Monday, March 09, 2015

The Art of the Poster - The Times of Patrick Tilly

Patrick Tilly was a prolific graphic designer and illustrator whose work featured prominently in advertising and publishing in the 1960s and 1970s. He switched disciplines to concentrate on writing scripts and science fiction novels, including The Amtrak Wars series.

I'm not much interested in science fiction. But I do like a good poster. I came across this series of posters for The Sunday Times when I researching cut-out art for a project. In the 80s the Sunday Times Magazine was something of an event each week when the latest copy would arrive in the creative department of whichever ad agency I happened to be slumming at at the time (allowing for the fact that it was the 1980s and 'snail mail' was the only economical way of receiving physical objects). Campaigns for cars, booze and cigarettes were big budget affairs in the magazine - double page spreads with the best concepts and photography. Brilliant copy writing from the likes of David Abbott for clients like Sainsbury's, Volvo and Chivas were as luscious as the layouts. It was an education. Even the cheap webfed press paper smelled as though it was filled with promise.

I like these posters for their spartan use of words, the playful connection between the text and the image that isn't necessarily literal (wit in design leaves something for the viewer to do and it becomes the more potent for the mental exercise) and, of course, the graphic technique.
BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

BBDO Sunday Times Poster Tilley

Tilley was a member of a group called Artist Partners and on their blog I found this story about the posters and how BBDO, the ad agency who commissioned them nearly-but-not-quite had an idea, but it was Tilley who solved the problem:

“The back story to the Sunday Times posters is quite short.I was called into BBDO by the art director (name forgotten) and was asked to produce a poster for the Sunday Times using the words “You are more interesting to know when you read the Sunday Times”.
Mulling this over when I got home I decided it was too much of a mouthful to put on a poster which by its very nature needs to be simple and punchy. Anyway, it occurred to me that I could fulfil the brief in a different way by selecting positive/desirable qualities for a newspaper and a reader to possess. And since I had been doing fully rendered poster designs for the Times I chose to represent these qualities as simply as possible using cut-out coloured paper. I produced all six in one week and took them in - and hey presto - they bought the lot but removed my name from the margin."

If you ever make a poster and the image doesn't speak for itself - remember to take away every element that is superfluous - words, details, images…remember that people will remember one thing if you you are lucky or clever.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy

I can't think of a better name for a compilation album than Meaty, beaty, Big and Bouncy. Neither could Decca when they launched The Who's Greatest Hits in 1971. As far as compilations go it's hard to fault.

If you are wondering about the origin of the album title?: Roger Daltry was a fitness nut - Meaty; Keith Moon was the irrepressible force behind the drums Beaty; John Entwhistle was a man mountain - his nickname was Ox - Big; and Pete Townsend's habit of cavorting about the stage made him a sitter for the appellation Bouncy.

The name also suggests The Who's emergence as a force when advertising was also become a curiously powerful force in post-austerity, post-war Britain. Meaty, beaty, big and Bouncy sounds like a proto slogan for a readymade dinner or a pie. They also released an album that paid ironic homage to brands of the day - The Who Sell Out (1967) - ironic because The Who's music was featured in ads for brands including this jingle for Coca-Cola (which was features as a bonus track on the Sell Out album)

Advertising and pop culture have gone hand in glove since the 60's. The apparently anti establishment The Who obviously weren't averse to a little extra coin or more exposure to sell albums. Their management team of lambert and Stamp were as entrepreneurial as the Beatle's manager Brian Epstein or Led Zeppelin's Peter Grant, but aren't talked about much (documentary out soon).

To get a feeling for the times what could be better than a French documentary from the era? …

Thursday, February 19, 2015

SMCAKL review - Of Arab Springs, Slacktivism and bringing down the Twitter wall

Yesterday evening I was sitting in a room with about 60 people to witness Auckland Social Media Club's regular gathering at Vodafone's city headquarters to soak up insights into hashtag activism last night and to enjoy the ultimate social engagement with their peers in marketing and comms - face to face. Together we would make a hashtag trend (in Auckland).
Toby Manhire, who comments on matters relating to the web for The Listener got the ball rolling as the first panelist to offer their opinion. He wrote a book about the so-called Arab Spring which arguably led to the overthrow of one dodgy Egyptian government and the installation of another by dint of creating sudden power vacuums that we all know nature can't tolerate. His opening remarks were almost the closing remarks as he proclaimed the idea that Twitter or other social media platforms were akin to the telephone and so were no more responsible for the events than the telegraph declared the start of the first world war (my analogy, not his).

