The bank that likes to say NO

ING Direct (USA) was launched in September 2000. From the start it liked to do things differently.

“One way or another, most financial companies are telling you to spend more. We’re showing you how to save more,” said original CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann.

ING is an Internet-based savings bank, dealing directly with its customers. It has only a limited number of easy-to-understand products. It prides itself on speed, simplicity and low overheads. It claims to be the bank for the people on “Main Street, not Wall Street”.

But it says no to what a lot of other banks like to say yes to.

There are NO minimum deposits and NO customers’ fees.

It has NO ATMs, NO branches, NO advisors (it’s an Internet, virtually paperless organization). 

It doesn’t market checking accounts or auto loans. Not only does it not market credit cards, ING openly campaigns against them

“If you’re truly committed to helping people change their financial lives and to doing it step by step, then you should not encourage them to do things that could lead them to lose money,” says Chief Customer Service Officer Jim Kelly.

Read more: The bank that likes to say NO

The brand is mightier than the business

Can you be a great brand but a bad business proposition?

There is much talk today about the business being the brand and the brand being the business, but for me these are not exactly the same thing. Rather they are the yin and the yang of an organisation and the story of the Blackwing 602 highlights that there is a difference.

Introduced by the Eberhard Faber Company during the Great Depression, the Blackwing 602 had a graphite-grey lacquer finish, a distinctive shape, an iconic foil-stamped logo, and an adjustable eraser housed in an extended ferrule. The pencils initially sold for 50 cents each.

Now, it wasn’t only what the pencilt looked like that really made it different. It was also what was on the inside and how that affected its performance in use. The Blackwing had an unusually smooth, soft-yet-durable lead, which allowed Faber to claim: “Half The Pressure, Twice The Speed.”

The Blackwing 602 has a devoted following and a cult-like status. It had a list of celebrity endorsements any brand would be proud of including Nobelprize-winning authors, Oscar-winning animators and Grammy-winning songwriters. 



“I have found a new kind of pencil—the best I have ever had. Of course, it costs three times as much too but it is black and soft but doesn’t break off. I think I will always use these. They are called Blackwings and they really glide over the paper,” said John Steinbeck talking about his working habits in the Paris Review.



Asked in an interview with the Academy of Achievement in 2005 whether he used any special kind of paper or pencils, Stephen Sondheim replied; “I use Blackwing pencils. They don’t make ‘em any more, and luckily, I bought a lot of boxes of ‘em. They’re very soft lead. They’re not round, so they don’t fall off the table, and they have removable erasers, which unfortunately dry out.”



During a television interview with Charlie Rose, legendary animator Chuck Jones of Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tunes characters was asked about the “pen” he was using. Jones gently corrected him and then added: “A pen is full of ink. This [Blackwing] is full of ideas”.

Despite this following of famous people and thousands of other users, the Blackwing was discontinued in 1998.

Read more: The brand is mightier than the business 

R A L S B E B C = 14 (at least)

America’s Great Depression caused untold misery but the necessity of trying to feed your family drove people on. I have already written the tale of how Charles Darrow developed what was to become Monopoly after losing his job at a sales company. However, he was not the only person for whom necessity was the mother of invention.

In 1933, Alfred Mosher Butts lost his job as an architect and decided to try his hand at developing a board game.

He set about it methodologically and while he might not have known it, he followed many of the principles of best practice in innovation – analyse the market, identify the best opportunity area, develop something new that fits into that space, prototype it and test it.

He began by analysing the set of current board games. Sitting in his apartment in Queens, New York City, he determined that there were three broad types of game - move games like chess, number games such as bingo, and word games, of which he could think of just one example, Anagrams.

Having identified word games as his opportunity area, he decided he wanted to create a game that combined the vocabulary skills of crossword puzzles and anagrams, with an additional element of chance. 

He analysed the front pages from a number of papers including the New York Herald, to assess the frequency with which each letter in the alphabet appeared. He then used this information to help him decide how many tiles a letter should appear on and how many points it ought to worth.

The game, which Butts originally called Lexico, was the result. In its first few years, it was in fact to go under a variety of different names including ‘It’ and ‘Criss-Cross words’.

The first prototypes had boards that were hand drawn using Butts’ architectural drafting equipment, reproduced by blueprinting and pasting on folding checkerboards. The tiles were also hand-lettered, then glued to quarter-inch balsa and cut to match the squares on the board.

His wife Ninawas an ex-schoolteacher and his first guinea pig.  She beat  Alfred at his own game - he claimed he was never any good at spelling.  It has been reported that Nina once notched up nearly 300 points using the word ‘quixotic’ across two triple-word scores.

