Posts Tagged ‘messaging’

Urban Africa – it’s not a jungle out there

May 26, 2010

Given my tendency for Afrilove I was really looking forward to going to see David Adjaye’s photographic journey of Urban Africa.

His aim: To photograph all 53 capital cities on the African continent.

His success: All except Mogadishu in Somalia.

His words: “I hope this project will make people look at people from Africa differently. Just because you come from New York doesn’t make you a more sophisticated city person than someone who is from Kigali.” True – and something more people should realise. Especially as according to a 2007 Monocle article, “Kigali is fast becoming East Africa’s communications hub.”

My thoughts:

By depicting everyday life, David’s photos are trying to normalise Africa. Showing that business, family life and making a living happens in Africa too. That it’s not all about giraffes walking lackadaisically across the African savannah against the backdrop of the setting sun.

I like the fact that his photos aren’t the brightly-coloured guide book classics of famous places and close-up faces. They show the gritty, raw reality of people’s lives, the cared-for and crumbling buildings, the huge billboards advertising western products, the rows of single-room family-run shops with hand-painted signs and wonderfully descriptive names, life unfolding on the streets and garish meccas to imported fast food culture.

Yet I had to look really closely to find this – and I’m a willing consumer of this kind of thing – and it left me with little emotional reaction.

If David Adjaye wants to change perceptions of Africa with this exhibition then I don’t think it will have been that successful. For a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the way the pictures were presented. In the main room (the third of three in the exhibition ) the photos – all 6×4 prints – were pasted on the wall in city clusters. They looked like a collection of holiday snaps without any of the famous landmarks or the holidayers posing in front of them. And they had little visual impact.

Secondly, the pictures lacked clear descriptions or a story to accompany them. You had to really want to stand there and stare closely at the pictures to actually see anything. And there was no direction as to where to start looking. You could easily get confused which city you were looking at.

A bit reminiscent of the red room from Twin Peaks – I half expected something surreal to happen.

I think it would have been far more powerful in challenging assumptions to:

> Have a couple of the photos for each city blown up big for people to stop and properly lose themselves in  – like the National Portrait Gallery does so well with its portrait award exhibition every year.

> Provide more information about the cities, the personality behind the places – and the experiences David Adjaye had in each place. Compared to David Beckham’s recent visit to Afghanistan and the attention that attracts to tell the story of a totally different place, this exhibition’s messaging is continents (if not poles) apart.

Urban Africa for anyone who hasn’t been to an African capital city isn’t so different to what you’d imagine. There are trees and parks, there are high office buildings and squatter settlements, there are roads and railways, there are markets and malls, there are traffic lights and the occasional roundabout (“keepy lefty” in Swahili!) and there are people, lots of them, going about their lives.

It’s not a jungle out there, but a diversity of places shaped by culture, religion and geography. If it doesn’t come to you, I recommend going and looking a bit more closely.


Learning from lurgy

May 12, 2010

I spent yesterday lunchtime in the company of a group of ladies from the University of London Intercollegiate Luncheon Club. With most sentences beginning “In London in the 50s…” I lowered the average age quite considerably. It was great though! All of them have, or had as they’re now retired, medical careers in London hospitals and they get together every so often to have lunch and listen to an invited speaker. My godmother – a former theatre nurse and midwife – took me along as her guest. “In Mile End in the 50s” where she did home births it was the prostitutes who were the best source of local info she told me! Perhaps they still are.

Hookers aside, the lecture topic was very apt considering my imminent departure for South Africa: ‘A history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)’ given by Professor Anne Johnson of UCL.

What really interests me about this is not the biology of disease (cause that’s far too complicated) but the spread of infection because of the behaviour of people and how that’s been influenced (or not) through campaigns over the 20th century. Also, seeing what behaviour change tactics have been used by public health campaigns compared to environmental messaging.

Saatchi’s Pregnant Man poster – their first famous ad that launched the agency in 1970 – is a striking image aimed at men to pointedly say “Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?” Nice. Simple. Good timing after the swinging sixties when STD rates increased. And now the name of Saatchi’s in-office pub in London. The model’s expression is pure Rodney Trotter in my opinion!

The pregnant man approach is in stark contrast with an earlier war time campaign aimed at troops let loose on R&R warning of unclean ‘good time girls’, that Prof Johnson talked about. Oh yes, good idea, blame the women! The campaign can’t have been effective as there was a surge in STD rates attributed to soldiers frequenting the ladies with the best local intel, even if they couldn’t understand what language they were speaking.

Then in the early 80s along came HIV. I don’t remember them, but Prof Johnson mentioned the AIDS Iceberg adverts with the straight and to the point strap “Don’t die of ignorance”. Pretty stark, but as Prof Johnson said, scare tactics do seem to work with these kinds of health issues. Possibly not the same for smoking campaigns though.

