Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bambina - oh the irony!

I have to confess to being a baby boomer. A late boomer (late bloomer too, come to think of it…only just started shaving). In chronological terms that makes me 43. So, not young, but not so old either.

The other day I went to a fashionable Auckland cafe called Bambina. Actually I should say that it is more 'smart' than fashionable. Having been around since at least 1997 or 98 it has become something of an institution.

I rather like the big central table, surrounded by chairs. Very communal, sort of like you might see at a childrens daycare/playcentre. There is a a long line of magazines arrayed through the centre, though not Idealog I noticed. Must have been stolen or in use…

But here's the thing. I must have been the youngest person there. The well-heeled, fashionably dressed customers were all 45 plus, huddled in the café at 8 am, meeting before work.

It was a vision of what the rest homes of the very near future will be like.

Be afraid.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

P.R. Gone Mad

Day 1.
1. Motorola MOTOKRZR

I went along to the launch of a new phone. Weird, but true. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. In a funny sort of way I guess I thought I might learn something. Given that it was Motorola I though there might be some innovation.

Stupid, naive boy. It was a cocktail party.

The idea was to create a photo opp for Charlotte Dawson and other 24-hour party people regulars. In the absence of innovation (the phone has a glossy, reflective case), …play the fashion card. I don’t know the retail price, but I am guessing it comes at a premium. Yet it doesn’t even have G3 technology built in.

I did get to meet some very interesting people that I wouldn’t usually have encountered. Tanya Thompson and Steve Hodge were interesting company (Tanya is the artist A.K.A. Misery who graced the cover of our best selling edition of Idealog).

The promo pack I was given as I left was an equal disgrace. I’ve never seen anything as wasteful. Shrink-wrapped outer box. Lift the lid…reveals a mirror, which reflects a second lid, printed in reverse….woooo, so you read it in the mirror. Lift the second lid and there is. In all its glory. A CD with God knows what on it.

There were also some hard candies in the bag and scented candle. Hmmm…

I’m baffled. I don’t think I can play that game.

Day 2
2. The D&AD (Design and Art Direction Roadshow).

Whatever chalk and cheese really means I will have to say that tonight’s event seemed more like cheese.

I received an email the other day from Maeve O’Sullivan from D&AD inviting me to a function at AUT as part of a global road show for the charitable organization that promotes education for creativity in advertising, design and (ipso) business.

The presentation was simple, the message was encouraging to New Zealand creatives, reinforcing the opportunity to participate on the world stage and very personal, supported by leading creatives from Saatchi in Auckland.

I was reminded of what I love about advertising. Sensationally executed, simple ideas that leave me thinking…I wish I did that!

The numbers game

I remember two things about Miss May’s class at Mount Eden Normal Primary School in 1969. First was listening to Neil Armstrong setting foot on the surface of the moon, broadcast over the school’s classroom intercom system. I was six, sitting cross legged on the mat… a man of the world, because I had travelled with my family from Scotland by boat, venturing through the bleak streets of Naples, my mum’s hand firmly gripped in one hand and my die-cast Thunderbird 2 (with fully operational Thunderbird 4 pod) in the other for safety; and skirting through the war in the Suez Canal prevented from stopping in Aden because of the shooting. I had even integrated with the strange sounding natives of New Zealand, with their weird accents, and suddenly it all paled with the words “One small…crackle…step…crackle…for man…”.

But even that shock didn’t prepare me for what was to follow.

Mathematics traumatised me like nothing I had ever known. When introduced to those little coloured blocks (whose name I have deleted from my memory bank) I realised for the first time that, however strange the world is, it would never be capable of terrorising me as much as maths. I am not to proud to say that I ran away. When the time came for maths I hid. There was an especially excellent mature oak in the playground, not far from my beloved monkey bars. When it was wet the hollow in the branches would fill with water and once I shared the space with an exceptionally large weta. But these discomforts I could tolerate. Arithmetic I could not.

In time I taught myself to sit quietly, eyes glazed in a trance like state while the wonders of numbers were absorbed by my peers. By my teens I had developed elaborate doodling systems and mildly comical ways of distracting my more diligent colleagues.
Some things should remain a mystery I rationalised (in that irrational way that teenagers have). I managed to graduate with no qualification in maths.

So it seems curious to me that I have become rather interested in the subject and its relationship with problem solving and creativity. Who would have thought?

