Fiction Games Guernsey Literature Marketing

The Devil’s Goat on Guernsey

My friend, Kiwi board game inventor Amanda Milne’s new game is now at prototype stage and is being play tested. Its working title is The Devil’s Goat and is based on Guernsey. Turns out it was sparked off by a children’s short story I had written for the Guernsey Literary Festival. As this story was published as a very limited one-off, I have been contemplating reissuing it as an ebook but if Mandy’s game takes off I might have to pull my finger out.

Mandy writes:

Inspired by a short story called the ‘Defenders of Guernsey‘ written by my friend Peter Kenny, I have been researching The Channel Islands and specifically Guernsey’s rich history of witchcraft and evil goings on…

Witchcraft is said to abound in the island. Both black and white witches are said to practice in Guernsey. The black witches were said to practice ritual witchcraft. They held assemblies and covens to summon demons and devils. The black witches were said to be led by an unknown person, who often disguised himself as an animal. Although the leader changed, it was always known as the Devil. Reports say they usually disguised themselves as cats and goats.

A couple of iterations on from the first rough sketch and I have a working prototype that is about to start formal testing. The working name is The Devil’s Goat.

In the game, players take on one character who lives on the island. Each character has their own secret agenda.  Rumours abound, goat sightings and attacks occur; journalists pay money for stories true or otherwise.  Each player is trying to achieve their own goal before the Devil’s Goat runs amok and tries to kill them. At that point in the game it becomes a team effort to stay alive: the characters versus the Goat!


For more on Mandy’s great idea, visit SchilMil here.

Marketing Postmodern Irony Real life

Goodbye unfair banking

Banks have been responding in interesting ways to their unpopularity. This of course was brought about by a series of largely self-inflicted wounds: the credit crunch, computer lapses, PPI and investments mis-selling, indefensible banker bonuses and so on. And the last couple of weeks we have the spectacle of HSBC money laundering in Switzerland.

HSBC certainly has an open mind to money laundering.

Banks have tried lots of ways to deflect attention from all this. The main broad tactic is to position themselves not being vast corporate pirates, but as on our side. Barclays, typically tied themselves in knots to do this, adopted at one point a postmodern approach with their Barclays Squirrel of Postmodern Irony.

NatWest, meanwhile, began to provide ‘helpful banking’, and much of their marketing focused on how their helpful staff were ordinary people just like us, who nurtured the modest ambition to be helpful. Of marketing in the UK NatWest’s approach seemed to me to be the best way to sidestep unpopularity. They did so by re-positioning their offering in in what I call ‘real life’ territory. Their ambitions appear modest, but plays to an awareness of how difficult ordinary life is for us ordinary folks. And of course by saying they are ordinary just like us, we can almost have sympathy for them too. Very clever.

But the hair shirt is still there. Passing through Victoria Station yesterday I noticed a huge banner with its stale old hello/goodbye riff. But its implicit acknowledgement of the sector’s guilt made me grin. How did it all end up in such a marketing mess for the Banks?


NatWest banner Victoria Station, London


11 London – nimble new healthcare communications agency

So I’ll be looking forward to spending a lot of my time this year freelancing in my capacity as Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd with these guys 11 London – nimble new healthcare communications agency.

11 London

Food Green Marketing

How McDonald’s is losing the plot with Fresh Fruit Fridays


For cynical marketers a sustainability benefit is easy to find, and all kinds of organisations try to crowbar their product into what I call Green territory. However reluctantly an environment-threatening ingredient is removed, for example, you can soon be claiming your product is ‘now even greener’.

While this very morning I heard a radio execution promoting Free Fruit Friday. For even McDonald’s, engaged in what would appear to be the Sisyphean task of portraying its food as healthy, now seems to be positioning itself as a purveyor of health food. It has a requirement for ‘safe, sustainable supply sources for its burger meat’ for example.

Mc SustainabilityOn its websites you will find calorie counters, information about allergens, and laudable declarations about sustainability. See here from the UK site.

Striving for a sustainable future
At McDonald’s we recognise our responsibility to protect and preserve the environment for future generations to come. Our goal is simple, all of our activities are centred around the key priorities of reduce, reuse, recycle and redesign with the aim to use less energy.

While I admire the sheer energy of all this. Is this a sensible response to falling global sales? I wonder. The fact is that however much McDonald’s professes its green and health-promoting qualities, people simply don’t believe it. Their burgers are evidently loved by millions, but surely not for their health promoting attributes. They are a tasty, guilty pleasure.

