This newsletter was first published via email on the 29th May 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae by filling the form on the right-hand side column or here.
I was just browsing around for writing inspiration and checked some of my first blog posts from 2007. I’d started a series about my favourite brands back then, it seems like a good idea to bring the idea back in an updated version. This is the first of new Sundae series about my favourite brands, starting with a guilty pleasure I’m pretty much addicted to: Doritos.
The name itself comes the charming Spanish word “doradito” which translates as “a little golden” or “golden brown”.
You’ll also be glad to find there are persistent themes in my interests given the product was originally created and sold at the Casa de Fritos in Disneyland in California. I am of course referring to the previous Sundae newsletters I wrote about theme parks and roller coasters. Apparently some day in 1964 they found themselves with surplus tortilla, decided to cut them up in triangles and fry them like the traditional Totopo Mexican chips. They added some dry powder seasoning and they became very popular.
They were quickly overwhelmed by the amount of people who wanted the addictive triangles and a couple of years later Doritos was born, the first tortilla chip brand to be launched nationwide in the United States. Now with a global 39% market share, Doritos is the largest tortilla chip brand in the world.
I’m a complete sucker for crisps (or chips, depending where you’re reading this), particularly corn crisps and these little triangles come first on my list. They crunch and taste amazing. It’s also a family thing: I have 3 siblings and whenever we meet, you can sure there’ll be a bag of them close by.
Of course you may be reading this and thinking they’re disgusting cesspools of fat and chemicals, and you may be right. Then again, put one in your mouth and you might reconsider. Maybe chemicals like flavor and conservation agents aren’t all that bad. Doritos got a lot of flack over the years for the potentially artificial nature of their ingredients. Years ago the satirical news website The Onion published a fun article about Doritos celebrating their “One Millionth Ingredient”.
From a product innovation, branding and communications perspective Doritos is consistently one of the most interesting brands out there.
They’ve been making interesting efforts for a long time, for example you might remember the legendary product placement scene in Wayne’s World includes Nacho cheese flavoured Doritos. I used to know every single line of dialogue of the whole movie when I was a teenager, if ever you were wondering what I was doing with my time back then, a few hours involved watching and re-watching Wayne’s World.
Doritos have been associated with the Super Bowl for a long time, the most watched TV event in the US and most expensive and anticipated from an advertising perspective. Recently the average cost to air a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl went from $4 million the past few years to $4.5 million.
I believe it was in 2006 they started the “Crash the Super Bowl” marketing campaign, as far as I know one of the first successful examples of crowd sourcing and getting fans involved in the creative concepts and videos advertising Doritos. It was organised as a competition, anyone could submit video adverts and the winners would be aired during the Super Bowl. Given how successful it became they reiterated the campaign several times, and Doritos ads are now among the most anticipated during the Super Bowl. They’re often weird, funny and quirky.
The first winner “Live The Flavour” aired during the Super Bowl in 2007, the first ever consumer created TV ad to appear during the popular sporting event and raked the fourth best ad according to the USA Today Ad Meter Poll. Subsequent research showed Doritos saw a 12% increase in sales in the month following the ad and close to one million people visited the website where they could see all the Doritos from other competition finalists. They were expecting about 200 competition entries for the first year and received over 1,100.
In a good example of demonstrating it’s not worth changing a winning team – a French saying: “On ne change pas une équipe qui gagne” – the following year Doritos attempted to change the successful formula to offer musicians to “Crash the Super Bowl” but that ended up nowhere near as popular as the previous year so they brought the ads back and have been doing it very ever since.
Doritos are known for a wide variety of flavours they test for different markets around the world and adapt their flavourings to better suit tastes in various parts of the world. They brilliantly leverage the product for promotion and advertising purposes as well. I believe that started with the X-13D Flavour Experiment campaign. As per their current brand tagline “For the Bold” it takes being bold to decide it would be a great idea to remove your branding and packaging to release a mystery flavour and open it as a competition for consumers to guess what the flavour is. The bag of chips was just plain black with “X-13D” in large white print on the packaging. Youtube and Facebook were just rising in popularity at the time and thousands of people posted videos of their tasting the mystery chips, which turned out to be cheeseburger flavoured.
People love Doritos and there are hundreds of thousands of videos on Youtube taste testing and reviewing all sorts from the brand, such as testing these Japanese Clam Chowder flavoured Doritos.
Doritos regularly plays around with flavours, Roulette is one of the latest from a couple of years ago and that they now bring back as a seasonal special flavour (I’ve seen it in shops in London last week). It’s a bag of Nacho Cheese chips with the added twist that one chip in every handful is a really hot chilli flavoured one. The ad here with furries for some reason.
Dorito Loco Taco is hailed as one of the most successful products in fast food history.
I haven’t tried them unfortunately, though I’m afraid I might be as disappointed as every time I try a special large chain fast food item. I never find them as exciting as the ad claims. These speciality items are the result of a partnership between Doritos and fast food chain Taco Bell. It’s basically a taco in a Dorito shell including the original branding and flavouring. One of the stories in an article I read and linked to mentions someone who drove over 900 miles to get their hands on one of those when they had just launched in a few restaurants in California to test the market. A couple of years ago they were already selling over a million of these every day, over a $1 billion worth of revenue in sales in 2014.
In 2013 Doritos updated their logo, packaging design and adopted their first global campaign line and theme to be consistent across all countries where the tortilla chips are sold: For The Bold. Before the 25 different packaging designs existed around the world. The brand believed in today’s connected world where everyone accesses pretty much the same social media platforms it didn’t make sense to try and modify the product for different countries.
They are activating the campaign with a yearlong effort to find people ready to beat 50 different world records, all involved Doritos chips in some way. Examples provided are “Tallest house of cards made with Doritos” or “Farthest distance of Dorito chip tossed into mouth”.
Of course Doritos are to be consumed with moderation. I’m feeling a little peckish after writing about all this. I think I may well have to walk down to the shop later today and get myself a little bag of Doritos.
If you read last week’s edition about classic video games, I mentioned Game Camp London. Now I’ve published my first live audience recording for my audio podcast, it was a fun conversation. It’s here if you’d like to check it out.
If any of your friends are Doritos lovers too, please forward this Sundae over to them, they might enjoy reading more about their marketing and branding efforts.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
All the best,
This newsletter was first published via email on the 22nd May 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae by filling the form on the right-hand side column or here.
I’m sitting in a hall of London’s South Bank University today attending the 8th edition of GameCamp, an unconference I hadn’t attended in years. There are people playing board games, video games around, and a few rooms away there are conferences, round tables and discussions about all sorts of gaming related topics.
James Wallis I interviewed for my podcast is one of the main organisers, and nearby Tim Burrell-Saward of Sensible Object who was also on the podcast is play testing the game that is no longer called Fabulous Beasts (they’re in the process of changing the name of the game).
A whopping 14 people joined me earlier for my first live audience recording of the Ice Cream for Everyone Podcast.
We had a great talk about a bunch of gaming related stuff, watch out for it online in a few days.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, an unconference or open space conference is a participant driven meeting or event. Apparently the term was first used for a web developers’ conference in 1998 (though I was also told the concept has existed for much longer). Many have adopted similar formats; of course this particular event I’m attending is all about gaming. I’m in the Play Hall right now, there is a library of board games available to play and several indie video game designers and developers with versions of the games they are working on to play test as well. A guy just arrived with a virtual reality headset and a small group gathered around, apparently play testing some new prototype.
A bit further down the hall a large board on the wall is split in 30 long minute segments and any participant can take a note card and pin whatever they want to talk about if there’s a free spot in one of the rooms available. It’s the main spirit of the participant driven unconference. I attended a discussion session about writing for interactive games earlier that was pretty interesting. It’s also what I did for the podcast earlier, I invited whoever wished to join a live audience recording and participate in a conversation about gaming. It was great fun.
I’m meeting some pretty interesting people including game designers and developers, writers, journalists, marketers and more. I attended another interesting session discussing what video games can learn from the world of improvisational comedy. A person who used to work for Nintendo will be running a session about marketing for games later on I’m interested in attending as well. In the meantime I stopped for a while to write this Sundae.
The Nintendo mention is a good segue, I had a draft about classic video games that I can expand on now. I think it’s actually the first game related Sundae, like the first of many to come
As I’m sure you know, video games are pretty popular these days. In fact it’s a huge industry worth billions of dollars. What was seen as a vague curiosity in the 70s is now an industry projected to be making over $91 billion as of last year according to 2015 research and they expecting revenue to surpass $107 billion in 2017 as year-on-year growth is close to 10%.
I’m trying to remember my earliest experience with a video game. It must have been an arcade game but the actual memory eludes me.
I do remember really wanting either an Amstrad computer with games, or what seemed the most advanced at the time, the Amiga computer. I remember reading all about a new game being released called North and South about the American Civil War and it seemed the most fascinating thing ever. I think it was in one of my kid magazines.
A son of friends of my parents who was a couple of years older had an Amstrad computer, and the older brother of a school friend who had a huge play area at her house had the Amiga and they’d showed me the game once, it looked like loads of fun.
On the home gaming console side I distinctly remember first discovering about the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) when visiting friends of my parents in Long Island, New York. We went to visit in 1988 for holidays. Their son was a couple years older than I was and he showed me the console and Super Mario Bros. It blew my mind. I don’t remember that much, though I imagine I had some sort of star-struck look with gaping mouth, speechless. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
The pad, the colours on the screen, the way I to press buttons on the controller to handle the Mario character and it moving to the order given by pressing the buttons on the pad – all of it felt like magic. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life. I wanted one badly. Those kinds of games are called “platformers” and they’re still one of my favourites.
