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Jefferson in Paris

I took one of my sons to Paris this weekend.

We had a good time.

But I was struck by the sheer volume of tourists in the city centre; many more so, it felt, than here in London.

Some say the centre of Paris is prettier than the centre of London. That may or may not be true. What is true is that physically Paris has changed a lot less than its British counterpart in the last 150 years.

Pyramide and Pompidou notwithstanding, Baron Haussman’s grand vision is remarkably intact, and so consequently attractive to tourists that, at times, the city can feel like one big theme park.  Irony upon irony then, that the uniquely French  ‘exception culturelle’ and so the concomitant instinct to preserve has in fact led to Paris’ Disneyfication. Quelle horreur!

London, on the other hand, is dirty and gritty, emanating not so much from a fastidiously planned top-down approach, but from the bottom-up. The result is, admittedly, not always pretty, but it is diverse.

And it’s not just in architecture or town-planning where we see this difference.

The French tendency to dirigisme extends to fashion (compare London’s embracing of ‘the street’ with Paris’ haute-couture), cuisine (it might well be the best in the world, but it has to be prepared – and consumed – according to a very strict formula; don’t dare order anything other than a Sauternes with your foie gras), wine (look at how silly the Aussies made the French look when they started labelling wine by the grape, as opposed to terroir); the whole kit and caboodle.

This goes deep – to each nation’s understanding of the rule of law, and nature of freedom. The underlying tenet of the common law of England and Wales is an assumption towards things being permissable unless they have previously been expressly prohibited. In France, and indeed most of the rest of the continent, informed first by Roman law and then the Napoleonic Code, the starting point is a list of things one cannot do. A nuanced, but hugely important, distinction.

For creativity, all of this has a profound impact.

Not only does the relative uniformity produced by France’s dirigisme rob creative minds of the diversity that inspires but also the implicit green light of individual empowerment that a bottom-up culture offers; the basic, instinctive freedom to express at every level of society.

I don’t hate France, or the French. I speak the language and spent a lot of my childhood growing up there.  And this isn’t a perfidious Englishman simply taking a cheap shot at the old enemy.

It’s a bona fide, one-time francophile lamenting the needless shackles that for too long have put a nation that once led the way, creatively speaking, in such a bureaucratic bind.

That, and the inexplicable, continued tolerance of these:

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Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Andy Hinder is chief executive at STEEL London

hinder-andy

Steve Jobs finished his Stanford speech by famously quoting, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish”. That’s stuck with me ever since I first heard it. A ‘eureka’ moment that never leaves you.

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Meme and the world memes with you?

Advertising often reflects the zeitgeist, when it isn’t helping to shape said zeitgeist. Thus it is that the advertising industry is no stranger to memes – both the creation of them and leveraging them for stand-out potential. So, although the Internet has caused a proliferation of memes, they’ve been around for a long time.

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A Great British Brand

Like many strong brands, Russell Brand divides opinion. It’s easy to deride him. Just choose your epithet. Libidinous lightweight. Naive dilettante. Political poseur. Amoral chancer. Degenerate Essex Boy. You can belittle him but it’s difficult to ignore him. As a degenerate Essex boy myself, I like him. He’s a great British brand that others could learn from. Read More »

The Natives Are Restless. Agencies Should Be Too.

On 9 March, Andrew Sullivan wrote a telling piece for the for The Sunday Times in which he excoriated online journalism for ‘selling its soul to the admen.’

He’s not alone.  More than one Guardianista has had something to say about the topic too.

Understandably perhaps, journalists are pretty cross about ‘native advertising’: brands paying money to publishers to develop and disseminate content on their behalf. The journos see their independence, their integrity, and their values under great threat.  ‘Outraged of Fleet Street’ may or may not be correct in this respect, but either way, for the folk who somehow have to find the money to pay him or her, it’s a very attractive proposition.

Someone who helped lead the (incredibly successful) native advertising drive for Hearst in the US told me a few years ago: ‘as publishers, we know our audiences very, very well. We know what type of content they want; and we know when and how they want it.’

As a statement, at least, it’s kind of difficult to argue with that.  Guardian Labs – a self-styled ‘branded content and innovation agency which offers brands bold and compelling new ways to tell their stories and engage with influential Guardian audiences’ – is another example, recently signing up with Unilever to provide Guardian readers with branded pieces on ‘sustainability’.

For a client, prima facie, this all looks rather compelling. No longer do they have to rely on the hunches (sorry ‘insights’) of planners, nor the ‘Big Data’ that may or may not have been accurately analysed. The actual data are already there. Moreover, the creative flair and ‘magic’ is gladly supplied by fresh-out-of-quality-agency creative directors who are delighted to be in an exciting new home, whilst the media planning phase (and cost) simply isn’t necessary because the publisher has long since done all that.

