GOOD RELATIONS
Lifestyle communications agency focused on all things culture, retail and entertainment
  • Why House of Vans won’t sell shoes

    On 9 August, House of Vans arrived in London. Hosting the only indoor skate park in the capital, as well as a cinema, music venue, art gallery and bars and restaurants, HoV has been hugely successful in pulling in the crowds five days a week to club nights, skate sessions and community workshops.

    But what sets HoV apart is that visitors cannot buy a single Vans product there. Not one.

    So what makes it so successful? Aside from the free entry and the novelty of an underground skatepark underneath Waterloo station, how has HoV become one of the city’s must-visit events?

    On opening, Vans’ marketing vice president Jeremy de Maillard said its purpose was to make the space feel like a ‘house where everyone is welcome’ and that the aim is not to sell but to immerse people in the Vans brand and make them feel part of the ‘Vans family’.

    Vans itself, a US clothing and footwear brand, has long been associated with skateboarding and youth culture and it is this that HoV seeks to bring to life. By focusing on enhancing the lifestyles of its target market, rather than just trying to sell to them, Vans is better positioned to build a loyal community rather than just a customer base.

    Authenticity is important here. Shoehorning a brand into a fun but completely unrelated event does not create the same positive associations. It appears fake and forced and detracts from the brand’s credibility without fostering any enduring commitment. By taking out any commercial element, Vans made a clear statement that HoV was not about any financial gain on their part, but rather just a chance for Vans lovers to get together and have a good time.

    These sorts of events – also trialled by others such as Levi and Converse – are experiencing a renaissance at the moment, largely due to their natural integration with social media. With exclusive online content, interaction through various social sites and visitors sharing their own experiences, brands are able to reach even greater numbers than they could ever hope to do by just running these as something that could only be experienced physically. Making these events work across all platforms means that Vans is able to cultivate its presence both on and offline, amongst HoV visitors as well as their friends and followers.

    Vans overcomes the need to sell products at HoV by playing the long game. By putting on a unique event for everyone to enjoy, Vans boosts engagement with the brand and understanding of it, without having to push sales at everyone attending. Once visitors have this affiliation with the brand, those who identify with it are more likely to become long-term Vans customers, rather than making one-off souvenir purchases at HoV which have little value for anyone.

    Vans’ success is in showing that Vans is more than just shoes – it’s a way of life. And House of Vans gives visitors the chance to live it.

    By Matt Robshaw

  • Seeing is believing! The coming virtual reality revolution?

    image

    “Put on these goggles, go nowhere, and be transported anywhere. It’s the same escapism peddled by drugs, alcohol, sex, and art — throw off the shackles of the mundane through a metaphysical transportation to an altered state. Born of technology, virtual reality at its core is an organic experience. Yes, it’s man meets machine, but what happens is strictly within the mind.”

    I found this great quote on TheVerge.com which got me thinking about virtual reality (VR), where it could go and how it could ultimately change our lives…

    It’s hard not to notice that VR technology is everywhere! Its announced as being the next big innovation in tech but the promise of virtual reality has always been enormous and has been around in certain levels since the 50’s; the military for example have used virtual reality technology for war simulation for years. However VR got its biggest boost when Palmer Luckey raised enough money on Kickstarter to create the Oculus Rift (some of you may have had a go at this in the GR office a few months ago), the Oculus Rift was quickly snapped up by Facebook in July this year.

    It’s worth noting the Oculus Rift is just one of many VR projects currently up and running; Google recently produced a cheap DIY virtual reality headset made solely of cardboard, embedded with two lenses. When a user places a smartphone in the front of the device, the viewer receives an immersive 3D experience comparable in many ways to more expensive hardware like the Oculus Rift. You may have also noticed on Wednesday this week Samsung launched an untethered virtual reality headset with a removable front plate that conceals and protects the housing for a Galaxy Note 4. Samsung spent over 12 months developing the software to support  the mobile VR experience and it will be interesting to see how much consumers buy into this.

    So what’s next with VR technology? We all know that gaming has got its mits tightly round VR but where will the next VR revolution take place? What experiences will we be able to go into VR? Could you imagine enjoying a court side seat at a tennis match, studying in a classroom or consulting a doctor face to face all possible by popping some goggles on in the comfort of your own home?! Whatever developments come out the next few months, experts indicate that VR has hit a critical mass in the tech community; developers are working toward creating products that will capture the public and entice them into virtual worlds and playing games will just be the beginning.

    However it would be hard not to talk about VR without mentioning the lack of actual accessible VR technology at the moment. I really agree with a quote I recently saw from Oculus Rift’s Luckey:

    "It’s really easy to make an announcement that you are working on something and doing a Kickstarter, but it’s much harder to actually ship a consumer-ready, polished, and working product."

