Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

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People respond well to original, adventurous, slightly mad ideas.

This applies equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

As Tim Fitzhigham said during his talk at the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh on Saturday night,

Tell someone that you’re going to run 40 miles in the desert, or that you’re going to row across the English Channel and they’ll say, “Uh, that’s not that hard”. But tell them you’re doing it in a 40 kilogram suit of armour in 40 degree heat, or in a one third of a tonne copper bathtub and they instantly become inspired and engaged.

Original, adventurous ideas don’t grow on trees.

They’re not easy to have.

And they’re not easy to make happen.

Indeed, it’s a characteristic of original, adventurous ideas that “some people” seem to go out of their way to erect additional barriers to make it even less likely that they will see the light of day.

This applies equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

You’d think that rowing the English Channel in a bathtub was difficult enough, without various authorities on both sides of the water doing their best to make it even more so.

For instance, the French authorities decided that they didn’t like the idea of their bit of the Channel being rowed in a bath, so they passed a law specifically outlawing this very eventuality.

Undeterred, Tim Fitzhigham found himself a friendly Admiral in Whitehall (a story in itself) and worked a solution whereby he was able to register the bath tub as an official British shipping vessel.

In order to make the bath into a ship he had to add a mast (he installed a shower head), he had to have a sealed cabinet for electrics (he installed a sink unit), and he had to fly the Red Ensign.

His indefatigable attitude and his creativity in the face of adversity allowed him to sidestep this particular barrier whilst retaining the madcap integrity of the idea.

When it comes to making adventurous ideas happen, indefatigability is good, creativity is good, and so is a bit of bravery. Tim Fitzhigham had to stick his neck out several times just to get to the start line. He then had put his body on the line to row across the busiest shipping lane in the world.

The first attempt ended in rough weather during which the bathtub and Tim both took a bit of a beating. The waves tore a section off the top of the bath tub and the resulting serrated edge tore into his shoulder to the point that he lost all sensation in his arm.

In true Chumbawamba style he got knocked down, but he got up again and completed his epic round trip journey on the second attempt with a lot of guts and a little ketamine.

(He proved his bravery yet again when he asked a Scottish audience if anyone in the room was a Morris Dancer!)

At the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh : "Is there a morris dancer in the house?"

Here then are the qualities required to help an original, adventurous idea see the light of day.


To me this auditorium is half full.

Infectious enthusiasm.

Tact and diplomacy.


And the occasional bit of bulldozer-style brute force of will.

These all apply equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

Thanks to The Adventurists (those lovely people that brought you the Mongol Rally) for making the evening happen in their own, inimitable, eccentric style.

Thanks also to Hendrick’s Gin for some splendidly curious libations with which we washed down the post-talk cake and sandwiches.

Inspirational stuff from the organiser, the sponsor, the venue and, of course, the speaker himself.


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My dad used to work for the Fibreglass division of Pilkington. His business cards were made out of glass fibre. They were well cool.

My mate Mark runs Sandstorm Kenya. His business cards are made out of leather. If anything they’re a little bit cooler.

Contact details deliberately blurred out.

These business cards leathers are made from off-cuts from the process of making luxury, “safari grade” luggage. Potential waste is efficiently recycled into something useful.

These business cards leathers cause a stir. Apparently the five minute conversation between five people that ensued when I was given this one is not unusual.

And here I am blogging about it.

These business cards leathers are most definitely social objects.

In the hands of a naturally engaging, natural storyteller like Mark I’d imagine that these business cards leathers are an efficient sales tool. Who needs a 20 slide Powerpoint presentation when people can enjoy the tactile feel of a piece of your product whilst you use it as a prop from which you can talk brand, product quality, ethical manufacturing and any other corporate back story?

What’s more these business cards leathers are much smaller than an iPad, they don’t need recharging and they are presentation and leave-behind aide-memoir rolled into one. They are distinctly non-digital but they have versatility, utility and interactivity in spades.

These business cards leathers are an elegant solution that speak directly to the engineer in me.

In engineering, a solution may be considered elegant if it uses a non-obvious method to produce a solution that is effective and simple. An elegant solution may solve multiple problems at once, especially problems not thought to be inter-related.

Source : Wikipedia (where else?)

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Competitive agency X sent a bespoke new business mailer to Blonde client Y.

The creative thrust of said mailer was that Agency X would give its right arm to work on Client Y’s business.

And the mailer included a fake arm.

Only it wasn’t a right arm.

It was a left arm.

Client Y invited us to join in their department-wide laughter at Agency X’s expense.

Rude not to really.

And it’s too good a story not to share.

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Crowdlistr is a simple, smart idea that adds value to Twitter users who are interested in community. It allows you to open your Twitter lists such that, rather than self-curating, other users can add themselves. It facilitates a crowd-sourced approach to creating a Twitter list.

You create a list in Twitter, then sign into Crowdlistr using Twitter OAuth, click a button to open the list(s) of your choice and you’re done. Crowdlistr gives you a bespoke URL for that list, at which other people can add themselves with a single click.

Crowdlistr was conceived and executed by Yahel Carmon, a smart guy who can code and who was nice enough to answer my questions about his creation.

