Thought Pieces

A look at what really matter in Iceland/Greenpeace’s ‘Rang-Tan’

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This weekend something extraordinary happened.

My friends, who do not work in advertising, starting discussing advertising.

What prompted the furious pings of our WhatsApp group was, of course, Greenpeace & Iceland’s viral sensation: Rang-Tan.

We all agreed on two things. Firstly, it was absurd that this ad was banned, and secondly, that the advert was beautifully crafted.

Where we differed in opinion, was that they felt Iceland was getting ‘far too much credit’.

At work this morning, I encountered a not dissimilar vein of thought: ‘why couldn’t Iceland have just used their own creative? Why did they have to steal Greenpeace’s?’

Really.

Does this really matter?!

My friends’ argument was understandable. Ostensibly, a typical commercial machine had taken a hardworking but criminally underfunded charity’s film and used it as a way to sell their products. Nasty.

But I don’t have a problem with Iceland using this film to sell their products. And I don’t really mind that Greenpeace’s logo isn’t included either. This is not yet another embarrassing execution under misdirected brand purpose. This is something real.

Let’s remember that we are all living under capitalism.

At the end of the day, the people with power are the commercial machines. Why? Because the adage that ‘money talks’ is painfully true.

I don’t know why Greenpeace didn’t try to air their ad on TV. Presumably it’s because they don’t have money to spare. They’re too busy fighting the good fight on the ground.

Iceland, however do. Although Clearcast prevented a TV viewership, Iceland have still managed to get far more people talking about palm oil and Orang-utans than they were when only Greenpeace owned the creative.

We hope that some of this cultural chatter and ‘awareness’ will translate into action.

It’ll be a good thing if more people shop at Iceland this Christmas (and after). Then more people are shopping in a supermarket that has banned palm oil. And, let’s remember, has a five-year plan to eliminate plastic on all own-brand products too.

Hopefully, this will force other supermarkets to clean up their own act.

This is how causes work under capitalism: competitively.

When companies adopt causes, they do so because they believe it will help them sell products. This is why I think calling Iceland’s advert ‘brave’ is perhaps a little misguided.

If Iceland thought this ad would hamper their sales, would they run it?

Probably not.

Most likely, it’s this risk-aversion which contributed to their decision to remove the Greenpeace logo.

Cited in The Guardian, Iceland’s founder, Malcolm Walker, says: “This was a film that Greenpeace made with a voice over by Emma Thompson… we got permission to use it and take off the Greenpeace logo and use it as the Iceland Christmas ad. It would have blown the John Lewis ad out of the window. It was so emotional.”

Greenpeace are a divisive organisation. Particularly their blanket anti-DDT and anti-GM positioning. Respectively, this risked increasing malaria and denying millions nourishment.

Perhaps, if Iceland were really brave, they might have credited Greenpeace; signally their alignment with a controversial charity.

But they didn’t.

So let’s remember that when we guffaw at their courage.

From their founders’ words, it sounds as though their aim was to secure the most emotional Christmas TV ad of the year. I’m not sure how brave this is…

Fundamentally though, let’s also try and remember that in the grand scheme of rainforests, logos (and adverts) are less than an infinitesimal speck of insignificance.

Removing palm oil from your products however is not.

So for this Iceland, I applaud you.

 

here Summer Taylor, Strategist at Atomic London

 

Can we talk, or better yet, learn about money please?

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Atomic investigates the claim that we’re useless at talking about, and managing, our money.

We have a problem. We don’t talk about money.

‘Money is the last taboo.’ In a recent episode of podcast ‘Death, sex, money’ Anna Sale, the show’s host speculated that the reason we’re so prone to personal financial mismanagement is because we don’t talk freely enough about money. It turns out we really are; collectively in the UK we owe £1.6bn).

And there’s certainly evidence to back up this claim. In a study conducted by UCL, it was found that British adults would rather share intimate details about their sex lives than divulge their salary.

Indeed, we’re so reluctant to talk about money that we let it ruin our personal as well as our financial lives. Money worries are the leading cause of marriages failing. Of the 107 000 divorces in 2016, 20% of them were the result of financial strife.

It’s a phenomenon we’re becoming increasingly self-conscious, and even self-corrective, of. Two years ago, on International Workers’ Day, American Lauren Voswinkel started a social media movement to encourage everyone to talk openly about their salaries: TalkPay. It gained some traction in the UK, and globally garnered around 30, 000 tweets. But the movement has stalled, with only 40 mentions in the last 7 days. When you see that #ipadPro already has 70 000 tweets from today alone, it puts into perspective just how insignificant this thing that should be really significant is.

So why don’t we talk about money?

Anna Sale’s answer to this question is routed in our innate reluctance to share details of anything that might make us look a mess. In 2018, conspicuous consumption, dramatically documented on social media, is the ultimate marker of success.

To try and unpick this reluctance to face up to our problems, I decided to get a bank’s point of view. I spoke with Mark, a manager from Skipton Building Society. ‘People won’t talk about it, because they’re not doing anything about it. And they’re not doing anything about it because they don’t know how to. They just bury their head in the sand.’

To me, this sounded like a perfect storm; a vicious cycle of not knowing how to best manage personal finance, so therefore not talking about it and then, consequently, not taking any action.

So why aren’t we doing anything about it?

In her book, ‘Money: A User’s Guide’, Laura Whateley attributes our reluctance to talk about money to our inability to comprehend the financial world. She argues that banks and providers offer a ‘paralysing choice of financial products… grow(ing) into (a) dizzying, off-putting blur of numbers, percentages and jargon.’ This is undeniably true and, as Whateley points out, there are currently over half a million different mobile and broadband providers to ‘choose from’. The financial world loves to over-complicate and obfuscate.

Whilst I love the idea of being able to blame the banking world for my own lack of financial savviness, I do feel I owe myself a little more agency over my own affairs.

We need to remember we do have tools at our disposal to make sense of finance

Both Mark and I point to the plethora of de-jargonising platforms and information available to consumers; all snackable content on banks’ websites (Nationwide are particularly good at this), pop culture icons like Martin Lewis, and the rise of price comparison sites like www.comparethemarket.com and www.gocompare.com.

