Thursday, 28 March 2013

Hello Kitty ! How to grow brand characters with human characteristics

Ever since my French exchange partner (Jean-Francois) managed to pull a garden rotivator up his leg on day two of my Easter ski trip I have been a bit of an Asterix fiend.  To this day I am pretty good at reading French, even if my accent is 'un petit peu franglais', because this accident meant I got to read three or four Asterix Bande Dessinee each day for the remainder of my stay.  BD, to those in the know, cartoon books if you were still wondering, are very popular even amongst adults in France, many homes will have a collection of these. Oddly, Tin Tin (who is Belgium and a good answer to the 'name three famous Belgians' question) never quite did it for me.  I have collected Asterix stuff over the years, and even visited Parc Asterix, near Paris, as a grown up to taste the theme park branded experience.

The Japanese Manga craze came to late for me, even though my boys are Pokemon mad. I was therefore intrigued when my marketing colleague Sameer mentioned he had just been published a peer reviewed journal paper about Hello Kitty, the cat like character that is a global marketing phenomenon.  A cooler, younger, Asian cartoon character that, without much of a back story seems to have grown to become a global player.  Extremely feminine, cutesy, pink, fluffy and kitch, my oldest son begged me not to buy Hello Kitty branded (and scent impregnated) tissues.  I care not what I wipe my nose with and given that both my sons were encouraged to hang out with girls at dance classes in their early years, I really didn't see pink tissues as an issue.  Joel, however, was insistent.  "They are for girls ! If you get those I won't use them."  They were £1/box on special offer, cheaper than the alternatives.  Decision made.

Must buy Hello Kitty Pomegranate Branded Iced Tea

Hosany et al, (2013) in the Journal of Marketing looked at the theory and strategies of anthropomorphic brand characters from Peter Rabbit, Mickey Mouse, and Ronald McDonald, to Hello Kitty, a topic the marketing literature has not yet considered much.  It draws on Aaker theory, that is close to my heart, on brand extensions and line extensions and seeks to explain how Hello Kitty has achieved the venerable status of being the third most counterfeited global brand.  It considers the use of nostalgia and contemporary resonance to ensure that Kitty fans continue to find the brand proposition relevant even in adulthood.  A good thing ?   With its diamante sparkle and fluffiness I am surprised the anti-everything gang hasn't dubbed the brand "Hello Kitchy". 

VW lashes:  Are you making eyes at me ?
Not everyone is into the cutsie humanisation concept, of course.  VW camper van and Beetle owners are renowned for naming their vehicles and treating them as though they were part of the family.  One of my metrosexual dad chums refused to put eye lashes made from windscreen wiper rubber on his middle aged crisis sports car.  Not even for a day !  I taunted him over email with this picture (left).  He stood firm.

I know it might not be perceived as cool by others, (I transcend notions of coolness) but take this recent example of personalisation that I captured on the side of what otherwise would be seen as yet another dull, functional, delivery vehicle.  White van man was a bit of a negative cultural stereotype in the UK for a while, synonymous for a type of bad mannered driver who lacked common courtesy, but didnt' care. 

Surf chic on this White VW van ?
I love the sense of fun, the celebration of an iconic brand in a spray of blue hibiscus flowers.  The owners sense of fun, pride in his alloy wheeled van, that includes the tropical flower silhouette, so evocative of the beach surf scene.

It's almost as though you would expect to see a couple of surf boards nestling in the back of the van with a sand encrusted wet suit.

I haven't tried this before, but why not share below your own stories for cartoon characters ? What name would you give this white van ?

Monday, 25 March 2013

International MBA cohorts at Global 200 schools: School of Management ranked 9th

The following is a short PR release the School has released pertaining to a pleasing top ten ranking.  I was asked to offer a short quote (final paragraph).
Management School: Informal Pod working
International MBA cohorts at Global 200 schools: School of Management ranked 9th
The QS Global 200 Business Schools Report identifies the most popular business schools in each region of the world and aims to serve employers seeking MBAs at a regional level.
With its global outreach, QS obtains survey responses from employers from different continents and a variety of industries, allowing it to produce reports by specialisation, including Finance, Corporate Governance, Operations Management, and Strategy. At the heart of the report is the definitive list of 200 business schools currently preferred by most international employers for the purpose of hiring MBA graduates. The list was compiled from an annual survey of Human Resources (HR) managers and line managers with recruiting responsibilities at companies around the world. Each year employers recommend new schools to be added to this list, which employers around the world can then rate and comment upon.

