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


A Love Letter To China’s Wonderful, Beautiful, Brilliant Chaos …

Of all the places I’ve lived, China is the one that has left the strongest mark.

Frankly I absolutely and utterly loved my time there.

Sure part of that was because of Wieden – I loved and will always love them – but it was more than just that.

It was the people, the madness, the history, the chaos, the energy, the values …

Yes there were some things that bothered me immensely, but overall, I was intoxicated with the place and will always be that way.

I believe you can tell how much a place gets into your soul by how you react when it’s under attack. Not by guns, but by media and politicians.

If I look back on my 7 years there, I was very quick to jump to its defense when Western media decided to take an isolated incident and claim it represented the beliefs, behaviors and values of over a billion people.

Were there some shit things that happened there when I was there?

Absolutely.

Were there moments of madness and sadness that will never leave my memory?

100%

Are there some terrible restrictions on people lives and opinions there?

Sure.

But these are not isolated to China … every country has bad people doing horrific things, every country is creating an increasing division between rich and poor and in terms of government, countries either are doing their own version of ‘inflicting their will on the people’ or wishing they could get away with the stuff the Chinese government get away with.

I’m looking at you UK, Australia and the land of ‘the free’.

And that’s why I can still truly love the place and feel privileged for the experience it gave me.

I have absolute pride my son was born there.

Whatever happens in his life, he was born in China and for me, that means our links to the country will always be strong.

And while I will always be passionate in the pursuit of changing Westerners perceptions about the Middle Kingdom, there are some things that I just stand back and accept will just reinforce certain prejudices.

Some – like Uncle Martian – are terrible, especially as it was a conscious decision.

Some – like this, below – are perfection, especially as they were done in innocence.

[And if not, that’s even more genius]

China, I love you.

Lose the bullshit but please never lose your beautiful madness.

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Premiumness Has Gone Out Of Control …

So recently I was on a Delta flight when I was handed the menu.

I looked at the food choices but there was one thing that caught my eye above everything …

This …

That’s right … a premium heated nut mix.

Yes they were warm.

Yes, they were a variety of nuts in the small dish.

But premium?

Are they referring to the quality of the nut offered or – as I suspect – the ‘status’ that a warm variety of nuts conveys.

Either way, it smacks of utter pretentious rubbish …

Another example of a marketer who wants to appear ‘upmarket’ while actually demonstrating how desperate they are.

What with premium toilet roll, clingfilm and now nuts … maybe we all need a bit of a rest from this status inflation.

I get people like nice things … I get people will pay more for nice things … but the emphasis is on ‘nice’ and if people can’t tell the difference, then you have a problem and I can tell you Delta, I couldn’t tell the difference between your nuts [ahem] and any cheap-ass nuts I can find in a local pub except they were heated and served in a little dish.

Oh hang on, you probably read that ‘experience’ is better than ownership and so the heat and dish of your nuts were your way of offering a premium experience.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha …



Why Purpose Marketing And Planners Need To Be Stopped …

Purpose.

Planning.

Both have had a lot of debate about them in the past few years and both have their cheerleaders and detractors.

The reality is they both have incredible value but – and it’s a big but – only when used responsibly.

Of course, what ‘responsibly’ is, is often in the eye of the brand owner and that’s where the problems starts … because too often, the focus is appealing to the ego of the company directors rather than the pulse of culture which is why we’re seeing more and more ‘purpose work’ that communicates in the corporate monotone of egotistical, bland, business-speak.

The client doesn’t think that of course, they think they’re doing an amazing thing and that people will really believe Hard Rock Cafe’s want to stop hunger or a plastic lighter company in HK wants to save the rainforest [which is true, but I can’t find the post about it, mainly because it was back in 2010] or – hold on to your hats – this …

WHAT. THE. FUCK.

Yes, that really is an umbrella company claiming their purpose is to offer lifestyle solution and protection for the public.

Are they insane?

Even if that was true – which if it is, means they’re bonkers – then the way they’ve written it means the umbrellas are to save you from marketing bullshit raining down on your head.

Purpose has a really important role for brands … but you don’t just ‘make it up’.

I am utterly in shock how many companies sell ‘purpose’ to brands and yet never investigate the soul of the brand.

Go into the vaults.

Look inside every single box.

Discover what made them make their decisions.

Understand the values they lived by and fought for.

Talk to the people who have worked there or shopped there since the earliest of days.

Basically discover their authenticity rather than what they wish their authenticity was.

And yet a lot of companies are paying a lot of other companies to literally make up a bullshit story about them.

