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

Friday, August 28, 2009

Commercial: Liverpool brand stories 6

(Image credit: abby)

On being in the right place at the right time

In the late 70s, alongside punk, another style revolution, one that has turned out to be arguably more influential, was germinating in Liverpool.

As documented in Dave Hewitson’s book The Liverpool Boys Are In Town, the period between 1977 and 1982 was the time in which a certain set of ‘Pool FC fans started to stratify themselves as being apart from the rest. Mainly through taking (or perhaps re-claiming?) the attitudes and poses of the fashion conscious, and putting them into a terrace context.

Which meant trying to get hold of the latest jeans, having the latest haircuts and wearing the most exclusive trainers (‘trainees’ in the argot). Of which, these last items were the most important.

They had to be rare, and unavailable or in limited supply in England. They had to be up-to-the-minute designs. And most all, they had to be adidas.

Hewitson lovingly and indulgently re-tells the story of how these fans became some of the first beneficiaries of Liverpool’s forays in European competition, travelling farther than they should have done on their tickets, jumping turnstiles at stadiums and seemingly always shoplifting sportswear and footwear at the first opportunity.

Naturally, out of this not only came a reverence for the adidas brand but a dedication to fashion brands, as well as a flowering of much entrepreneurial activity – which some might say sits oddly with the city’s perceived (and self-perceived) status as the put-upon socialist republic single-handedly fighting off the Thatcherite hordes.

Now, how much did adidas have to do with all this? Not much, if truth be told. They just happened to be the right brand in the right place in the right time. Indeed, if Hewitson’s eyewitnesses are to be believed, it too the best part of the 80s for the brand to cotton on and realise that this was a market rather than a fad, and one that wasn’t going anywhere and instead set to blossom. Indeed, as Graeme Crossley has argued elsewhere, it has provided the future direction for the brand.

But still, let us salute the fact that a brand manager had enough foresight to overlook the criminality, and embrace the happenstance of an emergent culture they had no control over.

Sometimes, to succeed, you just need to know how to react when the opportunity comes to you.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shamless plug alert (2)

Log rolling on my own behalf again. Those fine chaps at the The Delinquent have seen fit to trust me with a double page spread in issue 9. That's three poems, no less: 'Not a hoverdog', 'Secrets need confidence and force' and 'Bryn Mawr girls aren't easy'.

You can get your copy here.


Commercial: Poetic service

One for Nick and Sue's Corpoetics project perhaps, but I was tickled to read in the latest edition of Wired US that Craigslist deploys haikus as a means of customer service. To whit:

The little poems he has written appear on the screen at times when users might expect a helpful message from the staff. They function as a gnomic clue that what you are seeing is intentional, while discouraging further conversation or inquiry. For instance, start too many conversations in the forums and your new threads may fail to show up. Instead, you will see this:

frogs croak and gulls cry
silently a river floods
a red leaf floats by

Attempt to post a message that is similar to one you've already entered, and this may appear:

a wafer thin mint
that's been sent before it seems
one is enough, thanks

The full piece is well worth a read, btw.


If everything on earth were rational nothing would happen

Next time a planner or a suit asks you to justify something, can I ask you to use this as your argument back? You can credit it to the message outside the CNN/Turner offices in London.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Commercial: Maximising your minimalism

Use Jakob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group's guide to crafting your tweets for full impact.

Alternatively, you could go large at Woofer. My attempt (above) here.


26 recommendations

for August are here.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Criketing dissonance

Last one on this, promise, but quite how does one square The Sun's descriptions of KP and Ravi with the marks out of ten they've been given? I suppose 'Not quite hero' wouldn't have fitted.


Jiggery pokery

Which is what, I'm pretty sure, most of Australia is thinking happened to their Baggy Greens at the weekend. In honour of the successful mugging of 2009, here's The Duckworth Lewis Method celebrating another earlier bout of Ashes wonderment.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Commercial: Liverpool brand stories 5

On borrowing

One of the enduring myths of Liverpool is that some of its citizens are, how shall we put this, light fingered, and indeed revel in their abilities in this area. Some of this is celebrated in a book by Dave Hewitson, The Liverpool Boys Are In Town, more of which in a later story.

