Sunday, February 8, 2015

11 LONDON launches

After many years as a planner in healthcare advertising agencies, I've opened up a shop of my own - thanks to the opportunity and ongoing mentorship afforded me by my good friend Steve Buckley.

It's called 11 LONDON and you can see it here:

It's a healthcare communications agency purpose-built to be fast and efficient in today’s competitive multi-channel world.

​We develop strategies, promotional ideas and content for:
Drugs and devices  //  Health and wellbeing   //  Healthcare providers  //  Healthcare charity

We do this for every medium, digital and offline, and we’re scalable so that we can work efficiently on small tactical projects as well as ​larger strategic programmes.

We’ve built 11 LONDON to be a healthcare communications agency that both our clients and our associates want to stay with - wherever their careers take them. 

We have worked with our associates for a long time, so we know how to get the best out of each other. 

They all receive a share of  company profits, and they can work from wherever best suits them – which we think keeps the ideas fresh.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Love me tender

I can thoroughly recommend taking a look at my girlfriend's new website

Some great ideas for home furnishings, all in quirky patterns.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Damaged people are dangerous as they know they can survive

Assange is a damaged character, not just because of his comparatively recent Wikileaks brainchild, but possibly because of how his entire life has unfolded - partly by design, partly by circumstance.

He is currently on Interpol's most wanted list, has a warrant for arrest in Sweden, and is denounced by his native Australia and has been told he faces criminal charges if he returns. As if that's not enough, he has served a spell in prison for hacking, was in hiding with his mother during his teenage years due to custody battles, and then faced another custody battle over his own child in the late 1990's.

He undoubtedly has a phenomenal mind, and this is paired with what often comes across as an awkward and geeky manner. This interview with him on TED shows both of these qualities in abundance.

None of this is news, but I'd like to posit two theories about why he keeps going, and why this is endearing to so many.

First, why he keeps going. In one of the many films named 'Damaged' (I think it's this one) there's the quotation that forms the title of this post. It's hard for us to empathise with Assange, but there must come a point at which you feel so embattled that it becomes a way of life, and if you're tough enough you can focus the adrenaline energy into doing something positive (he and his mother formed a group called 'Parent Inquiry into Child Protection' that helped people access legal files about child custody issues had hitherto remained beyond their grasp).

That, mated with a potent cocktail of hacking ability and a putative knowledge of philosophy and neuroscience, could easily be seen to make him think that if anyone's going to effect change, they're not going to be much better prepared than he is.

Perhaps it also becomes an addiction, as the neurotransmitter adrenaline courses through his nerves, resisting sleep and causing restive twitches (both of which his colleagues testify to, although I can't remember where I read this).

And it's all of the above that leads me to why he's so endearing: a sleep-deprived, adrenaline junkie hacker, in hiding from international politicians, fighting for his kid, having led a gypsy childhood, and exposing the tawdry-to-downright-dangerous diplomatic goings-on that governments want to hide.

Move over Stieg Larsson (oops, you already did): this has got more film potential than any of your novels.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Post-logic marketing

I spend a worrying amount of my time in workshops, guiding a collection of well-meaning people toward a conclusion that is often entirely logical.

Nothing wrong with logic when it comes to many things, but when it comes to creative advertising I think that it can be a brand's enemy.

We're in danger, especially in the healthcare sector, of being slaves to logic at the expense of imagination. Why should we pat ourselves on the back for being able to see how a concept links to a product? Why should the link be that obvious? Why should we always have to show a patient / a situation / a hackneyed metaphor?

Some may argue that it gets the point across quickly. However, I would opine that it's pretty damn irrelevant if the concept is so dull in the first place that no-one bothers looking at it or feeling any sense of connection or emotional response.

I've always hated market researching concepts for two reasons: first, no-one spends hours questioning a concept in real life - this only leads to lowest common denominator creative that offends no-one (and attracts no-one). Second, Jo Public is not paid or trained to be creative, or to imagine. Instead, they're paid £40 to turn up, criticise and offer their 'logical' reasons why they approve of something.