I got a NES for Christmas later on, possibly that year, or the following. I begged my parents so much to get it. I studied all the games published to choose the one I really wanted. The console was expensive and the games even more so, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get many games so I had to choose wisely. Usually I only had one or two at a time in addition to a few staples like Super Mario Bros, and then exchanged them for new games once I finished playing. I was particularly interested in adventure and roleplaying type games, in addition to platform games.
I loved The Legend of Zelda. I started making friends who also had the console, or who didn’t and would come round the house to play games. I was able to borrow games from friends and vice versa.
I’d occasionally sneak to the play area of our house and turn the TV on and the sound down to play discreetly in the middle of the night.
There was a game that was really difficult where you played like an angel character or something in a Greek mythology like environment and that was I’d obsessed over before being able to buy, it was a huge purchase. In the end I didn’t enjoy the game too much and thought it was really difficult. I’ve been looking through old lists of published games but can’t find it again.
I’d written a whole much longer list of the games I loved and while editing this I deleted a bunch, realising I don’t really want to turn this into a classic games review. I also don’t have much to say about all these games albeit the fact I had hours and hours of fun and occasional frustration trying to beat the various levels.
There were arguments in the schoolyard about which was the superior system between the Nintendo and the Sega Master System. I was a staunch Nintendo defender, but a few other friends liked the Sega better. I guess you’d defend whatever it was your parents got you. One lucky friend had both.
My elder brother once came home with friends with a new game in hand they’d bought called Stealth ATF – A stealth fighter game. I was never very good with these kinds of simulation games. They hogged the console for hours, I was sitting nearby and watching them. I always enjoyed watching others play. I guess I thought it was more entertaining and interactive than TV, it’s a little more involved – though not as active and involved as actually playing the game.
Today I don’t really take time to play many video games though I still follow what’s going on in the news with the main titles releases and enjoy watching the trailers and game review videos too.
From a marketing perspective, I believe video games are an interesting industry where the product itself sells. They’re increasingly sold like big budget movie blockbusters. Nobody really buys a video game because it washed whiter than white, if that makes sense. Individual features are rarely boasted. The cinematic trailers are supposed to garner interest and entice players, then industry reviews can help convince them to purchase the game. Large communities of players can make or break a game given how they all communicate and share their likes and dislikes online.
Probably because of the huge teams and budgets involved in developing major video games (what they call AAA games), large video game publishers have been going the same direction as large Hollywood studios and focusing a lot of their efforts on sequels to popular franchises such as Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.
This first piece about video games was meant to be focusing on the classic video games of my childhood and bringing it back, it’s fascinating that these kinds of low budget games are coming back into fashion as more and more independent video games studios are created, developing games that are heaps of fun to play with the same kind of graphics the NES had in the 80s and 90s.
One of the most fun games to play test at Game Camp is BlockShips, a game developed by Dr Davient who joined the recording of my podcast and is advertised as the illegitimate child of Space Invaders and Tetris. Classic games are coming back in fashion. Check out popular titles on the Steam online gaming platform and you’ll see quite a few of these kinds of games.
Just like many creative industries, video games are being disrupted by the democratisation and availability of the technology required to design and develop them. I’m not sure what it means or where the industry is going though I’m excited to be watching what will happen next.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, talking about new technologies and the way they impact our evolution and behaviour I had an awesome conversation with Kwame Ferreira about that for my podcast. Kwame founded KwameCorp, a design, engineering and innovation collective. He spends a lot of time thinking about the way technology is changing our human behaviour and pondering how it can also be used to better society. I recommend checking it out if you want to find out more.
Please forward this to a friend or share it on your social networks if you enjoyed reading, you know I just want more people to be reading and enjoying these!
Last but not least, you know how these are like letters I’m personally addressing to you? I’m just thinking it would be nice to start handwriting and posting a few letters in the mail too. Would you like to receive one? If yes, reply with your address and I’ll add to my list. Don’t expect one tomorrow, but it’ll be a nice surprise to have in the next few weeks or months.
Till’ next week,
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 8th May 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae by filling the form on the right-hand side column or here.
Sometimes I struggle writing these essay length Sundae pieces every week. Generally once I figure out my topic it’s been getting easier the more I write. Not so much this week. I’ve been writing several drafts and everything feels kind of sluggish.
I’ve started measuring the time I take to write them. On average it takes me about four to six hours a week. I’ve been averaging four in the past few weeks; this week might be more like six or even seven.
I have no idea if the time is good or bad, I’m still not too sure who or what I should be comparing this exercise to. I think the closest similar inspiration I know could be Maria Popova’s Brainpickings email in terms of length though the content is different, possibly even more demanding of your attention as a reader than this is. Ice Cream Sundae is meant to be a fairly fun, light and easy read.
I’ve been alternating between feeling sorry for myself and picking myself back up lately; getting back on track rolling that rock up the hill like Sisyphus once more. Sometimes I hesitate how personal or negative it’s worth being in writing this newsletter. I don’t want to dwell on anything negative too much, though I think it can be worthwhile to say I don’t always feel like a million dollars. Nobody does and I believe there’s some value in taking a moment acknowledging our own humanity whatever it looks like. The mistake might be to wallow in the feeling and overdo it; I’ll do my best to avoid that.
We always want to show our best sides publicly, though of course being human and life in general carries a whole range of emotions and situations, not all positive.
Social media has done funny stuff for this, we display personas increasingly detached from our real lives and there are sometimes consequences for people on the receiving end. The term “social media depression” was coined to describe states of envy, resentment or loneliness people can feel when passively browsing the multitude of amazing photos friends or acquaintances post.
Just so we’re clear nothing that bad happened, just a few things that make everything else feel kind of tiring. I’m looking for work and it’s not happening as easily or quickly as I would have liked. More specifically after a couple of interviews for this one interesting job, I was told I’m not quite strategic enough for the role. That was upsetting given how being a strategist is my main job title. I guess Sisyphus must have had those days when he thought: “Screw this rock today; I’ll just lay down here at the bottom of the hill for a little while.”
I’ve been freelancing for over a year now and while the independence, freedom and variety of projects is incredible, sometimes the uncertainty is tough.
I’m sure it’ll all turn out fine, partly because it has before and also because I’m confident in my abilities and experience. I know I’m good at what I do (Extremely talented and experienced professionals have told me so and I believe them) though sometimes I look around and wonder if I should do more of the same as other peers; like spend more time commenting and providing opinions about the marketing and advertising industry rather than writing about banana jokes, Japanimation or roller coasters.
Uncertainty creeps in and can easily take over.
I’ve regularly been thinking about what I’m trying to achieve with this email newsletter and realise I haven’t written about it here, now seems like a good time.
Last year a few friends and acquaintances told me that I should start an email newsletter. They said from either experience or hearsay that it was the most effective form of marketing to attract new clients and stay on their radar. I’d only recently started freelancing. Attracting clients, staying on people’s radar and hopefully raising my profile in the industry seemed like an essential endeavour and it still does.
The exercise for this kind of email marketing is slightly different than for online retailers such as Amazon or Zappos, in addition to be kept in mind be having a presence in your inbox, their intention is also to encourage you to visit their website and ideally purchase products. While it’s great if you check out my website, I on the other hand don’t sell anything directly so I don’t necessarily need you to click on the links I provide.
If you’re reading this I’m assuming you know you can contact me if you’re looking for marketing and brand strategy advice. (Though please tell me if I’m mistaken).
I was already signed up to a few different email newsletters. One of the most popular formats for marketers or prominent bloggers and podcasters like Tim Ferriss or James Altucher seems to be a curated collection of the best or most interesting links of the week. Good examples include friends like Neil Perkin’s Weekly Fish Food, the Storythings newsletter, James Whatley’s Five Things on Friday and strategy nomadic couple Faris & Rosie Yakob’s Strands of Genius. I think the latter two typically have less links and a little more personal context but it depends from week to week. I enjoy them all though admit I rarely have time to look at all the links they send. I recommend checking them out though; they’re certainly worth it.
I have about 25-30 tabs open in my browser at any given time and half of those are articles or videos I mean to read or watch. I also have the One Tab plugin with who knows how many more links I mean to check out. I’ve got way more links to interesting stuff than I have time to consume them in.
I recently interviewed Cindy Gallop for my podcast and she talks about this idea of “collaborative competition” to designate businesses reproducing competitors’ work, doing the same thing everyone else is in the same industry. This leads to homogeneity and makes businesses vulnerable to innovative or disruptive newcomers. Think of the iPod showing up in a world of almost identical portable CD players and you’ll get the idea.
I wanted to do something different.
Another recurring piece of advice I read is that if you’re going to commit to doing something on a weekly basis, you had better enjoy it because it will take time.
I enjoy telling stories, may it be about my own life, or made up ones. I have a science-fiction novel vaguely on the go that I admit I haven’t been writing anything for in close to a year or so, aside perhaps a few paragraphs here and there. I wrote an ugly and illegible first draft for NaNoWriMo in 2014 and that’s about it. That said I still want to improve my writing and the most consistent advice from writers is to practice. I thought of the newsletter as an opportunity to do so.
I didn’t feel like writing more about where brands are going or what advertising trends mean because I read a lot of this stuff from other talented strategists and marketing commentators already. I also research and write about branding and marketing for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy my job and will happily help you with brand and marketing advice if you need it. It’s just that I consider writing for this newsletter to be more like leisure time – or at least a hybrid of work and leisure. As a freelancer there is little difference.
The four to six hours it takes to write usually represent five to seven more episodes of TV series I used to watch per week, rather than hours working on projects, looking for new work, meeting potential clients or taking care of admin and chasing invoice payments. Now I might only watch one or two episodes of TV series and have drastically reduced the number of shows I’m following.
