10 Books I Heartily Recommend

Whilst trying to unblock blog block at the weekend I started thinking about the books that have been major influences in how I approach work stuff. And I was going to go back and start re-reading some of them to see if they’d kick-start any interesting thoughts.

Then I figured that I should share this list of books with people. Some of them are really well known and some of them are slightly culty books. Some people will know all of them. But I’m hoping that a few of you might find one or two new or interesting titles in the 10.

What amazed me was that you can get Being Digital for 7p on Amazon marketplace – at least you could when I first pulled the widget together. 7p for the book on Digital that started it all for me. It’s almost an insult.

And yes, if you click through from the above and buy stuff I’m using my Amazon referrer link so I’m selling you down the mucky river for a fast buck. If you’d rather not do that feel free to click this unsullied link to Amazon.co.uk and do the searching yourself – it won’t be any cheaper, but you’ll be denying my capitalist ass some filthy ill-gotten gains.

Crisps and Conversations

I’ve been a bit of a sceptic about interactivity and FMCGs. Most of the time they just create digital litter.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a big fan of crisps. But Walkers seem to be doing some peculiarly interesting things around conversations and their brands.

Firstly the brilliant ‘Do Us a Flavour’ campaign. (If you’ve not seen it, they’re getting people to submit new flavors of potato chips. If you submit the winning flavour you get £50k and a 1% share of the profits from the new flavour).

The site’s got a lot of shortcomings. It doesn’t handle duplicates at all well, and the searching isn’t up to scratch. But it obviously doesn’t matter that much to people: 130,000 pages of entries – 6 to a page – gives almost 800,000 flavours submitted. That’s bloody incredible.

But they deserve it. They’ve built the campaign around a great question. A superb conversation starter. I’ve ended up two or three times now in conversations where people have got really excited about coming up with interesting new and bizarre flavours of crisps. And debating what would actually sell. What’s likely to win. Etc. etc. etc.

It’s a brilliant user generated content idea becuase anyone can do it. You don’t have to have any technical skills whatsoever. It’s just about imagining something. And something that almost all of us will have an opinion on whether we’ve thought about it before or not.

Once the submissions round is over. They’re going to manufacture the judges favourite top 6 flavours and let the public choose which of them wins. Generating trial / sales and driving even more conversations. As a genuinely integrated campaign I think it’s quite brilliant.

And now they’ve re-launched Monster Munch crisps. But they’ve not made a new version. Instead they’ve reverted to the old one.


What’s so clever about this is that they’ve tapped into a conversation that’s been going on for decades amongst crisp fanciers. Everyone knows that the old Monster Munch were bigger. They were ‘the biggest snack pennies can buy’. And they had really cool big monsters advertising them. It’s the kind of thing that pops up in those terrible ’50 reasons why things aren’t as good as they used to be’ nostalgiawank TV shows.

Anyway they’ve made them like they used to be again. And I love the ‘old’ flash on the top corner of the pack.

And if you’re wondering how big they are now. This is how big…


Apparently there’s a new website coming soon too. I’m not holding out a lot of hope for it being the next brilliant thing online. If they follow the normal FMCG template it’ll be all about the monsters. Maybe some flims? Perhaps embeddable / sendable monsters? Monster games? I hope they do something really nice though. Building on what they’ve done so far.

And just in case you don’t remember the original Monster Munch monsters from the TV ads…

Universities Are Hot On Google Adwords

I logged into my Gmail and picked up a message about a D&AD education thing I’m speaking at in September. And I suddenly noticed that I was surrounded by ads for clearing places at various Universities.

Google Mail - Filming confirmation for D&AD Xchange - iaintait@gmail.com

I don’t know why I was surprised. Of course Universities understand online marketing.

What Advertising Can Learn From Radiohead

I wasn’t going to blog about the House of Cards video and it’s brilliant integration with Google and the geekosphere. I wasn’t going to blog it because everyone else has. It is bloody brilliant though. Yet another example of how Radiohead really understand the importance of context.

