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


Happy Halloween …
October 31, 2013, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

Halloween is supposed to be scary.

This new fangled trend of treating it as an excuse to dress up in anything that takes your fancy is, in my book, both wrong and disrespectful to ghosts, witches and Conservative ministers.

So to try and bring things back on track, I have made a horror movie for your watching pleasure.

I call it ‘The Campbell Witch Project’ and I guarantee it will scare you shitless, but sadly for completely different reasons than I intended.

Bugger.

PS: Oscar nominations will be gratefully – if unlikely – received.

PPS: Keanu, if you’re interested, I do give acting tips. Call me.

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Less Is More Than More, It’s Also Less Chance To Look A Tool …
October 30, 2013, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

When I was in the UK a few weeks ago, I passed a DR Marten’s shop and saw this poster in the front window:

Now putting aside the fact the ‘self expression’ message they’re pushing doesn’t really resonate with me – and not just because I’m a Birkenstock fiend, but because it feels weak … though I admit my frame of reference for the brand is still linked to skinheads kicking someone’s head in – the bit that really bothered me was that they had expressed it as, ‘Creative Self Expression’.

Maybe it’s just me, but who talks like that?

I could [sort-of] understand if they said it was about creativity.

I could [sort-of] understand if they said it was about self expression.

But creative self expression?

What does that even mean? Isn’t any act of self expression, creative by default?

OK, so I bet there are a ton of people who could talk for hours about the difference between self expression and creative self expression … but while that is a [potentially] valid point, the real issue is that’s not how the public think or talk and so it creates a barrier between audience and brand that doesn’t need to be there … which is especially mad given advertising has a hard enough time to ‘cut through and engage’ at the best of time.

For me, that headline/quote just smacks of either a clients pushiness, a planners ego or a researchers myopicness.

I can just imagine the creative team presenting ‘self expression’ only for someone to say …

“That doesn’t quite capture what we want to say, we’re also about creativity.”

“OK …” say the creatives, “… what about saying ‘we’re about creativity?”

“No …” the client/planner/researcher replies, “… that might not speak to the people who want to express themselves but don’t think they’re creative.”

ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

While I obviously think work should always be informed by the strategy, it should never be executed literally … not just because it ends up looking and sounding like shit, but because people buy things for themselves and so you need to connect to them on their terms.

That doesn’t mean you have to dumb down or be sycophantic, but advertising should be encouraging, inspiring, involving and informing so [1] using words you wish people would say back to you about your brand or [2] talking rather than making people feel … ends up creating reasons why people should ignore you rather than explore you, even if it might make you feel more comfortable in the campaign development phase.

Oh and finally, for the people that say, “but there’s plenty of brands that are hugely successful who don’t adopt that approach”, I’d say they are mistaking convenience, habit and/or distribution strength with true brand appeal.

And yes, I know ‘brand loyalty’ often doesn’t translate into consumer habits – at least to the level many brands delude themselves into believing – but if you’re not liked [for want of a better word], then you’re not in the consideration set & at that point, you may as well give up.



Marriott Madness …
October 29, 2013, 6:06 am
Filed under: Comment

So a while back, I stayed at the Marriott hotel in Detroit.

I found Detroit really interesting.

Despite being basically a bankrupt city – while I was there, auctioneers were evaluating the value of the exhibits at the local museum – the people were warm, welcoming and friendly.

Anyway, this isn’t about the Motor City, it’s about the Marriott hotel chain, one of the most confused brands I’ve seen in a long time.

On the positive, when I went back to my room at the end of the first day, I found this:

OK, OK, so a couple of cheap chocolates, a crap drawing and a little message scrawled in a 3 year olds handwriting shouldn’t impress me too much, but it was a nice touch.

Admittedly, whether this was a living, breathing example of the brands ‘Leave a trail of genius’ positioning is a matter of opinion, but [1] I quite like the ‘leave a trail’ thought [even though the ‘genius’ bit is pure corporate ego wank] and [2] it’s still better service than I got at a very poncy hotel in Beijing recently … where a man woke me up by knocking loudly at my door AT FOUR IN THE MORNING, handed me a bottle of water then fucked off.

So you get the idea the brand is a bit schizophrenic … it has genuinely good intentions to make guests feel a bit loved but it also has delusions of grandeur, and nothing demonstrates that more than this sign that was left in their reception on September 11th:

Jesus Christ.

Now I honestly believe they weren’t trying to exploit the situation … like the crappy note and chocolates, I genuinely think they had good intentions, but in terms of utter inappropriateness and insensitivity, this is one of the crappest things I’ve seen in a long, long time.

Hell, they’re not even full sized muffins!!!

Rather than leaving a trail of genius, I can’t help but feel this leaves a trail of brand destruction … it’s bad, mad and more misguided than Harrison Ford doing the new Expendables movie with Sly Stallone.

