BMB’s ‘Happy to Stand’ Badges Get London Moving
We talk to the brains behind a new project solving socially awkward transport dilemmas
The London Gent: A mythical beast that exists in international stereotype only. He’s all bowler hats and umbrellas and ‘how-do-you-do’. And most of all, he’s unfailingly polite.
Of course, anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in London might suspect that this knight in pinstriped armour is more fiction than fact. Nowhere is this more apparent than when one takes a jaunt on the underground. All too often the elderly, pregnant and frail are left to stand as seated commuters obliviously immerse themselves in their Kindles, phones and free newspapers.
One London agency has teamed up with the Evening Standard in order to put an end to this transport tyranny. Beattie McGuinness Bungay is encouraging commuters to give up their seat to more needy passengers by dishing out badges which say, “Happy to stand. Just ask.”
It’s not that Londoners are necessarily rude- rather it’s a potent blend of absent mindedness and crippling social awkwardness that renders commuters slow to give up their seat. That’s why this deceptively simple idea is something approaching genius. It circumvents all of the potential pitfalls that come with offering your seat to a pregnant-looking lady with a baby (as comedian Jimmy Carr puts it “I'd rather see a pregnant woman standing on the bus than a fat girl sitting down crying”) or insulting an older passenger determined to prove their youth (“I’m not that old, yet!”).
“People - especially men - get a grumbled at for not giving up their seats,” explains Aimee Luther, Business Director at BMB and the brains behind the badges. “I genuinely believe that most of the time this is because they're engrossed in their paper and aren't looking like hawks for a person more needy than themselves. It really isn't inherent rudeness. And then there is the fear of offering your seat to someone who looks like they’re about to go into labour. I was travelling in Spain last week wearing a maxi-dress (never to be worn again). I was sitting in the emergency exit row and as we taxied across the runway, the air steward stood next to me and "noted" I was both pregnant and sitting in the exit row. ARGH -the shame! But oddly, I was more embarrassed for HIM. So, I agreed with him and assured him I could fling the 20kg door out into the sea if I needed to as my baby "was only small". Talk about covering up HIS embarrassment. I then had to have a wine deprived flight . . .”
The badges are one of the success stories from BMB’s quarterly forum ‘The Money Tree’, where employees at the agency are invited to pitch an idea. The only proviso is that the idea has to be ‘uplifting’. In the most recent round, one winner got £1,000 to make a short film, another went off to Ghana to run a music festival and Aimee’s badges got off the ground. “Admittedly a pin badge isn't as sexy as the others, but hopefully it'll make up for it with its massive dose of uplifting-ness!” laughs Aimee.
The idea behind the badges was the culmination of Aimee’s ongoing promise to herself to carry out one good deed a day. “On a work day this usually consists of directing lost folk in Covent Garden to a nearby theatre or heaving luggage up and down stairs at Clapham Junction. There have been some more memorable deeds though – including offering a lost French man a seat in my taxi to a restaurant near BMB. It turned out on the journey that he was Arsene Wenger’s agent and I'm lined up for a VIP day at Spurs as a thank you,” she explains. “I often try and sniff out my daily deed by looking for someone to give my train or tube seat too. Worrying that I might miss someone, I thought a badge offering my seat would be a good idea.”
The badges have been handed out at the agency and by Evening Standard vendors at Covent Garden and Leicester Square tube stations. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Over three thousand pins have been distributed, and Trevor Beattie, founding partner at the agency has been impressed, “The age of chivalry is not dead. It’s alive and well and thriving in Covent Garden. We believe that it’s the little things which make or ruin your day. We hope to make a few days for as many people as we can,” he said.
The effect of the badges seems to have been contagious. I witnessed one commuter, who had been reading a story about the badges in the Evening Standard offer up his seat to an elderly lady. Aimee too has seen the popularity of her pins first hand. “The day before launch I was sitting on the overground train from Waterloo,” says Aimee. “The lady next to me was taken with the badge and I duly explained the thinking and gave her and her mum a handful. She offered there and then to create a Facebook page and help spread the chivalrous word. Turns out she's the founder of New Media Angels. What an angel indeed - serendipity definitely called!”
The experience of seeing her idea realised has convinced Aimee of the beauty of simplicity – while at the same time spurring her on to more ambitious projects. “The best ideas stem from a simple human truth. Trust your instinct and go for it. Fortunately this was a relatively cheap idea to get off the ground - and was funded by BMB. Not so sure they are going to be as supportive of my next quest - the funeral business. Now that is an industry that needs some love.”