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


The Fine Line Between Victory And Vulgarity …

Let me start by saying I have a lot of respect for Charles and Maurice Saatchi.

What they did … the legacy they created … is, even now, amazing.

Their agency was responsible for so many of the ads that went on to define my childhood – both in good and bad ways – however, as I got older and entered the industry, I started to understand just how audacious they were in terms of what they thought the ad industry could be. And do.

Back then, their mantra was ‘Nothing Is Impossible’.

And they certainly lived up to it.

But while this led to some truly incredible work, it also led to the brothers ultimate downfall when they tried – amazingly and brilliantly – to buy Midland Bank.

There have been many reasons written about why their plan didn’t work out … and what happened subsequently … but I have to say, I’d imagine working for them at the time – with their sheer confidence, swagger and ambition – would have felt pretty intoxicating.

However this post isn’t about that, it’s about what happens when, in your quest to keep moving forward, you lose your values or self awareness and end up being a caricature of what you once were.

I’ve seen it happen.

I once worked with an advertising great who ended up believing everything they did was great, simply because they did it.

It didn’t take long before they were phoning in their work.

Not caring about what was going on around them.

Saying whatever they wanted because they believed whatever they said was wanted.

It was pretty tragic and I remember a very horrible conversation between us, where I said he had become the beast he had been obsessed with slaying.

It didn’t go well for me.

And, within a year, it didn’t go well for him … when his deluded arrogance took a step too far and his actions and behaviors couldn’t be ignored any longer.

Nowadays I occasionally see him spouting racist shit about immigration and foreign workers, which I find even more shocking given he spent so many years living across the World, not to mention – if rumours are to be believed – doing unspeakable things with certain people when he was in Asia.

But this isn’t a post about an old, short-lived, delusional colleague – nor it is to suggest the Saatchi brothers are anything like my old, delusional colleague … however this is about the moment [at least for me] when the Saatchi brothers revealed they may have not grown with the times, but were lost in old times.

This.

It was early Jan, 1990.

Saatchi was – I believe – the biggest agency in the World.

And the World was changing.

The party of the 80’s was over and everyone was trying to work out what the next decade had in store. One thing that had already started to happen was the fall of communism.

Protests had been happening throughout 1989 and they continued to gain momentum when, in November of that year, The Berlin Wall – a symbol of Communist/Western ideals – fell.

And it was on that wall Saatchi had placed that ad.

Not on the Western side, but the Eastern.

It wasn’t up for long, but they paid to have it there.

A way of showing their mantra.

An act of deliberate provocation for shock value.

An attempt to keep the spirit of 80’s excess alive.

A claim it was welcoming East German’s to independence and choice.

But the problem was, it wasn’t the 80’s anymore and so it came off as an act of commercial vulgarity. An act of cynical shamelessness to try and capture the headlines. And suddenly, the agency that could do no wrong suddenly went from being audacious to trying too hard.

Or said another way, Saatchi’s were trying to hold on to the past rather than lead the future.

Can you imagine an agency doing that now?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of them out there that have a complete lack of self awareness … not to mention another bunch whose entire business model appears to be ‘doing things first’ … regardless of its value to culture, creativity or commerce … however I doubt even those guys would think doing this would be a good idea today.

Or at least I hope not.

And that’s why I believe a positioning is not as good as a point of view.

Because positioning’s are set in stone.

They don’t move with the times … they stand firm, shouting their same tune regardless of what is going on. But a point of view is different. There’s flex in that. It lets you express what you believe, but how you express it is shaped by what is going on around it.

There’s longevity in a point of view.

There’s resonance in a point of view.

There’s less need to shock, because you always speak what others are trying to say.

Saatchi’s continue to do great work.

Saatchi’s continues to be filled with great people.

But I’ll always wonder what they could have been if they’d not crossed the line from audacious to caricature.

You can read the story of the Berlin Wall ad, here.



Don’t Just Do It …

To people outside of the UK, the title of this post might sound like a diss to NIKE.

But it’s not.

It’s part of a well known tagline by UK hardware giants, B&Q.

