Browsed by
Month: November 2013

The 13-ton wristwatch – A big solution to a big problem

The 13-ton wristwatch – A big solution to a big problem

This week a colleague, Paul Gaskell, and I are running a session for client to help them address a potentially big and challenging strategic task. Perhaps because it is in Germany it made me remember the following story. I expect I’ll use a version of the story in the introduction to the session to help inspire the team to try and think ahead…

The 13-ton wristwatch

Swiss watches have long been associated with luxury and craftsmanship. They have a reputation for being beautiful, beautifully made and very expensive, but by the 1980s Swiss watches were suffering from heavy competition from inexpensive Asian brands. 

The new quartz technology had revolutionized watchmaking. A once proud industry employing nearly 90,000 in the late 1960s had seen that figure drop to less than 35,000. In this post-quartz watch world, the Swiss watch industry desperately needed to broaden its appeal and the Swatch brand was created to lead the way.

To succeed, however, Swatch would need to challenge existing perceptions of Swiss watches. It would be a big job, and the answer – at least in Germany – came in the form of a big statement: a gigantic, fully working, 13-ton, 162-metre high, bright orange Swatch that was suspended on the tallest building in Frankfurt, the commercial capital of Germany. Oh yes and the building just happened to be the headquarters of one of Germany leading financial institutions – the Commerzbank.


On the watch was printed three things: “Swatch” (the brand name), “Swiss” (its origins) and its price “DM60” (the surprise). “It was a big provocation to hang a watch from a huge grim skyscraper. And it was funny, fanciful, a joke – joy of life. Believe me when we took it down everyone we wanted to reach had received our message,” said Nicolas Hayek, the head of SMH.

The message everyone received was that here was a Swiss watch, which had all the heritage of local craftsmanship, but was a brand with a sense of humour and available at a price not previously associated with Swiss quality.

Behind this great publicity stunt was someone who came up with the idea and a team that had the skill to build the giant watch, but there was another less obvious team who needed all their ingenuity to sell the idea to Commerzbank. Without the agreement of the bank, Frankfurt would never have got its own equivalent of London’s Big Ben

What this last team did was to put themselves in the shoes of the President of the Commerzbank and identify what they thought were the main problems he might have with the concept, so that they could prepare solutions in advance.

While they recognized that there would be many little details they would need to address, the real and major concerns would be two-fold: the impact on the reputation of the Commerzbank brand and the practicalities of making it happen.

To address the first issue, the team commissioned some original research – not amongst potential Swatch customers but amongst Commerzbank customers. Helpfully, the findings showed that rather than seeing the stunt negatively, Commerzbank customers liked the idea of the bank showing its human face through its involvement in such a bold act.

Next, the team approached the local civic authorities and got their buy-in in the form of a written approval of the scheme. 

With these two trump cards, the team was finally ready to go and meet the President of the Commerzbank.

By all accounts, he did raise his concerns but was impressed by the Swatch’s team planning, and they came away with his approval to proceed. 

The watch was mounted on the side of the bank in 1984.


We’re selling happiness

We’re selling happiness

Most of the tales I tell, I try to keep brief. Here is a truly short story, but one that still packs a powerful punch for all brand owners

Selling Happiness

On one of his many visits to Disneyland Walt Disney noticed that one of the cast – a  railroad conductor seemed to be treating the Guests a bit curtly.

Walt said to his manager: “Try to cheer him up. If you can’t, then he shouldn’t be working here. We’re selling happiness.”

The Alligator Bag and the Polo Shirt

The Alligator Bag and the Polo Shirt

Last week saw the end of the tennis season, as Novak Djokovic retained his ATP World Tour Finals title with a convincing win over world number one Rafael Nada at the O2 in London,  so I thought I would share a tennis themed brand story. 

The alligator bag and the polo shirt

Frenchman René Lacoste was a tennis player, a very good tennis player. He won seven Grand Slam titles and was for two consecutive years, in the late nineteen twenties, ranked as the number one player in the world, 

He wasn’t however a fan of the tennis clothes of the time. He found the traditional ‘tennis whites’, which comprised long-sleeved button-down shirts, long trousers and a tie, very restrictive. It was a lot of clothing to be wearing when racing to the net to reach for a drop shot or when stretching up for an overhead smash.

In a 1979 article in People magazine, he remembered how he found a solution; “One day I noticed my friend the Marquis of Cholmondeley, wearing his polo shirt on the court, ‘A practical idea,’ I thought to myself.” 

It seemed so senible, in fact, that René immediately commissioned an English tailor to whip up a few shirts in both cotton and wool for him. And it was at the U.S. Open in New York City in 1926 that Lacoste made his first appearance in his new shirt. “Soon everyone was wearing them,” he recalled 

Coincidentally it was around this same time that Lacoste was to acquire a nickname.


While there is no question over the nickname itself, there is still some debate as to why and how he acquired the particular name. The least polite and indeed the least favoured was that it was a reference to his slightly long and pointy nose. Other say the name came from his athletic dynamism and boldness on court.

However the most oft quoted reason was that it was the result of a bet. The bet was with the captain of the French Davis Cup who wagered him an alligator suitcase on the result of the match in 1927.

