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

Class … Class … Could I Have Your Attention Please …
November 19, 2015, 6:20 am
Filed under: Brand Suicide, Comment, Cunning, Planning

So the good news for you is that there will be no more blog posts until the 30th.

The bad news – at least for some planners in Amsterdam – is that over 2 days, they’ll be spending a total of 8 hours with me.

In a small room.

What am I talking about?

I’m off to do this.

Yes, over 8 painful, slow, hours … some poor, innocent victims will learn how NOT to do stuff.

In some ways, that is as valuable as knowing how to do stuff.

Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

It will be interesting to hear what they think they learnt when I finally let them out of my [locked] room … especially now I have passed my official teacher exams, so – in theory – can do this for a living. Admittedly, not to planners. And not in Amsterdam. And not over 8 hours.

So basically not like this in any way whatsoever.

Anyway, spare a thought for these poor souls – and Mr Weigel, who has to then spend a few days in Zurich with me – so enjoy the peace and see you soon.

Pretend Helpfulness …

I get a lot of junk email.

Admitedlly not as much as when I was at cynic when Andy stupidly signed up at some ‘free porn password’ site that then inundated our inboxes with all manner of questionable material, but a lot all the same.

Many of the junk messages I get nowadays are marketing related, which is even more depressing than waking up each morning to an email box bursting with offers of dick extenders or sex with ‘hot and horny grandmas’.

What makes it even worse, is all of them are just shit.

Here’s a perfect example of what I get …

Rubbish isn’t it?

What makes me angry is they way they try and sound like they’re doing me a favour when all they’re actually trying to do is drum up some support for their conference, magazine or – in this case – webcast.

But there is one issue they have failed to take into account …

I DIDN’T ask for it.

I’d NEVER ask for it.

I have NO desire to know about it.

Maybe I’m biting my nose to spite my face. Maybe it will be super-interesting and informative … but if they don’t even know how to market to someone who is in marketing, I’ll take my chances.

Which leads to the point of this post.

Many people think marketing and advertising is about conning the audience into action.

Maybe that was once the case.

Maybe that’s what some companies still try and do.

But in my experience – and as one of the few ‘rules’ Wieden lives by – you don’t get anywhere unless it is founded on fundamental truth and so trying to engage me on a subject that I didn’t ask to know about and to not express it in a way that makes me see the personal advantage I’d gain from knowing about it … they’ve failed in every way.


Another example where people confuse alienating for marketing.

If You Thought The Fashion Industry Was Weird Before …
November 17, 2015, 6:00 am
Filed under: Crap Marketing Ideas From History!, Design

So a few weeks ago, I was walking through a shopping mall when I came across these …

Now I appreciate as someone who never wears socks because he always wears Birkenstocks, I may be missing the point, however I have a few questions I’m hoping you can answer for me.

1. What exactly are ‘fashion socks’?
2. Why does the packaging feature men talking on the phone?
3. Are the men actually talking to each other and comparing notes?
4. If the socks are ‘fashion’ garments, why are the models wearing boring suits?
5. Am I taking some dodgy sock packaging way too seriously and need to shut the hell up?

Answers gratefully received. Thank you.

If It’s Easy, It’s Not Worth It.
November 16, 2015, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration

Yes, this is the shortest post ever.

I thought I’d be nice to you given it’s a Monday.

It would be even shorter, if I hadn’t written this.

But it’s a message that will resonate with one person in particular.

I hope.

They know who they are.

I also hope.

Are Planners All Kidding Themselves?
November 13, 2015, 6:00 am
Filed under: Attitude & Aptitude, Brand Suicide, Comment, Perspective, Planning, Standards

One of the things that blows me away about ad agencies is how many people they many have in them.

Of course, part of this is that every 5-10 years, we invent a new discipline to incorporate.

Digital Strategists.
Communication Planners.

Can you see the theme?

Yeah, they’re all bloody planners.

We sit there pontificating about how we add to the work – elevating conversations or connecting to audiences – but what if we ultimately exist just to help our agency bosses pull back some of the fee they’ve lost by selling the value of creativity down the river?

