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..."