Nutella employed an algorithm to design its packaging

Nutella’s manufacturer Ferrero partnered with its advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Italia to devise a plan to get people to buy more Nutella. Their idea? Have an algorithm design the packaging. The company provided the software with a database of patterns and colors that Ferrero felt fit with the hazelnut spread brand. It then created 7 million unique jars that were sold throughout Italy.

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John Lewis unveils Christmas ad starring a dog on a trampoline


The retailer will employ a host of innovative social media tools to help encourage sharing and interaction as the battle for hearts and minds in the run-up to the biggest shopping period of the year becomes increasingly digital. These include a tie-up with Snapchat, which will allow UK users of the messaging app to use a Buster lens on Thursday, so they can snap portraits with comedy dog ears and nose. After that, the filter will pop up when Snapchat is used in a John Lewis store. Until Sunday 13 November, customers will be able to use special Twitter stickers that pop up when they use the hashtag #bouncebounce to personalise their photos with Buster and the other animals. Visitors to John Lewis’s Oxford Street store will be able to try a virtual reality version of the trampoline, where they can bounce alongside the animals using Oculus Rift goggles.

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Old book, new look: why the classics are flying off the shelves


This autumn, though, they’re offering something new: a range of hardbacks offering “unique content” – a collection of an author’s works that hasn’t been presented this way before, or a new translation of a classic. Their design is flamboyantly simple: no dust jacket but a cloth binding, a cream background on which title and author are printed vertically with a single tiny image on the top. Gothic Tales by Arthur Conan Doyle features a descending crow, Homer’s Odyssey shows an image of Odysseus dwarfed by the cyclops Polyphemus, Poems of the First World War offers a soldier’s helmet. They look fantastic – but who are they for? “We’re working a lot with the production team to make them look very collectible and tactile, to appeal to the gift market,” says Gough.

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Tighten your safety briefing: Air New Zealand rebuked over flippant videos

Air New Zealand has been rebuked by the country’s aviation watchdog for burying life-saving messages in amongst celebrity cameos in its pre-flight safety videos. The airline is infamous for its elaborate star-studded clips in which celebrities like Richard Simmons, Bear Grylls and Betty White tell passengers how to respond in an aviation emergency. But an email published by One News on Wednesday revealed that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had criticised the airline for including “extraneous material” in one of its clips – and indicated that the agency had communicated similar concerns in the past. “As we have commented previously, the video diverges materially from the ‘safety message’ at times, and whilst I appreciate the need to engage the viewers, the extraneous material detracts from the scope and direction of the safety message

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How big tobacco lost its final fight for hearts, lungs and minds


Tobacco companies lost an appeal against government plans to force them all to use generic packaging with health warnings on the side. They said it was effectively theft of intellectual property so if nothing else, they should be compensated (their barrister even used the argument that slave owners were compensated when slavery was abolished – idiotic).

One of their key arguments, trotted out 15 years or so ago when cigarette advertising was banned, was that these things don’t have any effect on consumption. But as Jamie Doward notes in The Observer (my italics):

As a cigarette packet designer, John Digianni, explains in an interview on the tobacco industry website Tobacco Today: “A cigarette package is part of a smoker’s clothing, and when he saunters into a bar and plunks it down, he makes a statement about himself. When a user displays a badge product, this is witnessed by others, providing a living testimonial endorsement of the user on behalf of that brand and product.”

Boring old packaging, it transpires, is not so boring after all.

The court was shown what seemed to be a normal pack of Benson & Hedges cigarettes that went on sale in 2006. To open the pack, the consumer needed to slide a tray containing the cigarettes out of its side. Printed on the tray was an aphorism attributed to GK Chesterton: “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice and then going away and doing the exact opposite.” Japan Tobacco International, owner of the Benson & Hedges brand in the UK, credited the packaging innovation with a near 47% year-on-year rise in sales.

Cigarette manufacturers acknowledge that such innovations boost sales among adults. However, they vigorously deny their products are targeted at young people. Yet the court was shown clear evidence of how even very young children can be drawn to cigarette packaging. A video made by Cancer UK, in which young children discussed the look of various packs, brought home the point forcefully. One girl, around six or seven years of age, was delighted with the pink packaging of a particular brand. “It’s actually quite pretty,” she said excitedly. A young boy described a yellow pack as “fun” and declared: “It makes you feel almost happy by looking at it.”

