April 26, 2008

Cabin Crew: Disarm Cynical Passengers

In general, I like to travel but have been back and forth to London so often over the past couple of months that I've seen more of airports and aircraft than I care to in that time. I always choose Aer Lingus over Ryanair, despite the fact that the grand old lady of Irish aviation is a little down on her luck of late.

She does her best but there's always that air of quiet desperation about her that translates into hiccoughs on boarding, not- irregular flight delays and the strained-smile of understaffed service. But give me her inefficiencies any day when compared with the competing service of the obnoxious upstart.

I was reminded of this forcibly on Friday when I boarded the plane just ahead of an elderly man on crutches. Two of the Aer Lingus crew abandoned their welcoming post (or security detail, depending on your point of view) to help the man to his seat, settle him in and stow his sticks safely away. Then, despite the fact that the plane was still boarding with arriving passengers, one of the stewards offered to make the man a cup of tea.

I almost lost it. She might have left her best years behind her, but the old girl had it in her yet. I found myself strangely moved by the simple courtesy. No doubt airline procedures had tea-making much further down the line of priorities (and just before perfume-hawking) but the crew-member recognised this man's need for a cup of tea and acted on it.

A line I heard years ago from Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin sprang to mind: "It's not in the nature of the soul to abandon its home." I'm not sure quite what that line means, even in this sense, but I thought there something essential about the steward's gesture that harked back to another time, when Aer Lingus was the soul of Irish aviation and travel and my twentysomething-year-old self thrilled to the sight of the uniform as I made my way home from far off places.

Old-fashioned courtesy had not abandoned its home. I was completely won over by the simple offer ('cabin-crew: disarm cynical passengers and make ready for flight').

Mind you, I was brought back down to earth with more than the bump of undercarriage on tarmac when my return flight was delayed four hours with little explanation. But still, something of the sweetness of the gesture remained.

April 20, 2008

Naming And Shaming

Call me naive if you like, but I was astonished to read that the owner to the rights of Terence Conran's business name had described Sir Terence as a 'clever designer but maybe not a brilliant business brain". Now I know that name-calling is often part of the argy-bargy of big business, but I think that Chris Pinnington of Euro RSCG really should know better.

Terence Conran (the man, not the business) apparently left the rights to the name Conran Design Group behind him when he fell out with his boardroom colleagues some years ago and set up his own Conran Holdings company. Those rights were subsequently sold to Euro RSCG, who now wish to develop the brand globally. Sir Terence apparently doesn't approve and objects on the basis that "It's nothing to do with design or integrity, it's simply that they can make money out of it'.

Now, whilst his apparent surprise that someone in business is pursuing gain rather than design excellence or integrity might mark Conran down as someone with a less-than-business-like brain, I'm more surprised at Chris Pinnington's insistence on drawing our attention to it.

Surely part of the value in the Conran name lies in the entrepreneurial savvy which attaches itself to it thanks to the original owner's pioneering approach to design? Whilst Chris Pinnington might privately doubt that savvy, it doesn't make any sense for him to blurt it out during a very public spat. It seems to me that his own remarks betray the type of business brain that knows 'the price of everything and the value of nothing' to quote someone who knew quite a bit about branding (that's Oscar Wilde, the original of our species).

I suggest that Pinnington might learn the importance of being silent on this issue.

April 11, 2008

Deadly Buzz

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Branding

The recent discovery of a philosophical tract (Summa Brandalogica) amongst the personal effects of a prominent 17th century Venetian merchant has revealed that branding is not the latter-day phenomenon that scholars once believed.

Of particular interest is the section that deals with the Seven Deadly Sins of Branding (in the order immortalised by Dante in his Divine Comedy):


Lust is the excessive craving for the pleasures of the body. The lustful brand promises instant gratification, neglecting to mention the inevitable consequences on your health and well-being. ‘Eat, drink and be merry’, it says, ‘for tomorrow we die’; although the slim, happy and well-adjusted models that appear in its advertisements never seem to hint at the degeneration which follows.

Tell-tale signs?
Sweet, seductive and accommodating.

Most likely to say:
“Go on, you know you want to”

…leaving the customer feeling:
Gullible and sick to the stomach.


Gluttony is the voracious desire to consume more than you need. The gluttonous brand is insatiable, gorging on customers even when it’s full to bursting. Suddenly, it’s all over the place, wolfing down resources and gobbling up competitors simply because it can.

Tell-tale signs?
Licking its lips and permanently hungry.