Bold & modern:  Management School facade
"We work hard at Royal Holloway every year to select a strong group of MBA candidates whose diverse work, education and cultural backgrounds provide a rich and stimulating, global, peer group learning environment. Indeed, this is often cited by students as a major attraction of the International Management MBA. I am personally delighted, it is always pleasing to be ranked in the top table and QS recognition here can only enhance our growing reputation as a leading MBA programme."  MBA Director, Justin O'Brien

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Noh Drama here, we're MBA students !

As a two times College Teaching prize winner in 2012 Justin O'Brien, MBA Director at Royal Holloway, University of London looks each year to grow and develop his teaching portfolio with new innovations and collaborations.  With a goal to provide at least five "pixie dust" moments (poignant and highly memorable learning experiences) for the prestigious full time MBA programme one of this years innovations was via an enterprising barter based collaboration with  Dr Emma Brodzinski from RHULs highly regarded drama department.


The RHUL Drama department is going through a rather golden period at the moment, benefitting from a stunning refurbishment of the 'old boiler house' theatre space and across the A30 the building of a stunning new and state of the art theatre, to be named after leading English playright, Caryl Churchill, slated to open in Summer 2013.

The MBA group, having attended a Caryl Churchill production at the Royal Court theatre and participated in a get to know each other warm up session, were invited to attend a day long work shop with Dr Emma Brodzinski and professional actor,  Alex Turner, one of the founding members of of non zero one, the RHUL Drama department's resident theatre company 2012/13.  

The group were lead through a variety of exercises to help develop self-awareness and a sense of groupness, that saw many MBA candidates find themselves pushed into their discomfort zones quite quickly.  The approach was drawn from experience of developing a strong group ethos amongst professional drama troupes that demanded extensive use of movement, communications skills and reflection.

One exercise saw the group brain storm a number of different useless objects that they were then asked to go away and prepare a sales pitch for.  One of the ideas that required the use of the improvisation technique was plugging shampoo for bald people.  In addition to the development of creative thinking, students were required to work spontaenously in small groups to deliver an impact presentation of their ideas. 

The brief given to Emma Brodzinski, who designed and delivered this highly innovative workshop with collaboration from Alex Turner, sought to challenge the MBA students in a very different way and push them firmly into their discomfort zones.  Whilst some students struggled to connect with the activities, others found the final afternoons performance aspects a little bit too much out there.  The majority of participants in the whole workshop found it to be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. 

The drama sessions concluded with a performance piece in the Noh Theatre space.  Royal Holloway Drama look after Europes only Japanese Noh theatre (pictured below), a beautifully carved natural and untreated wooden construction, it is considered  by many as a holy space and used to present highly ritualised live performances.  Management students would never normally be provided access to this space

Jessica explained about the drama experience "It gave us the opportunity to experience management theory and practice in a way that was very different from what we've encountered in the classroom so far. It was refreshing to find how dramatic exercises such as developing a mock advert sketch or creating an abstract performance piece based on a work of poetry could be usefully complementary to our course. The workshops were also a great bonding opportunity for us -- we learned a lot about one another and discovered skills we didn't even know we had. "

Elena commented that "Anyone who worked as a part of a team in their job really appreciated these sessions. No one teaches you how to manage a room of over-excited people or read the intricacies of body language and energy levels when you start a new job. But those skills are essential for any leader. I will definitely be able to bring the skills from these sessions to the workplace."

Nathaniel Johnson said "I presumed that the Drama Development workshops were simply geared towards enhancing presentation skills, but I soon found that it was so much more.  I assumed that I would spend my time doing artistic re-enactments of dramatic pieces, but the activities proved to be enjoyable, relevant and extremely useful. 
The sessions enhanced my awareness of differing dynamics within groups and the activities focused on improving communication and collaboration.  The sessions contrasted the norms of our rigid lectures, coercing me beyond my comfort zone. However, participation was rewarded with a great experience, a greater understanding of myself, and my cohort.  Additionally, I discovered that my competitive MBA cohort, like to be silly and have a fun side too."

Dr Emma Brozinski felt the experiment was a great success.  The group were very engaged, and although she set her expectations a little lower, as none of the students had any background in drama, the enthusiasm and focus the MBA group brought to the enterprise to a highly successful conclusion. 

Justin O'Brien, in his role as MBA Director, stated "This is exactly the kind of activity that Royal Holloway MBA candidates appreciate.  It celebrates our strong arts based heritage, benefits from cross-disciplinary team teaching in a highly innovative format that sees students stretch and grow from a full range of learning experiences."

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Royal Holloway name ?

