Friday 19 October 2007

Green spot

The latest natural media installation from Creative Concern took shape this week at the Northwest Regional Development Agency’s (NWDA) Annual Conference and General Meeting (Thursday, October 18) where we treated delegates to a wooded wonderland that celebrates the environmental renaissance of England’s Northwest.

A native forest of six-metre high beeches, elders and silver birches illuminated with low-energy LED lights was installed in the exhibition space of the AGM to form part of a ‘Green Spot’ exhibition. Three 42-inch plasma screens were set amongst the circle of trees to show a series of short films about the environmental land regeneration programmes and green schemes taking place across the region. The films highlight the work of the NWDA and the other Green Spot partners, all of which are working for the sustainable development of England's Northwest.

Partners in the exhibition included the Forestry Commission, Mersey Waterfront, Groundwork, Natural Economy Northwest, ENWORKS, Environment Connect and the Mersey Basin Campaign.

Helping us pull off the Green Spot were our partners at The Potting Sheds (who sourced and installed Green Spot), Mayhood Brothers of Burscough (tree suppliers) and Steve Massam and Peter Grimshaw Tree Surgeons (for wood and bark used in the installation.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Homo ethicus - beyond booze and fags

We now spend more on ethical products than we do on booze and fags, according to the Co-operative Bank’s last Ethical Consumerism report.

There are organic clothes at ASDA. Virgin’s positioning is all about climate change. Coffee is fairtrade at Starbucks, with the option of frothy soya milk. You can even buy ethical erotica - whatever that might entail - from Anita Roddick’s daughter, Sam. And here in Manchester we’ve seen Tesco invest £25 million in a new Centre for Sustainable Consumption at the University of Manchester.

The high street, not to mention online retailers or out-of-town stores, is witnessing a seismic shift amongst shoppers. We have moved into a new era for retailing. The age of the ethical consumer has arrived.

Now none of this is news to those of us who were buying fairtrade Guatemalan body putty and veganic sausages back in the late 80s and early 90s, but this is totally mainstreamed activity now. We are witnessing a permanent change in the way that people make key purchasing decisions.
In other words, this is no consumer fad. The ground rules have changed.

So back to that market data. In 2005 the sales of ethical products in the UK for the first time exceeded the amount we spent as a nation on alcohol and tobacco, which netted £28 billion while the market for ethical goods, which reached £29 billion, up 11 per cent on the previous year. As you might imagine, within the detail of the report some fascinating trends are revealed. Ethical shareholding grew by 15 per cent over the year; we spent a quarter more on ethical clothing; our spend on green energy supplies grew by 42 per cent; and our appetite for organic food grew by 30 per cent. Remarkable growth, all in one year. In total the ethical market growth of 11 per cent was almost ten times greater than the rise in household expenditure.

It also contrasts with the annual rise in retail sales charted by the British Retail Consortium, which stood at 3.9 per cent in March of this year.

From cars, to cashpoints, to cotton, there is an ever-growing army of consumers out there switching allegiance to products that differentiate themselves in the marketplace not through price or celebrity endorsement but simply because they do less harm.

‘Buy different’

So how should we describe this new era? I’d borrow from the ‘Think Different’ campaign run by Apple Computer in the 1990s and suggest that what we have on our hands now is the ‘Buy Different’ generation.

Buy different. They want to change the way they shop. They want to balance affordability, desirability and sustainability. They also want the full story behind the brand, warts and all. They want connection.

Buy different. They want different kinds of products that are designed from the ground up. Like the CIS Sustainable Leaders Trust investment fund, the first ever green trust to top the UK All Companies sector. Or the Dyson, or the Prius, or the Innocent Smoothie. The motto is to ‘differentiate’.

Buy different. They want to know that the companies they engage with are different in the suppliers they use and the way they catalyse positive global trade. Are you greening the supply chain? They will ask. Do you respect union rights? Are you implicated in corrupt regimes? Are children involved in manufacturing your products?

Buy different. The new consumers want products and companies that reflect who they are and what they believe in.

In fact it looks as if the barcode - celebrating its 60th anniversary next year by the way - needs to be redesigned from black to green, and that we need to add a new set of lines and spaces to tell consumers the true cost of the products in their basket. We need to redefine the barcode, just as consumers are redefining our global patterns of consumption.