More recently of course, there’s also been a boom in financial tech offering a helping hand. It’s no coincidence that Whateley’s book is designed to look just like a Monzo card. Whatever your financial quandary, it feel like there’s an app for that; for investing, try Wealthify, for savings, there’s Qapital, and for general financial management, there’s challenger banks like Starling.

With all this new tech and information, you’d think our relationship with money would change forever.

But will it? We seem to be embracing these innovations on a surface level – there’s no doubt that banking with Monzo is fashionable – but they don’t seem to be impacting our deeper relationship with money.

Above all else, we still find personal financial management unpleasant. We conducted a survey and two thirds of respondents found financial management ‘dull’, a quarter found it ‘stressful’ and no one found it ‘enjoyable or interesting’.

To me, it seems that this is the heart of the problem; our collective reluctance to take our heads out of the sand; to be conscious that we can learn and improve our understanding of financial management. When you take a step back, it’s clear that this is the first thing we need to fix.

Yes, some banks don’t make financial self-education easy, but indubitably the information is there for us to wade through, and make sense of. To break through the vicious cycle the majority of us are whirling around in, we need to understand our situation and how to take appropriate action (reactive and proactive), and then share our knowledge with others.

Ultimately, it’s not even really about effort. It’s about self-esteem. I think we just need to have a bit more faith in our abilities to manage finance well. Perhaps if financial institutions started talking to us as actors rather than dependents, having this sense of self-confidence wouldn’t feel so unnatural.

In Review: The Big Draw with Apple & RubyEtc

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Last night we went to a free creative event at Apple’s Regent Store with insta-famous and all-round genius cartoonist buy provigil online paypal Ruby Etc. It was part of a series of events called Order 20 MG Tastylia Tadalafil Oral Strips Online The Big Draw which Apple is hosting this year in its stores across the globe.

The evening began with a short talk from Ruby. Normally, we only ever see snippets of her mind revealed in her cartoons, so it was wonderful to hear her talk at length about her practice.

Her advice to all creatives was to ‘never stop’. ‘Carry your sketchbook everywhere’, she said, ‘and use it.’ Ruby beautifully articulated the sketchbook as an ‘external hard-drive for your mind’, and she thought people should be ‘dumping’ stuff in there as often as they could. For her, one of the hardest things had been embracing the fact that, very rarely, does any sketch come out perfect first time. To help combat that, she decided to start sketching with pen immediately. ‘Using pencil encourages you rub it out… you lose the immediacy and for me that’s the best part.’ If something didn’t come out quite right, she’d simply do it again, until it did.

Following her talk, an Apple employer and Ruby demonstrated Apple’s new creative tool on iPads, and then got all members of the audience drawing their own cartoon on an iPad. Apple are clever. What a way to get people invested in not only an iPad, but its software too. The editing capabilities that we played with were generally great and intuitive, more so than Adobe and far more complex than traditional tablet editing services. Rather than being preached to by someone from Apple, we were being shown the functionalities and capabilities of a product from an artist. Now that is smart. Suddenly it didn’t feel like a glorified product demonstration, but a quirky creative evening.

Whilst everyone’s creations were being uploaded to the Cloud, we moved to the Q&A part of the evening. The most interesting question was around the responsibilities of social media influencers in the mental health space. A lot of Ruby’s cartoons deal with her depression and anxiety. Because of her incredibly relatable style, thousands found themselves reaching out to Ruby for advice. But Ruby is an artist, not a therapist, and she was clear on this point. ‘Obviously I want to reply to every single message sending my thoughts and wishing they were okay’, she says, ‘but you have to remember that you don’t owe anyone your experiences or advice regarding mental health’. In a world where it feels like being an ‘influencer’ is about exerting, exactly that – influence – this struck me as a particularly pertinent thing to say.

Ruby followed on by saying she found one of the most productive parts of her art was its ability to start conversations between others (rather than her having to be in them herself). Recently, for instance, she shared a cartoon about PMS (see right) and this got women globally sharing their stories and offering support to one another, on their own terms rather than it being required of them.

We finished the evening by going through all of the audience’s creations on a huge screen. Ruby gave individual feedback (always encouraging) to each hastily drawn doodle; always finding something nice to say. Everyone laughed together and felt a sense of pride when their creation landed on the big stage.

Overall, the evening was quite wonderful. Everyone fell in love with Ruby and, I suspect, felt pretty warmly towards Apple. They hadn’t hosted a pretentious evening where attendees felt like they had imposter-syndrome; they hosted something fun and genuinely creative. And showcased an excellent product in a way that didn’t make it feel like I was being sold to. At no point did anyone ask me if I wanted to buy an iPad or the software, and I think that’s key to their success. I actually came away debating whether I should perhaps scrap my plans to get a Kindle and consider an iPad instead…

Well done, Apple.

 

 

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Though ‘blockchain’, ‘bitcoin’, and ‘crypto-currencies’ are popping up daily in our newsfeeds, our industry’s grasp of the meanings behind the jargon is negligible. That’s why my team at Atomic briefed me to step outside our office and paint a picture of the future of finance. I decided I’d better speak to someone who knew their stuff. So that’s why I met up with Julian Sawyer, Chief Operating Officer of Starling Bank; a digital challenger frequently referred to as the ‘future of banking’. If anyone is qualified to have a point of view on the future of finance, it’s him. Speaking with him makes clear that there’s a myriad of myths hanging over the financial sector. One by one, Sawyer and I do some diligent myth-busting.

 

Myth No. 1: Fintechs aren’t banks

I’m quick to learn that the difference between established banks and digital challenger banks is overblown; ‘thinking in terms of fintechs versus banks is the wrong way of thinking’, Sawyer tells me. He goes onto say how Starling Bank made the calculated decision to call itself ‘Starling Bank’ as opposed to just ‘Starling’ when it received its banking licence. Sawyer believes that though people are happy to use financial services from fintechs, ‘the actual idea of banking (paying your salary in) with a fintech is not something most people are happy to do. People still want to bank with a bank.’ That’s why Starling Bank spent nearly two years ticking all the boxes to become a licensed bank. This accreditation was necessary to win customers’ trust.

