In search of good male role models

Today a little bit of me died.

When my children were tiny, I read ‘Raising Boys’ a popular parenting book by Steve Biddulph.  He writes about the need for, and scarcity of, positive male role models. So I actively sought out these role models through their early years.  It’s not easy. My son played youth football. Perhaps the very worst place to find good role models. I met the most hideous people I’ve ever come across on the touchline of youth football matches. Parents getting into fights. Referees strutting arrogantly and playing god. Club officials snarling and intimidating the kids. Players getting into fist fights – with their own teammates. It was a zoo.


Other sports and interests have exposed us to whole new communities of nutters, zealots, pushy parents with sharp elbows and a wide range of bizarre sociological case studies.

Through all of this, I have seen martial arts as the best place to look for good role models. The men who ran my local karate dojo were extraordinary. Hard men with great sensitivity. They were inspirational. They taught self-reliance, discipline and toughness but they were kind and they commanded great loyalty.

Today I read that the longstanding Sensei is in court facing charges of child molestation.  Part of me doesn’t believe it. But that would be naïve. Worse, it has happened before. The inspirational founder of my son’s local basketball team was also prosecuted for a paedophile offence. I liked him too.

Not only is this kind of thing seemingly more common and closer to home than I imagined. It affects exactly the people you most thought you could trust. In leafy Surrey we tend to sigh and stare at our shoes when this sort of thing happens rather than reach for the torches and pitchforks. But it’s profoundly saddening.


Boaty McBoatface: joke or humiliation – you decide

This week, Mark Ritson, Marketing Professor, Marketing Columnist of the Year and general Wise Man of Marketing took exception to the public’s choice of Boaty McBoatface in a crowdsourcing exercise to choose the name for the National Environment Research Council’s (NERC) new polar research ship.  Up to this point, most commentators had seen it as bit of harmless fun.  It  restored their faith in the British public’s sense of humour and their desire to prick the balloon of pomposity that generally surrounds these things.


Ritson believes this story proves the public would rather humiliate your brand than engage with it.  As he puts it:

“The NERC’s competition to name its new boat is the latest in a cavalcade of crowdsourcing disasters, demonstrating that consumers are a bunch of brand-haters.”

Even worse than that, as he warms to his theme:

“In the happy, completely detached world of digital marketing there is a common fallacy that the sarcastic brand-hating bastards that populate the planet are actually an army of jovial optimists who simply cannot wait to engage with your organisation on social media.  Unless you grasp the dystopian nature of consumer culture, you miss the inherent danger.”

I’m a great respecter of Mark Ritson and I think I understand what he’s driving at.  There’s a lot of nonsense talked about brands and social media.  Brands are an unwelcome intrusion in social media just as they were “the unwelcome guest in your living room” when we were talking about TV ads in the old days.  But it’s overstating it to say we hate brands (except maybe Marmite – truly the Devil’s work).

As Plan B said “Hating takes too much energy”.  We’re simply not that bothered.  And if we get the chance to take the piss and suggest a daft name for something we previously never knew existed – so much the better.  How we laughed.

The point here is that in the real world, brands aren’t such a big deal.  They exist mostly to make our choices easy – to provide defaults and heuristics (sorry, jargon alert, won’t do it again, and I definitely won’t launch into Andrew Ehrenberg’s weak theory of advertising). They’re only really there so we don’t have to think about trivial stuff.  And honestly, it doesn’t get any more trivial than the name of the NERC’s polar exploration vessel.

As Ritson points out, there is some previous on the ‘daft names’ front. Take a look at the following – this is what happened when US juice drink Mountain Dew asked for suggestions to name a new apple drink:


I don’t think they used the name.  But I hope NERC do.



Les Miserables

Apparently it’s depression awareness week and Tim Lott writes about his experiences of the condition in the Guardian.

I’m loving his summary:

I have a suspicion that society, in its heart of hearts, despises depressives because it knows they have a point: the recognition that life is finite and sad and frightening.

Just because you’re paranoid…. etc. and so on.


“Don’t let it be him”


Haven’t had a rant about evil British politicians for ages, but today I’m annoyed.

A while ago Russell Brandt (of all people) sprang into the headlines for urging people not to vote.  He was an unlikely political champion but this was rather the point – people were increasingly disillusioned with the political elite after generations of scandals, excess, self-interest and general cynicism.

I found the whole thing depressing.  I have always voted (even though it was usually futile).  I wanted politics to matter to people.  I even did a degree in Politics.  Brandt’s call to no arms seemed, along with the popularity of UKIP and BREXIT, to represent the widespread rejection of the very people who should be making things better, but who are commonly seen to be making things worse.  While they line their own pockets.

Could it get any worse?  Sadly yes.  When I worked in the energy business, it rapidly became apparent that public policy simply wasn’t addressing any of the issues of the day. Two huge issues faced the energy policymakers over the last twenty years.  How to replace the energy generation which is due for decommissioning and how to shift from coal-dominated power generation to a more sustainable mix.  Neither was addressed, even though everyone in the industry knew the issues.  In the meantime the political rhetoric (remember “the greenest government ever”?) simply misled us.

Now I work in healthcare and tragically the same seems to be true.  The pronouncements of policy makers (“economies from efficiency savings”? What again?) bear no relation to what we hear from the professionals in the NHS.  There’s either a kind of mass denial going on or a deep dishonesty.  And as for the posturing around the Junior Doctors’ dispute, I’m afraid truth was the first casualty.

The issue du jour, as I write, is the Panama papers.  The wealthy are avoiding tax by hiding their assets in tax havens – didn’t we already know this?  In the wake of Starbucksgate and Amazongate and (insert your own tax-avoiding multinational-gate here…) the UK Government promised to lead the charge against tax havens.  Now it seems they had their own trust funds in Panama all along.  Dust off that old photo of the Bullingdon Club, with Cameron, Osborne and Boris looking like posh twats.

Sadly, in those policy areas I know a bit about – and some I don’t – I see those charged with making it work simply ignoring the issues and fighting their own turf battles.  Should I assume that the same is true in every other policy area?

The only thing more depressing than the sheer hypocrisy of this is the fact that we’re only learning about it because of the PR tactics of their political opponents in the BREXIT campaign.

It made me think of the advertising campaign for the Camelot lottery.  We see common hate figures like Katy Bigot-whatsername and Laurence Llewelin-Flounce-a-lot and we’re urged to play the lottery – so they won’t win.  “Don’t let it be him”.  Weird but memorable.

I want someone to do some proper politics, please don’t let it be Brandt.

But, much as I want to dismiss Russell Brandt and the others who are asking us to reject our political leaders, tragically they do have a point.  This is how Jeremy Corbyn won the support of millions of disillusioned voters who want Labour to be the answer.


I wish. But sadly I don’t think it’s likely to be him, either.