Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Thursday, May 31, 2007

More quotables

Because we watched Ocean's Eleven last night, and my gosh, it's a fabulously deadpan deviation away from the screenplay:


The great metal gate opens once more, revealing Danny
Ocean in its frame again, ready for release.

He looks forward -- no one's there to greet him, and the
view of New Jersey looks no brighter than it did before.
He takes his first step into free America...

... to discover Rusty leaning against the prison wall.
Beyond him sits his second-hand Mercedes from L.A.


I hope you were the groom.


Ted Nugent called. He wants his shirt back.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


First in an erratic series of posers that - one suspects - only get asked in advertising, marketing, design and branding agencies:

1. What's a 'Northern' font?

2. How many flames does it take to make a fire?

Answers on the back of an email etc etc.



1. On why Listorama exists here:

Bare lists of words are found suggestive to an imaginative and excited mind.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

as sourced from's newsletter.

2. On the subject of the Labour Party's election for the position of deputy leader, as debated on television last night:

"Isn't it the most pointless election since the last one they had in North Korea?"


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Round up

Various bits and pieces to keep you ticking over:

1. May's recommendations for 26 are here; plus a review of the recent Common Ground event in Oxford.

2. Metropolis magazine has a very good piece on the use and misuse of the word 'passion'. In particular note that:

Passion is an unstoppable overflowing of emotion that destroys in its satisfaction, that torpedoes lives and marriages and nations, that shoots husbands or coworkers or strangers in rage. It is the hot lava of the soul, and it burns what it pours over.

Bear that in mind next time a brand is passionate about widgets. (Thanks to Thunk for the tip.)

3. Rory Sutherland over at Brand Republic has an interesting notion - celebrating those brands which are excellent but unfashionable. Argos is on the money, but I'm really not sure about Ian Paisley - brilliance in that context is somewhat hard to see. But still, the notion is good. There are other brands that we should learn from, that aren't the usual run of Apple, Nike, Innocent etc (which often are on the list as people just want to work there/for them.)

My vote would go to Superdrug: it's unfashionable as your Dad in his tweed suit, but my god does it get the job of retailing cosmetics and medicines cheaply done,
and more efficiently than Boots.

4. A piece in Campaign last month is worth further attention and reflection. Andrew Cracknell mused on his return to the real world after a career in the service of advertising. He notes that:

That's one of the big adjustments you have to make when you come out of a lifetime of advertising. Getting used to the fact that nobody cares about it, thinks about it, talks about it - even notices it.

The full piece suggests an industry, if not in crisis, then at least in some sort of terminal spiral that it can't really find a route out of. If more and more brand managers start to decide that the 'archness' and 'clever games' that the industry produces actively harms their brands, then what's left? Far-sighted brand managers will turn to design and PR to more actively achieve their aims, rather than hoping that adverts hit more than they miss.

5. News just in: The New York Times reports that user-generated ad campaigns are not actually cheaper. And are less likely to result in high-quality commercials. In other news, a bear confirmed that he considers the woods his bathroom.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Commercial: Brandorama

Two branding bits and pieces that have caught the eye over the last few days:

1. A quick stop at Paperchase meant the purchase of a delightful travel journal, on sale as part of their current 'Travel Slickness' range. It has a drawing of a TWA 1982 Boeing 762-200 ER plane on the front and, on the back, this message:

Shortly your sleek TWA starliner will lift her nose into the blue of evening and streak through starlit heavens. In a few hours, you will touch down softly on the other coast or in the once-distant lands across the sea.

Isn't that beautiful? Can any airline today claim that mastery of language?

2. In one of his more melancholic rants in the London Evening Standard, Norman Lebrecht yesterday mused on the purchase of EMI by private equity firm Terra Firma, and showed some affection for the old company: "a Canute-like stubbornness was part of its... charm and innately British character. This was a company that made producers come to work in striped trousers: as late as the Sixties, George Martin remembers artists being sent home from Abbey Road for being improperly dressed."

