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I used to love TedTalks.
The Sir Ken Robinson and Barry Schwartz speeches literally blew my mind … and while there have been many others that have captivated and fascinated me, I’ve felt it’s slowly moved away from ideas that can change the World to being a publicity machine for people who are about to bring out a book.
Yes, that’s very unfair, but for some reason, it’s just lost me along the way.
And then I saw David Terry’s speech at TedX Portland.
I should admit I know David.
Actually, I should rephrase that, I adore David.
Not because he’s my offsider at W+K Portland – responsible for the planning that has helped drive some of the best work you’ll ever see anywhere in the World – but because he’s a wonderful man.
In a World where society calls someone ‘brave’ or ‘legendary’ just for kicking a ball or singing a song, Dave is someone who is actually deserving of both those accolades.
Not just because he’s smart, funny [in a very dry way] and as tough as fucking nails.
Not just because he was a roadie for Dolly Parton and Metallica.
Not just because he’s a loving father and husband to his family. [View ad at 1 min 2″]
Not just because he could beat the shit out of me with just a stare.
Not just because he say’s “mine” with the sort of force that could stop an army.
Not just because we share the same music tastes [except Queen. Sadly]
But because of this:
I know I’m biased … I know it’s not your typical ‘make the World better’ speech … but there’s stuff in there that can make a difference, not just to people in extreme situations like David, but anyone.
So now I love TedTalks again …
Sure, it might still have a pretentious streak running through it these days, but if it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have this speech and without it, I feel I would have genuinely missed out on something beautiful, funny, valuable, legendary, moving, inspiring and brave.
As I told Dave recently, it might be his disease, but he’s my mate.
And I’m a better person for knowing him and hearing this.
Which is why I know he’ll win this in the end.
Because David is a fucking legend.
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So every year, various magazines release their list of ‘creative people’.
Unlike adland, they look broad rather than narrow which is why every year, adland generally fails to appear anywhere on the list.
That said, even when they do, it’s often because of one campaign – which is probably why, this year, Fast Company decided to celebrate some guy at JWT Shanghai rather than Dan Wieden.
Look, I have nothing against Elvis Chau [#84] but with the greatest respect, as lovely as his Samonsite ad – not campaign, ad – is, I have to question whether that truly makes him more creative than say Vivi Zigler, President of NBCUniversal digital entertainment [#89] or Carla Schmitzberger, President of Havaianas [#97] or Sally Grimes, Global vice president of Sharpie [#100]
OK, so obviously Fast Company thinks it does – which is fair enough – but it makes me question whether Fast Companies criteria and methodology for working out who appears on this list might be a teensy bit flawed.
But this is not what this post is about.
For me, it’s far scarier that adland – an industry that sells itself on it’s ability to be commercially creative – continually fails to appear anywhere significant on these lists.
To me, that is what should worry us all.
OK, so some of it might be because we don’t have the same amount of publicists as others on this list do [Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Twitter’s Manager of Social Innovation – #21 – really???] but maybe it’s because we’re just not as creative as we like to think we are.
Yes, I’ve said it.
Maybe we’re just not that good.
OK, so some people obviously are but as I’ve said previously, anyone can do something of note every now and then, the real test of your creative skill is whether you can continually do it and do it in a way that affects culture, not just the advertising industry.
This obsession with pleasing our peers is literally fucking our future.
Adland is capable of doing amazing things.
Big … bold … powerful … meaningful and commercial things … but unless, as David Ogilvy said, we get back to craving the ringing of our clients cash registers rather than our peers applause, we’re forever going to stifle our commercial creative chops which could be another reason we don’t appear more regularly on meaningless ‘creative’ tables.
Though judging by some of who Fast Company celebrate, I doubt it.
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A very long time ago, when we had cynic, one of our clients was MTV.
They were an interesting client, mainly because they didn’t hire us to do ‘ads’, but to help them with their ‘commercial entertainment strategy’.
What this meant was that we got involved in a whole range of things including the mad world of television show concepting – which, on hindsight, was a bad move because it led to us starting our financially disastrous documentary company experiment, potent_flicks.
[And no Andy, it would not have been profitable if we’d turned it into a porn company!]
Anyway, the point of this post is to talk about a meeting we had with some MTV execs about ‘fan communication’.
This was back when companies had just worked out how much cheaper it was to send email correspondence rather than snail mail – which had resulted in an avalanche of pointless information being sent out because:
1. The recipient had once indicated they were interested in getting new information.
2. The company took this ‘request’ as an excuse to send them anything they wanted.
3. The brands ego was out of control and viewed all their info as amazing info.
So we’re at this meeting and MTV were asking us how they could make their email correspondence stand out from everyone else’s.
