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

Beware Of Beige Volvo Brands …
May 31, 2011, 6:21 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the things that bothers me about brands is how much they talk about wanting differentiation and yet they do all they can to ignore one of the easiest and most powerful ways of doing it.

Standing for something.

It feels that more and more brands are favouring a positioning of blandom – probably because they feel this minimises the risk of alienating potential customers – however the irony of this ‘strategy’ is that by standing for nothing, they are opening the door for their competition to come in and steal their share, either through doing something with meaning or fighting on price. promotion or distribution.

While I appreciate there are many highly profitable brands out there that have no clear or consise positioning, I still believe brands that ‘stand for something’ are in a stronger position for growth than those who are ‘designed and managed by committee’ – though obviously that is dependent on the other critical factors being executed properly.

The reason this has come up is that a couple of weeks ago my wife and I were at a gig where a bunch of pensioners played a bunch of jazz greats.

One of the songs they played was the Sinatra classic, ‘My Way’ and she said that if that song was written today, it would probably be called ‘Our Way’ for the reasons I’ve blathered on about above.

I disagreed with her, because I still think ‘Our Way’ is still too pragmatic for many brands tastes and felt ‘Whatever Way You Want Is What We Want To Do’ would be more in line with current attitudes – which leads to my question, what other classic song titles would be affected by the emergence of ‘political correct and unifying’ brand attitudes?

Over to you …

Working In A Vacuum …
May 30, 2011, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

Hello there – how are you?

Miss me?

What a stupid question.

Anyway, I had a fantastic time …

Sure, any holiday is good [well, except my disastrous honeymoon] but this was bloody awesome.

OK, so Forest did their best to ruin it – and they very nearly did – but sadly I’m so used to them disappointing me, that I never allowed myself to get too excited about their Premiership prospects … and while I still went through a period of utter dejection and depression, being with my Mum made everything fantastic..

Now while I’ll be writing a few things about my Mum’s first ever trip to China, I don’t want to lull you into a false sense of security thinking I’ve changed and everything on here will now be nice, interesting and heartfelt so to get you back into the ‘bottom-of-the-barrell’ mood, have a look at this …

Can you tell what it is?

No … it’s not a scene from a horror movie nor a sign from God, it’s the light from one of the new bedside clocks I bought recently.

And guess what, you can’t turn the fucking thing off.

It glows like a lighthouse all bloody night.

OK, to be fair, you can turn it off – because the light represents your iPhone is attached to it – however given this bedside clock has been created to work with the iPhone and has features directly related to having an iPhone, not connecting it kind of defeats the whole fucking point of having one.

Who designed this?

I’ll tell you, either someone who never turned the lights off or a fucking retard.

How hard would it be to incorporate a ‘light off’ button? Seriously …

This thing is supposedly from 29th century, alien technology and they can’t include a button to turn the fucking light off?

Hell, if they’re that lazy, they could have said it had an ‘incorporated night light’ but instead you get a bedside clock that looks like it’s sending a signal into the night sky, asking for Batman to come and help.

The problem with so many things in product development, marketing and advertising is that in our quest to get ahead, we focus on innovation and features rather than incorporating relevance, meaning and feeling – which is why I believe every department needs a person who can look at things objectively, not just supportively.

That doesn’t mean they are the miserable fucks of the office … the people who who kill every idea every day … I’m talking about people who make sure what is being done makes a modicum of sense – like having a bedside clock not have a light that makes sleeping a pain in the fucking arse.

These people shouldn’t just be planners, but planners should certainly be able to add an element of ‘common sense’ to the process because without them, anyone can convince themselves what they’ve come up with is right … only to have their self assured confidence smashed right back in their face when the people in the real World see what you’ve been spending all your time patting yourselves on the back for and telling you its shit.

Innovation is important.

Sometimes innovation is about features.

But to increase the odds that something you do is going to fly … relevance, meaning and feeling should not be optional elements, but mandatory.

Au Revoir Mum …
May 26, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

I’m writing this on the day my Mum leaves China to go back to Nottingham.

She hasn’t gone yet and I already miss her.

I cannot tell you the happiness I’ve felt walking into a room and seeing my Mum there.

Her face.

Her smile.

Her gentle presence.

Sure I’ve loved taking her to new places, spoiling her as much as she’d allow – but the real joy has just been having her near me.

Being able to ask her a question.

Or share a joke.

Or just watch her reactions to things.

She represents all the best things about people … kind, generous, considerate, smart … she is a far better person than me and I should definitely have turned out better given all the love and guidance she’s given me.

That might sound like some empty Miss World type of statement, but I mean it – every single word.

I would happily have her stay with me/us for ever.

I’d love to be able to say good morning to her each and every day.

Have a chat.

Share a meal.

But she doesn’t want that.

Not because she doesn’t like China. Or Jill. Or the cat. Or me. It’s because she likes her independence and that is something to celebrate, even if it means we don’t spend nearly as much time together as we’d like.

So I want to say thank you …

For everything she’s done in my past, present and future and for making this holiday extra special the moment she landed in Shanghai and extra sad, the moment she left.