He then goes on, perhaps inadvertently, to define EMI's brand essence:

the peculiar blend of classical discipline and progressive experiment that spilled out onto Abbey Road tea-tables... EMI was a unique alloy of past and future, pull and push.

Not many brands today would dare to have such a challenging approach - or indeed one so evocative. One hopes the new owners make something of it, as well as the geographical heritage embedded in "the somnolence of Victorian mansion blocks."


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Poetry: Cutty Sark

Typical. I write a topical haiku for the first time in forever, and then I see that the competition that was running forever, has ended. Ho hum.


Greenwich girl

She wore a cutty sark
smiled at all the London boys.
She burnt their hearts out.


Commercial: Innovate Britannia

Not widely reported, but a little chart in the back of last week's Economist shows that the UK has a long way to go before it is considered a world-leader in innovation.

The Economist Intelligence Unit's recently published report, 'Innovation: Transforming the way business creates', ranked Japan as having the most innovative economy for the period between 2002 and 2006. The top 20, in order, was:

1. Japan
2. Switzerland
3. United States
4. Sweden
5. Finland
6. Germany
7. Denmark
8. Taiwan
9. Netherlands
10. Israel
11. Austria
12. France
13. Canada
14. Belgium
15. South Korea
16. Norway
17. Singapore
18. United Kingdom
19. Ireland
20. Italy

Although the measure, based on a count of patents filed per million of population, is not necessarily ideal, it is a good proxy for innovation. Japan's success is achieved despite poorer scores in factors such as human capital stock, IT/telecoms infrastructure and a conformist educational system, because of what the report describes as an "innovate or die" approach.

Small countries perform disproportionately well too, attributed to comprehensive welfare and education systems, and high achievement in science and mathematical education. "Small countries," the report says, "also benefit from easier networking and comparative advantages derived from clusters of historical specialisms".

There are number of things to note about this. One is that the UK, in the report's forecast, is only predicted to rise two places for the period 2007-2011. Another is that there are a number of countries - especially Belgium - that could successfully incorporate messages about their innovate status into their national branding programmes. And clearly not all is dire in France, with their score six places above Britain.

But mostly it suggests that, despite the intensive focus on skills and productivity in the last ten years, innovation actually has to rise higher up the British political agenda.

Cynically, one might say that as soon as patents are issued in bullshit, the UK will vault ahead. But, even leaving aside the work of bodies like NESTA, there's a horrible sense that a combination of a lack of science and technology graduates, a high technology base that isn't large enough and economies rapidly catching up elsewhere, could leave the UK again facing a battle to stave off an economic decline in the next 20 years.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Capsule: Stephen Bayley on the Boilerhouse

A foreshortened talk at the Design Museum last night, with Stephen Bayley wandering down memory lane and re-telling how the Boilerhouse project started, and how that in turn begat the D Museum, was notable for three things he said:

1) There is an inevitable paradox in design, in that to design you must believe that there is a problem that needs to be solved, but that the solution that you provide is such that it cannot be improved upon - a position that no other designer is likely to agree with you on.

2) "An exhibition should be journalism in 3D."

3) Design, for all intents and purposes is dead. For him, design is ultimatley about the aesthetics, form and function of mechanical and industrial products, so organic/sustainable/social design are currents that don't really count, over and above "the pretty".


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Listorama special: Royal Opera House salutations

There is another tale to be told about the poor user experience of trying to book tickets for a performance of Into The Woods at the Royal Opera House. But while being rejected from the system umpteen times as my username options were found to be on the system (even ‘Bobette’), the following list caught my eye. These are the title options available to people who wish to register to use the ROH website.

