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Skyn Condoms

10 Sep

Time for another New Billboard Day and this one promises to be my sexiest yet. Yes, this entry is all about Skyn Condoms.

This campaign is particularly special because we get two different posters for the same product. The first was subtle, simply stating that “This changes everything,” with only the brand logo in the bottom corner. To the average time-poor consumer walking past, this would have most likely caused intrigue whilst not making clear what was actually being advertised. What followed a few weeks later was the announcement that Skyn Condoms were here and that they were made for people who “Love sex,” but “Hate condoms.” We in the industry call this type of creative delivery (where you initially hint at and then announce a product) a ‘tease and reveal’ campaign which seems more than a little appropriate given it’s a condom brand, I’m sure you’ll agree. Part of me hopes the joke wasn’t lost on the media agency that planned it and that I’m part of a select few marketing professionals who ‘get’ the gag, however I fear I may simply be giving this poster campaign too much thought.

The promise that a simple condom could literally change everything got me excited and I headed to my local Boots with visions of world peace and cures for cancer in mind; what I was instead met with was a vast array of male contraceptives. The Skyn condoms were easy enough to find amongst the multitude of brands on offer, Durex seems to boast the largest range with variants including ‘Extra Safe’ for the particularly cautious (or indeed violent), ‘Pleasuremax’ for those looking to excite and enhance and even one titled ‘Performa’ which showed a stopwatch on the packaging and includes a numbing gel in every one to help men last longer. Skyn, on the other hand, obviously feel that their USP of being made for the condom hating demographic (to use its official term which I’ve just coined) is enough to make them stand out from the crowd and, apart from ‘Extra Lubricated’ and ‘Long’ variants, don’t appear interested in anything else. The key difference offered by Skyn is that it’s the first premium condom made from Polyisoprene, described in the box’s leaflet as “the non-latex material that feels like nothing you’ve ever experienced.” For me, the packaging and font evoke imagery of limousines, rappers and VIP areas in douchebaggy nightclubs – clearly these aren’t to be wasted on just anyone.

Skyn Condoms were relatively hidden amongst the vast array of Durex variants.

However, the fact is that I’m currently single and don’t have anyone to use (or indeed waste) one on even if I wanted to. So, I did what any self respecting blogger would and approached Facebook asking if anyone would be interested in helping me out. Needless to say the limited feedback I received was ‘mixed’ at best and I soon realised that this article wouldn’t simply be me writing about coitus. To be honest, my parents and work colleagues read this blog too so it was never really my intention to write about my sex life, post pictures of me ‘on the job’ and post it all online – there are plenty of much bigger and better sites out there offering that sort of thing already anyway.

Somewhat surprisingly, my status update didn’t get any takers.

So instead, New Billboard Day proudly presents ‘The Top 10 Things To Do With A Skyn Condom (beyond having sex).’ Using only Skyn condoms, I’ve tried a variety of alternative uses for the condoms which are outlined below. In addition to an explanation of the new usage, I’ve also devised an ingenious 1- 10 scoring system which was the basis of each entry’s position in the list:

Fun: Condoms are normally used when you’re having fun, so how fun is this alternative use?
Practical: Condoms fit in your wallet and are easy enough to use. How practical is the alternative use in everyday life?
Changing everything: Apparently the release of Skyn Condoms ‘changes everything.’ How much changes as a result of the new way of using them?

10. Catapult

I’ve never been the kind to play practical jokes on people, mostly because the payback is usually worse than your initial effort and although you know your comeuppance is coming, you’re never entirely sure when which leads to sleepless nights and days filled with dread.

Even so, the catapult has been a practical joker’s staple since before even the first days of Dennis The Menace in The Beano so I waited by my window ready to slingshot a ball of tissue at my flatmate on his way home. It wasn’t successful.

Fun: Practical jokes are fun when they work, but if you’re just stood by your window waiting for someone and then can’t even do so much as getting a ball of tissue to hit them you’ve pretty much hit a new low – 1/10.
Practical: Although the condom didn’t need any modification, just using fingers as the rest of the apparatus took some significant finger strength which in the end was all in vain – 1/10.
Changing everything: Catapults have been around since the time of cavemen, and even in those days they at least worked – 1/10.

9. Mobile Phone Cover

We’ve all been there, you take your iPhone out of its case and inadvertently drop it leaving your previously swanky handset looking as though it’s been in shot by Mr. Freeze’s glacier gun. Well, no more thanks to the Skyn Mobile Phone Cover!

Simply place your handset into the condom and you’re sorted. Supports both traditional and touchscreen phones and is compatible with Android, iOS, Blackberry and even Windows operating systems!

Fun: Mobile phone covers can be a lot of fun, but with such a limited range of Skyn Condoms (there are currently no colour or flavour variations) it’s somewhat difficult to put your own personal touch on it as a phone cover – 4/10.
Practical: Amazingly enough my phone’s touchscreen did work once placed inside the condom. However, my friend was unable to hear me speak and once removed from the condom it took a lot of effort to remove the spermicide from the speaker – 3/10.
Changing everything: Go to any market, electronics shop or high street fashion chain and you’re likely to find mobile phone covers, the majority of which will do their job better than this – 1/10.

