An appreciation of the 45-day tweet

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A tweet by cheese brand Président has caused a stir on Twitter following a report that it took 45 days to prepare, including the involvement of a copywriter, designer, between 10-20 strategists, at least two social media managers, more senior writers and designers in the approval process, and then presumably various layers of management within the client company. Unsurprisingly, the result hasn’t been taken entirely seriously, but it's worth noting that it is actually quite a strong tweet.

Here’s my word-by-word appreciation.

Sharing
Implants a subliminal message into the first word of the tweet, enticing readers into an RT- and fave-friendly social state of mind.

a
Note the modestly generic ‘a’ not ‘our’ – a brave move that theoretically means this tweet promotes competitor Camembert brands. But the right decision. ‘a’ is less controlling and more confident – and there is a massive picture of PRESIDENT CAMEMBERT below.

Camembert
Important to get this into the first three words of the tweet.

with friends
More social triggering. Interesting exclusion of ‘family’ here – was this a sticking point in discussions?

?
Good to open with a question, immediately creating a sense of involvement and dialogue.

(How generous!)
At this point, the tweet is only seven words, but has impressively set up a dynamic tension between the opening question and the cheerful and socially flattering aside. The use of parentheses is key here – worth the deployment of two extra characters.

Get
Note the graceful move from interrogative (opening sentence) to exclamatory (parentheses) and now into the imperative, gutturally Anglo-Saxon ‘get’. This switch of mood is a sign we are getting to the ‘meat’ of the tweet (or the cheese).

the best flavor
That mildly winded sensation you’re experiencing is the Benefit hitting home. Despite its deceptive opening, this tweet isn’t just here to make conversation – it has a clear product-related message. (Was there a discussion about the Americanised ‘flavor’ as opposed to the the UK-friendly ‘flavour’? Of course there was.)

by serving at room temperature.
The tweet is working hard now, delivering pure information at high speed. The slip into more formal language isn’t accidental, but creates a reassuring sense of quasi-scientific authority.

#artofcheese
This is where the tweet steps up several levels from incidental disruption into pure Idea. The reader is being invited to consider all that has gone before not merely as good advice in its own right, but as one part of a bigger vision to appreciate and champion the ‘art’ of cheese. Think of the possibilities deftly captured in that 12-character device. The perfect cheddar-bread ratio for cheese on toast. The best cheese to pair with a Ritz cracker. How cottage cheese got its name. And is the subtle echo of 1980s synthpop experimentalists ‘Art of Noise’ coincidental? Nothing is coincidental in this tweet – it’s a smart trigger for the mum/dad demographic.

‪pic.twitter.com/R6iWPeKv1z
This appreciation is primarily concerned with the wording of the tweet, rather than the styling of the accompanying picture (which deserves an appreciation of its own), but note the enormity of the brand name – a no-nonsense contrast to the subtlety of the preceding tweet.

One final note: the entire tweet leaves three characters of its 140 to spare. At first sight, this is troubling – that’s three characters of valuable social media real estate unused. Were there discussions about this? Could there have been more exclamation marks after ‘generous’? Could ‘flavor’ have been depicted as ‘flavo(u)r’ to embrace the UK English market? Perhaps it’s nice that we’re being left to wonder what else might have been. This tweet has worked hard, but there is always the possibility of better to come.

Take your time, Président Cheese, we’re prepared to wait. 


UPDATE:
It should be noted that the agency involved has challenged the ‘45-day’ version of events, although the journalist has stood by the reporting. I think the agency might be better off embracing the humour and mounting a forensic defence of the tweet – they are welcome to use any or all of the above.

David Abbott and the fourth wall

David Abbott, one of the great advertising copywriters, has died at the age of 75. The campaign he created for The Economist will mean he’s remembered for as long as copywriting exists – it’s hard to imagine a time where it will stop being a reference point – but it was only one piece of work in a prolific career.

This post isn’t meant as a comprehensive tribute – follow the links at the end for some excellent articles. But it’s interesting to analyse the detail of how a great writer works and, looking through David Abbott’s entry in The Copy Book, I was struck by one trick that he uses repeatedly and feels notably fresh even though the ads in question are decades old.

Chivas_David Abbott

The first example is this Chivas Regal Father’s Day ad (1980). It’s a mass market advert for a big brand, but it’s written from a personal perspective – a direct message from the copywriter to his father which, by being personal, manages to be universal. (David Abbott acknowledges it might strike some people as sentimental, but it makes sense in the context.)

Volvo

Then there’s this one for Volvo (1983), where the copywriter steps out of the accepted fiction that an ad is a ‘brand’ talking to its customers and instead puts himself directly into the frame (literally – he’s the one beneath the car).

Ddb_hires1

Finally, there’s this recruitment ad (1967) for agency account managers (‘men’ in those days), where the copywriter speaks directly to the people with whom he will soon be working.

In all three cases, the same trick is taking place. The writer is playing with the convention that adverts are a ‘brand’ talking to its audience, and explicitly drawing attention to the fact that there is a copywriter – a real person – being paid to write this stuff. In theatre, you would call it breaking the fourth wall – momentarily stepping out of character to address the audience directly, effectively to say ‘Look at me, I’m an actor’. It’s a technique that plays with expectations and has a postmodern edge to it – a sign that David Abbott could have fitted comfortably into the age of Twitter and meta-jokes.

In the writing tips that appear alongside his work in The Copy Book, David Abbott advises copywriters to ‘Put yourself into your work’, where he’s no doubt nodding towards this trick. But I think what he’s doing in these ads is more specific than this general advice implies. He’s not putting himself into the writing in the conventional writing-workshop sense of ‘drawing on your own personal experience’. He’s shifting the conceptual framework entirely to place the writer in the foreground. In a world where the babble of disembodied brands with annoyingly ‘personal’ voices is getting ever louder, there’s something appealing about this honest acknowledgement that a copywriter is involved in the process. It’s not a trick you can play every time but, when you do, it has a nicely humanising effect.

It’s also done with a commercial purpose. Like many of the great copywriting tricks, it’s rooted in the tradition of door-to-door sales, where a common trick is for the salesman to step out of character – ‘Between you and me, it’s my job to sell this stuff, but I’ve actually got one of these vacuum cleaners at home and it works a treat.’

I wonder what David Abbott made of the more recent trend for chatty, informal copy that has become the norm on packaging in particular. While the people behind that hyper-personalised approach might protest that they’re simply ‘putting themselves into the writing’, I suspect he would have been sceptical. The difference is that, when Abbott talks about putting himself into the writing, he’s not simply gesturing towards it tonally – nor, crucially, is he equating himself with the brand. The power of the approach comes from the way he’s separating himself from the brand and highlighting the fact that he’s a copywriter doing a job. It’s a structural idea, not a writing style.

By his own admission, David Abbott was never that interested in style (or tone of voice as it might be termed now): ‘I am not interested in words. I don’t own a Thesaurus, I don’t do crosswords and my dictionary has pictures in it. Words, for me, are the servants of the argument and on the whole I like them to be plain, simple and familiar. I believe that I’m paid to be an advocate…’

Whether it’s in a press ad or on the side of a juice carton, I imagine David Abbott would maintain that copywriting is primarily about advocacy rather than self-expression – building an argument rather than projecting a personality. If drawing attention to yourself as a writer is an effective device for bolstering the argument, then it’s worth doing.

