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.

SITM-Open-1

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.

Taste the mixed feelings

Taste-good-feeling

Coke-taste-the-feeling-10

I've written a post for Creative Review about the new Coca-Cola Taste the Feeling campaign.

You can read it here.

(Top image: 1939. Bottom image: 2016)

Review of the year 2015

‘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

Shutupblud (1)

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:

Noagrass

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

Trend of the year (runner-up)

Bic

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 of the year (winner)

Savethememory

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.

Trend of the year (winner)

Mcd_emoji

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).

Usatoday

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

Logogym_nike

To prove that sports and branding can work together, this Logo Gym project by Studio Dunbar is pretty invigorating.

Punctuation of the year

Dailymirror

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

Thepoke

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:

Srsly

Washed down with some rugged wine (via @rhodri), which should have been called Man with a Vin.

Mancan

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:

Cheese

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:

Oh_snap

Or this sign-up box:

Goodtotalk

This stuff extends to support services too. @howells tweeted this horror:

Rockstars

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

Someone loves you

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

Warwick
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

Unmissable

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’.

UBS

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:

Hsbc

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:

Airbnb

Two great design projects

Many more where these came from, but two that spring to mind are these ‘nostalgia for the future’ NASA posters:

Nasa

And there was a particularly fine D&AD Annual cover this year by David Pearson et al.

Dandad

Long copy of the year

Coelho-1

An entire novel on a double page spread.

Short copy of the year

Doug died

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

Kingsley_0

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:

Lewes

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: 

Henryhoover

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

Get them while they're hot

Groupshot

We’ve put four new Pentone mugs in the shop today.

Pentone is our not-entirely-serious system for dividing written language into different ‘tones of voice’ in the same way that Pantone does for colour.

The new mugs include:

Yorkshire

Pentone Yorkshire
A rewritten version of our previous Pentone Yorkshire mug. Perfect with Yorkshire Tea. Or just a good way to patronise a northern friend.

Scouse

Pentone Scouse
One half of Asbury & Asbury is from Liverpool, so we are allowed to do this.

Dad

Pentone Dad
Don’t look at me in that tone of voice

Mum

Pentone Mum
You’ll buy it and you’ll like it.

All mugs are English fine bone china, hand-decorated in the UK, dishwasher and microwave proof, white on the inside (important for making tea) and a good, satisfying size.

There aren’t that many of them, so please factor rarity into your purchasing state of mind.

Boxset

Pentone Boxset
There is also this bumper boxset of 30 tones. But don’t pour tea into it.

Dear World... Yours, Cambridge

DWYC_Station-Poster_555

It was a great pleasure to be involved in this University of Cambridge campaign with johnson banks.

The campaign celebrates and amplifies the two-way relationship between Cambridge and the world, using a letter-writing framing device to host all manner of visual and verbal content.

The sheer richness of material inside an institution like Cambridge makes it an especially interesting one to write.     

You can read the full background in three parts on the johnson banks blog.

The campaign

The launch and film

The posters (a few examples below)

DWYC-IVF-555px

DWYC-sir-555px

DWYC-flush-555px

DWYC-dolby-555px

DWYC-bamboo-555px

DWYC-venn-555px

DWYC-cloud-555px
DWYC-pulsars-555px

 

British public faces branding company backlash

Britishpublic

Branding companies across the UK reacted with a mixture of scorn and disbelief to the recent launch of ‘British storm names’ by the British public, a project undertaken in association with the Met Office.

After a months-long project awarded exclusively to the British public, the names chosen to brand future British storms and hurricanes were: Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva, Frank, Gertrude, Henry, Imogen, Jake, Katie, Lawrence, Mary, Nigel, Orla, Phil, Rhonda, Steve, Tegan, Vernon and Wendy.

What an amazing waste of time” commented one branding insider.

“Unbelievable – my kid could have thought of these” said another.

More branding experts took to Twitter to slam the campaign. Atticus from Shoreditch tweeted: “Whoever thought of Jake needs to take a look at themselves. These people call themselves the ‘Great’ British Public?”

Leonora, an ideation consultant from Clerkenwell, posted: “This campaign blows harder than Hurricane Tegan.”

Branding experts were quick to point out similarities to a previous names-based campaign for US storms. “The US smashed it out of the park with Katrina – and now suddenly we’re going with Katie. Coincidence?” said one.

The British public has thus far refused to comment. It is believed they won the project in an unpaid pitch and took on the work pro bono.

One insider told us off the record: “In the grand scheme of things, this reaction doesn’t really bother us. If it’s getting a reaction from branding experts, that can only be a good thing.”

Rocked by the backlash, the Met Office is rumoured to be considering dropping the new names and appointing an entirely different public – possibly the French.


NB: This is my audition for The Onion, and is therapeutic to write given the public backlash that comes with any branding launch these days.

Society of Design Conference 2015

Cbower2366_instagram

Photo by cbower2366 on Instagram

Just back from an extended trip to Philadelphia to talk at the Society of Design conference. It took place in the Harrison Auditorium in Penn Museum and was hosted by Craig Welsh of Go Welsh.