It is hard to see children of a similar age enthusing about the new-look packets – drab cartons adorned with gruesome images of people with smoking-related diseases.

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Maynards and Bassetts unite to form new “adult candy” brand


Maynards and Bassets, two venerable British brands of sweets, have merged into ‘Maynards Bassets’ – not the kind of mouthful that gets you salivating.

The new packets look good, but that name and logo (or ‘plaque’ as it’s known) looks a bit heavy to me. Not as heavy as the bizarre language used to describe it, mind…

Bulletproof has created a new Maynards Bassetts “plaque” that can sit on the packs. The consultancy describes the new plaque as “a conduit where the intrinsic values of the products tumble in through the top and out again, turning into a wonderful, colourful and dynamic flavour slide that delivers the sweets or characters, such as Bertie, in a dynamic and exciting way.”

Oh dear.

I’m not sure what the thinking is here. It’s supposed to make the sweets (not ‘candy’, thank you) more ‘adult’ but… I’m not sure what’s adult about sticking a corporate logo on a packet of Jelly Babies. I’d have made it much smaller and let the sweets be the branding. ‘Liquorice Allsorts’, ‘Jelly Babies’, ‘Wine Gums’ – that’s what they’re selling.

Every web designer – and publisher – should read this


Every web designer and site owner needs to read this article by John Allsop on the epidemic of website bloat. To sum up:

There is only one honest measure of web performance: the time from when you click a link to when you’ve finished skipping the last ad.

Everything else is bullshit.


Web designers! It’s not all your fault.

You work your heart out to create a nice site, optimized for performance. You spend the design process trying to anticipate the user’s needs and line their path with rose petals.

Then, after all this work is done, your client makes you shit all over your hard work by adding tracking scripts and ads that you have no control over, whose origin and content will be decided at the moment the page loads in the user’s browser, and whose entire purpose is to break your design and distract the user from whatever they came to the site to do.

The user’s experience of your site is dominated by hostile elements out of your control.

It’s a rather revealing article (actually the transcript of a talk, the video of which is here).

When I started out in web design, before it had even got past the ‘it’s just a fad’ phase, a big part of the job was squeezing images until they sat on the border between small enough that a typical modem would download them in less than five seconds, but not so compressed that they looked awful. Nowadays, I admit, I don’t bother with that just assuming that everyone’s on broadband or a decent mobile plan.

But all that is moot anyway given that the biggest culprit in page bloat is advertising and tracking. The reason for this is simple, but shocking.

Accepted practice today is for ad space to be auctioned at page load time. The actual ads (along with all their javascript surveillance infrastructure) are pulled in by the browser after the content elements are in place.

In terms of user experience, this is like a salesman arriving at a party after it has already started, demanding that the music be turned off, and setting up their little Tupperware table stand to harass your guests. It ruins the vibe.

So to reiterate. Page designers, writers and even site owners don’t know what their site will look like because ads are sold and positioned when the page is viewed. In print journalism, ad space is sold in a way that means the publisher knows what the finished publication will look like. From the advertisers’ point of view that makes a lot of sense. You don’t want your ad for a car to go next to a feature article on the wonders of cycling (and neither does the writer).

Imagine what server-side ad layout would mean for designers. You would actually know what your pages are going to look like. You could load assets in a sane order. You could avoid serving random malware.

Giant animations would no longer helicopter in at page load time, destroying your layout and making your users hate you.

This isn’t just ‘dodgy’ sites either.

Here’s a grab from The Guardian just now after I disabled my ad blocker.

Guardian page

Notice two things. Firstly, a window popped up asking me to update Flash. Why? Because The Guardian serves ads using Flash, despite having run several articles about the security risks posed by Flash.

Secondly, the ad on the right is for clothes retailer Namshi. I’ve never heard of them, they appear to be an Arabian company that doesn’t trade in the UK, and I’m a bloke so how well-spent was that ad budget?

Is it any wonder I block the ads? They’re annoying and completely irrelevant to me. Now I link to a lot of Guardian articles here, so am I being a bit of a hypocrite? No – I pay an annual fee for The Guardian iOS app and I read via that rather than the web. But in The Guardian’s case I pay as much not to see ads as much as I pay for the journalism – and the fact there’s something wrong with that is down to the business model, not me.

