Let’s pull our socks up, shall we?

Yesterday, I was dropping off some business mail in the local Waterloo post office at around 5pm when the postman came marching in with what can only be described as a ‘swagger’. He winked at me and said hello. I smiled back at this neon yellow tabard-wearing individual and tried to place him. I turned to the chap serving me at the counter and said, “is he the postman? I thought postmen wore uniforms…” He chuckled and shook his head. I’m guessing that was a ‘no’ then.

Now I can’t quite work out when Royal Mail postmen stopped looking like postmen. And I just can’t get the image of Postman Pat out of my head, with his smart cap and shiny buttons. This might come across as snobbish, but that postman from yesterday’s encounter was a slob. He was wearing his own Nike sports trainers, some grubby tracksuit bottoms, a shapeless fleece and a grimy old yellow tabard with ‘Royal Mail’ smeared across the back, with several coloured lanyards swinging around his neck. I was horrified. I know the Royal Mail has had a tough time over the last few years – the increasing digitisation of the universe has meant that mail is becoming ‘frankly’, obsolete. Not to mention the shocking documentaries of ‘what goes on inside the sorting office’: bandit postmen helping themselves to inviting-looking packages and bulging envelopes.

Instead of vans, many postmen have to drag around pathetic-looking trollies, which usually have only 2 or 3 wheels if any. I have a friend who was a postman, now he is working a desk job in the sorting office and is much happier for it. Most recently, the astronomical increase of First Class stamp prices have meant that the Royal Mail are enduring yet another public backlash.

But what I can’t understand, is how the idea of a uniform has broken down so badly. I am a big fan of the uniform, actually. I have always worn one in school – even in my 6th form. The idea of a uniform is to allow the individual to focus on the task at hand and not suffer in their environment because without a uniform, what a person’s clothing or hair or general appearance says about them can be judged. We use our appearance to define who we are – how we are different from one another. A uniform prevents this from happening and also serves to protect and allow you to ‘belong’. And yet I did exactly that to that postman yesterday – I judged him – not because he was representing himself personally, but because he was letting down his company by his sloppy appearance.

This year more than ever, the powers that be (governmental, council, brand…) of the United Kingdom are championing national and city pride in advent of the Olympics. Just this week, Procter & Gamble launched a global campaign to ‘tidy up our flat – that is, London’. They will be cleaning away graffiti and planting flowers etc. No doubt several areas are going to get a good hosing and a lick of fresh paint. So why can’t our national representatives also get scrubbed up?

Less of this:

..and more of this, please:

Contentious Contributors

Over the last 12 months, we have seen some of Britain’s biggest brands positioning themselves alongside the Olympics.

In order for the status of the sponsorship to work both ways, the brands involved have explored ways to harness the timely impact of this temporal union through campaigns specifically inspired by the event, thematic slogans about teamwork and sportsmanship or just but adapting the apparently adaptable 2012 logo (some working better than others, for example not the case of UPS’s jarring pink-on-brown adaptation).

 Such activity has been monitored by the ASA and there have been cases of wrist-slapping, especially for brands not officially sponsoring the Olympics, yet cashing in on the sports terminology being bandied about so frequently lately in advertising campaigns. As of November (2011), a new conviction for marketers pushing ‘marketing ambushes’ next summer during the Olympics could be as serious as resulting in a criminal conviction.

As earlier stated, the figures speak for themselves: the Olympics are welcoming sponsorship from any quarter and have tiered these partners into three categories based on their contribution: Domestic Tier One Partners, Domestic Tier Two Supporters and Domestic Tier Three Providers and Suppliers. From sportswear brands to banks and travel companies, there is a wide range of partners. There are also fast food names and confectionary companies involved, such as global giant McDonalds and (what was, until 2010) our very own Cadbury (now owned by the American confectionary, food and beverage conglomerate Kraft Foods).

What I find contentious in the partnership of these brand giants with ‘the’ paragon of sports events is their message. Over the years the damage to the United Kingdom’s health service due to obesity and further health problems in the population from bad eating habits among both children and adults has increased. Yet a Domestic Tier One Partner, such as Cadbury, who has bought themselves the highest level of partnership with the Olympics can therefore use their partnership with this global event with the most freedom. And Cadbury have been doing so. Their ‘Spots v Stripes’ campaign launched back in March (2011) with a series of adverts depicting two sides – Spots or Stripes – competing against one another in some fantastical tag team-type game – clearly aimed at children – with no apparent resolution and certainly no clear connection to any particular Cadbury product.


I remember my first question being, ‘When will I see this ‘Spots v Stripes’ bar in the shops?’ This skewed and confusing method of advertising befuddles the viewer, many of whom already have a relationship with the brand and have been impressed in recent years by other adverts which, although they have nothing to do with chocolate itself (such a level of confidence the brand now has in itself), ‘A Glass and a Half Full’ productions have successfully ridden a wave of online social media fanaticism through viral sharing of these adverts on YouTube etc.

