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On the road again October 29, 2009

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, intent, marketing, philosophy, work/life.
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3 comments
Cover of
Cover of On The Road

I have had Jack Kerouac‘s On The Road given to me a gift to keep at least three times. I imagine some combination of traits my friends spotted in me (wannabe-philosopher mixed with restless-and-easily-distracted) focused their attention on this book. When people visit, they remark on the copies that line my shelf:

“You liked it enough to buy it twice?”

“No. I ignored it long enough to be given another.”

This is not about that book though. This is about perception (and a little intent).

Your friend and mine Mark Earls referenced a piece from Lynne Truss in the UK’s Sunday Times in which she states:

…I like to see what other people are reading on the bus or the train; how far they’ve got; whether they’re enjoying it. It seems to me that such information needs to be public for the good of us all and I’m sad to think of reading in public places ultimately becoming so private…

Lynne was lamenting the arrival of E-Readers and the disappearance of actual book and magazine covers from the parks and cafes and public transport systems of the world, along with the loss of a shared look or a fleeting conversation about the work at hand.

Lynne Truss’ worry stems from the removal of social identifiers in public spaces; it seems we don’t just judge a book by its cover, but the reader as well. I smile whenever I see another grown-up reading Harry Potter in public, because I remember being consumed by those books and also embarrassed to have them out in public without an 8 year old in sight. We use these things (and clothes, iPods, cars and holidays) to signal via the perceptions we assume others will have. My intent given my office wardrobe today of boho-cardigan and falling apart at the seams (but limited edition John Varvatos-collaboration) Converse sneakers, is to signal something true about myself; unfortunately that truth is little more than the clothing equivalent of the never opened copies of Kerouac’s masterpiece, or as I wrote in Everyone 2.0, you’re unique.

Just like everyone else.

I have friends (they shall remain nameless because I love them dearly) who have taken great pleasure in displaying tomes they have conquered in the name of enlightenment. These friends drew more pleasure from others seeing they had read (or at least bought) the appropriate books than perhaps they did from the work itself. On The Road is a book a selection of my friends feel I am supposed to have read, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, something someone says I am supposed to do instantly defaults to the thing I am least likely to do. Their intent is to help me appear a culturally astute and well-rounded individual; my intent is the equally pretentious attempt to thumb my nose at convention simply for the sake of it.

Now, my favourite magazine is British GQ as its collection of columnists is a veritable who’s who of the UK’s newspapers. They are regularly funny and insightful and it pains me when the publisher stoops to putting a scantily clad woman on the front cover, partly because the writing is better than that suggests but also because I then feel the need to explain to others, much as the joke about Playboy goes, “I read it for the articles.” Perception reveals, or so we would assume, intent. Perception is also said to be reality, and so given the option of tangling with the looks I imagine women might give me on the subway in the mornings, I opt for Wired and instead leave Heidi Klum in her various states of undress on my coffee table for next Sunday (sorry dear, you know how it is).

Back to the Kindle, on one hand I like where we’re heading as I could potentially just read A.A. Gill‘s column without wondering if someone’s nipple is slipping out on the other side for the rest of the train to see.

On the other hand I’m envisioning a birthday not too long from now, where a gift arrives as a download along with a note “Didn’t see it in your “Read Items” list on Amazon and thought to myself David is supposed to have read books like this!!

The identifiers are perhaps moving out of the physical world in some ways, I doubt however this will have much impact on the intentions we have for everyone else’s lives.

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Why Australian GQ sucks – part 5: Online May 20, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, marketing, work/life.
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4 comments

Everything Web 2.0Do me a favour, open a new tab or window in your browser and punch in www.gq.com.au. What happens? It re-directs to the Vogue website where we’re given a token sampling of the current issue in the midst of the Australian Vogue website.

Hold up (wait a minute).

Vogue. We’re not Vogue, we’re GQ! Since when is the GQ man subservient to the Vogue woman? Understand, this isn’t gender politics, this is branding 101. The GQ man is strong and independent, he is a law unto his own stylish self. He can have epic, swinging-from-the-chandeliers-sex with the Vogue woman, but he is in no way beholden to her, certainly not a subset of her environment.

Contrast this with British GQ. Being the digital guy that I am, I’m going to call a spade a bloody shovel (thanks Grandpa), the British GQ site isn’t much better, but it is its own beast. Girls, gadgets, films, music, motors, style, grooming, bars, restaurants and only right at the end is the magazine mentioned – which makes me think, nay, hope Conde Nast’s UK operations have an inkling that print still has a role to play but its digital offering needs to have its own legs.

(I am however biased…moving on…)

GQ.com.au should be something the magazine is not. Nobody is going to read a printed page’s worth of content online, pieces are shorter, they’re a single idea (or they should be). You have people’s attention in a place where they’re willingly engaged by your brand. Not only that, you probably have the attention of some fairly articulate and intelligent people (and then me) who are in a medium where they’re familiar with exchanging ideas in public forums; why not give them an appropriate space to do that?

What about a showcase for Australia’s best menswear designers? You have such limited inventory in the magazine, online is as good as limitless. We’re all guilty of salivating over the same foreign labels, though I was in a bar Saturday night and a guy in Zegna asked where I got my coat – it was Saba, home grown. If a site conveniently put together a shopping list of Australian labels I would seek them out and wear them proudly.

