Thursday, 26 July 2007

The world has gone mad I tell thee!

At the moment I’m about half way through my Open University Ethnography course and throughout the study material they always use the possessive adjective, ‘her or his’ instead of ‘his or her’, which incidentally should be replaced by ‘their’ in order to avoid any suggestion of sexism – which is fine by me. Now my spelling and grammar is distinctively average, so I’m not preaching about being grammatically correct. But when political correctness starts making the English language sound ugly I get annoyed. Try reading or writing a sentence using ‘her or his’ in it. It just sounds and feels weird.

"A student studying for their first degree". Sounds normal to me
"A student studying for his or her first degree". Sounds a bit too formal
"A student studying for her or his first degree". Sounds like a man hating, bra burning women wants to make a point.

I’m all for moving away from sexist or discriminative language, but please get a grip.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The Simpsons Movie

Matt Groening's, The Simpsons Movie opens this Friday on the back of a huge promotional launch which has been taken to another level (and no I don't mean Dane Bower's house).

First of all there is the TV and print ads....

...then the trailer...

... and if you haven't already created and downloaded your avatar from the slick site then what are you waiting for.Here's me

There are some great promotional tie ups such as these two from Samsung and Xbox.

But probably the greatest is 7 - Eleven turning a number of their stores in the US into actual versions of Springfield's Kwik-E-Mart. Even Apu's stock and uniforms have been replicated. The PR coverage and buzz it has created has been huge. The press have covered it, blogs have been created and images of the stores have made it on to Flickr.

and last but not least. Some PR agency has caused up roar in the UK as a 180ft chalk drawing of Homer Simpson was supposedly carved (more likely Photoshopped) next to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Don't blame it on the creatives?

Adliterate is probably one of my favourite blogs. It's the one that stirs up the most debate in my opinion. Many of Richard's posts cover agency life, processes, organisational culture and topical industry issues. I think it's more relevant to the actual 'doing' than most other blogs, hence the reason so many people (and not just planners that blog), comment on his posts. There are some great blogs in the plannersphere full irreverence, divergent thinking, social observations and commentary, but if like me, every now and then something niggles you, or you get annoyed when you can't get something done, you will probably find the problem covered in here.

In Richard's own words, he aims to be deliberately provocative and there is some good natured, mostly intellectual banter going on. In the style of Vanilla Ice (or probably someone like him) check it out.

The post that has hit the biggest nerve with me of late is Richard’s ‘don’t blame it on the creatives’. The premise. Are creatives to be blamed for the problems in the industry? I do agree that perhaps too much blame is laid at their door and it is everyone’s responsibility to come up with better ways of working, but lets be honest. Some people, irrespective of their discipline, or the agency department in which the lift tells them they reside, will just never want to change.

Everyone will have his or her (this correction by Word has got me thinking about another observation, post to follow shortly) own view on the subject that will be developed by his or her own unique experiences. Nearly every agency will have its own position, objectives, culture, structure and influential characters and as a result the subject isn’t really that black and white. I just don’t think there is a definitive answer, I just know it needs to carry on moving forward.

However, this quote by Da Vinci pretty much sums it up for me: “There are three classes of people. Those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see”.

If you fall into the latter then you are the one giving people headaches, although it’s likely you will think you are in the former. So I don't know how you sort that one out? Perhaps we should all just all meet up somewhere in the middle.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Read all about it, read all about it!

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Breaking news flash, just delivered to my inbox. Apparently young people don't follow the news as much adults. Yes, you heard it here first. OK, maybe second or third. But you can read the latest mind blowing research here.

It's not in the report, but it's also true that young people are in actual fact younger than old people. I interviewed my parents and my grandparents and it turned out we were all different ages. Would you Adam and Eve it!?!

I think I might start posting these pointless 'insights'.

I've got a PR problem

Don’t get me wrong, I'm fond of PR and I have a lot of respect for people in the industry - I have to. Other than the fact that my other half works in it; it's also where I started my career. I would go as far as saying PR is a good place to start if you want to be a planner - although probably not something that will stand out on your CV to a prospective employer.

