What this blog is meant to look like

October 30, 2007

Just looking for something from a past life on my old laptop, and found this – my design for this blog.

I made the stupid decision to use Movable Type (far too complicated for me), and since I’ve been too scared to tinker with the template myself, and I’m not owed a favour by anyone clever enough to do it for me. Which is a pity, as I’d quite like it to look like this.



October 30, 2007


It looks like someone’s finally going to do ‘a TV channel for adverts’. But it’s wrapped up in language that is the bastard offpring of 90’s marketing bullshit and Web 2.0.

Check out their introduction video on YouTube.

(Sorry, for some reason I can’t seem to embed YouTube videos on this blog anymore. I need somebody technical to help me. Pleeaassee!)

My favourite bit is at 01.57. ‘All this is a multi-platform service targetted to GenY – the new millenials. It’s QVC for the MySpace generation’.

More here.

This Edible Life

October 27, 2007


Pete Lien used to be a planner, working in a variety of agencies including Albion (which finsihed him off!). He’s now left that all behind to become a chef. He’s documenting his journey on his blog This Edible Life, which I’m really enjoying reading – he’s got a way with words, his food looks delicious, and his affectionate bitterness about the marketing industry makes me feel suitably shallow. Add it to your feed reader today.

Silverjet are the new British Airways

October 27, 2007


I love what Silverjet are doing. They are stealing British Airways’ natural brand positioning, with a well thought out experience , and a large slice of cheek. Let me explain how I think they can do this.

British Airways’ heritage means that their natural brand proposition is ‘civilised flying’. But they can’t use it because their business model won’t let them.

While their experience is defined by longhaul travel, most of their routes are shorthaul. While they don’t make any money from shorthaul routes, they can’t just stop flying them because there’d be a political uproar, and because they’re essential to feed their longhaul business. But since the low cost carriers changed the rules of the game, BA haven’t worked out how to deliver their brand experience in shorthaul – today shorthaul travel is all about modern efficiency, not civilised service.

In addition to that, BA have the dual blessing and curse of Heathrow slots. These are still regarded as valuable as, for some reason, Heathrow still clings on to its position as Europe’s gateway to the world. But anyone who has flown from there in the last 10 years knows that it’s an awful experience – getting there, the facilities, the poor punctuality. In fact, no matter how good the flight is, passing through Heathrow is the most defining part of the experience. And it defines the experience as terrible. So poor BA can hardly claim to be ‘civilised’ there either.

So this leaves them floundering, trapped in the middle of the market, being squeezed by the extremes. Ryanair are so cheap they make their staff pay to charge their mobiles! Singapore have double beds (with petals and champagne) on their new A380!

So they end up making an ad about… the fact they serve drinks on board…? (And an un-funny ‘viral’.)


Meanwhile Silverjet are a startup. They’ve learnt lessons about simplicity, focus and efficiency from the low cost carriers. But they’ve applied them to longhaul travel. So you get:

  • A private terminal at Luton. Luton is London’s least congested airport. You can park easily within 60 seconds walk of the terminal.
  • Business class-only 767s, with the fully flat bed that is expected these days.*
  • The great customer service that can come with an energised start-up, free of years of bitter employer-union relations.
  • Nice, simple website with transparent pricing (that can only come from having few routes).
  • A brand identity that isn’t brave, but is just right for their market. Visually they use modern interpretations of classic British cues, like flock. Verbally, they wittily reference Britishness – “We may be British, but we don’t believe in queues.”

Basically, they’ve created the experience BA would love to be able to offer, but can’t. (* I haven’t actually flown Silverjet yet, so I don’t know if their product and service design lives up to the promise.)

But then Silverjet have got cheeky. They’ve hired M&C Saatchi, the ad agency BA dumped a couple of years ago, ending a long-standing relationship. And together, they’ve remade BA’s classic ‘global’ ad (more commonly known as the ‘face’ ad). But with a twist.



Whereas the original featured lots of people – to demonstrate BA’s globality – the remake has just a few – to demonstrate Silverjet’s exclusivity. At a stroke they nick the best of BA’s past, and de-position them as old fashioned. It says ‘this is the way things are done these days’. For me, it says ‘we are the spiritual heirs to that legacy’. It says ‘we’re the new British airline’.

Only one thing is wrong:


Silvilised? Come one, that’s a really bad pun, and surely underestimates their audience?

The world’s best band work like a New Model Agency?

October 25, 2007


I’m the only person I know who uses the BBC iPlayer (but then I’m the only person I know who commutes from Manchester to London every week). It’s an absolute pain to use, but it is useful to catch up on programmes I miss when I’m on the train.

