Santa Claus is coming to town…already?

My friends might call me Scrooge, but come on, it’s mid July and 30 degrees out there – the festive season is the furthest thing from my mind.

But as Hamleys release their 2010 Christmas wish list and Cadbury unveils the first of its Christmas offerings, one could be forgiven for checking their calendar!

I’m not alone in my annual grumbles about early Christmas advertising. With more moans and groans this year then ever before, the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) states on its website how it has been “receiving a steady flurry of complaints from irritated and disenchanted consumers objecting to the premature appearance of Christmas advertisements”. It seems there are a growing number of people getting fed up with the onset of Christmas advertising from about July onwards. So much so, one anti-early-Christmas campaigner calls for the ‘movement for the containment of Christmas’.

Perhaps though, the season of inappropriate advertising is a prerequisite to our ever expanding retail-driven society, with early advertising driving up demand and keeping prices reasonable by starting sales early. Or perhaps by tossing products into the public eye early, retailers are able to see what attracts the most attention.

Either way, it seems Christmas has arrived early, or, at least Christmas advertising has – and it gives everyone something to moan about.

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The power of the iPhone

If you thought the hype surrounding the iPhone was starting to settle, you’d be wrong. Like a laptop in your hand, there is something for everyone, with everything you need in one place.

Since its first release in July 2007 the Apple iPhone has been a hot commodity. Now, less than three years since its debut, hardly a day goes past without a new iPhone application popping up, attracting attention from consumers, brands and marketers alike.  My personal favourite has to be the retail apps.

Oasis was the first retailer to launch an iPhone application last summer allowing consumers to shop on the move, view latest collections and track down their closest store. It wasn’t long before other big names including Ikea and Warehouse all created software tools for consumers to download on to their mobile phones.

Most recently, Argos announced the launch of an iPhone app to take advantage of more consumers using Apple mobile devices to access its website. The application provides a ‘click and collect’ service with over 17,000 products available for in-store reservation.  

Getting the basics right is essential when it comes to developing iPhone apps. It seems the best approach for retailers to is to have a full features application where you can browse every section of the web site, every department and product, and physically buy from via the phone.

The majority of them do what it says on the tin – creating a beautiful version of their catalogues on an iPhone, not to mention providing a greener way to distribute a catalogue. Moving forward, brands that are quick to adopt and experiment will deliver consumers exactly what they need.

Clearly not a passing fad, the soaring popularity of the iPhone is set to continue and with more than 150,000 different apps currently available, rarely costing more that a few pounds to download, I’d say the more the merrier!

Brands get closer to their customers

Everyone from Vodafone to Ocado and Cadbury’s are busy chatting about how they are going to get closer to their customers. There are the older style tactics of Market research and suggestion boxes that can still serve that purpose for some brands.

And then there are the new methods. Increasingly brands want to be your friend on facebook, your follower on twitter and the keeper of your data through new schemes like yahoo-nectars loyalty that was launched in the USA 5 years ago, but has recently evolved to have more direct contact with brands including Cadbury’s who signed up earlier this week.

But how do consumers feel about these brands trying to get closer to them? Not always very happy it would seem. Gideon Spanier’s article this week in the Evening Standard highlights that consumers are still likely to view the recent developments in targeting and tracking, as they did with Phorm, negatively. The week also started with a company I was involved in as a teenager, Dubit hitting headline for their controversial use of children to help promote a variety of brands.

So the question is how can brands listen and show understanding of their customers, without being accused of snooping or abusing their position by involving children in the process?

Seth Godin recent blog What’s expected vs. what’s amazing contains one suggestion for overcoming this dilemma. Real life personalisation, where a stranger remembers your name, what you like and what they’ve talked to you about before, even when it was months ago is certainly a powerful tool.  Really it is what targeting is trying to replicate, all be it in a much more controversial manner.

Before you say it, I know this is nothing new. In fact Dale Carnegie, in his popular book How to win friends and influence people, written in the 1930s, advocates this in a number of his principles e.g. “Remember that a persons name is to that person the sweetest sound in any language”. But if you think back to an example of someone doing this to you, I’m sure you’ll agree that level of personalisation, is a brilliant form of flattery and certainly makes you more likely to respond positively. The question is how global brands can replicate this on a massive scale… and without using controversial techniques.