer form of online socialising which is free from the interruption of marketing messages. Ello is not just challenging Facebook, but the wider culture in which social media is seen as primarily a vehicle through which brands can talk at consumers, and actual connections between people are deprioritised.


Why has there been such a huge backlash against social media marketing? While consumers are rarely as enthusiastic about other forms of marketing and advertising as brands would hope, there has never been a reaction quite this dramatic against television or print advertising.  The founders and advocates of Ello seem unhappy specifically with the role brands play in our online social lives, rather than advertising in general.

However, by creating a social network which is difficult, if not impossible, for brands to infiltrate, the founders of Ello are forgetting one key thing: it’s not that consumers don’t want to listen to brands. Just last week, Kit Kat’s Tweet about the iPhone ‘bendgate’ scandal went viral, with over 28,000 Retweets and 13,000 Favourites.  Consumers are not complaining about brands’ social content when it’s engaging, or when it’s content they actually want to see. Kit Kat’s Tweet, like other brand updates that have received above average levels of engagement, was successful because it joined a conversation consumers were already having rather than interrupting one.

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While Kit Kat proved that consumers are still interested in what brands are saying online, there are still plenty of social media marketers getting it completely wrong. With Cosmoplitan UK Tweeting about six times an hour and Dorothy Perkins putting kisses at the end of updates, it’s not difficult to see why Paul Budnitz and his co-founders lost their patience with brands’ social media presence.

Perhaps consumers haven’t become disillusioned with other forms of marketing because brands can’t afford to get them wrong. Marketers can’t spam consumers with television advertising or stop putting effort into writing copy on other platforms simply because it would be too expensive, whereas the low price of digital marketing can lead to laziness. However, although social media is cheap to use, it shouldn’t be devalued.

Digital marketers need to think of the consumers’ attention spans as currency, adopting the same mentality needed on platforms where there is absolutely no margin for error or laziness. Ello might not gain mainstream popularity, but its existence alone should serve as a warning. Consumers’ patience is wearing thin, and Ello has shown us that there are options other than listening to online advertising. Brands need to tread incredibly carefully online- they might not be spending money, but people’s patience is far more valuable.

Zena Jarjis

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The switched on consumer

Posted on September 22, 2014 by

“Switch it off” is a message that haunts our nation: ‘Save electricity, stop global warming’. However it is becoming increasingly important to stay switched on. Innovation of the consumer shopper process has seen retailers digitalise, creating widespread competition with companies constantly looking for an innovative new USP to help drive sales.

Argos has combined in-store retail and e-tail, to successfully pull off a huge re-branding effort. This new store concept has seen them become one of the most innovative companies on the high street. In their own words: ‘Faster, easier and more seamless by combining the best of shopping online and shopping on your high street – an experience like no other.

With ‘The New Argos’, gone are the days of flicking through the endless pages of the catalogue, punching in the product code and praying that the item would be available. Argos has completely digitalised the consumer shopping experience, using iPads as catalogues and digital advertising screens.

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With this move to a switched-on shopping experience, ‘The New Argos’ store leads the way within major retailers, as the UK consumer gets used to the digital way of life and staying switched on.

However for consumers who do not want to move with technology and innovation, the opportunity to switch off is increasingly few and far between. Checking social media, responding to emails and even having to pay a machine at the supermarket; these are actions that are now part of everyday life and technology dependent.

Whilst all these innovations develop, some companies are taking the opportunity to go back to basics. IKEA have launched their new ‘Bookbook’ catalogue for 2015. In a parody of an Apple iPad launch, the two-and-a-half minute ad reveals the Ikea 2015 catalogue.  This is up there with my favourite pieces of advertising for the year. The picture (below) adds to the comedy, although unfortunately the catalogue won’t be presented like this to us in-store.

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The rather cutely named Digital Detox company describe themselves as a ‘slow-down, not a start-up’. This pretty much sums them up. Their aim is to provide people with the opportunity to put aside their digital arm, press pause, reflect and re-evaluate their relationship with their devices. They have cashed in on the opportunity to switch off, offering ‘device-free retreats & programs helping people find balance & gain mindfulness’.

These companies have got us asking ourselves the same questions: Has switching off as a way of producing content for companies’ marketing campaigns and motivation for sales been a genius idea? Is it going to result in them being left behind?