Originally the whole expression was ‘Don’t just do it, B&Q it’ however it’s recently had an evolution … which is my excuse for talking about their new ad campaign.

A campaign by – in my opinion – the best agency in the UK right now and one of the best in the World.

Uncommon.

I’ve written about how much I love them – and Nils in particular – and this campaign is another reason for that.

DIY often gets promoted by ‘salt of the earth men and women’ making, fixing or changing stuff.

Or ‘cheeky chappy’, blue-collar cliches … having a giggle as they saw some wood.

It’s all very practical, rational and very before/after.

But Uncommon have done something different.

For a start they are trying to bring more people into the DIY world rather than just appeal to the people already there. It’s smart, because with COVID, we’re having to rely more and more on our own abilities than those of a specialist.

But they’ve done something more than that.

They’ve tapped into the emotions of what DIY does for us.

Not in the terms of a new shelf or a better shed … but in terms of crafting the place we live and turning it into our home.

A place that reflects us not just shelters us.

The quirks, the tweaks, the creativity, the failures.

The stuff we will always remember when we see it.

The stuff that makes it OURS.

The stuff we built … literally and figuretavely.

And it’s this premise that Uncommon tapped into with the thought, “you don’t buy a life, you build one”.

It’s always been true, but in these times where we try to outsource everything for a generic perfection, it is even more pertinent.

Doesn’t matter what you make.

Doesn’t matter how good you are.

All that matters is you make something that makes it yours.

I love everything about this campaign.

The idea. The craft. The writing.

I love that they’ve evolved the line from ‘Don’t just do it’ to ‘You can do it’.

It’s the right thing to do.

Not just because it is more inclusive, emotional and personal … but because it has a positive, encouraging energy to it. Something that conveys confidence for whatever you’re going to do rather than judgement and doubt.

But one thing I like in particular is the poster campaign.

As I wrote previously, Uncommon are seemingly single-handedly bringing the beauty and value of posters back into the ad world.

The work they’ve done for B&Q is a perfect example of that.

Simple. Clear. And each expressing a different attribute of the brand idea.

No bought in stock shots with some throwaway, meaningless copy dropped on it …, oh no … they’re all individually and beautiful art directed to within an inch of their life.

This is what advertising can be. Should be.

This is how we build the industry again.

This is how we turn it into a home people want to live in again.



When Things Don’t Make Sense, They Sometimes Lead Us To Somewhere Better …

One of the things I loved about R/GA was they were one of the few agencies who truly understood creative tech.

It was never an add on. It was never just about the ‘shiny, new thing’. It was central to the creative process … enabling ideas to explore places you may never have thought about.

It was one place where I really felt I might be able to be part of something that outlived me and while I’m not there anymore, I still think that’s pretty cool.

I say this because in the world of innovation – and I mean this in the broadest sense of the word, not just within the marketing industry – so much of it seems small.

Yes, I know innovation can be executed in multiple ways.

The process.

The technology.

The integration.

But for the people on the street, if innovation doesn’t result in an experience or product they’ve never seen before, too often they end up dismissing it out of hand.

That’s hard for companies.

Especially when the moment they do make something new, the public fawn in delight for half a second, then go off in search for the next new thing.

It’s this situation that paralyses a lot of companies.

They know they have to innovate to keep moving forward but the financial risks involved – both in terms of development, application, competition and audience adoption – mean it’s far more ‘sensible’ to make degrees of change.

So we end up with ‘new features’ that serve little or no purpose because they’re not innovative enough to make people pay attention and not useful enough to make people value what it does for them.

And it’s for this reason why I bloody love this piece of tech madness from Amazon/Ring.

Yes, I know it’s an evolution – albeit an evolution on steroids – of a home security cam.

Yes, I know it’s being sold as a solid and sensible piece of technology.

BUT IT’S A SECURITY CAM ON A DRONE!!!

How nuts is that?

I would have loved to have been in the meeting where that idea came about.

Not to mention the meeting where they had to ask for R&D funding from Bezos.

