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


A Post I Wish I Didn’t Have To Write, Even Though It Represents Good Things …
September 28, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

Well that’s quite a dramatic blog post title isn’t it.

Christ, what do you think I could be talking about?

Well it’s a post in 2 halves – so let’s start with the good news shall we?

There’ll be no blogging next week.

Yes, you guessed it, it’s because I’m going on yet another holiday.

Except this time it’s not for some work trip ‘holiday’ – oh no – this time it’s the real deal because China shuts up shop for a week so an estimated 300 million people can take a trip back to their hometowns to be with their family as part of the annual October holiday.

So that’s the good, so what’s the bad?

Well in a lot of ways, it’s not bad – in fact it’s wonderful and exciting and full of happiness and promise.

Today, after almost ten years, my dear friend, Fredrik Sarnblad, leaves Singapore – and BBH – to start a new life in America as one of the planning heads at Mullen.

I am incredibly happy for him.

Fredrik is a wonderful, talented, caring, gentle, wise man.

For that alone, he deserves nothing but the absolute best … but given this year has been particularly traumatic due to a number of personal tragedies, he deserves it even more.

I first met Freddie at Y&R in 2005.

We clicked immediately.

Maybe it’s because we looked somewhat similar [ie: bald & glasses] … maybe it’s because we shared similar backgrounds … maybe it’s because we both fucking hated a particular individual in the organisation … but we hit it off.

I was incredibly fortunate to be able to work with Freddie for a number of years – which uncoincidently – coincided with a period of unparalleled and unprecedented growth, both in terms of revenue, clients, new business and creative awards.

When he left, which he announced when I was on my honeymoon I hasten to add, I was utterly devastated but I knew it was the right thing for him to do and just hoped our friendship would continue.

I needn’t of worried … though I do think it could have a lot to do with the fact I was the only person who would happily join his regular Mandarin Oriental buffet massacres or that I didn’t mind being seen in his company despite him openly loving Toto, occasionally wearing his pants too high or sometimes deciding to dress up in an outfit that would make Elton John jealous. [which he has wisely removed all evidence of it ever happening]

In all seriousness, Freddie has been – and is – an amazing friend.

If I’m honest, he’s been more of a friend than I could ever of hoped for.

Time and time again, his compassion, companionship, consideration, advice, loyalty and humour have seen me through moments of crisis – from work related nightmares to the happy nervousness I felt when I was going to ask Jill to marry me and then, 6 months later, when I got hitched in front of him and a bunch of my family and friends in Singapore.

In short, we have been through all sorts of trials and tribulations together – and while some have been more challenging than others – I’ve always felt he had my back and that is testimony to the kind of man he is.

Ten years is a long time to live in any country – especially ever-transient Singapore – so if he’s anything like me, he’s going through a whole range of emotions, but as he’s soon going to be reunited with his beloved family [who left a few months before to sort out schools etc], I’m sure any sentimentality is overshadowed by the feeling of happiness and excitement that his family are embarking on a new chapter of their lives together … starting with their first, true [& huge] family home, including gorgeous Weimaraner puppy, Beckett.

I’ve had many long conversations with him about this over the years so I know how long the family have wanted it, which is why I’m so incredibly happy that it is now finally happening for them all.

That said, I will miss him.

I worry terribly that I’ll never see him again … that my meal with him last week will be the last time I ever see him.

I hope not, that would make me incredibly sad.

Singapore will never be the same for me now he’s not there.

Meeting him was, quite simply, one of the best things that has ever happened to me and given that – along with my marriage [which I’m not saying because the rest of this post makes me sound uber-gay] – all took place in the City State, it will forever be a place that holds a special place in my heart.

I am honoured – and amazed – to be able to call this great man my friend.

He is a special in every possible way.

Mullen are lucky to have him, America is lucky to have him, society is lucky to have him.

More importantly, I am lucky to have him.

Safe travels my dear friend, I’m already missing you.



I’ve Drunk The Kool-Aid, Which Is Why I Hate …
September 27, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

Last week, when I was in Singapore, my mate Steve – a Regional ECD of a toptastic agency – came up to me and said,

“My only problem with you is you hate too much. If you hate this industry so much, why don’t you leave?”

It was a fair question, with just 2 issues:

1. He thinks I only have one flaw. Hahaha.
2. He thinks I hate the advertising industry.

The first point I can put down to him being a sweetheart despite being a gruff, rough, Scot … the second, I found really disappointing.