I enjoy writing and telling stories so that’s the direction I took for the Ice Cream Sundae newsletter. I wasn’t sure what the length would be; I naturally tended towards this 1,500 – 2,000 words long essay kind of format.
I get great feedback from readers who enjoy it and my email open rate is three times higher than the marketing industry average, so I’m probably doing something right.
If I read something as a story, whether inspired from real events or fictional I’m more likely to remember and the memory is more likely to stick. I think these Sundae newsletters are slowly shaping up and improving. In the past few I feel like I’m getting better at weaving in interesting brand and marketing information relevant to the story I’m writing. I think it’s enriching the whole newsletter with my professional point of view little by little. By the way, if you have questions, comments or feedback it’s always a pleasure to hear from you, don’t hesitate sending a reply.
I’ve been reminding myself of my New Year motto, a sort of guideline to live my life by in 2016: “It’s not over till the fat lady sings.” As I wrote then, I find it really encouraging.
I watched Neil Gaiman’s inspiring speech to the University of the Arts class of 2012 again, about living a life as a freelancer and making good art. His advice is priceless and useful regardless of the kind of work you do. It helped me shape and complete this Sundae. If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend watching it right now. It’s only 20 minutes long.
I also listened to a bunch of motivating guilty pleasure type songs and started researching the effect of music on mood; though that’s a whole topic I’ll keep for another Sundae. One more draft in my slowly growing library of future editions.
It’s kind of fitting I published an interview with brand strategist Heidi Hackemer on my podcast this week. Heidi’s consultancy is called Wolf & Wilhelmine, after her grandmother who survived incredible hardships during World War II to give birth to Heidi’s father and look after her family. Her stories are amazing, and it was a fun conversation. I said “Wow” a lot.
I’m ready to get back up and start rolling that rock up the hill again. I think we all have some kind of rock to keep rolling up a hill, there’s just some kind of trick in beginning to enjoy the climb more than focus on reaching the destination. I guess sometimes I forget that part, and then I remember again.
Thanks for reading, don’t forget to forward it to a friend if you’ve enjoyed it!
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 1st May 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
Sometimes the date is helpful to avoid spending that much time wondering what I should be writing about. Easter was the last seasonal event I wrote about and I’m gladly going with the easy route here making this Sundae about May Day.
About help, I just found out the Mayday distress signal used mainly by aviators and mariners come from the French “m’aidez” Short for “venez m’aider” (Come and help me). A radio officer in London Croydon Airport invented the procedure in 1923. Much of the air traffic was between London and Paris at the time, so they wanted to make sure they came up with something everybody could easily understand. When used, the signal is to be repeated three times to make sure it isn’t mistaken for another similar sounding word.
May 1st is a public holiday in many countries, including the UK. When I moved to London I remember asking colleagues what the May Day Bank Holiday was celebrating and none of them knew. The consensus seemed to be that I should be happy it’s a public holiday and enjoy it without asking so many questions.
One of my all time favourite operas, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, was performed for the very first time in Vienna on May 1st 1786.
The beautiful overture is an excellent excuse to provide a musical theme while you’re reading this. I’m listening to the whole opera while writing this.
May Day is an ancient spring festival celebrated in many European countries, rooted in pagan traditions. It apparently comes from Floralia, the Roman spring festival in honour of Flora, Goddess of flowers. In Latin, it was called “Ludi Florae” The Games of Flora. You probably know by now that I like games so that got my attention. The Roman festival celebrated flowers and fertility in a pleasure and fun seeking atmosphere. The Games were organised for the people of Rome, and remaining texts from that time tell us the entertainment in 68 AD featured a tightrope-walking elephant. In case you’re wondering what that looks like, here’s a video of an elephant walking a tightrope in a Thai zoo. I’m not sure what they have to do to train the elephant or if it’s a good thing for the animal altogether.
As mentioned, flowers are an important part of the celebrations. In France, it’s traditional to buy and gift a few strands of “muguet”, lily of the valley. Legend says giving the small white bell shaped flowers goes back to the 16th century. French king Charles IX was visiting the South of France with his mother Catherine de Medici in 1560, their host Chevalier Louis de Girard de Maisonforte gave the young king the flowers from his garden for good luck. The king appreciated the gesture and decided to make it a recurring event. He would give ladies of the court lily of the valley every spring. The tradition quickly extended to the whole country and is alive and well to this day. There’s a folk song about it too.
A slightly mysterious recurring tradition of May Day celebrations is the Maypole erected in the centre of the festival.
Typically a wooden pole, sometimes decorated with greenery, flowers and ribbons tied to it. It is primarily found in Germanic countries, and people dance around the maypole during the spring festivities. We know the origins of the practice are old, dating from days of Germanic paganism of the Iron Age (Which includes Norse religions and more).
Unfortunately the exact significance of the maypole was lost on the way, even though the tradition remains. Folklorists continuously debate the meaning of the maypole. Some believe there is a relation with the Norse cosmological tree connecting the nine worlds, Yggdrasil. Others think it is a symbol of the world axis. Some ideas are also related to the pole as a phallic symbol and related to the idea of fertility associated with spring celebrations. Unsurprisingly people like Sigmund Freud supported these ideas.
As far as I know it is the rare seasonal holiday that doesn’t boast much by way of promotional marketing stuff. Some stores have sales going on but advertising symbols don’t immediately come to mind as they do for Easter or Christmas – speaking for myself in any case.
I wonder what the promotions or advertised products and services could look like for May Day.
Pizza Hut spring flower topping special? KFC Zinger spring chicken combo? How about a Durex branded maypole? That might be a step too far. To keep this on safer grounds, McDonalds could make up a May Day Menu featuring a spring onion burger.
These may or may not sound like fun. If I were to devise a marketing and brand strategy, I would start by identifying and specifying the challenge to solve or opportunity to take advantage of. Until this is clearly established there is no particular frame of reference to evaluate whether spending your marketing budget on sponsoring a series of May Day village fetes may or may not be a better idea than organising a competition for a lucky customer to win a dream summer holiday.
In a similar fashion to the kind of freedom the School of Communications Arts 2.0 students I’ve been recently mentoring have, May Day is an open brief here so I can make up whatever I want as long as it sounds plausible.
I could choose a specific brand and think about the marketing activities they could run at this time of year. As strange as it may sound, in this case it sounds like more fun to imagine for a moment I’m in charge of the brand called May Day. My next steps would be to ask many questions, such as: What are the values and attributes of this brand? What does May Day represent for people?
I was also reminded May Day is a James Bond villain’s henchwoman in A View to a Kill, the 1985 film starring Roger Moore, Christopher Walken as the villain Max Zorin who wants to destroy the Silicon Valley. Grace Jones plays May Day, Zorin’s lover and chief henchwoman, apparently ridiculous strong. While an interesting anecdote, it’s unlikely to be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of May Day as a brand. We can probably safely remove it from the equation.
As stated earlier on, May Day is about springtime. It’s about the revival of life after sleepy winter. It’s about days getting longer, the sun getting slightly warmer, bright colours, flowers and fertility. I could keep writing more concepts and in a professional setting I probably would because there is interesting meaning to consider tied to all these ideas. This is an enjoyable part of my job that brings us into the territory of semiotics, that is the study of meaning-making, sign processes and meaningful communication.
The main message of May Day as a brand could be something like: “spring in full swing.”
The mood is merry, chipper.
The function is to celebrate life.
The action involves dancing.
The effect is infectious fun.
The result is fertility, the creation of new life.
If we were designing a logo and branded materials, we’d likely choose green as a dominant colour.
This would be the start of defining the May Day brand. If we pursued this into strategic territories, we might consider the place of that event in the yearly calendar and how it differs or resembles other holidays like Christmas or Halloween. This is only one of the many aspects we could research to further develop this as a brand strategy.
While I’ve occasionally heard people tell me this kind of branding exercise is a lot of hot air (and admittedly in some cases I agree with them), when taken seriously and done well the brand strategy can and should form a strong foundation for any business. This can meaningfully inform all the business activities from product design, distribution, human resources, internal communications, marketing communications or customer service.
Possibly and ironically jarring with all this branding and marketing jargon, May 1st is also the International Worker’s Day.
It’s a celebration of working classes and labourers promoted by international labour movements, socialists, communists and anarchists. The date was chosen in 1889 by newly formed Second International in Paris.
The date was chosen to commemorate the Haymarket Affair, the aftermath of a bombing that took place during a labour demonstration on May 4th 1886 in Chicago. What started as a peaceful rally of workers striking and demanding eight-hour working days turned ugly when someone threw a dynamite bomb at the police. Seven officers and at least four civilians were killed, and many more wounded. May Day has become focal point for demonstrations by various worker’s unions, socialist, communist and anarchist groups.
When I lived in Perpignan last year, the building of the largest union in France, la CGT (General Confederation of Labour), happened to be across the small street from my room. That’s why on May 1st last year loud recording & chanting of The Internationale by a group of unionists suddenly woke me up. That was followed by several speeches reminding me of all the progress acquired by workers over the years, from eight-hour long working days to paid holidays, as well as what was left to struggle about in their view. Speeches were interspersed with partisan and revolutionary song favourites like Motivés, Bella Ciao or La Cucaracha.
This is a whole different direction you could easily go in for a May Day brand strategy, worker’s have been associating meaning to the day for over a century and some parts of the world brand idea associations with worker’s rights and struggles are perhaps stronger than ideas of spring time and fertility.
There is rarely only one best answer to developing a brand strategy. In the meantime, whether you associate today with spring or with worker’s rights, have a fantastic Sunday however you celebrate it.
