Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The New Communications


A few years back my company was accused by a deeply misguided business journalist as not operating in the 'real economy'. Our focus on social goals, environmental issues and arts and culture clearly got him riled. He saw the impending age of austerity and public sector cuts as a signal that an agency like ours would be certain to fail.

The debt-fuelled, hyper-consumption based 'real economy' was about to falter, fold his magazine and put him out of a job, but regardless of his frame of reference it was clear that he didn't 'get' the idea that there was a different world of communications out there.

So it's time to establish more clearly the new communications. 

What's it about? It's the critical revelation that you can sell great ideas and urgent issues of our time just as effectively and with as much flair as you can sell fast moving consumer goods. The campaigns and communications that emerge from the new communications are progressive, honest and effective. They can be energy campaigns that save money on bills, they can be recruitment campaigns for volunteers, carers or civic champions, they can raise money, they can get you off the sofa and out into a nature reserve; the new communications may even make you feel differently about the town, city or village where you live.

It's time to explode the idea that creative communications, by which I mean everything from advertising to direct marketing, media relations, social media campaigns and even the odd flash mob, is purely about selling stuff that we don’t really need.

The conventional ‘Mad Men’ world of consumer marketing is just one aspect of human communications. What other kinds of communications do we messy but wonderful humans indulge in?

There’s gossip, chatter with friends or colleagues and keeping up with family or loved ones, increasingly a strand of communications that is served through social media channels like Facebook or Twitter. There are more formal channels too. There’s public information - what time does the library open? How can I learn to swim? What day will my wheelie bin be emptied? After that there's social marketing. Much of this is health related (get fit, stop smoking, drink less) but it can also cover social calls to action, such as fostering a child, or changes in environmental behaviour.

Local communities communicate in their own distinctive way, too. Engagement at the community level is often overlooked as a critical part of communications. From the photocopied newsletter to online forums, street stalls or a notice pinned to a church door, local neighbourhoods can energise around an issue and then start to communicate.

There are political campaigns for both single issues and to get elected. There are social and environmental campaigns looking to exert change on politics, business or public opinion. Places communicate and brand or promote themselves, there is entertainment, fundraising, religious evangelism, even military propaganda - the ‘munitions of the mind’ - is a form of creative communications.

I've yet to land a brief that covers military propaganda but over the years my work's covered a good deal of the terrain above. My career in communications started, briefly, with journalism and then switched to campaigns around food and more specifically, vegetarianism. For six houmous-fueled years I was a campaigner and then campaigns director at the Vegetarian Society, convincing people the length and breadth of the land to dump meat products for ethical, environmental or health reasons.

It was while working at the Vegetarian Society that I realised that humour and not hectoring was slightly more effective in getting people to change their views or habits. This was a theme I'd return to many times over the next 15 years. Then I moved into working on sustainability and issues like climate change, and ten years ago set up Creative Concern, one of the UK’s first creative agencies dedicated to sustainability and social issues.

Today the Creative Concern portfolio of brands, media campaigns, films and digital projects covers a number of different and discrete areas of communication. Our team works on place promotion, community engagement, public information campaigns and, for a good deal of the time, on changing people's behaviour.

Our approach to behaviour change has a number of ‘rules’ or ‘themes’  which we apply and which we’ve shown to actually work over the last ten years. I’m going to run through some of those rules and then show a couple of campaigns where they’ve done the trick.

First of all, it’s really important to recognise that choices are emotional as much as they’re rational. This principle was established in probably one of the most famous ‘issues’ campaigns there’s ever been, the Crying Indian ad run by Keep America Beautiful in the early 70s. Iron Eyes Cody canoes up the Hudson River and then reaches landfall through a sea of litter. From the discarded drink cans and burger cartons the camera pans up to his face, down which a single tear runs. ‘People start pollution; people can stop it’ runs the voiceover. It set the standard and without the slightest hint of a ‘nudge’.