The fact is I don’t hate adland.

How could I?

It’s given me an amazing life – both in terms of life experience and standard of living.

There’s not many other industries that would let me work with incredible talent, talk to incredible people, visit incredible places, live in incredible countries and yet still allow me to be my birkenstock wearing self.

I don’t hate the advertising industry, I just hate what it’s becoming.

When I started out in this industry I was taught that commercial creativity was powerful, influential and transformaitonal … but more importantly, I was taught what you had to do to realise it.

It wasn’t good enough to sit on your arse pontificating about it, you had to get off it and do something about it.

In short, do interesting stuff rather than talk about interesting stuff.

I appreciate the irony given I talk about a lot of stuff on this blog, but none of what I say is interesting so it doesn’t count.

Anyway, while there are still a bunch of people – and a few agencies – that live by that mantra, I can’t help but feel it’s getting less and less.

When I look around, I can’t help but feel the industry is focused more on talking about creativity rather than doing it.

And doing scam ads to win a few awards from judges who let it happen because they [1] haven’t got the balls to call it out or [2] want their name associated with good stuff, even though it’s not real and – arguably – not good, doesn’t count.

The sad fact is a lot of agencies out there now make more money from the ‘process’ of managing advertising than actually creating it.

How mad is that?

How sad is that!

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate we have to bring in the cash to pay all our salaries, but to allow the value of ‘creativity’ to be devalued just amazes me.

And yet, despite all the proof that what we do is being valued less and less by society and business, we go around with our noses in the air and our heads in the sand, pretending we’re superior to the masses and that everyone appreciates our genius.

But we’re not and they don’t.

It’s time to wake up.

We have amazing people with amazing talent and can achieve amazing things but some of the first things we need to do is stop acting like clients and stop viewing our competition as advertising agencies so we can get back to infecting and affecting culture.

As I said previously, client don’t want us to act like them, they just want us to start listening – and acting – on their needs … not just ours.

Secondly, as horrible as it might be to admit, companies like Google or Facebook or HBO have done more to affect popular culture than pretty much all of adland put together … and what I hate is that as an industry, we seem to have chosen to either ignore that fact or seemingly not be bothered by it.

As I wrote a while back, adland should have come up with Square … the talent and capabilities are certainly within most agencies … but for some reason it didn’t happen.

There’s a bunch of reasons for it – some ours, some not – but what bothers me more is that rather than appreciate what things like Square achieve and represent, we decide to bestow all our praise on ‘ad campaigns’ like the National Australia Bank who spent countless millions promoting the fact they weren’t like other banks.

Don’t get me wrong, that campaign was good – and effective – but it just bothers me that we used to want to use creativity to change the World and now we seem happy with just getting a few newspaper headlines. For a day.

Yes I am being dramatic and no, not everyone acts the way I’ve just described – as I said, there’s some great agencies and a shitload of top people out there [many of which, are not in great agencies], of which I am incredibly fortunate to work with so many directly – but I suppose I just am frustrated that an industry of such potential is seemingly more happy to talk to itself, seek the praise of itself and slap eachother regulary on the back rather than do stuff that forces people outside ‘the inner circle’ to take notice of what we do.

What set this all off was that I saw this tweet from Australian advertising magazine B&T …

Seriously, is there any other industry that would send out a message where you would nominate yourself as awesome?

OK, so idiots that appear on reality TV shows might, but a whole industry?

“Hey, I’m fucking awesome and under 40 so include me” said absolutely no one with an ounce of humanity.

I am tempted to offer B&T cash to give me the names of anyone that nominates themselves so I can send someone over and hit them with a brick.

Adland wants to be rockstars.

Adland wants to be famous.

Adland is becoming Liz Hurley … famous for being famous rather than for doing things that are interesting.

It’s tragic and the sooner we drop all the pretense and posturing and get back to being as great as we can be – and fighting for that acceptance with business rather than selling meaningless processes and cheap everything – the better.

So Steve, I don’t hate adland.

I don’t want to leave adland.

I think we’re still a million times better than a lot of branding companies.

I just want us to stop acting like all is great while everything collapses around us and get back to proving how great we can be in ways that affects more than just our colleagues, peers & award shows.