If you’d like to check out more Ice Cream content, I’ve published a fun conversation with Alexis Kennedy and Cash DeCuir from FailBetter Games who design and develop a fabulous online subterranean Victorian Gothic narrative game called Fallen London. The game is available for free online and now on iPhone application as well if you want to check it out.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this newsletter and know a friend who will too, please forward it on to them.
Till’ next week!
Spring is taking its time to show up here in London, the weather has been relatively chilly, alternating cloudy drizzle and sunshine for the past few days. Fortunately I don’t mind the weather, I’m happy to be back in London.
I’m still looking for a new freelance project to work on, and keeping my eyes out for full time roles in case something interesting comes up. In the meantime I started mentoring at the School of Communications Arts 2.0, a fantastic opportunity to work on exciting creative briefs with students. In addition to writing the weekly newsletter I’m slowly working to build a library of drafts for future editions as well. The podcast takes time too: scheduling and recording interviews, editing existing episodes and publishing weekly. Throw in some time to catch up with friends, do a few interesting things around London and my week is pretty full.
Sometimes I wonder how long I’ll be able to sustain writing these weekly essays with everything else, but so far so good. I’m contemplating the idea of seasons, like for TV series. I might take a break over the summer for a few weeks. This is the 30th Sundae; 30 weeks in a row, rain or shine. I’ll give myself a pat on the back for that. There, done.
Last week’s Sundae was pretty serious (for me at least), so this week I’m revisiting another one of my informal thematic series, those of you who subscribed a while ago might remember I wrote about theme parks in a series I called “A few of my favourite things”. Cue tunes from the Sound of Music. You can think of this new one as a companion piece. Last time I wrote about theme and amusement parks in general, now I’ll dive more specifically about some of these parks most important rides: roller coasters.
In France and much of continental Europe, they’re called Russian Mountains (“Montagnes Russes”) because that’s where the idea originally comes from.
“A good roller coaster is better than sex.”
~Michael Quinn, Letters to the Editor, Oui Magazine, January 1978
Depending on sources, the first Russian Mountains seem to have been built in the 17th century. It was a winter entertainment activity, essentially giant adult sized ice slides. They would build two facing timber towers, generally around 21 to 24 metres high (70-80 feet) but the highest on record was 60 metres (200 feet)! They’d ice 60 metres long (200 feet) slope on a 50-degree incline supported by wooden beams. Riders would sit on small sleds, most often just a block of ice with a rope to hold on to. They would come to a halt thanks to sand spread at the end of the slope, and then they could climb the stairs of the opposing tower for another go.
Catherine The Great liked these so much she asked for a summer version to be designed and built at her private residence. Instead of ice and sleds, it had rudimentary wheeled carts on grooved tracks. In the early 19th century, the French took the idea of the Russian Mountains and improved on them. They developed many improvements of early roller coasters, including the first loop in 1846.
As mentioned in an earlier Sundae about childhood fears, I was really afraid of roller coasters when I was younger. Now I love them. I started researching the hormonal mechanics of fear, pleasure and thrill seeking, though I’m probably only touching the surface for now.
“My job is basically to get as close to making people poop their pants as possible, then have them step off in ecstasy and want to go again.”
I can’t remember for sure the first roller coaster I went on and enjoyed. I think it was at Parc Asterix near Paris, known for a few good thrill rides, in particular Goudurix, a steel coaster open since the beginning of the theme park in 1989. It held the European record for the greatest number of inversions until 1995: 7. It’s known among enthusiasts as a rough and uncomfortable ride. I still loved it. I loved the traditional wooden coaster they built a few years later even more, Tonnerre de Zeus. Space Mountain in Disneyland Paris was also one of my favourites for a long time. As opposed to the traditional ride in America, this one featured a launched train rather than a lift, so you start the ride going really fast, and inversions.
Different people have different reactions to fear and excitement, in particular our brains release more or less of the hormones generated by instinctive fight or flight reactions. Dopamine is probably the most important one, usually called the pleasure or reward hormone. While complex in a way I admit to barely understand, dopamine has also been a hot topic in the world of branding and marketing these past few years. I may have already mentioned Simon Sinek’s Start with Why talk and book where he talks about dopamine release, pleasure and reward.
Brands aspire to generate a positive emotional trigger among consumers going above and beyond the functional or rational purpose of the products or services they promote.
I’ve been listening to this interesting podcast episode about branding and marketing from the perspective of the Cracked comedic website team. Another great classic reference is Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. The book treats with the idea of positioning a brand with meaning in the heads of people to the level of belonging to a collective unconscious.
What are the first words that come to mind when you read Coca-Cola? How about Volvo? And Nike? A brilliant visual example is the brand tags experiment, a simple idea showing how brands exist in people’s heads. It shows both some of the ideas the brand intentionally wants associated with them, like Coca-Cola and love, or Volvo and safety, and notions people have like an idea association between Nike and child labour. The site has 1.7 million tags so far, you can go and add a few more if ever you’re bored.
Back to roller coasters and thrill seeking in general. As I said, some people get more dopamine, adrenaline and endorphins from experiencing those kids of thrills. That’s why some people like them, others less so. And then one more ingredient is essential to end with a pleasurable experience: safety.
A truly safe environment is the key to really enjoy a scary roller coaster ride or a similar thrilling experience.
It’s a fine line between the safe environment giving us the confidence boost that follows the exciting or thrilling sensation of a roller coaster ride, and the ‘real’ experience of fear. Safety is the most important aspect of roller coaster design and where they naturally spend the most time. I feel reassured and apprehensive in about equal measures getting on board a roller coaster; the restraints make me feel like I’m in safe hands to enjoy the thrill of the ride.
Even for all the safety work that goes into roller coasters these days, there are still accidents, as the tragedy crash that happened last year at Alton Towers in the UK and cost two women their legs. Just this week they admitted the crash was due to human error and health and safety features. There is risk involved, but then again there’s risk involved in living any day, every day. According to this article you are way more likely to die or be injured while fishing than riding a roller coaster. In fact, if you’re in the UK somehow they calculated that your average chance of dying of any cause today is one in 41,667. Pretty gruesome, though luckily we don’t have to think about that all the time or else we would probably stop enjoying every pleasurable vice in life.
I recently learned from a friend that her parents first met on a roller coaster ride, and while researching for this Sundae I also learned there is a belief associated with some research in neuroscience stating you are more likely to be attached or attracted to someone if you meet them for the first time in a strongly emotional situation, fearful or happy. We associate the memory with the people we shared an experience with.
I rode the oldest roller coaster still operating: The Cyclone on Coney Island, New York with my brother and my little nephew back in 2003.
It was built in the early 20th century, opening in 1927. It makes a ridiculous amount of noise, the old carts are rickety and only feature lap restraints. It was heaps of fun. I loved it! My little nephew was absolutely terrified at first and then started to enjoy the ride. As per the earlier quote, by the time it was over he wanted another go.
The last theme park I visited with friends was Universal Studios in Singapore a few years ago and it doesn’t have that much by way of roller coasters, though there are two racing ones based on a Battlestar Galactica theme that were good fun. I’d love to go back to a theme park soon. Summer is coming up, maybe a visit to Alton Towers, Port Aventura in Spain or maybe even somewhere in the US could be a fun idea. If you’re into the idea of joining me for this, please give me a shout!
I’m sure the opening quote about roller coasters being better than sex is debatable. Talking about sex, I published an interview with Cindy Gallop in my podcast this week if you’d like to check it out. She is a renowned public speaker in the branding and advertising industry and also has a business called “Make Love Not Porn” dedicated to promote and talk about sex in a different way than pornography represents it. We had a fascinating conversation, though of course I’m biased in recommending it.
If ever you have any feedback or questions for me about the newsletter or the podcast I’m always happy to hear from you and reply. Lastly, if you know a friend who likes roller coasters and might appreciate reading this, please forward it to them.
All the best, enjoy the rest of your weekend!
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 24h April 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
Early in my career, I worked as a production manager for Landmark Worldwide in Paris.
It’s an international personal and professional growth, training & development company.
I first did an adapted version of their flagship course, the Landmark Forum, for young people when I was 9 years old.
I don’t remember that much of it now. The chairs were kind of uncomfortable, and I loved the giant peanut butter cookie I had at lunchtime.
I’ve been considering writing a Sundae series about my experiences with Landmark Worldwide for a little while now.
They offer courses for individuals and businesses, the main intention being that participants create new possibilities for success, fulfilment and greatness, whatever their goals may be.
Over 2.4 million people have participated in Landmark programmes from around the world.
The Landmark Forum is a practical enquiry into what it means to be human, questioning areas we all have in common like how we listen, how we relate to our family or colleagues, or what we complain about. It offers a methodology to achieve personal and professional results beyond what looks usual and predictable.
Many celebrities, authors and famous business people have talked about the benefits they received from these courses, like Neil Patrick Harris, Chuck Pahlaniuk, Michael J Parker or Peter Diamandis (in this episode of the Tim Ferriss Show).
Their business branch is called Vanto Group and their client list boasts names like Apple, Reebok, ExxonMobil, GSK, Microsoft, NASA and JP Morgan Chase. Paul Fireman, former CEO of Reebok, said the company’s price stock jumped “from the $6 or $7 range to $25 to $30 range” after he introduced his employees to the Landmark training.
From my perspective as a marketing & brand strategist, it’s interesting that for the most part Landmark successfully relies on word of mouth marketing.
Word of mouth marketing is the most valuable, cost effective and most likely to drive sales form of marketing.
According a recent Nielsen market research study, recommendations from friends and family remain the most credible form of advertising globally. 83% of respondents across 60 countries say they trust the recommendations of friends and family.
