I have already talked at length about Food being a cultural symbol. Most countries can indeed be embodied in a dish: Japan and sushi, Spain and Paella, Italy and Pizza, Germany and Bratwurst, Singapore and Pepper Crab, Scotland and Haggis, etc.

Food reveals to consequently be a great vector of communication that can sell countries, cars, beers, sport gear and even train tickets...

Eurostar ad by Parisian agency Leg.

Carlsberg ad by Saatchi&Saatchi London.

Nike ad by W+K Amsterdam.

Capture the difference, once a day!

Here is a brilliant, though probably harassing, idea by American Noah Kalina, who has decided to shoot a consistent auto-portray every single day. For the last 6 years he has captured a moment of his daily life with his camera, compiling them on a website, and even on video:

What amazes me in this project is Noah's dedication and attention to details (like the continuous apathetic glance). The framing is always the same and allows you to visualise slight evolutions in his face: the good days, the morning-after, the hair growing... Everything that makes a daily life daily (and would probably interest some cosmetic groups who would want to demonstrate the effect of their product).

But this project has not only attracted my attention. Thanks to the media, this is becoming cult to get into Noah's world. Celebrities have jumped in his arch, turning this young photographer into an icon. But is this still a common daily life any more? Maybe in New York.


Yes, I will...

The date has been settled, the venue booked, the priest holds our background information... Our wedding is well under way and that is probably the reason why I tend to pay an exacerbated attention to the engagements that occur around me. I am indeed looking for good ideas, worst practices, trends, etc.

But now that I have dived into a new culture, I realise how old-fashion I could have been. Or maybe this is only because France, like the other Latin countries, is somehow traditionalist when it comes to ceremonies?

Love is blind, marriage asexual.

My first acknowledgment happened at work, when I exchanged with a colleague who was busy organising the wedding of her best friend. She was so enthusiastic that it allowed me to quickly assimilate the relevant vocabulary. Engagement, Groom, Pre Nup, Best Man... Well, that was what I initially thought! The English language lacks of one critical thing compared to French or German: it has no gender (what led me to my first major misunderstanding).

I considered myself as open-minded and I indeed coped very well with the ceremony happening in the
London Eye, with a "Ghetto Bling" theme and some Ibiza-inspired soundtrack. I appreciated the efforts to create a non-conventional scenery for this very special day. But it was the actors who fooled me...

I should have been more cautious, especially in the country of Shakespeare whose tragedies were originally exclusively played by male actors. It actually took me a month to realise that when my colleague was referring to her "best friend and the groom", she was in fact evoking "her best friend and his groom".

Hype Pod: gay wedding in the London Eye, give some height to your love ceremony...

Don't get me wrong. I was not puzzled by the Gay wedding. On the contrary, I think that UK is a step ahead of France with it. But I was stunned by my initial assumptions. In my apparently too traditionalist mind, the spontaneous associations were "wedding = groom+bride @ church+city-hall". I needed to reevaluate my referential scheme. And so did I.

Woman in black

As a matter of fact, when my fiancée went home the other day reporting another quite different wedding, I was not moved. Not even surprised. Even if for this Gothic ceremony the bride was in black, wearing a veil with skulls and the newly-married were offered tattoos as presents...

After all, why should we get stuck with conventions, codes, traditions? We need to evolve with our society diversity. For the better, and for the worse...

Well, not sure that for my own ceremony I would get rid of the waltz as the first dance. Would you?


Highland, High time

Introducing Cedgruik Encore, my Second Life Avatar

I must confess I have a passion for Scotland. People who have met my avatar in Second Life understand what I mean... It is not only due to the Highlands reminding me of my home place with their shredded landscapes, but also because of all the iconography that is related to this country. The fighting spirit. The rugged but determined personalities. The mysteries. The legends. The clans...

And talking about iconography and legends, I have come across a piece of communication from the Scottish Tourist Board that pulls a new kind of strings. "New" at least to me:

To promote its region among female audiences, Visitscotland will capitalise this year again on its human resources: the Scots. A second edition of this local beauty contest will encourage women from 13 countries to vote for their preferred kilt-wearing model:

In 2006, VisitScotland introduced Date A Hot Scot, with twenty of Scotland's hottest eligible men profiled on a website, dateahotscot.com, on which women from 6 countries around the world were invited to vote for their favourite, and in turn win an unforgettable trip to Scotland for them and their girlfriend. Such was the incredible success of the campaign -with the website attracting a staggering 85,000 visitors- that Date A Hot Scot is back! This time VisitScotland is extending the campaign out to 13 countries, meaning that double the amount of women will be given the chance to vote for their Hot Scot, the chance to win yet another fabulous dream trip to Scotland. Dateahotscot.com will also be full of information on how to plan a trip to Scotland -a country brimming with fun and romance, making it the perfect destination for single women worldwide.

