Getty images.png

The changing face of women -- as seen by Getty Images

What does the depiction of women in stock photos mean about how we, as a society, think about the role of women?

This fascinating article in the New York Times’ Upshot section analyzes the top-selling pics on Getty Images for the search term “woman” from 2007 through 2017.  The image above on the left is the top-seller from 2007.  The one on the right is the top-seller from 2017.

Sheryl Sandberg worked with Getty in 2014 to develop the “Lean In” collection, designed to “seed media with more modern, diverse, and empowering images of women.”  Some interesting trends in that collection:

·         Among the most downloaded images from that set of images in 2017 are women working in science and engineering, but they typically run in stories specifically about women in science, rather than general stories about science or tech.

·         The most common image shows a Caucasian woman in her 20s with long brown hair

·         Images of non-white women tended to appear in stories about race and ethnicity

·         Popular this year are images of women who have dirt on them – apparently symbolizing the idea that women have grit.

The article is a feast for those of us who love to analyze image trends. If Getty Images existed in 1987 -- or 1967 or 1937 -- I wonder what the most downloaded images of women would have been then?

(Both images above ran in the New York Times online edition on September 7, 2017.  Image on left courtesy of Stephan Hoeck/Getty Images.  Image on right courtesy of Jordan Siemens/Getty Images)


The End is Nigh!

A dispatch from the cultural front from science fiction author William Gibson, who discusses our current societal obsession with dystopia and the apocalypse.

A few of his insights:

·         In the 1920s, people frequently wrote about the 21st Century.  Today, virtually no one is writing or talking about the 22nd century, which Gibson finds “ominous.”

·         “We have very little control over anything…Fantasies of staving off the end of the world are fairly benign fantasies of increased agency.”

·         Many people today – in the US and around the world – live in conditions that could be considered dystopian.

Great brands often tap into threads that run through the culture.  What might this bleak view of the world mean for marketers?  Should brands try to make consumers feel more optimistic about the future or should they explore this wellspring of cynicism and gloom?

Rhyme Time

In presentations, I occasionally use the O.J. Simpson murder trial as an example of how our mind creates meaning through mental shortcuts.  In closing arguments Simpson’s attorney, Johnnie Cochrane, famously declared to the jury, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Whether Cochrane knew it at the time or not, there is actually a large body of research that suggests that phrases that rhyme are deemed more credible than similar phrases that don’t – in one study rhyming statements were judged as 22% more accurate than their non-rhyming counterparts.  So if Cochrane had said, “If he can’t get the glove on his hand, you must acquit,” that statement would not have been nearly as memorable, and likely not as persuasive. (This is actually part of an academic field of study, cognitive poetics.)

Thanks to OZ's Randy Adis for sharing this article about the use of rhyme in advertising.  It is diminishing, despite its potential power.

The authors claim this is because clients and agencies aren’t thinking about advertising in the right way:

"I think it depends on what end of the process you start from: Broadcast or Receive. If you start from the “Broadcast” end you start with what you want to say. You then execute that in a way that pleases you. You then sit back and wait for the response from the audience. If you start from the “Receive” end you start with the person you want to reach. They will be on the end of about 2K advertising messages a day. Most of it they automatically just block out, so it’s invisible. So the brief is how to break through into their mind and become one of the very few they notice and remember."

The authors suggest that rhyming, alliteration, and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words, like “The crumbling thunder of the seas”) will increase the odds of an ad being noticed in such a crowded marketing landscape.

For the O.G. in all of us

Although it is rather ironic for the tech industry to be marketing nostalgia…here it is.

In November, Nintendo released its Classic Edition, a 1980s throwback design. Two buzzworthy phones recently introduced are the Nokia 3310 and the BlackBerry KeyOne, which incorporate “old” features from phones that captivated us a decade ago. The KeyOne is an android phone that boasts the old-school BlackBerry keyboard.  The Nokia 3310 is basically a 17-year-old phone with a camera added to it.

