Monday, 31 January 2011

Audio branding

Today we heard the sad news that John Barry has died. But what a legacy he leaves. His music has the masterly genius to create a melody and evoke a mood in the space of 10 seconds. Listen to the opening bars of Born Free before Matt Monroe even comes in with his honeydew voice, and you are already transported to the wilds of Kenya and Elsa gambolling with the beautiful Virginia McKenna.

Perhaps the most impressive body of work, from a branding perspective, is for the Bond movies. I'm not sure Bond, James Bond, would ever have been so suave, confident and classy without the richness of Barry's work. His connection with Mr Bond started when he arranged Monty Norman's score for the first ever 007 film, Dr No. From there he went on to create theme tunes that wove in the Bond DNA melodically, memorably and with the ability to evoke excitement, instantly. The 007 brand is indeed multi-sensory.

Audio branding has a bit of a motley reputation in the commercial world. Jingles are often rather poo-pood - but can be enormously powerful. Who can forget 'Shake & Vac and put the freshness back', 'a finger of Fudge is just enough' and more recently the uniquley annoying 'Go Compare'.

The purity of the sounds developed for Direct Line and Intel are not jingles, but clever signals that underscore every ad. Their cleverness is belied by their simplicity. These are sonic bites.

Great music does sometimes lift a TV commercial from good to great. The marvellous Lurpak ad by Weiden & Kennedy is greatly enhanced by the use of Canis Lupus from Fantastic Mr Fox by Alexandre Desplat. Fyfe Dangerfield's cover of the Billy Joel song 'She's always a Woman' gave the 2010 John Lewis ad an emotional edge that the imagery would never have reached alone (or more to the point with a less brilliant choice of music).

We're sorry to say farewell to John Barry. His swirling sounds will continue to stir high emotions for years to come.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Laura Ashley blooms

Laura Ashley is doing better than expected. Shares are soaring.

Laura Ashley started with Bernard and Laura experimenting at home with fabric printing in 1953. Over time they produced more, got some retailers to stock their work, and expanded their family and products. By 1967 they were producing fabric in quantity and had opened shops. Their dresses were very much 'on trend' as minis gave way to romantic maxis in the late 1960s.

I remember visiting the Laura Ashley shop in Bath in around 1970/71. It was a dreamy place of gypsy style flounce and floral ecstasy. I bought a white scooped-neck cotton top, with little pin tucks and a bobbly edge around the neck. It tied at the waist with a bit of ribbon, rather in the style of a Victorian undergarment. I loved it. (Above, how I thought I looked, a Laura Ashley ad from the 70s)

Today, three quarters of their sales come from home furnishings. It's interesting to see how a brand, through various ups and downs, not least the tragic death of Laura in 1985, can subtly shift its centre of gravity to retain/regain success.

Through focus, a brand can build a meaning above and beyond its product deliverable. Brand elasticity has long been a measure of whether you have a real brand or just a great product. Would you buy an Apple chair? Sounds intriguing and cool. Apple have stretched beautifully from personal computer to music player to online media shop (at least). Virgin is a classic brand across markets (if a little rocky in places now). You can see brands standing for something more than - or at least different to - their core product. Sometimes, something visual becomes the trigger for the brand feeling. Paul Smith's stripes are now enough for me to think 'elegant British tailoring with a twist' - whatever they are on. And some brands have to use their bit of elasticity to shift. There's not a whiff of cigarette smoke around Dunhill now.

Laura Ashley was never really about buying a dress, there was a whole evocative depth of feeling as you slipped into your ditsy floral or linen underwear. This was eroded over time by management, design and outside fashion influences. But there is still an idea and warm feeling conjured up in the (right) customers' minds when they think of the brand. And for them the slight shift to a less ephemeral purchase, a more solid statement of style over fashion (with printed fabric at its core), is perfect for their slightly older, perhaps more considered, selves. So buying a lovely armchair or some elegantly coordinated cushions taps into the Laura Ashley thing, but represents a more reliable and, yes, profitable market for the brand. Good work.

Friday, 14 January 2011

A beautifully tailored brand

My relationship with brands and the idea of branding goes up and down - but, rather like Darcy in his ridiculous declaration of love to Elizabeth Bennet, I love Aubin & Wills despite all the reasons I shouldn't. And I think there are two main reasons for this.

The first, and why I got into the whole branding business, is the obvious and gorgeous use of design. The wonderful over use of typography, the curlicues and fabricated heritage, the archaic language, "Exclusively for the discerning," and wild overclaim, "Second to none," all adds up to a visual story that lifts the heart and opens the wallet. The story is about the respect, nostalgia and celebration of a great retail and tailoring tradition. The brand is new, launched in September 2008 as an offshoot of Jack Wills for an 'older' market, but the spirit of its visual manifestation is so honest in its actuality that it is not a sham or a pastiche, it is very much revelling in the joy and history of fabulous graphic design.

The commitment to design goes way beyond the graphics - after all it is a fashion label and I think the clothes are beautifully judged with their mix of trad British and contemporary relevance. More than that they demonstrate a genuine commitment to sourcing and supporting traditional clothing manufacturers - a new boot has been developed with Grenson, The Black Addington overcoat is made from Herringbone cloth woven by British mill Fox Brothers & Co, The Pallington Mac was designed in collaboration with the two hundred year old brand Mackintosh.

The second reason I think this is a really interesting brand is their outstanding drive to create a community around themselves. The Westbourne Grove shop hosts exhibitions and talks as part of its 'cultural offensive' and the Shoreditch store has a Cinema and Gallery with a lively programme. In terms of developing a 'tone of voice' they they are using an excellent portfolio of tools. The Almanac they produce quarterly and their little videos are fantastically sexy and a risqué.

Now, what has inspired my homage to Aubin & Wills? Well the sales, of course. In need of a good coat I was lured in by the rather distinctive Addington coat in the 'Large Dogtooth colour woven by the esteemed mill, Magee of Donegal in Ireland, famed for its continued use of traditional hand weaving methods and directional, interesting cloths.' And even more attractively at half-price. Ordered online, my real joy came when it was delivered, the large box opened to reveal the over-sized paper carrier bag covered with glorious type, inside which was this amazing garment bag, in real cloth, carefully enshrouding my beautiful, half-price, coat. Ooo - what a thrill!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011


A theme for this year, carrying on from last, will be brands that feel in touch with their locality, brands that have genuine provenance that we care about.

Nowhere (so far) was this stronger than at the marvellous Lyric Hammersmith panto - Dick Whittington and his Cat. The adaptation to locality, with the geographical references, rich cultural diversity and modification of lyrics (such as 'Glory, Glory Hammersmith' and the often spoofed Jay Z's 'Empire State of Mind') help build the warm sense of pride feeling connected delivers.

The enjoyment of the evening was greatly enhanced by some dazzling performances by the Lyric Youth ensemble and the likes of Steven Webb, Rosalind James, Kulvinder Ghir, Paul J Medford and Shaun Prendergast. Simon Kunz (known to my children as the beloved butler, Martin, in The Parent Trap) was the most brilliant King Rat and his sidekick, Scaramouche, was the young Nathan Bryon - who topped the local touch for us as he's a school mate of our son Jack.

My feeling is that customers will be putting a greater emphasis this year on things they care about, finding a connection, making a difference, a value beyond financial - quality not quantity.