The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Judgement Is In The Eye Of The Observer …
April 23, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So one thing I hear a lot about is how today’s young generation have a massive sense of entitlement.

A professor friend of mine deemed them, ‘the strawberry generation’ … ripe and full of promise, but easily bruised.

And I get why he said that, because from our perspective – people born in the 70′s and to a lesser degree, 80′s – that’s how it looks.

But here’s the thing, just because that is how it looks to us doesn’t mean it’s right because if you spend time talking to them, you realise they don’t see it as a sense of entitlement … they see it as a sense of ambition and focus.

Yes, some do believe they are smarter, hungrier and in possession of more skills and knowledge than any generation before them [which is, ironically, what every generation believes] but in China, what seems to connect many of them is this unquestionable focus on what they want to achieve [at least in terms of lifestyle] and they’re not going to waste a second longer necessary on getting there.

What we see as impatience, they see as purposeful.

What we see as a lack of loyalty, they see as protecting and progressing their ambitions.

What we see as complaining, they see as a lack of understanding.

Who is right?

Well, actually it’s less that and more a case of neither being wrong … but it’s an important reminder that there is a minimum of 2 sides to every story [emphasis on the word 'minimum'] and unless you actively seek out the whole story, you’re choice will only ever resonate with 50% of your audience, which is not bad, but not great either.

Mind you, in this world of blandom, saying something that sacrifices 50% of the audience to be meaningful to the other 50% is kind-of wonderful. Go figure.

Explaining Something By Explaining Nothing …
April 22, 2014, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

So I saw the above sign in a bathroom in Shanghai a few weeks ago.

I can let them off for such a ridiculous statement because after all, English is not the native language.

Sure, you could argue that they could have got a proper translator in, but as I’ve said in the past, China makes more of an effort to welcome foreigners to its country than other countries do to make Chinese visitors welcome in there’s.

But that’s not the point, because as daft as that sign may read, I’ve seen far worse in the West.

From Marks & Spencer’s saying ‘Caution, This Bread And Butter Pudding Will Be Hot After Heating’ to Sears pointing out that hairdryers ‘Should Not Be Used When Sleeping’ … I see ridiculous amounts of superfluous and meaningless notifications being banded about and at least in the case of the China example, they were trying to be of some value to their audience.

Of course the reason behind the examples I’ve given is because lawyers were involved … where treating people as idiots is the best form of defence, which ultimately is the best evidence of what a brand really thinks of their customers irrespective of what their advertising may tell you.

Remember that next time you pick up some Sainsbury’s peanuts and it say’s:

WARNING: Contains nuts.

Devious Strategy In A Picture …
April 21, 2014, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

I’m a massive fan of what I call, devious strategy.


I admire the brazenness, mischievousness and brains that goes into it … something that few advertising strategies ever seem to demonstrate – though to be fair, if they do it right – that’s exactly how it should come across.

Anyway, devious strategy is where an idea is developed that gives the audience something they specifically want, but crafted in such a way that it also fulfils your own personal – and totally different – set of goals and agenda.

It’s basically the policy of the Chinese Government, cunning television characters – such as Glen Close in her amazing show, Damages and Kelsey Grammer in the first season of Boss – and, if I was smart enough, me … but only to be used good ways, of course.


Anyway, I saw this picture recently that I thought was the ultimate demonstration of it … which begs the question, if kids can do it – and even Harry Potter can do it – why can’t adland?

When Positioning Statements, Actually Position …
April 18, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things that bugs me with so many brands these days is how bland their positioning lines are.

If I see another that says something like, “Your _______, Our _______” or Your _______, Your _______, Your _______”, I will scream.

What those sorts of lines are really communicating is, “we will be anything you want us to be because we’re so desperate for your business, we don’t want to risk saying or doing anything you may find unappealing”.

To be honest, it’s the absolute opposite of positioning because anyone who comes into contact with it is left without any distinct impression of who you are, what you do or what you believe.

