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Quote of the week

Pretty clear…

best things

(Photo taken in a surfer’s changing room Manu Bay, New Zealand (thanks Simon))

Changing the world is the only fit work for a grown man

That’s a quote from an ad man called Howard Luck Gossage (great name; great quote) and is the title of a new biography about him.

He ran his own agency in San Francisco back the 1960s when all the action was taking place in New York (Bill Bernback, David Ogilvy, Rosser Reeves).  He had, what seemed at the time and perhaps still now, some pretty crazy ideas about the way advertising should work, which now that I no longer work in an agency, seem exceedingly sensible.  From the book, they include:

Didn’t believe that it was all about growth and the money.  It was about maintaining the quality of the creative work and the culture of the agency.  The agency never grew to be more than 15 people.

He thought about the point of advertising.  As he put it “there is precious little awareness, and no real enquiry into the economic, sociologic or philosophic bases of advertising”.  I would say that this is still the case. I was raised to believe that the point of advertising is to make money for the agency and make money for the client.  No sociologic or philosophic enquiry there.

He believed that pumping out advertising with no real sense of who was receiving it and how it was being received was not only wasteful but unethical.  He said: “I will go further and say that it is not only wrong to attempt to influence an audience without involving it but it is unethical and dishonest”.  Strong words, but this kind of accounts for, at a guess, more than 50% of advertising these days.

He had a theory of the way things work (cybernetics, via Norbert Weiner) which could be applied to advertising.  Cybernetics (roughly) is about recognising that there are feedback loops in the natural world.  So for Gossage, he saw the creation of information loops as beneficial and indeed a life-enhancing way of making people respect others and accept responsibility for their actions.  So, his ads featured ways to engage the audience so that they could help create the next round of work.  No feedback, change the ads.  By involving the consumer and getting their input into the campaign, it was evident that they were enjoying the work and more work would evolve that encouraged further feedback.

In this “he viewed advertising less as a commercial bludgeon and more as a conversation between equals”.  And “people like to be treated as human beings rather than consumers and they react very well to it”.  ‘Go Compare’ anyone?

He was, perhaps unsurprisingly, anti-billboards because he believed that no media owner had the right to sell that media because a billboard interrupted a view that belonged to the people.

One of Gossage’s ads that stopped the Grand Canyon getting flooded

He ended up working on saving the Grand Canyon from getting flooded (via an ad campaign), then helped make the Sierra Club famous before using his skills to launch Friends of the Earth.  To him, this is what advertising should be for: “advertising was too valuable an instrument to waste on commercial products…it justified its existence only when it was used for social purposes”.

So, he said all this, but was also well ahead of his time in terms of thinking about social media, PR-generated stunts and interactive.  What’s interesting is that the back cover of the book is full of modern-day advertising greats talking about how great Gossage was.  For example, Jeff Goodby says “The best of Gossage is the best of advertising ever done, and what’s really amazing is the the work he did foretold what’s happening on the internet and social media right now”.   To me, it’s more interesting to take his thinking in the round – to consider the points that I’ve highlighted above, not just the interactive/social media bit.  It would make for a very different, more purposeful industry, where that purpose is beyond just trying to make money and sell stuff.  Maybe one day more of his ideas will come to pass.  I hope so.

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Chance and Change

Been a fan of Richard Long and his Landscape Art for sometime but hadn’t seen any art about Nature that I’d liked for a while.  I then came across this dude, Herman de Vries:

As well as having an awesome beard, he trained as a biologist and then got into art.  (He’s standing next to different clays and muds from around the world as paint).  What he does isn’t that original – displaying Nature,  But he does it in a beautiful way – so, a collage of leaves:

A series of twigs:

Different bits of Nature within a consistent sized frame:

Going into the field, placing a frame behind the grass and photographing it.  So it’s as a live as you can get it:


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Tree gives birth to hut. Or vice versa

Was in Hong Kong (or Honky Konky or Honkers Bonkers) on the way back through from NZ a couple of weeks ago and in-between the crazy building-site/sky-scrapers, came across this:

To me it looks like the hut is either the fruit of the tree or the hut is the seed that the tree grew out of.  Man and Nature in harmony?  It might just happen.

Good news – Your life can be perfect

Okay, so the ad says that Life can be Perfect if you buy Bollinger.  This is clear.

But the ad is also saying Life can’t be Perfect if you don’t buy Bollinger.  So, in seeing this ad, at some level, it is telling you that your life, no matter how well it’s going now and how well it might go in the future can never be perfect.  Not unless you buy and drink a £50 bottle of champagne.  Sorry about that.