For corporations getting their head around the ‘Buy Different’ drivers covering new types of shopping and differentiated products there is still the third and most important driver: trust. You can’t sell a green product for example and expect to get away with the  remaining 80 per cent of your portfolio having a poor impact on the environment or local communities. There is no place in the new retail era for tokenism, you will get rumbled. You can’t go ‘beyond petroleum’ and yet still make a fortune piping gas and oil across Kazahkstan. It won’t wash.

You can’t talk the talk without walking the walk.

The Co-operative Bank - one of Creative Concern’s clients - knows this. That’s why they’ve been publishing independently-verified sustainability reports now for almost a decade. Their reports examine in detail ecological and social responsibility, as well as performance in delivering value. The 2002 report for the Co-operative Bank was rated by the United Nations Environment Programme as the world’s best. They have won the European Sustainability Reporting Awards twice, in 2002 and 2004.

This is not a plastic bag.

As the round-the-corner queues for the celebrity-endorsed ‘This is not a plastic bag’ have shown, ethical consumerism is now a dominating force.

The rules have changed.

Ted Turner, the CEO of AOL Time Warner has gone on record as saying that in the new hyperlinked, globalised world  of email, blogs and websites you could see even the largest global brands taken apart in as little as seven minutes due to an ethical slip of one sort or another.
Seven minutes, the time it would take to destroy brands built across decades.

We have entered a new era for retailing, the Buy Different generation is calling the shots. We have entered the age of the homo ethicus and there’s no turning back. Homo ethicus. A Prius-driving, American Apparel-wearing, turbine-touting new breed of consumer that will rock the retail world.

The Field

Connect. Illuminate. Energise. What more could you ask for than a field full of fluorescent tubes drawing their power from overhead transmission lines? I went tonight to see Richard  Box’s installation called ‘The Field’, an arrangement of several hundred regular flourescent tubes that draw their energy from the electro-magnetic field (EMF) generated by the overhead powerlines.

Richard Box was in attendance and after we’d stumbled through a darkened field along the banks of the River Goyt to get to the installation, he proved enthusiastic about the project which had nonetheless presented a bunch of technical challenges including the fact that the energy company had reduced the power running through the overhead lines. Anyone would think that they’d done it intentionally, to downplay the rather erie impact that the installation has on you when you realise the extent and power of EMFs.

The project itself is part of Stockport/Sustrans collaboration called ‘Connect 2’ which is bidding for Lottery money to extend part of the National Cycle Network.

Monday 1 October 2007

Greening the Northwest

Today (Monday 1 October) I’m chairing a Forum taking a good old peak and a poke at the Northwest’s Forestry Framework - the strategy for woodlands and forestry across England’s Northwest. It’s been in operational ‘mode’ for around a year now and I’m dead pleased that there’s been some progress made (though a good few challenges remain).

There is co-ordinated activity across the region taking forward a host of actions set out in our ‘Agenda for Growth’. Of the 47 actions in our plan, 43 are underway and the remainder will almost all be coming onstream in the coming year.

So across our six areas of action we are genuinely helping to bring the businesses working in woodlands and forestry together more closely into a recognisable sector; we are enhancing our region’s image through greenspace development and we have plans for the  transformation of gateway sites; we are supporting ‘greener’ farming and seeing the restoration of natural areas; we are making good links with the health sector, with education and with the prison service; we are putting efforts into developing biomass as a sustainable energy source within the region; and we are staying focused, in our sixth action area, on how we can keep improving our performance as a sector not least with the launch of a new Rural Development Programme for England.

And I am particularly pleased that we are planning a few, signature projects out of the Forestry Framework ‘stable’ that hit a number of our targets across differing action areas.

These include a plan for a conference and PR campaign called ‘Form>Wood’ which will target the architecture, design and urban development sectors with the message that wood is the sustainable and contemporary material of choice. We are also launching a programme to really get to the heart of whether our urban tree cover is as healthy as we think it is or should be and will use the results of our surveying work to raise the game of our local authorities, in particular.

So there is plenty of progress in greening the region and supporting the sector, but there are many, many challenges that remain.

We must continue to expand our partnerships beyond the usual suspects. We need to develop more joint projects like the recent Land Remediation Network we’ve established with Envirolink and we seriously need to improve our linkages to the private sector.

We need to ask ourselves, honestly, if we are trying to do too much or if the Framework is adding enough value to the region’s endeavours in our area. We must ensure we are the very opposite of a talking shop: we must be a source of action, activity and transformation.