8. Trendy Sports Headband

Agassi, LeBron, Beckham… it can’t be a coincidence that all the top sport stars wear or have worn a headband at some point during their illustrious careers. Not wanting to miss out, I removed the length of a Skyn condom and placed the base around my head before going for a run in Hyde Park. The various stares I got must have been from people wondering if I too was a successful athlete.

Fun: Like sex, exercise releases endorphins in the brain to give a feeling of pleasure. Whilst the headband itself wasn’t fun, jogging was – 7/10.
Practical: Turning a condom into a headband takes a bit of effort with a pair of scissors. The average penis also isn’t quite as wide as my head, so after a few minutes my forehead started throbbing as the blood supply began to get cut off from the rest of my body – 1/10.
Changing everything: I certainly didn’t see anyone else with a similar headband, but whether using Polyisoprene as the material of choice actually made it better or indeed change anything is pretty unlikely – 1/10.

7. Ice Pack

Since running the Nike London 10k, I’ve been well and truly bitten by the bug and average around 12km each week in addition to attending spin classes and attempting free weights with limited success. But all this gym time can take its toll on my body and leave me in need of relief.

Introducing the Skyn Condoms Ice Pack. Simply fill a condom with ice (a minimum of 3 large cubes is recommended), tie in a knot and apply to the injury to alleviate pains such as backache, lumbago, muscle sprains and rheumatic pain.

Fun: There’s nothing fun about sports injuries but at least this helps alleviate the pain – 2/10.
Practical: As easy as filling up a condom with anything else, so long as you have ice cubes available – 7/10.
Changing everything: An ice pack is an ice pack, whether you put the ice in a cloth or a condom – 1/10.

6. Charity Wristband

There was a time during the early 2000’s when it seemed like every charity had produced a rubber wristband to help raise money and awareness of their noble cause. From Lance Armstrong and Nike fighting testicular cancer to Crafts’N’Scraps supporting animal shelters, wristbands were seen as a cheap way for supporters to show they were as chic as they were responsible.

10 years later and I reckon it could be time for the charity wristband to make a long-overdue return. So by removing the length of the condom and wrapping it around my wrist, I was able to make a bold statement as well as show off my fashion credentials. Trust me, everyone’s going to be wearing one of these come Christmas.

Fun: What isn’t fun about a bracelet? There’s a reason it’s mostly kids and teens that wear them – 9/10.
Practical: Once the initial adjustment had been made it was easy to slip on, if a little snug. Whilst it would be impossible to print the name of the charity on such a small (and slippery) surface, the band alone should speak for itself – 5/10.
Changing everything: Let’s be honest, charity wristbands are passé already. Whilst a new take on the classic charity band is long overdue, it’s hardly original – 1/10.

5. Change Purse

I currently have a hole in my jeans’ back pocket (I bought them like that and actually paid extra for the ‘destroyed’ look) meaning that I’ll often walk down the street to see my spare change rolling away infront of me. Rather than admitting to my mother than fashion these days makes no sense and getting her to sew it up, I instead used a Skyn Condom as a handy change purse.

Having ordered a Domino’s Pizza and paying online, I was still keen to give the delivery driver a tip for his troubles. Upon hearing the doorbell, I ran downstairs and gingerly pulled out my new change purse before placing a slippery yet sticky £1 coin into his unfortunately gloveless hand. Whilst I couldn’t see his reaction (he was still wearing his helmet), he did say thank you… Not only for the money but I hope for the ingenious device I’d just made him privy to.

Fun: Keeping hold of money is a serious business; look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves, after all. Even so, this is a different way of keeping money and I’d imagine a great ice breaker at any shop, market or back alley – 3/10.
Practical: As the condom itself is transparent, just by pulling it out of your pocket you can quickly get a gauge on whether you’re likely to have enough change for your purchase or whether you’re going to need to pull out the credit card again. Unfortunately the change you hand over will smell of lubricant – 6/10.
Changing everything: Change purses normally have a stigma attached to them as though they should only be used by the elderly. A condom change purse is certainly an original take and could help them permeate the cultural zeitgeist once and for all – 7/10.

4. Balloon

How many concerts or festivals have you been to where you’ve seen an inflated condom fly over your head and tapped around the venue like a massive game of beach volleyball? My answer would be about 5. But, if you were at Skrillex when he played Brixton Academy this year I hope you were able to count that in your own personal list.

Armed with a handful of Skyn Condoms, I inflated the first and chucked it into the crowd whilst quickly bringing my camera out of my pocket to capture the beautiful sight. Unfortunately I’d forgotten to charge the battery so had to rely on my awful HTC phone’s camera, hence the terrible image quality in the picture above. Whilst the first remained airborn for a few seconds, the second stayed above the mosh for nearly a minute at a massive 45 seconds. If there’s a record for airborne condoms, I hope I can at least be a challenger.

Fun: Who doesn’t love slapping away a potentially used condom at a gig? Based on the amount of gurning on show, most of the audience would have probably grinned their way through a full frontal lobotomy – 7/10.
Practical: It’s almost too easy to blow into a condom and tie a knot around it, even though I did get a lot of perplexed looks from pretty much everyone around me and a mouth full of spermicide – 8/10.
Changing everything: For as long as there are gigs, there will be condoms in the crowd – 1/10.

