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Author: Giles Lury

A picture is worth a billion downloads

A picture is worth a billion downloads

angry birds

Relude, which would later become Rovio, the Finnish games-led entertainment company, was formed by three university friends – Niklas Hed, Jarno Väkeväinen and Kim Dikert.

Together they had won a mobile game development competition with their multi-player real-time “King of the Cabbage World” and decided to try to turn their passion into a profitable business.

Initially they did well, producing a string of high quality, well performing games which followed the convention of the time – build a game, launch it, sell what you can, then build another one. Updating a game just wasn’t done, it was felt to be too expensive and not profitable at the time. The market was product led, not brand led.

Things however were getting much tougher as time went by, reaching customers in a cost effective way was getting harder and harder.

The team had noted the launch of the then revolutionary Apple i-phone in 2007 and they wondered how they could capitalise on the improved performance and new features and create something that was truly ‘game-changing’, in both senses of the word.


Inspiration would come early in 2009 when one of the then Senior Games Designers, Jaakko Iisalo, presented a single image – a screenshot of a group of angry-looking birds who didn’t have wings or even legs. There was only a single picture but the immediate and extremely positive response led the creative team to believe that they had found something special.

“In the original concept image, we saw the spark, the mood, the attitude that we needed. It was not just pink and fluffy” recalls Jaakko “The emotion was the thing. I had this bunch of birds, and they had this real energy.”

The management team were less convinced about a game with birds, but Jaakko and the team didn’t give up. “We researched web gaming and discerned what was really popular at that time. We realized that 2D, physics-based games and artillery-based games were very popular. So, we decided that these would be the areas we would focus on, utilizing the bird characters.”


But even from the outset they wanted to ‘ruffle the feathers’ of the industry and do things differently. “We made a list of parameters to adhere to in creating Angry Birds, and from the very beginning, the idea was to make a big IP (intellectual property). Not just a game, but something much bigger, a brand.”

One of those parameters was to create a simple concept but it wasn’t a simple task.

redThey also recognised the need for characters and “’Red’ was the icon from the start” (even if he was originally called George). The yellow-beaked, heavy-browed bird stood out of that first image and he became the first character you would see in the game. Unlike other characters he doesn’t have any special powers but what makes him special is that he’s the natural leader. “Red has the smarts to make sure that the team gets through every situation” The team built a back story to explain why he gets so angry; he was the bird that found three eggs on Piggy Island and immediately became over-protective and so typically overreacts to the slightest threat to their safety – ‘flying’ into a rage.

Angry Birds was launched late in 2009 by which time the business was teetering on the edge of going under… and immediately took off!

Met with critical acclaim and making great use of the capabilities of the still-emerging i-phone, sales were outstanding.

It is the most downloaded app of all time in Apple’s App Store and by May 2012 there had been over a billion downloads of Angry Birds across its many platforms.

The brand has since hatched a number of direct sequels – a successful movie, a series of animated shorts, an array of books – and has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest brands, including Lego… not bad for an idea based on a single picture.





What is a lur?

A lur or lur horn is a wind instrument cast in bronze dating from the Late Bronze Age (c.1000 BC). It consists of an S-shaped pipe made of several pieces of bronze that have been welded together, a soundboard at the upper end and a mouthpiece at the lower end.

Most of the lurs that have been found have come from Denmark, though some have also been found in Sweden, Norway and northern Germany. The curving shape of the tubes recalls ox horns, on which the lurs are thought to have been modelled.

The name ‘lur’ is of more recent origin. It was first used by archaeologists at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They took it from the Icelandic sagas, in which they say ‘the warriors were summoned to battle with the lur’.


In recent times the lur has often been used as a motif and has become linked with Denmark and Danish quality. It has been used in political contexts and art. There is a famous statue of two lur-blowers in City Hall Square in Copenhagen

Perhaps however the most famous modern use of lurs is as a trademark.

In the late nineteenth century Danish butter had built up a reputation for being of the highest quality and of exceptional taste. However, or more likely perhaps because of this, many butters from other countries would pass themselves off as Danish.

Danish dairy farmers came together and decided something had to be done to protect their reputation and their trade. So on 23rd October 1901, ‘Lurmark’ was registered as the trademark for quality Danish butter.