I picked up a book in a garage sale, quite randomly, called How to Solve It: A New Aspect of Mathematical Method . Where was this when I needed it? Still, when the pupil is willing, the master will appear. In this case the master is a Hungarian mathematician, Polya, whose book was first published in 1945. The truly fascinating thing about the book is the methodology for problem solving. And there is not a number in sight.

1. First, you have to understand the problem.
2. After understanding, then make a plan.
3. Carry out the plan.
4. Look back on your work. How could it be better?

If you are still stumped Polya says "If you can't solve a problem, then there is an easier problem you can solve: find it." Or: "If you cannot solve the proposed problem try to solve first some related problem. Could you imagine a more accessible related problem?"

Impressively simple really. Common sense you say. But where it gets really interesting is his introduction of heuristic methods for simplifying the problem.

Can you find a problem analogous to your problem and solve that?

Can you find a problem more general than your problem...?

Can you solve your problem by deriving a generalization from some examples?

Variation of the Problem:
Can you vary or change your problem to create a new problem (or set of problems) whose solution(s) will help you solve your original problem?

Auxiliary Problem:
Can you find a subproblem or side problem whose solution will help you solve your problem?

Is there a problem related to yours and solved before?:
Can you find a problem related to yours that has already been solved and use that to solve your problem?

Can you find a problem more specialised?

Decomposing and Recombining:
Can you decompose the problem and "recombine its elements in some new manner"?

Working backward:
Can you start with the goal and work backwards to something you already know?

Draw a Figure:
Can you draw a picture of the problem?

Auxiliary Elements:
Can you add some new element to your problem to get closer to a solution?

They might seem arcane when listed out that way, but I’d encourage you to pick a couple of techniques that might work for you when you are stuck.

I scratched the list out in my notebook while I was in a café in the city, somewhere along the way I have misplaced my copy of the book so have ordered a handful from Amazon.

Boy are some of my friends going to surprised by their Christmas gifts this year. Both of them.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What to do with an unwanted Stadium

Get in early. Stop it from being built. Save a billion or so.
Rugby World Cup in Christchurch.
Planned development of Auckland a separate issue.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A tree falls in the woods...

If there is no one there to hear it does it make a sound?

I spend too much time reading and writing blog entries. I suppose.
My problem is that, though I know it is quite widely read, my rudimentary statistic package tells me that I've had over 8,000 visitors in the past few months and that about 25% are returning visitors.

I'm interested in whether you find the content of the blog interesting and/or useful.
Even if you are uncomfortable with leaving a public comment you can email me feedback or ideas by email


Collaboration is my hot button. It is all well and good having many great ideas. But getting them done usually requires people with complementary and specialised skills.

I came accross an interesting collaborative project from MIT. It combines an Undergraduate Artist Emma Lindsay with a Media Lab Graduate Researcher Amber Frid-Jimenez. Click here to visit.

The premise is simple: Tag an online movie with audiotags using the telephone. So users can leave commentary and opinion about the film by phone.

Augmenting the collaboration is the addition of Japanese subtitles courtesy of a Visiting Researcher from Japan).

The first of the movies is hardly brain surgery "How Do Average Guys Get With Hot Girls?" and the 7 second phone in commentaries reflect the topic, but the possibilites for the application, which widens the collaboration to the viewer network must have potential. I'd like to see a non linear way of experiencing the phone ins. Maybe there is some application to extract keywords, or, perhaps the user community could rate the usefulness of the comment - further extending the collaboration.

The film reminded me of Edison's 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' demonstration of audio recording...which you can hear here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Giving ideas away

Let's face it. I can't implement every idea that pops into my head. So I'm giving them away. Open source ideas. Every Friday on the idealog magazine website. You might find something there that either stimulates another idea of your own. Or you could pick up mine and run with it. Free.

The very idea would probably horrify an IP lawyer. Rule number one when you have an idea you plan to commercialise it then you have to keep it to yourself. Whn you don't, then your idea is in the public domain.

Check out this week's Free Idea Friday

And the first one...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Risking It All

I watched the show Risking it All on tv one just now.
Possibly the best business show I have seen since The TroubleShooter, starring Sir John Harvey Jones.
If you are at all interested in setting up a business make an appointment for 9.30 Thursday on TV ONE (NZ)

ThoughtSpurs 3

"Deliberation is the function of many.
Action is the function of one."