3. Egg Poacher

Eggs Benedict – a great dish to order in a restaurant but a nightmare to prepare at home. I’ve spent the last 8 years experimenting and researching the best way to poach an egg and to say results have been ‘poor’ would be an understatement.

I currently own 3 different devices which claim to poach the perfect egg but none have come close to the quality you find on Kings Road or Charlotte Street. To date my best results have come from tying the yolk into a cling film bag (imagine a goldfish you’d win at the fair) and tossing into a pan of boiling water (you should stop imagining the goldfish now). However, cling film is rarely used in my flat and that long roll is difficult to store, so why not give it a go with a condom instead?

Fun: I get a lot of enjoyment from cooking and I love a good Eggs Benedict – 7/10.
Practical: Trying to keep one hand in the condom to keep it open whilst using the other hand to crack the egg into it was pretty much impossible. I won’t lie, I didn’t dare eat the egg either although I must admit I’d cooked it to perfection – 7/10.
Changing everything: I’m still on the hunt for the perfect egg poacher and fear Skyn Condoms are not the answer – 3/10.

2. Furniture Stabiliser

I was recently in Paris catching up with an old friend at a lovely crêperie just off the Champs Élysées but the meal was almost ruined by a wobbly table. Try as we might to fix it, we had nothing to wedge an uneven leg and with the restaurant full and therefore unable to move us, we simply had to put up with the inconvenience. After saying our goodbyes, it was then that I thought a Skyn Condom could have done the trick and so tested the theory on my own wonky chair as soon as I got home with great success.

Fun: There’s nothing fun about uneven furniture, so while a condom can solve this problem it’s more of a hygiene factor in that it stops it being ‘not-fun’ rather than actually making a chair or table fun – 5/10.
Practical: Had I pulled the condom out in the restaurant and placed it under the table, I’d have been a hero. My friend would have been impressed, the meal would have been free, the restaurant probably would have named a dish after me and placed a plaque next to the offending table saying it was at this table that I sat. It doesn’t get any more practical than this – 10/10.
Changing everything: Uneven furniture can ruin a good meal, so in certain instances I would argue that this could indeed change a lot – if not everything – 6/10.

1. Water Balloon

Ah, the classic alternative use for a condom. Simply fill up with water and you have yourself a ready-made water balloon! I was amazed by how much the Polyisoprene could stretch and mildly terrified by how easily it burst. To be fair, if your pelvic thrusts are as fierce as the impact of concrete, you’re doing it wrong anyway.

Fun: There’s a reason they sell water balloons in toy shops, they’re made to be fun – 10/10.
Practical: As much as I wish this wasn’t the case, the Skyn condom made an excellent water balloon when dropped from a great height – 10/10.
Changing everything: How many times have you been caught short without a water balloon when you needed one most? With this first world problem now solved, I think you know what the score is – 10/10.

Got any other uses for condoms that you think I’ve missed? Fill in the comments section and let me know what else I could’ve done, I’d love to hear from you!


Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

5 Jun

Another New Billboard Day and this one had the potential to be my easiest yet – a simple trip to the cinema to watch Journey 2: The Mysterious Island in 3D.

Anyone that’s met me will probably know that I’m a massive film fan, subscribing to both LOVEFiLM for unlimited DVDs and Cineworld for unlimited cinema trips each month. I also love pretty much anything targeted at kids, therefore being given a valid excuse to see a film strategically released during half term was like a gift from the billboard gods. Add Vanessa Hudgens into the equation (I’ve seen 8 of her 9 films to date – the remaining one is on my LOVEFiLM list) and I was in heaven.

I was going through an ’emo’ stage when I registered

Before taking the challenge any further, I decided I should see the original Journey to the Centre of the Earth (starring box office drain Brendan Fraser) in order to fully appreciate the sequel and also ensure I knew what the hell was going on. I selected the original film as High Priority on LOVEFiLM but the next DVD to drop through my door was Schindler’s List (my tastes are nothing if not eclectic). Based on the fact that Journey 2 starred The Rock, I could only assume it wouldn’t remain in cinemas long and so decided to act fast and buy the original. Now, I don’t know if it’s because the film came out 4 years ago or if it’s because it only received mixed reviews upon release, but Journey to the Centre of the Earth has to be one of the hardest films I have ever tried to find. After scouring the internet and visiting 4 different HMV’s, I finally managed to pick up the last Blu-Ray copy on Oxford Street, complete with those red and blue 3D glasses from the 80’s.

Red and blue 3D is now so old it’s become fashionably retro.

Upon watching the film in the makeshift 3D mode, I can totally understand why they stopped using those glasses – 10 minutes in and I was in excruciating pain and convinced that I had suffered severe retina damage. As for the film itself, it’s a rollercoaster ride that follows Sean (played by Josh Hutcherson of Hunger Games fame) and his surprisingly ripped volcanologist uncle (Fraser) as they go in search of volcanic activity in Iceland but inadvertently take a trip to the centre of the earth and must find their way back to our world before it’s too late. Whereas Sean starts the film as a self-centred jerk due to the fact that he never knew his explorer dad, by the end of the film his journey has been both literal and metaphorical as he’s grown from a boy into a man: balanced, mature and accepting of others.

