Algorithms of joy

'...Credibility (is credible on the subject); Reliability (is dependable, someone who delivers, does what they say they will do); Intimacy (referring to the safety or security that we feel when entrusting someone with something); and self-orientation (referring to the person’s focus and whether, in particular, their primary focus is on themselves and what they can get out of it, or on the other person)...' (Only Dead Fish. May 2017)

Comes from this book, highlighted by Mark Raheja really interesting approach worth following all the connected links between this and a connected thought about purpose and brands.

“There are two kinds of people and organizations in the world: eaters and bakers. Eaters want a bigger slice of an existing pie; bakers want to make a bigger pie. Eaters think that if they win, you lose, and if you win, they lose. Bakers think that everyone can win with a bigger pie.”
— Guy Kawasaki : Enchantment

Review of the latest MAA 'Green jam' event


The April GreenJam panel, led by Philip Slade, the strategy director at Keko London, also featured Kit Altin, the planning director at Leo Burnett London, and Simon Callender, the creative planning director at Initials.

Our aim was to help GreenJammers understand how to spot good planning, with a focus on explaining the differences between observations and insights. Here’s a flavour of the panel’s thoughts and the interaction with the audience.

 1. Don’t get distracted by the data. Philip Slade said: “It’s one of the best times to be in strategy and planning because of all the data and also one of the easiest times to mess things up. Because of all the data.” Kit Altin added: “The whole story can’t be told by big data. Look at the film The Big Short. The answers came from people driving around and looking at ‘For Sale’ signs outside homes. The answer can’t always be found by sitting at your computer.”

 2. Observation can do the job. Philip Slade said: “Observations don’t explain ‘why” and good planning is about keep asking why.” But Kit Altin added: “Insights can be brilliant, they lift you and everybody else in the room but don’t become too obsessed with them. You don’t always need an insight to produce great work. Take what’s often cited as the ‘greatest ad ever made’ – Guinness ‘Surfer’. There’s no insight in it, it’s an observation about a product feature.”

3. Cultural relevance isn’t always possible for brands. Philip Slade: “Most products have zero chance of achieving cultural relevance in their lives. Your Bic Biro just doesn’t need cultural relevance. Though it’s worth remembering that we’re in a vanity and ego-based industry where clients and your boss are on an ego trip and somewhere inbetween your career lives.

  4. “Always ask: ‘what’s the ambition?” Simon Callender spoke about     the limits to some brands’ scope and that they need to ask some tough questions: “What is the ambition and where’s the permission for a brand? Sometimes the ambition can just be too big for the brand.”

 5. All research is flawed. Kit Altin said: “There is no best research methodology yet. They’re all flawed because we’re all flawed as people. But unfortunately, though we’ve got to work with the research, we should all be concerned about how it’s used to judge and plan ideas.”

 6. “Immersive ethnography” isn’t a bad approach, said Simon Callender: “Throw yourself into a situation, if you’re a beer brand get yourself into the micro-breweries and pubs. Walk in people’s shoes to understand them.”

 7. Pick the right brand, and client, for the big insight. Simon  Callender said: “Ask where credibly can we go with the idea? I’m a huge fan of idea over budget and knowing which fight to pick. Ask yourself if a brand is after a long-term strategy or a short-term fix.”

8. Good planning stimulates energy. Philip Slade said: “If you’re sat in a presentation in your agency and you’re bored then it’s shit planning. Good planning is about storytelling and drilling down into a great idea.” Simon Callender added: “You can sense the presence of a bullshit planner if it’s over-intellectualised. Insight should be relevant and simple but create a huge amount of energy in the room.”

9. New techniques don’t always work. Kit Altin said: “Social listening? It can’t tell you what people think, it can’t understand sarcasm for instance. Good planners provide the nuance in terms of human understanding.” Philip Slade said: “You need to be the people who don’t fall in love with machines, you need to understand the numbers and the data but also the foibles of the human mind.”

10. Build good relationships with the creatives. Kit Altin said: “Good planning is in the relationship with the creatives. The mark of a good planner is that they are close to the creative teams.”

And, if you’ve read this far, go further:

11. Read and discover. Here’s Philip Slade’s suggested reading and exploring list for those who want to experience and understand good planning:

 1. ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having - Mapping Social Behavior. By Mark Earls + other authors.

 2. ‘Decoded – The Science Behind Why We Buy’. By Phil Barden.