There are several reasons why it's good. You develop an eye for a story, you hone your writing skills, you do you own research, you have to come up with your own strategy without the help of a planning department, you're under pressure to come up with your own ideas without the help of a creative, you have to do you own media plans and you also have to actually role your sleeves up and implement all of this. Lee has written a good post on this before but I think it goes further than just being a good journalist.

So why do I have an issue with PR? (I'm excluding public affairs, CSR and lobbying from this as they're completely different disciplines in my opinion) It's essentially the reason why I got frustrated and moved in to planning. Out of all the marketing disciplines people in PR, more often than not, tend to be the ones with the least knowledge of brand strategy and are way behind others in terms of innovation.

Although this isn’t a great yardstick for measuring how innovative a profession is, you will be hard pressed to find many PR blogs out there that talk about anything other than how the Interweb is affecting the industry. No shit Sherlock!

Many proposals I see regarding the use of online are pretty staid. So despite the rhetoric I don’t believe that PR is the best discipline to manage your brand online just yet. Many, but not all are just using the same rules as they adhere to offline. They’ll tell me that any brand worth its salt should be on Myspace with no explanation as to how they would use it or why it’s even relevant. They will treat bloggers exactly the same as they would treat journalists, people just waiting to hear about a products wonderful new features and competitive price point. They will claim to be able to create buzz and influence opinion directly in forums with obviously no experience, as they are unfamiliar with the terms ‘advertising scum’ and ‘flaming’.

I get bored of the same tired old tactics, that are just that - a bunch of tactics, wheeled out for every client with no real strategy supporting them. You normally get a celebrity (that you will have no chance of actually using or they only have a very tenuous link to the brand). There will probably be a survey, a competition and maybe even an event thrown in. It’s not the tactics being used as such that annoys me, it’s more the thought that goes into the ideas. I very rarely see the same creative and strategic thinking that you get from people in other disciplines.

Some PR professionals are also great at using a number of power word and phrases that obviously proves they get it. My favourites being:

“We’re an agency that gets results”. Phew, good job we didn’t use that agency that doesn’t get results.

“As an agency we pride ourselves on effectiveness”. You mean you have a press cuttings service.

“We know how to manage your brand online”. Then how come when I asked if you use Instant Messenger did you say is that a good courier service? (This didn’t happen, but I thought it made this long rant a bit funnier).

“Here are our key messages….” No, they are the brand’s key messages, you’re just reading them back to me.

Then there are the same objectives on absolutely every proposal with no expansion as to what this means for the communications:

1. To raise awareness
2. To change perception
3. To deliver ROI

Of what, why and how? Ohhh, refer to the strategy you say. I’m sorry all I can see is a load of tactics and for your information, I don’t think Mr Motivator is a good idea. I’m sure he hasn’t been on TV for at least 15 years.

I do genuinely think PR has a major role to play in a brand’s communications mix and I’m not suggesting everyone in PR is incompetent, I just think the ones I’ve personally experienced recently are giving it a bad name.

I don’t think PR will ever have the position at the head of the table unless they can think more strategically and ensure it isn’t separate, second, or even non-existent to the idea they propose. They must understand how to use emerging media and not just that it’s out there. And finally I would like to see better, smarter, more involving ideas. Perhaps the pressure from clients to get column inches rather than a share of people’s conversations stops them from doing all of this, I don’t know? One thing is for sure, it is about having more than a little black book full of journo’s numbers.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Brand religiously

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Graeme Douglas of Planning for Fun has posted his IPA dissertation up on his blog here and downloadable here. Graeme draws an excellent comparison between religion and brands. If you find some time, try and read it. It's thought provoking, full of interesting ideas and fantastically written. It's also given me one of those 'wish I'd thought of that' moments.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Don't sit down, don't sit down, sit down next to me

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On the odd day I don't have the car I'm forced to use the train. I hate trains, they suck. Everything about them, or more specifically South West Trains, annoys the hell out of me (there is another post in here I think, but I'll try and keep on TRACK for now. Bo bom che). Suburban railways are a bit of a different experience than the tube where all people do is stare at each others armpits. You seem to either get involved in or over hear loads of random and sometimes interesting conversations, with random and sometimes interesting individuals. Yesterday was one such day. I'd had a hectic one and sat down opening up my current read, Ethnography: principles and practices, whoo, whoo, when what society might call a chavette sat down opposite.

