Real Beauty still only skin deep?

A few days back a new campaign for Dove by Ogilvy Brazil began doing the rounds online. I am not going to feed the frenzy by describing it but its been wildly popular and has women sharing it to no end, upholding it like it’s the most liberating thing since the Bra Burning Movement of the 60’s. What this ad appears to give women is a sense of reassurance that they are more beautiful than they think. Typical Dove consumerist speak, nothing new there.
Earlier today I chanced upon a blog that put into words a nagging feeling that the video stirred up in me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The morally questionable aspects of this ad have been summed up well by the blogger. From an advertising perspective, the whole construct is on shaky ground.

A good insight that women are their own worst critics but the ad takes on a misleading execution. What about women being their own worst critics with their talents? Or with their careers? As a friend said to me “I generally feel very uncomfortable when people talk about beauty to describe only a person’s looks. So a whole ad about it feels very strange. I’d like to know more about her, you know?”  

What if Dove stood for empowering women to feel beautiful about themselves as a whole package? Why is beauty even being restricted to describing blonde hair and blue eyes? What this video did bring to light is how thick the smoke has become in this smoke and mirrors game. Our collective notions of what “beauty” is has been reinforced over the years, to a point where advertising is given a free pass to tell you that you’re actually an 8, not a 3 on this ‘beauty’ yardstick. And we clap for joy and feel empowered.

It raises some questions for the communications industry at large. In our efforts to dial-up the cause in cause marketing, are we sending out shallow messages wrapped in philanthropic outer wear? That video wasn’t created to push product, so no reason why it couldn’t push the boundaries. Have we lost our true north to craft communication that inspires and challenges obtuse thinking? Discovering a strong consumer insight is important, using it in an evocative and responsible way,crucial. There are brands that play within the boundaries of the Zeitgeist and brands that attempt to positively remould it; it would have been a thing of (real)beauty to see Dove do the latter.


BlackBerry10 saves the day?

It’s here. RIM, after months of being in hiding, has come out from behind the curtains and presented to the world, the BlackBerry10. Oh and they’ve changed the name of the company(to BlackBerry) while they were at it. Oh and they created a Super Bowl commercial too. If you’re reading between the lines, you might smell a faint whiff of desperation in the air. Classic case of rise of the underdog or the last cry of a falling empire?

For a company that was out of the scene for over 18 months(although they had a 4G LTE BlackBerry PlayBook launch at some point during this mobile market hiatus) and missed a big part of smartphone mania, to  launch a new phone and hope it turns things around seems like a tall ask. For a late-to-the-party entrant,it appears like this phone has alot riding on it – Brand Cachet. The company’s fortunes. Stocks. Consumer perceptions. Jobs.

While it may appear that I’m writing them off, I’ve been a believer in their offering. I’m aware there’s a whole market out there that loves their BlackBerry devices and swear by it, especially for its physical Querty keypad and efficiency in syncing business emails. Infact, that was a very good move to ensure there’s a non touchscreen variant(the Q10) as well – ensuring it doesn’t alienate its base consumer.

Although, I think their launch and marketing strategy could have been better. I’m going to take an objective stab at a few things I think they could have done from an advertising/marketing stand point

1. Superbowled?: While I thought the Super Bowl commercial was nice in terms of what it aimed to do(draw attention/cut through clutter), I’d like to know what metrics they were looking to affect. Awareness? Those who needed to know about this launch, already knew. And those who didn’t, weren’t going to stop right there and look it up. Afterall, this is at a point where consumer faith in the brand was fast diminishing. I feel like a constant reminder (Times Square activation for instance) might have possibly been better than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it superbowl attempt.

2. Built to keep you Moving: I liked this commercial for what it was trying to say – that this phone won’t get in the way of life(Reminded me of a old Windows phone commercial), however, without referencing BlackBerry Hub as the reason for this, it could get yawned at. Yes smartphones have moved from being just tech-packed offerings to providing smooth user experiences, but for a brand that’s been away so long, more focus on specs wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Another suggestion would be to have 15 sec spots created to highlight new product features.

3. So, who are you?: If a company is going to attempt to relaunch itself, after being incognito for a while, how about a branding commercial to go with it? Maybe a sneak peak into what goes on behind the scenes? A voiceover explaining what has changed? What this would do is melt the ice and bring a sense of relatability towards the company. Android,Apple(that’s the only time I’ll mentioned them in this post,I promise) and even Windows have built-up brand imagery; somehow BlackBerry falls short here.

4. Wow me: The BlackBerry Balance and Peek and Flow are two very unique and interesting features that could have used a little more spotlight. Put it down to Canadian modesty if you must, but the smartphone market is already divided between Apple, Android and lately, Windows; if you want people to talk about you when you haven’t been around for a while, you might want to blow your own trumpet a bit.