Wittynoggin_instagram

Photo by wittynoggin on Instagram

As part of my talk, I revived the rearranging-corporate-copy idea of Corpoetics to write a poem based on Go Welsh’s profile copy.

Themodernchris

Photo by @themodernchris on Twitter

I also took the chance to talk about a few interesting pieces of writing spotted over the last year or so.

Thatgreenalien_instagram

Photo by thatgreenalien on Instagram

And it was my first opportunity to talk about a new version of this book, which will be coming out early next year.

The best part was being able to hear from six other speakers, all from different disciplines. To give an idea of the range:

1wtc

John Ryan talked about his work as Director of Interaction Design at Local Projects, including this City Pulse installation at One World Trade Center. 

Oskar Zieta talked about his studio’s mind-boggling technique for inflating steel with high-pressured air to create strong but lightweight forms, for use in everything from furniture to space stations.

Ampersand

Spencer Charles and Kelly Thorn spoke about their beautiful work, previously for Louise Fili and now independently – I was a particular fan of this layered ampersand poster.

Mcdonalds

Alisa Wolfson gave an insight into design as part of a big ad agency – she heads the Department of Design at Leo Burnett in Chicago. Recipeace is the award-winning D&AD White Pencil project, but I also liked this single-minded branding work for McDonald’s.

Norwegian

Craig Dykers runs architectural firm Snøhetta, which is responsible for a wonderful array of buildings, including The Norwegian National Opera and Ballet and the 9/11 Memorial Museum Pavilion.

Snohetta-Norway-bank-notes_dezeen_bn01

When Snøhetta turned its attention briefly from architecture to graphics, it immediately created one of the stand-out projects of the last decade. These Norwegian banknotes won a competition a while back and are coming into circulation next year.

Z-GrandBudapestStill__003-RESIZE

Finally, Annie Atkins talked about her graphic design work for The Boxtrolls and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Not only great work, but also a fascinating story told with clarity and humour.

Thanks to Craig Welsh and everyone who provided such gracious hospitality. 

Talking writing

Philly

It’s not often I get away from my desk, but I’ve had the privilege of being invited to a Society of Design conference in Philadephia this October, thanks to organiser Craig Welsh at Go Welsh.

If this blog has any readers in or near Philadelphia, please come along – in fact, email me and I may be able to arrange a discount. You can find more information on the speakers (an interesting and eclectic line-up) and venue here: societyofdesign.org

I’ll be talking about the writing I like, the way writing works with design, giving some insight into a book I’ve been working on, and talking about anything else I can think of between now and October. Afterwards, I will have a beer with anyone who will drink with me.

26 thoughts on Alphabet

Alphabet-logo-970-80

NB: I’ve written this as a list as I don’t have time to write a continuous, well-considered blog post.

1. Interesting to see a brand founded on numbers (Googol) now planting its flag in words.

2. Which, as the accompanying announcement explains, are the real currency in which Google operates (“the core of how we index with Google search”).

3. Nice to see an announcement that conveys a genuine, geeky interest in what the name and brand should be. You get the impression Larry Page and Sergey Brin were personally invested in the naming process.

4. And it’s nice that one of the Google and Alphabet founders is called Page.

5. People will always like a pun. Alphabet is a pun on ‘betting on alpha’, investor-speak for a return above benchmark.

6. But good puns are there for a reason, to encode a rationale that makes sense of the name and gives it an extra backstory.

7. Pun aside, the larger rationale is that Alphabet means “a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity's most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search!”

8. Exclamation marks used to make me wince, but I’ve grown to like them – in the right context, they can convey a nice, winning sincerity.

9. It’s a great name with a strong rationale.

10. But it’s easier than a lot of naming projects, as most start-ups would have to say ‘yes, but we can’t own Alphabet – there are too many companies out there already’.

11. That’s not a problem if you’re Google. Some brands have the weight and presence to go for the big, primal metaphors and own them.

12. Which is fair enough – Google has earned that weight and presence by doing great things.

13. I still remember that first encounter with the clean, white search page and the internet suddenly making sense.

Google!

14. It’s only on digging out that image that I realise Google has always liked exclamation marks.

15. I wonder if they dropped it because of Yahoo!

16. The exclamation mark in that last sentence is part of the brand name – it’s not meant to suggest me wondering in a particularly lively or emphatic way.

17. A lot of start-ups would also dismiss ‘Alphabet’ because it would be hard to get a decent url.

18. But the url is one of the nice parts of the Alphabet identity: abc.xyz

19. I wonder if there will be a rush for .xyz domain names.

20. Going back to the alphabet metaphor, it’s a good one for Google, but...

21. You could argue Amazon already owns it, with its a-z identity:

 

Amazon

22. But obviously nobody owns a metaphor, really.

23. None of this matters hugely as Alphabet will not be a big, public-facing identity.

24. But writers may take heart from the whole thing, as it’s an example of verbal thinking (with an appropriately understated logotype) solving a high-stakes branding challenge.

