THE LIFE-ENHANCING BEAUTY OF EVERYDAY DESIGN AND ADVERTISING STILL HAS GREATER EFFICACY THAN DATA.
When was the last time you were moved by all that data? On what occasion did the astonishing, terrifying gigabytes worth of information that Facebook and others have amassed about your habits, communications and preferences actually move you to make a purchase decision? It’s one of the side issues thrown up by the Cambridge Analytica Facebook revelations – and it’s one that the creative community should jump on as a sword with which to defend itself from the inexorable attack of the “math men”.
You might argue that the Trump presidential campaign proves data can move people. But, it’s not the data that inspired his “base” to rally for him: it was the “creative” messaging, however unpalatable. “Crooked Hillary”, “Build the Wall”, “Drain the Swamp” and “Make America Great Again” became virtual packaging design for Trump’s core message of fear: “they” are all out to get you and only I can stop them. Yes, advertising as packaging design.
Perhaps it is less discomforting to view it from the other side of the coin: packaging design as advertising, based on hope not fear. From Donald Trump then, to the Oxo cube. The first time you saw all the Os and the Xs on the side of the little boxes lined up together on the shelves to form the word Oxo may well have been the first time that packaging stopped you in your tracks in the supermarket. Not a life-changing moment perhaps – unless it inspired you to become a designer – but nonetheless, a momentary pause for appreciation, perhaps a smile: a small grace note in an otherwise mundane experience. Certainly, a genuine impression.
It’s extraordinary how deep those impressions can go, how much more powerful they are than data. Think of the memories jogged, reveries started by a simple glance or sighting of a piece of packaging. That can range from the obvious - extraordinary-shaped packages that force themselves into your consciousness: Toblerone, Grolsch, the Mateus rosé bottle, Illy Caffé, a Zoom ice lolly – to the more sublime: Absolut vodka, Corona beer, Heinz baked beans and Domino’s pizza.
As Domino’s proves, it doesn’t always matter what’s inside the box – that is, until you try it for the first time. The complex emotional interplay between advertising messages received and stored in our sub-conscious and the trigger release of recognition inspired by great packaging design is marketing creativity’s holy grail.
It is also the legitimate use of the subliminal, which is to be cherished in a world where the crass, the bombastic and the invasive are the norm’ where some 94% of ubiquitous online pre-roll video ads are skipped. And the measurement behind the six per cent is questionable. Perhaps there really are more subtle ways of attracting our attention that forcing us to watch a 30-second ad before we can access a 60-second piece of video, however “targeted”? By way of contrast, it is extraordinary how many people don’t actually realize the little blue and red designs on that pizza box are actual dominoes. And as for that Pizza Hut logo…
So much of “programmatic” tells you what you already know based on all those mounds of data, based on prior browsing or even actual history: when you were moving house and looked at sofas or you actually went on holiday to Oman. It’s after the event. Which is why it is so deeply annoying to have to then endure months of ads for sofas and UAE vacations.
In truth, the advertising and packaging communities have long known this. Before digital “targeting”, before media planning and programmatic and social media, when mass marketing was not a dirty concept, marketers had to use creative guile to attract consumers’ attention: to create the myth of their brand icon. Well, those of them that were not endlessly pummeling jingles into our heads that is.
No-one understood this more of course than Andy Warhol. Campbell’s Soup packaging became art in his hands, but those hands had started out working as a commercial artist in advertising and design. His entire oeuvre is about understanding the myth of the icon – be that Elvis, Marilyn, Chairman Mao or Coca-Cola.
Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, knows this too. “We would never have got into this situation” was his rather smug response to being asked about what Apple would do if it were Facebook post the CA revelations. Apple, of all brands, understands that design and packaging create desire and an iconic myth: to relish and open Apple packaging is a large part of that myth. To believe you are “thinking different” when you are buying form the world’s largest corporation is too.