So perhaps it's less uncharitable to suggest that this attitude stretches to other endeavours in the city. Take for example the above illustrated metro system map. Called 'Hubcap', a knowing reference to this reputation for thieving, you see the teatowels and posters for sale at many destinations in and around the city.

And it's a lovely idea. Pity it's been done before. The Great Bear, anyone?

The lesson is not that brands shouldn't steal. It's that if you're going to, make it your own. Or we'll laugh at you for not having coming up with something of your own.


Your web mirror


Sort of. According to the recently launched Personas project from MIT, this is me online. It's mostly right. Though I have no idea where the illegal sliver comes from.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Commercial: Liverpool brand stories 4

Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
Animal magic

Animals have been used as symbols of cities and brands since dot. (Indeed, branding started as a way of marking animals.) But what happens if a city, and thereby its brand, has two animals in competition?

Since 1998, Liverpool hasn't just had it's liver bird spreading its wings over the city. Popping up on various street corners has been the Superlambanana, a rather ungodly creature that appears to be at once both perennially startled and inert.

Originally the creation of artist Taro Chiezo, the creature has become (after some initial skepticism) a symbolic part of the city re-establishing itself as a cultural hub. It takes on various different forms and identities (this one was atop the Royal Court Theatre), and while not yet taking on Cow Parade proportions, it seems to be a welcome addition.

Traditional brand theory would of course suggest, at this point, that the lamb should have been roasted at birth, that nothing should come in front of the liver bird (which, as one guide book put it, was meant to be an eagle and now resembles a 'mutant cormorant').

But as another draw to the city, Superlambanana has its uses, and shows that not only can a variety of metropolitan symbols work together, but that fruit, mammal and bird can co-exist peacefully.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Commercial: Liverpool brand stories 3

Branded temples

As we've been indoctrinated to believe that most competition in most circumstances is a good thing, it's perhaps unsurprising to find cathedrals rubbing hard up against each other.

What's striking however, in Liverpool's case, is the contrasting qualities that the brands of the two institutions concerned, the Liverpool Cathedral and the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, display.

Start at the southerly end of Hope Street with the Anglican lot. They have a good story to tell. The UK's biggest Anglican cathedral, over 100 years in the building and only finished as late as 1978. And it's brand (and yes, there very definitely is one) is very well managed.

The logo itself is subtle and elegant, and communications materials - visitor guides and the like - are well-designed. Experientially (I mean in a non-transcendent sense), the cathedral delivers - staff are warm and chatty.

Best of all, it's pulled off the difficult trick of being both comforting and wee bit dangerous, in the main by having on prominent display a work by Tracy Emin. The work itself (above) is glorious, and achieves that magic alchemy of becoming better in juxtaposition with the stained glass window - and also making the window better to behold too.

It all helps to contribute to the feeling that Liverpool Cathedral has thought deeply about its brand, and is working well to bring it to life.

Once you've come down from the tower, and made your way up Hope Street, past the Phil and the Everyman, you arrive at the edifice that is the Metropolitan Cathedral. Here things are a little bit more... forbidding.

Location plays its part, at once in the shadow of its bigger cousin, and yet also thumbing its nose up at it. As you stand beside the flying butresses (or 'boomerangs', as one of the Pevsner guidebooks calls them) you feel you could be in Brasillia.

The dominant crown on the top of the building is at the heart of this brand. And this feels like it's focusing on the wrong thing - that's to say, it puts front and centre an image which is imposing, domineering and possibly even a bit devilish.

And yet, at some level 'drama' in the most biblical sense is present here; especially when you go inside, smell the incense, bathe in the blue light, whisper past the various chapels or watch nearly 70 people turn up in their Saturday evening finest (including Saturday night flesh) for a christening.

