The Cycle Of Cool

I put forward the hypothesis that places can only really be cool for a few years. 

The Shithole

All cool places start out as shitholes. It’s a fact. Think of a cool place in a big city. Within the last twenty years or so it would have been a shithole.

A shithole can be described as boasting high crime rates normally centred on domestic abuse and drugs, scary-as-fuck staffies, betting shops, babies with earrings, an average tattoo count of 6.7 p/person and a local Farm Foods. Residents include Wayner, Trish and MC Pickaxe.

The populace is witty, brutally honest, and boasting a strong sense of community in stark contrast to their feelings for outsiders. They’ll make you laugh whilst they rob your phone.

It might be tough to truly identify a shithole because anyone who’s ever read a blog has never actually been to one in its embryonic form.

The struggling creative types 

These guys have names like Noah or Jasmine. They’ve received decent educations but refuse to work for the proverbial ‘man’. Skilled with their hands but emotionally unstable – a combination of weed psychosis, alcohol dependency and unwavering millennial angst.

They complain about society but their solutions don’t stray much from backing the Greens or lofty, unactionable communist ideals. Their parents are upper middle-class and holiday six times annually.

Hunting as they do in packs, these struggling creative types soon find a cheap studio at the heart of the shithole. They make hideous pieces of art and jewellery from other people’s waste. Nobody buys them and the struggle continues.

But after about six months, Jasmine’s Dad relents to selling off part of his City insurance firm, giving her the cash to pursue her ‘dream’ – opening a vegan café called Zion.

Zion causes a frenzy in the shithole, becoming a pillar for the new community. The creative types flock in their droves to drink coffee wearing headphones, share quinoa recipes on Web WhatsApp and smoke rollies outside on their own. Conversation – “what’s the wifi?” – is electric.

Similar groups arrive and more and more businesses spring up. While Wayner’s spoon is only getting greasier, the refurbished boozer next door has started serving skin-on fries on upcycled bin lids at only six quid.

Soon the wave of new arrivals don’t just come to work. They actually live in the shithole.

Unbeknownst to all, but the Cycle of Cool is in full motion.

Cool kids

Cool kids can be split into two sub-groups. Tragically, the genuinely cool kids account for only about 3 % of the demographic to which they lend their name.

They like cultural stuff like photography, skateboarding, graffiti, for the simple reason that it genuinely interests them.

They eat healthy food but party way too much but that’s fine because they work hard and pay their taxes.

They dress well or, at least, they dress naturally because what unites them is the fact that they’re oblivious to the fact that they’re cool.

Soon, the cool kids visit the shithole because they appreciate the not-completely-shit creativity starting to manifest itself.

Another year passes – the cool kids, the creatives and the indigenous shitholians living blissfully side-by-side.

Business is booming. Sourdough sales are through the roof. Now, perhaps two years into the Cycle, this place is no longer a shithole. It’s actually pretty cool.

The area will be miscommunicated as ‘up-and-coming’, first by the digital press, swiftly followed by politicians and your parents. In that order.

However, it’s not up-and-coming at all. It’s the opposite. And disastrously, this means it’s too late.

We’ve reached peak cool. 

The ‘cool’ kids

Meet Monty.

Monty arrived approximately 0.01 seconds after the peak of cool. How can we be sure? Because his mere presence is proof of its decline. He doesn’t just arrive at the tipping point – he is the tipping point.

You see, Monty belongs to the other 97%. He’s a ‘cool’ kid.

It wasn’t always like this of course. When he first begins frequenting this place he was not even ‘cool’, let alone cool.

Monty, from a proud upper-middle-class family, wears expensive clothes but had zero taste. You know the outfit; pale-blue shirt with white pinstripes, coupled with mustard chinos so long that they pretty much envelop his shiny brown brogues.

Poor Monty soon realises that, although he was one of the biggest jokers on his house hockey team, he’s got nothing on these state school kids.

But soon, a spark…

Monty remembers how loaded he is. And with money, he knows he can become cool pretty much overnight.