We have to reach out and ensure that a much wider audience hears of our progress and finds out what they can do to partner up with us and help deliver our programme. We must create more of a ‘buzz’ now that our projects and activities are taking form.

And we have to improve the entire sector’s performance in a few key areas.

We have to get better at influencing regional strategies and helping shape our region’s future; a new Regional Economic Strategy is being developed and we have on the horizon the prospect of an Integrated Regional Strategy which should have woodlands, forestry and greenspace as a key component; the true ‘setting’ for prosperity and growth.

We must do our part to deliver against the region’s Climate Change Action Plan, particularly in the adaptation to climate change impacts where woodlands forestry has the power seriously help to improve the resilience of both our rural and urban areas.

Finally we need to strive for ever better levels of design and delivery. If we are given the incredible opportunity of programmes like Newlands we must create spaces and places that inspire and transform communities; that rival anything, anywhere in the world; that make England’s Northwest a region that attracts talent, investment and trade.

In 2008 we will be working to freshen up our Action Plan in the face of new national and regional developments but there will be no new strategies or visions or frameworks in the next few years; we have our plan, our stakeholders have agreed it and we will be sticking at it until all of our actions are delivered and all of our promises are made good.

Alongside a few other key areas of regional endeavour, such as the knowledge economy, climate change and work to achieve greater levels of community cohesion; our sector - woodlands and forestry - has pivotal role to play in delivering a more sustainable region for the future, a greener future for England’s Northwest.

Monday 17 September 2007

The future is Pennine Lancashire, the legacy is Tony Wilson’s.

This week we formally launched a new brand for Pennine Lancashire, which we developed with our good friend and collaborator Peter Saville and Livesey Wilson Associates. The brand has been commissioned by Elevate, Pennine Lancashire’s Housing Market Renewal pathfinder and will be used both as a ‘flag’ under which regeneration projects will be taken forward and as a more conventional destination brand for the area.

The launch took place at Stanley House in the hills above Blackburn and included a string of tributes to Anthony H Wilson, whose vision of a ‘Seattle-style’ revinvention of the area has already launched a host of projects and brought in new energy and new ideas. We raised a flag, too.

The new brand is made up of a new graphic device called ‘Contour’ and a type treatment for ‘Pennine Lancashire’ that will be used by a host of partners across the areas of Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Ribble Valley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale.

The project was first conceived in the 2005 report ‘Dreaming of Pennine Lancashire’ which was written by tony and his partner Yvette Livesey, both of whom played a central part in the creation of the new ‘Contour’ brand.

For us, this is the latest in a line of place branding projects that have been strongly related to our region’s stunning natural environment.

The important thing for us - and I’ve said it before on this blog - is that a place brand has to represent the truth of environmental and social connections that the individual will make when arriving or experiencing place. For locals, they need to feel pride in a brand and recognise it as a faithful representation of their area; for visitors, they need to recognise the brand when they arrive and not feel that they have been duped or lied too as that is no way to build long term brand loyalty. In short, your brand is what you’re known for and should be a faithful response to the place in question.

Our new brand for Elevate and the partners across Pennine Lancashire has primarily been designed to inspire, engage and empower the people of the area to continue their work towards an economic and social renaissance. It is as much about pride as it is tourism.

The graphic device conceived by our design team is called ‘Contour’, a panoramic fusion of multi-coloured contour lines that does more than just replay the landscape of the Pennines that represents such an important framing element for communities across Rossendale, Burnley or Blackburn... it also suggests other important dimensions of Pennine Lancashire such as weaving, canals and rooftops. The lines of Contour are not static. They form a range of shapes to become suggestive of an urban landscape, for example, or of a lowland area bounded by canals or waterways.

The ribbon-like shape of the graphic helps to inform its deployment and suggests a variety of uses from panoramic boundary signs to illuminated fascias, gatefolded print and 16:9 screenshots.

The new Pennine Lancashire brand also includes a type treatment based on Res Publica Medium, a face that was selected as a modern take on the traditional serif and that would prove bold, robust and readable when used across a very wide variety of environments. It also provides a strong and solid anchor point for the more lyrical and dextrous graphic element of the brand.

And even though we’re terribly proud of the new brand we;ve created, there was much more on offer at the launch this week. The launch also included the unveiling of plans for ‘Weave’, an iconic multi-use redevelopment of a historic mill in the Weavers’ Triangle, Burnley that is being developed by Ralph Ardill of the Brand Experience Consultancy.

