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

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

26 recommendations

for June are here.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Listorama week day 5: Buzzword bingo

The clear out last weekend also brought forth a postcard with a collection of meeting/business jargon. It is a horrid collection.

sense check
the full 9 yeards
touch base
value adding
heads up
top quartile
lessons learnt
schedule driven
take that off line
goal posts
proactive not reactive
core business
movers & shakers
no brainer
game plan
put this one to bed
ball park figures
win win scenario
ticks in boxes
result driven
show stoppers
big picture
cascade down
strategic fit
schedule driven
mission statement
shareholder confidence
big ticket items
ducks in a row
fast track
bench marking
any latin word


Friday, June 22, 2007

Listorama week day 4: Activities Vodafone is encouraging you to do, now that the internet is mobile


Nick at Ewarwoowar has much more about the campaign, not least because he's been intimately involved in creating it. No doubt this list will be updated as more executions are spotted.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Listorama week day 3: The attributes of Quarks and Antiquarks

As defined in Billy Bragg's concise thesauraus:


Quoted on p64, The Progressive Patriot


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Listorama week day 2: Estate agents' London

A clear out over the weekend yielded some interesting documents, including this one from the defunct FT magazine The Business. What's interesting is how few of these have actually caught on. Still there are some successful examples of rebranding to be found below.

From north, moving clockwise around the circular arterial roads:

New (old)

Whitehall Park (Archway)
Highgate Borders (Crouch End / nr Highgate Tube)
Clissold Park (Stoke Newington around Church Street)
London Fields (West Hackney)
Clapton Square (Central Hackney)
Victoria Park Village (South Hackney)
North Shoreditch (Dalston)
Sosho (South of Shoreditch)
South Central (Southwark / Waterloo, inc Elephant & Castle)
SoBo (South of Borough, Bermondsey)
Hatcham Park (New Cross, north of New Cross Gate)
Telegraph Hill (New Cross, south of New Cross Gate)
Blackheath Borders (Lewisham)
Peckham Village (Central Peckham)
West Walworth (East of Kennington Road)
Clapham South (Streatham)
South Wandsworth (Balham)
South Chelsea (Battersea)
Brackenbury Village (Between Hammersmith and Brook Green)
Poets' Corner (Acton)
West Portobello (White city)
Little Venice (Warwick Ave)

FT The Business magazine, 03.11.01


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Listorama week day 1: Military technologies

Kicking off a week of lists...Technology that has driven military advances, according to the UK's Ministry of Defence. If you can answer the question "What's next?", perhaps you'd like to apply for the position of Director of concepts and technology, as advertised in The Economist this week.

Iron horseshoe
Steam engine
Electric motor
Gattling gun
Internal combustion engine
Powered flight
Jet engine
Guidance systems
Homing device
Thermal imaging
Quantum computing


Monday, June 18, 2007

Commercial: Prometeus - The Media Revolution

As noted in the Experientia blog, Putting people first, this is a vision of the future. A wee bit scary. Some of the proposed brands are quite cool though.



Things you might have missed:

1. Simon Jenkins elegantly putting the boot into Whole Foods and food-faddism in general.

2. Debate London is on at Tate London this weekend, as part of Architecture Week for those of us who aren't otherwise occupied by Glasto.. Particularly notable for one of the postcard flyers for the series which asked, "Do you want to live in London or are you stuck here?"

3. Carlsberg has been throwing its money away again...

4. Esther Dyson on Facebook, the attention economy, the uses of information etc etc etc...


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Notes on: Designing interactions

Bill Moggridge of IDEO and Gillian Crampton-Smith were in (sort of) conversation on Friday at the Design Museum in London. Some highlights were:

- "Design the right thing, and the thing right": the motto follwed at IVREA

- The task of interaction design is to tame complexity

- People don't want to remember how to use things. Or use the manual. Or be made to look stupid by the machines they own

- Academic ideas and research on interaction design are not making it out into the real (commercial) world

- Writing, according to Socrates, was the death of memory

- Read Guy Kawasaki's post about being able to start a web 2.0 business for about $12,000

- Companies aren't very good at knowing how to make stuff that meets needs as well as desires

- There is much to be learnt from play, and playing with toys

- Build in rewards for understanding control loops. Make the loops simple at first, and then gradually increase their difficulty

- Design for people on the edges of the bell curve

- To understand latent needs, you don't need to use market research methods

- Use narrative prototyping to tell a story about complex services

- Designing is like playing with a pinball machine

- You need to learn to work across many disciplines, but you must have one really strong craft skill

- We underestimate the body's role in helping us know the world

- Someone designed a table with GPS in it. But it can't communicate with the satellite when it is indoors. It says, 'Table is lost'

- Software that is aimed at the professional (and resultingly complex) should be moved towards the consumer, and have most features turned off to start with

- You can design paths for change

- The visual iconography for Mac's OS X was in part inspired by circular reflections in the ice cubes in whisky adverts in glossy US magazines

Much else can be found on the book, DVD and website Designing Interactions.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quotable: Anthony Lane

Just in case you'd forgotten, the best film critic in the world (in the sense that he writes 'the best', with more elegance in once sentence than, I dunno, the entire canon of Henry James) is still throwing out gems like this:

As “Spider-Man 3” has proved, rumpus minus cohesion equals mess.