However, I clearly gave Warner Brothers far too much credit by expecting any continuity with the sequel. 2 of the 3 main characters are missing and the film starts with Sean riding a motorbike in a police chase which ends with him crashing into a neighbour’s pool to the soundtrack of Green Day’s Letterbomb. Any character development from the previous film has clearly been forgotten with Sean yet again acting like a douche to a muscle-bound co-star – this time to his stepdad Hank, played by “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment” himself, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

Why it’s called “The People’s” Elbow, I’ll never know.

Finding it difficult to connect with his new stepson, Hank takes an active interest in Sean’s endeavours to crack a morse signal he’s intercepted which he believes must have come from his missing grandfather. I’ve tried writing that sentence 3 times and it still sounds ridiculous, but that really is the story. Sat in the family attic, the pair quickly and easily crack the code via the most vague and tenuous of clues, using a couple of nearby books that just happen to house the exact information they’re looking for. Not only that, but by ripping out pages from the two books (which look to be from different publishers), they’re able to overlay illustrations to create a complete map of the titular island where Sean believes his grandfather is trapped. Whilst I was willing to suspend my belief, the fact that it was The Rock playing a cryptographer really did insult my intelligence.

Despite telling Sean that his grandfather wont be there, Hank realises that their 5 minutes of code breaking has been a positive bonding exercise and so inexplicably buys a pair of tickets to Palau on a whim in order to further their relationship and humour Sean in the hunt for his missing grandfather. There they meet comic relief character Gabato (played by the hugely unfunny Luis Guzmán) and his super hot daughter Kailana (Vanessa Hudgens, of course) who offer them a lift by helicopter which eventually hits a hurricane and crash lands into the island. At this point their attitude to the situation seems very blasé, with the solution being that they’ll simply find Sean’s grandfather and then radio for help. Given that the island is only accessible via the eye of a hurricane, I really did wonder what the hell they we’re hoping to achieve by simply speaking into a radio.

However with a plan and a destination to head for, this sets us up for a journey from the island’s beach to finding Sean’s grandfather and eventually attempting their escape in what is as much like a theme park simulator ride as it is an actual film. Throughout their travels across the island, our plucky ragtag of misfits are relentlessly met with a variety of action-packed set pieces designed to bash the audience over the head with including giant lizards, booby-trapped tombs, huge bees and abandoned submarines – often with entertaining results and always in vivid colours and sparkling 3D.

However there were 2 scenes that, despite watching the film 8 weeks ago, I can never erase from my mind and simply can’t go without mention. The end credits showed that The Rock was Executive Producer and the film has clearly been used as a vehicle to portray his vast array of many ‘talents.’ First is the “Pop Your Pecks” scene, whereby Hank assures Sean that the only way to win a woman’s affection is to flex his heavage in both a mesmerising yet mildly terrifying fashion. This clip doesn’t do it justice but I’m afraid there’s no full length video of the scene available online to portray the full horror.

You can’t unsee it.

Second is potentially one of the worst things ever captured on celluloid: The Rock’s rendition of Louis Armstrong’s classic “What A Wonderful World.” Despite having lost two members of their party and his stepson suffering from a suspected broken leg, Hank picks up a nearby ukelele whilst sat by a campfire and performs his own take on the song whilst wearing a smug grin on his impeccably clean face. My toes curled as soon as he began to sing his cringeworthy rendition, but nothing could have prepared me for his horrendous big band version played over the end credits. I swear I’m not making this shit up.

You’ll have to settle for just the ‘acoustic’ version I’m afraid.

I won’t ruin the details of their escape, as first of all I’m sure you don’t care and secondly it’s pretty obvious that they all make it out alive (it’s a kids film after all). Needless to say they are all richer for the experience, not only in the literal sense for Guzman who trousers some gold from a volcano and as a result can send Kailana to college in America, but particularly Hank and the once again placid Sean who end the film having formed the kind of father/son bond that only a escaping a mythical island could produce. Six months after their adventure, we join Sean for his birthday celebrations where his grandfather brings him a copy of Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon,” proposing that they visit as a family and thereby setting up a third adventure in the series which Warner Bros have since confirmed.

Fingers crossed Vanessa makes it to the threequel.

Overall this was an entertaining hour and a half of escapism which took elements of King Kong, Jurassic Park, Super Mario 64 and The Natural History Museum, wrapped them in a child-friendly package and tied it all up with a bow of strong family values for good measure. Despite my complaints about The Rock’s show stealing, I actually left the cinema liking him and whilst I can’t call it a great film, there’s no doubt that it will appeal to kids (and kids at heart) looking for adventure, comedy, scares and Vanessa Hudgens in tight clothing. I’d give it 3 out of 5.

