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Posts from January 2007

The Dark Side of Brands


A couple of weeks back at that APG talk, I met an interesting chap called David, one of the very few who braved the Tuesday night to come out drinking afterwards. [Note to planners - You need to come out drinking more. That's how you meet the interesting people. Seriously, it was like pulling teeth. I know it was a Tuesday in January but that's no excuse. I may have to start some kind of booze, evening based analogue of the coffee mornings. Booze evenings.]

We had a chat and he told me about his theory of Sad-vertising, which I found very interesting. In an Admap article, and now on his blog, he posits that negative emotions are underutilised in advertising:

Sad-vertising spurns the convention of using upbeat positivity to stimulate trivial, fluffy emotions in the consumer. Rather it embraces a downbeat tone which flies in the face of superficiality, acknowledging that people, emotions and real life are a confusing mess of ups and downs, all blended into one and nonetheless enjoyable, meaningful and powerful for it.

David has already managed to get Eric du Plessis, of The Advertised Mind and Millward Brown, into the conversation - head over to Feel Anything to check it out.

When I spoke to David I mentioned his thinking resonates strongly with some ideas that my mate Adam, from Naked Down Under, has been developing [both Adam and David are trained psychologists - I suspect this is unlikely to be a coincidence].

Adam has been talking about the Dark Side of Brands as the next stage in the evolution of branded communication. To summarise, in the 1980s brands were all yang: superficial, aspirational, glossy and inauthentic: think  Pepsi, think huge logos.  In the 9os brands developed a more authentic voice, reflecting our values not our aspirations: think Dove, Innocent, Body Shop, Big Brother.

Now, brands need to embrace their shadows. Shadows are qualities deemed unacceptable and thus are usually hidden, by brands and by people. But if brands could tap into their shadows, they would allow consumers to express and normalise the negative feelings they all have, and thus build much stronger relationships with them.

To create stronger, robust, believable brands, we must turn to the dark side.

All of which brings me back to something Jon Steel said at the APG talk. Or rather, something he didn't say. He showed an example slide from a pitch document but didn't talk it through, that highlighted the fact that great brands resolve contradictions: Apple makes computers human, Persil makes dirt good, that sort of thing.

And this helps explain further why brands need to express their dark side. The dark side allows them the complexity required to resolve these contradictions. In fact, it is in the resolution of contradicitions that the role of brands may be seen to lie.

Brands function in the realm of myth. Myths are inherently complex and polysemous - this is why I fall down on the complexity side of the brand arguement. And the cultural function of myth, according to Levi Strauss who knew a thing or two about them, is to:

"provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction."

Life is full of contradictions. Brands, like myths, provide a metanarrative that helps people find meaning and thus resolve them.

Which is why we have Dark M&Ms.

Where do you get ideas from?


You steal them, of course!

Ronald Burt's theory of Where Ideas Come From explains:

Got a good idea? Now think for a moment where you got it. A sudden spark of inspiration? A memory? A dream? Most likely, says Ronald S. Burt, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, it came from someone else who hadn't realized how to use it. "The usual image of creativity is that it's some sort of genetic gift, some heroic act," Mr. Burt said. "But creativity is an import-export game. It's not a creation game."

Mr. Burt has spent most of his career studying how creative, competitive people relate to the rest of the world, and how ideas move from place to place. Often the value of a good idea, he has found, is not in its origin but in its delivery.

[via the excellent Scamp]

This chimes with Mr Heath's new research that suggests that what communication says is insignificant relative to how it is said.

As much as I like theories that support my titular proposition, the way this theory is formulated actually represents an infinite recursion - if you get an idea from "someone else who hadn't realized how to use it", the question then becomes where did that person get the idea, and so on.

Ronald's line of enquiry stretches back at least as far as Locke, who wanted to understand where ideas come from [although he had a broader definition of idea in mind - essentially the object of any thought]. His answer was from sensation and reflection. Simple ideas are experienced directly by the senses - horse for example - and then we use our mental facility [reflection] to combine them to build more complex, abstract ideas - take a horn and a horse and you've got a unicorn, even though you have never encounted one in real life.

Early Western travellers to India thought that the rhino was a unicorn, because Indian rhinos have one horn, which is possibly why its zoological name is Rhinoceros unicornis.

Perhaps the most famous artwork featuring a rhino is this drawing by Durer, who had never seen one when he drew it, which probably supports the proposition that it's the delivery that matters not the root of the idea, but I suspect I've already digressed too far to reign this post back in so I'll leave it there.

Anatomy of an Account Planner


Some of the comments over on Adliterate sparked a sort of 'what is planning' debate, which in turn led some people to actually ask - what is planning?

Richard directed them to the APG, where you can download a short document called "What is Account Planning?".

One thing that jumped out at me was the origin of the term: account planner is a fusion of account person and media planner because Stephen King's new department was supposed to be a hybrid between these disciplines - a derivation that I think is particularly relevant today when the division between creative and media planning is becoming less and less helpful - if you want to understand people you need to understand how they interact with media - so much of what constitutes life now falls under the heading of mediated experience.


In my inter-roamings, I then came across another great document: The Anatomy of Account Planning - The Creativity behind Creativity by Henrik Habberstad, a planner at  Dinamo in Oslo.