The CNET article above also describes how Leica, Fujifilm, and Kodak are going retro with their new products – including a new 8mm film camera from Kodak.

Equal time

A couple of weeks ago I discussed Sir Kensington’s ketchup.  Now equal time for Heinz.

This is a clever little piece of content creation. In Chicago, as you may know, putting ketchup on a hot dog is a sin.  (As the guy in the linked video says, “If you still have training wheels on your bike, you can put ketchup on your hot dog.”)

So Heinz surreptitiously put its ketchup in a blue container labeled “Chicago Dog Sauce” and recorded the surprised reactions of Chicagoans. 

This guy wasn’t amused.

New ketchup in new bottles

You may have read a Malcolm Gladwell essay in which he compared the markets for mustard and ketchup.  There are all kinds of competitors in the mustard space. Ketchup?  Not so much, because Heinz produces a ketchup with pretty close to a perfectly-balanced taste.

That article inspired a couple of guys to see if they could prove Gladwell wrong. And they have, to some extent. In April, Unilever purchased Sir Kensington’s, the brainchild of Scott Norton and Mark Ramadan.  Sir Kensington’s doesn’t really try to compete on taste. But they do have a couple of things that set the brand apart.  One is a wide-mouth jar that lets you scoop out a perfectly-sized dollop.  And second is the brand identity and packaging, built around a charming old chap who looks like he just walked off the set of Downton Abbey.

A great example of the increasing importance of design in building a brand. (For the complete story of Sir Kensington’s, check out this NPR interview with one of the founders.)

2017 Cannes Lions Awards

The 2017 Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions have been announced.  The Grand Prix Winner is the Art Institute of Chicago, and its “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” campaign.  

The Art Institute ran an exhibition last year that marked the first time in North America that you could see three paintings Van Gogh made of his bedroom in one place.  It teamed up with Airbnb to allow art-lovers to stay in a life-size re-creation of the bedroom for just $10/night. It created quite a buzz in Chicago and led to an incremental attendance increase of 133,000 visitors.

Other interesting gold or silver winners include:

Here is the full list of winners.  

A snapshot of racial bias in Europe

Courtesy of Mindhacks…a new map that shows racial bias throughout Europe as determined by Implicit Association Testing (IAT). 

In this map, the red countries show higher levels of bias against black faces, the bluer countries show lower levels of bias.  A key takeaway is that no country is near zero, meaning that residents of all countries in Europe show some degree of racial bias.

Something similar was done to illustrate racial bias in different states across the US.

(A significant caveat is that this is a self-selected sample consisting of people who have chosen to visit Harvard’s Project Implicit website and take an IAT.)


Act your age

Thanks to Jerry Olson for sharing this article about marketing to seniors.

The author makes an interesting point – that efforts to combat the negative perceptions of aging can backfire in unexpected ways.  For example, we can now join AARP at age 50.  I am sure in the minds of the AARP, opening membership to younger people was meant to “de-stigmatize” aging and shift the image of the brand.  However, a possible unintended consequence is, does 50 now seem older than it did before?

And what about “senior discounts” that are available at restaurants and other places?  Is this respectful or patronizing?  How would we react if a retailer offered an African American discount or a Latino discount?

The author points to a campaign from Asbury Communities in Maryland called #ActYourAge that he thinks addresses aging in a more respectful way and works hard to break stereotypes. But it does beg the question – is any overt attempt to appeal to seniors going to come off as patronizing, almost by definition?

What is the secret to a turnaround?

A once iconic brand, Victoria’s Secret is really struggling – getting weaker by the day, as one analyst puts it.

L Brands eliminated Victoria’s Secret’s swim wear and apparel lines, and since then total sales have been down six percent.  The brand’s move into lower-priced segments has hit some speed bumps, too, namely competition from rivals like Aerie.

Moreover, the store experience may be something less than optimal. Also, for various reasons, the brand may be losing touch with Millennial women.

