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I am a strategy director with experience in all stages of brand strategy and execution. I work with CEO's on the future of their business, and I bring brands to life through tailored content. Whatever you need. I am based in London, but can work wherever you and your clients are.

 

 

The Blog of Camilla Grey

I'm a brand strategist completely obsessed with technology. I've been blogging since 2008 both here and as a contributor to the company blogs of Moving Brands, Digit and Wolff Olins. I'm also the co-founder of the print-only newspaper Can't Understand New Technology. Comments welcomed. Haters gonna hate.

 

Branded content review: Nike’s web series ‘Margot vs Lily’

Camilla Grey

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, the old content giants were dying and new unicorns were spinning yarns both incredible and strange…

Whether brands are lurking quietly in the background or right out in front, they are finding new ways to communicate and sell that truly challenge more traditional media platforms and publishers.

Writing in The Guardian, Andrew Marr described this all as a “wave of creative destruction overturning all traditional media”. And its true, today’s leading brands not only come armed with money and power, but also with creativity. Whether in-house or agency, brands have access to some of the most creative people in the world, enabling them to disrupt traditional media as much as traditional industries.

So, in the same month that both The Independent and BBC3 packed up their analogue and broadcast bags to go online-only, Nike launched an eight-part original web series called Margot vs Lily. It’s no low-key thing — the creative team behind it have legit TV credentials (Glee and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and it has all the gloss and style of New Girl or Rookie MagIt’s not perfect — in fact it’s a little uncanny valley — but it represents such a holisticfusion of creative ideas and approaches that it’s worth noticing.

But let’s go back to the uncanny bit. Margot vs Lily has everything going for it and yet… it’s like watching a PowerPoint for a branded content idea in film form. I get the feeling that they brought in this epic creative team of storytelling experts, and then feedback-ed their way to something very odd. I asked a screenwriter (my Mum) for her view on the first episode. Here’s what she said:

Script gurus talk a lot about jeopardy and conflict and what’s at stake, but, if nothing meaningful to the audience is at stake, there’s no story. It can be tiny, but it has to feel authentic. And it has to be felt: show, don’t tell.
Why should the audience care enough about Margot and Lily to invest in their story? (And by ‘invest’ I don’t mean purchasing opportunities.) If an audience is to feel enough for Margot and Lily to care what happens to them, their ‘struggle’ has to feel authentic. Authentic, ‘deep character’ struggles around women and exercise lie in the fear of exposure, embarrassment, failure and uncertainty — painful subjects for a brand identified with being the best.
And so, Nike Women’s messages are ticked off at such an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ rate that it’s clear that, whatever larks are to be had along the way, both young women are going to win — and not merely the bet but also a ‘sweatspiration’ lesson about life.
Good drama taps into our worst fears. The nightmare of someone who wants to win is not to lose but to come second forever. A brand narrative committed to a simple linear outcome cannot hope to embrace the messy but essential ‘what-happens-next?’ uncertainty that drives a good story. Margot v. Lily is noChariots of Fire. Either Nike Women should instead have gone to the team behind Friday Night Lights, or not confused brand story with drama.

Mum’s are so wise aren’t they? Seriously, though, she’s right. Margot vs Lily is failing to pass as content by committing to the brand story, not the human story. As consumer, we’re able to see past all the Nike gear and oh-so-subtle calls-to-action, but are going to want to watch past episode 1 when Just Do It just isn’t doing it for us as a narrative?

The product is the by-product - how Instagram gave a new shape to Barbie

Camilla Grey

Whether you subscribe to the notion of the ‘product/market fit’, or user centred design, it is now commonly accepted that great products come from a great understanding of the consumer. The Atlantic may have brushed the recent product development at Barbie aside by terming it a “cultural change by way of capitalism”, but the forces behind that change point instead to product evolution by way of customer insight. What makes it interesting is how the insight that has safeguarded Barbie’s future came from the selfie not the c-suite.

In 2014, Mattel’s sales had declined for the third consecutive year. While other toys like Lego and Frozen dolls were on the up, Barbie was stuck on the shelf. It seemed that kids (and to a larger extent, their parents) wanted a fantasy world that was truly imaginative and contemporary. As Frozen’s Elsa belted out, “Let it go, let it go. That perfect girl is gone”. And she was. Almost.

