Antonym Vol.4 A 31-day-long year

A runner on Brighton seafront.

Cross-posted from Antonym at Substack, where I am trying out the newsletter format. I’m not sure where it is going yet, but I’m enjoying the reviewing of a week’s notes and bookmarks and sharing some of them in this way.

January 2021 had enough drama, world-changing, tragedy and hope to fill a year.

In the first 31 days of 2020 social media has been the enabling technology for a coup attempt and wrecking hedge funds. The focus is on Reddit this week, but social media like email is better understood as a whole – the means of production and distribution of mass communications being in the hands of anyone who can master it.   

There are scares and negative stories every day, but the trend is towards vaccinations working. The UK’s set a strong pace giving about 8.3 million people a dose of vaccine at the time of writing – around 12% of the population. In two weeks time all of the most vulnerable groups will have been vaccinated, a government projection (for once) believable, and backed up by data

Contagion was a prescient film that seemed to predict a great deal about how the Covid-19 pandemic turned out – but it got the ending wrong. There was an implication finding the vaccine was the conclusion of the story, when in fact it is just the beginning of (hopefully) the pandemic’s end game. 

In real life, the successful Moderna vaccine was designed within a few days in January. It took almost a year to prove it was effective and safe and start vaccination programmes. And now the challenge of vaccinating the whole world is underway. The real challenge. 

Who watches the watchmen? Bellingcat, does…

We Are Bellingcat is published this week (Feb 4th) – I will be dropping everything to read this account of the online investigation organisation founded by its author, Eliot Higgins. 

In a Lunch with the FT interview, he talks about overcoming severe anxiety.

Every few months, he’d have a panic attack. “I’d feel dizzy and my heart would start pounding . . . When it’s so much part of your life, you don’t even realise it’s unusual. I think it held me back a lot.”

What we talk about now as anxiety-inducing doomscrolling now became Higgins’s way through the anxiety. Living in online communities he found ways to use online information to expose wrongdoing and lies by governments and terrorist organisations around the world (see Antonym No. 1 for more on Bellingcat and the January 6th coup attempt in the US). Simple, tenacious analysis like this timeline of QAnon predictions that didn’t come true make Bellingcat a great read as well as a force for good on the internet.

Experiments for the win

At Brilliant Noise, we call our method for fast, accountable, integrated content marketing  Experiment–Led Marketing™. I collect examples of experimentation being used well. A complete delight, then to see AdAge run a piece this week called Five digital experiments that helped Joe Biden win the presidency by Allison Stern who was digital partnerships manager on the Biden-Harris campaign. 

The approach that Stern and her team used was methodical and managed to pay due attention to the fundamentals of integrated content marketing while bringing in platforms including TikTok, influencer marketing and gaming: 

This innovation all came because of decisions at the top to invest in, monitor, and double-down on digital innovation.

Skunkworks aren’t possible without strong fundamentals, digital table stakes like social media, communications, design, and paid media. The Biden-Harris team over-delivered on all fronts, and the successful strategies below are in addition to so many successes and innovations across the board. There’s no magic bullet, just a high-functioning team firing on all cylinders.

I hope we will hear more on the details of the experiment–led aspects of campaign in the coming weeks from Stern and the leadership team ( she cites “Jen O’Malley Dillon, Campaign Manager; Rob Flaherty, Director of Digital; and Christian Tom, Head of Digital Partnerships”). 

(Bonus link: Henkel ran an advertorial on its experiment–led product development in the FT.)

What is this blob?

Is this a mountain on an alien world? No, it’s an oblique view of the dot of white paint Vermeer placed on his masterpiece, “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, to create the illusion of light reflecting from her eye. Microscopy and digital imaging have created a ten-gigapixel scan of the painting that lets us look at tiny details and even view the surface it in 3D. Incredible.


Oumuamua – even the spelling is beyond our human understanding

review of Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth, by Avi Loeb about the strange object Oumuamua that flew through the solar system last year concludes that even if the strange object wasn’t an artefact of extraterrestrial intelligent life, it would be sensible to behave if it wasn’t so:

Central to his argument is what he calls the “Oumuamua wager,” a takeoff on Pascal’s famous wager, that the upside of believing in God far outweighs the downside. Likewise, believing that Oumuamua could have been an alien spacecraft can only make us more alert and receptive to thinking outside the box. As Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Crochet artist turns viral Bernie Sanders image into a doll that sells for $20,000 | Bernie Sanders | The Guardian

Even Bernie’s memes do social good… the crochet figure featured in last week’s newsletter sold for $20,000 (and the profits are going to charity)

King, 46, initially posted photos of the 9-inch doll on her Instagram account, and they garnered thousands of likes and comments. By Saturday, she posted the doll on eBay and auctioned it for $20,300, which she said will be donated to Meals on Wheels America.

Sanders himself has been using the meme to raise money for Meals on Wheels – his campaign sold sweatshirts with the image and donated the proceeds to the charity. On Wednesday, the senator said he had raised $1.8m for the organization.

If there is a heaven on earth for me, it looks like a library. A list of candidates for my earthly paradise is included in this thread by Joaquim Campa (via Only Dead Fish, the godfather of marketing newsletters).

Joaquim Campa @JoaquimCampaThread of the most beautiful Libraries of the World 1. The Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading , Rio De Janeiro. Credit: Alamy August 15th 202019,236 Retweets48,960 Likes

Here are five ways the government could have avoided 100,000 Covid deaths | Coronavirus | The Guardian (Summary)

A public health scientist – Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh – explains why the UK government have cocked up its Covid-19 response, even if they are having huge success with vaccination now. The contrast in the numbers of deaths between Australia and New Zealand and here still shocks me, no matter how many times we hear it.

While the number of UK deaths has entered the hundreds of thousands, New Zealand has recorded only 25 deaths from Covid-19 so far. Taiwan has recorded seven, Australia 909, Finland 655, Norway 550 and Singapore 29. These countries have largely returned to normal daily life.

  1. “UK had no border policies in place for months.”
  2. …“on 12 March, when the government made the fatal decision to stop community testing, abandoning its line of sight over who had the virus and where it was spreading.”
  3. …“it delayed the first lockdown.”
  4. …“the lack of appropriate personal protective equipment for many health and social workers who struggled during the first national lockdown in the spring.
  5.  Finally, the UK has continually lacked both clear leadership and messaging, which are vital in a pandemic. Rather than leading from the front, the government seems to only follow public opinion and polling.

Quick links and things to share


Probably like most people, I put playlists together in a haphazard way, scrapbooks of songs that catch me in the moment and that I want to hear again. After a while, I stop listening to them and they become a little time capsules and I find them again. Usually, I do about two a year, but perhaps something about the intensity of this time has had me decide to put a full stop on this one at the end of January.  Have a listen if you like – I tried to put the songs in an order that made some sense.


And finally, one track which isn’t on Spotify but would definitely have been on this list is Ben Frost’s Main Titles for Raised by Wolves, the Ridley Scott produced HBO series:

That’s all for this week – thanks for reading and I hope your February is… acceptable. 


I will probably keep cross–posting the letters here, but if you’d like to subscribe to Antonym and see if it turns into anything – go here.

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