She wasn't being very British at all and had the cheek to start chatting to a couple adjacent to her. Can you believe that, striking up a conversation with people you don't even know - I bet that was uncomfortable for them. This was my first inaccurate sweeping social generalisation I made of her. That being a girl who will talk to anyone, wear a Lacoste tracksuit and a gold clown round her neck must be loud, gobby, annoying and uninteresting. She couldn't possibly just be being friendly.

Anyway, I thought phew, I'm not in the mood for making polite conversation today, I'll let some other poor buggers get it for a change. So I pretty much kept my head down and shut all the 'yeah mates' and 'innits' out and I didn't really take much notice until the couple got off the train at the very first stop! Guess what? Yep, it was my turn for a chat. I tried to resist the first time after an 'alwight mate', with an abrupt 'yep, good thanks, you?' reply. My head went straight back to the book. 'Ya jus finished work hav ya?'. As I looked up I must of had a bit of a face on as she said straight away 'sorry, ya probably jus want ta read ya book? Ignore me, I jus like a chat me'. So I thought bugger it. She hadn't been offensive, seemed genuine and after all I'm reading about ethnography, why not undertake an ethnographic interview with a real life DE, right hear, right now.

I'm not sure if I heard this right, but I think she said her name was something 'Destiny' something. I blame Beyonce to be honest. Anyway, we went on to exchange life stories for the next 45 mins and whilst she often gave me a bit too much information on her sexual encounters with ex-boyfriends and asked some very personal questions of me, she was quite sweet and just generally inquisitive. She asked me about the book I was reading, what I did for a living (this wasn't easy to explain), where I lived, who with, what was she like, is she pretty (after all you don't want to be going out with a munter as she so eloquently put it). My life looked pretty rosy in comparison to hers and everything I found out about her made me quite sad. How she was so jolly, chatty and amazingly wise for her age was beyond me.

Without going into too much detail everything bad in society pretty much happened to her. She was only 20 and had finally got her daughter back after months of 'Sofa surfing' as she called it (which turns out to be a huge social issue). She was off drugs and doing an NVQ in hairdressing. I felt quite proud of her and I was thoroughly pleased I had a good chinwag with her. It reminded me yet again how judgmental we can be and the importance of 'liking your audience'.

Comics are actually quite cool

I've always had an appreciation for comic books, or graphic novels - whatever you prefer to call them. Although it's more out of admiration for the artistry than anything else. To be honest, I've never really given them enough time to understand why people get so fanatical about them. Until a read this post.

It's from a presentation by Jack Schultz done at Interesting 2007. Its made me look at comics in a completely different light - they seem a lot less geeky than they did before. In fact, I would go as far as saying they're pretty cool.

Jack discusses things such as 'hypertime' and 'The bleed', which are essentially complicated storytelling techniques and manipulating the physical form of the comic to add another layer to the experience. Well worth reading, even if you aren't in to comics.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Monkey Journey to the West

I'm a big admirer of Damon Albarn, not just because I like his music, but he's always looking to do something different and challenging. Something that makes people think what the f**K is he doing now? I don't know what it is that drives him. Perhaps it's the personal challenge and the desire to prove doubters wrong? Maybe he gets bored quickly and is generally curious and excited about new things? It's probably all of them, but the thing I love, is his unwillingness to compromise.

Blur started out as a manufactured, middle England, art college, 'indy' band. Exploiting a market led by the Stone Roses, Blur unsuccessfully took on Oasis for the title of THE Britpop band of the 90s. Despite this, they were still successful and managed to shed the pretender image. It was Albarn's drive and uncompromising nature that probably annoyed their label but carved out a place for Blur as a credible British band.