All this is a long analysis of a simple creative trick. But I find it interesting how a lot of the best writers, designers and creative thinkers have a bag of tricks which they draw on and reinterpret over the course of a career. This ‘fourth wall’ device was one of Abbott’s best. It’s instructive to see how he returns to it in pieces of work that are years apart.

Looking through the rest of The Copy Book, there are sections where the work starts to feel dated and the claims made for it seem overblown. But the entirety of the Abbott section is timelessly and disarmingly great, because the work is rooted in great thinking. It’s appropriate that he of all people should use this device of drawing attention to himself as a copywriter – when you’re David Abbott, why wouldn’t you?

Creative Review on David Abbott
Ben Kay on Abbott’s best work  
Mike Dempsey on David Abbott: Man of letters
David Abbott’s leaving speech 
Excerpt from The Copy Book 
Dave Trott on the roots of the Economist campaign

Elephants Charging Towards Brazil!

Hp_bus

The press have recently reported on the slogans chosen by each of the teams taking part in the Brazil World Cup to appear emblazoned on their team bus.

The slogans were submitted and chosen through a public contest sponsored by Hyundai, with predictably varying results.

However, for a copywriter, the whole thing is quite fun – the slogans equivalent of the Eurovision song contest. Here’s my take on each of the entries.

AlgeriaDesert Warriors in Brazil
Good – rooted in a point of difference about the country and sounds like the subtitle to an awesome movie. 8/10

ArgentinaNot just a team, we are a country
Mystifying statement of fact. Arguably more meaningful the other way round: Not just a country, we are a team. 1/10

AustraliaSocceroos: Hopping Our Way Into History
Cheerfully embraces the national stereotype, but ‘into History’ makes it sound like they will soon be history in the negative sense. Drop the alliteration and up the optimism: ‘Hopping Our Way To Glory’. 6/10

BelgiumExpect the Impossible
A mind-bending concept, but at least acknowledges that winning is an impossibility. Given the popular misconception about there being no famous Belgians, I'd have gone with: ‘Audrey Hepburn was technically born in Belgium.’ 4/10

Bosnia and HerzegovinaDragons in Heart, Dragons on the Field
Should be epic, but somehow isn't. 5/10

BrazilBrace Yourselves! The 6th Is Coming!
The kind of over-confidence that could end up backfiring badly. But then they are Brazil. 5/10

Cameroon A Lion remains a Lion
Strong. Suspect the original meaning is closer to ‘A lion will always be a lion’. But the odd phrasing gives it a mystical quality. 8/10

ChileChi Chi Chi! Le Le Le! Go Chile! 
This is how you write a slogan for a national team. Joyful, optimistic, fun. Contrast with USA. 10/10

ColombiaHere travels a nation, not just a team!
Cross-reference with Argentina. You know what they mean – the whole country is with you. But it says very little. Humour may have helped – Addicted to Victory / The Drugs Do Work. 2/10

Costa RicaMy passion is football, my strength is my people, my pride is Costa Rica
My slogan is lame. 3/10

Ivory CoastElephants Charging Towards Brazil!
A stunner – four words, nationally relevant, creating a memorable and massively exciting visual image. The new benchmark for all slogans – it’s good, but it’s not Elephants Charging Towards Brazil! 10/10

CroatiaWith Fire in Our Hearts, For Croatia all as One!
Fire in their hearts, rather than Dragons (see Bosnia and Herzegovina), but sounds like they’re trying to convince themselves. 4/10

EcuadorOne Commitment, One Passion, Only One Heart, This Is For You Ecuador!
Ecuabore. 2/10

EnglandThe Dream of One Team, the Heartbeat of Millions!!
Completely unEnglish line. Two exclamation marks? (Although in its favour, at least it’s not ‘Keep calm and score goals’.) In honour of the John Barnes goal against Brazil, they should have gone with ‘Get round the back’. 3/10

FranceImpossible is not a French word
Seems to have been lost in translation, as ‘Impossible’ definitely is a French word. Reminiscent of George W Bush’s ‘The trouble with the French is they have no word for ‘entrepreneur’.’

GermanyOne Nation, One Team, One Dream!
1/10

GhanaBlack Stars: Here to Illuminate Brazil
Poetic. Sounds disconcertingly race-fixated until you realise it’s a play on the national flag. 7/10

GreeceHeroes Play Like Greeks
Given the way they won Euro 2004 and the fact these slogans are being printed on the side of a bus, they should have gone with ‘Where do we park this?’ 3/10

HondurasWe are one country, one nation, five stars on the heart
So many of these slogans are obsessed with numbers. And a country is a nation, so the repetition grates even more. 1/10

IranHonour of Persia
A dignified slogan which I am not going to criticise as it’s from Iran. 7/10

ItalyLet’s paint the FIFA World Cup dream blue
Stop sucking up to FIFA, Italy. 3/10

JapanSamurai, The Time Has Come to Fight!
Yes. Solid and whole-hearted embrace of national stereotype. 9/10

South KoreaEnjoy it, Reds!
I want to give this slogan a big hug. 5/10

MexicoAlways United, Always Aztecas
Expect better from the Mexicans. 3/10

NetherlandsReal Men Wear Orange
This is good. Bit of humour, bit of attitude, very Dutch, sounds like a proper slogan. 9/10

NigeriaOnly Together We Can Win
Lighten up, Nigeria. 3/10

PortugalThe past is history, the future is victory
They seriously put ‘The past is history’ in their slogan. 1/10

RussiaNo one can catch us
The campest of all the slogans (even the Dutch). Conjures up images of a bare-chested Putin sneaking into the room, tagging you and then running away giggling. 3/10

SpainInside our hearts, the passion of a champion
You can just about get away with talking about ‘passion’ when you’re a Mediterranean country (imagine this line spoken by Antonio Banderas), but this still talks about passion instead of showing it. It’s not Elephants Charging Towards Brazil!

SwitzerlandFinal Stop: 07-13-14 Maracana!
Check Switzerland out with their fancy numerals, no doubt set in Helvetica. 03/10

UruguayThree million dreams… Let’s go Uruguay
Rare example of a line that would be improved by an exclamation mark at the end. I worry for their mental state. 4/10

U.S.A.United by Team, Driven by Passion
Good in the sense it could only have come from America. Straight out of the corporate manual of buzzword collage that is handed out to every MBA student. United by Team? What does that mean? Should have gone with the @usasoccerguy approach: ‘GOALSHOT! Team USA with the deathstrike! #worldsoccerchampionship’ 2/10

All in all, an entertaining tournament, with Chile and Ivory Coast cruising into the final, which Ivory Coast go on to win 12-0. 

Text sells

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 09.52.56

It’s nice to have played a small part in the return of design title Grafik, now in online rather than print form.

The new site is interestingly text-led for a design site and the same approach has been carried through into its advertising. Rather than garish banners fighting for attention, Grafik is running text-only ads that are consistent with the editorial style, while still being clearly marked as ads.

I’ve helped write some house ads explaining the new approach, and written an essay about the continuing power of good writing in advertising and design.

Read the full article here.

The grand old man of brand

Wallyspread
The March 2014 edition of Creative Review includes my review of Brand New: The Shape of Brands To Come, by Wally Olins. If you’re a subscriber, you can read the article online.

The book is released on 7 April and available to order.

