Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The problem with good branding

Good branding is obvious and stands out in its environment to get your company’s messages out there in the open.

A well sited poster can direct those messages at thousands of people, creating an easily identifiable product or service.

Despite what people say, they do align themselves with brands even if it is an unconscious action. We all have our favourite snack or preferred clothes shop even if we don’t want their logos emblazoned across the backs.

But what happens when the branding is placed in the wrong environment? Or in the wrong context? How does that message appear?

During a short walk I carry out most days, I’m exposed to branding messages despite the journey taking me next to open fields. Whatever the intention, my personal reaction to the companies is negative.

I’m talking rubbish. The litter left at the side of the road and blown across open fields is something I’ve never been able to understand – far better to have a clean car than an unspoilt countryside?

It isn’t the firm’s fault that their logos are left as an eyesore, but they do have a responsibility. They also have an interest to ensure their brightly coloured logos don’t send the wrong message. It also says a lot about a company’s customers.

Creating Market segmentation through a litter survey

So just who are these litter louts? One technique is to look at trying to create a profile based on the information available. This is hardly a precise way of looking at things, but it does create interesting results.

So what did I find? Cigarette butts everywhere; left, right and centre. The brands are too indistinct to be noticed.

Discarded smoking packets were brand specific. Richmond, B&H and Lambert & Butler seemed to make up virtually all of the packets found. I could name a number of brands, but I didn’t see any of their packets.

The most noticeable was McDonalds. Cups, meal boxes and bags seemed to be everywhere. Interestingly, I didn’t notice any KFC litter despite having the same number of restaurants in the locality.

Snacks made up the majority of the litter. Coca-Cola, Tango, Fanta, Robinson’s flavoured water seem to be the drinks of choice with takeaway coffee cups also prevalent.

Walker’s crisps packets and multi-pack bag wrappers making up a sizeable portion of the snack rubbish. There was surprisingly few chocolate bar wrappers, and some litter from Jellybeans.
Larger cans made a few appearances through the undergrowth with Fosters seemingly the brand of choice.

From this we can create a profile of a thirst, larger drinking McDonald’s fan who likes Walkers crisps and smokes one of the two brands mentioned. You can imply age, sex and demography to a certain extent. The danger is to create a single profile, where there might be two or three.
One question I have is whether this profile could be replicated or whether it is particular to the route. Having lived in the countryside I’d suspect more the former.

Equally, although the litter is everywhere, it’s not a huge amount suggesting that the problem is caused by relatively few individuals.

So what are the solutions?

Packaging is far from straightforward. It’s quite interesting to look at the McDonald’s coffee cup which is much less obvious than many other items of its packaging. Its muted green still does stand out in the correct environment, but is a little more hidden in the long grass. Clever design can be invaluable.

Degradability is a red herring. Products can take around a year to degrade even if it’s degradable. It can help, but is far from being an answer. Litter bins? I doubt they’d help. Some research shows a badly placed bin can create litter problems by attracting too much rubbish for the level of collection available.

Education is the best solution. I remember my father challenged some youths dropping litter, and they politely suggested it was keeping someone in a job. Litter pickers don’t work in the countryside and even community service projects cover an insignificant portion of our roads and pathways.

It is somehow easier to drop, even when it’s not, because it’s ingrained. I’ve not really seen any campaign by leading companies to tackle the issue or fund it. Possibly they think the halo effect of litter is too bad to go near in case it admits liability.

The alternative is to shame the companies into helping educate the public, particularly the young, through surveying the brands that leave the litter. The survey could even be linked to school projects clearing an area near them.

Or even better, could the local McDonalds create this sort of campaign to reduce their share of the litter and educate the kids at the same time.

Too often litter education is untargeted and by looking at the rubbish dropped we can start to identify where to target education. Equally punitive measures like a rubbish tax affects all companies. The most interesting thing in my small scale survey was the brand specific nature of the rubbish.

And finally, if it is you who has dropped the litter, carry it a little bit further and drop it in a bin.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A sculling boat tour of the river Aire

This is the fabulous view of the River Aire between Hirsts Mill and the aquaduct just before Bingley five rise locks.

Strapped on to the stern of a sculling boat, its a fantastic view of the 700m or so that makes up Bradford Amateur Rowing Club's stretch of water.