There’s an interesting brand question around whether such detail is pandering to their existing market, at the expense of putting off new customers, but for now, marvel at the precise calibrations of British flummery:

1st Lt
2nd Lt
Canon Dr
Countess of
Crown Prince
Dowager Marchioness of
Duke of
Earl of
Group Captain
HRH the Duchess of
HRH the Duke of
HRH The Princess
HE Senora
HE The French Ambassador M
His Highness
His Hon
His Hon Judge
Hon Ambassador
Hon Dr
Hon Lady
Hon Mrs
HRH Sultan Shah
HRH The Prince
HRH The Princess
HSH Princess
HSH The Prince
Lord & Lady
Lord Justice
Lt Cdr
Lt Col
Maj Gen
Marchioness of
Marquess of
Mr & Mrs
Mr & The Hon Mrs
Prof Emeritus
Prof Dame
Rev Canon
Rev Dr
Rev Mgr
Rev Preb
Reverend Father
Right Rev
Rt Hon
Rt Hon Baroness
Rt Hon Lord
Rt Hon Sir
Rt Hon The Earl
Rt Hon Viscount
The Baroness
The Countess
The Countess of
The Dowager Marchioness of
The Duchess
The Duchess of
The Duke of
The Earl of
The Hon
The Hon Mr
The Hon Mrs
The Hon Ms
The Hon Sir
The Lady
The Lord
The Marchioness
The Misses
The Princess
The Reverend
The Rt Hon
The Rt Hon Lord
The Rt Hon Sir
The Rt Hon The Lord
The Rt Hon the Viscount
The Rt Hon Viscount
The Venerable
The Very Rev Dr
Very Reverend
Viscount & Viscountess
W Baron


Friday, May 18, 2007

Capsule: Antony Gormley


The brilliance of the white that you see as you enter The Hayward for the Antony Gormley retrospective is not just dazzling. It is ominous.

The title piece of the exhibition, 'Blind Light', throbs in front of you, with only the glass preventing the white substance from flooding out towards you. As you round the corner to the entrance, you see the steam licking out from the doorway-sized gap. You feel the dread that accompanies the hero’s pigeon steps towards a monster’s lair.

You take a deep breath and then shiver as you enter. You feel the water vapour going up your nose, and you slow to a simple step by step pace, your hands going in front of you, your glasses misting up. You stop. The person in front carries on. They disappear in one pace.

It’s lonely and scary inside, but comforting too, as you hear voices you semi-recognise float through the cloud. Hand pressed on glass, you feel your way round for whence you came, and you emerge, trailing water and dampness around with you. And as you move around the outside, you recognise the sense of community that this box is creating. We wave at people on the inside, as they loom out at us from the fog, before they hit the glass. It’s a gloaming that grins.

That sense of lightness and joy from the bleak runs throughout this exhibition. You see it in the unexpected juxtaposition of bulk and precision that is ‘Space Station’, so immense and dark that you almost miss it on your way in. It’s an interstellar craft with a Lego brick finish and the weight of a feather, balancing elegantly on three or four corners.

You also feel it in the ‘Matrices and Explosions’ room upstairs. Both solid and fragile at the same time, the forms remind us that we are made up of our webs and connexions to others, however brittle they may be. They are the nests and cradles in which we are nurtured. They shape us, define us. Are us.

And where, as in ‘Drawn’, to be human means to be nervous, multifaceted, splayed, you can also find the transcendence of being taken into your body to be taken out of your body, so that you can inhabit a watchful serenity. ‘Allotment’ is precisely that, a meditation of what it means to be three-dimensional, and in relation to others. You walk through a field of sarcophagi, through clusters of friends, families, enemies. In death, in concrete, apparently, such labels do not matter. People stare into the voids of these personal tombs, and measure themselves against them – which one will I fit into?

Because for all the seriousness and depth of his themes, people connect with Gormley, love Gormley, precisely because he allows his humans – us, his audience – to be playful. So ‘Event Horizon’ can become an upmarket Where’s Wally?, or ‘Hatch’ a home serieux Crystal Maze, and we are reminded that there is always laughter in the darkness.

