Tag Archives: culture

Style and Substance

15 Jan

 

 

This week, thoughtful columns in the likes of ‘intelligent’ publications such as The Guardian and The Daily Beast have been awash with comment over just released images of Joan Didion as the ‘new face’ of French luxury house, Céline. Opinion is a mixed bag; while some celebrate the use of a “writer and thinker” to front a campaign, others question its authenticity, lamenting their “idols [being] used to sell expensive clothes”.

We have to admit: first glance at this campaign had us rejoicing. Finally, here’s a brand that is doing even more to posit style and beauty as substance over aesthetic! The high-end, ‘high art’ version of Ashton Kutcher telling a rapt (and probably rather hormonal) Teen Choice Awards audience that intelligence is sexy, perhaps. It is, of course, designed to appeal to women who would rather be seen to be reading Blue Nights than best dressed lists. Who aspire to a deeper cultural and intellectual lifestyle than others around them. For that, Didion is a good choice. She is an icon yes, but an obscure one. And her searing intellect leads well ahead of her appearance. So far, so branding, and fairly good branding at that. At least it’s attempting to be something other than the perfect face, body and a great leather handbag, appealing to those who value the same (or at least aspire to) in the process.

But this is a commercial, capitalist world. Further, this is the fashion world. Something’s gotta give. And it does.

Look closer, and you’ll see that in trying to contribute to the conversation, even to move it on, all Céline have done is reframe Didion within the same, homogeneous parameters of the world it is trying to introduce a different opinion to.

They take her out of her natural habitat and into theirs, removing all signifiers of her own identity to replace them with theirs. They reduce her to a sitting dummy, no different from countless nameless and nubile waifs that adorn countless other high-end and high-street campaigns. All that’s different is their age, and we know that this is more multifaceted than just age.

Ridiculously large Nicole Ritchie-esque sunglasses perch on her face, sparrow-like, and the complexities of her unique character – i.e. the very things Céline are apparently trying to hero – are obscured from view. We can’t see her, and perhaps that doesn’t even matter. Even the fact that she is wearing sunglasses inside contributes to the contradiction. Of course, it could be interpreted as an act of rebellion, of standing apart – a signifier to support Céline’s presentation of style as substance. But the codes of celebrity are too ingrained; the visuals of celebrity faces drowned in blacked out shades as they glide through check-in or shop in boutiques are too entrenched in the modern visual vernacular for that to be the case.

Rather, in trying to position themselves as a brand that values substance over style (or at least equates the two), Céline merely asserts themselves as a brand that has none. The question it raises is this: Are we unable to celebrate female intellect outside the constraints of conventional definitions of fashion, style and beauty? Do we still have to frame them within the same parameters to make intellect, humour, and achievement impressive or, dare we say it, ‘cool’?

We hope not. In the age of authenticity, brands need to find a way to move beyond one dimensional association so that when they try to move the conversation on, it’s positioned as true belief as opposed to mere marketing tactics. Perhaps if Céline had moved into Didion’s world and observed her just as she is rather than dragging her into theirs in order to make her value really shine, theirs would have too.

Simple Pleasures

25 Nov

With the opening of Draughts, London’s first board game café, we are reminded of the growing trend for people craving simple connections with others, and pure uncomplicated fun. There has been a steady rise in book clubs, board game meet-ups and even cereal cafés, as consumers are craving pleasure in the simplest form; a shun from being constantly connected to the digital world. This thirst for simplicity  is often quenched by pop ups and summer events like Franks in Peckham or In the Woods festival, but we are notice a rise in permanent spaces completely dedicated fun in its purest form, proving that simple pleasures are here to stay.

(timeout.com)

(timeout.com)

 

Out and About

3 Oct
www.thelostlectures.com
(thelostlectures.com)

The Lost Act (part of the Lost Lectures) is two evenings of interactive lectures with street feast food and inspiring cocktails all in a lost part of London. The lectures aim to push the boundaries of knowledge and controversy with a wide range of speakers including The Chapman Brothers, Polarbear and Helen Czerski.

3rd and 4th October 2014. An abandoned North London Theater; exact location told after ticket purchase.

www.thehouseofperoni.com/the-events

(thehouseofperoni.com) 

At the House of Peroni there is a master class on the art of chocolate. Guests will unearth the secrets of exclusive chocolate mastery. The Italian chocolatiers will teach the class the artisanal techniques of the craft and they will sample many luxurious Italian chocolates.

