Damaged goods . . .’

Football. What a game. As Gary Lineker once so aptly put it, “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” Well in the contest that has just broken out this morning, FIFA versus the World, the Germans and the rest of the world look like winning.

Sepp Blatter, the Teflon FIFA President for the past 25 years looks like finally getting egg on his face if not all down his shirt (yellow card if he takes it off). So far 14 FIFA officials have been arrested by the FBI . . . not a scenario many of us would fancy . . . for offences against the world in charges as broad as racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering. So pretty much an official condemnation of the self-pointed ruling body from the head down. Of course the Head hasn’t actually been charged with anything. In fact in a wonderful twist on reality, the FIFA website boasts the lead message, “FIFA is fully cooperating as injured party.” So lets not count our chickens but in this game of two halves, Blatter is the dominating Captain and Captains often lead by example.

So where does this leave the brand in this World game as the tattered FIFA flag flaps frantically above the cloistered bunker that is its HQ?  Sponsors such as Adidas (Germans again) are making very unappreciative sound regarding its association with a corrupted organisation. How long before the other Global partners – Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai and Visa decide that the tainting by association is too foul a smell to carry around?

The furore that followed the World Cup hosting wins to Russia and then perversely Qatar, rattled too many cages even for Blatter. In consumer speak – he pissed off too many customers. How thin its motto – For the game, for the world – sounds, as the greed and recklessness of individuals starts to play out. And I stress this in quasi Churchillian tones, this is not the end, this is not the beginning of the end, it is the beginning of the beginning.

Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, who has had his searching claws into FIFA for the past decade, revealed on radio this morning that the FBI investigation will go back years. Jennings, who wears the badge of honour of being the only press man banned from FIFA events, stated that the ripple will become a tremor and then a quake with the fallout being that Blatters’ legacy of Russia and Qatar will not materialise. If this systemic abuse of power and personal interest is true, what is the future for FIFA?

Noises that the Friday vote to elect a new President are still going ahead have the journos bristling, for the fear that Blatter will dodge every flying bullet and sink a sixth term in office. Yet over the next 24 hours how many ‘clean’ FIFA folk will want to run the risk of associating with the current regime? By Friday lunchtime it could have a cricket score (forgive the sporting pun brevity) of further officials being marched out under blankets to the shadowy recesses of FBI question zones. So a blanket blanking of Blatter could herald a brave new world.

One man waits in the wings, Prince Ali Bin Hussein of Jordan. His Royal Highness stands as the sole opponent to Blatter, and on a clear platform of ‘responsibility and not passing the blame’, has the perfect timing to press home his steely shibriya into the incumbent’s discomfort. Desperate, strong and fast action needs to be taken. If the President is the equivalent of a CEO, the Prince (assuming coronation) needs to peel back the layers of suspicion and restate FIFA’s primary objective “to improve the game of football constantly and promote it globally in the light of its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values, particularly through youth and development programmes”. It doesn’t say anything about lining the electorate’s pockets.

Live longer

At last someone has invented something sensible.
Three cheers for Volvo – the car manufacturer who nailed ‘Safety’ to their masthead years ago, for neither just sitting on their motor technology fence or for myopically pursuing a 4 wheel safety policy.
Volvo have recognised that staying alive on our roads is most perilous for its 2 wheel cousins, understanding that cyclists rarely get a second chance in a collison with a motor vehicle.  The odds shorten even more at night, so the free trialling of a technology product that make the invisible, visible is very very welcome.

Folks, watch this film with a sense of pride and appreciation. For those Mums and Dads who dread the idea of their kids running the traffic gauntlet every day, LIFE PAINT is the absolute must have product.


Wally Olins

Alas dear Wally. I suddenly feel that the real pioneer of branding, as we know it today has sadly gone.

Before Wally there was Design, classified by the work of the likes of Fletcher, Forbes and Gill and Corporate Identity, the management consultant-led change programme that was as much about economics as corporate logic. Wally Olins was the man to knit the two together, citing the ‘Corporate Personality’ as the all powerful grail for the enlightened CEO.

Personality, was (and still is) the big thing.

