Monthly Archives: April 2011

Dear Coca-Cola

Dear Coca-Cola,

Thank you for being 125 yrs old.

Reaching this milestone is testament to all the incredible marketing that you’ve created over the years and a sure sign that you’ll be here with us doing fantastic marketing in 125 years from now.

I have to confess that I struggle to imagine what a visit to the World of Coca-Cola Museum will be like in 2136, but if it’s anything like what’s on offer in Atlanta today, it’ll be an utterly amazing experience for anyone who’s remotely interested in marketing…

Now I love most things retro, but I have to say I struggle with “centenary marketing”…especially when it fails to differentiate between features (i.e. being 125 yrs old) and benefits (i.e. what’s in it for the consumer).

Now, I am in no doubt that you will succeed in turning the feature of reaching this landmark into a real consumer benefit, but your first foray into your 125 yrs celebrations – or at least the first I’ve seen – did little more than leave me with the one question that Marketers should fear most:

“So what?”

OK, OK, there’s nostalgia, reassurance, heritage etc, but you’ve done such a good job in that past that I had all of that in bucket loads already. Personally, this ad seems lazy, and seems to have fallen into the trap that many fall into of cobbling together a few old ads and thinking that’s the job done – see here for when I thanked Mercedes for not falling into the trap and when Vauxhall did. The irony is that it’s not old ads cobbled together, but it just looks that way…

I know you’re doing cool brand activation stuff such as your  “Retro Poster Maker”, where fans can superimpose themselves into retro Coca-Cola ads and have the opportunity to have their image featured on the Piccadilly sign, and that you’re going to be placing 3D giant glass bottle replicas fitted with bubble machines at busy consumer sites…

…But, I’m still no clearer why you being 125 years old is a good thing for me as a consumer…

At least when Guinness celebrated their 250 year centenary, they offered us the benefit of a real sense of celebration:

Anyway, Happy Birthday and thank you Coke.



Dear I can’t believe it’s not Cheddar

Dear I can’t believe it’s not Cheddar,

Thank you for making me stop dead in my tracks in wonder and amazement – well actually shock and horror – when I saw you the other day.

I think I understand your logic – the only problem is that it’s fundamentally flawed.

So here’s my reading of your logic:

  • The lighter cheese / cheddar market is in growth – and there’s room for more, so why not have a go at it
  • You – or more accurately your parent, MilkLink – needed a way to bypass the rules that prevent lower-fat cheddars being called cheddar
  • Unilever were only too happy sign a license deal with you, thereby rinsing a bit more cash out of their I can’t believe it’s not Butter brand
  • You saw the (historical) success of I can’t believe it’s not Butter brand and thought, um, we’ll have a slice of that.

But what amazes me is that you seem to have missed a couple of blindingly obvious facts that should have sent the alarm bells into overdrive as soon as, what can surely have originated as an off-hand comment, took on an unstoppable life of its own.

Firstly, if you say you’re not a cheddar, then it begs the question, “Well, what exactly are you?”

The construct worked for Unilever, but that’s because there was an existing and fully established reference point – called Margarine. Consumers were able to rationalise the I can’t believe it’s not Butter brand because they knew that it must therefore be a margarine, but one with a really great buttery taste.

Secondly, sure you say on pack that you’re a “Real Mature Cheese”, but people are interested in and want to know what exactly they’re eating these days, especially if there’s a suggestion that it might have been messed with or unnatural…I mean, who’s ever chosen the “meat curry” from their local curry house with any degree of confidence? People didn’t care so much about things like provenance and naturalness back in the early ’90s when the I can’t believe it’s not Butter brand was launched – but they do now.

So even though I don’t know what you are, I do know for sure that you’re in no danger of making it anywhere near my fridge (or that many other people’s I reckon)…

But thanks for reminding me of one the most memorable tourism board straplines of recent times, which still makes me smile:

If you’re not cheddar, what the bloody hell are you?



Dear Dulux,

Dear Dulux,

Thank you for giving us one of the most recognisable brand “mascots” of all time.

Your colourful friend is one of the most iconic brand demonstrations of Ferdinand de Saussure’s seminal theory about the arbitrary nature of the linguistic sign and the signifier and the signified…the fundamentals of what we now call semiotics.