Charles de Gaulle

Converse bursts the bubble

I like that Converse the shoe maker (now owned by Nike) go about their marketing in a different way. They've really embraced the audience that love their Chucks. I love mine, though they make my feet smell for that authentic retro ambience.

Check out Mr Anderson, an authentic boy in a bubble. One & Only for certain.

The converse site is well worth a visit.
While you're window shopping, I like Bend to Baja for the Patagonia brand as well (how to make an established outdoor adventure apparel brand get quick traction with the surfing fraternity.

There is something to be said for whimsy.

Puppy Love

I am speaking at the Careers and Transition Educators (CATE) Conference next week in Rotorua. Introducing high school guidance councellors to the concept of the creative economy and working through some of the issues I believe are important for our kids when they leave high school. It's one thing to talk to jaded business people, it's quite another to talk to educators.

I came across this movie on a blog I get a feed from Another Planning Blog.

I can promise you that I won't be singing in my workshops. Ever. Watch the clip it is what I can only describe as surreal. The Office meets Singstar:

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Let's go shopping

Following some random links on the web I found a shopping site that has some features I've never seen It makes the Ferrit experience seem a little feral (in spite of their very funny new ad campaign).

Oh, and you can buy Idealog on Ferrit, can't be all bad.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Lord of the Blings

The Lord of the Rings meant a lot to me when I was a kid.
It seems that turning the thing into a film(s) spoiled the magic for me. I preferred my own imagination to Peter Jackson's and the Weta Workshop's.

To commemorate the publication of Peter Jackson's authorised biography check out this charming little ditty from YouTube. When the time is right I'll write my autobiography. It will, of course, be unauthorised.

Monday, November 13, 2006

City Life 1

Interest in things like farmer's markets seems to be gaining momentum.
I was interested to see that the Britomart area in downtown Auckland is going to host one. That's great for me, its a stone's throw from my apartment. A welcome addition to the neighbourhood. Bluewater group are making great progress in bringing life back to the once derelict precinct. (read the article in Idealog.)

The proposed stadium on the Bledisloe wharf is an insane idea an ugly carbuncle and the wrong thing to put on Auckland's waterfront. The whole process smells rotten. I'll talk more about this when the rage subsides.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Perfect Pitch

Short entry. I have enjoyed watching the Dragon's Den. We sponsored the Australian series with Idealog magazine and I think it did wnders for our fledgling profile. The kiwi series has just finished. Not really up to snuff, not enough respect betwen the 'dragons'. The local producers didn't seem to have the maturity to understand the concept and much of the feedback I have heard from seasoned business people confirms my view (though I would be interested to hear yours).

The British show was the best of the three. The BBC have a good site to support the series. I found this on the site I think will be useful to anyone who wants to persuade someone to come on board with their idea. (make sure you click the video link at the top of the story).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good Grief

I like this, The Blower's Daughter by Damian Rice, made famous by the film soundtrack Closer. Am I going soft in my old age?
What is the difference between sentiment and nostalgia?

For years I wanted to make a compilation of sad songs and call it 'Good Grief' (in the dot com era I even owned the URL). I'm sure it would be a hit. Who doesn't have favourite sad songs.
Now it's just a playlist on my iTunes.

I've had an idea. I found that a lot of the music I loved at different parts of my life are on YouTube. I thought it would be amusing to make a web page with a time line incorporate the clips and mae a matrix of associations with events that were hapeening at the time - for me, and in the wider world. Hard to describe…haven't thought it through completely.Who'd have thought that Rory Galagher's million miles away would be on video on he web. He was the first live act I ever saw. Auckland town hall, 1980 (if I remember rightly).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Juan Mann, Free Hugs

I don't know if you saw this on 6o Minutes last night, or if you have been one of the 5 and a half million people who have seen it on YouTube.

This story is yet another example of both Generation C at work and the democratisation of media.

It goes like this…Teen band make a video of a guy giving away hugs one day a week in a Sydney, Australia, shopping mall. His name is Juan Mann (classic). The City Council bans him from his work unless he buys public liability insurance. The guy in the band (who works in a shop - they are not a hit band at this point) documents the petition process, then sets a song he has recorded to the edited clips using his mome computer. The result is touching and the song fits acceptably into that kind of angsty rock ballad format.

