Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sam Beckett's Brand Image

In case any of you missed it, National Worship Samuel Beckett Month (known to its friends as the Beckett Centenary Festival) is almost upon us. For people who will not be attending any of the plays, films and lectures that will take place around Dublin in April – that is to say most of the population – the festival will exist largely in the form of a piece of street furniture. You’ve probably seen them already: huge black and white billboard images of an elderly gentleman that have sprung up where your ads for pension and breakfast energy bars should be.

The poster features two photographs (taken by Richard Avedon, himself a sturdy artistic brand) of Beckett standing, in a nice tweed jacket, looking craggy and not a little bit crabby. The poster does not mention any of Beckett’s work, never mind quote from it. All of which confirms, of course, what we should know by now: Beckett these days is not so much a writer as a brand icon.

But building the brand of a Nobel Prize winning author is a fiddly business. Not least because it begs the question: why are we trying to build the brand of a Nobel Prize winning author? And what happens if we succeed? In any case, the job has been assigned to a new style ad agency, GospelTM, whose promotional literature gets quickly to the core of Beckett today: “The big prizes in brand building come from continuity and consistency.”

One thing that certainly happens when you shoot for “continuity and consistency” is that Beckett brand finds himself in some unexpected places. In Fairview, for example, where one example of the Beckett poster watches over the thundering traffic heading North, bizarrely another poet watches over the traffic descending from the Clontarf and beyond. This other writer, however, is represented not just by a slick black and white photo, but by some of the inspiring words he has written. That writer is Mike Skinner, of the Streets. What is striking here is that somebody (Reebok in this case) still believes that the writer’s words as at least as important as his face.

Of course, advocates of the festival will quickly point out, that if you happen to want to hear – and indeed read – some Beckett words, then April in Dublin is a pretty good spot.

They’ll point you to everything from the work of American Artist, Jenny Holzer, who will project Beckett’s words around the city of Dublin after dark (30 March-3 April). And they direct you to performances of Molloy, Malone Dies & The Unnamable by Ireland’s current greatest Beckett interpreter, Conor Lovett. To lectures on the man, organised by his hometown Foxrock Local History Club. But is such miscellaneousness really good for the brand?

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