Monday, 29 July 2013

I've moved

I've had a lovely time updated this blog for the past few years.

But the time has come to say goodbye.

Everything new will be posted on

See you on the other side.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Telling brand stories with Nike

I've been thinking a lot about stories recently.

Johan Berger's 'Contagious' features an excellent chapter on brands using stories to push out their message. He says that the most successful ads create a narrative which resonates with the target audience.

The section investigates how we communicate with each other in and how we recall information when we recall an event in conversation; what details we include and what details we throw away. He writes:

'People don't think in terms of information. They think in narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.

'Make sure the information you want people to remember and transmit is crucial to the narrative.'

The Nike slogan, 'Just Do It', turned 25 years old this week; three words which have set the tone for the company's marketing for the past quarter century.

Football. Running. Cycling. You can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Nike are great story tellers. Below are two adverts from the Olympics. Both tell fantastic tales with the brand at the core. Find your greatness.

 But Nike is clever. It doesn't just want us to share these stores online; it wants us to create our own.*

The Nike+ app records everything about a jog.

The weather, the friends we went running with, how good it felt, what shoes we were wearing. The little kernels of information we use to create a a story.

The app makes it easy to share these stories on Twitter and Facebook. It allows us to be our own narrator.

These user-generated stories communicate the ethos of the Nike brand better than any advertising campaign ever could. Imagine the conversations after each run:

'Let me show you how my training for the marathon is going.'
'Even though the temperature was ridiculous, I did a 10km run.'
'I ran my quickest mile yesterday.'**

The brand is an integral part of the stories we share.


*See also the Coca-Cola 'share a bottle' campaign.

**The app also awards medals for completing certain tasks (running twice in a week, for instance), giving users another incentive to talk about their achievements.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

It's Just Burgers - Thoughts on the Marketing for Almost Famous

Almost Famous is a burger restaurant in Manchester*. I've never been.

It is, however, one of the most popular restaurants in the city. There's a queue outside the door on most nights and, from an outsider's perspective, it looks like a successful business (with rumours of a Liverpool outfit suggesting forthcoming expansion).

From a marketing perspective, Almost Famous is equally successful. It counts 22,500 followers on Twitter and clocks up 1,500 @ mentions per month. Tweets from strangers speak of the queues outside the venue, while melted cheese drips from the hundreds of Instagram photographs taken from inside its walls. The restaurant has a cult following which, given its niche menu, is exceptionally impressive

Indeed, as renowned Manchester commentator Simon Binns points out, 'anyone can make a burger. It's easy. Really, really easy.'

Which begs the question, how has Almost Famous become so popular?**

Very famous

Almost Famous launched in 2012. There was no address on the website, no sign on the door. It was a secret restaurant. As one blogger wrote, 'you had to be on Twitter to know where it was.' It is a 'discovery brand'***, exclusive; you had to be in the club to know it even existed.

Here's the first clue to its popularity. We all want to be in the club.

'We don't take reservations...turn up and wait it out if necessary'

My first awareness of Almost Famous was not on Twitter. I discovered the brand after walking past the queue of people outside the restaurant's front door (There's always a queue outside Almost Famous). I imagine that many other individuals had the same introduction to the brand.****

As consumers, we all get curious about a queue. We assume that what awaits us at the end of the queue must be relevant to our interests. The latest iPhone, Wimbledon tickets, free muffins.

People guess that whatever is at the end of the line must be worth the effort. Otherwise, why would there be a queue?  A line of waiting people is an example of a concept called 'social proof'; tangible evidence that something is popular enough to warrant interest.

My first introduction to Almost Famous was that there was a queue. And if there was a queue, I figured that the food must be worth waiting in line for.

Social social proof

I'd never seen a queue for a restaurant in the Northern Quarter before. It was a remarkable thing and I tweeted a photograph saying as much. Now, my 2000 followers and I were all thinking the same thing.

I've never seen people queue for a burger restaurant. 
The food must be amazing. 
Where is this place?
Why haven't I heard about it? 
When can I go?

