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


Till Next Year …

So this is the final post of the year.

It’s been a big year for me and the family.

Then again, it was a big year for the family last year too.

However, whereas 2017 saw us leave Shanghai and Wieden+Kennedy – something that was truly emotional for all of us – 2018 has seen us go from sunny LA, working at Deutsch, living in a house by the beach and driving a custom made Audi to being citizens of cold and rainy London, living in a much smaller house in Fulham, working at R/GA [with some sprinkles of Metallica madness in-between] and traveling by tube to and from everywhere.

And we haven’t been this happy in ages.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things we definitely miss from our life in the US – people, the weather, Otis’ school, free soda refills and bacon mainly – but this move was right for us for a whole host of reasons, personal and professional, and we enter 2019 with the full expectation we’ll still be here when 2020 comes around.

I hope.

It’s funny, when I read the final post I wrote for last year, it is apparent that change was in our minds. We didn’t think that openly, but it seems it was there.

Of course, moving to a country and then leaving in just over a year is not the best thing.

It’s financial stupidity for one.

But these things happen and we are very happy for the amazing experience, though I must admit I’m even happier my wife, son and cat are still talking to me.

Fools.

But while our environment has changed, some things have stayed exactly the same.

Your ability to trash everything I write on here, for one.

And to you all, I say a huge thank you.

Sure, being told I’m a bad dressing, musically ignorant, gadget tosser every-single-day can get a bit tiring, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because amongst the insults, there’s often pearls of gold in there.

Stuff that makes me think about things a different way.

Stuff that influences how I think about things I never thought about.

Stuff that just keeps me on my toes and interested about stuff.

And I love it.

I love that people come here and share a bit of their time and opinion with me.

Yes, I appreciate moving to the UK and still posting at 6am is screwing up the flow of the comments given the East Coast of America is asleep and can’t insult/join-in until much later … but the fact so many people still write makes me feel very fortunate.

While I have loved the ability to move countries and cultures so many times – and hope to continue doing it, just not for a bit – the reality is that is makes your friendship network difficult.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fortunate we have technology to keep me in touch with the wonderful people I’ve met in every country we’ve lived [whether they like it or not] and this year I got to catch up with people I’ve not seen in years – from Freddie to Paula – but there is something about having a level of constancy that makes you feel settled.

Bizarrely, this blog has provided me with a bit of that.

Even with people I have still yet to meet.

[Though I met Marcus and Neil Perkin this year and that made me so happy]

While I would never suggest I am your friend, you have been to me – in many ways and at many times, both at moments of darkness and happiness – and I want to take this opportunity to say thank you.

To all of you.

Even you Andy.

When I started this blog way back in May 2006, I never expected anyone to read it, let alone comment so the fact some of you still are – regardless that many Police officers would call it abuse – I’m grateful.

I’m excited about next year.

It will be big.

Not because we’ll be moving … or I’ll changing job … but new things will be entering my life.

From my beloved Otis starting proper school – which literally is screwing with my head – to the much-talked-about-but-not-much-actually-done Weigel/Campbell officially doing its thing in addition to the exciting adventures and exploits my wonderfully beautiful family, my bloody amazing friends and fantastic new planning team will get up to that will make me feel even luckier than I do already.

Being back in England has had a much bigger effect on me than I ever imagined it would.

I am grateful for it.

I am grateful for all I have.

I hope this holiday season and 2019 is one that is wonderful for you all too.

See you in a few weeks. [Yeah, don’t think you get so lucky to not have me come back]

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Don’t Blame The Insight, Blame The Person Claiming It …

So a few weeks ago, the very lovely Neil – of Only Dead Fish fame – invited me to talk at Google Firestarters on insights.

This is a subject I’ve written and talked about for years, so it was right up my alley … and yet, despite that, I ended up writing a presentation where the underlying insight appears to be, ‘don’t ask Rob to write presentations on insights’.

For reasons I’m unsure of [though I think ‘fill this blog with something before the end of the year’] I thought it might be good to put it up here for others to look at/abuse. However, as it’s my usual ‘picture, no words’ presentation style, it probably will make little sense … but if it’s any consolation, that’s how the people who heard me give it, thought too.