Of course the obvious answer was to only send stuff they knew was of interest to the recipient, but that wasn’t what the execs wanted to hear, so then George said something that even to this day, I love …
“Why don’t you send them a letter?”
“A letter?” said the execs in a mocking tone, “No one sends letters anymore.”
What the execs had failed to grasp was that was the exact reason why they should have done it.
The problem with our industry is that we have become obsessed with being associated with cool rather than being obsessed with understanding people’s attitudes & behaviour and thinking up ways to nudge/shift/change them in cool ways.
Of course a lot of this is because we’ve sold creativity so far down the river, that we think the only way we can remain relevant is if people think we’re at the forefront of what’s new [which let’s face it, we’re no where near most of the time] but it’s that attitude that is ultimately undermining what’s left of our cred, because if we simply got back to showing how we understand how to nudge/move/change people and societies thoughts/views/habits, we could get back to where we rightfully deserve.
Would a letter to MTV’s base have been good?
Well, dependent on what was in it, yes.
Would it have been more expensive than sending an email.
On face value – absolutely – however, effectiveness isn’t purely about the cheapest price, it’s about the cheapest price to achieve the goal you need achieving and if most people were getting email correspondence rather than letters [unless it was a bill or something painful] and most people were ignoring what was in their inbox, then a letter they would read and be affected by would be far more ‘effective’ than the alternatives.
The most important thing for adland to remember is that it’s not about being cool.
It’s about being clever.
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For the record, ‘pissing’ is a universally acknowledged research metric and anyone who says otherwise simply isn’t in the know. Ahem.
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Over the years I’ve written a lot about death.
I’ve talked about my Dad’s death.
I’ve talked about the death of others.
I’ve talked about the music I want to have played at my funeral.
I’ve talked about the clarity death brings to us all.
I’ve even talked about what I want my wife to know once I’ve gone.
I’ve talked about a lot of things.
Contrary to what many may believe, it is not because I’m as depressed as a fart, it’s because I believe it’s very important to talk about death before it happens which is why I thought I’d show you this video – if only for the fact it highlights we shouldn’t wait till the end to start realising what we have, what we’ve done, what we love and what we’ve got.
It happens to us all.
Talking about it might help us treasure the moments well before the moment.
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I’ve written a few of these types of posts over the years – which all goes to show how much of a sad bastard I was when I was younger – however I’d say it also highlights something else, something we brush over as adults, far too easily.
You see, while adults like to say kids are filled with optimism and promise, the reality is that for many children, they feel weighed down by fears and concerns.
Sure, some of these things are relatively superficial – and without doubt, we tend to get over most of them when we’re older – but I would argue that some of them have such an incredible influence on how we grow up and develop that they could be classed as evolution barrriers.
The older I get, the more I realise how blessed I was to have the parents I had/have.
Sure, they were tough and wanted/pushed me to do well, but they also instilled in me a sense of striving for personal fulfillment [not contentment] regardless what that might be or where it may lead to.
[Well, within reason. Being a criminal was certainly not an acceptable career]
It was their desire for me to live a textured and interesting life that ultimately allowed me to have the confidence to do – or not do, as the case may be – a bunch of stuff.
From deciding to not go to university .. to becoming a musician … to not smoking, drinking or doing drugs … to chasing a woman half way around the World … to starting a bunch of companies … to moving countries … to flying around just so I could meet someone I found interesting in a book or documentary to countless other things … it’s all down to the values and beliefs taught to me by my parents.
And while I know there were more than a few things that they would have preferred me not to do, they knew- that if it was something I felt compelled to do, it was ultimately the right thing to let me do, even if it meant I would fall flat – as I invariably did – on my face.
It’s important to highlight they didn’t blindly support everything I wanted to do.
They would consistently challenge my ideas/thoughts before I did them, but once they were satisfied it wasn’t ‘only child syndrome’ and something I really actually wanted to do/try/explore, they would support me and for that, I can never repay them enough.
That said, I still encountered many things that, as a child, I felt were overwhelming – things that had the power to stop me in my tracks, even if it was something I really wanted to do – which is why as an adult it’s kind of liberating to revisit those situations and try to handle them as I wished I could have handled them, if only for the sheer momentary sense of empowerment it gives me.