 

Myth No. 2: Technology changes everything

Equally surprising is the revelation that people didn’t want banking to be ‘as easy as possible’. Initially, Starling Bank had used biometrics to open current accounts. Indeed, industry reports had forecast an acceptance of biometrics; PWC suggested biometric recognition would become a staple in bankingand Mintel attested that one third of people felt comfortable fingerprint scanning for payments. Starling Bank found that in practice, their customers were uncomfortable with the notion of banking just with biometrics, they re-introduced the humble password (and this still means that an account could be opened in less than 3 minutes); ‘people wanted an element an friction’. If digitally-native ‘early adopters’ felt ill at ease with biometrics, it’s unlikely the banking industry will hinge on this technology.

 

Myth No. 3: The banking revolution is led by the young

Speaking of ‘digitally-native’, Sawyer explains that the commonality amongst Starling Bank users is not their age or gender, but their mobile phone usage. So often the digital challenger brands are associated solely with millennials; a consumer group who have documented their entire lives with the help of smartphones. However, at Starling, they’ve found that their technology is not exclusively adopted by this younger audience. Instead, the app has been welcomed by a diverse network of people; anyone who lives their life on a smartphone.

 

Myth No. 4: Branches will cease to exist

Given this wide appeal, there’s speculation over the need to physically visit a bank in the future. Frequent reports cite bank branches closing at an alarming rate; in the past three years, nearly three thousand have closed. However, Sawyer doesn’t think branches will disappear completely, but agrees with a forecast from PWC; ‘branches will continue to exist, but not in their current form’. Sawyer believes that ‘there are some conversations which are better conducted as a two-way dialogue, like mortgages or pensions’. People might not pop into the branch to cash a cheque, make a payment or even open an account, but they will still find value in talking through ‘complex, involved decision making’.

 

Myth No. 5: Cash isn’t here to stay

‘The UK is still a long way from being a cashless society’. Apparently one quarter of people in 2017 used cash on a daily basis. Despite this, Sawyer believes cash will continue to diminish in importance until it is virtually obsolete. He sees a future whereby, instead of people getting cash out to pay their friends when splitting the bill for dinner, they’ll transfer money to each other in real- time. For those of us using digital banks, this is a habit we’ve already become accustomed to. He believes cash will linger in society because it will continue to pay casual or seasonal labourers. With automation however, this fragile labour-force (and its need for cash) will disappear. For cash to disappear more quickly, internal changes must also be made. The move in 2020 to end minimum card payments of £5 in local corner shops is a significant step in this direction.

 

Myth No. 6: Cards will remain unchanged

Though there are reams of articles debating the viability of a cashless society, only a few are broaching the subject of a cardless society. Sawyer, a voice of moderation in a sea of people evincing seismic change, insists that cards are likely to remain but will change in format; ‘Aside from ATM access, there is no real need for them to be the size that they are. All that is necessary is the chip and the antenna for contactless connectivity.’ He predicts a card similar to the Tesco Clubcard. Coin and card mechanisms would need to change but we know this can and will happen. Look at the tube. Gone are the days of buying a ticket (with cash) and forcing the flimsy papery thing through the machine.

 

Myth No. 7: All banking will be conducted on blockchain

On the subject of future technologies, we discuss blockchain and Bitcoin. My impression was that they were inherently good ‘things’ for the banking industry. So I was surprised when Sawyer said he exercised caution in this area; ‘there is a danger in Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies being used, look at the Silk Roads scandal and the ‘mining’ industry’. I’d thought blockchain and Bitcoin offered infallible security and absolute transparency. They don’t. The technology on which they are built on, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), does. This is why established banks have partnered with some DLT companies like Ripple, why Japan has its first crypto-currency; and why everyone, including Sawyer is excited about the possibility of working with DLT.

 

Myth No. 8: Loyalty is everything in the financial sector

The main advantage of DLT is its indisputably accurate transaction history. Those in the banking sector are hoping that it will be this failsafe account of the truth that will win back customers’ trust in the wake of the 2008 crash. Banks have routed their aspirations in the age-old marketing principle of loyalty. For them, loyalty is everything. Sawyer however believes that reliance on loyalty is out-dated because it rests on the assumption that loyal customers will choose to do everything with one provider. ‘The traditional banking model where a single provider is trusted to do everything has been busted,’ Sawyer says. Instead, he believes in the virtues of a competitive marketplace. Starling bank have chosen to build their marketplace in a hub-and-spoke model. Starling Bank is the hub, and all other companies they partner with, the spokes. They do one thing really well; current accounts. If you want to invest, you are handed over to a third party specialising in investments such as Wealthify or Moneybox. Sawyer recognises there ‘is no silver bullet’ solution enabling someone to entirely manage their finances with a sole provider. For this reason, he predicts that people will manage their finances with a range of financial providers.

 

Myth No. 9: The biggest internet companies will become banks

The revelation that I won’t be able to go to just one place to do everything startles me; I’d believed that Facebook and Google harboured ambitions to become banks. I venture my suspicions and Sawyer agrees with me. However, he does not think that consumers will trust the likes of Facebook (infamous for data breaches). Instead, Facebook and others will partner with digital banks that are already well established and leverage their own brand as a way to win trust from customers.

 

Myth No. 10: Established banks won’t disappear

The fact that Facebook or Google won’t be able to convince customers to bank with them directly because of their brand, re-affirms our first learning; that being a bank still matters. For this same reason Sawyer does not see the established banks disappearing anytime soon. ‘We are all slow to move away from existing providers’, he muses, and established banks will try their best to accommodate change. Sawyer believes established banks will continue to exist but be known for particular specialisms. The new norm will be for someone to have a current account with Starling Bank and a mortgage with Barclays.

 

What we’ve learned

Technology is clearly shaking up this category, perhaps more so than any other. Customers want to seamlessly transact in real-time but, fundamentally, they still want to bank with banks. People will need to know who they should go to for a current account, for a loan or for a mortgage. The role for comms then is to help customers differentiate in this saturated and complex landscape.

