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

Love Is Blind, Especially When You’re In Love With Yourself …
July 21, 2009, 6:24 am
Filed under: Comment

Photo: Santosuke

I’ve often said one of the big problems with brands is their inherent ego manifests itself into an obsessive one-way dialogue about how great they are.

Being proud of who you are is one thing … going on about it ad nauseam is another thing.

Funny how quite a lot of these guilty parties are American. More cultural influence in brand communication eh? Ha!

Anyway, while I know they think they’re saying really useful stuff … stuff people want to hear … quite often the reality is they’re just spouting what THEY want to say … things THEY think are important which is why in the minds of the masses, it’s about as relevant as trying to sell tanning lotion to Michael Jackson.

To best demonstrate this point – as well as allow me to use a cringe-worthy clip I got sent by my friend Christina – I would like to play you something that proves if you create communication that just talks about yourself, you’re basically advertising why someone SHOULDN’T embrace you rather than rush out and cough up their hard earned cash.

Bit of background …

A girl was out with friends having some drinks in Toronto.

A guy – Dimitri – approaches her and won’t leave her alone … saying how cute she is and how good they’d be together.

Frustrated, the girl gives him her business card in a desperate attempt to get rid of him.

What you are about to hear are 2 voicemails the guy left on her voicemail.

After you’ve heard them you’ll realise why she didn’t call him back and why there is a fine line between ego and confidence.

Stop Being Andrew Lloyd Webber …
July 20, 2009, 11:44 am
Filed under: Comment


I am going to write a much longer post about this soon, but can we all stop fawning over guys who simply re-express an already accepted fact/observation!

To be fair, many of the people who make these statements don’t claim to be the originator of their insight/thought … however the reaction they get indicates there’s a hell of a lot of folk who view them like they’re Einstein 2.0

Don’t get me wrong, there are some outrageously clever people in adland – people I look up to like a 6 year old girl looks up to the Jonas Brothers – but it might help the state of the industry if we looked for intellectual inspiration beyond the usual suspects, because not only will it stop us looking like tits when we claim things like social networking, architecture and symbolism are new phenomenon’s in brand building/communication, but it’ll hopefully also encourage us to explore and discover brand new thoughts/insights which could actually move us forward rather than stay in the same place we’ve been for the last 10 years because we have this habit of putting glitzy new paint on rusty old facts.

Don’t re-invent. Invent.

It’s Not Sad, It’s Retro – Well That’s My Excuse And I’m Sticking With It …
July 20, 2009, 6:48 am
Filed under: Comment

… yes it’s a Queen “News Of The World” 1977 Tour T-shirt and I just bought it.

Not only that, but despite the stains, sweat and god knows what else went on in it over the years, I am wearing it. In public.

And thinking of NP.

I could write a post about the different ways people connect with bands … the role melody and/or lyrics play in driving emotions, regardless of culture or heritage or even how brands should start thinking interms of making people want to wear them [obviously not brands like Prada etc, where they are already worn] … but it’s Monday, I’m tired, I have multiple tax bills screaming to be paid RIGHTFUCKINGNOW, an ‘intray’ that resembles Ben Nevis on steroids and the knowledge that even if I did write something about that stuff [including the research we’re doing with a prof of music @ Berkley which I know I have to tell Lauren about] you wouldn’t read any of it because not only would it bore you to tears, but because the thought of Freddie Mercury prancing about in his leotard has already made you queasy.

With that in mind, I’ll try and write something for tomorrow’s post that is better than this load of old tosh but until then, I leave you with a pre-hairy lipped Freddie singing one of the songs he wrote from the News Of The World album when Queen were still good.

Control Life, Don’t Let It Control You …
July 17, 2009, 6:12 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things I find quite humouress is the reaction I get when people find out I didn’t go to University.

It’s especially amusing when this fact comes out while I’m speaking at Asian conferences because almost immediately, the audience splits into 2 specific groups …

1/ The “He-must-have-terrible-parents” mob.
2/ The “Why-the-hell-are-we-listening-to-him-then” crowd.