Gaaah. Envy is induced. Yet again.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The next big thing

A postive, pro-fat 'rant', from over the pond. Very well done, if a little long, and Joy is set to become a star, by all accounts.


Grist. Mill. Liberalism: On being feral

Some thoughts and reflections on that speech:

1. The hunch is that, along with his address to the House of Commons in 2003, and his speech in Chicago on humanitarian intervention in 1999, yesterday's speech on the 'feral' media will be Tony Blair's most talked about set-piece address. And while that para is arresting, it's actually what comes in the para above it that gives the speech force:

Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgement. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial. Watergate was a great piece of journalism but there is a PhD thesis all on its own to examine the consequences for journalism of standing one conspiracy up.

I disagree with the esteemed Stephen Tall in that the fact that the speech failed to present either a new analysis or solutions to the problem meant that it lost some rhetorical impact. Its force came from the notion, however incohate, however late the call or tainted the messenger, that this was something that needed to be said.

2. The mass media then proceeded to reinforce Blair's points for him, both directly and indirectly. Above is the Daily Telegraph's headline on its first report of the speech from its website. Here's what Blair actually said about regulating communications:

The regulatory framework at some point will need revision. The PCC is for traditional newspaper publishing. OFCOM regulate broadcasting, except for the BBC, which has its own system of regulation. But under the new European regulations all television streamed over the internet may be covered by OFCOM. As the technology blurs the distinction between papers and television, it becomes increasingly irrational to have different systems of accountability based on technology that no longer can be differentiated in the old way.

How this is done is an open question and, of course, the distinction between balance required of broadcasters but not of papers remains valid. But at some point the system is going to change and the importance of accuracy will not diminish, whilst the freedom to comment remains.

That is a long way from saying he is backing or calling for a new online journalism regulator. One point to Blair.

Meanwhile, over at The Guardian, they had a more subtle way of making their feelings felt (see image 2).

3. Bluntly, the fact that Blair has made the speech - and got largely the reaction he was anticipating - shows that, as Emily Bell argued, the model for political-media interaction is broken. The question is what happens next.

The harsh fact is that, however valuable the fourth estate is to contemporary discourse and culture, it is the last institution that operates with relative unaccountability and state oversight. This is as it should be. But for this privileged position to continue, people in newspapers, broadcasters and elsewhere need to reflect on what about their methods and presentation needs to change so that people feel willing to pay the price that a free and vigorous media entails.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Commercial: The Cult of The Amateur

Not a full-blown review of Andrew Keen's book, which is the text for the next Innovation Reading Circle, but instead a emailed response to some of the points he made in a recent FT-hosted debate. I neglected to mention the fact that there's a lot of evidence out there which actually suggests that people want - and are consuming - more 'serious' media content.


- "need to treat newspapers or independent media as a public utility" - Well, that's what we know as public service broadcasting, which isn't immune from the pressures on mainstream media at all. Plus, who is he expecting to guarantee freedom from the market if not the state? And the last 500 years in the history of media has been publishers attempting to move away from the state's clutches, for obvious reasons.

- "media literacy" - he's right, but it's nothing that Ofcom and others haven't been banging on about for the last few years. See specifically Sonia Livingstone of the LSE's work in this area.

- "For most of us, however, looking at the Internet (ie: ourselves) is a sobering and rather shameful experience." - Who's shame? What's he looking at? It's perfectly possible to go weeks and months without coming across anything offensive. You have to go and find it. A statement like that rather gives the lie to the idea that he's only being polemical in the book (and reinforces that point that he comes across like a Catholic priest attempting to hold back the Vulgate Bible).

- "We shouldn't be shy to aggressively fight organisations like the Creative Commons which peddle a lot of seductive nonsense about the common ownership of intellectual content." - That's a coffee spluttering out of mouth moment. Seductive nonsense? About the idea that intellectual property should be renewed and available for all of use to use, and make our own intellectual property - even simply increase our personal intellectual capital with? If I was feeling paranoid, I'd suggest at this point he's simply being a paid apologist for an industry which knows its business model based on outdated and unfair copyright regimes is dying, and can't be bothered to innovate a new future for itself.

