The Story 2017

As someone interested in research, and as a human being, it’s probably fair to assume that you think empathy is a good thing.

But increasingly it has come in for questioning. Philosopher Paul Bloom recently called out its distorting effects on our judgement; the way it leads us to favour the individual over the majority, the way it appeals to emotion rather than reason. If we want to do good, he argues, we should exercise ‘rational compassion’.

The refugee crisis has made this debate more relevant than ever: should we follow our hearts and accept as many as we can, or is a more hard-headed approach, ultimately, the best solution for everyone?

While the debate rolls on, The Story 2017 – an annual conference celebrating stories and storytelling – provided several welcome reminders of the power of empathy. But one talk in particular stood out for me.   

Clara Westaway Gaggero, from design and innovation agency Special Projects, talked us through the steps she and her team went through to solve the knottiest of briefs: how to engage ‘old people’ with smart phones. After hanging out with them in their natural habitats (the bingo hall…the care home…) and listening to their experiences of technology, they realised that the common perception of old people as technological refuseniks simply wasn’t true; they wanted to harness the power of smart phones but they were falling at the first huddle – the ‘unboxing’.

Unlike you or I, older people don’t tear the phone out of the packaging and work it out for themselves. They actually read the instructions (I know…). If you’ve ever taken the time to read them for yourself, you would know that phone instructions are not the easiest to follow – hence so many older people are deterred.

Clara and her team focussed their energies on simplifying this part of journey and devised a dazzlingly simple and intuitive solution: a book in which each page represents a step in the set-up process, with the phone housed neatly inside. Check it out here to see it in all its glory.

With empathy at the heart of their approach, Special Projects arrived at a solution with potential to transform the lives of older people.  

Empathy may not be an unalloyed good where politics is concerned – and it is right that we contest its merits. But as a research tool, it is invaluable. Special Projects’ work with old people provides an inspiring reminder of that value.     

Woman legs in different shoes

The Super Bowl: is all publicity good publicity?

Controversy has always been a sure-fire way to get noticed and so it will come of little surprise that in 2017, in the dawn of Trump’s America, politics is the topic of choice. It’s guaranteed to get people talking about your brand – although often loudly, and potentially while spitting nails. With celebrations of multiculturalism, diversity, and America’s history as an asylum of the ‘tired, poor and huddled masses’ abound in this season’s commercial line-up, we saw other advertisers make overt political commentary with a story of Mexican immigrants stuck behind a towering wall, and even quips at the President Trump’s ‘do.

But while these brands have certainly received praise for their efforts – and probably gained a new set of fans from those who have taken these adverts to be salutes to tolerance and progress – they have simultaneously alienated swathes of Americans who took to social media to vent their outrage.

Does any brand plan to wake up the morning after the launch of a multimillion dollar campaign to see their brand trending on twitter with #boycott written in front of it?

Considering the amount of vitriol these brands are now receiving, it will be fascinating to watch how these campaigns will affect their sales. Will this year’s Super Bowl commercial break act as a controlled experiment to finally figure out whether “all publicity is good publicity”?

Here are some of the offenders – (or favourites, depending on which side of the wall fence you sit on): 

AirBnb’s “We Accept” ad had a clear message of tolerance to some, but was seen as a defiant statement against President Trump’s policies to others

Audi managed to get themselves on the #boycott list with an advert stating that they have a workplace policy of gender equality.

Budweiser told the story of one of its founders’ (Busch) journey of immigration to the USA – the ambiguity of its message proved divisive.

Coca-Cola has re-aired their highly controversial from 2014, where America The Beautiful was sung in different languages.

It’s a 10 haircare makes a tongue-in-cheek jibe at a certain politician’s barnet.

84 Lumber perhaps sparked the biggest debate of them all with this delicately filmed homage to those who attempt to cross America’s borders.

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 10.59.08


(Image: Budweiser 2017.)

I’m just browsing…

Technological advances, and the growing popularity of social media, are changing consumer shopping behaviour and creating major implications for the fashion industry. Brands and retailers no longer have the power they once had.

But what does this mean for high street fashion brands competing for consumer attention in an increasingly busy marketplace both on and offline?

Online has opened consumers’ eyes to a huge world of choice. Social media has eased the process of inspiration to purchase. More sophisticated online visual shopping from the ASOS catwalk to augmented reality has bought consumers closer to products online. And the likes of Amazon Prime same-day delivery has set expectations for push-button shopping.

The continuous posting about daily lives on social media has given rise to greater pressures to adopt the latest trends and to constantly replenish wardrobes. You can no longer be seen wearing the same thing twice! Peer-to-peer consumerism through apps like Depop – where consumers can buy and sell fashion at second hand prices – means that ‘fast fashion’ is more disposable than ever. It doesn’t stop there; dozens of fashion companies have entered the sharing economy fray, providing consumers with rental sites giving access to items that are either only needed for one-off occasions, or are highly expensive and considered out-of-reach of mainstream consumers.

Consumers with more spending power and choice (but less commitment) are forcing fashion retailers to meet their demands through competitive pricing, providing instant access to the latest trends and a seamless omni-channel experience.