To be fair, I can understand why the #2 group would say that – I wonder the same thing– however underpinning their reaction is the fact Asia doesn’t regard education as just a provider of ‘knowledge’, they regard it as the pathway to success and progress – so having me on a stage, someone who openly admits he chose not to further his formal education, is seen as potentially setting a dangerous precedent regarding how far you can go without formal education.

Now whilst success and progress are things everyone wants to achieve – in Asia they have even greater significant meaning – because it’s more than just individual achievement, it taps into the cultural values of the region that basically dictates each family generation must go further than the one before.

This is not just about material acquisition [though it’s becoming more so these days] it’s about anything that represents progress from being the first to embark on further education to starting a company to going an overseas placement etc … however underpinning all this is, quite correctly, the importance and power of education – however sadly, rather than it being about acquiring knowledge that can drive fresh thinking, ideas, approaches and dreams, it tends to translate into a singular process and theory by which anything that fails to meet that pre-determined criteria is viewed as wrong.

I’ve written about this in the past – as well as the dangerous implications it can lead to – however that is not what I want to write about.

Recently Kaj asked me the ‘university’ question – and for the first time I realised why, back in the late 80’s, I decided it wasn’t for me.

Contrary to popular opinion, it wasn’t because I was too thick … nor was it because I don’t value education … infact, I would say that I am one of the biggest and most passionate advocates of formal education [even though I don’t believe it should be run as an independent profit centre] it was that I wanted to feel in charge of my destiny rather than let someone else decide my fate.

Now that’s big talking so let me explain …

I was a good student at school.

I was diligent, my grades were good and I was actively involved in all classes.

Infact apart from a couple of incidents involving my Father and my Art and History teachers [who both ended up with their tails between their legs, which mortified me even more], I only ever heard good things from my teachers.

Unless it was exam time.

Like many kids in Asia experience today, I was educated at a time where your exam results represented everything.

It didn’t matter if you had 1000 ‘grade A’s’ through the year, if you failed your end of term exams, your life [as you thought you wanted it] was over … and that ‘pressure’ really got to me because despite studying and revising diligently, the moment I went into an ‘exam hall’, I would literally be paralysed with fear.

This wasn’t something that happened just one year – it happened every year – and whilst my parents and teachers were great trying to help me out, the UK’s education policy had led me to believe that those exams would dictate how my life would turn out and the fear of failure was so great that my brain would literally shut down in panic.

Now you might think that’s all dramatic – and it probably was – however an incident with a careers advisor reiterated that fear to such a degree that at one point, I thought my life was over before it had even properly begun,

Basically I went to see this guy and told him I was interested in doing law or journalism.

After hearing me talk passionately about these subjects for about 10 minutes, he looked at my prospective exam grades [that bore no resemblance to the marks I’d got in class] and said I’d never get to do either of those professions and should instead explore a career in catering management.


Look there’s nothing wrong with that job – and I know he was probably just trying to manage expectations – but the way he did it and the way he paid no value to my personal ambitions/interests and goals meant he almost crushed my spirit irreversibly. I say ‘almost’ because I was in the very fortunate position to have parents whose encouragement, beliefs, values and attitude ensured I was brought up believing you should follow the things that you are the most passionate and/or interested about because often you’ll find a way to make parts of it happen, and thank god for that or my life could be very, very different to what I currently enjoy today.

So here’s the thing …

When I finished school, I wanted to go to college and study, however because of my exam grades, I had to literally beg to be let in.

After a few weeks or tooing-and-froing, I was accepted on the proviso my first 2 assignments achieved a minimum grade of ‘PASS’.

Jesus, how thick must they of thought I was … however as I said, my day-to-day work was fine ,,, which is why 2 years down the line – and a course grade based exclusively on course work – I ended up in the top 5% of all students in the UK who took that particular course.

