Steve Barron: the cultural impact of one 80s music video director

This is going to get sentimental…
A few months back I went to a music video showcase I’ve been going to for about a decade BUG (#50!) which had a very special guest. One who is an example of the cultural ripples creativity can send.
It’s a guy I guess most of you have never heard of, and yet he’s touched your life in more ways than you imagine.
Steve Barron is a director who started as a tea boy on sets and by the late 70s was directing videos for bands like The Jam.
He was quite humble in Adam Buxton‘s interview, saying that many of today’s videos would have won ‘video of the year’ from MTV back then because the form (and production values) evolved so much.
Back then, labels didn’t really believe videos made a difference to an artist’s success. Most of them were shot in 16mm.
But then, in 1981, he managed to convince the execs to let him shoot in 32mm and the result was this little triple-inception-meta Truffaut homage.
But wait, it gets SO much better. So much better that I just had to write a whole post… With some help from the BUG programme notes, the interview and wikipedia.

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Why Gin is a marketer’s dream

(Short comment written for an article about the rise of craft gin. not sure if it was ever used, so here it is)

Q: how can craft gin brands stand out, and how is branding/packaging helping to differentiate artisanal/craft/small batch products?
Gin is a marketer’s dream. It offers more aspects of brand storytelling than your typical spirits, and the craft angle adds more.
Like  other spirits, you can use history. Many craft gins will look to that as the nexus of their brand. If they don’t wish to take on established brands on heritage, there are many alternatives.  If distilled in a surprising place, provenance could play a part. If that’s too close to heritage, they could explore the botanicals. Gins use a long lists of potential ingredients beyond juniper. Each ingredient, be it lemon peel or coriander seed, presents opportunities for differentiation and story-telling. Monkey 47, uses the sheer number of ingredients to define the brand.
If none of the botanical is interesting enough, the story of traditional small batch methods is often what makes ‘craft’. If there isn’t much in that, there are drinking rituals. Hendrick’s use of the humble cucumber is a  case in point.
Finally, you could  tell the story of the people behind the gin. With the big producers increasingly using the term ‘craft’ to describe their own premium spirits, that personal touch is one thing they can’t take away from the smaller distilleries.
Give it an intriguing name which embodies the essence of the brand. Add a premium carefully designed bottle, label and communications that sing the praises of the product in harmony, and you may just come up the next big name in spirits.

British food brands and the world

(originally written for a piece published last year) 

I was recently asked to comment about the international success of British food brands in the The Times’ The Raconteur. As often is the case with things like that I’ve had a lot more to say than the article allows, so here’s a link to the article and here are my original thoughts, lightly edited. (oh, and BTW ‘Made in Britain’ isn’t a government project).
Q: What is it about ‘brands’ such as Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Pret, Costa and co that makes them appealing? What part does Britishness have to play in this success – any at all?
A: While all four Brands are strong examples of British success abroad, they relate to Britishness in different ways. Pret and Costa excel through a business model that meets consumer needs quickly and efficiently. The first providing a healthier, fresher alternative to fast food, the latter riding the increased savvy of coffee drinkers. British business innovation if you will, but they aren’t particularly British in any explicit way, despite Costa’s nods to some nostalgic bakery and biscuits. When it comes to Ramsey and Oliver, however, both are ambassadors of our changing relationship with food, despite not being quintessentially British in the way a brand like Paul smith, for example, is.
First, we should keep in mind that for large parts of the world, British accent and mannerism are enough to make a brand British. As their brand stories develop, Oliver becomes the plucky young cockney while Ramsey combines a gruff disciplinarian perfectionist angle mixed with his colourful language. Beyond style, they have become ambassadors to the changing relationship of Britain with food – Oliver with his commitment to fresh and healthy ingredients; Ramsey with his meticulous attention to ingredients. Both almost a direct opposite of the stereotypical stodgy British grub. The one made with cheap ingredients with no fresh vegetable in sight that foreigners used to think of, and which to be fair, is mostly the result of post world war(s) recession years.

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Marketing Should Promote A New Masculinity

Recent coverage of the state of masculinity is alarming. The latest research from the advertising association research arm Credos points to the negative effect advertising can have on boys’ body image. The same effect it has had on girls for many years. That research joins mounting evidence of a crisis related to the shifting roles of men, often blaming the void created by the decline of some of their ‘traditional roles’, such as being breadwinners. Make no mistake, those roles can be oppressive, sometimes toxic, and are cultural myths in their own right.

A recent study by the Journal of Gender Studies went as far as blaming the financial crisis for the rise of the ‘Spornosexual’ – young men using their toned bodies on social media as a means of feeling valuable in society. A part of a larger trend where fitness regimes are shared with the world as a visual means of getting positive attention. Attention that hides the flip-side of body-policing and shaming. Maybe we shouldn’t strive for that specific form of gender equality.

Putting aside moral panic, where the BBC condemns porn for causing erectile dysfunction in teenagers, it’s easy to feel empathy and concern when considering how boys learn what it means to ‘be a man’. The pressures of toxic masculinity can end in anxiety, depression and violence. Harming both men and women, particularly those who are vulnerable to begin with. Continue reading

Google’s rebrand and the four forces affecting brand identities in digital environments

Google's new logo and some core identity elementsThe recent launch of Google’s brand identity evolution brings back to light questions around the impact of digital environments on brand identities.

Visual design is a vibrant, ever evolving world. It always combines timeless principles with new tools and changing fashions. Contemporary design operates within a global culture. One that has been getting increasingly visual for over a century since the early days of mass media.

Brand identities, specifically, now spend a large part of their lives in digital environments. These environments offer both opportunities and challenges, but are we really seeing the amount of innovation we’d expect? The kind we’ve seen in product design or interface design. What are the key factors shaping brand identities in digital environments? Continue reading

Google Alphabet – initial thoughts about naming and brand architecture

Photo CC by: Thomas Hawk

Isn’t Capitalism Interesting, by Thomas Hawk

A brief comment from me has gone live this morning [yesterday. UB] on the front page of The Drum. Here’s a fuller version of my initial thoughts about Google Alphabet. Feel free to ask me anything in the comments.

Yes, it is the brand architecture move of the decade, and the memo announcing it is one of the best pieces of corporate communications I’ve ever come across.

No, I don’t think the name’s great.

No, not because of SEO. The domain is inspired, in fact, and the importance of a .com is overrated in the era of search engines, even more so when you’re Google.

So, some thoughts focused on the branding perspective: Continue reading

Move complete

I moved this blog from an independently hosted server to

Despite my best intentions and frequent WordPress updates, malicious code kept making its way into the template – knocking the blog off the air and wrecking havoc on my search engine results.

Some recent comments seem to have been lost in the process. Apologies.

Other than that – we resume our normal infrequent missives. If you crave more – don’t forget the Twitter and Facebook feeds, which often point to other publications before they are cross-posted here.