Which suggests the main difference between these two brands. For the Anglican cathedral, the brand is open and warm, designed to radiate out and attract. For the Metropolitan cathedral, it's darker, deeper, a bit more mysterious. And as a result, a bit more stirring. Less attractive to outsiders, perhaps. But if you engage, you get a more rewarding experience (probably in a transcendent sense too).


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Commercial: Liverpool brand stories 2

Originally uploaded by SgtRock333

Buying the naming rights to a new building is relatively unchallenged as a means of raising awareness of a brand. After all, it gives you long-term visibility and, in theory, a commensurate impact, for presumably an equal or better return than investing in say, frequent TV exposure.

Less clear is the decision making process on the buyers side that leads to the choice of of a building to name. If you're looking to reach a male 18-34 audience, for example, clearly you want a sports stadium. If you're looking to move your brand away from just being about mobiles, why not take on an elephant in South East London?

But what if you're a legacy telco incumbent, with money to burn? What building do you go for? And why?

BT has answered that question by sponsoring ACC's Convention Centre in Liverpool, next door to the Echo Arena. Proximity which hints that it's a curious decision by BT.

For the Echo has a reason to sponsor the arena - as one of the main media brands, it needs to have a visible physical presence in the city, and exploit cross-media opportunities where they arise.

BT doesn't have that rationale. Instead, it suggests that:

Sponsorship of the BT Convention Centre builds upon the strategic partnership BT has with Liverpool City Council and its social and economic investment in the region. Merseyside is a key region for BT. It supports over 25,000 jobs in the North West and last year generated £875 million for the area.

Together, Liverpool City Council and BT have achieved some tremendous successes over the past few years. In 2001, the two organisations entered into a new partnership and a Joint Venture company, known as Liverpool Direct Ltd was formed. The partnership was set up to help the Council achieve its “seaport to e-port” vision, modernising the way the Local Authority provided services to its citizens and by 2017, will have saved taxpayers an estimated £150m.

Which implies that, the Council offered BT some sort of quid pro quo/protection racket type deal, that it had to sponsor the venue in order to get the joint venture opportunity.

I'm sure that's not the case, but it still doesn't say what the brand gets out of this arrangement. It's not as if the building is of huge architectural significance or bleeding edge quality, so it's not adding any lustre to BT in that sense.

Maybe it's as simple as making BT more famous: the Labour Party will have it's conference there in 2011. Which should mean a lot of TV exposure. For free.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Briefs I'd like to see

First in an occasional series. I was struck by the following para in this article about the 60th anniversary of the Geneva conventions in this week's Economist:

Upholding the rules is bound to be hardest where people simply do not know about the sorts of protection that the conventions and protocols are supposed to afford. A survey commissioned by the ICRC to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the 1949 conventions found that knowledge of them was patchy, even in places that had recently seen conflict. Nearly 60% of those asked had not heard of the accords. Of those who had, 44% thought they did little or nothing to limit the suffering of civilians in war zones.

That struck me as the sort of pro-bono communications challenge all of us in brandworld and adland should be thinking about. How do we design a process to reach both combatants and civilians? What might it say? What media would we use?

If you do know of anyone out there thinking about these issues, please put me in touch.


Commercial: Liverpool brand stories 1

everton two
Originally uploaded by blueview1
Everton Two, Liverpool One

Ms Beta and me had a very quick 24 hours in Liverpool this past weekend. Surprising, to me at least, was the number of things that we stumbled across that could be thought of as brand parables; little stories or vignettes which show that approaches to branding can be both playful and effective; as well as some interesting examples of good and better practice. So I'll be sharing some of them over the next few days.

First up: I am, for my sins, on the blue side of the city when it comes to football (don't ask why, it involves the 1984 FA Cup Final, and a stupid level of persistence since). Bearing in mind the shadow that the People's Club lives in, it's great to see when one of the little pebbles David fires at the Red Goliath actually hits home.