Next up is being ‘normal’. A change in behaviour has to be seen as something that regular folk can do rather than being solely the preserve of eco-vegan lefties like me. If naked cycling and body painting is your thing, for example, I think you’re very brave. I just doubt that as a campaign tactic it’s likely to get any potential new cyclists into the saddle.

The third rule we like to apply is social proofing and the notion that ‘everyone’s doing it’. We’ve shown this to work in our campaigns but one of the best and most persuasive examples is the ‘hotel towel experiment’ that was carried out by researchers at Chicago Business School and captured in their book ‘Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion’.

The research team worked with a local hotel and changed a proportion of the ‘Please re-use your towel’ signs in hotel bathrooms to read ‘The majority of people in this hotel tend to re-use their towels at least once during their stay’. Towel re-use went up by 26% in the rooms with the amended labels in. What’s even more fascinating is that when they changed them again to read ‘People in this room...’ the rate of re-use went up even higher, to 33% above the normal rate.

I don’t think this shows a ‘herd’ mentality at work, but more the idea that as a society we are contractarians, who will shift our behaviours if we think others are doing it too. As the Institute for Public Policy Research once put it, it’s about ‘I will if you will’.

Pride is another rule. Whether that’s pride of place or pride in your group, tribe or organisation, if you can attach pride to an appeal for change, you’ve got a better chance of success. A great example here is the ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ campaign. Run by the Texas Department for Transport it boasted some great copy lines: “If Texas was your mother, would you still litter?” Great work. The campaign reduced litter on Texan highways by 72% between 1986 and 1990.

Framing comes in next. The way you frame your pitch makes all the difference. In politics for example, framing the dismantling of massive parts of the public sector as ‘Big Society’ is a remarkably canny bit of framing. How you position your message in relation to the frame of reference of your audience is absolutely critical and politics is a great place to watch this play out. Are we ‘building sustainable communities’ or tackling ‘Broken Britain’? Depends on your frame.

Number six is fun. Famously the Fun Theory in Sweden has turned stairs into piano keys and litter bins into bottomless pits. Their latest wheeze is a Speed Camera Lottery where the fines from cars breaking the speed limit at one Stockholm intersection are entered into a lottery for those cars snapped going under the speed limit. They cut average speeds by over 20%. Fun is massively important, as is humour.

Rule seven is to take risks. Creative communications is a crowded marketplace. Every day you are deluged by thousands of messages that are both commercial and non-commercial. The average edition of the New York Times has more information in it than you would have received during an entire lifetime in the Seventeenth Century a data overload that Richard Saul Wurman documented powerfully in Information Anxiety.

Our heads are mashed with messages and we’re also a powerfully distracted species. Britain’s most popular Google search terms in 2011 were ‘Royal Wedding’, ‘iPhone5’ and ‘Fifa’. Also in the top ten were ‘Groupon’, ‘Adele’ and the terrifying ‘Rebecca Black’. For every person searching for ‘sustainability’ there are 51 looking for cheap flights or, inevitably, 152 furtling around looking for porn.

The combination of data deluge plus dubious distraction means that any ethical or behavioural change campaign needs to take a few creative risks to break through and grab some attention.

My final rule is to know your audience and understand what you’re asking them to do. I’m by nature a massive optimist and so one thing that gives me great hope is the fact that we’re not all evil wankers. Here’s some proof. If you look at models of altruism versus outright greed, there are a number of ways to break society down into groups. For example there’s a model based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that looks at pioneers, prospectors and settlers who exhibit varying levels of ethical behaviour, but at its most basic level around 10% of us are altruistic from the outset, while 25% are in the Clarkson camp of unabashed selfishness and 65% sit in a big, slightly dozy ‘consensual’ zone in the middle. In terms of behaviour change I like to think of these as ‘Would love to’, ‘Not on your nelly’ and ‘I will if you will’.

