Tip of the Year

"You never know."

Generally, it's said when someone tries to sell you insurance, or when you can't decide whether to pack an umbrella.

But this sentiment is most true with people. And in the best way possible. If I were to digest my experiences from a year down into a single aphorism (yeah just the one, beat that School Of Life) it would be that You have no idea what 99% of people are like - and if you ask you'll be pleasantly surprised 99% of the time.

You might think that this is a comment on how adpeople are just so very interesting, dear, but that's missing the point. If anything its more interesting to hear stories from people who haven't polished them so effectively. They have truths that won't show up in ACORN - and the things we say and have have resonances that we can't predict, but should view a little more optimistically than we do. Could anyone have guessed that people would go mad for a drumming gorilla?

Nor is this an industry point. It probably goes without saying that in a business that starts and ends with the human psyche it's negligent not to have an empathic streak for those people you share your reality with - but in our disconnected world, I believe you'll find yourself a much higher existence in sharing situations with others, without necessarily waiting for them to share with you.

I have a few resolutions, but my prime one is to put these thoughts into practice in 2009. I'll let you know how it goes.


The Top 5's Top 5: An End-of-year Opinions Bonanza!

It's the end of the year. A time for reflection, perhaps.

No. Reflection is for the weak. The strong must rank and compare for sumpremacy. That's why programmes such as "The 90s Was Nice, Wasn't It?" were culled and replaced with "HUNDRED GREATEST ADVERTS SHOWDOWN SLAPFIGHT" where you stay up past your bedtime only to find out that yes it was that one with the surfers and Leftfield all along, what product was that again oh right Guinness I don't really like that.

In that spirit, and to ponder a bit about what we're doing here anyway, I asked my five favourite blog(gers) what their five favourite blog(gers) are. The 'why' was optional. In no particular order, let the subjectifest begin!

Ben writes a blog called If this is a blog then what's Christmas?. It has whimsical polls, and large chunks of very well thought-out opinion.
I don't really read five other blogs.
I read Scamp's because the subject matter interests me and he's a mate.
I read Dave Trott's for similar reasons.
But mainly I read The Superficial because the writing's excellent, the tone is rude and there are ladies in bikinis.
I'd love to write more but I have to go for a drink now.

Simon Veksner, author of Scamp, is dangerously close to being more famous than BBH itself and should probably watch out, 'cos they'll waste him if he does.
http://strangemaps.wordpress.com/ I've always been fascinated by maps. If you like maps, you'll love this site.
http://curiouslypersistent.wordpress.com/ There are lots of people finding interesting stuff on the web and linking to it. But this guy Simon's is the best.
http://postsecret.blogspot.com/ A website that has moved me to tears, on more than one occasion
http://ifthisisablogthenwhatschristmas.blogspot.com/ Ben is my friend and he's a wonderful writer
http://cstadvertising.com/blog/ I love a good argument, and Dave Trott's blog is a good place to have one

Neil Perkin is a thoroughly clever chap who maintains Only Dead Fish, a mixture of near-NY Times investigative journalism and amusing clips from XKCD.
-Seth Godin's blog http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/
Brilliant thinker, consistent quality of posts and truly challenging and inspiring
-Brand DNA http://branddna.blogspot.com/
By Stan Lee Johnson, an Ad Creative in Melbourne Australia. Charming, witty, fun, creative
-And Another Thing http://whatsheonaboutnow.blogspot.com/
By David Hepworth, founder of WORD Magazine (one of my favourite magazines). Always entertaining
-Confused of Calcutta http://confusedofcalcutta.com/
By JP Rangaswami. Another brilliant thinker and writer
-Talent Imitates, Genius Steals http://farisyakob.typepad.com/
By Faris Yakob. He has an amazing mind and his writing is always full of fresh ideas and great thinking on the world of digital and communications

Have you guys heard of Dave Trott? He writes in very short sentences on The CST Blog which hit you all at once like a machine-gun full of knowledge bullets.
I don’t actually read a lot of blogs.
Mainly due to my ignorance of which ones would be relevant to me.
There are 4 blogs I check in on regularly.
Because I’ve found they’re often stimulating.
These are (not in order)
If This Is a Blog Then What’s Christmas,
Rory Sutherland’s blog on Brand Republic.
Vinny Warren’s blog on Escapology.

