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Planes, Planes and Researchers – Review of ‘Skyfaring’

Planes, Planes and Researchers – Review of ‘Skyfaring’

skyfaring feature

‘Skyfaring’ is a memoir and meditation on air travel and flight published earlier this year, written by working pilot, former consultant and New York Times contributor, Mark Vanhoenacker.

It instantly caught my attention as a title for obvious work reasons (I bought it with my company birthday voucher, no less!). We spend an awful lot of time on planes in our line of work and few won’t have found themselves straying into metaphysical ruminations on flying on the way back from a piece of research (gin helps, too).

Flight is, once one puts aside the mundaneness and routine, still remarkable, mind-boggling and – from what we see from high up – often stunningly beautiful (give or take that approach to Heathrow). The experience and the very idea of waking up in Moscow and going to bed in Chicago can still inspire child-like awe. I still feel this, so when I read that a pilot had written about it from his underreported angle, I wanted to know exactly what he made of it all.

The book is a strong proposition and Vanhoenacker has a gift for the metaphysical and the lyrical which will inevitably stand out among what I imagine is a straight-talking, overwhelmingly Alpha Male peer group (globally, only 3% of commercial pilots are women). I have pilots down as officer-like and ‘good in a crisis’ (code for ‘rarely does small talk’). They’re one profession where an upper class accent can still sound, oh, timelessly reassuring and plain right. Mark Vanhoenacker isn’t like that: he loves flying and he loves to talk about the spectacle and the wonder.

Alas, the book didn’t quite, er, take off for me. There are reams of wonderment and awe; the quiet beauty of the earth ever peeking through the cockpit window. But it felt light on many aspects I wanted to hear about. It reminded me of well-preserved copies of the National Geographic. Volcanoes and spectacle in brilliant double-page colour; not much about people. It’s dislocated and a little ‘removed’, almost. There’s something of the lone warrior about that pilot.

I entirely buy into (and now use) the writer’s notion of what he describes as ‘place lag’. This is the disorientating cousin of jet lag that makes us feel thrown by being picked up and placed in another part of the world, leaving the events of the morning seeming like they happened many months ago. I also totally felt the author’s awe in the miracle of flight. I used to be someone who hated flying and now feels unbelievably privileged to have lived in an age where Moscow is a bit of a drag and San Francisco can feel like a trip to Brighton. I don’t get scared anymore. We were at Alton Towers a few weeks ago and teenagers were fearlessly raising their arms on the rides (I learned that this means that they’re so brave they don’t need to hold on). I still feel like doing that on landing sometimes.

There are also plenty of enjoyable nuggets on how pilots and aviation map the planet – thinking not of countries but of nodes and corridors. There’s particular fun to be had in the names of the territories and ‘waypoints’ they use to navigate. Leaving Australia, you may pass through three ‘waypoints’ named WALTZ, INGMA and TILDA. The ‘dirty meat’ trend is being flexed around Kansas with waypoints called BARBQ, SPICY, SMOKE, RIBBS and BRISKT. (Disappointingly, there are no waypoints over England named DREADFL, OVER, BOILD and VEG).

But a book like this could have been more. I wanted to know about the weight of human responsibility a pilot bears. About the effect of 9/11 and air disasters on how pilots feel. The human cargo. A little more heart.

Then again, perhaps the whole point about pilots is that they do need to be that little bit… distant and clinical. It’s probably an advantage to all of us on board (including the nervous insomniac in 23C, sandwiched between the teething infant twins and the septuagenarian pilgrim). That pilot is in control. He loves his job. He’s so confident about his human cargo, he’s not even contemplating us. Sit back and rest easy, noble researcher-consultant. And write up your notes.

Research in Africa: a whistle stop tour

Research in Africa: a whistle stop tour

River has just got back from a whirlwind tour of South, Central and Sub Saharan Africa. We’ve talked Food, TV, Drinks and Technology. It’s been fun, exhausting, eye-opening and inspiring. A lot of trips follow the dull route of “hotel, cab, meetings and repeat”. But not Africa – Africa always has the ability to surprise you.   If you get the chance we highly recommend you go….

 

Here’s some of our favourite moments.

 

Nigeria:

I spent an extortionate amount of money updating my Yellow Fever and Typhoid vaccinations prior to travelling, only to then leave my medical card in my other passport (yes I have two!). When I arrived at Lagos Airport there were signs everywhere “no entry without vaccination card”. When I informed the helpful person at the health screening booth that I didn’t have my card he very nicely showed me to his office, where after a brief discussion and a small donation to a charity of his choice, I was fast tracked right through the immigration queue and waved on my way. So helpful of him! Ironically, this donation was substantially lower than what I paid for my vaccinations in London!