Thomas Holloway
I am often asked to explain the origins of the name "Royal Holloway" when I am interviewing for the MBA International Management programme.  It is easy really, first off, Queen Victoria opened the building now known as 'Founders' and Thomas Holloway (pictured above) prompted by his wife Jane decided to endow a ladies college (the second to open in UK).  The Holloway's and Victoria have a central and highly imposing marble statue sitting in the centre of the two quads. 
Unusually, the best window views in Founders (where I am lucky enough to have my office) are on the inside, because you get to see the bowling green lawns and the stunning towers and ornate chimney sky line.  When I've seen inside windows in other buildings, the lower light levels and view of functional  building and rather ugly air conditioning units make these aspects rather uninviting. Needless to say, as a relative new comer, I have a fabulous view over the north east corner, mostly trees, the bank and a bit of the car park.  This week: the daffodils have finally come out ! (we have had a colder than usual March) and this makes the green, grassy banks glisten with gold.
During the distance learning summer school in late June/early July each year we like to hold a formal dinner in the Picture Gallery, home to a unique and impressive cross-sectional collection of Victorian painting, the result of a rather scatter gun acquisition approach.  The collection has significant historic value, as a body of work worthy of an eighteen month tour of leading US universities in recent times.  The full time MBA group got wind of this and asked if they might be able to enjoy the venue too, so we instigated an annual alumni luncheon event just before Christmas at the end of term 1, the highly regarded College choir creating an amazing atmosphere.  (their album is currently storming the classical music chart)
The new College archivist, Laura MacCulloch, is keen to get students to appreciate the historical art in the Colleges guardianship and is now running regular sessions to share her knowledge more widely, helping to disseminate the long and rich history that underpins Royal Holloway.  Laura shared with me this BBC web resource link that allows you to view the College art collection from the convenience of your internet cafe'. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Lager ? Only if it splits my head open !

Recent, excellent, nuptial celebrations of a close colleague required me to undertake a brewery tour.  Unfortunately this wasn't great as it might first sound, as it was a real ale micro brewery and I'm very much a lager man. 
In recent years on the Royal Holloway MBA we have been very lucky to work with Jonathan Bennett at SAB Miller (the premium, imported, global number two brewing organisation that has a strong position in many emerging markets) who introduced me to the sophisticated Italian blue stripe Peroni bottle. 

In fact, on the rare ocassion when I hook up with a bunch of high powered middle aged dads, I rejoice in finding a pub that serves Peroni.  Rather embarassingly recently, I lambasted, in a surprisingly direct manner, the barman in one pub when he emptied my Peroni bottle and presented the product (gold, fizzy, crisp) in a clear, straight half pint glass.  I was left, completely naked without any form of branding, even on the glass drinking vessel.  I was horrified.  The point of paying a premium for bottled beer is surely all about flouncing the cool brand credentials under other peoples noses, isn't it ? "I am, or would like to be, a sophisticated Italian." is very much the message I want everyone to buy into around me. 

I am rather intoxicated by lager beer brands. I love Lord Billamoria's rags (well, sort of) to riches UK brand concept pretending to be Indian, known in UK as Cobra.  (less fizz, ideal for curries).  In fact, I have just noticed the latest positioning exercise on the television.  A sign, I think, of Cobra moving into the global brand elite.  Remember please, this is now brewed in UK, was invented by an expat Indian educated at Cambridge, predominantly for the UK market.  Only the first few batches were ever made in India (issues of transportation), scale production took place in Poland.  Poland.  Note the legal disclosure higlighting UK manufacturing. I do love the sophisticated, sexy, edgy, metropolitan, confident, alluring and colourfully Indian personality the 60' Train execution (above) appears to want to put across. 
Actually, after the first few glasses at the Hogs Back, I began to warm up to this real ale stuff.  Let's face it - with a bushy beard and round belly, I totally fit the profile of a bitter drinker.  So in the past couple of weeks I have been actively engaged in learning more about the dark, flat and warm stuff my father-in-law is so passionate about.  I've learnt why American beer is so bland (because the marketing people wanted it so).  And, that micro brewing is on a major up turn, despite the emergence of global lager brands, owned and operated by large international firms, like SAB Miller, able to exploit manufacturing, distributive and marketing economies of scale. 
In my deep and dark searching of the surprisingly useful academic journal search engines we use at Universities, I found the following paper and thought that you might find this title quite provocative ? 
Are full or empty beer bottles sturdier and does their fracture-threshold suffice to break the human skull ?       
I could well imagine the Jeremy Clarkson types out there might be jumping up and down, outraged by another example of ivory tower University research demonstrating wasteful, fringe activity, with insufficient regard to the real needs of our ailing economy.   
Actually, it reminded me of the news story (BBC, 2008) covering Orkney Island's (8.5% by volume) Skullsplitter ale.  It rather benefitted from media coverage that sought to take issue over its aggressive branding in the context of anti-social alcohol consumption.  PR team bonus payment, get in !  Of course, when you see that the aforementioned paper was published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, (Volume 16, Issue 3, April 2009, Pages 138-142 to be precise)  you begin to appreciate that authors  Bolliger, Ross, Oesterhelweg, Thali, and Kneubuehl were probably undertaking the kind of genuinely useful scientific research that will soon be featured in a story line of forensic science TV show "Silent Witness", or if we are in luck,  the next Wallander.

