Wanted: a Bank Holiday brand image

whitsun treat_2_2

Forty riotous ten-year-olds are crowded, without seat belts, on to half a dozen benches balanced perilously on the back of a speeding lorry.  The tottering cargo careers through the streets in reckless convoy with similar precarious loads of infants.  They’re screeching with delight as they cling on with their fingertips and soak up the exhaust fumes.

The drivers sound their horns repeatedly, parping like  demented ducks every time they pass their mates, who cheer and raise  holiday pints outside pubs along the way.

The destination?  A scrubby recreation ground furnished with rudimentary amusements of the coconut-shy, swings and roundabout type, plus a roped-off section for three-legged, egg-and-spoon and sack races.

The occasion? The Whitsun Treat.  It was second only to Christmas for primary schoolkids in the South Wales of a few decades ago.

And what gave the day its star quality was not so much the fair as the death-defying trip on the back of the lorry.

The feast of Pentecost didn’t loom large in the infant mind, but the Bank Holiday itself had an identifiable character. It was Whit Monday. You knew you were in for a bumpy ride to a rickety roundabout. You recognised the brand.

But the Bank Holiday we experienced recently suffers from a lack of that very thing.  It has a brand identity problem, and that gives the whole occasion a curiously half-hearted air. It has no personality. It’s the last Monday in May – that’s it.

What’s it all about?

Whit Monday still exists in the church calendar, but it’s no longer a national day off. The associated holiday was re-positioned in 1971, and May’s final Monday became the Spring Bank Holiday. But where’s the USP? This holiday needs a brand consultant to look at it.
How does it compare with the others?

Well, Christmas, of course, is the Apple of Bank Holiday brands. Spiritually and materially, it leads the field in brand recognition and imagery. We can throw Boxing Day and New Year’s Day in here, too. Let’s face it, they’ve all merged. It’s a superbrand.

Easter is officially the biggest date in the church, but we’re talking about Bank Holiday consumers here, and down in the profane world the Easter break comes a creditable second to Christmas. It’s the Google of Bank Holiday brands.

August Bank Holiday? That’s undeniably summer. It used to be all seaside and ice cream, now it’s barbecues, cold beers and garden centres. The brand’s still strong even if the reality isn’t. It’s the Coca Cola of Bank Holiday brands.

Then there’s May Day. It’s traditionally the start of spring, and you can still be embarrassed by Morris dancers in the shopping centre or delayed by a May Queen procession in the High Street.  It just about qualifies as the Microsoft of Bank Holiday brands.

We’re never too bothered about a grey Easter or a drizzly Christmas. Even a wet Summer Bank Holiday brings out the Blitz spirit as the Pimms goes down under canvas. It’s the occasion that counts.

Which leaves us with the last Monday in May. Yes, it makes a pitiable claim for spring as a theme, but – let’s face it – May Day has already nabbed that.

It used to be Whit Monday, but the link is broken. There’s a vague idea that it used to mean something or other, but the significance is gone. It’s a half-remembered advertising jingle for a long-gone product.  In brand terms, it’s the John Collier of Bank Holidays. The Dewhurst of days off.  The Kardomah  of leisure time.  That’s why, even for a holiday, it seems flat.

Name that day

A smart image consultant could help the government revive this brand and give it  a recognisable character. What it needs is a good sponsorship deal. We’re used to seeing commercial brands attached to sports grounds, entertainment venues and events, so why not a Bank Holiday?

As for emotive keywords , how about ‘light’, ‘sparkling’, ‘refreshing’?  The last mundane Monday in May could become an intoxicating mix of distraction and delight as it leads us into the sunshine of early summer. With a substantial promotional budget his could be Moet et Chandon Monday. We needn’t worry too much about the substance. It’s the perception that counts.

But OK, we’re in the age of spending cuts and uncertain returns. Moet may be the ideal, but they might demand more than the occasion can deliver in terms of image.  Perhaps we’ll have to settle for less. Maybe the government could tempt another name to stump up the cash for a more credible concept with lower expectations.funday x

Babycham Bank Holiday, perhaps?  McDonald’s Monday? Lidl Big Time? Every household gets two for the price of one that day only. Net cost about £20M to the sponsor, in return for stupendously increased footfall and total, nationwide brand awareness.

