Wednesday, March 27, 2013


If there is one policy that sums up just how completely hopeless and backwards our government is, it's the utterly contemptible Workfare programme. A policy that manages to combine being offensive and being strategically useless for its stated aims.

For those outside the UK, Workfare consists of the following:

Selected people who are claiming unemployment benefit are required to work for six weeks, unpaid, doing menial/manual labour jobs at (mostly) large retail/restaurant companies. If the person is doing volunteer work, that has to be cancelled, and does not count.

It is essentially government mandated slavery. It is 'the poor house' of Dickens era brought back in sheep's clothing. It single-handedly proves that the government has no real desire to create jobs for people, because the scheme is so mind-bendingly backwards that it actually makes it HARDER for the unemployed to get work.

Why on earth would a company hire a new staff member when they can simply recruit one for free through the government?

Even more astoundingly. These (mostly) big companies get paid £1000 for every worker they take on. That's right, these companies including Poundland, Tesco, Asda, Argos, Debenhams, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and many more are being PAID to have someone work for NOTHING.

You could argue that it's valuable work experience, but it isn't. It's lowest rung, menial jobs with companies that are unlikely to hire now they have better-than-free labour. Besides, if you want to get the long-term jobless working, then surely showing them the cash benefits to working (I.e.: Pay them) will be far more of an encouragement to want to get back to a job. Just forcing them to work for nothing is hardly likely to inspire them to update their CV.

Plus, the fact that people have to cancel doing socially beneficial volunteer work is beyond insane. It means someone who is unemployed has to give up providing a useful contribution to society, and to give up work satisfaction in order to do forced labour.

I heard that in my local area, £2m has been put aside to force 2000 people into this form of slavery. That's the equivalent working hours for 230 full time jobs. So you could very easily argue that, in one area of the country, the government is paying £2m to prevent 200 jobs appearing. Even taking into account that some companies will pretend more work is there to get the cash, it's still ludicrous.

Even splitting the goverment cash between the company and the worker would be infinitely better. At least that way everybody benefits. Even if it does still put companies off hiring, at least the worker gets paid.

A far more logical scheme would be for the government to give the worker £200 for a week or two of work, and then give the company an £800 incentive to hire that person and keep them for at least year.

This scheme has all the hallmarks of people who have no compassion, no sense of reason, and no real desire to improve the lives of anyone outside their circle of millionaires and billionaires. It is a fucking travesty that has no place in the early 20th century let alone the 21st. It is to the shame of Britain that our ministers have allowed this to happen, and no minister that voted for it should EVER be trusted again.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Don't Know What You've Got Til It's Gone

Like many people, I've been watching the coverage of the closing of BBC Television Centre, and I can't help but feel a strong sense that the BBC have not properly thought about the issues of closing such an iconic building.

Of course, I recognise that television has changed, and am glad to see more progression to places outside London. But Television Centre is irreplaceable, and, unusually for the BBC, it's importance for viewers appears to have been ignored in the process.

While most people seem to have focused on the importance of the programmes that were created there, we still have most of those. What we will lose is the centrepoint for much of our broadcasting.

Countless shows have filmed using the building, the exterior, the studio signs and interiors. The main sign is as important a symbol of British television as the underground logo is to transport.

While the BBC maybe don't need to all be located in one building anymore, and the internet has opened up production much more widely, there is something very bleak about losing that centrepoint with no real replacement. (MediaCity is great, but it only covers a small section of programming)

In this age of fragmented and anytime access to shows and media content, it seems to me more important than ever that media companies have a central location that grounds them.

I grew up watching Going Live!, my Saturday's starting with them going into studio 7, and then (for a while) Live and Kicking. Two kids shows that made Television Centre feel like this magical place that housed everything good about TV. The intro to Live and Kicking was essentially a pinball bouncing around the building, it was that well known. The BBC in all it's complex, flawed but ultimately brilliant capacity had a home. Just like ITV's local regions used to have their recognisable local homes (Granada Studios, LWT's South Bank Tower in particular).

Now a large part of the BBC feels homeless. As if the corporation has weakened its own position by losing a physical home, and making it feel even more like a bureaucratic consciousness to it's detractors than ever before.

So is there a single reason other than money for Television Centre being sold? Apparently not, as the arrival of Westfield put the centre at risk and budget deficits caused the Beeb to look at ways of countering that by cashing in. Because you know, what London is really desperate for is high-end luxury flats. None of those anywhere nearby.