The only question for publishers is whether to get ahead of this and reap the benefits, or circle down the drain with everybody else.

I’ve said this in other posts – the great debate last year about ad blockers seemed to think that readers were being devious in blocking ads when in fact the issue really was the shit that made people want to.

I mean things like this:

Bad web ad

I’ve seen ads like that on prestigious websites. It’s not just the clickbait places.

Advertising in magazines and newspapers, on the radio and TV and in cinemas doesn’t track the reader, listener or viewer. There’s no reason it needs to on the web. And with a few exceptions ads in old media tend to be well-executed and well thought out. I can’t remember the last time anyone got excited about the latest web ad in the same way they do for, say, the annual John Lewis Christmas ad.

Content providers should sell advertising space directly, or use an old-fashioned agency to do it for them. And they should take responsibility for what’s in the ads. The number of links I’ve clicked on recently where the screen has been filled with an ad with no design, no context, just a link to something I’m really not interested in… more often than not I close the page. Whatever was there is not so interesting I’m prepared to be visually assaulted and robbed at the same time.

Running ads like this, abdicating editorial responsibility to an algorithm, devalues your brand. If you think what you’re producing is good enough that you should be paid for it, then either find a business model that allows you to charge your visitors, or use your impressions and demographics to sell ads to relevant people (Jon Gruber makes a living doing just that).

Don’t sell your users, or more importantly, their location, their sexual preferences, and their recent search history (which might just be an indicator of their sexual preferences anyway). And let’s get back to the days when web pages were crafted to load as quickly as possible without starting up your laptop’s fan just to autoplay an ad for a shoe shop in Dubai.

Hashtag backlash: marketing campaigns that turned into social media disasters

 Hashtage #fail

In the lead-up to Anzac Day, Woolworths launched the commemoration website “Fresh in Our Memories”, a play on the supermarket’s “fresh food people” slogan. People were encouraged to upload war-related photos and tributes to the site, which would automatically add the Woolworths logo and the Fresh in Our Memories catchphrase to them. Using the hashtag #FreshInOurMemories, Twitter users were quick to call out the supermarket for being disrespectful and insensitive. The then minister for veterans affairs, Michael Ronaldson, was among those who complained, and the site was taken down.

Read the full story here – there are more stories like this, all from Australia in this case.

There are some real idiots out there. Private Eye runs a regular column called ‘Desperate Marketing’ that highlights this sort of thing – famous person dies, or terrorist incident occurs, and out come the press releases selling everything from double glazing or, in the case of the Paris attacks, wine. It’s not a recent phenomenon, but social media makes it easier to do, and these things should always be slept on.

My favourite is still #Susanalbumparty.

Nurofen’s maker admits misleading consumers over contents of painkillers


Drug company Reckitt Benckiser has been marketing Nurofen under different sub-brands with the implication being that each one targeted different types of pain. Only one problem with that, and it led to action in Australia.

“The ACCC took these proceedings because it was concerned that consumers may have purchased these products in the belief that they specifically treated a certain type of pain, based on the representations on the packaging, when this was not the case,” Sims said. “Truth in advertising and consumer issues in the health and medical sectors are priority areas for the ACCC, to ensure that consumers are given accurate information when making their purchasing decisions.”

Quite how this strategy got approved is beyond me. I was staring at these packages a couple of months ago when I was suffering with a migraine and looked at the details on the back. I couldn’t figure out what the difference was, and this is why.

Advertising and branding come in for a lot of stick, and this is a good example of why. It’s shameful.

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Can cities kick ads? Inside the global movement to ban urban billboards

San Paulo
Safe for eyeballs … in a single year, São Paulo removed 15,000 billboards, many of which were replaced by street art. Photograph: Adam Hester/Corbis

Something seemed strange. Staring out of a hotel window in São Paulo, my eye was caught by an oversized digital display crowning the top of an undersized skyscraper. Steadily flashing the time, then the temperature, the display was incongruous in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was only later, when a colleague mentioned that São Paulo had banned billboard advertising, that I realised what had felt so odd about my view. Those flashing numbers were the only visible signage actively making a play for my attention. Having come from New York, I was used to looking out at a landscape of logos and gargantuan product shots; a vista of advertisements all jostling for “eyeballs”, as the industry so charmingly puts it.

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