In 1957 the Lurmark Danish Butter became the Lurpak® that we know and love today. It is still owned by the co-operative Danish Dairy Board, which in turn is part of Arla Foods. It is sold in 75 countries worldwide

Lurpak logo

The identity still features entwined ‘lurs’ as a symbol of that Danish quality and to summon not Icelandic warriors but food lovers to the table.

They will be drawn by the lur(e) of the great taste of the finest Danish butter.



Selling like wildfire – the story of the Xerox 914

Selling like wildfire – the story of the Xerox 914


You’ve probably experienced it at least once in your life, or maybe once every month. You’re just dashing off to a meeting or preparing for that big presentation when the photocopier jams and the dreaded error sign appears.

How do you feel?

Well you’re not alone. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, printers are among the most in-demand objects in “rage rooms,” where people pay to smash things with sledgehammers or indestructible baseball bats

Battle Sports in Toronto goes through fifteen printers a week. A new gaming centre in Birmingham, in the UK lets you smash up a desktop printer for just a tenner.

The paper jam however is one of the more recent first world problems. Gutenberg invented his printing press around 1440 but the modern paper jam didn’t arrive until around 1960.

Gutenberg’s printing press was considerably slower than its modern day counterparts but because printing was done one sheet at a time, jamming was impossible. In the first presses lowered inked type onto individual sheets of paper and even their successors which used a rotary drum were hand-fed.


In 1863, an inventor and newspaper editor named William Bullock created what became known not too surprisingly as the Bullock press. Rather than just a rotary drum it was fed by a single roll of paper. Some of those rolls were up to several miles long. The hugely increased speed of the printing made it a great success but unfortunately Bullock wasn’t to benefit from it for long. In 1867 one of his legs got caught in the press, which would have been bad enough but the wound became gangrenous, and he died

The next major step forward came in 1938 from the application of xerography which gives you a clue as which brand was leading this development.

In xerography, static electricity quickly and precisely manipulates electrostatically sensitive powdered ink, or what we know as toner. As the term “photocopier” suggests, a xerographic machine is less like a traditional printer and more like a darkroom.

Chester Carlson, was the physicist and co-founder of Xerox who invented their first xerography machines. To work these machines you placed your original under a glass pane, where light was reflected onto a statically charged photosensitive plate. The charged plate then drew toner from a tray and transferred the toned image to plain paper. Finally the toner was ‘melted’ into the paper in a miniature electric oven. Each copy took around three minutes to make.

xerox4In 1959 Xerox had managed to automate the process and introduced the 914 which could deliver seven copies a minute. They also realised that there was a potential snag, as the new model had a ‘slightly’ concerning side-effect – the paper jam. A problem that wasn’t just frustrating but potentially dangerous. Jammed paper combined with the heating element sometimes set the paper alight.
No easy solution was found but that didn’t stop the launch, Xerox merely shipped the first models complete with free fire extinguisher.

xerox3Despite this the Xerox 914 was a huge success, between 1960 and 1979, it delivered around forty billion dollars and one or two fires.

Two pizzas and not a crust more

Two pizzas and not a crust more


Jeff Bezo, founder of, believes in “conserving money for things that matter”.

Desks at their headquarters are still modelled on the one Bezos built for himself in the early days and which he still uses. It has a cheap wooden door as the top, connected with metal brackets to sawn-off two-by-fours as the legs.

Amazon still hangs whiteboards in its elevators, as a simple but cost effective way of letting their often hyperactive, always-on employees amuse themselves by scribbling away between floors, whether little notes or maybe the germ of a new idea.


However another Jeff Bezos concept, “the two pizza team”, where if your team can’t be fed on two pizzas then you should cut the number of people in the team, doesn’t have anything to do with frugality but everything to do with communication.

As reported in Fast Company, the idea first came up during a company off-site retreat. “People were saying that groups needed to communicate more. Jeff got up and said, ‘No, communication is terrible!’

Not something you might expect a CEO to say and it shocked his managers.

However Bezos went onto describe his idea of a decentralised, disentangled company where small groups can innovate and test their visions independently of everyone else. He came up with the notion of the ‘two-pizza team’- If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large.

This definition limits a task force to between five and seven people, depending on their appetites… and the size of the pizzas.

Gold box
The teams have been successful and have been credited with creating some of the site’s quirkiest and most popular features, including the Gold Box, which is a little animated icon of a treasure chest that is basically the site’s highlighted deal of the day. You can find it under the “Today’s Deals” link at the top of the home page.