Wally perceived it as integral as DNA, it walks and talks, it lives in a technicolour world . . . and most importantly, he knew that people understood a positive personality was more powerful than a logo and a new set of values will ever suggest.

Back in the 80s there was only Wolff Olins as the serious Corporate exponents. We met many times and whilst Smith & Milton ruled the Packaging roost, Wally remained fascinated by our little piece of real estate. It never got further than some cagey chats, but I will always feel proud that I crossed paths (albeit with swords sheathed) with a great visionary, and though he did not know it, mentor.

Wally we will carry on spreading the word.

A Tigerish question.

Well here is a football passion v brand logic, quandary.
Change a name to play up a club’s personable and distinctive nickname, or stick with the history that conventionally but proudly named a club after its own city?
For those who do not deign to mix the sports pages with brand strategy, the Chairman of Premier League Hull City, Mr Assem Allam, has proposed to the Football Association that the club (the club that he owns) is rebranded ‘Hull Tigers’.
His reasons are various, roundly backed by the fact that the Tigers have been so-called at least since 1947. Given romantic credence by playing in amber and black striped jerseys, a Tigers head first appeared on the club badge.
But his main reasoning is pragmatically commercial. Mr Allam knows the Asian market. Mr Allam knows that selling merchandise branded ‘Tigers’ is infinitely more appealing than parading another City brand, an argument to which he fanned the flames by citing this as a “lousy identity.”
Spurring on the chief protagonists, a supporters group rather desperately named “City Till We Die”, to continue to harp on about their unique heritage. Throwing a dummy to the fact that there are 4 other Cities being chanted for, in the same top division.

So is this really a culture clash or a fight for ownership?
One thing that Mr Allam could not be accused of in these days of fashionable ‘foreign’ ownership, is being a fly by night owner. He has lived in Hull for 30 years, his kids were raised there and he has sunk some £75m into the club to help it achieve its premier status. Surely as an owner he has the right to spend his money on changing more than just the perennial manager?

Mark Gretton, a spokesperson for the City Till We Die team clearly thinks he is in disagreement with his Chairman, when he speaks of the potential harm a name change could bring. “There is a real risk that it takes clubs still further away from the fans. So much that attracts people to British football is the passion involved. That comes from people caring about the clubs. You don’t care about a brand. You care about a club. People are brought up with it and are inculcated with the ethos of a club at a very early age. If you begin to give clubs cartoon names, you will start to lose that.”
Aha. But surely Mr Gretton is talking about a brand.
He thinks he is talking about a club, but in reality he is spouting brand speak. Brand – Club, Chicken – Egg. The principle is the same only the letters are different. And in branding it is DIFFERENCE that we strive for.
If we could give Mr Gretton a crash course in brand dynamics, I think he would grasp very quickly that the strongest brands live by their difference.
Not just another City, like so many cans of soup, but a very different product altogether. It is irrelevant whether Hull Tigers is a new or old name, it’s strength and its potential is it global difference. If I am kicking a football around the backstreets of Shanghai, I don’t care whether Hull is in Yorkshire, plays flowing rugby league or actually has a Cathedral. But as a Tiger fan, I can proudly wear my stripes – and with the benefit of a fighters name, show my teeth.
Yes Mr Gretton, cartoon names are a worrying prospect, but Mr Allam didn’t give the Tigers their nickname. Your father, grandfather and his before him could well have been one of the perpetrators. Surely you have nothing but pride in the Tiger attitude, since you first stood (or sat) upon the terraces?

It is change that Mark Gretton fears, and he is looking purely for negatives. Fortunately for the majority of Hull fans, (well if we are to believe Mr Allam, a majority who declared a YES to the name change,) for in Mr Allam you have a benefactor with a wider vision. This proposal does not appear to be a move sparked by self-importance, unlike Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, whose crass company name and logotype SportsDirect, has supplanted St James’s park as the towns historic ground title. Wiping St James from history seems are far more heinous crime. Or the bizarre goings on at Cardiff ‘City’ where owner Mr Vincent Tan has flown in the face of all rationality and required the ‘Bluebirds’ to wear red shirts. Although whilst they cling to the right to retain the nickname and Mr Tan’s bank account, the fans it seems are willing to run with this one.

