We can be heroes: Agencies and Brands in the age of Trump

Purpose is a an overused word in the field of Advertising, PR, Marketing and all other forms of corporate creative communications. It is not only overused, be it in the industry press, unimaginative briefs or conferences where overpaid trust-fund gurus and tech evangelists bandy the term around freely, it is deliberately evasive, almost cowardly. By pontificating about ‘purpose’ industry leaders can pay lip service to the fleeting ‘good causes’ that come around in cycles via your social media feeds without any long term commitment to real social and economic change. A nice write-up in Campaign or The Drum will follow shortly, your business director will see it and ask you to pull together some examples of brands doing ‘purposeful’ things for a power-point deck that your client won’t ever read.

The stakes are high at the time of writing. The free world is lead by an individual who believes that complex and multifaceted issues can be resolved through the blunt instruments of forceful rhetoric and wall-building. In order to do this he had surrounded himself with a ghoulish line-up of arch conservatives and proto-fascists, cherry-picking the most reactionary individuals from the upper ranks of military and industrial institutions as well as politicians with proven records of racism, misogyny, homophobia and climate change denial. As with Brexit and other reactionary populist movements sweeping the western world and beyond, the recent developments have lent legitimacy for a range of views that have been largely confined to the fringes for decades.

Agencies are predominantly places where the political spectrum ranges from centrist liberal to social democrat. Sure, your boss complains about the 40% tax rate that he pays and there’s that young copywriter who joined the Labour Party to vote for Corbyn and occasionally retweets articles from the Daily Mash mocking Theresa May , but essentially everyone is happy to turn up to work and make something cool that a corporation can use to sell household products and we’re all cool with immigration, women’s rights and gay marriage. It should strike us as ironic, or perhaps tragic, that most ad agencies are dominated by middle and upper-middle class white people and that women are traditionally kept out of the creative department at senior management level. It has gotten to the point where clients are telling us to be more diverse which is embarrassing because we are meant to be the cool kids and they are meant to be ‘the man.’ It is common for petitions to be passed around work email accounts and social media feeds among right-on colleagues but it is extremely rare to hear any of us consider that we might be where we are at least partly due to circumstances relating to the advantages of our birth and upbringings and that real change can only happen through decisive structural adjustments. Many agencies are trying, this has to be noted however it is not enough to mandate light-touch Diversity and Inclusion seminars which seem to be constructed to cause the least amount of discomfort possible to privileged people.

Structural change, like the brilliant initiative employed by Saatchi & Saatchi where entry level salaries have been raised to enable new starters from more disadvantaged backgrounds to feel economically stable enough to pursue a career in the industry are needed now more than ever. Another fantastic example is the recent initiative at Ogilvy & Mather whether planners are dispatched to areas around the country to immerse themselves in communities that are often radically different in terms of lived experience, perceptions and economic reality to what we know in London. Despite this, we need to be going further. We are in a position to influence culture and the broader social consensus so we need to be influencing the beliefs and behavior of our clients at the same time as working on ourselves because we make brands much more famous more than we make ourselves.

There are two levels to which we can push brands to take moral leadership in the communications that we make for them (we can’t unfortunately make them pay the level of tax that they’re meant to but that’s a debate for another day). Firstly, let’s insist that a certain percentage of our creative output actually commits to a long term project that does something worthwhile for society’s most vulnerable (wherever they may be in the world). The  client’s short term business, marketing and campaign objectives obviously have to be met and/or exceeded but real rigorous strategy and groundbreaking creative work can and will do that whilst also being able to produce something that serves a more noble purpose. An obvious example would be Grey London’s Volvo Life Paint work from 2015 which saw a multinational automotive giant tackle the issue of safety head-on. This campaign demonstrated how agencies and brands can work together to break advertising orthodoxy and carve out exemplary models of behavior for brands. We can also point to how traditionally female-targeted brand Rimmel has followed L’Oreal and CoverGirl in embracing a more inclusive attitude to gender with the help of BETC or J Walter Thompson has created the 10th Month campaign for Bayer which includes a website ran in partnership with motherhood journalists which is packed with useful articles for first time mums and their partners.

Volvo Life Paint- Grey London

Bepanthen 10th Month by J Walter Thompson London

 

The second level to pushing our clients to become moral leaders in an age of ugly political rhetoric and even uglier policy proposals that threaten to divide us even further is through leveraging pop culture in order to connect with the public. We are currently seeing a phase of heightened political activism among pop culture figures. Beyonce might be the obvious example but we should also consider how Kendrick Lamar has been able to balance commercial success and artistic integrity creating art that brings a nuanced and story-based approach to stark socio-economic realities. The younger activists who make up a huge chunk of those you might see out on the street protesting against Trump or the rise in xenophobia after Brexit often express their sentiments via popular culture motifs. Popular youth trends such as the re-emergence of the Grime scene are strongly anti-establishment without the complications of ideology and mirror the grim realities currently facing racial minorities and the working class. The recent collaboration between artists such as Skepta and Wretch 32 and Levi’s (The Levi’s Music Project) is a scheme which aims to deliver greater access to music in the famously underprivileged yet creatively dynamic area of Tottenham. The reason why this scheme is so important is that it demonstrates how brands need to be beneficial to society in order for consumers to allow them to exist and grow in the long term.