Sounds like a bit of a mess. So if you are Victoria’s Secret, what do you do to regain your footing?

The Greenest Brands in America

In recognition of Earth Day, Brand Keys has released its list of the greenest brands in America

Being seen as green is much more difficult because so many brands are trying to send that message.  Therefore, consumer expectations are much higher. Indeed, last year 40 brands qualified as “green” according to Brand Keys.  This year it is just 25.

The list includes a lot of familiar names, but one that many may be unfamiliar with is the cosmetics brand Kiehl’s.  (They have been part of the L’Oreal Group since 2000.) 

The imagery on their website and the very simple, almost retro packaging (Kiehl’s began as a homeopathic pharmacy in 1851 and much of its packaging looks like it came out of time capsule from that era) may help to explain their inclusion on this list.  The brand is also known for its philanthropic activities, including support for HIV/AIDS research and environmental causes.

Feminism for a new generation?

This article from the New York Times this weekend was a bit unfocused, but it touched on two different trends among teenage girls – girls who, in a decade or less, will be adult consumers.

The first part of the article centered on YouTube star JoJo Siwa, who is promoting what one might call a new flavor of young feminism:

“In a world where parents of children ages 8 to 14 have long been concerned about hypersexualized clothing, early puberty and overly sophisticated media messages, JoJo is part of a growing group of girls documenting routine, age-appropriate behaviors and activities such as being nice, doing their choresdivulging what’s in their backpacks, making dresses out of garbage bags and working to pay for their own clothes.”

The article then meanders into a deeper discussion of the young female stars of YouTube.  Older people always worry that new trends herald the end of civilization as we know it, and the presence of young girls crossing over from YouTube to mainstream stardom is no exception.

 ‘”It’s troublesome to me when I see this being celebrated as the herald of what our young girls should aspire to,’ Ms. Long said. ‘That you, too, can go from being a YouTube star to having your own deal on Nickelodeon.’”

How do these trends compare or contrast with those of past generations when those generations were in their teen years?  What does this suggest for how brands can reach these girls, not only now but also down the road?

(photo: Ryan Henriksen for The New York Times )

"Take on TJ" takes the prize

The Advertising Research Foundation announced its 2017 Ogilvy Award winners this week and the Grand Winner was Nike’s “Take on TJ” campaign.

This campaign was in support of Nike’s “Gear Up “ initiative, which encourages teenage athletes to stock up on the equipment they will need for the coming sports season.

The key insight was developed around social listening and Google search trends. Teen athletes spend their summers the way most teenagers do – going on vacations, working, partying, and hanging out.  But when fall sports season approaches, they start to freak out, wondering if they’re going to be in good enough shape to compete.

This campaign highlights the fictional but yet all too real “TJ,” the adversary who is always just a little better than you.  The one you always want to beat but can’t.  They launched the campaign on Facebook and YouTube and it blew up. They created a humble-bragging Twitter account for TJ and had NFL star Richard Sherman at the customer service center answering all TJ-related calls.

According to the case study linked above, typical Nike seasonal campaigns generate 10,000-12,000 website visits in a month.  TJ generated 1.5 million visits and Nike considers it one of its most successful social campaigns to date.

Winning the Holidays

The 2016 IPA Effectiveness Awards were recently announced and the Grand Prix Winner was John Lewis, a retailer whose holiday adverts have become part of the culture in the UK.

I don’t think there is a campaign quite like this in the US.  Each holiday season, John Lewis releases a new ad on TV and online that is eagerly anticipated by everyone in the country.  Each story is highly emotional and is supported by an in-store experience that invites shoppers to become part of the story.

The campaign is credited with driving up sales by an average of 16% during the holidays and have boosted the company’s market share to nearly 30%. The holiday season accounts for 40% of John Lewis’ annual profits.  The campaign itself has generated more than £8 of profit for every £1 spent. 