    So even though there is an abundance of VR hype no VR product is currently available to consumers, including the off-the-shelf version of the Oculus Rift itself. However I say give it time and one day VR will be a viable option for brands to make meaningful experiences for their consumers and for us to revolutionise how we live our lives!

    By Victoria Smith

  • 7 of the best Twitter exchanges involving brands

    Brands and their Twitter profiles are curious things. More than just a promotional tool, Twitter allows brands to really engage with their customers - and with other brands too. Below we’ve outlined 7 of our favourite brand-to-consumer and brand-to-brand exchanges - just because it’s Friday.

    Read More

  • 'Great Britain' review - A play that left us wanting more

    We went to see the play Great Britain last night.  As you may know, the play opened without reviews at the National on Monday 23rd June follows delays due to legal advice given to wait until the verdicts were reached in the phone hacking trials.  We were intrigued. How close to the truth would it go? Would it show us things about the inner workings of the media that we didnt know? Would they comment on whether they thougt the verdicts from the trial were fair?

    A satire based on the phone hacking scandal, it is set at ‘The Free Press’ – a fictional tabloid newspaper. It focuses on Paige Britain (played by Billie Piper), the news editor who discovers the ability to hack phones and uses it to discover stories and in turn drive readers to the paper. It’s written by Richard Bean, playwright of One Man, Two Guvnors and explores the relationship between press, police and politics. 

    So, to our questions…. how did it answer them?

    Well, it didn’t, really. At times a little too close to the real events that took place over the last few years (slightly boring as we all know the details very well), I was slightly disappointed by the lack of real comment on the illegal practises, the consequences for the those affected and the future of the media. 

    For me what was interesting was the look at the inner workings of a tabloid newsroom – showing the daily news conference and the need to constantly create stories that will drive readership.  Plus the cast was fantastic. 

    Not sure how many tickets are still available but I got one for £15 so it won’t break the bank.  Details here: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/great-britain-at-the-national-theatre?dates#tabpos

    Nicola Hamilton

  • Pogonomics

    Beards have been the subject of controversy for thousands of years. Some of history’s most beloved and respected individuals have sprouted prodigious growths, with wearers including everyone from Jeremy Paxman to Santa Claus.

    The last five years has seen a huge resurgence in the beard as a fashion accessory, not only for east London hipster, but in the day-to-day life of thousands.

    However, according to a recent guardian article, the beard movement may finally be facing the chop. With beards having become so prolific, they no longer hold the mystery and uniqueness they once did and as such are becoming shunned as a trend of another age.

    But where did they come from and for what purpose were they grown?

    Originally making its re-emergence in around 2009, it is the belief of some that we have the economy to thank for the hirsute faces we see today. A rise in unemployment and a drop in disposable income, courtesy of the financial crisis, seems to have invited jobless men to forsake the effort of shaving and to try to make savings on razors by trying follicle experimentation.

    That said, whilst this may explain the popularity of the beard on the faces of the sort of men who live in east London and dress like 18th-century carpenters, it does not explain its spread to the employed masses.

    Hollywood certainly played a role in this spread, as Buzzfeed’s list of the 51 Hottest Bearded Men in Hollywood attests to. However, to understand the deeper significance of the beard, we must look to our primal routes.

    In Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, he makes the first recorded suggestion of beards having an important evolutionary role. Darwin hypothesized that the process of sexual selection may have led to beards – a theory support by many modern biologists – arguing that there is evidence that a large proportion of females find men with beards more attractive than men without beards. Of course, Darwin himself was a rather hairy fellow, so one should take this with a pinch of salt.

    Although bearded men (pogonophiles) undoubtedly believe that their facial bushyness puts them at an advantage with the ladies over their clean-shaven counterparts, one must remain cautious when choosing the type of beard. Moustaches come with worrying connotations; Guy Fawkes goatees are downright sinister and it’s highly unlikely that the Monkey Tail comes with any pulling power whatsoever.

    With that in mind, like marmite, beards have their haters (pogonophobes). Periodically made illegal at various points throughout history, until very recently a beard suggested either that you were still recovering from the 60s or were a closet Communist. Today however, many arguments against them stem from the lack of hygiene and/or questionable living habits that they imply. If someone is apparently unable to control their facial growth, how can they be trusted as a business partner?

    As the popularity of beards teeters on a razors edge (quite literally), the fashion conscious among us must recognise that, although flattering for many, they are starting to feel a bit like shell suits and crop tops – something quickly going out of Vogue and only worn by bizarre subcultures.