The commentary that followed added little to anyone's real understanding of the power of the hashtag or any recipe for its successful use. (There is none - hashtags can be hijacked and people using social media to chat amongst themselves are reluctant to engage with brands or artificially inseminated intrusions to their stream of consciousness. Brands beware.)

Stuart Young from Oxfam seemed a little bemused by the moderator's immoderate insertion of 50 Shades of Grey into the debate. Canvasing panelists for their views about the topic produced little of the steaminess hoped for. Was it an opportunity to adopt the meme to advance the cause of abused women in our actual society? (presumably the women who don't actively seek to be humiliated for pleasure). It was, ironically, a bit like asking someone if they still beat their wife?

There was some discussion about the KONY campaign which ultimately proved a point that was inferred in the discussion - if not actually explicitly stated - that highly effective use of social media tools can produce extraordinary outcomes but, like any marketing activity, it will be far more successful if the product does what it says on the tin. In the old-school world of advertising there was a truism - nothing kills a bad product quicker than great advertising. KONY was a dud that suckered millions to a cause, as was the feted 'ice bucket challenge'. This meme was discussed in fawning terms. I hate to pour cold water on the enthusiasm of participants but the ice bucket challenge promoted an insignificant problem that generated staggeringly inverse response - in proportion to its significance (in meta terms, not to the individuals and their families who endure the effects of whatever illness was the beneficiary of the me-too frenzy). It played to the same chords that Fear Factor did in its hey day. The show may have generated enormous ratings and advertising dollars but it was to TV what Fear Factor was to TV.

Eddy Helm of Curative added some sensible things to the conversation, but I was reading the Twitter wall and couldn't concentrate. I recommend you adhere to Guy Kawasaki's dogma that you shouldn't ever put loads of words on a screen behind you when you are making a presentation because the audience can read faster than you can speak and while they do they are not listening to a word you say. So I apologise to Eddy, I was reading the screen and trying to see who had favourited my tweet about what Gareth Hughes had said and to compose something pithy on my phone as a sequel. A live feed of the Twitter stream is rude to speakers and panelists. Don't do it. Even at a tech oriented event the tech should be, if not invisible then in the service of the proceedings - not alternative channel.

As the event rushed to conclude with TED-like efficiency at the alloted time Gareth Hughes began to tease out some important thoughts about the importance of seeing the big picture when running a campaign and to know what you want people to do next. These are wise words. The Arab Spring wasn't slacktivism. It wasn't young people publicly pinning their colours to the mast in rhetorical protest. Social media provided an communication channel outside of the control of dictators and totalitarian regimes. It allowed people to organise and actively protest in overwhelming numbers in a way that a newspaper announcement or physical pamphleteering couldn't do. It also allowed people from different cohorts to cross lines - where in the places like university campuses were convenient breeding grounds to foment change. It wasn't discussed but this was also a great misunderstood truth about Obama's first campaign to secure the presidency of the USA. Social media was used to organanise networks or supporters - not as a substitute for traditional messaging (even if this was an element of the strategy). I recommend finding a copy of the book Yes We Did if you are interested in the Obama playbook.

The 60 attendees used their smartphones to tweet about the event - including the hashtag #SMCAKL - in part to see their tweets displayed to the attendees. People being people, some couldn't resist spoofing the fellow who used question time to deliver a rambling doctoral thesis rather than an inquiry. So I suppose I did learn something from the evening - if you project live tweets from an event there will always be a smartarse in the room who will SMCAKL you down. The upside for the organisers is that the lighter moments encouraged others to wade into the hashtag frenzy and, lo and behold the event's hastag trended in New Zealand. Which also demonstrates how easy it is to game social media statistics in New Zealand and how little value the tiny values that create a 'trending topic' really have.