I have faith in what we can do … who we can be … what we can achieve, but the difference between the industry I started in and, exceptions aside, the industry I am in now, is that one strove to create fundamental change whereas the other – despite all the claims, hype, technology and scam – is happy just doing ads about it.



Whose Success Are Branding Consultancies Really Focused On?
September 26, 2012, 6:20 am
Filed under: Comment

I’m a bit horrible to branding companies when the reality is, they’re no more fucked up than most ad agencies.

In fact, given they get away with charging clients outrageous amounts for what constitutes nothing more than a logo redesign, it can be argued that they’re way smarter than most of adland.

But the thing is, adland – for all it’s ego and delusion – doesn’t churn out a slightly redesigned brand logos and claim they will fundamentally change the way the organisation behaves and succeeds.

OK … OK … so that’s a bit unfair as well because they tend to say their new logo is simply an articulation of all the changes they have helped develop for their clients but as a designer once said to me,

“If a brand wants to be seen as bold and innovative, why don’t they make their products bold and innovative?”

Now that’s a good question … though we all know the answer don’t we.

In these share price obsessed times, brands want the glory without the risk or the need to invest huge amounts to change – but that’s a post for another day.

The purpose of this post is because I recently found out that a brand that I have an irrational affection for – C&A – had their positioning for China done by one of these branding organisaitons.

For those who don’t know who C&A are, they’re a low cost “fashion” chain – though it’s more like Asda’s ‘George’ than Uniqlo or H&M.

Anyway, while they have departed the UK, they are in other markets of which one is Shanghai.

Given China has commanded the interest and focus of most brands – especially fashion brands – you’d expect a company like C&A to come out with a clearly articulated positioning so the hungry-to-try-&-buy Chinese audience will view them as both desirable and a viable alternative to the countless other options available to them down most Shanghai urban high streets.

So what did they come up with?

C&A: FASHION YOU CHOOSE

What the fuck?

What the hell does it mean???

And before you ask, that is NOT a ‘back translation’ translation, it’s what they have over their door.

IN ENGLISH!

Seriously, ‘Fashion You Choose’ … as oppose to Fashion the Government choose?

I know China is communist, but even they haven’t gone so far to dictate what you can and can’t wear in 2012!

Maybe if it said, ‘Fashion Your Mother/Wife/Father/Husband Chooses’ would be better [it certainly would be more appropriate] but seriously, in a country that has a hunger for brands and a desire to explore and experiment in an attempt to help define themselves, is that all they could come up with?

And who came up with that masterpiece?

FutureBrand.

And probably for a humungous fee.

That makes me angry, incredibly angry.

Not just because it’s a pile of utter shite that isn’t worth a penny, but because I happen to like C&A.

No, it’s not because I dress from there [though it looks like it] it’s because it’s one of those brands from my childhood that was always ‘there’ and to see them being shafted like this makes me mad.

I know C&A aren’t Uniqlo or H&M but neither are they a poor-mans Marks & Spencer’s – and while some people out there will go on about how the Chinese will view any international brand as an aspirational brand – that doesn’t mean you should treat them, or the audience, like they don’t matter.

Sure, I know they’ll never be a super-cool brand – and nor should they be – but I honestly believe they have something unique and the way they are currently presenting themselves in China doesn’t capture that.

OK, so I’m calling FutureBrand out on this and that’s not really fair.

Well, in this particular instance it is, but overall it’s not because the fact is, every agency and individual will have something in their portfolio that isn’t exactly as good as they would want it to be.

There’s a whole heap of reasons for that – some justifiable, some less so – however what bugs me so much about branding consultancies is that so many of them act like they are the Gods of Gods when in reality, they are as flawed, myopic and delusional as everybody else when held under a microscope – or in the C&A case – when they put their ‘work’ out on one of Shanghai’s busiest streets.

So if anyone who reads my rubbish knows someone at C&A, can you please put them in touch because I’d like nothing more than to help them put the fear of god into all the latest and greatest ‘fast fashion brands’ – not by being someone they’re not, but by being true to who they really are.



A Back Handed Proposition …
September 25, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

For reasons I don’t think I want to know, I got an email from Andy recently that said this:

“Hello Campbell. What about this for a brand proposition?”

Underneath that heartwarming message, was this:

To be honest, it left me in a bit of a pickle.

Not because Andy sent it to me … nor the fact Andy must have been looking at some weird shit to come across it [no pun intended] … no, what bothered me was whether it was a good proposition or not.