Nike+ #makeitcount

4 Mar

I got a bit of a shock this New Billboard Day when I came into the kitchen and saw Mo Farah’s piercing eyes staring at me from across the road. The ad in question shows the British athlete in full concentration whilst taking part in a race and is accompanied by his own adage “Don’t dream of winning. Train for it.” Beneath this the ad shows his Twitter username and the Nike hashtag #makeitcount.

Figuring that this was nothing more than a branding campaign to remind people of Nike’s values, at first I thought this would be easy. The official #makeitcount video gave little away, simply showing black and white close-ups of athletes spouting clichés such as “I can’t stand losing,” and an end frame asking “How will you #makeitcount?” Seeing as I’m not an athlete, I wasn’t really sure how to answer that and so headed to the gym thinking that maybe some pictures of me on a treadmill wearing Nike trainers would be enough to say that I had ‘made it count’ and I could move onto my next blog entry.

Beautiful as it may be, this video gives little away.

After 20 minutes on the treadmill (and 30 in the sauna/stream room/Jacuzzi), I went straight on to Twitter, ‘followed’ Mo and figured that my work was done. If anything else was required of me, surely his tweets would direct me to the next stage of the #makeitcount campaign. However, beyond the odd “#makeitcount” in his tweets about training (and lots of “Shabba!” at the end of every other update), there was little explanation of what #makeitcount was actually about. To make matters even more confusing, Mo is also promoting Lucozade this year a ridiculously similar concept of a brand helping you achieve your goals and his Twitter feed is interlaced with these updates amongst his usual musings and training stories (plus again, lots more “Shabba!”s).

I saw this in my local tube station. How Nike are ok with Mo also fronting a Lucozade campaign is beyond me.

Slightly stuck and wondering what else I could do, I was beginning to put off writing this post. It’s fine that Nike is promoting athletes and their commitment to the cause in preparation for London 2012, they’re an aspirational brand and people do want to wear the same high-tech apparel as the world’s best athletes. But with no item of clothing or event being advertised, I wondered what Nike really wanted me to buy or do. I’m a digital account manager who works in media – not an international sports star in training – so with this in mind I created my own take on the #makeitcount creative that seemed slightly more relevant for someone in my industry:

If Nike ever want to call on digital media professionals for their next campaign, I'm open to offers.

Resigned to writing a short article about how I was now going to the gym a little more, I went about my week as usual until I saw an old copy of Metro on the floor whilst on the tube to work. Lying open almost as if a message from Mo himself, a #makeitcount full page press ad stared at me from the busy carriage floor and finally explained how Nike’s campaign could be relevant to someone like me. #makeitcount isn’t just about Nike’s ambassadors and their training regimes, it’s about encouraging random people like me achieve a personal goal and be the best I can be for 2012, preferably aided by Nike paraphernalia.

With a new found enthusiasm, I started planning. In 2011 I achieved my goal of losing 28lbs from January – June in preparation for my sister’s wedding (hey, those photos last forever!) and with a firm date in place I had a set time period to work to. However, since that breezy summer’s day I’ve made no effort to keep it off and, weighing myself today, can actually confirm that I have now managed to put that exact amount back on over the last 9 months. Couple this with the fact that since 2008 I’ve done at least one sport-related charity fund raiser per year and I now had the perfect opportunity to get involved with another.

Click here to see me trying (and failing) to stop after crossing the line at the London Triathlon 2010.

Using Nike’s campaign as inspiration, I have booked my place in the British 10k London Run on Sunday 8th July and would love it if you could please sponsor me to complete the course in 55mins or less. I’ll be running for the British Tinnitus Association (a condition that affects me personally) and you can keep up with my training progress along with various other musings via Twitter – just like Mo Farah himself.

I hereby promise to train hard to “bring my best” to the race, burn off the excess weight I’ve put on and keep it off by making the next 12 months the year of me. This year, I’m going to #makeitcount.

Ed Sheeran “+”

12 Feb

When I was first deciding whether or not to do an experiment where I bought everything the billboard opposite my kitchen told me to, I figured I should see what a couple of the ads were and judge how realistic and indeed affordable the challenge would be. The ad that made me decide it was doable back in January last year was Tinie Tempah’s “Disc-overy,” but strangely enough there hasn’t been an album advertised since – until now.

After a couple of well received EP’s that got ‘those in the know’ dribbling with anticipation, Ed Sheeran’s full length debut “+” was released to much fanfare in September 2011. Having read about him on an almost daily basis in Metro each morning last summer, I was curious to hear if he would live up to the hype of being able to deliver a mix of troubadour-esque folk and grimy British hip hop that was worthy of this critical acclaim.

Based on that description, I was expecting something similar to early Plan B material (you remember, before he was good).

The first time I heard Ed Sheeran was actually seeing him live. Digital Spy had very kindly invited me to the BT Digital Music Awards 2011 and at the end of the ceremony he had played what seemed like a never ending rendition of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” (turns out the recorded version is just as long and repetitive). Perhaps it was due to the copious amounts of champagne, wine and Jägerbombs I’d consumed throughout the evening, but I was impressed. Here we had a 20 year old with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and microphone, yet he was keeping a room full of drunken industry hangers-on such as myself positively enthralled with his half spoken, half sung lyrics of… well, doing exactly that.