I stumbled upon Crowdlistr on behalf of the EdTwinge crew.

(EdTwinge is a crowd-sourced, Twitter-based, Edinburgh Festival Fringe review service – click for a fuller explanation of the service and the maths behind it.)

We’re gradually revving things up ready for this year’s Fringe, and part of this is generating a Twitter list of acts and performers at the 2011 festival.

I wondered whether it would be possible to open our list up to allow the acts to add themselves, rather than us having to conduct laborious searches.

Enter Crowdlistr via Google (Crowdlistr is the number three return at the time of writing).

I created a list of 2011 Fringe acts (pre-populated with 70 known acts) and then opened it up via Crowdlistr. And, for about ten days (at the time of writing) I’ve promoted the list in tweets from the EdTwinge Twitter account and via a link in the bio.

So far about 40 acts have added themselves to the list, of whom 14 have also subscribed to follow it, as can be seen from the grab of the Crowdlistr dashboard below.

Two things struck me about the early progress.

Firstly, all the crowd-sourced additions to the list are genuine Fringe acts. No bogus additions. No spammers.

Secondly, if you compare (already) this year’s open list with last year’s closed lists, there appears to be a clear correlation between adding yourself to a list and a propensity to subsequently subscribe to that list. A much higher proportion of this year’s list members are subscribers. (And remember that I had pre-populated the list with 70 acts, so 14 out of 40 people have added themselves and subscribed).

I decided to “reach out” to Crowdlistr’s creator, Yahel Carmon, and put these points to him to see if EdTwinge’s experiences had been shared by others. And he was kind enough to respond and share the insights below.

We’ve had a gratifyingly spam-free experience of Crowdlistr thus far. Has our positive experience been share by others?

Contrary to my original concerns, spammers adding themselves to lists has yet to present itself as a problem. I had always planned on adding spam protection features (options for requiring approval, captchas, follower minimums, etc.), but the need never came up. I think there are 2 reasons for that. First, a lot of spambots are automated, and the process of Twitter OAuth authentication for a user adding themselves to a list via CrowdListr cannot be done by a bot. Second, I don’t display any central directories of ‘open’ twitter lists that would make such an effort worthwhile — all promotion is done by list owners, so even if a spammer were looking to exploit it, it would be too diffuse to be worthwhile. There is, of course, a bit of spam protection built-in to Twitter: if you block an account, they’re not only removed from any list you own, but they cannot re-add themselves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there seems to be a positive correlation between people adding themselves to a list and then also subscribing to it. Again is that an experience that has been shared by other users?

As far as people adding themselves to lists and then following them, yes, that has in fact been the case. From casual observation, I’d say about half of people who add themselves to a list proceed to follow it. This is, by the way, totally unprompted; the site doesn’t give any prompt for people to follow the list. (It would, however, be trivial to make this a quick-one-click follow for them after they’ve added themselves to the list; I may in fact add this feature.)
Crowdlistr’s usage has been picked up by exactly the types of groups I built it for: communities looking for easy ways to self-organize on twitter. I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic of the ability of hashtags to create lasting community amongst a group on twitter; they’re occasionally great for transient events, but there’s often so much noise around which hashtag people use. If you were tweeting at Monkey Conference 2011, regardless of how prominently the organizers display the ‘official hashtag’, tweets will be diffuse amongst #monkeyconf, #monkeyconf11, #monkeyconf2011, #monkey2011, #monkey11, #mc11, #mc2011, etc. People should be able to opt into joining a community’s conversation, and that be the end of their effort; obviously, the attendees of #monkeyconf are going to keep tweeting about monkeys even after the conference ends; why not create a way for people to easily keep tabs on that conversation?
That’s an interesting point to end on. The relative merits of hashtags and lists in terms of sustaining a community on Twitter. If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to share in a comment.

For me, this spam-free dabble with Crowdlistr, and the conversation with Yahel has once again demonstrated the ability of social channels to restore your faith in human nature.

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Patrick : All you need is a box.

Spongebob : And imagination.

It is the oldest parenting cliché in the book that kids play more with boxes than with the toys that came in them.

Boxes are more fun because they provide an outlet for imagination.

And it’s not just empty boxes. I recently watched (un-noticed by her) as my youngest daughter role-played between several imaginary characters for over an hour using clothes pegs.

Just as importantly they (boxes, pegs etc) act not only as an outlet but also as a catalyst for imagination. An empty box acts as a prompt or trigger for imaginative play, often in a situation where said imaginative play wouldn’t otherwise have taken place.

So a box is more than just a blank canvas.

A box is in effect a partially formed idea that allows (and encourages) kids, to build, develop, embellish, personalise, participate and, dare I say, co-create (ugh!) something more relevant.

It is well worth watching the Spongebob episode below, called Idiot Box, in its entirety. The idiot box in question is a television. And the film brilliantly illustrates the stark contrast between the passive way that we interact with TV versus the active imaginative engagement that is possible with the box in which the television was delivered.

The best modern ideas have much more in common with the cardboard box than they do with the idiot box.

The best modern ideas are partially formed rather than fully formed.