I agree with Danny Baker's sentiments. The Houses of Parliament would make a great hotel, let's sell that off too. Why not sell Buckingham Palace and turn it into a cinema and shopping centre.

There has never been, and there will never be, another building like Television Centre. It is as worthy of maintained usage as any theatre, opera house or cinema, if not far more so. Given that the BBC will be leasing the studios for 15 years, and still using a chunk of the building, they clearly could have refurbished the place and carried on there.

If the government can find £5billion to give to Vodafone, how can they not find 4% of that to keep the best broadcaster in the world using an iconic and much loved icon. Putting aside the fact that the current government would close the BBC if they thought they could get away with it.

The closure of Television Centre is a very sad day for British culture. A travesty of a decision, putting money over culture and history in a way that I fear the BBC will come to regret one day as much as they did wiping half of their output for two decades.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Are Hipsters the New Chavs?

Back in around the year 2001, the word chav started to escalate into popular usage. One of a number of terms originally used to describe a specific type of person with a bad attitude, loud troublemakers with tinny cars with huge exhausts and a certain style of clothing (usually fake Burberry).

This word was one of a large number used in cities around the country to describe groups of people that would cause trouble and were best avoided. Other variants were Ned's, Townies, etc.

Then something changed. The word started being used everywhere, and as this happened the definition changed. Suddenly it was used as a term to target anyone who was poor or from a council estate. Newspapers latched onto it, and pretty soon it went from being a descriptor to being simply an insult.

I think right now, that exact same thing is happening with the word hipster.

For a number of years, hipster has been a slightly mocking description of that specific sub-set of people who have an attitude of being self-important, and who wear clothing that reflects that. The arrogrant, Nathan Barley style, more creative than thou group as exemplified in this video:

The problem is, that as the term has increased in usage, the word seems to have got more aggressive, and has become a way to insult creative middle-class people. Just as with chav, the word has been shaped by wider usage from those who don't really know the original idea. Now anyone who doesn't come from a council estate (chav..!), and dresses in a slightly retro or different way is instantly a hipster. It has become the middle ground insult between Chav and Toff.

Which leads back to the title. Are hipsters the new chavs? Is this a stereotype that should now be discarded and re-written? I for one am getting fed up with the word now.

Disclaimer: I play synth.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Perception Problem

I had this clock as a kid, was amazing.
The X would light up in the dark!
Apparently David Icke was on TV this morning (quite literally) talking about some of his theories and beliefs. It got me thinking how the world of uncovering the truth suffers from a very similar problem to that of politicians, and how a change could help them to get their ideas out there.

I'll state up front, I'm interested in understanding multiple viewpoints of the world, but I am certainly not what you'd describe as 'into' this kind of political and social movement in any significant way. I just follow the odd link or recommendation from friends.

I dislike using it as a catch all given it's nudged push into being a scare term, but I'll use the term 'conspiracy theories' for ease of writing. (I was called a Conspiracy Theorist once simply for stating I didn't believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction!)

Have you ever visited sites of conspiracy theorists? They are invariably awful. David Icke's site looks like a slightly drunk designer sat down after watching 3 hours of the X-Files and went heavy on the green. In 1998.

They (I.e.: Most I have seen) look like the sites of people who are sat at home in their underwear trawling for data, they don't look like professional news sites, or even journalistic. The average person would see them and instantly be skeptical about the quality of content.

Neo. You are our only hope.
Similarly the sites and videos that instantly get off on the wrong foot by having titles such as "THE TRUTH!", and "DON'T BELIEVE THE MEDIA, THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED!" You may as well have a big flashing button that says "I sound like a nut job, don't take this seriously!!" Talk like an intelligent and informed person and people will start to listen much more carefully to your ideas.

I dislike too the way that some try to goad people and insult them into a response. Telling people they are ignorant for not knowing a fact printed on a badly designed theorist website seen by 0.001% of the internet is hardly likely to create the next generation of informed political and social investigators. Don't tell people they are sheep, tell them about the amazing and juicy gossip and rumours they are missing out on. Don't criticize celebrity culture as being the proverbial antichrist, try and get the intelligent parts of it to get involved and help share the desire not to accept everything you see at face value.

