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

I Left My Tan In Rio de Janeiro …
February 17, 2011, 7:56 pm
Filed under: Comment

After 2 days stuck in this …

… I have to say goodbye to this …

It’s been a really good trip … for personal, professional and sheer bloody “I’M-IN-RIO-FOR-A-MEETING” reasons … but without wishing to diss on it, it is also the sort of thing that has the potential to screw up adland because let’s face it, meetings in Rio are not reality – in fact they’re about as far from reality as a job can get – and that’s why it’s so bloody important you remember this sort of thing is a bit of a joke, because if you start to believe this is how life is, you’re screwed.

Maybe that’s another reason I’m Northern’s biggest fan … because as much asI know as he would enjoy being paid to get a sunburn on his bald head [which I got in approx 9 minutes] at the end of the day, the thing that makes him happiest is being at home with his wife and son and enjoying a nice cup of tea.

I don’t mean that in a sad way – to be honest, I’m a little the same [except you need to replace ‘son’ with ‘cat’] – it’s about not wanting to stray too far from ‘everyday reality’ [which is an oxymoron in itself] because that’s where you like to be because that’s where you want to belong.

I know it’s not true, but part of me thinks that’s why I like planners who either grew up – or worked – outside of London so much, because while the capital is an amazing place with an amazing and vibrant ad industry, there is more than a hint of ‘lifestyle bubble’ about the place and it’s very easy to be seduced away from the everyday when that actually is the place a planner really needs to be.

I say all that but now I head to Sydney to go and upset people by speaking about what they don’t want me to speak about [probably] so before I put my other foot in my mouth, I shall leave you be …

People Better Than You Bring Out The Best In You …
February 16, 2011, 9:27 am
Filed under: Comment

So as you know, I’m in Rio.

Apart from the fact the weather is stunning – as is the view [both landscape and eye candy] – one of the things I’m enjoying most, is sitting in a room with a bunch of my colleagues and trying to contribute to the conversation.

I know … I know … a bunch of planners in a room sounds like most peoples idea of hell, but we’re not going on endlessly about the optimum powerpoint template for a planning presentation, we’re being quite focused and disciplined on some key issues we want to get a better grip on, which are much more about what we don’t want planning to become rather than the other way round.

Anyway the reason I am enjoying the challenge of trying to contribute to the conversation is because my colleagues are good – like proper good – and the way they think/talk/act naturally makes me lift my game … both in terms of questioning what I believe and thinking about things I might otherwise not have considered.

To be honest, constantly questioning myself is one of my most common – and annoying – traits, however the challenges I’m facing aren’t because of a bunch of my self confidence issues, they’re because a bunch of clever folk have raised interesting thoughts and opinions that have resulted in me having to consider – and re-consider – a bunch of stuff I may otherwise have not thought of.

It’s for this reason I always believe you should work with people who are better than you.

Now lots of people say that because it’s the right thing to say, but the fact is, it’s true.

People who are better than you make you think and do in new, fresh and interesting ways … ways that more often than not, you’d of not even come up with, let alone consider … and that’s why collaboration is so bloody important, because someone who has to judge their own ideas will never be able to be truly objective.

And this leads back to a post I wrote recently about letting your fears drive you, rather than your ego.

Adlands ‘Ocean 11’ … except there’s only 6 of them [Dave Terry is off to the side, scaring locals] and only 2 are gorgeous.

Because as much as ‘better’ is open to interpretation [except in my case obviously] the thing is, I don’t believe anyone really wants to feel they’re adding nothing to the debate and so what they tend to do is try really hard to raise their game if only so they can feel they have earnt some respect from the people they respect so highly.

Of course this can be a dangerous game if it becomes about diminishing another persons ideas for your own personal gain, but as I wrote here, if done properly, fear can create creative tension that lets your brain/actions go to places you never thought they could go … and as a byproduct of that … the baseline of ideas gets raised and raised again and suddenly everyone starts getting to better places than they ever dreamed of achiving.

All of this is fairly obvious – and the theory fucks up because I doubt my colleagues would say my contributions have raised their game – however this is a pivotal reason why I believe planners should never work in isolation because at the end of the day, it is almost impossible to be truly objective and challenged when you are judging your own actions which is why regardless of whether you work in a big agency or on your own, you must find someone or someway to bounce things off because working with people better than yourself will improve you more than writing 10,000 briefs.

[PS: Has this post justified having this meeting in Rio yet?]

On Valentine’s Day, Love Is …
February 14, 2011, 11:00 pm
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… going to Rio [with Paul Colman!] and leaving the wife behind.

It’s the best present I could give her, trust me.

We Need To Dumb Up, Not Dumb Down …
February 14, 2011, 2:19 pm
Filed under: Comment

So I’m sitting in the Air France lounge [above] at 6:30 in the morning, after a 12 and a half hour flight from Shanghai.

