Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.

Susan B Anthony, US civil rights and women’s suffrage leader (1820-1906)

Hmmm. Another annual routine has just been completed, and perhaps for the first time in this case, it has provided a very clear curl in the pathway.

Do you know what I mean? – You get to such a point on the road, put down your bag, gather yourself, sip  your water and look both back at the path you have walked so far, and forwards to what may lie in front. You might smile or frown at your younger selves as their tints flicker on the old horizon. You might conjure phantoms and ghouls on the skyline ahead. I hope not.

And of course, you shouldn’t gaze for too long. Because it’s the moment you’re in, the enjoyable steps, the birdsong, smell of cut grass, music from a window, the passing chatter or debates of the people you pass by, those who hold your hand as you walk- it is those which make your life (your now) the thing that it is.

Irritatingly, this could sound like an Orange mobile ‘phone advert. Their “thing” right now is “I am my friends, I am my favourite song, I am all the boys I’ve kissed and will kiss…”. How self-awareness or self-actualisation relates to Orange’s brand values, I tremble to wonder. Let’s take a peek into the control room in the marketing department, c. 9 months ago…..

You know, the people want  - they want passion, man. They want to feel 
understood, loved, you know...cared for.
In these testing times, they all need to feel....connected.
They want to feel....normal.
They need to feel - ordinary!
You got it!...Average!
But - still liked! You know, friends...'n' stuff. But still ultimately a 
part of, of ......society!
Wow. That's great. But we'll have to be careful. It doesn't mean they're 
stupid. You can have friends and still be - you know, smart. 
How about something like, well, err, you know, clever, like, 
'I think, therefore I am....connected!'


Yeah, no, not stupid, yeah, smart, yeah...Hmm...I am....I am.....
It has a definite something...

I have, thanks to the magical miasma AKA the tinterweb, discovered some facts.

1. This campaign is called “I am Everyman”. How ironic. Mediaevalists, you may laugh now; others, indulge me, please – Everyman is a mediaeval morality play. In it, God is pissed off that people don’t love him enough, gets Death to summon Everyman for  judgement, but Death  can’t be arsed and cheekily warns Everyman what’s going on. Our hero then asks his mates to join him, who let him down, as do his family, his property and even his (weak, paltry, under-nourished) good deeds. Eventually, Everyman gets punished, lives a better life, makes Good Deeds stronger and after Death takes him (as one day he must), it is only the fair lady known as Good Deeds who helps him get to heaven (salvation of his soul).  Given this advert is all about your mates and loved ones, I had to giggle and (again) digress. Ah, who says the Imp never larns you anything, eh?  Bonus time: it’s only 900 lines and you can read it here.

2. Back to modernity: the ad campaign was developed by an agency called Fallon (the dodgy tart in Dynasty?). Jeez – their global website comes up as “we are Fallon” on Google. That takes client arse-licking to an extreme, don’t you think? Do they think their other clients will be chuffed that, like some spotty playground geek, their agency is using its favourite client’s strap line for its own branding? Or that Orange is vapid enough to be flattered?

3. Interestingly, ad industry mag  Campaign voted the first campaign ad as ‘Turkey of the Week’ when it was launched. See what the public think of it here. (Pointless, lengthy, irrelevant to mobile ‘phones, possibly for teaching, life insurance, in short). For the latest pricey and not very good ad, see here. Thing is, it is about (if you dig deep) being connected, a part of your own society, and we should be inferring that Orange helps enable that. Instead, it’s just annoying.

Sorry – digressive rant over….

Lastly, because it made me smile and kinda fits with the individuality thing….

“Here’s the deal, folks. You do a commercial – you’re off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay? You’re another whore at the capitalist gang bang and if you do a commercial, there’s a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink.”
– Bill Hicks, Rant in E Minor
Whoring the Blinded Muse

Now, I happen to know for a fact that in the land where dead composers go, there is much muttering about unionisation and exploitation. Per que? It’s not the ridiculous issue of copyright expiry, but disgust that the spirit of philistinism could rule our age to such an extent that Prokofiev’s gentle Morning Serenade from Romeo & Juliet becomes the John Lewis Christmas theme and the powerful, vicious violence of summer that Vivaldi caught in The Four Seasons is used to sell Renault.

OK. I’m lying. Dead composers don’t have their own land. They have to share it with dead shepherdesses. Elysium, huh? Tough. Anyway, they’re still peeved. Me, too, actually, because while you can argue that ads bring music like this to a mass audience, the music was written to evoke particular human reactions. Great music will do that regardless of how old it is. It is amazing to think that Vivaldi’s Summer [listen to that link and watch a brilliant performance in an Italian piazza) was written in 1723- almost four hundred years later it has me stabbing the air like a mad conductor on speed. And advertisers use this music – its power to evoke – to engage us, so they can sell things. Now while Moby wrote Play and then licensed all 18 tracks for adverts, I don’t think it’s what Ludwig, Gustav or Amadeus had in mind.