From ‘charity case’ to top 5% in 2 years …

Now I admit the course wasn’t the most demanding of things, but my attitude hadn’t changed in all that time so the only difference between ‘failure’ and ‘achievement’ was the willingness of one lecturer at my local college to give me a break.

So anyway, after all this, the next logical step was to go to Uni … and whilst my parents wanted me to go [and I was accepted by a couple of places] … I chose not to go.

Whilst I gave my parents a bunch of reasons, I’ve literally just worked out the underlying reason why I felt – and still feel – it wasn’t for me.

I wanted to fail on my own terms.

That’s it. I wanted to be in a position that if I failed, it was because I genuinely screwed up rather than some other person deciding whether I should be allowed to ‘go on or not’.

Sure working life still has elements of that … but for me, it was a case of being judged on the everyday, not just at significant moments and whilst I appreciate Uni isn’t like that anymore, the way the education system has been imposed on me left such an indelible mark that I chose to do my learning through other methods rather than formal education.

This doesn’t mean I am one of those that talk about ‘the school of life’ … that’s not what this is about … I love learning, however rather than go into a formal education system, what works for me [and what I’m fortunate to be able to do] is find other ways to achieve it, which often means finding experts in areas I am interested in and paying/bribing/pleading with them to pass on some of their knowledge.

The reason I write all this is because in Asia in particular, the attitude is that someone without education [read: degree and/or MBA] is a second-class citizen and what makes it worse is that companies seem to embrace this thinking so we end up with a region full of wannabe bankers and lawyers, forcing those with bigger plans and ideas to either keep them to themselves or move abroad to stand a chance of fulfilling them and that’s a tragedy – not just for the individuals, but for the countries they come from.

Of course there’s some great people like SMU’s Mark Chong who encourages his students to hear alternative viewpoints and ideas … and I am talking to LucasArts in Singapore about creating an ‘alternative’ job centre for the people who don’t fit the mould of the typical school leaver/graduate… but the reality is that until the regions Governments [especially in the rich countries] start celebrating, promoting and encouraging the entrepreneur with the same passion as they do CEO’s, then I expect my parents will continue to have their ears burn when I speak at Asian conferences.

I’m not trying to talk anyone out of education, I’m just trying to encourage people to use it for what they really want to achieve rather than submit to what it wants you to do.

[PS: If you need inspiration, click here or here. They’re old, but gold]

Welcome To The Big Ideas Ghost Town …
July 16, 2009, 6:37 am
Filed under: Comment

Like most places on Earth, there are some intense rivalries between districts/regions/countries … and in the case of HK, one of their key competitors is Singapore.

You can understand why, because whereas once HK was the jewel in the Asia commercial crown, the buggers have now been taken over by that size-of-a-currant-on-the-World-map island down the road.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this – hunger, investment, foresight, apathy, moments of madness … however if HK is not careful, it’s role in international business could be in serious danger because companies can now choose between going either straight into China or one of the other countries that are investing more heavily in attracting foreign trade/organisations.

There is still hope – but its success depends on whether they appoint us to the recent pitch they called, haha!

Anyway, the reason for this post is that I recently got asked by Media Magazine for my view on the difference between HK and Singapore creative industries.

Now if you remember, I wrote something about this a while back … however as Media is professional and serious, they covered it by writing this …

Now even though that is what I said, there’s still something wrong with the article.

Putting aside the fact we’re not a bloody brand consultancy, but a creative planning company … the reality is that I come across waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too nice.

This is the 2nd time this has happened …

I recently got asked about a regional client we’ve just won and said “ultimately our brief is to put the fear of God into their Asia-Pacific competition” … but what ended up getting printed was soooooo straight, I worried I’d become an accountant or something. Seriously, don’t these journo’s know I have a ‘grumpy’ personality to nurture, ha!