Anyway, so I was just watching last week’s episode of the Culture Show, which featured Sigur Ros. And it struck me that the way they work is quite similar to some of the working practices we’ve evolved at Albion. Here are some nice quotes:


  • “Especially these days, if you’re not doing something, you’re nobody. Wow, you’re not writing a book?!”


  • “Iceland is the happiest nation is the world. Sigur Ros certainly seem happy together. Their music is always a collaboration between all four members.”

No big ideas; lots of little ideas:

  • “You have a little idea, and you take it a very long way.”

No grand visions:

  • “It’s more like just natural or something. It just goes where it should go. You don’t try to force something out.

Let the work speak for itself:

  • “Possibly until now they haven’t wanted to be that well known. Basically they want to sit in a room all day and play music.”

Can’t wait to see their film Heime. It looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. I hope Albion can make something so thoughtful and perfect one day. Not a bad ambition…

Virgin Trains improvements #1

October 22, 2007

Anybody who has ever used Virgin Train’s West Coast knows that there are a range of little problems that plague what would otherwise be a perfectly adequate service. So I thought I’d have a moan about them. Then I thought I might actually try and do something about them.

The first is the all-time classic – the confusing toilet door controls.

If you’ve been on one of their Pendolinos, you can’t fail to have heard the ‘Doo Da, Doo Da, Doo Da’ alert, perhaps several times throughout their journey, and wondered what it is and why it goes off so much.

Well what it is is the alarm button in the toilet being pressed. But surely people can’t be alarmed that often (even though it does often smell quite bad!). Instead, I think it’s caused by poor usability. The whole scheme for operating the toilet door is poor.

The toilets have a motorised sliding door. There’s one button to open the door from outside. Inside there is a panel with three buttons – one to shut the door, one to lock the door, and a third to unlock-and-open the door. Next to it is another panel with an emergency alarm button.


The problem seems to be that lots of people mistake the ’emergency call for aid’ button for the ‘door unlock and open’ button. Perhaps they can’t read, or can’t be bothered. Perhaps it’s because it’s big and nearest the door. So I think they press this button, and then the alarm sounds until the train manager turns it off, which  is annoying for other passengers. I imagine it also has a ‘little boy who cried wolf’ effects, lessening the impact when somebody really needs to use the alarm.

The usability issues would seem to be:

  • Inconsistency. Why separate buttons to close and lock, but only one button to unlock-and-open? Why not a open/shut button and a lock/unlock button?
  • Usefulness: Why would anyone want to close the door but not lock it?

These issue also lead to a secondary, and more embarrassing problem. A couple of times I’ve approached a toilet where the ‘occupied’ sign was not illuminated and nobody waiting, pushed the ‘door open’ button, and found a woman sat on the toilet. The speed with which the door opens and then shuts again seems excruciatingly slow in that circumstance!

So those are the moans, but what’s the solution? I’m quite sure Virgin Trains think they’ve got bigger problems. The ultimate solution is an engineering one – replacing the control system with a more intuitive one – which they’ll never make a business case for. (I suspect the problem was an engineering one too – I bet Alstom who build the Pendalino had an engineer design the toilet door control system without the involvement of a designer.)

In the meantime, I’m thinking of taking some direct action, making these stickers to try and help people out.


I know this is probably a bit extreme, but I get Virgin Trains from Manchester to London at least twice a week, and these little things become very important. I bet if I did do it, they’d track me down from this post and find the time to prosecute me for criminal damage…

Broadband woes and wows

October 2, 2007

First off, and know this is very self-indulgent. Using a never-read blog to moan about poor customer service. But it’s therapeutic. And it’s either this, or a Falling Down moment!

So, we’re moving into a new house. I want broadband. We’re not in a cabled area. After previous shitty experiences with Be* (possibly unusually, they are well rated) and Bulldog, I thought I’d finally give BT a try.

This was motivated by several things. I admire how they’ve gone about reinventing themselves as a modern communications company, investing billions in IP infrastructure. I quite like the look of their Home Hub. I wanted to try their Home Hub phone, out of professional interest (I work with Skype, so am interested in other VoIP offers). The idea of inclusive minutes on BT Open Zone hotspots appeals, as I work remotely a bit. And, at Albion, we’ve been doing some work with them, on their deal with FON, which is obviously a cool thing to be part of, and I had some loyaty.