The principle of the Two Pizza Teams is being adopted at other companies now and, if nothing else, saving them something on catering bills!

Another Penguin

Another Penguin


Having just written a short piece about Original Penguin mentioning two other “Penguin” brands, it seems they are very much in vogue as they will be one of the three new pieces introduced to Monopoly.  After an online vote on the future of tokens out will go  the boot, wheelbarrow, and thimble and they will be replaced by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a rubber duck, and  the aforementioned penguin.

new Monopoly

This article in “The Atlantic” covers this and the origins of the Monopoly brand

Beheading – an original source of inspiration.

Beheading – an original source of inspiration.

Penguin original 2


Even though I can’t sing, someone was once kind enough to call me “the minstrel of marketing” because wherever I go I spread little stories about brands and branding. While I like researching and writing my own version of these stories sometimes you come across one that is just perfect as it is.

So it was when I stumbled across the story of Penguin.

No, not the publisher I have already told that story.

Penguin publisher

Nor was it the story of the chocolate biscuit, one to research for another time.


This story related to the origins of the Original Penguin  clothing brand and resides on their website.

Now if anyone had told me that the inspiration for a brand I sometimes wear was the beheading of a penguin named Pete I’m not sure I would have believed but read on…

“In 1955, an ambitious salesman named Abbot Pederson traveled to NYC on a sales trip for the Munsingwear brand. With time to kill before a flight home, he decided to pop into a local bar for a few whiskeys. Little did he know, his next steps would stumble into history.

Taking a wrong turn down a Manhattan street, he oddly enough found himself outside a taxidermist’s shop. Deciding he needed a drinking buddy for the flight, he bought a penguin and named him Pete. At some point during the flight, and after another cocktail or three, he accidentally knocked the head off Pete the Penguin.

A seductive stewardess Pederson had been enjoying throughout the flight removed his necktie and wrapped it around the penguin’s neck. She joked that such a dapper bird deserved to be immortalized, maybe even on a shirt. With that idea – an icon was born.

In a matter of years, the Munsingwear Golf Shirt embroidered with Pete’s likeness, was synonymous with a league of legends including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Arnold Palmer, and Clint Eastwood. Today, Original Penguin embodies a mix of iconic American Sportswear with modern minded style into a diverse range of products for a full lifestyle brand. Made for originals, by originals.”


Footnote: Subsequent research has shown me that there are other stories about the origins of the brand and the logo but none are as much fun so I’m sticking with this one.

A story of men and lingerie at Christmas

A story of men and lingerie at Christmas



It’s that time of year again.

Not just shelves laden with tinsel and baubles, not just the old Christmas songs playing on endless loops in lifts and not just the time for the infamous Office Christmas party. No, it is the time when every self-respecting tabloid runs a feature on why men are so bad at buying lingerie for their loved ones.

Seeing the first of these reminded me of the beginning of what is now one of the world’s largest lingerie brands.

In 1969 Roy Raymond went to buy his wife Gaye some lingerie, an event which he recalled some years later in an interview with Newsweek. “When I tried to buy lingerie for my wife,” he recalls, “I was faced with racks of terry-cloth robes and ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns, and I always had the feeling the department store saleswomen thought I was an unwelcome intruder.”

It was an event that clearly scarred him. He decided something had to change and for the next eight years he studied the lingerie market, developing his ideas. Finally settling on his concept he borrowed $40,000 from his parents and $40,000 from a bank to establish Victoria’s Secret.

His aim was to market women’s lingerie to men and he wanted to create a store in which men could feel comfortable buying lingerie. He wanted the stores to be places where men could browse at their leisure without having to manically flash their wedding bands or be constantly frowned on.

Though American, Raymond picked a name with a British twist. “Victoria” was a reference to Queen Victoria and was chosen to bring with it associations of the style, elegance and class of the Victorian era. The “Secret” was of course hidden underneath the clothes and probably in those olden days seen as something shocking.

vs catalogue victorian inspired

The store design was an homage to the boudoir with hints of seduction featuring dark wood panels, velvet sofas and silk drapes. The lingerie itself wasn’t the often dull but practical and functional everyday underwear which dominated the market but tended towards the frivolous and often completely impractical pieces only fit for a wedding night or burlesque show.

vs catalogues

The first store was located in Stanford Shopping Centre in Palo Alto, California in 1977 and proved a reasonable success returning profit of $500,000. Raymond opened more stores and launched a catalogue.

