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, September 29, 2011

Poetry: Wrapper Rhymes

I wrote a poem on a wrapper. And now it's up on Wrapper Rhymes. Life's simple, sometimes.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Commercial: Hegarty highlights

The bits I really liked from the pages with corners folded down in 'Turning Intelligence Into Magic':

The power of reduction – a fundamental skill in advertising. (p 21)

…ideas and the belief in being able to produce great ideas are everything, otherwise advertising is just information. The trick is to make the information interesting and relevant – in the world of marketing communication understanding those two words, interesting and relevant, has filled a library. But it shouldn’t have. Ultimately it’s just common sense and a desire to excite people. (p 26)

If you work hard doing the same thing every day, I don’t think you’ll get lucky, you’ll just get boring. If you work hard doing interesting things then I think your luck will change. My mantra of ‘do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you’ is born out of that belief. (p 153)

…brands more often than not go wrong because they lose touch with their roots and the values and qualities that made them successful. This doesn’t mean you talk about the past, but it does mean that connecting a brand’s audience with the positive beliefs that established the brand’s original success is important. (p 155)

All the logic in the world doesn’t necessarily change a thing. Changing the way people feel and behave is the ultimate brand requirement and the ultimate responsibility of a creative idea. (p 202)


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Secret Diary of Google, aged 13


Commercial: Bullmore bon mots

Some notes from last Tuesday's event at the ICA:

- What is transmitted is never what is received. Therefore there is a need to set objectives not in terms of research-proofed propositions or messages, but desired responses. What is it in real life that elicits the desired response from people?

- You need to be very, very subjective in this business: it's the most valuable tool for understanding human behaviour.

- Why aren't there more emotional campaigns these days? It is fiendishly difficult, by definition, to make emotional appeals to the rationally minded... the top chaps [at the clients] will always want to see the numbers.

- Agencies are poor at understanding what it's like to be a client. Agencies can only be true partners with a client if they share the risk of failure for a campaign.

- Famous advertising is not worth pursuing for its own sake...

- ... but there is something puzzling and inconceivable about brand fame. To be considered 'fame', it has to be indiscriminate. But this undermines 'targeting'. Therefore most brand advertising in media is not aimed at the supposed targets; or rather, is seen by people who aren't targets. What a successful brand needs is 'salience'; it has to be there, with public communication, being exposed to 70% of people who won't buy your product. There is a fascinating value in being publicly known.

- Marketing directors used to be knowledgeable and passionate about their sectors; that's changed. An ability to shift stuff is of less importance than a commitment to what it is they're actually marketing. Marketing directors of service companies now have no influence over what is designed, produced, or the levers that actually impact upon the service.

- Integration is increasingly recognised as needed by clients; but this has happened as agencies have dis-integrated, and disintermediation has taken place, when it was most needed for those agencies.

- The most valuable brains and skillsets in the future will be those that know which clues elicit a response that fits in with a general strategy, those that can simplify and get their heads around the whole thing, and understand all the bits and make sure that the stimuli don't contradict each other, too much.

- The best book to read is still James Webb Young's 'How To Be An Advertising Man'. He was an uncomplicated observer truth.

- Agencies are increasingly hiring clones of clients.

- There's been a (not unhealthy) increase in people's suspicion of authority; it's not surprising that advertising would be affected. But there is a difference between 'advertising' and 'advertisements'. People complain about specific ads, but not advertising as a medium. It's not a distrust of advertising, but a healthy scepticism. Scepticism is a lubricant in any trading system - ads put forward a case, so we should be sceptical.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Commercial: On Bullmore, Hegarty and the Saatchis

Quite by chance, it has been a week of CPD. Last Tuesday I attended the latest 44 Club talk, Jeremy Bullmore in conversation. This weekend, with a giddying rapidity, I have gone through John Hegarty's 'Turning Intelligence Into Magic', and M&C Saatchi's 'Brutal Simplicity of Thought'.