Retail brands need to think less like a retailer and more like a service brand

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It seems a weekly occurrence at the moment, another iconic high street brand ‘being beaten on the ropes’ by the heavyweight online retailers. From Toys ‘R’ Us to BHS to House of Fraser the likes of Amazon, Google and ASOS are picking them off one by one. Despite still being valued by many people in the UK, these high street stable-mates struggle to make their propositions compelling or their business models work at scale anymore.

So is this just the beginning of the end for High Street retailers or a final wake up call for them to think and behave differently?

Well there is hope. Waterstone’s for example, should by all accounts be dead and yet is a brilliant example of a retail turn-around success story. Maybe they should take a leaf out of their book if you pardon the pun?

So what’s the answer? Well of course it’s not simple and I wouldn’t suggest that problems built up over decades of trading can be solved in one article by a creative agency CEO. But there is, I believe something fundamental about how the likes of Waterstone’s and Argos (another example of a turn-around business) started to think and behave differently once they realized their days were numbered…

Fundamentally, they started to think like SERVICE BRANDS and no longer like RETAIL BRANDS. And that brings a totally different set of rules to live by for both the brand and the business.

Let me explain…

RETAIL businesses find ways to cost effectively manufacture or source products to stock in their retail outlets and to sell to their customers for as much profit as possible. The brands and their marketing communications are focused on creating brand saliency and differentiation from ‘other retailers’ as well as running price promotions to drive footfall and purchase behaviour.

And yet the brands that are killing these icons of the high street have built their entire businesses thinking like service brands first and retailers second.

You see despite the its huge retailing success, Amazon wasn’t ever really set up as an online retail business; they are in the business of attracting and serving customers by doing a few things really well:

-Providing access to the widest possible range of products (many of which they don’t even hold in their own inventory)

-Buyable at the click of a button (literally)

-Delivered with bulletproof reliability, at almost no cost.

Yes they sell products but their entire business is centered on service first, sale second. It’s why Amazon now attracts customers in such quantities that they are one of the biggest media owners in the world and now able to offer you a TV service (Amazon Prime), a book reading service (Kindle) and a service to order more stuff from Amazon (Alexa).

The same is true of ASOS. Again brilliant at combining 3 ingredients of service to facilitate the sale of a product:

-Giving customers mobile first access to the widest possible range of clothing.

-At almost unbelievable prices with remarkable levels of additional rewards.

-Delivered and returned in a blink of an eye for almost nothing.

ASOS don’t curate or sell better products than any other retailer but do they do provide a superior service to most other bricks and mortar retailers and indeed most online competitors.

And for Waterstone’s, a High Street brand that by all accounts should be dead, killed by Amazon in the first round of the online retail featherweight title fight, they used this exact approach as the start point for their turnaround. They stopped thinking like a book retailer brand and started thinking about being a book service brand.

As soon as Amazon gave people access to the largest inventory of books online at unbeatable discount prices, Waterstone’s retailer days were numbered. They could no longer compete as a ‘supplier’ of books on the high street. But what saved Waterstone’s eventually was their CEO, James Daunt. A self proclaimed amateur in the big world of retailing but an expert in the world of personal book service, having run small local book shops for most of his career.

He recognised that for Waterstone’s to survive and thrive, they had to realise that they were no longer really in the book retail business. In fact they were in the service of feeding the enthusiasm and facilitating the discovery of books, for book lovers.

With that in mind he made big changes to the whole company from how they dressed and utilised their store space, the type of staff they hired and how they were trained, and how they communicated this new proposition to the public. They went from hiring staff that were efficient ‘till operators’ to those with a passion for books. Staff who were happy to spend time with customers helping them to discover new authors. They encouraged people to come in, leaf through books in bright reading areas and dwell in the café. Their tie up with local book sellers was a genius move to help people experience the one to one service of a local bookshop yet have access the full inventory of Waterstone’s stock whenever they were ready to buy. In essence they stopped worrying about being a book retailer and started think about being a book service brand. And it’s paid massive dividends to both its brand perception and sales. Its turnaround year in 2016 saw pre tax profits of £9.8m following a £4.5m loss the previous year.

So what does that mean for other High Street brands?

Well the first thing is to realise that most high street retailers no longer have a service proposition. When the High Street was strong, the overwhelming service provided to customers by all high street retailers was access to products at good prices from a range of credible brands. But now that fundamental service proposition is dead. Online retail in its most basic form has now trumped that generic service proposition.

So, the likes of House of Fraser or Dixons Carphone and all the other brands that are struggling first and foremost need to define a new set of service propositions, which are unique to them and not over-reliant on the generic truth of the sector.

The good news is that there is a science and proven approach to becoming a compelling professional service brand. From car insurance companies to personal banking and from online retailers to professional services firms, the formula is the same.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s NOT about trying to be the BEST AT ONE THING relative to your competitors. Being an excellent and profitable company is about being GOOD at 3 things in combination.

It’s no coincidence that John Lewis is ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ on price, quality and service. John Lewis are not the BEST at service (your local clothes shop will probably be better), or on price (you can find it somewhere on the internet cheaper), or quality (their range of laminated desk furniture is testament to that) but by being GOOD at all 3 in combination and under one over-arching brand promise… they’re almost unbeatable.

Try the same exercise for yourself. Waterstone’s for example is no longer trying to be the best at one thing (the biggest bookshop on the high street) but now very happy being really good at;

-Personal service and advice from staff who love books

-A place to dwell, read books and discover new content

-And a curated collection of books that book lovers find most appealing.

3 things in combination that for a large segment of the book buying public is very compelling and something Amazon cannot and do not want to compete on.

Now look at the high street retailers that are in trouble. Debenhams, Toys R Us, House of Fraser. Do they have their 3 core service propositions clear in their minds? Maybe they do but consumers don’t understand what it is otherwise more of them would be shopping there.

