I have problems sleeping sometimes, and I just can't seem to switch my brain off. It's what Mr. Fegan and I call 'Plannersfear' - when you just can't switch off and you're thinking about stuff all the time. Anyway.
I generally have music on when I'm in bed. When I wake up in the middle of the night it soothes me and gives me a reference point on how long I've been awake for. The kind of music I put on is soothing, calm music with nothing indepth to keep me thinking. Anything with political lyrics is no good because I think about them. Anything with amazing musicianship in it is out of the equation too - I sit up and marvel at it. In short, I look for about as MOR music as possible. Nothing offensive, nothing amazing.
So in bed last night I'm listening to The Beautiful South - one of my bedtime staples. They're OK, pretty inoffensive and their greatest hits is varied enough yet similar enough to calm my brain down a bit.
The problem is I listen to this from my iPod on it's dock. Add a little bit of scrobbling to that mix and you end up with a picture of my musical tastes that looks something like this:
My true musical tastes only really start from number 5 downwards. I listen to a bit of Bob Marley when I'm not in bed but Counting Crows, Duffy and The Beautiful South are all bedtime fodder.
It's the whole Quality/ Quantity debate right there in black and white.
I'd even go as so far as to call the top couple 'Utility Music' - it's there to perform a function to chill me out and stop me thinking. The problem is, though, that some people love to look at numbers in a rational sense but not in an emotional sense. Rationally, that list tells people what music I listen to the most. I guess it's generally accepted that people listen to music they like more than music they don't like, ergo people would presume that the list accurately shows my musical tastes.
This is why I always question research that is numbers based. It has to be contextualised and it has to be questioned deeply.
On the flip side of this, it's part of the reason I'm so intrigued by ethnographic research. I've chatted to Siamack at Everyday Livesa couple of times but I haven't yet had the pleasure of working with him. What he does over there, though, really interests me and I reckon that if I were part of one of his studies, his research would show something completely different to the list of numbers above. The music would be contextualized within my lifestyle and the frequency would be outweighted by the reason for listening to the music.
I was chatting about this the other day to some agency people. Numbers can be very misleading, and if you're going to make decisions based on numbers you also need to back them up with some genuine insightful thinking and context. People are not rational beings and numbers alone cannot explain their behaviour.
I've lived in London for the best part of 12 years now. I love it and loathe it in equal measure. There are so many things about London that make my life more enjoyable but there are also parts of it that take away some of that glee.
Latest on the list of things that I don't like about London is how much certain things cost here.
I've made a conscious effort recently to really go for it and do loads of 'cultured' stuff. I'm a great believer that everything can be beneficial if viewed in the right way, but by 'culture' I mean the typical things you'd do to learn about a place if you were a tourist, and the things you'd generally do to learn as much as possible about a place. For me this means doing some touristy stuff, visiting things that wouldn't usually be top of my list and doing stuff that I may not enjoy, but that I will find interesting.
So I've been watching more films in the cinema, I've been going to shops I don't usually go to, I've been eating food I've not tried before, I've been going into places I usually walk past, I've been trying different routes into the office and other stuff along those lines. You know the stuff - not defaulting to the usual music on the iPod, not defaulting to the usual TV programme or the usual pub.
One of the things I've made a big effort to do is all the stuff in London I should do. This includes cafes I've been told about but it's also the museums and galleries I haven't really spent much time in. I've tried to do a lot of these... but they're just too damn expensive!
Over the past few months I've visited Barcelona, Berlin and San Francisco - pretty much on a shoestring budget. In all of them I experienced the cities how I like to experience them: wandering around, doing a few of the 'must do' things, speaking to locals, going to a gig etc. Out of all three trips, the most expensive tourist activity I participated in was a trip to Alcatraz Island.
I've always been fascinated with Alcatraz so it was a big moment for me. It cost $26 which would usually mean about £13, but in reality meant closer to about £16 when I went over there... thanks Gordon. That got me a return ferry trip, an excellent audio tour, and allowed me as much time on the island as I wanted. You simply hopped onto the ferry when you wanted to go back. Photographs were allowed and there were free demonstrations and talks throughout the day. When I was there we were told about Christmas Day for the inmates. I have no gripes at all and would easily pay the money again - it was excellent.
Now I'd like to highlight 3 experiences I've had recently in London.
