Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas with Mr. Creosote

I went into HMV in the Westfield yesterday night.

Britain's last entertainment retail chain is apparently on the rocks. It's interesting to watch because businesses of this size seem to go through a period just before they die where they become grotesquely inflated versions of themselves. Like stars, or Elvis.

So HMV now looks the way that it might if it had been laid out based on a description of HMV given over the phone by someone really out of their mind on cocaine.

Just shitloads of CDs and DVDs and shit everywhere, piles of the fucking things all up the counter in sort of like drifts. An loads of people an babies crying an vomiting.
Look neither to left, nor to the right

The queue to pay is corralled into an S-shaped rat-run lined with consumer sweeties like burnable DVDs, copies of Up In the Air and the new Take That documentary, and rubber earbud ends.
The counter is constructed entirely from Inception DVDs.

Inception is the perfect supermodern film, confusing and larded with special effects so that every one that saw it in the cinema felt like they could maybe do with watching it again. No one really needs to see Inception again, you won't learn anything from it, and the film's internal logic loops pointlessly back onto itself to deliberately confound sensible interpretation. It's not profound, it's just facetious. Like that joke 'what would you rather be or a wasp?' but told to you and then explained in arcane detail by a frowning Leonardo DiCaprio.

If you manage to get out without a copy of Inception you have won.

This retail experience, which is the kind of 'things you might like' cross-selling you get on the internet but made physical could be applied to all kinds of funnelled crowd. So if you forced all the people getting on the tube to walk through a tunnel filled with products some of them would definitely take something even if they weren't 'shopping'. The fact of the thing's merely being available is advertisement enough. All we need to do is streamline the process of paying for things so that as soon as you pick something up, you have already paid for it.

The idea of ' shopping' is sort of old fashioned anyway. We're always shopping, even when we're at work.

Ten years ago we might have said that the Internet was like a big department store, in fact what's happening is that big spaces like the Westfield are becoming a sort of physical version of the internet  'events' and curiosities with shops in between.

PS: I've been blogging about 2 years now. That's weird isn't it? Check out this post from 2008,when I thought the world was about to end.

PPS: Tits and Bums Magazine have posted my Will Self piece in full. I still have the transcript of that interview, which I might put on here next year, if you're lucky.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fakin' Bacon

This is like the Jack Black reality nexus but done with a bit more style and a better script. It won't be long before we do away entirely with the concept of 'characters' in films (ie actors playing other people) and all screenplays will be written around the behaviour of celebrities. So Pirates of the Caribbean would be a film about Johny Depp playing a pirate in the film called Pirates of the Caribbean.

In fact, here's a mediocre article about the very same phenomenon.

Black Ops

I spent the weekend playing Black Ops in the shadow of my 8ft Christmas tree. You know you have a problem when you start leaving parties early, claiming you have a self-help group first thing, in the certain knowledge that you're really going home to kill Swedish children (online right, Jeez, Thames Valley Police).

If anyone wants to form advertising clan, my callsign is NotVoodoo.

That's a great little video isn't it?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Inconvenience: the new convenience

I just bought an ancient iMac so that I can write in the mornings without web drift. It has no internet connection, and makes weird clicking and whirring sounds as the hard disk drive spins. I think there may really be cogs in there.

The iMac runs OS9, but to run the edition of Word I like I need at least OS10. In order to update to OS10 you have to update the firmware, in order to update the firmware, you have to update the OS to 9.1. And to find any of this out, you need to spend a great deal of time searching arcane retro Mac forums. Which you can't do on an iMac which is not plugged into the internet.

Yes, but it was fascinating right. Not just because I'm likely to find any procrastination ritual around writing wholly absorbing. It was like a problem solving treasure hunt.

Also ...

This agency is on an eco kick at the moment, and they've installed these kettles. If you consider a kettle as a labour saving device, these are shit kettles, in that they make it harder to boil a cup of tea. They have two chambers, so you have to fill one chamber, and then pump the water into the other chamber to boil it. The mechanism forces you to actively choose how much water you're boiling. They also sometimes squirt boiling water out of the spout when turned upright, which I think is just an unintentional piece of design, rather than a ploy to put you off the whole idea of drinks served at boiling point.

Also ...

Video games too, have this same balance of toughness and easiness. Part of their appeal is to allow you to achieve virtual mastery of very hard things on a much more forgiving learning curve than in reality. Think the scene in the Matrix where Keanu Reeves masters kung fu in 5 minutes. Or Guitar Hero. They are designed to be just hard enough that you keep playing, but not so easy that they're no fun. Essentially they're designed for difficulty. Overcoming the difficulty induces satisfaction.

Design used to be about making our lives easier. But now our lives are easier I reckon DESIGN IS ALL ABOUT THE PROPER ACTING OUT OF OUR FUCKING NEUROSES.

Right, I'm now going to get dressed up as Victorian dandy and go the office Christmas party.

Friday, November 26, 2010

i is not selling enough papers is i?

Britain's newest daily? WTF is wrong with you?
In our business it's easy to get resentful when, as happens from time to time, someone tells you your idea is shit.

In fact, one of the great drivers for career progress in advertising is to reach a level of seniority where if anyone tells you your idea is shit, you can sack them on the spot. Whole agencies have been built on this principle.

Personally I believe there's nothing like a bracing blast of unstinting honesty to stimulate those  sections of the imagination that are powered by doubt, fear and resentment. What is cut down grows back twice as strong. It's worth learning to love criticism. Without it you might do something mad, like recording a three hour long hip-hopera, making a Star Wars prequal, or publishing a not quite free-sheet in competition with your own newspaper.

According to industry sources, the circulation of 'i' is now down to well below 70,000 per day. They've also cut 10,000 from sales of the Independent and enraged the journalists union by employing no new people to publish double the number of the newspapers. A newspaper that is failing, quickly becomes a failure's newspaper. No one wants to justify to their friends why they're paying 20p for the only rag worse than the Metro.

The name 'i' is confusing, fiddly to type with autocorrect, impossible to search for online and makes a nonsense of almost any sentence you care to put it in. Basing a headline campaign around the paper's title is up there in the bad decision stakes with the bad decision to publish the thing in the first place. At best the headlines sound like they were guest written by Sacha Baron Cohen, at worst, just plain illiterate. A consequence perhaps of employing an agency whose creative department is drawn almost entirely from the JLS fanbase, without an English GCSE between them.

