May 19, 2011

The BIBA Conference is, of course, what business cards were made for. Bankstone News went through vast quantities of the wretched things last week. One followed another into some receptacle of glass, card or perspex, with junk mail the only prize on offer to all but the handpicked few.

There’s only so long one can decently gawp at the rythmically quivering flesh of the comelier of the belly dancers on Adding1’s bedouin boudoir stand, but little else real and true to hold one’s attention amidst such a squanderous profusion of bland corporate façadeage.

So much colour. So much carpet. So much to cram into those post-show skips. So many slogans all writ large – but what on earth do they mean? Bankstone News was particularly puzzled by the choice AXA appeared to be offering between redefining and standards. Which should one choose? Is there even a right or wrong answer?

Could it even be that slash somehow got there by mistake? A careless stroke of the stand painter’s brush? Could it be that AXA are in some sense purveyors of redefined standards. But surely if that were the case they would want to make clear whether they redefine standards upward or downwardly, or specify whether and how they live up to these mysteriously recalibrated standards, or something?

AXA are past masters of perplexingly opaque sloganeering. Some years back they took every opportunity to urge us to Be Life Confident. Was that poor translation from some perfectly reasonable French phrase, or simply willful weirdness? Back in 2002 they went all West Indian with You Only Have to AXA and back in the late 90s they said Go Ahead. Go Ahead with AXA – a marginal downgrade from the French original of Allez-y. Allez plus loin avec AXA. All very odd.

But other exhibitors weren’t making much more sense. Markerstudy (where did they get that crazy name?) claimed to be putting fun into insurance. That’s never going to work. The anachronistic attire of those manning the Good Ship Markerstudy, appeared to suggest that what they were actually putting into insurance was piracy. Which might make more sense, really.

LV= have wisely repudiated the embarrassing encumbrance of their Liverpudlian heritage by restyling themselves as a strangely spelled version of love, turning their stand at BIBA this year into a perfectly charming little tunnel of LV=.

Meanwhile RSA (which four-letter word is that set of initials supposed to evoke, Bankstone News wonders) also briefly flirted with love (or perhaps lurve) as a brand attribute, with a series of MoreTh<n ads in which the Julian-Barratt half of The Mighty Boosh performed an impersonation of Barry White a good deal less convincing than the one Josh Robert Thompson does of Morgan Freeman in their new ads. But RSA’s stand this year was all about how very old (300 years) the firm, or some obscure distant ancestor, is. Yellow insurance firm Uvavu can claim equal if not greater antiquity, but seems less convinced that age is a big selling point for the thrusting insurance enterprise of today.

Perhaps the least informative slogan on display was that of Markel, whose stand graphics proudly proclaimed We are Markel. Was this to avoid confusion with Markerstudy or something? Are their staff peculiarly prone to identity confusion? Oddly, they are not the only people doing this whole “we are” thing at the moment. Insurance services firm Pro (formerly PRO) now proudly proclaim “We are Pro” – leaving unspecified precisely what it is they are in favour of. Brand consultants Fallon, who helped RSA tell the world about how old they are, march under a banner saying we are fallon. And it all began, of course, with the Akron-Ohio-based whip-wielding art pop pioneers who professed in days of yore “We are DEVO!”


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