The critical thing in terms of audience understanding and pitch is that if you pitch something purely at the 10% you’re doomed to failure; if you get into a shouting match with the selfish bastards your similarly doomed; successful campaigns need to aim at the mass market, consensual majority and coax them into our altruistic camp.

And the fascinating thing is that even the selfish quarter will come onside once a consensus is established, they’d be too ashamed to do otherwise.

So that’s the theory. How does it work? There are few examples from our work.

First of all I’d like to cover humour. Since I first realised that scaring people with secret filming from inside abattoirs wasn’t the only way to convince them to go vegetarian, I’ve always thought a good gag goes down really well. It has the added benefit of showing that you don’t take yourself too seriously and that adopting your proposed change in behaviour will not render you as humourless as Tom├ís de Torquemada on a bad hair day.

My back catalogue here basically consists of rude vegetables. It’s not complicated; a small study came out showing that vegetarians had slightly more rigorous and rewarding sex lives until a slightly older age and quicker than you can say ‘tofu is the new viagra’ an ad campaign was born. Once I’d finished getting an artworker to add veins to a courgette we were away. Resulted in blanket media coverage, an hourly plug on Channel 4’s Big Breakfast and I had to appear on a strange sex plus lottery numbers show on Kelvin McKenzie’s LIVE TV Channel.

Fast forward to today and here’s an ad campaign we ran with Friends of the Earth across Manchester which even now gets referenced as one of the best of its kind. Cycling is up across the city by at least 10%, not all down to this ad, but it’s safe to say that the humourous tone increased the ad’s reach massively.

And humour led us to team up with a californian animator to create a campaign called ‘Get Me Toasty’ for energy efficiency and home insulation. Creating a giant, walking but not talking piece of toast has helped us recast home insulation as something you’d actually walk across the street to find out more about. So far the campaign’s generated 15,000 enquiries for free or low cost insulation, cutting loads of winter fuel bills and cutting carbon emissions right across Greater Manchester.

Social proofing was at the forefront of our mind as we crafted a campaign for the borough of Wrexham called ‘People Power’. We led with images of ordinary folk from Wrexham who were willing to take a small step - a pledge - to reduce their carbon emissions as the Council committed to massively cut their emissions too. The entire focus was on a shared effort and shared benefit. Across the Council alone they saw energy bills drop by 7% during the campaign period, saving around £25,000. The Wrexham campaign built on an earlier, pledge-based campaign we did across Greater Manchester called ‘Manchester is my Planet’ which again combined social proofing with small steps and in this case, civic pride, to recruit carbon pledges. Over 20,000 people signed up over the lifetime of the campaign.

My next example is a simple but effective example of reframing a proposition. The Northwest’s Fostering Forum asked us to run a campaign across television, radio and print to generate applications to become foster carers. We ran some research groups and discovered that the problem wasn’t feeling compassionate about kids that needed homes, the problem was that most people didn’t feel that they could be a foster parent, that somehow they wouldn’t fit the profile. So we ran a fostering campaign with no children in, just lots of real life fosterers from as many walks of life as possible, telling you that ‘You Can Foster’. The campaign overshot its target by 100% and over 3,000 applied to become foster carers.

My last example is less about behaviour change and more about the power of communications to build pride and belief in a community. We’ve been running a campaign for the last four years in a large area of Manchester called Wythenshawe. It’s an area that has plenty of social challenges but that also has loads going for it. For years it had been done down in the mass media as a class A example of ‘Broken Britain’. Our Real Lives Wythenshawe campaign, which includes a network of 100 community ambassadors, has reclaimed the news agenda and allowed the people of the area to build a more positive image of their area. In our finest hour, we organised mass activity in response to an ill-thought documentary by Sarah Ferguson called the ‘Duchess on the Estate’, which depicted the very worst that they could find in Wythenshawe.

Our campaign fought back and won national, widespread coverage as a result.

