‘Review of the year’ is a grand title for what is mainly a review of things I’ve tweeted / favourited (now ‘liked’) over the last year. I’ve also been less active than usual online, so this will miss out a lot of things. But apart from that, here is my comprehensive and authoritative review of the year.
Best brand conversation
Brands having conversations are like people pretending to be on the phone. You chat away, nodding and chuckling at imagined jokes – but then the phone rings and everyone laughs and points at you. For a brand, there’s nothing more disconcerting than when a real person answers back. Tesco wins the best brand conversation award for the Twitter exchange above, closely followed by this one:
Worst brand conversation
This was the year that Andrex launched a five-step guide to wiping your backside and asked us all to have a conversation about it. I wrote about it here: Conversation my arse
Brands doing feminism and getting it wrong. Sometimes it’s obvious and almost endearingly cack-handed, like Bic Pens celebrating International Women’s Day, or the recent IBM #hackahairdryer campaign. Other stuff gets celebrated widely, but is arguably worse. This Mindy Kaling article (last few paras) should be required reading for the Always and Dove marketing teams, who confidently tell the rest of the world how to do feminism, with the passion of a recent convert.
Non-trend, because it’s not something that happens much or gets shouted about. But there are examples of brands doing serious social good, without making a song and dance about it. This Ricoh Save The Memory project is a painstaking, years-long, open-source effort to rescue thousands of photographs lost and damaged in the Japanese tsunami of 2011. It’s properly useful, but it’s hard work.
This probably has to be emojis. I don’t actually mind emojis – they’re fun. What grates is the media consensus that any project or press release that contains the word ‘emoji’ is now automatically and hilariously innovative and ‘now’. (Before this, it was ‘selfie’, which still retains some of its talismanic power, although it’s starting to wear off.)
So Domino’s wins accolades for ordering a pizza by emoji. Dove solves everything by releasing curly-haired emojis. McDonald’s upsets copywriters everywhere with an emoji-only ad (above – the last emoji was added by a member of the public).
And the newspaper USA Today even included emojis to signal the tone of its stories – an experiment that has predictably been shelved.
All of this leads to horrified predictions of an illiterate, wordless future, but it’s mainly effective for its novelty value. Once someone has done an emoji-only ad, you really don’t need to do another.
Worst client of the year
The one brand that hasn’t done emojis is the Tokyo Olympics, where they would be quite appropriate. Instead, they win Worst Client of the Year for hanging their designer out to dry following pretty thin allegations of plagiarism, before launching another competition.
Fun project of the year
To prove that sports and branding can work together, this Logo Gym project by Studio Dunbar is pretty invigorating.
Punctuation of the year
The mood of the UK election night was captured in the transition from the first edition of the Daily Mirror to the second, the last lingering hope deleted with the question mark.
Packaging copy of the year
Always spoilt for choice with packaging copy. The prize has to go to Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients. As @aljwhite pointed out, they are now starting to sound like Nicholas Witchell reporting on the Queen.
Mentions also for the most annoying bread in the world:
Washed down with some rugged wine (via @rhodri), which should have been called Man with a Vin.
And finally some cheese (via @betarish). I feel like I spent 11 months of this year making my way though the last line of this poem:
UI copywriting of the year
It’s not just packaging any more. One of the new frontiers for tone of voice is user interface copy. There is no error message or sign-up form that can’t be jazzed up with some chatty tone, like this error message:
Or this sign-up box:
This stuff extends to support services too. @howells tweeted this horror:
And there was a news story about Barclays threatening to give names and personalities to its new ATMs, including Sally and Jake. I’m not sure what Barclays’ demands are, but the nation will surely do anything to stop this from happening.
Worst naming project of the year
If it does happen, ATM Jake will have to compete with Storm Jake, one of a new front of branded storms that have been unleashed on the UK, following a competition by the Met Office to get the public to suggest names. To be fair, this stuff seems to be effective in raising ‘awareness’ of specific storms, which may have some public safety benefits. But you suspect it’s also about improving the Met Office’s social media metrics – metrics which it absolutely doesn’t need to have. Anyway, just like the US, we’ve gone with naming storms after people, which is simultaneously infantilising and sinister. It’s distressing enough for your house to be flooded, without it being by a storm called Phil. (Mind you, it’s better than a storm being sponsored by BMW and going on to take many lives.)
Worrying TOV development of the year
Speaking of UI copywriting, tone of voice has made its way onto road signs this year, in an experiment designed to increase public safety and reduce examples of road rage. I started and never finished a long blog post about this. The short version is I think it will briefly decrease and then steadily increase road rage.
Interesting TOV development of the year
This was also the year in which tone of voice guidelines went viral. The weird thing about the Warwick University backlash was that it’s not that extreme an example of the genre. But it doesn’t take much to produce a backlash these days.
Smart design move of the year
This was a smart way to reframe a two-star review from The Guardian.
Technology of the year
I like this story about how the humble whiteboard proved critical to negotiations with Iran.
Stupid job title of the year
Director of Modernise, Southwark Council.
Brand Darwin Awards Inaugural Winner
I wonder if there should be a Brand Darwin Awards, for brands that shoot themselves in the foot, and then the head. This year’s goes to Paypal for telling kids everywhere there’s no Santa (wrongly, because there is a Santa).
Brand psychopath of the year
I’ve argued before that brands are like psychopaths, ticking most of the boxes on the Hare PCL-R checklist. Even psychopaths deserve awards, so here goes:
The first of three winners is UBS for its grim ‘good father’ campaign (via @zarashirwan). See ‘Conning and Manipulativeness’ and ‘Shallow Affect’.
HSBC (the alleged money-laundering bank now threatening to leave the UK) ticks 'Lack of Remorse or Guilt' for advising us all to eat leftovers:
And AirBnB goes heavy on ‘Grandiose Self-Worth’ for its misjudged (and later withdrawn) hotel tax campaign, whose tone of faux-innocent entitlement is typical of too many brands today:
Two great design projects
Many more where these came from, but two that spring to mind are these ‘nostalgia for the future’ NASA posters:
And there was a particularly fine D&AD Annual cover this year by David Pearson et al.
Long copy of the year
An entire novel on a double page spread.
Short copy of the year
This obituary. You learn a lot about Doug from these two words. No nonsense, enjoyed a joke, everyone knew him. Short copy can say a lot.
Creative project of year
One of them anyway. I loved the Partick Thistle mascot by David Shrigley. A collaboration between the art world and football could have been patronising or gimmicky, but this was done in the right spirit – the mascot (Kingsley) captures the cheerful angst of watching your local team. The media tried to create a ‘backlash’ story against it, full of quotes from aghast tweeters, but most were actually joining in on the joke.
Image of the year
The most powerful image of the year was the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy washed up on a beach in Kos, which doesn’t need to be posted again here.
On a more surreal note, this was a real thing that happened in the UK:
Line of the year
It’s already become over-familiar after being quoted by Cameron and others, but in a year bookended by Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan, ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv’ was a concise and humane rebuttal of a whole narrative.
To end on a happier note:
Festive greetings to one and all. (This is a pic from last year, from Sale Appliances in Southend. Henry is one of the great underestimated brands.)
Thanks to anyone involved in all the tweets and links above – I’ve tried to cite sources where I can.
NB: If you liked 2015, you might like the prequel: Rough notes on 2014