Like bumping into old friends; some you like….

I recently revisited some of the fiction, I really loved as a teenager, with mixed results.

George Orwell, who I found inspirational as a youth, strikes me now as pessimistic to the point of debility.  Yes, of course, he makes some killing observations about the system being too powerful and too grim for any of us to resist.  I come away with a feeling best described as “don’t hate the player, hate the game”.  So overall,my response is now mixed.

I also revisited Graham green’s Our Man in Havana.  My younger self found this a harmless, whimsical jaunt, which was particularly nice because Greene’s other books – typically the ones you had to read for school – were a bit heavy.

Happily, my grown up self loves Our Man in Havana even more than before.  It was an absolute joy, with all the jaunty tumble into inevitable disaster so beloved of the best sit-coms.  The writing also reminds me of the ironic style that became popular among the alternative comedians in the 1980s.

“Shut in his car, Wormold felt guilt nibbling around him like a mouse in a prison cell.  Perhaps soon the two of them would become accustomed to each other and guilt would come to eat out of his hand.”



The Future’s Orange

Interesting presentation this morning by Matt Locke of ‘Storythings’ at Brandwatch’s NYK Conference.  Among other things, Matt tells how media has transformed from ‘The Schedule’ to ‘The Stream’ rejecting the shift from mainstream to social media, among other trends.

The Schedule was characterised by four qualities: it” synchronised, homogeneous, regulated and scheduled.

The Stream on the other hand embodies different qualities: it’s personalised, mobile, de-contextualised and endless.

It’s the de-contextualised nature of social media in particular that makes fake news such a threat and so insidious.

My favourite observation was that FDR was the first president who “got” TV.  He understood the nature of The Schedule.  You know where this is going now.  Similarly, Donald Trump is the first President who “gets” The Stream.

The futures not bright.  The future is orange.  Be very afraid.


Brands with purpose; the story do far

‘Brands with purpose’ were all the rage for about twenty minutes or so.  Unilever said it was the right thing to do.  So obviously it was the right thing to do.

Then came Pepsigate.  An overzealous attempt to appropriate a world of virtuous resistance against all the evil in the world, while simultaneously calling for world peace, racial harmony and please can we all just start being nice to each other again.  Remember the anti-Vietnam war poster with the girl putting the flower in the barrel of the soldier’s gun?  Except Pepsi misjudged the popular mood and was ridiculed.

My own view is that, while Pepsi’s attempt to tap into this ‘purpose’ was pretty woeful, it wasn’t so much worse than a lot of other work from other brands who just about got away with it.  Pepsi didn’t have any credits in the bank here (as opposed to Coke for example who do) so once social media turned against them, the hole just got deeper and deeper.  Before they knew it, they were a laughing stock and had to withdraw the advertisement in question.  This in turn made them headline news and so doubly a laughing stock.

Harsh but fair.

This debacle has spawned a host of ‘told you so’ coverage.  Most of it is simply accountable to people wanting to score points by dancing on Pepsi’s grave (who wouldn’t?)  I’ve seen lots of other corporate pap which is equally risible, but escaped with barely a word of censure (special mention here for Hewlett Packard’s corporate video).

But I did quite enjoy this:

Moving on, in the wake of Pepsigate, brands should be getting very wary of doing the vision thing.  This idea for Heineken was, presumably, too far advanced to pull out.  In a worlds where Pepsi is ridiculed, this shouldn’t work either.  But it does.  Why?

Two reasons:

  1. Heineken is a brand we like.  It has a history of entertaining us and being witty.  It’s not explicitly a crusading brand (like say, Dove whose influence is very evident here) but it’s well-meaning enough to be credible.
  2. The craft.  It’s very nicely done.

That’s my opinion today.  If it gets lambasted and withdrawn tomorrow, I will of course disown all of this and claim I was being ironic.

And you fell for it right?

National Treasure

I was lucky enough to attend a talk last night by Tony Hall, Director General of the BBC entitled ‘Why I love the BBC’.  If the boss of any other organisation was billed under such a title, it would appear at best sycophantic, at worst deluded.  But for the Beeb it’s the most natural thing in the world.  It is simply the most loved brand you will ever come across.

Bizarre then that the last few weeks have been riddled with news stories about how the authorities (Ministry of Culture and stuff) was keen to make fundamental changes, increasing government control, slashing funding and so on.

Happily, the White paper announced yesterday appears to have missed most of the main demands of the attack dogs.  But it’s weird that such a revered institution has seemingly been under fire in this way.

Martin Kettle wrote a nice piece in the Guardian, in which he says:

Be very clear about the BBC white paper. In almost any other country in the world this would not be happening at all. Beyond Britain the BBC is universally revered. It stands for excellence and independence; and because of that excellence and independence, it stands above all for reliability. There is no other engine of soft power to touch it on the planet.

There’s only one country in the world where the idea that the BBC needs shaking up, taking down, and kicking around has any serious currency. That country, to the disbelief and consternation of much of the rest of the world right now, is Britain.

“I must be dreaming”

HONOR BLACKMAN  Character(s): Pussy Galore  Film 'JAMES BOND: GOLDFINGER' (1964)  Directed By GUY HAMILTON  17 September 1964  SAF21145  Allstar/UNITED ARTISTS    (Goldfinger, UK 1964)    **WARNING** This Photograph is for editorial use only and is the copyright of UNITED ARTISTS  and/or the Photographer assigned by the Film or Production Company & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above Film. A Mandatory Credit To UNITED ARTISTS is required. The Photographer should also be credited when known. No commercial use can be granted without written authority from the Film Company.

We’re very much looking forward to the publication in September of a new James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, penned by Anthony Horowitz.  Not least because Horowitz has a fine record in these ‘approved’ additions to established genres.  His Sherlock Holmes  books, House of Silk and Moriarty, were officially sanctioned by the Conan Doyle estate and they are excellent.

Horowitz professes to be sticking closely to the spirit of Ian Fleming’s originals:  “My aim was to make this the most authentic James Bond novel anyone could have written.”  Lucy Fleming, the niece of Ian Fleming, said “it was almost as if Ian had written [Trigger Mortis] himself … It does feel like a Fleming book.”  This is good news.  The Fleming books are brilliant.

The news has raised some eyebrows because Trigger Mortis features Bond Girl Pussy Galore, played memorably in the film of Goldfinger, by Honor Blackman.  Back in the 70s, the choice of her name was very much in tune with Bond spirit – though it’s reported that the US film authority took some persuading to allow it even then.  In these more enlightened times (special prize here for blurting a choked “political correctness gone mad”) the whole franchise has been accused of mysogyny.

This does raise another interesting debate – should we judge historical behaviour and references by today’s criteria?  Do today’s standards of equality also apply to previous ages when gender roles were very different and the world was a different place?  And how will our current standards be judged by future observers?  It’s a dangerous principle to start to apply without some serious nuances.

I like to imagine that Sean Connery’s heavily accented voicing of “Poossey” was a subtle attempt to deflect attention from the offending word.  A kind of 70s equivalent of “Sorry my dear I don’t give a damn”.

The context is crucial.  After all, if you throw a punch in the ring, you get paid, but if you do the same thing in the street, you could go to jail.

Trigger Mortis