Of course, real ale drinkers, you will know, not only embrace local, small scale, craft manufacturing processes, but also reject the use of (eco friendlier) aluminium cans, because they claim it gives a metallic taste to the beer, so the aforementioned research paper is a bit 'academic' for them. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Bond over loaded Product Placement ? Not on your Skyfall !

Bond over loaded with Product Placement ?

Not on your Skyfall !
One of the benefits of being a forty something is that you don't have to worry about being cool any more, but you aren't so old that you've forgotten what it's like to be young.  In fact as my oldest boy edges towards those potentially difficult teenage years, I am being reacquainted with youth culture without having to experience it all myself.   I must say, previous experience does have some intriguing advantages.
To the matter in hand today:  Skyfall.  With Brits and Oscars awarded for the first time in the franchises 50 year history, it is hard to have missed that even the film industry thinks this particular film is a cut above the previous 22 or 24.   So, I missed my family visit to see Bonds action adventure when everyone else did,  and instead waited for the DVD launch. (See 'confidently uncool' comments above)  Hence coming to the table rather late in the day, but hopefully with something interesting to say too. 
My interest was particularly piqued because several of the Royal Holloway Management with  marketing undergraduates chose "outraged" media coverage at the over commercialisation of the latest Bond movie, particularly concentrated on the product placement issue for an assignment earlier in the year.  The dramatic fall in commercial TV advertising revenues has seen UK TV regulations relaxed to allow ITV and others offer up opportunities for sponsorship.  Clearly for the media, product placement is a hot topic. 

"A pint of your usual Mr Bond ?"
All paths for me currently appear to involve beer. In Bond, of course the story was Heineken taking the place of James' regular tipple.  I was profoundly surprised, therefore, that Bond's beer guzzling moment didn't even let you have a good look at the label.  We all know that global brands of lager pretty much taste the same. You need to see the label to imbibe all the benefits of a beers brand personality.  Heineken surely don't think that a green glass bottle communicates its brand ?
Unlike recent films (packed with gratuitous shots of mobile phones and luxury cars) I entirely missed coverage of Bollinger, Omega, Swarovski, Sony and Virgin Atlantic, all sponsors listed in the credits.
Bollinger relies on beyond film marketing to establish its Bond credentials
I'm told the ultra tight fit Tom Ford suits are fashionable, although hardly sensible for an action hero.  Aston Martin were playing a long game, using a classic model from a previous Bond feature with a clever low tech twist, perhaps, because the next model isn't quite ready ?  In fact, the only two brands (aside from Brand Britain) that seemed to get the biggest plugs were VW Beetle, benefitting from a full, slow and deliberate brand name check, whilst being totalled by the second,  big hitter, a bold, yellow digger from CAT(erpillar).    

Screen product destruction: Good for awareness development ?
It is not quite apparent quite how VW's name check will help reposition the Mark III 'new' Beetle.  Perhaps in a loose sense of being cool enough to be featured in an overtly masculine Spy movie ? For the last decade and a half the new Beetle has developed a 'middle aged woman's car' imagine in the UK once the launch, halo, retro buzz effect had warn off.  Priced at a discount to the Golf power train it shares, most buyers saw it as very much a fun, but not very practical (cramped rear seats, tiny boot space) second car. The recently launched, third model is very much benefitting from an attempted VW marketing positioning sex change, with a flatter, slicker profile and a product range emphasising powerful engine options.  However, I shall be very surprised if the re-positioning initiative works out. 

Visit Britain, the UK's tourism body, in fact rightly decided to get on board as a sponsor, given the extensive and unusual use of British sets (Scotland, London, and London as Shanghai), forced by budget cuts when the holding company hit financial difficulties. 
Brilliant movie - but you know that already !!  Good hearabout, wanna see.