5. Hold onto the attention: BlackBerry needs a game plan for what they intend to do after the initial launch excitement dies down. They’ve managed to stir the market up quite a bit, it would be nice if they retained consumer attention and market buzz – either through teasing out the phone’s features through advertising, constant audience engagement or (like its PlayBook offering) look at branching out into other gadget markets?

I believe that the BlackBerry10 will be a good phone and live up to all that it promises. It looks poised to win a chunk of the Droid and Apple market over as well. What I’m rooting for however, is to see if the brand can make a full circle comeback. I’d like to see that happen. 

Digital gets real

The retail outlet has always been treated as an important touch point in communicating with the consumer. Then with the advent of e-commerce, the spotlight shifted to the online UI.

Real world experiences aren’t going away though, as the Retail Renaissance trend pointed out a while back; they’re re-emerging in a big way. Digital technologies are revamping traditional retail, and bringing it to life. Online is now driving the consumer offline. In fact the lines are fast blurring and brands that still silo the two are going to have to play catch up.

Digital for digital’s sake might not cut it anymore, digital strategists are fast becoming experience curators who have the discernment to weave uninterrupted brand experiences across platforms.

While digital offers convenience and technology, brick and mortar stores offer sensorial immersion. The sweet spot lies in the coming together of these worlds. The recently transformed Burberry flagship store in London is a great example. The store is transformed into 44,000 ft of digital wow. From mirrors that are motion sensitive and turn into runways, to live streaming of the London Fashion Show, this store is a living breathing brand world.

Then there’s Audi City, mentioned in my previous post as well, which is a first of its kind digital car showroom. With ceiling to floor ‘power walls’ that allow you to dream up exactly how you’d like your car to look, while letting you maintain a seamless experience from website to store and back to website.

While driving the consumer online was once the chosen path, bringing the online experience to stores is where digital truly comes a full circle.

Small cars,big appeal : Branding lessons from the small car market

I could start this post by telling you that the Canadian consumer’s growing appetite for fuel economy and eco-consciousness has made the small car category the fastest growing segment this year. (44% ahead of where it was in 2011). But I don’t see you being impressed.

Sure, the 44% increase as compared to 2011 might sound intriguing, but a fuel-efficient ride and packed with all the goodness of a midsize, what’s not to like? Instead, I thought of looking at small car communication and previous learnings to explore what other factors are at work here.

My tryst with the automotive category goes back a few years. I was a planner with Law&Kenneth, the Indian agency that handled the Skoda (the Czech car company later bought over by VW) account. We were tasked with the launch strategy for the Skoda Fabia, a hatchback, that would be giving the Indian car market a new sub-category – ‘the luxury small car’Skoda had garnered a notable cachet among car enthusiasts for its previously launched sedans. It earned its reputation for quality engineering, a sturdy chassis and luxury cues.This offering of luxury in a hatchback however, was a new concept. We realised we were late to the ‘performance/mileage/speed’ party, and besides, the Fabia was a notch above its competition – in price especially. So we used an emotional hook – Feel Special

The market lapped it up after initial hesitation.

Car learning number one: Choosing a car is an emotional decision, backed by rationale. Rationale is used as post-purchase justification.


Later at Miami Ad school, 2 out of the 12 case studies I worked on, were car brands…and coincidently, small cars – Smart Car and a student pitch for the yet to be launched, Chevy Sonic. (See cases here). I realised that small cars have a tendency to portray themselves in ways that are in stark contrast to the mother brand. Smart Car belonging to the Mercedes-Benz stable, for example. I think it’s beneficial; that way negative rub-offs from either end of the spectrum don’t affect the entire brand line. For that matter, even the Mini was deliberately encouraged to grow its own following and stand apart from the corporate culture of the BMW brand. That was probably BMW’s smartest move; and MINI ran with it, creating a cult following.

Car learning number two: Sometimes consciously letting a variant find its own niche can work in the best interest of the brand. 


Compact car branding revolves around more fun-to-drive/relatable themes, like the Epic Reliability spot for the Toyota Yaris or the 2011 Chevy Cruze campaign that was plastered across the city.

There’s a certain chutzpah that small cars own; consumer-led possibly, but I think sedans and crossovers can learn something here.

Car learning number three:  Category codes can be inhibiting – it’s okay to switch it up. Being vibrant in communication does not have to be a small car-only cue and luxury does not have to mean pretentious. Beautiful example: The 2013 Dodge Dart. Sedan-sized car, but still calls itself a compact and advertises like one too. 