Not only this, the word ‘can’ says that it still might not happen even if you do.   That drinking Bolly might lead to perfection, but maybe it won’t.  Perfection can be reached if you reach out far enough.  Just a little further….

Is this right for them to do this?  Is it right for a brand to co-opt the concept of life perfection and say that if you don’t buy their brand you have no chance of attaining it?

Am I being pedantic?  Am I splitting hairs?  Am I being anti-democratic?  Am I not giving consumers enough credit because it’s only an ad?

I just askin’ the question.  Is it right?

Well, if he believes it…

So, if Einstein believes this, it must be true.  Or rather, I’m hedging my bets that he’s more on the money than the way we’re ‘supposed’ to think and live today.   However, it is quite annoying to come to realise that the life I/we have been living can be considered a ‘prison’.  The Matrix indeed.

”A human being is a part of this whole, called by us ‘universe‘, a part limited in time and space. he experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to apportion for a few people nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.“  Albert Einstein.


Thought for the day – from Frankie Boyle, of all people…..

In many North American indigenous cultures, generosity is a central behaviour in a broader social and economic system. One anecdotal account examined what happened when boys from white and Lakota communities received a pair of lollipops each. The white boys put the second one in their pockets, while the Native American boys presented it to the nearest boy who didn’t have one.

Raj Patel, The Value of Nothing

How much is enough?

Following on from my Ethiopia experience, a recurrent question is ‘How much is enough?’

This already sounds really boring and worthy, but curiously, it is quite an interesting question.  If I take ‘media/entertainment’ items and remember what we had in our family home (four people) 25 years ago and compare them to what is in a family home now, I end up with a couple of lists like this:

25 years ago

One television (in the living room)

A couple of radios (in the kitchen and in the bedroom)

A couple of Hi-Fi’s (one in the living room and the other in a bedroom)

A VHS player (in the living room)

Two telephones (one downstairs and one upstairs)

A Walkman (because I was really cool)

So about 9 items

Okay then, was that enough?  Too much?  Not enough?  Does it matter?


Five televisions (living room, kitchen and three bedrooms)

Two landlines (downstairs and upstairs)

Five mobiles (one for everyone plus one more)

Three laptops (family one, one parent and one child)

Two games consoles (Wii and one more)

Two handheld (e.g. DS or PSP)

DVD Player

Sky/Digital TV box

One kindle or ipad

Four ipods

I make that 26

Okay then, is that enough?  Is that too much?  Not enough?  Does it matter?

The number has grown two and half times in 25 years.  If it grew by two and a half times in the next 25 years, that would make it about 70 items in a household.

Is that enough?  Is that too much?  Not enough?  Does it matter?

(70 sounds ridiculous to me, but then I guess saying that everyone is going to have a TV, a phone and a personal music player would have sounded ridiculous 25 years ago.)

This is the bit where it does get annoying (if it hasn’t already) is if I ask if the ‘How much is enough?’ question in relation to other areas of my life and the lives I see of those around me?

One answer this is see how many self-storage places that have sprung up in recent years.  Created to provide space for all the stuff that you don’t use.  What a genius business.

But, more importantly, does anyone have an answer to ‘How much is enough?’  How much economic growth is enough? How much removal of the rainforest is enough?  Perhaps even more importantly, is anyone even asking the question?  All I know is that if you keep on with an unstoppable increase in what you do, it normally doesn’t have a happy ending.

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Super Sad True Love Story


A great book, courtesy of Eric.  Set in the very near future – 5 years?  10 years?  20 years?  It’s primarily told through the lens of Lenny Abramov, a New Yorker who works for ‘Post-Human Services’, the company that, if you have the money, can extend your life through medical ‘enhancements’.

What’s fantastic about the book is that Shteyngart has taken a few key things about America now (book written in 2010) and extrapolated them out.  So, there are war vets coming back from a conflict with Venezuela, you want your dollars to be pegged to the yuan, people are split into HNWI (High Net Worth Individuals) and LNWI’s, they’ve stopped publishing books, Lenny travels on UnitedContinentalDeltamerican and the good jobs are in Media and Credit.

So, the culture and what people deem important (or not) is entirely believable given where America’s at at the moment.  He then overlays some understandably self-centred and vacuous people trying to cope with some momentous events.  It’s very funny and entirely plausible.

I am recycled

I am recycled

So are you.  So is everybody.  We all used to be something else.

That’s in a similar vein to the fact that the total amount of water in the world is unchanging. It is forever recycled.  So, the water in my next glass of water might once have been peed out by Jesus.  Or by Tommy Cooper.  Or by a penguin.  Or by all three.   Weird.

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