The problem is that the vast majority of 'conspiracy theorists and sites' only ever do the job of talking to the converted. They attract those of a similar investigative mindset, but put off the ordinary people who might actually be interested in learning some new facts or alternate ideas on the world. I think being shunned by some sections of the public drives many to talk more and more to those who already share their ideals. But even when these ideas are wrong, it's still a good thing to promote reading between the lines and having a more informed society. Too many start only talking in theories, and mix those based on facts or named sources and move to the kind of ethereal, coincidence filled and spiritual concepts that the average person will never find attractive in a million years. Even if David Icke did a piece that was entirely true and full of well researched facts, most people would never believe it because of his insistence on also talking about wildly unusual theoretical ideas.

David Icke with less green.
I read one piece last week that just poured vitriol at it's targets, aimed at those who already believe the viewpoint it expressed. The vitriol completely got in the way of the actual story, which had a couple of interesting ideas. Just like Prime Ministers question time, it descends into name calling and anger, which completely destroys the majority of actual progress. I cannot imagine many outside the theorist circle ever getting past the third or fourth paragraph. If you want people to listen to ideas and facts on such important topics, then write like a journalist, not an angry baby throwing toys out of a pram.

If you aren't going to write like a journalist, then at least try and engage people and inspire them to find out more. As dodgy as the charity eventually sounded, look at pieces like the Invisible Children work from last year. It talked in an inspirational way, and in a matter of weeks took a little known issue and made it major news around the world.

We wouldn't stand for ads that talk the way most conspiracy sites do. Maybe if they start learning a few marketing lessons they might find a lot more people interested in what they have to say.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

That Calls for a Rethink

Few stories in advertising are as depressing as that of Carlsberg over the last few years. Ditching what by any standard was a world class tagline, and replacing it with one that is pretty average is not a good move.

Admittedly it's not as calamitous as HSBC getting rid of what, ironically, you could argue was probably the best tagline in the world. Certainly in the world of finance by a country mile.

This week I saw something that made me start to think that Carlsberg has started to pick up again, a great piece of work. Sadly, it was then followed by seeing two pieces of poor work that completely undermined any positive feeling that might have given me.

So let's start with the very good:

A video where they test friendships by asking a friend to come rescue them in the middle of the night with some money. The setup is excellent, the barrage of creepy and weird events is well thought out, and the reveal is played brilliantly. Although for me saying "Probably the best friend in the world." works much much better than "Standing up for a friend - That calls for a Carlsberg."

It's so well done that I was thinking much more positively about the brand.

Then I saw the next ad on TV.

It starts with a reasonable enough premise. A typical 'lad-esque' desire to get away from a female aimed spa and have a beer. Nothing great, but the humour of the old Carlsberg ads always worked round that.

From there it goes downhill. It's not funny. It tries so hard to be a witty rip off of the Great Escape, but the bright sterile production and iffy acting just dampens the moments that could have been funny.

90 seconds to link a weak ad with a tagline that doesn't really work. That's a long way down for the brand.

Then today I saw this next piece via Simon Darwell-Taylor of Here Be Monsters:

This time it's a riff on Spartacus, using twitter and an evil boss. The 1970's archetypal evil boss caricature can sometimes be funny or interesting, not here. Again the bland bright sterile production drains the life away from the ad. I imagine they are trying to contrast that with the green of Carlsberg, but it just ruins the look of the ads and makes them feel completely vacant and unappealing.

The acting is worse than the first ad. The boss tries to overact, and does a reasonable Bishop Brenan style job, but everyone else is awful.

Then the ending. I mean seriously. I have seen some shitty, faux-matey, cheesy ad endings, but this one is in a whole other league of crap. To top it off the tagline comes in and just compounds the awfulness. Maybe saying 'That calls for a Carlsberg' might work when the ad preceding it is engaging and absorbing  but when the ad makes you embarrassed on behalf of the brand it just feels horrifically grating.

My problem with the line is that is tries too hard. It's desperately trying to make itself into a saying in popular culture, but it's too bland and contrived to ever really succeed. Where as 'probably the best' felt natural and clever, 'That calls' just feels bland and flat. In some senses it's almost galling, "You should buy our product now!"

Let's look at some You Tube comments shall we:

The worst carlsberg ad ever. And cringe-factor 100% with the "Spartacus" line at the very end. Seen better acting in El Dorado 30 years ago. Awful.

By far, one of the worst ads ive seen in a long time.

This commercial is borderline retarded tier writing. Seriously, fuck off.