I have not been the only person to tweet about the queue outside Almost Famous; dozens of tweets highlighting a queue outside of a burger restaurant. Hundreds of followers wondering what they are missing out on.

But a queue also makes us anxious. A queue means that something is popular. And if it's popular, that special something might run out.

What if the burgers run out before I get there? 

If something is scarce, we're even more anxious to get it. We want to join the queue, just in case we get left out. 'Food is generally till midnight but don't be upset if it stops at 10,' states the Almost Famous website. It's this perception of scarcity that contributes to the desirability of the restaurant.

Exclusivity and social media 

But there's another factor in play here.

All your social media content (tweets, pictures, Facebook updates) is part of your social currency. We share stuff that makes us look good to others. Stuff that shapes how people perceive us online.

We want to be seen as insiders. People with exclusive access.

Almost Famous doesn't have any windows. There are no photographs on the website. Unless you've been, you have no idea what it's like.

We want people to know we've eaten there. That we're in the know. In the club.

I'm in this exclusive restaurant and here's a photo of a burger to prove it.

The marketing is done through its customers.
It's just a burger

But, anyone can make a burger. It's two pieces of bread and a bit of meat.

Earlier in the year, Simon Binns, commented on the increasing fervour around burger restaurants in Manchester. His thoughts (from the link above):

"And so it is with Manchester's current obsession with burgers. Apparently, they're a new invention, or so some people trying to charge you a tenner each for them would have you believe."

He's right, of course. Five years ago, if I'd have wanted a burger, I'd have gone to any pub. It's two pieces of bread and a piece of meat. Nothing special.

But, Almost Famous has carved out its name (through word of mouth) as the place to go for burgers in Manchester. It's their USP. They're a specialist.

The Almost Famous Twitter account is a jumble; conversations with customers, product promotion and retweets (mainly of photographs of the food taken by customers). It's confident, bordering on arrogance, describing the food as 'killer' and 'boss'. This is called advertising.

But, as it's backed up by buzz from other users, the messages from Almost Famous have weight.

As a consumer, I'll go to Almost Famous because I know that, when I want a burger, they will serve me a remarkable product. They've told me so. The people I follow on Twitter have told me so. The queue outside has told me so.

As a consumer, everything I see about Almost Famous convinces me that they're the best at what they do. There are dozens of nice restaurants in Manchester that might do me an OK burger.

But, it won't be an Almost Famous burger.

Burger the strategy

So, how much of this is strategy and how much is a happy accident? Whatever your view of the venue, Almost Famous has wrapped its offering up in a compelling (and genuine) narrative. You might not like its style or food, but the approach has delivered online fans and offline customers.

Last week, research from marketing agency Online Ventures named the restaurant as one of the most successful Twitter accounts in Manchester.

I have no idea how true this is. I'd love to buy them a burger and find out.


*As a disclaimer, the majority of this post was written before the fire at Almost Famous in July. I was genuinely upset to see the news (as I'm all for independent businesses doing well) and I'd like to wish them all the luck in the world when they're back up and running.

**I'm not a food critic. This analysis is from a marketing perspective, rather than from a 'is this food good to eat' point of view.

***Take a look at the New York bar, Please Don't Tell for another example of this.

****The Almost Famous website is very clear to state that it doesn't manufacture the queue outside the venue. I believe them. I think the venue is just *that* popular.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Nostalgia in Advertising: Lock S-Foils in Attack Position.

As a teenager, my first computer console was a Nintendo 64. It was 1998 and one of my first games for the system was a title called Rogue Squadron. It was based on the Star Wars series; you were Luke Skywalker, whizzing around the galaxy in an X-Wing and shouting, 'Lock S-Foils in attack position' at the television. I was all for it.

I caught the last few minutes of Star Wars: A New Hope on the TV yesterday (the first film in the original series). The rebel base was gearing up for an attack on the Death Star and extras were running around, pumping fuel into the fleet before it embarked on the suicide mission. A panning shot over the base show four, maybe five, ships about to fly off into combat; the rebels were ridiculously outmatched. The scene reminded me of the beginning of each mission on Rogue Squadron; the option to choose a ship from a virtual hanger bay.