There was also an update on other key projects such as Chic Sheds, Sound Investments and Pennine Lancashire Squared.

Anyway, back to the new brand! Our recommendations are that it will have three key areas of use.

The first use of the brand will be a as a ‘flag under which we rally’ and builds on the words of Livesey Wilson Associates who wrote that “the disparate elements of East Lancashire need a flag to march behind, a unifying symbol to lead them to top of the mountain known as ‘successful regeneration’.

The second use of the brand will be as a more traditional ‘destination’ brand for promotions that will attract visitors or investors to the area or that will mark out your entry into, or experience of, Pennine Lancashire. Walking or cycling guides, targeted promotion at gateways, boundary markers or themed events are all good examples of where the use of the Pennine Lancashire brand will be considered.

Here the Pennine Lancashire brand has been designed to consciously connect to a ‘drivetime’ audience that is aspirational, creative and upmarket; the ‘creative class’ set out in the original Livesey Wilson report in 2005. It speaks to professionals in Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Leeds and has the potential to unlock a day visitor market that could in time translate into new residents, new business start-ups and new investments in the area.

The third and final use will be as an endorsement or ‘kite mark’ for other projects denoting their shared lineage and set of aspirations.

We’re proud to have worked on it and proud to have worked with Anthony H Wilson.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

The world's first living advert

Creative Concern (celebrating five years in business this year by the way) has launched a new concept that is set to change the face of billboard advertising, with an installation in Merseyside that replaces carbon-intensive materials with a living hedge of native willow trees. 

Here’s our press release about it: The Green Billboard is a sustainable advertising medium made entirely from willow trees with a range of environmental benefits conventional hoardings cannot offer – reduction of noise pollution, increase in tree coverage and a natural screen for unsightly developments.

And socially and economically a green billboard can also represent a long-term investment in the landscape with its fresh and unusual organic materials that make for a visual high point for local communities.

The first installation of the willow billboard is already in place and can be seen from the M53, situated on a new woodland development in Merseyside at Bidston Moss and follows months of meticulous planning by the ethical agency in partnership with Cheviot Trees and fellow design agency, Modern Designers.

Questioning the corporate responsibilities of the advertising industry to become more sustainable in their practices, Steve Connor, managing director of Creative Concern said:

“Our urban environments, which are predominately those areas where we see the biggest collections of hoarding are set to suffer a ‘heat island effect’ due to climate change. The green billboard goes some way to respond to this challenge as well as addresses the problems of air and traffic pollution by utilising trees as a natural filter.

“Finally green hoardings help bring a little bit of nature into the urban realm and offer an antidote to the modern architectural venacular of concrete and steel upon which any kind of advertising or art installation can be mounted.”

The natural medium offers the creative community a new challenge, too, according to Modern Designers' Mat Bend:

"For the Bidston Moss design, which celebrates the greening of the Northwest, we've created a billboard that literally allows the leaves of the trees to grow through it, fusing a dramatic and powerful message with the very same medium that is carrying it; green billboards have great potential for innovative design responses, particularly as part of regeneration schemes like this one."

Measuring 30m by 2.5m the only sustainable outdoor advertisement in this world was delivered on behalf of the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) and the Forestry Commission (FC), and displays the partnership’s message ‘ One Tree Is Planted Every Ten Seconds In This Region’. The billboard has been established on a new community woodland area at Bidston Moss on the Wirral Peninsula, one of a number of derelict or under-used sites being reclaimed as part of the Northwest's £70 million Newlands programme.

By utilising hand-cut letters fixed onto the hoarding, the organic nature of the NWDA and FC’s advertisement will be able to evolve, allowing the branches of the growing willow to show through, becoming an integral part of the green billboard.

And unlike traditional outdoor advertising mediums, including digital and mobile street furniture, the green billboard offers a fresh and innovative communication channel that demonstrates real social and environmental commitment to their customers.

More photographs? Click here.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Branding places, loving spaces

Creative Concern is busy working with Peter Saville on a new brand for Pennine Lancashire. The process has involved discussion ‘place brands’ afresh with a whole host of local stakeholders, agencies and politicians. The launch of the brand is on 17 September and we hope it will be a fitting tribute to Anthony Wilson, a good friend whose vision we are working to in this project.