To improve your own word of mouth marketing you need to build a foundation for it, bake it in your product or service (to steal the words from Alex Bogusky and John Winsor from their excellent book, Baked In: Creating Products and Businesses that Market Themselves).
Word of mouth marketing is only as good as the quality and trust customers place in your product, service and brand.
In the case of Landmark, I admire the fact this seems to be designed in from the ground up. When I get great results or achieve new goals in life I naturally talk about it with my friends and family.
For example, I stopped smoking while doing a course with Landmark in Singapore a couple of years ago. I told people around me that I’d stopped smoking, they’d ask me how and so I’d talk about the course and recommend it.
The tried and traditional approach to increase word of mouth marketing is simply asking customers to recommend your products and services.
Landmark is open about the fact that participants are going to be encouraged to participate in another course or invite friends to find out about the Forum.
I’ve participated in a number of Landmark courses; I always learn a lot and receive great value from them.
My mother first participated in these kinds of courses in the late 70s and 80s. If you’ve watched the TV show The Americans, you might have heard Susan Misner’ character Sandra Beeman mention going to her “EST course”. EST stood for Erhard Seminars Training and got pretty big in the United States then. Big enough to be mentioned in a TV show produced now, anyways.
It was designed and founded by Werner Erhard, recently dubbed “The Father of Self-Help” in a New York Times article. As explained in the article above, a controversial episode of the 60 Minutes TV show in the US destroyed Werner Erhard’s reputation in 1991. He stepped down and sold the company to a group of employees who rebranded it as Landmark.
All the controversial content from the show was later proven to be false. According to this other cited article, that 60 Minutes episode was so riddled with discrepancies that CBS deleted it from their public archive.
Growth, training & development companies and performance coaching has been going mainstream in the past 10-15 years.
I talk about Landmark courses and what I get out of them in any number of situations from job interviews to board level client meetings and conversations with friends.
I had lunch with a professional acquaintance just a few months ago and we talked about how interesting it is that openly talking about this kind of performance coaching, training and development used to be a little taboo, while now it’s pretty much accepted across the board.
Meanwhile, other people aren’t interested in this stuff and that’s fine, of course.
What’s less fine by me is when people, or more often the media, go as far as discrediting and slandering this type of work with little to no evidence.
I’m absolutely for objective criticism and rational discussion for everything, including Landmark or their courses.
I trust if you’ve been reading this far you’re smart enough to evaluate this story rationally.
In 2004, a prime time investigative journalism show called “Pièces à Conviction” aired an episode about Landmark. The episode was titled “Voyage au Pays des Nouveaux Gourous” (“Journey to the land of new gurus”).
I was working for Landmark in Paris at the time. We were 4 employees in the Paris office, and we had just moved to a smaller office to save money on operating expenses.
About 2-3 days before the show was programmed to air we received a call from the production company in charge. That’s when we first learned about it.
I think they were legally obliged to tell Landmark they were airing a piece, though I understand they waited the last possible minute to call. No representative from Landmark was invited to participate.
We learned a guy had been filming with an undercover camera for the past 4 to 6 months.
He’d done a few different Landmark courses and came by the office regularly too.
We all thought he was a nice guy, I’d chatted with him a few times.
To this day, I have a hard time believing he really thought there was anything particularly controversial going on in the office or in the course rooms.
A few days later we gathered to watch the show in the office. I was hoping the show would be objective, but the chances seemed fairly slim.
As soon as the Halloween style horror music kicked off, it was pretty obvious they didn’t have rational criticism in mind.
For more on this, this excellent episode of Film Riot explains how music can shape and manipulate a film scene for the audience.
Additional visual editing elements included coloured image overlays with targets. I think this was because the vast majority of hidden camera content wasn’t particularly exciting or offensive (people talking about their lives in a hotel room or in the Landmark office), so they had to ramp up the excitement factor somehow.
Suffice to say the whole show was highly critical of Landmark and its activities.
At some point in the show, I recognised myself with one of those black labels over my eyes, hiding my identity as effectively as glasses hide Superman when posing as Clark Kent.
At 24 years old, I was devastated to see myself on TV, suspected of being some kind of weird cult guru.
It is one of the saddest and most insulting experiences I’ve ever had.
If I remember correctly all I was doing was talking to the undercover camera guy about his career because he’d asked for coaching. At worst I was doing my job and promoting a course.
It wasn’t a very long scene, nor was I the main target of the show.
Still, definitely not an experience I wish on anyone.
I’ve never been the guru of anyone or anything in my life.
If you know me at all, you realise how ludicrous that idea is.
I’m certainly not saying Landmark is perfect. I really don’t think anyone or any company is perfect anyway.
All I’m saying is I can vouch for the quality of their courses from my personal experience as a participant and former employee. If ever you have any questions about it, I’m always happy to talk.
The damage from the 2004 French TV show about Landmark is done but I hope there will be more chances for balanced and objective reviews of their courses in France in the future.
Fortunately it’s not all doom and gloom. Trustworthy media outlets such as The Guardian, The New York Times, Huffington Post, Psychology Today, Forbes,The Wall Street Journal and many more have published objective articles and reviews about Landmark courses.
Thanks for reading, as always I really appreciate your time and attention. I hope you enjoyed it!
Whilst we’re on the topic of word of mouth marketing, please share this with a friend 😉
To finish on a completely different note, if you want to check out more Ice Cream stuff this week on the podcast I had a fun conversation with Tom Williams, the founder of A Door in a Wall, a London based murder mystery treasure hunt gaming events.
Till’ next week!
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 17th April 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
I first found out about The Great Football Giveaway thanks to a post in my friend Neil’s blog, I think back in 2008 if memory serves. I was immediately hooked by the simple and compelling idea: 1 ball = £10
Thanks to donations from supporters, The Great Football Giveaway organises trips to go and give footballs and netballs directly to children to play with, in poor and remote areas of rural African countries. I highly recommend watching this short video about the project; it really says it all and more. If your heart doesn’t melt watching it you might be on your way to become like Professor Coldheart, I’m afraid even the Care Bears can’t help you.
Quick parenthesis to give you the chance to read this Sundae along with music; last week my good friend James recommended checking out an event his friend John was putting on at The Social in London. He used to organise large Afro-beat parties in China under the name No Go Die a few years ago. The music was excellent for dancing and appropriate for this Sundae about Africa. Here’s a good No Go Die mix, I’m listening to it while writing this.
Back to our main topic, I loved the simplicity of it: £10 = 1 ball.
Stripping down an initiative to an extremely simple proposition, getting to the essence of a message is exactly the kind of challenges I tackle as a marketing and brand strategist. This is the kind of clarity I aspire to as a result of my work.
You know exactly what you’re getting and what is being done with the money.
Moreover, you’ll be shown. Supporters get updates about each trip as it’s taking place: photos, videos and even their personalised messages on balls. Supporters know exactly what happened the day the ball they donated £10 for was given.
Nobody says it’s going to solve the world’s toughest issues.
It’s not feeding the hungry or curing diseases.
It is however going to make the day of one or several children in rural Africa who likely only had bunched up plastic supermarket bags tied with string to use as a makeshift ball until then.
It brings play and the widest smiles on faces you’ve ever seen. The joy is infectious, whole communities, schools and sometimes even entire villages join the kids to play ball and have fun.
It’s a gift.
It’s sheer happiness.
After all, what else are we after?
And if you can afford it, that’s definitely worth £10.
I also find this kind of project fascinating because it’s a positive difference made on a micro-scale, for one or several kids somewhere in rural Africa.
Of course it doesn’t replace initiatives that I’d qualify of acting at a macro-scale; large non-profit organisations like Save the Children or UNICEF being good examples. I’m no expert on the way they operate, though I understand their goals, infrastructure and methods are anchored in a long-term and large-scale view of humanitarian and developmental assistance. We could say it’s more of the “top down” view of making a positive difference.
This doesn’t invalidate organisations and projects working on what could be called “bottom up” initiatives like The Great Football Giveaway. On the contrary, every time they have an occasion to collaborate, larger charities are delighted to get footballs for kids to play with.
TGFG also focuses on remote areas that don’t have as many visits or activities from other charities, an important point of difference. These kinds of initiatives can also be amplifiers of larger charities working with children who might be lacking in simple and playful fun.
Fast forward to 2010; Neil is looking for volunteers to go to Tanzania with him.
Fast forward a couple of years to 2010 and Neil announces on his blog that he is forming one of the first teams of volunteers to raise money for balls and then go give them directly out to kids in rural Tanzania. He was hoping to find two people adventurous enough to follow him; eight of us raised our hands from a variety of backgrounds: advertising, media, coaching, hospitality and sales. Hugh who appeared on my podcast was one, and later my brother Björn and his wife Justine also joined the team.
We raised money through our personal networks and organised a fundraising event in London. In the end we had about 2,000 footballs and netballs, almost as many hand pumps and just under two weeks to go and give them out. We were given a broad geographic area to cover and a one-page sheet with a few bullet-point guidelines about the best ways to give the balls. Things like: “Always give the ball directly to a child, not an adult unless you’re certain they are in a position to give the ball and let the children play fairly (like a school teacher). Other adults might sooner take the ball from kids and play themselves, or sell the ball for cash.”
The rest of the planning was pretty much up to us. The area was the Southeast of Tanzania, one of the country’s poorest. Most of the international attention and assistance in the country goes to the capital, Dar Es Salaam and Arushanear Mount Kilimanjaro. After a little bit of research I suggested we make the small town of Kilwa Masoko on the coast our main base, from there we’d split out to cover more ground in three separate teams in different directions.
We also took a few days to drive down to the town of Lindi, approximately 150 kilometres to the South, and give balls on the way.