For anyone interested, the article references a number of sources:

Adrian Shaughnessy – Why designers should give branding back its soul

Michael Johnson – Mind the gap

Terry Eagleton – Reading On Brand 

Talking point

Cp_4

Following Jonathan Meades’ exploration of brutalism which began on BBC4 last night, I thought I’d post this interview with Wilem Frischmann, the engineer who built Centre Point in London.

I spoke to him in 2011 as part of a project (with hat-trick design) exploring the history of Centre Point, a building whose hypnotic honeycomb façade and decorative patterns belie the ‘brutalist’ label that is often attached to it.

Cp-drawings

Wilem Frischmann is now a grand old man of engineering, a partner in global firm Pell Frischmann and father of Justine, lead singer of Elastica. But when Centre Point was being built in the early 1960s, he was just starting out and keen to make a name for himself.

The whole thing was an amazing piece of engineering, built in record time using a single crane and no scaffolding. At the time, planning details weren’t available to view so readily, so Londoners played a continuing guessing game wondering how tall the tower would get.

Cp-build

I was struck by how hands-on the project was for Wilem Frischmann, to the point where he personally ventured into a 100-foot narrow bore-hole beneath Tottenham Court Road to check the strength of the foundations – and nearly didn’t make it out again.

The interview is on the Centre Point blog and is in three parts:

Part one
Part two
Part three 

An interview with hat-trick

Hattrick1_0

Having just posted an interview with myself, here’s one with me doing the interviewing.

I’ve been fortunate to work with hat-trick a lot in recent years, on projects including Victoria hoardings, Centre Point, Ebbsfleet Valley and Help Musicians UK. They also collaborated with us on Disappointments Diary 2013.

Now they’re the subject of a book by Chois Publishing (part of its We Love Graphic series), for which I’ve written the introduction, an extended case study about their work with Imperial War Museums, and an interview with two of the company’s founders, Jim Sutherland and Gareth Howat.

Hattrick3_0

The interview has been re-published on the Creative Review blog and you can read it here

The book is called 240pp of thoughts and you can order a copy from the hat-trick shop.

Storytelling – an interview

Threepigs

I was recently invited to answer some questions on storytelling by Martin Lee of Acacia Avenue, an agency that has specialised in writing and storytelling for many years. He’s kindly allowed me to reproduce the interview here. It’s inspired in part by the tongue-in-cheek brand stories I wrote last year, including The Brand Story of the Three Little Pigs, pictured above. 

ML: Why do you think storytelling has become such a source of fascination in business?

NA: Stories have always been there in advertising and branding, but have only recently been given a label. I think the reason it caught on was because it played into a wider trend to seek out ‘authenticity’. Compared to the old terminology of marketing – full of military terms like ‘targets’ and ‘strategies’ and ‘campaigns’ – the idea of ‘storytelling’ feels very down-at-home and uncommercial.

You could also relate it to the trend for ‘infantilisation’ in recent years – that habit brands have of talking to customers as a parent would to a small child. When a brand says it’s going to tell us a ‘story’, it’s subliminally tapping into that childlike, uncritical part of our brains, which is prone to suspending disbelief and accepting the narrative on its own terms.

ML: What are the mistakes brands make when they try to harness storytelling?

NA: The main mistake is to gesture towards storytelling without having the courage or creativity to do it properly. True to their marketing instincts, many practitioners are simply taking old approaches and rebranding them as ‘stories’ in order to fit with the trend. So we get the surreal sight of things being called ‘stories’ that possess no discernable narrative or any of the accepted characteristics of a story.

This isn’t about policing what stories are and are not – there are no rules dictating what storytellers can or can’t do. But if we’re convincing clients of the archetypal power of storytelling, it’s strange to ignore all the elements that give it that power.

ML: What should they be doing?

NA: Politicians talk about ‘framing the narrative’ and I think it’s a useful idea for brands. For example, it helps for a company like Apple to remember its overarching narrative about being a plucky adventurer exploring new frontiers. If that narrative is locked in people’s minds, then any bad news becomes a setback on that bigger mission, rather than a sign of terminal decline. By framing the narrative, you change the way people see events unfolding – I think Apple has lost sight of that lately.

That said, I think brands get hung up on having one ‘brand story’, when sometimes it’s useful to have many. Taking Apple as an example, I’d think about developing a bank of stories, ‘tagged’ with different themes. So if someone wanted to demonstrate values like ‘pride’ or ‘innovation’ they could look up all the stories that bring those values to life. Under ‘pride’ you might tell the story of how Apple engineers used to etch their own names onto circuit boards as a hidden ‘signature’ that would only ever be seen by other engineers. A bank of stories like that is an endlessly useful resource.

I’d also get a professional on the case. Every organisation has great stories inside it, but it takes a storyteller to spot them and frame them effectively. I’d pay a writer to immerse themselves in the company and become a roving story-gatherer and archivist. Tell them to go and find 50 more stories like the circuit board one.

ML: Who is doing it well?

NA: One brand that has been doing it consistently is Jack Daniels. Their whole approach is based on brand lore and legend and they were doing it long before the storytelling trend started.

A typical ad tells a micro-story about the product – the barrels it comes in, the water they use – and relates it back to the bigger brand. In some ways it’s classic old-school advertising – take a feature and turn it into a benefit by spinning a nice yarn – but it’s done with such charm and consistency that it always works. And they carry it through to the rest of the brand. I remember them getting a lot of praise on Twitter for sending a brilliantly laid-back and respectful cease-and-desist letter to someone who had infringed their trademark.

But different factions will fight over this – brand strategists could claim Jack Daniels as a strategic insight; storytellers would claim it as a triumph of storytelling; advertisers would say it’s just good old- fashioned salesmanship. There’s lots of commercial territory at stake in all these arguments.

ML: What is the prize – if a brand gets it right, what do they stand to gain?

NA: A few years ago, I took part in a US-based project called Significant Objects, where the idea was to take a near-worthless junk store object and write a story about it. The object and its story were then posted on eBay. Once the objects had a story attached, they multiplied in value – one object bought for $3 ended up selling for $193. It was a playful project, but it makes a good point about the way we value things for the stories attached to them.

This is really what branding is about – taking a non-descript product or service and investing it with a bigger narrative. There are huge benefits in a storytelling approach to branding and it’s something writers in particular should welcome. In some ways, the proliferation of pseudo-stories and bandwagon- jumpers is an inevitable by-product of a successful movement. But the good thing about stories is they will always be more than a trend – they were around long before this period in the commercial spotlight and they’ll no doubt survive long afterwards.

Links:

Acacia Avenue

Jack Daniels cease-and-desist letter

Significant Objects

The brand story of Little Red Riding Hood

The brand story of Peter Rabbit

The brand story of the Three Little Pigs

Toy Brand Story

The brand story of Chicken Licken

Towards the domain singularity

Blogshot

Big news in our small world this week. We’ve recently decomissioned our individual sites (nickasbury.com and sueasbury.co.uk) and folded them into an updated Asbury & Asbury site, which you’re now looking at.*

The back story if you’re interested:

Ten years ago, there was nickasbury.com (site of freelance writer Nick Asbury) and suerogers.co.uk (site of freelance designer Sue Rogers).

Five years ago, for reasons easy to deduce, the latter became sueasbury.co.uk

At the same time, a new site was born to showcase side projects and collaborations between the two of us – asburyandasbury.com

Close on its tail came the @asburyandasbury Twitter account, where Nick has always done the tweeting.