 3. Sign up to ‘Only Dead Fish’ weekly email newsletter of invaluable insight stuff

 4. Sign up to ‘’ London young planners’ social and sharing group

 5. Sign up to ‘’ . US-based but getting more international planners network of sharing insights

In a galaxy far, far, away

What seems like ages ago was in fact only 2013, but these three chancers thought they could start a new agency, didn't work out as they planned, but start up culture is like that. You live and learn. Never hold back, always forward. Take every chance, however bonkers it appears. Die happy in the knowledge you had a crack at just about everything on offer.

John Diss, Philip Slade, Ben Stobart

Riding the Gold Plated Lift

The election of Donald Trump has given us a timely reminder of the changing attitudes to conspicuous consumption[1].

Constant online access, mobile devices and the pervasiveness of social media had already established a new normal in the reporting and display of wealth. Something that for decades had abided by convention. But such traditions are disappearing as fast as a live stream of Emoji's

The new age of Trump has also appeared to establish a normalisation of unconventionally acquired wealth as proven by the Panama Papers to The Rich Kids of Instagram.

This paper aims to take a quick whizz around the world (in an App booked private jet of course) to look at today’s contrasting views of conspicuous consumption. For instance, in societies with extreme levels of inequalities such as Albania we see displays of visually loud, individualist sign posted symbols of wealth, whereas in similar economies of new growth such as Vietnam, where new wealth is much more evenly distributed the symbols of conspicuous consumption are more socially realised in the form of eating out or taking vacations.

China Daily posted a number of articles this year about the growing popularity of the imported concept of Valentine’s Day in China. In one titled ‘Valentine’s Day means celebration, not conspicuous consumption’ The paper highlighted the influence of American brands encouraging young affluent Chinese to spend more than 2,000 yuan (£232) on each other in 2016. The paper concluded that a festival established solely on business logic was not a problem of the holiday itself but of the people who celebrated it…

As the Guardian recently said it’s all about ‘..the drama of being conspicuous to one another, just without the consumption.’

Noun; Expenditure on or consumption of luxuries on a lavish scale in an attempt to enhance one's prestige.

Status Hunting

It’s almost 120 years since economist Thorstein Veblen wrote about the leisure class and in doing so gave the world the phrase; conspicuous consumption[1]. Constant online access, mobile devices and the pervasiveness of social media have now established a new normal in the display of wealth.

Euromoniter reported[2] conspicuous consumption of luxury goods was giving way to more meaningful luxury experiences. They went on to coin the truly bizarre phrase ‘Phygital’ to describe the merging of digital and real world consumption experiences.

This is part of the extensive trend ‘Deconstructed Luxury’. It’s effects in the travel industry has been profound, not only the rise of digital champions like Airbnb Trips and UberLUX. But in real world luxury resorts where the emphasis is now on experiences rather than the fixtures and fittings. For instance the launch of the new Mexican boutique resort La Zebra Beach Hotel[3]  is all about its pop-up collaboration with Copenhagen’s iconic restaurant NOMA.  The owners well aware of the photogenic nature of the dishes. Clearly today’s symbols of status, as Veblen would have it, do indeed need to be Instagramable to exist.

Nowhere is this more true than in Asia, for instance in Vietnam where a fast growing middle class consider symbols of success to be realised on social media, in the form of images of eating out or taking vacations.

Similarly in China after President Xi Jinping’s corruption crack down. Overt displays of wealth have been replaced with an emphasis on a subtler form of expression, especially travel. Plus Mossack Fonesca the company at the center of the Panama Papers scandal was found to have more offices in China than any other country. Clearly the spoils of the China’s growth have been moving off shore rather than exclusively into the boutiques of Guangzhou.

The residents of Hong Kong have often been sighted as some of the most conspicuous consumers in the world, a recent research paper[4] looked at the spending habits of the large numbers of Hong Kong migrants settling in Canada. The authors set out to see whether these people’s previous unique consumer behaviour would be transplanted to a new home. The report makes clear there is no evidence to suggest conspicuous consumption is related to a person’s ethnicity, rather it is a context of environment.

To prove the point Hong Kong’s recent wave of eager shoppers from mainland China’s second tier cities have vexed the locals[5] Their behaviour conspicuous consumption has driven a new trend amongst the residents[6] for under stated luxury.