 

Jon Goulding is CEO of independent creative agency, Atomic London

Why the non-alcoholic drinks category needs a shake up of its strategy

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The non-alcoholic drinks category has boomed in recent years but a lack of mental availability and innovative distribution threaten to slow its success.

 

Context

It’s a Saturday night and I’m in a bar in Clapham. Observing Gen Ys and Zs in their natural habitat. I’ve been struck recently by trend reports’ declaration of a neo-puritanical decline in alcohol assumption amongst young people. According to the latest research, one quarter of 16 to 24 year-olds identify as teetotal. And two thirds of them profess that alcohol isn’t important to their social lives. However, you definitely wouldn’t think that from where I’m perched. The liquor is flowing.

Still, this bar in Yuppie-white-collar-labour-middle-class-avocadoes-every-morning-matcha-tea-every- night cliché Clapham is not representative of the whole country. And, on closer inspection, it is certainly not representative of the 16-24 year old audience. As a geriatric of the category (I’m 22), I look to be one of the youngest here.

Despite this, brands such as Purdey’s, Seedlip and zero-alcohol versions of well-known beers like Heineken, have identified this ABC 1 audience as their target demographic, as reflected in their price- point and product design.

The question we need to ask ourselves is this, in 2026 when one quarter of today’s supposedly teetotal 16 year olds are 24, will the same number of them still be cheerily abjuring alcohol in this affluent setting? The latest research would certainly have us believe so.

Understanding the current consumer palette

This question can’t be explored without better understanding the current appetite for non-alcoholic drinks, so I speak to those who know best; the people behind the bar.

I venture the research statistics to the bartender. ‘Absolutely not true’, she scoffs, ‘for those in their twenties anyway’. She raises her arms, gesturing to the myriad of glasses filled with G&Ts, beer, cider, and spirits in evidence.

We talk numbers. Together, the bar staff estimate that at most, 10% of drinks sold to young people are non-alcoholic. Importantly, those that had worked in the on-trade for a few years did think that younger people were consuming less alcohol. However, from their perspective, this was not due to a nascent teetotalism as the research suggests, but rather a desire to be healthier through practising ‘alternate rounds’ (one alcoholic then one non-alcoholic drink), and taking the occasional ‘night off’ drinking.

Given this, the bartenders do expect more young people to drink less as the years go by, but the figure of one-quarter teetotalers still felt outlandish to them.

We discuss what non-alcoholic drinks are the most popular with this audience and it’s definitely not the more expensive craft sodas. Revealingly, when people chose not to drink, they overwhelmingly default to traditional options, such as coke, lemonade, and fruit juices. Moreover, the bartender at The Rookery told me that despite working at this particular bar for more than 6 months, she has sold less than ten ‘mocktails.’

Interestingly, yet unsurprisingly, these drinks sold better earlier in the day; when paired with brunch or the afternoon sun. Indeed, in the Victoria branch of All Bar One, the bartender remarked that the overwhelming majority were sold to middle-aged women during the day. It’s in this daytime consumer mind-set that people have time to properly peruse the menu, not default to hackneyed choices under pressure in a queue at the bar.

There is still plenty of work to be done to increase penetration for these non-alcohol brands. Despite their increasingly physical availability, they do not seem to be top-of-mind for consumers. Backing up my discussion with bartenders, during a quick focus group with friends, it was revealed that few had tried, or even heard of, these brands.

My conversation with industry professionals taught me three things. Firstly, though not as black and white as it first appeared, the trend of younger people drinking less, seems undeniable. Secondly, these people, (at present) are not the ‘discerning’ customer, research agencies would have us believe, but are defaulting to traditional so drinks. Finally, there is a stronger appetite for non-alcoholic drinks earlier in the day, around occasions not typically defined by alcohol that current brands could do more to take ownership of.

The future of the non-alcoholic category

It’s important to remember why people between 16 and 24 are currently able to drink less than their older counterparts. They have less disposable income, have grown up on social media, (possibly having witnessed their elder siblings being ‘socially shamed’), and pop culture icons are now the protein- shaking-stars of Love Island not the apocalyptically drunken cast of Geordie Shore. Most importantly, there’s a good chance they’re too young for an office job and some won’t have started university yet.

It’s these latter two milestones I’m particularly interested in for the non-alcoholic drinks category because both have embedded alcohol consumption into their social fabric. If someone didn’t drink before they go to university, chances are they’ll start during fresher’s week. And if someone didn’t drink at school or university, there’s also a chance they’ll ask for a beer to alleviate awkward post-work chit- chat.

What we need to start measuring to understand this decline in alcohol consumption are the changes taking place in these institutions. Are students drinking less than ever? Are ‘post-work drinks’ in decline? If not, are so er drinks being consumed without stigma or surprise?

The answer to these questions appears to be no. Recent NUS studies show that 85% of university students agree that drinking and getting drunk is part of university culture.

Last week I got alcohol-free beer signed off at my place of work by the CFO. Access to a variety of non- alcoholic drinks in agencies isn’t the norm because the expectation is that most people will fancy a post-work beverage. And they certainly seem to. When I choose to order a non-alcoholic drink at a work social, it does not go unnoticed. Though this isn’t surprising since I’m with older colleagues, it is further evidence that the workplace is currently a site of high alcohol acceptance and low tolerance of moderation outside of sober sabbaticals like ‘Dry January’.

Insights & Opportunities: The bar is not the only battleground

Currently, non-alcoholic products don’t appear to have mental availability within the drinking occasion. The implication is that brands must build top-of-mind awareness. As well as focusing on disruptive tactics that speak clearly to teetotal and moderation motivations within the bar setting itself, these brands should also consider where they can seed loyalty. We know that university and the workplace are key sites of conversion from low or no alcohol consumption, to regular consumption, so it makes sense for brands to recognise these institutions as pivotal opportunities in their distribution strategies.

These brands also need to realise their potential, not just earlier in their consumers’ lives, but earlier in the day too. The breed of healthy, vitamin-added so drinks should pose a threat to old school herbal teas, calorific smoothies and juices as well as lighter alcoholic drinks consumed over brunch, or offered in gyms and spas.