In the five years since, Sue has stopped working as a freelance designer (making room for motherhood) and now works solely on Asbury & Asbury projects. Nick continues to work as a freelance writer (he’s even writing this sentence), but it seems increasingly unnecessary to have a nickasbury.com site alongside asburyandasbury.com

So you’ll find it’s all part of one site now, with our own projects in the Projects section and Nick’s freelance writing (still his main thing) in the Writing section. There are also updated Press and People sections and the all-important Shop.

The best email addresses to reach us on are now nick[at]asburyandasbury.com and sue[at]asburyandasbury.com

The old addresses will still work, but be aware you’ll be aggravating us ever so slightly every time you use them.

After ten years, we have achieved the domain singularity. It is a good feeling.


* OK, unless you're on an RSS reader.

Porpoise poem

Porpoise-seen-in-the-Rive-006

With the news that five porpoises have been sighted far up the Thames following the recent storm surge, I thought I’d welcome them with this poem that I wrote a while ago. It’s taken from a collection called Songs for Animals which we plan to produce in book form one day, but we have no idea when.


Porpoises

I asked a pair of porpoises
what the purpoise of a porpoise is –
and whether dolphins are like porpoises
to all intents and purpoises?

‘How dare you!’ said the porpoises,
storming off to sea.
It was strange to have cross porpoises
talking at me.

Brands and The Psychopath Test

Brodericks

I recently read Jon Ronson's book The Psychopath Test, in which he explores the prevalence of psychopathic tendencies among some of the most successful people in society. He writes in detail about the Hare PCL-R checklist, which lists 20 traits associated with psychopathy and has been the basis for most diagnoses over the years. While studying the list, I couldn't help wondering how most brands would score. 

I don't mean this in a glib '20 ways brands are like xxxxxx' way. I mean that brands arguably make more sense when you think of them as psychopaths and respond to them accordingly.

That's not an aspersion against anyone connected with the creation of specific brands, but a comment on the peculiar status of brands in general. Brands exist as separate legal entities from the rest of us and possess a life of their own. They could be considered a superior life form, in the sense that Coca Cola will be around long after the rest of us have gone. By their nature, brands display a lot of superficially positive human characteristics, including charm, slickness and facility with words. But they are also necessarily incapable of empathy and remorse, and especially prone to an inflated sense of self-worth.

Here's a verbatim list of the 20 psychopathic traits (underlinings are mine), with some illustrative examples. There could be countless examples for points one and two in particular. 

1. Glib and Superficial Charm
The tendency to be smooth, engaging, charming, slick, and verbally facile. Psychopathic charm is not in the least shy, self-conscious, or afraid to say anything. A psychopath never gets tongue-tied. They have freed themselves from the social conventions about taking turns in talking, for example. 

Bravenewmalden


2. Grandiose Self-Worth
A grossly inflated view of one's abilities and self-worth, self-assured, opinionated, cocky, a braggart. Psychopaths are arrogant people who believe they are superior human beings. 

Starbucks13. Need for Stimulation or Proneness to Boredom           
An excessive need for novel, thrilling, and exciting stimulation; taking chances and doing things that are risky. Psychopaths often have a low self-discipline in carrying tasks through to completion because they get bored easily. They fail to work at the same job for any length of time, for example, or to finish tasks that they consider dull or routine.      

Yahoo1


4. Pathological Lying           
Can be moderate or high; in moderate form, they will be shrewd, crafty, cunning, sly, and clever; in extreme form, they will be deceptive, deceitful, underhanded, unscrupulous, manipulative, and dishonest.  

Adamhess1


5. Conning and Manipulativeness           
The use of deceit and deception to cheat, con, or defraud others for personal gain; distinguished from Item #4 in the degree to which exploitation and callous ruthlessness is present, as reflected in a lack of concern for the feelings and suffering of one's victims.

 


6. Lack of Remorse or Guilt           
A lack of feelings or concern for the losses, pain, and suffering of victims; a tendency to be unconcerned, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic. This item is usually demonstrated by a disdain for one's victims.

Tesco


7. Shallow Affect           
Emotional poverty or a limited range or depth of feelings; interpersonal coldness in spite of signs of open gregariousness.           

Pinterest


8. Callousness and Lack of Empathy     
      
A lack of feelings toward people in general; cold, contemptuous, inconsiderate, and tactless

Aapparel


9. Parasitic Lifestyle           
An intentional, manipulative, selfish, and exploitative financial dependence on others as reflected in a lack of motivation, low self-discipline, and inability to begin or complete responsibilities. 

Virgin


10. Poor Behavioral Controls           
Expressions of irritability, annoyance, impatience, threats, aggression, and verbal abuse; inadequate control of anger and temper; acting hastily.           

Waitrose


11. Promiscuous Sexual Behavior           
A variety of brief, superficial relations, numerous affairs, and an indiscriminate selection of sexual partners; the maintenance of several relationships at the same time; a history of attempts to sexually coerce others into sexual activity or taking great pride at discussing sexual exploits or conquests.

Passion


12. Early Behavior Problems           
A variety of behaviors prior to age 13, including lying, theft, cheating, vandalism, bullying, sexual activity, fire-setting, glue-sniffing, alcohol use, and running away from home. 

Ella

13. Lack of Realistic, Long-Term Goals           
An inability or persistent failure to develop and execute long-term plans and goals; a nomadic existence, aimless, lacking direction in life

Andrex


14. Impulsivity           
The occurrence of behaviors that are unpremeditated and lack reflection or planning; inability to resist temptation, frustrations, and urges; a lack of deliberation without considering the consequences; foolhardy, rash, unpredictable, erratic, and reckless.           

Bmw1

15. Irresponsibility           
Repeated failure to fulfill or honor obligations and commitments; such as not paying bills, defaulting on loans, performing sloppy work, being absent or late to work, failing to honor contractual agreements.

Barclays


16. Failure to Accept Responsibility for Own Actions
           
A failure to accept responsibility for one's actions reflected in low conscientiousness, an absence of dutifulness, antagonistic manipulation, denial of responsibility, and an effort to manipulate others through this denial.

           


17. Many Short-Term Marital Relationships    
       
A lack of commitment to a long-term relationship reflected in inconsistent, undependable, and unreliable commitments in life, including marital.      

Fd

18. Juvenile Delinquency      
     
Behavior problems between the ages of 13-18; mostly behaviors that are crimes or clearly involve aspects of antagonism, exploitation, aggression, manipulation, or a callous, ruthless tough-mindedness.

Fanny


19. Revocation of Condition Release   
        
A revocation of probation or other conditional release due to technical violations, such as carelessness, low deliberation, or failing to appear.     

Gap

20. Criminal Versatility           
A diversity of types of criminal offenses, regardless if the person has been arrested or convicted for them; taking great pride at getting away with crimes.Hillsborough

 

Sources/links:

Broderick’s bars
Treacle Moon – via @bravenewmalden
Starbuck’s Mission Statement
Yahoo 30 logos in 30 days
Hall’s – via @adamhess1
Nivea
Tesco
Pinterest – via @underwoodsimon
American Apparel
Virgin Media
Waitrose
Passion – various Google images results
Ella’s Kitchen
Andrex
BMW Mini Cooper
Barclays
Halifax
First Direct – via @totalcontent
Irn Bru
Gap logo withdrawn
Newsworks 'Hillsborough/hacking' campaign

 

Best Male Solo Marketer

Morrissey_0

I’ve written a piece for the Creative Review blog comparing Morrissey’s release of his autobiography on Penguin Classics with another leftfield pop marketing move – the release of David Bowie’s ‘Where are we now?’ earlier this year. You can read it here.