What REALLY galls though. Is that the Spa ad is produced by the same agency that made the excellent Wreck-It Ralph 8-bit takeover among other decent pieces, so they are clearly capable of much better.

The brand and the agency both can do, and deserve so much better than the second two pieces. They deserve to have work with the quality of the first video in everything they do. The budget being spent is worthy of something that will really get people to respond, something that looks pleasantly distinctive, not that it was shot on a 1990's low budget sci-fi movie set.

Come on agency, come on Carlsberg. You've shown us just this week that you can do a hundred times better than this shit.

The Importance of Forethought

I was thinking today about the processes people go through in protecting and trying to steal data. In particular, the process that happens to inform people of hacks and security breaches.

It left me with a conclusion. To be very wary about changing my password after being prompted by email.

Now obviously I'm not talking about clicking on those annoying emails that take you to some dodgy site, but what would happen if the hackers didn't actually need a fake site?

I'm awaiting the day where instead of trying to hack heavily secured data, the hackers target the website, and swap it with their own mirror version. Then they send out a ton of fake emails that tell you their emails and passwords have been hacked, and to go to the official site and change the password.

In other words, they use the legitimacy of the URL, along with security panic to drive unknown sharing of information.

It's probably been done, but I've yet to see it... thankfully.

Note: I know the title is a bit much, but I didn't want a title that makes the link appear to be junk!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Whatever You Do, Don't Push Button

You know there is some bad reading going on, when the star of one of the worst adverts in recent memory is made to look like an acting regular.

Imagine the most wooden thing you can possibly imagine.



Try Woody Harrelson and Woody Allen at a wooden workbench making a balsa wood model of the cowboy from Toy Story and a famous cartoon woodpecker in a gigantic oak-furniture filled studio in a timber framed house.

That still doesn't quite describe Rory Mcllroy's performance in the latest Santander ad.

A great golfer yes, well, usually. But a good performer in front of the camera? Not on this evidence.

Do Santander now sponsor Jessica Ennis and Rory Mcllroy? At least I got why Jenson was there, as part of the sponsorship deal with McLaren. The other two, much as they are sports stars - appeared to be there only as celebrity space, in a Gillette campaign approach.

Maybe it's about them being medalists in sports? No, they wouldn't claim that two of them were losers surely..!

It's basically get a famous person to read the features of the card, though at least it tries to come up with a narrative or setup to make it more interesting. It does go on for quite a while, the person sat near me whilst watching it said "this is dragging on a bit." by time Rory popped up again. If you are going to pay that much money to get three major sports stars to appear in your ad, it would be good if they could act just a little.

In the end, like most campaigns that try to list features and benefits at a time when you aren't really paying much attention; I cannot (clearly) remember a single one of the features. (I've seen it six times today.)

Rather like the recent Renault ad that listed about 15 different specification features as it were a brochure on my screen, piling features leads to ads that sound like this to most people at home...

Monday, March 04, 2013

Cynicism and Dancing Ponies

Two amusing things from today.

Firstly, according to a tweet I received today. I was apparently the first person anywhere on twitter to talk about the Harlem Shake jumping the shark. I'm not sure if that makes me very ahead of the curve, or just very cynical.

Possibly both?

Secondly, I joined in on the old Pony club, as seen below.

Friday, March 01, 2013

A Pony, My Kingdom for a Pony

One of the things that seems to shine through on the best work is a sense of joy. That feeling you get, that the people who worked on this campaign really enjoyed doing it. That the late nights and long days were a breeze, because they knew the output was going to be worth it.

There must be something of that happening, because any agency that can bring joy and warmth to Tesco and Three, two brands that have traditionally lacked any spark whatsoever, must clearly be enjoying what they do.

Seriously, Three has felt like a nothing brand for many years (bar the nice copy of "All You Can Eat Data"). This campaign brings it right back and makes it hard to ignore.

It's wonderfully shot, fun, with a great choice of music. Perhaps most importantly, it actually feels like it has a real bit of thought underneath, driving the idea.

How brilliantly simple and clear is the observation 'Silly Stuff - It Matters' to sum up what people really use and want from internet access on the go.

There is a also a nice presumption there that a mobile network that suggests using it for silly videos must be fast and reliable enough to get the job done.

Networks are constantly shouting about price and handsets and top-up offers  and so on. This just stands out, and makes a nice brand sales point without ever needing to shout it or be blunt.