So I wasn’t going to post it, then I realised it’s a golden opportunity for me to share a presentation I did at the Online Marketing and Media Show last month. I got invited by NMA to talk on a Creative Directors Showcase thingy. Me, Flo from Dare, Sam from Lean Mean Fighting Machine and Dom from Glue all got to chat about things we’ve seen recently that we like. The other guys all did a great job and showed us lots of cool online / mobile advertising things.

Instead of doing it on something that I liked, I chose to do 5 minutes on Radiohead ;-)

Basically it’s all about how I don’t like Radiohead, but how, through being interesting and innovative, they’ve made me like the ‘idea’ of Radiohead. Imagine if normal brands could do that. Make you care about products you don’t even like that much. I reckon there’s stuff we can learn from the ‘head.

I tried to format it for online video as best as I could (I added some extra words so it can be followed without me speaking, and I put some music in it to stop it feeling too silent) – but I’m not good enough at that kind of thing to make all the timings quite right, so please forgive any bits that feel too slow or too fast.

I hope no-one minds that I used their footage in there. I specifically use the examples of:

I’ve just noticed that Radiohead are a bit shit at search engine optimisiation though. With page titles like this:


How is anyone supposed to find them. Like anyone will look for all those spaces and underscores ;-)

Admission: I really posted this because I had an odd experience in the pub on Tuesday night, a bloke approached me and asked if I’d done a presentation on Radiohead. He’d seem me do it. Live. I felt almost famous. For a second.

URLs Out – Searches In

I was watching TV last night and an ad came on for continuing education. It’s one with fingers walking around the place. The ad was OK. I didn’t really pay much attention. But at the end of the ad the call to action was – “search for EMA online”. Not visit direct.gov.uk/ema or what you’d normally get, but just search for EMA online.

So I tried it. And it worked.

On Google both top natural search listing and the sponsored link would have taken me to the right place. On Live search and Yahoo.com the right link was the sponsored top link as well as being number 2 in natural search (not perfect, but good enough).

Then a couple of minutes later I stumbled on this article (via: BoingBoing) about how in Japanese advertising the use of search terms in posters is really kicking off. I quite like how they’re integrating a search box with a suggested search term into their ads.


Visit http://www.cabel.name to read the whole thing and see more pictures.

It does seem like a potentially smart way to go now that most of the short and memorable domain names with any meaning have been scooped up. But making sure you’ve got the right people looking after your search engine optimisiation / marketing stuff is EVEN more important than it was yesterday.

The Rise of The Ad Man 2.0

[I’ve written this post once already. I got to the end of it just as someone phoned me up. I picked up the phone. Fumbled it. And dropped it on my laptop which duly crashed in a spectacular fashion. The second revision is slightly shorter and hopefully more to the point…]

I watched a great documentary on BBC4 on Sunday called The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man. Presented by Peter York it featured a lot of the great ‘ad men’ of the past, and some of the present. There were loads of interesting points worth noting. But I’ve forgotten most of them now (for the next few days you can still catch the whole thing on BBC iPlayer).

The thing that stuck with me mainly was its celebration of the glory days of advertising and specifically the rise of the hot creative shops of the 60s. CDP (Collett Dickenson Pearce) was the poster child of the show and it’s success seemed to be attributed to a few things:

  1. The time was right. The swinging 60s. Post-war gloom moving into a period of rapid cultural innovation.
  2. The existence of a bunch of TV natives. People who had grown up with TV, who knew how to write for it, and to make it work for them.
  3. A media environment where you could create a phenomenon overnight by putting something on the only commercial TV channel and hitting 20m people in one go.
  4. Clients needed help.
  5. The creation of a place where cool creative people just wanted to hang out.

[Forgive me if any of this is woefully incorrect I wasn’t alive at the time and I’m basing all of this on something I saw on the Telly, which is never a good place to start]

Is ‘now’ the time right for something new?