Brands, and the companies of which they are the face and intangible essence, are not the answer to society’s problems. They do however find themselves in the critical position of being the one of the things that individuals in a free society use to define themselves. As our new and disorientating reality takes hold and the social, political and economic impacts become apparent in people’s every day lives, brands will have to prove that they are worthy of the public’s attention, their tolerance and their money. If agencies cannot lead their clients to act and lead in the interest of decency, tolerance and fairness then they are not doing their jobs.

 

 

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Lil’ Dicky and embarrassing ad agencies

Advertising agencies have a responsibility to foster culture, to capitalise on memes as the basis for selling products and help brands reach their desired audiences. Passing fads, novelties and limp parodies do not provide the basis for enduring and connective advertising or branding campaigns. It should be a truth universally acknowledged that comedy rap is seldom funny and often terrible, especially when being done by a privileged white person. Nevertheless the chronically unfunny Lil’ Dicky was not only born of an Advertising agency (Goodby Silverstein), he was actually rehired from Account Management to copywriting after they saw one of his parody rap videos.

Lil’ Dicky, who differentiates himself from those other [read black] rappers who ‘rap about going to the club and popping bottles’ as being a ‘normal [read white and middle class] guy’ that [white] people can relate to, is from a wealthy background a slid into a career in advertising, first as suit then as a creative. Much like Macklemore’s Thrift Shop and your aunt’s Facebook posts about Black Friday, Lil’ Dicky’s denunciation and parodying of consumerism in Hip Hop and in a broader cultural context is both classist and racist. It’s the implied ‘look how stupid and desperate these people are to get a cheap TV’ and ‘oh aren’t these rappers so garish and tacky with their gold chains and Grey Goose bottles’, it’s Iris Worldwide’s ‘Iris on Benefitsflyers but with an added racial dimension. There’s no nuanced or considered take on why consumerism is a central lyrical and visual feature in commercial Hip Hop, just a case of using comedy to browbeat the black nouveau rich and signal the distance between those without the social capital and those with all of the capital, be it economic, social or cultural. In providing an outlet for this pernicious punch-down kind of satire Ad agencies are only demonstrating how out of touch they are with today’s world and specifically with today’s America. Today’s ‘woke‘ generation are ready to pick things apart, to rally around purpose and elevate causes to the top of the cultural agenda. They crave authenticity and are ready to tear down messaging that marginalizes and belittles people.

Brands are still working out what their relationship to culture is. The days in which they could rent-out ‘cool’ by way of celebrity appearances in 30 second TV spots are gradually subsiding due to the surprising cultural elevation television whereby agencies are under more pressure to match the standard of programming with more clever and creative ads. Brands are now holding the reigns over a lot of the western world’s cultural output due to my generation’s refusal to pay for any kind of artistic or cultural produce.It is therefore important for both culture and brands that any work produced that has any pretension to being culturally relevant or artistically valid must be original, well crafted and able to resonate with its audience. This is more succinctly put in an article by upstart agency KRPT LDN in a blog post:

This battle between art vs advertising is one that could be resolved if we lived in a more transparent world where brands have a clear mission and focus on being part of culture instead of using it.

This is why I take issue with Lil’ Dicky and his cheerleaders in US Adland and this is why I feel the need to point out the contrast between the Red Bull Music Academy approach of working in a direct, organic way with artists such as A$AP Rocky, Skepta and PC Music against, the support that sportswear brands such as Adidas, Puma and Nike have shown the grime scene or how Vans remain connected to their association with the Skate scene with some of the more blundering attempts by brands and agencies to connect with the broader culture.

Part of the problem seems to be rooted in the lack of general diversity in the agency world where the old guard still very much seem to be in control of a lot of creative initiatives. The very fact that Lil’ Dicky’s mediocre comedy raps were enough to get him hired by Goodby Silverstein creative department is telling of the tone-deafness that plagues many parts of the industry. Take for example Lucky Generals’ completely over-egged collaboration with UK Hip Hop act Rylo for Pot Noodle which forces the poor aspiring rapper to create a lukewarm banger called ‘Winner’ which amounts to how your mum imagines a rap video to be.