Something they think makes them sound good.

Something they think will make people want to choose them.

And while we are definitely seeing more and more people choosing to associate with brands that live by a set of values and beliefs, the thing the brands who ‘invent a purpose’ fail to understand is that this audience seeks truth, not bullshit and so what they’re doing with their make-believe is actually achieve the absolute opposite of what they were trying to do.

Purpose matters.

Planning matters.

But the moment you let ego drive your ambitions rather than your authenticity, you end up being a brand that is flying extremely high on the Planning Purpose Twatosphere.

Remember brands, by being yourself you will be different.

Stop inventing bullshit and start acting your truth in interesting ways.



Attention To Detail Is More Than A Set Of Words …

So I recently saw this ad for the new Philips OLED TV.

It’s a beautiful product and – judging by the description – full of fantastic tech to elevate the watching experience.

Or is it?

You see when I read the first line of the copy, I started to have some doubts.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not questioning the quality of a Bowers & Wilkins sound system – they’re incredible – I’m questioning if the rest of the TV matches B&W’s extremely high standards.

Why?

Have a read of the copy. Carefully.

If you can’t read it, it says this …

“Sound by Bowers & Wilkins for audio that lives up our OLED standard”

That’s right, they forgot to add the word ‘to’ between up and our … resulting in the sort of grammar you could expect from a 3 year old kid.

Or said another way, close … but not perfect.

I know it’s a small thing.

I know mistakes can happen.

But if you are trying to present your product as the highest of standards, it’s not a great look.

Hell, if they can let a word slip in their advertising, what standards have they let slip in making the product?

Philips may claim they’ve just launched the OLED+ standard … but judging by the attention to detail they’ve given their ad, it’s much more OLED-.



Is The Lion Facing Extinction …

As you know, I recently went to Cannes.

It had been 12 years between visits and I must admit I’m quite conflicted with how I feel about the experience.

OK, so I was always in the skeptical camp.

I appreciate the need and value of celebrating ‘the best of creativity’, but I have long felt Cannes was less about that and more about celebrating the celebrity of advertising.

That said, while there were some differences, some had scarily remained the same.

The biggest difference was who were the big boys in town.

Last time I was there it was the big network agencies.

Massive venues.
Big Boats.
Grandiose parties.

And while all those things were still there, they were the domain of the tech giants … with agencies now occupying the odd beachside suite or – more typically – an Airbnb venue in one of the backstreets.

Don’t get me wrong, there was still some “look at me” statements from adland, but compared to what they were – and what the tech industry was doing – it was much more of a whimper than a roar.

This ‘tech industry doing a good impression of 80s adland’ was even more visible when it came to the evening festivities.

On the first night I was there, I found myself at the Carlton Hotel.

As usual, it was packed with people in jovial mood – either because they were catching up with old friends or were bullshitting network colleagues in a bid to look good to them.

Every now and then, you’d see a magnum of champagne being taken to a table. A fucking magnum?! Given my average burger and fries with a diet coke had cost me an eye watering €60 when I had it earlier in the day [not on expenses, so keep your rolling eyes to yourself], I literally daren’t imagine how much this cost.

But who would buy such an overt display of wealth and arrogance?

You guessed it – probably because you know ad agencies can’t afford that level of excess or expense anymore – it was people from our tech and media brothers and sisters … living and acting like it was still 1982.

There were plenty of other signs that revealed the tech companies were becoming the beasts they were meant to slay …

From the insanely big, patronising, condescending and delusional ego-driven ads that were all over Cannes [congrats IBM, that will be the only award your agency will win] to the gift bags handed out at every opportunity that were universally filled with Amazon rainforest worth of paper through to the overtly misogynistic atmosphere that permeated the air in the night.

This last thing upset me the most.

It’s bad enough that women had to deal with men propositioning, groping and touching them in the past, but the fact it is still going on – in this era of #MeToo – is breathtaking. Actually that’s not what is breathtaking, it’s the fact they felt comfortable doing it in public, at a global industry event, surrounded by peers and colleagues.

Nothing shows how prevalent sexist, predator behaviour continues to be in our industry than that.

One of my colleagues, Iain Preston, spotted a particularly unpleasant episode and thankfully stood in. You can read about it here.

As you can tell, I’m not a fan of Cannes.

Actually, let me be more specific. I’m not a fan of the behaviour of Cannes.

There are some amazing people there.

There are some amazing talks you get to listen to.

There is some amazing work to be inspired by.

I’m glad I went but happier I got to leave within a few days however I did come away with a very good reminder that the greatest gift you can give a client is the gift of honesty.