The examples above are just behavioural change but our team at Creative Concern have built place brands, run fundraising campaigns, launched wildlife reserves and communicated with the public around renewable energy schemes. We think this is the real work of creative communications, of the new communications.

If you ignore for a moment the fact that every second 28,000 people are searching the internet for porn, human communications, is a wonderful, diverse and powerful part of who we are and what we could become in the future. It takes in education, our individual passions and ideals, our connections with family and friends, our work and our playtime. Communications is a critical part of us, as individuals and as a society.

It’s not about selling, it’s about something bigger.

It’s about great people and good ideas. It’s about enlightenment. It’s about making people smile and its about making lives better.

This is the real world of communications and its my contention that in an age where austerity is still biting and where there may actually be no return to the days of rampant and unbridled consumerism, this kind of communications, for social good, will in fact be the norm in the months and years ahead.

This, for me is the future, and it’s the business that we’re in.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Out, proud and green

I've just discovered what a great job the team at Manchester Pride are doing on making our city's annual gay pride party - one of the biggest and longest running in the UK - into a more sustainable event.

This year was as fabulous as ever, with a bit of science theme thrown in to commemorate the amazing Alan Turing (apparently a “Gayger” counter was featured, as well as a profusion of Turing’s Sunflowers). The Pride team also made huge headway on cutting their waste, too.

They got all the businesses in the cordoned off area for the event to suspend their own waste company collections during the period so they could manage all the waste across the whole site.

Historically it's been difficult to get the bars to split their waste into recyclable and non recyclable due to the fact they are so busy over the weekend, so they took the decision to employ additional staff to go into the bars themselves to collect the bottles and other recyclable waste.

The bars are mainly on a run along Canal Street so the staff went from one bar to another along the strip collecting the waste.

Pride's aim over the last few years has been to increase the amount of waste recycled and five years ago, the recycling rate was approximately 10% - they had some ground to make up.

This year, in total, their waste management company collected 22,700kg of waste and recyclable materials and they recycled a total of 9,590Kg which means the recycling rate was a massive 42.25%, nearly 10% up on last year's figures and a big leap up from 10% five years ago.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Bikenomics & Manchester

Here's a presentation I gave a few weeks back at the launch of Love Your Bike's manifesto for cycling in Greater Manchester. As ever, the subject of Middle Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILs) was covered...


Thursday, 21 June 2012

Solar spill

Love this - Pattison Outdoor has denied Greenpeace Canada the space on one of its billboards in downtown Edmonton – and handed them a stonking PR opportunity.


Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Where's Manchester up to on climate change?

I've just been pulling together a presentation on climate change action across Manchester as part of my job as chair of the city's climate change steering group. All suggestions for other projects very welcome!


Stateofthe city2012
View more presentations from Creative Concern

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The ten keys to responsible communication

At Creative Concern we've been busy setting up a European network of like-minded agencies called 'Do Not Smile'; we've got good friends and colleagues now in Paris, Bonn and Brussels and we're actively scoping out more creative agencies with a penchant for sustainability so that we can swell our ranks even further.

As well as sharing ideas and insights, the network means we can collaboratively pitch for international accounts knowing that we have the reach needed to work alongside the bigger multinational agencies.

Anyway - to the point of this posting. I wanted to share one of the many useful nuggets of learning that I've gleaned from our continental friends: the notion of responsible communications. Established by a book of the same name and by a set of guidelines adopted by the French Advertisers Association, responsible communications is all about honesty, transparency and an end to 'greenwashing' particularly on the part of larger, more polluting corporations.

There are ten keys to the concept, scribble them down and apply them next time you're planning a campaign:


  1. Make sure that the represented behaviour is responsible and ethical.
  2. Use an appropriate register and do not exaggerate.
  3. Be honest.
  4. Use arguments that are placed in contact and reflect reality.
  5. Use vocabulary that is clear, precise and easy to understand.
  6. Provide sufficient, transparent and easy-to-access information.
  7. Make sure that what you say is based on reliable, verifiable data.
  8. Use creative/design elements that have a direct, logical connection with the reality being discussed.
  9. Follow the riles of rising logos, acronyms, symbols, trademarks and labels.
  10. Involve service providers such as agencies, copywriters and photographers.