It is not the first time that good-looking, though tough, men are used to attract women to slightly repulsive places. For instance, Paris rugby club, Stade Francais, launched a few years ago a calendar featuring their players, naked in order to attract women to the games. This has been an absolute hit among both female and gay populations. But it was only one of numerous initiatives by Max Guazzini to democratise this sport and attract a wider audience. Inspired by US sports, the Stade Francais president has changed many of this traditional sport paradigms: remote-controlled buggy brings the ball before a conversion, players wearing flourished or pink tunic, giant karaoke at half time, Miss Europe bringing the official ball on the ground...

The success is obvious. This week-end, for instance, and for the fifth time in its history, the Parisian club has played in Stade de France instead of its regular stadium at Jean Bouin. With a 80,000 attendance for a regular season league match (as much as for the World Cup final in 1998), it clearly demonstrates that, thanks to Guazzini's efforts, this sport now reaches beyond the traditional South-Western enthusiasts. It has become a show many want to attend.

Let's hope that the Scottish approach will be as successful as the Parisian one. I cannot wait to see the remake of Brave Heart as a musical. I can already picture William Wallace rising over the crowd and starting to sing Mel Brooks' song "We are the men in tights"!?! Or maybe not, after all there is a legend around what happens below the kilts... And it should remain a legend.


The world marvels around the corner

Here is a now classics in French advertising but since I have just received it (again), I cannot avoid sharing it this time. That is the fun of viral, you can be several times in contact with the same element, which represents additional opportunity to amplify the buzz.

Info superhigways to your holiday destination.

This is a campaign for voyages-sncf.com, the online travel agency, which spun off the French national railways. With the development of eCommerce, this online venture stopped focusing on train tickets, and started selling a wide range of products (plane tickets, hotel nights, car rentals, etc.). The consumer perception, however, had not evolved alongside with the company product portfolio.

"plus loin que vous n'imaginez" (farther than you imagined)

To counter this long-lasting cliché, this campaign depicts typical French road-signs announcing villages homophonic with renown destinations. New York, Cancun, Los Angeles or even Singapore are hence revisited (and re-spelled) with local flair... Voyages-SNCF aims at demonstrating that using their services can lead you "farther than you imagine" a train would.


A mountain dweller passed away.

Yesterday morning, a Great French character died. Yesterday, Abbe Pierre died.

Born in Lyon, he had started his work in the mountains, around Grenoble. But after WW2, he went down in the valley to help the needing human beings face the difficulties of their existence. He wanted them to stand against misery, poverty, homelessness, exclusion... He was of all fights for human dignity.

Beyond the religious man, a man died yesterday.


The differences in London

Live longer, healthier, greener... Depending on where you settle it is quite obvious that your standard of living will evolve. However, when it comes to massive differences between areas of a same town, you can legitimately be puzzled.

This article from TimeOut publishes the results of 2007 London Health Survey. I was especially amazed by the discrepancy in life expectancy between the best performing borough and the 32nd: a new born could expect to live 7 years longer depending on the place where he takes his first breath. Amazing enough, if you look at the performance in terms of binge drinking, 2 out of the three longer-living places count among the 5 most drinking ones. Shall we conclude that you should drink to live longer???

If you are interested in such statistical oddities, I strongly recommend this book, Freakonomics.

It is a brilliant review on how figures can be read and interpreted. Have a read and reconsider your environment. Especially if you live in London;-)


Shiny happy people?

This REM song was a big hit when I was a teenager. It paced my way to school, and tended to upbeat my daily life. But nowadays I often wonder where this enthusiasm is gone.

Bless Unhappiness.

In the late 90s, after France won the World Cup, there has been a very positive trend in my country. People were confident, social and racial disparities were lowered, the economy boosted by the rise of Internet was favourable, the country's mood at its best... But unfortunately, for a few years now, there has been a clear backlash. Moral is now down. And this can be felt pretty much everywhere.