China Daily recently ‘Valentine’s Day means celebration, not conspicuous consumption’ The paper highlighted the influence of American brands encouraging young affluent Chinese to spend more than 2,000 yuan (£232) on each other in 2016. The paper concluded that a festival established solely on business logic was not a problem of the holiday itself but of the people who celebrated it…

Last year, Ubers Head of Economic Research Jonathan Hall and a group of academics published a report[7] ‘Inconspicuous Conspicuous Consumption’ in which they argued that people were engaging in subtly conspicuous consumption to simultaneously signal wealth and social capital. The report looks in detail including some epic algorithmic equations to prove that subtly branded status goods will be costlier than their loudly branded equivalents. They placed emphasis on the effect your consumption signals on your online standing.

The important lesson for brands is the context of conspicuous display, its now less about proving wealth more the need to display a lifestyle. Social media, while clearly not covered by Thorstein Veblen 1899 writings, does in fact follow his socio-economic analyses of the leisure classes very well.

[1] Noun; Expenditure on or consumption of luxuries on a lavish scale in an attempt to enhance one's prestige.

[2] Euromoniter International ‘The Luxury Goods Trends Report’ 2017


[4] When conspicuous consumption becomes inconspicuous: the case of the migrant Hong Kong consumers - Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 18 Iss: 6, pp.474 - 487

[5] Residents' Perceptions Toward the “Chinese Tourists' Wave” in Hong Kong: Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research



Authenticity Redux

Has the commercialisation of hipster culture and the proliferation of dubiously labelled ‘artisan’ products had a knock on effect of devaluing the attempts of established brands to use years earnt authentic[1] claims?

Artisan, bespoke, boutique and authentic are much used advertising words right now. What was once an outlier description technique is now considered mainstream. For many legacy brands this is now presenting a marketing problem. How do you promote a brand with decades long earned authentic creds when every brand in your category is using the same lexicon?

We think it’s as much about what you say about what you make as what you say about who you are. In other words, we believe it’s as important to promote your companies purpose as it is to talk about the features of a product.

63% of consumers would rather buy from a company they consider to be authentic[2]


9 out of 10 consumers are willing to take action to reward a brand for its authenticity[3]


73% of people care about the company, not just the product when they’re making purchasing decisions[4]

The good thing for those of us creating advertising messaging is an engaged consumer in 2017 is primed to hear a good story. We are seeing people swing away from what Chris Anderson/Wired Magazine[5] in 2005 called the ‘shorter, faster, smaller’ Information Revolution into what The Reuters Institute[6] amongst others have highlighted this year as the trend for long form content. Seen in the form of podcasts, real world and online in-depth investigations and documentaries in the cinema.

We have recently been working with Nyetimber, sparkling wine producers based in Sussex. It was clear from our very first meetings that the organisation had a very precise way of going about things. It became obvious to us that the reason their wines won so many plaudits was every single aspect of their business was focused on an incredible attention to detail. This wasn’t about following a categories tradition but striving for the very best come what may. Cherie Spriggs the head winemaker has been given the freedom and resources to create extraordinary wines, for instance proof points extended way beyond the product right down to the specification of the door hinges used in the winery. These are great engaging product tales driven by a clear brand purpose.

This is also mirrored in the growing appetite for nonfiction, with data from Nielsen BookScan[7] revealing that adult nonfiction made the biggest gains among the major print categories in the US last year.

A brands authentic story is no longer reserved just for a glossy 5 minute feel good film at the shareholders meeting. Rather consumers are seeking daily reminders, especially contextual to their own lives of how a brand behaves. Interestingly the definition of ‘authentic’ has shifted from ‘social’ and ‘environmental’ responsibility in 2014 to ‘high quality’ and ‘delivering on promises’[8] in 2017.

So now more than ever it’s really important to move beyond generic claims of artisan endevours and exposure the truth of a brands purpose and drive.

We see a number of trends coming together that will enable brands with a true story and great product to be able to create engaging, profitable narratives.

Long form[9]. Well crafted, superbly executed content[10]


Fragmentation[11]. Personalised, contextual, niche targeting[12]


Transparency[13]. The advantage of clarity and delivery of brand promise[14]



[1] adjective ‘of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine’.

[2] Cohn & Wolfe ‘Authentic Brands’ global study 2016


[4] “Engagement with a Purpose – the Power of B Corporations” 2015 BBMG /

[5] ‘Small is the new Big’

[6] Reuters Institute/Nic Newman; Journalism, Media predictions 2017

[7] Adult nonfiction stayed hot in 2016', Publishers Weekly (January 2017)

[8] Cohn & Wolfe ‘Authentic Brands’  2016 analysis by Paul Holmes for The Holmes Report

[9] Canvas8 : From branded magazines to Netflix binge culture, the joy of immersive content. 2017.