Soon the couple were gathering friends and neighbours to play in the hall of the local Methodist church but the game stubbornly remained a  local hit. 

By mid-1934, Butts had sold just 84 handmade sets at a loss of $20. Every major games’ manufacturer turned it down, and his application for a patent met the same fate. 

Luckily for Butts, the economy began to pick up and he was able to resume his old job at the architectural firm.

Read more: R A L S B E B C = 14  (at least)

The pigeon and the pint







Most good breweries will tell you that great beer starts with the finest ingredients. Timothy Taylor is one such brewery and maintains a very Yorkshire sounding principle of “not accepting second best”.

Their Knowle Spring brewery sits on a natural artesian well, which provides them with a constant supply of pure Pennine spring water; water that has been filtered through layers of limestone and is naturally soft and very pure. If you chose to drink it in its pure form, it is said to taste like melted snow.

Their unique strain of yeast, called appropriately but not surprisingly Taylor's Taste, is over 1800 generations old. It was chosen to combine perfectly with their water and barley. 




Timothy Taylor is one of the last brewers in Britain to still use whole leaf hops. These hops may cost more, may be harder to store and take more looking after, but Timothy Taylor believes they’re vital to the flavour of their beer. 





However, it is when it comes to the barley that the brand’s commitment really shows. Not only do they exclusively use Golden Promise barley, which is the most expensive barley you can use for brewing beer - it’s the barley used in many malt whiskies – but they are notoriously picky about the batches of the barley they choose.




So who is it that scrutinises the barley? 

The Master Brewer?

No, someone even more picky than that. 

The quality assurance experts are none other than the pigeons of Yorkshire.

Read more: The pigeon and the pint

Refreshing the advertising – hit or myth

The British love beer

The British love their beer advertising

The British advertising industry loves an advertising myth

Heineken’s famous “Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach” campaign scores on all three counts.

The myth runs that one of the best beer advertising campaigns was created by a creative team who, without an idea in their heads fled the country with a one-word brief and the threat of being firing if they didn’t come back with a campaign. The second half of the myth is that the campaign was nearly killed by initial negative research but only saved by a client who chose to ignore the findings.

The myth

It was the early 1970s, a period when bitter dominated the UK beer market but lager was starting to grow rapidly, and copywriter, Terry Lovelock and art director, Vernon Howe from the agency CDP were given the brief to creating a TV campaign for Dutch lager Heineken. Their brief was just one word – Refreshment.

They were struggling and hadn’t come up with anything any good. They decided to try new surroundings and decided to head for Marrakesh. On their way out, they met Frank Lowe the head of the agency who told them to make sure they came back with a campaign or not to come back at all.

The story continues, according to the book ‘Inside CDP’; “Lovelock was now desperate. He walked around Morocco with pen and paper in hand searching for the idea. Lovelock said that, “At the back of my mind, there was a thought that if booze causes some strange metamorphoses, it must be possible to explain its effects on the body in a fun way”.  One evening Terry went to bed around midnight, notepad nearby. At 3am, he woke from a dreamless sleep and sat upright. He grabbed the notepad and wrote two lines. ‘Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach’ and ‘Heineken is now refreshing all parts’. The following morning he wrote two scripts.”

Frank Lowe loved the idea and presented it to the key client, Anthony Simonds-Gooding while the pair were on a flight to St Petersburg. He had written it on a sick bag. Simmonds-Gooding loved the idea too despite the presentation material.

Despite this, according to the myth, the ads however nearly didn’t run. The research was extremely damning.

Reviewing the events in 2012 Campaign, the UK’s leading advertising magazine picked up the tale. ‘In these days of campaigns being researched to within an inch of their lives, it's debatable whether "refreshes the parts" would have made the cut, let alone run for two decades. The story of how the ads made it through raises a question whose relevance has not diminished over time: how much should research results dictate whether a creative idea lives or dies?’

Had Anthony Simonds-Gooding, then the Whitbread marketing director, chosen not to follow his instincts after seeing poor feedback from the first three ‘refreshes the parts’ TV spots, the campaign would have been stillborn. But Simonds-Gooding pressed on.

The ads however did indeed run and the campaign was to stretch over the next two decades, including famous ads like Policeman, Spock’s ears and Majorca. 

Separating the myth from history

Like many myths there is a great deal of truth in this tale, but some parts have perhaps been distorted or exaggerated for effect over the years, so following a little research of my own I thought I would point out a few points of contention. 

Read more: Refreshing the advertising – hit or myth