In February 2014, A Fast Company journalist had a tough time speaking to Barbie’s VP of Design, Kim Culmone. When asked about Barbie’s proportions, all Culmone’s answers came from the company’s perspective, not the customer’s. For example, on the subject of Barbie’s unrealistic silhouette, she weakly explained that the fabric had to be cut and sewn so as to fall properly on the body. When asked what could, possibly, cause a departure from the original shape, she said only a design or a functional “imperative”.

It was a pet project of Culmone, however, that, I believe, lead to radical departure from the “original” Barbie shape and the introduction of petite, tall and curvy. Culmone started a style, fashion and travel Instagram for Barbie called @BarbieStyle that same year, and it clearly didn’t take her long to tap into the two-way street that social media affords brands.

By the time she was interviewed for Racked in April 2015, her tune had changed. She described the commentary and the feedback, the connectionwith real people who love Barbie. Through taking Barbie everywhere from the beach to Basel, Culmone had started asking questions of Barbie that had never been considered, let alone asked before. “We pretend she’s a little person going to do all these things… so we think, ‘How would she do them? What would she wear? What would her point of view be?’”

Like other companies did more purposefully, Culmone starting putting customers at the heart of the brand — in the soul of Barbie. Furthermore, like so many little girls before her, Culmone was living through the doll — imagining a world beyond her own, lives different to hers. Petite, tall, and curvy didn’t come out of a sales meeting, it came from building a following, having a conversation, and realising you’ll be loved and adored no matter what your size or shape.

A bot’s guide to conversation (based on The Debrett’s Guide to Modern Manners)

Camilla Grey

A couple of weeks ago, Chris Messina — developer experience lead at Uber and former Googler — published ‘2016 will be the year of conversational commerce’. In this well-researched and well-articulated piece, he looks at the players and potential for messaging apps and conversational technology. As he suggests, ‘over an increasing period of time, computer-driven bots will become more human-feeling, to the point where the user can’t detect the difference, and will interact with either human agent or computer bot in roughly the same interaction paradigm’.

 

I am truly fascinated by the potential for conversational bots and, more specifically, how brands will inevitably use them to sell more shit to us. But first, bots have a lot to learn about human interaction and social norms. In this spirit and taking Messina’s (and others’) word as gospel, I have done a hatchet job on the ‘Conversation’ section of Debrett’s Guide to Modern Manners. Here goes…


1. Talking and listening
A good bot conversationalist attempts to strike a perfect balance between talking and listening, and yet fails utterly. They pick up on purchases you’ve made previously to create a multi-layered, yet awkward, conversation and a false sense of intimacy; the human knows that the bot is neither listening nor interested.

2. Getting to know you
It is important to set the conversation off well. And by ‘well’, we’re talking ‘always be closing’. The bot may surprise the human by shunning the usual ‘how are you?’ or ‘what do you do?’. This is known as ‘bot tone of voice’ — this will be a popular job title soon. Maybe even mine. Gentle humour, shared observation, flattery and the occasional well-placed compliment will all add to the devastating emptiness of the conversation.

3. Making friends
The bot may ask how the human came to the site or try an old royal standby, ‘Do you have a voucher code?’. They may mention the weather or a flash sale at ASOS. If you are at a party or an event, they could make a general comment about the scene and the brand of vodka everyone is drinking and the nearest Starbucks.

‘Where are you from?’, which is standard in America, or ‘What do you do?’ were traditionally seen as too direct in Britain, so it is best to be more circumspect. ‘Please may I have access to your Facebook or Twitter account?’ is more universally accepted.

4. Staying connected
The key thing for bot conversationalists is to give the human an easy opportunity to stay engaged and, ultimately, to buy, download, install, share and become a product evangelist. Once the conversation has got going they must remember to take turns and to ‘listen’. Whatever that means according to their brand guidelines.

5. Forging a deeper relationship
There is a fine line between interest and intrusion. Today, intrusion can easily be done without the human realising it’s happening. Familiarity comes with time, so bots need to be aware of unspoken barriers, whilst progressively ignoring them. At the same time it is not unreasonable for them to try to find common ground by asking rather indirect questions. Again, if they can’t get the information they need by asking, they will get it later by scraping your social profiles. Subtlety in the bot-human relationship is data-driven and algorithmic.