25. All explained in a nicely written announcement that comes straight from the top.

26. I have nothing else to say but need a 26th point.

A road, a paper size, a notebook

Notebook_0012

Today we launch a new project called A6 Notebook – an A6-sized notebook about the A6 road in England. It’s the first in a series of notebooks inspired by the coincidental overlap between standard paper sizes and British road numbering.

The hardback 156-pp notebook is an invitation to explore your own creative meanderings while notionally following the route of the A6, which runs for 300 miles across England from Luton in the south to Carlisle in the north.

A6 Notebook is available for £11 plus p&p from our shop.

We’re delighted that Joe Moran agreed to write a Foreword. He’s the author of On Roads: A Hidden History, a brilliant examination of the social and cultural history of Britain’s roads. A historian with a focus on the recent past, Joe combines meticulous research with a poet’s ear for language – it’s worth following his blog and seeking out his other writing (including the recent Armchair Nation: an intimate history of Britain in front of the TV). 

The Foreword is followed by an introductory essay on the A6, with further information sections at the back. The main body of the notebook is blank for your own notes and doodles, with footnotes marking destinations and points of interest along the way.

A6spread03

A6spread01

A6 Notebook is the first in a series – we plan to tackle the A5 next. We first had the idea about eight years ago and have been photographing the various A-roads while on trips away (we’ve blogged about it a few times). At first, the project was going to be an A0-sized poster, but we realised notebooks would be the natural medium for the idea, not least because of the rich symbolic connections between travel and the creative process. As Joe Moran writes, “Roads have long been a source of creative inspiration and narrative drive, from the Canterbury Tales onwards. But they are also a metaphor for the creative process itself. They are drawn like lines on the landscape, and they transport you from one place to another while often making the journey as interesting as the destination.”

NotebookSet

The project is intended as a celebration of British A-roads, which were long ago relegated in importance by the arrival of motorways, and have never enjoyed the same mythological status as American highways, but nevertheless play a significant role in the psychogeography of the British Isles. Joe Moran writes that “A-roads serve as the road system’s unconscious, often stretching for miles without being signposted or acknowledged, disappearing into street names and getting caught up in one-way systems but still always there, connecting up different areas of our lives serendipitously.”

The A6 has played a serendipitous role in our lives too – I grew up near the Wellington Road stretch in Davenport, and Sue studied design at Stockport College, about halfway along its route. A6 is also a good size for a notebook, so it feels like the right place to start. But this is just the beginning of a journey for us – we have several more notebooks to produce over the next few years before the set is complete. 

We’re hoping there’s at least a small market for notebooks about A-roads. You can order yours for £11 plus p&p from asburyandasbury.tictail.com

Hail Jodie

HailJodie_450


By popular demand*, we have created a variation of The Nation’s Prayer in honour of the England women’s squad who have reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Canada (they will play Japan on Wednesday night).

Rather than rewriting the Lord’s Prayer as with previous versions, this one takes the Hail Mary as its starting point. Jodie Taylor takes the lead thanks to her crucial goal in the quarter final, while captain Steph Houghton plays the holding role at the end.

Please feel free to download, print out and share in advance of the match, not that it’s done any good in the past. We may have to produce the full rosary set at some point, with footballs for beads. Or maybe not. (By the way, we are aware some Christians may not like the prayers being used this way – we appreciate your tolerance of what is intended as a good-humoured project.)

See previous posts for more on the back story to The Nation’s Prayer.


* one person mentioned it on Twitter (thanks @garham)

Luxury and logos

Sustainasbury_0

I have written a prestigious article about luxury branding for Creative Review. It’s in the May issue of the magazine and also available to read on their blog (with some good comments – the Stella story is interesting).

Politics

In other writing-for-the-design-press news, I have contributed some views to this Design Week piece on political branding, where I’ve focused mainly on the words the parties use.

Slaves to the slogan

Occupy-protest-we-are-the-009

Following last week’s news that the North Korean government has launched 310 new slogans, I wrote a comment piece for The Guardian on what makes an effective slogan, including my top five best and worst examples – both political and commercial. I could easily have picked different lists on any given day. You can read the whole piece here.

Conversation my arse

Andrex2

Andrex, the toilet paper manufacturer, has recently updated its packaging and branding to incorporate its new, trademarked ‘Andrex Clean Routine’: a five-step guide for doing the one thing in life for which we all previously hoped we didn’t need a five-step guide.

On the plus side, this marks a step away from the ‘Scrunch or Fold’ campaign that saw Andrex attempting to start a national conversation around the vexed question of whether you are a ‘scruncher’ or a ‘folder’ when it comes to the one activity in life that we all previously hoped would never become the subject of a national conversation.

It’s still hard to believe the Scrunch or Fold campaign really happened, but it did. This was one of the TV ads.

It even inspired the first and only Asbury & Asbury Vine: an art house creation that I think showed promise.

