Archive for October, 2008

The future of consumer advocacy

Andrew Curry writes:

Another organisation which has changed its name recently is the National Consumer Council, which became Consumer Focus on 1st November – not just a piece of rebranding, since it took on new responsibilities at the same time.

As part of the planning for the handover, we ran a futures project with the NCC on how consumer advocacy would look in 2020. The report was published by the NCC shortly before the handover.

The analysis and the process are laid out in the report. The work identified four significant challenges for 2020 – some adaptive, some emerging:

  • Engaging the less-engaged: How can consumer policy advocacy organisations continue to engage and maintain their dialogue with an increasingly diverse and fragmented population?
  • Supporting empowerment: How to provide consumers with the skills and confidence to promote and protect their interests, to ensure that they get a fair deal, and that they have access to the right communication channels to make their voices heard.
  • Managing consumption in a resource-stretched world: How will consumer behaviour and advocacy change in a world in which consumption is more constrained?
  • Global relations for the benefit of consumers and producers: How to operate at a sufficiently global level to give consumers power over global and international matters which affect their interests.

The report’s not currently available from the NCC site, one of those technicalities to do with reassigning NCC legacy pages to the new organisation’s web site. For the moment, therefore, you can download it via the link below.

And a word about the picture at the top of the page; it’s by Ian Mcdermott, an illustrator who sat in on the futures workshop abd sketched his impressions of the discussions going on around him. The work he produced on the day illustrates the report – a series of visual metaphors, if you like.

You can download the report here:


31 October 2008 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment

Marketing and art

Emily Pitts writes:

The late work of Mark Rothko is currently on show at the Tate Modern, and much has been written about the innate spirituality of both the artist and the work. Rothko was one of the last of the Modernist artists, a contemporary of Jackson Pollock and de Kooning, and many of his ideas and painterly practices looked back rather than forwards. As the critic Robert Hughes observed, he believed that his ‘painting could carry the load of major meanings and possess the same comprehensive seriousness as the art of fresco in the 16th century or the novel in 19th century Russia”.

Rothko at his best should allow us to contemplate, as the shadows of the colour open and close before us with luminosity and movement. Indeed, the artist was very careful in stipulating how his work was shown, hung, and lit because of the importance to him of its impact on the viewer. To experience his low-lit, enveloping canvases is often described as similar to stepping into a cathedral, and reviews and critiques tend to be peppered with religious language.

But visiting the exhibition, one of the striking features is the lack of reverence to be found among the visitors. This is not to say that the work on display is not spiritual, or fails to convey a sense of the sublime. Instead, it is the all but inevitable result of the business of blockbuster art shows. Earlier this month, an article in Marketing Week (not available online without subscription) argued that marketing had ruined art. At the Rothko exhibition the visitor is accosted by the usual array of extras – headsets, printed guides, the line of merchandise on the way out. Because of the large volume of visitors, entry is operated on a timed basis. So perhaps it’s not surprising that visitors are wont to race round, listening to commentary rather than looking at the work, and picking up some postcards at the end. The marketing and packaging of the show doesn’t help the work find its audiences. Instead, visitors seem confused as to how to approach it. There is relatively little of the usual reaction of thought and quiet reflection that are normally associated with Rothko.

This all begs the question of the role of marketing in art; can marketing devalue the work it attempts to promote? If culture becomes just one more way to consume, does art become as disposable as consumer goods? Germaine Greer was quoted in Marketing Week as saying that ‘the art form of the 21st century is marketing’. This may be true, or may be grandstanding (although her example of Damien Hirst creating such a strong brand on a ‘conspicuously threadbare rationale’ resonates) – but when marketing overtakes the art in question, the works seem to become secondary to the gloss of marketing, and the cachet of an exhibition lies in visiting it rather than absorbing it, perhaps marketers have to ask themselves what it is they’re trying to achieve by marketing.

The picture at the top of this post is from The Swelle Life – which has an entertaining post about the Tate’s merchandising of Rothko. (They’re not fans). The Tate Modern exhibition runs until 1st February 2009.

30 October 2008 at 11:15 am Leave a comment

dowconzki § 9

© Jake Goretzki

24 October 2008 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

Choice editing at Rough Trade

From Rashbre Central

From Rashbre Central

Joe Ballantyne writes:

I was browsing in the wonderful Rough Trade record shop in Notting Hill the other day, and I noticed that they’ve started an ‘album club’ service. For a monthly fee they send you a new album, chosen from a selection and tailored around your musical preferences.

At first glance, this looks like a rather counter-intuitive business decision – half the fun of going to Rough Trade is about rummaging around the racks in search of lost gems. If CDs arrive on your doormat every month, even with Rough Trade packaging wrapped around them, there’s less chance of randomly coming across a few titles that you feel you may just have to take home. It also seems quite old-fashioned, in an age when music distribution is increasingly digital and consumers are supposed to be sovereign.