Without doubt, it has a clear point of view that will peak the interest of many, but – and it’s a big but – who would want to go to a website to hook up with ugly women?

Alright, there are a whole host of other, bigger issues than that – but for the sake of focus, let’s just stick with that.

Isn’t a proposition like that basically saying:

1. Your face &/or personality is so horrific that you can’t attract a nice lady by yourself.

2. Your face &/or personality is so horrific that you have to resort to the internet to get laid.

3. You’re such a sexual deviant, you don’t care who you shag as long as you shag?

In other words, if you click on the link, you are basically admitting you are a character with huge flaws – be they physical, mental or sexual.

Or all 3, probably.

And then there’s the issue of the women who sign up to get laid by these monstrosities.

Seriously, who would do that except the mentally ill, the victims of human trafficking or the sexually questionable?

Or – to be fair – the incredibly, brutally honest.

Anyway, without wanting to take this post down the road of ethics, I am utterly perplexed whether this is – as Andy implied – a proposition of unplanned, planning greatness or utterly mental.

Well, obviously it’s mental and also incredibly sad [both in terms of who would do it and why they would have to do it] plus I’m pretty certain the people who would sign up for such a thing probably doesn’t give a toss what anyone thinks of them [though I doubt they shout what they have been up to from the treetops … unless they’re Tommy Lee] … but seriously, what do you think?

Is this …

[A] An utterly clear proposition in terms of who it’s targeting & what they are offering?

or

[B] The sort of madness you’d expect from a Landor/FutureBrand proprietary positioning system … ignoring the fact that this is no way near ambiguous or bland enough for them to have come up with?

You decide. Please.



Heavy Metal Monday …
September 24, 2012, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

I’ve realised that over the past few weeks, my Monday posts have been rather lazy.

Rather than express my pointless point of view about something that is really is of no consequence or value to mankind, I’ve posted some random video or picture with almost no commentary whatsoever.

While I’m sure this all meets with your approval, I think it means I’m:

1. Becoming lazy.
2. Running out of things to say.

However, rather than fight against it, I’ve come to appreciate that sometimes, it’s just best to go with the flow which is why I continue my ‘trend’ of [even more] pointless Monday blog posts with this, the heavy metal naming system.

All that leaves me to say is:

1. It makes more sense than any Landor/FutureBrand proprietary naming system.
2. I wish it was around when my band, Bangkok Shakes, was choosing its name.

Yours sincerely,

Bleeding Rage.

[Which is scarily appropriate for me, don’t you think?]



Clarity Amongst The Confusion: A[P]SOTW Assignment.
September 21, 2012, 6:15 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

So after waaaaaaaaay too long, we finally have a new A[P]SOTW assignment.

Huge apologies for the delay, this has nothing to do with Gareth and Northern and everything to do with my slackness.

As I mentioned a while back, this assignment is about simplification.

Now, while that might sound easy, there’s a few things to remember:

+ Simplification is not the same as simple.

+ It takes a lot of hard work to simplify something while maintaining the ideas heart & energy.

+ Simplification is not an excuse to be bland, boring or generic.

So what is the actual challenge?

Well it’s something that many of us are exposed to, the RFP – short for Request For Proposal.

An RFP is a document many companies send out to agencies as part of their pitch process and are normally an absolute bloody nightmare.

The reason for this is because they’re often 70+ page documents that go into the minutest of details without ever saying anything at all.

In essence, they’ve been designed to appear informative while actually encouraging more questions than answers.

The good news is the RFP you will be using for this assignment is not 70+ pages long, mainly because I couldn’t be arsed to type up that many pages.

The bad news is it’s as contradictory and confusing as it’s longer-form versions.

So what do we want you to do?

Well, having read the RFP, we want you to:

__________________________________________________________________

1. Give a clear articulation of what you believe is the core objective of the RFP.

[Yes we know the RFP is full of contradictions, dead ends and goals – we’ve done it on purpose because sadly, that’s what so many of them are like which is why you have to decide what you believe is the real objective and – to a certain degree – explain why]

2. Create a strategy that achieves the objective you have identified.

[That means we need to see a definition of the audience, the insight/s driving your strategy, a clear articulation of what your strategy is and 3 examples of how it could be ‘brought to life’, outside of traditional advertising]

3. Write down the 5 key questions you wish you could ask the client.

4. Present your findings via a 10-25 page presentation OR an 10 minutes video pitch.

__________________________________________________________________

That’s it.