She heads up a research project surveying the sexual behaviour of the UK population and is often used as an expert to answer questions about STDs. I managed to get the following tidbits:

> One of the most effective ways of raising awareness of STDs in the UK was when someone on Eastenders got HIV. Soli at Futerra has been saying the same thing about normalising positive environmental behaviours like recycling for a long time.

> Peer education among young people has no negative effect on risky sexual behaviour (i.e. it doesn’t make them have more unprotected sex at an earlier age) although it wasn’t as successful at influencing a change in behaviour as they had hoped. Peer to peer influence in environmental campaigns is widely considered to be an effective approach – possibly because positive green behaviours are more public than intimate sexual experiences! And people are more influenced by what other people are doing than they realise they are, as evidenced by research reported in this Ecologist article.

> It’s a classic and communicators should know it well, but information alone will not change sexual health behaviour. The same goes for environmental campaigns.

> Scare tactics around sexual health risks do work. I guess as long as they are backed up with information, advice and support. Whereas, if you scare people with apocalyptic, world-ending doom and gloom imagery and scenario profiling it’s most likely to encourage them to bury their head in the sand and revel in ignorance.

I’d love to look more into the similarities/ differences/ lessons learnt from health and environmental behaviour change campaigns more… and perhaps will follow it up with some research. But if you’re interested, I can recommend checking out the work of Matchboxology on the South African government’s HIV/AIDS public behaviour change programme. And please do recommend any good reading on the matter.

It’s official though, there is definitely a lot more learning to be had from lurgy – like prostitutes, there’s intel behind people’s sexual health behaviour to be had!

The P word

March 23, 2010

I don’t think I’m the only person who has issues with the use of the ‘P’ word in environmental communications.

I’m talking about Planet.

A la: Our planet is in peril. We need Captain Planet’s help!

Captain Planet, he’s our hero, gonna take pollution down to zero. Gonna help us, put asunder, bad guys who like to loot and plunder. *Kapow!* (BTW, I wrote that without needing to google the lines… it’s engrained on my memory!)

Is it me, or does planet sound dated? It reminds me of being 15 and playing ‘F’ – the Fluoro in CFCs (there were two ‘C’ parts as well) – in a school skit of Captain Planet.

To me, the word planet conjures up other-worldly images. It feels alien, not real world. Like we need to be superheroes to save the planet. It sounds extreme and sensationalist: Plunder the planet at your peril!!! (It also necessitates the overuse of exclamation marks).

How about the words: ‘world’, ‘earth’, ‘communities’, ‘local’ and ‘environment’? Isn’t that what we’re talking about?

I think these organisations have got it right:

Do the Green Thing


World Changing

What do you think about the perils of the P word? Am I totally barking up the wrong tree? Or is it a wise approach to stay away from Planet Hollywood and Planet of the Apes connotations when we’re talking about making positive and local green decisions?

People power

March 12, 2010

Nice message from Howies telling the Beeb what they (and their customers) think about the proposed cuts to 6 Music and the Asian Network.

The people speak. Let’s hope it has impact.

At a talk by John Elkington last night at the LSE on ‘adapting to climate change within a new economic framework’, it drove home the message to me again about who is gonna get us out/ beyond/ through this mess: US.

Sorry, not the United States, but us. People. Our voices. Our pressure on politicians. Our demands of our employers. Our actions.

Are you one the people who speaks out… and has the T-shirt?


This is my choice of message. Ride in style. Power to the pedal. Better get myself the T-shirt now.

Losing it in translation

January 20, 2010

For the past couple of months I’ve been working with a multinational insurance company on their internal corporate responsibility (CR) messaging. Headquartered in Paris and doing business in roughly 19 languages, the company’s central comms teams is not only brave but incredibly patient.

I had the fun job of talking by phone to CR managers in many of the locations (thankfully in English) to test potential messages. Although I’m definitely not a linguist, I thought I’d done a fair bit of ‘cultural appreciation and translation’ over the years, however this comms exercise made me appreciate even more the importance of communicating essence not just words. The call for native speaking copy-writers rang loud and clear every time. Otherwise there’s a real risk of ‘losing it’ in translation, in both the ‘failing to retain the meaning’ and ‘breakdown in mirth’ senses of the word.

In my travels near and far I like looking out for signs, especially those with a clever play on words or just amusing errors in translation. I set up a Flickr group last year to store the signs I found.

Here are a few of my favourites:

A typo or a genuine error? Use one sheep at a time – the guidance for taking a towel to dry your hands in Argentina.

A clever play on words: Don’t take A Fence – displayed in a pub competition “The Turnip Prize” in Devon.

An unfortunate brand name: The Malaysian Fatman cushion. It reminds me of the Women’s Institute in a village near where I grew up called Ugley. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture.

