June 28, 2020 31 Listening in the darkness T On June 21, the BBC put out its Antarctic Midwinter Broadcast 2020 for everyone to hear, not just those on the only continent unreached by Covid-19. It did this because people everywhere are experiencing loneliness, isolation and darkness in their own way. I listened lying awake at night. This issue of has two themes: it looks at all things audio – from podcasts to streaming to voice assistants – and contains our annual UAE radio guide; it also has a series of articles addressing mental health. I’d like to extend a special thanks to Shehzad Yunus and Matt Butterworth. On pages 24 and 25, they have opened up about their struggles with failure and depression. Those two features are deeply personal and must have been tough to write. They struck a chord with me, and I suspect many other readers will empathise too. For those of you who are lucky enough not to relate directly to the darker aspects of Shehzad’s and Matt’s stories, they are a reminder of the personal struggles our friends, family and colleagues may be tackling. As we all deal with our own darkness, we should remember to reach out to others, to remind them we are thinking about them. Now is a time to both speak up and be heard. Despite the darkness, light will return. Until then, it will do us all good to open our ears to one another and listen. he mosque near my apartment issues a call to prayer at 4am. It reminds locked-down Muslims that even though they cannot attend, they are not alone. While the early azan may come at the start of the day for some, or the middle of the night for many, I am often still awake. Under quarantine, sleep and I have been like two magnets. During the day, the attraction can be overpowering, but at night the poles are reversed. The more I chase slumber, the more it pushes away. To occupy and distract my mind, I listen to the BBC World Service radio station, which broadcasts news and current affairs programmes from London. It is neither mindless nor overly stimulating. Like a mother humming to a baby, it provides just the right level of background noise and audible reassurance to insomniacs like me. The World Service fulfils that role on a grand scale. It provides the same assurances for the 40 or so scientists who man Britain’s Antarctic research stations. Every year in June those researchers celebrate the Midwinter solstice. As well as marking the shortest day of the year and the start of a return to light, Midwinter marks the halfway point of polar researchers’ 18-month postings. The scientists cook a meal, open presents and watch John Carpenter’s (honestly). They also listen to the World Service, which transmits a half-hour programme over shortwave just for them. The Midwinter broadcast is both banal and wonderful. There are a few song requests, a couple of celebrities, a poem, and recorded messages from family and friends. “We miss you…” “Hope you got the parcel…” “We’re proud of you…” “Bring me back a penguin…” “I love you…” This year Sir David Attenborough read out a message to one young scientist from his girlfriend: she loves him, she misses him, she’s proud of him and, yes, she will marry him. Campaign AUSTYN ALLISON Editor email@example.com @maustyn The Thing The answer is brand, now what’s the question? In reduced to an academic subject, like a thesis. The answer always had to be brand, there was no other possibility; it had to be made to fit. But is that always true? A couple of decades ago, the largest advertising spender in the UK was the Central Office of Information. It had massive accounts like road safety, and fire prevention. Brand wasn’t the answer to any of its requirements; behavioural change was. It didn’t matter if anyone found the brand “road safety” attractive, it only mattered whether they drove more safely and didn’t kill so many people. Another of the biggest spenders was the Health Education Council – it had accounts like anti-smoking. It didn’t matter whether anyone found the brand “anti-smoking” attractive, it only mattered whether they stopped smoking and fewer people died. But it seems we’re not interested in changing behaviour anymore; it doesn’t fit with the answer “brand”. So here’s another thought, another way of approaching advertising. Maybe there’s an alternative to cutting up problems to fit the bed called “brand”. Maybe we could have different sized beds to fit different problems. Just a thought. saying: “The answer is X, now what’s the question?” In the case of advertising, it would be: “The answer is ‘brand’, now what’s the question?” Brand is our Bed of Procrustes, it is so ingrained as an answer we can’t even see it. And yet several decades ago, brand didn’t exist as an answer. It was obvious that most of the reasons people bought things were: price, size, range, availability, design, efficiency, durability. Right at the end of a long list was brand, it was only a small thing, but for marketing types it seemed to be the only part advertising could affect. As it was the one thing advertising could control, it was exaggerated in importance. An entire department was built around brand, called the brand planning department. And it was staffed by university graduates who couldn’t do advertising, but they could write long papers on brand planning. Which meant clients had to recruit graduates to decipher long papers on brand planning. And pretty soon university graduates and brand planning took over from advertising. The answer to every problem had to be cut or stretched until it fitted the solution “brand”. Which meant advertising was the ancient Greek myth, Procrustes was a robber and murderer. He would invite weary travellers to stay the night in his house and use his bed. While they slept, he would tie them up and then make them fit the bed exactly.If they were too tall, he would amputate their legs; if they were too short, he would stretch them on the rack. Either way they eventually died, then he took their money and possessions. This went on for many years until, eventually, Theseus captured Procrustes. He forced him to submit to the same treatment and of course it killed him. Over the centuries the term “Bed of Procrustes” became shorthand for forcing anything, usually ideas or data, into a pre-formed conclusion. Thinking would be stretched or shortened until it fitted the required answer. The start point for the investigation wasn’t the information gathered, and then working to discover a conclusion. The start point was the required conclusion, then working backwards to make all the information fit – anything that didn’t fit being altered or discarded. The modern equivalent is the A VIEW FROM DAVE TROTT Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking One Plus One Equals Three and
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