But the ‘Spots v Stripes’ campaign is not another gorilla poetically banging a drum kit, but a demonstration of the relationship between a chocolate bar and healthy sports activity. Oh, really?

Today, at spotsvstripes.com you are greeted with a banner that says in a friendly, corporate-social-responsibility-for-the-masses tone, “We’re on a mission to get the UK playing in the lead up to London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games”. The site offers ‘players’ the chance to win tickets to the Olympic games by taking part in your own games and uploading the scores to the site. Suggested games, clearly targeted at young children include, ‘Sock Bowling’, ‘Rip Off’ (see how many pieces you can rip a used piece of A4 paper into) and ‘Longest Whistle’ (‘take a deep breath and get whistling’), among others. Now for an adult with an industry-aware take on marketing, I find this one lazy and manipulative. Cadbury have dressed up a website with all the colourful bells and whistles – pop-ups, flash and downloads – that a brand giant like themselves can afford, but a genuine encouragement towards sports activities – across all ages – is totally missing.

Noelle McElhatton, Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine constructively comments if the ‘Spots v Stripes’ campaign, “Where is the strategy? Where is the idea? Well, Cadbury thinks it is onto a winner … The question is, does it have enough talkability and playfulness to engage its audience online? With some 480 days to the opening ceremony, the jury is very much still out. Cadbury may have taken its eye off the ball, becoming more excited about the medium than the message.” Exactly, but more than that, they should be working doubly, triply as hard to promote the message of healthy sports activity… or can they? On the flipside, if an ostensibly unhealthy confectionary-producing brand is allying itself with sports, eyebrows will be raised and loyalty to the brand will be lost. So Cadbury have apparently played it safe and opted for a middle ground.

Fundamentally I feel that the Olympics Organising Committee of any country have a social responsibility – beyond that, any country’s advertising standards agency has a responsibility to protect citizens from mixed messages. Any brand that does not contribute directly to the games themselves shouldn’t be allowed to promote their partnership. McDonalds’ claim, ‘Feeding the Olympic spirit for over 40 years’ – fuelling athletes and fans alike (really?) – is nauseating enough and controversial enough, yet not actively controlled. These brands are so powerful and so wealthy, they can afford to butt out of areas in which they are indirectly contributing damage towards and should be made to.

So next summer, if you find yourself in the Olympic village with a Big Mac in one hand and a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Bar in your back pocket, you’ll know who to blame.

(Originally written as a piece of research for Hilda Smith)

Lyons: A Very, Very British Institution

A sleeping giant, Lyons is a heritage brand with a vast untapped, latent potentiality. Any British consumer from the age of 40 up will have strong associations, even fond memories with the brand. That is a huge market – a generation far more resistant to change, but erstwhile in constant search of the familiar.

But to make the most of it, Premier Foods need to define Lyons’ portfolio: this brand has a rich and diverse history behind it: from tearooms to game-changing computer hardware, it has been on quite a journey. Today the Lyons brand clings on to the remaining threads of its Tearoom heritage: Battenburgs and Swiss Roll cakes, jostling for space at the far end of the supermarket bakery shelf, relying on a passing consumer to recognise the name.

This teatime function has been seen as a dying ritual. Yet its longevity is a testament to the British love of a die-hard habit. Furthermore, afternoon tea is a British institution – it’s what people the world over think. Lyons therefore has massive export potential. Also, the potential to be position itself as a brand that gives permission to the masses to be indulgent.

Premier Foods need to identify where the strongest Lyons memory lies: does this include the tea rooms? – There is no equivalent chain today but possibly EAT has studied the template. Lyons offer expressed a richer character and the restaurants were revolutionary at the time – a bright and clean look with a white fascia and grand gold lettering, exuding a wonderfully British personality. Here you reliably could get the British staples: a bowl of soup or a shepherd’s pie; a cup of tea and a slice of cake, cheaply, without eschewing quality. Possibly the fondest, quality memories exists with the Lyons Corner Houses, where a family could affordably and in some comfort, dine as a special treat before going out on the town or to the theatre.

If Lyons became a chain once again, it would benefit from taking its heritage of the past, and reworking it into a completely contemporary context – the old and new working together – to create something fresh and British that is so right for a nation whose high street is daily losing stable reminders of our heritage and the individuality that was once prevalent.

Some could argue that Lyons is a brand right at the end of its journey, but there is a strong emotional resonance that if tapped into, could revive a loyal consumer following. Lyons should examine leveraging their brand via a thorough audit to capture its Past, Present and Future. It should rigorously examine what’s been lost, what’s merely here for today, what remains useful in its armoury and most critically, distill the integral brand truth of what is sacrosanct about the Lyons brand?

With such a wealth of memories and brand ideas at his disposal, if Premier Foods’ brand manager Dean Lavender is really intent on giving Lyons “a bit more focus and love”, (Marketing Week) then perhaps with the right advice and the vision to say, ‘let’s go for it’, there could be a huge future for the return of this family brand. So we’ll ‘meet you at Joe Lyons’…