If you want the general theme of the deck, it’s insights are important because culture is important … and if you know how the culture around categories think, act, operate and interact, then you have information that not only lets you create work that feels born from inside the culture, but can open doors to new possibilities.

Oh, and the bit about the Titanic is that I’m amazed this discussion is still going on because we all know insights matter, it’s where we’re getting them from and how we’re using them that is key. And yet – as an industry – we like to debate the things that we know matter and ignore the fact the majority of the work that’s being put out is an exercise in how to bore the fuck out of everyone with insanely and inanely rational communication.

And yes, I blame clients as much as planners and agencies for this.

It’s like they have forgotten that no one cares about what they care about and the job is to make them give a damn – and the most powerful way to do that is to use creativity in wonderfully mad and chaotic ways because [as Mr Weigel says, both in public and in my presentation] you can be as relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck.

The Henry Ford slag off is simply that he is well known for saying that if he’d asked people what they wanted they’d say a faster horse and my point is, if someone said that, any half decent planner should be able to workout they’re trying to say they want to get from point A to point B quicker than they currently are able.

And if that isn’t an amazing brief, then I don’t know what is.

Anyway, if you want to see the deck, including one of my favorite ever slides – the pic at the top of this post – click here: Firestarters

Enjoy … if that is the right word. Ahem.



Is This The Best Brand Video Of All Time?

Brands have been making ‘consumer films’ for decades.

You know the ones, where supposedly random people wax lyrically about how – or why – [insert brand here] is soooooo good.

Well recently I saw the best one ever made.

EVER. MADE.

Even better than those ‘insane button’ clips for Tesla from years ago.

It’s for Krispy Kreme Ireland – and frankly, they are better than most movies I’ve seen recently, let alone ads.

Apart from the fact the people appearing in it appear to be genuine ‘randoms’, this recent brilliant article in The Guardian highlights just how much of an impact the Doughnut Kings/Queens have had on the Emerald Isle.

Though I think the comment, “It’s like my first lesbian kiss, I’m confused but I love it” … is literally the pinacle of all possible compliments.

So sit back, grab a box of Krispy and enjoy …



Identity Is Defined By Us Or Defined By Others …

So finally we have the feedback on the latest APSOTW assignment.

First of all I owe everyone an apology.

This has taken way longer than it was supposed to.

I’d like to blame the time it took to get the judges feedback, but I can’t … because it was all down to me.

Of course I can point you to moving to a new country, finding a new house and starting a new job, but that’s still pretty pathetic even though it’s true.

So this submission got the most that I think we have ever had.

This is brilliant and I’m so glad so many people decided to have a go.

Of course, part of that is because it seemed relatively simple, but as you’ll read from the feedback below – you’ll soon learn it wasn’t.

But that aside, the fact you had a go is something to be celebrated.

It means you wanted to get better … put yourself out there … try something that makes you vulnerable and for that I say a huge congratulations.

I meet too many people who think that because they have a job, they have ‘graduated’.

The thing is, this job is one that is always developing because people are changing … so actively wanting to improve is something that should be celebrated and for that I – and all the judges – applaud you.

So as we had so, so many entries, we are going to find it almost impossible to write a review on every one. If you want specific feedback on your submission, drop me an email [on the same address as the assignment submission] and I’ll get back to you.

[Promise it will be quicker than this feedback has taken]

As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of people thought this was an easy task … the reality is it wasn’t.

In fact, in some regards, I would say this was one of the toughest assignments we had set over the 10+ years APSOTW has been going.

In truth, post-rationalising is always a very difficult – if not impossible – task.

We tend to focus on the obvious elements when in truth, so much of the work we make is shaped by smaller little tweaks.

Not only that, but narrowing an issue as complex as this into a single sentence is always going to be super hard … so hard, that some of you went over the limit.

But the really interesting about this assignment is how many people basically wrote a headline for the campaign rather than an insight that could allow other work to be developed from it.