It feels a bit like the time is right for some kind of big shift again. And judging by the fact that there’s about 5 new agencies starting every week it would appear that others do too. Most of these new shops are claiming to be some kind of new new thing.

But if you’re coming out of an agency, trying to hire people who work in other agencies (media, digital, design, whatever), the danger is that you’re going to end up with just another variant of an agency. Sure, it might have better laptops, the structure may have mutated and the working culture might be tweaked slightly. But most of these new agencies seem to be built on well understood principles with well understood types of people working for them. This might give you a temporary moment of interestingness and competitive advantage. But it’ll only take a minor manoeuvre for someone else to catch up.

So assuming that the time is right (and it might not be), what would you do to create a brand new agency, like what they did in the 60s?

Hire Digital Natives?

I’m making the assumption here that digital natives are to today what TV natives were to the 60s.

So hire some digital natives. People like me who think that digital is ‘a thing’ are old-school. We might be able to help get you through the next few years, but unless we become less in awe of a bunch of computery things we could end up making ourselves obsolete.

But right here, right now, I think we’ve got our Hovis opportunity (Hovis make bread, they also got a seminal Ridley Scott ad during the 70s). There’s still a moment when we can do the big huge magical thing before all this digital stuff just becomes ordinary, everyday and expected.

I’ll get back to the hiring thing in a bit.

The Media Environment

Once you’ve got people you’ll need to create a guiding principle that celebrated the media environment that we’re dealing with. Embrace fragmentation and change. Realise that big lumpy unpredictable niches are about as good as its going to get. Or that narrow:deep audiences can become wide:deep audiences very quickly and with tiny media costs.

I’m not sure exactly what that principle is, but it’s the equivalent of knowing that a break in Coronation Street is your playground – then making the right stuff. (Hell if I knew the answer to this I’d be a very valuable and important man).

I loved this from the programme:

I doubt that this would be said by many people nowadays (especially not in the online space).

Clients Needing Help

The show documented the huge improvements that have been made to the marketing function within client organisations. Leading to a suggestion that in lots of places the marketing function is so sophisticated that they’re constantly butting heads with the agency – I can’t believe this could be true ;-).

In the ‘glory days’ it seemed like the agencies who were producing great work were almost unquestionable.

If you’re trying to launch a killer agency right now. Where do you think clients need most help? Where can you command a position of unquestioned god-like genius? On my list marketing and advertising wouldn’t be at the top.

Creating the Place

And now for the big one: creating the place where the cool guys come to hang out and do whatever it is they do.

I don’t think this is about environment it’s about a culture of possibilities and the other people they’re going to have as company/inspiration. And paying people properly – if you want to attract the best people you’re going to have to shell out. As someone in the BBC4 show quoted, CDP knew that if they paid peanuts they’d get monkeys.

In the 60s it was the best artists, writers, film-makers and suchlike who were the people you wanted in your gang. But who are the people you’d want nowadays? Here’s my list:

Entrepreneurs: You’ll be wanting the new Sergey and Larry. Of course. We all would. It’s about finding the people who just want to get stuff done quickly. People that make things happen. And who have a passion for things that they’re making / selling. There’s a big difference between business people and entrepreneurs. At least in my humble experience.

Geeks / Inventors / Designers: I’ll probably get shot for bunching these people together. But for these purposes I am putting them together. It’s the people who conceive of brilliant things. The ones who invent the widget. Or the new way of making something more usable, or more beautiful, or work faster or better. But specifically it’s about finding the ones who don’t have self-imposed limits. The ones who believe that anything is possible.

Super producers: Oh yeah. The people who know how to get things done. The people with the address book you’d kill for. Give them a thing to make or a bridge to build and they’ll know the people to make it happen. And have them on team in a couple of days. I think there’s about 26 of these people in the world (at last count).

