Showing posts from March, 2005

Tub Thumping Tom

I went along to the opening Keynote speeches for the Better by Design conference. It was unmissable opportunity to hear Tom Peters. Quite franky it could have been a conference about water retriculation in South Otgao and I would have gone along to see him in action. In 1984 When I left my first job in advertising (Brown Christenson DDB - where I had the odd moniker Conceptualiser - my colleagues had a whip around to buy a gift. They asked if there was something I would like. I said without pause 'a copy of In Search of Excellence ' by Tom Peters. They thought I was nuts - what would a creative guy want that for? Not much has changed, they still think I'm crazy and I still think that changing processes and the way we THINK and ACT is more likely to achieve worthwhile ends than 'creative' expressions of the wrong things. What would a 2005 'best of breed' buggy whip look like? Who cares?

The first thing you notice about Peters is that he's older than…

Step Right Up

Every night on television there is a slew of advertising that makes me wonder about the process of creating advertising.
You know the kind of ad I'm talking about, barker ads. The broadcast equivalent of fairground sideshow. I won't name names, but I'm thinking sports goods, 'everyone gets a bargain' and Australian automotive accessory retailers.

I recently read an interview in Herald with Rod Duke, the owner of a Briscoes and Rebel Sports - some telling remarks from one of New Zealand's most canny retailers:

"Rebel Sport, in particular, had suffered from competing relentlessly on price and bombarding consumers with "50 per cent off" advertising. Research showed the chain was the "most preferred" sports outlet, but the marketing strategy had backfired as brands were devalued in the eyes of consumers. Briscoes Homeware was also suffering from its reliance on price-driven marketing and Tammy Wells - the brand's face.
Duke said offers nee…

Better by Design?

(I wrote this as an article in the New Zealand Herald 3 March)

I wonder if anyone in the history of the world actually woke up one morning and thought: Today I shall design something truly bad. Not just bad, terrible. Can I see a show of hands? Didn't think so.

And yet there are plenty of dreadful products. Who's to say what is better or worse though? Who gets to make the value judgment? Eastern Europe was filled with dreadful Trabant cars - possibly the worst thing ever designed - but they mobilised millions of Eastern Bloc motorists. On the other hand, Fiat's ultra-designed Multipla makes babies cry at the mere sight of its grotesque profile. Is the Fiat better by design?

For better or worse, design is inherent in every manufactured good and every fungible experience. I'm going to stick my neck out here, no one in their right mind sets out to create experiences that suck.

When designers promote the idea of Better by Design and invite business people to $1500 dollar-a-…

Sex doesn't sell

Reading a Reuters article about sex in movies I was surprised, but not very, by the simple truth that sex doesn't sell.

It seems that movies in which sex is a central and serious component sink without a trace. Closer, Mike Nichols' superb, unflinching look at 21st Century relationships has been critically aclaimed but didn't do much business at the box office.
Apparently we like our sex to in movies to be either violent or funny - rather than an integral, beautiful, anxiety inducing part of the intimacy within a relationship. Movies like American Pie or There's Something About Mary do so well because the sexual element is a pantomime about life, rather than a mirror. According to the article we have become a puritanical society. We like our porn at home.

I'm neither a libertine nor complete stiff, but I have to confess to feeling awkward sitting next to a complete stranger in a darkened room while 25 foot high actors simulate intercourse. I'll never forget slip…

You Gotta Serve Somebody

Clearing out my garage in preparation for a shift to a new home in Auckland City (escape from the 'burbs) I came across a cassette tape of The Clash - The Story of the Clash.

The Clash were important to me when I was growing up. I saw them perform in about 1982 - I think. It was towards the end of their career as a band and not long before I made the transition from rebellious punk student to working stiff - though I couldn't have foreseen that at the time - because surviving into my twenties conflicted with the live fast die young punk ethic - and I only had a year to go. The Clash had a wild, riotous sound that I found particularly liberating. Musically more controlled and with more of a thinking punk's edge than, say, The Sex Pistols.

Although it is Easter Sunday I was driving across the Auckland Harbour Bridge, heading for work and hoping to have some quiet time for the admin that I am so lousy at doing when there is anyone around me to offer even the most vague of dist…

Hell On Heels

I interviewed the performer Helen Medlyn for the book yesterday. Helen is an exhuberant character and great fun. One of her stories made me think how extraordinary the Universe can be.

Helen told me about how she worked as a television producer for Saatchi & Saatchi advertising. She had been studying music and singing in her spare time. One day she found herself with the task of producing the voice-over for a commercial. The voice talent was the famous actor John Hurt who was in London. The time difference meant the recording took place in the middle of the night (local time) and that Helen had been working a 21 hour day to deliver the result needed by her boss, the reknowned creative director, Roy Meares. She was exhausted from the relentless pressure of her job and the long hours. While it paid her very well, more than twice the salary her father had ever earned in a year as a hard working butcher, Helen's love of music was not being fulfilled. She was not expressing her aut…

Basic Human Truth

The selection of books I read can sometimes be quite random. I'm attracted by a cover or a title, or , sometimes, a bargain. For all the time I spend using computers and the internet to communicate and research I also seem to be reading more than I ever have. I have a new love for the public library and the trestle tables heaped with remaindered books at the local outlet store. It is from these apparently opposite sources that two books have provided me with some interesting reinforcement of my faith in The One & Only™ Concept.