Before you know it, Good Morning America and Oprah come-a-knocking and 15 minutes of fame is extended a litle further. With luck and good management The Sick Puppies will parlez it into a career.

Heartwarming stuff,…yes? Perfect for a rainy Tuesday afternoon…

Wouldn't mind a hug myself. But, of course, I have work to do,… so it will have to be just that. Self hug.

Hugs himself…
thanks for that,…
don't mention it…
What's that your wearing,
is it new?
…oh, really Brut 33? very retro…

Trivial Pursuit

There's a line in a Malcolm MacLaren 'song' - All this scratchin' is makin' me itch. I think it was Buffalo Girls. I may be wrong and, given that Google is at my fingertips,that may be unforgivable.

That's one of the sad side-effects of the internet. I, or you for that matter, can be endlessly right about all sorts of things. Just the other day a friend emailed me from her office, asking what character in what film spoke the line:

"Mr Phat has just resigned. I'm the new chairman of the board. He always did like that Mausoleum. [dramatic pause] Put him in it".

It sounded a bit Ian Flemmingish, and a quick trip to the Internet Movie Database confirmed it within seconds. James Bond - Man with the Golden Gun (spoken by Christopher Lee in character as Francesco Scaramanga). What might once have passed as General Knowledge had become Specific Knowledge.

I am not quite ready to let go of uncertainty.I felt a pang of nostalgia for the days of blissful ignorance.

I like to refer to the Creative Economy as The UnKnowledge Economy, I'm sure I don't have to spell out the ironic reference to the last moniker for changes in the way the world does business...

Surely has to be some mystery and a sense of discovery. It is the difference between Picasso experimenting with primitive techniques and a seascape produced by colouring by numbers. Sometimes the delight we experiece in culture is the surprise and reward of hearing something fresh and new? The excitement comes from discovery and to see things with fresh eyes you must unlearn what you think you know.

People who always have the answer have always driven me bananas (there had to be a cause!), I like to think in terms of "What if..." In future, when I am asked a question and I don't have the answer in my own memory banks, I shall make one up. The sillier the better. And I shall deliver it with deadpan authority.

And in case you are wondering why I even referred to Scratching and Itching, it was to be a reference to the act of blogging. A friend sent me an email complimenting me on my style and suggesting I do a best of anthology and publish it. If you want to prevent that act of cultural vandalism from occuring send $5 to ....

I also post blog entries on the Idealog Magazine website, for those of you with an especially masochistic bent.

The latest is called 92.6% of all statistics are made up.

I think a line like that requires a t-shirt, don't you?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Madonna battles Parkinson

I don't know when the interview I am watching on UKTV was recorded, but Micheal Parkinson and Madonna has to be an irresistable match, right? Just after her disco oriented record date stamps it is my guess.

American readers might not know who Parkinson is (long running talk show host) but I am certain you've heard of Madonna (who somewhere, somehow, earned the moniker 'Madge'). She has been in the news recently for her interest in adopting african children. I don't understand the furore about that. She can adopt me if she wants. I'd rather like having a nanny. Though a governess might be more appropriate.

Madonna qualifies as The One & Only. Anybody prepared to disagree with me?
The show reminds me of Paul Jeffreys, Squeeze, my erstwhile business partner (now deceased) who made the very shrewd decision to buy not one-but two copies of Madonna's controversial book 'Sex'. His idea was to open one (they came in a sealed foil bag) and leave the other as an artifact (They sell for US$200-600 on eBay).

Here is another artifact of that era. The Madonna song Erotica. Rather than playing here I'm leaving it as a link.

THIS, on the other hand is a brilliant example of self referential irony from the BMW films campaign. I seem to be giving Fallon a great deal of airtime here. The film is directed by Madonna's husband Guy Ritchie.

In the words of the my mentor (in my early days of advertising), Brian Harrison, …I laughed 'like a drain'.

I think Madonna has a remarkable capacity to both intuit and modify the market. You could learn a lot from her if brands interest you. The One & Only Madonna - without a doubt.

Muppets in advertising

Martin Brown, who publishes the New Zealand Creative Circle blog, wrote a column in Idealog magazine describing some Australian clients as 'Muppets'. These archive films from the late 50's are conclusive proof that there have always been muppets in advertising.