McDonald’s is a prime example of a corporation’s marketing losing the plot by occupying a territory that simply doesn’t belong to them or ring true.  While I’m not suggesting it should not continue to pull up its socks on sustainability and health, leading with this as the main marketing motif is a costly error.

campaign Campaign Fail Copy Marketing

5 ways this HMRC marketing tactic is not okay

HMRC at the ATM

1. This is not okay because despite it being a threat to tax dodgers, its imagery unambiguously accuses you. It’s aim as a piece of marketing is to deliberately make you feel paranoid.

2. This is not okay because it is intrusive. This tactic has been chosen to threaten you as you are about to embark on the private transaction of getting your cash out. Despite the best efforts of Seth Godin, and his permission-marketing acolytes, we are all accustomed to be interrupted by marketing. But this is just unpleasant.

3. It is not okay because it is straight out of George Orwell. Here is Big Brother’s all-seeing eye representing the state. Does the state really want to be seen like that? Isn’t there another territory this can belong to, that is more positive and less reliant on poorly executed 1984 based-concept?John Hurt as Winston Smith. His own personal sadness helped him

4. It is not okay because of the physical context of the message. You may be getting money to buy some food, a fluffy kitten or something else utterly innocuous. Nevertheless this requires a cash transaction, a vulnerable moment in a busy street or public area. A great moment for the government to threaten you? No, actually.

5. It’s not okay because it creates anxiety. An agency of the state uses the old copywriter’s trick of stating the negative ‘If you’ve declared all your income you have nothing to worry about’. But it seeds the idea of ‘worry’ nevertheless. And even if you take the line at face value it is overpowered by the imagery and headline.

And, by the way, it’s not okay to threaten individuals while vast corporations get away with it. 

Marketing Real life TV advertising

Weight Watchers – ‘My Butt’

I  caught this US ad for Weight Watchers on the Best ads site. What I like about it is that it refers to ‘my butt’. I worked on a campaign for an appetite suppressant drug, where a larger woman was pictured was saying, ‘I decided to stop being fat’. The word fat proved controversial, with some countries balking at the idea of running it. So hats off to Weight Watchers and Wieden + Kennedy, Portland for actually using the language that the majority of their target audience would use.

The voiceover ends with ‘the relationship with my butt had nothing to do with my butt, and everything to do with my brain’. Am I alone in finding this a bit odd? It could point to a potentially uncomfortable objectification of women’s body parts, but I think the ad does enough tonally to avoid this.

The concept, the rueful voice over and the copy approach what I’d call ‘Real Life’ territory – being matter of fact in tone and somehow suggesting it’s time to face up to reality and act. Sadly the execution loses its nerve visually. The butts on display remain aspirational for those in its target audience. Weight Watchers want you to get real and think about your own huge post-festive butt, but then lose their nerve.

Sad this, for what Weight Watchers are asking us to trust it with something about which many people feel deeply vulnerable: their weight issues. But as it does not reflect the truth when it is trying to acquire customers, it undermines this potential trust. A vague ‘support system for the brain’ doesn’t quite compensate for not staying real.

Decision Marketing

The HMRC campaign provokes more thoughtcrimes


So here is another HMRC campaign against tax evasion. First credit where credit’s due. This is less toxic than the previous campaign that infuriated me so much.

  • The copy tone is less accusatory. They are closing the net on ‘tax dodgers’ rather than what was previously implied that they are closing the net on you personally. And of course the sign off ‘If you’ve declared your income you have nothing to worry about’ is a vast improvement.
  • From a design perspective, it’s weak. The silly turquoise lines are there to suggest some kind of network tricknology to ensnare those wrongdoers who don’t cough up. But again, it still represents a minor improvement to the ghastly eye peering through grey paper they favoured last time around.
  • The Orwellian eye is retained, and despite being less threatening this time, this execution would dearly love to instil a little fear and paranoia if it hadn’t had its teeth pulled. But is this really what the UK government wants the overwhelming majority of its citizens who do actually do pay their taxes to feel? And there’s no need to state again who the real tax dodgers are: they’re not the people walking past this poster on their way to do a bit of shopping.

Why not help people to do the right thing instead?

Here’s an idea. Rather than infantalising us this way, why don’t HMRC opt for a territory that is about making a decision instead of popping out to say boo! to us. Talk to people as if they were adults for God’s sake. Remind them they have a responsibility to pay up, and if they are facing difficulties, the best thing they can do is talk to the tax office to try to sort things out. Remind people that they have the power to decide to pay or decide to engage. For after all, the alternative is exactly the paranoia inducing state that this poster would love to induce.

Of course marketing exists to prompt decisions. In what I call Decision territory anxiety is introduced to add urgency to the purchasing process. But create too much anxiety in a campaign and people will do nothing. (This is true in healthcare and charity sectors too).

The HMRC could instead make the decision to pay look easy and rational. Allow the taxpayer to feel they are able to engage with the tax office, and that they have it within their power to do the right thing. This must surely be better than sticking a giant eye on the side of a public phone box (network geddit) like the one below.