Obviously there’s not many people in here but those who are, are in ruffled suits either reading the paper, looking nervously at their documents or tapping furiously at their computer keyboards.

In terms of interior, if it wasn’t for the hard-wearing corporation carpet .. the lounge [which is called ‘The Salon’, as only the French could do] could easily be mistaken for an IKEA showroom because it’s all wood and various mood lighting.

You can just guess the design brief went something like:

“Reflect the aspirational brand values of the Air France brand … professional, contemporary, stylish.”

Well you know what, they failed.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice and clean … it has free wi-fi and offers as many croissants as you can fit down your throat [which is about the only French thing in the place] but it’s also soulless and derivative of every other company who wanted their interior to reflect the same brand attributes … which is why I know that when I leave it in about 45 minutes, I’ll never remember it or think about it again.

Now compare that to Virgin Atlantic.

Many years ago, we were brought in to work with an architecture firm to help create the Virgin Atlantic Lounge experience.

The key difference was that the brief Branson gave us didn’t include words like:

“Aspirational … contemporary … discernable taste”

… infact it didn’t include any descriptors whatsoever, he gave a clear and consise objective:

“Make me a lounge that people would want to miss their plane for”.

Now that’s a brief.

That’s something that tells you what you have to achieve rather than how to achieve it … and while we naturally had to include the Virgin DNA into everything we put forward … the fact is we could start by identifying things that people found emotionally magnetic rather than source items that reflected the brands specific tone & manner which, let’s face it, tends to be either blander than bland [so as to not offend anyone] or purely to the tastes of the CEO.

Too many briefs – regardless of the objective – are a reflection of what the brand wants to communicate about themselves rather than what the brand wants people to feel/think about them and that’s why when I travel, I always try and choose VA … not because of my relationship with them [though that obviously helps] … but because they ensure that even when you’re stuck in transit, you feel like you’re having the time of your life.

In a World where so many companies adopt a strategy of ‘safe’ rather than ‘meaning’ … it doesn’t take much to stand above the masses … and yet so many are seemingly so fearful of doing just that, which is amazing when you remember that thanks to technology, anything and everything you do will now be judged on a global basis, not just a local one.

If you want to make an impression, go for the highest common denominator, not the lowest – and that is something that is true whether you’re making ads or airport lounges.

Around The World In 18 Days …
February 11, 2011, 6:02 am
Filed under: Comment

When I was young, after fairgrounds [Goose Fair & Alton Towers] the next closest thing interms of amazement and enjoyment was the airport.

I remember being about 5 years old watching in wonder as the doors to the departures lounge would slide open by themselves.



There wasn’t any person pulling them apart or pushing them back together … they would open by magic as you approached.

How fucking cool is that!

I would spend hours running in, running out … trying to catch them out and never succeeding.

Then there was the time I was with my parents at some Italian airport in the middle of the night.

It was probably about 4am and every 20 minutes or so, 3 soldiers – walking in a triangular shape – would move through the airport carrying guns.



I distinctly remember wondering why my parents were trying to sleep when there were people walking in front of our eyes with guns in a building that had magic doors. Didn’t they realise we were living a scene out of a Star Wars type of movie? Madness …

And then there were the planes.

I still remember the time my Dad took my hand and led me up to a window and showed me an Air India 747 that was parked on the other side of the glass.

It was huge.


Bigger than anything I’d ever seen.

And then Dad told me it was going to fly us home.


And then he said something else …

It was going to just fly us home, but about 300 other people too. At the same time.

How the hell was it going to do that and how on earth was it possible that 300 all lived in our house and I’ve never met them before.

For me, flying was never about any glamour … it was always about excitement and discovery.

To be honest, the journey to the airport … the time in the airport … and the time on board the plane were the things I enjoyed the most, though I always got a thrill stepping out of the plane and being engulfed by a light and warmth that seemed to come from another planet.

All that was when I used to – if I was lucky – fly once a year, most probably to Italy.

Now let’s zoom forward 30+ odd years.

I fly further than I ever used to as a kid, on better planes than I ever used to as a kid and more often than I ever used to as a kid.

And while many things relating to my excitement about traveling have changed over the years … from no longer spending every second on board the plane trying to take in every possible experience and detail [instead, I now fall asleep pretty much the moment I sit in my seat] through to no longer needing to buy something from the duty free catalogue as a momento of my trip … the fact is I still get a sense of excitement when I know I’m about to go on a trip and that’s quite handy because over the next 2 weeks I’m going to see quite a lot of them … in Shanghai, Paris, Rio and Sydney.

[Not that I’m smiling. Oh no. It’s all for work so there’ll be no time for fun whatsoever. Ahem]

Now I did think about turning all this plane/airport and travel mumbling into some sort of vague planning “lesson” – in fact I wrote an overlong piece going on about the importance of frames of reference and how they can be [should be] used to define a role for the brand that transcends category convention while delivering greater meaning in the hearts and minds of both their direct and indirect audiences while still pushing significant commercial value – however apart from the fact I got myself in all sorts of muddles trying to explain what the hell I meant, I remembered none of you would give a shit anyway as you just come here to lay insults so instead I decided to leave it as an explanation of why I’ll only be sporadically updating this blog for the next couple of weeks.