And finally one from Southern Africa where I’m going tonight. I’m hoping it will be what it says on the box: Very Nice!

Love in the teenies

December 27, 2009

I’ve noticed lots of ‘love’ messages around recently. Maybe it’s a Christmas thing. This picture is of Carnaby Street’s Christmas decorations. But I’ve also seen ads asking us to love our office (Clerkenwell), love your bank (Earls Court) and there’s the great Waltham Forest ‘heart’ recycling campaign designed by my friend Emily Wilkinson while at Futerra.

According to The Sunday Times ‘love’ is going to be a big theme of the teenies (the follower of the noughties). At number 18 in their 50 trends for the coming decade they pronounce that ‘Love is the new happiness’. They say: “this isn’t about smug, coupled-up bliss – more a big-hearted approach to work, money, family, community, even politics.” Sounds good to me.

As you may have gathered from this blog, I love my bike. This Christmas I haven’t been able to ride for various reasons including icy conditions and the fact that rail-replacement buses and bikes don’t mix. Instead I’ve been seeking mental escapism.

For my older brother’s Christmas present I bought him the latest issue of The Ride journal which I secretly wanted for myself but figured that three days at his would give me ample time to flick through it. Recommended it by a friend and old colleague Dave, a wise city cyclist, I’ve really enjoyed reading every issue so far. The articles are just the right length, the visuals beautiful, the stories inspiring, the contributors passionate people who happen to ride bikes, and the content varied enough that every kind of rider will find something for them.

I found myself identifying most with an article titled ‘The Chase’ written by Tammy Thorne from Toronto who is the editor-in-chief of a bike magazine called Dandyhorse. She describes her love of two wheels…

“I love that I am responsible for my actions and myself. I love that my method of transportation is responsible to the environment we all share, and does minimal harm to an already damaged earth. I love that it keeps traffic flowing. I love that it keeps me fit and sun-dappled. I love the speed and freedom.

I really love all the stops I can make on my way home. I can fill up my pannier and basket with groceries from the market, return library books, pick up dry-cleaning and maybe a bottle of wine for later, and a fresh homemade loaf of bread. I love that I can detour and chase a fixie boy who thinks he’s faster than me. I love that I meet new people and talk to old friends on my commute every day. I love that sometimes I am late for work because of it.

I’ll keep chasing through the city to improve safety on the streets, especially at the intersections and underpasses. But I’ll also chase fast boys on bikes, cold beers in parks and my imagination, to make this city a better, more beautiful and more bike-friendly place…

I love riding my bike. And I love the chase.”

I can’t put it any better. I love all of it too. Bring on love in 2010. May bikes become the new happiness.

Mobile messaging

August 3, 2009

For 2 years now it’s been all about the bike to get me from A-B. Speedily, enjoyably and stylishly. And I’m part of a growing movement of girls and guys “who wouldn’t be seen dead in lycra shorts“. But it’s not just about what you wear to ride in, it’s just as important how you ‘dress’ your wheels.

Bike decoration is big, and seems to be only getting hotter. If you’ve got a message why not say it on your spokes, bare it on your basket, or front it from your frame. When you ain’t got a bumper or rear window to sticker, you’ve gotta get creative.

Damien Hirst has done it for Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wheels. Whether you like it or not, it’s definitely a statement piece of art.


Image from Marketwire.

The courier crew on their single speed and fixies ride with all sorts woven through their spokes. In recent days I’ve spent a lot of time staring at people’s wheels trying not to topple off my bike in the process.

I’ve seen a kind of knitted effect. Wool wound round between two spokes to form a wedge of colour. When the same is done on the opposing spokes and the wheel is spinning it creates a lovely kaleidoscope effect.

All over sticker jobs seems to be in too. I guess personalised plastering of paint work isn’t so desirable to the old tea leafs.

Snapshot 2009-08-03 17-58-04

I’ve seen nice messages around. Ride on Ride free. No oil. Or one I found on Flickr attached to a bike basket: Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks.

Snapshot 2009-08-03 17-58-34

And I’ve met all sorts. The friendly white van man on Critical Mass last Friday who wanted to experience life on the road from the other side of the windscreen. He was loving it.

And the bike polo boys battling in the first European Hardcourt Bike Polo Championships in Borough last weekend. With team names like Malice, FFF (Fabulous French F*ckers), BAD and Malletforce, they make themselves out to be pretty hard. And they are. Balancing, skidding, tearing up the tarmac as they race for the ball with collisions aplenty. But when they’re done they throw their trusty steads to the ground and give each other and their opponents ecstatically congratulatory bear hugs. So even though the covers over their spokes are part statement, part protection, part team identification, their message seems to be a friendly one. Get on a bike. Ride free and fair. Give it some mallet. Enjoy.


So if you’ve got yourself a set of self-powered wheels maybe consider what’s your mobile message and how you’ll be showing it off.

