Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Avast behind and a dangerous future

The cruise industry is looking at 8-20% predicted growth but even as it does so, the sun is setting for the cruise.

The problem: The industry and its customers are aging. On the average ship three quarters of the passengers will be over 65 years old. This growth is fueled by the aging of the US and the UK.

The cruise is attracting people who grew up in the golden days of stylish and adventurous cruises of the 1930s to 60s and now find themselves with time and money to spare in their retirement.
But now this reliance on older passengers is steering the industry into dangerous waters. As the industry rushes to cater to today's older audience they are creating a very dubious future for the cruise:

A floating care home. That'll be just the image the industry needs.
As the people who can actually remember the glory days of cruises dwindle this is the image the new potential passengers inherit. Soon this will be the defining image of the cruise. And this is the danger amid the success. Yes, the UK and the US are an aging society so you're looking at increasing numbers of potential customers but we are now also an aging society in denial. Nobody wants to feel old, especially the elderly. Seniors are in revolt against relegation and ghettoisation. The cruise industry can cash in on this watery Logan's Run now but the new generation of senior citizens won't want to go - for a start they have second homes in Hawaii and Spain to go to, thank you. As for the younger consumer, their interest will be lost forever.

And we don't have to wait til then, the cruise today already is looking pretty elderly. Its aesthetics are all wrong. In the past the cruise industry represented glamour. Look what we have today:

Exhibit A: cruise liner names, reminiscent of pizza variants and drag queens. The language of attempted glamour, now rendered kitsch.

Exhibit B: the cruise liner offering - a floating Guildford. A provincial main street on water. Cruises replicate home in an age where people want new and exciting locations.

Glamour now belongs to destination hotels with names like Banyan Tree, W, St Martins Lane and The Met because which provide unique and stylish experiences.
Cruises need a major refit to regain their glamour. How about a week on a Philippe Starck designed cruise liner? Or floating through the Carribean in a chic Thai-style spa? Sounds more like it eh?

Next up Cruises need to rethink their offering to fit with today's lifestyle and make the most of the bound location. What will make staying on board make sense?Howw about self-improvement cruises? Weight loss cruises? Career mentoring cruises? Soap-opera marathon cruises? Plastic surgery cruises? Wellbeing cruises?

The cruise industry also needs new destinations. A vital part of cruises' past glamour were the exotic destinations. How about cruises to today's hip destinations?Morocco? Kerala? Iceland? New York? Tokyo? Shanghai? The cruise needs to rediscover its adventurous spirit.

And in the short term the cruise industry needs to find some cool friends. They should use co-branding to attract younger audiences and challenge the imagery around cruises. What about a FHM cruise? a Vogue Cruise? a Nike Cruise? a Ministry of Sound cruise? a Prada Cruise? a Play Station cruise? a Virgin (the brand, that is) cruise? They might not be long term loyalty builders but they would challenge people's preconceptions about who cruises are for.

Another approach: look to new markets
China's economy is booming and people are looking at new ways to spend an increasing disposable income. People are also looking for status and new experiences.
Cruises in the past rose with the emerging middle classes so why don't they follow the rise of new middle class in the East?

The Chinese want something exotic too and in China the Queen Mary 2 will be foreign and exciting. Play up the western heritage, keep prices high for exclusivity and status, make gourmet food your focus and fit karaoke rooms.
Say 'ni hao' to a younger audience and a lease of life.

There's two routes back to open water for cruises:

Change to be more enticing to the modern holiday maker or go east to find a new generation of admirers.
Otherwise the industry is looking at retirement and its own scrapyard care home.

finding your inner nerd

Design Barcode, a Japanese design company, have given barcodes "a fun and beautiful makeover, while keeping its functional utility intact". They have created endless designs but this is one is my favourite.
oh, how i love this. This is what makes Japan so special: pure, undiluted, focused perfectionism. Yes, Japan is cool, sooo modern, efficient, in touch with tradition etc but it is its fixation with perfection that makes it rock; shops that specialise in only one type of ramen in one type of broth, restaurant toilets with toilet roll whose free end is folded into a triangle for each new user, changing cubicles with fold out platforms to step onto when getting dressed so you don't have to stand on the (conceptually dirty) floor, flower-shaped sweets available only in seasonally appropriate blooms. Little moments of total attention to detail, like this company created with the sole aim to correct that barcode blot on the packaging landscape.

This obsession with detail means that Japan is a nation of nerds. Nerds get really into a subject, nerds have strong opinions about what is wrong and right about minutiae and nerds care. Design barcode are nerds as only a design nerd would spend time on this sort of thing and yet look at the loveliness of the result - suddenly the binary code for 100Y wasabi flavoured noodles becomes Niagra Falls. Genuis. And its this Nerdism that makes Japan cool. My Nickledeon creative guru friend Alex was just talking about this the other day - that its important to tap into your inner nerd because that's where your creative motivations and inspirations come from. I think she's right, that obsessively caring and thinking about one subject brings unexpected pay offs - look at Steve Jobs and his font nerdism, Innocent and their fruit nerdism. Good things happen when nerds do things.

Barcode Design won the Titanium award at Cannes. A Japanese design house winning an award for the integrated marketing campaign for a series of barcodes. You couldn't make it up.
See more of their work at

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ball point pen with easy to use features

Reminiscent of positioning boards with just too much functional information, this blue ball point pen scores well on bold, bright colours but the 'easy to use features' appear to encompass a) being able to hold it b) being able to write with it.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Make do and mend

mending things. That's a concept disappearing in the west. When does anyone under 70 mend something? But in markets where few people can afford to continuously dispose of belongings the 'make do and mend' ethic is alive and well. That means durability is a big selling point and being easy to repair or refit should be intrinsic to a product's design to help owners extend products' lifespan easily. Ironically though, in these markets being robust and resilient are overlooked in advertising as brands are too busy trying to be 'dynamic', 'advanced' and sexy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

nothing says 'nursery' like a paratrooper

Now, of all the things I would use to decorate a kindergarten entrance I don't think I would ever settle on parachuting soldiers. Admittedly, his parachute is decorated with a fruit motif but I'm still not convinced about the relevance of the subject matter. Reminds me of too many adverts that hope that 'styling' will make up for lack of relevancy in their ideas.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

washed away

The daubed chinese character in the circle is the character for demolition, a ubiquitous sight in regenerating China. This constant knocking-down-rebuilding is creating a whole new form for describing locations, all involving temporal terms; "It's just south of where it just to be", "It's now next to" "it's now opposite". The city is almost tidal, one month flows out and everything's left rearranged.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Looks familiar?

A local fast food brand has worked out the powerful semiotic link between elderly gentlemen with small ties and junk food. An example of how a successful brand identity is copied because, well, its famous. Brand differentiation you say? But why be different when you can look like something that you know is successful? How will people know you're good unless you look like a brand everybody already knows is good? this is the mentality IP defenders have to tackle in China.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

intermediate products

One of my favourite things about Asia: the intermediate product. Often locally or individually created they plug a gap in people's lives by offering an affordable compromise. Here we have a classic example from China: can't afford a car? how about a bike but with some of the weather protection and passenger capacity of a car? This one even has net curtains on the windows, all the home comforts.
Makes me wonder how many brands miss out in developing markets because they don't spot the opportunity for intermediate products in their own categories.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bright Bright Future For All

Joy is unconfined as I launch my blog.