And at least we’d know what we were celebrating.

Let’s face it, a Bank Holiday needs a proper identity, and somehow the fact that Barclays are having a day off isn’t enough to raise the national spirit.

So – Burger King Break? Findus Funday? DFS Day?

On the other hand, we could simply bring back Whit Monday. Let’s get those kids back on the lorries.

And now, the hole story …

The ground is opening up throughout the country.  hole

Last week a hole appeared in the central reservation of the M2 in Kent.  As a result, traffic was diverted past thatched cottages, barns and oasthouses near Canterbury, causing the biggest bottleneck since Chaucer’s pilgrims clogged up the High Street. We’ve had cars dropping to Inner Earth from driveways in Buckinghamshire, evacuation from the threat of sudden descent in Hemel Hempstead, gardens limbering up to swallow children in South London, and houses splitting in two in Yorkshire.  It all seems to be closely linked to the floods.

The favourite smug comment aimed at victims of our present natural disaster is ‘Well, you shouldn’t live on a flood plain’. Try extending that to ‘You shouldn’t live over a Victorian sewage system’ or ‘You shouldn’t live above a layer of chalk or gypsum’. The only acceptable assertion is ‘You shouldn’t live in a country where it rains a lot’, but who really wants to move to Egypt, regardless of the property prices?

Now that the very ground is giving way, eroded by our most notable climate characteristic, there’s only one real therapy.  We need someone to blame.

Unfortunately, the bankers are in the clear on this one. I’d happily fit them up good and proper – who wouldn’t? – but I just can’t pin the weather on them. The Met Office? Well, they did see the rains coming. They were late in their warnings, but it was hardly a Michael Fish moment.

So who’s the best candidate for the pillory?  Well, I’m sorry to nominate a sitting duck but it has to be the Environment Agency. Now I wouldn’t normally put a duck in the pillory or – if it’s sitting – in the stocks, but these are special circumstances.  And the Agency’s deficiency lies in one word:


People who are regularly flooded know what to do when it occurs because it’s an unpleasant but predictable fact of life. Venetians keep the ground floor clear because of frequent high waters. They even line the city squares with collapsible duckboards, ready to provide a dry walkway for locals who consider wellies unstylish.  But most Brits are not used to such inundation. They need notice of the approaching threat and clear advice on what to do when the worst happens.

In this corner of Kent we had our flood scare just before Christmas. As a household we got off lightly, with the water stopping mercifully short of the door at 3 am. We’d already shifted what we could from the ground floor, but beyond that there seemed little to do other than wade through the local Venetian street-scene in the small-hours gloom, nervously observing the water-level.

I’d researched what I could during the brief lead-up, but – even for a chap who spends his working day goggling at screens of every shape and size – practical information and advice were almost impossible to find.

I had an infinite series of questions.

Are sandbags effective? How, exactly, do you deploy them? Where do you get them – are they supplied by the council or some other mysterious agency, or do you have to get the legendary things yourself from a builders’ yard?  What if you haven’t got a car?
Is there any other option as a waterproof shield? How high should it be? Where can I get it?

How do you prepare for the worst, in case the water does break through your defences? What do you do about the electricity supply (all those ground floor plug sockets … )?  What do you do about your main telephone line? What about your broadband connection? Aren’t they all electric, too? Can you protect any of them?  If so, how? If not, what next?

What about the mains water? Will that be contaminated?  If so, what do I do about it?

What about my insurance? What about my submerged car engine? And – in recent cases – what about the Volkswagen that’s disappeared down that hole?

These may all seem perfectly straightforward points to the accomplished handyman and small-print aficionado, but to a chap like me it’s foreign territory. However, one thing I’m OK at is research.  I just couldn’t find any quick, easy answers, and time was running out.

Luckily, the waters went away before my sanity did. But I’m left wondering why the agency responsible for the effects of the environment didn’t issue a concise, easy-to-find, simple-to-understand checklist of what to expect and what to do.

