Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Commercial: Cycles

But not what like you think:

(Hat tip: Marky Mark on the fifth floor here at archibald ingall stretton...)


Legend, meet legend

To the London College of Fashion then, where under the auspices of the IPA, the legend that is David Abbott was in conversation with the legend that is Tim Bell. One can gauge the latter's self-regard, considering that he - nominally the interlocutor for the evening - had a longer introduction than the former.

Still. Once you got past that, and the heavy air of nostalgia, pearls were to be had from both. Some of these gems follow, in these hastily transcribed notes:

- Bell: "Suits go round telling lies to become famous."

- The book that inspired Abbott to become a copywriter was Madison Avenue by Martin Meyer.

- Abbott failed his first copy test at Mather & Crowther. He had to write about the place he was living at the time - Eastcote. As that wasn't suitably inspirational, he was allowed a second bite. He wrote about Ireland, and got the job.

- He wrote his ads for Triumph like they were for VW, in an attempt to get noticed by DDB.

- On the industry feeling sorry for itself, Abbott reminded us, "It was always difficult to make good ads."

- He is a Millwall fan.

- On starting AMV: "You want to be in a partnership with people who are good, happy and optimistic in the bad times."

- Creative companies should be playful.

- Abbott: "You need resilience: be disappointed in the evening, but in the morning say 'more fool them'."

You'll note that there wasn't much on creativity. Abbott saved that for the end:

The trick is to bring statistics to life.

As he never would have said, simples.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Van Gogh the writer

Perhaps the revelation of the exhibition currently on at the Royal Academy; he was almost as good a writer as painter.

Seeing as neither Ms Beta or I were tall enough to see over the majority of people (about 10 deep per painting), we contented ourselves with an extended period in the reading room, where you can browse his letters to all and sundry, but mostly his brother Theo.

As well as the thrill of the local history bit (he lived in Brixton and Kennington for a year in 1874), the thrill of his writing was immense; passionate, fluid, alive. This summed it up:

Do write soon if you can, I’m longing to hear from you, and believe me, after a handshake in thought

All the correspondence is available online, on an excellent site with full translations and notes. And the books would be a handsome gift too.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Commercial: Love it, love it

Love it, love it
Originally uploaded by SgtRock333

Sugar in a Marmite jar? Tastebuds thoroughly confused now.

As seen at Reynolds, on Charlotte Street.


Commercial: Why brands die

But I have to admit that the company lied: to its staff, to its customers and to me.

A great, ruminative post by James Whatley, which sheds some light on the SpinVox meltdown last year, and the problems of online reputation management in our hyperspeed days.

A reminder, as if you needed it, that a brand should never make a promise it can't keep. Truth will out, about your product, your service, like never before.


Commercial: Lost Booker found

This might have passed you by, but is well worth a few moments of digression. I quoth directly from the press release:

The Lost Man Booker is the brainchild of Peter Straus, the honorary archivist to The Booker Prize Foundation. He realised that in 1971, just two years after it began, the Booker Prize ceased to be awarded retrospectively and became - as it is today - a prize for the best novel of the year of publication. At the same time the award moved from April to November and, as a result, a wealth of fiction published for much of 1970 fell through the net and was never considered for the prize.

An oversight which is now being amended with alacrity. Your shortlist is:

The Birds on the Trees by Nina Bawden (Virago)
Troubles by J G Farrell (Phoenix House)
The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard (Virago)
Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault (Arrow)
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark (Penguin)
The Vivisector by Patrick White (Vintage)

And you can vote. Do so, early and often. Obviously, I couldn't possibly sway your choice, but suffice to say The Birds on the Trees is rather good...


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Commercial: The Pipettes

...mark 2, as we must learn to call them; no doubt we shall love them as much as the first incarnation.

It's a bit classy, innit?


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Harry Commentator

The passing thereof, as Clive James so memorably named him (hat tip for the reminder: @johnvinton), allows me to post for your delectation the best BBC theme tune ever:


Monday, March 22, 2010

Reportage: 05.09.7

With his finger hovering over his iPhone, he gave a fretful glance towards the hand disappearing away from the table.

The glass, full and with one perfectly formed droplet of latte slipping down its side, glided into place. The fern etched on top - this cafe's trademark, he'd been excitedly told - shivered slightly, but retained its shape.

Stop. 05.09.7. He sighed.

The red button went green, and gave him a nano-second of peace, before he picked up his pen.