This is a great example of that. The new club shop in the city's latest retail development means not only a visible footprint, but also a chance to show that sports brands don't have to subsist on a diet of cliches about teamwork and spirit and courage - that cheek and wit and a bit of lateral thinking and underdog spirit can create cut-through and elevate otherwise mundane communications.

And create sheer joy too, when you can answer the question, 'Where did you get that from?', 'Everton Two Liverpool One.'

Which was damn sight better than Saturday's first result of the season. Sigh.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Commercial: On bras

Forgive the venture into territory saucier than this blog normally ranges across, but I can't resist sharing with you something Ms Beta related to me last night.

She and a friend yesterday went shopping in Bordello, a fashionable East End retailer of what we once used to call 'frilly items'. While there, they were accosted by a sales assistant who, as I believe is the usual pattern in these environments, established a rapport through conversation about the generally ill-fitting nature of most bras.

'But why is that?', was Ms Beta's not unreasonable question.

As it turns out, we can blame France.

French maidenhood, it appears, is not brought up like its British equivalent. Because mademoiselles are not by and large breast fed, their bodies develop differently. Related to – and perhaps because of that (at this point in Ms Beta's retelling of the tale, I might have been distracted by conducting some research on the Bordello website) - French girls start wearing underwired bras almost immediately.

Back in Blighty, this is resolutely not the case (and how pleasing is it that the daughters of Albion are not as louche as the Marianne sisters? Isn't it?) British girls are breast fed, and so develop different bodies. Bodies featuring chests that, in the main, aren't well-suited to wearing underwiring from the off.

Which is a problem. As the majority of bras provided to the British market comes from France. And are underwired.

So there you go. If you, or your partner, wonder why you can't / always hear why comfortable, well-fitting bras are not to be found, you now know the answer.

A rare case, perhaps, where vive la difference is not to be celebrated. Who's up for starting 'Backing British Bras' campaign?

Eh? Oh.


Commercial: Branded butter

Branded butter
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
A brand's touchpoints can be both ubiquitous and charming.

As shown at the refurbished Kettner's in London.

I miss the old menu, though.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

On the perils of lunch

Last Friday an associate, The Widget, and I carried out a plan that we'd been havering over for a while.

Having a three-course business lunch. In an retro, Seventies/Eighties style.

Quite why we decided that we should do this has now been lost to time's mist. Nevertheless, we thought that we should still scoff in this manner. And devil take the leftovers.

We had previously agreed that our 80s menu would consist of:

- a prawn cocktail
- a steak, of whatever cut
- a black forest gateau

possibly supplemented by a wine of suitably similar vintage.

Do you know how tricky it is to find a restaurant in London that serves all three items? Neither did we, until we started looking. It appears that the prawn cocktail has roared back from its culinary mid-90s exile and into the hearts and stomachs of a nation's diners. But the German cherry cake confection hasn't yet - and sadly it appears with good reason, as will explained in a mo.

But in a remarkable stroke of luck, I did stumble across a venue that does manage to provide you with - for money - all three dishes.

The Scotch Steak House on Charing Cross Road.

I am aware that more sensitive readers are at this point now slack-jawed in their amazement, possibly girding their loins and muttering, 'For the love of God, they didn't.'

Oh yes. We did.

And we have the photos to prove it.

Herewith the prawn cocktail:

Retro 80s lunch 1

Note the stunning lack of bowl-type receptacle, almost perfectly inversely proportional to the amount of Marie Rose sauce on top of the prawns.

But it was, reassuringly, edible. As was the steak:

Retro 80s lunch 2

A handy fillet cut, cooked as requested. While the quality of the meat wouldn't get any lomo hounds excited, it was adequately passable. And have you seen such an old-skool salad? I hadn't in ages; and then twice within two dishes! The Widget chose to have his steak with a bacon and egg on top. He is not from the North of England, btw.