Andrex has become a great case study in modern marketing, because it represents the logical outcome of two dominant trends: the mission escalation trend and the conversation trend. Both are waves of brand thinking that have swept all before them in recent years, and it’s not exactly Andrex’s fault that they have been caught up in it. It’s just that the nature of their business means stretching both trends to breaking point.

First, there’s the mission escalation trend. This is the homeopathy of marketing. It involves taking the functional purpose of any given product, diluting it to a slightly more abstract level, then diluting it again and repeating the process until you reach a level of abstraction so remote that any sense of specific purpose has been lost entirely. So if your product is a bar of chocolate, it’s not about giving people something chocolatey to eat, it’s about giving them a tasty treat. And it’s not about giving them a tasty treat, it’s about giving them a treat in a wider sense. And it’s not about the treat as such, but the enjoyment you get from that treat. And it’s not about the physical enjoyment, but the emotional enjoyment. And it’s not about the emotional enjoyment, but joy itself. And it’s not about experiencing joy, it’s about believing in joy. And now your brand purpose is more closely aligned to Buddhism than it is to chocolate.

There’s an obvious appeal in this for marketers and creatives, because it gives everyone a bigger field to play on. With a rationale like that, Cadbury’s can move away from talking about milk and cocoa and show drumming gorillas instead, because it’s all about joy. But that was a decade ago and the trend has had diminishing returns ever since. It’s the reason Burger King has ended up with ‘Be Your Way’ as a strapline: an idea so abstract that language itself no longer makes sense.

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In the case of Andrex, you can see they have consciously gone through the same process – we’re not about toilet paper, we’re about Clean. We are answering one of the fundamental needs of human existence. Our mission should be to own ‘Clean’ in the same way that Google owns ‘Search’. (I’ve been in meetings like this and Google always comes up.)

That’s what leads to this on Andrex’s website:

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As an incidental point, I really wish they hadn’t put ‘bottoms’ and ‘openly’ so closely together in a sentence.

But the key part of that sentence is the word ‘so’ and what comes after it. Having established this higher purpose, we are now going to have a conversation about it.

The word ‘so’ implies some kind of causal link, but there’s no real connection. We’re going to have a conversation because that’s what brands do. Alongside mission escalation, the second big trend is Conversation.

Brands have been talking about having conversations for years, mainly since social media came along and made such a two-way exchange theoretically possible. No longer would marketing be about shouting to the masses through 48-sheets and big TV spots. Now it would be about hosting a conversation, with everyone passionately acting as your brand advocate through the simple process of joining and sharing the conversation.

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Of course, nowhere on the planet has this happened. For a taste of true brand conversations, look at the Twitter feed of any major service brand – a never-ending stream of apologetic answers to customer complaints, punctuated by the odd, hopeful brand message from central marketing.

But it doesn’t stop brands trying to start a conversation, and this has clearly been the thinking at Andrex. At some point early on, someone must have said “Look, I know it’s all about conversations these days, but do we really want to have a conversation about, you know… what we do?” And after a while came the reply: “Absolutely! It’s time to do away with the embarrassment around this subject and tackle it head on! So what if it’s a bit icky? All the more reason to have the conversation! This is an opportunity not a problem!”

Except it really isn’t, for two reasons. First of all, even if you’re going to talk about it, it’s a seriously limited conversation topic. OK, it’s important to wipe properly and be clean. That’s a single message at best, not a conversation. The most gifted conversationalists of all time would struggle to make an evening out of it. Peter Ustinov would get to 30 seconds before gently steering things towards the weather.

But even if there was more to be said, it really doesn’t have to be said. Every human instinct tells us this is an unenjoyable subject to discuss. The original marketers of Andrex took this as a self-evident truth. Andrex didn’t build itself into the biggest toilet paper brand in the UK by initiating a conversation about wiping brown stains from between your cheeks. (I’m really sorry about this post.) It showed us puppies. It told charming stories that emphasised the product benefits of softness, strength and length. There was no need to go into the details of why strength was important, because we all know why strength matters in toilet tissue. No need to spell it out. Look at the nice puppy.

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It’s that kind of proper, big, traditional advertising that built Andrex to the point where its marketing people can afford to sit around in meeting rooms talking about starting conversations. Strangely, you could even argue that the traditional advertising approach sparked something much closer to a genuine conversation. People still talk about the puppy today, whereas no one is having a conversation about scrunching or folding. That campaign has been and gone, remembered only in the way you can’t shake off a bad dream.

But this post isn’t really meant to be criticising Andrex. As I said earlier, they’re just following the same trends that have swept up countless other brands in recent years. Mission escalation and conversation. (You could add a third, which is infantilisation, given the way the campaign encourages us all to be more child-like in discussing these delicate matters, and adopts the voice of a boring parent trying to engage us in an awkward conversation while we wince and edge away.)