And yet, most of the marketing community is currently worshipping at the altar of programmatic-based digital “targeting” that serves us up those goddamn ugly Mahabis slippers to people who will never, repeat never, want to buy them. Please make it stop. Actually, really: please make it stop. Speak up for, promote and defend creativity in advertising and packaging, not just because your careers depend upon it, but so too, the quality of our lives.
I am not sure when you will get to read this as we are in our various ways held loosely in the slack jaws of a holiday period. A time for reflection for some and a time for feasting for others, a few days or a few weeks, depending on how much chocolate, board games, and exasperated multi-device management is required.
In the throws of this I have brought a few friends to keep me company in the white spaces left after the rest has been coloured. First up is A. A. Gill, or Adrian to his friends and family, I did not actually know him, but I did smile at him as he took the stairs to the basement restaurant called Zedel. He did not smile back.
A. A. Gill died in 2016 and the world is a much poorer place for his passing. He left behind a loving and young family, a body of work, but most importantly a spirit that helped us look at the world in ‘new and rewarding ways’. My Sundays will never be the same, his writing in The Sunday Times, on life and restaurants, replaced my anticipated early joys of Nigel Starmer Smith and Rugby Special. He helped me with laughter, gossip, adventure and trivia through ‘Sundaynightis’, that dark sense of anxiety that precedes the week ahead.
Published in 2017, ‘The Best of A. A. Gill’ is my current companion, and it covers ‘all the various shades of his writing over the years-funny and excoriating and thoughtful and outrageous’. His writing is surprising, his love of family, of children at the heart of all of it. His refugee articles, one of which inspired a CNN campaign by Christiane Amanpour that helped change a drug company’s policy was his proudest composition. His farewell piece was on the NHS, to say thank you. Thank you A.A. Gill.
Colour. What a word. ‘There as so many colours in a rainbow, so many colours in the morning sun’. I am not really sure where this ditty is from but I remember it from my own childhood or my children’s childhood. The morning sun piece is spot on. I have the records of my many attempts to capture a South Indian sunrise, never even got close, at least a sub-continent away!
David Hockney. Colour. Go together like a horse and carriage. Leaving Yorkshire and London for California, to paint not surf, canvas not boards, attracted to the light like a seagull to a stray chip, that man breathes liquid colour. In Los Angeles in 1996 and 1997 Hockney created a series called ‘Flowers, Faces and Spaces’. ‘People are timid about colour’ he said. What is the opposite of timid? What ever it is, he is it... bold, ballsy, bright? What I learn from Hockney, and I expect he affects others in a similar way -his exhibitions are a riot of the ages, is that there is not enough colour in our lives, yet there is in life. Living a full life is about looking and seeing, he captures what he sees on a trapped canvas space, then puts you in front of that image, and then you see what you have been missing, colour. As I look out the window at the middle English rain on the lake, it’s a grey steel and sodden and still day. But as I look harder I see a majestic mallard, bright emerald green medallion, chest out, waddling towards me, and I see the colour.
Earlier this month I was having a glass or two with fellow Irishman Richard Corrigan. For some reason Irishmen are fellows, not sure why, but I respect the lazy literary tradition. Which reminds me, did you know a group of teenage girls in Ireland will refer to themselves as ‘lads’? Now you know. Crack on. So, Corrigan was, in his contrary manner, pointing out the challenges of the restauranter, bar owner and chef in these, as always, challenging times. Restrictions and legislation on how food can be cooked and served, and the economics of how a bad day in business creates empty lunch tables. He ranted, I listened. We hatched a plan, a perfect storm of Irishness was looming, The Cheltenham Festival, a feast of horses, mud and madness, followed by March 17th, the day of St Patrick, Ireland’s adopted Welsh son, and finally a pitch at a Grand Slam for the boys in green. Richard wrote a letter to Jeremy Hunt, the man in charge of the nations health, and simply asked him to save the Irish Coffee. We reckoned as it contains Coffee, Sugar, Dairy and Alcohol, it must now be the worlds most toxic beverage, and therefore an Endangered Species.
Best for now,