Why is a table called a table? There’s no rationale – it’s completely arbitrary. Other than in the instance of onomatopoeia – splash, bang, beep, whoosh etc – pretty much all words are arbitrary. 

What has a sheepdog got to do with paint?


Have you ever seen a sheepdog down at your local B&Q trying to work out the difference between Eggshell and Vinyl Silk?


The objective fact is that a sheepdog has about the same to do with paint as a penguin has got to do with paperback books.

But when we see a penguin, we think of a paperback book. Or a chocolate biscuit. As well as black and white flightless seabird.

When we see a sheepdog, we think of you Dulux. 50 years ago that wasn’t the case.

The fact that you have created such an inextricable connection between two arbitrary concepts – a pot of paint and a sheepdog – to the extent that our hearts are warmed by the celebration of this same sheepdog’s hypothetical 50th birthday is, to my mind, a pretty amazing demonstration of the power of branding…and your investment over the years.

And although I really love your Let’s Colour Project – which I thanked you for here – it’s great to see your sheepdog back on our screens once again…to be honest, the fact that he’s 50 is neither here nor there.

Thanks Dulux.


PS – And what a perfect soundtrack to have selected – perfect nostalgia for the ears…

Dear Wild & Wolf

Dear Wild & Wolf,

Thank you for your trimPhone.

I’ve just acquired one in a rather fetching ’70s avocado green – and, sad as it may seem, it gives me a minor thrill each time it rings:Thank you for looking convincingly retro and at the same time incorporating up to date features such as hold, redial, volume control etc.

To be honest I don’t really care whether or not you’re fair replica of an actual ’70s design, nor whether you may have features that the “original” didn’t…the fact that you look the part and do the job is more than enough for me.

As it happens, I’m a big fan of modern interpretations of classic designs.

Purists will say that the “spirit of the original is lost”, and they are right – as per the new Mini, built by BMW, and the New Beetle, basically a VW Golf.

But I think what the purists mean is that they want to protect something that they consider to be theirs and cannot bear the thought of every Tom, Dick or Hairdresser taking the easy road into their brand, with none of the effort or heartache that they – the card-carrying owners of the original – have invested.

But I say bring it on. If it was a good design back in the day, the chances are it’s going to appeal today.

The original is still there for the purists, the new one is just different, almost always functionally better, if not an emotional improvement for those die-hard aficionados.

Most importantly for brand owners however, a modern interpretation of a classic design represents a potentially massive route to growth.  And growth is the name of the game after all.

Just goes to show that brand loyalists are not necessarily the people to talk for brands that are looking to grow.

So thanks Wild & Wolf for your trimPhone – I love it. Iwas equally tempted by your Lobby and Desk phones, not to mention the beautiful but crazy Scandiphone:



Dear NHS

Dear NHS,

Thank you for being amazing, for employing amazing people and for helping bring our amazing baby boy into the world.

You were amazing when his big sister joined us a few years ago and you were no less amazing on Sunday night and Monday morning.

What is a massively momentous, life enhancing, incredible and utterly joyous event for us, is what you just get on and do, day in day out, up and down the country.

Quite amazing.

Thank you.


Dear B&Q

Dear B&Q,

Thanks for giving me a right laugh just before I went to bed last night:

So simple, but so effective.

You pass the “why didn’t they think of that before” test (perhaps the most desirable consumer response to almost anything new) with flying colours.

OK, OK, schadenfreude is a fairly base form of humour. But it is funny all the same. And some of your scenarios do appear a little contrived – but we’re subliminally conditioned to that thanks to series after series of the undeniably popular You’ve been framed!, not to mention the legions of ads out there that paint an optimistically rosy and unreal view of the world / family life / going on holiday etc etc…

A little presumptuous, but I would like to thank you in advance for your second, third and fourth executions, that I very much hope you’ve already got in the can or are working on right now. I think you’ll need them to keep people interested.

Thanks again B&Q


PS – As I posted here, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so you won’t mind me posting this gem from the Shooting Stars team:

And one of the original execution from which Vic, Bob et al took their inspiration: