Sunday 30 December 2012

In the brave new world that has such internet in it, why do we still have graffiti?

About fifteen years ago, before people started talking about "digital",  I remember the phrase "new media" was much in vogue. In those days, the phrase referred primarily to the internet or "the information superhighway" or "worldwide web" as it was still known as then. Since then, we've seen the birth, childhood and adolescence of Facebook and YouTube and all those social media Web 2.0 chappies and the "new" kid on the block is anyone that has anything to do with local and mobile and social.

Maybe I've been around that new kid's block a few too many times, but I'm not sure that these "new" media are changing my life or anyone else's as fundamentally as some would like to think. Do you remember, as a child, marvelling at the wonder of television or video, feeling empowered as no other generation before you had been? I expect not. Like today's children and their relationship with the internet, you wonder at what went before, not the norm that you've grown up with.

And however technology may change, human drives, motivations, dreams and desires don't, much. You can declare your love for someone in public over Twitter, or you can spray can the nearest bridge.

Old media never die. They just don't get Twittered about.

Thursday 20 December 2012

Behind the scenes at the museum

When I was a young lass, I can't remember anyone aspiring to be a curator when they grew up. Curators were associated with museums and long-dead dusty creatures encased in woodworm-infested display cabinets. Of course, museums have changed since then. Gone are the hand-scribed labels in fading purple copperplate and the forgotten cellar atmosphere. It's all flashing lights and hands-on experience.

Curator, from the Latin curare ("take care") traditionally meant someone who took care of and managed objects - artefacts, specimens, paintings or sculptures. But recently, as we've entered the digital age, the role has widened to include digital content and data - and, with it, interpretation and selection as well as simply "taking care".

Today's curators are Rock 'n Roll. Literally. I have seen the word in connection not just with contemporary art exhibitions, but with music festivals and DJs, with technology and even with curators of style and taste. It makes sense that with so much more creation going on as a result of the digital explosion, that there must also be more curation: interpretation, selection, guidance, juxtaposition, focus.

There are even people whose job description is Brand Curator. Whether this is what used to be a Brand Manager is not clear but these people have the remit of "delivering a curated set of customer experiences" as I read recently.

In these times of rapid change in marketing directors and departments, there does seem to be a need for one person in a company - with experience and a real feel for the brand - to take the role of Brand Curator. While focussing on the past and assimilating the present as it happens, such a person could also be of great use in guiding the latest marketing director into the future.

Friday 14 December 2012


This is either the most brilliant or the most absurd new product I have seen this year. It's the Jaktogo and is positioned as an ingenious way of avoiding Ryan Air's extra baggage charges. In essence, it's a bag that converts into a stylish...OK, forget that part...a coat, which you can wear onto the plane at no extra charge.

The brilliance is the "beating the system" aspect, the absurdity is, well, you can judge for yourself.

I'm looking forward to more products to get back at the less-loved aspects of well-known brands.

I just hope I'm not behind someone wearing one of these bags, I mean coats at the security check.

Wednesday 12 December 2012


There's been something in the air over the last few weeks urging us to have a go at some of the biggest global brands. Stories about tax dodging, revelations about use of forced labour, Facebook postings about where NOT to do your Christmas shopping and a general disillusionment with the big boys.  The Havas CEO, David Jones, terms this "The age of damage" - these days, the people can rise against a corporation or authority that is not seen to be behaving responsibly via social media instantly and knock anything from 10-15% off your share price in a day.

The main victim in the UK seems to be Starbucks. I expect that there has been resentment against Starbucks brewing for a while and the recent tax revelations have brought it all to the fore. Starbucks is unlucky, in a way, as I suspect the brand has now become a symbol for the people to direct all their anti-global feeling towards.

It's got to the stage where Starbucks have had to release an Open Letter, where they admit that they have  "found making a profit in the UK to be difficult" and "not performed to our expectations."

But hang on. If I'd emerged from a ten year Rip Van Winkle-like sleep, I wouldn't believe how the mighty have fallen. Ten years ago, Starbucks was up there as the poster-boy of branding, along with Nike and Apple. I even have a book, published in 2002, by Scott Bedbury, called "A new brand world - 8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century". The gold standard example is Starbucks.

In the introduction, Scott Bedbury states "Given the near collapse of public trust in large institutions - from major corporations like Enron and Worldcom to organisations like the Catholic Church - there has never been a more important time to establish and strengthen brand trust." Plus ca change, it seems.

The books lays out 8 principles for brand-building, including "everything matters" and "big doesn't have to be bad". It's all good stuff, still valid today.

But the principle that got to me most was the final one: "Relevance, simplicity, and humanity - not technology - will distinguish brands in the future."

It's a shame that Bedbury's successors at Starbucks don't seem to have practised what he preached.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

I see, said the blind man

The Power of Words from Seth Gardner on Vimeo.

One of the most famous and effective short stories is Hemingway's six-worder, possibly written as a bet:
'For sale: baby shoes, never worn.'
Most of us will hit on a tragedy when it comes to finding a meaning in these simple words, although there are other explanations, such as a baby with bigger feet than expected or even free-spirited hippy parents! But whatever the interpretation, it's what the words don't tell or spell out, that invites the reader into the world of the placer/s of this small ad.

This short story reminds me of another story, currently being used by online content specialists Purple Feather to remind potential clients of the power of words. The film is beautifully made, and, I should think, effective to those who haven't heard the story before.

But I have, and I think that the original version is far stronger and closer to the power that Hemingway conjured up with his six words. In the new version, the copywriter changes the blind man's sign completely:
FROM: I'm blind.
TO: It's a beautiful day and I can't see it.

The earlier version (attributed variously to Ogilvy or one of the Saatchis) is much simpler and involves the addition of three words to the original sign:

It's Spring and I am blind.

Instead of just spelling out the facts, this version draws the reader in to empathise with the blind man, to make their own connection and conclusion.

And, like all good creative ideas, it takes the basic truth of the client and brings it to life, rather than changing it.

Thursday 29 November 2012

You're the one that I want

One facet of modern life that we face several times a day as a result of the digital revolution is too much choice. Quite often, we don't even have to make a choice - compare your iPod on shuffle with a Sony Walkman for example, or think of amazon choosing the next book for you to download onto your Kindle. But when we do have to make a choice, it's sometimes difficult to focus. We've all heard about those behavioural economics experiments with flavours of jam - it's easier to choose from six than it is from twenty.

There are a number of ads and apps that have made something of the insight that perhaps, these days, people would like to be more selective. Be forced to be more selective, even. There's the spot for the VW Golf VII which broke this autumn. Although, if I'd been in charge of the music choice and it had to be of that 80s-early-90s era so loved by ad people, I'd have gone for U2 rather than the Style Council. But then I'm a planner and like to have my strategy showing.

And there are a couple of other examples on this theme. The One Momento photo app allows you to share one photo only, so you must be careful how you choose. And This is my Jam, a music-sharing service limits its users to sharing one track a week, so it has to be the one you really, really want.

Who knows, at this rate, maybe single-minded propositions might kick out all those stories, journeys and manifestos and make a comeback!

Thursday 22 November 2012

Fraudsters are human, too

I've mentioned the Black Horse money box before - one of my most enduring memories of the Lloyds (TSB) Bank brand. But yesterday, my loyalty of over 40 years was put to the test.

I needed to pay in a cheque made out to me in my maiden name. The cheque was written by someone who I don't know and who it would be a hassle to trace, especially given that the huge sum involved was £7.49. My first encounter with the call centre went as follows:

Steve (not changing his name cos he's not innocent and doesn't need protecting): No, we don't accept cheques unless they are made out to the account holder. You'll have to ask the person who wrote it to change it.

Me: But...I live in another country...and I don't know her...and it's only a small sum of money...look, it's the name my parents set the account up for me in, 40 years ago...I can send you a copy of my marriage certificate...

Steve: We only accept cheques that are made out to the account holder.

Me: But...that's totally absurd!

Steve: We have to do it to stop fraud. We only accept cheques that are made out to the account holder.

Me: That's utterly ridiculous!

Steve: Thank you (puts phone down on me)

To cut a long story short, the next Lloyds TSB employee I spoke to was a human being. She sussed out immediately that a fraudster was unlikely to concoct such a story for a possible gain of £7.49. She did the human, sensible thing and contacted my branch. Yes, of course you can send the cheque there, with the marriage certificate and a little note to say we've there anything else I can do for you...

When will service brands learn that they'll catch more fraudsters if they start acting and thinking like human beings. It would help their reputations, too.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

The death of objects?

Read any trend publication these days and somewhere along the way, you'll find a reference to how the  digitalisation of the world we live in, combined with a human desire for simplicity and clarity, will lead to a reduction in the number of things and objects in the home and office. In the past, we had an alarm clock, a telephone, a radio, a TV, a music player, a barometer, a grandfather clock, the household gods...OK, maybe not...but now everything is contained within one device.

There's no denying that digitalisation is one of the main forces governing the way we live, but even pre-digitalisation, predictions of the future focussed on a reduction in stuff and clutter, with visions of blinding simplicity and clear, clean lines.

But life's not like that. Have you ever seen the paperless office we'd all be working in by the turn of the century? Have you had your living room invaded by an army of yellow and red plastic, which takes up twenty times the space of its two-year-old general?

Let's think about the generations alive today. There's the generation of the post-war years, who hoarded everything from yoghurt pots to chianti bottles in case these things came in useful, or you could make a lamp out of them. A generation that kept everything because there were no copies or back-ups.

Then the generation who accumulated stuff because they could, and they could afford to: gadgets, status symbols, collections. And who now have parallel technologies - the latest iPhone and the retro-style record player for that collection of 200 LPs.

And now the generation who have the sustainability gene - with behaviour driven by reuse, recycle, reduce. A generation who decorate their electronic devices with a multitude of dangly crocheted bits 'n bobs - not dissimilar to household gods, in fact.

Overlaid throughout this is the human tendency to cosiness, to clutter, to comfort , to trash and frivolity. From paintings of teary orphans to singing gorillas to combat outfits for dogs. Yes, a lot of this has now moved online but that's also a parallel rather than replacement development.

Death of objects? I don't think so.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Trust me, I'm a brand

Tomorrow, John Lewis will launch its Christmas ad for 2012 via social media, just a few days after winning the Grand Prix in the IPA Effectiveness Awards for the "re-energising" campaign of the last couple of years.

Amid all the speculation, it's interesting to have a look at the case history and the thinking that's contributed to the success of the campaign so far. Commentators are making much of how John Lewis has tapped into a cultural trend - the need for constancy in a changeable world. There's a lot of talk about how people are "re-evaluating life choices" to focus on what's really important. I can interpret that as follows: it's not enough to know what makes human beings tick - it's vital to know what makes them tick right now, in the current context.

Of course that's some of it. But there are plenty of ads that communicate constancy and "as good as we've always been" and "always there" without having the emotional pull and commercial success of John Lewis.

I think the key is in a phrase used in the paper: John Lewis is described as a "beacon of stability." Now, think about that - it's a paradox. What could be less stable than something that's burning, flickering, in continual change? It's a bit like the "cuddly colossus" that we sought for British Airways. Again, from this apparent paradox, the brand derives its energy. Yes, it's always there, but at the same time it's always inspiring, enlightening, dynamic. It's a million miles from a security blanket.

As an aside, it always amuses me to see what short memories people in advertising have. Yes, the John Lewis "Always a woman" is a great ad - and part of a great campaign. But I wouldn't describe it as ground-breaking: surely it comes from the same school technically and emotionally as the 2008 Hovis ad, if not the same agency?

Right - I'm off to re-evaulate some life choices if that's what we're all meant to be up to these days!

Friday 2 November 2012

Mythos, authenticity and context

I'm not much of a beer drinker these days, although on holiday, I do succumb, particularly if the weather demands it. After all, who doesn't do stuff on holiday that they wouldn't dream of doing at home? And, when in Greece...I order a Mythos beer.

Mythos is one of those relatively recent inventions that does a good job of seeming authentic, particularly when sipped from an iced glass in a slightly peeling taverna facing out to sea, while tucking into freshly grilled fish.

But although my recollections of alcohol from my wild 80s days in Greece include an impressive list of cocktails and beer brands such as Amstel and Heineken, Mythos does not feature. A little bit of brand archaeology revealed to me that my friend Mythos is something of a sheep in wolf's clothing, to misquote yet another Greek.

The brand is only fifteen years old and the company that created it grew out of none other than Henninger Hellas S.A, which has a particular meaning (and not always a good one) to those of us in the Frankfurt area. And the company is now a subsidiary of Carlsberg.

Maybe that's the reason that I wouldn't dream of ordering the stuff outside Greece - even in my local Greek restaurant.  Because a brand like Mythos needs its context for its authenticity to work: plucked out of the sunshine, away from the smell of souvlaki and the bougainvillea, it's just another nondescript lager.

But after you've climbed the endless steps to some dusty acropolis in the midday sun, nothing else will do!

Friday 26 October 2012 know that nudge-nudge-wink-wink need?

Good innovations in products and services answer a need, as we all know. Sometimes this need is so blatant and obvious, it hits you round the face - music on the go that doesn't disturb others is a classic. Or sometimes the need is one you didn't know you had, but, by golly - you couldn't live without that product now - as in PostIts. And sometimes it's not a need at all, but it's damned good to have. Like Marmite Crisps.

But there are plenty of human needs that you know all about but there's no way you're going to mention them to that nice lady moderating the Group Discussion. Ahem.

The anonymous digital world has meant, of course, that there's been a huge increase in these nudge-nudge-wink-wink needs being answered, from the legions of otherwise wholesome mummies reading really rather grubby books to the following little gem.

FakeShower is an app that spares your blushes from your nearest and dearest. Have a look at the video if you want to know the awful truth.

But one question remains in my mind. Who takes their iPhone to the loo with them at home? Should I do some market research to find out?

Monday 22 October 2012

Anywhere in the world

There's a lot of talk these days about the trend towards the local. Local produce - with many supermarket chains offering their own lines with certified provenance, or local (and for local read independent) coffee shops and restaurants - and all with the connection to social and mobile media, facilitating access in all senses of the word.

But it seems a shame that, for many people, these thoughts go out of the window and straight onto the local rubbish tip when it comes to holidays abroad. It's far easier to book something all-inclusive in an impeccably furnished but ultimately soulless hotel - which could be anywhere. Palaces of concrete like luxury cruise ships - and with about as much foundation, roots or local character.

The usual excuses justify this behaviour:

"It's great for the children with the Kid's Club"

"I don't want to risk a dodgy tummy or getting knifed in a backstreet on holiday"

"If you pay all-inclusive upfront, there aren't any hidden extras"

Well, no. There won't be any hidden extras. No nasty surprises, but no nice ones either.

Just endless stretches of sanitised, predictable, global-brand-for-discerning-guests.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Going to extremes

Although celebrity tie-ups and sponsorships can bring a brand real rewards if used well, there are always those worries when entering into this type of partnership. Will it really do something for my brand, or will our marketing budget simply boost the celebrity's fame and do nothing for us? What if the  celebrity in question turns out to be Bad News? I can't be the only one cringing when I think how Jimmy Savile dominated advertising in the 70s and 80s. Or what about all those doped cyclists?

In the case of a sponsorship - what if something goes wrong? This consideration is enough to stop many potential sponsorships in their starting blocks with some of the riskier sports.

But there is one brand that appears to be as fearless as the extreme sportsmen that it sponsors - Red Bull. The brand has built is image consistently and courageously through an association with unusual and extreme sports.

The latest example is the Red Bull Stratos Mission, in which sky diver Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break the speed of sound in a spectacular sky dive - and a record that is now over 50 years old. All of this at huge personal risk.

It's currently scheduled for tomorrow and, whatever happens or whatever you may think of Mr Baumgartner, no-one can accuse the brand Red Bull of not having balls.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Context, context, context

I don't think anyone would disagree that the context in which someone sees a piece of communication - from a pack design to a cinema ad - plays a vital role in how well that piece of communication works. And it's not just the physical context, but the interaction between this and the viewer's internal mood state that can make a piece of communication top or flop.

But, for those of us who want to pre-test our communication - for whatever reason - is context important then? I would argue that it certainly plays a role. In qualitative research, where we're more likely to be doing creative development research rather than "testing" per se, we can at least try and approximate to the context - discussions conducted in pubs, or at the playgroup, or at least talking around the subject to get people in the mood.

But quantitative pre-testing doesn't generally allow us this kind of indulgence. Where and when the interview is conducted is usually not considered. For example, can you really expect people to respond in a highly motivated way to a TV ad for a Christmas offer when the research is done in the middle of July? Relevance is the holy grail that everyone is chasing in the world of communication - and surely relevance is a matter of being in the right person's attention span, in the right place at the right time?

I have an anecdote from my early days of working in marketing. It was the lead-up to Christmas and I'd rather over-indulged at one of the very generous and alcoholic shindigs that London agencies used to lay on. Around 10:30am I realised I wasn't going to get through the day without Resolve, which was my drug of choice in those days. However, my attempt to limp along to Boots was curtailed when a lady with a clipboard dragged me into a church hall to look at beer labels.

I still don't remember how I got through that interview without chucking my guts up. Having to look at beer labels and talk about them in detail was the last thing I wanted to do. If anyone else was feeling the way I was (which was likely), I don't suppose they got particularly useful results.

But then, what do you expect if you conduct research into beer labels at 10:30am in a church hall in the middle of the party season?

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Get back in your plan

I'm not a fan of those interminable "role of planning" discussions, especially when they sprout appendages such as "in the digital age". I'd rather be getting on with the job than discussing and defining it. And the role of planning is actually quite simple, whether you're living in the digital or the dinosaur age.

Dave Trott's blog puts this very well. The proper role of planners, according to the legendary creative, is defining the problem, getting the question right, even questioning the question. All of that rather than fiddling and fussing with the answer.

He continues with a very flattering analogy for planners everywhere. If planners spend their time fiddling with ads, it's "the equivalent of a general in the middle of a battle going round to every soldier to check his uniform is correct."

Instead, we're advised to focus on what we're there for: being upstream, original and predatory.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with giving your opinion on a TV ad, or an app, or any executional element of such, especially if you're asked for it. You can even venture your view on how it might work.

But when you start dictating executional changes, especially if you haven't defined the problem at the outset, the battle is lost.

Friday 28 September 2012

Fairway Guerrillas

Hyperlocal, grass roots, SoLoMo can choose whichever buzz word you like, but no-one can get away from the fact that mobile technology is opening up a whole load of new possibilities on a local level.

But the campaign that tickled me recently uses good old-fashioned guerrilla tactics - to tap into the local market. Going back to that phrase "grass roots", I'll confess to why I think this idea has grabbed me so much. I grew up in Camberley, which is not a million miles from Windlesham. It's all very stockbroker belt and pink gin and one of my joys as a child was collecting golf balls that had strayed off the fairway.

The challenge for the Windlesham Golf Club was to attract new members who may not live a short drive away by distance, but who do by time. As the club is very close to the M3, this is quite a wide catchment area.

The cunning plan devised by the agency was to "plant" golf balls with the club's web address and logo in drives and gardens of prospective new members, giving the impression that they'd simply flown in from a rather over-energetic swipe.

As anyone who lives in the area knows, stray golf balls in the garden are no uncommon occurrence  - but a golf ball as cleverly logo-ed up as this one is rarer than an albatross.

Best thing of all - you can use the ball for your first round!

Saturday 22 September 2012

When parody becomes reality

I don't know how many readers of this blog have already smirked over Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook - and, privately, cringed in a "there but for the grace of God go I" sort of way.

I discovered it a few weeks ago via a friend's share, instantly "liked" (note the quotation marks...) and was hugely entertained for the first couple of days by the silly monkeys, cute kittens, retro postcards, motivational quotes (plus dolphins), word games and all the begging to "share" and "like".

The page announces itself as "A big corporate brand using Facebook" and they've already clocked up nearly 25,000 likes.

Yes, I thought. A brilliant parody. Constantly amusing. A wonderful thing to show clients.

But...after the first week, I didn't find it so funny, somehow. The umpteenth silly monkey was getting right on my nerves. My newsfeed was blocked by CCBP's never-ending stream of kitsch and drivel. I looked closer at CCBP's description, where they state:

"It WILL get annoying, so "unlike" us if you can't handle it."

I'm almost at that stage now. The only thing I can't decide is - is it all terribly clever and this is their intention. That they'll run up some clever stats about the turnover of those 25,000 and put together a stunning case history.

Or has parody simply become reality?

Sunday 16 September 2012

Trailer Tale

My alter ego, S.P.Moss, has written a children's adventure story, The Bother in Burmeon, and marketing my own product on a limited budget has been a fascinating experience. The last thing I want to do is use this blog to promote my book in a blatant and in-your-face way, but I hope that you'll forgive me the odd little indulgence.

The marketing departments of the large publishing houses have been using book trailers for some time now, and it's a route to draw attention to your book that also makes sense for those who are with  smaller publishers, or are self-published.

There are a lot of book trailers out there and, while some of them are pretty impressive, many are not much more that a cover/pack shot plus back-cover blurb. This really isn't making the best use of the medium.

A book trailer is an advertising spot for the book and, like all advertising spots, it should have an idea. That's one reason I'm so pleased with my trailer, created by an ex-colleague from Saatchis, Roger Mönch. The idea is about "imagination", which ties in nicely with the theme of the story.

And it's not just a great idea, but it's beautifully executed, too.

OK, Roger!  

Monday 10 September 2012

Faking It

The last week or so has seen a round of articles and commentary about amazon reviews, in the light of crime author R.J.Ellory's admission that he's not only been writing glowing reviews, such as the one above, for his own books, but he's also written damning reviews for books by rival crime writers.

There's been a huge outcry - is this the tip of the iceberg? Is it possible that many of the reviews, ratings and likes on the internet are fake?

I'm surprised that anyone even has to ask. It's been possible for some time to buy Twitter followers, Facebook Likes and reviews of all sorts over the internet at quite reasonable prices (anything from 2 - 55 US Dollars for 1,000 Twitter followers.)

Facebook has announced that they'll be trying to crack down on false Likes. This is all very well, and those that are bulk-bought or generated by malware should be fairly easy to sift out.

But what about those "likes" and "reviews" that aren't so obviously fake? R.J. Ellory must have spent a few minutes of his valuable writing time composing the above review. Fake it may be, in some senses, but it couldn't have been written by a robot.

Perhaps those of us who are marketing - whether it's brands or books - should think more deeply about what these metrics really mean. Are we too quick to fall into the trap of pantrometry - it can be measured, so it must mean something? Or are we living by the McKinsey maxim of "what you can measure, you can manage?"

We can measure likes, followers, review stars and all the rest - but does it lead to the truth? Probably not.

Monday 3 September 2012

The cuddly colossus

Who remembers the corporate advertising of twenty plus years ago? In the 1980s, corporate advertising on TV became de rigeur on the back of the many share offers arising from privatisation and deregulation. The classics of the genre were masterpieces in pomposity, with swirling clouds, rolling countryside backgrounds, classical soundtracks and sonorous voiceovers intoning "There is a company that..."

Working on the British Airways account at the time, our challenge was always to portray scale and humanity in one - our holy grail was "the cuddly colossus."

Times have changed, media have changed, film techniques have changed and people's relationships with corporate brands are very different. And this is reflected in the sort of brand films being made which could technically be termed corporate. Away with the pomposity, in with the human story - preferably that of the founder. The swirling clouds and rolling countryside scenes have been replaced with cute animation techniques.

Two examples come to mind - "The Lego Story" by Lani Pixels, a 17 minute film that has well over 2m views on YouTube, and the Adidas Adi Dassler animated film from a few years ago.

Maybe you can argue that the cuddly, naive animation approach is more fitting to a child or youth orientated brand, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the former colossi scaling down to Wallace & Gromit size.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Brand Challenge

"Eating the Big Fish" by Adam Morgan is one of my favourite business books, which has stood the test of time since its publication in the last century.

But, of course, one thing that's changed beyond all recognition in the last 13 years are the media that brands can use in their challenge.

So it's good to see that Adam Morgan has a new book out, co-written by Mark Holden of PHD, who should know his media stuff. This book does two things:

1. It classifies nine challenger brand stories beyond the one we know and love - David and Goliath aka as "The Feisty Underdog". And expresses what drives these brands and what they are challenging (not necessarily the market leader).

2. It looks at media choices best suited to telling the ten different challenger stories.

The book is called "Overthrow: 10 ways to tell a challenger story" and the website is here.

You can even find out "which challenger type you are."

Friday 24 August 2012

Second Hand Rose

One of my favourite trends at the moment, identified by Trendwatching and others is Recommerce. You'd never dream of chucking out your 5-year-old car, would you? Or pulling down your 10-year-old house? With the car, your opportunities to sell on are either do-it-yourself, which costs time and effort but you'll probably get a better price, or to put it in the hands of the dealer which is a heck of a lot more convenient but often disappointing in terms of financial reward.

Of course, Recommerce is a new-ish name for something that's been going on since time immemorial. Second-hand books, clothes, furniture, the flea market, the antique shop, the pawnbroker, classified ads and all the rest. And the last ten years or so have seen all this individual activity leap onto the internet with ebay, amazon marketplace and the like.

But outside the car industry, few companies have involved themselves in Recommerce regarding their own brands and products, until recently. Obviously, the costs and resource involved would not have justified the gain.

We live in a different world now. Recommerce satisfies peoples' need to be shopping responsibly and sustainably as well as saving money in cash-strapped times. And I believe that there is another human benefit that is integral to the Recommerce concept. Think of any antiques you own - they all come with a story - of previous owners, when and how they were crafted - and they carry with them a glimpse into a lost world.

If companies can tap into this aspect of Recommerce, they can strengthen their brand through its past.

Just one example of Recommerce is "Common Threads" the official co-operation and marketplace between Patagonia and ebay.

And a positive consequence of Recommerce is that it begins to erase the horrible words "consumer and consumables" from our vocabulary.

Monday 20 August 2012

Good foundations

If you're looking for stories about your brand to imbue it with substance and authenticity, you can do worse than look back at the person or people who founded it. More often than not, you should be able to trace back to the original idea or purpose that launched the brand, which may be more interesting than whatever is currently written on the brand's Mission Statement.

Many brands are unthinkable without their founders - Steve Jobs and Apple, for example, or IKEA and Ingvar Kamprad, whose initials give the first two letters of the brand acronym and whose legendary cost-consciousness pervades the IKEA ethos.

Even under Unilever ownership, the names and personalities of Ben (Cohen) and Jerry (Greenfield) and the Vermont provenance drive the premium ice-cream brand.

Another example is what Guinness is doing. Arguably already one of the world's strongest and story-rich brands, Guinness has established "Arthur's Day" in honour of the founder, Arthur Guinness. Until 3 years ago, Arthur Guinness was a signature on the label and no more, but the 27th September is now designated as a day to "paint the town black" amid musical performance and celebration - to the benefit of the Arthur Guinness Fund for social good.

And the advertising comes from Saatchi & Saatchi, an agency who knows more about the strength of founders' names than most, even if the founders in question have moved on.

Monday 13 August 2012

The colour purple

Most brands have a signature colour, or colours. There are the single statement colours of red for Coca-Cola, or magenta for T-Mobile, or turquoise for Twitter and the two-colour approach of IKEA, McDonald's or BP. And even some multi-colour brands, of which Google springs to mind.

Some colours are used less than others, especially as single branding shades - brown is a case in point, with UPS the notable exception in the use of this colour. And a colour that's a rare tone in nature is also relatively scarce on the branding front: purple.

Purple, as a non-primary colour, has a complex set of associations. The connotations of luxury, wealth and nobility may have influenced its use for indulgent brands such as Cadbury's or Milka, or Silk Cut. The links with creativity could have been grounds for Yahoo! changing their logo colour. But purple also has more difficult connections - with spirituality, magic and even emotional immaturity according to some - which makes it a tricky choice for a brand's uniform.

However, if one colour was in evidence in the UK in the last couple of weeks on top of all the red, white and blue, it was purple. But maybe this was a lucky choice in this case as purple goes so well with gold. 

Wednesday 8 August 2012

No sign of flagging

The display of Britishness that assaults the senses in a visit to any supermarket in the UK at the moment  certainly leaves the German 2006 World Cup in the shade - and could well put some of the USA's shows to shame.

It's hard to find products without a Union Jack or Olympic logo, and, just in case you miss the point, everything from butter to sausages proudly proclaims its origins (British cows fed on British grass watered by British rain...)

I suppose there will come a time that we can't see any more red, white and blue, once the shine of the gold medallion haul fades into the background.

But, for the time being, Britain's branding shows no signs of flagging.

Monday 30 July 2012

Has the well of inspiration run dry?

A few years ago, I'd always have a business book on the go as well as a novel. But I can't remember the last time that I've felt inspired to read a business book, let alone buy one. I don't feel as if there's been a real buzzy must-read book, a Seth Godin, a John Grant, a Malcolm Gladwell.

I had a look at amazon's top sellers on the subject of advertising and it all felt rather like deja-vu and don't-wanna-do. It's reassuring, of course, to see the legends still up there in the best sellers - Ogilvy and Arden. But the rest of the list seems full of those "how-to" books with titles suffering from verbal diarrhoea.

"The Power of Kindle Books: Selling and Marketing Your Ebooks for Residual Income - Promoting Sales" by Lambert Klein was top of the list. Something similar for Smashwords appeared further down, along with a number of similarly-titled how-tos about Social Media.

I suppose it's inevitable that in these days of "brand me" and "self-publishing" and "own businesses" that there's a need for these kind of tomes. But I also have a wish to be inspired, challenged, even, by some clever young thing who can show me what a dinosaur I am and point the way to the future.

One book looked a little more promising - having a one-word title, "Velocity" was a start (although the publisher had obviously cajoled the authors Ajaz Ahmed and Stefan Olander into having a LinkedIn style sub-title "The Seven New Laws for a World Gone Digital"). But I still couldn't bring myself to press the "buy" button.

Pissed in by the planner or not (or however the quote goes), it would seem that the well of inspiration has dried up.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Ise's Infomercial

I gave a lecture on Saturday at the Bauhaus, Dessau as part of the Bauhaus Foundation's Summer School with the intriguing title "The Didactic Home."

Back in the 1920s, the Bauhaus was already "modern" in its marketing - with the Gropius house acting as a "showhome" for parties of interested housewives as well as using the media of the day - exhibitions and magazines. And "new media" in the 1920s meant film: at the weekend we were shown a fascinating film made in 1926: Wie wohnen wir gesund and wirtschaftlich? (How can we live in a healthy and economically sensible way?)

The film is a documentary which promotes an appropriate way of living in the industrial age. Although from a sociological or anthropological point of view the film is far from modern - Ise Gropius gets to demonstrate the walk-in wardrobe while the maid gets to do the washing-up - the nature of the film reminded me of a modern-day infomercial.

The functionality of design is demonstrated, from a mixing-bowl fastener, to a high pressure hose as a precursor to the dishwasher, to a day bed that swiftly converts to a sofa, to living room chairs so light they can be blithely pushed round from one place to another, to the walk-in wardrobe with its solution to the age old problem of how to keep shoes neat and tidy.

It's a hymn to how freeing your home of unnecessary ballast can for make a better life - healthier, more spiritual, more economic.

The Bauhaus in Dessau had a short life - a matter of a few years. There's something shrine-like now about much of it - closed doors and relics behind glass rather than the "Living Machine" of the 1920s. But perhaps the spirit lives on in a certain Swedish Home Furnishings store.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Leaves of Grass

On my recent visit to dOCUMENTA (13) I was interested to see if there were any examples of the territory that I work in - brands, communication, media - finding their way into the world of art. Probably the most famous example of this is Andy Warhol's Campbells soup cans, but that was 50 years ago.

I was expecting, perhaps, works of art incorporating some of the social media - I don't know, maybe Facebook screenshots contrasting with what was happening in the real world, or maybe that's too obvious.

One work did take my breath away: Geoffrey Farmer's Leaves of Grass, a 20m 3-D collage consisting of thousands of pictures cut from Life magazine 1935 -1985 and mounted on wooden stalks. It's a fascinating piece, because all editorial comment and structure is removed, so that images from advertisements sit next to photographs of politicians.

To me, it represents the visual overload that developed from the middle of the 20th century and continues its unstoppable path with faster download times, more channels and mobile internet. In fact, looking at Leaves of Grass is rather like looking at a typical Facebook stream - brands mixed with people, close friends adjacent to celebrities, the trivial vying with the world-shattering.

And, back to the subject of artists and brands, I did notice that a couple of Dali works were on show. But not the Chupa Chups logo that Dali designed.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Falling from Grace

Working in marketing and advertising, I get frequent crises of conscience. Why aren't I doing anything useful? Am I a nasty hidden persuader? Shouldn't I be out saving the world single-handed?

At such moments, a book title like that by Lynn Serafinn has a certain appeal. In Roman times, there were only three graces, but Ms Serafinn has summoned up another four to complete her "7 Graces of Marketing: How to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell." Before we get onto whether this might be a bit of a tall order, let's have a look at the 7 Graces:


So far, so good. These words have all been drifting around the marketing consciousness  for the best part of the current millennium. Before I rushed to buy the book, though, I took a look at the website to see what went on at the 7 Graces Global Conference at the end of June in London.

I was rather dismayed to see that there had been some kind of confusion or misunderstanding, necessitating a 31 minute video from Lynn Serafinn. I haven't listened to it all, but surmised that it was all about that old chestnut from the playground - who's going to be the leader.

I do feel a degree of sympathy - if you preach collaboration, directness and transparency, then you need to play these out. You can't just solve disputes with "because I say so."

But I have to admit that just a few minutes on the site drained me of energy rather than inspiring. I yearned to go back to snappy jingles, Schadenfreude- based humour and catchy slogans.

If I want to assuage my bad conscience again, I'll just reach for John Grant's excellent "Co-opportunity". 

Thursday 5 July 2012

It ain't what you do...

Joanna Shields, MD of Facebook for Europe, Africa and the Middle East has recently drawn parallels between Facebook and the early days of TV and John Logie Baird. She's encouraged marketers to get involved in creating "big, bold and meaningful ideas the world will want to share".

She has a point - the potential of connecting billions of people around the world is quite something. I do think, though, that one trick brands have to learn is how to use Facebook and its like to get people to actually take action. I don't know - I've "liked" so many things and joined so many groups, but have acted on precious little.

I expect that one way for brands to get people to take action is to do something themselves. In the Cyber Category at Cannes, it's reported that brands "behaving" rather than "telling stories" won top honours, the brands in question being Nike+ FuelBand and Curators of Sweden, where the official Sweden Twitter account was handed over to Swedish citizens.

I suppose it's like the managers of these brands. Who gets on - the one who tells stories in the pub or the one who gets things done?

But, as the song says "it ain't (just) what you do..."

Friday 29 June 2012

When fact grows into myth

If I had been given €10 each time I'd heard that "Germany have never beaten Italy in a major tournament" in the last few days, I'd be a rich woman. At first, it was just being repeated parrot-fashion from one journalist to the next, but shortly before kick-off, a simple fact had metamorphised into a full-blown myth. 

Germany was under a curse, with all the attendant implication that they would never be free of it - which of course was substantiated in the 90-odd minutes that followed. And, while facts can be changed, a myth is sticky, and has implications that a higher power is somehow at play. It's out of the hands (or feet) of mere mortals.

Well-known brands also collect myths, which probably had their origins in fact somewhere. Every IKEA group discussion I have attended has always had someone remarking that "there is always a screw missing" - with a wry smile, as if this is the most original comment on earth. And everyone else nods and smiles wryly, too.

It's always helpful to know what the myths are that circulate about your brand - and some brands have been very clever in using these to their advantage in their communication - even if they appear negative at first sight. The "screw missing" myth makes IKEA fallible, human, endearing, even. 

And Marmite has used the "love it, hate it" myth as the basis for the campaign, even creating new myths around the brand, such as the slightly sinister-sounding secret society, the Marmarati.

One word of advice to the German press, though. If you really want to get behind your team, you might want to avoid an "England never win in a penalty shoot-out" situation. That's more that a myth - it's a giant millstone.

Sunday 24 June 2012


When I first started in advertising, people who could draw - and particularly those who could express ideas via drawing - were much in demand. From art directors' scribbles for a spectacular new TV commercial, to a planner's smart flip-chart page in magic marker, original drawings of one sort or another were a key mode of expression.

Things changed sometime in the 90s when Powerpoint and stock photos took over - and the onslaught of happy smiley people continued into the 21st century via Google images and digital photography. Writing up the output of a workshop became more a case of  loads of photos of loads of illegible Post-It notes.

But I'm pleased to see that drawing as a way of expression of ideas is making a huge comeback. The excellent RSA Animate videos, featuring artist Andrew Park from Cognitive Media, which have been viewed by millions on YouTube have had a major influence in this. And it's now becoming common practice to have a scribe as well as a facilitator at workshops and conferences - such as the services offered by Animanova.

I'm pretty sure that a picture must be worth a thousand illegible Post-Its! 

Sunday 17 June 2012

Compare and Contrast

A few weeks ago, an TV spot from Cancer Research entitled "Plain Packaging" broke in the UK. The spot is intended to generate support and lobbying for a move to pack tobacco products in plain packaging, and shows clips from a group discussion amongst 7-10 year-olds, discussing what attracts them to cigarette packs. The children mention that the packs are "pretty", "funky" or "cool", or that "red is my favourite colour."

I haven't got an axe to grind about smoking. I don't smoke myself and any sensible measures to help people give up smoking should be praised, knowing what we do now. However, there is something unpleasantly manipulative about this film. How do the parents feel about their children being "used" in this way? Surely, if the packets really are so compelling and attractive, the children in this film are already hooked. The comment from one boy that the symbol on one pack "reminds me of the Tintin books" will give some over-zealous official the excuse to kill off two un-PC elements with one stone.

The criticism aimed at much market research that it deliberately hot-houses and draws people's attention to things they would not notice in real life couldn't be more apt than in this case. On the list of communications vying for a 7-10 year old's attention, cigarettes packets aren't exactly competing with the latest McDonald's Happy Meal Toy or upgrade to Doodle Jump.

Contrast all this with Peter Ashley's new book, "The Cigarette Papers". There's no preaching here, for or against, simply a beautifully illustrated commentary on the golden age of cigarette packaging. There was a time when cigarettes were as woven into the tapestry of everyday life as Smartphones are today. And, to prove that there's nothing new under the sun, this book is packed with examples of product placement, loyalty schemes, brand extensions, celebrity endorsements, sponsorships, added value, branded apps and games - except that no-one referred to them as such in those days.

Just make sure you leave it on the top shelf - you don't want your children seeing it. 

Sunday 10 June 2012

Writing and rewriting history

When I'm starting a project for a brand or company I haven't worked on before, the first thing I head for these days is the website, and the first thing I like to look at is the company history section. Not only is it invariably the most interesting bit of the website, pleasantly devoid of stock shots of grinning young professionals and packed full of ancient logos, retro pack designs and print ads half-drowned in the collective unconscious, but it gives you a pretty good idea of what that company is about.

In fact, if you're looking for a brand or company's uniqueness, you're more likely to find it languishing in this section than amongst the stated corporate values. These, and the accompanying aforementioned stock shots of grinning young professionals tend to be interchangeable from one company to the next.

These days, Facebook, with their Timelines, has made it simple for any company or individual to start a ready-made history, which will grow as the years move on. As a recently-introduced feature, of course, it means that companies can pick and choose what appears when it comes to the past. Burberry is a nice example of what can be done, with a super collection of raincoat chic and cool through the ages, from Audrey Hepburn to Meryl Streep to Kate Moss.

Burberry joined Facebook in June 2009 - so after that we've got plenty of detail. But there are also some telling gaps. Nothing between 1999 and 2004, for example. Could that have been when Burberry started getting chavvy? 

Brands will have to be careful to write and rewrite as they go along. Curating the past is one thing, and curators have always picked and chosen what is best to tell the story they want to tell, but managing a presence should a brand start losing its way is another.

Sunday 3 June 2012

A grim tale

The book industry is, if not in a crisis, certainly in a state of rapid change and turmoil. A report "The Gift of Reading in 2011", conducted and publicised by The National Literacy Trust this week, contains a main finding that is dramatic, to say the least:

In 2005, one in ten of the children and young people surveyed (aged 7-16) said that they did not have any books of their own at home.

In 2011, the figure was one in three.

And at the rate that public libraries are closing, it's unlikely that this is due to more borrowing of books from libraries. It's also not clear from the data whether this would include ebooks.

Whichever way, you can't hide from the fact that this is an alarming statistic. 

But although I am a firm believer in books and reading, and that children are missing something indescribably valuable if they don't have access to books, from a long-term perspective, maybe this situation is going back to the way things were decades ago.

The point is, even if children don't have physical books, they will always have stories - it's a fundamental part of human nature. And how much does it matter if a twelve-year-old learns the story of the Trojan War via watching Brad Pitt rather than reading Homer's Iliad? 

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Buzz Marketing?

There are a few famous examples of packaging where the bottle or jar itself, through its shape and design, is the branding. Coca-Cola is the best-known, and Orangina is another that springs to mind. Today I'd like to add the "Real German Honey" jar (Echter Deutscher Honig) to the gallery of fame.

The jar is a sturdy item, of thick glass, embossed with the tree and beehive motif from the label. It's no surprise that the jars are reusable, with a deposit, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that some have been in circulation for generations.

The jar itself has certainly been around for generations - it was introduced by the German Association of Beekeepers, the Deutscher Imkerbund in 1926. It's a beautiful example of thinking global (OK, national) and acting local. The non-nonsense jar and green/gold label graphics are standard, a guarantee of quality, while the local beekeeper can customise with his own contact details and honey variety.

Evidence, if it's needed, that Germans take their honey as seriously as they take their beer.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

A Jubilee Toast

I'm off to the UK in a few weeks and expecting to be overwhelmed by the massed Jubilee-Olympics-patriotic-madness that will be abroad.

But I do have one "must-have" souvenir - a Limited Edition jar of Ma'amite. This just had to be a good idea waiting to happen - both the packaging itself and the advertising have got brilliant written all over them. I believe Marmite is the only brand on Facebook that I have genuinely "liked" on its own merit, rather than those that I was working on or wanted to find out about for ulterior motives. The Ma'amite Limited Edition says everything about what Marmite is doing right in its brand communication: coherence rather than consistency.

"Toasting the Queen's Diamond Jubilee" is a stunning line. The whole concept is an expected idea, executed in an unexpected but totally right way.

I always thought that Marmite must have a Royal Warrant but just checked and there isn't one.

But perhaps that will change now.

Tuesday 15 May 2012


If I really wanted to 'drive more traffic to my blog' - a phrase, incidentally, that conjures up images of cattle and whips, I'd stop the slightly quirky titles and promise my readers (sorry, traffic) something finite. 'The 7 habits of highly effective people', for example, or 'The Top 10 ways to drive traffic to your blog' or  'The 6 secrets of highly successful and beautiful women'. Apparently, articles and blog posts of this ilk attract clicks by the million - and it certainly seems to be a successful formula for a best-selling business or self-help book. In fact, the written word is becoming littered with lists, whether it's '100 things to do before you die' or '8 ways to tie a scarf'.

The appeal of this stuff is obvious - much of the thinking is already done, pre-packaged. You can skim through the list and think that you know all that there is to know. But do you? Maybe you recently voted in an article such as 'The 6 enemies of greatness (and happiness)' one that was recently doing the rounds. How many people actually chose an answer other than the given six enemies of greatness (and happiness - actually, why is that in there?)? 

Of course, most of these articles are harmless enough - a bit of pop-psychology to fill in a pause in the day. But underneath it all lurks a danger to original thought. The more we rely on check-sheets and forms and someone else's presentation from SlideShare on 'The 6 successful strategies of brands in commodity markets', the less we rely on first principles and fresh thinking.