Advertising, as a mirror of the society, has obviously captured this trend. This campaign for Ikea by Paris-based creative hotshop, La Chose, is quite explanatory of this phenomenon even if it makes fun of it with its election-like tone of voice:

Film 1: "Today the French don't debate anymore, neither do they exchange ideas. Families stopped talking to each other. Generations don't understand each other... We must reengage the dialog. Therefore France needs places to meet up, France needs personalised and user-friendly kitchens. So with Ikea say Yes to change, vote Ikea"

Film 2: "Today France is reluctant, France does not move forward, France lacks of energy. France is fed up, and yes France is grumbling, France is tired... It needs to wake up, but to proceed it must first sleep well. It needs comfortable and well-conceived bedrooms. So with Ikea say Yes to a dynamic France, vote Ikea".

Interesting enough, the way advertising plays on the current crisis is completely different to how it tackled the late 70s'. Back then, France was in a poor condition due to the petrol embargo which endangered the entire economy. But one advert called for the revolt, and its line remains anchored in the collective unconsciousness even nowadays: "In France we don't have oil, but we have ideas". Slightly patronizing I reckon, but drastically different to the current communications... A hail to hope, uplift, and positive attitude towards adversity.

Spleen and Ideal.

But it goes beyond advertising. Let's have a look at music. The French musical scene has been recently taken over by artists who are probably greater Prozac advocates than crowd entertainers. Think of Vincent Delerm, of Benjamin Violay, of Carla Bruni (to be heard here)... Great texts, but what a mood!

It is like we were back to Baudelaire's time when The Ugly was Beautiful and Melancholy a highly-rated art de vivre. And as a matter of fact, one of the most acclaimed art exhibition in 2006 in France was dedicated Mélancolie.

Ron Mueck's over-realistic sculpture of human beings... A high time in Melancholy exhibition.

Greater Britain?

Since I moved to the UK, I have paid strong attention my host mood. I was wondering whether they would share this disenchantment with us. And they are... On December 31st, the Sunday Times published a YouGov poll on Britons' prospect in life. And the results have been introduced by the title: "Britons happier, but not with Britain". And this had nothing to do with their heavy defeat against Australia in The Ashes, it is a deeper situation:

Although people appear to be satisfied with their personal well being, they seem thoroughly fed up with rudeness, bad language and loutish behaviour, which they claim have contributed to Britain's decline over the past five years.

This survey revealed that 55% of the population considered having had a bad year in 2006...

The fear of change.

And the results of this trend seem to be embodied in the loss of a proper cultural identity. Sounds familiar to the French readers of this post? Well it is. The questions raised about society evolutions are always accompanied with reluctance and doubts. Will we lose our identity? Will I have my place in the new environment?

But change is good. It's like fresh air, it allows expanding your perspectives as long as you are ready to accept and maybe leverage them.

So my dear fellows. Cheer up...


Talking about stereotypes

Stereotypes are an easy vehicle for communication because they are shortcuts. They allow hyperbolas. When you have a story to tell in 30 seconds, the length of an average TV commercial, you are keen on means to optimise your time.

But as every shortcut, stereotypes lose a great deal of information by reducing a great diversity to an average or distorted image...

Beheaded people dancing in the Glass Gallery of Versailles Castle... Treated like Royalty!

And talking about cutting short (sorry, for the poor joke), here is a campaign micro-website for Paris, aimed at British tourists... It obviously plays on loads of stereotypes since it is a guide to cop the "Parisian attitude". So enjoy and have fun!


Voulez-vous convoler avec moi?

In this blog, I have already mentioned at length the ambiguous relationship between France and the UK. But if I were to refer to a recent press release, it would seem that I under-estimated this bond.

In this
article, you can indeed read that both countries once evoked a wedding...

Some archivists have sourced an amazing document from the late 50s that could be seen as a pre-nup draft contract. France was then struggling with Independentists in Algeria, and the Suez Crisis was at its paroxysm. Government leader, M. Nollet, investigated in 1956 a possible union of both countries to find a favourable issue. If this idea was rapidly cast aside, the possibility of France joining the Commonwealth had a slightly longer life.

Reactions on both sides of the Channel are interesting. If everyone agrees that this confidential approach was born-dead or even a political manoeuvre to sort out the crisis in the Middle-East, it seems that there is also a consensus on the fact that this awkward document is another brilliant evidence of centuries of tight inter-relations.

