Prose and Cons: Monocle, Gillete and General Motors
Tyler Brûlé has graced this column before as the global style-setter of Wallpaper* founding fame. Brûlé travels the world nowadays overseeing a respected trend spotting and branding empire. His latest, much publicised, venture is Monocle, a magazine best described as an eclectic mix of current affairs, fashion, design and literary prose (not to mention a manga section). It is part The Economist, part Vanity Fair and part The New Yorker, but, alas, if the first issue is anything to go by, not in the same league as any of those. It is thankfully free of celebrities and gossip, but doesn’t compensate by bringing up issues of notable gravitas. The cover story on the Japanese navy was particularly uninspiring, despite the pronouncements of an exclusive. And its accompanying bland cover photo belied the usual artistic inspiration of Brûlé. The B5 size is nice and the concept of dividing the magazine into five distinct sections (An A to E of Affairs, Business, Culture, Design and Edits) is great, even though it’s hard to grasp the split points and grapple with the fact that many articles straddle the labels.
The magazine is aimed at global business travellers with above average incomes and has a realistic circulation target of around 70,000 issues per month. Subscribers also get full access to a regularly updated website (www.monocle.com). I picked up my copy in Singapore, but tired of reading the narrow columns on the busy, matt paper stock pretty quickly on the flight home, despite locally themed stories on Jeff Kennett and Jetstar. It’s early days yet and I’ll give the magazine another chance before finalising my commitment; but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed with the first issue. Maybe it was trying too hard or perhaps my expectations were too high, but when I turned to the business section and saw one of the world’s biggest brands referred to as ‘MacDonald’s’ (sic) I wondered whether Monocle had just torched its credibility among some of those intelligent global-citizens it was aiming to reach.
When Gillette released a revolutionary five-blade (arguably six, if you count the single trimmer blade on the back) razor in the US last year The Economist magazine cheekily calculated that by the end of the century the 14-blade razor would be de rigueur. Shaving at that time will hopefully have been long replaced by some robotic laser procedure, although, given I am still awaiting the flying car, I won’t be putting the shaving cream away anytime soon. Gillette launched the new ‘Fusion’ razor in Australia earlier this year, but may find it hard getting the masses to upgrade despite the company’s big budget, optimism and proven track record with innovation. Motivating consumers to switch and overcome product inertia may be a major marketing issue, particularly given a recent advertisement in the US where Gillette is comparing the new model to their hugely popular MACH3 (Prose & Cons shaver of choice) and urging consumers to switch.
Gillette is arguing that eight years of innovation makes the new Fusion a better shave than its previous offering. Sorry Gillette, but I don’t buy it and if a small, totally unscientific sample I’ve conducted is reflective, neither will many other people. At around five dollars for a replacement cartridge I think the acceptable shave price-barrier has been breached. Economies of scale may bring that down, but people these days don’t accept the notion that a product is better just because an advertisement says so – especially if the current product works satisfactorily. As marketers understand, one person’s ‘better’ is not necessarily someone else’s. The old adage ‘build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door’ means nothing, when the best selling mousetrap remains the old-fashioned wood and spring one.
Flicking through the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition recently (for research purposes, I swear) I came across a three-dimensional advertisement by GMC (a General Motors brand that makes light trucks, referred to as ‘pick-ups’ in the US). Using the kitsch three-dimensional red and blue cardboard glasses, the reader could view the latest GMC Sierra pick-up (and, yes, swimsuit models). They could also visit the associated website (www.si.com/3d). The website not only boasts more bikini three-dimensional pics, but also a nifty ‘motion parallax’ gallery that allows you to add motion to images using the mouse. When I tired of the girls I decided to visit the GMC site to see how it had incorporated its sponsorship into its website.
I found no three-dimensional images, no ‘motion parallax’. Nothing! While the website was fine and covered all the necessities, it was a pity that on the day I visited, the swimsuit edition promotion had no presence. These option-laden light trucks seemed to be the perfect product for such technology, allowing the viewer to experience the presence of their size and gadgetry. I know locally three-dimensional imagery was generating a bit of a buzz a few years back, but it was never fully exploited. Given the modern emphasis on high-definition and interactivity I think it’s time local advertisers revisited it. In a cluttered world, more clutter of an extra dimension may be the best way to truly stand out. Bikini-clad girls are optional.