Friday, May 23, 2008


I buy a few magazines regularly. WIthout fail,  no matter what subject they specialise in, they're pretty decently art directed.

Wired, Men's Health, Monocle, Good, Fast Company. All, without exception, good-looking titles. Nice type, great photography, consistent looks yet enough flexibility within their design guidelines to provide variety.

So, one question: why the hell are all the ads in these mags so damn ugly?

You'd think someone, somewhere, in some advertising agency would have cottoned onto the fact that if someone buys a magazine, there must be something about that magazine that they like.

And that there's a chance that one of the things they like about the magazine they buy is the way information is presented.

But no.

If a magazine has interesting, modern typography, the ads will look like they were done ten years ago.

If the magazine features lots of information in an article, the ads will be light on facts, with just a few words that could hope to convince nobody.

If the magazine is stylish and slick, the ads will be messy and almost totally un-art directed.

If the agencies involved were smart, they'd look at the environment their ads were going to run in, assume that the readers had some interest in the way content is laid out, and go some way towards looking as if they understood that fact.

And ff the clients were smart, they'd simply go directly to the magazines in question and ask them to do something that demonstrated the same understanding of their audience that they show in the editorial.

Agencies are always complaining that they don't get enough respect. If they continue to show an almost wilful naivety in the way they go about trying to convince consumers on behalf of their clients, they should be getting even less respect than they do already.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Dramatis personae.

Last night's Man Utd-Chelsea game had it all. What a great story. And such a cast of characters.

John Terry provided the tragedy. Ronaldo the hero who nearly fell from grace. Giggs the veteran who comes back for one last mission and carries the day. Anelka the villain whose previous misdeeds came back to haunt him.

The script couldn't have been better written. Just when you thought the bad guys were going to win, just at the end when you thought there was no hope, Terry let the good guys back in. And a perfect Hollywood ending.

It was almost possible to forget this was a Champions League game at all. Beating Chelsea was enough of a thrill and cause for celebration in itself. It was only a few minutes after the victory that it sank in that it was so much more than that; Man Utd were actually champions of Europe too.

A brilliant night.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Swift theft.

I think I could make a living searching the web, magazines, bookstores, podcasts for cool things, adapting them a little bit (or not at all) and presenting them as ideas for my clients.

There is so much great stuff out there, and so little of it exposed on a grand scale, that it would be easy to repackage things, give them a slight connection to clients' businesses, and present them as original ideas.

Alternatively, it would be no shame to admit that the ideas weren't mine; in my experience, the act of knowing about cool stuff is at least as impressive to people as the act of coming up with it - if not more so.

In fact, I'm quickly talking myself into setting up a division dedicated entirely to harvesting cool new stuff and using it for clients.

The three key words of the philosophy would be:

1. Speed. If you're going to copy stuff, you need to copy it quickly. You need to be the first to copy it, and you need to copy it before it becomes known on a mass scale, so you can be seen to own it as far as your own audience is concerned.

2. Taste. You need to know where to look, and you need to know what is really a good idea and what isn't. In my experience, taste is easy. When you didn't have the idea in the first place, you're in a better position to judge whether it's good or not.

3. Packaging. Changing something slightly, or finding a place 'within' the idea for your business, is the killer app. You need to take something and rebrand it so you can own it, and make it look as if it came from your own business, not co-opted from somewhere else with a dubious link.

Yes. Harvest. Good word.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The A3 principle.

There are a lot of tools available to the creative mind. George Lucas and the entire original Star Wars crew had access to less technology than is contained on the average advertising agency desk today. Whatever can be envisaged can be created.

But let's not overlook the most important word in that last sentence. Envisage. A computer screen won't help you envisage. Flicking through the latest great ads won't help you envisage. And with the multitude of distractions available, it's not controversial to say that the presence of a computer screen can be detrimental to the envisaging process.

The most important tool available today is the most important tool available ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

A big piece of paper and an A3 sheet of paper. (A2, if you're really old school.)

A couple of hours every morning with the computer turned off and no distractions, hunched over a white page and scribbling elegant little notes, illustrations and diagrams, is essential for conjuring up ideas before you turn on the computer to realise them.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, May 19, 2008

Assured future.

It's an easy matter to make one prediction in the area of what we will be doing with our time in the very near future.

All you need to do is take a few things we're already doing, and put them together to discover how they'll converge.

Twitter: the updating service that sends what you're doing to anyone who cares to know, wherever they happen to be, via their phones.

Flock, the browser that sucks information from all of your contacts on Facebook, Youtube, Flickr and Twitter and feeds them to you in a single constantly-updated stream.

And the iPhone, the phone that presents photos and videos in a quality far more advanced than any other phone on the market.

Combine these three technologies and what have you got? It's not too difficult to imagine, in the next year or so, a mobile version of Flock where your phone will be constantly lighting up with all sorts of information from your friends and contacts. Status updates, new photos they've posted, new videos they've uploaded, information as to their location... your phone screen will be a constant feed of information.

We already have pushmail, where emails arrive in your inbox without you needing to do anything. It's only a small leap from that to push-updates, with all new information in whatever form posted by your contacts appearing instantly on your iPhone screen.


Blogged with the Flock Browser

Singapore Curl.

What on earth is up with the Singapore Airlines print ads? The Singapore Girl, archaic as the concept was, was always a paragon of charm and loveliness.