The strange story of story

 

This isn’t exactly a new observation, but something weird has happened to the word ‘story’ in the last few years. Watching the recent TSB: The Story ad brought it home to me.

First, some background.

I’m not sure what triggered the trend, but at some point in the last decade, storytelling was adopted by brands as a technique for connecting with people and communicating a message – understandably, because stories are one of the most ancient tools we have for transmitting values encoded in a memorable form. 

As inevitably happens, a valid insight quickly turned into a bandwagon, and the definition of ‘story’ has subsequently become so broad as to become meaningless.

Increasingly, it doesn’t matter if something is a story or not, as long as you can call it a story and signal that you’re in tune with that particular trend. Mention ‘story’ in a pitch or presentation and people will generally nod approvingly. (I’m not averse to using it myself – I can think of two projects I’ve worked on in the last four years that feature the word ‘story’ prominently, although I’d argue it’s a justified use in each case.)

TSB: The Story is the latest example. None of what follows is a criticism of the ad, which is beautifully made. It’s also well written from a commercial point of view – it tells a sanitised version of the TSB story, but that’s what you’d expect from an ad.

What I find interesting is the strange new sub-genre of ‘stories’ that this trend is creating. Here’s a transcript of the ad:

In 1810 the Reverend Henry Duncan, a man who believed deeply in the dignity of ordinary working people, wanted to do something of real and lasting value to help those struggling to overcome poverty.

And so he did something revolutionary.

He built a bank whose sole purpose was to help hard-working local people.

He believed industry could be encouraged and a sense of pride and independence fostered only when a bank served the community with the people's interests at its heart.

The groundwork had been laid for ordinary people to thrive along with their neighbours, to build communities together secure in the knowledge that their money was safe and working for the benefit of all.

 And then a storm came.

 In the turbulent times that followed, it was easy to think the ideals that Henry Duncan held so dear had been lost forever.

 But they hadn’t gone.

 They’d always been here, just waiting to be found.

Imagine presenting that story in a non-advertising context – maybe in a creative writing workshop. After an awkward silence, the response would surely be, ‘Tell me more about the storm’.

It’s not that the ad isn’t a story – it gestures toward a recognisable story-telling arc, opening with the set-up (hero establishes a bank), then the challenge (the storm), then the resolution (rediscovering hero’s values).

But look how heavily it’s weighted towards introducing the hero, before skipping through the storm to arrive at the resolution. It’s all set-up and resolution, with only the briefest moment of action in between. In any normal form of story-telling, it’s the in-between bit that matters. The storm is the story. The turbulent times are the story.

It would be interesting to apply the same approach to other narratives. Die Hard would presumably open with an hour-long backstory setting up John McClane as a nice guy, before a 30-second montage hinting at some vague trouble in a high-rise, followed by half an hour of McClane with his feet up drinking a beer. It’s story-telling hollowed out to a bizarre level.

Of course, there are good commercial reasons for the TSB approach. The ad uses the storm as a way of fast-forwarding over a century of complicated history.

Henry Duncan did indeed form the first trustee savings bank, before lots of other people did the same. Those banks gradually almagamated before floating on the Stock Exchange in 1986 (all sense of localness now notional at best). The TSB Group then merged with Lloyds in 1995, before hitting the bordering-on-criminal mess of 2008 and the subsequent government bail-out. Now it’s become a stand-alone brand after LloydsTSB was ordered by the European Commission to sell off 600 branches.

All of that would be essential information in any standard ‘story’ of TSB, but it’s compressed here into a vague storm metaphor. (And a questionable one, because storms are external events over which people have no control – the victims are by definition innocent. Many would say it’s not the most accurate comparison with LloydsTSB.)

The result makes for a good commercial but a bad story. And that seems to be the problem with so many brand stories – the commercial imperative to gloss over negatives and promote carefully defined ‘values’ inevitably trumps the narrative imperative to tell a good story. Real stories require tension, conflict and, most of all, an ending. Brand stories understandably shy away from all three, existing in a permanent state of riding heroically into the sunset.

TSB is far from the most extreme example – at least it shows some signs of being a story. Many brand stories are just a weird series of disembodied values statements, with only the dimmest sense of a beginning, middle and end – and usually characterised by a strange insistence on how ‘simple’ the whole thing is.

I’ve had some fun with this (this post had to be going somewhere), rewriting various fairy tales as ‘brand stories’. I’m not sure any of them are an improvement on the originals, but they certainly have a better chance of being signed off.

The brand story of Little Red Riding Hood

The brand story of Peter Rabbit

The brand story of the Three Little Pigs

Toy Brand Story

The brand story of Chicken Licken

Creatively reviewed

CR1

It’s a great honour to have been profiled in the September edition of Creative Review. You can read the article by Mark Sinclair on the Creative Review site (subscribers only) or order a copy of the magazine here.

I received the invitation to do it a couple of months ago, met up and talked for about three hours, but had no idea how it would turn out – a disorienting experience as I’m usually the one doing the writing. 

Fortunately, I was in the hands of a magazine I’ve admired for a long time and they’re good at making people sound good. The one bit that may be open to legal challenge is the billing at the front as ‘the design industry’s favourite writer’ – I can think of many writers and even more design companies who would dispute that.

CR2

CR3

For anyone entering the competition at the back, I wish you the best of luck from my home near Macclesfield, which is technically in the county of Cheshire although I think of it more as the edge of the Peak District, but the answer is Cheshire. (Enter here, or just buy your own damn stuff.)

In case the article has led anyone here for the first time, you can find out more about the projects featured through the links below. 

1,000-words poster (The Chase)

The World Without (SB Studio)

Paul Dalling website (Wheatcroft&Co)

Alas! Smith & Milton (book design by Grade Design)

Centre Point book (Hat-trick Design)

and personal projects:

Mr Blog

Disappointments Diary (with Hat-trick Design)

Corpoetics

Pentone Boxset

plus #clienttweaks, the Apple long copy article and Cloudy Language.

There’s also a passing mention of Fishages, which is now reaching a critical level of brand awareness that I urgently need to work out how to monetise. 

30 tones of voice in 30 days

Yahoo3

Yahoo! have recently been releasing a logo a day for 30 days, in the run-up to the launch of their rebrand on 5 September.

It could have been an interesting idea if it had been handled as a genuine exploration of the brand – enlightening the public about the thinking behind it and involving them in the process.

Unfortunately, it’s been executed on such a bizarrely simplistic level that it comes across as a parody, no doubt reinforcing everyone’s worst preconception about branding – namely, that it’s just a matter of superficial visual decoration, like picking out a new set of curtains. (That’s the standard analogy anyway – do people still pick out sets of curtains? I suppose they do.) 

Ben Terrett writes about it well over here (branding not curtains).

Anyway, the whole exercise was crying out for a copywriting treatment, so I had a go at writing 30 tones of voice in 30 days. It’s not entirely serious, although anyone reading from Yahoo! is welcome to use this as a starting point. I have a feeling we may see a bit of ‘Defensive’ in the next few days. 

You can read the whole thing here: checkthis.com/yahootone


UPDATE (5 Sept)

Yahoo! has now unveiled its new tone of voice. Judging by the quotes from CMO Kathy Savitt, they have gone with Surreal Defensive.