Me arriving on the red carpet. None of the paparazzi seemed overly bothered, if I'm honest.

So, having been impressed by his live performance I put “+” on my Christmas wish-list and sure enough there it was waiting for me on Christmas morning. Having been given other essential albums by artists including Angels and Airwaves and New Found Glory that same day, I’ll admit I was in no rush to give Ed Sheeran the honour of gracing my iTunes library. However, when the billboard shortly changed over from Mont Blanc Legend to show his orange-tinted face I knew what I had to do.

Putting the CD into my laptop, iTunes describes it as “Indie Rock” so I was instantly excited. However, 5 seconds into “The A Team” (which I’d never previously heard) it was sounding worryingly folky and I felt compelled to change it to “Indie” at the very least, not ruling out the potential to soon label the album as “Folk.” Hey, iTunes once described Natasha Bedingfield as “Alternative/Punk” which, given my OCD, had to be changed immediately (I only know this because she was on a Radio One Live Lounge compilation I got given for Christmas by a family friend who assumed a teenage boy would like that sort of thing… she got lucky).

There is little to nothing “Indie Rock” about this song.

I first listened to the album on a weekday morning whilst getting ready for work and an important client meeting. Normally I would listen to something loud and/or energetic to get myself ready for the day ahead, so Sheeran’s bittersweet melodies and everyman lyrics came as quite a shock to the system. 5 tracks in and after hearing the softly sung line “I know you love Shrek cos we’ve watched it 12 times,” I had to take the CD out and instead listen to some Bring Me The Horizon to get ready for the day.

With such a false start to my relationship with the album, I was sure that this post would only be negative. However, at the time of writing it’s a wet, lazy Sunday morning, I’m drinking a cup of coffee whilst writing a blog post and the songs suddenly fit beautifully.

The A Team is instantly catchy and I daresay the subject of prostitution hasn’t been delivered so confidently and vividly through mainstream song since Arctic Monkeys’ “When The Sun Goes Down.” The introduction of a drum in “Drunk” brings some energy to Sheeran’s sound and combining this extra instrumentation with his confident sing/rap style help make “Lego House” and “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” album highlights.

Whilst I do like Sheeran’s rapping style, it does remind me of this TV ad.

That’s not to say “+” is consistently strong though. The aforementioned lyrics of “Wake Me Up” make me cringe every time and the “You and I ended at U.N.I.” chorus to the song “UNI” isn’t as clever as he appears to think. Other tracks such as “This” and “Small Bump” are also forgettable and dangerously close to James Blunt territory.

Finally, its worth mentioning the ridiculous hoops fans must jump through in order to access the bonus tracks promised when buying the Special Edition version of the album. Rather than simply including them on the CD, you must instead put it in your computer, go online and enter 8 personally identifiable details such as your name and address to unlock the bonus tracks. Quite how this makes the album a Special Edition that is sold for more than the regular version is beyond me, particularly as the bonus tracks could easily be disseminated via his official website or Facebook page. I suddenly felt massively guilty about insisting my mum bought me the Special Edition version for Christmas.

Whilst I wouldn’t buy tickets to his show or Like him on Facebook, I can’t deny that Ed Sheeran has some beautifully crafted songs that are perfectly suited to lazy weekends, bike rides in the summer or late night listening after a night out. The 16 year old me would have loved this and there’s certainly huge potential here from an artist who still isn’t even old enough to drink in America. Despite some misses, the are enough hits on Sheeran’s “+” to make this worth checking out.

Mont Blanc Legend

15 Jan

So it would appear that I’m on a bit of a lucky streak with the billboards after the mortifying Max Factor experience. Having now almost completed Call of Duty (I still suck at multiplayer), the next ad is for the equally masculine Legend fragrance from everyone’s favourite pen and watch manufacturer, Mont Blanc.

Whereas most men’s fragrance ads will promote the notion that, by wearing their product you’ll increase your chances of luring hot women into bed, Mont Blanc’s ad is refreshingly understated. I certainly don’t recognise the man in the poster, but he exudes a rugged masculinity that I admire. He’s not surrounded by hot women or leaning on a sports car… hell, he’s wearing a turtle neck for Christ’s sake. That’s the kind of chutzpah I need and if Mont Blanc have somehow managed to bottle it with a pleasant odour then plug it to my veins.

Buying a bottle of Mont Blanc Legend was surprisingly straightforward and to be honest won’t make up the majority of this entry. With the exception of Dirty Dancing, I’ve paid for every item bought as part of New Billboard Day but am obviously keen to keep my outlays as economical as possible. For that reason I headed straight to eBay where I was able to buy a brand new 30ml bottle for only £23.59 with free P&P which arrived in just a couple of days.

Like the billboard ad, the packaging and indeed bottle are both confident and understated. The black box has some mountain-esque silver lines at the top and the bottle has a similar black/silver colour scheme, again showing an arch to connote France’s highest peak which Mont Blanc is named after. My only criticism with the bottle is that it’s impossible to tell how much you’ve got left, so I would always want to have a back-up if I ever took it on holiday incase I was caught short after a a couple of days’ worth of usage.