However, the idea of the album club seems to fit into a wider trend we’ve been observing recently – ‘choice editing’. Consumers are exposed to an ever-growing selection of goods, services and brands (and the number of CDs released every year remains high despite falling sales) – but at the same time there is some evidence that we’re less interested in spending time sifting through them. Making choices takes time and energy – both resources which we are short of. The choice editor becomes an trusted (and expert) friend who can cut through the market noise.

Perhaps in future, it won’t be endless choice which is going to be seen as a luxury – but rather, being able to pay others to make our choices for us. But only a few companies have sufficient credentials to earn that trust.

The picture – of Rough Trade West in Talbot Road – is from the Rashbre Central blog.

20 October 2008 at 10:03 pm 1 comment

Welcome to The Futures Company

Andrew Curry writes:

Sorry if you’ve come here and been a little confused by the name change, but as of this morning, Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich have combined – following our merger in January – to become The Futures Company. And although this is one of those lines that I never thought I’d write: thank heavens for branding agencies! Otherwise the combined company might have become known as HCHLVY, which might as well be – and probably is – challenging Cluj for Romania’s football championship.

In terms of the blog, the archive of the Henley Centre HeadlightVision site can still be found here – we’ve only changed the name – and our IT guru assures us that the RSS feeds for that blog will continue to pick up new feeds from the renamed blog.

We’ll be continuing to post here regularly, but we also know that technology always involves pain, so if you have any problems as a result of the name change, we’d like to hear from you – adding a comment  to this post is the quickest way to reach us.

14 October 2008 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Saatchi looks east

Zhang Hongtu, "Long Live Chairman Mao 29", Saatchi Gallery

Zhang Hongtu

Emily Pitts writes:

As the leaves start to turn, so the cashmere and champagne crew turns out for the start of London’s art fair season. Amid the annual Zoo, Frieze and Scope art fairs, a particular attraction this year is the opening of the new Saatchi Gallery at the Duke of York’s HQ on the King’s Road. Its position just off Sloane Square, together with the elegance of the 1804 Soane-esque architecture and the sophisticated interior, belie the thoroughly modern approach of the new gallery.

The Saatchi Gallery has long been famous for its position at the forefront of the contemporary art movement and for providing a space for work by artists who are regarded as promising rather than established. There are, however, two particularly interesting aspects to the new gallery. Firstly, it is providing a ‘real-world’ space for artists who have submitted work online. When we talk about trends,  we often talk about the blur between the real and the virtual world, and here is a great example of an art institution embracing that trend and bringing the virtual into the tangible surroundings of a world-class gallery.

Secondly, the subject matter that has been chosen for the inaugural exhibition; new Chinese artists. The recent return of China as an economic and political power after after two hundred years is being mirrored in the art world (and in culture more generally), as it takes its place at the cutting edge. So it’s in with the new, out with the old, as we witness Damian Hirst consigned (if £95m richer) to the auction halls of Sotheby’s, as China and its young artists become our new ‘sensation’.

The picture shown is Zhang Hongtu’s “Long Live Chairman Mao Series #29”. The Revolution Continues: New Chinese Art is at the Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York’s HQ, King’s Road, London SW1, until 18th January 2009.

10 October 2008 at 9:15 am Leave a comment

The ‘five gaps’ around behaviour change

Courtesy of DEFRA

Courtesy of DEFRA

Rebecca Nash writes:

Behaviour change is much talked about, but still not well understood, which is why it seemed a good subject for the IIPS – the Institute for Insight in the Public Services, the think tank jointly run by Henley Centre HeadlightVision and BMRB – to take on in its third breakfast briefing of the year at the ICA in London. The challenge is how to link the ambitions of behaviour change in policymaking with the various levers which can influence it, such as legislation, incentives, taxation, policy, fines and, most specifically, communications.

The event was unique in explicitly positioning policy making and communications within a shared ‘behaviour change strategy cycle’, and approaching strategy planning (top down) and communications planning (bottom up) from a coordinated perspective.

The speakers were Alex Oliver, who’s recently joined the IIPS from the Cabinet Office, who made the connections between behaviour change and Whitehall’s ‘Public Service Agreements’, and BMRB’s Helen Angle, who’s an expert at campaign evaluation.

In their presentations, they identified five key challenges or ‘gaps’ faced by both ‘sides’ of the cycle: the gap within and between policy areas, the gap between high level strategy and implementation, the gap between success factors and evaluation measures; the gap between government action and public reaction; and the gap between incremental insight and strategy.

Bridging the gaps is hard but not impossible. Success requires, among other things, internal coherence, cross-policy alignment, and agreement about common success factors. The panellists, Sam Davis of the Central Office of Information, and Dr. David Halpern of the Institute for Government suggested that behaviour change theory informs both halves of the strategy cycle. And picking up one thought from the audience comments: that the government’s behaviour change efforts should be linked, explicitly, to a broader project of political and social renewal.

For more information about IIPS events, please visit the IIPS website.

7 October 2008 at 8:32 pm Leave a comment

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The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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