For us, branding spaces and places is a creative activity that stands well apart from the creation of logotypes and graphic banners for consumer goods, service companies or fashion labels. The first and most obvious distinction is that the brand has to be true to the experience of the place itself, both for the indigenous population and for the visitor.

As Peter Saville says: “Your brand is what you’re known for.”

A place brand has to represent the truth of environmental and social connections that the
individual will make when there. Put most simply, your brand is ‘what you are known for’ and to
overlay that knowledge with anything other than a faithful creative response is misguided and ultimately flawed. If you promise sylvan wonderlands, polished palaces of alabaster or streets paved with gold then the reality had better meet that promise, or visitors and residents alike will lose faith in the brand immediately.

Another vital distinction is that its brand is not simply a slogan or a strapline with a colourful badge attached to it, designed to attract and secure a notional horde of peripatetic tourists or international investors who may, or may not exist. Too often when towns or cities create a new logo or strapline it is more of a civic cry for help than a call for the partners to rally around a shared vision of the future.

This latter mission, a rallying call, is the intention of the Pennine Lancashire brand. It is much better to describe this brand for Pennine Lancashire as a banner under which partnerships come together to achieve great things.

And if that banner attracts visitors, too, then all  the better.

Tuesday 21 August 2007


We’ve had the good fortune to work on a number of place brands recently, including brands for Wirral, Sefton, Manchester, Salford and now, Pennine Lancashire. One piece of pure, raw inspiration for this work is the Chinese-American geographer Yi-Fu Tuan whose thoughts on ‘psychogeograpy’ and what he calls ‘topophilia’ are really powerful.

Our work with Peter Saville on the brand for Pennine Lancashire has developed a wide range of visual themes exploring landscape, connectivity and diversity. As a starting point for their deliberation, the design team here at Creative Concern were embracing this concept of ‘topophilia’, a phrase coined by the Yi-Fu Tuan in his 1973 book of the same name.

Literally meaning ‘Love of Place’, topophilia moves beyond what has become known as ‘sense of place’ branding or ‘placemaking’ and reaffirms the need for place branding to be more about emotional connection, knowledge and belonging. As an approach it helps to strengthen ownership of a brand and as a result leads to a more robust and longer-lasting brand that draws people and organisations toward it; it helps creatives to develop a brand that acts as a rallying point or focus of shared attention.

Here are some words from his book of the same name:

“The word ‘topophilia’ is a neologism, useful in that it can be defined broadly to include all of the human being’s affective ties with the material environment. These differ greatly in intensity, subtlety and mode of expression. The response to environment may be primarily aesthetic: it may then vary from the fleeting pleasure one gets from a view to the equally fleeting but far more intense sense of beauty that is suddenly revealed. The response may be tactile, a delight in the feel of air, water, earth. More permanent and less easy to express are feelings that one has toward a place because it is home, the locus of memories, and the means of gaining a livelihood.” Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia

Friday 4 May 2007

The banal destroyer

Jeffrey Sach’s recent Reith Lectures series kicked off with a timely reference to the concept of the Anthropocene as created by Paul Crutzen. The concept is pretty simple if sobering - that we are now in a period of Earth’s history where humankind’s activities are having a permanent and marked impact on the biosphere.

Sach’s second lecture, Survival in the Anthropocene, is totally worth a listen.

The Crutzen reference got me thinking about the phrase that Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita as they tested the first atomic weapon at Los Alamos in the States. “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” he pondered as the mushroom cloud ascended.

The Oppenheimer moment triggered off a further thought.

As a generation x-er I grew up with a mortal fear of Oppenheimer’s creation and considered Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) to be a world-crushing threat that hung over us each and every day. A couple of decades on and the CND badge (perhaps sadly) is no longer on my lapel but I work now on behavioural change campaigns to help save our small blue planet, developing strategies for jamming the moments of dissonance where we commit those small, incremental acts of ecocide, such as leaving the lights on or trashing the paper rather than recycling it.

And it got me to a final conclusion that one of the great tragedies about the Anthropocene and our unsustainable slide towards environmental collapse is how banal our planetary destruction is. There is none of the bleak and chilling heroism of an actor-president and a vodka soaked comrade with their fingers poised over nuclear arsenals that have the megaton-power to pulverise the planet thirteen times over. A big bang, and no tomorrow.