So to Marriott Hotels, sort yourselves out.

You are not 5 star but you do make your guests feel a bit cared for when they’re away from home – which is more than most of the 5 star brands manage to pull off – so drop these over-the-top gestures, because it actually works against you rather than for you.

Worse, if you fall into the trap of ‘gesture inflation’, you could end up in a situation where you focus on the ‘news worthiness’ rather than the guest benefit and then all your hard work can disappear in the blink of an eye – like the career of the person at the Marriott that approved this idea.



Crisp Inflation …
October 28, 2013, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

Look, I know I’m old.

I also know I have been living away from England for the past 20 years.

However, when I was back in Nottingham a few weeks ago, I was utterly shocked when I saw this.

For my international ‘friends’, my shock isn’t because the UK has a crisp brand called ‘Snaps’.

Or that they have a shit dragon on the front of the pack.

It’s not even that they’re ‘spicy tomato flavoured’.

No, it’s because they cost 39 pence.

THIRTY NINE PENCE!!!

Now I know to some of you, 39p is hardly the end of the World – and I suppose in the big scheme of things, it isn’t – however I remember when Snaps were the ‘cheap crisps’, where a packet of Spicy Tomato or Tasty Cheese would set you back a whole 7p … which was a good 3 pence cheaper than a packet of Walker’s Cheese and Onion, so to see them now at 39 pence is a massive shock to the system.

Yes, I appreciate the price I’m remembering is over 30 years ago, but a 557% price increase is insane, especially when their other ‘cheap crisp’ competitor – Space Invaders – is still, as it always was, only 10 pence.

Actually, the fact it has maintained it’s price over 30 years is an even scarier fact now I come to think of it.

Anyway, while it’s always wonderful to have a rendezvous with a treasured part of your history [yes, I did really say a once cheap crisp brand was a treasured part of my past, deal with it!] nothing reminds you how old you’re becoming than a dose of price nostalgia.

Yes, I know it’s pathetic that I’m moaning like a bastard about a packet of crisps costing 39 pence … especially when I think nothing about spending 100 quid on a robot ball.

That I’ve only used once.

ONCE.

But [1] that’s the sort of screwed up individual I am and [2] that’s the sort of pointless rubbish I write on this blog.
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PS: Talking of crisps, when I was in the UK, I got a delivery – via a courier – of a family pack of pickled onion flavoured Monster Munch.

My absolute favourite.

And do you know who sent them to me?

The very lovely – and a bit suspect – John Dodds.

I know … and I’m not even an impressionable, hot 21 year old babe!

He claims it was a [very] late birthday present … personally, I don’t care why he sent them … the fact is they’re the ultimate. Yes, even better than Spicy Tomato Snaps or Walkers Cheese and Onion.

Sadly I couldn’t eat them at the time, but the good news [for me] is that they’re so full of chemicals and e-numbers, they’ll still taste fresh when I’m next in the UK.

That is if my Mum doesn’t throw them out thinking – quite rightly – they’re a weapon of intestine destruction.



Nothing Grabs Your Attention Than Trying Not To Get Your Attention …
October 25, 2013, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

In these highly commercial times, companies do all they can to either [1] maximise their revenue potential or [2] protect their revenue potential.

What this has resulted in is companies doing all they can to ensure the only brands that get exposure are the ones that pay for it.

Now I understand the reasoning behind it, but the problem is, in their eagerness to execute their ‘revenue guardianship’, they are inadvertently encouraging people to pay more attention to the brands they don’t want them to look at rather than the ones they do.

What do I mean?

Well, have a look at this …

Yes, it’s an ad for Johnnie Walker … but because they wanted to ensure their brand stood out most of all, they removed all the logos of the products surrounding it which – ironically – made me spend more time trying to identify who they were than pay attention to the whisky brand.

The same happens when TV shows blur out brand names in their programming. I get ‘why’ they are doing it, but it always ends up making me focus more on who the brand is they ‘don’t’ want me to see, than the one they are shoving in my face.

OK, maybe I’m the exception, plus in the case of the Johnnie Walker example, the fact is, [1] the only reason I noticed it is because the watch in the ad is the one I own and [2] I don’t drink so the chances of me ever buying a bottle was going to be small … however I can’t help but feel we tend to forget the way people often consume communication – and information – is through contextual cues and so in our attempt to ‘protect’ our clients investment, we actually end up doing the opposite.

Business decisions might be common sense, but people’s decisions often aren’t.



It’s Not What You Can Create, But Why You Are Creating It …
October 23, 2013, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

Apple are copping a lot of shit at the moment.

If you read the press, you’d think they were Blackberry rather than one of the most influential – and profitable – companies on earth.