While my final point is not specific to small cars, it’s a learning from the auto industry that I think CPG goods in particular,could take a hint from. The dealership experience.  Crucial part of the consumer journey for every car brand, and vital to every marketeer’s plan. In my opinion, the dealership are to cars what retail is for packaged goods. How can the experience be amped up? Can digital and the real world come together to cement the brand-consumer bond? I’ll let the futuristic Audi City dealership experience answer that one.

I’d like to hear your thoughts!

The PoP engagement …& more?

The rules of “Consumer Engagement” have been getting ink in every other article, publication, blog and ‘how-to’ advertising guide out there in recent times. Well-deserved no doubt, brands have already moved past telling their story to reaching out and asking you to write it with them. In today’s ‘always-on-my-phone’ age though, engagement has largely taken the form of apps, online engagement, and ofcourse the twitterverse and facebooksphere.
If you think back to the traditional retail kiosk though, are we still only having one-way conversations with the consumer? Is there a level of interaction that can be built in, in a subtle way without the nightmarish corner-and-distract car salesman technique? It raises questions like How does one read the shopper’s disposition? Would they want to be approached? Do they want to hear what’s on sale? Or…do they just want to be left alone to browse,without the sales talk?

Clinique attempts a psychic-equivalent of mind reading with purposeful wrist bands, that encourage shoppers to wear one to ‘speak their mind’. Wear green ‘for a consultation’, Pink ‘to browse in peace’ and White for ‘Express Service’.

This attempts to solve the problem of intimidating potential customers with overselling/shadowing them around. Ofcourse, it needs to translate to an attentive sales force, that is constantly wrist-watching before launching into sell mode.

In my opinion, while this is a new approach and seemingly fresh, it could be further developed and could lend itself to a campaign thought. For instance, how about translating this level of consumer understanding into something Clinique can own? Could this reinstate Clinique’s branding as the professional skin care expert?

There’s a strong level of consumer interaction that these wrist bands summon, and a hint of what could be a big(ger) brand idea.

‘Engagement’ as a one-off is novelty, but could be very powerful if embraced and sucked into the brand’s essence and cross-channelized across all media. It would provide a level of consistency that makes brand interaction a smoother process than what it currently is.
Now if only there was an app for that.

Touching upon Canadiana, yet again!

One of my first blog posts was about Molson Canadian, the beer that drew on a sense of national pride, that owned all things Canadian and silenced stereotypes once and for all. (Read post here)

Along the way I’ve found many nuances of brands skirting the topic of what it means to be Canadian or to live in the great white north. From the landscape to the lifestyle to the type of people – I’ve heard it all. I recently saw an ad for Canadian Tire, a hardware chain that drew inspiration from the same potion of Canadiana – it talks about our love for the great outdoors.

It made me take a step back and reexamine the strength and merit of this over used sing-songs-of-all-things-canadian style of advertising.

I reflected on Indian advertising, and found a similar vein. India being way too diverse to touch upon geographical traits, brands touch upon Indian behavioral stereotypes to make an instant connection with the consumer. Here’s an example: (this ad is for a VoiP calling service for Indians living abroad, hence the use of cents instead of rupees)

I lived in Miami Beach for the first quarter of this year and was tuned in to the superbowl craze that envelops America. The ads being as important as the game, I sat up and paid attention. And then I saw it – a pride in homeland, or in this case, home state type of ad. Chrysler’s Detroit commercial, featuring Eminem.

My point here is, when does this patriotic/cultural stereotyping stop being heart-warming and start sounding well, slightly pseudo? Do Canadians really rake up a 6 ft pile of leaves just so the kids can play in it? Isn’t it cliched to assume all Indians behave in the same manner? And is it okay to start by assuming Detroit knows nothing about luxury?

One could argue that it’s just another way of connecting with the consumer on a meaningful level – by generalizing or playing to common beliefs. But is the consumer starting to tire of being pigeon-holed? When is enough,enough? Or are we already there? I welcome a discussion,as always.

Tom Brokaw Explains Canada To Americans

Tom Brokaw,anchor and managing editor – NBC, explains the relationship between Canada and The United States, in a pre-recorded short film that aired on NBC, prior to the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on Feb. 12th, 2010.

I found it interesting because contrary to popular belief of underlying animosity between the Canucks and Americans, this video showcases the similarities and long shared camaraderie the two neighbouring countries share.

I think it would be interesting to see brands build on this friendship between the two nations that are so different yet come together when the situation demands it.

To sum up the relationship between the States and Canada, in the words of JFK:

“Geography has made us neighbours, History has made us friends,Economics has made us partners and Necessity has made us allies”