Out for a duck


Out for a duck

Sir Nigel Gresley was an imaginative man.

A gifted inventor.

Probably the most famous locomotive designer associated with the London and North Eastern Railway.

He designed arguably the most famous locomotive in the world: the Flying Scotsman.

And as well as being a great engineer he had an eye for beauty.

Designing engines with muscle and elegance.

The attractiveness of his locomotives were not wasted on the advertising department of the LNER at King’s Cross: many of his engines appeared regularly on posters, luggage labels and booklets.

Anywhere the company could take advantage of the locomotives’ impressive good looks.

But when LNER were able to prove that their engines were not only safe and stylish but very, very fast, they had a real marketing property on their hands.

On the 3 July 1938, driver Joe Duddington climbed into the cab of the Mallard: an A4 class locomotive with sweeping art deco lines.

Joined by fireman Tommy Bray, and the inspector, Sam Jenkins.

Attached to the engine was a dynamometer car full of charts and instruments to record their speed.

Turning his cap back to front, Duddington took the helm and they started their outward journey from Wood Green.

Resting at a siding in Barkston, thoughts were collected and packed lunches eaten, as Jennings and Bray made the fire up, right to the doors of the firebox.

The train left at 4.15pm, rising through Peascliffe Tunnel and on to Barrowby Road Junction, where the line levelled out on the way to Grantham.

Work on the line meant that the train slowed to 24mph temporarily then gradually picked up the pace, passing through Stoke Tunnel and heading uphill towards Stoke summit.

Passing Stoke Box at the top of the climb, Duddington gave the Mallard a head of steam at 85mph.

And she jumped to it like she was alive.

After three miles the speedometer in his cab showed 107mph, then 108, 109 …

Before he knew it the needle was at 116mph.

Bray and Jenkins shovelled frantically.

Duddington nursed her through Little Lytham at 123mph.

The excited passengers in the dynamometer car urged her on.

And then for quarter of a mile they all held their breath as they reached previously uncharted speeds of 126mph.

The Mallard had booked her place in history, clinching a new world record for steam locomotives.

So it feels very fitting that a statue of Sir Nigel Gresley should be commissioned by the Gresley Society Trust.

And unveiled at King’s Cross Station next year: the 75th anniversary of his death.

A seven-foot-tall bronze figure of the man, created by sculptor Hazel Reeves.

And here’s the clever bit: he has a bronze mallard duck at his feet.

An inspired idea.

A duck that will make people stop and take notice.

A duck that will help spark interest in the story of how the Mallard broke the world steam record.

A duck that will mark out this statue from the plethora of other statues celebrating the great and the good around London, and make people remember it.

Without the duck, it’s just another statue of a kindly old gentleman.

But it appears that’s exactly what a minority of trust committee members would prefer: to remove the duck, because it may invite ridicule and detract from the dignity of the statue.

So after widespread consultation with their president, vice presidents, members and Sir Nigel’s family, the duck is no more.

That’s the danger of design by committee: you’re rarely going to please everyone.

Compromise can lead to watered-down designs or strategy that everyone likes (or can live with), but that no one really loves.

Which will be picked up by your audience.

Your audience aren’t always as interested as you think they are.

You need to make them sit up and take notice.

It takes daring to be different.

Different doesn’t need to be wacky.

It should be salient and meaningful.

It should stick something in people’s memory banks.

Relevant difference is a calculated risk.

But far too often people fear too much what will happen if the risk is taken.

But the question should be: what are we risking if we don’t take it?

Because if your brand doesn’t provoke a reaction then it’s the equivalent of a kindly old gentleman.

Hold your breath and give your brand a head of steam.

And don’t let your best ideas be out for a duck.

– DB

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Seven feet tall


Seven feet tall

When Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool Football Club they were a second-rate side, languishing in the old Second Division.

By the time he had left in 1974, they’d won three First Division titles, one Second Division title, two FA Cups and one UEFA Cup.

Unrecognisable from the deadbeat side he’d taken charge of in December 1959 – even down to their kit.

Because when Bill Shankly took over as manager of Liverpool they didn’t play in their iconic all-red strip.

They played in white shorts and white socks, with white piping on their red jerseys.

But Bill had an idea.

Impressed by Real Madrid’s all-white kit and with a gut instinct for colour psychology, he made a switch so powerful it’s hard to believe it hasn’t always been that way.

One day after training, Bill bounded into the players’ dressing room.

He threw a pair of vivid red shorts to one of his players.

“Get into those shorts and let’s see how you look,” announced Bill.