So HMRC, if you’re listening. Lose the 1984 shtick and treat us like adults. Or in other words show us a bit of the carrot, and not just wave the increasingly limp and discredited stick.

Marketing Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd. Poetry Telltale Press

Peter Kenny The…

Let nobody tell you that moving house twice in five weeks is a good thing. Murderous impulses it produces aplenty, but writing… no. I now sit in my new study, white augmented by a recently applied shade of grey-green called Sophisticated Sage (what can I say, it spoke to me). A small room, with an elevated view west over north Brighton and rows of streets gleaming in the low sun. There’s even a windmill on the horizon. A visual lottery win compared to my last place, where, if you craned your neck, there was a choice of a square of sky or a guano-spattered brick wall.

ECCE-HOMOIn fact my new view gives me the heady feeling feeling I get looking at the Caspar David Friedrich cover on my old copy of Nietzsche’s Ecce Homo.

As the exhaustion abates, I discover I am happy. I am usually an optimistic person, but two years of property and legal stuff worked my nerve in some ways far more than a full-blooded crisis. Bleak House I understand you now: how appalling the sense of time, money and hope slipping away can be when nothing ever seems to happen except for Kafakesque correspondence, tetchily requesting installation details about the property’s non-existent ‘bulls-eye windows’, for example.

So what’s new? Well when not scraping walls of biscuit-coloured bobbly wallpaper, packing and unpacking boxes, mainly I have been copying my friend Robin Houghton and hoping her sheer professionalism will rub off on me. She and I are working closely on Telltale Press, a poet’s collective, and there will be more news in the new year. Meanwhile I understand The Nightwork is about to pick up a few reviews. Its first review, however,  is here at Sabotage, with the writer somewhat underwhelmed by my efforts.

On a more elevated note there will be a reading in London on Wednesday 7th January. My old friend Rhona McAdam will be gracing us with her poetic presence too, armed with her new book, her sixth, Ex-Ville. There will also be the frankly steamy Catherine Smith, shining new talent Siegfried Baber as well as Robin and I. I’m really looking forward to it.

I am also no longer just a humble Peter Kenny. For various reasons I have morphed into Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd. This all seems fine and dandy till my bank sent a bank card with my business embossed in plastic as Peter Kenny The.  I guess what comes after the The is the big thing.  I’m in the mood to prove it.

Announcement Decision Marketing

The power of YES


The referendum in Scotland is poised dramatically. Any copywriter, however, will tell you that the word ‘Yes’ is a fantastic asset for those who want independence. We use it against tick boxes to encourage people to sign up: ‘Yes! I do want to enjoy a lifelong subscription to…” The territory of Yes is a broad sunlit highland. It is optimism condensed into a word. For by saying ‘Yes’ you are in the affirmative, you are saying yes to life. It pinpoints the moment you decide to act positively. Even the sound the word makes rises optimistically.

NO, of course, can be powerful too. It is a response to danger, the resistance to being imposed upon. NO is the assertion that the status quo should be maintained. It is negative, dour. Its vowel sound a muffled howl of grief. NO THANKS, as sported on the lapel badges of those like Alistair Darling who want to maintain the union, is even worse. It manages to appear prim, as if someone were waving away a plate of unsatisfactory shortbread biscuits.

If Scotland votes out of fear, surely it will vote No. If it votes out of optimism, and an assertion of its own identity, it has to vote Yes. This is not a political observation, just the nature of the words themselves.

Airline Marketing Zen

Norwegian Airlines make me think of kittens


Passing through Gatwick Airport last week, I saw a aircraft.

As someone whose responsibility it is to stare fixedly out of the window to prevent an aircraft falling from the sky while aboard, I like anything that helps me reframe the experience of flying.

I have done work with Air France in the past, and their work must only feature empty blue skies, and people in a heavenly state of relaxation. I call this Zen territory. Zen territory has little to do with actual Zen but is shorthand for people looking extremely chilled. The fact is that unless you are forking out for first class the reality of travel is not like this at all. You are not sitting with your feet in a blue pool, looking up at a clear, sunny sky. You are more likely feeling a tad claustrophobic and listening to your inner child asking are we there yet?

What I like about the aircraft is that it proudly proclaims that it has wireless internet on board. It posits a journey where the traveller can “poke friends’ or ‘watch cute cat videos’ or ‘check email’. In short do everyday stuff instead of experiencing the existential terror of being buffeted about miles above terra firma. Give me the kitten videos every time.

The fact that it uses the whole plane to advertise the wifi is interesting. Does it cheapen the brand? I think not. It makes me smile and gave me a positive reason to enjoy my flight with Norwegian.