Thursday, 31 May 2007

Ground up thinking # 2

“Culture of the mind must be subservient to the heart"

Mahatma Gandhi

20 Years of Rave

Image from PYMCA

I'm absolutely loving PYMCA (Photographic Youth Music Culture Archive) at the moment. As well as an excellent image library to use and peruse, it has had two cracking exhibition's on recently. This was England and more recently Pills, Stills and Bellyaches - 20 years of rave. Rave was probably the first musical subculture that influenced me and my circle of friends. Living near Brighton, the South Downs became an area rife with raves (and still is by the looks of things here). As organisers looked for larger spaces to hold bigger gatherings and keep events under the radar, the countryside close to London was perfect.

At the time there wasn't really any interesting subcultures to identify with. It was the point of transition from the 80s to the 90s where not much was really happening. It was unclear who was who and who was into what. Clubs and pubs were pretty uninteresting. There wasn't much live music, they weren't playing the music that certain people wanted to listen to because of its association with drugs and they had strict dress codes to supposedly keep the 'riff-raff' out, but essentially made everyone look the same. I guess you could call it a relatively boring middle England at the time.

This meant rave spilled out into warehouses and open spaces where people were free from the restrictions placed on them by mainstream culture and that's when it really took off. It became a real herd movement I suppose. The obvious illegal element attracted rebellious young people who loved the secrecy surrounding many raves. It was fuelled by unstructured mass gatherings that my generation at least had no experience of. It wasn't just about the music, in fact I prefer more of the genres it inspired rather than rave as it was back then. It was more about the social side of it, it was the feeling and the atmosphere that the music created among huge groups of people and to be honest I don't ever recall there being much trouble at raves.

On top of the music, the atmosphere, going to Sterns, hassling older mates to give us a lift and traipsing about fields, there was the whole interaction between each other that also united our group of friends. We used to spend hours of an evening copying each others tapes and weekends were spent going round the record shops listening to vinyl and getting all the latest flyers that would decorate our bedrooms. Some of which would become quite rare. So much so, people were even buying and trading them, they were a bit of a social currency. You would then have to keep the flyers of the rave and cut front covers out of them for your cassettes. Man, talking about cassettes and flyers makes me feel old.

After emerging from the acid house movement in the 80s, rave culture's association with drug fuelled space cadets with glow sticks and whistles overshadows the influence it has had on a number of other genres such as hardcore, jungle, drum and bass as well as more recognisable bands such as Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, New Order and The Stones Roses. Bands you could arguably say have then gone on to influence the likes of Oasis and Kasabian.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Ground up thinking # 1

“The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor”

Henry David Thoreau

A visit from Tony Hart

Just for a bit of fun and to celebrate the creativity in us all, everyone in the agency were invited to exhibit their own personal art and photographic creations in the bar last week. To round things off the legend Tony Hart came in to judge the work and spend the afternoon trying to explain to people why the pictures they sent in didn't make it on to 'The Gallery'. Tony was on TV for about 50 years and so I think pretty much everyone in the agency grew up watching him on various programmes that included Vision On, Take Hart and Hart Beat. Tony's not in the greatest health, but he still has an obvious passion for the arts. Thanks Tony for a great day.

Me and Tony

and just in case you have forgotten...

The Hart Beat theme tune - "Left Bank", by Wayne Hill

The amazing adventures of Morph

Take Hart

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Planning from the ground up

Lately I've been thinking of giving this blog a bit more direction, even if it's just for my own personal fulfilment. Whilst I'm more than happy just to ramble on about communications and stuff I feel there are just too many, albeit interesting blogs that do just that. I still think blogging is a great way to develop/record your thoughts, opinions and arguments, so I'm not giving it up, I'm just going to make my posts a bit more focused on what I'm interested and what I believe in.

The blog has sort of evolved and gone in that direction anyway, but I've compromised and dipped in and out of things a bit. 'Punk Planning' was one thought that stemmed from a number of frustrations such as trying to get into planning from account service 3 years ago, people believing that agencies outside of London can't compete and finally the air of pretension and self importance that seems to engulf certain parts of the industry. However, I've been beaten to it by Charles Frith who has started a cracking blog. A coincidence? A source of inspiration? Either way I'm not too disappointed to have missed out as I think I have got something I'm probably more comfortable with.