Of course it doesn’t always happen which highlights how growing older doesn’t always make us smarter or more confident, it just teaches us more ways to avoid the issue so with that, here are 3 things that I used to think were more dangerous than dealing with the Russian mafia and why – years later – they still have the potential to fuck me, and countless others, up.
1. Telling A Woman She Looks Nice
When I was young, giving a compliment – any compliment – to a girl was social suicide.
It wasn’t just the fact that she would probably burst into tears [or maybe that was just me], it was that your friends would either  disown you for being a pansy and/or  tease you mercilessly for liking a girl.
What this means is that for many men, approaching a woman is scarier than staring down a lion.
And it’s ridiculous.
Who the fuck is going to get upset at receiving a compliment?
Sure, it might cause some distress if you do it while masturbating furiously in front of them, but in the main, telling someone that they look nice – for no other reason, than they do – is a wonderful thing, where all parties end up feeling better for it.
Isn’t it funny that in this day and age, saying something like that still has the power to fill people with a sense of dread.
Especially clients. Haha!
2. Saying You Don’t Understand Something
One of the worst things that could happen as a child was being told a joke by an older kid and then – in front of everyone else – get asked to explain why it was funny.
The reason this was a nightmare was half the time, you didn’t know why it was funny … you were simply following the unspoken code of junior school kids, which was to “laugh” when expected to.
You might think I was a sad sod – and I probably was – however I know many people who have left meetings where they’ve said to someone, “Do you know what we have to do?”
Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength and yet many of us still feel that need to ‘fit in’, which is why we shouldn’t sneer at people who ask for clarification, but celebrate them.
3. Being Humouress At Moments Of Seriousness
One of the worst things for a parent is when their kid acts up in front of others or in inappropriate places.
Most of the time it’s because they’re worried about how other people will perceive them rather than their kid doing something particularly bad [though apparently I did something in a Church which literally mortified my parents, ha!] which is why we are educated from a young age that at certain times and circumstances, we have to reel in our personality and sit there like a robot.
Now I am not advocating you start shouting or flashing at a funeral – but some of the most inspirational people I’ve ever been fortunate to see/work with have had an amazing ability to ensure that when discussing the most serious of subjects at the most tense of times, they’ve kept the overall mood of the room positive, optimistic and energised through their humour, outlook, experiences.
Being humouress does not mean you’re not being serious about the matter in hand and while it’s all down to ‘what you do and how you do it’, I think there’d be a lot more positive and productive meetings if that sense of childish cheek was maintained in the business environment, rather than pushed away and guarded against with an iron fist.
Being a kid is – in the main – a wonderful time and experience, but we’d all probably be a whole lot less neurotic if we took away the stigma of everyday situations and issues that, years later, still have the power to fuck society up.
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China is an amazing place.
I love it.
I literally love it.
I love it’s madness, speed, energy and down right weirdness.
But despite that, I still need a bunch of creature comforts and one of those is coffee.
Every morning, as I walk to work, I pop into Starbucks to get a latte.
Yes, I know Starbucks coffee is not real coffee.
Yes, I know Starbucks is about as corporate as you can get.
Yes, I know Starbucks is pretty much shitty all round … but in a land where good coffee is hard to find, beggars can’t be choosers.
That said, I think Starbucks is pretty amazing in China.
Not because of their products or their stores or their service, but because they almost single-handidly brought the coffee culture into one of the greatest tea adoring nations on earth.
Sure, it cost them an immense amount of time, money and training – but to achieve that is way more impressive than what most brands can claim.
But that’s not what this post is about, no, it’s about standards.
Last week, when I walked into Starbucks, I saw this:
Yep, it’s a heat sleeve dispenser.
Now I appreciate that might not seem much to you, but a brand that has built part of its reputation on its customer service, I found it interesting they decided it was time their customers sorted out their own coffee sleeve requirements.
This might seem a petty little thing – and it is – but it’s the implication of doing this that disturbs me.
What happens if they decide to charge for their sweetner?
What happens if they decide to charge for using a spoon?
OK, so I’m being alarmist, but the thing is, once a brand sets a minimum standard of experience, you cannot ever go back on it.
Well, actually you can, but you better have a good reason for it [ie: helping the environment] and you’d better make sure people know about it.
People might have bad memories … people might have better things to worry about and do … however they are very quick to notice a decline/change in something that has become part of their routine which is why while a brand might not think it’s a big thing, they’d be surprised how quickly people can turn it into that, especially when they feel they’re losing something they’ve previously had and it’s gone for no reason.