THE WOKE OLYMPICS

The race for brands to parade their PC credentials is well underway! Gillette dashed to the front of the pack by showing us it was more interested in curing toxic masculinity than selling razorblades, but dropped back suddenly after it lost $8 billion in sales. Turns out blokes don’t like being called misogynists. A close shave indeed.  

Surprisingly, the enthusiasm for hopping on the outrage bandwagon has lost none of its momentum. Just like the way poor Taylor Swift was bullied to come out for one side or the other, brands must now decide if they are left or right, right on or stuck in the mud, Democrat or Republican. Brands, like the rest of us, have been dragged into the bear pit of the Twittersphere and the landscape in which they can express themselves, their Overton window if you like, has shrunk to a pinhole. You’re either with us, or against us.

Stuff we bought to shave with, or wash our knickers with, has grown a twenty first century conscience. In a world in which we have everything we need, a brand cannot simply offer us more stuff. In fact, this misunderstanding is largely responsible for the demise of our high streets and shopping centres. They were built on the premise that we needed to buy things to keep our mundane lives trundling along. They made the aisles wide and linear so that we could grab and go once we’d located what we were looking for. Product categories were announced in fonts bolder than motorway signs, as if we were all moving at seventy miles per hour. And in a sense we were. We dashed in and rushed back to the car before the ticket expired and our people carrier was towed away for ransom. How simple life was back then.

Where was I? Ah yes. Brands have realised they cannot carry on as if it were 1985, and so have evolved from being smiley, helpful and value-for-money, into fully grown, cynical adults with issues, consciences and axes to grind. In short: woke. In the rush of revelation some have joined the outrage hunters, pushing to the front of the melee in a desperate search for things to be shocked by. This then, is the new landscape for brands and we can expect it to intensify over the next few years. 

But you do know they’re faking it right? You do realise their pretend outrage and loud baying noises are for the purpose of deflection, lest the mob turn on them? An orchestrated distraction to avoid the laser beam of outrage homing in on their own transgressions, whether they be plastic packaging, pollution, landfill, low wages or waste. Like teenage bullies, woke brands are eager to elbow to the front of the mob in the name of progressivism. And who is against progressivism?

The problem is, in its rush to kick at the wicked establishment patriarchy, the mob is forced to edge forward, becoming ever more outraged and angry with the status quo. Egged on by a mainstream media exercising its last gasp for glory, too many of society’s strongest, deepest foundations are getting damaged along the way, sometimes irreparably. 

The frenzy of the mob, you see, can bring out the worst in us. All of a sudden, those quiet, conventional, harmless types see their opportunity to exert a little control. Very quickly, what considered itself a libertarian movement finds itself fuelled by an authoritarian impulse, one that wants to close down, ban, censor and admonish. The impulse that fights for women’s rights, for instance, swiftly morphs into something that’s distinctly anti-male. The push for racial equality, likewise, can so easily become discriminatory. Logic would suggest that the same libertarian instinct that campaigned for gay marriage and sexual equality would be against censorious regulation, but the reverse is true. Libertarianism and authoritarianism, once at opposite ends of the spectrum, have become fused in a kind of Alice in Wonderland nightmare. A new puritanism has infected the liberal mindset and its effects are serious.

And so, armed with this newfound pc superpower, the Advertising Standards Authority has waded into the mire to ban images it deems un-woke, things it doesn’t want you to see. We’ve all read about it: with the aim of discouraging gender stereotypes, the ASA banned a Volkswagen ad showing a young mother, sitting on a park bench alongside a pram. Once upon a time ‘motherhood and apple pie’ represented all that was good and wholesome with the world. Today, the ASA finds motherhood demeaning, something that might hamper a girl’s ambition and life chances. Shrug all this off as a slice of summer madness whipped up creamy by Daily Mailers by all means, but I believe it deserves a serious pause for thought: our regulatory bodies have decided that motherhood is wrongthink. It’s pretty obvious that a society that finds motherhood embarrassing or demeaning won’t last very long.

It’s important we don’t add to the hysteria, but at the same time, we cannot pretend everything is just fine. It’s blindingly obvious that brands are tip-toeing around convention, sweating over showing a heterosexual nuclear family with clearly gendered offspring, or a sexually attractive female for fear of being labelled regressive or bigoted. Humour that pokes fun at anything cultural, gender-based, racial or religious has been off-limits for so long that we’ve grown used to advertising’s mediocre glumness. But the prohibition of gender stereotypes promises to make life considerably more treacherous for brands wanting to stand out from the crowd. Expect to see a lot more of the Alice in Wonderland world in which heroes, adventurers, scientists and scholars are exclusively female, where families are made up from across the sexual ‘spectrum’ and where the image of a smiling, white, middle class family is deemed harmful to society.

I know. We’re already there.