It also opens a wide array of possibilities that will never happen... TimesOnline starts its list with the following:

If only we'd got it together...
- Britain would still have a thriving car industry
- The trains might just run on time
The Channel Tunnel, an idea first mooted in the 1750s and developed by the Victorians, would have been opened at least 20 years earlier
- The end of disputes about “champagne” made in Sussex and Somerset brie
- Arsenal would stop fielding a team full of “foreigners” and England would have won the World Cup more than once
- The empire would grow from a handful of small islands to a slightly larger handful of small islands
- Tales of SAS derring do would include attacks on Greenpeace ship.

The list is endless, so let your imagination work... and get the best of two worlds. On the other hand, this reminds me a frightening anecdote.

Albert Einstein was starting to gain a certain international recognition for his work when he started to receive all sorts of propositions. One of them was from a beautiful model who wrote him: "With your intelligence and my beauty, our children could only be ideally armed to success". He rejected her proposal, replying that he was afraid their heirs could inherit from her intelligence and his beauty!!!

There are always two sides to a medal, so don't look back. Old love stories must sometimes remain memories. Who knows? The long-expected honey moon might be ahead. Or even happening now.


Bite the apple.

When you work in Advertising, you witness everyday a cultural choc. And it happens on the agency desks!

On the one hand, fun-loving creative minds and their Mac. On the other, the supposebly boring account servicing staff, forced to adopt PCs to ideally interface with their beloved clients...

You probably know this series of ads by Apple, but I cannot resist to the temptation to share this one with you (maybe this is a backlash to my former experience as HP Account Manager):

But the breaking news today is that there are more clashes to be expected, and not only in agencies... But in housholds, in schools, in public transportation. Because now that Apple has announced the launch of its iPhone, one of the most wide-spread technological device alongside TV sets is about to experience a revolution...

Or will that be a failure? After all, the specifications are nice (huge tactile display, user-friendly interface) but why have they compromised on the camera, and where are the 3G features? Will they be able to seduce the networks? Will the usual first generation bugs jeopardize the initial appeal?

I would however bet on the Success, the success of Design, of Iconic Brand and to a certain extend of Showing Off. Too bad it comes so late, I would have known what to ask Santa...

International F.C.

Two quotes to start this post, both picked up from this brilliant book that I strongly recommend to any football and/or photography lovers: "One Love".

"Everything I have learned about human morality and duty I've learned from football" Albert Camus
"In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team" Jean-Paul Sartre

A common ground.

Beyond the evoked duality of football being a school of life with its up and down sides, the beauty of this sport is its sociological implications. It is indeed a fantastic mean to bring two nations on a same field, without it being a battle field. Of course there are tensions, but football can create a bridge between cultures... and be the source of inspiration of some very good creative work!

Before a Copa Libertadores opposition between Argentina and Brazil, an Argentinean condom company came up with the first ad to show the Brazilians what they were going to do to them. Brazil won the match and their Football organization replied to the ad... Hard tackle!

The Iberian peninsula and its traditional rivalry... A simple though great ad for TVE, the national Spanish broadcaster, before the match Spain vs. Portugal.

And finally an ad for a detergent as a testimonial of Germany reborn pride.

The round revolution

Having lived in this country during my student years, I indeed experienced an inferiority complex among the younger generations. They were living with the burden of their country's past. It was as if, somehow, being proud of your German nationality was dubious...

The recent World Cup probably contributed to a certain mindset evolution. But is this really a surprise? After all, as Che Guevara once said, "It is not just a simple game, it is a weapon of the revolution".

Note: many thanks to AdsOfTheWorld.com for the quality and the depth of its sources.


Shoot the stereotypes

There is one thing that I like about stereotypes: it is when they are proven wrong by the person that is supposed to be the most obvious representative... An example?

The archetype of stereotypes

If I say "American basketball player who decides to launch its own brand of performance sneakers", what do you think? Again! Yet another overpaid sportsman looking for the big bucks with signature products, walking on the path of all-time idol Michael Jordan!

Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett... The list of NBA players who are trying to fly at MJ23's heights is long, but one stands out in my eyes. Stephon Marbury. If you are not a NBA addict, you might have never heard of this Georgia Tech alumni who played for the Timberwolves, the Jets, the Suns and currently the Knicks. But this player is the stereotype of the American (sport) Dream.