Here is the 2016 campaign in all its glory – the ad, the in-store experience, the music, and the merchandise.  You can see campaigns from the previous years here.

Marketers often look for points of differentiation.  There is no point of differentiation here; many retailers could have made an ad like this.  But none of them did. 

So although there is no differentiation, there is, as the marketing wizard Al Ries calls it, pre-emption.  No other retailer (and probably no other brand of any kind) can play in this space now, because John Lewis “owns” it – simply because of how effective these messages have been.


This is your brain on advertising (?)

A recent study attempted to map how :15 video ads on various online platforms affect activity in the brain.  One of the insights is that “health food, coffee and hospitality brands advertising on publishers’ sites had a big impact on the detail-oriented left-side of the brain. However, ecommerce and consumer electronics brands resonated with the right side of the brain.”

What does this mean for advertisers, though?  The notion that the right side of the brain is more “creative” while the left side of the brain is more “logical” has been debunked.  Indeed, it isn’t even clear what the terms  “creative” or “logical” mean. As this commentary asks, does higher-level mathematical ability not require high levels of creativity?  We need both sides of our brain working in concert to function in the world.

One marketer read the advertising study in question and called it a bunch of nonsense.  What do you think?

(Thanks to Cecilia Troiano of our global partner in Brazil, Troiano Branding, for bringing this research, and the pushback, to our attention.)



This Friday New York Times column is another reminder that brands are more than a collection of product attributes and functional consequences.

The author, Wendy McLeod, has composed a paean to the brands of her youth, some of which are long gone but which still hold a place in her heart.

For her, the list includes Vick’s Vap-o-Rub, Right Guard, and Noxzema.  Vick’s resonates with me – I might also add  Salem cigarettes and Mennen Skin Bracer to the list.

The childhood memories of brands should not be underestimated.  There are often weighty psychological attachments there that transcend rationality and consciousness.

Wake Up the Silent Home

Love this commercial from Sonos that ran during the Grammy’s – Wake Up the Silent Home

There is a cultural story at work – it is increasingly common to be together, but alone, as we all sit around the living room with our individual devices.  Moreover, if we’re alone in this way, we’re probably not listening to music together.  In fact, around the world 67% of families don’t listen to music together.  In the US, it’s 79%.

So Sonos, which makes speakers and home sound systems, decided to fight back against that trend in a highly metaphorical way.


The business of biking

Fundamentally, the neighborhood bicycle shop is only a little different than it was when the Wright Brothers were building bikes -- before they got into airplanes. But it might not be that way for long. We found this article to be an interesting one about how competitors in a unique industry respond to change.

The bike industry doesn’t seem like a particularly healthy one in many ways.  Since 2000 about 40% of bike shops have closed.  Structural forces make it hard for small, innovative manufacturers to make headway, buying a bike isn’t as easy and convenient as it could be, and the sale of used bikes is way up.

Bicycle dealers are now trying to respond, before they go the way of neighborhood bookstores and record stores.  They are beginning to offer more mobile services and increased customer education.

Maybe the biggest problem – people aren’t riding as much.  In 1995, 56.3 million Americans rode a bike six or more times.  In 2015?  Just 36 million.  If you were in this industry, what could you do to inspire people to get out and ride?

The world is your playground

A study just published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences explores the topic of playfulness in adults and even implies it could be an addition to the “Big Five” personality traits.

The researchers have identified four types of playfulness in adults:

·         Other-directed: People who like to fool around with friends and acquaintances

·         Light-hearted: People who treat all of life as a kind of game

·         Intellectual: People who enjoy playing with new ideas or who can turn mundane tasks    into something interesting

·         Whimsical: People who are amused by strange, unusual, everyday occurrences.

The authors argue that people who are playful can be misunderstood – it is easy to perceive them as frivolous or unfocused; however, playful people are also well-equipped to find novel solutions to complex problems because they can see things from different perspectives.