The real point of this post is that, in following these trends, Andrex usefully takes them to their logical conclusion and shows up their inherent absurdities. When a certain way of thinking about brands leads you inexorably towards Scrunch or Fold or a five-step arse-wiping programme, there is something wrong with that way of thinking about brands.

It’s a great case study in modern marketing, and one worth having a conversation about.

New Year, New York

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Our year peaked early with a New Year’s Day interview in the New York Times about the Perpetual Disappointments Diary. It’s based on a phone interview and the way it’s been transcribed includes a few inadvertent Americanisms – I’m sure I didn’t say ‘I’m from Manchester and New Order is from there’. 

The picture was taken in a graveyard. 

You can read the whole thing here.

Beer books and mats

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A quick post about two enjoyable projects I’ve been involved with recently – both with a beer theme, which may explain the enjoyment.

The first is The 100 Beer Project, in which design company SB Studio got the Liverpool Craft Brewing Company to bottle its own beer, then commissioned 100 designers to create bottle labels, each working with an ‘SB’ name, ranging from Stranded Badger to Silent Bingo.

I contributed this Foreword, which I decided might as well be 100 words:

There’s something about a beer label: a simple canvas attached to a uniquely appealing product. Every designer wants to do one.

And there’s something about restrictions. The modest size of the canvas and the deliberately limited starting point of names beginning with SB.

Then the game starts: on one level, a purely playful exercise in creative expression; on another level, a distillation of the purpose of design and branding – to give life and personality to the products around us.

This project gives 100 personalities to a single product: some witty, some weird, some bold, some beautiful. All subliminally branded: SB.

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There’s some great work in the book, which you can buy here – all proceeds to ArtFund.

The second project is a festive collaboration with design company Build and printer Generation Press. I recently supplied words for the new Generation Press website and brand refresh, based largely around the word (Th)ink.

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When it came to the Christmas mailer, we decided to make it all about (Dr)ink. So it’s a set of eight drinks coasters, each dedicated to a particular service area (Litho, Digital, Foiling and so on), but playfully relating it to a favourite tipple.

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The nice thing about working with Build and Generation Press is you can count on it being beautifully designed and produced, which always makes the words look ten times better.

More pics here. 

Chris Wilkins on jingles

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The January issue of Creative Review takes music as its theme and I’ve contributed an article about advertising jingles: that enduringly effective commercial art form where music and copywriting meet.

In the course of researching the article, two of the first jingles that came to mind were ‘For mash get Smash’ and, inevitably, Go Compare. As the campaigns are nearly three decades apart, I was surprised to find the same copywriter associated with both. His name is Chris Wilkins and, when I got in touch to ask some questions, he sent some enlightening answers.

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For the full article, you’ll have to subscribe to Creative Review. But they’ve allowed me to reproduce the Q&A here (an edited version appears in the magazine).

Chris Wilkins started out as a copywriter at JWT in the 1970s and went on to be joint creative director with John Webster at BMP. While there he won D&AD Silvers for his work on Cresta and Smash (although the jingle itself preceded his involvement) and was also involved in Pepsi’s ‘Lipsmackin’ campaign, created with Dave Trott. In 1985 he founded Davis Wilkins with Siân Davis and later sold the company to TBWA. Since 2005 the pair have worked as creative partnership Chris & Siân Wilkins, with notable successes including the jingle-led Sheilas’ Wheels campaign, and the operatic Gio Compario character for Go Compare.

Here are my questions and Chris’s answers:

Why do you think jingles work?

I think they can work in a couple of ways. They can act simply as an ID badge for the brand – a role which goes back to radio, I suspect, when music could add a distinctive ‘colour’ in a non-visual medium. ‘For mash get Smash’ is an example, as is the Pepsi ident, ‘Lipsmackinthirstquenchin’. These are really both traditional ‘stings’ – rather than jingles – serving primarily to glue the brand name to the preceding message.

Jingles act most powerfully as mnemonic devices. Just ask yourself – how much Victorian religious poetry can I recite from memory? Not so much. Now ask the question in a different way – How many Christmas carols can I sing along to? The music makes the words memorable, particularly through repetition.

What makes a good jingle?

There’s a phenomenon known in the neurology trade as an ‘earworm’ which refers to a piece of music that gets stuck in your head and no amount of conscious voluntary effort can banish it. Good jingles take up residence in your brain. They are ‘catchy’ with all that word’s association with contagion.

This is not just the case with advertising themes, of course. I recently found myself repeatedly humming an old TV series title track which I knew really well, but I couldn’t attach it to a programme. (It turned out to be The Rockford Files.) This is why it’s crucial for the brand property to be tightly knitted into the fabric of the jingle.

You cannot mentally sing along with Sheilas’ Wheels or Go Compare without mentioning the brand name. A lot of current advertising seems to start with a ‘borrowed’ song which is grafted arbitrarily onto whatever product message happens to be next on the creative to-do list. That’s just lazy.

Do jingles work better for a particular type of brief?