The page, torn from its hefty, green-leather-backed folder, looked like it had been designed to map machines, or plot the way humanity could add A to B to improve the lot of C.

Instead, a line, almost perfectly straight, down the middle split the page into two. On the left, his how-to-review checklist. On the right, a precise series of ticks and crosses, against each entry.

He was twirling his blue biro between forefinger and thumb as if it was causing him pain; as if those extra few seconds before the coffee arrived had wounded him slightly, somehow.

He pulled his green and purple striped scarf tighter round him, and sighed again.


School choirs rock!

At least they do when they sing Phoenix's 'Lizstomania':

If I'd had the chance to emote along to indie rock genius when I was seven, who knows where'd I'd be now.

(Hat tip: Andy Kinsella via @gluelondon)


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Commercial: Jewish Museum London

Originally uploaded by SgtRock333
So, on Tuesday night, I shook Nigella Lawson's hand.

Alas, that's pretty much where that particular anecdote ends.

But it did provide the capstone to a project that I've been working on for about three years or so.

The rebranding, redevelopment and re-opening of London's Jewish Museum.

I was approached way back when by the chair of the museum's trustees. With a twinkle in his eyes, he suggested that he had a project that I might be interested in. He wasn't wrong.

London's Jewish museum has a long and venerable history, combining two collections, a fascinating story and a prime site in Camden Town.

But, it was fair to say, the museum needed to change. In a positive way.

Become more ambitious. Realise the potential that was clearly there, within the institution. Uncork it so that outsiders could taste it.

The new museum building was clearly going to be a huge part of that. An old piano factory, that backed on to the existing museum was bought, and offering the potential to completely change how and what visitors got from a trip there.

And to go with all this increased space, clearly, there was a chance to change radically the way that people thought about the museum - if they thought about it at all.

Which was where I came in.

I had the chance to work with a team of highly talented, motivated and, I'm sure they won't mind me saying, delightfully disputatious people, who grasped the importance of the brand in the future of the museum, and set about making it happen.

We were aided and abetted by Fitch, who delivered a wonderful new identity, which brilliantly brought the new positioning to life. And suddenly made all this stuff real.

And I must confess, when I saw it all made physical and tangible on Tuesday, I did gasp - in wonder and delight. It's rare when you're defining and developing brands to actually come back, revisit the theoretical work you've done and see the translation of a PowerPoint slide brought to life.

Seeing the new museum for the first time on Tuesday night, I was tremendously proud that I'd had a small part to play in that.

During the work, I set the museum two informal targets: 1) that it becomes considered as important an institution of Jewish culture and life as those in New York, Berlin and Amsterdam; 2) that it aims to become a top 10 attraction for people visiting London.

From what I saw on Tuesday, I think both are eminently achievable. The fact that the New York Times has already reviewed the new museum suggests it's well on the way to achieving the first.

You won't be surprised that I think you should all go and see it. It really will be worth it.

And if you don't trust my recommendation, you'll surely trust Nigella's.


RIP Alex Chilton

That paunchy mid-30 something you see passing your cubicle today, with a slightly teary, dreamy look in his eyes? This news will be why.

Without Chilton, no Teenage Fanclub, amongst thousands of others. You could construct a case that, for the underground / avant garde / indie rock scene, he was even more influential than Lou Reed.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Commercial: She & Him

Ahem, la la, happy happy Monday la la, Zooey la la la la, even more much happy happy la la la la etc.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Commercial: 13p

Something that crossed my radar a few weeks ago; 13p, a New York-based playwriting collective, set up with the notion of bypassing traditional gatekeepers to get their work out there.

The hook? That the group will disband once the 13th play, by the 13th writer is performed. As they say:

Our mission is very simple, and we want to complete it and call it a day. 13P isn't really a theater company; it's a 13-play test of a new producing model.

I wonder if this model could be applied to forms of other cultural production.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Listorama: Poetry Facts

Via my comrade in verse, the genius Chrissy Williams, some eye-popping factoids underneath the stats here. My fave:

Most unusual cause of poet's death during reign of Elizabeth I: Robert Greene's, as a result of a surfeit of Rheinish wine and pickled herrings


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Commercial: Yale!

Or the Glee influence hits campus recruitment videos.

I ask only half in jest: when's Oxfordly Blonde happening?

(Hat tip: The New Yorker)


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Reportage: A theatrical diary

I am by the downstairs bar of the Cottesloe at the National Theatre, waiting for a performance of The 14th Tale by Inua Ellams. Sitting opposite me at the table is a woman, black, early to mid 20s, wearing a mustard anorak, a green, knitted scarf, headphones and concentration.