Because he had a theory: red is for danger; red is for power.

And he didn’t just choose any player to model this new kit: he chose his captain, Ron Yeats.

The six feet two inches fellow Scot he’d signed from Dundee United: a part-time slaughter man who was strong as an ox, and twice as wide.

The bemused centre-half duly obliged and donned the red shorts, with the addition of red socks.

As he walked down the steps towards the players’ tunnel he could see his manager, and assistant Bob Paisley, in the middle of the pitch.

And as Yeats approached them, all in red, Bill exclaimed: “Christ, Ronnie, you look awesome, terrifying, you look seven feet tall!”

His stocky presence was made all the more imposing by the all-red uniform.

A move intended to strike fear and intimidation into the hearts of opponents.

Bill was happy.

And on 25 November 1964, the man-mountain from ‘The Granite City’ of Aberdeen, led out his teammates against Anderlecht in the first round of the European Cup.

All in red for the first time.

The art of theatre was not lost on Bill, he instructed Yeats to stand in the centre circle of the Anfield pitch.

“Walk around him,” Bill proclaimed, as he invited a group of journalists to behold his rough-hewn granite obelisk.

Splendorous in scarlet.

The match was played at a cracking tempo.

Yeats the rock: a huge, defiant red-jasper sentinel in the middle of the defence.

Hunt, St John and Yeats on the score sheet: the captain’s forceful header – his first at Anfield.

They shattered the pride of Belgium: 3-0.

And Bill knew that a red glow had been ignited at Anfield that night: one that burned fiercely for more than 20 years.

He knew the importance of getting people to sit up and take notice.

His symbolic move captured their supporters’ imagination and that of the onlooking press too.

Projecting a very clear sense of who or what you are, and why you’re doing it, is critical to success.

Connecting as much, if not more, on an emotional level than a rational one.

Through the re-evaluative symbol of a red kit, Bill projected a powerful identity, not just a superficial image.

A far cry from Cardiff City’s move from a blue shirt to a red one in order to appeal to an international audience.

Bill’s change was nothing to do with marketing trickery and everything to do with what was happening on the pitch.

But its marketing power is recognised and felt globally.

And Bill knew the real secret of his kit change wasn’t just the effect it would have on the opposition and the supporters.

He knew that great football sides – like great companies or brands – are built from the inside out.

Bill Shankly, the revolutionary leader who rallied a red uprising, knew only too well, that his players wouldn’t only look seven feet tall.

They’d feel it as well.

– DB

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You Can’t Change the World with Brand Onions

You Can't Change the World with Brand Onions

We started Squad because we observed clients frustration at the disconnect between strategy and creative.

Strategists operate upstream often at boardroom, business or category level.

They gain a rich understanding of the market, competition, customer and client.

Through a mindset of relentless questioning, digging and exploring, they get to grips with the problem, which is often different to the problem the client thought they had.

This understanding gives birth to the solution.

The problem is that the outputs of the strategic process are too often PowerPoint slides, models, onions and pyramids.

These outputs do not speak to designers, copywriters, developers and content creators.

Too often, all the strategic effort gets misinterpreted, misunderstood and misused.

Thinking doesn't translate into action.

And without effective implementation, strategy is pointless.

We founded Squad because we wanted to bridge this gap.

We wanted to fuse strategy and creative.

To work with clients at a level we call before the brand.

To get to grips with the big issue, first and foremost.

To create a business where strategists and creatives work alongside each other in tandem, not in sequence.

To ensure the outputs of strategy are creative tools that can be understood and used to create change.

To treat every stage of the project as creative, so strategy becomes as imaginative as the advertising or branding.

We often talk to clients about finding their purpose or their why.

This is ours.

– DB & RG

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If your creative agency were a World Cup football team, which would it be?


If your creative agency were a World Cup football team, which would it be?

So that’s it.

The argument settled as to who’d win the 2014 World Cup Final.

The best team in the world, or the best individual player in the world?

Germany, a model of team ethos and team spirit, coupled with a moment of sublime brilliance from Mario Götze to score the worthy winning goal.

And as Argentina’s Lionel Messi ponders what might have been, the Germans are rightly celebrating the belief that organisation is everything.

So as this World Cup winning side graduates - world champions in a triumph of German engineering - threatening to dominated the World Cup in 2018, what can we learn about how to structure a creative business from this squad, and the best World Cup teams of the past?

Brazil 1970

No team has ever captured the imagination like the Brazil side of 1970.

Resplendent in shimmering gold.

Turning the previous black and white world of football into glorious Technicolor.

