Making the Black Death AND the office fun!

A quick entry this morning, as I’m rushing around today. So, rather than lots of typing, here are two links.

The first is to a Science Museum site that uses rather nifty graphics and some eye-opening information to make the Black Death fun (who knew it could be?). Their proof reading could be better, tho’ I do love the idea of seeing off the plague by firing Canons, rather than cannons. Of course modern science has proved they should have sacked the Bishops, but hey…

The second is to this lovely little Penguin Books promo site for Alain De Botton’s ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’. They’re really on a roll just now; their online work is quirky, creative and genuinely thoughtful about moving the experience of reading onto the web.

Moi, the provisional mini-meme

Well, I seem to have become a very modest viral presence on YouTube. The lovely people from UKParliament asked me for my thoughts on government and social media at the Tuttle Club a couple of weeks ago; the resulting clip has now been watched by nearly 1,000 people.

Watching it again, my main thought was that I really should given my hair a bit of a brush before they filmed me; I’d just taken off my cycle helmet, hence the slightly exploded look. But that would go against both the point of what they were doing – recording spontaneous, unrehearsed comments – and also one of the deeper properties of the web itself.

The web has substantially lowered barriers to the publication and dissemination of just about any kind of information. That means that it’s much easier to share content with a wide audience when it’s still in development.

The discussion begins earlier, and the content creator can be part of that discussion while whatever they’re developing is still being finalised – as, for example, Charles Leadbeater found out when he released a beta copy of his recent book ‘We Think’ online for pre-publication feedback.

Unlike the printed page, or the television or cinema screen, the internet is a provisional medium; it demands engagement rather than finish, discussion rather than monologue. And, in a small way, my clip is part of that.

You don’t see a polished, scripted, finalised version of me, with a makeup person hovering just off camera, waiting to touch up my perfect hair; you see the provisional, daily, real version of me, delivering a first draft, not a final draft, and above all hoping to start a conversation, rather than deliver a conclusion.


Disappearing into use

Marketeers spend much time and effort making their brands unique, so they stand out from the crowd; but branding acts as camouflage as much as display.

Display is a form of disruption. By standing out from what’s around it, a brand breaks our smooth perception of the world-as-a-whole and demands that we attend to a single, very focussed part of it.

That’s not an issue when we’re deciding what to buy. Individual brands need to shout loudly to be heard in the communications cacophony that is modern commercial space.

It becomes an issue once we’ve bought a given brand, and started using it. At that point, the function of branding changes. The best way to understand how and why that is to be reductive, and think about tools.

A tool is brought and used to achieve a given end. The most effective tools are those that disappear into use. That is, they support the achievement of an end without drawing attention to themselves during that achievement.

If I’m chopping wood, I want an axe that I don’t notice that I’m using. I don’t want one that constantly draws attention to itself through (for example) being blunt, or poorly constructed, or the wrong size for the task at hand.

I only want to notice the well chopped pile of wood I end up with, not the means by which I create that pile. And then I want the pile of wood to disappear into being a fire, without being slow to light, spitting on the carpet, or creating too much smoke.

When in use, brands work in a similar way. They are never an end in themselves; none of us live to shave with Gillette Razors, or travel by British Airways.

We live to be attractive to other people, or to visit interesting places. Brands support us as we achieve these goals, disappearing into the wider actions we take to fulfil our rational or emotional drives.

This is where brands need to camouflage themselves. As well as standing out, each one  should also disappear, harmonising with a chorus rather than just shouting through a cacophony.

As branding people, that’s something that’s easy to forget. Brands aren’t just about differentiation; they’re about integration too, fitting efficiently and effectively into individual lifestyles, supporting a broader personal push towards entirely personal goals.