Planning from the ground up. This isn't ground breaking or original I know, but I don't feel the need to develop a new theory and label it. I'm a massive believer in the school of thought that suggests the most interesting things in culture and society grows from the ground up and not the top down. With scarcity and solidarity being the two key components of cultural developments or the cause and effect if you like. I think I'm drawn to this for a number of reasons. It's quite down to earth and fits in with my background, beliefs and interests. It challenges without being too anti establishment. I'm also enjoying doing and reading ethnographic studies more and more. And finally it's a consistent theme that arises in a lot of the good things I've been reading over the last few months.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Dial up the crazy

I managed to get my backside to the D&AD President's Lecture the other night for the interview with Dan Wieden and David Kennedy. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew it was going to be good, but perhaps a bit warm and fluffy. Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised. It had about the right mix of history and insight into the modern day agency.

Apart from W+K's work, the main highlights for me were...

Their huge enthusiasm is infectious and was always over an above just doing advertising. The pair opened with a comment along the lines of hating advertising and having to work. At the end when asked what they were most proud of, it wasn't in fact the agency, it was the initiatives they have started since retiring, such as encouraging creativity with inner city kids. Very inspirational.

They were really down to earth. It was a bit of a boys done good story, without having to compromise on the way up. Starting up in Oregon when the majority of agencies were in NY or LA probably seemed crazy at the time, but they still managed to attract the great brands. It really highlighted that anyone, from anywhere can be creative, albeit in different ways. Their commitment to maintaining independence and creating a culture that was stimulating and genuinely full of interesting people was admirable. From boxers to sex line operators for example.

The final highlight for me was the absence of this single minded vision. It was more about doing lots of little things around the agency that seems to create this fantastically creative and seemingly enjoyable environment.

Actually there is one more. Tony Davidson had to deal with a tricky question on whether or not they copied a short film by two Swiss artists for their Honda cog ad. Tony's argument, which I happen to agree with, is that there isn't anything left in the world that is truly original. The two Swiss artists were probably also inspired by something else they had seen or experienced. It is essentially about absorbing culture and being aware of what is out there. Once you have that inspiration it is about making it better and adding something different to the original idea. Tony has commented on this before: "Advertising references culture and always has done. Part of our job is to be aware of what is going on in society. There is a difference between copying and being inspired by."

Monday, 14 May 2007

The a-a-a-h-h-h moment

I really like the new Strongbow ad, it's brilliantly simple. As far as I'm aware not many brands have actually focused on people's relationship with their tipple in this way. It is such a simple observation I love it.

I'm sure anyone who likes a drink can relate to that release of steam after a hard week. The 'yeah, now I'm relaxed feeling'. Irrespective of whether or not you drink Cider, next time you are down the pub after work see if you do the same as the guy in the Strongbow ad - I bet you do. I personally don't drink cider, but my mouth does water a bit just writing this.

With advertising regulations getting increasingly stringent, alcohol brands have moved communications away from people actually enjoying drink, into sometimes unrelated territories that are more about entertainment and portraying a certain personality.

WKD is about the social interactions and the nature of 'lads'

Bud Light is more about being an entertaining ad rather than the light beer feature

Bulmers and Magners (not sure what the difference is, if there is one a at all) get a bit closer with 'Time dedicated to you' - it's just rapped up more in the ritual rather than the feeling.

Politicians are out of touch

Prior to the recent local elections this letter was put through my door telling me why I should vote Liberal Democrats. A compelling read that sparked me to get off my backside and vote it certainly wasn't.

It is the most boring thing I've read of late and pretty much sums up why only 30% of people vote in local elections - the worst levels of participation in Western Europe. It is completely lacking in any substance or opinion whatsoever and stinks of the kind of petty rhetoric that politicians get so engrossed in. Unfortunately they missed an opportunity to tell me anything remotely interesting and failed to either try and understand voters. Really, why should I bother reacting to this? They haven't told me why the Lib Dems are better, only that Debbie Tomes is nice and they are the only party that will get the Conservatives out.

Common folks, you could at least tell me what you are doing about the little oiks that have smashed my wing mirror off tiwce in the last couple of months!

Thursday, 10 May 2007

When I grow up I want to...