So look, Alexander Lebedev, you ridiculous ex-KGB oligarch, I'm going to tell you because someone needs to: your idea is shit.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Never forget ... the possiblity of rape

Because there's really nothing worse than being locked out, or having to borrow a fiver off one of your mates, or, you know, being brutally raped.

This a truly weird product, a rape alarm, that's also a stylish urban fashion accessory. Am I right in thinking that BBH developed it?

Ad agencies have a weird relationship with rape, they're largely male environments and there's something about the riskiness of rape as the ultimate shocking form of coercion. Creatives bring a special nasty relish to these briefs: 'yeah, shocking innit? Well it's meant to be love.'

You can't really advertise a rape alarm without also making women mindful of the real and constant possibility of rape and therefore spreading fear. Their sales figures would serve as a barometer for just how unsafe women feel. The best viral campaign would be an episode of Sex and the City that opened with Sarah Jessica Parker walking along talking to herself and then suddenly being sexually assaulted. With the line 'rape can happen when you least expect it.'

Yep, it's a brief I would happily turn down.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Wave Coffee Shops

When you give up alcohol you end up spending a great deal of time in coffee shops. There used to be two kinds in London which sold passable coffee:

Italian coffee shops, eg Brunos, Bar Italia, Ponti's

They were making lattes when Starbucks was still the Seattle Coffee Co. They buy eye-poppingly strong coffee from the Algerians in Soho on a contract going back 70 years. They'll sell you a gristly bacon sandwich, but for cultural reasons are generally unable to make tea. Coffee comes in an unbranded Styrofoam cup and costs £1.50. There is rarely music, other than the sound of media types affecting allrightmateyeah camaraderie, like they spent the day digging up a road, rather than hatching a really exciting social network strategy for stock cubes.

Chain coffee companies, eg Starbucks, Caffe Nero, Costa

As stand-up, Rick Shapiro, says Starbucks is a true representation of modern America: 'fag food, at Jew prices, in a WASPY environment'. (It's funny when he says it, trust me, and/because he is Jewish, and used to be a rentboy). There isn't really anything I can tell you about Starbucks that you don't already know. I don't like Starbucks, and yet it is a business I patronise on a daily basis, more than almost any other (apart from Amazon). Everyone feels this way about Starbucks, and you can tell from their toilets. There is always someone in the Starbucks toilet, and no matter how meek and apologetic they look when they come out, it always turns out they've enacted a hideous dirty protest all over the loo seat, the back wall, the mirror etc.

These days there is a third kind of coffee shop:

Boutique coffee shops, eg Nude Espresso, Flat White, Wild and Wood, Store Street Espresso

You don't have to have a sailor tattoo on your fucking neck to work in these places but it helps. Fewer Eastern Europeans, and more people who look like they might be in a band, but aren't actually in a band - beards and piercings also encouraged. Don't even think about asking for an extra shot, or hot milk with your americano, because it will 'ruin the flavour' of the coffee. The soundtrack will be some combination of Beck, MGMT and Fleetwood Mac. Coffee is venerated in these places, in fact the point of this post, was that I realised on Saturday that the whole aesthetic of these cafes, including the staff who'd rather you weren't there, is taken from galleries. Look, check it out:

Store St Espresso

Hmmm. What could it mean?
In some places, like Nude Espresso, the prints on the wall actually show coffee.

The point is to venerate the product, by giving it the trappings of art.

You could probably break most kinds of advertising or branding down along these lines also. Things are made to appeal on price, convenience or sensibility. Agencies too, fit the typology - think CST, JWT, Mother.

Another thing that Nude Espresso proves is that the only good thing about antipodeans is that they're usually not pretentious.

PS: I should probably mention that the Coffee Plant on Portobello Road, is not just my favourite coffee shop, but one of my favourite places in the world bar none. Doesn't really fit any of the above types, and they will often be playing The Idiot at 8.00am. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hang on to the end for the best pun ever

Hate Norman Foster?

I do.

I once worked for a particularly horrible agency in Canary Wharf, a place that was about as friendly and characterful as your average Jubilee Line carriage in rush hour, and my life was not at all improved by having to pass through Canary Wharf station every day. The chrome and glass and echoing spaces of the station tactlessly underlining our status not as workers or individuals, but components. Which, right, I get, but what does that make Norman Foster?

It's all so bland as well. So Blairite.

So the municipal bombing of large sections of central London, the demolition of great big residential chunks of Soho, which should really just be sex shops and brothels in dirty white 18th century buildings, to make way for more Norman Foster steel and glass stockshot utopia fills me with depression.

Crossrail is going to be shit anyway, because it doesn't serve the Westfield.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sex scene from Ghost

Was just thinking how strange it was that Patrick Swayze is actually dead now, so presumably whenever anyone sits down at a potter's wheel they are in danger of severe molestation.

I think one of the good things about porn is that women have stopped expecting all that fiddly pre-sex messing about that was actually invented by Hollywood as a replacement for sex.

As you may be able to tell, I'm trying to break my blogging drought by just posting whatever I happen to be thinking. I had this really solemn post lined up about Borges and inevitability and the beefcake with a brain Dan Snow, but there was just no way of making it funny.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

10 questions the client never asked

In a perfect world, all adverts would look like this one, from the back page of today's Guardian.
1. Have you got anything more modern?
2. Where is the URL?
3. Yeah but, how will they know how to get to iTunes?
4. Could they be holding iPods?
5. I can't see that one's face, can we shoot again?
6. Won't people think they work for Apple or something?
7. Where is the price?
8. Research says people don't like Ringo, can we take him out?
9. Where are the brand colours?
10. Can we make the logo bigger?

The perfect ad by the perfect agency working for the perfect client on the perfect product.

Jamie Oliver's new restaurant

Is not very good. Nice food, but eastern European style service and overpriced. Great cards though.