The speakers:

Toby Manhire - journalist and pundit

Gareth Hughes, MP, Green Party

Yes We Did! An Inside Look at How Social Media Built the Obama Brand

Thursday, February 05, 2015

My petit fourpenceworth on Citizenfour

Before you see this film it would also be useful to read Glen Greenwald's book No Place To Hide. You will better understand some of his issues relating to the relationship between him and Laura Poitras, also his agenda with The Guardian and their man Ewan MacAskill. Understanding the backstory will balance out perceptions of the reportage. I also feel it is important to consider the competitive relationships of various media outlets like the Washington Post and The New York Times and some of their strange inter-relationships with government.
The currency of the Snowden issue has been lost to some extent - there has been no cataclysmic end of civilisation as we understand it. The audience for 'news' has lost interest in the constant bait and switch of the news cycle (a trivial spat about Eleanor Catton trumps responsible reporting of the Sabin affair). The Fox Newslike reframing of Snowden as 'traitor' has been absorbed into the collective consciousness (It takes fewer calories than outrage - and isn't it interesting how the term 'traitor' begins to be bandied about?). Then there is the hubris of local reporters who, in the service of whatever agenda they had at the time, preferred to heap scorn on Greenwald's New Zealand visit).

The film won't be widely viewed and I doubt its issues will be discussed much either. However well made it was, given its constraints, the movie suffers the same problem as Phone Booth or Das Boot in that confined spaces make most of us desperate for fresh air or climax - but Citizenfour has none of that. The drama lies in the implications of the content and not the content itself - it's a bit like being a fly on the wall behind Christopher Nolan's book case - we can only look back with surprise and frustration at what is revealed, but we know that our world has been dismantled in the interim.

I posted this originally as a comment on Russell Brown's review of Citizenfour on Public Address.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Auction Site Experiment

I'm clearing out some surplus stuff (in honour of comedian George Carlin). We don't have the room in our apartment and most of it has been gathering dust offsite.

Listing on TradeMe, seeing if a little bit of presentation, writing and art direction will make a difference. Use the posts as social media content… my new hobby…

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What value do you place on freedom of speech?

I'm all for freedom of speech and free expression. But I think we should take care to preserve that right and hold it with the care and respect it deserves. A child can blurt out 'shit' or some other infantile expression that, in other, less insipid times might have earned rebuke or the threat of having one's mouth 'washed out with soap and water'. Once we self-censored and there were cultural parameters we simply didn't cross out of self respect or the some communal sense of propriety.
I was reading Christopher Hitchens' memoir Hitch 22 when I happened across this reference to Rosa Luxemburg, the marxist activist who co-founded the anti-war Spartakusbund ("Spartacus League") which became the German Communist Party after WW1. It's no irony that the media motto Je Suis Charlie riffs on the famous 'I'm Spartacus' line from the movie of the same name starring Kirk Douglas. Luxemberg was murdered by right wing thugs during a failed revolt in Berlin before the Nazis came to power (during the time when Germany was brutalised by the victorious allied countries by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles). According to Hitchens Luxemberg schooled Lenin with the admonishment: "The right to free expression is meaningless - unless it is the right of the person who thinks differently."
I agree. The freedom to dimly chant populist slogans might be one aspect of the democratic right to speak but it isn't the true intention of the 'right' that has been enshrined in some countries - though New Zealand still, it seems, has blasphemy laws on our books. Its most sacred purpose - though I'm not very comfortable with that turn of phrase - is the right to dissent; not only to speak, but also to be heard in a respectful way in our community even when out our views differ from the majority. Especially if they differ from the majority. Ranting, raving, inciting and infantile provocation might well be permitted but they are not the intention of the idea, which is an important one in our culture. Self regulation is the best kind of regulation - not cowed in fear but out of self respect and respect for others.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Is New Zealand heading up shit creek?

It's a slightly crude infographic (in may ways than one).

But it highlights one of New Zealands main issues - that 'spin' is more important than science.
We tout New Zealand as 100% Pure. I have publicly stated that I think it is past time for that positioning line be rethought. But slogans aside it is more important that we actually do something constructive about solving the problem.

The government needs to pull its head out of its backside and stop denying the problem. As Dr Mike Joy has said time and again - the science is real.

It's not a superficial issue - it is a core environmental problem that demonstrates New Zealand's medieval approach to science. If the prime minister's office canonises one point of view that conveniently coincides with the government agenda as the orthodox 'truth' to the exclusion of all others (which are deemed heresy) it invalidates all science funded by the government - one part per thousand of bullshit makes the claim of 100% pure pure nonsense.

Is New Zealand Heading up Shit Creek? Water Pollution in New Zealand – An infographic by the team at Is New Zealand Heading up Shit Creek?