Everyone loves Anca and her reply would merit an article if she let me reproduce it in full.
-the opportunity to learn - this is where Dave Trott's blog comes in handy.
-the opportunity to compare different professional views -- here we have Simon's blog and W+K's blog.
-the opportunity to understand a market I'm not very familiar with -- that's why I read Alan Wolk's blog, The Toad Stool
-the opportunity to analyse how personal life can influence professional development and the other way round -- that's where Russell Davies' blog fits best.
Phew! As you can see, I've inadvertantly asked a bit of a small-world so a few names recurr - not to say that these wonderful writers don't desereve such kudos. Let's review our results:

-"He's a mate" - 3 mentions. It's not what you know, eh?
-Only two people felt like mentioning blogs that weren't about their own industry. Did they read too much into my question, or do people only use blogs for 'work' stuff? Let's hope it's the former.
-It seems as though the division between 'insight' and 'entertainment' was fairly even... though certain people (nice one Dave) managed to sidestep this issue with the word 'stimulating'
-Having followed up on the links I don't recognise I'd have to say that most of them are spectacularly well-written. It only goes to show what's out there when you step to an extra degree of seperation. Moreover, it seems to show that far from handling the online glut of info by refining it, the blog culture (bulture) seems to multiply it. For good or ill...

Thanks to all the esteemed figures who took time to take part. We couldn't have done it without you. I'll be doing another one of these, with new criteria, in the new year. As they say, It Could Be You.


In Which Your Reporter Inadvertently Creates A Mini-Meme

Happy Christmas, one and all! This is going to be very quick as there's lots to do in the Interested house.
You get what you deserve when you try and overstretch your social circle, don't you? I ended up at a party where I knew the grand total of one person. We all know that these situations are totally awesome, because it's equally true that nobody knows you.
Hanging on to the one person you know is utterly out of the question - they didn't bring you there for your barnacle impression. So what's a researcher to do?
Research. D'oy!

"Hey, nice to meet you. So if you could be an animal, which animal would you be?"
"Hmm, like anything?"
"Sure, I haven't made the rules for this yet"
"Okay...aaaaaaaa... lion!"
"Nice! Best answer I've heard all night! What's your name?"

A cheetah. A lemur. Then they got better: animals with reasons. Extinct animals. Fictional animals. A nice little game to play to let people open up.
The payoff came when I was in a conversation with some I'd just met, and someone I hadn't met came up and asked them The Question. It had begun to spread itself, taken on a life of its own. 
Not everybody wants to be 'on' when they're outside work, but it certainly pays to consider the power of what we're doing, and the idea that the noble art of 'stimulating conversations' can go beyond the bottom line.

What animal would you be? Probably not a turkey.

P.S: Mary's on the Twitter: "Joseph's looking at me funny today. Probably impossible to keep this one schtum any longer".


People of the Now 4: Ria from Nitro, aka Ms Mini

A couple of weeks ago, the inaugural 'Adland's Got Talent' tarnished the reputation of the London School of Fashion. A varied and fiercely talented field of people doing what they love was ultimately overcome by Ria, internal comms of Nitro by day and neo-beat poetess by night. Amid the smoking ashes of battle, we caught up for a chat.

Adland's Got Talent - a tough crowd?

I wouldn't have said Adland's crowd was tough... I was restricted in the what i perfomed because i wasnt just representing myself but Nitro as well.

Do you ever worry that people won't 'get' what you're giving them?

No. I perform on the circuit, so those in the audience will more than likely have an idea of what spoken word is. My material is all real. Stuff that you me and anyone else can relate to because i tell it how it is.

What's your motivation for poetry?

I've been writing poetry for the longest time. It was a diary of sorts. The paper is always there to listen. I write because i have to, it's the only way to make sense of all the stuff that goes on in my head.

What about entering the competition?

It was my office manager that sent the email round. She then sent me an email saying you have so got to enter this - you'll win. I doubt anyone else can do what you do. So i thought why not... as a performer i try not to ever turn down the chance to perform. I want to put Spoekn Word out there - make it mainstream like it is in the states. The best way to do that is bring to people who wouldnt otherwise encounter it.

Would you say poetry and advertising are linked? They've both got ego, at least. Or do you do it to get away from the business?