[10] 'Why brand storytelling should be the foundation of a growth strategy', Marketing Week (February 2016)

[11] Fragmentation versus convergence. Nielsen Media Trends 2016

[12] Marketing

[13]  Emerging trends. Empathetic Brands 2017

[14] Fuzzy Promises. Definitions of brand promise. Thomas Boysen Anker, Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow. 2014

Deconstructed Luxury

‘The new done thing, is there is no done thing’
— Sommelier, London 5* Hotel.

The one thing that is certain in the new world of luxury is uncertainty. There has been much comment recently on how the traditions of luxury have been deconstructed leading to the need for a fresh approach to marketing to high net worth individuals (HNWI). We have pretty firm views on this subject. For the last 4 years our agency Keko London has exclusively focused on marketing to, and influencing, the behaviours of wealthy consumers.

Traditional luxury is a decreasing segment, not just because many of the individuals are dying but both in the US and Europe millennial attitudes have changed views from ownership to experiencing the trappings of wealth. We are also seeing economic power shifting to new economies, with new values. We are also seeing the decrease in the extrovert luxury segment. A number of factors are at play here from the effects of the post 1990’s recessional behaviours, maturing of previously emerging economies and the changing nature of displays of wealth, not least social media fueled corruption crack downs. The luxury watch market in china was a particular noted victim of online social shaming.

This has all lead to the rise of what we call ‘Modern Luxury’ a progressive, internationalist segment, a mixture of old and new money, but one that is well aware of the transparency and accountability that social media has made the new normal. These are sophisticated consumers with an unconventional approach to the traditions of luxury. It is this group who embrace the new world of ‘Deconstructed Luxury’

Johnathan Hall, Head of Economic Research at Uber co-authored a report last year looking at

‘Inconspicuous conspicuous consumption’ in which the new wealthy are engaging in conspicuous consumption to simultaneously signal wealth and social capital.

In early 2017 Euromoniter picked up on this theme in their ‘Luxury Trends Report’ saying ‘Conspicuous consumption of luxury goods is giving way to more meaningful luxury experiences. The merging of digital and real world consumption experiences.’

Today’s HNWI shopper seeks goods and experiences that project positive statements about who they are and who they desire to be. Consumer- centricity is more important than ever, as the consumer’s own brand is just as crucial as the brands those consumers buy and wear.

Multi device use for even the simplest of actions mean the idea of a luxury brand just focusing on one channel in the way luxury watches or jewellery used to own press have long gone. But having an integrated social strategy is only really a hygiene factor. The role of social influencers is now a primary factor amongst individuals who prioritise personal time and cultivated protected, close groups of social contacts.

We see this a lot in the hospitality and luxury beverage sector, where the cultivation of brand stories are told within immersive one of a kind experiences. This are as much about the product features as they are about cultivating the relationship with the ideals of a consumers own personal brand. Wealthy shoppers are growing to expect beautiful complexity, hyperreal experiences in retail environments, where personal experience is prized over product demonstration.

The new world of Deconstructed Luxury demands a new creative approach and a flexible attitude to media planning. The social capitol HNWI seek can’t be delivered with a single execution rather it takes an imaginative harnessing of multiple channels across multiple devices with a story that is both personalised and contextually relevant for that individual’s moment in time.

This personal element is no longer simply getting someone’s name right. Two new factors come into play here. One, innovations within print and production technologies mean we can produce truly one of one collateral at reasonable costs. Two, the vast ocean of data we have available and the ability to cross reference online behaviours, mean we can truly be personal, contextual and relevant. Which in our experience is the only way to break into and influence behaviours in this new world of luxury 

Brand activation at boutique festivals

I was recently asked for my thoughts about taking advantage of a last minute commercial space booking at Wilderness 2016

The audience of high net worth individuals. Very much the epitome of the ‘HENRY’ (High Earner Not Rich Yet) What makes this audience at this type of event so interesting is they are in an experimental, release mind-set, looking to try new things and collect as many experiences as possible. Brands that provide the stage for unforgettable memories especially those that people want to share using photos and video will win.

There are a number of things brands can do to help increase their awareness at such events. Key thing is this is not big logos, brand speak and blanket branding. There are other types of festivals for that approach.