And everyone lived and dressed happily ever after. (Well, not entirely and there is the story about how the brand started to falter, was ultimately sold and relaunched but that’s another story for another time).

The lesser known sources of inspiration – Forgetfulness and embarrassment

The lesser known sources of inspiration – Forgetfulness and embarrassment

Words normally associated with innovation are creativity, originality and imagination. However for businessman Frank McNamara, the words might be forgetfulness and embarrassment.

mcnamara01-300x285In the fall of 1949, businessman Frank Majors had taken some clients to have dinner at the Cabin Grill restaurant in New York City. The meal came to an end and McNamara asked for the bill but when he reached into his jacket he was embarrassed to discover that he had forgotten his wallet.

Luckily for him, his wife was able to bail him out and he was saved from an evening of washing the dishes!

As the embarrassment faded he resolved never to be caught out like that again and the germ of an idea came to him. He wondered why a businessman couldn’t be free to spend what he could afford rather than how much cash he had in his pocket at the time.

He discussed his idea first with the restaurant owner and later with his lawyer and friend Ralph Schneider. Together they built the concept of a club of diners who would be able to sign for their suppers at selected restaurants and settle the bill at a later date.

McNamara and Schneider formally founded Diners Club International on February 8, 1950 with $1.5 million initial capital. Membership of the club was $3 and McNamara quickly recruited 200 friends and acquaintances as well as signing up 27 restaurants.


The pair decided they should celebrate the launch of their new venture and of course there was only really one way to do that. They returned to Major’s Cabin and when the bill arrived McNamara presented the owner with a small cardboard card, his Diners Club Card. It is an event which is now known as the “First Supper”.

The_Man_from_the_Diner's_Club_film_posterThe Diners Club was an immediate hit. By year’s end, 20,000 people were members. In 1952, franchises were established in Canada, Cuba and France. In 1955, Western Airlines became the first air carrier to accept the card for payment. In 1963 Danny Kaye starred in the movie, “The Man From the Diners’Club” in which he played an employee at Diners Club who issues a credit card to a well-known mobster and has to retrieve it in order to keep his job.



And the moral is that inspiration can come from all sorts of places and incidents. Are you looking for new ideas in the right places?

Airbnb: Not an overnight sensation

Airbnb: Not an overnight sensation


So the accepted norm for the stellar internet based brands seemed to be that it all starts with a couple of college mates who have a flash of inspiration, an idea which will engage and better the world.

They set up a website which becomes an overnight sensation, quickly leading to world domination.

Somehow reality isn’t quite like that.
the airbnb partners

Joe Gebbia and Brain Chesky fit the mould, in so far as they met in 2002 at Rhode Island School of Design.

Gebbia had form when it came to “entrepreneurship”. He had designed a cushion for back sufferers and built a website for product designers to find eco-friendly resources, which he pitched as a ‘sort of Amazon for sustainable materials’. Unfortunately neither had delivered much success and certainly not on an Amazon-ian scale!

Chesky had recently left his job as a designer on the Simon Cowell show ‘American Inventor in LA’. He said ‘the last straw came when I designed a new kind of toilet seat’. He moved to San Francisco to share a flat with Gebbia.

However it was 2007 and Gebbia and Chesky were struggling to pay their rent. They needed some cash and they needed it fast. Their need coincided with an up-coming design conference which was based in San Francisco, but rather than try and sell their design skills to the event organizers, they noticed that the city’s hotels were fully booked, and came up with a lateral idea. It was not an idea to better the world but to earn them their rent!

original logo

Could they rent out the space in their flat to people attending the conference?

They bought three airbeds, decided to sweeten the offer with the promise of breakfast and created the not very originally named ‘’ website. The cost was $80 a night. Six days later they had their first customers – a 30-year-old Indian man, a 35-year-old woman from Boston, and a 45-year-old father of four from Utah sleeping on their floor.

Wondering if this could be something bigger, they got together with their old roommate and programming expert Nathan Blecharczyk, to try and build a business.

For the first for months, they worked on a roommate-matching service until they realized already existed, at which point they went back to working on Air Bed and Breakfast.

They launched the brand for a second time and no one noticed.