Unfortunately Rene lost the match and went back to France empty-handed but with the tale of the “alligator” proceeding him. “Alligator” somehow became “crocodile” whilst he was back in France.

Whatever the source of the nickname, Lacoste embraced his new moniker and when his friend, Robert George, sketched a crocodile for him, he had it embroidered onto all of his shirts. It became his personal brand… before he had the products to go with it.

That however was to change once he retired from tennis in the early 1930s. He set up a company called La Chemise Lacoste in 1933 with another friend, André Gillier, who had been president of the largest French knitwear company and together they started to produce and sell crocodile-emblazoned shirts. 

Lacoste are still making and selling shirts with the distinctive green crocodile on them today, though they are worn for much more than just tennis today.


A road so bad they just had to buy it

A road so bad they just had to buy it

Two stories in one….a fabulous story about the dedication of Volkswagen to creating the very best cars and for those of you who are intrigued the back-story about how I tracked the information down. First the story itself…

A road so bad they just had to buy it

At Ehra-Lessien, twelve and a half miles from the German city of Wolfsburg, Volkswagen has a testing facility. It covers some 2,718 hectares and in all has over 62 miles of test tracks.

There is a high speed track with a straight that runs for approximately 5.5 miles. The banked corners at both ends allow for a high entry and exit speed to and from the straight. It was here in July 2010 that a Bugatti Super Sport, a car with 1,200 bhp (890 kW) recorded the production car world speed record at an average of 267 mph.

There is a cross country track where the terrain tests suspension, tyres and steering to the limit and which is perfect for trying out new 4x4s. There are salt water crossings which can short electrical systems and leave rust forming deposits in exposed parts of any bodywork. There are skid pans across which test drivers hurl cars at breakneck speeds.


There is even a ‘mountain’ with gradients of up to 32% and hairpin bends as hairy as any in the Alps.

There are however also some urban driving tracks including an incredibly lumpy, bumpy cobbled street full of potholes, just like you might find in a nearby village …or rather exactly like the one you would have found in the nearby village of Hehlingen.

The reason being that a number of the people who worked at Ehra-Lessien used to drive through Hehlingen on the way to work. Two of them were discussing the dreadful state of the main road there and how it was at best treacherous and potentially lethal when snowy or icy.

Unbeknownst to them their conversation was overheard by one of the senior managers at the facility. He jumped in his car and set off to see if the road was really as bad as they said. Arriving, he found that it was…and it was just what he wanted.

Volkswagen opened negotiations with the local council to ‘buy’ the road, ultimately replacing it with a nice new smooth tarmac one and then building a community swimming pool as a thank you.

Volkswagen transported the old road stone by cobbled stone to Ehra-Lessein where they re-laid it there complete with ruts and pot-holes.

That was in 1967 and ever since the road has been meticulously maintained in the same dreadful condition as Volkswagen still believe that they need the worst conditions to produce the best cars.

 The Back Story

About 25 years ago a senior creative team from DDB, a VW marketing manager and a young advertising executive at DDB were sent to Wolfsburg to research a campaign to be targeted as car fans which would be “The facts behind the reputation”. The trip was great success and numerous facts and stories were uncovered and a series of 6 ads were created one of which had a headline that ran “Volkswagen wanted this road so much, they bought it. And took it home.”

Fast forward 25 years and that young advertising executive is now the director of a brand consultancy and writes a blog on storytelling. He vaguely remembers a story about Volkswagen which might might a great blog but can’t remember all the details. He decided he will contact the Volkswagen customer services department and see if they can track anything done for him..

About 10 days later he gets an e-mail. It reads…

Good morning Mr Lury

Further to your recent correspondence requesting a copy of the campaign which you worked on during your time with DDB.

I am delighted that the DDB team has been able to source a copy of the advert, which I have attached.

I hope that this brings back some fantastic memories.Thank you for contacting Volkswagen UK.

Yours sincerely 

Damien Quirk

Customer Relations Manager, Volkswagen Customer Services Centre


Thank you Damien. It does bring back fantastic memories and just further reinforces my loyalty to VW (I’m a Beetle driver)

A Freudian M

A Freudian M

I saw the latest McDonald’s ad promoting their “original” burger which reminded me of one of the stories I wrote for the book.

While I would have agreed with Cheskin’s recommendation to retain the M, I’m not sure I would have got to his reasoning. 

A Freudian M

The Golden Arches are one of the most instantly recognised brand icons in the world; they were originally real arches and part of the restaurant design guidelines.

They were first introduced in the 1950s but by the mid-1960s there was debate as to whether or not the arches should be dropped. 

Louis Cheskin, a designer and psychologist, who worked with McDonald’s at the time, agreed that it might be sensible to move away from them as an architectural feature, but he argued strongly, and ultimately successfully, that “the arches had Freudian applications to the subconscious mind of the consumer and were great assets in marketing McDonald’s food”. 

He went on to say that the arches were seen as “mother McDonald’s breasts, a useful association if you’re replacing home-made food”.

In fact, “Give Mom a Night Off” had been an early advertising slogan, as a trip to McDonald’s meant no cooking, serving or washing up.

The stylised M is still part of the logo to this day, and presumably those useful associations remain.