Let’s recognise there’s a whole audience around men’s grooming and fashion that is unique to Australian culture, why is Australian GQ not the epicentre of that the way GQ is in every other territory? Because we still all aspire to Paul Smith suits anyway? Perhaps. But if we don’t back our own nobody else will, and GQ Australia is in a privileged position where it can and should make that happen.

In conclusion…

I’m a huge fan of the GQ brand – to me it perfectly nails a combination of aspiration and accessibility. The GQ man is James Bond without the inconvenience of having to save the world (though he probably could…), it is working hard and playing much, much harder. We all have brands or products we love that have somehow fallen by the wayside, as consumers we can demand they do better, and we should! If they do better, then everyone wins, if they don’t, it is a one-sided victory that isn’t even ours – it goes to that brand’s competitors.

For now though, I’m going back to work, There’s a new British GQ out on the shelves of Borders, and I’m stuck back in March. I suppose in the absence of Australian GQ, I’d at least have more time…

…something the GQ man can never get enough of.

Image courtesy of Stabilo Boss with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction
  4. Audience & Competitors
  5. Online (you are here)

Why Australian GQ sucks – part 4: Audience & Competitors May 19, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, marketing, work/life.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

I may very well be the only straight man in Australia with this opinion, but I’m not interested in buying magazines with girls flaunting themselves on the front cover. If I want that, I can go to almost any bar on a Friday night and see pretty young things who can’t hold their pre-mixed vodka. And if for some bizarre reason I’m really desperate to see girls tarted up and air-brushed to within an inch of their cosmetically enhanced lives, I’ll google “porn star” and see what I find. In fairness, British GQ are as guilty of this as anyone, and Australian GQ actually have Guy Pearce on the cover for their April/May issue.

Regardless, put a stunning David Bailey portrait on the cover (better yet, an Australian photographer – Robert Paul Mee has a lousy website but is brilliant) and I’m 10 times more likely to buy than a bikini-clad actress. I realise I have now put myself in an even smaller subset of beings who know a David Bailey photograph on sight, but nobody said this was going to be easy.

The first part of this is something I don’t have an easy answer to, but I think about it a lot, and that’s we need a new definition of masculinity because the old one isn’t working, and while that is something that informs this argument, it is itself a separate post (and one I look forward to).

The second part of this is looking at the space GQ exists in. Australian GQ competes on the shelves of newsagents and Borders against British GQ, American GQ (only marginally better than ours, but full of white-bread Hilfiger and Polo ads, therefore beyond saving) and Esquire (here the US version is actually better than the English one) among others.

It does not compete (or at least it shouldn’t) with Ralph, FHM or any other “lad” magazine purporting to appeal to stereotypical male culture. Who writes this drivel? Who sees enough value in its pages to shell out for it? FHM are certainly aware of how low-brow they are, to the extent that they’ve started releasing dedicated Style issues in an attempt to reach people like me. Sorry guys, your brand doesn’t stretch in that direction, no matter how hard you pull (pun intended).

Does the GQ man lust after models in magazines or does the GQ man party with them on his private yacht? Right. So get them off the cover and let’s replace it with some men we can actually respect and who have earned the spot. British GQ used to run “Britain’s leading quality men’s monthly” across their masthead, and while you could argue you shouldn’t have to say it, they at least knew where they were headed.

Tomorrow, we’ll finish up by looking at online.

Image courtesy of Proserpina with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction
  4. Audience & Competitors (you are here)
  5. Online

Why Australian GQ sucks – part 3: Art direction May 18, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, marketing, work/life.
Tags: , , , , ,
4 comments

Art directionI’ll raise a hand here and say this is a subjective one, everyone likes something different. So, be something different! The art direction on Australian GQ is so clinical as to give the appearance of robotic overlords having taken control, operating on a paint by numbers basis.

In fairness though, British GQ has an ace up its sleeve; it’s called Jo Levin. Jo has been the magazine’s director of chic for a long time, and does it so well a book called GQ Cool was published a couple years ago, highlighting her best work which went a long way to making every person in the pages look like a bonafide superstar, even when all the person staring back at the camera had managed was an ungraceful early exit on Pop Idol. British GQ’s writers are extraordinary, but, with a picture being worth a thousand words and all, Jo Levin gives the magazine a hundred thousand more each issue.

Overall, the layout and art direction in GQ OZ seems more an after-thought than a seized opportunity to extend the brand’s visual identity. I don’t know GQ’s circulation, maybe it does indeed lose money each issue and is actually the poor cousin of the rest of the publisher’s stable. If that is the case then there’s no attempt going on right now to hide that, but I don’t think anyone is capable of mounting an argument that GQ should ever appear second best to anything.

Much like the Editor, the Art Director needs to take that vision of GQ and wash that through the magazine. If you need glasses to read and don’t have them handy, then the colours and shapes on the page should still feel like GQ, and currently it has all the passion of of a senior’s pharmaceutical brochure. All the words used to describe the clothes on display (crisp, fresh, modern) should be employed for the layout. This will forever remain subjective, but if I may employ the words of Malcolm X on a far more trivial matter than he had in mind, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

Still to come: audience & competitors.

Image courtesy of Simon Pais-Thomas, with thanks to Flickr Storm.

Update: I wanted to link all five posts together for easy reference, so here they are.

  1. The Editor
  2. The Writers
  3. The Art Direction (you are here)
  4. Audience & Competitors
  5. Online