Linked? The old ECD here had me write a piece for a Nike spot but it was for the Russian market so they didnt really get it. That's as far as the link goes. I write poetry because that's who i am. I started to perform it because friends thought others could benefit from what i say.

Who's the best on the scene right now?

Hmmm, off the bat Under Da POETree. A poetic duo who speak to music.Where do you see spoken word going in 2009?Hopefully where all other art forms are going and beyond. The market is out there we just need to access it and bring it to the mainstream.


The concensus from the crowd during the interval was that the whole field was strong - who 'deserved' to win depended very much on what you thought the competiton was for. However, it seemed fitting that an ad bash should be won by a piece of communication at its most raw, most elemental. Congratulations, Ria!

(Her myspace has lots of work on it, and is awesome)

(and Under Da Poetree is cool too)


The times, they are a-changin(g)

Anybody could have told you that - but what gets less emphasis is considering just how much things have changed. Today's task for me is delving into the planning archive folders, scanning for anything we might profitably use. And what a joyous task it is, if I'm quite honest.

Remember when these guys useed to bury time capsules, around the time the Millenium made us all suddenly feel like super-important cogs in the great windup toy of history? Just take a calendar, a copy of the Times, a copy of J17, a tamagotchi, a Polly Pocket, and a Mars bar (without adequate refrigeration), stick them into a shoebox, and BAM! History, baby. But a very contrived form of history, which anyone with a good GCSE history knows is very bad.

Which is why this planning archive project is a beautiful thing - it's written with (presumably) no desire to leave a great legacy here in utopian, food-in-pills 2008. It's hard to tell what the true gems are, though. There are many inspiring missives on branding and positioning that ring true today, and smack of someone shaping the zeitgeist back then. Yay us.

Then there are those beautifully naive bits. The ones that really did, despite acting in the best way possible, miss the point. My favourite is the authoritatively-titled internet facts.doc, a 1999 research piece:

-it's unknown how many business are 'on the internet' but 88 of the FTSE 100 are ooh nice one guys you can probably throw the telegram generator away now

-the exciting prediction of 1999 is 7.5 thats right seven point five MILLION homes with the internet in 2003. Can you imagine such a golden future? Actually yes you can, because the figure turned out to be 12.3m.

-includes the prophecy "Freeserve is not the end of the story. Expect high-speed access through cable modems". Oh yeah? That'll be nice.

(...all of which appear in even starker contract to good ol' 2008 - if you've haven't seen the brilliant Did You Know? 3.0 before, give it 5 minutes of your time)

Obviously I'm being over critical of the sake of the lulz, but isn't it interesting to see where we get it right, and where we don't? An underestimation is quite a departure from the cultural melee of the 70s, where Space 1999, which categorically reassured us that we would be living on the GODDAMN MOON at the turn of the century. Or consider The Jetsons - everyone lives in the sky and has a flying car. Oh, and wizzy food machines which cooked for you, but it was still only ever the wife's duty to operate:

Look closer - despite all that wizardry, she's operating it with a punch card. A bit of thick paper, with holes in. In other scenes, you'll notice that the computers 'still' have vacuum tubes. Both of these anomalies existing for a simple fact: that the production of the Jetsons predates the concept of the microprocessor. Quite simply, it was obviously impossible to run a computer without vacuum tubes and punch cards.

The same thing's happening in these archives. My hunch is that our researchers' underestimated figure was based on, say, the adoption of the TV or phone. And yet the internet had these preexisting media, which helped spread it beyond our expectations.

What's the lesson? That whatever our optimism or imagination, it seems inevitable that the lens of our present reality will make us view the future with certain assumptions.

It seems as if the only thing we're really learning is how much we don't know.


People of the Now 3 - we mourn Woolworths

Stay with me
Don't fall asleep too soon
The angels can wait for a moment (they can wait for a moment)

Perhaps it was a michevious shop assistant, but on the day Woolworths announced total liquidation, the instore music had a certain ironic edge to it. The cold weather saw crowds almost dressed for a wake as they filed in. The long black coats of mourners. Or the fleece-lined jackets, reminiscent of vultures come to pick at the remaining meat.