Online content creators: People who make things. People who can’t help making things. The ones who are just be out there making videos, or music, or poems, or doodles. People who understand how to create a moment. A piece of online cultural history.

Cyber anthropologists: I didn’t really know what to call these people. They’re the people who have an ungodly fascination with what’s going on ‘out there’ the ones who are living real online lives, and watching and interrogating other people too. So they wouldn’t just be commenting on online dating, they’d be out there getting hooked up. And I’d be particularly looking for the ones who are trying to understand what it all means from a psychological and sociological point of view.

Uber bloggers: Of course I’m just sucking up to bloggers here so that they all link to this post and say nice things ;-) But seriously if you’re a certain type of blogger you know certain types of things that not many other people do. You understand how content and conversation work together. You understand how things get transmitted around the blogosphere. In short you understand some very important things about today’s media landscape.

As I went through this list I sort of sense checked it by seeing if I could put names next to all of these roles. And I could. So they’re not fantasy people. They really do exist.

Then once you’ve got a great place to work and assembled that rag-tag bunch of mistfits you’ll need some hardcore project managers and business people to be able to sell the shit out of the nonsense they’ll come up with.

I forgot. It might be expensive. And it might not work. But if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be worth bothering.

Anything or anyone else you’d chuck in for good measure?

4×4 Meme: More About Me

I got tagged by blackbeltjones with the 4×4 meme. So I rolled over and became a part of it. Plus it gives me a chance for some totally self-absorbed and pointless blogging.

It looks like this meme has mutated a bit over time, but I’m going to continue on the branch handed to me by Mr Jones…

So here’s my 4 answers to each of 4 questions:

4 Jobs I’ve had

Work Experience – Some random solicitors firm in Burton on Trent. At the time I really wanted to be a lawyer. I also wanted to drive a Porsche and go skiing. Basically that was my teenage rebellion. It’s what happens when your parents come from the hippy side of the fence. I’m sure they’d have been fine catching me with a cheeky spliff – but a filofax. I knew that’d horrify them.

Boots, Sound and Vision – Burton-on-Trent – When I was 17-18 I worked in Boots. They had a rather natty Sound and Vision department that sold tapes, records, computer games (on cassette), compact film cameras and midi-hifi systems (sad to think that of all those things that only really records exist any more). I was good at selling that stuff.

Principles for Men – Edinburgh. While I was a student I used to do a couple of weekday shifts and a weekend in the basement of the store on Princes Street. During the week the most regular customers were smackhead shoplifters. Their target was generally reversible blouson jackets – they’d realised that they’re great for avoiding detection. If security guards are looking for guys in lemon yellow jackets, they can flip them and be just an innocent guy in a baby blue one.

WWAV Rapp Collins – Edinburgh. My first proper job (after freelancing doing web stuff for the Edinburgh Science Festival) was at a DM agency. The creatives were on a separate floor and used to go and drink shedloads at lunchtime. I was friends with some of them and tried to keep up a few times, it was not good. For the job interview they warned candidates they were going to be asked to demonstrate their Excel skills. So I got the Excel manual and went straight to the back. I learned some bonkers, useless macro skills. They’d never seen anything like it before and I got the job. I never used those skills again. After a few months I went to the MD and suggested that we should look at the Internet as a thing for doing marketing stuff – it was suggested that this was not a good idea. I left soon after.

Four TV Shows I DVR (or shows I would record on DVR if I had a DVR)

(When trying to write this I realised just how little ‘serious’ TV I watch).

Weeds – if you’ve not seen it you should. It’s incredibly dark and incredibly funny. A suburban housewife starts growing weed in order to keep her dysfunctional family together. I still chuckle when I think about the young son’s gangster rap, and any show that makes gags about the Prius being the perfect drive-by car shows a certain degree of skill. Oh and there’s a very odd cameo by Snoop Dogg in series 3. And they have a thing where someone different sings the theme song every episode – and they’re all really cool Weeds is cool.

