7 things Bristol taught me

Banksy Angel Bristol

1) ‘World ranking’ is rather meaningless

This is pedantic, but…

Copywriting is an art-form, and one that I spend quite a lot of time attempting to master. As such, I’m rather critical of the adverts I see. Hence my first impression in Bristol was:

‘World ranking university’ is pretty meaningless. To be fair, I’m not sure it was Bristol University being advertised. It might have been Bath. None-the-less, that sort of prominent banner in a train station doesn’t come cheap, and the advert says pretty much nothing about the university. If it claimed to be in the top 50, or 100 universities in the world then maybe. It’s useful to be able to say that you’ve been to a reputable university. But I ask, world ranked for what by whom and where exactly in that world ranking did it place? A quick google of how many universities exist in the world gives a number between 16 and 25 thousand…

Street Sign, Bristol

2) Intuition doesn’t always work

Whilst the small pedantic copy-writing part of my brain was observing this advert, the rest of it was wondering where the hell the exit was. The train station had plenty of platforms, steps up, steps down and people trying to sell you artwork or coffee, but it seemed to be missing the way out.

Like trying to find the toilet in a department store.

My intuition was to look up for signs. I was underground and all the stairs led up.

Typically the way out sign was on the floor.

3) That there’s brilliant humour in First Great Western

The guy who reached the barrier beside me, just a moment ahead of me, scanned his ticket. He looked at the screen and then cheerfully turned to the solid, no-nonsense self-service barrier assistant.

“Says ‘Seek Assistance'”

“Well it got that right didn’t it – Look at you.”

The young man wasn’t quite as quick on the response. His mouth hung slightly open as he tried to find the words that would match his indignation that a ticket machine attendant was making fun of him, a customer. It was easy to understand his speechlessness. There was no smile back, just the perfect, judgment of a raised eyebrow. He squeaked something. The attendant mocked his appearance again. By now the young man’s friends were in hysterics, the young man himself beamed a goofy grin and admitted defeat.

He was, after all, dressed as a chicken.

Shaun the Sheep


4) Shaun the Sheep is really rather adorable

I first came across the idea of dotting lots of large colourful creatures around a city when I was in Copenhagen, Denmark a few years back. Every time you walked into a new square, or just down a quirky looking street, you’d come across an elephant. Brightly coloured, crazy patterned elephants.

Bristol was dotted with 70 Shaun the Sheep.

As a marketing ploy it seems like an excellent idea. The children, and Bristol it seems has a disproportionate number of under-10s, were enraptured by the brightly colours, the familiarity of the sculptures and got caught up in their parents excitement.

Take a look at the Grump’s blog for a more detailed Shaun report.


5) I quite like Falafal from St. Nicholas Market

When the Grump suggested falafal, I asked “what?”

Falafal is balls of deep-fried couscous. We ate it from the most ginormous pitta bread, stuffed with lots of different salads and had to sit on the grassy bank looking down over the harbour to recover for a while.

If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do.

Girl with a pearl earring, Bristol

6) A lesson in kindness

Much later, at the point where half a slice of apple and polenta cake was an acceptable diversion, I watched humanity behaving at its best.

Hunched up and surrounded by a few tattered belongings, a chap sat against a wall. Tired, miserable, alone.

Two men passed by with an energetic bounce as they herded their three under-fives each along the street. I counted twice.

Two women strolled by in the opposite direction: “Well if the men take the babies to the pub tomorrow afternoon, say fourish, we can go for a run.”

And a small child, holding her father’s car keys stopped in front of the man sitting against the wall and stared. The father waited patiently, chatting with the man. The child shook the keys and shortly they moved on.

The man on the ground stood up and moved across the street with the stride of a much older man. He hovered in the doorway of the artisan cafe where we had bought our cake, and from where I’d had a blackcurrant tea, and when he caught the attention of one of the members of staff he asked for some water – if it wasn’t a bother, if the shop wasn’t too busy.

The response was swift and affirmative, and then, he was offered coffee, and it was brought out to him.

“Sir,” the waiter said gently, “Your coffee.”

And then the waiter remained and they talked for a while. A little later a waitress came out to clear the tables, and she too started a conversation. She let him speak and agreed that he’d had a tough time of it.

A greengrocer carrying his supplies to his shop greeted the man warmly.

And I sat and watched, and I wondered how I could learn from the goodwill of this tiny corner in Bristol. Because when I see a homeless person looking miserable I often feel helpless. Yet I’m the one with the roof over my head, the car, the job, the money to spend on apple and polenta cake. Yet maybe, even if no money changes hands, we can be helpful by being courteous, gentle, and demonstrating warmth back. A smile might not feed a man, but it costs nothing, it’s low-risk and it could make a difference to their mental well-being. I know warmth and kindness make me feel a whole lot better.

7) A little about a Caribbean restaurant and some sales techniques

On the train to Bristol, I’d been reading Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell is Human. I’ve read the introduction which illustrates that persuasion is a part of most people’s jobs, and pretty much everybody’s lives, and now I’m onto the chapter on Buoyancy.

In between was the chapter on Attunement. And it was this chapter I was aware of as I ordered my jerk chicken.

Now from a marketing perspective, the restaurant was an interesting study. The brightly coloured walls, the cocktail bar and the music all fit together into a cohesive, easy-going likeable brand. The music was loud, but most of the people there for a meal were seated further back where at atmosphere was a little more subdued. A jug of tap water was offered to us – so there was none of that awkwardness of having to ask for it. Of course, since the soft drinks offered were more exciting than most restaurants entire menus, we couldn’t say no to having one of the fruit extravaganzas too.

The restaurant was full, and in order to squeeze us in the staff had had to move a table around. However, our waiter’s first real success was in precisely repeating our order back to us.

According to Daniel Pink: “A Dutch study found that waitresses who repeated diners’ order word for word earned 70 percent more tips than those who paraphrased orders–and that customers with servers who mimicked were more satisfied with their dining experience.”

Later on, the waiter touched the Grump’s shoulder lightly.

“Several studies have shown that when restaurant servers touch patrons lightly on the arm or shoulder diners leave larger tips.”

Finally, with the bill came a chance to win a holiday to Jamaica. The price, just your email address.

And I realised, that I’m beginning to appreciate good marketing.



What did you learn on your bank holiday weekend?


1 Comment
  • clarepooley33
    Tuesday 8 September 2015

    Norwich had elephants a few years ago; this year there are dragons everywhere. In one of our local towns an Eastern European lady sells ‘The Big Issue’ magazine. She doesn’t sell many and she is out in all weathers. The coffee shop in the town provides her with regular cups of coffee and shelter when she needs it.