Which, if you're in the medical profession, is likely to make your stated view one that you think will make you sound like a committed and logical physician, when actually you're stifling an emotional response.

Logic is often all we have when we're trying to describe why a concept should go forward and be made into an ad. But consider this: how are some of the best works of art 'logical'? They stay with us, intrigue us and make our hackles rise very often because they can't be categorised. And that, in my book, is brilliant.

Some may think this is at odds with being a planner. I disagree. To be able to take clients to the point at which they favour emotion over logic takes a lot more effort and convincing, despite the fact that you'll have a lot more chance of standing out.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why it's difficult to start a new book

The biggest problem I have when it comes to starting a new book is wanting to start it.

Yet that’s utterly illogical. I’ve either finished the last one, or I’m up for a new one. One must logically want to fill the void. It’s a natural sequence.

Everything about me says that starting a new book is wonderful, And the publisher notes just confirm this. But there is a reticence, as if I’ve not long been divorced.

Will I bring the characters of the last book into this one? What if I simply continue the plot line where it was not intended? Or perhaps I really miss the sexy one from the last novel and unintentionally project her onto someone whose authorial fortune was to be so very different?

I think I’ll wait a while.

Toy with a few first paragraphs.

See if we notice each other.

If it’s shit after 100 pages I’ll give up.

No-one will beat my last love.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tokyo thoughts at 3am

When you're on the 32nd floor, it's hard to tell when it's raining as there's no pitter-patter above, and no splash beneath.

You're in a city where, from this vantage point, concrete and other seriously unpretty constructs form a 360 degree panorama, and you cling to the hope that, when the clouds lift, you'll see a volcano.

It's too easy to stay awake into the early hours - wishing you had the stamina to do this on a normal Friday night - except that it's a Tuesday, and you're mentally bleached with jetlag.

You marvel at the strange hieroglyphic bill presented to you, but your reasons for framing it are more to do with your need to claim it on expenses.

Your room is decked in late 70's retro off-beige soft things, your iron is portable and your loo blowdries your arse, yet you can't help but warm to its attempt at trying to make you feel at home.

You can walk in any direction into the city for many hundreds of yards and, unless you stumble across the brief peace of a shinto temple, you could still be anywhere under the rising sun in this city of multi-layered steel, skywalks and fly-unders.

PS - that's not a furry bat hanging from the standard lamp, it's a glitch in my camera lens that irks somewhat and must be sorted forthwith.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My point of view

One of the benefits of half-listening to something, such as one does when the radio's on while you're getting up, or in any meeting that lasts more than 15 minutes, is that the speaker has to say something really quite good - and in a way that's tonally ear-pricking - in order for one to bother listening properly.

Perhaps it's laziness, or perhaps we're just not built to concentrate for that long, or perhaps it's just that the majority of stuff that's spoken is utterly bland and inconsequential. Whatever it is, I love it when a thought breaks cover and you're drawn back into the moment and forced to listen.

Such was the case on Start the Week this Monday when philosopher Raymond Tallis was talking about why pointing the finger is considered rude.

It's one of those 'why?' questions we pose when kids: 'Mummy, why is it rude? Why do I have to go to bed? Why does grandma smell funny?' - and the usual reply is less than satisfactory, along the lines of 'because I say so'.

And so we grow up just accepting much of this. Until we realise that sleep is necessary and that grandma had regressed in the hygiene stakes.

So it was an ear-pricker indeed when it was suggested that the reason that pointing is rude may well be that 'it reduces you to an object. You're skewered, left pinned and wriggling. You are merely that meaty object at this moment, now, and all your back history and your vision and opinions don't count.'

How luxuriantly metaphysical. What a delicious way of explaining why waggling a bit of bone and flesh in someone's direction is to ignore their fundamental 'themness'. I think I might even agree with this.

And by chance today, while trying to work out how to include this thought in a blog post, I ended up watching a brief film of Richard Feynman explaining how light works.

