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


What Lies Beneath …
January 31, 2012, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

Hello all, how are you?

So this is my 2nd ‘new year’ of the year and I hope it’s better than how the first one started.

The beauty of having so much time off over the last 2 months is that I’ve had time to recuperate from the stresses and strains of the previous year as well as have time to think about what I want to do in the years ahead and one of those things is to be more involved in China.

I love this country … I love the beautiful madness of opportunity and frustration.

Call me a masochist, but this is far more fun – at least for me – than being in a land where you have a pretty good grip on everything that is going on.

Of course there’s times where having a ‘bit more grip’ would be very useful – not to mention comfortable – but one of the fantastic things about China is that it’s evolving so fast, that what is ‘normality’ one day may be confined to history within a matter of weeks.

But you wouldn’t know that if you saw most of the ads.

Oh no.

In China, the vast majority of communication focus on 2 things:

Status

Family

Now it could be argued that these 2 attributes are quite similar around the World, let alone around Asia … but the way brands communicate this in China is almost identikit.

There is literally no difference.

It’s not just a case you could change the logo on the ad and it would be suitable for any competitor, you could change the logo on the ad and it could be suitable for any category.

Seriously, the basic construct for a Chinese ad is this:

Celebrity + Family + Aspirational lifestyle + = Chinese ad, just add a brand logo.

It’s unbelievable.

Now I am sure lots of people who work in this country will go “but it works”

But my argument is that it’s not the ads that are achieving double digit growth for brands, it’s China’s fast growing economy mixed with a massive population that has started getting access to choices and money they’ve previously rarely [if ever] had.

I’m not denying the ads will have had some impact, but what bothers me is that too many people are solely crediting them with all this brand growth and that’s leading to the attitude that this ‘strategy’ is the blueprint of how to successfully communicate with the Chinese population.

And it’s bollocks.

Sure, China is under-developed in terms of marketing … but that doesn’t mean they’re under-developed in all aspects of their life, in fact, I’d say that in many areas, they’re way ahead of the rest of the World.

This reluctance to investigate Chinese attitudes and behaviour beyond family and status bothers the fuck out of me.

Actually, even that’s wrong because despite all the ‘data and research reports’ that are churned out by all and sundry, I question if people are even investigating family and status beyond the superficial levels of ‘People want status’ and ‘Family is important’.

ARGHHHH!

This is why I love my job, my team and W+K … because we honestly don’t want to undersell the people in this great country … we don’t want to treat them as idiots … we don’t want to approach challenges with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, or worse, import ‘global human truths’ that fail to take into account that while their beliefs might be similar, the way people express them are very different in China.

And then there’s the fact that a country this old, beautiful, rich, powerful and evolving deserves work that specifically reflects their character and views, not just an interpretation of global perspectives.

But I digress.

The thing is, contrary to popular belief, W+K does a huge amount of work on understanding people.

The reason our work is so good is because we ‘get’ culture … and we do this by constantly poking, questioning, challenging and listening.

Just recently I sent one of my talented colleagues to go backpacking around 6 of China’s fastest growing cities.

He wasn’t allowed to pre-arrange any interviews or stay in any nice places – he had to get a more ‘raw read’ of what people felt, thought and wanted – and while what he did simply touched the surface of attitudes and behaviour, you can see from his adventure that the people of China have far more going on in their lives and minds than 99% of ads give them credit for.

So if you want a taste of what lies beneath the over-simplified hype that mainstream media likes to present, go on a visit to boomtownstories and read stories of happiness, optimism, complexity and confusion.

While I know my job is to help clients get rich, I also believe adland has the power to make a major difference to people and society and these sorts of social experiments show just how much we could do if we didn’t always go for the lowest common denominator.

If there’s any country where this opportunity exists, it’s China.

If there’s any culture that would appreciate it, it’s China.

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It Appears John Dodds Was Right …
January 20, 2012, 6:19 am
Filed under: Comment

… because today is my last day before I go on yet another holiday!

