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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man: Sporting behaviour

‘You’re never alone with a Strand’, created by the S.H. Benson agency in 1959, is now famous as the most unsuccessful advertisement ever. With its raincoated figure standing alone on Albert Bridge, seeking solace from some unseen misfortune by drawing on a Strand cigarette, it was admired on artistic grounds until it emerged that the imagery depressed not only viewers but also sales. In our defence (S.H. Benson later merged with Ogilvy & Mather), the Strand was also a lousy-tasting cigarette.

9 April 2011

12:00 AM

9 April 2011

12:00 AM

‘You’re never alone with a Strand’, created by the S.H. Benson agency in 1959, is now famous as the most unsuccessful advertisement ever. With its raincoated figure standing alone on Albert Bridge, seeking solace from some unseen misfortune by drawing on a Strand cigarette, it was admired on artistic grounds until it emerged that the imagery depressed not only viewers but also sales. In our defence (S.H. Benson later merged with Ogilvy & Mather), the Strand was also a lousy-tasting cigarette.

‘You’re never alone with a Strand’, created by the S.H. Benson agency in 1959, is now famous as the most unsuccessful advertisement ever. With its raincoated figure standing alone on Albert Bridge, seeking solace from some unseen misfortune by drawing on a Strand cigarette, it was admired on artistic grounds until it emerged that the imagery depressed not only viewers but also sales. In our defence (S.H. Benson later merged with Ogilvy & Mather), the Strand was also a lousy-tasting cigarette.

There are many historical cases where attempts at persuasion have backfired. The ballad ‘The Wild Rover’, never in my experience sung sober, was written as a temperance song. Harry Enfield’s Loadsamoney character, intended as an indictment of Thatcherite materialism, became a mascot for city bankers. And, reading it at school, I thought Huxley’s Brave New World seemed a great improvement over real life in Monmouth.


The game Monopoly also belongs in this category. Before Clarence Darrow made his fortune from cut-throat capitalist roleplay, a forerunner had been launched as ‘The Landlord’s Game’ by Lizzie Magie in 1904, with the aim of educating players about the failings of capitalism, in particular the burdens imposed on workers by the owners of land. Magie was a Georgist, believing a tax on property should replace most other forms of taxation (actually a sensible idea which should be supported by any Londoner under the age of 50). The game was intended to attack the very behaviours it encouraged.

After reading about Magie (http://snipurl.com/magiegame) try Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. McGonigal is a computer games designer, and a practitioner of the newly named science of ‘gamification’, the idea that the study of games has much to teach us about society and human motivation, and that we should apply lessons from game design to improve real life.

Even though I don’t like the word, I think gamification is worth exploring. A few years ago a mathematician friend explained to me that the game of tennis is enjoyable to watch only because of the scoring system. If players swapped serve alternately, and the tally worked as in basketball (‘Nadal now leads Murray by 127 points to 43; new balls please’) it would be almost unwatchable. But because tennis breaks the score into watertight compartments, namely games and sets, it creates a structure wherein a losing player feels he is still in with a chance right to the end. That makes the narrative of the game far more enjoyable to fans and players. And because some rounds (break-points, set-points) are more critical than others, tennis’s moments of high tension are interspersed, as in a good play or opera, with quieter moments when players and spectators can relax a little.

Would society be better if life’s rewards resembled tennis rather than basketball? Imagine the opposite: a sport where points scored in the first ten minutes counted ten times more than any subsequent ones. You would make a frantic effort to establish an early lead, and then stop trying. What you have there is pretty much the system in France, where a stellar academic performance and a cushy public-sector job at the age of 25 (or their absence) largely seal the course of your life.

Or, by contrast, is it true that football, with its absurdly monolithic scoring system (where at any moment a triumph can turn into disaster) induces in fans and players a tension which often turns to violence? Certainly high-stakes societies, with rapid social mobility in both directions, are less placid than, say, Scandinavia.

Cricket is odd here. Why does a six not count for more? A British dislike of showing off, perhaps.


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