For example there were a lot of submissions that talked about ‘mirrors’.

Now I get why – because the execution focuses on that – but this wasn’t about mirrors or reflections, it was about identity and how you define yourself or let others define you.

In essence, you let the execution get in the way of your point of view.

Overall, the submissions tended to fall into one of four different groups:

1 A headline that summed up the execution. Not the idea behind the execution. The execution.

2 A fortune cookie/pseudo Confucius-style statement about being a man. Any man. Or skin.

3 A smart – but generalist – insight how men define themselves in the World today.

4 An overly complex description of how culture is formed which just felt like an attempt to show how smart you were.

Now don’t get despondent with that list of crimes, I see highly paid planners do it all the time.

The irony is our job is to make the complex simple, not make things even more difficult and yet time and time again the discipline tends to forget this.

If you want proof, just read 90% of effectiveness award submissions where the ‘insight’ is about half a page long.

ARGH.

But back to this …

When looking through the submissions, the judges agreed that to catch our eye, an entry had to have 3 things.

+ Recognition of the cultural tension underpinning the campaign. [This is about black culture, a lot of the statements could have been about anyone coming of age, so to speak]

+ A clear and concise point of view that makes us look at the potential of the idea in a bigger – or different – way.

+ The ability to provoke a reaction … whether that would be with creatives, clients or culture as a whole.

Sadly, we didn’t find that many that did, however there were some that caught our eye.

Divyanshu Bhadoria:
“More than a grooming regimen, shaving is a ritual to preserve the story of our identity”.

Wayne Green: :
“Don’t let a beard hide your pride of who you are and where you are from”.

Andy Wilson:
“Shaving reveals the dignity that is embedded in your skin”.

If truth be told, they could all probably be sharper … but not only did they all capture the tension between identity and conformity and the role shaving has in it, they were favoured by the creative judges as points of view that made them excited about looking at a category in a new way, but a true way.

And that was the point of the task … to take something and capture it’s essence in a way that would provoke a tighter – yet bigger – idea to come to the fore.

It’s tough … it’s very fucking tough … and as I said in the assignment, it’s all pretty subjective, but the judges were weirdly pretty much all in alignment from the beginning, which is why we got to our decision.

So a huge thank you to everyone for taking part.

I hope, after reading the feedback, if you look back at your entry you will see where you could have improved it.

As I said, if you want specific feedback on your entry, send me a mail and if Wayne, Andy and Divyanshu could send me their addresses, I’ll be sending a small prize to you as acknowledgement of your work.

Hopefully this has been a fun and useful exercise. Whatever the feedback, the fact you did it is important … to you, to us and to the industry at large … so I hope you will continue when the next APSOTW assignment comes out early in the new year.

A special thanks to the wonderful Maya Thompson who brought this assignment to me and changed the way I will look at the world forever [in collaboration with her collective of Chelsea and Bree] and a big happy holidays/new year etc etc to all of you who took part. [God, that feels weird to write in only November]

Till next time …



You Can’t Change The Future If You Judge Them By The Old Rules …

So a few weeks ago I went to the premiere of the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody.

But it was more than that … I went with my best mate Paul and was surrounded by 6000 Queen fans, the band and the actors from the film.

It turned a movie into a wonderful celebration of an amazing band.

To be honest, while Rami Malek is amazing as Freddie – as is Gwilym Lee as Brian May – the atmosphere from the audience was better than the movie.

To be honest, it was always going to be that way, but as a piece of my personal history – including the re-enactment of so many concerts where I was actually there – it was an amazing thing to be a part of.

Of course this movie is not going to change the opinion of anyone who wasn’t a Queen fan already. And even for them, it’s not going to tell them anything you didn’t already know … but what the movie has done is get the media to conversations with people who were part of the Queen history that previously, had rarely said much about it.

One of them is fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.

She was the person behind the look that – in many ways – defined Freddie and the story she tells in the interview is wonderful, especially the bit where she describes him as a ‘hidden revolutionary’.

