Open source cookies

I love it that Göteborgs Kexfabrik has put the recipe for its Bageriets Bästa cookies on the packet. It makes you feel great, like you’re trusted, like you’ve been let in on a secret. Like Kexfabriken wants to be friends.

What it doesn’t make you feel, I think, is a need to get the bowls and spoons out and start baking. That’s why this is such a great decision – you feel good about having the recipe, but it won’t make you buy less cookies. Somehow it feels like now that you have the recipe, you’re quite happy for them to do the baking.

It reminds me of a story I heard on one of my favourite radio shows, This American Life, about apologies. For a long time, there’s been a kind of taboo on doctors expressing regret about patients who die, because it was thought that it would be taken as an admission of responsibility by the relatives, and law suits would follow. Now, however, there’s a new movement that encourages doctors to express sorrow and even apologise if they were in some way involved with a failed treatment. Are relatives suing them? Quite the opposite. There are far fewer law suits over this kind of thing than there used to be. Doctors being open about their responsibility makes people less aggressive, not more. Trust is repaid with… trust.

Bageriets Bästa is a great example of this theory applied to marketing. Being open with your information doesn’t make people want to rip you off, it makes them like you. Withholding makes people resentful. In order to get your customers’ affection and loyalty, you have to trust them.

What could Kexfabriken do to live this strategy in other areas of their marketing? It seems to me that they are treating Bageriets Bästa as a separate brand to their other biscuits and cookies, which I can understand but in terms of a principle of openness as a marketing strategy, it would be better for the entire company to commit.

I’ve never been a fan of giving away product for marketing purposes, except if you’re giving to people who really really need it – for example, Procter & Gamble giving Dawn dishwashing liquid by the truckload to the oil spill cleanup effort after the Deepwater Horizon disaster (of course, the ad they got out of it must have been the most convincing dishwashing liquid ad ever made). But there’s other stuff you can give away or offer to the deserving – jobs, expertise, partnership.

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A thought on Vine

Vine is great. Everyone agrees it’s great – everyone can make movies! All you need is your index finger! It’s a revolution! Etc etc etc. The interwebs is filling up with lists of the most amazing, beautiful, funny and staggering Vines, and everyone is assuming that Vine is some sort of natural progression from Instagram, because the images move, which is of course cooler than still.

But I bet a lot of those people who are so excited about the platform haven’t actually made that many vines themselves. Because once you start, it takes you about five minutes to realise that making a great vine is hard. It takes lots of time and effort.

Everyone is predicting great things for Vine. But I wonder. Vine is not Instagram. Sure, anyone can point their phone at something funny that’s happening, and sometimes the results will be watchable. (And sometimes they will be fully average.) But only a few people are going to have the skill, the time and the patience to make those truly amazing vines that everyone is swooning over.

Vine might become more like TV, where a few skilled producers have huge audiences, but the barriers to becoming a producer yourself are actually quite high. That means that brands are going to have to collaborate with specialist producers in order to compete. Which in turn means that good viners will become the new bloggers, lending, or rather hiring, their platforms out to the highest bidder. Which means that Vine will become yet another platform that’s more about buying power than about personal expression.

Or maybe I’m wrong and everything is going to be wonderful and we’ll all be aaaaartists, man. :)

The price of relationships

A friend and I have been talking about the emotional cost of having relationships. Not just romantic ones – the relationships you have with your family, friends and colleagues also have an emotional cost. Conflict, sometimes unresolvable, is part of any relationship and living with that as best as you can costs energy and emotion. Unless you want to be a hermit, that’s the deal.

This may be a totally commonplace observation, but isn’t part of the reason that social media are so popular that they reduce that emotional cost of relationships? Not that there isn’t conflict on, for example, Facebook – anyone who’s spent any time on failbook.com knows that there’s plenty of fighting (read: flaming) out there.

But for most of us Facebook offers all the good things about relationships, with most of the bad ones left out. We can be social, have relationships, be part of a group, but the conflict is minimal, not least because positive statements, achievements, celebrations and expressions of joy form the bulk of Facebook posts. This isn’t all good, of course, there’s such things as jealousy, performance anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy.

But on the whole, I think a lot of Facebook’s appeal lies in the “cheapness” of the connection you get – even though the quality of that connection may be no more than exactly what you have paid for.

A problem well described is a problem…?

I’m finally reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and it’s good. It’s really good. It’s so good I want to ration it, but then again, another good thing about it is that it’s a really long book, so I don’t even have to.

One thing particularly impresses me, not about his writing as such but about his project. I don’t know any other writer that so reliably hits the nail on the head in describing the inner and outer conflicts that we all, no doubt, experience, but which few of us know how to define. He did the exact same thing, to devastating effect for anyone who had the least experience of being part of a family, in The Corrections. The way you both hate and love your friends, the way you can both patronize and envy your kids, the way you want to be good but keep doing bad things – Jonathan Franzen is appallingly accurate in his descriptions of these conflicts, so that you both recognise the emotions, and are able to enjoy the sense of recognition.