But we’re all ad-literate, aren’t we? So where’s the harm?
Well, if we have any emotional engagement with an advert (which I’d argue happens regardless of our own levels of ad-literacy), surely there is a problem.
It’s like the monkeys loving the mechanical mothers that I mentioned in the previous post. There’s an emotional stimulus (the music) without an emotional consummation: a product can’t hug you back or reciprocate. By purchasing, you can feel as though you are taking a step closer. I’ve bought plenty of Acme Corp’s style, sex appeal, sex appeal, style, and, oh yes, sex appeal in the past. Funny that it shape-shifts and seems to morph into cheap shoes and nasty nylon by the time I get it home.
Oliver James in Affluenza says,

We have become absolutely obsessed with measuring ourselves and others through the distorted lens of affluenza values – earnings, possessions, appearances and celebrity…. The affluenza virus values screw us up by conflating what we want with what we truly need: Having with Being.*

Avoiding AffluenzaCOME ON!
So what’s the solution? If you think you’re doing well enough, then you are. But so many people think they’re not. Why be so hard on yourself – what good does it do? Perhaps the only place to start is by understanding what our own real values are – rather than the ones we think we ought to have (for example, valuing being a good friend or honest colleague over being uber-successful, rich or a size 8). Work it out. Come on…

I belong to meeeeeee! No, ok, so no-one else might want me, but that’s not the point…
playground.jpgYour life is your life. You don’t belong to anyone. No; you don’t. And your leisure time is absolutely your very own. Protect it, fiercely. And your mind is the very best playground. You can do anything you want in there – exercise that muscle and make your imagination stronger every day. So take these assets – your control over your own life, your free time and your imagination and dictate your own values, know what they are and meet your needs from engaging with other people, or hobbies, or whatever, but not from buying, owning, having: but from being.

It’s the impacts of these actions that make the world a better place, such as the sister who encouraged her sibling not to give up, the protestor who helped create the throng that made a government relent; Rosa Parkes refusing to give up her seat on the bus; JK Rowling persisting and persisting in her search for a publisher (who knows how many future writers, artists will attribute their endeavours to Harry Potter? Or how many parents forged better relations with their kids because they were begged to read to them nightly?) It’s about Being. Not Stuff. So next time you hear music you like on an advert and get the urge to consume, find out what the music is, buy the whole thing and lose yourself in that. Make that what you buy.

*Interestingly, someone mentioned just “Being” to me today – when this was just a draft. Sunny serendipity from a cloudy day…

I see a river; it’s oceans that I want.
You have to give me everything; everything’s not enough
– Depeche Mode, I want it all

Consume, consumer, consume!
In Hair, they got naked and sang about the coming of the age of Aquarius: a time for peace, love and harmony. A bit of wiki-digging tells me we’ve another 500 years to wait. So, that put paid to that utopian escapist fantasy. Back here in the non-Aquarian now, the mange-ridden cat of consumerism continues to pee incontinently over us all. So why have we got our mouths wide open?

Yeah, but everything’s about consumption, right?
In the 1950s, trying to understand the mother/baby bond, psychologist Harry Harlow ran experiments on monkeys. He had assumed that babies loved their mothers because they dispense milk – no more. But he got it very wrong, with some awful consequences. He replaced the mother monkeys with teat-machines and then towelling-clad teat machines. [Monkey dads don’t figure, so it’s probably safe to say the human equivalent issue is parenting, full stop]. Not only were the cries of the mothers at separation reported to be unbearable for the lab team, but the monkey “children” grew up severely emotionally and psychologically damaged. Without the love, care, attention, call it what you will, of the monkey mothers, when they grew up, these monkeys self-harmed, were violent, and unable to bond with other monkeys.

Banksy’s Consumer JesusWhy link Harlow and consumerism? Because it’s about substitution. Harlow thought a fundamental need (parental love) might just be self-interest (the need for food). He tried to replace the parent with some of the component parts: milk, something to suck, soft furry textures. But the experiments proved, in the case of monkeys at least, that there is a fundamental emotional need that cannot be substituted by the surface characteristics of parenting (delivering of food, something warm to cling to). Consumerism works the same way: when we’ve gone beyond the basics of bread, energy, shelter, products need to compete for you, especially to buy luxuries. They need to appeal to you, and so they work to appeal to particular emotional needs. (Thanks to Banksy for this excellent illustration).

The best marketing the world has ever known
Here’s a good example. Many stop-smoking experts find the biggest barrier to getting people to stop is not the physical addition (after all, the need for a fag is not strong enough to wake you up in the middle of the night, is it?). No, it’s the psychological ‘need’ to smoke that is the barrier.

Smoking ‘gives’ the smoker something beyond nicotine. We’ve all heard these: “smokers are more interesting”; “I don’t care about my health, I’m such a rebel”; “all the cool people smoke”. These are powerful myths about self-identity: “I’m brave /different /rebellious /artistic /devil-may-care /unable to concentrate without it…” and so on.