There are more on youTube, but I think you get the picture. Sometimes advertising ain't an intellectual thing.

You know when you've been tango'd

Moulin Rouge, by Baz Luhrman, is one of my favourite films. Yes, it is ridiculous in parts. On first viewing it is disorienting. Repeated viewings are worth the effort. Luhrman describes his style as 'red curtain' theatre. No cinema veritae for him. If you are going to die of consumption, then do it with panache. The style harks to that mad form of musical theatre, opera. In fact Baz was an operatic director before moving to movies. His production of La Boheme broke from convention. Rather than simply casting the usual suspects as singers and chorus, based on experience and ability to fill a large theatre with unmicrophoned song, he developed the curious notion that beautiful young people, the bohemians, should actually be…beautiful young people. How odd. Moulin Rouge owes much to Luhrman's Boheme (which had Melbourinians lining the streets to secure tickets).

The tango sequence is one of the best in the movie, the disruptive combination of the old Police song Roxanne with the intensity of the tango is inspired. As I am planning to spend time in Argentina soon, I also find it inspiring.

If anyone can tell me what is going on in the Argentinian creative economy, I'd like to hear from you.


#118- “It’s amazing how well you interpreted the brief. This piece is exactly what we wanted, you could not have made it any better, I love it. But I also think it’s too good. This is for a bigger client, a more international one. We’re not like that. See if you can do something shittier that we can use.”
(Client, Marketing Manager)

If you have ever worked in advertising and design the Adverbatum blog will have you laughing out loud and thinking, at the same time, I have heard this before, because the truth is that creative people are subjected to ignorance and stupidity on a daily basis. Of course the phenomena is a two way street. I'd love to see a blog by clients and account managers that detail the absurd, the ridiculous and bombastic twaddle that sometimes comes from the 'creative department'. Hmmm, I can think of a few I've been responsible for.

Reminds me of an anecdote (apocryphal?) about forgotten kiwi advertising legend Len Potts (who entertained us with some of the best ad campaigns ever produced in New Zealand). Potts presented, so the story goes, a full page press advertisement to a client. Client says, "Love it, love it, love it… just perfect! You're a genius!…How would it look as a half page ad?" Potts, without pause, tears the ad layout in half and says,… "Like this."Then exits stage left.

Ahh, those were the days.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Memories of Rome

When I began this blog it was intended to be rather more focused on my concept of the One & Only, which, simply put is an expression of individuality and authenticity in branding. I have referred to the worlds of art and entertainment, because it is often in those realms that iconoclasm holds forth by design or simply by dint of genetics.

I recently watched a documentary on television about the abilities of savants, sometimes known as idiot savants or people who have a form of autism that grants them access to particular skills and abilities and denies them eery day abilities to engage with the world as others do. The film Rainman was, perhaps the most well know depiction of the condition.

One chap captured my imagination in a dramatic way. Through a random blog link I found that the segment of the documentary about Peter Wiltshire was on YouTube. Wiltshire is flown in a helicopter over the city of Rome. Though he has never seen the vista before he will draw it in impeccable detail, entirely from memory. Watch the film and be amazed. There is no other word for it.

Visit Stephen Wiltshire's online gallery

Watch him draw Tokyo

Friday, November 03, 2006

Deep down

I've just written my column the Christmas issue of Idealog (happy birthday Idealog - has it really been a year?). Matt, our editor, asked me to write a piece about advertising. I wasn't so keen, I tend to be thinking about where advertising is going, rather than the latest, glossiest ads on TV. I wonder if I begin to sound like a guy with a sandwich board with 'The End is Nigh' on it. That's not really what I think. In fact, the opposite. The beginning is nigh. Things are changing fast in the world of communications and I am excited at the prospect of it. Excited in a bungie jump way. You know, your lizard brain is telling you that you're going to die when you jump off, but your rather more sensible mind is reassuring you that the rubber bands around your ankles will protect you from real harm...

But anyway, I am reminded how much I really do enjoy advertising when it is crafted with care and has some form of intelligence present. By that I don't mean that it is intellectually clever, but that that the creative shares something useful with us.
I've put in a lovely ad from Volkswagen to illustrate the point. They share the feeling of driving on a balmy night, being followed by the moon, and how much nicer it is when you are sharing it with friends or people who are like you. Not complicated. But then, the best communications never are.

What do you think? Leave a comment.