Till next time my dear Mum, safe travels, I love you and miss you.

When Mum Comes To Town …
May 10, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

This is an exciting week for me.

I go on holiday, see Forest [hopefully, but doubtfully] win their first playoff match against Swansea and then bring my Mum to China.

It’s also an exciting week for you because as of today, this is a blog bollocks free zone for almost 3 weeks.


Don’t say I don’t spoil you.

Anyway, of all these things, the one I’m excited about the most is my Mum’s visit.

I’m excited because she gets to see where I live … I’m excited because I get to show her around … I’m excited because I get to spoil her … but most of all, I’m excited because I’m going to see her.

I love my Mum.

She is a wonderful and inspirational woman.

She has put up with my tantrums, moods and hair-brained schemes as well as supported my ideas, ambitions and hair-brained scheme.

She [and Dad] let me ‘believe’ in the possibilities I wanted for my life as well as assure me that I’d be looked after if it failed.

OK, they didn’t exactly want me to fail … and I certainly tested their patience on a number of matters … but at the end of the day, their goal was for me to feel happy and that is a gift that I only have started to appreciate.

I should point out that their liberal attitude didn’t extend to me being able to sit on my ass and do nothing … I had to earn their trust … but at the major crossroads in my life, where each choice would have major ramifications, they always backed me – even when it meant that I would be turning my back on things that they secretly [and in my Dad’s case] and not so secretly wished I’d do.

So here she is, at 78 coming to China.


OK, so I’m her only son and my friends at Virgin Atlantic are going to look after her … however it’s still a pretty big thing for a lady of her years to do and given there’s a shitload of people who complain about 5 hour flights or going “to the East” I love that she gives them all the [metaphorical] finger.

I’ve said it before, my Mum wants to prove people wrong.

She does not want to be defined by age.

That doesn’t mean she wears clothes for 30 year olds or listens to hip hop, it means she wants to be relevant to the times – so things like technology and travel aren’t to be feared, but embraced.

She wants to know what is going on in her community, country and World – from news to culture – and she will view them with an open mind and accept that even if she doesn’t like something, it’s not wrong – it’s just a choice and a matter of taste.

She doesn’t judge … she doesn’t discriminate … she doesn’t make excuses.

She is a woman who has given the World so much and still wants to contribute and learn and quite frankly, she represents an attitude that would not only benefit us all individually, but on a bigger scale … so that’s why the next few weeks are going to be so great, because I’m going to be with my Mum, the greatest Mum in the whole wide World.

Back 30th May.

Even More Ways To Tell Whether Your Planner Is A Potential Danger To Your Business.
May 10, 2011, 6:00 am
Filed under: Comment

So this morning I woke up to find that our dear Andy had continued my series of ‘Signs Your Planner Could Be A Danger To Your Business Health’ by contributing a list of 30 [THIRTY!] signs you might be dealing with errrrm, me.

In the interests of fairness, I think it only right I publish this in its entirety, with no adjustments other than the inclusion of the odd capital letter …

So ladies and gentlemen of the World, here are 30 signs of another dangerous variety of planner, the Robert Campbell.

#1 His name will be Robert Campbell.

#2 He’ll wear a fucking queen tshirt.

#3 And stupid fucking birkenstocks.

#4 He’ll be bald, have a beard and look very much like a tramp off the street.

#5 Any presentation he makes will look uncannily like the one you saw him do 6 fucking years ago.

#6 The uncouth fucker will swear a lot.

#7 He will pick fights with the audience, the sponsors and the industry.

#8 He’ll talk about gadgets no fucker cares about.

#9 And his wife, cat, Mum, Dad, Queen and Nottingham fucking Forest.

#10 He’ll talk about ideas before ads.

#11 He’ll show a photo of himself when he had hair and was on the cusp of rock stardom.

#12 Before he fucked it up.

#13 He’ll have more fucking opinions than a Murdoch news editor.

#14 He’ll spend vast amounts of cash taking weird fuckers to dinner. Especially prostitutes and criminal fucking profilers.

#15 He’ll be flying on Virgin Atlantic.

#16 In Upper Class.

#17 For fucking free.

#18 With a fucking new iPad 27.

#19 Also for fucking free.

#20 He won’t credit me [Andy] with anything even though the fucker owes me everyfuckingthing.

#21 He’ll be more interesting, make more fucking sense and have better bastard ideas than most of the other fuckers in the industry.

#22 He’ll write a blog that is 97% shit. 3% inspiration.

#23 I [Andy] will be the 3 fucking percent.

#24 He’ll most likely write about how he is in love with his best mates massive cock.

#25 But he’ll be married to someone out of his league in beauty and talent.

#26 He’s fucking friends with blokes with fucked up monikers like Northern fucking Groper, Famous Rob and Stick It Up My Ass And Make Me Scream.

#27 He’ll make out hes a nice guy but really hes a vicious little fuck.

#28 He will give a taste of some of the shit hes done in his life but fall short of coming out with it because his Mum reads this bollocks.

#29 That’s where I come in.

#30 I am a fucking saint.

If you see him, stay the fuck away, he’ll destroy your life.


