Monthly Archives: January 2014

E-Lites: Smoking reinvented or branding recycled?

As I was flicking through the newspaper on the plane the other week, a print ad for E-Lites stopped me in my tracks. I am not a smoker, or a reformed smoker, but the ad stood out for me, and I wanted to analyse it a bit more to understand why.


The E-lites brand position themselves as the champions of ‘self belief’.  It is done in a way that portrays the audience as independent, self-sufficient and autonomous. Masters of their own destiny. Interestingly, this can be thought of as a return to many of the positive attitudes and ideals that surrounded smoking at the middle of last century. The idea of a rebel, a leader, someone who is separate from others and self-sustaining. The idea of emancipation.  This sheds light on some of conventions of their executions. The lone person that faces a grand outdoor landscape they must contend with is very much symbolic of independence and self sufficiency.

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Should we ‘lean in’ to the ‘athena doctrine’?

I found myself reading two books on leadership last year that particularly piqued my feminist interest.  The first was The Athena Doctrine: How women (and the men who think like them) will rule the future by John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio. The second was Lean In: Women, work and the will to lead by Sheryl Sandberg.  Both featured in the New York Times Bestseller List.

Both sets of authors come from the same essential starting point. That men, and male values, still rule the world, and that women, and female values, are sadly under-represented in all avenues of leadership.  Both books are clarion calls to end this imbalance, but each approaches it from a unique perspective.

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Brands need to engage through story living not just story telling

drowned_manThe marketing world has got pretty excited about the idea of brand storytelling over the last few years. More brands seem to have stories that they want to tell around their history, provenance, purpose etc.

The most compelling story I have come across recently is The Drowned Man, an immersive theatre experience by the Punch Drunk theatre group. I didn’t read this story. I didn’t hear this story. I actually found myself in this story. And, I totally got swept up in it.

In an enormous disused warehouse in west London we were asked to wear masks, and told not to speak at all during the three hour experience. We were also encouraged to ditch our friends. Consequently, we found ourselves swept up in a meta-narrative that unfolded to each of us in different snippets, scenes and sequences. It was an extraordinary experience of letting go and submitting to what ever happened next. When I regrouped with friends over dinner, we realized that each of us had experienced and participated in this story in unique ways, although we had all understood the same over-arching narrative.

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Do we need more great research, or more great thinking?


Brand and communication strategy nearly always has some type of consumer research at its heart. I am either observing it in real time with my clients (behind a one way mirror, in someone’s kitchen or via webcam), or conducting it for them.

The quality of research undoubtedly varies – from the downright robotic   (I will stick to the discussion guide at all costs) to the truly inspiring (I am committed to solving the bigger problem and will explore rich veins as they emerge).

In fact, Unilever initiated its much debated Qualitative Accreditation Program, because of the variance in qualitative researcher standards, and the consequent paucity of “new ideas and insights that serve to move the company forward.”

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