These brands then, have the opportunity, not just to compete with their alcoholic counterparts on a like-for-like basis, but to become part of the fabric of other social occasions where people want to keep their head.

Semioticians of late have also remarked that the trend towards lower alcohol consumption is due to a desire to ‘experience life in a fuller way’. One could reasonably argue that there’s a limit to how fulfilling an experience sitting in a pub, sober, can be. These brands need to become entrenched in middle class mores by casting their nets further to more immersive experiences like artistic partnerships (i.e. Uniqlo Tate Lates), replacing alcoholic badging at festivals, and being on offer at luxury cinemas and gyms.

There’s no doubt that the non-alcoholic category is riding the crest of a consumer trend, but in order to truly capitalise on this, it needs to think of itself as more than just an alternative to alcohol, but as an offering in and of itself.

Restaurants like Byron need to change to avoid being eaten up

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As a foodie, I think the right meal, at the right time, can be one of the best things in life. Like eating a Maccys on the upper deck of a night bus at 3am can be as great as dining at a Michelin Star restaurant. But what’s happening to the mid-level restaurants and why aren’t people casually dining as they once were?

A BBC report stated that burger chain Byron agreed a rescue plan with lenders and landlords that could lead to the closure of up to 20 restaurants. Also in January, Jamie Oliver’s restaurant group said 12 of its 37 outlets would shut their doors. This is down to a few factors all hitting the chains at once.

The rise of the food delivery companies

A few weeks ago I witnessed an UberEats vehicle pull up to an office in Farringdon and deliver someone a croissant (I mean come on!). This is extreme, but if it’s possible, who’s going to say no to getting their breakfast literally delivered to their bed?

The rise of services like Deliveroo and UberEats means restaurant quality food is within reach wherever you are. But on the flip side, expensive retail units are standing empty, losing out on added extras like alcohol and service charges, and then there’s the cut given to the delivery services themselves.

Cynics would argue that restaurants are responsible for their own demise by joining up to these platforms, but then again, how can they not?

The burger has boomed!

Way back in 2012, I remember queuing for hours outside Meat Liquor in Soho to eat some delicious juicy, meaty buns in a pitch black room. Suddenly there was a burger joint on every corner; from, Burger & Lobster to Dirty Burger, Lucky Chip and Bleeker St, (and I’m sure there’s about 20 more). This oversaturation and the upward trend of people eating healthier is a recipe for disaster for places like Byron.

The price of everything has gone up

It’s something we’re very accustomed to these days – but for the food industry it means imported food from our European friends is more expensive than ever. Restaurants are now feeling the pinch because of the weak pound, having to make cuts on the quality of the produce and service.

The need to keep costs down has meant cuts on quality. According to a report from The Guardian Jamie’s Italian was once associated with the same meat supplier as JD Weatherspoons, a bit of a difference to an Italian cut of meat that’s been roaming around in a field for a few months.

In addition to this, staff and rent costs have shot up and apparently far less people are eating out.

 

So how should the struggling casual dining brands respond?

Appeal to millennials

 Judging by my Instagram feed, I don’t know about you, but it seems like people are eating out constantly. But where they choose to eat is another thing. People are on the look out for experiences and will pay to go somewhere that they can gain social kudos, Instagram has changed the restaurant scene for millennials, according to research by Zizzi, 18-35-year-olds spend five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30 per cent would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.

They need a restaurant that looks good, from the food to the drinks (and in some cases, even the loos). Richard Robinson, Co-Founder of Old Spike and one of my favourite restaurants in Peckham, Coal Rooms, told me:

‘We know, people eat with their eyes and Instagram is a great platform to engage with customers and show our delicious food. It’s interesting the role different social media platforms play but more and more, it is the way people communicate and engage with Coal Rooms so it’s important we stay on top of it.’

To this point, mid-level chains need to entice the new generation of diners into their restaurants in new ways. It would also be an idea to think about burgers in an Instagram friendly way, maybe even ask people to vote for the day’s burger choice on Instagram stories. They could create a new burger every day voted for by the customers, those who vote would get a discount. Crowd sourcing the menu would also give customers control over what they want to eat.

Be more open to change

Restaurants need to socially engage customers in more meaningful ways than ever – they need to experiment with the food trends that are happening right now. If people are eating healthier then why not give them healthier burgers for example, or healthier alternatives to buns? The reason why Wagamama has done so well is because it has constantly adapted its menus and offering to respond to the latest consumer and food trends.

In New York I travelled to Williamsburg to a small food festival called Smorgasberg and tried a Ramen burger. Could a burger chain like Byron do small takeovers with healthier burger alternatives to get people popping in? For the gym goers could burger joints partner with places like GymBox and reward customers with a free lunch when they’ve worked off over 300 calories?

Be more than just a RESTAURANT

Restaurants can be cool places to hang out and can be used for different things at various points in the day too. With freelancing becoming ever popular there are neat little tricks to appeal to people who need a mobile office in the middle of town. Why just stick to the food?

Having had particular success with the Coal Room site, Robinson went on to say:

‘Without doubt, great food is not enough – there are so many other facets that play into the success of a site (too many to list here!). What works for us very well and again, is partly as a result of our location is our ability to make the site work hard throughout all hours of the day. If it was just a restaurant (i.e evening service only) – we would be in a very different situation but the fact we operate as a cafe during the day and later in the year, a cocktail bar upstairs – allows us to be more than just about a nice meal out.’ 

For Byron, it seems like it’s gone into a posh fast food category. Why not turn the restaurants into destinations and offer up things to keep people in for longer on a evening? Live music, events, talks and make it free entry when you dine.

Embrace technology

When we don’t want to sit in, we want to grab and go and fast we want to do it fast! For a quick, but delicious lunch, being able to to pre-order in the digital places that customers are already familiar with online would be a simple solution. Like a What’s App or Facebook messenger ordering system would be a speedy solution.

We also know that provenance is of real importance to customers these days, could we create an AR app that customers hold over their burgers, enabling them to see where the ingredients are sourced from, which farm the beef is from and the nutritional value of their meal?