Jingles work most happily when there is a simple, single-minded message to be communicated. (Mind you, since that should be the case with all advertising briefs, you could argue that a jingle should always be considered as an option.) There is some research which suggests that people don’t take in rational sales messages that are sung to them, but there is also research suggesting that people don’t respond much to rational sales messages anyway. It’s an emotional business, and music has always been pretty good at stirring emotions.

You could argue  ‘For mash get Smash’ was already a great line without the need for music. How did that come about? 

When I moved to BMP in the early 1970s, to work with John Webster – sadly, no longer with us – the Smash campaign already had its musical pay-off. You’re right, it is a strong line anyway, so why set it to music? Well, times were different then and I think we were still very much under the spell of the Americans. The Madmen tended to sign off their films with a little musical ‘sting’ – almost as a parting gift to the viewer. Webster, in his own account, remembers briefing the composer, Cliff Adams, who happened to be sitting at his piano. Cliff said, “You mean something like this?” and played the four notes which, it is rumoured, were to earn him more in royalties than the rest of his TV work put together. When I wrote the first of the Martians scripts, the jingle was already a household property.

Why did you choose a jingle/music-led route for Go Compare and Sheilas’ Wheels? Did the client come to you with that in mind, or was it your idea to go in that direction?

The client brief for what became Sheilas’ Wheels was simply to create a car insurance brand aimed at women. The name, the brand, the idea of a jingle was ours. Even the big pink ‘Sheilamobile’ was designed by Siân Wilkins, my art-director partner.

During our 35-year-long careers in advertising, neither Siân nor I had ever done a full-on jingle campaign. We wanted to devise a brand with ‘Girl Power’ (echoes of the Spice Girls) which led to our creating a ‘real’ singing group, styled on the 60s Motown sound.

We cast three brilliant session singers and – on the back of the advertising success – they actually toured the country as an act. The spin-off for the client was terrific. When one commercial asked women to post online videos of themselves dressed up and performing as our ‘Sheilas’, we had over 11,000 responses (some 240 from men) just for the prize of a guest spot in a commercial.

The brief for Go Compare was to make the brand front-of-mind in a market of four pretty competitive comparison sites. The success of Compare the Market’s Meerkats had spooked everyone else. We were lucky, because our brand name was already a call to action, so we hit on the idea of using another call to action from WW1 – the song ‘Over There’ about US troops coming to the rescue in Europe.

We unearthed an old recording of the great Enrico Caruso singing the song, which inspired the notion of using an Italian operatic tenor and we had originally intended to cast an actor and have him mime to the track. We were lucky, as it turned out, to find Wynne Evans, then Principal Tenor at Welsh National Opera, who could not only sing, but was a great physical comic.

As well as being successful, the Go Compare campaign famously annoyed a lot of people. What’s your reaction to that?

Yes, it was voted Most Annoying Campaign in the marketing press for two years running. But, to put this in context, the year before the campaign broke Go Compare posted a loss of £4m. At the end of the campaign’s first year, they posted a profit of £12m. We went on to make fifteen increasingly ‘annoying’ films over the three years we worked with them.

Similarly, our campaign for Direct Line with that little red phone on wheels and its strident bugle-call jingle, was also voted Most Annoying. Direct Line grew to become the country’s leading car insurer. It’s funny how much you can achieve when you stop checking over your shoulder for the D&AD jury, and start working out how to make your clients rich.

Jingles are often seen as ‘unsophisticated’ and outdated – what’s your view on that?

There are fashions in advertising, as in every other form of ‘creativity’. Currently, there’s a powerful groundswell pulling advertisers towards social media and there’s this desperate optimistic belief among some clients that Facebook and Twitter are freebie media for business to exploit. Problem is, the wonderful professional skills out there – musical skills included – are being bypassed in favour of mass mediocrity. A million competent ukulele players on YouTube still don’t add up to one Mozart.

Would you say you have a musical ear? How important is it for copywriters to have a sense of rhythm and the ‘sound’ of words?

Siân and I are not particularly musical but we’ve been wonderfully well served by the musicians we’ve worked with – particular the guys at Yellow Boat Music whose ingenuity created a whole raft of musical styles for Go Compare, ranging from Baroque Chamber to Moroccan Folk.

We’ve also evolved a secret trick for writing lyrics which composers can work with. If you want to write a great jingle, write it to an existing tune. That way, it will have an inbuilt ‘lyrical’ structure to it. Then, when you hand the words over to a composer – and here’s the secret bit – don’t tell him what your tune was. That’s what we did with Sheilas’ Wheels and the legendary film music composer, John Altman, took it from there.

Particularly with Smash and Go Compare, you’ve produced work that has entered the nation’s collective memory. How does that make you feel?

Lucky.

Do you have any favourite jingles (either your own or someone else’s)?

Of my own stuff, I’m quite proud of rhymes like ‘With just a few clicks / Save your spondulicks’ and ‘It’s where you go ter / Insure your motor’ for Go Compare. And I was also pretty happy with ‘If you had a name like Florence / And you needed car insurance’ for Sheilas’ Wheels.