Another instance that caught my eye was a piece in Campaign by Paul Burke which considers the creative legacy of working-class lads David Bowie and Alan Rickman.The writer makes some valid points about the status of working class creatives in the ad industry and bemoans the trend of ‘bloking down’- i.e. sticking to coded class behaviours. The problem with the article is that the cultural aspiration that Paul Burke believes to have been lost in today’s talent is largely irrelevant to today’s cultural landscape. Distinctions between high and low culture are being rapidly eroded as the ‘digitally native’ (sorry!) generation have been able to access and interpret art from both cultural spheres with ease. Beyonce videos are now written about in Pitchfork, Selfies are discussed in The Atlantic as a legitimate art form and Grime artists regularly perform at the ICA. The article in itself presents a valid argument about class but is misses the point in seeing culture as a ladder to climb up; today’s creatives are grabbing what they like from wherever they can find it and throwing it into the mix.

The challenge for creative agencies and marketers is to understand these underlying cultural trends, to engage meaningfully with today’s creatives and most importantly to not be embarrassing.

The best and worst things that happened in advertising and popular culture this year

2015 has been many things to many people. Kanye-less, Frank Ocean sophomore-lacking, ‘disruptor brands,’ gentrification, #Blacklivesmatter, Jeremy Corbyn, The Weeknd as off-beat popstar, Pig-gate, terrorism, refugees, Kendrick Lamar, Caitlin Jenner, John Lewis Christmas ads, Ed Sheeran, Hotline Bling, Adele returns- I’ll stop before this becomes a Sgt. Pepper’s cover. If there was a sentiment to encapsulate the spirit of the year it would be that people seem to generally give a fuck about stuff and high and low culture has merged into one- just ‘culture.’ The access that the Internet allows us to all forms of culture for free which has been facilitated and broadcast by popular news and ‘content’ outlets on social media has created a general public who are both more culturally rounded and aware and simultaneously more clueless than ever thanks to the overload of information which is neither fully verifiable nor fully disprovable.  It’s BLM activists who listen to Taylor Swift, English lit students you thought were cool sharing thinkpieces about the Hunger Games gender body politics, Starbucks cups being held by anti-capitalists at anti austerity marches, Where are U now?House Every Weekend, fashionistas in Reebok Classics- it’s confusing and inconsistent, maybe even hypocritical- but it’s now.:

THE BEST

Creativity fights back

The discourse around advertising in 2014 was dominated by crap pieces in The Drum about the advent of data, ‘Big Data’ and ‘Math Men.’ It was interesting for about five minutes before becoming, like Oasis’ output since Be There Now , repetitive, uninteresting and culpable for inspiring many talentless dickheads.

2015 saw creativity become cool again. It turned out that the medium of TV in fact wasn’t dead and that you couldn’t just throw a few numbers at a Creative team and expect them to paint something pretty over them. There was a resurgence of first class creative work that didn’t look like it had been graphed, charted and infographic’d to death. Nils Leonard crashed into Adland’s collective consciousness as the Kanye of advertising with Grey London returning to the fore as a culturally switched-on, innovative and iconoclastic creative power house. Adam & Eve DDB continued to produce the kind of distinctive work that could take its place alongside actual entertainment content such as TV shows, films and music videos. Danny Brooke Taylor’s creative stewardship ensured that Lucky Generals went from the plucky youngster to an irreverent yet maturing agency really hitting its stride with excellent work produced for Pot Noodle, Paddy Power and Hostelworld whilst Caroline Pay and Nick Gill can be proud of the stunning work they have done for Audi.

With the strategic and cultural midwifery of high calibrate planners such as Saatchi & Saatchi’s Richard Huntington, Grey’s Leo Rayman and Craig Mawdsley & Bridget Angear at AMV BBDO and top level suits such as Wieden & Kennedy’s highly cultured Neil Christie, the brilliant provocateur Magnus Djaba of Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon fame, James Murphy of A&E with his stellar levels of commitment to his slippery Volkswagen client and Sarah Golding leading a resurgent CHI & Partners, we can also be thankful for the business leadership, strong analytical practice and talent fostering that drives agencies t do their best work. The ‘Math Men‘ were largely pushed to the side this year despite some loud posturing by David Jones with his new ‘Brand Tech’ group You & Mr Jones and the odd creativity vs data think piece in Campaign, and were largely drawn into the debate alongside media agencies about Ad Blocking.

Oh and it’s also won mentioning Ian Leslie’s fantastic piece about creativity and the centrality of brilliant TV ads to the marketing mix in the FT called How the Mad Men Lost the Plot.

Rap gets weird/Pop gets cool/Dance gets broader

2015 has been a fascinating year in music. The Weeeknd now plays shows where fans will be hearing Siouxsie and the Banshees samples one minute and be singing get along to an Ed Sheeran collaboration the next, Justin Bieber is now more likely to be played at a gathering of twenty something grime and house aficionados as they roll zoots and bosh MDMA than at a 12 year old’s birthday part, feminist veterans debate Taylor Swift, Young Thug has been donning tutus one minute and apparently plotting to assassinate Lil Wayne the next, Kendrick Lamar dominated critical discourse with his alt-jazz infused social commentary on To Pimp a Butterfly and Drake captured everyone’s attention by dancing like someone’s uncle in what became one of the biggest music videos of the year.

