Archive for March, 2010

John Hegarty speaking at Leeds College of Art – review

Friday, March 26th, 2010

John Hegarty

Bill Hicks, the iconoclastic American comedian, now sadly dead, had a routine about marketing. He would ask if anyone in the audience was from marketing. Someone would answer yes.
BH: Kill yourself.
BH: There’s no punch-line. I’m serious, kill yourself.

With that routine replaying in my head, Steve Smith, the garrulous host for the evening, welcomed his particular advertising hero onto the stage, Sir John Hegarty (Sir? What did he get that for?).

A lean Mr Hegarty looked comfortable in his cardigan, jeans and sneakers and proceeded to give us, Ten reasons why this is the best time to be in advertising.

He showed us how he utilised the power of social networking and the phenomenon of viral marketing. His agency, Bartle, Bogle and Hegarty, created a You Tube ad for an alcoholic tea drink (I think it was alcoholic, the ad was not very clear on little details like that). The concept for the ad employed a familiar technique often used in comedy – the one of ‘reversal’ where a cliché is taken in the opposite direction. In this instance they applied the genre of gangster rap to rich, white, American socialites. The lyrics, delivered in the song by the socialites, described how they liked partying with this tea as if it was a class A drug. The images on screen portrayed them playing crochet and sailing.

To be fair, it was a good joke, brilliantly executed, which drew a huge round of applause from the audience. Mr Hegarty proudly boasted how popular the joke was and how it achieved a front page mention in the New York Times newspaper. What he failed to mention was if it actually sold any tea.

Another ad depicted a young couple at the bottom of a stairwell about to have sex. As they ascend the stairs these sexual stereotypes reveal to each other that they have in fact lied about their names and jobs. As they enter an apartment she reveals it’s not even her apartment. Although it is not mentioned in the ad, if we follow this stereotyping to its logical conclusion, presumably both have sexually transmitted diseases and regularly use class A drugs as well. Oh, and they wear a particular brand of jeans.

What followed next in the presentation was simply bizarre. Mr Hegarty proceeded to inform the audience that the government was one of the biggest buyers of media space in the country today. He then described, in a less confident tone, how the government was trying to correct some social evils (encouraged by whom?) by putting out its own ads. This was ‘good’ according to Mr Hegarty. Then without missing a beat he showed a Barnardo’s ad that he had proudly worked on.

This showed a young girl leaving her home and going on a sexual adventure – a bad one. It briefly described her spiral descent into the hands of unscrupulous men who lied to her and used her as a product (you see where this is going?). It was not evident from the ad if she was wearing the appropriate brand of jeans for this evil to happen to her but my best guess is that she must have been for it to happen.

The sheer hypocrisy of juxtaposing this ad with the previous one made me think that he was either totally oblivious to the moral dissonance of it or that he was having a private joke with his audience and proving to himself – once again – that the consumer really is that stupid.

It reminded me of a brilliant Viz cartoon I once saw which showed a bus with advertising on it. It said, “Smoke Fags.” Then underneath was the government health warning which said, “Don’t Smoke Fags.” It’s no wonder Mr Hegarty thought that the government advertising spend was ‘good’.

The other issue I had with the Barnardo’s ad was that it used the visual palindrome trick. The scenes from the first half of the ad were repeated but the meaning of them was effectively reversed as we become aware that the story is being told backwards. It’s a clever trick. Unfortunately for Mr Hegarty, I had seen this same trick performed a couple of times in the past on video sites (here is one of the examples). Someone in his team must have ‘borrowed’ the idea from there. Advertising has always had a reputation for plagiarism and parasitism but with the advent of You Tube, the opportunities for such vices are limitless. Equally, the opportunities to spot the plagiarism are also increased; you can run but you can’t hide.

Worse was yet to come though. Not content with advertising some of the dodgy merchandise that amoral people spew out into the marketplace, he then showed us some dodgy products that his agency had created all by themselves and put into the marketplace. Is there no limit to this man’s hubris?

In conclusion, the evening was like watching a slick, forty five minute ad. Nicely presented but underneath the speciousness it was just about a man selling stuff – any stuff. I for one, didn’t buy the hyperbole.