Both the Legend bottle and box are understated and mountain-y

Now I needed an environment within which to test out European confidence in a bottle. With my end of year office party fast approaching, I figured the Masquerade theme would be the perfect opportunity to test out my ability to draw women in without them knowing it was me. With their sense of sight incapacitated, surely their sense of smell would be heightened and I would be nothing short of irresistible. I admit it wasn’t the most fool-proof plan, but with no dates with women on the horizon it was the best I could do before the next billboard ad appeared.

Applying the fragrance for the first time I was very pleasantly surprised. I’ve written and re-written this paragraph 3 times but it’s almost impossible to describe a fragrance without sounding like a douche so please bear with me. Whereas as I was expecting a heavy, musky odour I would instead describe Legend as “zesty” with more than a hint of citrus. Having said that, there is no denying that this is a fragrance for men and it certainly isn’t ‘light’ or suited to teenagers like the Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce which I usually wear. Having bought a full face mask to ensure I was unrecognisable, I donned my best velvet jacket and black tie before setting off to the party.

Despite aspiring to look like Brendan Urie from Panic! At The Disco... I instead risked looking like a member of Slipknot attending an awards ceremony

Even with a full face mask, simply based on my hair the majority of people found me to be instantly recognisable. However, even when not prompted I still received positive feedback on my new fragrance. Two colleagues labelled it as “manly” which is, without question, an adjective rarely used to describe me and another female colleague asked what I was wearing because she liked it. Needless to say nothing happened with any of these women, nor would I have wanted it to given that they’re my colleagues. However, the advert conveyed the promise of confidence as a result of wearing the fragrance and I daresay that in that respect it did indeed deliver.

Maybe the fragrance did work after all...?

Since the party I’ve reverted back to my signature Fierce, not just because I like how it smells but almost as importantly it better suits my preppy style that I’ve taken years to perfect. That isn’t to say I didn’t like Mont Blanc’s Legend though. Whilst perhaps a little too manly to compliment the way I look and act, it really is a very pleasant fragrance which only generated positive feedback from members of the opposite sex. For now it has pride of place in my bathroom, but that’s not to say that if I had run out of my usual fragrance I wouldn’t gladly use Legend in the interim.

Forget Paris or Milan, it doesn't get much more exclusive than this venue in London

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

28 Dec

So I now have my new backlit billboard staring at me from across the road and an advert I’m genuinely excited about – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Now, I usually start each post explaining that I would normally have little to no experience with what’s being advertised and I’m afraid this challenge is no different. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been an avid gamer for as long as I can remember (some of my earliest memories are playing Pac-Man on my Atari at the age of about 3) and whilst I do currently own a Wii, Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation 3… I don’t really do first person shooters. You’re much more likely to find me playing a casual music game such as Just Dance, Rock Band or DJ Hero; or failing that, one of my all-time favourites is Phoenix Wright where – I shit you not – you play the role of a lawyer solving cases in a Manga style point and click adventure set predominantly in a courtroom.

Don't knock this game until you've played it.

However, working in digital advertising I’m often told by gaming websites that “Gaming is even bigger than movies,” and they will almost always pull out the stat that last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops generated a similar turnover to Toy Story 3. With 100m copies sold since 2003 there’s no denying that Call of Duty is a major entertainment franchise and one that I’ve been keen to, at the very least, try out for quite some time.

The ad made it clear that I had to buy the game on the day of release, but that almost didn’t seem enough dedication for a game with 30m active users (that’s more than the population of Tokyo, New York, Madrid, Paris and London combined). I needed to queue up for the midnight launch.

I discovered that the GAME on Oxford Street was the UK’s official Modern Warfare 3 launch venue and during my lunch break went to check out the situation before the evening’s launch: It was ridiculous. Firstly, there was already a queue of people in the freezing cold 11 hours before they would be able to buy the game who had come with warm clothes, foldable chairs, food supplies and seemed to be in fairly good spirits. Looking at the shop window, it had been completely overtaken by the CoD graphic which also covered the surrounding wall and even the GAME logo on the front of the shop had changed to the official Modern Warfare 3 font.

As tempting as it was to join the queue, my bills won't pay themselves

Inside, the madness continued. Whilst GAME was open for business, all staff appeared to be in Modern Warfare mode themselves. Anyone not behind the till was frantically building one of the official MW3 cardboard shelving units that were strategically placed around the shop, often blocking any other game a customer may have wanted to purchase. Clearly they knew that this was going to be the game release of the year – if not of all time – and my excitement was beginning to grow. However, with the freezing weather and people queuing already, there was no way in hell that I was going to wait outside until midnight.

The next day I revisited GAME at my leisure and was met by a queue that coiled right the way around the shop. The excitement and dedication to this game was unlike anything I’d ever seen and it was only when I left Oxford Street and instead went to my local HMV that I was even able to pick up a copy. With such furore surrounding the launch I was practically shaking with excitement as I loaded the game into my PS3.