"I don't know. Nothing here's really doing it for me"

Many were ruthless in their browsing; grasping at their chosen bauble, turning it over with a critical eye, and dropping it on the floor, rejected. But then, many had not come for items. They had come to witness a little nugget of history, replicated a thousandfold across Britain. To reinterpret it as they saw fit.

"So sad, Isn't it? So odd."

"Just look at all the faces of the staff."

"I'll tell you how they could have raised some money in this place. Turn the heating down!"

Convenience store. Noble high-street institution. Bargain bin. Cheery anachronism.
Woolworths meant many different things to people, but it meant something to everyone in this country. How many shops can say that?



With many, many thanks to the Something Awful Forum goons, I'm pleased to present a selection of a few pages worth of the Tips And Tricks For Life Megathread:


If you cover up the tragus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragus_(ear)) with your finger, you can actually drown out loud background noise (concerts, traffic, etc.) and hear conversation much more clearly. This may seem a bit similar to the advice above, but it's not that obvious, and it's pretty useful for flirting at loud parties. Just don't be too quick to grab her head.
Fellows, when on a third date, never embarrass a third party. In undergraduate, I always saw a lot of guys who, while out on a date, would act out to get their date's attention. Obviously, this kind of behavior is gross, but it's also pretty insidious. If you're out with a girl, and some drunk kid wanders up to you,don't be condescending, just friendly and -if necessary- concerned. Trust me, even if it's a real zinger, save it. You'll only look like a bully.


People who are nice and polite are becoming more and more rare these days. Because of this, being nice is an extremely easy way to stand out from a crowd. If there is something you like about somebody, or there's something nice you have to say about them, don't hold it back.


You can save on your water usage by placing a jug of water in the tank of your toilet.


Also, don't write about illegal things you do on social networking sites. E.g., a guy from my school has been collecting (read: stealing) letterboxes and selling them. Mine recently went missing. Later tonight: Vigilante Justice. More on this later.


Hold each foot under the water before you step in the shower and you won't feel the cold of the shower floor.


Drink before you go out drinking. Consuming copious amounts of alchol at the bar gets expensive fast. If you spend a couple of minutes at home first you will save yourself an easy 20 bucks a weekend.


Keep your word. Following through on things is a great way to prove your integrity. That said, don't confuse politeness with honesty, and don't be afraid to get assertive. Don't be a dick or anything, just be straight up and don't let your personal biases affect your ability to lead.

And finally, for now, MysteriousLeg:

Look people in the eyes. Have a strong handshake. Learn how to speak intelligently but don't be pedantic. It has been said, but make an effort to see or talk to your grandparents more, they're going to die soon.

Web 2.5, bitches.


Why I Blog

With thanks to Mr. Northern for his introspective inspiration. The meh-ness of this list should in no way cloud the awesomeness of his.

Because it seems like fun

Because it looks like work

Because having something of one's own to nurture and grow is so fundamental to humanity, even if it's basically a kind of Tamagotchi for smartasses

Because it has made me view the world through inquisitive eyes. It helps me derive greater wonder from the stimuli of life

Because you can be really pretentious if you're tempted to

Because Jaffe Juice said I should.

Because potentially it can make you important

...and for now, because it makes me feel important

Because it's quite nice to feel connected to a wider thing

Because looking/feeling like a reporter has and will lead me into fun situations

Because there's something about being within e-touching distance of some of the greats, that makes me just slightly aroused

Because blogs have given me so much entertainment, that if I can find just one stupid flash game to share with everyone I'll feel like some sort of cosmic balance has been restored

Because its the only medium where people let you get away with communicating in list form


The Golden Gnome

Gotta give a mention to my old work experience, HS&P, who've really pushed some envelopes with their Christmas e-card, the website devoted to their mascot. Creepy little chap, I've often thought!
The site is jammed with articles on how to embrace (or just survive) the season, each one written by different employees. I was there when the project began; it was cool to see everyone get into the spirit of the task. And the videos are hilarious. Like, deliberately hilarious.
Go there!


