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December 2023 newsletter introduction
I put the December 2023 newsletter together early because I know how December goes. It used to be that Christmas parties and a gradual disappearance of clients and colleagues meant that the month effectively ended on December 15.
In recent years all that went out the window. Clients called pitches for early January, which meant working up to and over the Christmas period. New projects came in that absolutely, positively had to have a first round of creative for the first week in January.
Whatever the holiday season throws at you, and whatever your favourite festival of choice to celebrate it is called. Have a great one! (Here’s a soundtrack for the vibes.)
A good deal of December is about being thankful. The people and things that I am being thankful for (a by no means complete list).Things and people that I am being thankful for (a by no means complete list).
- My strategy brethren: Parrus Doshi, Lee Menzies-Pearson, Sarath Koka, Colleen Merwick, Maureen Garo, Conall Jackson, Alice Yessouroun, Makeila Saka, Zoe Healey and Calvin Wong
- Client services and creative partners who were in the thick of it: Greg Barter, Francisco Javier Galindo Aragoncillo, Anthony Welch, Ian Crocombe, Leanne Ainsworth, Stephen Holmes and Noel Wong
- Other smart people in the industry: Stephen Potts, Jeremy Brown, Darren Cairns, Robin Dhara, Martin Shellaker and Lisa Gills
- Things: WARC, the IPA
With that done, let’s get into the December 2023 newsletter!
Things I’ve written.
- Thinking about listening pleasure and the amount of factors that affect how we listen to music.
- Omakase – how a personalised experience migrated from high end Japanese sushi restaurant to reinvent food and beverage practice in Korea. What is it likely to mean for the rest of us?
- Beep – time, time signals and changing consumer behaviour.
- Soft girls and slackers – why generational dropout is likely to be a fiction and the true picture of how engaged we all are at work.
Books that I have read.
Technofeudalism: What Killed Capitalism by Yanis Varoufakis posits that Europe has already moved to a post-capitalist (and post-political) technofeudalist state where technology platforms are the defacto rulers. Varoufakis is more important in the way his book will likely influence future regulation and digital policy than as an analysis of the current zeitgeist per se. His viewpoint on the rentier economics of technology platform businesses is shared by other thinkers and academics including Lina M. Khan of the US. Federal Trade Commission.
Warren Buffett and the Interpretation of Financial Statements by Mary Buffett and David Clark. What I would have given for this book when I was studying my finance module in the first year of college. Buffett and Clark break down a bit of the history of Warren Buffett and what to look for on financial statements of publicly listed companies in a very homespun style. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate effect but even the cutting of the thicker than normal pages and inconsistent printing adds to its homespun feel.
Underground Empire: How America Weaponized the World Economy by Harry Farrell and Abraham Newman and Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror by Robert Young Pelton. Both of these books were recommended by friends directly involved at one time or another in GWoT – the global war on terror.
Licensed to Kill reminded me of Kipling’s portrayal of ordinary British soldiers in India. Their stories were never told by the historians. It is a similar state today with the contractors that serve in the conflict. There is at least one example where they are whitewashed out of a story in real-time by the US military, who instead gave credit elsewhere in their press statements. It’s fascinating and hugely dispiriting all at the same time.
The surprise for me was that the US reliance on contractors didn’t go back to the first Gulf War, but all the way to Vietnam where oilfield services and engineering contractor Brown and Root were responsible for 85% of the infrastructure deployed. Something I’d never seen mentioned before.
Underground Empire focuses on how financial and trade measures were used by the United States during the conflict and since. My main criticism of the book would be its singular focus on the US, whereas we have also seen these tools used by the European Union, China and Russia in more recent times – with varying degrees of success.
Things I have been inspired by.
The power of nostalgia is constantly underestimated in brand marketing. It’s why you remember ads and jingles decades later – the ‘long’ of The Long and The Short of It. Nothing is more wrapped into nostalgia than what marketers call ‘moments. Christmas is a classic example of a ‘moment’. Christmas in the Carroll household means working with my Dad to get his electro-mechanical control unit and Christmas tree lights down from the attic and carefully assembled in the front room. These lights are old, filament bulbs. Amazon’s plethora of LED lights for the tree mean that you no longer have the opportunity for training in zen-like patience on a December afternoon; checking and replacing each bulb that was blown in order to get the lights to work. Each year my Dad’s tobacco tin of spare bulbs gets precipitously closer to empty.
The tree itself was proudly made in Hong Kong sometime in the late 1960s or very early 1970s with authentic looking plastic pine needles held on branches of tightly wound wire about as thick as a coat hanger, held upright by an ancient plastic-legged tripod. The mechanism to run it is something my Dad cobbled together soon after buying the tree. The lights are wired into a giant disc of metal contact and a former radar motor swings around an armature to activate each contact in turn. All of this is held on a stout board that also has a circuit with a dully glowing bulb to provide resistance. The heat given off by the board and the dull light in a darkened room when it’s going is a reasonable substitute for an open fire in the smokeless zone where my parents live.
The smell of carbon bushes burning and old electrical products warming up is as much Christmas to me as cinnamon or an Old Spice gift set.
Once everything is running optimally it is covered in fibreboard boxes that are still wrapped in unblemished vibrant kitsch 1970s Christmas paper.
Another element of Christmas in the Carroll household is Jim Reeves’ 12 Songs of Christmas album that my parents have on repeat from December 1st onwards.