I should explain that I arrived at said video via various discussions about how so many marketers make life unnecessarily complex by using long and fancy words that get in the way of communicating an idea.

(And in the light of that sentiment, I avoided using the word obfuscate for fear of having the finger pointed at me.)

Feynman is, as most people seem to agree, bloody brilliant: an entertaining and understandable scientist; and one, unlike Adam-Bloody-Hart-Davis, who doesn't tell you that tax is simple. Which is bloody isn't.

In this video he actually helped me understand how light waves work, and even through his simple language and metaphor, made me realise how complex the functions are that help us distinguish our relative positions in the world.

And in the face of this complexity, I was left wondering whether that's not another reason why we don't like having the finger pointed at us: it's not just that we're reduced to an object, but that we're reduced to a single object: one who is marked out. Whilst some of us are happy to stand out from the crowd, the majority like to cling to each other in fear of being picked on as a special example.

Moreover, if you realise you're being pointed at, you the pointee are probably facing the pointer head on, so you're only having one aspect of yourself appreciated - and probably a differentiating one at that.

So the reasons for its rudeness are complex, and I now see why parents don't normally bother with the explanation.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The casualties of improvement

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Nothing that contentious about Newton's phrase, you wouldn't have thought, excepting the fact that all too many brands seem to find this impossible to acknowledge. More on this in a moment.

There often seems to be a sense of denial that anything that precedes an improvement - especially if this is an improvement over a brand / corporation / industry's
own current offering - is inferior.

Take a look at this article on blood pressure (BP) management. The final paragraph is a masterstroke in undermining the advancement that's just been crowed about: 'Current practice is not wrong'. Yet the article has just talked about how current practice can lead to greater instance of stroke because fluctuations in BP are considered ok.

How can that be desirable? And how can both situations possibly be right? Either the current practice is, in fact, sub-optimal, or the new one is unproven. But to say that it is 'not wrong' fills me with worry.

To bring to bear another current gripe of mine, that of the bastard HMRC wanting to charge me for merely breathing it seems, perhaps I should state that my tax return for the last financial year was 'not wrong'. See whether the binary-minded crones from Maidstone, who have initials rather than real names, can struggle with that kind of language.

And now for that brand example: we do a lot of marketing for medical device manufacturers and they constantly - and understandably - strive to make better products. But the sheer amount of brain-ache caused by thinking of ways in which to say that a new product is better - but not that the old product is in any way worse - is beginning to rile me.

Yet what is so wrong in acknowledging advancement? Surely the inexorable march of technological and scientific progress is to be lauded?

I, for one, would find little solace in taking a drug via a device according to a treatment protocol that were all deemed 'not wrong'.

But: oh no. It would be 'damaging to the brand' to say that the new device in question is, in fact, 'simpler than our last model'. But then the brand (mis)managers in this case are also too chicken-shit to say that they're 'simpler than the competition's'.

So exactly WHOSE product are they simpler than? Or are they just 'simpler' than trying to insert the drug into your vein using a wooden spoon or a kango drill?

Thank [insert god here] for the common sense of Apple. The Mac Pro described on this page unashamedly says that it's 'nearly two times faster than the previous generation'.

Good. I like better. And faster. And I'm happy to dispense with the worse. Otherwise life gets too grey and cluttered with stuff in the not right/not wrong middle ground.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Knee-jerk banning

As Peter Griffin from Family Guy might say, 'what really grinds my gears' in this country at the moment is the immediate reaction on the part of Powers That Be to ban things.

Banning is dangerous in two main ways: it says 'you, the individual, are no longer free to do this'. And it also risks driving activities underground.

It's also a pretty blunt instrument as, let's face it, most Powers That Be tend to lack the resources to police their own bans. Plenty of under-16s have sex in the UK, for instance, despite its being illegal.

But aside from the rather fundamental issues of freedom and operability, there's the craw-sticking, gear-grinding feeling of knee-jerk stupidity.