He grew up as the sixth of seven children in the impoverished projects of Coney Island, accessed College thanks to his athletic skills, to finally join the elite of basketball in 1996. He was then 19 and a bad boy was released on the Northern American playgrounds... So when he decides to launch his own sports brand you can already picture the motivations. Starbury, the bad boy brand. The Ghetto Sneakers.

Breaking another rule.

But you are wrong. The tough guy had memory, and decided to break the classical sport brand paradigm. You can read here an extensive article about the launch of Starbury by Pr. Mark Ritson. But in a few words, here is the disruption: there is a massive discrepancy between the price of signature products and the economical reality their target consumers were facing. How can you pay $100-200 for a pair of shoes when you already struggle to survive? So Marbury decided to launch a new brand that would at last market affordable sport gears, like basket shoes at $15, 10 times cheaper than other signature products.

Never deny your origins

The Marbury example reminded me Zinedine Zidane's initiative, when after winning the 1998 world cup and the 2000 European Championship, he decided to endorse the communication of hard-discounter Leader Price.

He then explained that it was his way to pay back. His family and friends have been Leader Price customers, and they deserved to be proud of it... In that sense, he contributed to a major shift of perception. Nowadays doing your groceries at a hard discounter is no longer a shame, an evidence of your financial difficulties, of you belonging to the struggling class. It is now a proof of consumption wisdom. Why pay more for an identical product?

Marketers would argue about the value of the brand, its quality engagement, etc. But this post does not intend to debate on the subject. My point is that no matter how your life evolves, you must remain true to your origins.

This post, like this blog, is a tribute to those who never forgot where they are from.


Higher, Faster, Stronger... Wiser!

Back in time.

YouTube is a fantastic entertainment tool, it is also an amazing time capsule. I often browse this social site for professional reasons, and consequently save ads in my favourites. Most of the chosen ones reflect obvious creative excellence, in terms of strategy, of execution, and often both.

But sometimes these commercials just reflect an instant. They appeal to the moment. And when you look back, you question why you ever liked them. Just like this jumper forgotten in a drawer which suddenly emerges from the pile and makes you wonder why you have ever paid a cent for it...

Sport oecumenism.

That is exactly what happened with these commercials for FOX Sports (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I remember them reigning in advertising festival in 2001-2002 and finding them absolutely hilarious. However when I reconsider them today, I cannot help feeling uneasy. No doubt there is still fun implied by these absurd scenes, but my concern lies in the signature.

"News from the only region you care. Yours."

This sounds extremely self-centred, irrespective of the other countries, their traditions and cultures. In a sense absolutely opposite to what sport should stand for. Sport relays beautiful human values like respect, fair-play, self-achievement, performance... It opens minds and lowers barriers.

French karateka, Laurence Fisher, celebrating with Afghan athletes during an exchange initiative organised by Sports Without Frontiers Association. More info here.

Sport is an allegory of life, a bond between cultures, and should be hailed for that. It should not be the vehicle of some kind of ignorance or obscurantism. So next time in the US, do not push the button for FOX Sports channel. Push-up instead!

Season greetings

This is the time of the year. Or in fact it is in France.

I recently realised that English and French do not place the same emphasis on the season greetings. And this took shape in the pile of Christmas cards that I have received or sent like this one.

Hopefully I have not offended any of my new local friends. Someone who might have not received a card before December 25th... But the thing is, I am not used to send cards for Christmas, simply because in France... you don't. You save your stamps for the Cartes de Voeux ("wishing cards").

They are cards you send in the early days of January to wish all the best to your relatives, friends or business relations for New Year. And by "the best" we mean, amongst other, wealth, success, health, happiness, prosperity, etc. This is part of the tradition. There is even some kind of an unofficial deadline to send your cards, and it is on January 15th. After this date, well, you could be considered a cad.

So let me seize this opportunity to wish you, dear reader, une excellente année 2007, a wonderful 2007. May it bring you all you expect, and beyond.


Her hair, his hair, our hair...

Swedish massage, French manicure, Brazilian or even Hollywood waxing... The lexicon of beauty is full of references to cultures. Hence to differences.

Beauty norms do evolve geographically, and thankfully over time.

Ad for Playboy Brazil by BBH

And yet finally, thanks to Philips and Tribal DDB, humanity has done another great leap forward. Shaving may still be a cultural manifestation, but it can no longer be held for an example of sexual discrimination. Men and women are now finally really equals when it comes to facing the blade of a razor...