March 26, 2009

You At The Back, Wipe That Smile Off Your Face

A Garda source reportedly says: "This may have started as a prank, but it's now a national embarrassment. A full investigation is under way."

I agree wholeheartedly. The sooner we get to the bottom of the national scandals that are embarrassing us on the world stage, the better.

But I don't think it's the stunt that saw nude portraits of our leading politician briefly displayed in the National Gallery and the Royal Hibernian Academy that is turning Mr. Cowen's cheeks an unseemly shade of red. Surely it's the shenanigans in our banks that are the "last thing the country needs" (to misappropriate a remark made by a Cabinet Minister in response to the foolishness of naked emperors hanging in high places)?

Now don't get me wrong. I'm sure it's a source of considerable embarrassment to Mr. Cowen to see himself portrayed in this way, but don't school-teachers suffer the same ignominy at the hands of their students every day of the week (even if those wicked sketches don't usually find their way to the walls of the National Gallery)?

Stories of the Gardai raiding the offices of a radio station in order to finger the culprit smack of over-reaction. We're told that the hanging up of nude images could be deemed illegal under incitement to hatred, indecency and criminal damage legislation. I'm certain that humiliated teachers scramble to find grounds to bring the full force of the school system to bear on the infuriating pest in Class 1B who has a knack for cruel caricature but grasping at the straws of incitement to hatred, indecency and criminal damage in order to involve the Gardai is probably going a little too far.

How ironic that it's a school-teacher who's owned up to painting the pictures.

Ireland's international reputation would be better served by a mature response from Mr. Cowen's friends in high places, perhaps even the lofty dismissal of the pictures as a school-boyish prank beneath the notice of a serious politician intent on rooting out the rather more compromising wrong-doings of sticky-fingered leaders in our financial system.

Over to you: Do you think that rude pictures or unscrupulous bosses are the greater source of embarrassment for Brand Ireland?

March 18, 2009

Amateur Dramatics

'Konica Milolta brings dramatic decline to advertising output...'

Spotted this truly awful advert in the underworld of Terminal 1 in London Heathrow. It features Ronaldinho, widely regarded for the sheer brilliance of his printing and photocopying.

You simply can't keep him out of the office.

Quite incredibly, the text reads:
'Ronaldinho brings dramatic improvement to football.
Konica Milota brings dramatic improvement to colour output'

Who on earth dreams up this stuff?

It's dramatic, but almost certainly not in the way that the writer had intended...

March 10, 2009

Boys And Girls, Do You Believe In Brands?

"(Tinkerbell's) voice was so low that at first he could not make out what she said. Then he made it out. She was saying that she thought she could get well again if children believed in fairies.

Peter flung out his arms. There were no children there, and it was night time; but he addressed all who might be dreaming of the Neverland, and who were therefore nearer to him than you think: boys and girls in their nighties, and naked papooses in their baskets hung from trees.

"Do you believe?" he cried.

Tink sat up in bed almost briskly to listen to her fate.

She fancied she heard answers in the affirmative, and then again she wasn't sure.

"What do you think?" she asked Peter.

"If you believe," he shouted to them, "clap your hands; don't let Tink die."

Many clapped.

Some didn't.

A few beasts hissed.

The clapping stopped suddenly; as if countless mothers had rushed to their nurseries to see what on earth was happening; but already Tink was saved. First her voice grew strong, then she popped out of bed, then she was flashing through the room more merry and impudent than ever. She never thought of thanking those who believed, but she would have like to get at the ones who had hissed.

"And now to rescue Wendy!"

So boys and girls, do you believe in brands?

It's too easy to let the actions of a few Captain Hooks, and the hissing beasts who collaborated in their wrong-doing, poison our confidence in the good faith of brands in general.

Of course, we're outraged at the millions these crooks spent on the pretence of branding, purporting to act in the best interests of their customers whilst feathering their own nests at our expense.

But let's not allow the behaviour of a small number of celebrity brands damage the good name of those countless others who put us first, many of them small business owners passionately committed to doing their best day in and day out for us.

This is not Neverland, but we are well served by shop-keepers, tradesmen, artisans, white collar professionals and many other suppliers who will put the customer first, go the extra mile and watch our back.

Now is the time to rally round those brands that work sincerely to look after their customers.

If you believe, clap your hands (then reach into your pocket, pick up the phone or do whatever it is you must do to support them); whatever it takes, don't let your favourite brands die.

(You can also check out John Jansch's Make A Referral for a practical way to show your faith in your local market).

And now to rescue the economy!

March 08, 2009

Throwing Curved Balls

Tomatoes in a fruit-salad?

Irish rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll had me a little worried following his startling line at a press-conference before last weekend's match against England. In replying to a question about Martin Johnson, O'Driscoll is reported to have said that, 'knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit whilst wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad'.

You wha'?

Brian, have you lost it completely?

But writing in the Sunday Times after the game, journalist Peter O'Reilly suggested that O'Driscoll's colourful remark was more likely a response to "the mind-numbing exercise where captains and coaches have only one concern - not providing their opponents with any motivational fuel". O'Reilly goes on to say that English soccer players responded to the boredom of post-match interviews in a similar way by trying to get as many song-titles as possible on record.

And I needn't have worried. O'Driscoll turned in one of his greatest performances in an Ireland jersey as he willed Ireland over the line against the English. And not a tomato in sight.

But O'Driscoll's response is quite telling.

I think customers often respond to the inane communications from brands in the same way. People pillory the earnest efforts of sales pitches. Commentary on the internet is full of spoofs on popular ads. And it's not only commercial brands that suffer from a little mickey-taking. Census-takers find an improbable number of people reporting 'Jedi Master' as their religion.

It's easy to dismiss these wisecracks as the work of dunces and smart alecks but there's no doubting the professionalism and serious intent of O'Driscoll once he crosses the white line onto the pitch. Nor his commitment to his team-mates on the training-ground.

But sometimes the only response to a charade is to play the fool. Too often, brand-owners ask customers what they think and scarcely wait for the reply. As often again, they script advertisements that beggar belief and treat the audience as boneheads.

How many times do we hear a shrewd enquiry in amongst the silly questions asked of a sportsman or a branded message that really gets us thinking?

Until we commit to a serious exchange with our customers, we shouldn't be surprised if a few choice tomatoes are aimed in our direction.

March 05, 2009

Wherefore Art Thou, Oh Apple?

I'm tickled at the recent report that Bill Gates doesn't allow Apple products into his home.

According to Mrs. Gates, Bill suffers no rivals to Microsoft for his family's affections - although she did confess to a sneaking desire for the iPhone (or, as she might have said, that rather cute Capulet boy).

I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised; the great brands can bring out the wanton in all of us. And, of course, this wouldn't be the first instance of an apple proving too tempting for a woman to resist...