Then I waited. Then I waited some more. For anyone who doesn’t own a PS3, each time you buy a new game you have to go through the ridiculous ritual of installing new software for your console as well as the game itself. An hour of updates later and I was finally good to go, palms literally sweaty with excitement. The opening video introduction sets the scene with the voiceover exclaiming “All warfare is based on deception,” with a gun pointed straight at you and then fired to show a hologram of a helicopter. It goes on to explain that “For year’s the west’s hypocrisy has made the world a power feud,” at which point I had already started to lose my grasp of the story arc.

For anyone unfamiliar with the CoD franchise, the game is split into 3 modes: Campaign (the single-player story), Multiplayer (where you can play with friends in your home or strangers around the world) and Special Ops where you can play solo or cooperatively to improve your ranking to unlock weapons, tactical support, levels etc in a variety of missions. The modes I was most interested in were Campaign and the fabled Multiplayer, where I’d heard spotty 12 year olds around the globe where waiting to ‘frag’ me, the n00b (translation: kill my character with ease because I had never played the game before and would therefore most likely suck).

Starting with the Campaign mode, before I could even begin I was met with a “Disturbing Content Notice” that warned me some scenes would be disturbing and that I would not be penalised for skipping these. The music at this point was already ominous, reminding me of the musical accompaniment one hears in line for Colossus at Thorpe Park. I wondered just how bad a computer generated depiction of ‘disturbing content’ could be, so obviously checked the box that ensured this would be included. If you’d like to see for yourself, here is the controversial scene in it’s entirety:

There can be absolutely no denying that the Campaign mode is truly action packed. Apparently you start right where the previous game left you, and in the opening scene can move the camera around as your injured character is carried on a stretcher off a helicopter and into a safe-house. In the first 3 levels alone, you crash a helicopter, navigate a speedboat and slide off a cliff into a river. After that, you’re placed on a plane where you must shoot enemies whilst suspended in mid-air through extreme turbulence and then survive a crash which splits the Russian president’s jet in half.

Although criticised in the media for exploiting the 7/7 bombings, my favourite sections of the game were those based in the London Underground, most likely as a result of being a Londoner myself. This hugely violent segment has the user following a tube train on a 4×4 and shooting terrorists whilst avoiding civilians in order to ensure the train doesn’t reach Westminster station. Although completely over the top, the London settings are actually very realistic and I absolutely loved the level of detail within the station and what was left of the train.

With regards to Multiplayer, at the time of writing this still remains something I’m yet to even begin to master after 6 and a half weeks of daily play. Before buying the game I was sure that a microphone headset would be a must-have; what better way to become immersed in the game than by chatting to my fellow players to discuss tactics and take down the enemy? However, within 2 matches I could see that the £29.99 RRP would be a complete waste of money. The majority of users don’t speak English or indeed to anyone else. My first encounter with a headset user was an Icelandic girl who would hum to herself whilst alive and scream each time her character died. When I finally came across 2 English speaking users (I use the description lightly), the only mutterings I could decipher were “Where is that bastard?” which was met with “I ‘ate the fookin’ French, me.”

My favoured Multiplayer mode is currently Team Deathmatch whereby one must use teamwork to kill enemy players, if only because it means I can hide behind a bush whilst the rest of my team do all the work and I still get the credit. My first 3 Team Deathmatches were a massacre, however my team won at the 4th time of asking with me racking up the following impressive stats – Died: 9 times, Killed: 0 users, Awarded for: Most time watching Kill Cam (the instant replay you get each time you die). The only way I can describe my experience of Multiplayer is taking a few steps, dying, watching a replay of how I was impossibly killed and then respawning to do it all again. If you’d like to take me on, my PSN username is “billiethesquid.”

Me, losing to people across the world whilst in my jimjams.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has had a lot of hype in the lead-up to release and indeed my own expectations were ridiculously high. With such build-up, I daresay that it was never going to live up to my anticipation however it has come extremely close. The Campaign mode is phenomenal, constantly surprising you with stunning action sequences and hugely inventive set-pieces that put the user in control and need to be seen to be believed. Whilst I’m terrible at the multiplayer, the dedication from users is undeniable given their ability to frag opponents like me with consummate ease and it remains strangely addictive despite my limited number of victories.

With so many chases, explosions and gratuitous carnage, I can totally understand the comparisons in turnover between CoD and movies like Avatar – essentially they’re directly comparable. Yes the game is fun, but more importantly it’s hugely entertaining. There are big budget Hollywood blockbusters that don’t have this much action.

Looking at recent press coverage, it appears that CoD: MW3 has now beaten the sales record set by Avatar. For as long as the games are this entertaining, I’ve no doubt that articles like this will become increasingly common and the huge fanbase will continue to grow. Despite not usually being a fan of first person shooters, I was extremely impressed by the game and am already looking forward to the next entry in the series.

Not your average New Billboard Day post

17 Dec

So it hasn’t been much more than a couple of weeks since my last post but what a couple of weeks it’s been!  New Billboard Day has apparently gone global, with coverage over in America from the guys at The Hangline and also in Australia by the lovely Zoe on her Inspiration blog . 

Originally my intention was to run New Billboard Day until 31st December, but now that this blog has really started to gain some momentum (plus it’s genuinely fun), I’ve decided to carry on indefinitely – so basically until I move to a new flat or run out of money.  Either could happen first.

Next challenge to be uploaded shortly…