I'd say that something about Charles Darwin, about the future of travel (and the environment) and something about religion would be good things to go to and good things to experience and to learn from. Yet to do all three would cost me £28, and I could probably do all three in a couple of hours.
It strikes me that with the economy as it is at the moment, these prices are simply too high. If they're too high for me, then they're too high for a lot of other people in the UK. What this means is that I'm being 'cultured' in a lot of other ways. I'm simply walking the streets more, viewing architecture, taking photographs, popping into stores and seeing how they are marketing their goods. All of this is stuff I would be doing anyway, but I'm doing more of it because I'm simply being priced out of 'traditional culture'.
How long until the museums realise this and reduce their prices? Does anyone have stats about how many people go into the free areas of museums versus the paid sections?
I spotted this at Euston recently.
I found three things about this irritating:
Don't beat around the bush. You sell space that allows brands to shout at us all day - admit it and get on with it. Don't lie that you want the public to be subjected to posters - you want them to be subjected to brands that pay you.
I visited a Wetherspoons over the weekend.
There you go. I said it. I admit it.I visited the lowest rung of the boozer ladder. No music, no olives or wasabi nuts and a menu where the numbers are printed bigger than the photographs of the food. And, instead of choosing a mid-range beer, I chose the cheapest beer on tap: a pint of IPA for 99p.
I'm like the next man. I have a repertoire of drinking establishments I go to and a repertoire of drinks I usually drink. But over the weekend I wanted to forget about these temporarily so I ended up in a Wetherspoons drinking cheap bitter.
That's why I like going home to the North East for the weekend. There's a different vibe about the bars, the pubs are full of old men and the Social Clubs can't be described without visiting them. When I'm there I catch up with my dad and his mates. I chat to them about what they've been up to, and they ask me how expensive things are "down in London."Not what things are like, but what they cost. I talk about experience, they talk about price.
When I'm there I ask them what ads they have noticed recently, or if they have been given any freebies at the supermarket. The feedback I get from them is brilliant. You see, these people are the North East. These are the men that have worked all their lives, looking at the prices of everything they buy and weighing up the benefit with the price. It may be a new sofa or it may be a pint of Brown Ale. It makes no odds, the process is the same: if I can get it cheaper here and the experience is the same as that place down the road, I'll get it here thankyouverymuch. But, the price always comes first.
The problem is, I've never seen these people walking around here at Engine Towers or any other agency I've been to. In fact, I feel that I stick out like a sore thumb sometimes just because I refuse to soften my Northern drawl.
I moved away from the North East 12 years ago. I was the first person in my family to go to Uni, the only one at all to get an MA and my dad thinks I've "made it" because I live in London. As much as I like to think I'm flying the flag for the working classes (if they exist any more), I live in a mews in Old Street, I can usually base my purchases on want and not need, and I earn more than anyone in my family - including people who have grafted much harder than me their whole lives. I've physically and mentally moved out of the working classes, but I still try and keep my links to it. I spent 18 years of my life as part of it. So I guess I'm 2/3 working class...
But, (and there is a but) meeting up with family and friends who still live it is more illuminating than any focus group or than any TGI run. When people start back-slapping each other for the new campaign they've just released that has superb creative, excellent strategy and wins awards for the agency concerned, I just ask my dad if he's seen it. You see, in this whole industry he's the most important person. He's the typical punter for a lot of the things we sell. He has no idea when he's been marketed to, doesn't understand PR and adverts are just an opportunity to put the kettle on. But the way he looks at things would make him one of the best planners in the industry.
It's so easy to become blind to what we actually set out to do. Things distract us along the way. Yet it's people like my dadthat I think about when I become disillusioned with the industry. We might think drumming gorrilas, people dancing in train stations or cars made out of cake or paper are superb, but he can't even remember them.
I need to trust my gut a bit more. A lot of the time I'm given a brief and I immediately get a feeling of a way to move on it. But then I remember I'm part of an agency. That I'm a planner. That the client needs TGI data to back it up. That we should employ psychological techniques and use metaphors and analogies.
But I reckon sometimes I should just trust my gut more. Say it as it is. I need to be like my dad more. Every agency needs a dad like mine working there.
Apologies for the tardyness of the posts, everyone. There's this thing called work that is taking up a bit of time...
Back in the swing of things with a very quick post about a couple of runs I've been on recently.
This first one happened a week or so ago. It was very cold. Are you listening... I'm talking... C.O.L.D.
