This is 21st century England

Mad Mods and A Camera

The Mods. They represent the best of 1960s England – great music, great style, a great look. And those scooters to die for. But how many people in today’s England realise that the Mods are still around?

That’s what Mad Mods and A Camera is all about. Recording the image of the Mods as they are today. Bringing it bang up to date, by showing how the style, panache and look hasn’t changed. And even if some of the original Mods are obviously a bit older now, it highlights how a new generation are equally gripped by the whole Mod ethos.

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Mad Mods and A Camera is the brainchild of Duncan James, an art director at a London advertising agency, a photographer and a fan of the Mod culture. For a year he’s been riding out with today’s Mods, going to their events and getting to know the people who are keeping the Mod flame alive in the 21st century.

And the newly launched website, madmodsandacamera.com is a showcase for a selection of stunning black and white images from the first five months (with plenty more to come, he assures me).

The opening Alfred Alsenstaedt quote on the landing page – “It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.” – tells you what to expect. These aren’t posed photos just scratching the surface of today’s Mod movement. These are perfectly captured images that get up close and personal with the people, their scooters, their style and their passion for all things Mod.

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Lovingly crafted portraits of immaculately turned out scooters. Captured moments of Mods hanging out together, chatting and drinking coffee. On the road shots. They’re all here, creating an exceptional record of five months in the life of today’s Mods.

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Each section records a different event. And the site’s clean, simple design is the ideal setting for Duncan’s photos. Why? Because it makes his images – and their subjects – the stars.

And that’s how it should be. It’s a unique record of a culture that many people in this country probably don’t even know still exists. Duncan’s natural shots, taken in the moment, highlight the pride today’s Mods have in a movement that’s been around for over 50 years – and how younger generations are emerging to take it forward.

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So, if you thought Quadrophenia was the last of the Mods, think again. Get over to madmodsandacamera.com and treat yourself to some unique shots of a culture that’s still very much alive in 21st century England.

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Youngsters today, eh?

I had an interesting conversation last night about the different attitudes that people coming into advertising have nowadays, compared to when I (and my companion) came into the industry.

It was prompted by this blog that I’d shared on Twitter and Facebook a couple of days earlier about the lost art of creativity among advertising students. One commenter made the point that the argument was an old one – more experienced admen (and women) have always thought the youngsters didn’t have the craft skills their generation had.

And, to a certain extent, I agree. But I think it’s amplified in the current new generation. Why? Well, I think there are three key reasons.

1. “I want to be a star.”

First, a general point. In today’s throwaway, instant gratification society, there’s a generation growing up with the expectation of being able to succeed without developing a skill or the necessary experience they need for that success. And because everything’s at their fingertips, it takes even more dedication than it ever has to knuckle down and develop those skills and that experience. If you can’t Google it, many of them don’t want to know. They just want to be ‘the name’ – and some of them seem to almost believe they have a right to it. It’s an X-Factor society full of deluded people who think all you need to succeed is a ‘personality’, ‘belief’ and a heart-rending back story.

I know many young people aren’t like this, but there are far more than there have ever been who are and I think it’s had an effect.

2. Real world perspective

You often hear people complain that politicians live in their own little bubble – they study politics at Uni, then work for an MP before being selected themselves. They’ve never had a ‘proper job’.

You could say the same for many of the new generation of creatives coming into the advertising industry. They study advertising, do work experience in an agency and, if they’re lucky, get offered a job. And it means they have little or no real experience of life outside advertising.

I know a number of people my age who fell into the industry after trying a number of other careers. I, for instance, was a waiter and barman, helped run a restaurant and worked as a radio sports journalist before finally becoming a copywriter. A lot of the new generation don’t have the kind of perspective that this experience brings.

3. Let’s be social

The third, and perhaps the most important reason is that online, and particularly social media, have completely changed the rules.

In one sense, this explosion of new platforms for creative ideas should make them even more creative. But I think it can actually restrict thinking because, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the medium becomes the message. Instead of focusing on producing a great idea, they start thinking about viral videos, gamification and making things experiential.

It’s putting the cart before the horse. And it means the crafting of ideas suffers.

Now, I’m a great admirer of a lot of the social campaigns you see today. But I often can’t help wondering if a concept couldn’t have been refined, a headline been considered more carefully, or a visual made more relevant. It seems the excitement of doing something on a new platform can get in the way of a simple, relevant, effective creative idea.

So, there you have it. Have I got a point, or is this just an old codger’s rant? I’d appreciate your comments.

You can’t create viral

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Two things prompted this blog. The first was the news that the Gangnam Style video had overtaken Justin Bieber as the most viewed post on YouTube. The second was when I took a brief that included the dreaded phrase “they want something viral.”

The news about Gangnam Style pleased me a little bit. After all, I’m one of the first to celebrate when the Bieber gets taken down a peg or two – anyone who displays this level of stupidity deserves everything they get in my book.

But the triumph of Gangnam Style also showed why the brief I took was asking the impossible. If, six months ago, you’d asked anybody what would come out on top in a battle between a video by the biggest teen heartthrob on the planet or one by an obscure South Korean rapper, I’m pretty sure I know what the answer would have been. And, personally I still can’t see why Psy’s annoying tune has become so popular. But obviously 805 million viewers see it differently.

And that’s the point about virality. It’s all down to personal taste. Which is why nobody can predict it. Yes, you can study the form – what’s become popular and what hasn’t. You can make something you think is bound to go viral. And you can market it as much as you want. But there’s no secret formula you can follow.

For example, some of the most popular YouTube videos have been completely spontaneous (Fenton anyone?). But there are millions of other spontaneous videos on YouTube that languish with just a few views. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it.

So, clients – please don’t ask your creative team to come up with something ‘viral’. Because ultimately, you’ll all be on a hiding to nothing.

There’s no such thing as “too creative”

As a creative for over 25 years in employer and education marketing, I’ve been told a few times that a client doesn’t want anything “too creative”. OK, I’ll admit it was sometimes couched in different terms. So they might say they don’t want anything too ‘outrageous’. Or ‘whacky’. Or ‘different’. But the message was the same each time: this client’s paying for something safe that they can understand and that won’t frighten the horses.

And this is where I had a problem. You see, I don’t believe that there are degrees of creativity. And my job was – and still is – to be creative. Not slightly creative. Not middle-of-the-road creative. Not over-the-top, Salvador Dali-on-coke creative. Just creative.

Oh, and effective. Because in my job it’s not good enough just to come up with fantastically creative ideas. They have to engage and excite people and incite them to take a particular action. So I’ve never had the luxury of just coming up with a bizarre idea and making it a reality. Everything I develop has to have a purpose. You might call it disciplined creativity – the ability to develop intensely creative ideas that do a specific job. Whether that job’s to get people picking up the phone, sending an email, going to a website or clicking on a link.

And on the whole, that’s what I’ve done. For 25 years. So, when recently I was told that one of my ideas was “too creative” it hit a bit of a nerve. Because I don’t do “too creative”. I just do creative. Creative that works.