The advertising industry is frivolous in many ways, but at its best it’s based on something surprisingly scientific: communicating a specific message to a target audience.

Government agencies spent millions on advertising and information before the infamous Comprehensive Spending Review of 2010.  Among other things, this called an immediate halt to the multi-media flow of health and safety information.

‘Health and Safety’ is a topic much-mocked by tabloids looking for silly-season stories of bureaucratic interference, but you won’t find such dismissiveness when talking to someone who’s lost a limb in an industrial accident.  Expertly delivered information and advice can mean the difference between life and death or serious injury.

Now, thanks to digital magic, communication is, in theory, increasingly quick and easy.  Yet it’s worthless unless the message is clear and accessible. The information may be in there somewhere, but it won’t reach its target unless it’s analysed, rationalised, translated into the language of real people and delivered via the right route. That’s not a process government agencies are noted for. But it’s exactly what those frivolous advertising people do.

At times like this, it might be worth reconsidering that Comprehensive Spending Review.  There might be a few holes in the argument.

A moustache for the dog. Of course!

Well, that’s one Christmas gift problem solved. Now for some other essentials …

It’s been a busy few weeks, you see. Got married,  survived the great flood, and now, before I’ve had a chance to gather my thoughts, it’s practically Christmas. So I’ve been making up for lost time and searching frantically for a selection of must-have seasonal items.  I’ve reproduced some of them here. They’re all genuine and available now. You may find this gives you some inspiration  for your own Christmas list.

Arch tache_2The dog’s moustache? It’s a chewable toy with face-fungus attached. When your hound grips the toy in his teeth, he finds himself unavoidably wearing a splendid ‘tache.  Choose from the Jimmy Edwards, Salvador Dali or Harold Macmillan models. I’ve picked the Jimmy Edwards for Archie, and I can’t think why he doesn’t seem more pleased.

Now then, when you’re putting out the rubbish, what do you really, really need?  That’s it –  Christmas- pudding-style bin bags. Snapshot 2013-12-15 12-53-01Not only will your giftee be moved to tears with gratitude; just imagine the simple pleasure these beautiful creations will give the binmen as they chuck them into the wagon.

Finding that certain something for the woman in your life is always tricky. But this freudyear, if she’s the analytical type, your problems are solved. What could be more welcome than a pair of Freudian slippers? As a valuable bonus, your loved one can help the Viennese master poke his tongue out as she moves her toes. It’s perhaps this year’s most therapeutic gift idea.saus

But maybe she’s a bit of a style icon. If she can coax the dog away from his new moustache and tempt him out for a promenade, well, here’s an update on the statement clutch bag. Yes, it’s the string-of-sausages lead. Those in the know in Paris, Milan and New York are seldom seen without a dachsund on a thread of chipolatas. Treat your woman to the gift of fashion-forwardness in the UK High Street.

Snapshot 2013-12-15 15-08-05On the other hand, if you’re a woman looking for a tasteful tribute to your man’s appreciation of the good things in life, here’s the very thing: a yodelling pickled gherkin.  OK, it’s not a real gherkin – don’t be silly – but this elegant artefact has the graceful lines of the genuine article with an inestimable bonus: a built-in recording of one of Switzerland’s leading yodellers performing a moving rendition of that country’s contribution to world musical culture.

In this digital age, classic high-quality stationery has more of a cachet than ever. And for that friend or biscuit bookrelative who relishes the sensual mystique of  fountain pen on fine laid paper, there’s no better way to encapsulate the experience than in a Rich Tea biscuit.

This luxurious notebook comes in soft leather covers with the look – and the scent – of  your grandmother’s favourite biscuit. Stationery heaven. Just don’t dip it in your tea.

Perhaps all this signals an upturn in business prospects. After all, anyone who invests in a few thousand yodelling plastic gherkins must know something we don’t.

Maybe this festive merchandise heralds a return to the days of optimistic entrepreneurship in the months ahead. If so, here’s hoping that those forward-looking manufacturers and retailers look in this direction for their advertising and marketing.  It could mean that 2014 is the year we return to excess, decadence and all the stationery we can eat.