Now that’s a reference if I ever read one. Ahem.

Thanks Andy. I think.

More Ways To Tell Whether Your Planner Is A Potential Danger To Your Business.
May 9, 2011, 6:23 am
Filed under: Comment

Following on from last weeks ‘intellectual’ variant, today we will focus on the ‘cool-as-fuck’ variety of the planning species.

1/ They will wear a t-shirt that either features the Motorhead logo [even though they will probably only know ‘Ace Of Spades’] or a brand the rest of us have never heard of but just reeks of being as cool as fucking fuck.

2/ At the end of every sentence, they’ll say “yeah?” as if he/she wants to be sure the audience is keeping up with their genius, even though secretly, they’ll be sure that is an impossible ask.

3/ Every reference they use will come from Fast Company or some underground music mag.

4/ They’ll use keynote with every fucking effect it can produce on every fucking slide.

5/ Their presentations will feature one word and some random – but gritty- looking image.

6/ Or just an abstract video.

7/ Or a photo of them. Stage diving or something. Probably from their facebook page where they can ‘accidently’ show they have 74,000 friends.

8/ And every presentation will start with a quote … either from a dead rock star, an indie song or a skateboarder.

9/ Then – when they present it – they’ll ignore everything on the screen and just walk about in their skinny jeans, sucking their cheeks in and saying things like, “You won’t of heard of these guys but …” and then proceed to show how they’re best mates with this bunch of losers/lucky bastards and that they hang out at the sort of hotspots only the hottest of filmstars go to. And they all take drugs together. Or talk about budhism.

10/ They absolutely, definitely, one thousand percent will talk about being a DJ. And they’ll say it in a tone like they’re the fucking bomb and if anything, planning is just their side project.

11/ Or photography. They’ll definitely be the greatest photographer in the World and will probably use their shots in their presentation. Either featuring miserable, drug addled teens or cliched hipsters. In a coffee shop.

12/ They will never, ever describe themselves as a planner. Always a trend hunter, chaser of the cool or follower of the fucking amazing.

13/ They only rate people with an arm of tattoos.

14/ They are convinced all the chicks in the room fancy them. And the men.

15/ They never. Never ever. Never, ever, ever talk about the general public or masses.

16/ They genuinely believe they are the smartest, coolest, most in touch person in the room … exemplified by their condescending views and remarks on the habits and beliefs of the audience, covering everything from their sad mainstream choice of music/fashion/tech/mags/cheese through to their naive views on who is the best writer of the modern age. Which will always be a magazine writer. Always.

17/ They’ll throw so many random facts at you that you’ll not realise till much later they haven’t voiced a single opinion or insight of their own, they’re just copied and pasted words/facts/terms that other people have told them, reported or actually got off their arse and done.

As there are 17 reasons compared to the usual 15, the rule is if you recognise 3 or more of the above traits in yourself – or someone you know – act swiftly and decisively because quite frankly, “normality” is going to kill you, you give us mere mortals the fucking shits and you’re not nearly as ‘connected’ or ‘brave’ as you think you are.

It’s A Fine Line Between Capturing Imagination, Over Promising & Talking Complete And Utter Bollocks …
May 6, 2011, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

Look at this:

Yes, it really is a notepad that is claiming it [1] uses future technology and [2] is the choice for tomorrow’s superstars.

Now while I appreciate it caught my attention, the fact is I look at the brand with distain and pity rather than awe and aspiration … and that’s because to make a claim like that requires either an element of proof or an element of tongue-in-cheek and this has neither.

The problem with planning is that if you take it to it’s logical conclusion, it’s job is to help brands fit in to people’s lives and frames-of-reference … which in some ways could be interpreted as being anti-differentiation. Because of this, planners are being encouraged to go to greater and greater extremes so that their creative colleagues [from an ad agency structural perspective, not an ability perspective] can do something that is interesting and imaginative.

Now I am all for creating work that is culturally impactful, provocative and imaginative – but without some element of anchoring [or, a tone that basically demonstrates you have let go of all seriousness] you end up running the risk that what you create ultimately distracts rather than motivates … and whilst some may claim ‘disruption’ is the key to creativity, I would argue that the goal of simply ‘standing out’ – whatever the cost – is not a smart strategy, but one that demonstrates an air of desperation.

I’ve never worked for TBWA but they are an agency I have always admired.

To be honest though, that admiration is based more on their past work than present – though there have done some stuff recently that I am very impressed with.

The point is, when they were at their ‘disruptive best’, they were never about pointless claims or over-promising, they were about challenging the status quo through better, more provocative insights &/or using alternative, provocative tones-of-voice … in short, it was based on smarts not shock and I can’t help but feel too many people have missed this point and embraced an attitude of ‘if it stands out, it’s OK’ and it’s not, it’s not OK at all.

The danger of post rationalisation is that people skip over the little things that shaped the approach – that went on to make the biggest difference to the thinking and the work – and so whilst I think planning and execution should always be imaginative, involving, interesting and intriguing … there’s a point where if the masses look at it and go “what a pile of bollocks”, it’s possibly more about agency indulgence than commercial brilliance.