OK, so I don’t think planners are useless [even though I would say that, wouldn’t I] but the fact is, when I look at the amount of people inside an agency, I wonder if the quantity is driven more by the managements focus on creating process [which creates money] or this is what it takes to play in the modern communication World.

I may be cynical, but I think it’s the former.

When we started cynic, we did an incredible amount with just 4 people.

Sure, we farmed a lot out.

Sure, we were reliant on collaborating with other specialists.

But the amount of work we did as a foursome, was easily on par with the output of agencies with 10 times that number of staff.

And in terms of quality – both in terms of idea and execution – we were miles ahead of so many of the agencies, which was reflected in the projects we ended up being given to work on … from helping design airport lounges for Virgin to helping NASA position themselves to get more cash from Congress to building mopeds with Piaggio that were designed around a countries needs rather than just a riders.

But here’s the thing … as we got bigger, we got slower.

We found ourselves allowing processes to impact our creation.

We looked at ‘how to get things out the door’ rather than what will make the biggest difference.

Sure, some of those processes were necessary, sure some were valuable … but some – in fact, a lot of them – were processes that ultimately achieved nothing. Created because we felt that’s what we had to do rather than what was the right thing to do.

I’m ashamed to say it took us a long time to realise the horrible path we were going down, but we ultimately corrected it and while that resulted in us making less money – there’s definitely cash to be made in process – it made us happier and got us back on track developing ideas that made a lasting difference.

I mention all this because I recently read a quote that sort-of sums up the issue cynic went through and the issue facing adland now …

“Being a technology company means that a single programmer’s work can boost the company’s profit for years. In a media company, one person’s work gets noticed perhaps for a day, and then vanishes in the stream of fresh news”


Interesting eh?

But my point isn’t about tech vs media – though that’s an interesting point in itself – I’m talking about what the quote is really about … empowerment vs process.

When cynic was firing on all cylinders, it was when we empowered our talented people to make decisions and take action.

They would always surprise us and we would develop ideas that were infectious and intriguing in ways we never expected.

Where it went wrong was when we started conversations with ‘the process’ rather than the ambition.

But ironically, process seems to be where a lot of agencies like to play.

Probably because they know – as we discovered – process pays.

Process keeps people in jobs.

Process boosts share price.

Process keeps the wheels turning.

If the truth about planners is they exist for no other reason than to help agencies make more money from clients, then maybe the truth about the modern ad industry is that it exists to simply do the things the clients don’t really want to do.

Or delay the decisions they don’t really want to make.

Now compare that to how the tech industry operate.

They are hungry.


They believe in their potential and capability.

They empower their people because they know freedom creates opportunity.

Sure, there’s wastage … dead ends … loss of cash …

But their focus on talent, speed and empowerment means they discover it quickly, learn from it, adapt and move on … because their ambition is to find the thing that can create something huge because they know huge means money.

And guess what, the corporate world believe in this too.

They don’t see it as a loss, they see it as an investment.

Adland used to behave like this.

Adland used to think like this.

Clients used to view us like this.

Maybe it’s time we got back to it?

The People’s Republic Of Shopping …
November 12, 2015, 6:20 am
Filed under: Brilliant Marketing Ideas In History, China, Culture, ECommerce, Internet

So yesterday I talked about Singles Day.

Well, in the last 24 hours, more than US$13 billion dollars was spent, with almost US$4 billion in the first hour alone and US$1 billion in the first EIGHT MINUTES!!!

Let’s say those numbers again.

US$1 billion in 8 minutes.

US$4 billion in 60 minutes.

US$13 billion in 24 hours.

Look, I know China doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas [though more and more retailers are pushing it, in a bid to make even more money] but that is a bloody enormous amount.

Anyway, I recently came across a buyer guide by Chinese company Alibaba.

Alibaba – founded by the irrepressible Jack Ma – is a phenomenon.

From very humble beginnings as an online retailer, he managed to overcome a skeptical government … set up one of the most amazing delivery infrastructures ever seen anywhere in the World … educate 1.4 billion people about the ease and convenience of online shopping … kick out eBay [which is an interesting story in itself which you can read here] help entrepreneurs throughout China sell to China and the World … make his company bigger than Amazon and eBay combined and end up as one of the richest – and most powerful – men in the World.

