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


Start Your Week With Knowing How Much Of A Disappointment Your Career Has Really Turned Out To Be …

It’s Monday.

The start of the week.

A week full of hope, promises and potential.

Oh who am I kidding? It’s Monday. Fucking Monday.

Now at this point, maybe you expect me to sweep in and add some colour to your grey day. Some optimism to your 8 hours of impending misery? Well if you do you obviously haven’t been reading this blog very long because in reality, I’m going to double down on the misery.

Here is a website.

Click on it.

Go on. I promise it won’t take you to anywhere embarrassing. Oh no, it will just take you to somewhere humiliating.

I don’t mean weird pictures or embarrassing photos – oh no – I mean something much worse.

Your salary!

OK, not literally yours – but it’s a website that shows you how quickly certain CEO’s take to earn your salary. Your annual salary.

And while I get that people like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos would take an embarrassingly small amount of time to do it – in many cases, seconds rather than days or weeks or months – when it takes an equally small amount of time for the CEO of LinkedIn, that’s why your Monday will hurt with the sort of ferocity that you last felt when you had to go back to school after summer holidays.

With that and the news that the best Prime Minister in the World, New Zealand’s Jacinda Arden, has only just turned 40 … you can look at yourself in the mirror and feel really good about yourself.

Hey, it could be worse, you could be unemployed and 50.

You’re welcome.



Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.



If You Want To Know How Crap Adland Is At D&I, Look At This …

Adland goes on a lot about diversity and inclusion.

They write about it.

They talk about it.

They even have people who have job titles about it.

But is anything changing? Really, properly, truly changing?

Is the ad industry a more open place for people who come from different backgrounds?

Is the ad industry giving more positions of authority and power to people of colour?

Or women?

Is the ad industry paying the same base salaries to people from different backgrounds?

Don’t know … but I doubt it.

Now this is not an anti-adland rant, I love this industry and still believe it can do a lot. However it is an anti-superficial claim rant that, sadly, adland still seems to love doing.

I am sure there are people who can inundate me with facts about how things are improving.

Well there’s 2 answers to that.

1. It’s not hard when it’s from a low-base.

2. It’s not happening quick enough.

And one thing really highlighted this fact to me and it’s this …

Cocoa Girl is THE FIRST magazine in the UK specifically for little girls of colour.

The first!!!

Think about that for a second??

Prior to this, little girls of colour had NOTHING to represent them, reflect them or inspire them in a way where they could feel they are already good enough.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Cocoa Girl wasn’t created by a publisher or a research company or an ad agency that talks up their D&I policies in the media every second of the day … but a Mum, Serlina, and her 6 year old daughter, Faith.

It’s absolutely brilliant – they also do one for little boys of colour as well – but that is not the only reasons we should all support it and champion it.

You see apart from the fact Serlina and Faith have just shamed our whole industry in terms of spotting D&I issues and doing something about them … they’ve also reminded us WHY D&I is one of the only things that might be able to save our industry from disaster.

Too many people in adland still think their reality reflects everyone’s else’s reality.

Of course it’s bollocks … and yet we keep on doing the same thing over and over again.

Hiring the same people.
Putting the same types of people in power.
Acting like everything is fine when everything isn’t.

What Serlina and Faith have done with Cocoa Girl is show our blinkered blindness.

Our inability to see what is not in our bubbles.

The act of being deliberately blind and ignorant.

We – as an industry – should have done this.

We – as an industry – should have supported this.

We – as an industry – didn’t.

If you have any desire to make any difference, you then can start by signing up for a subscription to Cocoa Girl.

Then you can help get clients to sponsor the amazing Boys Smile project.

Then you can show this post to your colleagues and discuss how this is what really adding to culture means.

Thank you Serlina. Thank you Faith.



Creativity Creates The Impossible …

I saw an article [the one above] recently that reinforced the importance of creativity and culture in building brands and business.

Of course I’m preaching to the choir, but I get very frustrated hearing companies – and even people who claim they’re in the business of creativity – act as if they’re ‘lesser’ tools to data.

Now don’t get me wrong, data is important and can be used very creatively – and I’m very fortunate to have worked with a few people who have proved this day after day after day – but so few companies talk about it in these terms, instead celebrating data in terms of its rational certainty which, as we all know, is total bollocks because it’s dependent on where the data has come from, who is interpreting it and whether they see it as giving solutions or understanding.

In the context of the article above, data would have probably have said Americans won’t eat sushi.

There would be a huge amount of evidence to reinforce that and many companies would have simply walked away.

But where you would think big business has the brains and tools to find ways around obstacles, the reality is often they’re paralysed by structure, politics and blinkers – not to mention, have the scale to mean they can just move on to the next thing without really having to think about it.

Until someone else does it.

And often, that someone else is someone smaller.

Someone without the structure, politics, blinkers or scale to just accept impossible.

Someone who embraces culture and creativity because they need to survive.

Someone open enough to create rules rather than just follow tradition.

Data didn’t create NIKE.

Data didn’t create Tesla.

Data didn’t create the California roll.

Somewhere along the line they played an important part, but that’s all they did – a part.

Yes, it’s important.

Yes, it can make a huge difference.

But thinking it can do it all on its own is the biggest lie being sold in the industry right now.

Culture and creativity are incredibly powerful forces.

They’re not just checkboxes of a process.

They’re not just a process.

They are living, breathing entities with the ability to change expected outcomes and create new ways of looking at the world.

In these speed-obsessed times, too many view understanding culture and exploring creativity as commercially ineffective because they require nurturing, love and space … however when done right, they can combine in such a way to redefine the rules everyone plays by and make the big players – who think they have all the answers – desperately trying to play catch up.

More than that, it can create the foundation where your business attracts audiences rather than has to continually chase them because you’re building a brand of distinction rather than another commoditised company of alleged disruption.

Again, none of this is meant to be anti-data just a reminder culture and creativity are – at the very least – equal forces of commercial power and should be respected that way, because a year on from the talk Martin and I gave at Cannes for WARC, it is obvious there is still an inherent need to remember chaos creates what order can’t.



Thank You For Everything Sir Ken …
August 25, 2020, 7:30 am
Filed under: Comment

Last week, the incredible Sir Ken Robinson died.

Academic. Teacher. Author. Speaker. Sir Ken was many things, but most of all he was a brilliant human.

A huge advocate of the power of creativity, Sir Ken made what I still believe is the all time best TedTalk, ‘Do Schools Kill Creativity’ … expressing his argument with humour, self depreciation and some powerful examples of triumph over adversity.

The triumph over adversity is something he knew first hand as he was born in one of the poorest areas of Liverpool. A place where kids are often written off by school systems as lost causes before they even begin.

I had the great pleasure to share a flight with him many years ago. He was everything you hoped. For a start he was exactly as he appeared in speeches and interviews.

Charming. Sharp. Funny. Inclusive. Committed to his beliefs.

We talked about Bono [and how his opinion changed very positively towards him once he met him] through to Elvis [both our wives are huge fans] and he even gave me his email to stay in touch.

Sir Ken was the best of many things. His ideas and beliefs benefited so many and will continue to. But most of all, he was someone who believed if you identify, nurture and celebrate an individual abilities and skills … everyone ends up being in a better place professionally, socially and emotionally than if we leave them to the mono-approach, archaic school system that has been designed to crush individual creativity in favour of education through repetition.

With the way the government are treating kids – and teachers – through this COVID crisis … and the doubling down on old habits, processes and systems, regardless how flawed and one-size-fits-all they may be … it’s safe to say we have never needed Sir Ken more.

Alas we can’t have him any more.

Thank you for everything sir. You will be missed but always remembered.

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