The dog’s an expert on the last point. I’d ask his opinion but he’s busy waxing his handlebars just now.

Royal Mail becomes PostModern

My dog’s confused about the Royal Mail flotation.

Those were the days ...

Those were the days …

He’s always hated the postman. Anyone who shoves final demands through the letterbox  is to be strongly discouraged, and I’m with him there. But our postman’s a lovely chap, and while he’s still got his fingers he continues to deliver the goods – and the bads – every morning with unfailing cheeriness.

He’s a familiar feature, and dogs love routine. The daily skirmish at the doormat is reassuring sign of consistency.  Anything that might affect it should be examined carefully.  So, as a TV watcher and member of a media-involved household, the resident hound has a big question:

Where was the multi-million pound advertising campaign?

His antecedents – Jack Russells, so a bit potty – used to bark when the phone rang.  This was a useful alert in the days of one-receiver households. They would then howl throughout the following conversation, thinking it was a valuable contribution to the ritual.  It made business calls a bit tricky, but at least they were acknowledging the significance of BT in their lives.

So in the 80s, when the government launched BT’s share issue with a massive ad campaign, the dogs knew it was happening and appreciated the effort.  Maureen Lipman dominated the airwaves in a series of artfully scripted and produced commercials. Press, posters and radio combined to make the message unmissable.

"Tell Sid."

“Tell Sid.”

Shortly afterwards, British Gas hit the media with its own privatisation campaign. “Tell Sid” was always a bit weird as a theme line, but once again the viewing, reading and listening public were in no danger of missing what was going on. The dogs weren’t too interested in gas as a utility, to be honest, but they were very keen on food and, by extension, cooking, so they kept themselves informed, as adults should.

But the Royal Mail? It’s all been extremely low-key. Granted, the offer is mainly to institutional investors, but we ad folk like to see a bit of a splash, if only to keep our writing and art direction hands in during straitened times.

So the dog’s puzzled about something that’s an important part of his life. Will the mail still be called ‘royal’ when it’s owned by hedge funds, or will it be modishly reincarnated as ‘PostModern’? As proprietorship inevitably changes hands, will stamps eventually bear the noble silhouette of Richard Branson? Will a new logo and livery make it hard to recognise the daily invader through the frosted glass?

Dogs don’t like change unless Maureen Lipman’s involved.

And you should see the mess at the next gate …

gate sign x_2_2_2If dogs could read we could just leave instructions for them around the place. The danger lies in the mixed message.  This one would raise an almighty stink at the next entrance down.

Yesterday, a short walk around the neighbourhood reminded me that physical, rather than digital, communication is still all around us.  It makes for an informing,  entertaining, amusing and bemusing stroll.

For instance, shortly after passing the gate with the advice to literate dogs I came across a poster for an art exhibition with the disorientating announcement: ‘Private View. All welcome.’ After pondering  all day, I still don’t know what sort of event it was.  The picture keeps shifting and makes me feel a bit unsteady.  Maybe it’s part of the concept.

However, the reassuring thing about local notices is that confusion isn’t deliberate. Which brings us to energy companies.

This week Ed Milliband pledged to cap energy prices for two years in the event of a Labour election win. The promise received a mixed reaction from politicians and business (guess which business), though it’s bound to please us, the bill-payers. But he’d have been be sure of support from all sides if he’s targeted the way the companies advertise their tariffs.  Here,  confusion is a calculated tactic.

A recent Which? report pointed to one offer which promised ‘you’ll be up to £100 richer’ when in fact it would make you £233 poorer. Another ad promised ‘two months’ free energy’ when in fact it would save you a mere £3.80 over a year. Yet another offered £125 off your gas bill, when in fact you’d have to switch to a tariff which was £157 more expensive than the competition.  The figures were the result of expert manipulation of the complex price structure to create a misleadingly attractive proposition.

There’s a crucial rule in advertising: make a single point in a compelling way.  Give your audience one thing to grasp, and do it in a manner that makes them stop and think. Don’t complicate things with too many messages.

Well, the energy companies certainly follow that rule. The trouble is, the complications they kindly spare us have quite a bearing on the main message.

