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Upsetting Jim Davidson

November 23, 2018 Leave a comment

I spoke to my talented casting agent/ DJ/ street photographer friend Babycakes Romero on Wednesday (November 21st). He was at one of the Extinction Rebellion ‘events’, listening to (and photographing) some well-meaning and brave environmental protesters as they were roundly abused by anyone and everyone. Including ‘funnyman’ Jim Davidson. (He’s not big and he’s certainly not funny.)

Yesterday’s man, yesterday

Babycakes – let’s call him Jon – has blogged beautifully about the event here. I recommend reading his piece, having a think and then coming back to this blog.

Because while I endorse the theory behind Extinction Rebellion (in the face of climate crisis, lawbreaking becomes morally justifiable), personally I can’t work out how angering people going about their everyday business is going to help.

As an advertiser, amateur psychology is something I invariably engage in on a day-to-day basis. And call me old-fashioned, but I reckon pissing people off is unlikely to win them round. That’s why calling poorly-educated Americans “a basket of deplorables” didn’t quite pan out as she hoped for Hillary Clinton.

To me, one of the most puzzling aspects of the climate crisis is why fear, so often used as a motivator in advertising and by right-wing politicians, is ineffective when applied to the extinction of species or the heating of the planet.

It must be because the observable downsides of global warming are, for most people in the developed world, still intangible. Whereas terrorist atrocities in the name of Islam or the presence of a Portuguese cafe on the hight street are visible evidence of something having “gone wrong” and requiring (invariably) a simplistic and ignorant solution.

It’s crazy that an entire industry such as anti-bac cleansing wipes, for example, worth millions of pounds, is based on the threat from invisible germs, yet the visible evidence of crop failure, forest fires and the like are not sufficient to persuade us to take action on climate change. It’s almost as if using facts and evidence to win arguments is insufficient. Or, more likely, that the sacrifice required to solve it is simply too great.

So how do we address this?

When Michelle Obama says that she and her husband were determined, come what may, to continue “punching up”, she captured the horrible dilemma that faces anyone in public life when they rely on reason and logic to persuade an understandably less well-informed populace that their beliefs may change were they to consider the following salient facts, especially when ignoring facts and believing crude prejudice seems to be the order of the day.

It’s hard, but the Obamas’ ability to do that is why they write books about “The Audacity of Hope”, and why those of us who find them inspiring are disappointed when they’re replaced by people who don’t know the meaning of either audacity or hope. 

Is it time for progressives to punch down? If punching down means blocking traffic, I’m not so sure. I know the Extinction Rebellion protesters are trying to disrupt, not persuade, but still.

If evidence won’t work (and it won’t) and preventative action is too painful to take, punching up is the only way we can conceivably save the planet from disaster. Good luck to anyone who can win an election on the platform Babycakes describes in his blog. If a referendum can be swung by a significant anti-immigration vote garnered from the people least likely to live in places affected by immigration, I suspect anyone proposing no flying, no driving and no consumerism is going to lose face and their deposit, in that order.

So what will punching up to save the planet look like? Here are some suggestions:

It will look like renewable energy solutions, made affordable by governments’ belated realisation that they cannot afford (literally) to ignore the problem any longer.

It will look like cars and planes fuelled by anything that doesn’t emit CO2 (see the reason given above).

It will look like the advance of tech solutions that will address the disappearance of pollinators and the reduction in fertile arable land.

It will look like the removal of GDP and economic ‘growth’ as an objective, and a focus on the worth of clean air, clean water, animal life and the natural world.

It will come from the displacement of people in one of the more powerful countries (here’s looking at you, Trumpville, Wisconsin).

And it will come from the planet itself, as water, food and hospitable land is made scarce and people fight for alternatives.

Are those last two punching up? Not really. All I know is that by the time there’s no guarantee I’ll have clean water coming out of my tap, I’ll be slightly less annoyed by someone disrupting my ability to drive through Elephant & Castle. Hunger and thirst are pretty motivating, I reckon.

In the meantime, I remain convinced that the only benefit of last week’s Extinction Rebellion was that it upset Jim Davidson. You take your consolations where you can find them.



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Winter is coming

October 31, 2018 Leave a comment

The baseball season in the States runs from the very start of April to the very end of October. Its beginning coincides with the first balmy days of spring; its end with the sharp dip in temperatures that signals the arrival of autumn proper and the earliest hint of winter.

As readers of this blog may know, I have become a huge baseball fan over the past ten years, with the MLB post season now, more or less, my favourite sporting event. Its conclusion is bittersweet: the World Series not only the culmination of a season but also the signal of an end – not just of baseball, but of summer. And, maybe, of more than that.

The melancholy that accompanies this passing of time is amplified by shorter days and longer nights; of falling temperatures and the prospect of three or four months spent trudging to work in the cold and rain.

