Article. Botconference. Links.

Tldr

I’ve written an article for the May issue of Creative Review about the effects of social media on copywriting – and more broadly about the intersection of writing and technology, where interesting things are happening. You can read it in the magazine, or it’s just been republished on the Creative Review blog.

On a related note, chatbots aren’t a new technology, but are becoming a bigger thing. (See this article about Facebook.) While there are many doom-laden headlines about this being the end of copywriting as we know it, bots are a useful tool for writers – or at least a nice thing to play with.

In a rudimentary experiment, I created a Twitter bot called @botconference, which tweets soundbites from a conference without the need for the actual conference. Occasionally, they border on the insightful. 

 

I created it using cheapbotsdonequick, which I discovered through Russell Davies and his @taglin3r bot, which creates corporate taglines. This is a half-serious example of bots as a creative tool. A common technique in creating taglines is to disrupt the language by ignoring conventional grammar. This is hard for humans to do as we instinctively follow the rules, but bots are naturals at it. You still need a writer to decide which ones work (and most don’t), but it’s good for generating possibilities.

Some more links mentioned in the Creative Review article:

Bots and humans, by Russell Davies

Why copywriters could fare well in the age of robots, by Russell Davies

Cleartext by Morten Just

Thing Explainer, by Randall Munroe

More about Siri  

Brand line surgery

Originals (1)

Many brands have straplines that make no sense. This is not a new observation.

The habit of turning nouns into adjectives and vice versa is long-established – it was covered on this blog in 2012.

But things have come to a head with the new Stella Artois brand line – ‘Be legacy’. It feels like something has to give.

Fortunately, there is a quick fix. The most high-profile cases (listed above) can be put right with some straightforward cutting-and-pasting.

The efficiency of this approach is that it is not necessary to write any new lines or use any extra words. Just swap the words between the brands and everyone gets a better outcome.

Trainline

So Trainline gets a line that makes sense.

Expedia

Similarly, this line makes me more interested in Expedia.

Sky

Sky cuts to the chase in a way that I suspect would appeal to its owner.

Rightmove

Rightmove continues to overclaim, but at least this is a sensible and cheerful instruction for people moving house.

BUPA

BUPA emphasises the positive outcome and puts the focus on the customer.

Adidas

This is still a cliched sentiment, but putting it in weird English doesn’t stop it being a cliched sentiment, however much you’d like it to. (This is part of the thinking with a lot of these straplines – it’s about making a boring thought sound new.)

Charmin

I like this. It sets an appropriately charming tone for the brand. No need to go into the details of what the toilet roll brand does – just enjoy it.

Stella

Admittedly, this one is still bollocks. But it kind of makes sense – the legacy being something integral to the product itself. Sort of. 

CocaCola

This sounds slightly menacing, but you could make a nice anthemic jingle out of it.

Lenovo

And finally Lenovo gets nothing. I don’t know what Lenovo stands for, and I doubt they do either. So maybe just embrace that. No brand really owns that nihilistic territory.

As I say, all of this only involves swapping existing words between the brands in question, so it is easy to implement. Signage and other collateral can be sliced up and rearranged without any extra print costs.

Will tidy away the cutting mat now and have a Stella.

Newlist

Another Smile in the Mind

SITM-Cover-Flat

Pre-order copies are starting to land of the new edition of A Smile in the Mind: Witty thinking in graphic design – in shops from 9 March 2016 – so it feels like it’s time to blog about it.

It’s been an honour to co-author the new edition alongside Greg Quinton of The Partners, updating the influential original by Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart.

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I remember coming across A Smile in the Mind for the first time when I got my first agency job in 1996. In retrospect, I realise it had only just come out, but it already felt like it had been around for ever. A compendium of ideas-led work with illuminating commentary and interviews, it was the go-to book for every creative looking for inspiration. In those days before the internet and countless creative blogs, it was a treasure trove of work gathered from the previous decades – like a compressed version of 30 D&AD Annuals. 

A book full of ‘penny-dropping’ moments, it represented a penny-dropping moment for people of my generation. I remember that feeling of realising I’m not just here to write, but to have ideas (and realising how inseparable the two things are). 

3_Structure

The new book is about 50% new material mixed with the most enduring of the old. There’s a lot of new writing and commentary, as well as the original ‘Case for Wit’ section that Beryl McAlhone wrote 20 years ago (complete with warnings about the straining too hard for an idea and getting caught up in designer jokes).

One of the privileges of working on the update was the chance to interview some great people for the closing section – including Noma Bar, Michael Johnson, Sarah Illenberger, Christoph Niemann, Dean Poole and Jim Sutherland.

I also had the task of editing the original text, including the melancholy role of switching to past tense when referring to greats like Saul Bass, Alan Fletcher, Shigeo Fukuda, Abram Games, John Gorham, Marcello Minale and Paul Rand. One reason for doing an update as opposed to a whole new book was to keep alive the influence of these greats of the past, which feels even more fresh and immediate when it’s mixed in with the more recent work.

SITM-Book-Visuals-Master-cropped1

SITM-Book-Visuals-Master-cropped2

The central argument of the new book is that wit has ‘scaled up’ in the last 20 years. Wit powers big brands and energises social causes. It’s there not just in the way products are marketed, but also in the products themselves. And it’s more democratic than ever – evident in protest branding and the instant ‘homage’ that greets every new brand launch. Wit is a way of making sense of the world, even or especially in times of crisis. For recent examples (too recent for the book), see the Jean Jullien response to the Paris attacks – classic graphic ‘wit’ but the opposite of laugh-out-loud – or the many visual tributes to David Bowie.  

I’ll blog more about the book and the thinking behind it. For now, I should record my thanks to Greg Quinton for getting me involved and steering the whole book into being. Thanks also to Jonathan Brodie, designer at The Partners, who spent countless late nights making the book look as good as the work in it. And thanks to Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart who were gracious in allowing us to revisit their original, which must have been a weird feeling.

As Greg and I say in the Preface, we’ve approached this update with a sense of gratitude to the original and in the spirit of paying it forward to the next generation.

More details on the book here.