Most likely to say:
“The more the merrier…”

…leaving the customer feeling:
Jaded and disillusioned.


Greed is the desire for material wealth at the expense of others. The greedy brand is always looking for an opportunity to fleece the customer. Exorbitant fees, hidden charges and punitive terms and conditions are its stock-in-trade and it preys on the vulnerable and the unwary.

Tell-tale signs?
Rubbing its hands and scheming.

Most likely to say:
“Sucker! There’s one born every day”

…leaving the customer feeling:
Exploited and used.


What is it?
The slothful brand steers clear of anything that looks like hard work. It just couldn’t be bothered to make an effort, usually because it’s part of a cosy cartel arrangement. The only thing that goads the lazy brand into action is a threat to its monopoly position, when it blusters on about its huge contribution and makes a great show of activity.

Tell-tale signs?
Lumbering, slow-moving and unable to adapt to a changing market.

Most likely to say:
“Honestly, I just couldn’t be bothered”

…leaving the customer feeling:
Deeply frustrated


What is it?
Wrath is the fury that’s born out of not having things go your way. The angry brand believes theirs would be a great business if it weren’t for the customers. Often, they keep this raging discontent bottled up until the last minute when they explode and unleash a barrage of insults and threats.

Tell-tale signs?
Pent-up, muttering under its breath and ready to explode at any minute.

Most likely to say:
“I swear, if I have to listen to another person…”

…leaving the customer feeling:
Fearful and intimidated.


What is it?
Envy is the grieving over the good fortune of others. The envious brand is begrudging and resentful, and bitterly disappointed when the customer chooses to go elsewhere. Brand envy measures success in terms of its ability to trump other brands and desperately covets their customers.

Tell-tales signs?
‘Me too’ ambitions, cheap gimmicks and gratuitous comparisons with what’s on offer elsewhere.

Most likely to say:
“Anything they can do, we can do better”

…leaving the customer feeling:
Duped and manipulated.


What is it?
This is what the ancients called the sin of ‘inordinate self-love’ and was often seen as the father of all sins. In brands, it translates as self-importance, born out of the deluded belief that the world revolves around you and what you have to offer. For the proud brand, it’s all about ‘me, me, me’ and the poor customer hardly gets a look in.

Tell-tale signs?
A monopoly position where customers are treated as little people, somehow beneath notice. If they don’t like it, they can lump it.

Most likely to say:
“If I ruled the world…”

…leaving the customer feeling:
Small, mean and unimportant.

Let he who is without sin…
We know gossip ranked highly on the naughty lists of the medievals too but we’d love to hear from you if any of these sins call to mind brands in the public eye that you believe are deadly sinners.

Cast the first stone by leaving a comment on this blog. Go on, you know you want to...

April 06, 2008

A Rogue By Any Other Name

My daughter thought the whole thing hilarious. The story behind the resignation of our first minister was being debated on the radio and Lara asked me to tell her what it was all about. I said that questions had been raised about unexplained payments into his bank account which in turn raised the spectre of bribery.

Lara considered this carefully for a minute. Then she giggled. "What is it?" I said. "Bertie," she said, "that's a funny name. And Ahern. Bertie Ahern. He can't have done much wrong."

It's not only my daughter who thinks so. Commentators have been picking through Ahern's political career and marvelling again at how he managed to get away with things for so long. Even on the heels of a great deal of dirty washing being done in public through the tribunals, the prevailing public attitude seems to be one of exasperation rather than anything else.

It's just hard to get angry with him. Despite the fact that he's clearly a sharply intelligent man (I've heard him speak off-the-cuff a number of times in person and have always been impressed by his ready wit), he seems to deliberately cultivate the impression of being somewhat gormless. My daughter's reaction is quite typical. Whilst political opponents ranted and raved these past few months as they tried to get some mud to stick, the man in the street seemed quite bemused by the whole affair. "Poor old Bertie," we thought, "he mightn't have been too clever about how he arranged his financial affairs but he can't have meant to do anything wrong."

This is an interesting tack for a political leader to take. The more usual approach is to play the hawkish statesman, the suave charmer or the wily wheeler and dealer. Bertie chose hapless innocent instead. And almost everyone from my daughter to the voting man in the street was taken in by it.

There might be a lesson there for any brand-owner who's inclined to take what seems an obvious route to the top. Sometimes, force of personality, personal magnetism or razor-sharp mind aren't required to win out. Sometimes, as Bertie has shown over the past ten years and more, amiable likeability is all that's needed.