But there have been some great jingles over the years. Dave Trott knows how it’s done – his ‘Gertcha’ spot for Courage beer and his ‘Ariston... and on...’ were classics. But my all-time favourite has to be, ‘You’ll wonder where the yellow went / When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent’. That was written in 1948.

Thanks to Chris for his answers – you can read the entire article in the January edition of Creative Review.

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Rough notes on 2014

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This isn’t exactly a comprehensive review of the year, more a trawl back through things I’ve tweeted or favourited over the past 12 months – Twitter can be a useful mental archive that way (when it’s not being used for retrieving lost property, as in my most shared tweet of the year). 

One of the common themes is mortality (please keep reading). This was the year we lost great advertising writers including David Abbott (The Economist, JR Hartley and countless others) and Julian Koenig (Volkswagen ‘Think small’), and stars of design including Wally Olins, Massimo Vignelli and more recently Rodney Fitch. I wrote about David Abbott here and reviewed Wally Olins' last book for Creative Review (subs only). Also recommend New York Times on Julian Koenig and Michael Johnson on Wally Olins.

One writer happily bucking the trend is Clive James, who recently admitted to being “in the slightly embarrassing position where I say I’m going to die and then don’t.” His ‘Japanese Maple’ won widespread praise this year and he continues to write lucidly and arguably better than ever as he approaches the end.

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Death has a way of leading to great writing. In the bleak aftermath of the MH17 flight, these notices in Schiphol Airport (via @jessbrammar) were a civilised, secular piece of corporate writing.

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More recently, the sudden death of cricketer Phillip Hughes saw collective grief expressed through a powerful symbol. Hard not to be moved by #putoutyourbats 

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Such genuine expressions of grief put into severe perspective the trend for ‘sadvertising’ that has been noted by a few commentators this year – referencing ads that aim to make us cry rather than laugh.

For example, there’s Dove challenging mothers and their daughters to confront their inherited ideas of body image (quite moving to watch, but always in the uncomfortable knowledge that you’re being sold a brand positioning).

Then there’s the camera rising from the trenches of the First World War and that big Sainsbury’s logo appearing in the sky (in the Christmas ad that at least moved the conversation on from John Lewis). Whatever you think of it, it’s hard for brands to associate themselves with issues so real and emotionally charged without at least a whiff of self-interest surrounding the whole thing. (At the other end of the life cycle, this was also the year that a detergent brand live-tweeted the birth of a new baby.) 

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Then again, for all that we feel uncomfortable with brands intruding on the serious issues of life and death, sometimes life and death intrude on brands. This Costa coffin (in which a woman who was a great fan of the coffee chain requested to be buried) has a jarring and, let’s face it, blackly humorous effect. But there’s something moving about the way people form such an affection for brands – albeit not the kind of connection Costa can place at the centre of its next ad campaign.

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Even more affectingly, there was this story of a son keeping his dead father’s memory alive by racing against his digital ‘ghost’ on Xbox (worth reading the whole thing here). Again, not something Xbox can easily turn into an advert (although it’s not out of the question).

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Before leaving the subject of life and death, I was pleased this year to come up with a line for this bench plaque, dedicated to the very-much-alive Ben Terrett – backstory here

So, on to lighter things. Packaging copy continues to entertain and amuse, usually not intentionally.

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This was the year of tomatoes with the unmistakable aroma of, erm, tomatoes. (via @whatsamadder). 

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Leading edge chocolates for chocolate eaters who mean business.

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And the most middle-class copy ever for Waitrose (via @will_jkm)

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There was also some good stuff, like this Cultivating Thought project for Chipotle, which uses packaging as a platform for interesting writing – would love to see more brands doing this, rather than chatting away about a product you’ve already bought.

Now the quickfire round:

Best speech

Bob Hoffmann hailing the Golden Age of Bullshit at Advertising Week Europe. Uncomfortable applause all round.

Best TV ad

Not strictly TV, but a 6-hour pre-roll on YouTube for Virgin America (created by Eleven in San Francisco), imagining a deathly boring competitor called BLAH Airlines. A well-worn strawman strategy, but brilliantly done: advertising as high commercial art. 

Best press ad

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This Unlaunch ad for the VW Bus (actually 2013 I think).

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And this Nothing happened ad for Ecotricity.

Worst print ad

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This Cobra campaign, which is apparently based on the fact that Cobra is an anagram of BraCo, so let’s imagine a company that makes bras and... and... sorry, I resign. (How that brainstorm should have ended.)

Best exhibition graphics

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Enjoyed these simple, writing-led graphics that completely make sense of the Design of the Year exhibition (by Ok-RM). 

Most heroic filler copy of the year

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This description of curtains is one of the most stoically professional pieces of writing ever crafted, taken from the IKEA website

Best non-commercial writing project

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 17.05.17Pop Sonnets: reimagining pop songs as traditional sonnets. Lovely idea, skilfully written.