The ‘trough scoff’ challenge

July 20, 2009

I’ve always been a bit childish about playing with my food. Maybe because as a child I didn’t like much food and spent most mealtimes pushing it round my plate. Then there were tray inspections at school dinner times to check we were eating properly. The slice of processed ham hidden between tray and plate away from the eagle eye of the matron on ‘are they getting their protein’ duty was always a winner.

Now I eat most things but haven’t lost my temptation to arrange and photograph ingredients and leftovers in silly ways. Here’s one from a brunch in Berlin back in 2005. (I knew I’d have a use for it one day!)


And another from today – all produce grown and freshly picked this weekend from my parents’ vegetable patch.


The fennel made a delicious soup. The tomatoes went into a lentil and goats cheese salad. And the courgette is to be the vital ingredient of a chocolate courgette cake I’m entering into the ‘cakestravaganza’ competition at my friend’s wedding this weekend. 

Growing your own is very much de rigour. From the National Trust’s announcement that they’re creating 1,000 new allotments on Trust land (it’s one of their most popular news stories ever), to Michelle Obama’s commitment to the White House Kitchen Garden, and the many green-fingered gardeners who’ve been planting and harvesting their dinner table delights for many a moon and are suddenly the leaders of the pak (choy)! 

For new wave growers, the time is ripe for finding ingenious spaces to sew and sprout your veg. The sky is literally the limit. Headlines are shouting about ‘pop-up crops’, ‘window food’, ‘vertically-grown veg’, and my personal favourite courtesy of the National Trust… ‘ledge veg‘. They’ve done the calculations and found out that the UK’s windowsills collectively offer 600 acres of growing space – potentially that’s a lot of sill dill!

Because I like challenges and food, I’m going to promise publicly here to cover my balcony ledge with tasty ‘trough scoff’. I’m thinking some ledge lettuce, roof-top rosemary & balcony beetroot might be a good start. They are all in the top five vegetables to grow in window boxes list. I’ll be following advice on The London Vegetable Garden blog too for urban balcony growing tips. 

I’ll also be a plus one to Boris’ Capital Growth scheme which aims to open up 2,012 new fruit and veg growing spaces by 2012. 

Vertical allotments, it seems, are being given serious attention by the big guys too. Check out plans for hanging gardens in tower blocks in this recent Times article. 

So why not join the ledge veg revolution? You may scoff, but once your neighbours’ and friends’ sills are sprouting you’ll be wishing you’d tended some veggie troughs too. And who needs the greengrocer for the basics when you’ve got your own blooming marvellous mint and locally-sourced lettuce leaves at arm’s reach. Jamie O would be proud. Go on, do it, and then pass the idea on to a friend.

Word game

July 16, 2009

Do you ever get that ‘aha’ moment when you suddenly see something differently? I had it recently with MJ’s History album – oh I get it, HIS story! So slow sometimes.

I wish my mind worked in a more catch-phrasey, “say what you see” way. It makes communications so much more fun.

Why send an email suggesting a catch up, when you can insert an image of  ketchup instead?


By adding a single gap, Trade Justice takes on a whole new meaning… trade just ice.

Eating in Choice Restaurant on holiday I chuckled over a sign in the serving area saying ‘Choice Staff Only’.

Christian Aid are using the word within word concept in their new campaign – Poverty Over. Clever. I’d never noticed ‘over’ in poverty before. Now it’s staring me in the face.

Poverty over

I saw this, their strikingly simple billboard ad, while out on my bike today.

And then sure enough, like all good marketing communications, I had an email about the campaign in my inbox when I got home. Admittedly I’m a signed up supporter and tuned in to their work, but the coincidences didn’t stop there.

I decided to attack my mounting pile of admin this evening including post received while I was away. In amongst the unopened envelopes I found a letter from Christian Aid in February inviting me to a focus group to give them feedback on their fundraising messages. I wonder/ would like to think that the Poverty Over messages were informed by this supporter insight.

Watch the Poverty Over campaign call to action here. It acknowledges that ending poverty is a BIG task. But humans have collectively achieved world-changing successes before, like…

Abolishing slavery

Eradicating smallpox

Ending apartheid, and

Liberating Europe from Nazi tyranny.

We're humans

The messaging is inclusive (we, not you or they), people focused (people made it, people can end it) and positive is a similar way to the now famous Obama campaign slogan (we can change).

The closing ask is to join us (Christian Aid) on the journey of putting the poverty eradication theory into practice. Their use of the word ‘journey’ reminds me of an interesting manifesto from American identity company Brains on Fire about Igniting Word of Mouth Movements. Read it and you’ll never plan a campaign again.  They highlight how movements have ongoing impact because they’re co-created, rooted in passion and run by your fan base.

So move with the movements and you’ll move men (and women) to say (and do) what they see.