Saturday the 4th October. House of Peroni, 64 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3JX

www.rnib.org.uk/glow

(rnib.org.uk)

Join the Glow Neon Fun Run which is fundraising for the Royal National Institute of Blind people.  Participants will be splattered with neon paint and dance to raving music as they complete the 3k East London run. There are Djs UV lights, glow paint and a dance floor at the end to amplify this intense experience.

Fri Oct 17. Mile End Stadium, 190 Burdett Road, E3 4HL

 

 

 

Going Where the Cultural Traction Is

14 Aug

By now if you’ve been following this blog’s freestyle ride through culture, you’ve probably got your sea legs. This forum lets us be explorers, seduced by the freshness of what’s around the bend, whatever it is. We clearly enjoy these immersive sprees and can’t stop asking: Did you see that? What does it mean? What does it say about us?

Outside this blog, sporting our official Added Value brand development hats, we ask the same things – only more systematically, and about what brands do. What trends do brands tap or lead? We know that successful brands constantly evolve to be in step with where culture is – and where it will go. Not in some kind of flip-flopping, shape-shifting, forget-who-they-are-when-you-wake-up-in-bed-with-them-in-the-morning sort of way. They need to be authentic, passionate, and in synch with culture (and culture gets antsy sitting still too long).

Added Value measures a particular brand’s vibrancy over time – quantitatively, multi-dimensionally, and relative to a universe of other brands. What do we call the extent to which a brand gains or loses traction with culture? Cultural Traction.™ It’s an indicator of future growth.

Brands with great Cultural Traction™ have great VIBE, which means they are (cleverly)…

Visionary: leading the way and getting our attention

Inspiring: have a point of view and stand for something I want to be a part of

Bold: have swagger with substance

Exciting: are disruptive and have momentum

This is where Added Value’s curious cultural experts swoop in. We overlay our on-going monitorings of trends and brand activities with the Cultural Traction™ statistical brand rankings. All of our nosy questions of why, what it means, what it says about us – and what it says about brands – are purposeful after all. Through our wide cultural lens, we help brands mobilize to become more culturally vibrant.

Hey Facebook, Tom’s Shoes, Guinness, Apple, Hyundai, H&M, et al… we’re watching you. Take a peek at their Cultural Traction™ here.

A New Spin on Traditional Design

25 Jun

North of Shanghai’s Nanjing West shopping street filled with Western stores and Chinese knock offs lies a store which is truly original. Spin Ceramics was founded by Jeremy Kuo, a Japanese restaurateur in Shanghai who became so frustrated with the lack of quality design available in the city that – after a brief stint importing expensive ceramics from Japan – he decided to make his own.

Spin Ceramics, Shanghai

Head designer Gary Wang leads a team of young craftsmen to create the handmade pieces. The overall style has a Japanese influence, pared back, simple and organic but the real delight in the designs are the playful touches and imperfections. Squished vases, curled cup lips and drips of colour across the stark white porcelain. A very different aesthetic to the highly ornamental design so prevalent in China.

Spin Ceramics, Shanghai

What makes this store really special is the prices. For design in Shanghai which is so unique the low price tags will bowl you over. Chopstick holders and tea cups can go for 20RMB (divide by 10 for rough UK currency) large bowls and serving plates around 150-200RMB. When you compare this to prices in John Lewis you’ll soon find yourself buying up the whole store.

Last Dictator Standing

7 Mar

Comedy often serves a dual purpose in South Africa – not only entertaining, but tackling issues that are otherwise hard to swallow. This can lead to controversy. The last Nando’s ad took a pot-shot at Robert Mugabe, showing Bob sitting down to an empty Christmas dinner table and reminiscing about good times with his old mates – recently departed dictators.

 

South Africans loved it and chalked it up as ‘another cheeky Nando’s ad.’ But the international response was quite different – it was seen as disrespectful, controversy for controversy’s sake and was quickly pulled in Zimbabwe as Mugabe supporters threatened Nando’s staff. So why did South Africa enjoy what others found tasteless? Has the violent past rendered it insensitive to the horrors of war? Or is there something more to it?