The best modern ideas invite play, participation and personalisation.

And, having been played with, participated with and personalised, the best modern ideas are more likely to be talked about and shared than a fully formed, dare I say boxed off, piece of advertising that leaves no room for adaptation, interpretation or imagination.

We’ve always been in the imagination business.

Great ads and the great creative minds that come up with them have always been, and continue to be, testimony to the power applied imagination.

But its increasingly important that our ideas capture, and make room for, the imagination of the people for whom they’re intended

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T-Mobile has disobeyed its own (flash) mob rules with its royal wedding ad.

Last night, on the train home, I jotted down a list of T-Mobile values on the back of a receipt.

(Sorry Evernote, I still love you.)

These values are my out-take from the brand’s recent flash-mob style ads; the ones that immediately preceded the latest offering.

And, based on that kind of list, I can see how the script for the Royal Wedding film could have been briefed, written, sold, bought and made.

On the face of it, it’s on brief, on brand and it moves the campaign on, keeping the surprise and originality factor up and avoiding any “tired formula” accusations.

And I should say that, on the face of it, it’s actually a bloody good ad. Given the subject matter I don’t want to like it. But I do.

It leaves me with a smile on my face.

The casting is great. They paid a great deal of attention to the lookalikes.

And, in a strange way, it’s credible. I kind of believe the unfettered brotherly vibe between the two princes.

(And I can imagine that their mother would be clapping along in her grave at the thought of this two-fingers-to-the-po-faced-royal-establishment style of wedding. “If only” she’d be thinking.)

And yet, at the same time,¬† it doesn’t quite feel all that it was cracked up to be.

That’s partly because the brand went to great lengths to crack it up. It released a teaser/trailer that on its own racked up over 400,000 views on YouTube.

But, for my money, it’s mainly because they’ve slightly misinterpreted or misunderstood some of their own values.

And the above trailer only serves to underline this in my view.

First there was Liverpool Street.

Then there was Trafalgar Square.

…and Heathrow.

True, the Royal Wedding ad has scale and amibition – the brand has single-handedly hijacked the run-up to a huge global event via a film that was launched online only and that, at the time of writing has amassed a huge amount of PR coverage (39.4 million Google search results) and over 5 million views.

But it’s not the same kind of scale and ambition.

Liverpool, Trafalgar Square, Heathrow.

Big, public, wide-open spaces.

Big, public, wide-open spaces that are difficult to hijack.

Whilst the Royal Wedding ad is ambitious, the degree of practical, logistical difficulty associated with making it happen is much lower than we are used to for this campaign. And I think this matters.

Moreover these wide-open spaces were shot with wide framing to accommodate the large number of people that were participating.

There is no wide framing in the Royal Wedding ad.

This makes it feel slightly cheap (production budget dictated by the fact that it is “only” an online film rather than a TV ad?).

But it also makes it feel very different and, for me, off brand.

There are far fewer people involved.

And those few people feel like they are acting rather than participating.

The ad has a kind of spontaneity and joie de vivre. But it’s rehearsed spontaneity and joy. And as a result the ad lacks the genuine, collaborative, anarchic vibe of its predecessors.

The Wikipedia definition of flash mob rules includes the word “sudden”.

There was a sudden-ness to the previous T-Mobile ads that is missing from the Royal Wedding execution. And I think that sense of the sudden is a big part of T-Mobile’s vibe.

(I should have added “sudden” to my scribbled list of values.)

Campaign vibes are precious, fragile and important.

So my overall verdict is that it’s a bloody good (one-off) ad, but I’m not so sure that it’s a bloody good addition to the T-Mobile campaign.

And here it is…

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Paper prototype

My daughter built a helicopter yesterday.

Her sisters were variously texting, Facebooking, Wii-ing, watching crap TV, bickering and begrudgingly walking the dog.

But she, aged six, took it upon herself to turn a cereal packet and some yogurt pots into a VTOL plaything.

She decided to build shit.

As in #buildshit.

I was presented with said helicopter when I got home last night. And I could not have been more proud.

As a parent I want my kids to explore and experiment as much as possible to discover for themselves where their talents lie.

So as an ideas-junkie and employee of a creative industry I am torn between huge displays of enthusiasm and encouragement, and a fear of imposing personal bias, whenever one of my offspring does something “creative”.

Last night I erred on the side of enthusiasm and encouragement as she described in detail (and I’m not exaggerating here) her initial vision, the practical challenges faced as she moved from idea to execution, how she adapted her approach to overcome these challenges, and how she “user-tested” her work in progress with various Playmobil characters and Happy Meal toys to ensure that they would fit in the cockpit.

Alas, the picture above wasn’t the first in a series of rapid, paper prototype iterations.

Not because she is averse to the principle of failing to learn.

But because, in her view, the first model was entirely fit for purpose.

So she built it and launched it.

(I think you “launch” a helicopter rather than “ship” it.)

And, given that she experienced no significant bugs herself – certainly nothing that acted as a barrier to fun play – and that no significant bugs were reported by her “beta-testing” sisters or parents, she shifted seamlessly from builder mode to user mode.

Agile, lean, spontaneous and joyful.

Job done.

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