Alex Crowe

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

The invisible portfolio

In Portfolio on January 30, 2013 at 10:59 am

One of the problems with writing websites is that they tend to disappear.

I’d love to show you the work I did for ercol, for example. But it’s changed so much that only a few sentence fragments remain.

When I was employed at Publicis-Dialog during the noughties, I did an even bigger job for a housebuilder called Wilcon Homes. Their existing site wasn’t very user friendly, so we started again and created an enormous site with tons of information on every part of the housebuying process. One of the big changes was in the search engine – I thought it made more sense to look for a new home by location or price, instead of the name of the development. It’s pretty obvious (and I think the same about travel agents), but apparently it was revolutionary. A few years later I met someone who told me it became the industry leading website. I tried to find it this week, but after we re-branded Wilcon Homes to Wilson Connolly, it was bought by another housebuilder, who has since been bought by yet another.

Happily, I found the current owners of the website here. They are still using the same search engine and much of the information I originally wrote. There’s even some of my wording on the homepage. It’s not all mine, though – I would never start a paragraph with the word “We”.

Is it “it’s” or “its”? It’s “its”, isn’t it?

In Grammar etc. on January 21, 2013 at 9:59 am

When it comes to “its” or “it’s”, there’s a simple rule to remember: If you are trying to write “it is” or “it has”, use “it’s”. In all other cases, use “its”.

Even after an English degree, an English-teaching qualification and 18 years as a professional writer, I look twice at every “its” just to be sure. It’s not something to be embarrassed about. Or even admit in public.

(Much confusion over “its” and “it’s” comes from the apostrophe’s usual role to indicate possession – eg, “the cat’s food”. Just to be completely clear, “its” is the possessive form – eg, “the cat has its food”.)

Rewarding loyalty

In Portfolio on January 18, 2013 at 12:14 pm

This is what we sent out next:


The idea was to do a series of executions where the logo appeared unexpectedly. Here, a ship sails from the left as the sun rises. When the ship passes the sun, the Circle One logo is revealed and – as a loyal customer – you know something good is about to happen.


In this case, I think we sent free minutes of phone time – cheap for the company to do and great for the loyal customer to receive.

When I returned to the UK, I was shocked to see Channel 4 TV using the same concept with their logo between shows. They’re still doing it today, and doing it very, very well.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for the Circle One program (UK: programme). Shortly after we launched it, 360 was bought by another company who promised to keep the programme (US: program) running, then closed it almost immediately. I suspect accountants were involved.

I like this work for a number of reasons. In loyalty terms, it absolutely rewarded the best customers, which is the whole point. It also made something out of a very weak offer (ie, nothing) and did it beautifully. It was great to have a client who signed off everything we did and we had a lot of fun in the process.

Follow-up mailing

In Portfolio on January 15, 2013 at 10:21 am

A short time after the launch pack, we mailed this piece to those “lucky” enough to be at the elite level of the programme (US: program).


It was an invitation to collect a tiny, shiny – and very cool – space pen with the Circle One logo etched into one side. (I was also given a pen, although my luck ran out when it slipped shinily from my pocket onto a bench at Earlsfield station, in South-West London, in early 1999.)


Not surprisingly, these mailings were very well received by customers. I’ll post one more piece to show how we were going to develop the work and tell you how the story ends.

My favourite non-award-winning loyalty pack

In Portfolio on January 11, 2013 at 4:24 pm

This pre-ethical piece is one of the few jobs I was really pleased with from my time in the States. The brief was to launch a new loyalty scheme to customers of a cell phone (UK: mobile phone) provider. The offer was: Nothing. Nothing at all. Diddly squat.

So all we could do was tell people what they already had.

After coming up with a name and the coolest membership card of any scheme I’ve worked on (kudos to director Katie Hopkins), we mailed out the following pack:

360_outer front

A reverse window outer with the new logo as a constellation.

360_outer back

We used the circle motif everyone. It’s not very practical when it comes to windows, but we did it anyway.


The letter introduces the program (UK: programme) – this version is for the upper-tier (Select) members – and includes a member-get-member device.

360_letter back

The lesson from this letter is, if you have nothing to say, use parentheses.

360_brochure front

Another beautiful bit of re-touching.


The first reveal welcomes the reader to a new world of appreciation.

360_inside left

By this point, I hope the reader is amused and entertained…

360_inside right

…and ready for the next time they see the Circle One logo (in follow-up mailings).

360_card carrier

Here’s the membership card I was talking about.

360_card carrier back

And the back of the card carrier.

I’ll post the follow-up mailings next week, so you can see how this developed. My only regret is that the pack was never entered into an award. The client refused, because they wanted to keep their competitive advantage – a sentiment I had to respect, even if I disagreed. What use are awards anyway? They only need dusting.

Good news stories: Discuss

In Question time on January 7, 2013 at 11:30 am

I just came back from London, which has barely changed since I last saw it.

Yes, there’s a shiny new, power-hungry skyscraper that stands almost completely empty. But the sky is still oppressively grey, the drizzle is still depressingly unrelenting, and the ads on the commuter trains are still inexplicably dull – a massive oversight considering how much time is spent waiting for the broken-down train at <name of station two stops down the line>.

Now, I know most people read books, ebooks, free papers and text messages, but there’s still that opportunity waiting when the traveller raises their head in frustration and anger, their eyes turned skyward in an appeal to an apparently uncaring deity. The eyes always float along the line of ads above the luggage rack before coming back to the book or tablet in front of them. Or is it just me?

The only ad I actually read was for Shelter, talking about the 70-something thousand children without a home this Christmas (a figure that I think went over 80-something thousand after going to press). Like their online video, a good ad. But it got me wondering – with the success of activities like Comic Relief, what kind of testing has been done on good vs. bad news stories? What are the figures on people donating because little Katie is in a B&B, for example, compared with Katie being returned to a comfortable home thanks to a donation from someone like you?

I really would like to know.