Yes, that’s right, more days off.

That means I’ll of had a grand total of one month off over the past 2 months.

But it’s not all down to laziness …

Sure I had my American adventure, but the rest are pretty much all national/office holidays thanks to the Christmas and New Year period – and the upcoming week is due to the magnificence of Chinese New Year [Year of the Dragon if you were wondering] – so it’s not like I’m some spoilt little bastard living the dream life.

Besides, if anyone has actually been in China during New Year, you’ll know the amount of fireworks makes it literally feel like you’re in a war zone.

It’s not just a few organised bangs here and there, it’s literally a constant roar of untamed explosives morning, noon and night.

And not just part of the night … I mean the whole fucking night.

My cat took about 3 months to recover from it last year and it’s all going to happen again so whilst it means I get another 10 days holiday, it also means I won’t get any sleep so I’ll come back more cranky and tired than when I left.

Does that make it sound any better?

No, I didn’t think so … let’s face it, a holiday is a holiday regardless of noise, disruption and discomfort so I guess I’ll just have to take your abuse, safe in the knowledge that underpinning all of your insults in envy, pure and simple. Ha!

[By the way, Leon – one of my lovely colleagues – has set up a little blog that looks at brands that are trying to leverage/exploit Chinese New Year, from the good to the bad and the WTF were they thinking … it’s well worth checking out]

Back on the 30th, but be rest assured I’ll be thinking of you in the meantime … working*.

Ha.

* Except Andy who really is living the life of a trust fund kid.



The Most Contentious Part Of Advertising …
January 19, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

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

In that time I’ve seen and heard some major incidents and arguments that culminated in some of the following:

Pissing in the bosses fax machine.
Chopping a boardroom table in half with a chainsaw.
A full on fist-fight in a client meeting.

And while those are pretty extreme reactions – driven by a whole range os issues and circumstances – there has been one thing that has continuously raised the ire of every person I’ve worked with.

Can you guess what it is?

Yes, that’s right … timesheets.

I have seen grown men and women literally cry over timesheets.

CRY!

For fucks sake.

Yes, I know they’re a pain and an annoyance, but it’s hardly the most tasking of jobs is it.

Seriously, how long do they take to do?

10 seconds? 20 seconds?

It’s certainly less than the time most of us take to check out Facebook during office hours. [Except in my case, it’s classed as research]

I remember Andy once getting a “call” from the accounts department because it had come to their attention he had failed to fill in his timesheet for almost 2 years.

TWO YEARS.

I was quite proud of him when I heard that … that’s overachieving in underachieving to the extreme.

And when they told him he had to do them, he told them “if you’ve not needed it for 2 years, you don’t need them now”.

But they did and he did.

104 weeks worth … all under an ‘internal miscellaneous job’ code.

Evil genius bastard.

[N.B. He joined me in starting cynic shortly after this event, which I now know was no coincidence]

Of course the timesheet model of remuneration is inherently flawed and outdated – and many companies have found alternative ways to charge – however for many, it’s still the only method that is accepted for billing and while it’s annoying, the reaction it generates in people is far greater than it deserves.

There’s anger … real, undiluted, unfiltered anger.

You can make people work at the weekend, rob them of promotion, take away any overtime payment but order them to do their timesheet and it’s like all out war.

So here’s the question: Why?

Why do you think taking 2 minutes a day to fill a timesheet is met with such anger and distain.

It’s a serious question and one that I [think] I know the answer to, but I’d love to hear your thoughts and – if you can be arsed – your idea of what could be done to change it, without a complete revamp of the whole timesheet system.

Yes I know I asked you to give me your thoughts on yesterdays post and I’m only allowed to do this once a decade, but go on, tell me what you’d say – and recommend – if Sir Martin called you up and demanded you help him stamp out the anti timesheet uprising.

Think of it as an A[P]SOTW pre-cursor/training assignment.

Right, now it’s over to you.



Dinner Party Fantasy …
January 18, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

So I’m doing a project that I am hoping you can help me with.