Don’t kill yourself Mr Hegarty but you might want to consider beating yourself up badly and reflecting on your chosen method of earning money.

Clever made-up words

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

I had to share this: Results of a Washington Post contest from a few years ago that asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Thanks to Dave Pollard for the link. The winners:
1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting lucky
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.
12. Karmageddon: It’s when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes, and it’s a serious bummer.
13. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
14. Glibido: All talk and no action.
15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Happy Vernal Equinox

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Frog spawn

Why don’t we have rituals or greeting cards (I’m amazed the greeting card industry hasn’t picked up on this) that celebrate cosmic moments? We have just passed the Vernal Equinox, where the duration of the day matches exactly the duration of the night. Part of our ‘lost soul’ syndrome is due to our disconnectedness with Nature. Modern civilization drives a wedge between the large natural rhythms of life and our day to day obsessions. It’s as if we live in a minute by minute bubble world and only by chance do we notice that the sun is shining or that the rain is falling.

Today, I noticed our garden pond has frog spawn in it. The male and female progenitors were cavorting gleefully over the pond weed. I would like to celebrate this momentous occasion with you. We give thanks for the lengthening days and the promise of renewed life.

Cerebral World

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

The heroin addict is a paradoxical thing; from the outside, she is an inert, comatose lump of flesh but from the inside, she is in heaven. What’s going on? Can the brain somehow overcome accepted reality and replace it with a different version? Is the imagination that powerful?

Take another example, one I can personally attest to. I was having serious relationship problems with a girlfriend one time; I was in love with someone I didn’t like (yes, it can happen). I was at home in a distressed state, feverish from the conflicting emotions boiling inside of me. Suddenly, I had a flash of inspiration. I decided to leave her.

The decision prompted a mood swing of scandalous proportions. From an anxious, depressive, quivering mass of jelly, I transformed into an ebullient, laughing, prancing, fist of humanity that wanted to play loud rock music.  The idea of leaving her solved all my problems. But here’s the thing. The situation regarding my girlfriend was exactly the same as before I had the idea. Nothing had really changed apart from my cerebral condition and yet the result of that simple idea was undeniable. It was as if I had taken a powerful drug that induced hysterical euphoria. Entering this Cerebral World produced real physiological effects of sheer pleasure. The only difference between myself at that point and a heroin addict was that I was animated.

This was an extreme case but more subtle examples of Cerebral World can be seen everywhere. Take, for example, a collector of birds’ eggs. Such a collector would risk life and liberty in acquiring a protected egg. In reality it is just another egg, like a hen’s egg, but the idea of it being rare motivates the collector. It is the idea of rarity that is pivotal.

As with rarity, exclusivity is part of the idea. It is no good being rich if you can’t differentiate yourself from the poor. The wealthy Elizabethans would apply lead arsenic to their faces to make themselves look white. This endangered their health but it also marked them out as being different to the poor who were sunburned from having to work outdoors in the fields. There is no rationality behind this behaviour. Powerful ideas do not seem to follow any higher logic. Cerebral World is a dangerous place.

Money is just an idea and it pivots on greed. But money is a function of status. Most positions of status in our society has financial wealth as a requirement or has it as a by product of that status. But status is still only an idea. It is the idea of status that people crave.

So, the idea of being rich would produce a pleasant sensation in my brain (leaving aside the cause for this). Being richer than most people in society would produce even more pleasure. Being the richest person in the world would, presumably, produce the greatest pleasure. But being rich in practical terms only increases your options and, as you can only do one thing at a time, past a certain point, being richer becomes meaningless. And yet people are still driven to greater irrationality by the idea.

Does this mean that we can enjoy a fulfilling existence purely on a cerebral plane? Is this where consciousness is heading? If there was a meditative practice that produced a constant state of bliss, would this be acceptable? Is it possible? What if the meditative practice produced the dark and the light – the lows that give meaning to the highs – so that the pleasure maintained its potency – would that be acceptable?

Now the tricky part. What if a brain technique was developed which had the property of enhancing any idea that the user had to a level which exceeded the reality of achieving that idea. Thus, a poor person could use the technique and achieve a level of smugness that no amount of real wealth could achieve. Imagine the effect on corruption.