I wonder if it was a brainstorm and someone just threw the idea out there as a pisstake and then, after everyone laughed, someone said, “that could work”.

Do I think it’s a good idea?

Yeah … maybe.

I mean, they do make other security products that, arguably, are much better protection for the home because [1] you can see them outside the house which [2] acts as a deterrent, so a criminal is less likely to smash a window or door to get in.

But even then I still love it.

Even with one of the worst product demo films I’ve ever seen.

Because at the end of the day, the idea it got made.

An idea, that is frankly utterly bonkers, got produced … and in this world where too many companies are putting the no into innovation, that’s infectiously intoxicating.

But before you accuse me of celebrating creative tech security indulgence … there’s another important thing here.

Because almost regardless how well this sells – though I think it will do brilliantly, simply on ridiculous novelty – it has just opened the door to so many more things.

Not just in terms of what the next iteration of that product will be.

Not just in terms of what the competition will now create.

But in terms of what is possible.

From home security to medical supervision to stuff we haven’t considered yet.

A few years ago I read an article by a tech journalist who said the biggest thing he needed to remember was to not judge new technology by the standards of the established. He had to acknowledge things may not be seamless. That products may not be perfect. Because if he didn’t, he may contribute to killing an idea before it’s had a chance to become what it could be.

It’s an important lesson because all ideas start off fragile.

They need space and time to grow. To get strong. To evolve.

They need nurturing, crafting.

Hell, in some cases, they need humanity to catch up to where the idea already is.

While I fully expect Amazon/Ring to cop a load of piss-taking from people and the media, it’s worth remembering that Fuel Band – another product widely questioned by media and society when it came out – opened the door to creative uses of tech that directly led to NIKE being able to make products that are now relied upon – and loved – by millions of athletes all around the World.

Or said another way.

Without Fuel Band – developed by R/GA – we may be living in the athletic dark ages.

So here’s to more crazy creative tech ideas.

Because as mad as they may seem at the beginning, they might just be the things that push us all to somewhere greater.



If You Don’t Like The Blues Brothers, Be Like A Supermodel …

So this is a continuation of yesterday’s post.

Specifically in terms of people in a position of power creating the physical and economic conditions for people of colour to prosper.

I don’t just mean giving people of colour a job, I mean fighting for them to have the platform to win in terms of respect, influence and pay.

Yesterday I wrote how Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi ensured the musicians in The Blues Brothers kept their performing rights for all the music they wrote/played, so they – and their families – would continue to profit every time a song or the movie was performed.

Well I recently heard of another example of this.

Naomi Campbell is an icon of the modelling industry.

But it wasn’t always like that.

In fact, if the industry had its way, it would never have happened.

In an interview, she said this …

“I used to have to fight for the same fee as my [white] counterparts doing the same job”.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Still happening each and every day in each and every way.

In fact it’s worse for the average person of colour – or woman – because they don’t have the scale of awareness or influence an international model has. So when they speak up about pay discrepancy, they immediately get labelled a ‘trouble maker’ or a ‘not a team player’ and find themselves either sidelined or, in some situations, fired.

But back to Naomi …

You see after she’d talked about the situation she faced in the early days of the industry, she went on to add …

“Thankfully, my friends Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington called out this treatment and told designers that if they didn’t hire me, they wouldn’t work for them”.

It is important to note this is not white saviour shit.

Or charity.

Linda and Christy never talked about what they did, nor have they ever sought credit or payment. In fact, had Naomi not talked about it, it may never have come out at all. But it is important it did because like yesterday’s post, it’s another example of people in a position of privilege – ie: white people – recognising and valuing the talent of someone they know the industry will chose to ignore and actively using their power to force a situation where they will be treated and paid well for their talent, expertise and influence.

There are some other examples I’ve heard – blues great, B.B. King said Elvis did a similar thing to ensure he cold play in the profitable venues of Las Vegas – but frankly, it’s still the exception rather than the rule and the situation is not getting any better.

In fact I could argue it’s probably getting worse because there is more awareness and supposed openness than ever before and yet things are still not happening.