Easy eh!?

Ahem.

Well, to stop you freaking out [or – if you’re one of those super-confident types – help you look even more brilliant], we’ve created this assignment in partnership with those wonderful and knowledgable folk at Warc.

Warc – for those who don’t know – is a company that provides independent and authoritative global information on marketing, trends and new thinking. They’ve been around since 1985 so have shitloads of award winning, global case studies – all with in-depth analysis – so you can make decisions with greater confidence than crossing your fingers or using some random ‘factual’ charts you found on Pinterest.

Yes, I know this all sounds like some massive product placement – but it’s not – they just want to help the industry be better and perform better which is why they asked for absolutely nothing in return. The fools!

Anyway, to help with this particular assignment, Warc have kindly provided some free links to a bunch of their inspirational case studies so that you can understand and consider some of the market dynamics to enable you to forge a more informed, culturally provocative point of view.

What you use – if anything – is up to you, but it’s there to help.

However, before we get to all that, here are some things to note.

+ While in the real World, clients would answer specific questions you may have with the brief, we will not.

The purpose of this assignment is to simplify the RFP to what you believe is the key issue that needs to be addressed – and then justify your decision via your strategic response.

+ Make sure you answer the fundamentals of the RFP.

If you want to do more – or go further – that’s fine, but make sure you’ve answered the 4 key elements.

+ You should approach this as a competitive pitch, which means paying attention to how you say things as well as what you say.

+ Remember strategy is, at it’s heart, simply about getting from point A to point B.

With that in mind, any recommendation should be clearly defined and articulated. If it doesn’t make sense or is hard to understand, then you’re probably going to fail, regardless how brilliant you think your idea is.

When IBM took the unprecedented decision to sell off their hugely profitable PC business – a decision that had unbelievable implications for the business both in the present and the future – they articulated their strategy as simply ‘moving from computers to consulting’.

Obviously there was a ridiculous lot more to it than just coming up with a pithy line, but in terms of comprehension of the overall strategy … it was clear, concise and actionable.

In short, if a massive technology company can do it, then you should definitely be able to do the same.

+ You will be judged by seasoned veterans so make sure your response is interesting, exciting and challenging.

This isn’t just about coming up with something effective, it’s about being seen as the partner who can help them grow and go to places few could see, let alone deliver on.

So who are these judges?

Well there’s a few.

There’s me.

There’s Northern and Gareth.

There’s Rodi, one of my wonderful colleagues.

There’s David, International Editor at Warc.

There’s Raj, regional head of strategy at MEC.

There’s Steve, a very, very senior executive at Virgin Atlantic.

There’s Simon, a very important and experienced marketer at NIKE.

And finally, one more Steve – who is one of the senior designers at Apple.

The closing date is October 28th, so there’s plenty of time to get on with things and as usual, the submission voted ‘the best’ by the judges will receive a prize.

Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me and I hope that people beyond just strategy have a go. There are no wrong answers, just different ways to approach everything – and while the ultimate decision will be made by people who have lots of experience in developing great ideas for great brands – that doesn’t mean they have the monopoly on everything that works.

Most of all, just have fun – as much as RFP’s can be unbelievably painful – if you rule them rather than they rule you, great things can happen.

Good luck and here’s the mad RFP and – as mentioned previously – some links, kindly supplied by Warc, that might help you be even more brilliant.

Warc Case Study Knowledge & Inspiration

1. Paper on how Uniqlo used digital marketing to build a global brand.

2. Focus on Puma’s after-hours athlete campaign.

3. Best practice paper on brand extensions.

4. Admap column challenging received wisdom about WOM/influencers.



Think Of It Like Christmas Eve …
September 20, 2012, 6:08 am
Filed under: Advertising [Planning] School On The Web

… the fire is crackling, the tree is up, the presents are all nicely wrapped under the tree – begging to be opened – there is festive cheer all around.

What am I going on about?

Yes, the A[P]SOTW assignment is finally here tomorrow.

Rejoice.

Let’s just hope you don’t unwrap your present and find it’s another out-of-date, totally inappropriate, piece of crap from Auntie Mabel that you’ll be putting straight into the Salvation Army’s collection bag.

Guess we’ll find out tomorrow.