Taking alcohol first, which is fast becoming a 'demerit good' to rival that of tobacco, I read an insightful article today on how alcohol advertising is being used by the Health Select Committee as a scapegoat to cover up the real problems behind increased alcohol consumption.

The subject of the article, Tim Ambler, posits that in a mature market such as alcohol consumption, the effect of advertising Carlsberg, for instance, would be to drive brand preference rather than causing people to drink beer in the first place - as opposed to tea, perhaps.

Analysing the HSC's decisions further, the 9pm watershed also seems a bit bonkers. Do we honestly believe that ten year olds, who are classed as at risk of drinking alcohol - for whatever reason, be it lack of parental control, peer pressure, glamour motivation - are tucked up in bed at 8.59pm?

This is not a useful ban: this is a ban that says: we don't know the real causes, instead we're just going to be seen to be doing something. And banning it has the air of something useful.

Looking now at a totally different example - today's banning of Islam4UK's march in Wooton Bassett - it's clear that Alan Johnson also subscribes to the 'if unsure, ban it' credo.

Whether or not this march is tantamount to spitting in the eyes of the family members who have lost loved ones in the war in Afghanistan, or whether we think this is a justifiable response to foreign policy ... or whether the group really does promote terrorism (which is the most mootable of points itself), the likely truth is that banning the march will do little more (if successful) than make the event go more smoothly on the day.

I'd argue instead that the media attention so far has already served the group's purpose, and the fact that Omar Bakri Muhammed has also indicated that this is a group whose efforts, if banned, will be driven underground, is also suggestive of a failed meta-strategy.

The real, underlying causes of each of the above examples are without doubt hard to ascertain, and they're not going to be attributable to a single convenient insight that might have been lurking undetected at the bottom of some policy wonk's sock drawer.

Referring back to the alcohol topic, an article in yesterday's New Scientist examined the difficulty that scientists have had in locating the underlying cause of its misuse - as well as identifying some of the convenient 'truths' that have been popularly aired along the way. Alcoholism is closer to being understood, the answers are multifarious and complicated, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve being reached.

And it certainly doesn't mean that we should be fobbed off by meaningless bans: they encumber the pursuit of the real truths, penalise many more than deserve it, and above all (for the sake of this article) actively demote the infinitely more valuable culture of rigorous and intelligent thinking.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Placebo morality

There was a fascinating article in Wired Magazine in August about the increasing potency of placebo.

On the face of it, that sounds like mad chatter: a pill that is little more than sugar increasing in efficacy? With no pharmacologically provable mode of action or reason why?

Physician: steel thyself. Drugs are not your only tools any more.

We could easily adduce philosopho-quackery commentary along similar lines to the author's conclusion, namely that: 'the brain is really clever' and 'we don't understand it all, Horatio'.

But that only adds fuel to the fire of pseudo-science, and as anyone with a Hotmail account will know, there are all too many opportunities to increase your penis size with a blue diamond pill made out of bits of dandelion and alsatian. Or worse.

At least, that was the reason I fled Hotmail for Gmail.

I digress. Because the thought I wanted to ponder in this post was not precisely about the above phenomenon, but about the moral conundrum of offering someone with a life-threatening condition a sugar pill.

Even in the face of (apparently) more placebo peculiarities like this one, when you're dealing with illnesses as serious as cancer there will still be a statistically significant number of people who will think they're being given a pill that could make them better, only for it (up until recently) to do bugger all.

The moral conundrum is made more difficult still when you compare people's willingness to take part in trials where placebos are given. This article, on a sample of women asked to be recruited to an HRT trial, suggests that - at least in situations that are not immediately life-threatening - willingness does indeed drop.

This is not just because of perceived risk to self, either, but also the sense that the altruistic and research purpose of the trial would somehow be less.

And all this is, to my mind at least, understandable. I just don't comprehend the fact that most trials are against placebo rather than an existing competitor drug - where you would at least have some hope of being treated.

It's not even as if proving yourself against sugar pills is as easy as it once was...

3rd March 2010 ADDITION: a interesting post on other Placebo morality issues -