Instead our collapse could be a traced along a trail of SUV brochures and disposable nappies and pissed-up cheap flights to Marbella; of new TVs and second cars and lazy school runs; of badly designed plywood palaces and of pointless trolley-dashes around out-of-town mega-malls just to fill the aching chasm within.

What a way to go out. At least nuclear oblivion had a certain level of grim panache, whereas environmental collapse, when you think about it, is just embarrassing and sloppy.

So here’s our new reason to save the planet: humankind deserves a much better epitaph.

Thursday 29 March 2007

Think global, talk local

Communicating sustainable development. The phrase itself makes it sound like you’re speaking Klingon. You can place it alongside ‘capacity building for community empowerment’ or ‘centres of excellence for best practice’ in the hideous jargon jamjar of obfuscation. 

In short, the words don’t help.

The other challenge for those of us dealing with communications and sustainability is the fact that so many people can feel paralysed by the sheer scale of the issues and problems we’re seeking to tackle. Global warming? Quick, hide beneath the duvet! Species extinction? Heads in the sand, comrades! Deprivation and global poverty? Pass me the remote, it’s time for Dancing on Ice. This is territory that our colleagues at Futerra have explored really well in their ‘Rules of the Game’ for communicating climate change. Creating fear without agency is not a smart move.

If you’re planning a major campaign on something like climate change then one winning strategy for success is to root your creative work in something that the audience can strongly relate to: their own lives and the place where they live. You need to think global but talk local.

We did this when we created the Manchester is my Planet campaign towards the end of 2005 for our clients at Manchester: Knowledge Capital. The phrase itself was conceived to fuse civic pride and a very Mancunian cockiness with the global challenge of climate change. As well as the campaign title, there was a slogan of ‘Save your planet, start with Manchester’ that worked really well. We even drilled further down with the campaign and created more local variants; ‘Trafford is my Planet’ is a campaign by one of the Greater Manchester authorities that is running to this day. We used local celebrities and more than 100 large organisations across the city (transmitters, in the comms jargon) to help reach out to our target population of three million, using local, trusted networks to give our global message added relevance and connectedness. It worked as a strategy, and so far 17,000 people have taken a pledge on climate change across the Manchester city region. I’m particularly chuffed that elements of the campaign strategy have been employed elsewhere in the UK, including for cities like Sheffield and Nottingham.

Another example of ‘think global, talk local’ in the Northwest of England is a campaign called ‘SMYLE’ run by Vale Royal Borough Council. I really like this campaign - which I hasten to add we had no part in professionally. SMYLE stands for ‘Supporting MY Local Environment’ and is strongly grounded in the idea that each and every one of us has the power to make a difference to our local environment, as part of our collective contribution to a better environmental future. Campaign highlights for me have to include the ‘Rubbish Heads’ street theatre (strangely terrifying, could be off Doctor Who) and a campaign video narrated by Derek Griffiths (TV presented and voice of SuperTed... holds a special place in many a thirtysomething’s heart).

SMYLE, alongside Manchester is my Planet, is a great example of a campaign that doesn’t use disconnected, global disaster imagery and unrooted, difficult to contextualise global statistics to try and appeal to someone who happens to be out shopping for spuds or who has just opened an email from a friend. Good campaigns connect to their audiences and take them on a journey; bad campaigns preach to the converted and leave the rest of us stone cold.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

This is not a logo. This is Manchester.

If a city commissions a new logo, crafts a strapline, or launches an advertising campaign then four times out of five you could see it as a cry for help; a civic flare gun being fired into murky international skies. Not so with Manchester.

We’ve been lucky enough to spend the last nine months working with Peter Saville on his brand vision for Manchester: Original Modern. It’s a project Peter has been working on for around three years now and through workshops, media relations and now a new book, we’ve been helping him and Manchester City Council bring the brand vision to life.

The full story can be found in the book we produced for Manchester’s Marketing Partnership entitled the ‘Manchester Edition’, but in short, Manchester is following a different course and its brand development project is not about a quick visit to the logo shop, it is much more about new ways of thinking and about a shared vision and shared values.

These values include creativity, sustainability and the value of communities, making this project a dream fit for Creative Concern.

This development of shared values and a shared vision is how you become your brand. For a place - rather than a product - your brand is what ‘you’re known for’ to borrow a phrase from Peter Saville. It’s probably sacrilegious to cite Ghandi in relation to brand development but here goes - in relation to civil disobedience, Ghandi said that you should ‘be the change’ you wish to bring about in the world and that’s a lesson that cities can learn as they seek to ‘project’ themselves onto the world stage.