The latter need not detain us long; if you read the feature in last Thursday's 'Campaign', you'll have read the introduction, and the majority of the examples in the sparse pages that follow appear to confuse 'simple' and 'simplification'. Still, no doubt they are laughing at me at shelling out £10 for such a rip off. (I'll blog some fuller notes on Bullmore and Hegarty later this week.)

I've been looking to see if there's any meta-notes or narratives that I can give you, having been so immersed in three disparate but inter-linked world-views over the last few days.

All, as you would expect, give primacy to creative, though only Bullmore was sufficiently cautious as to the actual power and impact that it might have.

The one thing all three do end up centring on is the idea that a brand must be 'famous' too, not just that the creative works in its own terms, towards or on its intended audience. That's to say, you should know about or have heard of or a brand, even if you never intend to buy it, or be in its audience. Because its only with that sort of fame, or 'saliency', as Bullmore puts it, that you can actually begin to have the conversations that you really want to have with the people that you think you can make money from.

So, you can hear this, and try to disagree with Bullmore when he asks to you to name something other than Google that has been made world famous by the internet alone. And hear as well an interesting new argument for older agencies to make: you need to be famous; and we can help you get there, as we know how to use old and new media together, to make you famous, by creating stuff that makes your brand entertaining. More than ever, we have to be studio impressarios. The rationality (and the ROI) can wait.

Interesting. But will the clients buy it?


Sunday, September 25, 2011

So, farewell, then, R.E.M.

Well, seeing as I've loved them since I was yea high, I couldn't let the end pass without a little something.

Get me maudlin enough and I will tell you how all I wanted to be pretty much between the ages of 13 and 16 was to play rhythm guitar behind Peter, and I still have a hankering that one day I'll actually be able to both afford and justify buying a Rickenbacker 335, cherry red obviously.

Ask me to interrogate myself a bit more deeply and I will readily concede that most if not everything I learnt about art and politics, or more correct to say the sources that I should go and pursue, came in one form or another via an interview or a lyric.

Heavens, I even managed to get a music GCSE off the back of stealing an arpegiated riff from Life's Rich Pageant, and turning that into my one and only successful composition ever.

And that's even before I begin to try and collate the number of afternoons, late nights, speed ups, break ups, slow downs, journeys and general tomfoolery they've soundtracked in one way or other over the past 20 years, for me.

Even now, I can't escape. As I type, on the shelf above my head, is a 3" Japanese CD version of 'At My Most Beautiful', which I now realise has come with me everywhere I've lived pretty much since 1998.

So, anyway, my fave tracks, as they stand at the moment, but ask me tomorrow and no doubt this list would be wildly different. And there's very few bands whose canons can stand up successfully to that sort of sincere, hand-wringing fickleness.

Romance: micro-symphony, with despairing disguised as shoulder-shrugging refrain:

E-Bow The Letter: The best lyric I think Stipe has ever written, with a couplet that's both endlessly modern and timeless.

Finest Worksong: You know, just in case you ever forgot that they were a rock band as much as anything else. (BTW, I can't find the should-have-been horns mix to post, which is on 'Eponymous' and just better.)

Moral Kiosk: Probably the most elliptical thing on one of the most elliptical records ever, who knows what it means? What it does for me is take me back to a time when a wise manipulator of men, Mr Dawson, decided to make English classes more fun by putting Matt and me on a table with three of the most beautiful girls in year 9. Naturally we displayed our maturity by retreating into trying to gabble the lyrics to this to them. As tactic to repel teenage girls, it has not been bettered.

All The Best: Like a good pair of 501s, sometimes the old new stuff is as good as the old old stuff, if you see what I mean.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Self Portrait Postcards

For the last few years, I’ve been doing something a little quixotic.

Nearly every time that I update my status in Facebook, I’ve also been recording those thoughts in a notebook.

Loyal readers of this blog might also be aware that from time to time, they appear, collated as Listoramas, like so.

I can’t remember quite why I started doing this.