Time will tell, however the fact that ‘more than 43% of the UK’s population now owns a tablet’ is a statistic that can’t be ignored by retailers looking to digitalise their in-store shopping experience in the same way as ‘The New Argos’. Therefore, perhaps switching off is now a thing of the past.

Adam Thurgood


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A week is a long time in retailing too

Posted on September 16, 2014 by

It’s often been said that a week is a long time in politics, and the events of the last week have certainly given credence to that. But judging by recent reports and observations it’s also a long time in the retail business.

Some weeks ago I wrote in Retail Gazette about HMV’s journey from administration to survival, albeit without its original iconic Oxford Street store. I noted that whilst some improvements had been made, the fundamental issue of a transactional website had still not come to fruition. The way forward would be to focus on their existing target audience and make sure that they are creating an engaging shopper experience, in-store, online and on the move.


Although the latter is still not a reality, there is some good news for the embattled retailer. Based on an assessment of the public’s view of its quality, reputation, impression and value, their YouGov BrandIndex rating has improved to a score of 10.6. A quick visit to a couple of outlets suggests that store traffic may be on the increase again, and certainly there appears to be a fresh spring in the steps of the staff.

A renewed focus on marketing is undoubtedly playing its part in the revival. There seems to be a significant latent affection for the HMV brand, and this should give the new owners confidence to invest further funds in marketing in order to increase and maintain a higher level of customer engagement. We are promised live gigs and record signings, but presumably only in a very few of the biggest stores. And our old retail friend the loyalty card has been re-introduced, albeit in a somewhat limited form. PureHMV is being advertised as an online loyalty programme, but without the ability to purchase goods online it seems to be fighting the battle with one arm tied behind its back. You earn points through purchases in-store which you then redeem for ‘stuff money can’t buy’ as well as stuff it can, in the form of music track downloads but not the stuff that’s sold in-store.

Meanwhile the mighty Tesco is being hit by the newly invigorated discounters and is continually criticised in the media for having lost its way. Should they move further up market and compete with Waitrose and M&S or simply wheel and deal like the discounters? It has even been reported that consideration is being given to ditching the iconic ClubCard loyalty scheme, which many commentators would credit with being the catalyst for their market dominance for decades. Is it a case of how are the mighty fallen, or will they discover a new momentum and see off those European upstarts?!

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My money’s on an HMV revival, provided they get to grips with whatever it is that is preventing them from making the website fully transactional. And whilst this week Tesco shares may be a Hold or even a Sell, next week could well herald the start of a much-anticipated comeback. Either way, it only goes to show that a week really is a long time in retailing.


Roger Hyslop

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A recipe for a long and happy life

Posted on September 1, 2014 by

It’s no secret that, while many brands come and go, those that exist decade after decade are the ones that really look after themselves however long they’ve been around. We can all quote examples of brands that we grew up with which have stayed with us as we, and they, matured. But eventually all things must pass, and it seems that even power brands have a finite life. Some, like Hoover and J Cloth, leave a legacy where the name defines the category. Others, like Pan Am, Saab and Virgin Record Stores are fast becoming distant memories.

There are signs that even the most iconic global brands are not immune to the ravages of old age. McDonald’s, Tesco and Coca-Cola are all struggling to find their role in today’s world, while Olympus and Blackberry could well be the next heading for the brand graveyard.

What do the new kids on the block, like Google, Samsung, Amazon, Netflix and of course Apple, do to keep corporate senility at bay? They reinvent themselves. Turn the clock back 20 years and the Jaguar, IBM, Budweiser and Lego products bore little relation to their contemporary versions. Even whole categories have had to reinvent or risk distinction. The Scottish whisky industry discovered the Far East in the nick of time, while the producers of out of fashion rose´ wines like Mateus found a clever way to describe themselves to a new breed of party animals…..and blushed with pride!

The answer is simple, and it’s to be found not only in marketing text books but in the DNA of human beings. If you want to live a long life, here’s my recipe for happy old age:

  • Keep fit (for purpose) and healthy
  • Understand the present and keep ahead of the future
  • Be relevant to today’s world
  • Find new interests (brand extensions and new products)
  • Get involved (with your friends, your local community, the world around you)

It’s not such a strange analogy as it might seem. If you want your power brand to outlive others, then follow this 5-point plan. And if you personally want to be around for as long as Apple will probably be, just do the same thing.

Roger Hyslop

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