People of the Now 2 - A Ticket Collector

As I move to return to my seat on the train, a man approaches in blue livery:

Ticket Collector: Tickets please! Anyone from crumbly Crewkearne? You, sir?
Me: Nope, Exeter. You've done me, thanks.
TC: Ahh, of course. See anyone get in that carriage recently? Anyone you want to grass up?
M: No, I didn't...
TC: There must be someone! Last week I had four young ladies. Yes indeed, wanted to get off at Sherbourne without any tickets.
M: Did you let them off?
TC: Charged them all full single fares! Despite the fact that one of them wanted to bed me.
M: That's very professional of you.
TC: Shame they didn't want to get off at Salisbury. Then we could have come to some arrangement.
M: Heh.
TC: And I'd get fired!

2 minutes later, the carriage:

TC: Anyone from Crewkearne?


Product Placement - nothing new

Sometimes precedent crops up in the strangest places, hmm? On Tuesday, Radio 4 told me of the fortunes of John Newbery (1713-67), one of the most successful publishers of his period. One book in particular, the ultra-didactic The History Of Little Goody Two-Shoes, was a roaring success. In fact, it was one of the milestone texts we studied at Uni... but did he make his money in publishing?

Do TV producers make their money in producing?

In both cases, the answer is no! Like the broadcast media of today, Newbery made his great fortune in advertising - for he had another product:

Doctor James' Fever Powder! Which sounds utterly awesome by the way, to the extent that you can almost imagine it as a powder designed to cause fever. What a horrible idea, Doctor James. Shame on you!

Anyway, Newbery's masterstroke that set him above the other quacks was one of the first instances of those two 'evils': a) product placement, and b) advertising to children. Check out this passage from Goody Two-Shoes:

"Care and Discontent shortened the Days of Little Margery's Father.--He was forced from his Family, and seized with a violent Fever in a Place where Dr.James's Powder was not to be had, and where he died miserably"

Hmm, what a truly wonderful powder this must be! I wonder I might find it? And then, at the end of the book:

By the KING'S Royal Patent,

Are Sold by J. NEWBERY, at the Bible and Sun in St. Paul's Church-Yard.

1.Dr. James's Powders for Fevers, the Small-Pox, Measles, Colds, &c. 2s. 6d.
I guess there are two ways to look at this. One is exploiting and terrifying children at their most impressionable (in the midst of an educative book) for personal gain.

The other is to see it as a necessary 'tax', without which this otherwise morally-enriching and popular text might have never seen daylight. Which is true?

I don't know. But the debate's resurfacing!


(written Sat Apr 1, 2006, sent Mon Dec 25, 2006)


That website where you can write yourself a message, and it'll send it back to you at a time of your choosing. Some use it for goal-setting, some as the ultimate confessional. The first random one I clicked on today was a little of both.


Dear FutureMe,

I hope this Christmas is better than all the ones you have had since you went crazy.

That is, I hope this is the first good Christmas in six years of shitty ones.

I hope you get some money, or maybe even a nice comfy duvet for your house that you SHOULD BE LIVING IN WITH YOUR GIRLFRIEND BY NOW.

If you ruined that... I apologise.
But I still hope you get a nice puffy duvet.

I hope mum is nice to you and I hope there isn't a family dinner for the siblings to take as an opportunity to pick on you. If there is I suggest you disappear without notice because you and I both know it will only end up making you feel crap. Like last Christmas.
And the one before that.
Etc etc etc etc right back until you were a pubescent blank slate.

Whatever you do, don't go to K-Fry. Because K-Fry on Christmas day is surely the beginning of the slow, painful end. Have a good Christmas night. Say goodbye to 2006 in a smashing way on New Year's Eve. Get horribly drunk and take some uppers. Make a fool of yourself. Hug strangers and throw rocks at passing police cars. Hump your friends on the corner of the street. Eat greasy drunk food. Sleep.

Give Briar a kiss for me. If she's not around, cut yourself like an angsty little emo kid for me. You know you want to ;)

Love always,
Your depressingly cynical, bitter and twisted 18 year old self.


One of the purest slices of the human condition you can get? Or is it written to be read? The language suggests not - after all, there's plenty that's left unexplained. What happened 'last Christmas'? Why should one avoid the dreaded K-Fry? Or is this stuff filtered through layers of teen angst, what the media tells us we should be aspiring to? It's all very well to appreciate the idea of stranger-hugging, but who's set that agenda? So many questions, and only these shards of writing to offer any light. What will the historians of 2100 make of these?

Whoever you are or were, FutureYou, I hope you had that Christmas you were hoping for.