Africa 1

Unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time for a much needed hair cut

 

But Nigeria is a great place to do research. It’s populous, growing economically, and consumers know what they want. Research may not go like clockwork, but when it starts, consumers are all too ready to help deconstruct and reconstruct whatever you put in from of them. Don’t get put off by stories of low internet connectivity either, we’ve done plenty of online communities with consumers in Nigeria as well – where’s there’s a will there’s always a way.

 

Angola

Angola gave us the true pleasure of traveling to Cacuaco, just outside of Lluanda, through shanty towns and country roads, where we saw the famous Big Ship Graveyard – a shoreline of tankers and super tankers either shipwrecked or abandoned and left to rust away with time. My client and I strolled down the white sandy beach (strewn with litter) observing the fallen majesty of discarded and disembowelled sea faring monsters. It’s a sight I’ll never forget.

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Back in research world we were interviewing TV viewers – females in the 20-40 category. Each entered the room more glamourous than the next – all too happy to tell us their stories and show us their public faces (and handbags). Angolan women really do glamour very well!

 

 

The Democratic Republic of Congo

We arrived in Kinshasa and went straight to the hotel only to find a very large military presence and an array of government dignitaries aligned in the entrance ready and waiting to salute us. As impressed as I was with our Operations’ team ‘concierge service’ I felt this was a bit over the top. It was only later I found out we were five minutes ahead of the arrival of the President who came to the hotel most days to go for a jog. Our route to the fieldwork a little later was obstructed by the tank placed in the carpark, but nothing gets in the way of River undertaking fieldwork!   Well, actually the local police did a little later when the local clients were ‘detained’ for taking photo’s of the Congo River. However, a small donation to a local charity later and the schedule was restored to normal service.

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The Congo River as seen from Kinshasa. Take photos very quickly!

 

The DRC is full of charm and character, a French speaking enclave that embodies the African spirit of optimism and resourcefulness.   We were warmly greeted whereever we went, and look forward to going back.

 

South Africa

What do you do after four days of intense fieldwork in Jo’burg? – Take the client on safari to the Rustenburg game park of course and on the way back stop at a brewery in Soweto for beer, a lot of local banter, and some highly drunken table tennis.

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No Tigers, but plenty of Lions…

And beers…

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Oh my!

As hoped, but still surprising, was the spirit of progress inherent in SA consumers. Whilst looking to the West for inspiration, National pride was paramount and a sense of a positive outlook for the future of the country created a warm backdrop for any discussion.

 

Tanzania

A week of fieldwork in Dar was blighted with thunderous rainstorms which unfortunately had the disastrous consequences of bringing the roads and phone networks to a standstill. Despite our first group starting an impressive 3 hours late, the relaxed and generous attitudes of our Tanzanian respondents was inspiring, with most wanting to stay longer to chat than the scheduled two hours as they were enjoying the discussion so much. Luckily, the clouds finally broke after the final group and River was able to enjoy a quick celebratory beer by the pool.

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Ghana

Ghana is, as the stats will tell you, one of Africa’s most promising economic growth stories. River was there this year on a project researching technology and telecoms and was once again impressed by the embrace of technology and the accomplished juggling of phones and networks by everyday consumers. “I’ve got more Sim cards than you’ve had hot dinners”, we were told in Accra. Which is true – especially as a vegetarian traveller (in much of Africa). Telecoms advertising is everywhere. WhatsApp has long been a primary means of contact for everyday business – something only recently being seen in a place like the UK.  Why not use it more? It’s how most of us are messaging.

 

Now, we often get a particular sense of accomplishment ‘on location’ when we learn (or steal) a new local phrase or word that inescapably spells out the national context. Word one for Ghana is ‘Dumsor’ (meaning ‘off-on’) , the rather playful sounding term used to describe the all-too-regular national problem of power cuts (not ‘playful sounding’ if you’re trying to run a hairdressing business or a garage, as I learn). The other is ‘Drop that Yam’ – the sparky strapline for a mobile network campaign that has entered the vernacular (and you won’t get more African for a veggie than a yam, right?). It originally referred to getting rid  of your bulky mobile handset, but can now refer to ditching unreliable partners and ineffective politicians. ‘Drop that Yam’. Perhaps we should start using it for unsuccessful product concepts or ad executions.  It’s refreshingly blunt, I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

Here’s the ad.