Basically I want to know who your ultimate dinner party guests would be.

You’re allowed up to 4 – they can be alive or dead – but they have to have lived, they can’t be fictional characters like James Bond or Santa Claus or Jesus.

Hahaha … sorry, just my little joke there.

Now the painful bit.

On top of listing who your ideal guests would be, I’d love to know a brief reason why.

I don’t want you to write piles of stuff [you wouldn’t anyway], but just something that would give me an idea of why they would get an invitation.

Is that OK?

Please be honest … don’t say who you think would make you sound good or interesting or funny … say who you really would love to share a dinner conversation with.

Thank you.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

PS: I know I am opening myself to all sorts of hell, but it’s OK, it’s not like you haven’t been training me for it for the last 6 years.

PPS: There is a reason why I am not listing mine and it’s not because I’m an anti-social bastard – even if I am an anti-social bastard – but I do have to say having dinner with everyone who has every written a comment on here – even the snidey, pisstaking, bitchy ones, which is 99% of all comments – would be nice, well, at least interesting. Of course it won’t happen, because even if I did manage to get us all in the same vicinity, I know you’d all decline claiming you were ‘washing your hair’. Bastards.



Get Your Hands Dirty …
January 17, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

I like planning.

Yes I know I had a bitch about it last week and I’d rather be back living my pretend Rock God life … but I like it … and after 20 odd years, I think that’s a pretty good achievement.

Maybe it’s because it’s the only job I can think of that expects me to talk to the weird and wonderful out there.

Or maybe it’s simply because they let me wear my beloved Birkenstocks?

Who knows, but I like it.

But the thing I am especially happy about is that I work in a part of the World – and an agency – that still expects me to ‘do stuff’ regardless of the the fancy title I have.

Now for some, that news might sound like hell, but I like it.

No, I love it.

You see apart from the fact – as I said – I enjoy doing what I do, I still, possibly naively, believe my best work is ahead of me, not behind.

Then there’s the fact that I am continually looking to prove to myself that I’m any good at what I do.

I’ve written about my insecurities in the past but despite still being employed after 20 years and working at arguably, the best agency in the World, I still wonder if I am any good at what I do.

Sometimes I think I am … sometimes I think I’m not … but I’d rather have more good days than bad and to be honest, I’m not sure if that’s the case.

The beauty of my position is that I can evaluate my success beyond just the work I produce, I get to see it through the achievements of my talented team of planning bastards.

I’ve said it before, but as much as I don’t want any of them to ever leave, if they do – I want them to go to a much better job than they might otherwise of expected, because that lets me kid myself my guidance and encouragement has helped them achieve things that got them to that position.

Of course it hasn’t, but it lets me delude myself for a little longer.

But at the end of the day, I like doing planning.

Getting into projects rather than just conducting them.

I like the energy, the pressure, the tension and the results.

I like seeing what a team of talented people can do together … what is inside people’s heads … how they can make good things better.

The thought of just ‘managing’ doesn’t do it for me.

To be honest, one of the reasons we sold cynic was because that’s what a few of us found ourselves doing.

Don’t get me wrong, it was great – but we had evolved into a classic ‘management’ position, without even realising it – and that was counter to why we started the company in the first place.

I don’t know what this post is really saying other than always find ways to do the things you love … because career advancement shouldn’t mean enjoyment decline especially, as my Dad used to say, if you’re going to be away from the people who matter most – ie: family – you owe it to them to be doing things you like or that’s the ultimate insult.



To Dad.
January 16, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

At 10:34am today, it’s been 13 years.

13 birthdays, christmas days and new years.

That’s a long time.

A long time to not hear your voice, your opinions, your laughter.

A long time to not see your beautiful pale blue eyes looking up at me with love.

A long time to not watch you frown as I tell you another of my bird-brained ideas.

A long time of not looking at your big, wonderful dimples.

A long time to not see you by Mum’s side.

Holding hands.

Being close.

I wish we could talk.