So, Mr Futurist, how does all this end, I hear you cry?

That’s easy: a mighty financial crash, obviously.

In the meantime, have a great week!

 

Join me on Twitter @retailfuturist for daily retail musings

  Howard Saunders   Sep 04, 2019   advertising, Brand, Future, overton, Retail, shopping   0 Comment   Read More

THE NEW PURITANS

The skies are thick with tweet-shaped arrows, raining onto the heads of our once untouchable heroes. Hollywood, Washington, Westminster, nowhere is safe. Politicians, producers, actors, comedians, academics, business leaders, no one can shelter from the Twitter storm. And beware if you find any glee from these sorry tales. Schadenfreude is a fleeting thrill that probably means you’re next. We’re in charge now. We are the New Puritans.

Those toppled are not just the famous, or figures of authority. Hollywood’s finest are our storytellers. Men and women who stage astronomically expensive tales of how we should live. They are the soothsayers that predict how our world will change and, in turn, our politicians and captains of industry attempt to keep us on course. And comedians are not merely clowns. They are our philosophers, who teach us how to think and how to react to life’s vagaries.

That little black slab of glass in our palms, our Great Overlord of Data (GOD) has given us a voice, and oh boy, are we putting it to work. Our vaguest thoughts and randomly vitriolic reactions are instantly published, and carry equal weight and as much momentum as mainstream media’s more traditional commentary. Reactionary homemade Youtube rants, for example, will garner the approval of many millions, whilst The Press struggles to fathom how to pay for content. The battle is won.

One thing is for sure: this is no blip. Social media is relentless. It doesn’t sleep at night and it will interrogate its victims with extraordinary fervor, scratching deep into their digital footprints, reaching back decades if necessary, until it finds something. Stay clean people. Yes, the age that brought us all free porn on tap has turned us into prudes. Until we’re alone, that is.

Once the bolus of lard, that is Weinstein, was flushed into the sewer the torrent of accusation it unleashed has been shocking. The drip, drip, drip of offense taking quickly turned into a downpour so strong that most of us now walk around with our jaws permanently open in outrage. You may tut loudly at the irrelevance of the sacrifice of say, the cartoon-sexy darts and F1 grid girls, but you wait. This is a cultural shift and its effects will become apparent very soon indeed:

Advertising will swiftly tone down the sexist imagery, that’s plain enough. But once this barrier is broken the flood of offence will surely follow. Expect every classic stereotype along with what and why we consume anything to be vigorously challenged at every turn: why are the old often portrayed as frail? And why are they so often white? Why are athletes so often depicted as black? Why are babies shown only with their mothers? Why are those ridiculed as bewildered and hopeless always men? Why should we be told what to aspire to? Surely it can’t be right to advertise provocative images of luxury products that will offend those that can barely afford to eat? And fast food advertising is clearly an affront to our investment in the NHS. When does a foreign holiday become cultural appropriation? And why on earth is advertising allowed for gas guzzling cars? Or high sugar drinks?

Oh yes, sugar taxes are a-coming. For very sound reasons, fizzy drinks will feel the heat first, but wait until you find out what foodstuffs governments are chomping at the bit to tax in the name of our health: yoghurt, all cooking sauces, ketchup, cereals, iced tea, soups, canned fruit, baked beans, and inevitably, wine. Needless to say, this will be on top of VAT and alcohol duty. Salt taxes will swiftly bring up the rear to create the perfect pincer movement. And why wouldn’t they, when the consensus is chanting that something must be done?

Taxes will become bespoke soon too. Just as parking fees spike to punish diesel owners, we can expect more of our choices to be taxed in line with how ‘bad’ they are considered. After all, your phone knows an awful lot more about you than just what car you drive. Oh how we’ll reminisce over the anonymity of cash.

In fashion, expect to see hemlines lowering by the day, and anything revealing or asymmetric to be ousted by long lines of buttons and tailoring of religious symmetry. Colours will shift towards the more subdued and sombre with bright, acrylic colours banished for a decade.

For some strange reason we have a few hypocritical loopholes in our culture that surely must be plugged soon. Rap and pop will have to mind its language in our new era of respect, so we can certainly look forward to the demise of the N and B words over the next couple of years.

And now that we have been fully educated as to the disastrous effects of plastic in the oceans, supermarkets can surely no longer brazenly charge for a bag they’ve just packed with plastic shaped prawn platters and thick plastic avocado holders. Expect to see much more loose product when we go shopping.

In design and architecture, whilst we’re unlikely to see the return of piano leg covers we are perfectly positioned for an aesthetic age of modesty. The trend for ‘conspicuous consumption’ in the form of exposed pipes and conduits, which has become so popular as an expression of function, will probably be seen as somewhat brash and we’ll return to shrouded, concealed and hidden services and mechanics. And as our attitude to car ownership becomes more hardline, cars themselves, electric included, will become demure to the point of embarrassment.

Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, we should prepare ourselves for the insidious march of legislation and censorship across social media, Facebook and Youtube specifically. Free speech is a lovely idea but it’s simply not practical when the public just can’t be trusted.

Remember when tolerance and free speech were the foundations of our society? Yes, so do I.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Feb 05, 2018   advertising, city, Future, Uncategorized   0 Comment   Read More

SKIP AD: Beyond the Death of Advertising

Advertising is dead. It’s game over I’m afraid and it’s all our fault. As soon as we’re empowered to switch it off, we do. It’s pretty much as simple as that. Our petulant Gen Z’ers are apparently the worst offenders as a recent study revealed that 69% of them block ads altogether as well as ‘skipping’ three seconds sooner than those in their thirties and forties. Don’t you think the very concept of being gently seduced by a glossy sixty second production, to buy a pair of jeans or a bottle of perfume, all seems rather quaint and nostalgic now? A throwback to the days when we awaited the ads between Cheers and The News. The heyday of advertising coincided with the heyday of TV and for obvious reasons. TV watching was a family sport and squeezed together on the Draylon sofa we would laugh, coo, sing-along or take the Michael out of every single image the bulky cathode ray tube delivered. The Guinness surfing horses, the Oxo Mum, the Hamlet cigar man, the Cadbury’s Smash tin aliens, the Levi’s launderette strip and the Lloyd’s Bank slo-mo horse were central to our evening’s entertainment. Yes, there were a lot of horses back then but we loved it. We were force fed a regular diet across three and a bit channels and we were happy.

Today an entire universe of entertainment has opened up for us and the freedom to block or skip advertising is part of the deal. Advertisers have a couple of seconds, max, to grab us before we skip on our way. The creative art of storytelling has been replaced by shouty and intrusive snippets. Building an emotional connection to a character or creating any sense of irony, subtlety, nuanced symbolism or artistic reference has been jettisoned for split second gags and slapstick visuals. Hands up all those who don’t hover above the countdown to exit the Youtube ads. Precisely.

Our attention spans are shrinking in direct response too, demanding faster and faster access to our personal choices, skipping past intro theme tunes and credits, surfing across content to get a gist, because a gist is enough now. As audiences shrink along with their attention spans, so too have the budgets. The slo-mo horses have been put out to pasture, replaced by dancing typography and hurried sound-bites. If we so much as click on, say, a new camera we know we’ll be incessantly drip fed Nikon ads for the next month in the vain hope we’ll succumb just for the irritation to cease.

Today’s ad execs hang out with a bad crowd, the freak show, click-bait salesmen who beckon us behind the marquee to witness ‘celebrity facelift disasters’ and ‘top ten red carpet fails’. Flashing boxes masquerading as ‘next’ buttons lead us down yet another dirty cul-de-sac to show us rude pictures. How on earth did it come to this?

Back at the West End ad agency the turtle-necked creatives are jittery and water cooler talk is of jumping ship and opening bars to test their skills in the real world. They know they missed the heyday by a generation or so, and it wrangles. They sense the sadness at the annual Webby awards, knowing their stiff grins and fleeting accolades are no match for the pride and status of their predecessors. They may as well be at a TUC conference. Don’t get me wrong. There’s some very clever stuff to be seen at the Webbys, it’s just that so very few of us could spare the ten seconds to watch.

Meanwhile, on the high street, retail CEOs lead posses that march the aisles in search of something that will turn their tankers around. A gaggle of merchandisers and marketing managers frantically scribble down the words of wisdom on product density like it’s the sermon on the mount. ‘Increase the size of the ticketing and re-merchandise that back wall.’ Everyone nods in agreement way too vigorously, but no one believes it will change a damn thing.

Are we to simply stand back and allow the high street to wither and die too, then return home and live the rest of our lives via Amazon and Deliveroo?

The answer is obvious. We must round up our army of frustrated ad creatives and let them loose in the centre of town where they can unleash their powers of persuasion in the stores that have forgotten how to engage us. The good news is that a new high street is emerging. ‘Stores’ as we know them are dying because they ‘store’ things and we have little interest anymore in wandering around neat and tidy warehouses. Brands, on the other hand, know they must keep us interested, entertained, educate and surprise us in order to stay on our radar and make us feel a part of something. Creatives need to focus on the exciting real world revolution that is happening out there. I call it the rise of the ‘brand playground’ and this is exactly where our bored ad execs should be playing today.

Join me on Twitter for daily retail rants @retailfuturist and read more of my blogs here:  andcom.uk9.fcomet.com/blog/

  Howard Saunders   Apr 22, 2017   advertising, Blog, clickbait, Future, Levi's, Retail, shopping   0 Comment   Read More