Soon, he dresses the same as the cool kids. Well, 97 % the same. The nuances are at once subtle, at once alarmingly obvious. New Era cap position 20 % too far,  the skinny jeans just a little too tight around the arse. The genuinely cool kids know it instinctively and deep down, poor Monty does too: he’s still not cool.

A year after his transformation, he still can’t roll a spliff or truly appreciate trip hop. He can’t shake his understanding for voting Tory.

In fact, the only reason this sub-class even exists is because there are so many of his brand of dickhead constantly validating one another’s ‘cool’, namely through use of terms like #winning.

And so begins our slow descent.

The Cycle is dead. Long live the Cycle.

It’s Zion’s 5th birthday party.

Simon and Jasmine announce that they have signed on their first property together. MC Pickaxe, now behind bars, accepted a £900,000 offer for his two-bed ex-council house. Monty lived in the semi-detached London Brick directly opposite.

Once shit, then ‘cool’, now just fucking spenny. This Cycle is long since dead.

But what of the new wave of creative types? And the cool kids? Where will they go?

Well, you tell me. Because there’s a new cycle in motion, right now, in your city.

From Stokes Croft to Shoreditch, Mitte to Williamsburg, shitholes are never transformed in isolation.

Multiple cycles spin simultaneously across locations, all over the country, throughout the continent and across the world.

You should check them out – they’re really up-and-coming, serve great coffee, and will soon be pretty damn ‘cool’.

Two Birds : A Poem

Because I’m so alternative, I wrote a poem summarising my life and times. If non-discernible, it’s about throwing parties in my youth and now essentially doing it for a living.

This tale unfolds on Gloucester Road
A place of magic so oft bestowed

On moped all-black, locks painted white
Our zebra armed with the gift of the night

For twas the dawn of dubstep and heaven forbid
A bracelet of entry for only three quid!

A startup? Stop there! Yet was certainly lean
As don’t tell Lakota that him only sixteen

So why share this fable? Why should it ring true?
For this is first bite of an appetite grew

Post-study up North, all goblets o’ booze
And a year off-shore that had all Toulouse

Him settle in London, new family FRUKT
A voyage to greatness, his cabin be booked

Who knew back then when chasing dat paper
He could combine dem skillz with dem of Don Draper

Those imprints of youth, in more mature hands
Still selling the night but now it’s for brands


Danny ‘Two Birds’ Stone was my boxing name. The robin is synonymous with my late Mother’s family and, being a life-long Bristol City fan, this adds yet further meaning.


Typecast Tim and the Copy that Stole Christmas


This morning I was reminded of my first ever advertising planning meeting.

I was 18, on my own in bedroom and wearing just my pants.

I’d recently launched my first-ever business — a free football magazine — that was seeing little to no success through its primary marketing channel, selling b2b ad space.

A full two weeks into the launch plan, I decided to do change tack.

It was time for something drastic. It was time for our first consumer play.

Backed by a modest budget of about £280 (production, media etc.) it was clear I needed to tap into the ceiling-less potential of organic digital.

In short, I needed to go viral.

To be honest, I needed a fucking miracle. And for millennial non-trepreneurs like me, in lieu of true divine intervention, I took a pew at the church of St. Google.

Armed with the creative lethargy normally reserved for buying sink sponges, I duly punched in ‘how to make an ad and go viral’ to the search bar. No Google, I wasn’t feeling lucky.

And yet, to my great surprise, I was met with a treasure-trove of hints, tips, lists and general must-read advice on the subject. Looking back, I can only presume these were all published by previous exponents of highly successful viral ad campaigns? I was doubtful.

And my suspicions were seemingly supported as the majority of links weren’t pointing to separate pieces of work, but seemingly just to one. An ad, I would soon learn, that in viral terms was the pioneer, the daddy, the holy grail – all rolled into one. It was, of course, the famed Dollar Shave Club ad.


I watched the spot in awe and in that moment, in my head, I wrote my first ever creative brief. It went something like: “Well let’s just do that then!”.

Ever written a brief wearing only briefs?

