Thursday, November 29, 2007

i am what i am.. oh wait, no i'm not

How I missed this post from Russell for so long I do not know. He nails something I've been thinking about for ages better than I ever could. This notion of 'always in beta' (found via Faris) is beautifully simple: In our current universe, constant improvisation and evolution is not a pressure, it is a necessity. Any veneer loses its shine and changing the surface is more stimulating and engaging that constantly repolishing it.

I've spent the last six months flitting between dozens of comms agencies across New York and London and I started to feel the same way about agency philosophies. It actually started getting painful talking to people about their and even my ideas about the industry. I met a lot of people who had been deliberating for months about how to position themselves; rearranging very similar words like Scrabble players desperate to maximise their score.

Here are just a few phrases currently being used by agencies:

"Ideas that work"
"Productive ideas that excite"
"Fuel the fire of conversation"
"We create ideas for our clients that people want to spend time with"
"Stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in"

After a while it all starts to sound the same. By September, I was thinking, you know what: We all get it. Let's just get on and do good work. A philosophy should be a loose set of guiding principals, or an attitude. If you spend too long trying to craft it into a unique, perfect and eternal flame you'll find things have moved on while you were registering the trademark.

Technology has reduced business, culture and everything else to the real-time physics that human beings have faced since the beginning of time. The world is just a big experimental conversation, in which the most interesting, useful and engaging stimuli wins the moment. The smartest thing for people, agencies and brands (which are all the same thing really) to do is to be flexible, smart, considerate and just get on with it.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

digital recycling

I think most intelligent people would agree that there's way too much stuff in the world. Too much marketing, too much choice - and more specifically, too much repetition. We've become more sensitive about all this for several reasons. Climate issues have caused us to demonize physical excess (packaging and waste) and our ability to flit effortlessly between alternative content online has heightened our awareness of unnecessary digital repetition.

There's good news though.

Recently, Open Social has promised to demolish the brickwork around so-called walled gardens, meaning programmers only need to build one version of their applications, mobile phone manufacturers have agreed to standardize power plugs and wiki-apps have allowed us to work together on single documents rather than create a dozen versions. I also like Zeus Jones' cheeky website - which hijacks existing services, rather than building a new interface to talk about itself.

And why not? Must everyone that wants attention create something entirely new? It seems crazy. (Although it didn't stop Microsoft from creating Virtual Earth and doubling up on thousands of man-hours of programming started by Google)

I've been obsessed with this idea of digital/cultural recycling for a long time and just came across a wonderful example. It seems fitting that I stole it without asking from Nathan. It's called Recaptcha.

Recaptcha cleverly uses the human input needed for security Captchas to digitise books. Brilliant. Here's a better explanation of how Recaptcha works.

There is huge potential for this kind of thing. When millions of people are tapping away at computers every day: filling in forms, clicking links, forwarding emails, there is energy and effort that can easily be re-used if we're smart about it.

Has anyone got any other good examples of this kind of thing? I'd love to hear them and it saves me from sitting here trying to think of hypothetical ones.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

good bose bad bose

This is a tale of Bose earphones. Half good, half bad.
Said earphones are the ones below:

Great sound; good fit. Etc.
The rubber bit that goes in your ear is detachable - so you can choose your size - a bit like my Sony ones:

The Sony ones popped off fairly often and annoyingly I had to go and buy replacements every couple of months. Turns out the Bose ones are even looser - and pop off almost every day. Very annoying. (Glued them in the end)

Here's the Good Bose part.
I emailed Sony to request some spares, since their design fault was costing me money. I was told if I could send my receipt of the original earphones AND of the replacements I could get a refund. Needless to say, I didn't.
Bose, on the other hand obviously heard a lot of complaints and without even so much as mentioning it, posted a spare set to its customers. To be clear: this happened to someone I know in the States and I am assuming she wasn't targeted specifically. She had never complained. Either way, I thought that was great. A silent gesture that spoke volumes.

Here's the Bad Bose bit.
The Bose earphones have a chunky rectangular piece of plastic where the jack goes into your "digital music player of your choice". Why? Presumably, partly to be different and mostly to stick a large logo on it.
The downside? In your pocket or back, this black box wiggles against the side of the jack input and over time damages both earphones and iPod to the point of needing professional repair. I'm demonstrated this with the use of crude Photoshop shapes:

It's a shame. The brand did so much right but in the end faltered because it put its logo before its customers.

All this leads me to say to you: These earphones are great, but don't buy them.

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Monday, November 19, 2007

wikinomics and why I should say less and ask more

Over at the Freakonomics blog, Steven Levitt explains why he prefers to tackle a small part of a question and answer well, rather than take on the whole thing and die trying.

It's a wonderfully simple point, but it struck a chord with me, because when I first started posting on this blog I would compose epic articles, unable - and perhaps unwilling - to leave a side-note unexplored.
The result would be (A) The article would still have holes because I had limited time and expertise to do a good job and (B) No one would join the conversation because I seemed to be having the conversation all by myself.

This is not the way the world should work.
Noah, on the other hand, is an ambassador for how it should work. He starts a conversation - and I suspect holds back from filling in gaps that he's more than capable of filling - in order to prompt group participation. The result is a rich and organic tapestry of input that, while fragmented, is a much more compelling read (and importantly, not only a 'read') than the ramblings of one person. Look out for phase two of his and Piers' Likemind, which will hopefully take this thinking to new heights.