One of the most exciting things was Grime’s resurgence which saw Skepta rub shoulders with everyone from Drake and Kanye to Earl Sweatshirt, Jamie XX and ASAP Mob, Stormzy began to look like the next up for crossover success, JME’s Integrity album was a solid effort with the excellent ‘Man Don’t Care’ as Giggs- assisted lead single, Novelist kept it Avant Garde with the Mumdance produced bangers ‘Take Time’ and ‘One Sec’, Wiley was honoured at his old school in Bow with a commemorative plaque and Chip reminded us why he’s worth taking seriously with his Fire in the Booth, Believe and Achieve EP and strong responses to Tinie Tempah and Bugzy Malone.

Dance music also saw some interesting developments as PC Music continued to confuse, excite, irritate and amaze whilst entering in to partnership with Colombia Records. SOPHIE released the high octane Product EP which mixed hyper-pop and experimental in a novel way whilst Danny L Harle’s Broken Flowers received a luxury refix on the new EP of the same name. Whilst some view Dance music as one of the last remaining bastions of music snobbery there were some important figures in the scene who have been subverting  the purist status quo and challenging perceptions of taste . Hudson Mohawke’s Lantern was a roaring success in allowing the artist to reconnect with his roots whilst simultaneously exploring new territory. The explosive ‘Very First Breath’ makes whiny power-pop sound triumphant and melancholy at the same time whilst ‘Scud Books’ digs into the artist’s signature stadium-trap aesthetic but adds in a kitsch pop-friendly synth riff. Rustie, another Scottish power-trap auter managed to repurpose his Trance and Happy Hardcore influences into something very relevant with his EVENIFUDONTBELIEVE album. Jamie XX had a brilliant year seeing his long-awaited solo project In Colour which repackaged 20 years of UK club culture for the Instagram generation and scored a summer hit with the Young Thug and Popcaan assisted Good Times. Diplo continued to act as the bridge between club music’s innovative underground and the pop mainstream dabbling in everything from the seminal Bieber-assisted Where are U now? to the summer smash Lean on with Major Lazer and MØ whilst working alongside outliers such as SOPHIE and A.G. Cook. Elsewhere we saw electronic experimentalist and Kanye-collaborator Evian Christ take Trance to the ICA with his much lauded Trance War exhibition and Skrillex finally managed to gain some critical acclaim for his work with Justin Bieber and spectacular live events.

Mad Men’s swansong

Although it definitely did not satiate everyone, I found that the Mad Men ending was everything that I could have asked for. It was neither crowd-pleasingly conclusive nor ironic and cold; it was open-ended but you got some idea of where the narrative was headed once the characters ceased to exist on our screens. True to form Matt Weiner and his excellent team of writers made sure to produce something that didn’t exist in a historical vacuum. Don Draper’s closing hilltop meditation scene which may or may not have led him to go on to create the subsequently shown iconic I’d like to teach the world to sing Coca Cola ad- arguably the creative genesis of brand-based advertising- signals the beginning of the cultural shift from a more collectivist and ordered understanding of society to the dawn of individualist neo-liberalism where brands and products begin to exist as components of the individual’s unique identity and self-expression. As noted in a previous piece, Adam Curtis does a great job in identifying the hippy and New Age movements as an expression of individualism that birthed the small-government, supply side and self-sufficient economic culture promoted by Reagan and Thatcher that still predominates today in his documentary The Century of the self. Wiener’s use of a spiritual retreat as the narrative endpoint for the protagonist seems like a nod to this understanding of the late 20th and early 21st century.

 

The reason why these discourses seem so relevant has been seen across pop culture and (more downstream) society, politics, conflict and economics all year. Identity and self definition has seemingly been at the centre of everything; one can cite phenomena as diverse as Caitlin Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, Donald Trump’s jingoistic understanding of what it is to be American, the Black Lives Matter movement, the continued rise of the far-right in Europe and the Islamic State in the Levant, the conspicuous presence of selfies facilitated by ever-growing social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, changing attitudes to gender and sexuality- the list could be an essay in itself. These are a wide array of positive, negative and necessary happenings but what they all have in common is their rooting in today’s existential grey areas- the desire to craft one’s own unique identity whilst wanting to be a part of something in a world that is more connected than ever whilst paradoxically increasingly isolated. In placing Don Draper, the brilliant manipulator of human anxiety, on top of a cliff edge with a bunch of mentally conflicted and exasperated ‘modern’ individuals before cutting to that infamous Coca Cola ad, Weiner gave us an ending which emphasized the cultural vitalness of the whole Mad Men series.