Snapshot 2013-09-22 18-49-30How refreshing, then, to return to the stroll around the neighbourhood and experience  a simpler approach to addressing the public, with no apparent intention to deceive.  There’s something peculiarly comforting about the expression of an undeniable fact. Here’s an honest claim if ever I saw one.  IMG00331-20130922-1022_2

And a bit of civic pride is always good to see, so this noble assertion is guaranteed to lift the spirits of all passers-by.

Maybe there’s a lesson there for the energy companies and their advertising. Because, with these two examples of informing readers, at least we know where we are.



Every business is a shop. And what does every shop need?

Imagine this:

You’re a shopkeeper. Times are hard and you’re desperate for turnover. You’ve got things you need to sell. So what do you do?

You put them in your shop window, of course.  Obvious, eh?
window Y_2
Well, not to everybody.  When the recession’s biting and money’s tight, many businesses think the shop window is a luxury. They start cutting costs on all sides and forgetting why they exist.

Because let’s face it: there’s one key reason to be in business – and that’s to sell your goods or services.  It’s your reason for existence, and it’s why your shop window is an absolute necessity.  Ask any shopkeeper.

Just recently I’ve been talking to a few people in the advertising and marketing business, both in Kent and in London. Whether they’re industry giants or small independent agencies, there’s a common theme.

They say that when clients start to trim their outgoings, it’s the advertising and marketing budget that suffers first. There’s usually no long-term commitment to a set expenditure, so it’s easy to pull the plug and apparently save a few thousand – or a few hundred thousand.

It makes a welcome difference to the balance sheet debit column. But it’s a false economy.

In recessionary times advertising is more important than ever. When potential customers are being unusually careful about how they spend their money, you need to give them compelling reasons to spend that money with you.

And you’ll need something more compelling than just price cuts. Because (have you noticed?) anybody who is advertising right now is offering Summer Sale Prices, Money Off, Special Discounts and Great Reductions. To compete in that market you simply have to offer bigger reductions as customers gravitate to whoever is cheapest. There must be a better way of making a living.

That’s where the skill of professional marketing communications comes in.  Advertising in itself will put your goods in the shop window – and that’s a basic essential.  Good advertising will make you stand out from the competition. And that comes down to being more appealing. As we’ve seen, price alone isn’t sufficient because there’ll always be someone cheaper – until that someone is you, and you find yourself selling at a loss.

The art lies in speaking to your market in a different, original, uniquely attractive way. Naturally, price will play a part – but what’s more important is to make your audience say: “Hey – I never thought of it like that before. I’m going to look into this!”

So how is it done? Well, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s a specialist, bespoke job done by marketing and advertising professionals. In times like these, businesses aiming to do more than survive need to look to their shop windows – and get the experts in to dress them attractively.

You can’t tell a toff from an oik this afternoon

Nobody’s wearing a suit in Canterbury today.

I’m writing at a cafe table on the High Street and watching a steady procession of what appear to be holidaymakers. But surely not every passer-by is on hols right now. Some of them must be at work – like me, for heaven’s sake – and taking a quick break.

You’d expect the occasional accountant, solicitor, dentist or heart specialist to stroll by as they pop out for a quick fag. Maybe they are doing that, and I’m not spotting them because they’ve changed into beachwear before leaving the office.

So what do you wear to work in a heat wave?  One thing’s certain. T-shirts, vests, shorts, cut-off jeans and flip flops play havoc with the visual class system. Normally, you can pick out your actual toff from your average oik without much difficulty. At the moment, I’m not sure whether that bloke over there is a car thief or the Archbishop of Canterbury (the eyebrows used to be a giveaway, but things have changed around here).

Despite climate change, we’re still not used to proper summers in the UK. As a result, once the temperature rises, we – and let’s face it, I’m talking males here – resort to seaside postcard wear. Yet in Athens, or Rome, or Nice, or Venice, professional chaps wear suits throughout the heat of the day and still manage to look cool, stylish, and capable of selling you a house or handling your divorce. Only the holidaymaking visitors wear holiday gear.