Checklist onsite activity (separate note TBC for VIP areas, carpark and transport node activities)

SPARK INTEREST. The audience have come to try new food and see interesting ‘stuff’ most will be onsite for all 3 days. This is about both a planned sequence of events and fuelling the joy of discovery with unexpected ‘happenings’ 

BE USEFUL. Timetables, maps, insider tips of best routes to hidden stages/cafes/better loos, -Wifi and charging points are now pretty much expected. But make sure the wifi can not only collect data but also provide information. I.e. the password = ‘9pm special guest’ or ‘2 4 1 at 3pm’ VIP WC, Cover if it rains, lend out brolleys, blankets, cushions, shade if its sunny, A place to sit, a place to eat food brought at another stall etc. an area to do something fun. – Secret areas, areas that change day to night.

OWN MEMORIES. Provide a distinctive environment that encourages sharing of images.  Physically through creative dressing, lighting effects or theming – all of which specifically designed to look good on Instagram formats. Especially at night! But also digitally by geo-tagging/fencing your physical area. Everyone checking in on social media will then receive a prompt of ‘The Sipsmith special (name) place’ - if the name sounds cool and builds kudos for the audience they will use it. – again especially if this is specific to time of day or event happening.

COLLABORATE. There are bound to be complimentary brands on site, increase your coverage by producing joint activity. Especially if this is a bit secret and part of the discovery. Only regular customers are told or mailed about it before hand – it will spread on social if it sounds intriguing i.e. Buying both brands unlocks the location or entry to a special activity. 

OFFER SOMETHING NEW. All of this audience have wide social circles, most of who are not here at this event. Provide a keepsake or experience that they can take back to their circle to share in conversation to gain social kudos. This could be something as simple as joining a special ‘Wilderness’ sect of the mailing list or worshipful membership or unique flavours served in the festival bar. All the way up to distilling a unique gin on site that can only be pre-ordered at the festival to be delivered later to the person’s home. –Remember the audience are in ‘high spending/treating’ mind-set.

Laurent-Perrier at Wilderness did most of the above, some more successful than others but they did keep physical branding to a minimum and as such did command social media coverage in both stories and images. Much of the traditional media coverage also highlighted their area as the place to be. 

Teenage bedrooms

There is an article in the current Creative Review about David King, a designer, typographer and collector. Sadly died in May of this year. I now realise it was his work that adored my bedroom walls as a teenager. A powerful mix of image and type with a soul and passion for it's subject. His work is very evocative of a very particular time of disquiet in the UK. 

In 2003 Eye did a profile on Davids work here =

'Cynicism is a poverty of curiosity and imagination and ambition. Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope…In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, a calcification of the soul. Hope is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.'

Maria Popova. Speaking at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. 2016

I Wouldn't start from here

Remember that old gag about a tourist in Ireland asking for directions to Limerick and being told ".. I wouldn't start from here.."  Planners writing briefs need to consider the start as importantly as the end point. Neal Fairfield, head of planning at Razorfish neatly summed up the point recently on the apg blog. 

If problems are the lifeblood of our industry are too many of us are working with those on the periphery of what really matters?

Do we too often take the start point at face value without going beyond the obvious and the what’s gone before?

( Talking about Red Tomato Pizza App in Dubai, yes from 2012, but a bigger challenge than the Dominos version that followed, and yes that was CP+B)

-Good because it looked beyond your standard ‘sell more pizzas’ and looked for a way to solve the more interesting and chewy problem of how to deal with so many foreign languages in such a multi-national city. It cost too much for the pizza company in question to hire staff fluent in multiple languages so they smashed marketing and technology together to come up with a pioneering world-class solution.

Looking much harder at the reasons a client has spent all the time and energy to look for help. This is a problem they can't solve on their own, they need our help. Just excepting the start point they offer is not really helping. 

Consider the Brexit Remain campaign. Which had the start point of experts agree leaving the EU is nuts, the numbers don't stack up, Remain is the only option for a prosperous future. Sadly as a start point this was so inappropriate for the issues facing so many it was doomed from the start. This was a failure of planning and insight. (OK the client was an uncoordinated nightmare, but still that's not unique) Just as selling pizza to a multi-lingual audience needs a lateral approach so selling nationhood to the disenfranchised takes a deep understanding of personal motivations.

There is so much to say on this subject. However in it's simplest form my advice is look away from your screen and take time to really meet and understand the audience you are trying to influence. Worth pointing out that even the influencers forget the effect they cause. This Twitter exchange between Jon Snow and Rupert Murdoch nails it really.