Craig David and Kurupt FM

I’m usually weary of anything resembling starry-eyed nostalgia but Craig David’s return this year seemed like the righting of a cultural wrong. Like many black and asian artists in the UK Craig’s career was subjected to immature ridicule, miscategorization and ill-informed interference by record companies. When the brilliant Kurupt FM crew from the BBC Three/iPlayer cult hit People Just Do Nothing brought him into their Mistajam #Sixtyminuteslive session to perform his early noughties smash ‘Fill Me In’ over Jack U’s Where are U Now it began to seem like the stage was set for his return. Following the critical re-appraisal of R&B over the last few years and the resurgence of Garage, UK Funky, Deep House and Jungle into UK club culture, it appears that as this piece in Noisey suggests is the perfect time for the R n’ G veteran to reclaim his place in the UK’s homegrown dance music scene.

THE WORST

Adland’s diversity lack

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Despite some positive noises being made about the need for women to be better represented at all levels in the advertising industry, mostly thanks to the tireless work of top female ad people like Cindy Gallop with the 3% Conference and the WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications in London), there has been little improvement in making the Ad industry more diverse as a whole. Barely anyone is talking about the obvious domination of the industry by white middle class types both male and female- ethnicity and socioeconomic background features very little in any discussion that does take place.

It would be easy to pick out events and scrutinize happenings such as the incredibly classist ‘Benefits’ flyer that circulated at Iris Worldwide in London (above), this hilariously misjudged Robert Dyas spot or the Advertising Week panel called ‘Here are all the black people in advertising’ which was seemingly chaired by a bunch of white people (although as the link points out it’s more complicated than appears) but the real root of the problem is the lack of interest amongst the majority of the decision makers in the industry in reaching out to communities outside of their own. Our ‘creative industries’ which some might assume are very liberal and open to people of all backgrounds are in fact closed off to most people outside of the ABC1 bubble. One only has to look at the lack of outreach programmes aimed at youngsters from less privileged backgrounds, the extortionate subscription fees for industry publications and events and the way in which most agencies hide their job postings from any commonly accessible outlets. The whole things stinks of elitism and for all of the talk of attracting great young talent the system appears to be built to keep a certain types of people out. The whole ad industry is a lot poorer for it as powerful, evocative and effective campaigns that connect to a wider audience require a range of different inputs be they White, Black, Asian, Male, Female, Gay or Straight.

Guitar Music

The famously regressive online community in the UK was most upset about Kanye West performing at Glastonbury this year. How dare this uppity Black bloke be the Saturday night headliner at Glastonbury, proclaiming himself to be the ‘Greatest Living Rockstar’ without there being a guitar in sight!? Someone started a petition, Brian McFadden and Louise Thompson got involved, your smelly 15 year old cousin from Dudley posted a video of Dave Grohl performing with a broken leg along or a meme of him laughing or something, you know how these things tend to go…

The real issue and inconvenient truth here however is the simple fact that England and the world as a whole seriously lacks in any compelling guitar bands. I’m not yet ready to deem guitar music/rock n’ roll as completely redundant but it’s hard to see who else could have convincingly filled the headline slot or in fact be deemed as a ‘rockstar’ in this day and age. I mean who really is Dave Grohl? the former drummer in a seminal band whose importance hinged on the songwriting and general character of the now deceased frontman? A cuddly mascot for a bygone era of music? What about Matt Bellamy? Well even die-hard Muse fans couldn’t stomach their latest release. Do we really have to dig up another leather clad metal outfit from the eighties or some poorly aged wig-rocker? The Libertines can provide a cheery fifty minutes of throwback singalong fun but it’s hard to claim that Pete and Carl’s druggy Edwardian/Victorian lit-expired poncing-about would be an ideal show of rock n’ roll’s relevance today.Foals had some approving nods from critics and old indie heads this year but like the more interesting Everything Everything who emerged this year with the impressive Get to Heaven, they don’t quite hold enough weight for the number one slot.  You also shouldn’t listen to those ex-NME types who seem like they’ve managed to TUPE (Google it!) over to Noisey when they tell you that Sleaford Mods are worth your time.

Tyler, the Creator banned from UK

There are plenty of reasoned debates to be had about how we should receive and interpret Tyler, the Creator’s lyrics. Concerns that some of the lyrics in his earlier material might be harmful to women in the long term by normalizing and trivializing rape seem perfectly reasonable and should be discussed at length. There do however seem to be other forces at play in this case of kneejerk censorship exercised by Home Secretary Theresa May as Joe Muggs stated in his piece for The Guardian on the subject.

