A ripping plum cake


Ripping a plum cake

Albert Ball was a flying ace of great daring.

The first celebrity fighter pilot of the first world war.

Handsome and dashing, yet modest.

Known as the “Lone Wolf” due to the way he stalked his prey from below.

Hailed by not only his nation but his enemy, the Red Baron.

Albert shot down 43 enemy planes and one balloon.

With a further 25 unconfirmed kills.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross.

Shot down and killed, aged just 20, his parents collected his Victoria Cross—the highest award for bravery—from King George V on 22 July 1917.

But what was it that made this young man such a deadly fighter pilot?

Plum cake.

We know this because he requested it many times in his letters home.

To his mother he wrote: “You make me a cake, and I would like it all the more. I so love to have a huge piece of cake to go flying with in the morning. It is fine, and if made by you would be better still.”

To his sister: “I was so pleased to get your ripping cake, but I have nearly finished it. I love to take a huge piece with me when I fly.”

Plums are full of nutritional benefits: they’re crammed with dietary fibre, loaded with minerals, packed with vitamins (A, B6, C, E and K).

Plenty of stuff to fuel wellbeing and performance.

But of course it wasn’t the goodness in plum cake that made him so formidable.

It was what the plum cake stood for.

A potent symbol of why he was taking to the air.

A symbol of home, loved ones and a nation.

We can learn a lot from this.

Many CEOs now view their employees as their most important audience.

But more than ever, employees are individualists.

The old methods of command and control are no longer working.

Corporate missions can be cold, official and unexciting.

It’s important to give people a sense of purpose without imposing an ideology.

Through symbols and storytelling.

Filling people with a sense of what needs to be done and an utter belief in its imminent success.

Whether it’s a piece of advertising or marketing; a space or an object, almost doesn't matter.

What does matter is the meaning with which it’s imbued.

This is what makes it dramatic and emotional.

With an ability to propel people in the right direction.

Motivating, accelerating and sustaining positive behaviours.

Puncturing people’s autopilots.

Now that’s ripping.

– DB


Why the Age of Long Copy Isn’t Long Gone


Why the Age of Long Copy Isn't Long Gone

The passing of David Abbott last year has prompted many retrospectives of his work.

I've marvelled afresh at brilliant ads like the one below.

And this

And this

Seeing these again has initiated a wave of nostalgia amongst many including myself.

It reminds many of the great work that inspired us to work in this industry.

It's also led many to bemoan the death of the long copy ad.

But if long copy ads were so good, why don't we still make them?

One common reason is the need for ads to work internationally. Clearly this type of advertising is harder to translate. The subtly and finesse of the copy would no doubt suffer in the process.

But another frequent assumption is that people don't have the time or the inclination to read long copy anymore.

Certainly it's true that people are bombarded by more marketing communications than ever before.

And it's also correct that we all process more information than ever before. We take in more than four times as much information every day as we did in 1986 the equivalent of 174 newspapers.

But if this is the case, why am I seeing more and more advertorials? Surely they're just boring long-copy ads.

And why is so much content marketing being produced? If people don't have time for a little ad, what makes us think they have time for an opinion piece?

I am being slightly flippant here and Im certainly not suggesting we all ditch content marketing in favour of a return to long-copy press ads.

My point is that we're asking for more of people's time at the very moment they have less of it to give.

What David Abbott reminds me is that we must still earn people's attention. In the relentless drive to get stuff out there, we musn't forget the need to captivate and persuade whatever the format. This in itself requires an investment of our time, which is also an increasingly scarce resource.

– RG

An interesting first kiss


An interesting first kiss

First Kiss has been watched by over 90 million people to date. You may be one of them (if you haven’t seen it, then take a few minutes to watch it below.)

It was made by the fashion brand Wren to showcase their designs.

The three-and-a-half-minute film shows ten pairs of strangers kissing for the first time.


It’s particularly interesting because it’s achieved success without being humorous, rude or X-rated.

I remember the first incarnations of viral marketing (as it was called then).

I was working in an advertising agency at the time.

We started receiving an influx of briefs to create viral videos.

The received wisdom at the time was that people only forwarded things that were hilarious or outrageous - preferably both.

This raised questions about what was right for the brand. Often the projects wouldn’t happen because the requisite tone was deemed inappropriate.