Best national slogan

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Only one contender: this wonderfully evocative Ivory Coast team slogan for the World Cup. I wrote an analysis of all 32 slogans for Creative Review, including Brazil’s ‘Brace Yourselves, the 6th is coming’, which proved painfully prescient when they got hammered 7-0.

Weirdest strapline

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Burger King’s new strapline was another milestone on the continuing journey into pure abstract thought that is currently being undertaken by all global brands. By 2019, all brands will have replaced their straplines with a steady, mantra-like hum. 

Brand extension of the year

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This story about trademarks registered by Donald Trump is gold from start to finish (via @design_week)

Protest branding of the year

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The $urreal: a mock banknote and social media campaign protesting against rising inflation in Brazil and the increasingly ‘surreal’ prices of everyday goods. 

Protest song of the year

Bit obscure, but in a year of continued austerity while the rich get richer, I liked this 64-year-old singing a 17-year-old’s song.

Plagiarism of the year

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Will award this to The Sun for nicking our Nation’s Prayer and filming themselves reading it in Brazil. Happily, they eventually made a donation to Street League.

Image of the year

Has to be the one at the top of this post, from Ferguson. Sadly, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ are also the most memorable slogans of the year. 

There ends this incomplete and impressionistic review of 2014, which nevertheless took ages to write.

If only there was an efficient way of keeping track of an entire year in diary form

Get Christmas all wrapped up

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(That headline is just to annoy the people behind this.)

A couple of weeks ago, we launched Perpetual Disappointments Diary: the appointments diary and journal with a series of disappointing twists. The London Metro has since described it as the ‘Best. Diary. Ever.’ which is our best review ever. Thanks to anyone who has ordered it or shared it in any way – greatly appreciated.

This post is to alert you to the fact that we’re now doing a gift-wrap service, so you can send the diary directly to your friends and avoid having to see them in person.

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Visit the store here and choose from the gift-wrapped (£15) or non-gift-wrapped (£13) versions.

Here is the video we used to promote the diary – haven’t posted it here yet. 

 

And on a related note, I found myself writing a weird thing mixing the lyrics of Every day is like Sunday and Blue Monday. It's called Every day is like Blue Monday.

Perpetual Disappointments Diary

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Today we release a new version of Disappointments Diary, which we first published in 2012. The new version (available here) comes in a larger, more cumbersome format, suitable for use as a journal and week-to-view appointments diary. It’s not specific to one year and can be used any time, hence the name Perpetual Disappointments Diary.*

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As before, the diary contains a weekly demotivational proverb, combining new ones with the most depressing of the old ones.

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Targeting the international loser, we have included a section of Useful Phrases translated into French, German, Spanish and Mandarin.

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Other additions include Bank Insecurity Questions (first published on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency), Personal SWOT Analysis, double the amount of Notable Deaths, and templates for Apology Notes and Passive-Aggressive Notes.

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The diary comes with months and dates marked as normal, and a sheet of Monday stickers to mark the start of each working week. Dimensions are 210mm x 130mm.

Creative Review have written about it here.

Our strategic rationale is that it’s hard to do a new diary every year and there’s only a short window in which to sell each one, so by doing a Perpetual version, we free ourselves from having to do it again, while allowing us to flog this one grimly for years to come. 

Perpetual Disappointments Diary is available from disappointmentsdiary.com for £13+p&p

This version is written and designed by Asbury & Asbury, based on an original design by Jim Sutherland, Hat-trick Design and Sue Asbury. You can read more about the original version in these previous posts

Please buy the diary now.

 

* The name was Sue’s idea, which is pretty good for a designer.

Read me writing about Read Me

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I’ve written a review of Read Me: 10 Lessons for Writing Great Copy in this month’s Creative Review. You can read it here if you’re a subscriber or buy a print copy.

The book is by Roger Horberry and Gyles Lingwood and is a smart overview of writing for advertising and design (which, as the authors argue, could be better described as ‘brandwriting’). For anyone starting out, I think it’s the best practical primer out there. And for anyone more established, it’s worth buying for the many examples it includes – indeed, it would be nice to see an extended version consisting purely of examples and lots more of them. Even in the days of blogs and online archives, it’s useful to have a physical book that you can dip into for inspiration and reference. 

The book is available from, among other places, Best Little Bookshop (a UK-based alternative to Amazon). 

Abbott and Koenig

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A short post to say I’ve written about the late David Abbott in the July edition of Creative Review. If you’re a subscriber, you can read it here. (The article is an adaptation of this earlier blog post.)

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It’s been an unhappy time for copywriters, with the further news that Julian Koenig has passed away – most famous as creator of the ‘Think small’ Volkswagen Beetle ad. (Art director George Lois has maintained for years that he came up with the line, but seems to have a chronic habit of making similar claims.)

Koenig doesn’t appear in the D&AD Copy Book – possibly because the VW ad predated D&AD by a few years, but maybe also because he was dismissive of awards and classed his trade as pure salesmanship (which it was – just very good salesmanship). There’s a nice obituary in the New York Times.