This sense of an ending is not unique to baseball; I feel the same way when the English cricket season draws stumps a few weeks earlier. But I don’t get the same sense of loss when the football season draws to a close. It’s a summer thing.

Anyway, the reason for this post is this: an essay written by the late Bart Giamatti, read by the man himself. No, I had no idea who he was, either. I do now.

I heard this for the first time yesterday. Even if you have no interest in baseball, cricket or sport, take ten minutes out of your day and give it a listen.

 

Categories: blogging for Britain

Guilty pleasures

October 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Most people have enthusiastically confessed to a musical guilty pleasure, but which ads do you have a sneaky affection for?

I’m enjoying a couple of campaigns at the moment, one of which is the new B&Q campaign by WCRS. I can imagine these spots irritate the pants off some people but I like them; they’re nicely directed and edited, and they ring true, which always helps.

The pink dressing gown is a lovely touch

I’m also a fan of the McDonald’s Value Menu ads. The latest spot is one of my favourites:

Writing these visual gags isn’t easy, because even the most experienced creative can’t  be 100% certain that the laugh they had in their head when they came up with the original thought will successfully translate to the screen three months and eighty-five meetings later. This one passed the test for me.

Agree, disagree, suggest your own.

Categories: marketing ramblings

The art of persuasion

September 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Last Sunday, I was at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge for the day. In the Food Court, which is a bit of a living tribute to 1990s motorway service stations, there’s a Burger King. As a member of the metropolitan media elite, I’d already wolfed my quinoa and birdseed granary roll from M&S, but my brother-in-law isn’t a ponce, and opted for a burger.

So far, so good – until he asked for a Coke to go with it, and was told he couldn’t have one. He was, however, able to enjoy a Coke Zero, whatever that is, or a Diet Coke. Apparently, this was because of “a hospital policy promoting healthy options”. It’s fair to say that my brother was as bemused as he was disappointed, but the endorphin-rush provided by the calorific content of his Whopper with cheese provided ample consolation.

After pondering the contorted piece of thinking that stipulated no sugar at a saturated fat concession, I thought about the various ways in which society and the state has tried to regulate our intake of things that may or may not be bad for you, depending on which decade you find yourself living in.

At present, as I understand it, sugar = bad. Fat can be good, or bad, but margarine, which was touted as the healthy alternative to butter (bad) is now bad itself (good). Processed meat is bad, and processed red meat (bacon) is especially bad. White meat is good, unless it’s a turkey twizzler, cigarettes are very bad and hard drugs are still illegal. But alcohol and gambling are good for you.

I may be getting some mixed signals here.

In the last few years, sugar has become public enemy number one, and there’s now talk of stopping under 16s buying energy drinks. However, I much preferred the days when the government would chuck a couple of million quid at the brightest and best agencies in London and ask for TV commercials encouraging people to alter their behaviour rather than banning things. I’m not a libertarian, but I am a believer in the wisdom of old English aphorisms, and if there’s a wiser piece of advice than “everything is alright in moderation” then I’ve yet to come across it.

There may be evidence to the contrary, but I’m pretty certain that the excellent anti-drink driving campaigns of the 80s and 90s ensured that a few generations were brought up knowing that such behaviour was unacceptable, with similar results for smoking, too.

Sugar, in excess, is bad for you. Pretty much in the way that anything in excess is bad for you. A double whammy of pressure on producers and a public information campaign would, I am sure, have the desired effect. But banning Coca Cola at a Burger King? The world’s gone mad.

 

Strongbow vs Toyota: Let battle commence

July 25, 2018 1 comment

As the World Cup recedes into memory, taking with it the brief outbreak of optimism and happiness that accompanied it, I have found myself in a midsummer reverie, slumped in front of the TV watching T20 cricket and Bob Mortimer fishing with Paul Whitehouse.

Then, occasionally, one of these execrable TV commercials plays, and I remember that life isn’t quite as simple and enjoyable as I thought.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

 

The Strongbow ad is an example of a client accidentally vomiting their brief on to the table in front of the agency, then watching in horror as the account team picks out pieces of “millennials”, “ethnically diverse”, “fucking awful soundtrack”, “every festival cliche you’ve ever seen” and rearranges them into a form designed to humiliate everyone involved in the project.

The Toyota ad is worse.

Enjoy.

 

Hey, how about another Brexit post?

July 6, 2018 3 comments

Over a year ago, I listened to Keir Starmer talk eloquently about Brexit. Last night (5th July) at the Brand Exchange, I did so again.

Like Keir, I’m not going to argue about the rights or wrongs of voting for Brexit. I’m sure among our many readers there are those who voted leave and those who voted remain. Also like Keir, I’m not going to get into debating the rights or wrongs of the reasons – perceived or actual – why people voted the way they did. Many people were, and are, generally dissatisfied with the state of their lives, and voted for change. Any change.