Book marking where you can actually find stuff again

Been using Pocket for ages now, really simple easy bookmarking App. Best bit? its just so easy to find stuff again, with very simple visual display and semi-auto tagging - in other applications its not the software at fault but always the inability of the user to follow instructions and tag things correctly, if at all. What Pocket nails is understanding that fact, that its users just want to find 'that' article, you know, the one with the picture of the blue horse, published in, er, somewhere, with a headline about something, you know, that one.

Dunwich Dynamo 2016

I rode the Dunwich Dynamo this year as a sort of training run for The London 100. Weird choice I know as the DunRun (as it's normally known) is actually 124 miles if you start my house. As it's an over night ride, those last 24 odd miles do burn your legs just that little bit more first thing Sunday morning. Found this amazing short film of this years event which sums it all up rather beautifully

Pourers & Puritans

Trend forecasters tell us that society’s attitudes to alcohol have changed[1]. Drinking occasions are adapting to new norms of living, from Generation Rent to the cult of the body. What hasn’t changed is the tabloids’ delight in reminding us that ‘booze Britain’ is far from gone.

So has our approach to advertising alcohol changed? Not really, and in light of increased health awareness we seem to be subconsciously fuelling guilt within the moderate drinker[2].

Put simply, I think a new culturally relevant approach to advertising alcohol[3] is needed. Recently Heineken did launch a global campaign focused on the plus side of moderate drinking; it’s just a shame it was wrapped up in the traditional sexism of booze ads, something social media was quick to jump on:

Is it a generational thing? The popular view of Gen Z abstinence is summed up in a quote from a recent research study: ‘..we have to stay sober to sort the mess you’ve left the world in..’ [4] while Millennials have proved themselves to consider alcohol only a part of their intoxication options[5], Boomers are still the heart of the passive alcoholism trend amongst the middle classes[6]. But appearances can be deceptive. I think there are really interesting opportunities in the manner and nature of these changing relationships with alcohol. Recently The Drum[7] reported we are potentially entering ‘a golden age for booze brands’. However this will only happen if brands are prepared for the challenge of stepping away from the conventions of the category. I think we are at a moment with huge potential for a new approach to alcohol advertising. One that is bold, relevant and legal.


Debate continues for appropriate legislation regarding the promotion and consumption of alcohol. The fact that experts still can’t agree whether the 1920 Prohibition act in the US was a success or a failure[8] highlights another key issue of marketing drink. Academic findings have significant implications for legislation, and therefore the happiness of a population. This means that political expedience, rather than common sense[9], dominates the field of study into our relationship with drink despite non-problematic drinking of alcohol being seen as normal in both statistical and sociological terms[10].


Many studies into the effects of alcohol and anti-social behaviour[11] have settled on the same conclusion. Cultural and social isolation are a cause, alcohol simply enables the timid to action.


This is clear right now in the Lincolnshire town of Boston, where a perfect storm of events sees the current Government struggling with welfare reforms, zero hour contracts and migration. The net result is the creation of the most divided town in the UK. This in turn has fuelled a debate and veritable tabloid frenzy surrounding local alcohol promotion and prohibition.


A major study last year[12] published the results of advertising’s impact on four decades of category sales in the US. A key finding was regarding advertising versus warnings on consumption levels. The authors closed the report stating that ‘advertising restrictions or bans with the purpose of reducing consumption may not have the desired effect’.


Indeed, while debating the new 2015 alcohol guidelines in the UK the department of health noted that ‘while guidelines might have limited influence on behaviour, they could be influential as a basis for government policies’ [13] .


The new guidelines that have emerged in the UK do not correspond to any other country in world and are, as the Financial Times said, ‘inherently contradictory’.


Again this points to an opportunity to reframe and refocus conversation about alcohol especially if it comes from the people who actually make the stuff.


It can be no coincidence that nations with a strong tradition of temperance entirely dominate the field of alcohol studies[14]. These studies are normally focused on problems with a minority rather than addressing the normality of drinking amongst the majority. Within the UK this has turned into something of a mini industry, funded in part by the various sides of the debate on Britain’s high taxation on the sale and manufacture of drink.


But hasn’t café culture and craft beer introduced a more reflective, responsible drinking culture to the UK? In reality, outside of London craft beer still only accounts for about 10% of sales. However, what I find interesting about the crossover of artisan culture into mainstream brewing is that no one can actually decide what craft beer actually is. At a recent industry roundtable[15] representatives from three of the leading players, Meantime (SABMiller) Camden Town (AB InBev) and Brewdog tried to define what craft ale was. Scale, production and independence were all discussed. But none agreed on. I presume the consumer is even less sure what they are buying when offered ‘craft’ ales.