 

So what we learned:

  • River drinks a lot of beer!
  • Relax – things will happen – just in a different order and slightly different time to what you may be expecting
  • Avoid elections – You really don’t want to be trying to get across town on polling day!
  • Always look for policemen before taking photographs
  • Be prepared to laugh – our partners are people too!
  • Bring your own HD video cameras – and a sound mic!
  • ‘Everyone’ is online (Or at least Gens X and Y – thanks to the networks and Facebook zero rating data for Facebook). So social media is a key marketing activity
  • Cultures are changing. Women in particular are demanding a more equal place in society, and attitudes are progressing
  • Fashion and beauty really motivate female consumers. Marketing which provides a cultural window and stimulate ideas is highly effective
  • Western products still symbolise status and are aspired to greatly
  • But reality prevails – limited supply of goods and services, infrastructure issues, and informal bureaucracy can impact on things getting done properly. Brace yourself for what will be a unique experience.
  • And drop any Yams you may be carrying

 

To see more about River’s travel and International research experience please click here: http://www.riverresearch.net/?p=4589

 

Come and join us on our next adventure.

 

Dive in!

Guinness is Golden for You?

Guinness is Golden for You?

For several years now Diageo has been trying, with mixed success, to stretch the Guinness brand into new product territories, with previous shortlived innovations including Guinness Red, Brite and Light.

We’ve debated in the past why these launches haven’t endured, with some feeling that the brand can’t and shouldn’t be stretched too far away from what Guinness is at its core. While this instinct be right, I can’t help but hope that it’s wrong. If you compare Guinness to Apple (as most things are these days), they didn’t just stop with the iPod breakthrough and settle for being the ‘best music provider’.

So, when we think about ‘Guinness’, what are the first things that spring to mind? Irish? Old? Heavy? Creamy? Tasty? Premium? Unmistakable?

At its core, Guinness is that thick and creamy dry stout, typically associated (St Patrick’s Day aside) with middle-aged to older gentlemen, country pubs and any season that isn’t Summer. When we look at shandy, light lagers or even ciders, can we say the same?

Guinness of course has long-standing history in the category, and is a largely unrivalled stout. Ultimately, the brand attributes all build to a rich, distinguishable product, arguably giving Guinness the credibility to expand into other beer types – but perhaps not into lighter beers. At least, not until now.

The gap between dark and light beers is undeniably large and their consumption occasions often different, but their audiences are very different too – as well as their relationship with and perceptions of the brand. When we look at ‘lighter’ beer consumers, their drivers and influencers, the behavioral change that we’re asking of them to step Guinness’s way is huge and demanding.

But while Diageo’s attempts at lighter Guinness beers have faltered in the past, we shouldn’t write them off forever. Recently, they’ve been riding that Craft Beer ‘trend-wagon’ in the middle ground, and to some considerable success. Their previous campaign, the ‘Brewers Project’, launched the Dublin Porter and Guinness West Indies Porter – both of which are said to have generated considerable boosts in figures. Both mined the heritage of Guinness; brewers digging through the archives and sifting through old recipe books to re-invent something spectacular. It stood up.

The most recent creation however is more daring and is capturing our attention more – the Golden Ale.

The ad itself feels almost magical; the Willy Wonka style gates evoke a sort of childhood nostalgia and secrecy – we’re being exclusively invited in behind the scenes. We’re invited to join in with the discovery of a product; it feels fun yet scientific – an adventure. The premium cues come through strongly, with the advert drawing on pride, worth and uniqueness – all existing and universally recognized brand attributes. The rest of the advert plays out the consumption occasions for the new beer. It differentiates the new product from the existing Guinness range, nicely defining the time and place of consumption for the new target audience; sharing, friends, summer. Great execution.

Could it provide that much needed bridge for Diageo between Guinness and light beers and their audiences – and open the gates to further innovation for Guinness?

Well, the innovation itself feels bold enough to capture attention (notably the colour and texture) and holds on to enough Guinness brand equity to feel meaningful (ale, not lager/shandy/cider). It also interests me how Diageo have positioned this beer locally. In the UK it’s an Ale – but in reality it’s closer than most to a Blonde Lager, which (coincidentally) is how it’s positioned in the US.

But is the idea of a Guinness Ale distinctive and compelling enough to take a slice of the vibrant, discerning, craft ale category (where unfamiliar names are the order of the day)? Perhaps. At the very least, it’s a smart way to get a quick piece of the ale action, without building a new-to-world brand – and it probably does no harm at all to the parent, the noble ‘Black Stuff’. Currently, Guinness-the-parent is all about being ‘Made of More’. Arguably, a Golden Ale reinforces that ‘More’ claim.

Give it time. New, younger brand ambassadors for the Golden Ale may emerge and Guinness may earn more license to stretch further into ‘lighter’ spaces. In my household at least, that Golden Ale story provoked plenty of curiosity – so it’s now on the shopping list for our next trip. Let’s hope it passes the taste test. Safe…