The fact is, your clothes have a big effect on the way other people see you. One hot day I spent ten minutes remonstrating with a railway official over an incorrect platform announcement which caused me to miss my train. I delivered my argument indignantly and authoritatively – all right, pompously – and expected him to wilt in submission. He didn’t. I was wearing baggy, below-the-knee shorts, a string vest and a Foreign Legion sun hat. Something told against me.

Which brings me to the vexed question of advertising agency wear. There was a time when account handlers were known as suits and creatives were known as those awkward sods in t-shirts and jeans. Now you can’t tell the difference. Not that the creatives have started wearing suits. It’s the account handlers who’ve gone the other way.

Once, the client could enjoy the frisson of a meeting with the executive on the right, besuited, respectable and businesslike, and the creative on the left, all ripped jeans, no socks and naughty language. Perfect combination. You were getting something properly strategic and dangerously provocative all in one. Now it’s permanently dress-down Friday and both sides are wearing the same, rather than contrasting, uniforms.

To the outsider it suggests the same kind of thinking, which is disastrous. You don’t want account handlers thinking like creatives. And you don’t want creatives thinking like account handlers. Where’s the productive tension in that?

OK, I’m talking about perception here. But superficial as it is, it’s the arena we work in. We strive to influence the way our readers, viewers and listeners grasp things. So here’s a new proposition for clients to accept, and for advertising agency staff to follow:

From now on all creatives should start dressing up, while all account handlers should carry on dressing further down. In other words, all creatives should start wearing suits, and all account handlers should be naked. It’s the only logical way to go. And on a day like today, we’d be able to tell the account handlers from the mere holidaymakers.


Four fantastic, amazing ways to be incredible

Online advertising’s showing all the babyish characteristics of print and TV advertising before they grew up.  Which is very reassuring to those of us who come from those media worlds.  We feel we’ve been here before, we feel comfortable and at home – and it gives us endless scope to poke fun.

These thoughts arose after a trawl through my inbox over the past few days.  Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can make your advertising seem, well, incredible.

1. Always put numbers in your headlines.

Some time ago a well-meaning digital guru suggested that a headline promising a numbered list of benefits would always attract readers. The idea was that people like lists, so they’ll probably read on.  Seemed reasonable at the time.

The older version was the ‘How’ headline.  ‘I made a million selling Tupperware’ was OK, but ‘How I made a million selling Tupperware’ was a world-beater.


“Pick a number – any number …”

The trouble is, people in the selling game like formulas.  So just as the ‘How’ headline became a cliche in print, the numbered-list headline has become the norm in Internet marketing.

And that goes against another much simpler and more effective formula:  that, to gain attention, you need to stand out from the crowd.

So now  look what’s happened.  Here’s a selection of the headline messages I’ve received in the past couple of days:

Five quick things you can do this week to fix your marketing

Eight easily avoidable ways to lose a prospect

The five things customers actually want

Three ways to perk up your email response

Six simple steps to sales success

Thirty quick tips every retailer needs to know

Well, at least it makes clearing the inbox easier.  I’m particularly taken with the concept of thirty quick tips.  I’d guess the writer was blinded by the idea that more is better. Watch out for your local supermarket manager struggling to remember tip number twenty-three as he sees you approaching the special offers.

2. Go amazey crazy

Save £1. Amazing!

Save £1. Amazing!

Only amazing things are amazing.  You don’t see many of them on a weekday in Faversham.  You used to see a lot of them in press and TV advertising before writers discovered Roget.  But a scan through my emails today brought these eye-popping features to light:

An amazing  private ranch 

An amazing ability to recreate the dramatic scenes from this momentous period

Amazing reunions. We’ve recently uploaded an amazing video all about twin sisters who were reunited after 55 years

Restaurants with amazing views 

What emerges is nothing short of amazing – an inspiring tale of healing and human connection

Last minute summer sales and amazing deals

Twenty Easy and Free Tools for Creating Amazing Visuals

That’s all in one day.  Blimey – it’s an exhausting world with so much amazement around.

But remember the boy who cried “Wolf!”   When he was eventually eaten alive, people  gathered around saying “Well, that was moderately surprising.”