    With this stark reality facing us, there remains only one thing to do. Have a shave. Move on. Relegate beards to the hinterlands of style as quickly as possible. After all, the sooner they are banished, the sooner those Shoreditch-dwelling eighteenth century carpenters can ironically re-embrace them and the more quickly we can have them back.

    Matt Robshaw

  • ‘Hello, My Name Is Paul Smith’: London’s Design Museum

    Earlier this month the GR Life team was lucky enough to visit the Paul Smith exhibition at London’s Design Museum.  Showcasing the best of the masterful work of the British designer, it also offered a behind-the-scenes insight into the world of the man responsible for those signature colourful stripes. Featuring  a host of memorabilia ranging from diary entries, full-scale replicas of Paul’s office and design studio, as well as a gallery of his favourite fashion pieces from past seasons, the exhibition brought Paul Smith ‘the brand’ to life.

    The central exhibition space was flanked by floor-to-ceiling displays of Paul’s personal print and poster collection. Just a snapshot of the thousands of prints he has collected over the years, from signed photographs of footballers to paintings of flower pots, the collection is vast and varied – giving observers an idea of what really goes on inside the head of a master of design.

    Paul Smith has collaborated with manufacturers and brands across the board, from Evian bottles to Condor bicycles to limited edition Minis. His designs are distinctive, original and, let’s face it, just plain cool.

    The main event for us fashion-conscious folk, however, was undoubtedly the clothes. Paul is arguably best known for his self-titled fashion label and for crafting gorgeous, sharp and quintessentially British designs for both men and women. From leaving school at 16 with no qualifications to showcasing the first Paul Smith collection for men in Paris in 1976, Paul Smith is now a household fashion name.

    The pieces displayed were a selection of Paul’s favourites from collections gone by: plush velvet blazers, sumptuous silk gowns and even fully sequined trousers all featured.

    Paul describes his brand as “uniquely British”: “We mix up one-off antiques with high quality tailoring: the chair you sit on when you buy a suit is for sale and we can wrap the suit and have the chair waiting for you when you get home”. The Paul Smith brand combines the unmistakeable with the unexpected, never losing its sense of style: each and every Paul Smith store, for example, is as unique as the man himself.

    Closing the exhibition is a giant handwritten post-it note stuck on a pink wall (obviously). ‘Every day is a new beginning’, according to Paul - ever-so-casually concluding a fascinating insight into the world of a master of innovation.

    Emma Blackwell

  • 5 key trends from SXSW Interactive 2014

    GR Life’s Nicola Hamilton has returned from five days of mind-blowing inspiration at South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas.  From talking to live at the International Space Station live via Skype to collaring Chelsea Clinton straight after her keynote, it was an incredible experience.  “But what were the key trends?” is the question that keeps being asked.  With over 50 events taking place at any one time across the festival, and 142 talks on 3D printing alone, it’s difficult to summarise in a few bullet points.  But here goes:

    Privacy

    image

    Key talks included a ‘virtual conversation’ with Julian Assange speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a video conference with NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden who appeared through seven proxies and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who ran Edward Snowden’s article, appearing in conversation. We were urged to act now to protect our security online and it was suggested that data privacy will become a commodity given today’s “surveillance state”.

    3D printing

    image

    The talks on 3D printed shared little of news value; more interesting was the demonstration of the technology being put into practise for brands.  ChefJet used sugar, water and alcohol to print delicious sweets for visitors.  Oreo created a ‘trending vending’ area where vending machines used 3D printing to “print” the filling of Oreo cookies based on top trending topics informed by #eatthetweet. Even my Airbnb housemate was getting in on the action. An artist and designer, she creates 3D printed jewellery as part of her portfolio.

     Wearable tech

    image

    As with 3D printing, there wasn’t much here that hadn’t already been heard at CES but seeing it in action was the discovery.  Techies wandered around sporting their Google Glass (seemingly more keen on courting attention than using the technology).   A fellow attendee glanced at his Pebble wristwatch to keep up to date with the news during our meeting.  Our own client Subway, a headline sponsor of the festival, EEG-reading headsets were used to encourage attendees to “think flatizza”.  A focus on health demonstrated how wearable tech can decrease child obesity by game-ifying fitness.

    Tech for social good

    image

    Hugh Forrest, director of SXSW Interactive, spoke on the last day, hoping that the festival had shown us “the power of technology to level the playing fields between the haves and have nots”.  A similar line was explored during Chelsea Clinton’s closing keynote: “technology empowers people to do good”. She asked us: “How will you use your channels and power do good?”  Even Austin Kleon, one of the most inspirational speakers at the event (self-described ‘writer who draws’) added to this conversation. He asked “What are you building that will last?”.  Danah Boyd agreed, “social media allows young people to participate in public life”. A nice link to our Power of Good work here at GRG.