Of course the reality is they should be able to understand this by the product or service they execute rather than just the advertising they make, but you get the idea.

I’ve always loved positioning that leaves you in no uncertain terms what the brand is or does or believes.

If anything, they either polarise or sacrifice … ensuring they actually mean something to the people they want to engage rather than some bland, boring rubbish that could represent anyone or anything.

And when I say ‘mean something to people they want to engage’, I mean it in terms of more than simply being defined as men or women aged 18-54.

That’s why I always loved the AA stuff at HHCL [To our members, we're the 4th emergency service] or the one we proposed to Punch Magazine [Keeping libel lawyers in business since 1841] … however I saw one recently that might have become my new favourite:

How good is that!?

Not only does it have the critical elements of being clear and concise … but it’s amusing at the same time.


I suppose that’s why I always quite liked seeing how Church’s position themselves – even if it’s only via the sign outside their premises – because they weren’t afraid of having a point of view and weren’t afraid of committing to it through thick and thin.

In this world where brands go on about how important it is to build ‘loyalty’, it’s amazing how many approach this goal with boring people to death rather than doing something that will attract them.

But then when you strip the arrogance of business away, you realise they are frightened little children who are scared and desperate to be liked and don’t want to risk doing anything that could jeopardise that.

Maybe they should watch the movie ‘The Quiet American’ … a movie that was [name drop time] directed by my wife’s uncle … because there’s a great line in it that say’s …

“At some point, you’ve got to decide which side of the fence you’re going to land on”

… though maybe the more appropriate quote is from Malcolm X …

“If you don’t stand for something, they’ll fall for anything”.

While my view of what a brand is may be different to many other peoples, I still believe it’s about having something that has an irrational hold on people’s hearts, minds and habits.

With that view, it is physically impossible to be a brand if you embrace being bland.

Why Husbands Are Better Planners Than Planners …
April 17, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

It only takes a look.

A twitch of the eye.

A minuscule curl of the lip.

A slight change in posture.

It speaks volumes.

In that instant, you know whether you’re in the good books or the bad.

But sometimes it’s not as simple as that.

Words are said.

Comments are made.

And yet you know that what’s being communicated is not actually what they want to communicate … and better yet, you know exactly what’s being said, even though it isn’t being verbalised.

It’s the ability to translate the unspoken words and mannerisms that allows you to be a good husband. Or at least a husband that doesn’t get a swift kick in the balls every night for doing something wrong that they didn’t even know they’d done because women have an ability to remember – and recall – at a whim, every fault you’ve ever made for the last 60 years.

Seriously, marriage is better for keeping your brain on it’s toes than Sudoku.

But I digress.

You see the thing I can’t work out is if husbands know the best way to understand their wife is to see and hear what is trying to be said – even though they’re not saying it – why do so many planners want their audience to literally ‘spoon feed’ them the insights they want to use in their communication.

I’ve met more than a few planners who have a total inability to read subtext … believing that only if someone conveys their feelings and opinions is it a valid feeling or opinion.

Who teaches them that way of thinking?

I can only assume their bosses were robots because few people do that.

Not – as Henry Ford suggested, because they don’t know – but because they either cannot articulate or convey their thoughts/feelings/opinions in a way that is clear and concise or they actually want to hide it for reasons best known to themselves.

So if you know a planner who thinks insights are something that are openly shared and spouted by the respondent, the best advice I can tell you to give them is to ‘get hitched’, because where marriage is concerned, survival isn’t – as Darwin suggested – of the fittest, it’s actually being able to read what isn’t being said.

Should The Lion State Be Renamed The Nanny State?
April 16, 2014, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

I love Singapore, I really do.

I also admire the place, because what they have achieved in 50 odd years is amazing.

So much of that is down to Lee Kuan Yu – Singapore’s founding father and patriarch – a man who had the vision, drive and resolve to drag the country to the place it currently occupies, a place that is the role model for so many other nations, not just in Asia but around the World.