If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t be subject to that most universal of human experiences, queuing, to get into various installations. If there wasn’t, you wouldn’t be able to buy a Gormley cloud dome as you leave. And if there wasn’t, you wouldn’t see a couple kissing by the glow of the blind, white light.


Capsule: Attempts on Her Life

A sort of review of the Katie Mitchell production of Martin Crimp's play, that was recently in rep at the National Theatre. You can see more conventional comments on the show microsite.


- Circular narrative

- End scene: skimping

- Too much having cake and eating it

- Significance of red/AIDS not clear

- Late Review spoof is a giveaway; X-files should be the XX-files

- Early jump? Too much!

- Most feminist

- But a crucial lack of mother

- Men are idiots. Like the policemen and boyfriend. Let’s stay with them for a long period and look at their innefectiveness; how they are mocked by a simple mirroring of their actions

- Fourth wall gets higher

- Mediation does not adding anything

- Pirandello/Absurdist + Lynch + Kundera + McLuhan = Crisp + Mitchell

- An elevator pitches to start? But they never go on that long

- Art film: Gordon/ Julien

- A hard-working company: backs to audience. Cold

- Misdirection not in craft, but in fooling

- This production could not have been made without the art of Sarah Lucas and Tracy Emin


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Commercial: A branding reading list

Following some requests, below are some titles which I’ve found useful to further my knowledge and thinking about brands, and the practice of branding. The list is available to download from Scribd. Enjoy.

1) Various – The Economist: Brands and Branding

This should be your starting point. It’s the best comprehensive textbook and primer for the field. It has solid introductions to all the basic concepts, and in the second half touches on the key issues that brand managers and marketers are facing. The basic concepts described are pretty much the same wherever you come across them, so don’t be thrown if words you see used aren’t familiar – they’re just different ways of describing the same thing.

2) David Aaker – Brand Portfolio Strategy

Brands are about ideas and reputations. If a product brand gets its reputation right, it can extend into other product niches or services (line extensions). This is sometimes called a ‘brand portfolio’. Corporate brands often need to decide how to present the brands that they own or control – whether they acknowledge a link, or make sure everything looks the same and is recognisably from the same family. Aaker’s book is a good introduction to these issues, and some of the strategies that can be used.

3) Wally Olins – On Brand

Olins is founder of the practice of branding as we understand it in the UK, and as such is a hugely influential figure. ‘On Brand’ sums up his career, and is useful for some of the detailed case studies of clients and projects he has worked on, in particular the strategy he set for the Volkswagen group, which is still broadly followed. His thoughts on why branding will only grow in importance for public and civil sector organisations, including charities and NGOs, are useful as well. And there’s a refreshing lack of jargon in his writing too.

4) Robert Jones – The Big Idea

Jones is head of consulting at Wolff Olins (the agency that Wally Olins co-founded). The book was first released on 10 September 2001, and partly because of that, it didn’t get the attention that it deserved. A recent re-reading suggested that is quite undervalued, as Jones has some interesting things to say about brand essences, the central organising principles or ideas that underpin all brands. It’s a touch fluffy in places, but is a great insight into how genuinely innovative companies use their big ideas to help stand out from their competitors.

5) Various – Great Brand Stories

Published by Cyan, this an ongoing series of short books which tell the stories of some brands that you know, and some that you don’t. Mixing history, case study and lessons, they’re nearly always a good read, well designed and packed with a lot of insight. The most interesting titles are nearly always those which are about companies or things which you don’t think of as being brands: Harry Potter and David Beckham being good examples. My favourites in the series are the ones about Ikea and Arsenal.

6) Douglas Holt – How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding

Holt is a professor at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, and is one the key thinkers about brands and branding. His work, of which this book is a good summary, focuses in part on the way in which brands can becomes part of societies’ wider cultural myths, and what they can do to further that process.

