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, July 29, 2009

Commercial: Signs from my times

1. Spotted at Wickes in Northampton. Who knew 'hardcore' was defined that way? (Not saying anything about the spelling mistake.)

Free hardcore!

2. In the agency; of our water dispensers. Anyone ever had 'ambient' water. Does it taste the same as tap, by any chance?

Ambient water, anyone?


Commercial: Nicheprint thinking

Relax. The newspaper's not dead. It's merely 'evolving'.

For example, the Really Interesting Group's Newspaper Club is up and running, offering bespoke papers on short runs, should you want them.

Local councils in London and beyond, have woken up to the fact that they can put out their own freesheets, to get their messages across.

Niche interests are starting to be served more effectively online, and it's on the web as this piece in the New York Review of Books says, that you can find the most interesting innovation in what 'newspapers' might become - generally, higher-profile journalists whose investigative work or writing is paid for directly by readers, or commissioned and supported by publications, organisations or foundations. It appears that while institutional investment may be dying, a bet is being made that reader investment will - partially - defray this.

Indeed, such is the enthusiasm for this tinkering that Umair Haque has written this admonitory post to the old newspaper industry.

There's a 'but' coming, of course. The 'but' is democracy, or thinking about it another way, serving the public sphere.

The problem is illustrated in the word 'niche'. This, of course, helps to make the business models for these new ideas for newspapers viable. What it does less well is explain how it helps to re-invent the newspaper as a public good that helps bind us together as a society, makes us more informed and helps to hold forms of authority to power account.

The NYRB article points to some examples where some public service journalism and reporting has been done; but these at the moment are still few and far between. Rare will it be, for example, the blog that can at the moment afford to invest in a story like the Telegraph did for MPs expenses.

I'm aware that a lot of libertarians and new media evangelists will shrug and say, 'so what?', strong in their faith that new models will spring up to serve these wider needs.

I'm not so sure, and the future of the industry will need both a commitment to - and more experiments like - Jeff Jarvis' at CUNY and the PA's call for public service reporting. And that, however much we might not like, might mean some state involvement. (Which is in part why calling for the wings of the BBC to be clipped is a dangerous path to start walking down. But that's another discussion.)

Most importantly, in all this experimentation, we shouldn't lose sight of what a newspaper can do - not just in terms of the delivery of information, but also in the sense of the wider society. As I've blogged before, using the word 'newspaper' conveys a set of implicit and explicit messages, many of which are tremendously valuable, especially the ones about binding us together into a wider whole. And despite it's age, I've not seen a serious repudiation of the points that Cass Sunstein was making around the 'Daily Me' well over a decade ago.

Newspapers are still the best way avoiding the scenario Sunstein paints. We should try to bake some of that thinking into our niche thinking.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Commercial: What price friendship?

I'm sure some of you know Bud Caddell, the ultra hip, ultra sharp thinker out in New York. Well, his latest experiment is giving me a slight cause to pause.

It is, at root, simple. He'd like a new PC. He doesn't want to shell out on credit or borrow to get it. So he's selling stuff to his friends.

So far so good. Here's a list of some of the services he has available:

’ve gotten pretty handy with Wordpress, need an update? need the design tweaked? need a plug-in installed and implemented?

I blog. I could guest blog for you or something else blog related.

I make killer mix-cds. Have a store and need the perfect soundtrack? I can be your musical Cyrano de Bergerac for a special someone.

I can help you move.

Getting your wisdom teeth out? I make an awesome nurse.

Need your apartment cleaned?

Spot one that might cause you any trouble?

It was the mix CD one for me. Now I know these are almost redundant in the age of Spotify anyway, but I still cleave to the notion that these are an expression of a deeper level of friendship, or would-be friendship. So while I can intellectually see the justification for charging someone running a shop to construct a playlist that appeals to their clientele, charging someone to be their aural ammunesis while a woo-ing? That's just odd.

Of course, this squeamishness about the commoditization of friendship could just mark me out to be a stick in the mud. After all, Burger King has successfully exploited the notion that one can exchange something for your online friends. And isn't that whole idea at the heart of Facebook's business model?

Still, it doesn't mean that we're not losing something; moving a category from the gift economy into the paid-for one, I would wager, means that that object loses a social value while gaining a fiscal one. And at another level, you could argue this has been the whole problem in the development of market economics over the last 30 years - commoditizing things, relationships, processes, systems which intellectually, morally, socially, we're not ready to see sullied or destroyed by cash.

Still, it does rather prove what Tyler Cowen says about there being markets in everything.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

The whole world is theirs tonight

Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
You will, I hope, forgive the shaking hand, the lack of focus and framing, and all the other technical deficiencies of the image. For nothing quite summed up the delightful wedding of Kelly and Simon yesterday as much as this.

'Twas a wonderful day. Just wanted to share it.


Friday, July 24, 2009

26 recommendations

for July can be found here.


Commercial: Words are fighting back

Or rather they need to according to both Rory Sutherland and Bud Caddell. Who dares to tell me either of them is wrong?