But here’s the thing, it’s not enough to want to change the situation.

Just like it’s not enough to not be racist.

The reality is you have to hate racism enough to act against it.

Not just with words, but with actionable behaviour … where we use our inherent white privilege to not just talk about diversity and inclusion, but actively fight to create real, sustainable, economically prosperous opportunities for people of colour to win.

Not because we want to look good.

Not because we want people to be in our debt.

Not even because it’s the right thing to do.

But because their talent, their way of looking at the world, their understanding of what culture and creativity is – and can be – and their understanding of others will make us all better.

Literally.

And what’s more, they’re happy to share the benefits of this with all of us.

Maybe giving the industry we all work in a chance to not keel over and die.

Hell, we don’t deserve any of it but they still are willing to do it.

Christ, we don’t even have to give anything up, we just have to make space for them to be respected and rewarded for their talent, expertise and influence.

Which means there’s now only one thing to decide.

Are you going to be a Blues Brother or a Supermodel?



Why We Should Be Like The Blues Brothers …

Yes, this post really is about the movie The Blues Brothers.

The one where paroled convict Jake — and his blood brother Elwood – set out on a mission from God to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised, from foreclosure.

Where to achieve their goal, they not only have to reunite their R&B band and organise a concert so they can try to earn the $5,000 needed to pay the orphanage’s tax bill … but also have to navigate around a homicidal mystery woman, a bunch of Neo-Nazis, an entire police department hellbent on stopping them and a Country & Western band.

And yes, I am really saying we should be like them.

However this is not because I am advocating violence against authority [ahem], or even a return to the true definition of rhythm and blues [versus the sanitised version being flogged by record companies left, right and centre] but because of how Dan Aykroyd – the writer and actor of the movie – ensured the creative value of the artists appearing in the film was rewarded rather than exploited.

Music has a long history of exploiting artists.

Where their talent is used to fund the lifestyles of everyone other than themselves.

It’s been going on for decades and affected everyone – including those who got to ‘the top’ like The Beatles and Elvis Presley [there’s also a great book on how badly Bros got ripped off, which is worth checking out] … however no group of musicians has been as badly affected as black artists.

From not being paid to not being played … black artists has consistently been exploited and abused by white music industry leaders, from record companies to MTV.

To give you an idea of it, here’s a clip of David Bowie challenging MTV about their lack of black artists on the channel …

Bowie, as usual, was right.

Recently I watched a documentary where legendary musician, Herbie Hancock, talked about his iconic Rockit video and how they purposefully created something that didn’t really show his face to ensure MTV would play it in heavy rotation.

THIS IS NOT A LONG TIME AGO!!!

And while you may think the music business is now dominated with black artists, the reality is they are still getting screwed by organisations who want to profit from their talent.

Which leads me back to the Blues Brothers.

You see this movie was dominated by African American musicians – and while many studios would try and underpay them by saying the worldwide exposure they’d gain is commercially valuable to them, Dan Aykroyd did something else.

That’s right, he let them keep their publishing rights.

Which means every time a song or the movie was played, the artists behind the music would get paid.

Not the studio.

Not the writer.

Not the networks.

But the artists.

What’s sick is that 40 years later, this act by Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi is still rare.

Since then, we have consistently seen people of colour have their creativity exploited and profited from by others.

Whether that is through acts of cultural appropriation to corporate intimidation to down right theft.

Frankly, nothing highlights this more than the plight of Dapper Dan and his store in Harlem during the 80’s and 90’s. Here was an individual who created fashion that changed and impacted culture on an almost unprecedented scale … and yet he faced a constant barrage of abuse, exploitation and theft from organisations who appreciated his talent but just didn’t want to pay for it or acknowledge it.

Given black culture is the driving force of almost all youth culture around the World, it is disgusting how little of the money it helps generate ends up in the pockets of the black community … which is why I suggest another way companies can demonstrate their diversity and inclusion ambitions is to follow the approach of the Blues Brothers.

Included.

Represented.

Acknowledged.

Respected.

Paid.

Enabled.

Empowered.