7) Kevin Roberts – Lovemarks

Included as an example of thinking and writing which can give branding a bad name, Roberts is CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide, and is on a self-proclaimed mission to show “how brands can take the next step up the evolutionary ladder.” It’s nothing if not passionate, but when it means that he’s invited to start giving advice to the US Department of Defense as to how to make the War on Terror into a lovemark, then you fear that his brand of non-analytical thinking might have gone too far.

8) Alex Frankel – Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words into Big Business

This is a fabulous little book which tells in-depth the stories of four brand names and one phrase, and how companies, outside agencies and employees came together to make, create and popularise them. ‘e-business’, BlackBerry, Viagra and Accenture all come under the spotlight, and what strikes is the serendipity that surrounds finding the best and brightest brand names. For a more practical guide to brand naming, have a look at Neil Taylor’s recently published ‘The Name of The Beast’.

9) James Collins and Jerry Porras – Built to Last; and Jim Collins – Good to Great

These are classic business and management textbooks, and not about branding per se. But they’re useful, because a brand needs to align with underlying business strategy if it is to work properly, and these books give some insight into the sort of thought processes that companies need to undertake if they are great. I’m proud to say that I’ve often cribbed from these, in trying to assess a brand or an organisation’s ambition.

10) Marty Neumeier – The Brand Gap: How To Bridge The Distance Between Business Strategy and Design

‘Design’, as a philosophy and thought process as well as an aesthetic discipline, is going to be the next big thing that helps brands to differentiate themselves. So a book that purports to shed some insight into that is in theory a good thing. Unfortunately, this book might not be it. It looks lovely, but is a bit shallow. You can get a slide-based summary of its key arguments here.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Listorama: British press photography assignments

Via The Independent and then When Saturday Comes, explaining last month's archive photo of Newcastle supporters in 1932 by James Jarche ("a personality whose list of assignments read like a social history"). Assignments Jarche undertook included:

* the manufacture of penicillin
* developing the jet engine
* dancing the can-can
* digging for coal
* life in Hyde Park
* copperworks in Swansea
* beauty contests at the seaside
* chemical laboratories
* motor racing
* expanding the London Underground
* Roman pageants
* Kipper Girls in Scotland
* Amy Johnson's airplane
* King George V's coronation
* the launch of the QEII

and by all accounts there were more.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

Commercial: Brand consistency

In my heart of hearts, I think that the era of monolithic brands is drawing to a close, and those that brands which will form true bonds with consumers in the future will be those that are not as overtly concerned with design and or message consistency.

But then you read a paragraph like this, and think, yes, let's make all brand managers this crazy:

In an ideal world Sir Alex Ferguson would rather have won the league at Old Trafford, but as an alternative Manchester United's supporters will cherish the fact that their ninth coronation in 14 years was preordained at a stadium where employees are forbidden to have red company cars and, no kidding, diners in the executive lounges splash blue ketchup on their chips.

So, with passion like this, why don't Manchester City perform better? Funny old game...


Monday, May 07, 2007

Long tail wagging 1

You really can find anything... without even trying too hard. Lest we think that every piece of creative IP in every archive has been mined yet, here's something that hasn't. From the 'seminal' (in every sense) early 1990s show 'The Mary Whitehouse Experience'. You'd have thought they could (OK, I'm guessing Newman) would allow this to go to DVD; ego suggests otherwise. In the meantime, in YouTube we trust. Enjoy.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007


On the way back from seeing Attempts on her Life at the National Theatre last night:

Exchange 1

- "Was your curiosity gene suppressed when you were younger?"
- "I dunno. I never bothered to find out."

Exchange 2

- "I always eat more when I'm cold."
- "So do all these obese people disprove global warming?"


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


On the eve of the Champions League semi-final between Liverpool and Chelsea:

"We must scare and score"

so expect Jose draped in a white sheet on the touchline. Might be a bit tricky for him to run down to the Kop in that.