Discuss what I’ve done and want to do.

Hear your words of advice, encouragement and opinion.

Know I’ve made you proud.

I wish you could meet Jill.

To say hello.

And tell her the same silly jokes you used to tell everyone.

Before questioning our sanity about having a cat.

Even though I know you’d secretly adore her.

I’d love for all that to happen.

While you are sat next to Mum.

Holding hands.

Being close.

But you’re not here.

Not in my physical world anyway.

But you are here.

In my thoughts, hopes, dreams, values and beliefs.

And you always will be … whether it’s 13 years or 33.

Because you are my Dad and I love you.

And miss you.

Everyday.

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You Used To Have To Pay Your Dues To Get Respect, Now If You’ve Paid Your Dues, You’re Ready For The Scrap Heap …
January 13, 2012, 6:03 am
Filed under: Comment

One of the most beloved television programs in England was/is the show ‘Only Fools & Horses’.

While many people will talk about it in terms of the characters … the stories … the overall humour, I always thought one of the other reasons it was able to achieve such acclaim was their ability to introduce poignant moments withoutit ever feeling contrived, preachy or ‘shoved in’.

To go from laugh-out-loud to deeply emotional, back to laugh-out-loud is very difficult and it’s testimony to the writers skill and craft that they were able to do it so seamlessly, let alone so often.

OK, so we all know I’m a sentimental fool, but many of these poignant moments really made an impression on me.

Through their characters, the writers were able to convey a view on life or society that many felt but few spoke about.

I remember one scene where ‘Granddad’ talked about watching soldiers march off to World War I and how he was horrified at how the government treated them on their return.

While I can’t recall exactly what he said [I’ve looked for the clip on Youtube but can’t find it, so if anyone recognises this and knows where to watch it, please let me know] I do remember one line:

“They promised us homes fit for heroes, we got heroes fit for homes!”

Magnificent.

Anyway the reason I say all this is because I recently heard a friend quote another line from the show.

While the context of the speech it is about marriage, the sentiment has much broader relevance.

“Marriages don’t come gift wrapped they come in kit form, you have to work at them”.

I love it …

It could be because I’m an old bastard, but I can’t help but feel society has lost it’s appreciation of knowledge, understanding and experience.

Maybe it’s because too many people think everything they need to know is available online, but so many people seem to want the title … the fame … and the cash from day 1.

OK, so that’s a massive generalisation, but the attitude of ‘working towards something’ just seems to be a dying attitude.

Sure, there’s a bunch of reasons for this – of which the demise of ‘job security’ is one – however I am meeting too many people who are self-proclaimed geniuses even though they have nothing to really back it up.

Seriously, sometimes I feel I’m meeting one of those people on ‘American Idol’ who acts like they’re a Rock God even though they are literally ‘killing music’ simply because their Mum said they had a beautiful voice.

And god forbid you call them on it.

I recently met a planner who said he blended ‘science with creativity’.

When I asked if he had studied science, he responded,

“No, and I don’t think that has any relevance to this discussion”.

Twat.

Contrary to what you may think, this attitude is not because I’m 41 – nor is it because I am anti-youth – it’s just that I am concerned we are turning our collective backs, and respect, on those people who have a breadth of experience in favour of the individuals who only have the potential to earn a history of experience.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all ‘old’ people are brilliant – at least from a commercial creative perspective – but then neither are all ‘youth’ amazing – again, from a commercial creative perspective – but the fact is it shouldn’t be a case of choosing one over the other when blending experience with youth can often be the key to making amazing things happen.

What a shame it doesn’t happen as much as it should – or could – simply because too many companies value their people in terms of cost rather than value.

OK, so this is a ranty post that is all over the place and it has more holes in it than a piece of Edam cheese …

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the joy of life – both personal and professional – comes from working through situations and problems and it would be nice, especially in adland, if that attitude was viewed in a more favourable light, especially when some of the greatest creativity of the last few years has come about because the people behind it have lived a life of experience, not just a moment of fame.