Slaves to the slogan

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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.

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.

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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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.

Lead us not into uncredited appropriation

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This year’s version of the Nation’s Prayer (see last post) must be the least successful yet given England’s performance. Someone in Costa Rica must have written a very strong version.

Nevertheless, the prayer had an interesting life, in a story that ended with a Sun journalist reading the prayer out (uncredited) to a congregation of England fans beneath the statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio. There’s an entertaining film of it here but I can’t share it because it’s behind their paywall.

I’ve written the whole story up in this post on Creative Review, touching on some of the wider issues it raises about popular culture and attribution.

One thing I forgot to mention was the reviews the prayer received after it ‘went viral’ via a couple of dodgy accounts on Twitter:

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Properly warms the heart.

Thanks to everyone who ordered the prayer card (sorry, no refunds) and shared it on Twitter or elsewhere. Thanks also to Creative Review for spotting that The Sun had used it, to Stig Abell at The Sun for putting it right and making a donation to Street League, and to Tim Rich of 66000milesperhour.com for some helpful advice along the way.

We may return for Euro 2016, if England make it.

Top image copyright 2012 News Group Newspapers Ltd

Mr Paxman interrogates the poets

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If you’re one of those strange people who don’t follow the poetry world closely, you may not have been aware of the recent Paxman Controversy.

As the chair of this year’s Forward Prize jury, he made some characterisically brisk comments about the need for poets to engage with the outside world, even calling for an ‘inquisition’ where the more obscure poets could come and explain themselves (a suggestion that I don’t think was meant to be taken entirely seriously). Nevertheless, it caused understandable consternation among poets, not least because the ‘poetry world’ is arguably more accessible and politically engaged than it has ever been, but also because popularity isn’t necessarily the best measure of poetry’s worth in the world. 

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about how a Paxman-esque inquisition might work, which led to me writing and publishing this poem (it originally appeared here):


Mr Paxman interrogates the poets

Who set fire to the tyger? 
Will you apologise to the people of Slough?
So you’re admitting you ate the plums?
Twas not, in any sense, “brillig” was it?

“Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song” –
You stole that, didn’t you?
Nothing depends on a wheelbarrow, does it?
Are you saying you set fire to the tyger?

In what possible sense is anything “dapple-dawn-drawn”?
Was there really a man from Nantucket?
These people you call the best minds of your generation – 
presumably not smart enough to avoid being destroyed?

You write about shepherds and daffodils, 
but I believe you were grammar school educated?
Why did this imbecile kill the albatross?
Shall I compare thee? I’ll ask the questions.

Did you threaten to set fire to the tyger?

 

As these things sometimes do, it did the rounds on Twitter and eventually got noticed by the people at the Forward Arts Foundation. Before I knew it, an email landed in my inbox:

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In some ways, my poem bears out Paxman’s criticism in that it’s full of smart-arse allusions that probably exclude as many people as they entertain. But fortunately he saw the funny side (I think...)

Text sells

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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

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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 

An interview with hat-trick

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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.

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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.

Best Male Solo Marketer

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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.

Creatively reviewed

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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.

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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. 

Show off

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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.

After Hours: blogging and talking

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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.

After Hours at the Jerwood

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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

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:

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

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

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

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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.

Ghost in the machine

A brief post to point you somewhere else.

To coincide with the release of the 2012 Creative Survey, Design Week asked me to write something about creativity, collaboration and the role of the freelancer.

You can read it here.

Sloganz Meanz Commentz

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I recently had the strange experience of being quoted at length in the Daily Mail. They'd picked up on the recent top twenty slogans edition of Creative Review, which placed 'Beanz Meanz Heinz' at number one. The most entertaining thing was reading the 69 comments that followed.

It should be said that laughing at Daily Mail commenters isn't so much like shooting fish in a barrel as draining the barrel of water, nailing the fish to the bottom and hiring fifteen trained marksmen to spray them liberally with machine gun fire.

There is also the lingering suspicion that these may be spoof comments, possibly even written by someone at the Daily Mail to keep the traffic up. Nevertheless, they have the ring of truth about them. 