Probably the only good thing about it is the view of St. Paul's and he can't really take credit for that. I wonder if he's even been there, or if he just let Adam Perry Lang license his name.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Yeah look sorry

Haven't posted in a while, this job is keeping me very busy indeed, and got a commission for the YCN annual which used up the spare room in my brain all last week (there is a spare room, and a cellar with a drain in the floor). Quite pleased with how it turned out.

Plenty to like about this. Tim Key is brilliant, although never all that funny on Charlie Brooker's show, he has a great comic sensibility if you knowhaddImean.

Fosters is a strange fit isn't it? But in way it's a better model where brands pay for high quality viral films and save on media than writing their own adverts.

I have a post, as it were, in the clip. I will fire right into your brain as soon as I get 20 minutes to type continuously without someone inviting me to a meeting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

E4 GR8!


So when I was a kid DDB London used to make these incredible adverts for VW, whose wit and humour made me think that advertising might be an industry where intelligent people used creativity to communicate complex ideas as simply as possible.
These days DDB London make ads like this for VW.

Which makes me think advertising is an industry where about a hundred deeply uncreative people sit in an airless meeting room insisting that they know what should be in their ad (which after all, they're paying for right?), overwhelm the account handlers with a combination of weight of numbers and sheer obdurate bloody-mindedness so that Jeremy Craigen has to wave through a lame headline ad with a look of mingled regret and resignation that seems to speak volumes about the state of our industry as a whole, but might just as well be his hangover.

These cuts are fun aren't they? I think we'll see riots on the streets of Glasgow and Leeds and everywhere else where the electorate has been in the pay of the government for the last 13 years, as soon as they realise they're not going to be able to afford the new iPhone for Christmas.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Could this be the worst ad ever made?

Exquisitely bad. And the bloke is called Tim - which, if you've ever met the Creative Director who made it, is tragic.

It's not just about how you sell stuff - it's also about how you treat people once you've sold them stuff

Great headline right?
I do this for a living.
How you treat people once you've sold them something is important, and this is a corollary of what Bill Bernbach said about truth and advertising: 'if you advertise a shit product well, all that happens is more people find out that it's a shit product.'
Boho lifestyle brand Pedlars want to be perceived as fun and friendly. So when I bought an over-priced lightbulb from them they sent me this rosette to wear. It says 'I'm a Pedlars Customer'. The hateful cunts.
A salient comparison might be a relationship with, say, a woman.

If you spend years taking her out for dinner, writing her letters and sending her presents, she may well be somewhat disappointed by the farting, belching, videogame playing, priapic and emotionally needy genuine article. And watching her growing disenchantment with a combination of powerlessness and detachment may turn out to be a character-defining experience, part metaphor, part psychodrama, which you will return to, particularly if you've got an astonishingly precise memory for painful experiences, for at least, say, 9 months after you break up. For instance.

Anyway, the bastards have a word for how you treat people once you've sold them something - they call it CRM, or Customer Relationship Management. If you say that out loud you sound like a complete BMW driver, so I prefer to call it 'how you treat people'.

How you treat people is often an overlooked area of advertising, because it falls into the unglamorous neighbourhood of DM. A lot of brands seem to think that the best way to treat their customers is to hassle them into buying more stuff, or giving them worthless things to prevent them from leaving. This is a major problem for  phone companies. They can't just relax and give you a good service, because their competitors are all offering you baubles to try to make you leave. Hence the endless sweaty phonecalls, mailshots and email updates about how wonderful the service they're giving you is.

On the other hand, a lot of the best, most exciting advertising of the last several years also falls into this category - things like Nike+ or iTunes. These things make you feel good about the decision you've already made. It's an easy win.

Very few agencies actually bother with this - they're only interested in picking people up, not with keeping them. They are all R Kelly and no Clare Rayner.
Of course, the best people to do this aren't the agency at all. I got this email from the British Boot Company when I asked my for brothel-creepers to be delivered to my home address.
One of the reasons I'd rather be a copywriter than a journalist is that it's more truthful. And I'm not just saying that.

Where as whatever we write is necessarily attached to a real experience, the consumer's experience of the product, what journalists write is also their product. That means they have to either choose stories on the basis of their inherent appeal, or retool the truth in order to render it appealing. Either technique distorts reality, and not in the same way that adverts distort reality - because we never get to experience the news - it's offered instead of what happened. Adverts are offered as well as the product, really for as long as you continue to own or use that particular product.

What would happen if we all wrote ads designed to flatter existing customers? Wouldn't they then do most of the advertising for us? And wouldn't they be so much better at it than we are?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Better than his Independent ad

I have this on a great Martin 'zero' Hannet comp. that makes taking heroin seem like it might be a good idea after all. Only £3.00 on Amazon.

Sorry about the Bumholes post this morning, but didn't you love the way the text was tiny so you had to lean really close to the screen to read it? Nice bit of art direction that.



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Brother Stevie: dirty 30

Perennial illustrator for this blog, and artistical genius Brother Stevie makes it to the big three-oh today. I suggest you go and have a look at his new Tumblr blog and commission him to do a series of family portraits, particularly if you're a billionaire oligarch werewolf. (Readership is up amongst billionaire oligarch werewolves, sitemeter says so ok?)

Happy Birthday Brother.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Show your working

I had an English teacher who used to say fascinating things to us. One of them was:

All novels are about writing novels.

What I think he may have meant was that writing a book is such a long, absorbing job that whatever else you set out to write about you end up writing about the process itself. The good thing is that the process of writing a book, which necessitates continual application, introspection, creativity alloyed with just the right amount of self-criticism, is something like a metaphor for life. So if novelists know anything at all about life, it's because they've spent all this time trying to do a very hard thing, for an imaginary reward that they either can't hope to achieve or, if they can, can't enjoy, and maybe learned something in the process. 

Process though, is often interesting, often makes a good story.

(Nice turn from Andy Serkis there).

And if you think about the great American TV of recent years it's often as much about process, as result. The innovation of The Sopranos was to show the mafia boss in his dressing gown eating Parma ham straight from the fridge - it's just the Godfather, but with less left out. Shows like 30 Rock, The Wire and Madmen all work on a similar principle - they are all making-of dramas concerned with TV comedy, the drug trade and advertising respectively. That's why when you watch a DVD box set (and couples my age who are sick talking to one another don't do anything else) and reach the end of it, the feeling is not one of satisfaction, but disappointment. People still watch things with their teleological heads on, but they've stopped being interested in the ends of things. It's the process they want to see.