    Old being brought back to life

    image

    Something that struck me across the event was the re-emergence of old technologies, being used in a modern way.  GIFs, virtual reality goggles, viewmasters

    I was given a demo created by Topshop for their menswear catwalk in January. The 3D technologoy allowed me to really feel as though I was there – seeing backstage, from the press pit and from the FROW, all in high definition 3D.

    Danah Boyd, research at Microsoft and expert on youth social media, explained the resurgence of GIFs as led by teens “who don’t know it’s come from the past”. The New York Times stand in the trade show capitalised on this trend, inviting visitors to record a 9 second video that would be turned into a GIF.  For some Friday afternoon amusement, mine can be seen here: http://social-gen.com/nyt/index.php?s=1&e=172&f=11094312_background.  Occulus Rift was on display – which struck me as an old skool virtual reality experience until I tried it for myself. 

    For more info on Nicola’s experience at SXSWi, you can view her blog for IPA here: http://www.ipasxsw.com/tagged/Nicola-Hamilton. If you hve any questions about her experience don’t hesitate to contact us!

  • It’s like real life, but better – A guide to online dating in the digital age

    With over eight million people living in London and plenty of those yet to find love, you’d have thought it wouldn’t be too hard to bump into that special someone. Speaking on behalf of the singletons however, with the bouquets, chocolates and soppy Facebook statuses of Valentine’s Day still a recent and painful memory, this logic is cold comfort. With bars, clubs and social activities failing to solve the heartache of many, huge numbers are now turning to the Internet to solve their problems.


    Online dating was once thought of in the same vein as Facebook stalking a crush or singing on the toilet. It was something no one admitted to, yet many did. With the advent of apps and the mobile age however, everything has changed. Apps have given the lonely hearts of London love at their fingertips, free and unconstrained (or at least so they would have us believe). Apps such as Tinder and Plenty of Fish have found a huge following among the 18-30 year olds of the capital, free to use, integrated with social media and full of likeminded young, attractive singletons.

    Tinder ranks highly in popularity here. Promising endless choice and a sophisticated matching system that pairs individuals up based on their Facebook interests. It leads with the bold claim that ‘It’s like real life, but better’. Don’t be fooled by this suspiciously science-fictionesque tag line.

    For  those of you unfamiliar with Tinder, the general concept is to view a set of pictures of a user, then swipe right if you like them and swipe left if you don’t, with mutual right swiping letting you chat. In theory a noble concept, but one that all too often turns into something of a cattle-market, where Tinderers fill their profile with pictures of themselves covered in animal-print body paint or stripped off to the waist and holding puppies.

    One might argue that, shallow as this seems, you’re not going to want to make a life with someone who physically repulses you. Although a fair point, this doesn’t take into account the mind-numbing repetitiveness of trying to flirt with someone you’ve never met, whilst attempting to seem unique, spontaneous, interesting and funny. Almost inevitably this starts with ‘Hi, how are you?’, continues with ‘Have you been on here long?’, and finishes with some terrible attempt at humour or a request to be their friend on Facebook having never met them before.

    Another disturbing trend is those in relationships who use Tinder – a surprisingly large group. Usually this is the result of some sadistic tendency to mock those less fortunate in love than themselves. Other times they openly post pictures of themselves with their other half and include ‘On here to meet friends’ in their biogs. For a dating app this is a ridiculous statement and worthy of as much derision as vegetarians visiting a steakhouse and requesting the non-meat option.

    With such great risks and heartbreak seemingly at every turn, there are three important rules all online daters in the modern world must observe:

    • Avoid contacting anyone who only has group shots on their profile. They’re either uncomfortable being photographed alone or are so busy having fun with their friends they won’t have time for a love interest.
    •   Ignore anyone starting a conversation with ‘Hey’, ‘Hey hey’ or ‘Hiya’. They clearly have nothing interesting to say about you or themselves if they can’t make a first line last more than two words.
    • Always punctuate and spell correctly and avoid excessive use of emoticons. Text speak hasn’t been cool since the Nokia 3310 was all the rage and no one wants to date a halfwit.

    All these pitfalls aside, Tinder does of course have its benefits – it exposes users to a huge number of others who are (usually) looking for love. In some cases this can even lead to dates, a small number of which may be successful. So yes, in this sense Tinder could be argued to be better than real life inasmuch as it provides so many options for those devoid of the ability to communicate in the real world.