On the logo:
“You’ll notice a chisel to our logo that’s very architectural. What we’re saying is our logo is the foundation upon which our brand and products and user experience will continue to be built.”

On the animations:
“It might be an exclamation riding on a Segway, or riding on a pogo stick or swinging on a Tarzan vine.”

Show off

DP1

I recently contributed to a book called Design: Portfolio, a collection of designers’ self-promotional work edited by Craig Welsh of US design firm Go Welsh and published by Rockport.

It’s primarily a visual reference with images of over 300 self-initiated projects, but it also includes a series of five short essays around the subject. Craig has kindly allowed me to reproduce mine here.


Show off
By Nick Asbury

Woody Allen said that 90% of success is showing up. Looking at the design industry, you could say the other 10% is showing off. Self-initiated and self-promotional work has always played a big part, both for rising stars making their names and global firms keen to maintain a creative reputation.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed, there’s a lot right with it. Simply moving from one client brief to another is a passive existence for any creative person. A self-initiated project is a chance to explore ideas and elements of your craft that would otherwise never see the light of day.

There’s a subtle distinction between self-promotional work and self-initiated work. The former is explicitly produced for the purpose of promoting yourself – that’s the only reason it exists. It might be a book detailing your best projects, or a mailer talking about your company approach.

Self-initiated projects are different. They’re ideas you pursue yourself, without the involvement of a client, but which have a purpose beyond self-promotion. For me, this is an interesting seam to explore. It might be a book of poetry rearranging the words on corporate websites, or inventing the language equivalent of the Pantone color-matching system. If you pursue an idea you find interesting, there’s a good chance other people will too.

Of course, self-promotion is a useful side-effect when these projects go well. But the same is true of client work. Do a great job for a client and it won’t just be good for them. Your firm’s reputation grows by association, among your peer group and other potential clients. In that sense, all work is self-promotional. You just have to make sure the world knows about it – which brings us back to showing off.

However you do it, showing off has to be done. Many of the best things that happen in any creative career come about through serendipity: striking up a friendship with a like-minded collaborator, or bumping into the right client at the right time. Showing off helps serendipity happen. The more visible you are to your peers and the world at large, the more likely it is you’ll get that magical, career-changing email out of the blue. That’s partly why I said yes to writing this article – it’s a form of showing off. And you never know who might be reading. 


The book is nicely produced, with a varied range of contributors including Hat-trick, Bruce Mau and KesselsKramer. You can order it here. Photo from Wier Stewart.

Long copy isn't back

Screen Shot 2013-07-01 at 10.29.38

I saw this tweet yesterday from DesignTaxi about Apple adopting a long-copy approach in its new ad campaign. 

I admit to feeling a sense of anticipation when I saw it. Something told me this was going to be great. For one thing, long copy is due a proper return. It has occasionally reared its head over the years, but it always felt like it would take a major brand like Apple to do something on a par with the greats of the past. Not just a retro imitation, but a proper reinvention that works on its own terms.

And there’s something especially intriguing about Apple doing it. They’re such a minimal brand – all white space and understated cool. What a change in direction it would be to see lots of words coming from them. Especially when they’ve got so much to say.

The timing is also interesting. Right now, it feels like more and more people are questioning Apple’s claim to superiority. Maybe this was Apple about to come out and tell a few home truths. Remind us exactly how great their products are and why. Make us fall in love with them again. I clicked on the link.

Apple1

You can enlarge the image to see the copy, but here it is in full:

This is it. 
This is what matters. 
The experience of a product. 
How it makes someone feel. 
When you start by imagining 
What that might be like, 
You step back. 
You think. 

Who will this help? 
Will it make life better? 
Does this deserve to exist? 
If you are busy making everything, 
How can you perfect anything? 

We don't believe in coincidence. 
Or dumb luck. 
There are a thousand "no's" 
For every "yes." 
We spend a lot of time 
On a few great things. 
Until every idea we touch 
Enhances each life it touches. 

We're engineers and artists. 
Craftsmen and inventors. 
We sign our work. 
You may rarely look at it. 
But you'll always feel it. 
This is our signature. 
And it means everything. 

Designed by Apple in California

This isn’t intended to be one of those ranty blog posts (although it’s going to be anyway), but this copy is woeful. Vacuous, boring, self-regarding and counter-productive. It starts with a glimmer of promise – the point about designing things with the user in mind – but then goes precisely nowhere with it.

Arguably the worst thing is that it’s entirely free of information. The point is too obvious to need labouring, but look briefly at one of the old classics:

Think_small
Put aside the clever headline, sharp tone and expertly crafted momentum that carries you to the end – and look at the actual information being conveyed. 32 miles to the gallon. Five pints of oil. No need for anti-freeze. 40,000 miles per set of tyres. Smaller parking spots. Lower insurance. Cheaper repairs. 

The same goes for one of the other old classics. 

Timberlandad

This one has dated in terms of social attitudes, and maybe the ‘warpath’ ending is a bit formulaic. But again, look how hard the copy is working. You learn all about the details of how the shoes are made. Not just the inspiration for the design and the philosophy behind it, but the nerdy details of how the design has been subtly improved over the years. And the details are interesting. Strip away the jokes and the rhetorical tricks and the tone of voice and you’re left with a pile of solid, irreducible facts. 

With the Apple ad, you get nothing. You search in vain for a single detail or piece of evidence. Something that demonstrates how they design from the point of view of the user. Any small detail that signals artistry, craft and invention without simply proclaiming it. 

Of course, there’s one difference that Apple could use to defend itself. Unlike Think Small or Timberland, this isn’t a product ad. It’s a brand ad. It’s not about explaining the details of a particular product to you, but giving a more general sense of Apple and its values and philosophy. We’re not in the era of hard sell any more; it’s more sophisticated these days. 

It’s at this point I begin to lose the power of rational argument and feel like throwing things at hard surfaces. First of all, I can’t think of a better ‘brand ad’ for VW or Timberland than the ones above. Each of them leaves me with a pretty good impression of the brand, its philosophy and its values. Secondly, I can’t think of a worse brand ad for Apple than this one. Has no one ever told them that you don’t convince people you’re cool by going on about how cool you are? They start the ad by saying they think about everything from the user’s point of view, then spend the rest talking relentlessly about themselves. The final lines are a veritable orgasm of self-regard. You put your logo on your product? That is a massively uninteresting thing to tell me. (It might conceivably be interesting if Apple didn’t put their logo on their products, but relied on people working it out for themselves because they’re so brilliantly designed – that would at least be a story to tell in a long copy ad.)

Life is too short to analyse all the other vacuities and non-sequiturs, but it gets particularly acute in the second-to-third ‘stanzas’.

If you are busy making everything, 
How can you perfect anything? 

We don't believe in coincidence. 
Or dumb luck. 
There are a thousand "no's" 
For every "yes."  

What are you talking about? Why did you just jump from perfecting things to coincidences? What’s dumb about luck? Don't luck and serendipity play a part in the design process? I get that you’re talking about being perfectionists and thinking about things, but give me an example. Anything. This reads like a succession of those vaguely New Age quotes that people stick on Facebook with a picture of a sunset. 

Possibly the most excruciating thing about the advert is that it contains its own damning critique, right here:

Who will this help? 
Will it make life better? 
Does this deserve to exist? 