But at half time in the Hull debate, the latest score on is 1-1. The FA, the bastion of the slow-moving, have voted to block Mr Allam’s rebrand attempt.
Back in the dressing rooms, no doubt both sides will be engaged in a tactical pep talk before they take the field again. So I am curious if any of this chanted emotion is actually being argued by anyone with a brand education?
City Till I Die seem like a team of close-knit but lump-it-long, chop ’em down reactionaries, whilst in Mr Allam’s revolution, his tippy-tappy plans would see Hull Tigers remain proudly a growing, fluid part of the city.
I believe in brand terms Mr Allam needs help to answer the perfect impossible brief: This is a club that appreciates that in the 21st century things can change. And yet remain the same.

Happy birthday Amazon

Happy Birthday Amazon UK! What a curious brand you are and how significantly you entered our lives. Was it really less than twenty years ago, that when book browsing I was forced to contort my body and my vision, to read spines vertically in Borders and Waterstones? Without destroying the publisher’s greatest asset, the touch, weight and smell of a fresh printed book all of which is impossible to replace, you turned the expectation of the arrival of well packaged cardboard sleeve into a polished pleasure. You also alleviated the pain of wasted hours spent hunting for some spurious title and the cricked neck that such activity entailed.

When it first popped up in the UK 15 years ago, Amazon heralded its arrival with little pomp or fanfare, and not a single clue as to why this genius electronic repository should be called Amazon. Even now I assume that it is something to do with the free running river of knowledge that it provides, but I may be post-rationalising. Certainly for such a public service to be only marked by a rather coy, smiley (or is it embarrassed?) mouth, still seems a rather self-conscious piece of graphic symbolism. The Amazon brand is so underplayed that one could speculate that perhaps it thought it might fail?

But indeed it did not. Emboldened by its literary repertoire, it has quickly added clothes, household goods and even food to its bulging virtual shelves.

Amazon is the beacon for no-fuss service that other e-tailers have since tried to ape in their droves. The introduction of the One-click payment service is still light years ahead of most cumbersome vendors. And should (heaven forbid) Amazon find fault with your credit, it will kindly advise you, not just once or even twice, that there is some form of delicate problem that they will willingly go through hoops to guide you to a creditable solution. How charming and refreshing.

The most amusing perspective is a view of your own account. Forever suggesting and politely prompting products that you find of interest, it is a snapshot of preferences some of which could be construed worthy for the psychiatrist’s couch. Randomly, today it seems (according to Amazon), I am in need of a curious and eclectic blend of art and nostalgia themed items, including music from the old folkster Roy Harper, a book by the rather racy fine art photography, Frank de Mulder, clothing – a pair of Kariban safari pants, films – rather predictably, Series 6 of Mad Men, and curiously in household, a tub of Mauviel Copperbrill Cleaning Paste for Copper 150ml.

Before I tempt you to join the dots, the recommendations are strangely personal and bring a reassuring biographical note to the site, rather like a virtual diary.

It is unlikely that I will purchase Roy Harper again – but he was part of my distant 70s youth, just as the Mauviel copper cleaner is a charming reminder that I bought my wife a much requested omelette pan a few years ago (albeit not purchased on Amazon). Yet unlike the emotionless shop on the high street, where else could I dig a little deeper into the emotional journey and be tempted to re-buy that much loved Disney Classic, Lady and the Tramp for the delight of my daughters (despite both now being in their 20s)? Such a chance and intimate record is simply not available anywhere else. I wonder that the Government or at least Scotland Yard does not make Amazon personality profiling mandatory.

Who knows what Amazon will reveal about me over the next 15 years. I can only hope that it continues to do so with the same quiet charm and gentle persuasiveness that
it uses today. Happy Birthday indeed – what a very sensible place to look for presents!

original posting on Huffington  – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/howard-milton/amazon-uk_b_4211941.html

More Boohoo than Yahoo

Who comes up with this stuff? When you spend 20 years establishing a decent reputation as the world’s number 2 search engine, you would think that some sort of personality would have emerged. But no, at the final unveiling of the new Yahoo brand mark it appears the dampest squib of the year.