In front of her is a grey, week-to-view diary, A5. In it, what appear to be tickets to upcoming theatrical performance, loose or paper-clipped to the relevant dates. And also, used ones, stapled to the third of the page for the day of the performance seen.

She lifts up one of these stubs, and underneath it, like a worm carving grooves into the earth beneath a rock, notes written in a silver ballpoint pen with black ink.

I couldn't spy what the notes said.

Why am I recording this? Mainly because it appears to have triggered a guilt pang: that I'm not systematic about recording what I watch, that I'm not diligent enough in capturing all the elements of my theatrical education, that I’m too impressionistic.

Maybe it’s her way of writing more, or a hedging strategy for her ideas. Either way, it feels like a good model to steal.


Monday, March 08, 2010

Commercial: Backhanded book blurbs

What could be the first in an irregular series. From the New Mermaids edition of London Assurance:

Dion Boucicault was a witty, selfish and deceitful charmer, a bigamist, a profligate spendthrift and the other of dozens of successful plays, only a handful of which endure.

Imagine what might have been said had they really wanted to big him up. Boucicault is an intriguing character nevertheless, as you can discover from the programme notes of the revival of his play, opening at the National Theatre this week. To say that it is a mincing romp feature plum capes and even plummier vowels is to wholeheartedly recommend it, by the way.


Friday, March 05, 2010

Commercial: Content strategy is back! Back! Back!

According to Brain Traffic at least. The stats appear persuasive.

But why now, I hear none of you cry. Well:

Most companies can’t sustain social media engagement because they lack the internal editorial infrastructure to support it.

This insight gladdens the jaded old hack in me no end. Most brands could learn a truckload from looking at the Beeb, Guardian et al, not just for web design ideas, but ways in which they actually engage with their community of readers, and increasingly, vocal audience.

Oh, and that really does mean that your brand will need to have a point of view. If you've not got one, find one, pronto.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

Commercial: Road Reads

I have a habit when travelling, of wanting to take with me novels (or indeed any reportage) set in the city I'm visiting. Generally, I've had to operate on the basis of my own knowledge and recommendations of others, which has worked fine, but obviously you worry about what other potential titles you could be missing out on.

So I'm very glad to have stumbled across BiblioTravel, a site that matches books to locations. The work of two librarians, it's the first comprehensive repository of such information that I've seen.

Naturally there are lacuna, and I'd like some sort of integration with Dopplr and.or another travel site, so that when I logged a trip I'd get some recommendations (maybe even links to ebooks to download directly), but as a v1.0 it's pretty cool.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Listorama: 3D cinema brand names

Taken from Anthony Lane's New Yorker piece on how the longing for stereopsis actually prefigured the invention of cinema itself:

the Motoscope
the Thaumatrope
the Phenakistoscope
the stereophoroskop
the Kinimoscope
the photobioscope
the Praxinoscope
the Heliocinegraphe
the Zoopraxiscope (not to be confused with the Zoopraxinoscope, otherwise known as the Zoogyroscope)
the Kinetoscope
the Mutoscope
the anaglyph
the polarizer
the Alethoscope
the Vitagraph


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Shaggy creativity

From Andy Beckett's reflective Guardian piece on the BBC:

But a degree of anarchy remains. "I'm working in a room I've stolen," says a celebrated BBC documentary maker. "I've got lots of equipment I've stolen from someone else. Internal chaos is highly productive for a creative person. I've worked in commercial TV companies – they are the most uncreative places. They just look for repeat shows. The BBC is shaggy . . . it allows things to emerge. There are overlapping jurisdictions. Creatives love turf wars – you can play the executives off against each other. Providing you are not seeking power yourself, or are corrupt, or asking for a lot of money, they let you do what you want."

The question is: to what extent is your creative organisation shaggy? And if you're not a creative organisation, how can you bring some anarchy in, to allow better ideas to emerge?


Monday, March 01, 2010

Crowdsourcing cities

Quick! I call urban planning/development online flash mob meme!

OK, it's not quite like that, but two websites make a trend, so on that basis, I reckon the emergence in the last few days of Co-Create London and Make London Better (allied with the 'where did that come from?' success of Secret London) suggests that location-based social media might not stick to the definition most thinkers had penned for it.

I am intrigued by the fact that online tools are being used so freely to try and impact the offline world. Another lesson: digital nativism means nothing unless it can be translated into analogue power.