Rhys Jones, the youngest person ever to climb the seven highest summits on each of the world's seven continents came into our offices last week to give us an inspirational talk and share his experiences with us. Apart from having some fascinating stories and being an excellent public speaker at the age of 20, Rhys' underlying message was: "you can do anything if you put your mind to it".

Admittedly the thought is well trodden but at least it had some context. Any how, it certainly got me thinking. I began asking whether or not planners should or could apply their skills to something more worthwhile or fulfilling? The likes of John Grant are working on 'The Green Marketing Manifesto' and Russel Davies on Interesting 2007 as an example. My intention isn't too make it sound like planners can change the world, but as good problem solvers and creative thinkers don't you ever think you could do more with your skills?

I think a planner's skills, rightly or wrongly, are much broader and transferable than they used to be and for me this is a good thing. But it also makes you wonder what else you could achieve if you put your mind and planning trade to it - even if it was just to do something personal, outside of work. I've started to create a pretty so far uncompelling list of things I would like to do over at 43 Things.

To end on a lighter note here are some of Rhys' images from everest. Some of these might put you off.

Frost bite of the eyes

Frost bit of the feet

Apparently his toes shrunk to the size of raisens and then fell off not long after.

A twoer (the amount of ladders you need to bridge the gap, a fiver was the longest)

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

We're all individuals

My last post got me thinking again about the old 'we're all individuals' rhetoric. This is something that probably the bitter part of me associates with the thing that got on my wick when I was looking for my first job in planning. I appreciate agencies want a diverse group of interesting individuals and I myself enjoy working with them, but I think it has gone a bit too far - it all feels a bit elitist and a touch on the tedious side at times. Richard Huntingdon posted this over at Adliterate a while ago which pretty much covers some of this debate. First of all I don't believe groups of people, who in actual fact have very similar backgrounds are as interesting as they could be if you mixed them up with people who have different backgrounds and experiences.

Looking back at my life at a 'new' University, my housemates, who are still some of my closest friends had such different backgrounds - it certainly made life there much more interesting both academically and socially. Living with the son of a working class builder who supported QPR, a public school boy who kind of followed Aston Villa (probably because of Prince William) but was more of an egg chaser and finally another public school boy, who as well as being an annoying Gooner, was Jewish and the son of a London cabbie. I'm pretty much a middle class (Brighton fan) with my Dad being a hardworking sales manager for a greetings card company and my step mum a nurse. That may all seem pretty average and stereotypical but when you put them all together that is where you find the conflicts, the enemies and the enthusiasm that many people such as John Grant and Russel Davies often talk about.

My second and final point relates to some peoples attitudes towards 'uninteresting' people and why they shouldn't work in the indusutry even though they slogged their guts out from the age of 18, got in thousands of pounds worth of debt only to discover that their careers advisor should have told them to do Zoology if they wanted to work in advertising. To give you an example this is the sort of small minded opinion that makes me ashamed of the industry at times. Taken from a coment on Richard's post, Asi says: "I've never met anyone with a 'degree' in marketing or advertising who was remotely interesting". This is all he had to say, very interesting really isn't it? It's is a very old fashioned and archaic attitude that really is an attempt to make themselves feel better.

For some reason people think that if you do a degree and yes it is a degree, you aren't interested in anything else. I have always believed in John Locke's theory on ideas. Locke states that ideas come from both knowledge and experience. The point is that people's knowledge and experiences are different, therefore shouldn't the industry do its best to find a a good mix rather than finding 'individuals' that aren't actually that individual. When we recruit people we don't have any guidlines such as how interesting is this person, or how nice, our aim is to recruit a mix of people from a variety of backgrounds and so far it has served us well. It doesn't have to be so black and white all the time. The interesting part is the grey bit in the middle.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Brooker on fashion

This article isn't exactly a new opinion on fashion, or people's desire to appear 'individual' and 'interesting', but I do love the way Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker articulates it in his own distinctive way.

"If Grazia magazine printed an article declaring it fashionable to smack yourself in the forehead with a limited-edition ball-pein hammer designed exclusively by Coleen McLoughlin, a mob would form outside your local B&Q before the ink had dried on the page. It's a mystery to me. If the whole point of fashion is to distinguish yourself from the herd, why queue up to be part of it? Am I missing something here?"

Brooker is a bit of a legend.