What about a paedophile? Suppose the technique could simulate the pleasure that they experience when molesting and murdering a child so effectively that they no longer offend in real life. Is that acceptable, desirable, beneficial?

Imagine the suffering this would reduce and the pleasure it would promote. Could we still apply the concepts of good and evil to pleasures that were purely cerebral? Would that be progress? Would society tolerate the thought, or could cerebral manipulation make even the most revolutionary thought acceptable?

Ultimately, the heroin addict id doomed. The comatose form does not do well in evolutionary terms. Actual reproduction is required. Maybe Cerebral World is an evolutionary dead end too. Still, I enjoyed thinking about it.

Mothers Day

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

According to the marketing, on this day mothers are supposed to do nothing, be waited on hand and foot – preferably whilst lying supine in bed – and be surrounded by flowers and cards.

Sounds like a stint in Intensive Care to me.

International Women’s Day, The Monastery, Gorton, Manchester

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Caricature at International Women's Day in Manchester Monastery

An example of some of the work I did at the event.

Another stunning sunset from my bedroom window

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

Fiery sky

BettaKultcha 1, Temple Works, Leeds

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

This review is bound to be biased as I was a co-organizer of this event and also the compere. The story behind it has all the classic markings of a vintage 60’s ‘Summer Holiday‘ movie, with a bunch of enthusiastic kids declaring. “Hey, why don’t we put the show on right here!”

Well, those kids were Richard Michie and myself and the “right here” was Temple Works.

BettaKultcha itself is a play on Pecha Kucha which has a rigid format for PowerPoint presentations – 20 slides lasting 20 seconds each. We elected to have 20 slides lasting 15 seconds each making each presentation exactly five minutes long. People can present about anything they want to and on the night, that’s exactly what people did!

We literally made it up as we went along including the room layout which took several shapes before it morphed into the most practical one. Temple Works is currently in the process of being renovated, however, people turned up with a ‘camping’ attitude – bags of alcohol, thermals and hamper loads of enthusiasm.

Richard has already catalogued all the presenters in his blog here so I will just mention my particular highlights of the evening.

A fun time was had by all and there were lots of give-aways including five very rare and precious twelve inch singles by the cult band Gentle Ihor’s Devotion. An invaluable little red book was also generously given out by Mike Chitty. One of the concerns that Richard and I had about the evening might be the lack of presenters. As a plan b we decided to put together a set of random slides in case someone was mad enough to get up on the night and spontaneously talk over the slides. ‘Yeah, right, ‘course they will’, we thought.

During the break in the proceedings I spoke to Lee Jackson who was attending but not presenting. He was enjoying the show enormously and, as he was a professional speaker, I suggested to him that he might like to take up the challenge of the random slides. I could see the mad glint in his eye and he said he would consider it. In the latter half of the show a couple of guys who called themselves The Story Hunters presented a crazy exploration of additional dimensions in the universe. This included a selection of videos which failed to play when required to do so. To their everlasting credit, the gentlemen improvised a spirited response to the blank screen which suggested that they were;

a) seasoned performers b) drunk or c) both.

At the end of the evening I announced the still vacant slot of random slides presenter and asked if Lee had made up his mind. He said that he would do it if the Story Hunters joined him in the presentation. This was an invitation that they could not refuse and we had an additional ‘performance’.

The main body of the evening was great. But what these guys did with their performance was to turn the evening into sensational. For those of you who weren’t there, this is the calibre of improvisation; a slide of a twopenny coin stumped the group for a story-line so one of them decided to faint. Yup, faint. How brilliant is that! The place was in hysterics. I do hope that this is included in any video footage released by Media Squared.

So funny, so dangerous, so unpredictable was this random slide slot that we have decided to repeat it for the next BettaKultcha but to have two slots instead of one. The only change to the format will be that each random slot will have 10 slides instead of 20 as people can only take so much danger.

Thanks to everyone who helped put the show on (and take it off) and we look forward to the next event which will be on April 27th 2010 at Temple Works.

Lee Jackson

Lee Jackson and one of The Story Hunters

Mike Chitty

Mike Chitty with a camera on his head enjoying the show

Richar Mitchie

Richard Michie setting up