Whether the move to bar Tyler, the Creator was meant as a subtle nod to Middle England or a concession to our active feminist movement (which has done great work this year- see the newly formed Women’s Equality Party) is unclear but there’s a nasty racial undercurrent that we can see when we hold these judgments up to the light. Artists such as Tyler, Chris Brown and Snoop ‘Kick this evil bastard out’ Dogg/Lion have faced a much higher bar when touring across venues in countries like the UK, Australia and Canada than artists such as Ozzy Osbourne, Cannibal Corpse and even The Decemberists all of whom have participated in either lyrical of real life misogyny and abuse of women.

There is also a point to be made about the context of Tyler, the Creator’s lyrical content. The lyrics in question which mainly feature in his early releases Bastard and Goblin are often uttered by a conflicted and disturbed alter-ego and are clearly not a reflection of the artist’s own views. Whilst these incidents of censorship are often presented as being a progressive must by responsible authorities more often than not they are at best a flimsy band-aid for the problem of systematic injustice and at worst a manifestation of a more sinister agenda.

Airbnb ‘is mankind?’

Oh man this one was bad! Despite simultaneously pricking people’s conscience and making their lives easier- a very lucrative brand position to occupy in the information age- the folks at Air B n’ B apparently see themselves as the champions of human connectivity, empathy and social justice. TBWA are a great agency with a strong legacy but they certainly misfired here in an overblown and highly pretentious campaign which wasn’t helped by a smarmy poster campaign in San Francisco addressing the recent ruling that the company had to pay hotel tax. For some reason they assumed that residents of America’s most left-leaning city would want to join in with their libertarian circle-jerk. Whilst I have no way of knowing how the company’s communications fuck ups have affected sales and growth this year- I do know that the health of the brand is vital to a startup that is starting to move into maturity.

 

 

Cool Shit Round up 10.07.2015

The Ad

#WeGotYou by Hill Holiday for The Partnership for Drug Free Kids. We all know that anti-drug fear-mongering is a dead end but this is a clever campaign nonetheless!

‘It’ll feel like everyone is doing it’ and ‘I want to fit in but I don’t want to smoke.’

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drug-free-kids-emoji-hed-2015

The Art

Political Portraiture by Lola Dupre. See the full collection here.

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The Song

Regret by Everything Everything. Really enjoying the album, it’s not easy to find a relevant guitar band these days.

The Photo Collection

‘The History of Grime’ by i-D magazine

Cool Shit Round Up 03.07.2015

The Ad

1000 years of less ordinary by W+K for Finlandia

The Art

Eggs Benedict by Niki Johnson (the last pope made out of condoms)

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The Songs

H.O.M.E. by Trinidad James (yeah he’s still about) featuring ILOVEMAKONNEN

Back Then Skepta x Plastician

The Interview

Shane Smith, CEO of Vice interviewed by Johnny Hornby, founder of CHI&Partners and The&Partnership at Cannes Lions festival.

Recent music videos that Adland can learn from

It’s a well known fact that the use of music is a central component of successful advertising campaigns as Marketers continue to stress the importance of leveraging culture in order to give brands a relevant voice. BETC Paris have launched their music-focussed micro-agency BETC Pop this week, Droga5 are known for their highly successful Jay Z/Bing collaboration, Grey London harnessed the power of the then-relevant genre Dubstep by helping DJ Fresh get a UK #1 with ‘Louder’ as part of their campaign for Lucozade and BBH has its Black Sheep Music/The Most Radica-list outlet. However, sometimes it seems that agency creatives and planners as well as client-side Brand managers don’t fully consider how they can take inspiration from music videos, which essentially are tools used by artists and record labels to communicate the message of the song and character of the artist. Below are some examples of current music videos which advertising industry creatives could learn a thing or two from.
Caribou– Can’t do without you

Dan Snaith’s 2014 melancholic House/RnB/Pop ballad Can’t do without you expresses tenderness, desperation and joy simultaneously. It is, in essence, a pure love song. The music video takes a clever approach to the song’s subject matter by eschewing the expected couple narrative to that of a young boy’s brief infatuation with Chinese dragon/kite- style floating object before he falls and loses control of it. It works because the director has taken an unexpected approach without losing the message of the song. 

 

Earl Sweathsirt- Grief

Earl Sweatshirt’s sludge-core beat and dexterious yet somber lyricism is matched perfectly by Japanese director Hiro Murai who uses a thermal imaging camera in grayscale to depict the artist in the midst of a seemingly common social situation whilst feeling isolated and claustraphobic. Activities which would be considered typical of a rapper in his early 20s such as smoking, playing video games and being around attractive women are given a more sinister and unsettling edge as warm and cold surfaces reflect contrasted areas of light and darkness.