I don't know who originally said it, but the thought has always stayed with me: thinking within a fixed circle of ideas is dangerous. As long as the questions remain there, then so will the answers.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

The Renaissance of the Phone Booth

The red telephone boxes of Britain were an inextricable part of my childhood and youth. Usually, the reality of this design classic fell sadly short of the Platonic & chip wrappers, mauled telephone directories, gum on the windows, dubious stinking trickles in the corners...but I still miss them.

I've seen the original telephone boxes turned into everything from garden art to community libraries but now there's a great idea from Italy as to what could replace them.

The "Smart Booth" - born of a cooperation between Telecom Italia, UbiConnected and Turin Universtity as part of Turin's "Smart City Project" does just about everything except wash the dishes. Partly solar-powered, it offers touch-screen calls, wifi, pollution monitoring, electric-vehicle recharging and services from tourism to shopping info and social networking.

You could call it a Renaissance Phone Booth.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Shwop til you drop

One of the biggest things a company can do is admit to having been part of a problem - and set up initiatives that commit to being part of the solution.

That's why I love the new M&S partnership with Oxfam. Instead of side-stepping the issue of landfill and how many clothes are thrown away in the UK, the Shwop initiative confronts the issue full-on, by providing people with the means to help.

The idea is simple: "buy and give back" - M&S are encouraging to bring their old garments (from any brand) into the stores and leave them in a "Shwop Drop Box" when they buy something new. All the garments go to Oxfam to be re-used, re-cycled or re-sold.

The tonality of the initiative is as important as the idea behind it - it's fun, upbeat and participative - something that people will want to join in with.

And it's a million miles away from all those empty promises on some corporate websites.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Easily Peasily

I was never that great at Powerpoint, always preferring to shove it in the direction of Someone that Could.

And, before that, while I struggled my way through a presentation course on the use of overhead slides (do you remember the horror of the research agency turning up with a stack of the things that could challenge the Empire State Building?), I was always more of a flip chart girl.

Marker pens and hand-scrawled graphics were always my chosen mode of operation. I still throw a hand-scrawled thing (scanned, of course) into a presentation now and again these days.

Well, my life could be made easier by the new infographics apps now available online. Take, for example. It's still in beta, but inviting people to come and have a play around. I had a quick look and it all looked very drag 'n drop 'n easy.

I just hope that it won't become as commonplace and groan-inducing as the original clip art stickmen, who I still have nightmares about. They should never have been let near party invitations.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Human Housewives

I've been on a crusade for years to make the word "consumer" taboo. Sometime in the 90s, I addressed the Saatchi P&G team and clients with a plea to erase the word from their vocabularies. "The consumer", for me, conjures images of a passive, bovine creature, chewing contentedly on whatever it's fed.

Despite the efforts of countless others with the same view - see, for example, Leo Burnett's philosophy Humankind - "the consumer" persists. And my main argument against the word is that if you label a human being - or more usually a group of human beings - as "the consumer", you cannot possibly empathise with them. And it doesn't take a history lesson to show how wrong that can be.

Sometimes I wonder if the situation has got worse. "The consumer" doesn't just consume food and drink these days, but everything from whole retail chains to complex financial services and hi-tech kit, which is bizarre if you think about it long enough.

When I very first started working, some of my older colleagues didn't talk about "the consumer". They talked about "housewives". OK, OK, dreadful from the emancipation point of view but at least the word has homely and human connotations. A housewife is a living, breathing human being with talents and failings, dreams and regrets.

I'd rather be described as a housewife than a consumer any day. Housewife is one of my many roles. And maybe it's no co-incidence that housewifery seems to be enjoying a revival these days - with a post-modern irony and a self-depreciating twinkle of the eye.

Now, who's for watching Desperate Consumers?

Monday 16 April 2012

Blighty's beer

The RAF roundel, for various reasons, is one of my favourite pieces of design. I've got it on my website and there are a few brands around that use it in some way as their logo. Ben Sherman, obviously, and rather inexplicably, the German non-alcoholic success story, Bionade.

On my recent visit to the UK, I was reminded of a unashamedly alcoholic brand that also uses the roundel as its cap design. I didn't really witness Spitfire Ale's take-off and climb to the dizzy heights of being the Shepherd Neame Brewery's biggest-selling cask conditioned ale, as I've been out of Blighty since the mid-90s, but I must admit that the whole package is a fine piece of marketing.

Now, I may be too eingedeutscht to find the advertising that hilarious - or maybe I just need a couple of pints of Spitfire to guffaw over "Göring, Göring, Gone" and wordplays on Fokker - but from a design point of view, it's a dream. I love the strapline "Bottle of Britain" - and the beer is more than drinkable, too.

The slightly rum thing was that I spied Spitfire Ale for sale in Lidl in the UK. Maybe those Krauts aren't so sour about the whole thing after all.

Thursday 5 April 2012

"Liking" ourselves to death?

Like most teenagers, "Brave New World" and "1984" were somewhere on my reading list once I'd graduated from the Puffin Club. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't reread either book since and have fallen prey to the popular view that both authors were saying the same thing.

I've recently come across a quote from Neil Postman, from the foreword to his 1985 work "Amusing Ourselves to Death" which rang so true, reflecting where we've come in the three decades since 1984:

"Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."

The truth drowned in a sea of irrelevance, a trivial culture, reduced to passivity and egoism, with an infinite appetite for distractions - Postman had a point when he postulated that Huxley got it right.

It's ironic that maybe Orwell had the better title and buzz word - and that "Big Brother" as shorthand for Reality Show has become the phrase that we've adopted to describe our own 21st century Brave New World.

Sunday 1 April 2012

The Game of Life

One of the oldest tricks in the marketing textbook is getting people to do something boring or laborious but necessary by making it seem desirable, or fun...or a game.

It goes right back to Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence, or those tricks that Mary Poppins used to make clearing up fun. And generations of inventive parents who have turned the washing up or the weeding into an army to be defeated.

Leaps in technology have enabled the gamification of many mundane tasks, including a fascinating example from Cambridge Consultants, the T-Haler. It's a way of helping asthma sufferers get the optimum dose of the drug they need from their inhaler.

Using wireless technology, information is sent to a computer loaded with a "get the ball in the hole" game, so that inhaler users can optimise their behaviour to get the correct dosage.

In this case, a spoonful of sugar, in the form of a game, really can help the medicine go down.