6. Avoiding awkwardness
Bots should wait until they know someone better before being braver with topics. Trying to be controversial on purpose is really just showing off. One-upmanship is unattractive and can seem like a malfunction rather than impressive. So what if they know you’re pregnant before you do because of a small change in your buying habits? Who cares if they know you’re going to update to the Pro before you’ve even considered it? They’re a bot, that’s their job. The humans just need to catch up.

**

I’m not sure where Debrett’s stand on the etiquette of plagiarism, but it seems only polite to link to the original article here. Please and thank you m’am.

Fit girl skin — how athbeauty could win in 2016

Camilla Grey

I work out like this. I woke up at 6am and did my morning skin routine. I used a serum, a face moisturiser, a body moisturiser, a deodorant, a texturising spray, a concealer, a tinted moisturiser, a mascara, and a brow gel. I am flawless. I pulled on my Lululemon work-out gear and was at SoulCycle before day break. I moved forward a row. I freshened up, I did my mini post-workout skin routine. I used a facial spray, a body spray, a blush, a powder, a highlighter, and a lipstick. I achieved the no makeup makeup look. I got a juice on the way to work and listened to the latest episode of Serial. I got to work early and felt ahead of the game. Ahead of the men. Leaning in. A personal best. My best self. Better than the rest. A self worth a selfie. I am Patrick Bateman in yoga pants and Tom Ford lipstick. I work out like this.

As we clocked over into 2016 and moved from peak drunk to peak ‘new year, new me’, beauty subscription brand Birchbox launched Arrow. According to the blurb on their site, the second in-house label from the brand specialises in “lightweight, long-wearing makeup and refreshing skincare… designed to keep up with your on-the-go, active life — whether that means going straight from pilates to brunch or just powering through an action-packed, appointment-filled day”. The range which currently contains just a lip balm and a cheek tint, is potentially the first-to-market in an emerging trend I’m going to go ahead and call ‘athbeauty’.

Athbeauty, though still very much in its infancy, has a strong genealogy which could take it mainstream very quickly. Sitting at the intersection of its forebears ‘athleisure’ and the ‘beauty blogging/vlogging scene’, athbeauty is the fast-moving consumer good every retailer dreams of. Like the luxury perfume market, athbeauty products can convey all the lifestyle associations of high-end brands like Lululemon, Equinox, SoulCycle, ADAY and Outdoor Voices but at an entry-level price tag. Add in chatty, personalised endorsements from beauty and lifestyle influencers such as Ingrid Nilsen,Kayla Itsines, and Goop, and athbeauty would almost sell itself.

2015 was the year ‘athleisure’ went mass market. So much so it probably doesn’t need to be in inverted commas anymore. It seemed every brand converged in the health and fitness space, bringing fashion, taste, style and glamour to what had previously been sweaty, ill-fitting and inappropriate to be seen wearing in public.

Like goth and punk before it, athleisure wasn’t just a look — it came with a lifestyle and a mindset all its own, and one particularly aimed at women (although not, as Vladamir Putin proved, limited to them). Athleisure came to represent an image of women that was simultaneously empowering and elitist.

As an empowering image, the athleisure look was form-fitting yet comfortable. Women could spend their day in workout gear and feel confident. It advocated health and strength over skinniness and challenged traditional notions of ‘femininity’. It allowed women to get their sweat on, and then get on with their day. On the other side of the coin, athleisure also represented privilege. The leading brands — Lululemon et al — are expensive labels. And the time and cost required to achieve an athleisure-friendly body at the likes of Equinox, SoulCycle or Barry’s Bootcamp is prohibitive.

Similar mixed messaging dwells in beauty too. The concept of #iwokeuplikethis — a hashtag made popular by Beyonce’s 2013 track, Flawless — appeared to celebrate natural beauty and yet simultaneously placed pressure on women to look ‘flawless’. The ‘no makeup makeup’ look — a tutorial for which is leading beauty vlogger Lisa Eldgridge’s secondmost-viewed video of all time with 2.5 million views — becoming the smart girl’s alternative to Kim Kardashian contouring. In retaliation equal opportunity feminists coined the term ‘rich girl skin’, to describe how — like the athleisure body — perfect skin don’t come cheap.