From The Meaning of ThingsApplying Philosophy to Life by AC Grayling I found the following in the introduction:

"Socrates said that an unconsidered life is not worth living. He meant that a life lived without forethought or principle is a life left vulnerable to chance and dependant on the choices and actions of others (so of little real value to the person living it). He goes further, that a life lived well is one that has goals and integrity, a li…

Never let facts get in the way of truth

I was reading about the Mexican Artist Frieda Kahlo on the web today - on the excellent PBS site.

Kahlo is famous for her glaring self portraits - she never flinched from showing herself with her monobrow and lip hair. There is something profoundly honest about her work.

It got me thinking about authenticity. What we choose to project of ourselves into the world. Think about your reaction when a camera is pointed in your direction or how you might respond when you meet someone for the first time. We put on our best smile. We try to make a good impression, right? Because first impressions count. Our culturally conditioned respnse is to put aside our true feelings. In my case I fight a fight or flight response when I'm confronted with a camera lens. I 'know' the camera can't capture my soul, but I'm not keen on taking more chances than necessary.
Unfortunately when the first impression we attempt to transmit is false then every interaction from that point on is going…

So much to admire, so little to enjoy.

I recently listened to a young advertising creative person having a conversation with some colleagues. One of his remarks stayed with me after he had left - the expression "If I was a consumer...." innocent enough you might think, on its own. The thoughtless remark suggested to me the sense of remoteness that pervades in the world of advertising and design. Rather than being engaged in the process of creating a meaningful dialogue (both lasting and profitable) with the people who love your product, ad people and designers project their own tastes and sensibilities onto the audience. They ignore the nature of the brand and its interactions with its fans.

This thread was followed up with a conversation I had at the opening of HB Media's new central city offices.
The discussion turned to the aesthetic of the Warehouse's red shed identity. With all of the cash the company genenates why not invest a little in refreshig the dreary graphic identity?
I can't hink of anyt…

Revolutionaries and Looters

A busy week so far. I have been spending time working on the development of a media property IN2IT that will hit the airwaves soon. I have a feeling it will be bigger than Family Health Diary, the concept I created in 1998 that has gone on to be a multi-million dollar phenomenon and the most successful media property in New Zealand.

I've also become a little disturbed by the way that 'infomercial' style ads have almost become a default for marketers as though they were a silver bullet solution in their frustrated efforts to get noticed on TV. They are not. I have even noticed that Amway, the multi-level marketing company were promoting their Artistry and Nutriway lines on television using the talking head format. There is an important distinction between information that is genuinely useful and puff - or information that the advertiser wants you to hear.

Like any revolution there are going to be people who want productive change and others who simply want to burn and loot a…

Iconoclastic Magazines

Sunday, day of rest. relaxing, reading copies of the New Yorker.

At the moment one of my projects is to design a magazine. I'm working with the the publishers Auckland University of Technology Press to create a magazine that will serve people who 'think for a living'.

My research into magazine design has left me in something of a daze. The range is stupefying. On Tuesday evening I went to Borders Books - my favourite bookstore in Auckland - and grabbed a random pile of titles, took them to the cafe in the store (I don't like the coffee but it's comfortable and I can take books and magazines there without having to buy them - very bohemian).

I realised how similar the magazines are. Most follow standard approaches - depending on the category they are in. Design magazines look like design magazines, fashion like fashion etc. It is the quality of the content that sets them apart. The book really is a stage on which the articles and features perform.

Which brings me back…

Confidence Tricks

Today I received an email from a fellow marketing communications professional. He was appalled by the content of my website. It was 'flippant' he said. 'Sure it is' I thought to myself. I made a decision a while back that I was just going to be me. Love me or loathe me, it's who I am. I can't even pretend to be Sam the Eagle (remember Sam the Eagle from the Muppets - all imperious and scowling monobrow?).

When I was younger I guess I conformed, played by the rules that were set by the establishment. So, even though everybody made such a big deal out of 'creativity', I'd have to say there was way too much emphasis on execution and not enough time spend on thinking up new ideas to help clients solve their business problems. Wacky ads were the default, something to hide behind and obscure what was really going down. If I had a gold nugget for every time I heard the old nugget "It's a low interest category" I have me a mess of gold. But,…


I just published my website. Or should I say re-published? It is tough putting myself out there. But then, if the creator of The One & Only™ isn't prepared to put himself out there - speak in my own voice and expose myself to criticism, then why bother with the darned thing in the first place?

I've kept the site pretty straightforward. No artiface. No Flash. Mainly words. Funny, for someone who thinks in pictures I find it more compelling to use the web for words and ideas. Compared to the time developing some little graphic ditty writing content seems more productive.

Writing the content for the site I realised what a kick I get out of my clients. S'funny, when I was an agency creative it was all about me - the ads were my ads - not my clients. I guess in a sense that's easy to understand. There were usually so many layers of management - power and control - between me and the client. I was wheeled in and wheeled out like a performing seal (on wheels). Clever, amus…