It's a rather excellent analysis of the craft, covering its history, practice and some thoughts about the future, with input from some of the best brains in the business.

It has a couple of things to add to the Adliterate debate:

However, as Nick Kendall, Group Planning Director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty says, planning in the narrowest sense is about input of research to the process of creating advertising, but if you stop here, you’re in trouble.

I contacted Henrik and he has kindly agreed to allow me to [re]publish his paper here - it was written as part of an MSC in Advertising and Communication back in 2000.  You can Download it here.

I'll leave the last word on this to Stephen King himself:

“Henrik Habberstad has clearly done an enormous amount of research about account planning and talked to a lot of people. I can’t believe that there’s much remaining about the topic that hasn’t been covered; so this will be the most detailed and comprehensive paper available on planning”

- Stephen King -

Slightly disconcerting quote

accident (simulation)
Originally uploaded by kelfoto.

Everything is destined to reappear as simulation. Landscapes as photography, women as the sexual scenario, thoughts as writing, terrorism as fashion and the media, events as television.

Things seem only to exist by the virtue of this strange destiny. You wonder whether the world itself isn't just here to serve as advertising copy in some other world.

Jean Baudrillard, America
Ps. I've been messing around with Flickr post to blogs thing. Don't like it.

Porn is cool


I realise I'm risking some odd search traffic with the title of this post, but it's true - porn is cool. And I don't just mean the term, which is undoubtedly the modifier du jour: food porn, garden porntime porngadget porn, debt porn etc etc.

[I imagine there are now going to be a lot of confused and disappointed teenagers landing on this site now.]

The cues of porn, having been surreptiously normalised by the democratic reach of the internet, have been liberally sprinkled into communications to give things a knowing, salacious edge.

American Apparel are famous for their poorly lit amateur porn advertising, some of which features genuine porn stars. Lee Jeans ripped this off in Australia. Cripin Porter [I wonder if Alex Bogusky ever gets annoyed that his name always gets dropped off] knocked up some banners for a young creatives competition on the theme 'Barely Legal' and put together Pink Panty Poker for Victoria's Secret [brilliantly their site explains the campaign was aimed at 18-25 girls but appealed to a 'wide audience of men as well'.]

The latest brand to attempt to subvert the tropes of online porn is Diesel, who today have had their homepage taken over by two young ladies called Heidi. They've kidnapped a young man, handcuffed him to a bed and are now looking for suggestions as to what they should do to him, in the style of various pay per view webcam sites. Apparently.

Watch the story unfold, never realising you are being sold Diesel's new range of underwear, here.

I don't know art but I knows what I like


A few years ago, feeing a bit flush and wishing to bolster my 'cool credentials' [Sidenote: have you ever had a client / brief use that expression? Cool credentials. We need to bolster our cool credentials. You know, with the kids and that. Makes me shudder. Can you imagine the exam you'd need to pass to get your cool credentials? Name an obscure Japanese trainer company...Which of the following bands are not considered neo-rave...What do you think of anything enjoyed by more than 9 people? {Clue - it sucks}] I bought an unsigned Banksy print.

It's called Weston-Super-Mare and it's quite long, slightly menacing and  usually lives on living room wall [at the moment it's on the floor - there was a party]. I've been very happy with it. It cost me more to frame it than the print itself cost and I never considered it any kind of investment.

Last week, my mate discovered said print, unsigned, on ebay going for £1000.

The whole Banksy thing has got way out of control.

Now, I'm not going to be selling my print - I like it [and to be honest I've probably lost the certificate thing anyway] - but it has left me with the urge to buy more inexpensive art and see what happens. Like a new wave Charles Saatchi, only using beer money not the proceeds from selling my agency.

All of which is a very long winded way of saying I've just bought a picture - see above - do you like it?

It was painted by a friend of a friend - he's called RichT - you can see more of his work here.

If you want one of your own you can email him here: [email protected] 

I'm not saying it will be worth a grand or anything. But I think it's great.

I love the little guys in his head.

What is a media company?


Saw a good presentation this morning by Simon Waldman, Director of Digital Strategy at Guardian Media Group. He specifically addressed something that I've been trying to get my head round for a while: in a converged world, how does a media brand define itself?

He put forward the above model for what a media company used to be. They have a brand and their talent, that create the content, but to a large degree a media company has thus far been defined by its distribution mechanism - so a tv channel is, well, a tv channel and a magazine is a magazine.

But now we are entering a converged world and that, every media brand is converging into the same spaces: you can get cross platform content - be it text, audio or video - from Channel 4, FHM, The Guardian or Kiss radio. So, in this converged world, how does a media company define itself?

Simon put forward the following:


So it becomes the community that considers itself your audience that helps define you as a media organisation [correct me if I'm wrong Simon!].

I like this but I suspect that only media brands that have a distinct positioning will be able to compete. If you can get content in any form from anywhere, only the strength of the relationship you have as a brand with your audience will keep you cohesive. Brands move into the position of editors and facilitators, as well as being content creators.   

So that Guardian moves from being "A Daily National Liberal Newspaper" to "The World's Leading Liberal Voice" - a territory it can fairly claim.

But if you're ITV 3, I've no idea where you go.