- "an increasingly narcissistic world" - this he may have a point on. But I still think it'd be interesting to do a comparison of his analysis with Cass Sunstein's vision of the 'daily me', which was far more insightful in terms of damage to democracy, because of the inability of the polity to inform themselves sufficiently.

- "I don’t have a problem with amateurs expressing themselves online as long as they remain consumers of professional media content. " - Strikes me as being anti-democratic, that. As well as ignoring the fact that, for most people, they do precisely remain consumers of MSM. Few blogs don't refer to MSM outlets and stories - and indeed prove and/or disprove their facts. Who doesn't incorporate some RSS feeds from an mainstream news publisher into their mix? This idea that people will live in a bubble of amateur media consumption is rather like suggesting that a majority of people will only ever watch am-dram theatre, because they find it 'better'. Nonsense.

Gosh, I'm rather prejudicing my reading of the book here. I do, however, remain surprised at the a-historicity of his arguments. His analysis could have been applied to the 18th century and the development of the free press in the UK, the 19th century and the birth of radical trade unions/labour newspapers associated with the movement. And heavens, wasn't the penny dreadful and the anonymous satirist given wing in radical London? We as a society seem to have been able to survive those cheapening moments in intellectual discourse without too much damage.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Commercial: From brands to apps and back

A thought which emerged last night, while wrestling with notions of what will make a truly great brand in this century, and refined while having a look at Bubblegeneration this morning.

The insight came from thinking about various facebook applications, and why they are working. As a rough rule of thumb, you could argue that an app is great because it allows the discovery and manipulation of information and data (especially about peoples's economic and social behavioural preferences), while having the following characteristics:

- it is scalable (it can handle an ever increasing data set)
- it is socialising (people can find people though it, as well as display themselves)
- it is sharable (people use it in a way that demands that its true utility is only released when friends and others use it too)
- it is sticky (it is the best app for its particular task).

These, when examined more closely, are also values that a good brand should have:

- scalable (works in all medias and channels, with idea and identity remaining intact, or with a high degree of integrity)
- socialising (people want to be seen with or using the brand)
- sharable (people become ambassadors for the brand, evangelising about it and encouraging people to use it)
- sticky (no other brand works for that person in fulfilling that task).

Add to this the key foundation that the app/brand should be useful (or contain 'utility', to use Rory Sutherland's word - focused on the user) and the key topping that the brand should convey an 'emotional' idea or hook, and you start to have the makings of a road map to great 21st century brands.

There are other factors to consider, such as: those around brands being more porous and flexible, and not being locked into one monolithic identity, so that they can work within and without wider networks; gaining of attention; responses to constant monitoring; and ease of interaction.

But the hunch is that the world-beating companies of the next few years will be those whose brands, apps, services and products display those four 's' characteristics while innovating around the way in which data is handled (widely defined to include digitised media/cultural products), to allow 'connection' between disparate people.

PS: The above ties into Russell Davies' thoughts on why it's vital that we find new thinking and approaches to connecting customers to products, services and companies.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

Poetry: Destiny

(after Dali and Disney)

Boy meets girl inside
liquid film. Birds fly, roses bloom;
they get scared and part.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Capsule: New Young Pony Club

They keep Club Koko in Camden waiting, as only the slim, arrogant ones can; and then appear without a breath and immediately launch into their best song. 'Get Lucky' crashes and pulverises, with its minor key insistence and relentless undercarriage. It's a totemic slab of a calling card, the inversion of love to mere 'luck' clever and insidious. Nothing else will be this good in their short set. But when that's your signature, what else do you need?

NYPC settle into electro-pop bliss and set poses. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - worryingly - and New Order are the obvious touchstones. Everyone has their stance. Guitarist Andy is all enthusiasm, Igor on bass the poseur, Lou oozes class and glitter behind her keyboards and Sarah in the engine room does not stop all night.

You could take the boys home to meet your dad, the other girls to meet your mum. But it's Tahita you'd want to take to bed. She prowls, slinks, erupts across the stage and makes everyone hers. It is awesomely erotic. Whirling and bouncing and plunging in a yellow wrap-round dress and red trainers, she is the ultimate in fantasies. 'Ice Cream' is introduced with the exhortation to "dance from your groin". She ends it in a post-coital heap, declaring it better than sex. On that evidence, who'd argue? Plenty in the audience would like to find out, though.

The 'nu-rave' tag that NYPC carry comes not from glow sticks or whistles. It's something far more substantial: their ability to induce a sheer giddy rush of euphoria last experienced in about 1992, when happy hardcore was all the rage. It's coming up, with all that entails. And for those of us old enough to know better, dancing manically in our raincoats like Manc dads, they makes us forget that we are on a nostalgia trip. (Although the carpets upstairs at Koko are rubbish for dancing on.)