The modern experience of working as a tiny part of a much larger system, and being made aware of that system by the media, means that the goals that we work towards are likely to feel less dramatic. Especially in the context of global news and the knowledge that everyone is up to more or less the same thing. Ends don't feel special or significant any more. 

This is just one of the reasons that video games are a better entertainment fit for modern life. They are designed to prevent you from getting to the end. Like the impossibly apostrophised  Demon's Souls, which, well, you may as well write a novel as try and finish that game.

In other news, I saw Mick Jones on Friday night outside Hix on Brewer Street. Long term readers will know that Mick Jones tends to pop up at crucial moments in my life, looking terrible. I somehow didn't have my wits about me enough to take his picture, but I did say hello. I then spent the rest of the evening regretting not having photographed Mick Jones on my mobile so I could post it on my blog. A modern neurosis if ever there was one.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Judging book covers

I had imagined taking a couple of weeks off after the end of my MA and just reading and blogging and playing video games but it doesn't seem to have worked out quite like that. This is one of about eight posts that I've been planning but somehow haven't got round to writing. I might dribble them out over the next few weeks because I anticipate that I'm going to be rather busy


So I wrote this very long essay about Kingsley Amis for my MA, and one of the the byproducts of it was that I ended up doing a sort of impromptu study of the covers of Amis's novels. I got all the criticism up from the stack of the British Library but I'd buy random editions of the novels from second hand shops for £2 each so I could dog-ear the pages and come back and note them later. Most secondhand and charity bookshops have a whole Amis section, with Martin featuring as much, if not more than, his father. Make of that what you will.

Book covers are very like what we do. Whenever we make an advert we are asking the consumer to ignore the old axiom and judge a book by its cover. In fact an ad bears even less relation to a product than a book does to its cover because it doesn't even have the benefit of physical proximity to the object it describes. An ad makes up for it though, because it can contain pictures of what it's describing, where as a cover although attached to the book actually describes something much less concrete - the contents of the book, rather than the object of which it is also a part.


KA had a very long writing career, spanning around four decades, and his reputation evolved as he went on, from Angry Young Man, to sexy young author, to establishment figure, to reactionary outsider. But, for complex reasons (which, if you're interested, I can send you a 15,000 word essay about), Amis's subject matter changed very little. So what we have is a fairly consistent product that is differently perceived by each successive era.

Something like a very well known brand that has a series of different agencies work on it.

Obviously there are a few obvious reactions to the brief. Since they're largely concerned with the relationships between men and women, really, almost all Amis covers could be like this:

Personally I don't like these covers much because I don't want to be told what Patrick Standish or Jenny Bunn look like - I think that's something I do on my own with Kingsley Amis, and I don't appreciate having to share that experience with a illustrator who's probably only skim-read the novel. Both of these are rather craven portrayals of the character, Stanley with a little moustache, Patrick blonde and balding at the temples. They don't tell me what's interesting about these books, what makes them different, in fact all they tell me is what's inside the book, which is redundant, given that it's inside the book. The Difficulties cover is a 1989 number, the Stanley cover is the Vintage 2008 reissue. Difficulties is set in the 60s and Stanley in the 80s, but you wouldn't know it would you? The primary fidelity of these covers is to the aesthetic sensibilities of the time in which they were produced. 

This cover on the left is just straightforwardly misleading. This edition is from, who would have thought it, 1970. Amis writes about sex but never describes it, never really describes bodies, male or female, but does occasionally mention breasts. There is sex in this book, but perhaps not as much or of the kind that you might hope for had you only seen the cover. The problem is that the cover art is based on a perception of what the audience wants - the art director lost track of the truth of the novel in the pursuit of his audience.


The best covers are not those that try to represent the characters, but those that represent the themes:
The Old Devils and Jake's Thing are concerned with the end of a life spent drinking and an Oxford don's struggle with impotence respectively. Both of these are visual gags of a very high order indeed - not only is that good in itself, but their comedy, in turn, describes the humour and intelligence of the books. By hanging on to the essence of the books they avoid the pitfalls of pandering to the audience. They also avoid merely repeating information that is already in the books (by showing characters and situations etc.) and instead offer something that's more like a new interpretation of the same central idea. This, I believe, is what bastards mean by 'adding value'. 

But obviously this too can go too far, the cover that really makes me laugh is the new Penguin 50s 2010 edition of Lucky Jim. Imagine being the client on this one:

'Yeah so hi Peter Blake, love the cover and everything, but is there any chance we could have the title just a bit bigger? Because at the moment it looks like the title of this million selling book that everyone knows the name of, and is on reading lists all over the world, is England's Glory - which, yes, would be a great title for a book obviously - but isn't actually ... yes I have heard of the Sergeant Pepper's album ...'

I reckon the good ones will age best. I wrote a thing for the Tattooed Lady Magazine recently about the History of Advertising Trust and how adverts are totally contemporary and therefore totally disposable - but isn't it almost always true that the best ones aren't? And therefore doesn't it follow that the that best ones are tied to the truth rather than to the time.

I've got another post about book covers - but I think I'll save it...


Friday, September 10, 2010

I love my life as a Dickhead.

Satire is a mirror in which no man sees his own face.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

It's a horrifying terrifying event

Just got home from being sworn at by Doug Stanhope at the Leicester Square Theatre - he's on for another four nights and there seemed to be some returns on the door. You need to go and see him because there's a chance he may commit suicide on stage, which I've never heard of anyone doing before, but if anyone were going to, it would be him.

I mean, anyone apart from Jesus.

PS: I'm in the process of tinkering with the design of the blog - you may also notice some Google Adwords giving you links here. Willful perversity is the only explanation I can offer you.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Renaissance Renaissance

Happened to be watching the Box the other day and saw this video.