The whole experience was so mind-blowing that for months I didn’t know where to start or what to write in my blog about it. It’s definitely one of the best and most exciting things I’ve done in my life. While we don’t necessarily see each other very often, nor are we necessarily close friends, I know the nine of us on this trip remember it dearly. From the first drink we shared after landing in Dar Es Salaam we kicked things off laughing and taking the piss out of each other as if we’d been friends for years. We formed bonds and memories that will last for life.
We all saw the opportunity to contribute to something exciting and fun. We were also all in some kind of important transition, like changing careers or thinking about it.
We improvised and learned on the go. We had three four-wheel drive jeeps with local drivers to also help us translate and make recommendations about the best places to go. The container of balls had been delivered to Kilwa. Every day we’d stop at the container to fill the back of the jeeps with deflated balls. The two sitting in the back would start pumping them full, ready to be given and played with. At least in my jeep, the person in front usually decided where we’d be going, often randomly, or with instructions from a previously met person.
In the jeep we’d say things like, “Hey look, a dirt path there! Let’s turn left and see where it goes” or “I think I spotted a school to the right, let’s check it out!” Whether we’d come across random groups of children, schools, or remote bush villages each day was filled with joy and surprises.
Online research had yielded little results as to other non-profit organisations we could contact in advance, as we had been told this area of the country wasn’t particularly visible or known. Still, Neil had located and contacted an orphanage South of Dar Es Salaam that we could stop and visit on the way to Kilwa. The joy and happiness of the kids playing ball was beautiful. The establishment specialised in getting orphan children off the streets of the capital to care for them and provide them with an education.
Play is vital for children but with a tight budget essential amenities are of course prioritised; footballs, netballs and hand pumps that they couldn’t afford were welcomed and loved.
We organised playful competitions with the children to “win” the balls for the orphanage. In similar circumstances we’d talk with people in charge at the orphanage or schools to quiz the children on lessons they had recently learned. Other times we’d come across a few kids playing and stop to just throw a ball at them.
We were emboldened and excited by our first day, thinking we’d figured this whole thing out. The following day we thought we didn’t planning, closed the large map Neil had set on a table and just pointed on the map to the nearest town, Kilwa Kivinje.
It was a Sunday morning.
We hadn’t paid attention to the day of the week.
It was a chilling experience.
From the moment we showed up and gave a first ball things didn’t go as hoped – it was immediately was stolen from a larger teen who ran away, we saw adults adults stealing balls and fighting over them It was either mass or market day so the centre of town was busy with people, quickly driving a raving crowd to almost assaulting the jeeps of these crazy Mzungu giving brand new footballs away.
The feeling going on was nothing like what we intended, it was aggressive, greedy, with a hint of violence in the air.
We retreated, a little shaken and confused.
We stopped on the way of the town, close by what seemed to be a makeshift football pitch. Some of us started talking about what went wrong with the drivers. Meanwhile, I think it was Darren and Hugh, took a football from a jeep, walked up to the pitch and starting kicking the ball. That attracted the attention of a couple of nearby kids. They invited them to come and play. In no time we had a several groups of kids playing and having fun with us on the pitch.
The drivers helped us organise a quiz to give away a few balls, having the children promise to play together. The magic was back.
We put more thinking into our planning after that. We organised our days around going to schools in the area as a main objective, and branching out from there if we saw random kids, or heard of other worthwhile establishments to visit.
On our way to Lindi we drove by another jeep with a Save the Children logo.
We flagged them down and learned they were a small unit providing pre and post-natal care to women in remote bush villages. We gave them a bunch of balls so they could give them in the much further away villages we wouldn’t have time to visit ourselves. I’d write messages and take photos of all the balls my friends had donated money for, so I could tell them exactly where the money went.
In the evenings, we’d regroup and talk about our experiences of the day, trying to make sense of it all – from sometimes feeling kind of useless with meagre footballs in the face of so much needed in the country like health care, education, infrastructure, clean water, and more. And the following moment, one of us would share one of the magical moments we kept having of sheer happiness of these kids playing. We also had memorable laughs and stories around the dinner table and drinking the local firewater with the actual image of a fire on the label; Konyagi.
We weren’t helping solve tough issues yet we also knew that whatever we were doing was so emotional and magical that I’m certain it was valuable.
I guess this could be what I’d like to leave you with for this newsletter. As we grow up and become adults, we might occasionally take too much of a serious approach to what’s important. We worry about our work, taxes, paperwork, healthcare, retirement, etc.
Of course these are all important but ultimately not the best indicators of happiness or even fulfilment. In your planning of everything serious and important for your life, make sure to leave room for play too.
Whatever play you enjoy: kicking a ball with friends or children, playing a game, finger painting, playing a musical instrument, or even fun behind closed doors with your partner.
Happiness is never far away from play, and that’s kind of invaluable.
Thanks for reading, as every week I really appreciate your time. If you’ve enjoyed it and know someone else who might, can you forward them the email please? Sharing it on social media also works, look to the bottom and you’ll find buttons to post it on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.
If you’re looking for something to listen to as well, this week I published a fun and fascinating conversation with Anjali Ramachandran for my podcast. Anjali is the Head of Innovation for a global media agency and also co-founded an online support network for women in technology and business, Ada’s List.
To finish, I’ve officially completed my last client project, if ever you hear of anyone looking for a brand & marketing strategist (preferably in London) please keep in touch, I’d be glad to be introduced and find out how I can help.
Till next week!
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 10th April 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
A few Sundaes ago I started a series to illustrate my top Gallup Strengths. For those who missed it, Gallup is an American research-based performance management consultancy. They’re particularly known for their opinion polls, and increasingly for their Strengthsfinder test and strengths based coaching.
Based on extensive research and in-depth interviews with over a million professionals in almost any type of field you can imagine, Gallup identified 34 Strengths themes in total. As of December 2015 over 13 million people have taken the Strengths test and found out what their top strengths are. I already wrote about my top strength, ideation.
This Sundae is about my second strength: Futuristic.
This is what it’s about, from Gallup’s short description:
“People exceptionally talented in the futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They energize others with their visions of the future.”
I just turned some music to listen to while writing. I appreciate mostly instrumental or electronic music while I’m thinking, writing and working. Music with lyrics distracts me. I first thought of classical and started Beethoven’s 6th Symphony “Pastoral” that I love. It only took me a few minutes to realise it wasn’t right for the context of sharing how this Futuristic theme occurs for me.
Tron Legacy’s original soundtrack by Daft Punk popped into mind and is working a whole lot better. You can read and listen along for additional atmosphere and context. Whatever you think of the movie itself, I think the soundtrack is pretty cool. It boasts a great balance of elative tunes and gritty tones.
If you have also found out about your strengths, I recently found out there is a series of discussion videos about each of the 34 strengths and how they occur for people. I just watched the one about Futuristic and learned that so far approximately 11% of the people who took the test have it in their top five, apparently one of the more uncommon ones to have.
Welcome to the future (We have ice cream cookies).
Well not the actual future, more like a few of the many visions I have of the many futures I constantly think about.
Have you ever read Choose Your Own Adventure books? You might have at least heard about them, they’re written from a second-person point of view and the reader assumes the role of the protagonist. As the reader, you are offered to choose the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcomes. At each page or two, you can either go to page x for action a; or to page y for action b.
Of course I loved these kinds of books. Imagine each one of these stories are like decision trees, different actions branching out from one beginning and leading to a variety of different outcomes.
At almost every moment of ever day I envision sights, smells, sounds and flavours of what a multitude of different possible futures could be.
That’s how my mind works, almost every moment of every day. Images, smells, sounds, flavours of what alternative moments to follow this one could be. The scenes I picture are extremely vivid. They bloom and disappear replaced by another faster than I can entirely appreciate them. There’s so much going on it can even get confusing. I need to make a mental effort to focus on one at a time, consciously slow down the flow.
I constantly play out entire fictitious conversations in my head before talking to people, many of them completely hypothetical. More often than not, it’s someone I’m going to talk to or should because I have something to tell him or her. I imagine all the different things I could say, the many different ways in which they could respond, what I’d reply for each of those, etc. On one hand I think it’s something you can identify with and to a certain level we all do, but I wonder if I, or people with similar strengths to mine, do it more than others.
I naturally ask friends what they have in mind for their future; we share and exchange how things might turn out, what could happen. I build and expand on what they’re telling me. I don’t really ever ask where people see themselves in however many years. To me the future is so fluid and bursting with possibility that a thousand answers to that kind of question would barely do it justice. All of these visions are exciting and inspiring.
Once I focus one particular vision of the future, I can share and inspire friends, family, colleagues and clients with what it can make possible.
Fortunately I can also focus on one inspiring vision and share it with others, bringing it to life. This shows up in the way I can take the lead and instigate plans for activities with friends and family for example. I share the excitement and inspiration I have for an event or occasion, I tell people how amazing it’s going to be.
I already wrote about how I love theme parks in a previous Sundae. The Disney connection reminds me of the film Tomorrowland. I thought it was brilliant and unfortunately didn’t get the box office success I it deserved. I don’t want to give away much, I just recommend checking it out if you haven’t seen it. I believe you’ll at least smile. I felt great about the future watching it.
That’s another funny thing about it: future is never here; it’s a conceptual imaginary projection. We create and recreate what the future might hold may it be a few minutes from now, a couple of hours, tomorrow or in a year. We’ll never actually get there. Meanwhile, I draw strength from imagining what could be and sharing it with others.
You probably won’t be that surprised I love science fiction.
