Last week I was in Amsterdam for the first ever Brand New Conference for Europe. (Hence the Brand Nieuwe.)

And it was great.

Armin and Bryony of Under Consideration put an extraordinary amount of work into the event, and it showed.

Not just in the painstakingly handmade event materials, but in the palpable sense of occasion. With a few hundred people from across the globe gathered into one room, there was a genuine excitement in the air.

Tempting as it is to write the most enormous and detailed review, I’ve allowed sense to prevail. I thought I’d focus – as you might expect – on how words and language featured in the conference.

Which was quite a lot.


Words everywhere

Naturally I’m more attuned to this topic than others might be, but language was a definite theme. From the ghastly…


…to simple words that had inspired wonderful branding and design work:


These two words, for example, sit at the heart of Bond’s beautiful identity for Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, presented at the conference by Marko Salonen.


The not-so-good

Opening the conference, Michael Johnson of johnson banks rightly took issue with the blizzard of jargon that so often blinds branding projects:


While, at the other end of the two days, Debbie Millman reminded us of the critical point that:


(This is why, at Reed Words, we’ve developed decks of themed copy samples, so we can ask: ‘Did you mean playful like this, or playful like this? Or more like this?’)

Somewhere in the middle, Michael Wolff – always a staunch champion of writing –  made this typically pointed comment:

Most commercial print is so badly written, why would anyone look at it? It’s written to be approved, not read.’

And he’s right: so much copy is still judged purely by function: does it say Point A? Point B? Point C? Okay, good. The fact it has all the clarity and narrative drive of a Soviet farming survey often gets a bit overlooked.


Better words

On a more positive tack, Michael Johnson spoke about the potential of words to define and differentiate brands. One of his slides was this Rapha brand value:


It’s hard to see, but it says ‘Glory through suffering’. The rather pompous Latin aside, this is bracingly fresh language for a corporate value. (And it feels spot on: serious cyclists seem to relish suffering to the point of fetish.)

What was most heartening of all was the frequent mentions of how important language is for framing, as well as implementing, branding work: defining strategy, articulating promises, crystallising propositions and so on.


(That’s Aporva Baxi of DixonBaxi, with some more words)

This sort of strategic work is often not thought of as ‘copywriting’. Which means ‘copywriters’ are an oft-overlooked resource when such work is being done. But – *trumpet-blowing klaxon* – we’re doing more and more of this work, and finding that it’s much appreciated by clients and agencies alike.

A couple of favourites

This seems a bit mean, given that almost all the talks were great, but I thought I’d highlight two of my favourites.

Coincidentally, they were both from American (nay, New York) speakers – Sagi Haviv of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, and Brian Collins of Collins.

Sagi told some great stories around the theme of challenging clients. ‘Build your case’ was his big message – which might seem kind of obvious, but how often do creatives find ourselves responding to challenge with something like ‘But… it’s perfect. Can’t you see it’s perfect?’


Here’s Sagi talking about the Chase Manhattan Bank logo – initially loathed by the Chairman, later enthusiastically embraced.

Brian Collins spoke about how design has finally been given the ‘seat at the table’ it has so long sought. And how sometimes, you should be careful what you wish for.

Since it began to be taken seriously, and designers got onto corporate boards, Collins suggested that brand design had become ‘professionalised’ and ‘well-behaved’.

As evidence, he cited the steady neatening and tidying up of identities like Google or eBay: now much more rigorous, consistent and neat than their forebears – and, in Collins’ thesis, dull:


I reckon he had a point. At any rate, it was a wonderfully energetic and inspiring presentation.

Lastly, my other favourite had to be the one by our client and friend Pablo Juncadella, of Mucho in Barcelona.

He talked through some of that agency’s wonderful work – and threw in a name-check for us, as we’d collaborated on some of it. Which was nice – thanks Pablo!

And thanks again to Armin and Bryony for a wonderful event. Laura and I will be in Nashville for the US Brand New Conference in September, and I’m looking forward to that even more now. Maybe see you there…


You can buy videos of all the talks from the conference website. (Free for attendees and webcast subscribers.)

Here are the tweets and Instagrams from the conference (tagged #BNConfAMS).