And what it made me think was that music videos have entered this new phase where they're no longer trying to ring the cherries of the lowest common denominator. They're actually starting to look more and more like serious, ironic, or genuinely beautiful art. And this has happened very quickly indeed, compare and contrast this Hype Williams 1999 classic:

The message of the Big Pimpin' video is roughly, 'we're so rich we've got a huge white boat and crates of Dom Peringnon and whole squadrons of women who don't find being sprayed with champagne demeaning, in fact they rather like it actually.' The message of the Kayne West videos is, approximately, 'I'm so rich I can pay real artists to make my videos'.

This is what brands are doing when they employ skilled advertisers - the whole selling shit schtick is just a ruse to justify it to the accounts department. Really it's the geeks getting to tell the art kids what to do.

But then the hugely rich have traditionally been prepared to pay for art, designed for the masses, as a demonstration of their power. Because talent the one thing they can't buy and it makes them furious. Like the Medicis all over again.

Which is not to take anything away from Kayne, if he's reading this, which I'm sure he is.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Nice copy for a TV ad

What does it take to turn you on?

The 90s were a joke decade. Seems to me there was at least a kind of earnestness in the posing and materialism of the 80s but the 90s had this overlay of irony that was really insincerity contrived to hide a lack of feeling or ideas. Suede, Oasis, Blur - terrible bands the lot of them. His 'n' Hers and Odelay were probably the only good albums to come out of the whole sorry period.

But I digress.

When I did the D&AD workshops some years ago we went to see Dave Trott. He kept us in there from 6.30 till 11.00pm and was brutally nasty about all the work we'd done. He was spot on about most of it, and he did manage to tell me some useful things about myself, for which I still haven't totally forgiven him. One of the interesting things he said was 'You have to learn what turns you on.' Apparently, what turns Dave on, he told us, is fear. Not necessarily whimpering from the basement type fear (I wouldn't rule it out though), but the fear that you're not going to crack the brief and everything you've ever believed about yourself will be shown to be a lie.

Certain copywriters, those who write particularly chippy lines like, for instance, 'We took their land, their women and their buffalos. Then we went back for their shoes.' or 'A table for two? Certainly you old trout.' or 'You're never going to be able to retire, so why should your shoes.' seem to get turned on by anger. Anger is a great creative emotion because when you get angry you're reaching out to the world around you - toward the thing that makes you angry - and that makes you feel present in the world. It fills the, hem, ontological vacuum. Think about those scenes in The Thick of It where Malcolm Tucker is about to lose control completely and then re-composes himself using an angry tirade.

There's a nice bit in Mad Men where Draper's bohemian mistress, Midge, talks about 'the ego that people pay to see'. This is another thing that makes great copywriters - the need to be loved and liked by everyone. You can see why a brand would want to buy that off you, and turn it to its own purposes. These copywriters are phallic narcissicists, specialists in verbal constructions woven with the desire to be liked and loved.

And this is why advertising is so wonderful, because these people, who would otherwise be dangerous sociopaths get to have their neuroses turned inside out for the benefit of light industry.

Anyway, if you hunted around you could probably find more than three typologies, but today I'm a bit busy, my column for The Crypto Fascist Chronicle is late (sorry Mark, end of the day?), and I have an MA dissertation to tidy up.

So I ask you, what does it tike to tyurn yoo oooooooon?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Yeah, yeah I know

Ben already posted it on his blog but I wanted to say something about it and I didn't want to colonise his comment section with it and get flamed as a massive pseud as you will see.

I like this advert a lot - but does it strike anyone else that the moment that Jack Black says 'I'm not your puppet!' constitutes a mind-bending nexus of irony?

Because obviously, Jack Black is acting not as himself, but as a version of Jack Black, the actor who doesn't want to appear in an advert for Orange. Orange are behaving, not as themselves, but as though they are the kind of brand that wants to aggressively manipulate Jack Black into acting as their shill. So both Black and Orange are engaged in a double-bluff where they know that we know that they're not these things (i.e. Black as shill, Orange as manipulator). But the point at which it gets absurd and mind-bending is that Orange and Black really are all of the things they're claiming not to be. When Black is made to dance, he really is being made to dance. Orange are forcing him to dance, for money, to sell their product.

This is interesting to me, not just as a kind of conceptual calisthenics, but because working all this out makes no difference whatever. In fact, if you uttered this aloud in a client meeting someone would almost certainly punch in the side of the head before you got to the end of the word 'nexus'.

Sometimes you can forget that it's two thousand and fucking ten and that our audience has one of the sharpest sensibilities in history.

Nearly finished the essay, but thanks for asking. Anyone going to enter this long copy contest?

Friday, August 27, 2010

The real vs. the modern

If your agency is any good there may be a bookshelf somewhere, perhaps in the art buying department, which will contain this book or one very like it. It's worth leafing through a book like this not because the ads are good but because they are, almost without exception, terrible. That is to say, there is nothing in them that doesn't seem like it came from not just another time, but another planet, one populated entirely by imbeciles. I mean, for instance, WTF?

One of the things that makes Bill Bernbach so incredible is that he seemed to be able to see the terribleness of these ads, at time when no-one else could. This is the difficult thing, in advertising or any other creative pursuit, to raise your head above the contemporary. Because what's fashionable is so prevalent that most people can't seem to see it all, they are, technically speaking, shit-blind.

Bernbach's technique for circumventing the modern was to hang on to the reality of what he was advertising - the truth. This is my favourite Bill Bernbach ad:

There's no part of it that isn't relevant. The things that make it eye-catching are the same as the things that make it meaningful.

So maybe one way of know if your ad is any good is to strip away the bits of it that are flashy and contemporary and see what you're left with. Let's try it on this ad:

Ok, so we've got:

  • Ridiculous headline
  • Contemporary graphic design
  • Website
  • Possibility to 'show your support for this campaign(!) by texting this number for just £8'.

It's got all the contemporary paraphernalia but means, so far as I can see, nothing at all. It's not intriguing, it's only gibberish. I'm not even going to link to that website, because I find the meaninglessness of this campaign so aggravating. I assume it's a Christian organisation - but I'm not going to find out, not because I've anything against the church, but just because they've pissed me off with their idiotic advertising campaign. Although actually, can't you see something obscurely Christian in the arrogance of this ad? The very fact that they thought they could do it themselves, and yet clearly have no idea of what they're doing?