Now, in the new ads for First and Business Class, the air stewardesses look like they've taken their styling cues from Marge Simpson. Horribly dated beehive do's and hair that looks as if it's been subject to at least an entire can of hairspray. This stuff would have already looked old 40 years ago.

Advertising is supposed to be known for overpromising. But this is one of many examples where the advertising is actually worse than the product. The client would be better off not advertising at all. Since when did advertising get so uncool, or has it always been this way without my noticing?
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Sunday, May 18, 2008


As usual, advertisers - with a few notable exceptions like Nike - are getting it wrong.

Everywhere clients are asking for higher production values, sleeker looks, 'bigger' feels. Something 'grand' to match the scale of the brand. And, agencies being what they are, are giving it to them.

When in reality, what real people are being turned on by is the exact opposite.

Out of all of the things that take off, all of the things that go global, all of the things that get emailed between friends and spread like wildfire across the globe, most are small. Low production values - home shot videos, shaky unedited footage of bulldogs on trailers pulled by bicycles, cats trying to catch fish from ponds...

Popular culture has gone from everyone looking forward to the occasional extravaganza - a blockbuster film, a major sports event - to a constant stream of low-budget, lo-res, interesting things in everyday places.

We're getting used to advertising being one step behind, so it's no surprise that there a very few examples of the ndustry co-opting the movement. (One of few examples is the brilliant Nike Ronaldinho 'Crossbar' spot, which has been forwarded literally millions of times on youtube.) But real culture has already cottoned onto it. Last year's Cloverfield is one example of a director doing something big by deliberately keeping it small: the whole film was shot like a shaky youtube video. And the handheld feel wasn't just a technique, it was the basis for the entire idea of the film; a military expedition force finding an abandoned video camera after a great catastrophe. Needless to say, the movie was one of the biggest cultural events of the year.

The situation is clear on both big and small scales. I uploaded an TVC to youtube about two months ago. The cost of the ad was about US$300,000. More recently, last week I uploaded a video of my dog eating a pizza, shot on a $500 video camera and edited on a $1500 computer. In one week, the dog video has received 125 times more viewings than the ad has garnered in two months.

It doesn't matter how 'big' clients want to make their communications. People aren't always looking for big things. Low production quality is equated with realness, honesty, likeability and charm. I'm not saying it's right for every client, but it's something we should push every now and then.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Saturday, May 17, 2008

George eats a pizza.

George eats a pizza.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Friday, May 16, 2008

Soap operation

I've been trying for a while to work out just what it is that's so great about Facebook, Twitter et al; these totally addictive sites that have millions of people logging in at all times of the day.

I could feel that there is a big idea particularly behind Twitter but couldn't work it out. But it's only becoming clear to me what that idea is now.

It's a 24-hour a day reality show. But one where you know all of the actors.

Hook up to Twitter, subscribe to your friends' feeds, enable your mobile phone for updates. Suddenly you've got a rolling news service, a constant feed of information and entertainment, from trivial activity reports to profound innermost thoughts, all delivered to your phone screen.

It's better than any movie or 24-hour reality show there is. Because you get to choose the characters, who's included in the stories, and you personally know everybody in the cast. With the added advantage that you don't need to sit in front of the TV to keep up with it.

Download Flock to your computer and the story gets even better. Flock is just another web browser like Safari or Firefox, but with a few added features; one of which is a feed bar constantly sucking information from all of your contacts on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube and a bunch of other sites. You can literally sit in front of your computer screen watching the news constantly come in: friends' status updates, contacts' Twitter reports, friends' new videos, new photos... It's an amazing sight. Like the CNN News Ticker, but with all the stories involving people you're connected to personally.

It's much more entertaining than watching the telly.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Paradise Paradox.

Having just returned from Bali for a regional conference, my thoughts are naturally dwelling on the whole concept of paradise and how it could be defined today.

Bali is an island that occupies a special place in the popular imagination. But, nice as it is, it’s become just a bit too everyday to really qualify as heaven.

I envy the people like Walter Spies or Geoffrey Bawa who discovered Bali before the Australian tour groups and busloads of Korean golfers. They would have been truly blown away by the discovery of somewhere totally different.

Today, Bali is a great place for a holiday, but nothing else - a place just like many others, with stylish hotels, good weather, and a selection of fine Italian restaurants. It’s a lovely place, but the sense of magic can never remain for long when around the next corner is a Peppermint Frappucino and Java Chip Muffin waiting for you.

I wonder if there is somewhere on this earth that would have the same effect today as Bali had in the 1930s: remote enough to be totally free from any reminders of home.

That’s the key. No triggers, no mental association with everyday life. Nothing to bring you back to reality from your holiday-induced dream state. If I see a Starbucks logo every day on my scoot to work, then if I see one on holiday then of course there is bound to be some detrimental effect on my mental state, however small. The ideal holiday discovery needs to be a place where you see different signs, read a different alphabet, eat different food, with no visual reminders whatsoever of the existence you left behind for a week. And yet with an indigenous culture of beauty - just like the Balinese can boast.

Where could this possibly be? Somewhere in Africa? Central Asia, somewhere west of China? Somewhere in the Himalayas north of India?

There has to be somewhere. Globalisation is fine by me, but if it interferes with my enjoyment of my holidays then something must be done.