Honesty of the situation.
Honesty of the audience.
Honesty of the business or brand.
Honesty of what needs to be done.
Honesty of the creativity … in terms of encouraging the creatives to craft somewhere new not repackage and rehash something old.

Sadly this reminder came from witnessing too few agencies giving it &/or too few clients valuing it.

So to all the winners who wanted to make a difference in a way that was different, I don’t just say congratulations.

But thank you.



If You’ve Not Experienced It, You Can’t Possibly Understand It …

So I’m back from Cannes.

It was alright.

Enjoyed doing the WARC speech with Martin of course.

As much as he likes to think he’s a grumpy asshole, he’s insanely wonderful in every way.

I genuinely adore him, which is probably the last thing he wants to know or hear.

Which is, of course, why I have said it.

That said, I still have my reservations about how some people act at Cannes.

How some people walk around.

Like they’re better than everyone around them.

That their view of life is everyone’s view of life. Or should be.

And yet, even though they revel in their bubble of privilege, they deny they live in one when there is the opportunity to pass judgement or commentary on how others live, despite the fact even having a regular income puts them in a totally different orbit.

Of course not everyone was like that.

Some are great people who also happen to be great at advertising.

But I’m still not sure if that split is even or – as I suspect – in the minority.

Which is why I hope those who sit in their ivory towers, passing judgement on people they have almost zero commonality with – let alone have probably never interacted with – read this post and, more specifically, watch the clip.

In 1968, American novelist, playwright and activist, James Baldwin, visited the Dick Cavett Show and shared that he wasn’t feeling optimistic about American race relations – referencing the toll racism takes not only on individuals, but on American democracy.

To add context, Martin Luther King had been murdered earlier that year in Memphis, prompting the greatest wave of social unrest in the United States since the Cvil War.

Shortly afterwards, Yale philosophy professor, Paul Weiss, walks on set to give his “scholarly” take on the issue. Weiss launched into a tirade about how each individual has to struggle with some obstacles in life and that emphasizing one element of the struggle at the expense of others leads to a form of inauthenticity. “So why must we always focus on color?”

What happened next was unprecedented for American television. Black America’s foremost intellectual delivered a deviating soliloquy that explained institutionalized racism to millions of white people who never before experienced it or accepted it existed.

What makes it hard to watch isn’t what James says – he’s right on everything – it’s that so little has changed.

If you don’t act against the prejudices that exist in society, you’re complicit to the prejudices in society. Pure and simple.

It’s why I worry too many people in our industry, especially planners, want to be like Paul Weiss – academically victorious – when the power of James Baldwin was that he was culturally resonant.

While we may all like to think our intelligence allows us to engage and understand others, the reality is no one can truly understand what is going on in the lives and minds of segments of society if they don’t come from those segments of society, especially if their views are born from the pedestal of observation.



Appetite For Destruction … The Advertising Edition

So I had a lovely time in Spain and now I’m ready to go hit Cannes.

I haven’t been there for over 12 years and I have to be honest, I’ve been very very OK with that.

While I have always enjoyed the talks they have, the other stuff has driven me nuts.

Pretending to be rockstars. Acting like animals. Just demonstrating a total lack of self-awareness.

Of course not everyone is like that and it’s always nice to catch up with old friends from around the World, but in my experience, I saw far too many people who were cliches of the industry so I am hoping with all my heart that has disappeared in my time away.

What I am looking forward to is the presentation we are giving on behalf of WARC.

As you know, the wonderful Mr Weigel and I started a planning school about a year ago.

While not a huge amount has happened, it is happening and the lovely/stupid [delete as appropriate] people at WARC invited us to give a talk about dangerous strategy.

To be honest, it’s quite a big subject to cover in 45 minutes so we’re going to focus on why every strategy needs more chaos in it.

Within this subject there will be all manner of unpacking. From the need to spend time in the real world, to the ridiculousness of what brand owners think passes for insight to why being interesting is literally the new right.

I hope it will be enjoyable for the people attending – I know Martin won’t disappoint – but it’s a great honour for me to be doing a project with probably the best planner in the biz right now … at the most prestigious event in the ad calendar …. with an organization dedicated to helping make smarter work rather than just smarter decks.

Then again, if they all agreed to be publicly associated with me, maybe they’re not as smart as we all think they are.

That, or Martin is doing it to use me as the physical manifestation of chaos.

Devious sod.

Come and say hi if you’re there or avoid me like the plague.

Back posting rubbish on Friday.