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kingsley Amis's Life Kitchen No. 3

I remember Cliff Wainwright saying once that women were like the Russians – if you did exactly what they wanted all the time you were being realistic and constructive and promoting the cause of peace, and if you ever stood up to them you were resorting to cold-war tactics and pursuing imperialistic designs and interfering in their internal affairs.
p.165 Stanley and The Women


TFL slightly improve on their effort from 1 or 2 years ago which to my mind was insulting to every sensible adult that saw it, whatever the colour of their skin.

M&C do TFL's advertising at the moment and you can just tell Graham Fink loves writing those minicab rape ads. Bet he asked the British Transport Police to get him a load of rape witness statements to read and all.

I won't be going to carnival this year, I'm too old, too sober and unless you're occupied with filling your bladder with Red Stripe and then finding somewhere to empty it, it's too much like commuting during a very lary tube strike.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ah Pook The Destroyer

I'm not a huge fan of Burroughs, but I do love the way he says 'Ah Pook', and the arcane pantheon at the beginning. It reminded me of the 'This is The Man' thing below, which seems to get better the more I think about it.

It's amazing that it's taken this long for someone to do it - making the brand into one (or two) people and using the same models in all the publicity. Not to attach a brand to a celebrity but to make something you can peddle like a celebrity out of a brand. Will the FCUK Man do interviews then? Or is he actually Bulgarian with a silly high pitched voice?

When you think about it, it's what Paul Smith has been doing forever. One of the great things about him is that if people want to interview the brand they can just go and talk to him. And that sort excuses the fact that he sells all different objects - because you get a sense of an organising personality behind the whole business

Increasingly I think branding is a) a response to the decline of religion b) a reaction to the deep existential loneliness of the modern world.

But you know, that's just me.

I think I'm going to post about Kingsley Amis's book jackets next, which will be fascinating for you all. All 50 of you.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This is good isn't it?

I've been rude about Fallon, and this campaign in particular, elsewhere but actually I think these TV spots are rather splendid. I just wonder if the bloke they are going for is ever going to be seen dead going into French Connection. Mmmm. Nice belt though.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My mother? I'll tell you about my mother.

One of things I've inherited from my mother, along with the character-building but periodically demoralising micrognathism, is a hormonal response to stress that causes me to wake up at 5.00am. This is great you see, because it means that at key moments in my life I get to be exhausted as well as anxious. Just now my body is jollying me awake at this time especially so that I can lie prone and panicking about how to continue the very long essay about Kingsley Amis that is the less fun bit of my MA dissertation.

But see this morning instead of doing that I though I'd write on here, because I feel bad about not blogging, in that peculiar gnawing way that I feel bad about not watching the rest of the Michael Haneke film about a sexually repressed pianist that I've had from LoveFilm for the last eight months.

I'm not entirely sure who reads this blog any more, most of the referrals are from Corporal Punishment Daily or Ben's blog, so I suppose you're probably some advertising or design punter in which case you'd love to hear about my tattoo wouldn't you? I knew you would.

So for some time I've wanted to have a skull tattoo on my chest, along the lines of the Monday Morning Memento Mori, but on a more every-morning-when-I-look-in-the-mirror-type basis. I had a look around and discovered this lady, Valerie Vargas, who works out of Frith Street Tattoo where, by coincidence, Ben Kay had his arms done. I've been on her waiting list, now closed, since October 09 and in the meantime she's got quite famous, which is pleasing. Her website emphasises the feminine stuff that she does, presumably because there's a market for women that want a top notch female tattooist, but she also does all the traditional ships and skulls and ravens in this very characterful way. I did go in there the other day to see how close to the end of the list I was (probably be another 3 or 4 months) and saw Keith Flint from the Prodigy who now looks like a heavily pierced and tattooed Essex minicab driver.

But because I'd quite like her to do me a big one, and I don't want it to be my first, I thought I'd get another one in the meantime. What I decided upon was having the word LOVE tattooed on my wrist. My reasons for doing this are:
  • I like, in a perverse way, the idea of having to live with and sort of defend having quite a glib instruction written on my body. Which just goes to show that if you value perversity you can talk yourself into anything - that's the great thing about it.
  • I wanted to have a word and that was the only one I could think of that was always applicable. I thought of having 'write', but that might just make me feel awful and also like I just wanted to tell people that I am actually a writer you know.
  • I believe in the power of words to change the way that people behave, I have to otherwise I'd end up thinking the last 5 years of my life had been a waste of time, and I reckon this might help me to behave better.
  • As regular readers will know my default setting is not wholly positive and I thought this might remind me to amend my thinking .
  • It is not original - but tattoos aren't ads see, they're not meant to be original, they're like a language of their own innit.
Anyway, most people I've spoken to think it's a terrible idea. One my friends said, 'Won't it look a bit Angelina Jolie?', but I'm fairly confident that, on me, it won't.

Maybe it will, and then I'll have to have a swastika on a skull to cover it up.

At any rate, this seems to be what happens to you when you turn 30, you start craving permanence. Can't think why that would be.

I got this book in the Soho Book Store that I remember was like a poser's coffee table book about 5 years ago - but it's really good, I recommend it.

Right, I'm off to the British Library to read the 'International Handbook of Anger.'

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Come off it.

Oh since you've put your argument so persuasively I suppose I will. Really this advertising lark is pretty easy isn't it? So long as you don't go complicating instructions with ideas. But wait a minute...

Oh no, now I'm really confused. Which shall I read?

I think I'll just have to go back to gently banging my forehead against a wall.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

If you don't know me by now.

Thanks for the birthday wishes - all in all it feels pretty good to be 30. I haven't sensed any special pressure to get married, have children or make something of my life, over the past three days anyway.

I suppose it is getting a bit tedious having one foot in advertising and one in, hem, other kinds of writing, but if I've learnt anything over the past 30 years, it's that just because something is boring or painful doesn't mean it will end quickly.

But look, it seems like I've at least developed into a relatively know-able human being, judging by the presents that my friends have given me.