So there you have it... ten steps to more ethical, responsible communications.

The eleventh step? Well you could always join our network.

(With thanks to Gildas and the comrades at Sidiese.)



Monday, 3 October 2011

fab // graphene

Am more than a little obsessed about the opportunities offered by graphene and Manchester's very own Nobel prize laureates. Now it looks like they may be the anchor of a global R&D hub which I suspect will also be dead important for Manchester's low carbon stuff. Anyway here's the story:

£50m boost for University of Manchester's Nobel prize-winning work on 'wonder material' graphene | Manchester Evening News - menmedia.co.uk

Monday, 1 August 2011

Greater Manchester signs off 48% carbon target
















Imagine that - kicking off a blog posting with a headline that references percentages, targets and an admin process for signing off a strategy; stay awake at the back there!

It's pretty fundamental this one; Britain's second city (Greater Manchester to you and I) has signed off a climate change strategy that sets a pretty ambitious target of 48% carbon reductions by 2020 against a baseline level of 1990.

It doesn't stop there. The strategy covers all the bases, including mitigation, adaptation, green jobs and the need for a cultural shift (low carbon hegemony anyone?). The other cheeky bit lurking under the tarpaulin is an emerging measure for the thrillingly entitled 'Scope 3' emissions. To anyone who doesn't doze off at night with a copy of 'advanced carbon footprinting' clutched to their bosom, these are the emissions that we usually try and ignore: the stuff we buy, the flights we take, the food we eat.

Here's the first glimpse of our 'consumption-based' carbon footprint

























The strategy as presented to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority can be downloaded from here. It's still in a stripped down, word-processed, no-frills format, but is well worth having a gander at. The headlines, in essence, are:

 - A rapid transition to a low carbon economy
 - Collective carbon emissions reduced by 48%
 - Be prepared for and actively adapting to a rapidly changing climate
 - ‘Carbon literacy’ will have become embedded into the culture of organisations, lifestyles and behaviours

There's some progress already, with a number of low carbon buildings, a domestic retrofit programme, emerging heat network plans, a green deal project and the introduction of an electric car charging scheme already well underway, but it's only the start.

The other issue for me is that it is a solid step towards getting all ten Greater Manchester authorities onto the same track on climate change. I chair the steering group for Manchester's own plan - 'A Certain Future' - and I know that we could achieve so much more if we all worked together, better, to cut carbon and adapt for the changes that lie ahead.

Headlands to headspace




















Earlier this year we (Creative Concern) were lucky enough to work with the Morecambe Bay Partnership and our good friend and collaborator James Rebanks on the Partnership's Heritage Lottery Fund bid 'Headlands to Headspace'. Today it's been officially announced that they've won the bid and have been allocated £2 million through the Landscape Partnership programme.

The aim of the scheme is to help local people come together and maximise the opportunity offered by the inspiring views, landscape features, heritage and wildlife of the Bay. This will include projects to celebrate the Bay's unique cultural heritage and stunning landscapes, restore and reconnect wildlife habitats, protect the tidal islands, develop the railway stations as hubs to access key sites and support support education projects and oral history looking at the traditions of fishing in the Bay.

It's this last bit - the area's social history - that unearthed a real gem for me, an old bit of documentary footage of shrimpers roaring across the Bay in the 1930s, their carts (and horses) at some points almost completely engulfed by the sea; amazing.

video


Morecambe Bay is rich in heritage of this sort, but it's got a slightly left field side to it too. There's something about the patterns of the sand, the windswept trees, the slightly unexpected art projects and the toppled, incongruous gun emplacements that makes the whole package totally distinctive. The best bet is to get up there and check it out for yourself, starting with a cocktail in the Midland Hotel would be a good idea.