Did I mention I’m off to Rio, Paris & Sydney? Ha.

Join W+K And See The World …
February 10, 2011, 6:28 am
Filed under: Comment

I’ve written about this before, but I’d like to talk about how W+K can make you feel great and bloody terrible at the same time.

To explain this, I have to take you on a bit of a journey …

I’ve been doing this planning game for quite a long time.

Thanks to some good luck and the odd dollop of good fortune, I’ve been able to work with a whole host of great people, clients and agencies which over the years, has resulted in me being able to put my name against some relatively well known ideas and advertising.

Now because of this – and the fact I’d turn up to the opening of an envelope – I get invited to speak at conferences all over the place.

While I’d love to think I’m chosen because of my devastating intelligence, wit and good looks – I know the real reason is because organisers love to see me either generate some audience participationstart a fight … or go down like Monica Lewinsky.

[Or in exceptional cases, all 3 at once]

Then there’s this blog.

Despite writing the same old bollocks for years, I’ve had a steadily increasing number of people check it out, as well as a static number of people popping by to insult me.

While I knew I was never anything special, I did feel my career trajectory was continually on the rise and that made me feel good – not for ego reasons – but because underneath it all, I genuinely had [and have] a desire to put something back into the industry that has given me a bloody good life [so far] as well as try and stop what I believe are ‘decisions of stupidity’ by way too many agencies and individuals within them.

Then in July I started at W+K and it all changed.

By that, I mean I suddenly – and relatively speaking – became ‘popular’.

Now I was getting invited to conferences that were bigger and in more glamouress locations than I’d ever experienced and my blog saw big increases in the number of people coming along [but still the same old commentators, ha] and yet the only thing that had changed between July 15th and July 16th was that I had the initials W+K associated with my name.

Now while I am very happy to be flown to the US, South Africa and Australia to spout my nonsense, I genuinely believe if my Mum went instead of me and gave a speech entitled “how to make pasta the W+K way” people would still walk away feeling happy.

Of course this is testimony to how good Dan – and his people – are, but it’s also pretty depressing … not just because people seemingly judge others only by the company they keep but, from a personal perspective, they place zero value on what I – and anyone else representing W+K – have done for the last 20 years when in reality, it’s what we’ve done for the last 20 years that is what has got us here in the first place.

And that is one of the things I genuinely feel is wrong with adland at the moment.

No, not that the industry doesn’t appreciate my awesomeness [ahem] … I mean the fact we’re all running for the next big thing without ever actually realising what has gone on in the past and what is worth holding on to.

We deal too much in what not why … and while knowing stuff doesn’t mean everything in the future will follow the same path, if we’re not even willing to try and understand the factors that help influence outcomes [all factors, from people to distribution etc etc], then we’re destined to the same sort of disappointment Kim Kardashian will face in about 20 years when she looks into the mirror.

W+K is a fantastic place that does amazing work – but it’s not achieved because of any processes or proprietary tools – it’s because the company is built on specific values, beliefs and people … people who have a myriad of life experiences that go way beyond just adland … and that’s why I feel I get the last laugh when I now speak at conferences, because while the attendees hope I’ll spend ages rabbiting on about W+K and our work, I actually talk about life and if you’re one of the guys attending Sydney’s Creative Circus, you’ll find out why I believe that’s the most important thing for all of adland to focus on.

Weighed Down By History …
February 9, 2011, 6:34 am
Filed under: Comment

Happy new year.

Well it was for me, that was my second ‘festive’ holiday in a month – what’s not to like!

Anyway enough gloating, let’s get straight back into underwhelming you shall we?

Hey, it might be a new year, but like the Western version, it’s the same old shit.

OK, here we go …

For almost 8 years, I used my cynic email address.

In some ways, it was as associated with me as my Birkenstocks were … and while I still use it and get a lot of emails on it [mainly porn, but that’s another story] the reality is I now view my W+K email as my main contact point.

Now I appreciate that might mean nothing to you, but it means everything to me because it means a part of my life has changed – a part that was wonderful, exciting, meaningful and personal – and whilst I am throughly enjoying myself and this change was something I wanted to do, it still surprises me how attached you can get to something so seemingly inconsequential.

But hey, that’s what made the CP+B IKEA spot so great, because it highlighted the ridiculousness of it all …

… but then, if you watch Rory Sutherland’s genius speech at TED …

[Part 2 can be watched here]

… you realise that is what adland does – or can do – and that it’s amazing, shocking, weird and [commercially] valuable … even if in the case of my email address, it’s more a byproduct of my over sentimental mind than anything creatively intelligent.