There have been more enduringly successful teams, but none has ever dismantled the opposition in the utterly exhilarating manner in which Brazil did during the 1970 World Cup.

Pele, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto combining to thrash home the goal that set the blueprint for all we know to be Brazilian football.

With so much talent on offer throughout the side, it was even suggested that this embarrassment of riches were too similar in style to be assembled into one team, on the same pitch.

The idea of simply playing all your best players could never work.

But coach Mario Zagallo thought differently.

He went ahead and put all of his best players into a loose starting XI.

Pele and Tosado, both playing a withdrawn centre-forward role.

The lack of bodies in the box negated by the sheer attacking prowess of an entire unit.

It was pure magic despite the lack of overall shape.

But despite the absence of textbook military precision so abundant in today’s modern game, this side moved up and moved back together, as a team.

A symphony of rhythm, agility and instinct.

A marriage of teamwork and individual brilliance.

If this Brazilian side were a creative business they’d put fun at the top of their agenda.

They’d understand the power a shared culture over a ruthless system.

They’d look for sheer talent in every area.

And they’d let people go out and play.

Their way.

Holland 1974

As the shimmering gold of Brazil faded, it was clear that the future was still to be bright.

The future was orange.

With a brand of football that would become known to all as Total Football.

Unencumbered by a specific rigid formation, the Dutch system relied on wonderfully versatile players who were capable of filling in at any position the game required them to.

As a player moves out of position, he’s replaced by another from his team.

Anyone successively becoming an attacker player, a midfielder or a defender.

Fluidity reigns but the team’s organisational structure is retained.

An exhilarating wave of orange illuminated the world of football.

And although one player epitomised the Total Football ideology - able to play in almost every outfield position - Johan Cruyff was just one part of a living organism.

So the Netherlands coasted through their first and second round matches, defeating Argentina (4-0), East Germany (2-0) and Brazil (2-0) to set up a meeting with hosts West Germany.

Only to lose in the final.

But while the result is often forgotten, the ideology isn’t.

It may never have yielded a major trophy, but it did help them to reach two consecutive World Cup finals.

Having the most talented individuals doesn’t guarantee success, but sometimes we should revel in the journey not the destination.

If Holland of 1974 were a creative business, they’d place their emphasis on technically brilliant individuals with the ability to do more than their chose role.

Renaissance men and women, unhindered by job title or description.

With shared vision and discipline.

A group that collectively develops the capacity to deal with the demands of the given project.

A true renaissance team.

Spain 2008-2012

For so long the perennial underachievers of world football, La Roja matured like a fine Rioja to produce one of the most robust systems of play to grace the world stage.

A possession-based brand of football known as Tiki-taka.

Experts in controlling a game, keeping the ball from their opponents in the manner of a cat toying with a helpless mouse.

A style of play based on making your way to the back of the net through short passing and movement, the ball worked carefully through various channels, with patience and possession above all else.

Everyone gets a touch of the ball, because everyone is capable.

The metronomic “carousel” passing of Xavi and Iniesta.

Compellingly silky with a steely defence and sublime skill (most notably when beating Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final).

It was football in a completely different technical and intellectual stratosphere, reducing even the finest of competition (the Germans and Dutch) to headless chickens.

Spain had developed a footballing identity - a successful combination of Dutch ideas with a twist of their own.

They’d a national commitment to a certain idea of football.

If the Spanish team of 2008-2012 were a creative business they’d set themselves up to have shared ownership of the idea.

A systematic and patient development of a thought involving everyone.

Key players at the centre of the team, keeping up the momentum and pace, bringing others into the game, and creating option after option.


Perhaps what we can learn from the greatest international football sides is that (inevitably) any team or strategy falters over time.

When plan A doesn’t’ work, don’t resort to plan A.

Tactics have their importance, but they spring from the central thing - the idea.

Preserve the core purpose and values but change the cultural and operating practices: the specific goals and strategies.

Over-reliance upon fixed old-fashioned partnerships such as art director and copywriter need re-thinking and reinventing.

The idea of the fixed design team, or conversely the lone designer, need re-evaluation and a greater emphasis on bringing others into the process, creating greater collaboration with other disciplines.

Different partnerships like creative and planner can prove both cerebral and aesthetic pleasing.

The client isn’t the equivalent of the “bastard in the black” (football speak for the referee): they’re part of the team and should be brought into the game.

Branding and marketing is a team sport.

A combination of great team play and moments of individual genius, with an overall belief in a way of doing things.

We remind ourselves of this every day.

You tend to do that when you’re called “Squad”.

– DB

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