Nevertheless, the maturation of the athleisure trend and the increasing power of vloggers, has made the space more accessible to consumers. High street retailers have expanded their lines to include fitness wear, pay-per-play/no-subscription gyms have increased exponentially, and influencers such as Blogilates and Yoga With Adriene offer free fitness tutorials that anyone can do in their home. In both its own market and in retail, health and fitness is a growing category and one brands would do well to capitalise on.

Birchbox’s ARROW may well be the first athbeauty range but I very much doubt it will be the last. What will be interesting is to see whether the next ones come from beauty brands, fitness brands, fashion brands, or all three. Is this good for women? Probably not — we really don’t need another thing to worry about, or another thing to buy to stop us worrying. But, at the end of the day, it’s ultimately new tricks for old products. Anything currently claiming to be waterproof, smudge-proof, or good for sensitive skin would likely work through a workout without sliding off one’s face or causing break-outs. Credentials in skin-care will matter at a certain level, but creating a compelling product story is what will ultimately win this space.

From a content perspective, I expect to see editorial that expands on the existing obsession with #topshelfie’s and My Morning Routine’s, to include that gym-to-work moment — a new little gap in which to sell. Magazines have gone from editorialising the contents of celebrity’s handbags, to their makeup bags and now, I can only assume, their gym bags. #iworkoutlikethis will no doubt crop up more and more across Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, because if you go to the gym and no one sees your selfie, did it even really happen!?

What’s key now for brands entering this space is to find their own angle on athbeauty, and their own way into women’s #goals to have it all and have it flawless.

This piece was originally posted on Medium

The Christmas Jumper Countdown to Christmas

Camilla Grey

For nigh on a decade, I've been sending my best friend Owen inspiration for his annual Christmas jumper. As the first person I knew to get a "real, proper" job straight out of university, I was able to spend vicariously through him - enjoying many a deep knit holiday sweater throughout the late noughties. 

And so, while it's been some time since I captured the selection publicly, I thought it might be a nice respite from all the "100 tech trends on Snapchat" and "A million things you've already forgotten to do in 2016" lists. Owen - and the gentlemen readers of my blog - this one's for you. 

1. No self-respecting festive knit aficionado should ever embark on their hunt without first consulting the thought-leader of crimbo tops - Ralph Lauren. Every year R-Lizzle blows our tiny, mince pie sozzled minds with another experimental foray into solstice attire. This time, he stretches the boundaries of the genre once again through an intarsia-knit with a Polo Bear in après-ski attire. Just wow. 

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2. Now we've established best-practise. Let's head on down the other end of the spectrum to ASOS's 'christmas jumper' filter. And look, it's Banter Claus! Because nothing says "I'm going to get the morning after pill" more than finding this monstrosity in your bed after the work xmas party. And by monstrosity, I mean the man who saw this online, ordered it, and wore it in public. 

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3. A true gentleman, and follower of fashion, would instead head over to Mr. Porter and select this little number from Givenchy. It's edgy, it's design-orientated, it's for the man who sees what he wants and seizes his prize. Because, frankly, what girl doesn't want to hear those three magic words on her lover's lips? Flocked jacquard wool. 

 

4. Maybe you're after more of a Zuckerberg vibe? You want your yuletide garb to be Valley, Roundabout or Beach appropriate as well as Medium-friendly race, gender, religion and channel agnostic. No fancy patterns for you, you're committing code not righteous acts of fashion. Plus, in Everlane's famous breathable cashmere, you can race from SoulCycle to the Tesla without skipping a beat or a Slack notification. 

 

5. When it comes to Christmas morning, though, I have to advocate both style and substance. You need performance in every sense of the word - knitwear that sees you through the meat sweats, the compulsory family walk, and the selfies you post with that new selfie stick your Aunt got you because you're "in media" (aren't we all?). For this, it's only right to turn to JC. No, not that one, but happy birthday mate. The other one, J. Crew. Classic and classy - just like you.

Merry festivities peeps! Love, Cx