3. Live on Fantasy Island

“Don’t miss this strange, weird and grotesque offer!”  Any takers for that?

Now that's fantastic.

Now that’s fantastic.

OK, I know we don’t always have to be literal. Yes, they’re the primary dictionary definitions of  ‘fantastic’, but nowadays we generally equate ‘fantastic’ with ‘wonderful’.

Yet to online sellers the word is usually a crutch for a lame proposition.  And that, too, is  eerily familiar to those who remember the shouty days of old-style advertising.

Here’s another look at today’s inbox:

Get your garden ready for entertaining this summer with this fantastic offer

Offering an internship is a fantastic way for your organisation to recruit a bright and enthusiastic student

A fantastic stay in a fantastic place

Shop fantastic piano sheet music as featured on TV programs.

We’re pleased to present you with a fantastic 10% OFF return flights*!

Get more fantastic bestsellers!

Win £200 of Waitrose vouchers! Stop whatever you’re doing right now and enter our fantastic competitions

Some worthwhile messages there, perhaps.  But it would be, er,  fantastic to vary the vocabulary now and then, if only to suggest you’re not like everybody else.

4. There isn’t a point four

I told you not to fall for ‘number’ headlines.

The birth of a genius.

Now I get it. I’m a master of modern marketing. I’m the meister of the zeitgeist.  I have The Power.

And I didn’t realise it. I thought I was just unlucky.

You see, right now I’m destroying everything around me. But apparently that makes me a hot property.

It didn’t seem that way at first. Take the laptop. Turned it off, went to bed, got up, turned it on.  Nothing.  A deceased hard drive, with everything consigned to oblivion. Three hundred quid for a new one, and – aaarghhh – I know I’ll have to ring BT about re-setting the emails.

Well, that's the pebbles done

Well, that’s the pebbles done

Take the washing machine.  It started hopping about with what sounded like a ton of pebbles clattering around inside. Turns out that a bit of the tumble dryer has broken off.  Can’t use the machine for a week, and – gulp – the bill …

Then my Blackberry decided to change its settings. Now I have an accidental close-up of a scuffed shoe as my screensaver. How did that get in my photo library? What’s it doing here, now?



My back-up laptop became a sulky teenager overnight. I popped in a DVD as usual and the machine claimed it had no idea what I was up to. It’s still raising its eyes to the ceiling and suggesting I’m an imbecile.

The TV has re-programmed itself.  Now it brings me local London news instead of the usual South East round-up, so I’m missing vital info on prize marrows and carnival queens.

A CD player I use professionally has started jumping during tracks, turning soothing therapy into jerky hip hop.

The diagnosis is clear. It’s me. I’m a genius.


Some time ago, voguish advertising agencies thought it was a good idea to rechristen their main activity.  Instead of calling it ‘creativity’ they started referring to ‘disruption’.

H’mm. Claiming a negative is a positive and offering it as a benefit, eh?  You might say that sounds a bit silly. They’d say they were transforming the familiar and predictable into the challenging, unexpected and original, using disruption as a tool for change, an agent for growth, a way of imagining new possibilities and visionary … oops, sorry, dozed off for a second, there

But what I’d say is: “If we’re supposed to be disrupting, rather than creating, better get disrupt_2the expert in.” And that’s me.  I should be able to put my new powers to good use in this exciting environment.

Outmoded views on consumer behaviour? Zap! Antiquated ideas about customer response? Pow!  Archaic design? Bam!  Tired typography? Splat! Creaking copy? er, Zock! Disable your preconceptions. Reset your marketing.  Reformat your projections. Send for the man with the aura of chaos.

Now, between you and me, I can’t help thinking there’s an air of over-calculation in advertising’s supposed espousal of anarchy and disorder.  The use of the word ‘disruption’ has what Kingsley Amis called a whiff of the lamp about it, as if someone’s stayed up too late working too hard to come up with something provocative.

In contrast, if my recent domestic record’s anything to go by, I could be on to a winner – because I’m the real thing. I’m the genuine maestro of mayhem.  I’d celebrate my new status with a coffee but the espresso machine’s just exploded.