I watched the video back, pausing at regular intervals, excitedly scribbling my scene-by-scene interpretation which, in fact, took the form of unbridled thievery:

· I walked myself through my magazine printing house

· I bantered my way through a couple of key product benefits

· I even made a left-leaning immigration gag

However, I soon come to the abrupt realisation that what I was doing was shit and scrapped the campaign — its cycle lasting a full twelve minutes.


What’s the point of all this?

Well this morning it was raining – the only time I dare get the tube to work. I hate the tube.

But one saving grace from the misery-faced, coffee-on-your-crotch, bad-breath-down-your-neck drudgery of the Central line are the ads – I feel slightly more culturally in-tune once cuddled from all sides by star-studded film releases, chart-topping pop albums, and even those shitty English crime novels called something like ‘He Watched Her Leave’.

I feel a subconscious sense of being both in the know and in the now.

I feel inspired.

But this morning, one ad this morning caught my eye for a slightly different reason.

Let’s play billboard spot the difference:

To the left, an example of the pretty much the most omnipresent advert currently in circulation at tube stations, from Jack Daniel’s.

Uniquely bold form (copy-heavy, they often take a couple of minutes to fully digest), famous enough that there’s even a VICE article written about them, and effective enough that I actually read the buggers.

To the right, a very similar advert from Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.

Here they are in-situ:

Spotted: JD + TT / Master and Apprentice

Make your own mind up. But for me, when such a celebrated work shares the same backdrop, design structure and TOV whilst telling the same type of story, in a similar category, in the same place, it begs the question of whether someone, somewhere, has spouted that famous line: “Well let’s just do that then!”

Either way, it got me thinking about how certain types of ads look and feel so similar to one another:

· ‘Shiny new car driving around the Swiss alps’ TV spot

· ‘Hollywood A-Lister looks nice so must smell nice’ perfume ad

· (Sadly) 90 % of all TV charity ads

· Every radio advert ever made

Perfume ads: the Hollywood of Homogeny

It was early in my career that I realised how generic consumer insights can drive generic brand or campaign strategy.

It was the 2014 World Cup and three ads in a row told me (me the archetypal independence-and-empowerment-yearning millennial) to go ‘All in Or Nothing’ (Adidas), ‘Risk Everything’ (Nike) and then, most bizarrely, that my Dorito’s were in fact only ‘For The Bold’.

Without strong creative executions, the manifestations of these messages may be blurred and their effectiveness lost.

Jim Carroll, BBH’s former London Chairman, discusses this as an example of ‘wind tunnel marketing’: the thinking that, as approaches to strategy and measurement have become more sophisticated and standardised, we find ourselves in a culture of codification that has ‘lost faith in the power of difference’.

The upshot of this is, in his words, a ‘numbers game, where the scale of resource wins’.

Using the perfume example, the consensus is that brands like Chanel or Dior can afford to create adverts in the pursuit, principally, of ongoing brand awareness and recall. In short, they can afford to be ‘ignored’ because to our subconscious, in truth, they’re actually not.

A 2016 report from management consultancy firm A.T. Kearney supports this, finding that an annual spend of £647 million in fragrance marketing changed very little in terms of cut-through: four out of five of the top-selling fragrance brands have remained at the top for five years.

So, for relative small players in the marketing world such as Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, let this be a cautionary tale.

The risk of being complicit, either consciously or not, in a homogenized [insert brand here] advertising culture, is unlikely to be as forgiving, not even at Christmas. As my girlfriend reminds me repeatedly, Timothy Taylor is not Chanel.

Further, consumers know when they’re being sold to, especially when they’re being sold to badly. There’s inspiration, there’s imitation, and then there’s downright intellectual property violation.

I often have to remind myself of Mark Ritson’s first rule of marketing: “you are not the consumer” which is true — I will undoubtedly look at these things in a different way.

Time will tell if the Timothy Taylor ads will be effective or not but, somewhat ironically, I can call upon my own experience to make a case for brand recall.

For that very same morning, sodden from the rain but with my mouth frothing from lamentations of the state of modern marketing, I had a sudden urge for a drink.