I love reading science fiction. I get excited about new technologies and what they can make possible to benefit humanity. I look up to Star Trek’s universe; it’s a positive vision of the future and of humanity, where real global issues like hunger and poverty are no longer in large thanks to technology. Star Trek’s replicator technology can make anything including food; so material objects and possessions don’t have the same value as we give them today. I’m not a specialist Trekkie so I’m abbreviating its fictional history; in short the kind of technology described were precursors to shifting to a moneyless society and paving the way to explore space. The near ubiquitous touch screen devices we own these days owe much to Star Trek and other science fiction stories designers, scientists and engineers grew up with.
A several points in Dan Simmon’s beautiful Hyperion Cantos, we discover different branches of humanities in a far future, people evolved and adapted to different spatial, chemical and climatic environments rather than the other way round.
As a game master or storyteller in tabletop roleplaying games, I share my visions with players and bring these fictional and fantastic universes to life.
I get excited about reading and sharing about the possibilities of the future and visions of other worlds far from our own. It’s likely to be one of the reasons that got me interested in tabletop roleplaying games. As a player interpreting a character, I get to play out different possible and fictional futures of different personas I can imagine. As a game master or storyteller, I share my visions with a group of players and bring these fictional and fantastic universes to life by telling friends around the table how the world around them looks, feels, smells, tastes and sounds.
Gravitating towards new technologies was natural. The opportunity I had to learn and work as a designer was of particular interest because I’d be working with 3D technology. When I had the opportunity to start working as a strategic planner, I was and still am fascinated by how digital technologies impact communications and present both opportunities and challenges for brands to leverage. These days Virtual and Augmented Reality headsets like HTC Vive (I’ve experienced this demo, it’s amazing!), Oculus Rift or Microsoft’s HoloLens are one of the hottest topics discussed around technology and video games. The technologies aren’t yet going to be in every household, though possibilities they promise are impressive.
That said I don’t believe technology is an answer to anything in and by itself. In order to leverage them as part of a solution; challenges and opportunities need to be defined. As part of my work as a marketing strategist I often hear digital technology to be the answer before any question was asked. It’s one of the pitfalls of shiny and exciting new technologies.
The usage and democratisation of technology is growing at such a pace it is not just a dreamer’s fancy to quite seriously mention Star Trek or other science fiction franchises as inspiration to build a better future.
We don’t have to wait for negative impacts to make up a different kind of future.
I know there are heavily negative impacts to the way we’ve evolved and the technology we’re using. We are damaging the Earth we live in and large swathes of the global population live in dire conditions, lacking regular access to necessary water, food or healthcare – not to mention education. Meanwhile, I don’t think the kind of prevalent sensationalist and scandalous media is helping build and share visions of what a better future could be, nor is the trend for young adult Dystopian future à la Hunger Games.
We don’t have to wait for that to make up a different kind of future. It’s down to all of us, in every small or big way you can contribute. Consider what inspires about the future you and tell friends, family and colleagues around you. You might be surprised where the conversation takes you.
I had the chance of speaking with Cindy Gallop for the podcast a few days ago; it seems fitting to borrow her favourite quote to complete this Sundae:
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
~ Alan Kay, Computer Scientist
The conversation I recorded with Cindy will be out in a few weeks, in the meantime this week I published a brilliant & fun conversation I had with Luke Crane, an award winning game designer known for his roleplaying games Burning Wheel and MouseGuard. Luke is also the Head of Games for Kickstarter, the popular online crowdfunding platform.
I hope this Sundae gives you a flavour of what having Futuristic as one of my strengths means to me. If you’re looking for science fiction of fantasy novels or movie recommendations, give me a shout. Similarly if you’d like to talk about how you or your company could be leveraging digital technologies to solve business and communications challenges, I’d definitely be up for talking.
Live long and prosper.
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 3rd April 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
It’s Easter weekend, time to eat lots of chocolate!
Some bits of celebrating Easter are glorious, particularly as a kid.
I remember Kindergarten days in America, we painted hard boiled eggs in a variety of colours and other fun activities. We were told a magical bunny rabbit wandered around gardens and hid chocolate eggs for children to find. This was all great news; hunting for chocolate items was heaps of fun. Add the anticipation of plenty of chocolate to eat afterwards and Easter becomes one of the most exciting times of year.
We were told a magical bunny rabbit wandered around gardens and hid chocolate eggs for us to find.
I love how you can explain what seems extremely outlandish stuff to children and they’re candid sponges for information. I was wide-eyed at these brand new revelations.
A piece of research from a few years ago showed three year old kids tendencies to be more trusting to what they were explicitly told by an adult than what they could see. I guess audio scepticism only kicks in later. It was a small experiment, though interesting. There are two plastic cups, a red and a yellow one. An adult would then show a three year old that he hides a sticker under the red cup. The kid has to guess where the sticker is. With some children, the adult would lie and explicitly say that the sticker is under the yellow cup. With other children, the adult would place an arrow on the yellow cup without saying anything.
The kids who were told the arrow was under the yellow cup would follow the instructions and not find the sticker. The other kids mostly managed to figure out the arrow was a false lead. At that age we’re biased to believe just about anything we’re told.
I also listened to a fascinating episode of TED Radio Hour about brain science this week. One of the stories was about how we know what other people are thinking, from Rebecca Saxe. Apparently a developmental stage happens between the ages of 3 and 5 years old when we grasp the concept that others don’t necessarily think or like the same things we do. To introduce the idea, they played a portion of an interview with a small child explaining to him that pirates love cheese sandwiches; the excitement of the kid when he said he also loved cheese was infectious. The kid was proud to be like a pirate. I was grinning while listening to the story and walking around London.
At first I thought there might be a link between the Easter Bunny myth and the Native American Indian cultural hero and legendary figure Nanabozho of the Anishenaabe tribes who live(d) spread around the Great Lakes area of Northern America.
Nanabozho is a benevolent trickster figure and strongly associated with the hare or rabbit. He features in many stories, such as stealing fire for humans or giving the porcupine its pricks to protect him against bears.
It turns out the Easter bunny comes from Germany rather than Nanabozho Native American Indian legends.
I first learned about Nanabozho thanks to one of my favourite Franco-Belgian comics series as a child; Yakari. In the fourth tome, the young hero of the series Yakari is introduced to Nanabozo, a giant and sorcerous rabbit spirit. It was translated into English a couple of years ago if you’d like to check it out.
After some research it turns out the Easter bunny tradition comes from German settlers to America in Pennsylvania, apparently no link with the American Indian legends. The first written references can be found in German texts dating from the 17th century.
I still wonder if Nanabozho has any links with other trickster rabbits like Bugs Bunny; that will be a story for another time.
Both rabbits and eggs feature in Easter traditions as symbols of spring and fertility. Typically birds lay eggs and rabbits give birth to large litters in early spring. Rabbits and hares are prolific breeders. They mature sexually at a young age, they can give birth to several litters per year and females can even conceive a second litter while still pregnant with the first.
The name Easter itself is intrinsically linked to spring and fertility: it comes from the Germanic and Old English Goddess Eostre. She’s a Goddess of Dawn, bringing light and spring. In French the celebrations are called Pâques; Latin languages derived their name for Easter from the name of the Jewish Passover celebrations, from the Greek Pascha or Hebrew Pesach.
Also, I found out you can call a group of rabbits a fluffle. A fluffle of rabbits.
After I moved to France, at first Easter tradition seemed to approach as per usual. Other kids were talking about the chocolates they were equally excited about getting and devouring for Easter.
But then I raised my eyebrows at a few points. I heard classmates refer to bells.
Winged, flying Church bells to be more specific.
I inquired about this new and unforeseen piece of information.
These church bells supposedly migrate from France to Rome in the days before Easter Sunday and then flew back carrying chocolate eggs that they then dropped in gardens for us to find.
I thought these new revelations were completely ludicrous. I was pretty sceptical about them.
At six years old, I knew the truth: A bunny hopped around with a basket of chocolate eggs and hid them around the garden. The bunny had a plan and left us with a treasure map.
I’m sure you’ll agree it is vastly more sensible than these silly winged Church bells dropping their chocolates willy-nilly. I was OK to give consciousness to a rabbit but not to a Church bell.
It didn’t make sense. The clash of Easter myths was pretty confusing.
It’s interesting to see what happens when one childhood held belief is confronted to another. For a smile, check out I Used to Believe, a website where people share the stuff they used to believe in as kids.
This dude Jesus confusingly died and then apparently came back to life three days later.
I was even more confused when I learned some people believed that at Easter Jesus died on a cross, came back to life three days later and then died again – or something along those lines. Later on I learned that for Jewish people, this time coincided more or less with the anniversary of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt for Passover celebrations.
From what I’ve read, it’s usually between the ages of 5 and 7 years old that children start asking their parents about myths like Easter bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. Usually another kid at school told them these characters weren’t real.
These kinds of beliefs start cracking around the edges for children alongside the development of logical thinking.
I was still ready to believe in Santa for a while longer but Easter myths had taken a beating.
That said I still really enjoyed the treasure hunting and of course the chocolates so I didn’t ask that many questions, in case the answers might mean less sweets to enjoy later on.
So I’d go and hunt for chocolates, eat them until my belly ached and suspend my disbelief about bunnies and flying Church bells.
The myth of the flying bells comes from the fact that churches in France, Belgium and Netherlands stop ringing a few days before Easter, explained to children by saying they had gone to Rome. I guess they go to Rome because of the Vatican is, rather than where the best chocolates can be found.
I enjoyed the chocolate hunts so much that later on I’d help my parents hide the eggs and make up the clues for my little brother and sister.
Talking about treasure hunts, I recently had a brilliant conversation with Tom Williams of A Door in A Wall for my podcast, they organise murder mystery themed treasure hunting game events in London. I will be publishing that in a few weeks.