Of course the way he did that was almost dictatorial … and while the place claims to be a democracy, anyone who has lived there knows it is anything but.

That said, the amazingly positive effect his leadership has had on the country and its citizens cannot be denied, but the cost of that is rarely discussed.

There are many byproducts of this sort of dictatorial approach to building a nation and Singapore is currently going through some of them.

From cultural arrogance to the obsession with materialism to the collective sense of entitlement to the divide between rich and poor, Singapore’s success has created some less desirable traits however the one that is – for me – the most alarming, is the dumbing down of decision.

Everywhere you go, there are signs and messages telling you what to do and how you should think.

From signs in malls reminding people it’s wrong to steal to campaigns ridiculing kids who act in ways the government view as inappropriate, this spoon feeding mentality prevails.

However I saw something recently that even shocked me.

A new low in treating the population like fools.

Come on Singapore … really?

What next, road signs on the pavement for which direction you should be walking.

If they really want to do a sign on the escalator, it shouldn’t be where to put your feet, it should be to tell people to stop stopping at the bottom/top of the escalator as you decide where to go, when there’s people coming up/down behind you.

Years ago we used the business consultant Geoff Burch for a project.

He told us that he once was working with a car company who was suffering from a lot of customer complaints.

He suggested to them that their after-sales people were empowered to make some decisions, only to be told that if they allowed that, they would exploit the system and give away too much to anyone they wanted to help.

Geoff looked at them and said 2 things:

1. Maybe you should be hiring better people.

2. Maybe you should make your products better.

I can’t help but feel that if the Singaporean Government feel it necessary to tell people where to place their feet, they should look at what sort of nation they’re building, nurturing and celebrating.

Sure, they have – and continue to do – amazing things for their small country, but there’s no point having a population of very educated, very smart people if they can’t think or make decisions outside of their core competency.

Unless, of course, that is the master plan to keep your unique form of democracy in power.

Costa-Packet …
April 15, 2014, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

So recently I was at Singapore Airport – the best airport in the entire Universe – and given it was an ungodly hour and I was up, I needed a coffee to survive.

Spotting a Costa Coffee, I popped over to grab myself a cup of hot coffee flavoured liquid, but before I ordered, I spotted this:

Can you see it?

It’s the names … Medio and Massimo.

Unsurprisingly, medio is Italian for medium but massimo isn’t Italian large … oh no, … massimo is Italian for maximum.


As in ‘no more can be physically poured or consumed’.

Though I bet $100 that within a few years, when they realise that ‘portion inflation’ has made their current biggest sized coffee a small size in the future, they’ll launch the ‘Grande Massimo’ to get back in line with the competition … especially Macca’s whose current small cup used to allegedly be their large size 15 year ago.

But that’s not what is bothering me – though it should [and it's something I'd be getting diet companies, like Jenny Craig, should be fighting against if they really care about helping their customers lose weight] – it’s the fact Costa bloody Coffee is an English brand.


They’re about as Italian as a can of Heinz spaghetti bolognese and yet there they are, playing the mighty Italian card when they are absolutely nothing of the sort.

The other way of looking at it is Costa Coffee are liars and thieves.

Yes, liars and thieves … pretending to come from a nation that is renowned for their love of coffee so they can steal SG$14 of your money for a crappy latte and a small lemon muffin.

Yes, SG$14 … or about £7 in real money, a bloody disgrace.

Why a competitor brand hasn’t called them on this is anyones guess – probably because they’re as complicit in this coffee nation bullshit as the rest of them – but before anyone thinks I’m being too hard on them, you can relax knowing they got their own back by calling the Police when I accidentally left my bag at the cafe and walked off … only for me to return in a panic 45 minutes later [I told you I was tired] and found the place had been cornered off and there were 15 officials from various official departments going through my bag.

The smug look on the barista’s face as I was taken away for an hours questioning was priceless, almost as priceless as the cops face when he saw my passport and realised I was wearing exactly the same clothes as I am in my passport photo, despite that being 3 years old.


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