Could Byron make the burger a more fun thing to eat and create? Robotic flippers could enable customers to flip their own burgers in the kitchen, and yes, they do exist: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/cnnmoney/2018/03/06/flippy-burger-grilling-robot-fast-food-orig.cnn

So what should these chains do?

These mid-level chains can do one of two things – they can ride it out and as these things seem to be cyclical you can predict things will pick up in the next 5 years or so. They may have to downscale somewhat to accommodate the changes in the sector but they’ll survive.

Or they can do something about it and adapt to the way people are living their lives and behaving in the modern age by doing things like:

-Being open to change and adapt your space or your model to customer needs. Do something in the downtime that attracts new audiences.

-Cut costs and speed up service by utilising technology. Think about new, quick, easy methods of payment and automation.

-Involve and reward the customer with a unique and unforgettable experience that set you apart from the competition.

Dani Brown is a creative at independent creative agency, Atomic London.

Are there evolutions in retail that make it look brighter than we thought?

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All the talk of bricks and mortar retail is doom and gloom.

It’s hardly surprising. The UK is experiencing record levels of consumer debt, a decline in wages and a noticeable shift in consumer spending habits to online.

Subsequently the number of shops in the UK is set to recede 22% from 281,930 to 220,000 in 2018 alone. Combine this with predictions of a further 164 major or medium-sized companies set to fall into administration (22,600 stores and 140,00 jobs) and the outlook for retail looks very bleak indeed.

But here at Atomic we’re altogether more optimistic about the future for the traditional shop. We see some significant evolutions happening in the industry that, if adopted successfully, can brilliantly equip retailers for the 21st century.

There are plenty of brands that have reacted to the changes and even capitalised on them. Some have chosen to improve and evolve their stores to keep up with changing consumer desires, and a spending shift towards online and entertainment, whilst others have set to revolutionise the word retail itself. But at the heart of all of this has been one word; experience.

An exceptional retail experience is created in three ways…

  1. Sensation – creating a unique in-store perception that inspires customers to share with their friends and wider network.
  2. Image – creating an image of the bricks and mortar brand that inspires thought and creativity.
  3. Affection – using the sensations and imagery above to trigger real emotions that connect to the brand as part of the immersive retail experience.

There are plenty of brands following this mantra to great avail.

Westfield turned shopping into a day out, Argos has become the number one retailer of toys via heavy investment in in-store technology, and The Entertainer has grown their portfolio of stores to over 150 by personalising its in-store experience.

These positive experiences rely heavily on personal interactions between staff and shoppers – a dimension that can’t fully be replicated online. Brands such as Waterstones and John Lewis have used this fact to their advantage.

But experience isn’t just about where you are; it’s about who you’re with. Community and experience go hand in hand. After all, what is an experience if you can’t enjoy and share it with other like-minded people?

Community is a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself, and it’s a notion that successful retailers are employing – becoming places of worship for the communities they serve.

The most vivid examples of prosperous brand communities are the likes of Patagonia and Supreme. Patagonia has carefully cultivated a brand around a community of adventurers and extreme sports hobbyists, whilst Supreme have created an in-store culture where instead of browsing products, shoppers can listen to music, have a drink and talk to brand advocates (their staff).

There is a future-facing reality to this concept, where the brand plays facilitator to people looking to connect with like-minded others.

Experience also points to partnership and collaboration based opportunities.

Take Rockar and Next who’ve teamed up in Manchester’s Arndale Centre to create a ‘showroom-style motor retail space upon entering the Next store’. The mind boggles, but the point is, this will be the first time the two sector specialists will come together, with the hope of expanding ‘car-retail’ into more of Next’s 500 UK shops.

Retailers are looking for tech partners too. In partnership with Apple using augmented reality, Tesco has enabled its customers to visualise specific products, through an AR version of their Home Book catalogue.

Of course retail isn’t without its challenges. Conditions are tough and the world has changed. But as long as retailers can accept that retail will never be the same again, and acknowledge their role is to create unique, unbeatable experiences – in whatever form possible – then we believe a very exciting future lies ahead.

Has Online Shopping Finally Beaten Brick-and-Mortar Stores?

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Are retail brands in crisis?

Shops are struggling to remain open as footfall numbers steadily decline. Every day there are new reports of major high street chains and retail brands reducing the number of physical stores.

Next are significantly reducing the number of shops after their ‘toughest year in 25 years’, New Look have threatened to cut 60 stores, and Toys R Us are to close down entirely.

The recession of 2009 had a big part to play in the decline of retail brands on the High Street – but it’s not the only factor to blame.

Mobile First, Reality Later:

The rise of clicking, scrolling and ordering at the touch of a button has substantially impacted the number of people going into a store. Shopping, or more specifically purchasing, on the high street is no longer a necessity.

‘80% of shoppers used a mobile phone inside of a physical store to either look up product reviews, compare prices or find alternative store location.’ – OutBox

The internet holds a wealth of information and allows consumers to research competitors to make sure they’re getting the best product for the best price.

Time is Precious (and valuable):  

People feel the need to make every moment count.

Since we measure our time at work in financial value (36 hours a week = X amount of money), we have subconsciously started to think of time as money. Consumers are not willing to spend their spare hours on any old activity. Going shopping has to be worth their time.

Everybody works. Household chores are no longer gendered – including the shop. Online retailers, such as Amazon Prime, are champions fast delivery. Why spend three hours shopping at Toys R Us, when you could get a toy delivered to work and then spend that time playing with your children?

Online Vs. Retail:

Taking the time to go physically shopping requires more energy than simply going online.

By the time you’ve factored in travel, parking, crowds, queues, distractions and stopping off for a coffee – physical shopping is mentally and financially more taxing, with exactly the same pay-out as buying online.

Think about the joy you get from spending ten minutes scrolling through your favourite website – looking at clothes, or home wares or holidays. You take a few moments not thinking about work, you take a break from thinking full stop. Now think about going into a shop and how much thought it requires.

Retail brands need to think about giving their customers a reason to go into the store. They need to be an experience.

The Solution?