Humphrey Head by Jon Sparks





















Finally, the Headlands to Headspace project wouldn't have come off unless it had been steered by the awesome force of nature that is the Partnership's co-ordinator, Susannah Bleakley, or if it hadn't been given a glorious shove by the likes of the Mersey Basin Campaign, Regional Parks Exchange and the Northwest Regional Development Agency.

It's projects like this that should remind us that when it comes to big, connected and beautiful landscapes, regions work; someone might like to mention this to Mr Pickles.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Vertical farming in Manchester

I've just emerged from chairing the sold-out Vertical Farm event at Manchester International Festival. We officially unveiled the 'Alpha Farm' project which will seek to transform a disused office block in Wythenshawe into a fully-functioning vertical farm.

Supremely exciting and there are loads more details on our Alpha Farm blog.

The star turn today though, was the amazing and inspiring Dr. Dickson Despommier, the godfather of Vertical Farming and the author of a seminal tome on the very subject. He was brilliant - and braved a very windy and rainy Manchester to be with us from NYC.

Here's his presentation which will give you a little glimpse into what you missed if you couldn't make it:

Mcr_Despommier

And we've made a little film about the whole Alpha Farm thing:




Monday, 18 April 2011

The future of everything...


Have promised our good chums at FutureEverything that I'd post up what they've got planned this year onto the blog. Alongside our vertical farm plans with Manchester International Festival, and the opening of the Brockholes 'unreserved reserve', this is the 'other' high point of the year.

FutureEverything, 11 – 14th May 2011

Arriving in Manchester in May for its sixteenth year, FutureEverything transforms 4 Piccadilly Place into its Conference venue and Art Hub. Meanwhile Umbro Design Studio in the Northern Quarter becomes the ‘living lab’, mixing up live music DJs, workshops and music events across the city, from concert halls to backstreet gems.

Conference

The FutureEverything conference leads our Ideas strand, where visionary speakers explore the interface between technology, society and culture. The FutureEverything Conference continues to bring you the latest debate and visionary ideas around New Mobilities, Open Data and Emotional Computing, brought to you by forward thinkers such as Meg Pickard, Bill Thompson, Kars Alfrink and Sue Thomas. With over 30 events across the city, Showcase is the place to discover the sounds and stars of tomorrow, with emerging talent from across the city and beyond.

Music

The music strand profiles musical pioneers and ground-breaking talent. Acts confirmed to play the festival include Steve Reich, Rob da Bank, Beach House, Warpaint, 65daysofstatic, Gang Gang Dance, Black Heart Procession, Das Racist, The Radio Dept., Star Slinger, Dark Dark Dark plus many more.

Arts


The art programme features world premieres and urban interventions, including new work by Me and The Machine.

Main exhibition 

The Data Dimension, features artists exploring the flourishing field of data visualisation. Manchester citizens are invited to participate in the OurCity mass participate experiment by Adam Nieman. And the most inspirational digital innovations are celebrated in the FutureEverything Award 2011.



For more information click here.


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Yuri Gagarin in Manchester

















It’s fifty years since a plucky and rather diminutive Yuri Gagarin shot into space, cooped up in a contraption with the computing power of your average remote control, and what I really love is the fact that during his victory tour, he made a major splash in Manchester, only his second stop outside the Soviet Bloc, following the flight into space.

The stop-off had a lot to do with the fact that Yuri was a former foundry worker, and so the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers in Manchester decided to invite the now world-famous cosmonaut to come and visit Manchester in July 1951.

As he emerged from his RAF plane at Ringway Airport, it was raining (I know, I know) and he apparently asked for the car’s top to be rolled down, saying: “If all those people are getting wet to welcome me, surely the least I can do is get wet too!”