In the future Tahita will be an indie-dance Amazonian leaving the rest of NYPC behind, in the same way Bjork launched her adventures via the Sugarcubes. But for now treasure the cowbells, the delirium, the energy and joy of five people who know they are going to blow the minds of many people this summer. This is one pony that ain't pony.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Listorama special: UK money and related slang

As sourced from the spring edition of BDO Stoy Hayward's 33 thoughts:

current words:
moola wonga
lady (fiver)
Ayrton Senna (tenner)
commodore (£15)
Jude Law (£20)
pony (£25)
Hawaii (£50)
monkey (£500)
gorilla (£1,000)
Archer (£2,000)
Bernie (£1m)
bin Laden (500 Euros)
bees and honey
whistle and toot (loot)
Ken Dodd (wad)

defunct words:
the Maggie
a good screw
plastic fantastic


Quotable: on unread books; and Swedish tennis

1. Just started reading The Black Swan by Nassem Nicholas Taleb; it's shaping up to be one of those social science tomes that ends up rewiring your brain. And you can't help but be won over by a book that throws out early on this nugget:

...a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allow you to put there.

2. As mentioned by Geoff Dyer in his piece about Brad Gilbert in the latest Observer Sports Monthly, this is an arresting line from Bjorn Borg by William Scammell:

whether chess against a breaking wave

Do you think it's too late for Bergman to make a film about tennis?


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Brandorama: Olympics-ology

Much opinion has been, and no doubt will continue to be, vented about the London 2012 games logo which was unveiled yesterday. As the parodies (and the petitions) come thick and fast, suffice to say that, while the majority of the population was never going to be convinced by any logo, or indeed the argument that there needs to be one to protect the IP and relevant trademarks around the games, it does rather seem that there has been a mis-step somewhere (one suspects in the strategy), to focus rather too heavily on the street/urban/youth side of London, rather than the whole city. It's a shame, as it's not as inclusive a logo as it can and should be, and as the original ribbon logo for the bid was.

But, anyway, let us instead celebrate the last two design icons the Olympics threw up: Lance Wymann, Mexico City 1968 and Otl Aicher, Munich 1972.

Who said modernism was no good?


Monday, June 04, 2007

Commercial: Brands and big ideas

Underpinning any good or great brand should be a big idea: the textbooks refer to them sometimes as a 'central organising principle' or an 'essence'. It is the thing that makes the brand different and stand out from all its competitors in its market(s); it is also the thing that is so embedded in the brand's (and hopefully the organisation where the brand comes from) DNA that its competitors cannot copy it easily. (Note that it doesn't have to be explicit in a brand's communications, but you should be able to discern it within them.)

Big ideas can be (should be?) disruptive, emotional, crazily ambitious - but above all, compelling. Ideas that people will be interested in finding out more about, becoming a part of.

Some examples of brands' big ideas were provided in The Guardian on Saturday:

Southwest Airlines
- 'democratise the skies'
ING Direct - 'lead customers back to savings'
craigslist - 'nerd values'.

But a little shows you the inherent dangers in all of these as well, and hence why it is so difficult for brands to maintain any pre-eminent position that they might achieve. For example, ING Direct have come under a lot of criticism in the UK for failing to pass on to their savers the recent UK base rate rises. How is that behaviour compatible with leading people back to savings?

If a big idea is tarnished in that way, then it is very difficult to get a warm glow back. And then your brand falls back into the pack of also-rans.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Commercial: Of digital agencies and experience

An interesting post by Rory Sutherland at Brand Republic on why digital agencies have failed to develop applications and online services and experiences such as Facebook and Flickr? Any reasons?, he asks.

Part of the answer comes simply from the fact that if you are still working within a campaigns/communication mindset, then you won't see the richness of possibilities that online/digital/mobile affords you. Another is given by Peter Merholz at Core 77 - that most brands do not think about the experiences that they deliver. And if brands are not thinking in that way, they are less likely to be demanding that their advertising and marketing agencies, whether traditional or digital, will supply them with ideas that they can turn into applications.

The community aspect also has to be considered: brands would have to be willing, really willing, to let communities solve problems themselves. And on the evidence of efforts such as Heinz's in trying for find user-generated ads that meet quality and brand standards, that's still a long way off.

And of course, if the idea is good enough to be an successful app, why would you not go on and try to monetize it yourself, rather than give it away or sell it cheaply to a client?

Asking agencies to deliver 'utility' to their clients online, is perhaps too much. Things like Facebook are specific responses to problems with existing services or experiences. Engineers solved the problems, entrepreneurs sold the solutions.

Perhaps what this shows is that there is a real need for advertising agencies to understand changing currents in service design, innovation thinking and software engineering. Room for a new type of agency, perhaps?