In the meantime, you can listen to my conversation with Richard Huntington, who writes in his popular advertising blog Adliterate. Richard is the Group Chief Strategy Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world, and one I used to work at while in Singapore.
I attended a great event this week about the skills gap and lack of diversity in the digital industries organised by Digital Futures. Great speakers included Marc Lewis of the School of Communication Arts, I’ve joined as a mentor and will be volunteering there soon, if you work in the industry I recommend checking them out. I also learned about Apps for Good and Supa Academy from their founders, both exciting initiatives the first for students to create applications that will make a positive difference in the world, and the second to help young people create new businesses.
Finally, if you enjoyed reading this please share it with a friend who will enjoy it too! You can simply forward them the email, or share it to your social networks.
Thank you for reading, have a fantastic Easter weekend!
Till’ next week.
This newsletter was originally published via email on the 27th March 2016. You can also sign up to receive Ice Cream Sundae with the form on the right-hand side column or here.
Do you remember what you got up to every day this past week?
You probably do, though you might also be drawing a few blanks.
I think the first reaction is like “Yeah, of course I do.”
And then a second later: “Oh wait, what did I do that day?” or “What did I have for lunch on Friday?”
“Like successive waves crashing on a rocky shore, the first level of memories are immediate.”
We perceive everything through our senses. Like successive waves crashing on a rocky shore, the first level of memories are immediate. The stuff we see, hear, touch, smell and taste every moment of every day. Our brains filter out what may be important before it even hits our conscious mind or else it is believed we’d be overwhelmed. It’s a defence and coping mechanism.
Our brains tell us what is important or not, whatever can be managed on autopilot is.
The morning routine is a good example. Most of the time we’re barely conscious, particularly if we’ve been repeating the same routine for a long time. We may not do it with our eyes closed but half our brain is elsewhere. We can think about other stuff, or in my case not so much at all until I have a coffee.
As long as I don’t have anything special or urgent going on, I’ll get up in the morning after a short snooze, get in the shower while yawning, brush my teeth, get dressed, be done. I don’t have that many clothes so that’s a conscious choice I’ve simplified (I believe many men tend to). I haven’t gone to the extend Mark Zuckerberg has dressing in the same way every day, though I guess the idea is similar.
“Short-term memory is the frothy surf at the base of the rocks.”
Back to our waves crashing on the rocks, short-term memory is a little like the frothy surf created by the waves receding at the base of the rocks. The surf lasts for a short while as one wave recedes and another arrives. This is where our brains start manufacturing memories from our perceptions and storing them. It doesn’t necessarily store them for long, just a few things for a few seconds. The name of the person we were just introduced to at a party; that a couple of minutes or an hour later we’ve probably already forgotten.
Another easy analogy to stay with an aquatic theme is the gold fish one, with a memory span of a few seconds, just long enough to circle his bowl and rediscover the view with a brand new and fresh perspective. That’s short-term memory. Guy Pearce in Memento shares similar issues with the goldfish, with the tattoos as an advantage.
There are well known tricks to improve our short-term memory. I imagine we all use them to a certain extent, though consciously practicing them can really make a difference.
Firstly repetition increases the chances of remembering something. Imagine someone just tells you a door code on the phone and you have to repeat it to yourself a couple of times before you get to it and type in the code. I think we’ve outsourced a lot of this stuff to our smart phones though it’s still a good practice on a regular basis, if only to better remember names of people at parties.
The second common trick is called chunking.
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Having had a quick glance at the numbers, which one do you think is easier to quickly remember? Depending on how phone numbers are usually written where you’re from, one version might seem easier than another. In France where I grew up, phone numbers are usually set by two digits separated by spaces. In the UK and US, I believe they are more often separated in three or four digits with hyphens.
Much about memory still baffles scientists. Every new piece of information they uncover raises more questions than it answers about how it all works.
For a long time it was believed memory was stored in one area of the brain, now they’re pretty sure it’s processed, spread out and distributed across the whole brain’s neural network.
Moreover different kinds of memories and the way they’re remembered live in different parts of the brain: information like phone numbers or addresses, emotional and sensory links like eating a meal reminding us of childhood, skills like riding a bike, etc.
Scientists also understand little about how we remember things, retrieve memories from wherever they’re stored.
“Long-term memories are basically the water waves are made of.”
In my waves analogy, as far as I can determine from the reading I’ve done to prepare for this, long-term memories are basically the water. It’s all there; the waves are made of it, though they’re also distinct.
We have everything stored, except the stuff we’ve forgotten. And that’s only until we remember it again, those water particles brought back to the surface into a new wave and crashing over the rocks.
I like this image because I think that’s how it feels when memories emerge seemingly out of nowhere.
I find it strange when I hear other people tell me of their very early age memories. If only given a short time to consider it, I’ll say I remember very little of my early childhood. I only recall a few vague images and scenes from about the age of four. Very little seems to have stuck from my time lived in the U.S. and I wonder if half of it was manufactured from photos and stories I heard from my family rather than my own recollection.
We had a half sunken basement level in the house with a room I believe was next to the garage; our play area. A couple of brief images come to mind playing with Transformers, wooden bricks and LEGO toys in there.
“I was very excited about playing the brand new digger toy at Manorhaven Beach Park.”
We’d go to the nearby Manorhaven beach park, to the playground. I was very excited about a brand new digger toy I played with. And this is the funny thing about memory. I’d completely forgotten about this digger toy until I started writing this and questioning what my earliest memories were. Retrieving memories is a practice; like working the digger controls to bring shovels of sand from the bottom back up to the surface.
As I think about it, images surface unbidden in a mysterious order: quietly playing LEGO and bricks with my friend Juan-Pablo, reading my favourite Dr Seuss books, like The Cat in the Hat, dropping a heavy wooden bench on my right big toe immediately followed by a trip to the hospital.
I’m no expert and a knowledgeable scientist may disagree; I think the concept of long-term memory was amazingly represented in Pixar’s Inside Out. Easily one of the best movies of 2015 if you ask me.
If you haven’t read it I also highly recommend Creativity, Inc. by Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace, one of the most amazing non-fiction books I’ve read.
Somehow short-term memories are transferred to long-term memories and again, scientists don’t understand everything about it. It’s certainly correlated to need, use and repetition. The more those take place, the more likely a memory will be stored for the long-term.
In Inside Out, they represented long-term memory as gigantic maze-like corridors of individual memories in coloured balls. Technicians we are completely unaware of are constantly going through the collection and deciding which are no longer needed, apparently based on the last time the memory was recalled by central emotions and consciousness – or in the case of the TripleDent Gum advert, memory technicians just having a laugh.
“Working in advertising and marketing, I have a few TripleDent Gum in mind on a regular basis.”
Working in advertising and marketing, I have a few TripleDent Gum type adverts that pop back to mind on a regular basis.
One set are weird and quirky French ads for a brand of mints: Kiss Cool. These were really famous when I was a teen. We quoted them constantly – or least my friends and I did. We weren’t the only ones. They’re not subtitled but if you have a look at the early 3D animated graphics you’ll notice how wonderfully weird they are.
Of course watching the ads, now I’m remembering the friends I used to quote these ads with and a bunch of images and events that were stored away somewhere.
A more recent one I’ve appreciated and often comes back to mind unbidden is The Chef, a lovely South African advert for Amstel lager. I just watched it again; it gives me shivers every time. It’s probably personal, at least to a certain extent. Both my brothers are chefs. I enjoy the music track and I like how the story is shot. I don’t think it’s a particularly original ad. It’s well done though, and it works for me. It’s inspiring.
While I’m writing about advertising; this as good a segue as any to plug my brother and his business partners’ new restaurant opening in London at the end of March:KOJAWAN – 21st Century Izakaya. It has amazing panorama views of London. Futuristic designs are inspired by Blade Runner, Japanimation, Gattaca, 2001: A Space Odyssey and more. You can learn more about it in these recent articles and by listening to the podcast episode I recorded with Björn and Omar.
Now where was I going with this again? I forgot my train of thought.
It’s known that memory degrades with age. Some parts of the brain fulfilling important functions related to memory lose nerve cells over time. Also I’m no moralist but it’s worth knowing that heavy drug and/or alcohol use isn’t great for your brain on the long run. I’d wager too much reality TV doesn’t help either. To be more specific and perhaps less snobby, it’s really just too much of any one thing repeated over and over and over that doesn’t help.
Repeating something helps us retain it and transfer it to long-term memory and it’s very useful. Repeating it constantly narrows our focus until the thing in question is rendered near meaningless, like a word you repeat to yourself until it makes no sense. Our brains all but shrivel in the face of increasing routine and sameness.
We need a variety of stimuli to keep our memories active; according to this Time article and a few others I’ve read, scientists say the main two ingredients for this are pretty straightforward:
- Regular physical exercise, supporting a healthy blood flow to the brain.
- New stimuli: novelty, conversations with other people, talking about new ideas, learning new things, doing things we’ve never done before, stepping out of our comfort zone.
Who knew reading this newsletter with a different topic every week helps your brain keep healthy and active. If you’ve enjoyed reading you can thank me by forwarding to two other friends whom you think will benefit from some Sundae novelty! As some of you know I’m interested in play, games and game design. In a game format to practice all this, I recommend checking out Jane McGonigal’s Super Better book and application. I’m also referring to information gleaned from a few posts on Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings.
Finally, how about learning a few more things in audio format this week?
I talked with Rachel Thompson for my podcast. Rachel is a strategist at a creative marketing agency called The Barbarian Group in New York. She studied Live Action Roleplaying Games (LARPs) in the UK as part of her cultural anthropology masters. It was a fun and fascinating conversation, I think you’ll enjoy it. The full list of episodes is also on iTunes if you’d like to check it out there.
Thanks for reading, see you next week!