Modern cities operate in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. To be relevant in this millennium they have to be known for something; they have to be bold and ambitious in all that they do; they need to take every neighbourhood, every citizen and every enterprise with them; they need actions that project the city into a global media environment that shifts dramatically with the single click of a mouse button; they have to be unabashed and unafraid of chasing dreams such as creating bold new projects or staging major events; and most importantly they need strong, stable leadership that pulls together a city wide partnership that’s singularly focused on working together to make things happen.

Place branding - something we’re increasingly involved in at Creative Concern - is all about the product and the interpretation of that product. It’s about subtleties, about nuances and about storylines. When people get overly obsessed by logos or straplines they’ve lost the essence of what good place branding is all about: you must become the brand you want to be.

Note: Images above are of the Original Modern light installation we created in Manchester's Great Bridgewater Street Tunnel in September 2006.

Monday 19 March 2007

Climate of confusion

When climate scientists wobble on the public stage, their misfired and misjudged statements are quickly seized upon by the flat-earthers who think that global warming can be put down to a combination of natural variation, sunspots and nu-communist gasbaggery.

And so it is with Carl Wuncsh, the MIT professor who was hoodwinked by WAGTV (the clue’s in the name) into taking part in the ‘Great Global Warming Swindle’ on Channel 4.
Plenty of blog-space has been taken up with deconstructions of Martin Durkin’s anti-green polemic, so here it is sufficient to say that Wuncsh now says he was ‘duped’ by the filmmaker into taking part. He’s not a happy camper and his full response can be read alongside a comprehensive analysis of the film on Real Climate’s website.

It doesn’t stop there. This weekend two scientists appeared on stage in Oxford to decry the ‘exaggeration’ by the media of the risks of climate change when it comes to major disasters or ‘sideswipes’ like the turning off of the Gulf Stream. Once you begin to exaggerate the science in either direction the debate gets out of control,' warned Paul Hardaker.

Fair enough, stick to the science: quite right.

The only problem is that the submission of Paul Hardaker and Chris Collier of the Royal Meteorological Society to the switched on and no doubt highly qualified crowd at the Sense About Science conference on Saturday didn’t stay in the seminar room in Oxford. Quite the opposite. It was on the world’s most visited website - BBC News - that afternoon and by yesterday was on blogs and websites all over the world, including those dedicated to undermining international efforts to fight climate change.

Granted, it didn’t hurt that Hardaker and Collier had indulged in a bit of spin themselves and coined the term ‘Hollywoodisation’ to describe the overplaying of climate fears. They clearly intended for their work to have an impact - but did they also intend for their no doubt timely warning to be misused?

So in the Edinburgh Evening News they are recorded as ‘Slamming climate fears’. On ‘’ they are arguing against the predictions of their peers. On ABC news they are warning other scientists not to overplay their hand. If you Google ‘Paul Hardaker’ right now, you’ll see just how quickly and globally word has spread of his Saturday afternoon lecture. It’s the kind of viral messaging that marketeers would give their mouse-button-finger for.

The contributions of Carl Wunsch, Chris Collier and Paul Hardaker were all well-meaning and in a saner world they would be listened to in the kind of balanced, non-partisan way that they no doubt expect from their scientific colleagues or students, but when they get in front of a camera or microphone, they’re playing a different game, and they need to work harder at not being misrepresented. Each of these stories has been read by someone on the cusp of conviction with regard to climate change, and will have helped to have put them off. I’ve already heard of one senior director in a major government agency calling for an explanation in the light of the alarming news that climate change may not be as much of a threat as we thought.

From a small soundbite or moment to camera, so can spread the idea that maybe, just maybe, climate change isn’t such a problem after all. The viewer or reader goes back to their carbon-laden lifestyle; the world moves on, a little warmer and a little less concerned; action on climate change is put off for another day.

Scientists need to know that their words will be used and abused across the world and that they may be responsible for seriously damaging public understanding, no matter how valid their single conjecture or conclusion may be. We are all gagging for a get out on global warming and having leading scientists suggest that it’s all been exaggerated, overplayed or simply made-up is telling us exactly what we want to hear.

Thursday 15 March 2007

Head soup

Communications is becoming harder to track, less predictable, and much, much more personalised. Word of mouth and personal advocacy counts for as much, in some cases, as raw spend on promotions. For issues-based and cultural organisations this is vitally important as issues-based messages have the potential to carry farther and more dramatically than products or services, provided that they are designed effectively.