The proud CEO Marissa Maher, calls the thing, “whimsical, yet sophisticated. Modern and fresh, with a nod to our history. Having a human touch, personal. Proud.” Which sounds like a brief for a right camel, instead we get a turkey.
I think Ms Maher may have got confused with their 30 day teaser campaign – new logo everyday (er doesn’t Google do that from time to time?) in other words, give the folks a bit of everything. Alas we end up with nothing.
The typographers amongst you will spot the Optima origins and well, little else.
No whimsy, no sophistication, no modernity and freshness . . . Optima was designed in 1955. And so on, nothing.

What astonishes me about the team (and I include the client here) who worked on this, is how little they have learnt from branding history. Why do people not start with the basic lessons of Logotype design . . . it is an expression of your individual signature. Note individual, it should look unique. Note also how the worlds most recognised brand, Coca-Cola does it. Not some machined signature but every curve and curl crafted for difference. Can I spell it out more plainly?

Of course Yahoo are not the only culprits. Every time I come across the crass and ubiquitous Sports Direct, I shudder at the sloppy, lazy , banal execution of its name. Perhaps CEO Mike Ashley is a secret admirer of lumpy sans fonts or lumpy sportsmen – as his brand signature is neither athletically toned or explosively active.
Do brands that are ‘on the move’ think that the old crutch of italics is all they need? Look at the emasculated Eddie Stobbart. Once a singular brand with a hokey logotype to match. Now just a souped up Letraset exercise. Is there a branding company out there that specialises in this high art of design deviance? How to use Helvetica in a thousand different ways to produce a thousand feel-alikes? yuk. But perhaps they know no better.

Yet there are a few people who should know better yet choose to plough the hackneyed Swiss furrow.
One was Massimo Vignelli whom I met in New York 30 odd years ago. He dismissed my penchant for matching brand personality to typography. A staunch advocate of Helvetica – he used no other font, he told me to go back to school – ” you must understand that there are only TWO typefaces – serif and sans serif. I suggest you try to learn one before you even try the other.”
Sound sense maybe. But what a dull visual world we would be living in. And yes Yahoo, you are no help.

The British are coming!

Was it really over 30 years ago that Chariots of Fire writer, Colin Welland spikily restated the Paul Revere war cry? Whilst meant to enforce the resurgence of the British film industry, the resulting years often resembled a polite queue rather than a wholesale invasion. Rather more “Chariots of Fire extinguisher’ than ‘Chariots of Fire Lighter’. And so it ever was in the modern sporting arena. Somehow as soon as the crowds stopped wearing suits and ties we seemed always too happy to ‘Play up and play the game” rather than crush our opponents.

Until we got our break, and the Olympian spirit  . . .
now there is no stopping us. We are serial champions – Tour de France Winners, Olympic Gold,silver, bronze medal winners, US Open Golf winners, British Lions winners . . . even the impossible dream, Wimbledon Winners . . . has the nation gone mad?
Maybe it is our time in the summer sun, that has turned not just the frowns to smiles, but the FTSE 100 to over perform? If I was a book making Politician I would be lumping on all things British, from farming to the NHS. You are going to chime with the national psyche.

So I pity the poor Aussies, about to be white-washed in the most glorious of all glory-soaked stages – the Ashes series. Humility does not sit well upon the antipodean shoulders, and the redtops will revel in it.

A few more weeks of this sun-drenched Arcadia and even the jaundiced football writers will have us winning the World Cup in Rio next year. And why not? From underdog to top dog, we British have suddenly found winning to be the new adrenaline fuelled rush.
Wrapping ourselves up in the Union Jack is no longer just the game for the BNP – flag waving is back on the agenda. Forget inferiority – we have a Queen and Country to be proud about. So forget Swedish homestores and American coffee joints – Chintz, Tweeds and tea are the way of the future.
Oh happy sunny day. Yes, we invented the weather too.