We at Mediolana are presently in the frontline of an unprecedented (for 2018, at least) heatwave which is sweeping through this company’s home town of London, England. But in truth, our spare thoughts capacity (‘STC’) has recently been in thrall to a different type of wave altogether – the Mexican type which is strongly associated with FIFA World Cups.
Specifically – as we try and keep at least one eye on the tournament while our little corporate world is undergoing something of a transformation (and we don’t mean the arrival of a new coffee machine or photocopier, great as these accoutrements are) – the theme of resilience, which has become such a leitmotiv in recent years that it almost inevitably raises the suspicion that large sections of the population are, in fact, losing it, is looming large in our consciousness.
A key feature of the 2014 FIFA World Cup was the extent to which matches were defined not just by factors such as player quality or coaching ingenuity, but by the psychological health (or otherwise) of teams. Could they avoid making palpably dodgy and needless back passes? Could they manage to stay in position instead of wandering upfield to no discernible purpose? And could they pull a rabbit from the hat when the chips were truly down?
To the probable surprise of many – but not us, truth be told – the 2018 FIFA World Cup is continuing the prove the importance of being able to handle stress, pressure and the simple knowledge that hundreds of millions of people are watching your every move. Without talent and hard work, there is no end product; but without the ability to make the most of what you have by being able to tune out noise on a simply incomparable scale, there may be no glory.
With the anterior cruciate ligament injury that he sustained during Manchester United’s ultimately victorious UEFA Europa League quarter-final second leg against Belgian heavyweights Anderlecht possessing possibly career-ending properties, now is as good a time as any to consider what post-playing life might begin to look like for Zlatan Ibrahimović (‘Zlatan’, ‘Ibra’). The Swedish icon of Yugoslav descent will indubitably find himself in heavy demand within the world of football; however, whether he takes the familiar paths of management and/or punditry, or forges a yet more interesting second act – perhaps as a Trump-style, Corbyn-substance populist in politics – one thing will remain a constant in Zlatan’s life: licensing.
Ibrahimović has had an interesting collection of commercial partners from relatively early on in his career, but his status is such that in recent years he has transcended the usual celebrity endorsements of shampoos and chocolate bars, instead becoming the focus of a series of Zlatan-flavoured brands, perhaps most notably the Vitamin Well series of sports drinks – a product that he has not shied away from promoting relentlessly.
However, it is Ibrahimović’s latest venture – a line of fragrances concocted in collaboration with Montblanc perfumer Olivier Pescheux – that may turn out to be his most significant foray yet into the broader world of retail, not least because it highlights (and skilfully profits from) a number of societal transformations:
- The Reclassification of Football. For the overwhelming majority of its history (one or two key exceptional markets notwithstanding), soccer has been perceived as a largely working-class enterprise. The pitching of Ibrahimović’s perfumes at somewhere north of €50/50ml bottle confirms that the sport has definitively escaped these shackles.
- Football’s Feminisation. Ibra’s range of scents is divided neatly into two: the ‘Zlatan’ fragrance for men, and the ‘Supreme’ equivalent for women. The existence of the latter is no accident: football’s transmogrification into a markedly less violent sport from the early 1990s onwards has helped endear it to a new generation of women who are proud to wear a fashion brand co-created by a soccer player.
- Global Acceptance. The perfumes’ publicity material directly and prominently refers to Ibrahimović as a ‘world-renowned Swedish football player of Bosnian origin’; in a world where nationalism is gaining in political currency, realities such as this show up the limits of reactionary ideologies. Deepening globalisation is enabled by powerful borderless technologies which cannot be stopped by a wave of the legislative wand; it is essential for both individuals and organisations to contemplate the implications of this fact.
The transition from summer to autumn in Western Europe’s largest metropolis can mean many things, but in 2015 one of them is undoubtedly the reassuring thunk through London’s front doors of no less a volume than the IKEA catalogue. In recent times, this is undoubtedly proving to be a moment of genuine meaning as significant sections – perhaps even an absolute majority – of the capital’s population are seeing their economic fortunes stagnate or decline, and increasingly look to retailers such as IKEA to provide them with new and affordable household items; in times like these, it is hard to believe that the Sweden-founded, Holland-headquartered retailer was once routinely looked down upon by the middle-classes.
But this year’s catalogue brought a special surprise: IKEA has started serving GRÖNSAKSBULLAR (their emphasis) veggie balls in their restaurants, with a frozen take-home option available from the Swedish Food Markets that operate at select stores. This may not seem like news, but it is in fact remarkable on a number of levels.
For years, we at Mediolana had wondered why our favourite branch (at Brent Park, near Wembley) of what is fast becoming the world’s popular home furnishing store insisted on serving only one variant of Swedish meatballs – a recipe containing both beef and pork meat – despite being located next to two of the largest Hindu and Jewish communities anywhere in Europe (and a substantial Muslim population). Now – twenty-seven years after its 1988 opening – it has finally got around to addressing this obvious lacuna.
There are two take-home messages from this development. Firstly, IKEA is exhibiting both market sensitivity and sheer good sense in giving a large cross-section of their customer base a viable meal option: businesses which do not follow suit will almost inevitably lose out to those who are visionary enough to recognise the deficits in their offerings. Secondly, this instance provides yet another illustration of why small can sometimes be beautiful: what should have been the simplest of additions to what is already hardly the most complex of menus has taken literally decades to be conceptualised and/or implemented by an acknowledged world-leader in logistics; SMEs everywhere should take heart from their ability to rectify mistakes on the fly.