    However, Tinder, and online dating in general, is a risky business, largely populated by those not taking it seriously or the incredibly sexually frustrated. As such, despite the convenience of it and the huge amount of choice, in the words of Barry White ‘Love Ain’t Easy’. Serious things such as this should not be bought off the shelf like so many aspirin. It requires effort, blood, sweat and tears and, more importantly, for you to get off your phone and into the real world. Although the digital age may have brought us many useful innovations, from laser hair removal to the ability to print your own bionic ear, it has therefore yet to master the art of digital love. For those singletons out there, your search must continue. Offline.

    Matt Robshaw

  • All Barre none

    It’s the end of January, which means that we’ve all tried to make doomed attempts at self-improvement. Some of us will have tried dry January (I lasted three days before falling into the warm and loving embrace of Oyster Bay). Others will have quit smoking (again, my best friend Marlboro Lights snuck back into my handbag after a couple of days.)

    The one resolution that did stick however, wasn’t a new year’s one, but one I made when I moved to London. After years of miserably sweating away on the cross trainer, or half-heartedly following Tracey Anderson’s murderous workout DVD, I was going to find a kind of exercise that I didn’t hate.

    When I got to London I realised that our offices were a ten minute walk from the Central School of Dance, which is located on Herbal Hill. I gleefully picked a class and dragged my two best friends along feeling delightfully Sex and the City (taking an exercise class with friends falls firmly into my “things real life adults do” category.)

    We were struck from the moment we walked in by how exciting the atmosphere at Central is. The changing rooms are filled with tutus and pointe shoes and lithe dancer-types with perfect ballet hair milling around drinking diet cokes and talking about auditions. From the moment we arrived we were totally hooked.

    I thought that adult ballet might be a bit silly.  But menopausal women bounding in tutus, it really isn’t. The dancers who turn up every week are a mix of professionals who want to keep their basic skills up, ex professionals who are getting back into dance, and people who’ve never really danced before but really want to improve.

    At Central our teacher David Kierce treats us like we’re in real life training, and isn’t averse to shouting “How on earth are you going to do that on the North American tour?!” when we can’t line up properly. Of course I’m never going to be a ballerina; dancers who dance professionally normally start at the age of four and go en pointe at eleven, but improving progressively and slowly are realistic goals.

    Ballet burns 550 calories in a 90 minute session, which is pretty great. The main benefits that I’ve noticed have been how much more toned and flexible you become, really quite quickly. There’s also an almost immediate improvement in your posture.

    Adult ballet is held at multiple different schools across London, including the Central School of Dance, City Academy and the London Russian Ballet School.

    Rebecca Reid

  • My 2015 News Year’s Resolution

    On New Year’s Day I broke my New Year’s resolution. To be completely honest, I didn’t really want to make one in the first place. Nevertheless, in the true spirit of New Year, I felt obliged and pressured into promising myself that, this year, I would give it a good go. Unfortunately just hours later I found myself watching my new Davina McCall workout DVD whilst sitting on the sofa with a box of Quality Street.

    This led me to think: why do people even bother? Every 1st January millions of us vow to sacrifice something, give up a vice or change our ways purely because it’s the start of a New Year. Why do we have to wait until 1st January before announcing that we’re going to lose those 10 pounds once and for all?

    Every year brands and businesses aim to cash in on the New Year’s resolution and we are bombarded by new product launches, gadgets and the best-ever-fat-burning-celulite-sucking-tummy-trimming-life-changing cling film wrap there’s ever been.

    However in recent years many charities have also begun to realise the benefits of people’s determination to improve their own lives in some way.

    Just before Christmas global power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z announced that they were going vegan. Almost overnight going meat- and dairy-free became the most fashionable lifestyle choice anyone could possibly make. Then ‘Veganuary’ was born and, if you really want to, you can live off of leaves, lentils and tofu for an entire thirty-one days not only because it’s ‘healthy’, but because it actually raises money for a good cause. The Veganuary campaign raises money for animal charity Viva!, which campaigns against animal cruelty and promotes an entirely vegan or vegetarian world.

    If you can’t quite bring yourself to give up that Saturday night steak, you can join Cancer Research UK’s ‘Dryathlon’ and become a ‘Dryalthete’ for January. Give up alcohol for the entire month and improve your own health whilst raising money for a great cause. Last year 35,000 people signed up and raised a phenomenal £4million along the way.

    So the New Year’s resolution can most definitely serve a purpose and be beneficial to thousands or even millions of people, making my own efforts look, quite frankly, pretty dismal. Visit www.veganuary.com or www.dryathlon.org to find out more about how you can get involved or, if you’re like me, maybe just try again next year.

    Emma Blackwell