The poll may have had most people pondering what makes a good slogan, and which one might be their personal favourite. That's most people. Daily Mail readers immediately fear for the future of our once great nation:

Livingonbeans

Mr G of South Yorkshire angrily dismisses Heinz and marches off to Aldi:

Aldi

This sparks off quite a debate, with the suspiciously named Albert Hall:

Sainsburys

Mr or Mrs Wind in the Willows tries to make the peace, reminding us that beans are good whatever the brand:

Cantbeat

I'm not sure what this next comment is getting at, but I think they're suggesting a rewrite of the greatest slogan of all time:

Rewrite

Meanwhile, Paevo from across the Atlantic has perfected the Daily Mail tone of voice:

Withans

Paul from Lancashire makes what is surely a spoof comment, but then who knows?

Liberallefties

A Spurs fan from North London makes a telling point that may lead to a reprint of the Creative Review issue.

Alltime

But my favourite comment came from Mr M in London. It's not the spelling, it's the contribution itself:

Heineken

There's a kind of genius in that one. My favourite is that one I can't remember.

The story appeared in the Mirror as well, but no one commented on it.


(Top image taken from The Guardian, following Google image search for 'Daily Mail reader'.)

11 from 11

In the predictable rush to cover natural disasters, political upheaval and the fall of empires, many reviews of 2011 will no doubt fail to note our blogging exploits – so we've been forced to write our own.

Here are eleven posts from 2011:

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1. The year began on a sad note with Mr Blog’s Valedictory Awards Show.

Mcelwee

2. The valedictory mood continued with reflections on Rob McElwee’s disappearance from our daily lives.

Asda

3 & 4. February was poetry month – one about Asda launching a dating service, and one about the birth of a new Asbury (the defining moment of our year in a big and increasingly noisy way).

Blind

5. April saw ill-informed copywriters defacing a blind man’s sign.

Amnesty
6. May was all about the Creative Amnesty, a joint venture with Creative Review, which saw the great and good of the creative world sharing their worst ideas.

1000words

7. June was the month of 1,000 words.


Friends

8. July was The One With The Really Good Friends Advert.


Wackaging

9. September saw a rare venture into long-form blogging, with some reflections on wackaging and the trouble with copywriting.

Wrapper

10. October saw the unwrapping of WrapperRhymes.

Rotavator

11. And finally there was a salute to the greatest brand name of all time: Rotavator.

 

If you have been, thank you – and happy Christmas.

Reflections on the cat's eye

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I've just contributed to a Design Week voxpop about the design stories behind everyday objects. My choice was the cat's eye.

I'm far from the first to point out what a remarkable piece of design it is, but the story can't be told often enough. Its inventor was a Yorkshireman called Percy Shaw. Different sources tell different versions of the story, but the romantic version has it that Percy Shaw was driving down a dark stretch of road, from which the tramlines had recently been removed. This was a problem, as people generally relied on the reflections from the tramlines to find their way at night. As he approached a blind bend, his headlights caught the eyes of cat sitting on a fence, which alerted him to slow down – without that cat (the story goes) he'd have overshot the bend and met a messy end.

Whether or not the story is true, "cat's eye" was certainly an ingenious brand name, and beautifully carried through in the poster above.

As I mention in the voxpop, Percy Shaw was a bit of a character. If you're not familiar with it already, it's well worth reading more about his life and strange TV viewing habits.

Links:

Design Week voxpop
Life of Percy Shaw
More on the cat's eye

Every little probably does exactly what it says on the tin of beanz and Pop!

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Creative Review is in the process of working out the 20 best slogans ever created. They've invited some people to send in their personal top fives. This is what I went for: 

1. Every little helps

I put this ahead of the others because it’s not just an advertising endline – it’s also a proper brand positioning. This is the comment I left on the original Creative Review post:

For me, the best strapline ever is also arguably the most evil: Tesco’s ‘Every little helps’.

It’s clever because it’s rooted in folk wisdom – a saying that has been passed down through generations. Exactly the kind of thing your grandma used to say. So it carries the everyday authority of a proverb.

