Dara O’Briain and the Penguin

The penguin?

Dara OBriain Tickling the English

We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, a word about Dara OBrian.

In my humble opinion (IMHO if you’re reading this on your phone), he is one of the funniest guys on the planet.

I’ve been to a couple of his gigs. I’ve watched him recording Mock The Week. Now I’ve read one of his books (and if he’s not written more than one, get on with it, Dara, so it looks like I know what I’m talking about).

And here’s my observation.

Dara is witty, intelligent and a fast thinker on his feet. He can tell a story, rattle away at pace (almost without discernible breath) and work with an audience like he’s their long-lost best friend.

By all means go out and beg, borrow or buy a copy of this Penguin book. Not a book about a penguin. A book published by Penguin, you understand.

It’s called Tickling the English. And I suppose you want a quick summary of what it’s about?

The book’s sub-title does a pretty good job of doing that – “A funny man’s notes on a country and its people”.

Dara takes you with him on tour around England (and a bit of Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland). There’s a mix of funny memories from specific gigs and commentary on what makes the English… well, English.

The book has been around a while so some of the references are like travelling back in a quick-commute time-machine. But it still feels fresh and topical.

Ultimately, it’s a book about people. And people (nations) change little or never at all.

Which is why the old principles of marketing still work so well today.

Take this book, for example.

It was bought in a charity shop. A book shop.

I browsed the shelves. I spent a minute or two with my head cocked to one side, reading the titles on the seemingly endless row of spines.

I spotted this title because the author’s name (Dara O’Briain) was writ BOLD on the side. And I remembered the title as soon as I saw it. One of those books when published new I’d made a mental note of to read “at some point in the future”.

I picked the book from the shelf. I noted it was by Penguin. The cover was and is (if you’ll excuse the expression) textbook marketing.

The brand represented with an image (Dara holding a very English china cup of tea). A headline – the book title (Tickling the English). A sub-heading (A funny man’s notes on a country and its people). A hint of social proof with a review blurb from the Sunday Independent newspaper (“A book of laughter-inducing observation and wisdom”).

Not forgetting the little Penguin logo in the corner. A symbol to signify this is a proper book. From a proper publisher.

On the back cover, of course, there’s a longer summary of what you can expect from the book… plus more of those pithy review blurbs.

All designed to get you to browse. To convince you to buy.

And after all that there’s something I should confess.

This was NOT the main reason I wanted to share with you something about this paperback of chuckles.

What struck me (aside from the many laughs from Dara’s writing) was a single page at the very end of the book.

It caught my eye because it was a self-contained piece of classic marketing.

It was the story of Penguin.

Here’s how it started.

“He just wanted a decent book to read…

Not too much to ask, is it?  It was in 1935 when Allen Lane, Managing Director of Bodley Head Publishers, stood on a platform at Exeter railway station looking for something good to read on his journey back to London.

His choice was limited to popular magazines and poor-quality paperbacks – the same choice faced every day by the vast majority of readers, few of whom could afford hardbacks. Lane’s disappointment and subsequent anger at the range of books generally available led him to found a company – and change the world.”

Isn’t that fantastic?

Here a company tells its story. It shares its “Why?” with the reader. It reminds people what the brand stands for.

There’s a quote from Sir Allen Lane next. It states:

“We believed in the existence in this country of a vast reading public for intelligent books at a low price, and staked everything on it.”

So, he saw a gap in the market. He felt his own pain, a people’s pain. And did something to fill the gap.

Penguin represented quality paperbacks.

And not just to be sold in bookshops. Lane wanted his books available in chain stores and tobacconists.

He wanted his product to be readily accessible to the market.

And here’s more about the brand values Penguin stands for…

“Reading habits (and cigarette prices) have changed since 1935, but Penguin still believes in publishing the best books for everybody to enjoy. We still believe that good design costs no more than bad design, and we still believe that quality books published passionately and responsibly make the world a better place.”

I can’t argue with that. Can you?

The page in Dara’s book continues…

“So, wherever you see the little bird – whether it’s on a piece of prize-winning literary fiction or a celebrity autobiography, political tour de force or historical masterpiece, a serial-killer thriller, reference book, world classic or a piece of pure escapism – you can bet that it represents the very best that the genre has to offer.”

They’ve just shared with you the range of products you can buy. A neat reminder.

And the finish with a kind of tagline…

“Whatever you like to read – trust Penguin”

It’s worth re-reading the lines on this page. They are a good demonstration of some sound marketing principles – something some businesses seem to ignore, lack or reject.

You pay as much for good copy as bad copy, too.

Why so many businesses choose the latter… well, it tickles me.

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