Skepta- Shutdown

Skepta has had something of a rebirth in the past 18 months and has emerged as the current figurehead of the rebooted Grime scene. His track ‘Shutdown’ references his recent high points such his MOBO Award-winning That’s Not Me, his link-up with A$AP Mob and his fashion-week appearance and confidently asserts the irreverent spirit of the scens that he leads. The video combines the common Grime tropes of the mandem on the estate with signifiers of the new chic image of the genre such as his kind of roadman normcore clothing and shots of models clad in higher-end sportswear- a nod to the trendiness that he has acquired perhaps. Like Wiley’s On a Level video it’s a bold statement of Grime’s powerful return to prominence.

U.S. Girls- Damn that Valley

I’ve only just got to know about U.S. Girls and apparently she has been around for a while. Now signed to dance/electronic label 4AD with whom she will be releasing her next album her brand of DIY Pop with traces of Indie, Punk, Ska and Americana is set to make a much bigger splash. Her video for Damn that Valley shows her referencing the song’s socio-political undertones which are slightly obscured by the stylistics of its production and subtle lyricism with imagery that includes the singer gesturing aggressively at the White House, seemingly crying out to the Washington Monument and being superimposed singing in a self-consciously retro shot across rows of American flags. The video perfectly complements the song’s DIY aesthetics and retro styling whilst reflecting the subtle overlap of the political and the personal.

That’s Not Me: The future of Grime as a brand

If you were to ask me 2-3 years ago I would have certainly told you that Grime is dead. UK Hip Hop continued plodding along in no particular direction, political rappers bent our ears with unexciting didactic tirades and ‘road rap’ was filling the gap left by the 140bpm crowd with sluggishly delivered tales of drug wars and police raids over G-Unit replica beats. The only real visibility anyone from BBK, Nasty Crew, Roll Deep, Slewdem, Ruff Squad, Newham Generals or The Movement could get was via the ‘crossover’ route where lukewarm pop and dance records got a smattering of rap tossed over the top. This exciting scene which fused Hip Hop with elements of UK electronic scenes such as Garage, Jungle, Bashment and Drum n’ Bass and channeled them through an energy and irreverence that can only be compared to punk, never cashed the mighty check that it wrote. Not every crossover record was terrible but for every ‘Rolex Sweep’ (or ‘Wearing My Rolex’) and ‘Traktor’ there was a ‘Don’t Go’ and ‘Oopsy Daisy. It seems clueless A&Rs were looking to steer artists towards the Sheeran-dominated middle-aged mums market and the over-zealous Metropolitan Police were (and still are) pushing their 696 forms that led to countless events being cancelled which helped to create a climate where creative options were severely limited for artists trying to make a living from the genre.

This steady decline has been dramatically reversed in the past 18 months with hits such as ‘German Whip’ by Meridian Dan, Skepta’s spectacular return-to-form ‘That’s Not Me’ and Wiley’s ‘On A Level’ showing artists in the process of rediscovering their creative roots and making music true unto themselves. The Gucci and Louis Vuitton is in the bin, the track suit bottoms and Nike caps are back and the Vivienne Westwood spiked loafers have been replaced with the old standard-issue creps (crepes? crepz? Idk!). We are also seeing a reversal of the international siloing of so-called ‘urban music’ with the genre being watched with curiosity by Hip Hop artists across the pond such as Kanye West, who brought out half of the scene for his Brit Awards performance of ‘All Day’ as well as at Koko, Drake who is constantly s/o-ing Wiley and Skepta on Instagram, Danny Brown who cites Dizzee and Mike Skinner as major influences and featured Scrufizzer on his studio debut, Ratking, the post-internet Art Hop practitioners who have been involved in the US Remix of ‘That’s Not Me’, Earl Sweatshirt who recently kicked-off his show with the track, A$AP Mob who’s back-bencher Bari leant a hook to Skepta’s ‘It Ain’t Safe’ and Flatbush Zombies who have also worked with Skepta recently on ‘Redeye to Paris. This period of revival continues to thrill and will hopefully see the scene continue to grow whilst learning from past mistakes. Below I have listed three points of action which I believe will allow the Grime ‘brand’ to expand commercially whilst keeping its creative edge:

1. Now that the roots of the culture have been re-established, let’s see where it can be taken next

‘On A Level’ from Wiley’s recent (and apparently last?) solo effort ‘Snakes and Ladders’ did an excellent job of communicating the frustration of artists who have been mismanaged and forced to play by other people’s rules. Wiley preaches fiscal responsibility ‘live within your means init’ and the importance of creative integrity ‘I don’t want my career to end up a joke’ over a Skepta-produced Eskimo beat that you’d be more likely to hear at a Sidewinder set back in ’07 than on a Balearic Island hotspot being played off the iPod of a Dapper Laugh’s lookalike from some dreary midlands suburb. Similarly there is an urban myth that Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’ featuring his brother and often partner-in-grime JME, was born after he revisited his old lock-up and liberated his Trition (some kind of beat-making device I dunno :/) with which he made most of his 04/05 tunes. The track which delivers a strong statement about self-knowledge and integrity as a means to empowerment is both retro in a highly necessary way and incredibly zeitgeisty. The issue of self-perception could not be more prescient for the Instagram generation where hours are spent collecting the right photos, tagging ourselves at the right places and being seen to like the right things and the concept of defining who one is an isn’t strikes right to the heart of this consensus. Both of these tracks along with Meridian Dan’s ‘German Whip’, Stormzy’s ‘Know Me From’, The Square’s ‘Lewisham McDeez‘ etc. strongly assert Grime’s unique identity.