That’s certainly what they’re going to get. For the second time, I was impressed by the non-partisan, considered and calm approach the former Director of the CPS is taking to his thankless task, but blimey, this was a depressing evening.

IMG_6457

Peter Kellner and Sir Keir Starmer, MP, telling it like it is

It was always highly likely that Brexit, hard or soft, would lead to an economic contraction in the period after our departure. That’s not to say it isn’t in our long term interests as a nation – you’ll have your own thoughts on that – but even the softest Brexit will result, in the short term at least, in logistical costs and a economic adjustment that will outweigh any putative ‘Brexit dividend’. The EU is not designed to be cheap, or easy, to leave. I guess the question is how long this period will last. If you listen to the business community, it may be a while.

Most businesses wanted to remain. They still want to remain. As was pointed out last night, most business leaders stress that they actively don’t want the deregulation that the arch-Brexiters champion; they want consistency of regulation with EU countries and with trading blocs outside the EU. Anything else will require large-scale adjustment and potentially unsustainable rises in costs.

And, of course, businesses want access to the biggest possible labour markets and the best global employees. That’s completely understandable, even if it’s bad news for economies in eastern Europe and leads (obviously) to an increase in immigration. This is the economic model we have chosen. Unless we maintain reasonably high levels of immigration, it’s almost certain we’ll have to pay more tax or watch our denuded public services collapse. That isn’t ideology, it’s maths.

Here’s a recipe for a recession: take one ageing population, throw in a smaller GDP, add a lower tax take (fewer immigrants, a smaller workforce, not to mention the highly probable rise in unemployment thanks to the economic shock), and, well, things are going to be tough. For at least 5-10 years. Maybe more. Starting, at a guess, with a recession in q4 2019.

That is certainly change. But is it the change people voted for? If your life was already shit, maybe it is. I’m no fan of neoliberal economics, and all in favour of creating a new model, but maybe stripping out and replacing the parts over an extended period of time might be preferable to driving into a wall at high speed.

The ‘business community’ doesn’t always speak for me. Too often, it’s focused on profit at the expense of everything else. But as Airbus, Land Rover et al line up to say that a hard Brexit is going to be a catastrophe for them, and, by extension, their employees and the communities in which they’re based, couldn’t the ideologues within the government at least acknowledge that Brexit is not what they sold us?

What piece of bad news – such as, for example, three or four car manufacturers saying they’re definitely leaving – would be enough for Liam Fox to stop using the phrase ‘Project Fear’? What scenario would be gloomy enough for Boris Johnson to say that on reflection, a hard Brexit would be too damaging?

Like those Republicans keeping Trump in power, the hard Brexiters are too cowardly, craven and self-interested to change course. What’s more, they don’t care about you. They never have and they never will. And to hell with the consequences of their actions.

Now that’s depressing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The proof is in the podcast

June 29, 2018 2 comments

I spent most of my teens and twenties recommending bands to other people. These days, it’s podcasts.

I’ve mentioned Athletico Mince before in this blog. It’s basically Bob Mortimer being Bob Mortimer, ably assisted by Andy Dawson who manages to balance genuflection at his partner’s comedy genius with his own contribution to the entertainment value perfectly. If the idea of Peter Beardsley confessing the intimate secrets of a life that sees him continually forced to prepare poached eggs for his emotionally abusive wife makes you smile, this may be for you.

In the past couple of weeks I have discovered another series that causes me to involuntarily snort on public transport in the shape of Dear Joan and Jericha, which involves Vicki Pepperdine and Julia Davis playing agony aunts. That’s all you need to know: just listen.

But I’m here to talk about Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell’s quite brilliant examination of “things overlooked and misunderstood”. I started listening during series 2 and am looking forward to going back to listen to series 1, but series 3 is strong and provides as good a starting point as any.

gladwell-podcast

In episode 2, Gladwell asks how much proof we require before we act on something that seems, clearly, to demand action. To make his point, he references lung disease in coalminers and brain damage in football players (not soccer players, for clarity). I had thought he would mention the elephant in the room – which in this case, is the fact that there may soon be no elephants left to put in a room. But he leaves climate change and the mass extinction we are currently idly undergoing out of the podcast, letting us, I assume bring our own examples to the table.

Why am I recommending this? Because nearly every episode contains an insight so jaw-dropping and breathtaking that I have discovered for myself how those idioms gained traction. Gladwell has always had a gift for revelation, but this podcast is the perfect medium for him.

Episode 5 of the current run is the perfect example: 30 minutes of erudition, poetry and forensic storytelling; an argument so elegantly and artfully structured that when the lightbulb finally goes on it floors you. It culminates in one of the more staggering mic drops I have heard. If, like me, you despair of the ignorance, bigotry and hate that seems to pervade most online debate, listen to this brain balm and play it to the next person who thinks that putting up more barriers and building more walls is a good idea. Reader (spoiler alert), it isn’t.