The sound of the water moving past the hull is very hypnotic.

Monday, 13 June 2011

A portrait of Naomi Jacob: A true Yorkshire character

This is the story of Naomi Jacob, possibly one of the biggest Yorkshire characters of the twentieth century and I want to revive her name. I do have a vested interest as she was my great great Aunt.

With a gruff Yorkshire accent and well known for wearing men’s clothes, she was often mistaken for JB Priestley. But she was best known a prolific author, playwright, journalist, broadcaster, actress and a political activist.

Known as Micky, she is best known as a writer. Walk down the large print section of any library, if they haven’t been shut down, and you’ll find many of the 80 plus books she wrote in a 30 year career.

Unfairly compared to pulp fiction authors like Barbara Taylor Bradford or Barbara Cartland, she tackled issues such as anti Semitism in the 1930s when many authors were barred from producing works on this subject. This is possibly due to the fact that it was seen as women’s fiction rather than serious, weighty literature.

In 1935 she won the Eichelberger Prize for "services to humanity" but was forced to reject the accolade because she shared it with Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Naomi grew up in Ripon; the granddaughter of two time mayor Robert Ellington Collinson and owner of the Unicorn hotel. Her father Samuel Jacob was the son of a Jewish Taylor who had escaped the pogroms of Western Prussia and settled in Towcester. He had converted to Catholicism, had become a teacher and moved to Ripon to become the headmaster at the Ripon Grammar school.

But Naomi became the daughter of divorced parents when her mother left her father due to his unreasonable behaviour.

Her mother and sister left for the south and, later, on to New York. Naomi wanted to stay in school and moved around a fair bit. She finally went to a school in Middlesborough where she became a student teacher on leaving.

It was during her time at school when she fell in love with the theatre. Repremanded for wearing trousers and for her care of her pupils beyond the classroom, she soon lost her job and became a PA for a music hall star.

She was the married Marguerite Broadfoote and Naomi also became her lover. She slowly climbed the ranks to become a successful character actress, mainly in rep. But Micky loved the music hall –knowing all the great names like Little Titch, Fred Karno, Vesta Tilley and Dan Leno. Other people she associated with were the Gielguds, Du Mauries, Henry Irving and Sarah Bernhardt.

Marie Lloyd was another of her friends and shortly after her death, she wrote the first official biography. One close friend said of the book “[Naomi Jacob] doesn’t let facts get in the way of the truth.” Although some have questioned the accuracy of the book, it remains true to Marie Lloyds spirit and a truer image can be brought to life by reading it.

Naomi also had a political side to her, standing as a Labour PPC despite coming from a staunch Tory background. She was also a suffragette, Once sealing a clock in a biscuit tin and leaving it on the holiday home of then Prime Minister Lloyd George’s seaside retreat. The bomb was made safe when a panicked aide found the ticking device and hurled it into the sea.

When World War one, “Micky” claims she fooled the navy and joined as a male rating. She also spent time in the women’s corp managing a munitions factory.

TB took hold, an illness which would take her to Lake Garda in Italy, an enforced exile where she started writing with the stage no longer a long term option. Here she lived in the British ex-pat community with her Pekinese Sammy, associating along with people like Radclyffe Hall, the celebrated actor, who lived there with her partner Una Troughbridge, a woman Micky had a serious crush on.

During the Second World War, she came back to England working for the Minister of Information and then for ENSA near the front line, where she contracted Malaria.

She returned to Italy and at one stage was asked to bring her papers to the town hall under German occupation. The daughter of a Jew, she marched in and demanded they mark her papers as such, embarrassing the town’s officials and ordered to leave without the J being stamped on her documents.

Micky had also helped the many Jewish refugees in her home in Sirmione during the ends of the conflict, a fact I only recently learnt from an article on CNN’s ireport.

This stubborn Yorkshire women lived out the rest of her life in Italy, writing cook books on Italian food (“boil past for 30mins”), churning out novels and returning for many appearances on Woman’s Hour.

How many other strong regional accents featured on key BBC programming around this time?

It’s time we took another look at a truly remarkable Yorkshire woman.

But the story is not over with one of her books turned into a movie script. What an end to the story if the project were to get financial backing for a major film?

(Adadpted from a presentation for Bettakultcha: Bradford)