On the surface, the Nando’s commercial contrasts the innocence and joy of Christmas with the atrocities that the dictators stood for. Morbid, yes. But, South Africans have long used humour to face the darkness that still lies beneath the rainbow nation. In a country where many people are apolitical, politically uninformed and avoid reading the news because ‘it makes me depressed’, the kings of comedy don’t only entertain, they create a news format that tells the truth in a bite size, palatable format. Something you can stomach despite the content. Being able to laugh at racial, political and societal issues helps South Africans deal with them.

South Africans rely on their comedians to reframe the frightening, the obscure and the challenges of daily life in way that makes them easier to handle – allowing these jesters of culture the space to be offensive, insensitive and rude in a way that’s not tolerated in other situations. Like broccoli and cheese sauce, they prefer reality served with a good helping of comedy.

Luxury Story

6 Mar

We love stories, and nothing gets us more interested in a brand than a compelling one. Cartier’s recent epic advert L’Odyssée, clocking in at just over three-and-a-half minutes and two years in the making, shows the brand as more than just a dream come true, but as a maker of dreams. Take a look for yourself. 

 

Cartier joins the likes of Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld as a fully-fledged creator of content. The vignette is rich and sweeping, and just as sparkling to look at as the jeweller’s normal fare, but what story does this actually tell us about the brand?

Cartier takes us around the world, from its Paris home to the Far East and back again, touching on the brand’s rich international heritage. One part explorer, one part magician, the iconic character of the panther is the embodiment of the Cartier woman as “elegant, free-spirited and independent.” It meanders through a fantasy world that is a bit The Secret Garden meets The Golden Compass meets Hugo and Tin Tin. Like these fantasies, L’Odyssée delivers on adventure, but without really going anywhere. We first encounter the panther encased in crystal, from which it breaks free, bursting through a glass ceiling, but rather than exploring the world anew, the panther prowls through the glory of its own past, only to end up encased again, this time in a jewellery box. 

While the sprawling scope of the advert allows Cartier to include many elements of the brand’s heritage, it also comes across as a bit imperial. There’s an element of the conqueror in the grandiosity of the vistas, the positioning of the panther on top of mountains, buildings (and even  aeroplanes) and in the brooding, though beautiful, original score. We’re quite certain this will play in emerging markets like China and India where the muscle of luxury juggernauts like Louis Vuitton still equal big status. We’re less certain about markets like France and the UK where luxury cues tend to be more subtle and nuanced. It could easily be seen as luxury conquest. The panther is still a predator, after all. And in a market like the US where luxury stories are often told with a boot-strapping sense of arrival through effort, this feels a bit too old-money to connect.

We might expect a campaign on this scale to set the benchmark for the category, but actually we’re not so sure it resonates in today’s society. For all its majesty, L’Odyssée seems stuck in Cartier’s past. Tie-ins with social media like the iPhone and Instagram have Tiffany’s delivering on ‘now’ much more effectively and becoming a must have luxury brand for today’s young while Cartier seems to be re-enforcing what we know about it, namely that it’s only for the long-moneyed uber-rich. We can see a future with Tiffany’s while the scarlet box seems closed on Cartier.

Anti-imperialism aside however, this does feel like a daring move for the brand.  In a branding world that is increasingly about the experience, the stunning mini-movie with accompanying behind-the-scenes content had us spending more time with Cartier than we ever have before. This could be a great way for Cartier to leverage its long history as a purveyor of international style and assert itself as the luxury brand for the really really rich and, to be honest, if someone did send us one of those sparkly panther things we probably wouldn’t say no (although we might cash it in on eBay).

Kooky Monster

5 Mar

New Girl poster (channel4com)

Channel Four’s latest US import, New Girl, stars Zooey Deschanel  as a cute, silly eccentric.  You know the type – beautiful, daft, women-children who can barely cope with their lives. Deschanel’s Jess is struggling to cope after a break-up. She is entirely helpless – trying and failing to flirt, only capable of watching Dirty Dancing on loop, and apparently unable to talk without  the aid of silly voices and little ditties all about herself. The show’s advert has her lying in a packaging crate looking confused in a prom dress – as if she really were “new,” a freshly hatched chick with no clue.