So give me a call. Stop being complacent. Let’s break the boundaries and disrupt the apparatus of easy expectation.

But give me an hour or so. I just have to pop down to the launderette.

Getting plastered makes you cleverer.

No – not a tribute to the therapeutic powers of alcohol. Sadly, nothing to do with a good night out.


Sign here

The fact is, I’ve been legless – or lacking one effective leg – for over a week now. Two Saturdays ago I bloomin’ went and broke my ankle – and I’m just realising how much I took for granted before I began staggering around on crutches.

I’ve got about six weeks of this lined up, and I’m learning something new every day. I should be a genius by the time they take the plaster off.

You may remember that maths-and-logic puzzle about the man who has to get a fox, a chicken and a sack of chicken feed across a river. (No – I don’t know why he’s transporting a fox. But don’t get distracted.)

"Er, hello ..."

“Er, hello …”

He has a rowing boat, but there’s only room in it for him and one other passenger or item. He can’t leave the fox and the chicken together, unattended. And he can’t leave the chicken alone with the chicken feed. What’s a chap to do?

Clearly, the best answer is not to go around with such a stupid combination of items in  the first place, but we are where we are.

Tricky, eh?

Well, I know just how the fox-and-chicken carrier feels.  Right now I’ve got one working leg and – thanks to the crutches – no spare hands. And I live in a three-story house: ground-floor office, first-floor kitchen, second-floor bedroom. I need to use them all.

So how do I get from the kitchen down to the office carrying a book, a mobile phone, a laptop, a cup of tea and a pack of oh-so-essential painkillers?  And before you say ‘pockets’, note that my only trousers voluminous enough to accommodate the plastered calf are pocketless (they’re called loungewear, right?).

It took me a day or two to figure it out, but now I take a plastic carrier bag everywhere.  Whenever I want to change locations I put the things I need in the bag, grab the handle in one of my crutch-gripping hands, and off I go. Fortunately, I haven’t needed to carry a fox and a chicken down to the office yet.  And, sad to say, it doesn’t work with the cup of tea.

But those stairs.

"By the time I get to bed it'll be time to get up."

“By the time I get to bed it’ll be time to get up.”

Can’t hop up them on two crutches – misjudge by an inch and you’ll be on your back in the hallway with another leg busted.  But after some experimenting I discovered how to do it with just one crutch. The banister rail acts as your other crutch, and you use it to haul yourself up while using the real one as a support on the other side.  Why couldn’t the Daleks work that out?

But then – you get to the top of the stairs, and where’s your other crutch when you need it? At the bottom of the stairs.  Arrrghhh!

So thinking cap on again. Solution: as you do your one-crutch ascent, you keep your gammy side properly supported and, with your other hand, slide/throw the second crutch up as many stairs as you can. Then you catch up with it using the one-crutch-and-banister-rail technique.  Repeat as necessary. You’ll arrive at the top with a friendly second crutch waiting to welcome you.  Reverse the process for your descent.

Showering without getting the plaster wet? Bin bag and masking tape.  Getting out of bed?  Sideways roll, unbroken foot down, crutch in easy reach.  Carrying a drink across the room without spilling?  One crutch supporting, one hand holding drink, one foot sideways-shuffling like Chubby Checker doing The Twist (so no hopping).

The whole business has given me a new perspective. In the advertising game we’re always trying to put ourselves in the mind of our audience. If we can do that successfully, we communicate effectively. But if we’re aiming at an audience that’s Not Like Us, we can never really assume that persona.  We can only try to understand it from a distance.

Usually, we do that pretty well, otherwise only footballers would be writing Ferrari ads and oil barons scripting central London property campaigns. But just now I’m experiencing what it’s what it’s like to be unable to do the simplest things without a huge effort, if at all.

So I feel even higher regard for the genuinely disabled and those that care for them.

I have greater personal insight into the daily obstacles faced by anyone with practical, physical problems. I can share the consequent thought processes. I’ve a much better grasp of how new products, developing technology and simple but inspired initiatives can help. And if I’m producing creative work in that sector I’ll be communicating more directly and effectively – because I understand the audience better.

And respect them infinitely more.