The third time, they decided to target a time and place when the local hotels should be full. It was SXSW in 2008, but they only had two customers, and one of those was Chesky. Perhaps not too surprisingly their attempts to raise capital weren’t going well either. They approached 15 angel investors and got eight rejections, and seven more who ignored them completely.
Still preserving they tried again. Barack Obama was due to speak in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, and 80,000 people were expected to be there so again, there was likely to be a shortage of hotel rooms.

Gebbia, Chesky and Blecharczyk with a new website launched two weeks before the conference. Within a week they had 800 listings – everything should have be looking good. However given their costs, it looked like even with these 800 listings they werenObama Os’t going to make any money.

Luckily a PR stunt would come to their rescue. They had bought bulk quantities of cereal and designed packaging branded as ‘Obama’s O’s’ and ‘Cap’n McCain’ cereals. They sold 800 ‘limited-edition’ boxes at $40 each and made more than $30,000.

Their activity also attracted a Venture Capitalist called Paul Graham. Graham invited them to join Y Combinator, a prestigious start-up accelerator that provides out cash and training in exchange for a small slice of the company. The company spent the first three months of 2009 at the accelerator, working on further improving their offer.

Their lack of success with other VCs continued, and looking back Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures admitted to one of those “guitar music is on the way out” moments – “We couldn’t wrap our heads around air mattresses on the living room floors as the next hotel room and did not chase the deal. Others saw the amazing team that we saw, funded them, and the rest is history.”

One thing that did change (perhaps because of feedback like this) was that in March 2009 they dropped the Air Bed & Breakfast name and simplified it to “Airbnb” to avoid the confusing associations with air mattresses.
airbnb 2009

One month later, Airbnb picked up a $600,000 seed investment from Sequoia Capital and from there the brand really began to take off.

And the moral is that most innovations aren’t overnight sensations and take time to build. What idea of yours deserves more time and perseverance?




Newcastle may be not the first place you think of when you’re asked about a centre of innovation, but today’s story will be the fourth one that I have written about brands that were born in the city.

Having written about Lucozade, Greggs and Newcastle Brown Ale, this week’s brand story starts with a dentist before it literally goes down the drain.

Wilfred (sometimes spelt Wilfrid) Augustine Handley followed in his father’s footsteps and became a dentist or rather what at the time was called a ‘dental mechanic’. Father and son practised at the family home at 309 Chillingham Road for many years.

Wilfred’s big idea however started with what was a waste product, sodium hypochlorite. He bought it from the ICI chemical works at Billingham and used the compound to whiten dentures (and maybe even teeth!)

domestosjarimg_0113edresizedWilfred knew it had wider potential and started to dilute and bottle it.

In fact, bleach which is what he was working with, had been around since the eighteenth century, and in the late nineteenth century, E S Smith patented the chloralkali process of producing sodium hypochlorite, which had started to be sold as a bleach under a number of brand names but none with any great success.

Wilfred didn’t therefore actually invent bleach, but what he did do, was to get the marketing and distribution right.

First he chose a brand name. According to current owners, Unilever he chose a combination of the Latin ‘domus’ meaning house and the Greek ‘osteon’ meaning bone, suggesting ‘backbone of the home’.

The Handley family tell it a little differently: Wilfred asked his mother what his product should be called. Before answering, she asked what it was for and when Wilfred replied, ‘Domestic use‘, she came up with ‘Domestos’.

His second innovation was again not a completely original idea either and was probably inspired by the success of another local branddomestos-bike; Ringtons Tea, which had been established in Heaton in 1907. Ringtons sold door to door in the area with great success and that was what Wilfred decided to do too.

He bottled Domestos in large brown earthenware jars, which then could be refilled by door to door salesmen pushing hand carts or riding bicycle carts.

The bleach was promoted as a cleaning agent to whiten whites and to to pour down and ‘sweeten’ drains and was a real success. By 1933, goods were being shipped south to Hull by sea and, within two years, supply depots had opened in both Hull and Middlesbrough.

The brand prospered in wartime when additional uses for the brand included being a cure for sore feet and a treatment for burns. The end of the conflicts could have slowed things down as the company was unable to acquire enough delivery vehicles.

Showing more ingenuity Dosmestos overcame the problem; they bought the St Ann’s Works at Heaton Junction and set up their own coach building division. By 1952 there was national distribution with offices in London, Manchester, Cardiff, York and Glasgow and a national research laboratory.

Domestos-OG-1-25LIn 1961, Wilfred sold the brand to Lever Brothers Ltd.