But this silly creature is nothing new. The ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ is as old as cinema – epitomised by Audrey Hepburn’s naïve, quirky Holly Golightly. She is the ingénue who exists entirely to bring spark and adventure to the life of the young male protagonist. These darlings are always doe-eyed innocents, impulsive and rudderless, with a pocketful of idiosyncrasies. Some of them even wear vintage clothes. They’re more like children or sweet animals than fully-grown women.

Oh Comely (birdsinhats.blogspot.com)

Magazines such as  ‘Oh Comely’ take this kook even further. It is packed full of ephemeral faery-women, all floaty and delicate, with their colours washed out. It is all naïve handwritten fonts and pencil sketches. The tangle-haired models look terribly arty , but utterly unchallenging.

It makes us ask – is this sexism for sensitive boys? Is this a fresh kind of chauvinism for clever, complex men who’d never sign up to the patriarchy, but don’t mind a smudge of the patronising? Does this portrayal allow indie boys to stay cushioned by their progressive beliefs, whilst admitting that the beautiful but unthreatening kook is their dream girl?

The women portrayed this way never seem actually weird in an interesting or tough way – they have character quirks, but no real character. With few hopes or desires of their own, they add very little to the scenes they’re in. This breed of cute rapidly becomes grating. Surely it’s high time to kill the kook?

Three Little Pigs

1 Mar

There are riots, twitter hashtags, visualisations, infographics and intrigue of injustice. There are people from around the world coming together, sharing and debating over one hot topic. Sound familiar? Yep, you guessed it – it’s the affair of the three little pigs.

If you haven’t seen the Guardian’s new ad, you should.


It’s dark, bold and modern. It’s sleek and sinister. It’s very Charlie Brooker (and that’s not just because of the pigs). Even though we’re already readers, it makes us want to get more involved. We want to read the news that way, be a part of the movement created from different points of view, know that the source of our information is genuine, unbiased, a platform that’s at the cutting edge, that brings thinkers together and relentlessly reveals the curious truth behind stories that seem simple at first.

Without a doubt we’re big fans – it’s a brave move – but has The Guardian gone too far? This is a big risk, challenging the role of journalism and journalists, and challenging what a newspaper should be. It throws down an almighty gauntlet to everyone else. But, as a risk, it’s the best we’ve seen in a long time.

The Guardian has unapologetically staked its territory as the bastion of ‘open journalism’, eloquently summed up in Rusbridger’s accompanying copy. It’s not necessarily something that only the Guardian can claim to do – surely Twitter, or even the internet itself, could be described as a form of ‘open journalism’ –  but in the newspaper world it’s a space that the Guardian can own. It’s the first time a publication has created such a just commentary of what modern journalism is – and it gives them a stance, a voice, a manifesto that feels fresh compared to all the others.

It’s also clearly speaking to a certain kind of person, which in our opinion is the best kind of advertising. Picking up so many current cultural cues – the riots, recessionary times, the murmur of social media and power of the people – the ad talks to someone who cares about what’s going in the world, who’s active – politically or otherwise – who takes part in global conversations with a curiosity for knowledge and truth. If you’re not that type of person, you’ll probably hate it. But there are plenty of those kind of people who just don’t have a relationship with the old style media brands, and might now get engaged.

So, take it or leave it, we love it. What do you think?

Wild Tea

1 Mar

Absolut Wild Tea (absolut.com)

We do a lot of analysis of packaging, design, and of course, culture – it’s great when we see the three seamlessly coming together in a great idea.

Sweden is cool, China is fascinating – so why not combine the two into something fascinatingly cool.  Absolut, as part of their continual mission to challenge the taste experience of vodka drinkers, has created ABSOLUT Wild Tea.

Like an apothecary’s dream, the new blend brings together the dark and mysterious richness of black tea with the delicacy of Nordic white elderflower. 

From a semiotic angle, the packaging balances the power and vibrancy of “oolong– black dragon” tea against the harmony, purity and certainty of a Swedish pasture.  The instantly recognised icon of the Absolut bottle is infused with new cultural possibility.

In an era of super globalism, cultural merging is commonly deployed commercially, but it is arguably most powerful when a brand takes up the role of arbiter in process – the convenient conduit allowing you to experience new worlds.

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