South Park – I should have grown out of it years ago. But it’s still the satire I enjoy the most. Who else could so eloquently illustrate democracy as making the choice between a douchebag and a shit sandwich and claim that that’s how it’s been throughout history.

Peep Show – nothing makes me laugh like Peep Show. It takes the classic sit-com format and bends it into a dark, painful and twisted voyage inside the brain of modern man.

Heroes – it’s a little cheesy. But it’s really really good. Sophie and I have only just managed to get rid of our sofa-sores after our marathon 23 episode feast over a rainy bank-holiday weekend last year. We’ve not started on Season 3 yet…

Four places I’ve been:

Hamm, Germany. My grandparents used to live there. I remember going there on the coach on my own when I was 13/14. I stayed with my pen pal Aldrik (arranged by my grandma). It was all very pen-pally. On the return trip Aldrik brought me a 12″ maxi single of the Pet Shop Boys. Which was nice.

Koh Pang Ngan, Thailand – I’ve been there a couple of times. I’ve never actually been to one of the legendary full moon parties (probably a good thing). I have however been to an odd detox resort which involved daily enemas and drinking vegetable water. Which was nice.

Northern Italy, Near Merano – An odd bit of Italy where most people speak German. We went there for a summer holiday and it was great. The cable cars take you up the hills and you can walk down. Only downside is being woken up in the morning by the clack-clack-clack of geriatric walkers with their ski-pole-like walking sticks. But they make lovely wine, the air is the freshest I’ve ever breathed and the scenery is stunning. Which was nice.

Las Vegas – I only mention Las Vegas because I think it’s ruined my perceptions of going to lots of places in the world. I noticed it when I was in India. Bits of India didn’t feel quite right to me, and I realised that the reason was that I’d been there already. Well I’d been to the Vegas facsimilie anyway. And the Vegas version was bigger and brighter. So very very wrong.

Four music artists I’m listening to now:

Basic Channel – awesome minimal tech-space-dub. Most of their catalogue was realeased in 1993-1995 and only ever on vinyl – but it’s all just had it’s first digital release through Beatport. I bought the lot. And I can’t stop listening to them. Their releases as Rhythm & Sound are a bit more Reggae influenced but equally storming.

PoleResident Advisor Podcast. Kind of part of the same scene as Basic Channel. This podcast just popped up as I felt ready to go deeper into the dub vortex. The mix fuses reggae, dubstep and minimal sounds into something rather wonderful. The RA podcast is one of the most consistently excellent podcasts I’ve come across (if you like electronic-y stuff). His albums 1, 2, 3, R and Steingarten are all worth a listen.

Justus Kohncke – This chap has been releasing awesome tracks on the awesome Kompakt records for a while now. Pick up hisnew album Safe and Sound to get a good opener. It’s kind of techno-pop-disco. But it’s very light on cheese. I’m jealous that Boomkat managed to end their review of the album with: Justus is served.

Aidan John Moffat – he used to be part of Arab Strap with Malcolm Middleton whose recent albums I like too. But his most recent album I Can Hear Your Heart is a bunch of spoken word poems over the top of audio soundscapes with bits and pieces of music woven through it. His poems are really filthy and most of them involve some kind of sexual encounter. This review explains how I feel about it:

His words, no matter how filthy, are delivered in such a manner that can’t but touch the seedier parts of your heart, and often make you smile. Maybe that’s just my sense of humour, but tales of city life, honesty, misguided love, cheating and general ‘wrongness’ have never been so comforting.

Stories of urban oddness make for a a really strange soundtrack to a commute :-)

Having completed that monster post I am now the meme-master. I tag:

Faris – because I miss the little fellah with the big hair.
Russell – because he was moaning about not getting meme’d anymore (you’ll wish you’d never said that).
Adam – because I’m working with him at the moment and I feel I should know more about him.
My Mum – because she’s got blogs (plural) and I don’t think she’s been meme’d before and it’s about time she posted some new things ;-)