Whilst never really officially leaving Blur, he moved on to a new project at arguably the height of their success. The Gorillaz, a virtual, cartoon band, created with designer/comic book artist and creator Jamie Hewlett (who went to art school in my hometown and designed the decor of a club I used to frequent. See blogging is great, you never find the interesting stuff out reading Observer Music Monthly you know) became an iconic brand with two albums, some great videos and an amazing live act where the characters were bought to life using 3D technology based on Pepper's Ghost, an old Victorian illusion based on reflecting and projecting on to mirrors.

More recent ventures include ‘The Good the Bad and the Queen’, this was the name of the album not the band, which had no name of course, very Prince and now a Chinese opera again with Jamie Hewlett (the reason for my actual post). Based on a classic Chinese novel, Monkey Journey to the West, launched at the Manchester International Festival last weekend to some rave reviews. It’s not going to be in the UK for a while as far as I’m aware which is a bit gutting, it has to do Paris and Berlin first. But fear not, the BBC has highlights of a documentary on its website that followed the duo throughout the development of the concept.

To promote the launch a Virgin train was fully Hewletted between London and Manchester. The modern trainspotter's porn!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

We are currently in the process of developing one of the Group's brands and as seasiders we had the inevitable conversation about how we might differ to London agencies? What does this mean for our clients? How could we show them the benefits of working with an agency outside London? Trips on a tractor, the smell of manure, you know, the sort of thing you would expect from an agency outside London. Any how, during this conversation someone bought up the name of the dead Cornish painter Alfred Wallis. Wallis, an ex fisherman, turned to painting at the age of 70 after his wife died.

Painting seascapes and St Ives, the area where he lived, Wallis developed a distinctive style that had a real sense of unrestrained creativity - almost endearingly child like. Wallis for example had no preconceptions of how the sea should look, he painted it just how he saw it in his head. Self taught Wallis would use anything he could get his hands on. The scarcity of paint and canvas meant Wallis would use old tins of boat paint and scraps of cardboard to create his work. Wallis' sense of perspective and proportion wasn't conventional and based solely on his own reality and memories of decades at sea.

I'm not sure what the moral of the story of this is yet, but it's interesting nonetheless. Perhaps that's enough. No worse or better than anything else. Just a different perspective and a different attitude.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

To Facebook or not to Facebook?

I finally joined Facebook after months of deliberation. After all it is my job to be up to speed on things like this. The basis for my resistance centred around comments such as: I don't have enough time for another form of social media, it's only for the kids and it's only for sados who don't have friends in the real world. Fortunately I was pleasantly surprised on all counts. Although some things I did find strange.

When I first joined it immediately worried me that anyone who seeked out my profile at this very minute would think I was short of mates since I last met them. Therefore you have to frantically add friends and even steal others who you can tenuously claim as your own. Once you have a healthy list, ideally larger than an ex-girlfriend's, the amount of time required on Facebook reduces.

Whilst there are loads of people I would like to get back in contact with, there are a few who I would quite happily keep as a distant memory. I had a bad experience with Friends Reunited when I stupidly left my mobile number on it. The result of which was a number of random phone calls from people I vaguely remember going to school with, let alone talking to. One of which was from a guy who told me he was up on a manslaughter charge. Fancy a pint? Did I bollocks! They were horribly awkward conversations I didn't want to repeat.

I also didn't and still don't understand ex-girlfriend protocol. Is it OK to 'poke' your ex-girlfriends and see if they bite? I'm worried that my current girlfriend, who isn't on Facebook will take it the wrong way if I tell her I have been poking Amy on my lunch break, even though I haven't actually seen her since we did PE in our pants together.

Whilst it is great to upload photos from nights out and have conversations with your mates, the thing I like about Facebook is that it's like having a fight with a midget and keeping him, or her, I must remain PC, at arms length. It allows you to keep in 'just enough touch' with people you won't phone every week, but would like to know how they are doing from time to time. There are 100s of other neat little features that to be honest make up a fantastic social network. Thumbs up to Facebook. Thumbs down however to the 'Don't tell my mum I'm in advertising, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel' group. You can only join it if you work in London apparently. I don't want to be your friend anyway, I've got other friends now so nerggghhh.