Maybe it was because I thought they were worth preserving in some way. Maybe I’m a touch more obsessive than I like to let on to myself.

Now, working with designer Matt Busher, we've turned those status updates into postcards.

Because we think these updates provide a little snapshot of me, we’ve been calling them ‘portraits’.

And a thousand of them will be on display at the Her House Gallery, 26 Drysdale Street, in Hoxton, between Friday 30 September and Thursday 6 October. (The show's closed on Sunday 2 October.)

You can find out more at

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Poetry: Infinite Editions

Most excitingly, I had a poem published over at Infinite Editions yesterday. Wander that way to have a looksie.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Poetry: Free Verse

It's in a few weeks, but worth getting into your diaries now. Sounds like it'll be a grand day out. More here and here.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sentences you never thought you'd see in a book review 1

First of an occasional series, no doubt. From Jeremy Paxman's lukewarm review of Simon Jenkins' A Short History Of England:

And what are we to say of the National Trust? Of course, it's a force for good. But it is also like an unapproachable distant relative who somehow, without ever obviously intending any such thing, makes you feel gauche and inadequate. Can anyone see its oakleaf emblem without checking to see their flies are done up?

Can anyone? I don't know? Has the question ever been asked before?


Monday, September 12, 2011

Poetry: on 9/11

I had a poem, dealing elliptically with the events of 9/11, over at Eyewear yesterday.


Thursday, September 08, 2011

Commercial: Time for a social media diet

Cross posted from Geoff's blog:

Seeing as we’re still just about in the season of trying to lose a bit of flab (it’s not too late be beach fit, dontchaknow), I’ve been musing on whether it’s time to slim down my social media inputs.

Clearly, I’m not alone in worrying about whether I’m gorging too much on tweets and status updates and the like. Grace Dent is towering atop the bestseller lists, right now with her tell-all confessional about how the big tweeting bird mucked up her life (I paraphrase slightly). This lady in New York, in an enviable display of single-mindedness has decided to cut everything apart from Twitter out of her life. Clearly, as she used it to find a flat, job and hubby, she wasn’t going to give it up.

And while I might not go as far as declaring that social media has ruined our lives it’s clear that some fatigue is setting in for some people – especially because, as the hypothesis has it, as more brands arrive in the space, more people depart.
Which leads to a serious question: does your brand need to be on every social media platform? I mean, the advice to try and bit of oomph back into your content, keep it fresh and exciting, tell people what’s new, sure, all makes sense. But budgets aren’t infinite. And dare one say it, neither is conversation.

And when you multiply that need by three, five, 20 different platforms, that way madness lies. Much as we on the fifth floor might have a play about with Storify or Color, can we realistically argue that a brand needs to be everywhere on the off-chance a customer, potential or actual, might be?

I’m not advocating social media seppuku just yet. But it might be handy to keep your sword sharp.


Saturday, September 03, 2011

Poetry: Poetry from Poland

Just a quick note to say I was a runner-up in this competition, which means, most excitingly, a haiku to be displayed on the Warsaw underground. Might need to headover to see it in situ.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Fiction: To The Social

I grab your hand, your left hand, without looking, without looking at you.

I don’t know you. But I know where your hand will be.

Then I pick up the pace.

From a slow walk to a giddying canter, a speeded-up straight-line waltz. Your sandals go slap slap slap as we go faster. Good job your dress is short or you couldn’t keep up with me. I know your other hand is crook-locked on to the top of your head, to try and keep your piled-up hair in place; stop a strap, your bag, from falling off your shoulder.

And all the time, though this acceleration, this kinetic adventure, I know you are smiling. But I know it will end the moment we reach the front of the club, break apart, and I will lose you to the embrace of dancing and drinking and everyone else.

I console myself against the future by knowing I’ll run back to this moment again and again and again.

Now I’m as fast as I ever have been. I’m on the floor. Moving. Forgetting. Failing.

And a hand grabs mine, perfectly fitting the space I didn’t know I’d left for it.