“Shit!” I thought…had my marketing peers successfully got into my head? Was I playing the role of unwilling consumer? Was this their plan all along coming to fruition?

At 8.58am, on a Tuesday, I walked into an off-licence and I made the most unprecedented of moves:

“Bottle of Jack Daniel’s please mate”

A Grave Issue

I was standing in Highgate cemetery. My housemate and I had cycled from our flat in Hackney to see Karl Marx’s grave.

I don’t frequent many graveyards, especially not of my own volition, but the £6 price tag seemed a bit steep to me. Is this the going rate? I don’t recall them being that spenny back in Bristol.

Perhaps it was that we were in a smart bit of North London? Maybe this was the number one cemetery on Trip Advisor? Well maybe, but more likely it was that we were in the presence of this famed historical figure, despite the fact he’d been ‘brown-bread’ for over a century.

If the latter is true, it seems a bit harsh that visiting a late loved one should be made more costly, more than a pint more costly, just because an esteemed carcass has been plonked somewhere in the general vicinity.

Either way, we decided to climb over the railings instead.

It must’ve been a pretty bizarre sight to any onlookers. As we did so, it struck me just what confused middle-class rogues we must have appeared – too inquisitive not to see this prized lump of concrete, too skint to do so lawfully.

Once inside, I recalled a school trip to France that took me to Omaha cemetery. There, rows and rows of graves lay in perfect white symmetry as far as the eye could see – each cross or Star of David representing a fallen WWII soldier in a sea of morbid beauty. Were they all religious back then?

The contrast to Highgate couldn’t have been greater. Before me sat tombs in a range of sizes, colours and materials but almost all were united by a grubby finish, chipped edges and overgrown foliage. Some of the trees had uprooted, toppling a number of the headstones, left strewn on the floor, as inanimate as their skeletal counterparts tucked six feet under. I’m not sure I can bring myself to call it a ‘shit cemetery’ but, truth be told, the place was a fucking mess.

Dodging trip hazards in the form of branches and probably flailed human limbs, we reached Big Karl’s grave.

It was easy to spot – at least once the selfie sea had parted –  as it was the biggest one in the place, by quite a way.

This seemed a bit odd to me. Would the father of communism want his posthumous existence to be lived out so ostentatiously? Or are some animals more equal than others?

I thought about this all later on and I got quite pissed off. Did this place not have a gardener? Or at least a headstone picker-upper? If not, what the hell was this dollar going towards? It was annoying enough paying council tax to live on a pot-hole-riddled road, but this was a graveyard. Name me one thing in the world requiring less maintenance than a fucking gravestone? Even if it belongs to Big Karl.

But then I couldn’t decide whether my absent £6 was part of a silent, justified dissidence or a classic case of ‘herein lies the problem’.

As we walked around the cemetery towards the exit, I wondered what would be inscribed on my own tombstone. Almost all I saw before me boasted name and date of birth, making them at close inspection uniquely identifiable but, from afar, the complete opposite – common, unoriginal, almost lost.

I had always liked my name and date of birth. Fortunate really – these two facets of my identity as concrete as the tombstone they’ll one day be slapped upon. They seemed to exist as a triumphant duality – separate entities working together to form a greater whole.

How fitting it was that my Dad, whose life was centred on teaching, reading and basically adoring the English language – something he passed on to me – should have a son born on April 23rd – the day on which Shakespeare was supposedly born and died.

As for my name, my mate at Uni once made a passing comment that will stay with me til death do us part.

Scanning my drivers license, he uncovered an amusing juxtaposition between my given name, Danny Stone, sounding as he thought “like an East-End gangster”, and my middle names, Francis Martineau, recalling in his opinion that of “a French renaissance poet”.

In summary, he looked at me and said: “Well I guess you’re somewhere in between.”

That trip to the cemetery, with its fusion of life and death, has also stuck with me as I try to understand my own identity. Curious, outgoing, quasi-cultured, with an inherent taste for rebellion, an underlying desire to be different and, ultimately, an insatiable confusing about the world in which I live.