Not bad for a business set up in 1999.

Anyway, back to the tutorial.

Over 10 pages, Mr Ma’s company explains how they have an app/business that will make life easier and more enjoyable for you.

Unsurprisingly, it focuses almost exclusively around spending money.

I say unsurprisingly because that’s what Jack Ma’s businesses focus on … mainly because he knows that’s what Chinese society focuses on.

It’s a match made in heaven.

Buying products … buying food … buying holidays … buying materials … buying entertainment … buying with others … if you have the desire to spend, one of Mr Ma’s companies will find something that you will like to buy.

Then he has a bunch of apps/businesses that allows you to pay for what you’ve bought, track what you’ve bought and then tell others what you’ve bought to help kick start their spending mania too.

And if he doesn’t get you with any of that, he’s started a film business so one way or another, you’ll be trading with him.

Mind you, if his movies are anything like the storyline he has created in this ‘buyer guide’, Hollywood doesn’t have too much to worry about quite yet. That said, a friend saw a rough draft of the new Bridget Jones Diary script, and from what he told me, there isn’t that much difference between the two.

As much as the West likes to heap praise on people like Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma is in a different league.

Whether it’s the level of success he has achieved, the inventiveness of the businesses he creates, the way he helps millions of people find their own success or the overall adoration he gets from the general public [because on top of everything else, he’s a huge philanthropist] … Alibaba is proof that China is far more innovative than most give it credit for.

It also explains why most advertising in this market is focused on what it can sell today rather than build for tomorrow, which is why there is an attitude in this country of ‘good enough is good enough’, because the belief is if you hesitate, you lose.

But it will change. It has to. The only issue for debate is when and my guess is Jack Ma will know before the rest of us.

This is why this country is such an amazing place to be.

And mental. Most definitely mental.

All The Ones …

Today it’s ‘singles day’ in China.

If you haven’t lived here or don’t run a big multinational corporation, you probably haven’t heard of it.

But if you have – or do – I’m pretty certain it’s a day you find very important.

Singles day was originally created by some university students to celebrate ‘being single’.

In a culture that believes and promotes the importance of family, being single was – and still is – something that tends to provoke more questions than support.

It’s even harder if you’re a female.

If you’re not married by 30, you’re labelled ‘left behind’ … a horrible label implying you will be left on the shelf until eternity.

Apart from the fact it’s hurtful and simply not true, the fact that the culture believes you can only be happy if you are with someone before the age of 30 is pretty mad.

But then there’s a lot of madness in this country.

Some is beautiful, some not so much.

Which goes back to singles day.

The university students behind it, didn’t want to feel like they were an embarrassment of society, so they created this day to embrace and celebrate their situation. To be honest, for China – especially in the 90’s – that was a pretty ballsy move.

They chose the 11th of November because it features all the ones … 11.11 … and for years, it was a day embraced by many university students, especially in Nanjing, where it is alleged to have started.

Then in 2009, business got involved.

Seeing an opportunity to exploit the ‘singles day celebration’, they started offering special online deals to entice people to spend.

Now China doesn’t need an excuse to shop and before you knew it, singles day morphed from a day of celebrating singledom with your single mates into the single largest online shopping day in the World.

How large?

Well, last year it generated US$9.3 billion.

Yes, 9.3 billion. In US dollars in 24 hours.

If you think that is impressive, they did US$2 billion in the first hour.


For all the talk in the West of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, nothing compares to the craziness of China’s Singles Day and given the sales in 2009 was only US$8 million [not billion] and only 27 retailers offered discounts, you can see the level of growth that has happened in the space of 6 years and why every CEO of every retail organisation in the World is desperate to get in on the action.

The thing is that the discounts aren’t just on big stuff … it’s on the little things too.

House cleaning goods. Make-up. Batteries.

In fact, far more little things get bought than big.

Not just because there’s more on offer, but because Singles Day has become something where people feel they have to buy something just so they can feel they were part of the madness.

You know when FOMO extends to buying three AA batteries, just so you can say you ‘bagged a bargain’ to your mates, the World – or should I say, China – has gone mad.

But then, as I said, China does mental better than anywhere else in the World.

And that’s why it’s so bloody special.


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