Did anyone ask the same questions about this copy or this campaign? (Campaign may be stretching it – there are four executions, each featuring a different image but exactly the same copy.)

Apple2-large

Apple3

Apple4

Finally, there are the line breaks.  It’s become a worrying trend in long copy ads to lay them out like poetry. Tesco did the same thing with its recent (pre-George Osborne) apology ad:Tesco

It’s tangentially interesting that both Tesco and Apple make use of the phrase This is it in their copy. The similarity is telling – it’s one of those emphatic phrases that is pure tone and no meaning. The kind of thing you say to convince yourself something is happening when it isn’t. If you find yourself including it in a piece of copy, you know something has gone wrong.

The line break trend is annoying to anyone who likes poetry, where line breaks are intrinsic to the meaning and not just a decorative feature (at least in any half-decent poetry). But there’s something particularly annoying about it in the context of these brand ads. It’s being done for a reason – to elevate the tone and lend an air of preciousness and high-brow appeal. If it looks clean and vaguely classy, maybe it will give the copy an aura of intelligence it otherwise lacks. Maybe you won’t notice it’s saying nothing if you’re too busy admiring how it looks.

So what’s the positive alternative I'm advocating? Well, it could be one of two things. You could do a faithful return to the traditional long-copy ad – why not? If Timberland can talk at length about what makes its latest shoe so great, surely Apple has plenty to say about its latest product? I’m sure there’s mileage in writing a brilliant ad packed full of product details that demonstrate Apple’s philosophy and ‘values’. 

But equally, I don’t think you have to return slavishly to the old USP-driven model. You could write a more high-level brand ad, but one that says something. Being a brand ad doesn’t let you off the hook. You still need a message. Every word has to earn its place. And it’s not like there’s nothing to say. You’re talking about one of the most interesting and impressive companies in the world. Whatever angle you choose to take, you should have trouble fitting it into a full-page ad. This one is padding from the first line. 

I suspect there will be a few people hailing the return of long copy when they see this ad, but it’s a hollow and lifeless return. Like watching a hologram of David Ogilvy. This is long copy drained of all the things that make long copy worth doing. Static and soulless and empty. The written equivalent of a mood board. 

Long copy remains officially deceased. Long, ranty blog posts are evidently alive and well. 

DesignTaxi post here.

PS: I've only just realised they also turned this into a film, but I can’t write any more. 

 

Update: A slightly extended (if you can believe that) version of this post has since appeared on Creative Review.

Self-not-quite-initiated projects

 
As mentioned in the previous post, I recently took part in an evening of talks at the Jerwood Space in London, as part of the After Hours exhibition.

My talk was titled 'Self-not-quite-initiated projects' and you can see it here, from about 10mins 40secs onwards. The talk goes through a series of ideas and half-thoughts that I've had for future self-initiated projects. Once again, I should take this opportunity to heavily assert my copyright over all of them. 

The film also contains talks from Phil Carter, Jim Sutherland, Katie Edelsten and Annie Hazelwood, Craig Oldham, Michael Johnson and host Nick Eagleton, as well as some images of the exhibition itself if you were unable to make it along. 

After Hours: blogging and talking

Burrill_0

A brief update to say I’ve written a long blog post for Creative Review about the After Hours exhibition at the Jerwood Space, in which I was one of the exhibitors with Pentone. You can read it here

I also took part in an evening of talks by some of the contributors last night. In the spirit of the exhibition being all about personal work and new ideas, I decided to run through a list of rough ideas and half-thoughts that I’ve had over the years, which have never quite turned into anything. It was therapeutic getting them off my chest, but also odd to be in front of a sophisticated creative audience talking through my plans for fishages and pickle-pooling.

Other speakers included Phil Carter, who was fascinating on the inspiration behind his Found Folk sculptures. Jim Sutherland talked through his Garage book which came alive when you heard the personal story behind it. Katy Edelsten and Annie Hazelwood from YCN talked through their entertaining Telegram project. Craig Oldham was typically forthright on design and self-initiation (firmly in the camp that design isn’t about self-expression). And Michael Johnson was authoritative and entertaining as ever on Arkitypo and Phonetikana. Curator Nick Eagleton hosted the evening, which also saw the launch of the book of the exhibition.

The exhibition remains open until 23 June and entry is free. Details here.

Pentone Boxset is available from asburyandasbury.tictail.com – 30 postcard-sized Pentone swatches in a hand-finished box, produced to coincide with the exhibition.

Awards ramblings 2013

Owemoney

The D&AD Writing for Design shortlist came out last month, with the winners announced on 12 June. Probably the most useful thing about the awards is the conversation that springs up around them every year, so this is my contribution.

Disappointments
On a personal note, there was some great news – a nomination for Disappointments Diary. Neville Brody picks it out as one of his favourite projects here, and it’s been shortlisted in the Design Week awards, with the winners announced on 4 June. I also had a few other projects entered into D&AD that didn’t get anywhere, so disappointments all round.

GOV.UK


Gov.uk1.jpg_0

There were three nominations in D&AD Writing for Design this year. Alongside the diary, the second was GOV.UK, which won the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award and has been written about extensively elsewhere, including praise from two of the judges Mike Reed and Joe Weir. It’s notable that, while it’s been widely hailed as one of the landmark creative projects of the year, it didn’t get recognised in the digital design category or anywhere else at D&AD. It strikes me as a good justification for the existence and relevance of Writing for Design as a category that it picks up projects like this.

Games Maker


Games_Maker

There doesn’t appear to have been much comment about this, but the third nomination in Writing for Design went to a project that amounts to two words. Here’s the entry video explaining it.

You should look at it before reading on.

What do you think?

I’ve argued in the past that a one-word entry might one day win in Writing for Design. One contender was Ma’amite. I’m not sure if that was entered – if so, it didn’t get anywhere.

The nomination reflects a subtle but significant change in the category that took place this year, which is to include an extra subcategory called Writing for Brands. The idea is to recognise writing that doesn’t have a design element (i.e. not Writing for Design), but is nevertheless great brand writing. It’s a subject that came up last year and which I wrote about here. It’s good to see the new subcategory is already bearing fruit.  

That said, the nomination will cause some raised eyebrows. The video makes a persuasive case, but it must have been a hard one to evaluate alongside the other work, which doesn’t get a chance to make a similarly emotive pitch for itself. There’s also an inevitable note of Olympic sentimentality about it, which it’s hard not to be swayed by.

On the surface, it’s a decision that I can see appealing to a lot of writers – the idea that words can be such powerful things, even just two words. But I wonder if there’s an element of wanting to believe it too much. Can we really quantify the difference the words made? Even if we can, is effectiveness the best measure? 'Games Maker' may have made it into the dictionary, but so did 'Simples'.

I think if it’s going to be a one-word winner, then the word not only has to be demonstrably responsible for the success of the idea, but also an admirable creative insight in itself. A couple of comparisons come to mind – the namers of the Everton store in the Liverpool One shopping centre, who came up with ‘Everton Two’. Or the lovely ‘Ends Fri’ ad for the last episode of Friends that I wrote about here and which got in-book a few years ago (in Press Advertising). Even in those cases, you could argue they’re just nice one-off jokes or beautiful moments of serendipity. But there’s no doubt there’s something special and memorable about them.