But where on earth have these values come from? Why is a skinny carcinogenic, heart-attack inducing stick of paper-clad leaf, peddled by multi-national, exploitative and very rich wankers both so appealing and a psychological crutch? It has to be the best piece of marketing the world has ever seen (I’m speaking as a smoker – I know whereof I speak…) Even the death thing works in faggery’s favour-* it adds to the devil-may-care list of values.

If egos (healthy, strong, fragile or limping) didn’t exist, would smoking?


…to be continued…..


* (US cousins, I am not talking male homosexual encounters; this is about the fetishisation of cigarettes).


“We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science.” – 1984, George Orwell

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” ~ Tyler Durden in Fight Club


workbuyconsume_article.jpgWhat’s the Imp on about now?
Last week, the FT published a piece about the ad ratings firm Nielsen buying up a neuro-marketing company, NeuroFocus. NeuroFocus is just one of many neuro-marketing companies – guys who track brain activity to see whether or not you like the new Bud (or whatever) ad… (“True”).

If you want to see a pitch from one of these companies, have a gander at the vastly uninformative Sands Research page – select Examples from the left hand bar and see how various adverts for the US primaries make their guinea pigs’ brains flutter. Ask yourself: what does this actually tell me? I kow you’re probably not a neuro-scientist, but remember, this is a pitch. It should show you something, if it can.

Now, all this raises a lot of questions for the Imp:

  • Since when did neurology get so advanced that they can tell whether activity in the amygdala means anxiety, fear or anticipation? That frontal lobe activity means happiness or an oncoming seizure?
  • How many brands are using this already?
  • How many ad men have neurology qualifications?
  • What kind of idiot takes part in this research?

a) Whoring your brain’s G-spot etc etc
Let’s look first at the simple bit: volunteering to take part in this research. Now, I don’t know about you, but I kinda feel that screaming “Yessiree”, and hopping into the MRI scanner with the enthusiasm of a lobotomised frankfurter is a tad sinister. (indulge me: I like the image). Hell, it’s all in the name of Coke/Bud/Starbucks/L’Oreal: where’s the harm?

Look, you short-sighted numbskulls (them, obviously, not you): why do you think they want you to whore away your innermost neurological responses? Jeez: if it was happening in an alien ship, you’d run. But no, it’s cool, cos it’s only about selling a bit of aftershave. Some people are pig-shit-thick, aren’t they?

b) The snake oil salesmen?
snake-oil.pngHow much truth is there in this anyway? I mean, how much “science”? Well, our first neuro-marketing chums, NeuroFocus, have – wow…scientists on their board. Who’da thunk it? They come from big grown-up institutions (hmm: I think in America, they depend a lot on private funds for research, don’t they?) like MIT and Berkeley. I’m not insinuating anything: it’s a genuine question. Any idea, anyone? Just looking for some transparency here.

Here’s what some very important scientists had to say in the New York Times recently, about neuro-marketing:

As cognitive neuroscientists who use the same brain imaging technology, we know that it is not possible to definitively determine whether a person is anxious or feeling connected simply by looking at activity in a particular brain region. This is so because brain regions are typically engaged by many mental states, and thus a one-to-one mapping between a brain region and a mental state is not possible.

The point is, yes, a certain part of the brain might get all hot ‘n’ bothered about hearing a can of Doctor Peppers being opened, but who’s to say what it means? Ick? Yum? Urgh? I’m Having a Masochism Day Today?250px-consumerism.jpg

As others have said, let’s find the marketing exec with a neurology PhD and they can explain it to us. In fact, what happens (as you can see in the Sands demo – you didn’t go see? Go!) is they say there is “stronger activity”, or “patterns of reaction” in a certain part of the brain. Yup. I can see that, too. But then they say that this part of the brain is about happiness, or that part is about unhappiness….remind you of anything – phrenology, perhaps? You know, C19th head-bump feeling?

c) So, is it being used?
Heeeelllllllll, yes. Funnily, going back to my new best friends, NeuroFocus, they don’t cite any clients on their website. Why would that be? Could the brands be a tad nervy about admitting they’re using humans like lab rats to …to sell more stuff? Flashing images in front of them to see how their brains react? Anyway, there’s an anonymised client quote (the same quote on every page: hmmm) and it says, “They [NeuroFocus] had thought through every single nuance or messaging, and performed a pilot study for us that opened all our eyes” – how very Clockwork Orange. A little digging found the following chaps have used neuro-marketing. Apparently.

  • theron.jpgGMTV , the UK’s most popular breakfast-time TV station appear to have used it to see how we respond to ads throughout the day to see when the brain was most receptive
  • You know that Christian Dior perfume ad, J’Adore, where Charlize Theron stalks down the corridor towards you, bathed in gold and stripping off? Yes, me too. Anyway, they tested the colours, music etc etc this way
  • Wrigley, Nike, Colgate, P&G…all at it

d) What’s next?
Who knows? This is just advertising. Just think of all the ways that this – if it works – can be used…..Tell me, what do you think?