This kind of mass collaboration could become an agency model of the future. I'm certain of it. Someone just needs to work out how to best organise such fragmented input into a valuable product. I presume that Wikinomics will explore this in much greater depth, but it's still on my bookshelf and I haven't started it yet. (Synopsis, anyone?)

So at the risk of highlighting that I am still a bit of an island, does anyone have anything to add to this? Any interesting examples of mass-collaboration being organised in a useful and interesting way? If this is the model for a future creative agency, how might it work? If a few people at the top still choose and re-organise the information, does that go against the very appeal of the approach? And how do we deal with the ego, which as long as we have air in our lungs and a cv/resume to fill, will remain a force that threatens to conflict with this very concept?

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

thames clipper video

After going on about how great it was commuting on the Thames Clipper, I've been meaning to upload a video. So I have. Join me as I go under the Tower Bridge and past the HMS Belfast.

Can anyone tell me the best way to compress a Quicktime for the web. The quality here is awful and the file too big. Damn it.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

pick your words like nerds™

The secret to a good brand tagline is...

1. Be five words in length.
2. Not mention the brand name.
3. Be declarative.
4. Be grammatically complete.
5. Be otherwise standard.
6. Contain alliteration, metaphor, or rhyme.

According to this...

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

the fat tail

For years we've been banging on about how the breakdown in music genres has opened the masses up to niches - how your Auntie now enjoys a bit of Danish hip-hop as well as Wet Wet Wet on her iPod.
It only occurred to me recently - with any noticeable clarity - that the opposite is true: That the new long-tailed digital landscape also gives 'permission' for cooler kids to branch out into more mainstream music, freed from the stigma of its associated genre. I've more than once witnessed Klaxon-haired Hoxtonites hearing a Pussy Cat Dolls track and nodding approvingly. That's the shit that is.

What's that? The Fat Tail?

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Monday, November 05, 2007

the meat market

AdWeek just published this article, that I wrote for them last month. It's about meat.

The importance of meat/substance in brand comms has been buzzing round my head for a couple of years and eventually made it down my arms and out my fingertips. In broad terms it describes the opportunity in the vacuum between fluffy comms ideas and 'brand utility'.

It was actually very tough getting it down to such a small number of words. It's a huge topic and one that deserves elaboration. Perhaps I'll use this post to encourage debate and to spark off further thoughts.

The article is - I'm sorry to say - short of any case studies (partly because of the lack of them) and I'd also love to be pointed to examples that challenge my concerns.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

indecision like no other

I'm getting increasingly confused by the Sony brand.

After the success and popularity of the 'colour like no other' campaign, Sony has started to roll out the 'like no other' thought across other territories. Makes sense. It's quite nice. Although 'colour like no other' rolls off the tongue much nicer than some of the others.

Anyway, the latest is 'music like no other' - as seen attached to the new Walkman Project.

Fine. Only the Walkman range also uses this monstrosity:

This exact technique - base on Milton Glaser's much copied graphic - has been attempted by various other brands including adidas and more recently, The London Underground. Sony Ericsson's version fails most convincingly because I don't think this swirly Sony Ericsson logo 'means' anything to people. The London Underground's campaign worked better because at least the LU symbol is a staple of British design and it represents the very veins that run through the city. This is just try-hard. It basically says: Please think we're a stronger brand than we are.

I digress.

Sony Ericsson.
I #$@ music.
Music Like No Other.

Amusingly, I even found a page where the Music Like No Other ad was being screened. Look at the ad campaign opposite.

It's really confusing. Please stop!
The Walkman is an incredibly strong brand on its own. Is it Sony Ericsson or Sony? (I've seen both) Do I #%$ music, or is it music like no other?? Does anyone care?

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Thursday, November 01, 2007


Today in Urban Outfitters:

Nathan, anything to do with your thing?

safety in numbers

The other week I went to see a documentary called Safety In Numbers at The London Bicycle Film Festival about a team of charity riders called The Fireflies. The movie was screened, along with other bike-related shorts, at the rather lovely Rich Mix theatre on Bethnal Green Road. (Love the walls by the way:)

Director, Nick Mason of Fasten Your Seatbelts Production, joined the Fireflies as they endured their gruelling 2005 ride across the French Alps to support a research and treatment unit for leukaemia. Their geographical journey was from Geneva to Cannes:

Nick, though managed to capture their emotional/spiritual journey beautifully.

The film peaked with an emotional story from one of the riders, panting at the top of a hill. Physically drained, lightheaded from the ride and overwhelmed by the moment, the rider (whose name I'm embarrassed to have forgotten - Nick?) told his personal story for being involved.

He was in Sri Lanka for Christmas when the Tsunami hit. He and his family rushed upstairs to avoid the impact of the first waves, but his son had disappeared. When the water had receded, he searched for his son in a state of sheer panic. To his relief, his son had been rescued by a Dutch man who pulled him up into a tree. They became great friends after the incident but months later, their Dutch hero was diagnosed with leukaemia. Driven by intoxicating emotions of gratitude and anger, our Firefly would face those mountains every year. And when his legs felt they could take no more he would think of this man who saved his son.

I didn't write that last paragraph to unnecessarily sensationalize the story. I wrote it because it was the story. We are desensitized to the realities behind charity initiatives. We hear about bike rides and runs, see photos of smiling people sweating it out and holding up large cheques for charity. They're such a part of our culture that we forget what it's for. And when we do see what it's for, it's in the form of a guilt-inducing advertisement, probably using actors.

I'm glad I went to see Safety In Numbers. I only went because I knew the Director. I sat watching it in the dark, on my own. But I left re-engaged with something I rarely think about in any great detail.

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