Considering the desire amongst consumers for greater transparency in the descriptions of foodstuffs, the confusing issue of ‘Craft Ale’ needs to be fixed fast.


Interestingly AB InBev’s flagship brand Budweiser at this year’s Superbowl ran a follow up 60” film to last year’s ad the artisan-knocking ‘Made the hard way’. This year’s was a much more pointed attack on craft ale, glorying in big corporate American with the hash tag #NotBackingDown. Social media got in a froth by this with many craft brewers adopting the hash tag as their own product truth of what a craft beer stood for.


As mentioned before we are seeing genuine shifts in traditional relationships with drink[16]. An interesting landmark was that last year marked the end of ‘The Loaded Years’ with the closure of all of the main lads’ mag’ titles. So is this really generation sober? No, far from it. It’s just happening in a different way. One aspect of change is a key part of pub folklore, the underage drinker.


For generations comedians have mined the social discomfort of a teenager’s first foray into a licensed establishment.  We are now saying goodbye to this very British right of passage[17].

Many things contribute to this, from the re-design of pubs to the increasing awareness of the health consequences of drink[18][19] and simple affordability, plus more bars implementing ‘challenge 25’. All this means for Gen Z buying a pint in a traditional pub is a lot of hassle compared with how easy it is to source other forms of intoxication. Whether simple laughing gas or online sales of ‘legal’ highs[20].


Then there is the uniquely negative aspect of drinking this generation has acquired. It’s not just that they grew up with their uncool parents getting drunk at home[21], but under age drinking itself is no longer seen as in anyway rebellious.


Central thought is that the marketing of booze has not kept pace with societies’ dualist tendencies. This is very much the case in the UK. Despite centuries’ old traditions of the desire to get twatted, we have now entered a period of reflection on the role drink plays in our lives. If we keep marketing drink using current conventions, we will fuel guilt in consumers.


There is a basic human need for communal activity that alcohol plays a part in. But legislation and moral crusaders have molded a set of conventions for bland advertising. I see an opportunity for a new kind of story that addresses the change in knowledge and understanding that most of the population now demonstrates.


So join me in raising a glass to a new culturally relevant approach to advertising alcohol.


[1] Beyond the binge in ‘Booze Britain’ School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent.

[2] Guilt in Moderation Dr Curtis Ellison, professor of Medicine and Public Health at Boston University and co-director of The International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research

[3] How evidence-based are alcohol policies across the UK? N Fitzgerald Uni Stirling & C Angus Uni Sheffield Nov 2015

[4] Fiona Measham. Professor of Criminology at Durham University 2015

[5]  The UK consumed an average of 9.4 ltrs of alcohol per adult (15+) in 2014 down 19% from the 2004 peak and 10% lower than 2000. Portman Group + WSTA 2015

[6] Professor Jose Iparraguirre English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing. BMJ Open. July 2015

[7] The Drum 10/10/2015‘Alcohol trends, A potential marketing manifesto for brands’

[8] Alcohol prohibition as a public health innovation. US National Library of Medicine

[9] Paul Roman in 1991 “Alcohol studies must be liberated from justifying our existence in the political arena. Accepting the primacy of the social-problem significance of a phenomenon directs research primarily toward the political-problem issues rather than toward good quality science.”

[10] Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking The Social Issues Research Centre OXFORD for the European Commission

[11] Southern Europeans drink more often but at less volume, with a far lower rate of binge drinking. In France, “le binge drinking” only officially entered the lexicon as ‘beuverie expres’s in 2013 The Guardian Feb 2015

[12] Gary B. Wilcox, Eun Yeon Kang & Lindsay A. Chilek (2015) Beer, wine, or spirits? Advertising's impact on four decades of category sales, International Journal of Advertising

[13] Health Spectator ‘The great alcohol cover up’ 10 Feb 2016

[14] The Cognitive and Behavioural Impact of Alcohol Promoting and Alcohol Warning Advertisements: 2015

[15] ‘Clash of the Titans’ Pub 2016 Seminar. Olympia London

[16] 2015

[17] The proportion of young people in England (11-15 year olds) that have tried alcohol fell from 59% in 2000 to 39% in 2013. Portman Group


[19] ‘The Sexometer’

[20] et al

[21] 16-24 Yr Olds in the UK do not consider alcohol to be important to their social lives (66%); and many of those who do drink believe that alcohol is more important to their parents’ social lives than to their own (41%).