I find it makes me want to ask him questions. I want to ask him how I can NOT be like the people in his books. How to sort through my emotions for those who are close to me? How to avoid acting on desires I know are beneath me? How to know, truly know, my own mind? How, in short, to live? Continue reading

The friendlier face of physics

Whoever chose this picture of Nobel prize winner Saul Perlmutter to put on the television did more for the image of physics, and possibly for that of the Nobel prize too, than ten cheery pro-science educational campaigns. What a guy!

The democracy of consumption

Today I sat in McDonald’s in Nordstan and contemplated how much the place has changed since my mum took me there for treats after shopping trips when I was still small enough to take the pickles out of my burgers. The entire layout is different. Next to me, an employee was clearing tables, and I wondered how she felt about it. Had the designers of the restaurant had thought mostly about the comfort of the guests, or the staff, when doing the design?

Of course the comfort of the guests is important. But it’s equally important that the staff can move about freely, that it’s easy to clean up, and that the access to the bins and tray drop-off stations is easy, otherwise the restaurant will be congested and dirty and the customers will stay away. The needs of the staff are, possibly, as important as the customers’. But ensuring that they are able to do a good job isn’t the only reason to consider their needs. Continue reading

Tram love

Trams have been all over the news lately, due to the mysterious accident this weekend. Yesterday there was an article in the paper about a young tram driver. She loved her job, and spoke about the responsibility of driving such a huge heavy vehicle, and how people are careless because they don’t understand how difficult it is for a tram to brake and stop quickly. She said “Everyone should try driving a tram once, then they would understand what they’re dealing with“.

I think this is an excellent idea. Who hasn’t peered into the driver’s cabin on a tram and wondered what all those buttons are for, and how exactly they steer, without a steering wheel, and how the track switches work…? I am personally dead curious about this.

Forsman & Bodenfors, the excellent ad agency that works with Västtrafik, must be having a really hard time at the moment, since there has been tons of bad publicity for the company lately (due to their failure to improve a malfunctioning and unpredictable ticket system, and a purchase of new trams, most of never been seen out on the tracks on account of most of them being severely sub-standard).

I think the idea of an open day, when you get to drive a tram and a bus and learn about the technology, history and get to know the drivers, is exactly what is needed to help Västtrafik reconnect with their disgruntled customers.

It could be an annual event, a fixture on the Gothenburg calendar. Free fares for the day, open day at the tram depot, tram-driving experiences for kids and grownups, a competition to design new seat fabric or a painting for the ceiling of a tram, historic tram exhibitions, tram tours, driver recruitment with fun tests, a Guinness Book of World Records attempt at cramming the most people on board a tram (could make a funny TV spot as well), a FaceBook thing where you try to check in at as many tramstops as you can in one day… An event to make people love trams and buses again, get them excited and involved and feeling like they own their public transport system. And what better way to do that than to let them into the driver’s seat?

And of course, fix those trams and that ticketing system. First things first. THEN let people have a go at driving. And give that cute tram-driving girl a raise.

Falu Rödfärg

Falu Rödfärgs current campaign is either a total misfire or devilishly clever – either way it leaves me cold. I don’t get it. An American actor mispronouncing the name of the product? Huh?

Falu Rödfärg is a product absolutely packed with meaning. Yes, it’s old, but it is full of emotion. Falu rödfärg makes me think of home, of Sweden, of beautiful rural landscapes, of hardworking men who, even after toiling hard to build a homestead, have a little energy left over for the look of the place. Of the resourceful repurposing of a byproduct of an ancient industry. It’s a thousand postcards and amateur oilpaintings, it’s storybooks, villages, community, home. It’s identity. It’s advertising gold, surely. And all they come up with is an American actor mispronouncing Swedish, a trope that has cropped up in at least three other ads I can think of in the past few months?

Random reinforcement

One of fairly few pieces of information that has stuck with me from first-year psychology class is this: random and unpredictable reinforcement creates stronger behavioural habits than reliable, predictable reinforcement. Birds who peck a lever for a reward of grain will keep pecking for longer if they only get a grain some of the time, rather than every single time. Or, put another way, people keep buying lottery tickets not despite winning being unpredictable, but because winning is unpredictable.

When I was self-employed, I always used to break off for the day at 6pm, to watch the evening news. The news were my beckoning finish line, no matter how much work I had to do, and despite the fact that the news weren’t usually that interesting.

Why would I do that? What was I getting out of it? This morning, as I was thinking about this habit, it struck me that maybe the key to this behaviour lies in that “usually”. And it led me to ask: Do we watch the news because it provides random, unpredictable rewards? Continue reading

Stolpskott

Ett svenskt uttryck som jag ofta längtat efter en bra översättning på. Vilken härligt meningspackad metafor. “Bottennapp” är i samma klass och en annan personlig favorit.

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