The problem was, I just couldn’t get them to take my money. I’ll spare you the full sordid details, but essentially:

  • I called their customer service telephone number, and queued for 40 minutes to get a phone line. The first lady couldn’t complete the job, so I waited on hold for 5 minutes for a man who could. He gave me an order number and a phone number.
  • I visited the website to order broadband. There was no way to enter an order number, and it didn’t recognise my phone number.
  • I called their customer service telephone number, and queued for 90 minutes (yep, and hour and a half) to try and order broadband. The man I got through to didn’t seem sure what he was doing. After putting me on hold for a bit, he came back and said he needed to conference in someone else. When he tried to do this, he instead cut me off, and I was put back to the start of the queue. I waited for 30 minutes, then went off to get a life.
  • I sent an email to the complaints address on their website, detailing the whole sorry saga. Over 24 hours later I got an automated response.
  • My wife spent another 90 minutes queuing in their phone system before she found someone who could tell us what we suspected – that we couldn’t order broadband until our phone number was actually live. No, in fact 48 hours after our hone number is live.

Baffles me why a 21st Century Network can’t turn all the services on a line on at the same time. Does anyone actually get a phone line as a phone line anymore?

Anyway, it looks like I’ve had a lucky escape. Of all the people we spoke to, only one could tell us how long after ordering our broadband would be live, and his answer was a vague “between 2 and 4 weeks”. Which is no good to me at all; I regularly work from home, but can’t without any internet. And the truth seems to be that some people are waiting months to get connected.

So I did some digging around. Moneysupermarket.com gave me useful information about broadband suppliers who service our postcode. And they have user reviews, with enough ratings to be useful. This led me to madasafish. My call to them was picked up after one ring, and a nice lady told me they would have me connected in 5-10 days. I can’t remember quite how, but after some link-following, I clicked on a banner ad (yes, really) for a company called IDNet who promise, in black and white, to make new connections "within 5 working days". I’m looking forward to seeing if either of these two nice small companies can delight me.

I don’t think there are any lessons to learn from this episode. Apart from, you know:

  • Modern life is rubbish. The Man don’t give a f**k. Smash the system. Etc.
  • There are good broadband companies out there, it just takes a while to find them.
  • Professionally, it’s a timely reminder of the perils of working with government-sized companies.

Phew, got that off my chest. Normal silence will now be resumed.
I’m just going down to Paddy Power to see if they’ll take a bet that no-one from BT will ever comment on this post.


UPDATE – I plumped for Madasafish. I ordered the service on Thursday (and a very pleasant web experience it was too) and they told me I’d have service within 10 days. A courier delivered the free wireless router on Friday. I’ve been away for the weekend, but when I got back last night, the broadband connection was live! That’s 2 working days, or 4 days in total. The connection seems fast and stable. So, in conclusion, and contrary to my rants of recent years, there is a good broadband company. Phew.


Wondering what to do with your ashtrays on July 1?

June 28, 2007

Smoking in public places is banned in the UK on Sunday July 1 2007.

Teddy at Albion wondered what would happen to all the ashtrays that will be left with no jobs to do. So he decided to do something useful with them:



E bay gum!

May 30, 2007

 eBay UK logo

Apologies in advance for the self-congratulatory post, but I’m totally over the moon. The crew of the good ship Albion have been working really hard for weeks on a pitch for eBay UK‘s advertising. And we found out today we won it!

What’s remarkable is that, firstly, it’s eBay. EBAY!

Secondly is that we beat Saatchi’s, WCRS and Mother to win it. They’re all proper big grown-up advertising agencies.

Thirdly is that we beat them fair and square. Brand Republic are already hinting at nepotism, because we work for Skype and Joost. But I was there, and can tell you that we beat them fair and square, with hard work and commitment and listening. Of course our relationship with Skype didn’t hinder us, but it was just the icing on the cake.

There may be drinking this evening.

Gonzo Planning vs. Jazz Planning

January 31, 2007

 I’m not sure who in the Plannersphere first coined the phrase Gonzo Planning, but it’s becoming a mini-meme. (Hey mini-meme! Like Mini-Me. Could that be a meme itself? Ohmygod, my world’s collapsing in on itself!)

Kevin comes first on Google, as it’s the name of his blog, but I didn’t notice it until last week

Anyway, Gonzo means ‘filled with bizarre or subjective ideas, commentary, or the like’. So I think Gonzo Planning is meant to be an insult, because of course a good planner only delivers scientifically developed and evidenced facts.

The odd thing is that I’m interviewing planners at the moment for Albion, and I’ve come across a few who seem to wear Gonzo as a badge of honour. Like a hoodie with an Asbo.

I don’t think I’m a Gonzo planner. I’ve probably been guilty of it in the past, but then I went to work with Leslie Butterfield who straightened me out.

I do hope I’m a Jazz Planner though…


I think I know the rules (the scales), and start with a simple rendition of the process (the tune), but quickly start exploring things from a different angle (improvising). Of course this sometimes descends into self-indulgent bollocks (self-indulgent bollocks), but can sometimes create something new of beauty (The Campaign for Real Beauty).

Or something.