Top row (l-r):

Cheeses (Blue Lanark, Stinking Bishop)
From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbour - Jerry Della Femina - a book about Madison Ave in the 50s, apparently a key source for Madmen.
Hellhound on His Trail - Hampton Sides - a history of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Book of Tapas - Simone and Ines Ortega
A mug with a starfish on it that looks like a bumhole.
C - Tom McCarthy - a novel about a radio technician

Middle row (l-r)

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand - nuff said
American Pastoral - Philip Roth - never read any Roth, which is weird when you think about how much I like Denis Johnson and DFW.
Beautiful Painting of a Beetle - by some girl.
Bananagrams - I have recently become unbeatable at Scrabble.
High quality mint and lime dark chololate wafers.

Bottom row (l-r)

A Naughty Boy Anne Summers prostate stimulator - apparently it's so much more than a buttplug. This from a metrosexual friend who is trying to encourage me to explore all the opportunities that bachelorhood offers. I didn't ask for it right. Apparently it's totally silent, wear-able in fact.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 - hell yes.
Radical Chic and Mau Mau-ing the Flak Catchers - Tom Wolfe
Equilibrium - an absurd film set in a future in which emotions have been outlawed and only Christian Bale can save the world.

There was also a peach, but I ate it.

So, what can I say, all that money I spent on brand consultancy has been effective after all.

I'm just writing this dissertation at the moment, hence the relative quiet on the blogging front. I know that Ben is on holiday though, so you all need something to read, so I'll do my best to work something up over the next few days.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Kingsley Amis's Life Kitchen no.2

'Like both the pretty women he'd known, and many that he'd only read about, she thought it was no more than fair that one man should cheat and another be cheated to serve her convenience.'

Lucky Jim, p.137

Thursday, July 29, 2010

How to save publishing

Given I'm currently writing a book, bitching about the publishing industry isn't the best idea I ever had. But then, neither is taking a month off my freelance job to work on my dissertation, and then blogging and playing Demon Souls instead.

Look, here's an advert for Dan Brown's 'Secret Lost Sudoku Puzzle'. The first thing you'll notice about this advert is that it's not very good. But it is nonetheless differently not good from your run-of-the-mill book advertising.

Apparently publishers assume the point of all advertising is to alert existing fans to the existence of new releases. Posters give precedence to author and title. They may also use visuals to imply 'mood' and maybe a line to mop up a few new readers.

The Dan Brown ad is different, it contains an idea, one that answers the brief 'page-turner from a familiar author for your summer holidays'. The barbecue does 'summer' - that's probably the best thing about it, the only thing that makes me think it was made by the agency, rather than just sketched by a maverick marketing manager on the back of an All Bar One napkin.

But the idea is, well, fairly rudimentary. It seems like when products begin to be advertised competitively they have to go through all the phases of advertising that products with a history of competitive advertising went through years ago. (You can see this with plastic surgery ads on the underground, which are still in the protozoan phase of 'here's a photo of someone who's happy with our product'.)

The Dan Brown ad proves a number of things:

a) yes, it is possible to write adverts about books that aren't just covers with headlines.

b) that publishing house marketing departments are fundamentally inert, terrified of doing anything that isn't a cover with a headline...

c) ...because, all of the very low-hanging advertising fruit is ripe for the picking.

d) that they do believe it's worth advertising certain kinds of book - interestingly they advertise Dan Brown because he is already so popular. His are casual readers, people who only read on holiday and choose their books like they choose their margarine.

But see, publishing people are always whingeing about how they're selling fewer books, that the industry is on its last legs, that times are tough, that they're nearly 30 and haven't had a baby, etc. And this is partly because people who work in publishing do tend to be drawn from the ranks of nature's whiners and also, because they don't have to make their product, they only have to sell it, so they've got a complex about how comparatively easy their job is, compared to that of the authors they're forced to associate with, which means they have go on and on about how difficult and overwhelming it all is.

So what I want to know is, why don't they try harder see? Or just sit down and have a little think about it?

Modern media is set up to sell personalities more than things. Brands are personalities, saucepans are things. This being so, why sell books, when you can sell people?

So what you want to do is have a branding campaign, for, say, Ernest Hemingway. You sell Hemingway, like he was aftershave, but better - an aftershave that would teach you things, teach what to say and how to be. You do posters of Ernest Hemingway, with headlines by Tim Delaney, you do TV ads with Hemingway reading 'The Old Man and the Sea' over visuals of old Cuban fishermen bringing in marlin. You bring out Hemingway in a new edition, that's as identifiable as a set of white headphones, an edition that's properly pocket-sized. You show people how Ernest Hemingway invented a lot of the ideas we now know as 'cool'.

It doesn't matter that he's been dead for forty years, look at Billy Joel. One of the things the internet has done is to give people the whole of history to choose from. You only have to put Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas on a VW ad, and people buy it by the shed-load. It's not that they don't want beautiful writing, they just don't know how good it is, or they feel excluded by it.

Anyone want to start a publishing house? All we need is about £5 million for Hemingway's back list. We'll be rich. Rich I tell you.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kingsley Amis's Life Kitchen no.1

Week by week I'll be bringing you pearls of wisdom from Britain's last great misanthrope. Amis's reputation is in no need of revival, yet or ever really.

'Man's sexual aim, he had often said to himself, is to convert a creature who is cool, dry, calm, articulate, independent, purposeful into a creature that is the opposite of these; to demonstrate to an animal which is pretending not to be an animal that it is an animal.'

One Fat Englishman p.110

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Stockholm Syndrome

I had the misfortune to find myself in Stockholm over the weekend.

It's a truly awful place.