And so then to the climax of the meal, the highly anticipated sampling of this most unicorn of dishes. Ladies and gentlemen, let your digestive tracts gurgle appreciatively for München's finest:

Retro 80s lunch 3

And then, oh Lord, the waves of regret and nausea. Jay. Sus. What. Had. Possessed. Us? An evil Germanic sprite, whispering sweet nothings in our ears, that this sickly confection of sponge and liquor and fruit wasn't sinful, no, but bliss and joyous, joyous release.

The lying get. It was cardboard with red doorknobs on. That had been placed in said fucking Forest for two days, used as toilet papers by badgers and then left to go hard, before being air-freighted to London to be served to gullible idiots like us.

Even the taste of the Asti Spumante we ordered couldn't wash out the shame from our mouths. (And believe me, we'd asked for Blue Nun. They'd run out.)

As we emerged into the gloom of early afternoon London, our pallors as grey of the skies above us, we turned to each other, The Widget and I, with only one thought on our minds:

"Do you think we can find somewhere that serves fondue next time...?"

To be continued...


Commercial: Convergence Culture

by Henry Jenkins of MIT. Worth watching in of itself, of course, but a cool soundtrack too - is that Battles I hear before me?

Henry Jenkins on Transmedia - November 2009 from niko on Vimeo.

(Hat tip: We are social)


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Commercial: Recession bites (2)

Closed: Snatch
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
This time, at Snatch, in Soho. Rest easier, as they have another branch still extant.

However, it is marvelously written parting shot:

We gave it a good shot, but our best was not good enough.

Our thanks to everyone who tried us and to all our loyal customers. It’s been a pleasure. As they say… nothing ventured, nothing gained. You win some, you lose some, blar blar blar :-) Chin up!

No thanks to all those who’d walk past every day with their costa coffee and prêt slims without ever giving us a try. We can see the future and it’s homogenous.

With sincere gratitude to my staff.

I won't pop into Pret without feeling guilty now.


The copywriter's subconscious

Our office is being re-decorated at the moment. Hence why there's now a dot matrix display above the door to our floor.

It's not live yet, in case you were wondering.

But that got me wondering - does it need to be?

After all, isn't that message exactly what we wrestle with everyday?

It's somehow appropriate that the fire escape sign is there too.

I mean, don't we always need rescuing from the blank page?


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Commercial: Tantilising telly

With apologies for the pfnarr pfnarr tone of the following, but let it not be said that this parish does not appreciate all forms of writing.

Especially one of the hardest ones: naming telly programmes.

For not only do those few words have to communicate the type of programme, its content and its nature, it has to do so in a brutally short way to appeal to a very particular customer: the electronic programme guide audience.

So hats off then to the un-named scribe who, when faced with the challenge of jazzing up some motorsports action last night on Men and Motors (and who knew that was still broadcasting?), decided to go for the effective yet simple approach of putting the sponsor's name in the title.

The programme following it? 'Karma Enduro'.

Highbrow tone resumed later. Honest.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Water fights are not permitted in this park

Which is fine.... but why on earth does the secretary of state, presumably at the DCMS care? Don't they have better things to do, etc etc? (Park in question, btw, is Hyde.)


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Poetry: In the absence of a flood

I don't do this often, so please indulge me. A few weeks ago, I did a summer school workshop at The Poetry School in London.

One of our sessions was on the 'City River', expertly led by Jane Draycott. One of her exercises was to get us to read one of the poems we drafted during the day... while she recorded it.

Eeeek! But, in the spirit of sharing, here's the result. Apologies for the stumble at the end. (To play the track, hit the bade below, then it's the tiny icon in the middle right of the screen.)


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Utility car

Utility car
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
And they wonder why roadworks can drive some people mad...


Monday, August 03, 2009

Commercial: Uberpup chills out

In shameless case of puffery, please applaud the real talent in Clan Beta, my lil' sis' Uberpup. Right now, you can see some of her handiwork for The Big Chill on posters somewhere near you.

She, like me, is available for weddings, bar mitvahs &c.