My brain sank its teeth into the image and suddenly I'm sixteen again; sitting in front of a small television (one with a built-in VCR), playing Rogue Squadron in the bedroom I grew up in. I could picture the posters on the walls, the colour of the carpet, see the signed West Bromwich Albion football sitting on the shelf. I thought about people that I used to know and I wondered if the corner shop at the bottom of the street was still there. 

Back in 2013, the X-Wing fighters took off. Han Solo saved the day. Chewbacca still didn't get his medal.

As individuals, we romanticise the past. We look back and see a better time. And to quote the sage wisdom of Mary Schmich, 'You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.'

Using nostalgia in advertising isn't anything new; brands have been exploiting memories and feelings about the past to generate sales for decades. More recently, Microsoft did it for Internet Explorer (albeit for an American audience) last year and VW Polo did a decent job in the ad below. P&G brands are also repeat offenders for this sort of tactic.

Our penchant for nostalgia gives brands the opportunity to link their products to our rose-tinted view of history. We remember playing old video games until 2am because there wasn't school the next day. We remember the first road trip after passing our driving test and we remember the make of the car that look us there. In the words of Don, taken from the best scene to be filmed in Mad Men, 'nostalgia takes us to a place where we ache to go again.'

All this is a very convoluted way of saying that I spent £10 on a fifteen-year old video game on Amazon yesterday and I'm ok with it. Lock S-foils in attack position.


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Quickly shooting video on the iPhone

Recently, I've been looking into doing more first reponder filming; capturing footage that doesn't need huge amounts of prep time or kit; video that can be quickly uploaded onto YouTube after being shot, distributed an hour or so after being filmed.

As it's connected to my hip anyway, my iPhone5 seemed a good a place as any to start.

But, while it's got a fairly decent camera Yodaing it up on the back, filming on the iPhone has always produced awful footage; more shaky wedding video where the wedding has a free bar and you've had a couple of beers and you sort of need the toilet but don't want to miss the first dance than slick corporate video.

 With this in mind, and kindly sponsored by my lovely employers Delineo, I've been trying out a few bits of kit to see if I can capture video without too much dicking around (industry term), both on-site and back in the office.

Firstly, there's the shaky-cam issue. Obviously, handheld video is always going to get a bit wobbly; arms get tired, legs fidget, you get distracted by a bumblebee.

In the end, I settled on a fairly nice solution in the shape of a smartphone grip for my mini tripod; a pincer that holds the phone in place during filming. It does the job well. Your smartphone isn't going to plummet to the ground and your footage stays strictly on the horizon.*

 Secondly, there's the issue of sound. In my experience, the iPhone does fine and dandy with recording audio if it's fairly close to the source of the noise. It's alright for talking heads and the like, but not so much with anything else.

I picked up this microphone for a tenner. It's nothing special, but it's lightweight and produces much better audio than the iPhone can manage on its own. There are also two settings - wide and narrow - depending on how close you are to the source. I've not really played around with it as much as I should have, and I suspect it might fall over at any great distance, but it does the job so far.

Editing and uploading is fairly easy via the iMovie app. I put together the video below for an event I was helping to run for Didsbury Arts Festival, compiling multiple videos, in a couple of hours. Uploading it to YouTube took about fifteen minutes over WiFi, which wasn't too shabby for a two minute, high-res video. I probably wouldn't want to do it over 3G though.


 Keep in mind a couple of things though:

 Storage. My phone is a 16GB iPhone5. It's full of apps and I only managed to capture about an hour of footage before it started getting fat with files.

Battery. You'll need an external battery. As a starter, this one has worked out well for me, so I'd probably begin the search here.

Quality. At the end of the day, you're shooting on a smartphone. Light, sound and picture quality are always going to be a little on the rough side. Just bear it in mind before promising the world.

 Happy shooting.

 *As an aside, ALWAYS film horizontally, unless you like attractive black borders around your video on YouTube.