  • For a nation that prides itself on its design credentials, building a city spread over an archipelago isn't a great start. Unless you own an amphibious Volvo getting anywhere at all involves a tedious trudge over a network of bridges. And the weather, even in midsummer, is shit.
  • Socialism 1.1 Ten weeks paid maternity/paternity leave - which must be taken by both parents. What this means in practice is that there are loads of blonde men pushing three-wheeled prams with little frowning blonde children in them. Even the children are miserable in Sweden.
  • Socialism 1.2 No waiter or waitress in Sweden will serve you, as it were, automatically. You have to sit there for ages while they ignore you, and then when you eventually become so hypoglycemic and exasperated that you go and ask them whether they have any intention of bringing you any food they look at you like an unwiped arsehole. And that would be fine if you weren't paying £25 for what appears to be a W12 saveloy and a bowl of chips.
  • Their buses are gay:
  • Language - all Swedes speak English anyway, and that makes me think the Swedish language is really just English, written by a dyslexic with an extremely juvenile sense of humour. In fact the place we know as Sweden could just be a forgotten English internment camp for social deviants, founded in the 17th Century and allowed to develop its own culture, like a kind of Siberia for twats.
  • Fucking crows. Crows everywhere.
  • Ok, ok. There are some nice design shops, but all those modernist lampshades are Danish and Josef Frank was born in Austria. In the airport arrivals lounge they have photographic parade of famous Swedish people. I recognised ABBA and Dolph Lungren - listed as an 'actor and engineer.'
  • I stayed in a hostel dormitory with a German pervert in little shorts who liked to get up at 6.30am for a bout of sneezing, which I'm sure he was doing deliberately. I mean, he looked like he was enjoying it. The kind of weasle-faced Eurofucker who's just dying to cut off and sautee your penis.
  • Rutger Hauer is Dutch.

Seriously, never go there.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Happy Friday

GC may even have sold a long copy charity ad.

I will start being a blogger again soon.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unoriginality splice?

Shit ad right?

Does it make it better or worse that the visual is stolen from this quite good campaign:

And the soundtrack meme from this excellent Christmas ad:

Who is making these adverts? Who are you? What does it feel like just not to give a shit? Seriously, I'd love to know.

Is there anything you can't sell with anthropomorphic animals?

So many questions and so few answers.

Monday, July 12, 2010

England's own Lou Reed

One of the first gigs I ever went to was Ian Dury with my Dad.

Sorry, I haven't posted for a while. I've been too angry to do anything except sit here grinding my teeth.

Also, you get a kind of blogging inertia, difficulty of thinking of something interesting/amusing to say x length of time since you last said anything interesting/amusing.

I might just post music that I like for a while actually and see how that goes.

Brother Stevie even offered to illustrate the rest of the Sisters strip, an offer not to be sniffed at, so I'll hurry along and do that also.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TED is great isn't it?

You might argue that there's already a great online game where you get to make adverts and it's called YouTube.

GC's Grammar Bounty

I will pay £20 to any bank account or charity in exchange for the email address of the copywriter responsible for this grammatical abomination.

They will then find themselves on the wrong end of extremely pedantic email about the proper usage of the words less and fewer and their responsibility, as producers of mass media, to the English language, the language of Shakespeare and Milton, a responsibility that they should be mindful of even if they are, as I suspect, Scandinavian, and fought shoulder to shoulder with the Nazis during the war.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another relatively good reason to keep blogging

I noticed this over at the Buns and Zammo blog. Looks like their web director has written a novel, that he's released as an iPhone app, apparently inspired by Nick Cave's all-singing, all-dancing digital version of the The Death of Bunny Munro.

I'm sort of allergic to The Cave's non-music projects, because by and large they tend to be pretentious in the way that only the works of Australian auteur can be, and I haven't downloaded Neil Ayres's app, because this evening I'm mainly downloading the new iPhone software, and frankly I don't think it's a good idea to do anything that might jeopardise my relationship with the only people currently prepared to pay for my journalism. Hastily reviewing the work of one of their key employees is unlikely to work out well for either of us.

But look, we all better get interested in writing for the iPhone/iPad because that's what it's going all going to be about from now on.

As part of the Creative Writing MA we've had a series of lectures from agents and commissioning editors. These have been, by and large, deeply depressing and involved them telling us that we're very unlikely to be published and that even if we are they certainly won't be able to give us any money.

In fact the only thing they haven't managed to be totally pessimistic about is the possibility that writing for the iPad might just save publishing, creating what is essentially a new media that people could be excited enough about to pay real money for.

The thing that makes writing for the iPad or the iPhone different is that you can accompany your words with things like video, or music. I hesitate to mention the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy again, but I don't think anyone will be surprised, given the kind of nerd I seem to be becoming, if I say I recently found myself looking at this clip from the not very good film that was made of the first of the books a few years ago. (Don't worry, I'm not about to start quoting Blackadder, or The Life of Brian, or inviting you round to my house to play Risk):

The theme music is excellent, but what you will notice is that the edition of The Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy (from 1.10 mins) they show is underwhelming - watching the animation you can't avoid a creeping sensation of pointlessness or redundancy. This was a major problem with the film, this and Mos Def's inability to act.

They didn't want to lose the narrated passages from The Book, since these are some of the most entertaining bits of writing in the novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide constituting a sort of separate character or sub rosa narrator. But they were then left with the difficulty of showing a film of a digital book. This was much more stylishly done in the TV serialisation from the 80s, when interestingly, they didn't bother to show the frame of the book. Probably something weird has gone on with our acceptance of screens within screens that's to do with the Windows operating system and YouTube. But to an art director in the 80s it would have just looked absurd and extraneous to requirement.

But I digress.

The problem with the animations in the more recent film, as you can see, is that they are merely dramatisations of what the words are saying and, as such, gratuitous. Douglas Adams wrote it originally for radio. In the radio version the impression you have is of someone reading out passages from the book, which, we are invited to imagine, with the help of sound effects, would have been digital text.

The text therefore described everything the listener needed to imagine the experience of reading The Guide for themselves - there was no shortfall which had to be supplied with images.

Most books are written like this.

And but see this is interesting because advertising writers, at their best, are used to writing with pictures. In fact, some of the very best adverts are good precisely because of the pleasure that comes from the weighting of meaning between visual and text.

Boring headline without the picture, meaningless picture without the headline. Nothing is wasted.

Obviously the other people that do this are graphic novelists, but there's something about the framing of text within a graphic novel that doesn't leave it to play freely off of the meaning of the imagery.

Bloggers also do this, because they link to an image, or a piece of film with text. Really good bloggers, like Ben Kay, do a killer lead in - so even though you don't really want to you, end up watching a shit French McDonald's advert or something.

So all I'm saying is that if I was a publisher looking for someone to offer a lot of money to, I would be assiduously reading advertising bloggers of a literary bent right now.