Update: On that score 26 major domo Tim Rich has some pertinent thoughts on the act of scribing over on t'26 website.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Linkorama for 23.07.09

Bit of a beastie this one:

1) Sarah Palin's resignation speech, as tidied by the formidable fact, research and copy checking departments of Vanity Fair.

2) Vodafone's Nightwatchman is a fairly comprehensive jargon-buster for those of you newbies who've come along late to the cricketing party. Not quite sure why a Scotsman's your guide, but there you go. Another fine feather in the cap for Nick and Dare.

3) Mobile internet experience still shit shocker. I know NN Group will keep flogging that study 'till they drop dead, but it doesn't make their fundamental point any less true. Non-iPhone handset experiences are akin to trying to eat jelly with a chisel - messy, frustrating and likely to end up being painful.

4) Storytelling still important in selling in concepts to clients shocker. True in the design world, true in every part of the the communications world. You're selling a vision of the future. You going to do that just through stats?

5) Internet still looking like Tokyo Metro non-shocker. A challenge: can someone find an analogous information design use for the Warsaw subway? The difficulty is that it only has one line. What can that illustrate?

6) Google Wave's more public testing ahoy. Sign up here. And look out for the delightful language on the form. Ask, and I'll share the haiku I sent them.

7) Alice at work is one of the people behind Weird Mannequins. As I regularly pass the Pimlico Plumbers one, I can vouch for it's oddity. Send any examples you've got to them.

And now I'm off for a lie down.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Commercial: Engaged brands

The world's most, according to Engagement db. Top ten is:

1. Starbucks
2. Dell
3. eBay
4. Google
5. Microsoft
6. Thomson Reuters
7. Nike
8. Amazon
9. SAP
10. Intel

Engagement here, btw, appears to be defined as 'how well a company is "doing" social media'.

(Hat tip: TechCrunch)

And if you do it well, your brand could be what fills in the 'blank' here:


Monday, July 20, 2009

Listorama: Facebook status updates vol 13


Jump in the river and learn to swim


Hotel wi-fi – It’s a rip off!

The afterparty still remains a mythical place

Unpacking too slightly less time than I feared

will confirm he’s awake in a moment

has his dress shirt on today

One way traffic

is thinking that anything he puts in this box will be banal to the point of mass tedium and despair


has the spirit of a vampyre

would like a trough to dig his snout into

has his Blue Peter meets Wedgwood cufflinks on today

Sharp! Sharp! The King! The King!

is photoshop handsome

total trash

maxims to live by, and other unlikely truths

Sleep. Coffee. Coffee. Sleep

would like a monocle, please

Words and thanks yous, not always in that order

The foolish heavens appear to twinkle too far from here

How to think text out

Will starting earlier bring the end quicker?

Things that shouldn’t be, as they’re keeping me awake

The coffee isn’t even bitter

is having a Throwing Muses moment

will be playing dodge the thunderstorms in Warsaw today

is now off to find a tram

Dinner, trad Polska style

And back from Warsaw, where it would appear democracy is in better shape

Summer. Where’d you go?

Summer’s still gone

Back back back! At work

Being blackhearted

has made it in to the office even quicker than normal. Good old Northern Line! (words I’d never thought I’d write)

Following the packhorse

Sitting in the way of release

Open doors to madness


Tony Allen dancing

Too much tea

is somewhat tired of being taken for granted

Experimenting with power stations

The 39th of July

is a microscopic part of his catastrophic plan

is The Kensington Vampire

just can’t stand it

is the Spirit of Play

doesn’t help me

is Wilco (the album)

is twinkling, skittering, frittering, dithering

is manning all four desks today

Lots of blur songs

Blur were brilliant. But the beer down my back wasn’t

is the future. God help us all

is in orbit baby, and can’t come down

A piano riff from the last Decemberists LP. No, not that one. That one

is not on the boundary

is wrapped in a flag

loves The Fox & Anchor

is back at school this week

Drafts, draughts and dialogue


Commercial: TALK, round 1

For peeps in New York, this will definitely be worth attending. Hosted by Alcove Networks. Tell Derek I sent ya.


You are cordially invited to cocktails with Mathew Greitzer of Razorfish
on Wednesday, Aug 5 at 6:30 PM. Matt will discuss "The Coming Revolution in the Publisher/Advertiser Relationship"

Please RSVP by August 4th

TALK is focused on bringing together media, technology, and entertainment influentials to discuss some of the most provocative issues happening within the current marketplace.

Who should attend? Mid-to-senior executive decision makers at Media, Advertising, Technology, and Entertainment companies. The goal is to bring together these sectors' leaders to share ideas, network, and make things happen.

What to expect? Provocative dialogue, good drinks, and great music.

Tickets: $25 advance, $30 at the door

Please contact for more details.