He was pretty much mobbed on his arrival by a crowd that included the then ‘Mayor of Stretford’. He then drove through Moss Side to the Union’s HQ, where his car was reported showered with ‘red roses, poppies and carnations’ and, this is my favourite bit, was presented with a specially designed medal that to my eye could have been the early work of Comrade Saville, if he’d been around at the time. It included the slogan ‘Together Moulding a Better World'.

He also stopped at Metros works in Trafford Park and was lunched by the great and the good at Manchester Town Hall, where he met Sir Bernard Lovell, who said: “He will become one of the historic figures in civilisation because he is the first man to live in a new environment. There are lots of things I would like to ask him, but probably he would not answer them.”

There are two pieces of press copy surrounding the visit that I like. First of all the Manchester Evening News which wrote how ‘Major Gagarin is above the tedious enmities of politics. His was a human achievement; a victory for man's spirit and courage’, but there was an even lovelier line in Pravda, which makes me a little weepy: 'Manchester's toiling masses accorded Major Gagarin a reception unsurpassed in its cordiality. Never over the past many tens of years has Manchester met anybody with such an embrace’.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Manchester's Vertical Farm

Goodness me it's been hard keeping this one quiet. We've been very, very lucky at Creative Concern HQ to be working with the Manchester International Festival on a proposed vertical farm, right here in Manchester, housed within a transformed office block.

We've worked on the feasibility with sustainable food expert Debbie Ellen, Capital Relations and, naturally, our brilliant friends at Urbed.

More details eventually... but for now, here's Urbed's visual schematic as a 'taster' and I suggest you all book your tickets for the awesome Dickson Despommier!


Thursday, 3 March 2011

iManc*






















NOTE: email digitalmap@marketingmanchester.com if you think you should be on our next map of Online Manchester!
__

There’s an urban myth about Manchester and computers that I am utterly beguiled by.

It goes like this.

Alan Turing, University of Manchester academic, father of modern computing and closet homosexual took his own life in 1954.

The myth has it that the cyanide he used was in an apple, which was then left, with a bite taken out of it, on the stand next to his death bed.

Fast forward to the late 70s and Steves Jobs and Wozniac are busy in a garage, building what will become the Apple computer. They need a logo for the company. After an early flirtation with an Isaac Newton cartoon they go for an apple, with a bite taken out of it.

And there you have it. Apple’s homage to Turing as they half-knowingly created a leading global brand of the future, complete with a hardline back to the original modern city of Manchester.

None of which is true of course, but as memetic messages go, it’s one that spreads the second you tell it. It’s irresistible, I hereby dare you not to mention it to someone.

I like to think it is true, in fact I insist it is, as I love to see my favoured brands united in some way. Manchester plus Apple is a kind of dream combo for me; if I could see brand collisions of Monocle Magazine and Paul’s Tofu, or maybe Bourgeois Boheme and Rapha, I’d be a very, very happy man.

But back to memetics.

How ‘stuff spreads’ is on my mind as I ponder the next phase of our work on Manchester’s digital map. Last year we researched, and then depicted on an interactive map, a cross-section of the websites and blogs that collectively make up our city’s online presence – our pixelated tendrils if you will.

We did the research, created the map, and now we’re asking an elite cadre of bloggers and tweet-happy social media types to comment on the notion of ‘online presence’ and more specifically, tell us and Marketing Manchester, our client, where the project should go next. 

It seemed the right way to go about it really. It means we want you, dear reader, to tell us what YOU think.

In the process we’d like to uncover some more things we didn’t know about Manchester online, generate some insights into how cities should approach their digital ‘brand’ experience, and maybe we’ll even see some more urban myths, spreading out through the ether, next up from me, the one about how Manchester invented dance music.

*As well as the title of this blog entry, this is also the slogan emblazoned on the best selling T-Shirt at Manchester Airport. You can buy one here.

Postscript: Makes you proud to be a BritGeek. In September of last year, following a frenzied campaign on the Internet, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown  issued a public apology on behalf of the British government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.