It’s tonally appropriate – conversational and impossible to misunderstand (unlike John Lewis’s mind-bending ‘Never knowingly undersold’).

It’s strategically spot-on, because it taps into the customer’s mindset, and also works as a brilliant internal motivator. It’s about the tiny things that add up to a big difference – the penny cheaper on the baked beans, or the penny off the price you get from a supplier. Multiply tiny differences by something as big as Tesco and you have world domination.

And that’s the evil bit. The line is a classic example of verbal misdirection. ‘Little’ ought to be the last word you associate with Tesco. You should think of them as a multinational giant crushing everything in its path. But instead they plant that word in your head, with all the folksy charm it implies.

I don’t like it, but I admire it very much.

2. Beanz Meanz Heinz

The classic brief – associate our name with the generic product. The prosaic answer would be ‘Think beans. Think Heinz.’ This is the poetic answer – a brilliant piece of wordplay rooted in the brand name.

3. Does exactly what it says on the tin

Created a new idiom that will probably survive in the language long after Ronseal has gone. It’s a kind of anti-strapline – no wordplay, no clever twist, and a message so obvious it shouldn’t need saying – why wouldn’t it do what it says on the tin? But the hyper-clarity is perfect for the bewildering world of DIY.

4. Snap! Crackle! Pop!

The definitive example of a strapline driving an entire brand. Like many great lines, it wasn’t conceived as a strapline – it was part of a radio ad that got picked up and developed into a series of characters that are still used today. Interestingly, the product makes a different sound in other countries: Pif! Paf! Puf! (Denmark), Cric! Crac! Croc! (France), Knisper! Knasper! Knusper! (Germany), Pim! Pum! Pam! (Mexico).

5. Probably the best lager in the world

A classic example of a brand taking ownership of a word. Look up ‘Probably’ in a dictionary and you half-expect a TM to appear next to it. It’s even better because Orson Welles voiced the original TV ads – the greatest voice reading one of the greatest lines. They don’t make them like that any more. (They make ‘That calls for a Carlsberg.’)

Also-rans:
Other contenders included ‘Yes we can’ (reinventing the political slogan), ‘Made in Scotland from girders’ (the surreal approach), Wasssup (dated now, but fresh in its time), and for sheer longevity: ‘Say it with flowers’ (Interflora). But I could probably have picked several more.

You can see all the other top fives here.

 

UPDATE: I've just remembered another personal favourite slogan, for Boost. "It's slightly rippled with a flat underside." Voiced by Vic Reeves. A nice deconstruction of the strapline.

Creative Amnesty: The Aftermath

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So, as expected, Wednesday was an interesting day.

Creative Review allowed me to take control of their Twitter account and I used the opportunity to launch the first ever #CreativeAmnesty – a chance for creative professionals to share their worst work in an atmosphere of mutual sympathy and tolerance.

It was good fun, with entertaining and admirably honest contributions coming in from various corners of the globe. I believe I also managed to destroy the careers of various competitors along the way.

I’ve put together a rough timeline of how the day developed, using Storify.

So stop reading this and go and read that instead.

Twednesday

Unfollow

A brief post to let you know I’ll be guest editing the Creative Review Twitter account next Wednesday (25 May).

In terms of relative follower numbers, this is like stepping out of a rubber dinghy and taking the controls of the Queen Mary 2.

It's part of a week (well, four days) of guest editors, with Anna and Britt of Visual Editions editing on Monday, designer and blogger Daniel Gray editing on Tuesday, then a mystery editor on Thursday, chosen via a competition taking place on Twitter right now.

Please tune in if you're that way inclined.

The Literary Platform

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The Literary Platform is an interesting and timely new site showcasing projects that experiment with literature and technology. I've just written an article for them about Significant Objects (the project that put the power of story-telling to the test on eBay).

There's plenty more good stuff on the site, like 26 Exchanges, Phaidon Design Classics, Songs of Imagination and Digitisation and The New Goodbye. Well worth following and supporting.