Me and Mr. Fegan decided on a half marathon, and because we don't like to bottle out of our own goals, we did it even though it was freezing cold, snowing and dark when we finished. Was a nice buzz when we were done, though.
Secondly, Mr. Fegan and I ran the following route yesterday. Neither of us were really up for it, but we knew we needed to run so spurred each other on to do it. (Good running partners, see.)
Bored of our usual routes we thought we'd run along the canal and see where we ended up. We stumbled on a really nice route that took us to Victoria Park and all the way back. Pleasant weather, and the prize at the end was an ice cold Bulmers or 3 in the boozer after. Most satisfying. Runs like these ones are really satisfying and it's a great feeling at the end when you feel energetic and like you've accomplished something.
When I was in San Francisco I dropped into a couple of record stores. I was in that holiday mindset that you get into, and I went in there with a slightly different mentality than I would if I popped into one here in the UK.
When I was in Amoeba Music in Berkeley I spotted this little contraption:
I've not seen these in the UK (but I dont' get to record stores as much as other people - like Mr. Gower - so let me know if they are around, Charlie?), but they may be around.
It was a great little thing, and because of this I spent well over an hour in the store as opposed to the usual 10-20 minutes I'd usually spend.
Eseentially it was a very simple bar code reader. I shopped as I usually do, and browsed album covers for something to strike me such as this when I was there.
I was sure I'd heard the name, loved the cover so scanned the barcode. In an instant I had samples of the songs on the album, some context about the band in text form, a discography and a 'similar artists' button. All streamed from a web-based database.
This instantly removed one of my dislikes about buying from record shops: the risk of wasting money.
As you've probably noticed from this blog, I love taking risks and urge others to do so (including when I taught at St. Martins), but in these credit crunch times* I can't afford to waste money on records I may not like. This little tool took that risk away and I lapped up the information it gave me, spent a bit of time on it browsing around and found one or two other things that I liked.
If these were in record stores more over here I'd spend more time in them. I'd probably spend more money in them, too. But I'm not holding my breath.
(* I apologise profusely for mentioning the elephant in the room, I'm sick of hearing about it too.)
I was in San Francisco over Christmas. I decided to get away by myself for a week or so to somewhere I'd never been and had no friends. I just thought it'd be an interesting thing to do. It's a place that I've always fancied going to. Some of my favourite films are set there, it has some amazing engineering and it sounded like the kind of open-minded welcoming city I would enjoy travelling to. Oh, but let's not mention the hills... my vertigo wouldn't appreciate that.
Before travelling I bought the usual bunf, some more of the usual bunf, chatted to friends who had been there, watched documentaries, listened to lots and lots and lots of different music from the area and watched various different films that I'd not seen before. It was kind of like boning up on TGI, Mintel and Datamonitor before getting the free brand samples from the client.
The purpose of this multimedia extravaganza was to try and give me as much a feeling of the place before I landed. By soaking up images, accents, opinions and criticisms I was hoping to hit the ground running and have an understanding of what to expect.
It didn't work.
When I landed I hit the BART, got to my hotel and got out on the streets and pounded the concrete as soon as I could.
When I got out onto the streets, heard the voices, watched the body language and looked at the scences I realised I didn't know it at all. The San Francisco brand was a completely different experience than I had been told about.
You see there is information, and then there are experiences.
That feeling of a place where you get under the skin of it, where it's your opinions of the place and not others, where you feel it instead of learn about it - that's what I call 'Getting the clip of a place.' (I think that's a northern thing...)
It's essentially why people travel. They want to experience different things. Not just read about them or see them on Flickr, but experience them. In 1 hour on the streets of San Francisco I learned more than than I did soaking up all the information before I left. I was fully immersed in the experience.
Here at Woo HQ I enjoy working on our experiential work. It gives us the opportunity to really explore what a brand is truly about, and to give an accurate representation of this to consumers.
You see, we can give information to them via Direct Mail, websites or posters - truly value-added information that the consumer finds interesting and informative, but it's difficult to give a true experience in a one-way relationship. This is when we use experiential activity.
This is the perfect opportunity to give the consumer a great experience, a true experience of the brand, one that benefits both the consumer and the brand. And like my walking around the hills of San Francisco, it gives a much richer, two-way and true experience of something.
Maybe I should coin this 'Getting the clip of a brand...'