40 spaces available


Commercial: Discreetly noisy side

Discreetly noisy side
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
Seen at The Bountiful Cow, Holborn. If only all warnings were this classy.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Commercial: Some thoughts on changing customers, and behaviours

Not mine, but Rob Walker's, who as you'll all no doubt know, is the prince of scribes when it comes to tracking these things. In his book I'm with the brand (The UK title for Buying In) there were two things which jumped out at me. First, with branding implications:, from page 212:

The contemporary consumer... demands more - more originality, more sincerity, more not-in-the-mainstreamness, a greater goal than just making money... [X Brand] does have a logo, but it appears [...] only where the consumer sees it. And the point is: Only the consumer needs to.

Of course, this ties back into much earlier ideas of 'how cool is coldness' and the mass-produced secret, but it's still a leap that's going to be difficult for traditional, mass market brands to make - how do you have presence and awareness on a large scale, while whispering and not shouting?

Second, from page 228, in a section on how buying ethically in the marketplace is actually quite difficult, he quotes from a study that suggests that:

'The opportunity to appear altruistic by committing a charitable act in a prior task serves as a license to make [the subjects] relatively more likely to choose a luxury item.'

So, that's to say, 'doing good in one area of life provided a rationale to worry less about such things in another.'

Which, when you scale it up, has worrying implcations for trying to green people's behaviour. Set them a small task, and chances are you won't - overall - make their overall consumption any more environmentally friendly. Which in turn, perhaps, suggests that we might need to be setting bigger and more ambitious goals from the off.


Flower cab

Flower cab
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
Saw this on the way to the first of my Poetry School summer school workshops this morning. Alas it didn't inpsire a poem; maybe it will in the coming week.

Instead, I wrote a ballad about a fire eater.

Thankfully, I'm in the company of some properly talented people like Raving Poet. She really should post her plague poem up, because it's ace.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

My 2009 travels so far

My 2009 travels so far

Still as fast as a duck. This is a good thing, I think.

Follow me on dopplr.


Commercial: The Duckworth Lewis Method

The Duckworth Lewis Method

Ah. An Ashes summer is upon us once more, so what better way is there to wallow in the inevitable rain and misery than with a cheery and upbeat collection of witty and literate songs dedicated to The World's Greatest Game (not my coinage, but you know it's right.)

So hats, caps and sunblock off then to Messrs Hannon and Walsh, who have downed bats from their respective sides (The Divine Comedy and Pugwash) to pen a fine XII, full of vim, vigor, gambolling and a first-person narrative from Mike Gatting which mentions a cheese roll.

We made a quick step down the wicket to The Oval last night to watch D-L in action, and fine time was had by all - not least due to the revved up 'Soul Limbo' they ended with. If the ECB are smart, they'll sign up to provide tea time entertainment across the country in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, you can interwebually stroll into their pavilion now.


'Audacious things need to happen'

Some interesting thoughts on what we need to do to reach a viable energy future, from Cambridge University physicist David Mackay. You can get his book at Without Hot Air.


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Commercial: 'Free' by Chris Anderson

FREE (full book) by Chris Anderson

And if anyone knows how to crack the PDF, do let me know... (hat tip: annaling)

UPDATE: I'm now being told by Scribd that, due to geographical restrictions, this version might not be available. Somewhat undercutting the premise of the book.


Thursday, July 02, 2009

Commercial: King of Shaves Shaving Bond

This could be a genius idea. Or it might not.

King of Shaves, that upstart provider of lather, razors and the like, has a nifty new wheeze: issuing bonds to customers, to pay for its marketing.

It appears to be legit; the press ad (in ShortList this morning) and the website have the relevant FSA disclaimers.

This is an interesting move for all manner of reasons, the most salient being:

1) Can an FMCG brand credibly become a provider of financial services?
2) Can an FMCG brand really expect loyalty and small-scale purchases to translate into £5,000 investments?
3) Has our trust in traditional financial services brands fallen so much that we're willing to trust our cash to, effectively, our barbers?

I see that this makes perfect sense for KoS, and will no doubt appeal to their customer base, who generally are upscale gentlemen earning enough to be willing to take a punt on this (even though, strictly speaking, a bond should be a lot safer than a punt.) I'm also not sure exactly how one can hold KoS founder Will King to his promise that this cash won't be spent on helipads or pensions.

The reaction in the financial press has been lukewarm, shall we say. Which could just be old-fashioned thinking. Or sensible.

So how long can it be until the Lynx Starter Mortgage comes to market? Or The L'Oreal This Is How Much You're Worth Account?

Like I said, could be a genius idea. Or not.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Commercial: Air New Zealand safety video

It's lovely to see a brand taking the 'integration across touchpoints' thing seriously. So hats - and indeed everything else - off to Air New Zealand, who've followed up this ad by giving their in-flight safety a similar, body painted theme.

The tone of voice used is lovely too, dovetailing neatly with the recent press campaign. It's just the right level of fluffy and informal, while conveying all the information you'd normally get - but without having the bejesus scared out of you.

No bum deal here, methinks.

(Safety video hat tip: Gulliver at Economist)