Of course she is referring to him in this way because back then, Queen was just starting out, because the idea of Freddie Mercury ever being hidden is quite amusing.

But that is the thing we often forget … that new is always going to be uncomfortable and yet we judge those with new ideas by the standards of the established. Literally trying to kill new thinking before it has a chance to even catch light.

And that’s why we all need to be more open to the unknown and the unexpected.

See where it could take us before we tell it where we want to take them.

Because when we hear people or companies say they want to be like NIKE, APPLE, Freddie Mercury or countless others we forget that to get there took time, patience and letting go … of the old rules, the old expectations and the old answers.



Strange Combinations …

Maybe it’s because I only have one working eye.

Maybe it’s because I’m an complete and utter idiot.

Maybe it’s because they’re both basically in black and white.

But when I saw the above ad at a local tube station, I thought it was all for the same product and couldn’t work out why the fonts were all different.

On the plus side, it made me take a closer look which means it’s immediately more effective than most of the ads I see underground.

As I said recently, tube ads are terrible.

Boring and rational as hell … with some occasional loose ‘riding the tube’ reference.

Boring while pretending to be wild and wacky … with some occasional loose ‘riding the tube’ reference.

Boring because they think they can get away with writing the longest, long copy ads in history, regardless that they make it feel like watching paint dry.

For such a captive audience, you’d think agencies and brands could find a way to enhance the passengers journey rather than letting their ego get the better of them and make them think they’re sitting their patiently waiting to read about another app launch that does exactly the same as the other 10 apps rationally explaining their role with some ‘crazy’ visual attached. Seriously, when the only reason I notice an ad is because I thought a whisky brand had made a milk product, you know it’s time we look at what ‘engagement’ means in our industry.



Like Walking Across A Minefield In Clowns Shoes …

I have written a lot about scam in the past.

How it is destroying the credibility of our industry.

How the main culprits are the agencies behind the bland wallpaper we see each day.

How these scam places are devaluing the agencies who make amazing work for real clients.

Recently John Hegarty suggested that agencies found doing scam should be banned from award shows like athletes are banned from competing.

I absolutely love this idea.

I don’t think it will stop it happening, but it will severely reduce it.

But I’d go one step further.

Years ago Andy told me the judges of the awards are complicit in scam happening.

He said that they were so focused on being associated with great work, they didn’t care if it was real work.

I think he has a point which is why rather than just banning the agencies who do it, I’d ban the judges who award it.

Of course, the judges could say they acted in good faith and assumed the people behind the competition had evaluated it’s appropriateness.

And that’s fair, but the award competitions need entries and the horrid reality is that scam has paid the bills for many of them for too long so to expect them to rigorous in their validity might be a bit too much to hope.

But here’s the thing, scam isn’t even hard to spot.

Part of the reason for it is – as I mentioned – because it comes from agencies who are more known for their blandom than their pragmatsism.

The other reason is that in their quest to be provocative, the agencies often overstep the mark because they know judges love this sort of thing.

Have a look at this …

It’s about as perfect an example of scam you can get.

A visually driven idea [because unless the copy is in English, it will stop judges liking it]

A clear point of view.

Embracing topical events to make their point.

On face value, it all makes perfect sense – but apart from the fact that idea is as old as the hills – the use of a Muslim woman highlights the desperate attempt of the agency and creative team to be ‘award worthy’.

Sure, all the pictures reflect people following some sort of ‘ideology’ … but a skinhead walking away from other skinheads in a riot and a soldier walking away from other soldiers on their way to unleash war on some nation is very different to a Muslim woman walking away from a group of other Muslim women who simply appear to be Muslim women.

Talk about making a massive and insulting comment to women of the Muslim faith.

The implication that they are all blindly following an ideology designed to cause destruction to others – as seems the theme given the other executions – is both wrong and frankly irresponsible.

But who cares about that when there’s an award to win.

But then, those who enter the dark world of scam don’t care about anything.

Including thinking if their ‘idea’ actually is consistent or makes sense.

Name them.

Ridicule them.

Ban them.