OK, so in this case I did ask the very lovely journo if he could tone down my comments somewhat [as I went on a total, manic rant] … but I still wish he hadn’t been so brilliant at his editing because I don’t think it expresses how totally buggered I feel HK adland is.

[Though to be fair, the article was less about that and more about the country as a whole, so just ignore me – like usual – and let me rant]

Anyway, as I mentioned in the article … the culture of HK is VERY creative and there are certainly some very talented and brilliant people here, but as a general overview, I can honestly say I have never been in a country with such a bad industry attitude.

Yeah … yeah … people might say Vietnam or Iraq is worse, and whilst I haven’t been to the latter, I would guess the people in both those countries are hungrier, more open, more collaborative than the typical HK ad person … and that makes me ill because even though I have little to do with the local market, I live here and I don’t want that to be the environment I am exposed to on a daily basis.

It’s because of this I – along with some colleagues and friends at BBH and W+K – are in the process of setting up a formal Asia creative planning group [think APG, but with creatives, not just planners], so that people who want to try and make a difference can be inspired, encouraged and challenged to make it happen.

[Obviously my role will be just to put the tables out as I can’t even inspire the cat to sit on my lap, let alone get people to think bigger]

Once its set up, I hope people in HK will join – but to be honest, I’d rather it was guys who were interested in joining adland rather than those already in it, because it will require an ability to listen to objectivity, which in my limited experience is something local adfolk find almost universally impossible to do.

Have I got a downer on the HK ad market?

No shit Sherlock.

Look I know this all sounds like I’m putting myself on a creative pedestal and maybe I am – but if my Mum saw/heard/experienced how some people in this market act – even she’d think the majority are a bunch of arrogant and delusional fools.

So why is this happening?

Well there’s a few reasons …

A lack of agency training is probably part of it [or more correctly, a lack of GOOD training given this is a market that once had people in it who were nicknamed ‘FILTH’ which stood for Failed In England, Try Hong Kong] as is a lack of global creative exposure … and I would be lying if I didn’t talk about how a lot of HK business only wants lowest-common-denominator, celebratory endorsed wallpaper … but I think it’s more than that … I think it goes back to the fact that 12 years ago, HK was King of Asia and it breeded an arrogance that has remained to this day, despite the fact the glory years packed up and left long ago.

Thank god there are some great people and regional companies here [including my stupidly wonderful guys, who keep me sane and excited] … thank Jesus, Allah and Buddha there is a legacy of great and brave creative … and halle-bloody-lujah the culture of the country is vibrant, energetic, entrepreneurial and colourful … but for all that inspiration, I find it both sad and amazing that so many can go along with their noses in the air when the only interesting and relevant creative thing they have ever been able to produce is their CV.

Wake up HK, it’s time the countries ad industry became a lion again, not this over-pampered pussy.

Speed Can Be A Competitive Advantage …
July 15, 2009, 6:02 am
Filed under: Comment

So I recently went into my local HMV.

As I walked in, I was literally bombarded with Michael Jackson memorabilia.

Not re-issues of his old albums … I’m talking books, CD’s and DVD’s dedicated to his life.

In other words, NEW STUFF.

Now given MJ died on the 25th June – that means they’ve been able to create [or should I say ‘compile’] produce and distribute a range of merchandise in less than 3 weeks.


Now I appreciate compiling/sourcing material for MJ is easier than creating something totally new – but given many brands take months/years/decades to develop products that for all intents and purposes are micro innovations on what has gone before, it might be time for corporations to acknowledge that in some circumstances, their process and research reliance is costing them money rather than making them more efficient and effective.

As I said before, brands can learn a lot about from bands, even if it’s an alleged kiddy-fiddling, multi-shaded, gender switching freak like Mr Jackson.

If Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery, Then Leo Burnett’s [HK] Want To Shag Me Senseless …
July 14, 2009, 6:55 pm
Filed under: Comment

… pity they’re a bit of a munter.

But having read this, they’re business model is even uglier.

Any idiot can shine a light, but we can help them grow.