On the surface, at least, it’s all pretty neat. But, nomenclature aside, it ain’t new: we all grew up with the ‘advertorial’.

What has changed, however, is the publishers’ desire to push native advertising; hard. No longer, for them, a mere addendum to the business of selling newspapers, this is instead a matter of survival; of business reinvention.

So it’s interesting just how little regard is typically paid to native advertising by agencies when examining their ‘competitive set’. This might be another product of the seemingly endless deckchair-rearranging that our sector is currently engaged in, but it’s time to take notice.

Publishing, as an industry, was at the front of the ship when it hit the iceberg, and it knows how cold the water is.

It isn’t going to get off the life-raft any time soon.

Why we set up Millennial Mentoring and what we did at SXSW

Nadya Powell is managing director at MRY

A group of Millennials and a hell of a lot of smart people from two different continents pitched live on stage at Hackney House at SXSW last week. The Millennial Mentoring programme finale, the culmination of six months’ work, was a truly transatlantic affair – a collaboration of the best of London’s and Austin’s talent.

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Tony Benn is dead.

He is mourned not just as a man, or as a father, but also as a politician.  This is remarkable in an age where the latter are held in even lower esteem than bankers and estate agents.

But today Britons of all political persuasions – and none – are celebrating Benn’s passion, his conviction; his authenticity.

Benn was an old man who had lived a full, and colourful, life.  His loss in indeed sad, but it is also in the natural order of things.

The real tragedy is the acutely short supply of politicians who follow his dictum:

“Say what you believe, and believe what you say”

This is ironic, because one of the fundamental societal changes wrought by the digital revolution is a significant, and probably irreversible, appetite for greater honesty and transparency – in every aspect of our lives.

But when – Benn aside – did any of us last hear a serious politician talk with either purpose or authenticity, let alone both? Instead, they continue to trot out the same pompous, top-down, duplicitous, jargon-laden, deeply patronising gobbledygook and half-truths that no professional marketers in 2014 would ever dream of trying to get away with.

Brands have, perhaps, responded to the transparency zeitgeist a little better (to the point where both ‘purpose’ and ‘authenticity’ are in danger of becoming cliches) but the execution has often been clumsy, leaving a lot to be desired.

Perhaps Tony Benn’s greatest contribution to the nation, and there were many, is reminding us all – marketers and politicians alike – that nothing wins hearts and minds like conviction.

“Say what you believe, and believe what you say” 

A principled view on creative awards

Creative Circle was last night, marking the start of the awards season.

Now, it’s fair to say that there are two camps, when it comes to industry prizes.

There are those who dismiss them as irrelevant symbols of self-aggrandisement, on the part of a shamefully narcissistic and pitifully needy sector.  This camp points to the money that is lavished on entries and dinners; the invidious growth of consultants; the arbitrary nature of league tables; the out-moded use of silo-specific categories; and the lack of connection, usually, with what actually works.

Then, in the opposite camp, there are those who praise them as valuable measures of success, in a world where creativity is more important than ever.  This side points to the power of awards to raise standards; to attract and retain talented people; to highlight great thinking from around the world; and ultimately to drive change.

So where do I stand in this debate?  Well, I have a very clear and principled take on this subject.  When I lose, I passionately agree with the former view.  And when I win, I wholeheartedly agree with the latter view.

Last night, at Creative Circle, we won our first ever award, for our first ever campaign (a Gold for Paddy Power).  So for now, gongs are great but I’m fully prepared for trophies to be trashy trinkets sometime soon…

Reflections on SXSW

Gareth Jones is chief brand and content officer at DigitasLBi

Agencies aplenty

This year, there were seemingly more agency types than ever before at SXSW. We’re pretty easy to spot; rucksack, vague look of confusion, still hungover from the night before…

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SXSWi 2014: Day 4 (11 March)

No one likes to watch guys get food in their beards but, if you want to get the best out of your creatives, you should eat with them.

That was a tip from John Maeda, a design partner at venture capital company Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who was discussing how to manage creative teams at a SXSWi talk called “creativity in innovation & entrepreneurship”. The gender-biased joke was mine.

Maeda made other observations about managing creative teams, including one that creatives weren’t “joiners”, but were rather singular, and that they excel at the “personal touches”. He also said that creatives’ were usually hard working, but that this work ethic had been distorted through their representation in the media.

Returning to his comments about eating together, Maeda explained that while, in the West, businessmen will typically hammer out a deal then eat together, in China, businessmen eat together first, and eat the same food, because they believe that eating the same DNA make people more similar.

Most importantly, you have to fight the for your “weird creative outsiders”. The ones who don’t want to be “joiners”.

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