Don’t Sell Everything – Be Everything:

As high street shopping becomes more of a leisure and social experience, many shops are partnering up to collaborate with other brands or offering experiences that can’t be used online. Brick and mortar stores need to be what an online store cannot.

Lush opened a flagship store at Tottenham Court Road. Unlike their other stores they offer massages and spa treatments, as well as exclusive products that cannot be bought online. Having these fun extras encourages bath-bomb-aficionados to make the pilgrimage to central London. It’s more than a shopping trip – they’ve harnessed the power of the experience.

“Shops play a really important role in the physical manifestation of our brand. Customers are increasingly looking to not just shop everything, but do everything in our shops.” – Paula Nickolds, John Lewis.

Urban Outfitters will often partner with music brands and DJs to offer immersive live experiences. Rough Trade, the vinyl-record store, has weekly live shows to entice people to spend time (and, of course, money) in their shop. Topshop’s flagship store houses a Bleach hair salon, and tattoo parlour. If it’s on brand to be more than a shop – be more.

Permanent Is No Longer Interesting:

Pop up shops aren’t merely a quick way of selling products – they create experiences. The shops are short-term and feel exclusive, often stocking items you won’t find elsewhere.

Selfridges have recently opened a WWE Wrestlemania department to cater to the surge in popularity of wrestling. This pop up doesn’t necessarily fit with the designer accessories and luxury food hall, but the novelty of a Wrestlemania department has created a social buzz around the department store. Because of the online buzz, Selfridges can offer social currency to anyone who visits the store.

The rise of social means that everywhere we go has to offer social stature. Pop-up experiences are often incredibly photogenic, leaning into the importance of Instagram in the digital age. Pop up stores can offer both cultural and social value by giving consumers content (as well as a product).

Harmonise your channels:

It’s almost impossible for a brand to not exist online in some capacity. If the rise of digital is causing the decline of the high street, then high street retailers need to be utilising the internet and social media platforms to create an omni-channel experience.

Instagram recently rolled out a new photo-tag shopping feature to business accounts, which drives followers to buy featured products online. Yet only 8% of UK brands engaged with the new feature.

Granify reported that 20% of shoppers have used their phone to look up product information whilst in-store. They also wrote that a substantial portion of consumers claimed they are more like to make a in-store purchase if they can access rewards on mobile.

So, if digital experience is important to brick and mortar stores, why aren’t retail brands embracing digital innovation? Retail brands need to channel the same amount of energy into every area of their brand platform to remain consistent. They need to have the same look and feel and positioning across all platforms – TV, digital, in-store and beyond.

So, has online shopping finally beaten brick and mortar stores?

Not quite yet! There is still a place for retail brands to exist physically, but times have changed. The high street cannot rely on having everything in one place to continue.

There’s an opportunity for brands to reinvent their retail estates, what they are selling and how they’re selling it. In order to stand tall as a brick and mortar store, retail brands have to figure out what it is their spaces stand for and what added benefit they can provide over and above the online shopping experience.

What can FMCG brands take from startup culture?

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Once upon a time, the key to success for FMCG brands was their relationship with the retailer, as well as a genuinely good product. You took that good product, put it out on the high-street, and that alone could be enough.

It is far more complicated now. The fairytale is over. The increasing use of e-commerce has disrupted how a major FMCG brand should operate in the retail industry.

The brands who aren’t thinking about utilizing digital channels, data and strategies to get through to the consumer, are finding it harder to sell. And with the multitude of digital platforms providing space for more voices, brand awareness is harder to improve than ever before.

The competition is fierce but the opportunity is great – if you make the most of it.

Naturally, bigger brands are turning to e-commerce to keep up with their competitors. Can major FMCG brands rely solely on e-commerce to foster the same success that a startup can?

Drinkfinity: PepsiCo’s answer to a startup

PepsiCo has given Drinkfinity the independence and freedom to operate like a startup company. The health-conscious and sustainable squash-style drink is designed to be sold entirely online on a global scale.

“With Drinkfinity, people can “Peel, Pop and Shake” to combine the dry and liquid ingredients contained in portable Pods with water in a specially designed, reusable, BPA-free Vessel, and create beverage blends in a variety of flavors.” PepsiCo

The most crucial part of working directly with consumer data from online sales is flexibility. PepsiCo thinks their ability to act like a startup and react quickly to consumer insights is how they have been able to craft a successful product.

“It’s a different way from the traditional way PepsiCo does things. With products like Drinkfinity we can make changes. We can change formulas very fast, change the blends, adapt to consumer trends so we actually can have the luxury of allowing room for failure.”

As well as being marketed, produced and sold in a way the mirrors a start up model, Drinkfinity has been able to use consumer insights to better understand the product’s purpose and positioning. Drinkfinity has built its beverage brand around its consumer, using four key trends – choice, sustainability, wellness and personalisation.

From concept through to execution, PepsiCo has managed to foster a startup culture. This may see its e-commerce brand through to global success.

Do startup models always work for FMCG brands?

Alcoholic beverage behemoth, Diageo, admits it hasn’t found much success in following the startup model of ecommerce. Selling established FMCG products direct-to-customer online is challenging because these products are often part of a larger shopping experience.

By asking customer to individually shop for their products online, they’re disrupting the frictionless experience they have already worked towards. Imagine asking customer to suddenly schedule and pay for the delivery of each individual item on their shopping list – it simply doesn’t work.

Although they haven’t yet found success, it doesn’t mean they can’t learn from this experiment. For the first time, Diageo will now have first hand data about their customer. If they use these insights to inform their decisions going forward, they have a much better chance of making it work – if their partner Amazon doesn’t use that same insight, first…

Striking the balance

Diageo’s inability to crack the key to direct-to-consumer online sales is because they’re failing to see how startup culture can influence their entire brand. They haven’t implemented these ideas from the very beginning, and this is why they are struggling.

Taking just one piece of the evolving startup model and hoping it’ll recreate the same success isn’t enough. If FMCG brands want to move off of the shelf and onto the internet, they’ll need to think about if it will benefit the customer, more than it will benefit themselves.

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