In praise of chaos

Kings Cross pop-up wild swimming pool




Couple of interesting debates happening right now that are both covering the same broad issue. The Human desire for the unexpected. The need for an emotive random layer in our increasingly automated worlds.

There is significant chat right now about the best way to design interfaces[1] (or UX) between cool tech and bumbling humans.  Finally software is slowly gaining interfaces we don’t need a weeks training to operate. Speakers at a recent UX conference[2] in Zurich were encouraged to ‘Embrace the Chaos’ (of true human behaviour) to make better controls people could actually use.


There is similar debate raging about Privately Owned Spaces or POPS in our cities.  There is a justifiable perception that many city developments are pristine but soulless spaces. Full of signs informing people this is NOT a public space backed by men in high viz jackets to make sure order is kept. It doesn’t have to be this way.


The new Kings Cross development in London, is centred on Europe’s biggest new public space, Granary Square[3]. The developers, Argent[4], referenced ideas first set out in ancient Rome; The belief that a city should provide an inspiration and wonder, with the unexpected around any corner. In other words the plans of the development were reversed. The public areas planned first then the commercial properties fitted around that. To create a real human energy of place.


Geographer Bradley L Garrett[5] writing in The Guardian said ‘The problem with POPS is they lack that kind of energy. They feel too monitored, too controlled..’


What Argent have done in Kings Cross and to a lesser extent in their spaces in Manchester Piccadilly and Birmingham is create some element of the unexpected. Yes it’s still controlled, but not in a complete Truman Show fashion of developments like Canary Wharf.


The geographer David Harvey[6] said ‘..The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is…one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights..’


A Wired journalist[7] covering Audi’s driverless car project remarked how being in one was at first terrifying, but within 15 minutes became numbingly boring. We are adapting to our changing cityscapes with remarkable ease. We really don’t want the expected, pre-planned version. Our emotions demand spontaneity for a reassurance of reality. Research[8] by UCL and Otto von Guericke University prove our brains respond to a novelty of situation by seeking greater exploration in search of a reward. It’s well documented how shoppers speed up when walking past blank facades[9] So it’s not just architecture it’s the pulse of people on the street. The environmental psychologist and neuroscientist Colin Ellard[10] has recently been writing about how humans are happier, feel comfortable and are more productive when within cityscapes that offer novelty and impulse options.  


But this is not an invitation to simple reflect a happy smiley world


A smiling image in an ad is now perceived as fake. The upshot of this? The stock photolibaries like Shutterstock[11] are reporting a doubling in demand for images showing ‘sadness’ – with even ‘Fear’ being selected nearly twice as often as ‘surprise’ A non-perfect world is the new perfect world, see also TV chefs[12] championing ugly fruit and veg


But what does this mean for the spaces we inhabit, both digitally and in the real world?


We need the odd bump in the road. We desire the unexpected, the experience of the new. Whether it’s an Instagram feed or a public space with a pop-up food truck. The psychologist Danial Goleman said;  ‘Emotion plays a powerful role in our lives and has gained significant attention as a priority area of study in interaction design’.[13]


Consumers will enthusiastically spend money on a place or event that promises the unexpected.


It has been shown that increased loyalty and productivity come from environments that facilitate the needs of social and physical group dynamics[14]. It’s no wonder that Secret Cinema[15] the immersive film experience of the second Star Wars film ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ has been a sell out[16], that’s £75[17] a ticket for a film released in 1980. The promise being of course is a layer of humanity and a little chaos added to the film going experience. Something so devoid of a traditional Multiplex visit.


We are now seeking this element of spontaneity whether online or in the real world. It’s what is driving many to rethink how we use our spaces.


We are currently working with the Sheffield Business Improvement District (BID) team developing ideas to make the city centre a more vibrant place to be in.  This is a project of both digital and real world challenges, but all linked by a human desire for the unexpected.


The unique layout of Sheffield City Center has the opportunity to beguile its visitors not with an enclosed glass box of identikit retail but with a passion and soul of a living community celebrating its cultural differences[18].


It is through embracing the joy of human chaos we will make both our public spaces more fun to be in and our online tasks more enjoyable.



[1] IBM and Econsultancy, “The Consumer Conversation: The experience void between brands and their customers,” April 2015.







[8] Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA "Pure Novelty Spurs The Brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2006

[9] Danish urbanist Jan Gehl. Urban Design Consultant and Professor of Urban Design at the School of Architecture in Copenhagen

[10] Places of the Heart. Colin Ellard 2015 Bellevue Literary Press

[11] 2015 Design and Emotion study

[12] +