I took a trip down to the Young V&A museum in Bethnal Green to see their Japan: Myths to Manga exhibition. It’s designed for little people but delightfully curated.
This month, I have been mostly listening to Patten’s second album alongside all the Christmas music. Patten uses AI created samples as his instruments on his tracks. His first album using this technique Mirage.FM reminded me of early 1980s techno in terms of its avant garde, at times discordant sound and tempo. The latest album Deep Blue feels much more organic, closer to hard bop jazz.
I was inspired by an end of year wrap-up by the folks at Superheroic AI on the leading edge of creative tools, which will feed into something I will drop in the new year.
But Ged, why no Christmas adverts?
By this time of the month, I am over Christmas adverts already, instead here’s a vintage clip from the Republic of Telly that explores some of the tropes of Christmas ads. I suspect that this was strongly influenced by campaigns mobile phone network Three Ireland had run over a number of years, but neatly skewers the cliches in much of Ireland’s adverts that come to focus on family members who can’t come home.
Ok, ok, I will give you a Christmas ad, just not one of the ones that you’re expecting. In Japan, Christmas is when people eat KFC (this is down to KFC’s first Japanese franchisee marketing to expats looking for a turkey substitute on Christmas in the 1970s, which then became a wider thing in Japanese society). It is also a kind of mid-winter version of Valentine’s Day since it’s not bound by its western context. Which is why Sky condoms dropped this advert below. Thankfully there is no awkward fumbling with a drunk colleague in the stationery cupboard in the advert.
Going beyond Christmas and into 2024, Trendwatching have created an interactive web page outlining 15 industry-specific trends and 45 innovations related to the trends. Worthwhile going through for thought-starters, more here.
Things I have watched.
It’s cold and dark and I make no apology for my films being unapologetically escapist and and entertaining to try and counterweight the drab conditions.
Bosch Legacy season 2 – Titus Welliver as Harry Bosch is a great bit of casting and I have yet to tire of the Bosch series on Amazon Prime.. Part of this is down to Michael Connelly’s involvement, who has done a good job keeping the show in tune with his books. Season 2 is based on The Wrong Side of Goodbye and The Crossing. If you haven’t watched any of them start at the beginning with Bosch season 1 and work your way through to the Bosch Legacy series.
Reacher season two – I always found Tom Cruise’s adaption of the Jack Reacher books a bit odd. I liked watching him play opposite Werner Herzog, but Cruise wasn’t Reacher. In the Lee Childs books Jack Reacher’s a blond blue-eyed man mountain. He’s not a weirdly intense Napoleon-sized fragile soul – the very things that made Cruise fantastic in Magnolia. In the Amazon Prime series, that is not an issue because former teenage mutant ninja turtle Alan Ritchson fits Childs’ character to a tee and the character development is really well done. Season one was amazing and season two is off to a great start. This season is based on the book Bad Luck and Trouble.
The Lord of The Rings – I was in primary school when I first got to see this film. We’d just read The Hobbit and aped around hall acting out part of The Lord of the Rings that we were reading in class. Ralph Bakshi’s animation of the first book and a half of LOTR amazed me with its mix of animated characters and rotoscoped backdrops.
Ralph Bakshi in his own way has been just as much a visionary as Walt Disney, he brought a ‘realism’ to his animation. Due to a dispute with the studio Bakshi refused to make the second part of this film which is a shame. When you get to see Peter Jackson’s trilogy, the first film in particular, draws on Bakshi’s work shot for shot in parts (as well as the famous BBC radio drama from 1981). I have enjoyed watching this regularly since, along with Bakshi’s other works: Wizards and Fire & Ice.
It’s hard to get a to do list that works for you. Trust me I have tried a number of them. What works for me may have variable mileage for you. I have been finding TeuxDeux working for me at the moment and it’s $36/year. Secondly, I like small software companies that are more invested in their software or service and won’t ‘sunset’ (that’s Silicon Valley-speak for shutting down a service) it at the drop of a hat like Google, Yahoo!, Meta etc.
An oldie but goodie, EmbedResponsively provides a simple service that allows you to put video on a page that will adapt to the viewing device.
I needed keyrings for my parents that were easy to put keys on or off. My Mum isn’t particularly patient and a broken nail spurred my search for them. The Swedish designed FREEKey system of keyrings solved that problem.
Infogram is a service that makes it easier to create data visualisations of different types that I have found useful over the past couple of weeks.
Control Panel for Twitter
Twitter is style annoyingly useful at times. I have got around the worst aspects of it through the use of lists of trusted accounts in certain areas. Control Panel for Twitter is a plug-in that rolls back some of the amendments that Twitter has undergone by Elon Musk.
In terms of my own post-Twitter active social channels, you can find on Mastodon and Bluesky. I am still recovering from the trauma of Pebble closing down as it had the best community of all the post-Twitter platforms.
When I first started using Cyberduck, it was to access FTP servers for images and videos being transferred. Now it’s more about accessing cloud storage facilities such as Google Drive and Dropbox, without having to synch all the files on to my computer. It can even work with Egnyte within reason.
The sales pitch.
Now taking bookings for strategic engagements or open to discussions on permanent roles. Contact me here.
More on what I have done to date here.
Ok this is the end of my December 2023 newsletter. Be excellent to each other, have a great Christmas and New Year, I look forward to seeing you back here in 2024. Let me know what you think or if you have any recommendations to be featured in forthcoming issues. See you next month!