Sure, things may not be as progressive as they once were, but then innovation tends to slow down when a category becomes more mature.

Now I know what you’re thinking …

“But Samsung are continually bringing out new features and functions”

… and I’d be forced to agree with you …. however I recently read an interview with Jonathan Ive and Craig Federighi that, for me, had a lovely perspective on how they view the whole ‘innovation race’.

“It’s not just about new features, but also the deep layers of integration that goes into each one. There are so many problems that have to be solved to enable one big idea. We don’t start with 10 bits of technology that we try to find a use for so we can add them to our features list”.

OK, so you could argue that it’s in their interests to say that, but then Federighi added something that I think gets to the crux of the matter:

“New is easy. Right is hard.”

I love that. I utterly love that.

I also think it’s a good definition of what’s wrong with adland.

In our quest to look interesting or relevant [mainly to our peers], we tend to chase new when what we should be looking for, is right.

Of course, ‘right’ is relative – and in no way am I suggesting we should stop looking for ways to continually push boundaries and possibilities – however one of the reasons business continually questions adlands value is because we often give the impression we’re more focused on doing stuff that makes our peers stand up and applaud rather than creating stuff that inspires and encourages society to act in ways that have genuine commercial value for our clients.

In other words, whereas so many focus on trying to be cool, the truly influential are obsessed with creating clever because – as the guys at Apple say – anyone can do new, it’s doing – and executing – what’s right, that’s right.



Manners Are More Powerful Than Menace …
October 22, 2013, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

When I started in this industry, there was a guy I worked with that was simply horrible.

I don’t mean talentless, I mean horrible.

He was rude to his team … rude to his colleagues and – on occasion – rude to his clients.

I watched him thinking, “what a dick” and while his actions undoubtedly got results, I saw that his team feared him rather than wanted to work for him … which meant that as soon as they had learnt everything from him – or had an offer from another company who viewed working for this arse as a great foundation in the industry/discipline – they were off.

I was lucky I never worked directly with him or for him, but I remember one day watching him shout at a colleague for some ridiculously small thing, and vowing I would never, ever be like him.

Now, if I’m honest, some people would claim I failed in that goal.

They would say I am a grumpy bastard who is petty and particular about all manner of things.

And – if I’m being honest – the only people who can truly answer this are the folk who have worked with me or for me … however as much as I admit that I can be a fucking prick to people who have a massive title but [1] can’t even achieve the basic standards expected of someone in that position &/or [2] have no interest in taking any responsibility for what they have to do/encourage, I would hope I am not someone who is basically always looking for a fight.

Anyway, that’s by-the-by, because that’s not what I want to talk about.

Being a head of a department is hard.

Yes, I know you get more money and benefits, but that doesn’t mean the job is easy.

Very rarely do you get trained for it and then, when it happens, you suddenly find yourself thrust into a position where you are always copping someones shit.

Your team mates stop being your team mates and start expressing/demanding their personal needs and wants.

Your managers stop being your managers and start placing more expectations and responsibility on you.

Your clients stop being your clients and start holding you responsible for more than you are responsible for.

In short, you can become a cat litter-tray for everyone’s needs, wants, demands, tears, fears and tantrums.

Hey, I’m not criticising anyone, I was/am definitely guilty of it and I expected my bosses to ‘sort it out’ because at the end of the day, no one will look out for you as much as you.

Now dealing with that is part of being a boss … however how you deal with it dictates how you will develop your team and that’s why I subscribe to this point of view:

While I understand why the guy I used to work with felt ‘being a dictator’ stopped all the internal issues and arguments that can consume your day, the fact is, it also opened a can of worms he never knew existed.

The fact is, you don’t have to be mean to people.

You don’t have to be objectionable for the sake of being objectionable.

You shouldn’t tear someone down just because you have the power to do so.

Encouragement and support are not evil words.

Letting people discover their own ways, styles and mistakes is not dangerous or stupid.

In fact, it’s those things that help people develop and grow.

It makes them better at what they do.

It makes your job easier to do and best of all, it makes you look good.

But that doesn’t mean you have to act like Paula Abdul.

Being encouraging doesn’t mean relinquishing standards or boundaries.

Not just because if you do, people will try to cross them time and time again … but because part of being a boss is about setting a direction, vision and goal that everyone wants to be committed going after.

Being the head of a department means walking along a really thin tightrope.

Dangerous, scary but ultimately amazing and fulfilling – especially when your team grows and develops and then moves on to do things that they never imagined they could be doing. That’s just sheer bloody awesome.

And that’s why one of the best bits of advice I ever got was that you should always be enthusiastic, positive and eager to help, listen and get involved … but never be to the point where someone can take advantage of your generosity or miss out on their own development and experience, because in an industry where reputation is everything, the best way to build it – apart from doing great work – is to do no harm, but take no shit.