So where do we go from here? The answer is that we don’t know yet, and that’s fine for now. You can’t have Kid A without Tutti Frutti and Rock around the clock, you can’t have Paul’s Boutique, Stankonia or The Money Store without Paid in Full . However, there needs to be a point once audiences are fully on board and Grime is firmly established as its own genre that it needs to start looking to explore and experiment with different sonic and lyrical approaches or, as Wiley would say Evolve or Be Extinct. Grime now has a wider audience, Pitchfork and Noisey readers attend raves alongside guys and gals who normally frequent low-budget club nights around the A10, road guys in sportswear and curious middle-class white kids in their late teens who still wear snapbacks. This time around the audience has come to the scene and they will be bringing their own expectations into the mix, just as grime was originally a hybrid, it may well become a catalyst for entirely new genre somewhere down the line. The different cultural influences which will inevitably penetrate the boundaries of the genre should yield some exciting results especially now that links are being established with US Hip Hop artists- more of which in the next post…

2. Cultivate the links being established with artists from the U.S. and around the world 

As noted in the intro, US Artist ranging from both mainstream circles such as Kanye and Drake and alternative mainstays such as A$AP Mob, Ratking, Flatbush Zombies and Earl Sweatshirt, are showing a strong interest in Grime acts. This can bring exciting things to the table such as the A$AP Bari feature on Skepta’s ‘It Ain’t Safe’, Cam’ron’s verse on Wiley’s ‘Lonely’ and acts such as Prince Rapid and Riko Dan featuring on Future Brown’s internationalist Trap-infused first LP alongside Tink, Shawna and Johnny May Cash. US Hip Hop is currently in a relatively free and expressive state with post-Lil B/OFWGKTA/A$AP weirdo-ism existing alongside Rick Ross’s fictional Mafiosi act, Drake’s post-Heartbreak & 808s croon-raps, Future’s Pluto-Trap, Young Thug’s compelling yelp-rap, Kanye at his Yeezusest, Azaelia Banks’s ballsy House-Hop, Childish Gambino’s pop culture high-concept schtick and Chance the Rapper’s goofy Psychedelia all existing simultaneously.

New ideas are currently being allowed in and Grime should get in line for a Green Card. Of course Grime doesn’t need to go cap-in-hand to its wealthier and more established cousin across the Atlantic but with music industry power-brokers in the UK having previously demonstrated that they have no idea how to market the genre to the public, it should be in the commercial and creative interest of Grime artists to look across the pond.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=MKt-JoShYwU
3. Keep it as DIY as possible

Following on from the previous point, Grime has previously been tragically mishandled by the British contingent of the music industry. The GZA’s line ‘who’s your A&R?/ a mountain climber who plays the electric guitar?’ from Wu Tang’s ‘Protect Ya Neck’ comes to mind when analysing the failure of execs who have had no idea how to market a Grime MC.

I have not run the numbers but I’m certain that this woeful misbranding of Grime which saw endless collaboration with Ed Sheeran as the natural equivalent of Jay Z’s work with high flying middle-browers Coldplay and stuck artists in the continuous loop of working with label-approved producers such as Naughty Boy and Labrinth, can not be making any of the artists more than a quick buck. Now I’m not someone who rallies against major labels or screams ‘sell-out’ at anyone who records a song with a melody and doesn’t want to starve but I do believe that Grime has vast untapped commercial potential in its own right. Grime raves pull huge crowds on their own but we’re now seeing an intriguing crossover culture in live music events exemplified by last night’s mammoth Deviation set hosted by Benji B which saw Skepta and Novelist share a bill with infamous electronic genre-disregarder Bok Bok, Mos Def, A$AP Rocky and Kaytranada. Events such as these demonstrate how there is a hungry market that is watching and waiting as Grime’s ascent continues which should allow the scene to become more and more commercially viable without having to pander to the tastes of mainstream audiences.

Much like Sway Calloway, I don’t have the answers- well at least not all of them! However I do love Grime and I do want people who make it to be able to keep making it. I would love for it to take the next step from trendy UK subculture to global creative and commercial powerhouse. Of course all of this is redundant if the police continue to pressurise venues to cancel Grime events.