With ‘Games Maker’, there’s nothing inherently inspired or unexpected about the name itself. What marks it out is the strategic insight that you don’t have to go with the standard ‘volunteer’ – why not have a more motivating name? But even judged on that level, I’m not sure it’s qualitatively different from those train companies who have ‘customer hosts’ instead of ‘guards’. It’s the same principle – seeing the opportunity to avoid the generic term and inject some positivity with a new term. It’s become a widespread PR trend with job titles and usually it ends up grating with the public, as people sense the spin behind it. Had the Olympics not gone so well, would ‘Games Maker’ have seemed equally cloying to us? If we’re being really harsh, does it have a faint ring of Jubilympics about it?

I’ve hesitated to raise it on here, but I find this stuff interesting and I’m surprised it hasn’t caused more comment elsewhere. I wonder if it will lead to a spate of brand name entries in future.

Category in general


Rnli

As well as the three nominations, there were six in-books this year – a reasonable haul from total entries numbering 95, which is slightly up on previous years. It’s good to see Roger Horberry’s work for RNLI in there – a nice bit of witty writing that has entered the mainstream (I saw the tea towels in John Lewis the other day). The other entries come from Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and Istanbul, which shows the scope of the category these days. The IF Istanbul identity takes a bit of ‘getting’ but looks good. It’s interesting to see the Shrewsbury identity involving We All Need Words getting a nomination in branding, but nothing in writing, although I don’t know if it was entered.

GOV.UK strikes me as the main story of the year. It’s a project that could change what clients expect from writing – after years of people asking for Innocent or The Economist, I suspect GOV.UK will now be mentioned a lot. I hope it signals a move away from the obsession with tone of voice (which make up only a tiny fraction of the full GOV.UK style guide) and towards a more rounded engagement with writing in its fullest sense. At the same time, I hope there isn't a swing too far the other way towards spare, functional writing – it makes sense on a government website, but there's still room for more fun and wit elsewhere. 


NB: Disappointments Diary is available to buy from our shop if you're the kind of person who buys a diary in June, in which case you'll probably like it.

Pentone Boxset

Boxset_cover

To coincide with the opening of the After Hours exhibition (see yesterday’s post), we’ve produced a Pentone Boxset, featuring the same 30 swatches that are now on display at the Jerwood Space. The boxset is available to order from today.

Boxset_cover2

The postcards are presented in a very smart (if we say so ourselves) box, handmade by a company in Manchester. It contains 30 A6 postcards, ranging from the tear-jerking Pentone Sad to the laugh-a-minute Pentone Funny, via some disturbing detours to Pentone Drunk and Pentone Horseshit.

Proverbial

Mixed_swatches

We hope it’s not just an enjoyable read, but also a useful aid to creative thinking and writing. But you’ll be the judge of that.

The boxset is on sale in our new Tictail store. We’ve been using Tictail to sell diaries since Disappointments Diary launched last year, but we’ve now expanded it to include Pentone Boxsets, copies of Corpoetics (still flogging that one) and the few Pentone mugs we have left.

For his generous advice on the production of the boxsets, we want to thank Jack Jackson of Polite, an independent art publisher from the same hometown as us. Among many other things, Polite produces postcard sets on behalf of artists and photographers including Peter Blake, David Shrigley, Kevin Cummins, Harry Hill and Factory Records. We’ve used the same format for the Pentone Boxset, and we’re pleased with the way it’s turned out. (There’s a subtle nod of respect to Polite in the layout of the text on the boxset cover, but this is a more upfront thank-you.)

Buy the Pentone Boxset
More on After Hours
More from Polite 

After Hours at the Jerwood

Photo

Things have been busy lately in the run-up to an unusual exhibition hosted by Jerwood Visual Arts at Jerwood Space in London. After Hours is a collection of personal projects by graphic designers. It opens this week and runs from 15 May to 23 June.

The exhibition is curated by Nick Eagleton of The Partners, who has gathered together a great list of contributors, including Robert Ball, Anthony Burrill, Phil Carter, Michael Johnson, Joe Phillips, Alan Kitching, Magpie Studio, Craig Oldham, Jack Renwick, Steve Royle, Jim Sutherland, Alex Swatridge and a selection of projects from the Young Creatives Network.

My contribution is a collection of 30 framed Pentone swatches, pictured above on our kitchen floor, but hopefully on a gallery wall by now.

Pentone is a project that began in 2006 when we produced a mailer of nine swatches, each containing a sample of a written tone of voice – a verbal play on the Pantone colour-matching system. It later evolved into postcards, greetings cards and mugs. But I’ve always felt it should turn into some kind of ‘definitive’ collection at some point, and this exhibition has been the catalyst to make it happen. The 30 swatches are mainly new ones, with a handful of old ones mixed in – Pentone Boring remains as dull as ever.

To coincide with the exhibition, we've produced a Pentone Boxset including all 30 swatches, more of which to follow.

There will also be a reading table at the gallery featuring publications from the contributors, with Disappointments Diary and Corpoetics both included.

As well as contributing to the exhibition, I’ve been working with curator Nick Eagleton on the writing that goes around it. The principle has been to keep it simple – it’s more about celebrating the contents of the exhibition rather than theorising about them. To that end, the opening panel in the exhibition contains a rhyming list of the many and varied items on display, an evocative taster to set the tone. For the detailed analysis, there will be a couple of talks at the Jerwood Space over the course of the exhibition, going into the thinking behind the work and the wider questions it raises.

I’ll write more about the exhibition over the coming weeks. For now, here are a few related articles:

Design Week feature
My contribution to a related Design Week voxpop
More from johnson banks
Details and visitor information

Bank Insecurity Questions

Mcsweeney
A personal milestone this week as I've had something published by online literary journal McSweeney's – a quietly harboured ambition for some time.

It's a list of Bank Insecurity Questions and it's probably not recommended if you're feeling psychologically fragile.

Celebrating John Hanna

Cr_articleThe April edition of Creative Review carries an article I contributed on the illustrator John Hanna. Some readers may remember I posted about him in 2009, having stumbled across some copies of a magazine called Country Fair. The original post is here. The cover illustrations were all signed simply ‘Hanna’, but I was surprised to find next to nothing about him online. There was a flurry of comments that confirmed his identity as John Hanna and led to some sketchy biographical information, but then things went quiet.

Early this year, a new comment appeared on the post. It was from John Hanna’s son, Max. We exchanged emails and I ended up meeting him to find out more about his father’s life and work.

To read the full story, you’ll have to track down the Creative Review article – available to buy here or subscribe here

There are a few images that didn't make the article but are worth sharing:

British_travel_association

poster for the British Travel Association, featured in the Graphis Annual 1955/6 and found by Sandi Vincent on Flickr. 

4210237848_3c405e95f3_b

Also this detail from a Shell ad, from the Graphis Annual 1956/7, again rediscovered by Sandi Vincent. 

Birthday_card1

A personal piece, combining a tiger, walrus and kangaroo: the Tigerusaroo.

Birthday_card2

Birthday_card3

Two birthday cards lent to me by John's son Max.

Cockerel

Peacock

And two more Country Fair covers, copyright the estate of Macdonald Hastings, and kindly supplied to me by Jenny Duff, who is now selling a range of John Hanna place mats (echoing a promotion that took place in the 1950s).

The Creative Review article includes an appreciation of the work by contemporary illustrator Joe McLaren, whose work you can see here.

Max

Finally, thanks to Max Hanna for getting in touch and sharing a fascinating story.