Barriers to entry and competition for ‘headspace’

In Information Anxiety the author Richard Wurman noted that the average weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than a person would be likely to encounter in an entire lifetime in 17th Century England. The works of Shakespeare pale in raw information terms alongside the output of just one global news outlet; whether they represent a greater degree of intelligence is of course another matter.

So how much raw data are we taking in? According to UC Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems as long ago as 2002, the combined output of print, film and computer data created each year mounts up to around five exabytes of new information.

How much is this? If you digitised the nineteen million books and printed materials in the US Library of Congress you’d get around ten terabytes of information; five exabytes of information is equivalent in size to the information contained in half a million new libraries the size of the Library of Congress.

Per person, this stacks up to a substantial information flow. Given a world population (in 2003) of 6.3 billion, this represents almost 800 MB of recorded information per person each year.
If you wanted to store that information on paper, it would take over nine metres of books.
The volume of information impacting upon individual headspace is dizzying in its scale, but what kind of information are we absorbing and what new forms of data are we seeking out?

It’s time to turn to Google.

For the week ending 9 October, 2006, these were the top ten search terms hammered into Google via keyboards all over the world:  Amish (no doubt due to recent school shooting in the USA); Shanna Moakler (former Miss USA, starring in film with Dennis Quaid); You're beautiful (James Blunt, we thank you); Mark Foley (scandal-hounded Republican caught salaciously emailing boys); Bj's Wholesale (shop); Texas Chainsaw Massacre (gory film); Tatana Kucharova (18 year-old Czech student wins Miss World); Johnny Cash; Hips Don't Lie (by Pop Princess Shakira, featuring the majestic Wyclef Jean); Line Rider (online game).

Edifying? Hardly. It doesn’t get any better if you narrow things down to the UK. Our Google searches in February 2006, for example, were as follows:  1.  National Lottery; 2. 50 Cent; 3. Dictionary (rather highbrow!); 4. Wikipedia; 5. Holidays; 6. Paris Hilton (babe search one of three); 7. Eastenders; 8. Simpsons; 9. Paintball (why? why?); 10. Car Insurance (practical); 11. Train Times (ditto); 12. Cheap Flights; 13. Chantelle (two of three); 14. Katie Price (aka Jordan); 15. Weather.

There it is, our intellectual DNA courtesy of Google. The stuff we’re thinking. Our Head Soup. A few also-ran searches included dogs, Crazy Frog and the Pope. It’s as surreal as it is sobering. We all Google so we’re all culpable. This is not a highbrow snub. We have our work cut out.
A crucial question then for those of us with something more important to communicate than the bust size of Jordan or the nearest paintballing venue, is this: how do we cut through the 800 MB of shopping, boobs and cheap holidays to get our message through to the people that matter, the public?

Chances are it won’t just be an ad and a press release.

Wednesday 14 March 2007

Talking works

Word of mouth? In spite of huge adspend, 53% of moviegoers still rely on personal recommendations. 57% of Palm Pilot owners bought because of personal recommendation (echoed in recent Blackberry growth). 

Palm called this their ‘humble marketing’ with a mantra to ‘under promise and over deliver’. It’s a strategy many of us would do well to adopt.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in the ubiquitous ‘Tipping Point’, the essential rules are that people can ‘hardly hear you’, are skeptical, and are very, very connected. Social networks are incredibly complex - even a network of just 100 people has 4,950 possible linkages. It is still easier to talk than send an email and an increasingly interesting interaction is people combining word of mouth with web-based communications. Drive traffic via people and advocacy.

Importantly, events create buzz, so it is vital to examine this output - what do you want people to talk about post-event and how? Emotion, loyalty and advocacy - these are three key factors to successful word-of-mouth.

Creative Concern learnt this through its climate change pledge campaign for
Manchester is my Planet. This was largely a networked and viral campaign that achieved an audience penetration level of 12% in just two months and accessed a total of 350,000 people through known networks. The campaign accessed a media audience of 4 million - but the conversion rates were much poorer through conventional media than for networks. When the employees of the University of Manchester were emailed saying ‘Hey, let’s all take a pledge and do something about climate change’, there were 200 instant pledges online; when the campaign got a spot on breakfast radio, only 20 pledges were made.