Wren has achieved success with a film that taps into other emotions. It’s a genuine and charming portrayal of an awkward moment to which many people can relate. As befits a fashion brand, it’s done with a suitable amount of style and edge.

First Kiss shows that you can achieve success with content that’s right for the brand. You don’t have to sacrifice ‘appropriateness’ for ‘shares’.

The key is to produce content that’s genuinely interesting and connects with people - in whatever way.

This requires a rebalancing of where budgets are invested - away from media and towards strategy, creative and production.

It also necessitates a shift in mindset. There’s no guaranteed level of exposure with social content, unlike with traditional media.

For those that are willing to do this, the financial rewards can be substantial; imagine how much would it would have cost Wren to buy 90 million exposures for a three-and-a-half-minute film via traditional media.

– RG

That ol’ Razzle Dazzle of Different


That ol' Razzle Dazzle of Different

Norman Wilkinson was a talented, if conservative, marine painter and poster artist.

But he had a dazzling idea.

The open waters around the British Isles were a dangerous place for allied ships during the first world war.

Each vessel a sitting duck, unable to hide from the enemy submariners lurking below the surface.

Throughout 1917, merciless German U-boats decimated British and American vessels at an alarming rate.

Hundreds of ships per month lost to their deadly patrols.

At its worst, eight ships per day were consigned to watery graves.

Severing critical British trade and supply links.

Returning from submarine patrol and the dangers of the Gallipoli campaign, Norman Wilkinson began service on a British minesweeper.

It was here that he came up with his revolutionary and experimental approach to naval defence.

An audacious idea that played a vital role in the protection of British naval and trade vessels.

Wilkinson realised that the Admiralty were trying to solve the wrong problem.

It was impossible to find a way to sufficiently camouflage and hide away all ships, in all conditions, at sea.

The variations in sky colour, cloud cover and wave height were simply too many for any typical camouflage colours, such as black, grey or blue, to work.

So he did the opposite.

Wilkinson devised a fiendishly clever plan to draw attention to vessels rather than hide them away.

Favouring disturbance over disguise.

Optically distorting the appearance of each ship to confuse the enemy rather than conceal.

Suitably impressed, the Admiralty made Wilkinson the head of the new dazzle camouflage section.

Influenced by British avant garde painters like Wyndham Lewis and David Bomberg, Wilkinson assembled a team of artists and model makers from the Royal Academy.

Edward Wadsworth, founder of Vorticism the British artistic movement that grew out of Cubism supervised the patterns.

Consisting almost exclusively of women, the team of students from the RA set about the patternation of the ships.

Each side of every vessel a different design.

Every ship an absolute one-off.

Quite literally a work of art.

A cacophony of intersections and angles.

The contrasting geometric shapes and colours interlocked and dissected, creating optical illusions designed to disorientate.

Even the smokestacks were decorated to appear to be leaning in a different direction.

When the German periscopes broke through the waters they had only seconds to locate their target and calculate its speed and course.

Shooting not directly at the ship, but where the vessel would be by the time the torpedo got there.

The problem now facing the German submariners was that the manually operated coincidence rangefinders needed to adjust so that two half-images of the target aligned, completing the picture.

But it was hard to align two halves when what you were looking at didn't make sense: the bold shapes at the bow and the stern broke up the form of the ships.

Making it more difficult for the enemy to calculate an accurate angle of attack.

During the first world war, more than 2,000 Cubism-inspired dazzle ships were operational, and while never scientifically proven, it's safe to say that some patterns worked better than others, and that traveling speeds played a major part.

Recent tests indicate that similar patterns tested on military vehicles, such as Land Rovers, can cause an unguided rocket-propelled grenade, fired at a target traveling around 90km/h, to miss by a metre or more.

The difference between life and death.

Its often all too easy to work within the conventions of a category or situation, gravitating to like-minded ideas.

Take risks.

Iterate as you go, because it no longer takes 100 years to prove your theory.

When you do the polar opposite of what you'd normally do, new ideas, viewpoints and solutions open up in front of you.

The final answer may not end up being the exact opposite, but you'll have more variables on the table in the process.

And possibly a bit of that ol' razzle-dazzle.

– DB

USS West Mahomet in dazzle camouflage, 1918