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


Premium Disaster …

So before I begin with my post, I have some good news …

This will be the last post for 13 days.

THIRTEEN!

I’m in China all next week and then when I return, I’m having 3 days off – of which one of them is to celebrate Otis’ 5th birthday!

Five. Can’t believe it.

Anyway, I know I’ve just made your impending weekend more enjoyable so have fun and see you when I’m back on the 12th … though there will be a special birthday post the day before for my little one.

So now back to the post …

One of the things I hate is when a client mistakes being premium priced for meaning they have premium customers.

That just isn’t true, even more so now with the access to finance. Seriously, it’s like banks deny the 2008 crash never happened. Mind you, when you’re bailed out by the public, it didn’t.

Anyway …

Being premium priced – especially when the brand is in a mainstream marketing and comparing themself to mainstream competitors – simply means you cost more.

There may be reasons for that cost premium.

Great and valid reasons … but that doesn’t mean the audience who are buying the products are more sophisticated or educated.

If anything, it might be the opposite.

Some may be doing it to overcome their insecurities.

Some may be doing it to satisfy their delusional ego.

Some may be doing it because it represents something they’ve worked – and work – hard for and want to protect or defend or nurture.

But whatever the reason, the vast majority of people who choose these brands are, in the main, everyday people who justify the price premium because they offer something additionally appealing – be it professional, functional or emotional.

There is nothing wrong with this.

There is nothing unappealing about this.

In fact, it is an amazing, given we are talking about people making decisions that cost them more because something is so important to them.

And yet so many marketers want to feel their customers are the wealthiest and most discerning of all, ignoring the fact that if that were true, then their product wouldn’t be premium priced, because for the wealthy, it would be cheap.

I recently had a meeting with someone from a mainstream, mass market brand who tried to convince me their customers were the 1%, despite all evidence proving otherwise. They also tried to claim their marketing was ‘high-brow’ as it meant only the wealthy would truly ‘grt it’.

That’s right, they were suggesting intelligence was linked to wealth.

I know a lot of people may believe that, but even if it were true – which it isn’t – they are mistaking wealth for opportunity … which I appreciate is becoming more and more influenced more by being able to afford a private education given governments are underfunding state options, ignoring the fact an educated population creates greater possibilities for the entire nation.

I digress.

Again.

Sorry, it’s just these are subjects that make me so angry and upset.

Anyway, I cannot tell you how much fun I had putting them right … how much I enjoyed explaining to them that their audience were far more in line with average household income than the 1% … but at the end of the day, I know it was all in vain because every single day, I look at ads and see ‘premium priced’ brands acting like their customer base are better than everyone else, which ultimately demonstrates marketing is less about understanding your audience and more about comforting the boardroom ego.



Professional Prick …

Let’s be honest, I’m a prick.

Especially if you have the misfortune of working with me.

I know all the things I do wrong as I’ve had them told to me 10,000 times.

I distract people from their work.

[But get pissy if they distract me]

I take a steady stream of horrible instagrams of colleagues.

And revel in posting them. On EVERY social media platform ever created.

I buy stupid, passive-aggressive, humiliating gifts.

I have opinions on seemingly everything. And everyone.

I can get needy and emotional.

Basically, I am a liability and yet – despite this endless stream of work violations – I have been blessed with amazing colleagues and team mates who, despite all I do to them, give me nothing but support and their talent back.

Idiots.

But every now and then they fight back.

A photo of my stupidity here.

A shitty/wonderful present there.

And while they think it teaches me a lesson, the fact is I love it.

I love it for a bunch of reasons …

I love it because of the effort they put in to it.

I love it because it means we have an openness that allows it to happen.

I love it because it means we see each other as humans, not one dimensional robots.

Which is all a convoluted explanation of the picture that heads up this post … created and given to me by one of the R/GA strategists – Divya – who felt it was the scariest thing she could produce for Halloween and – lets face it – she was right.

I still stupidly hope that one day in the future, all the people I have worked with can come together and chat – not because I want them to compare notes of what a prick I am – but because I’ve been very fortunate to have brilliant people in my life and I would love to see them all together and witness the magic they could create together.

As long as it’s not a class action against my professional exploits.



Argos Is Christmas …

When I was younger, I discovered the ‘Argos’ catalogue.

It was at my Grandparents house and it was a bloody revelation.

For those who don’t know what Argos is, imagine Amazon.com before Amazon.

A place where you can buy a huge array of products, all of which were featured in an annual catalogue which you could take home and peruse at your leisure.

[It’s also famous for little pens – now pencils – that you would have to use to fill in the forms to get the products when you went into the store. Pens/pencils that I would say everyone in England has ended up keeping at some point in their lives]

But for me, it only had 2 uses …

1. To get a glimpse at the future of technology.

2. To choose what I really, really wanted for my birthday/christmas.

Every time I visited my grandparents, I would run to where they kept the Argos catalogue and spend hours going through all the pages, gazing lovingly at digital watches, calculators, the emergence of hand held ‘electronic’ games and – eventually – computers.

Every year the catalogue came out, I would be see the advances of tech in front of my eyes.

But more than that, for the right money – I could have it.

Of course I – nor my parents – had the right money except maybe at Christmas, but a boy could dream … and boy did I.

I still remember the excitement the first time I saw Astro Wars … a handheld version of the video game Galaxian

It was like the impossible dream.

A full sized video game shrunk into a small box.

What sort of weird wizardry was this???

I still remember how a bunch of us at school saw it at the same time and we all knew it was the ‘must have’ present for the year.

I was incredibly lucky to get it that year … and while it was a bit crap, I still utterly loved it because to me, that was cutting edge tech.

[As an aside, I just discovered it cost £28 in 1980 – the equivalent of £100 today, so I am utterly gobsmacked I got it given my parents would have had to have saved up for months to afford that. So thank you Mum and Dad, I never realized it was that pricey]

Anyway, the reason I say all this is that Argos have recently digitized all their old catalogues.

And while you may ask yourself, “why?” and “why would anyone care?” you’d be wrong … because if you’re a person of a certain age, the Argos catalogue was not a book of products available for purchase, it was a place of imagination and possibilities and while the stuff inside the late 70’s/early 80’s catalogues are full of the sort of tat even a ‘Everything for £1’ store, would turn their noses up at, looking through them all again, I can honestly say it ignited the excitement I had back then.

Truly.

And yes, that means I really have spent hours trawling through them all.

Again.

And what’s more, I don’t care how sad that makes me.

It was a magical journey down nostalgia lane.

More specifically, nostalgia that was specific to my life, not just everyone else’s.

America may have had Disneyland.

But us kids in Britain had the Argos catalogue.

You can explore the history of 40+ English imaginations, here and you can see why I think the Argos Christmas campaign – which links to the nostalgia theme of the old catalogues – is already the winner of 2019, below.



Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



Uncommon …

A few weeks ago, I met Nils Leonard, one of the founders of Uncommon.

While I had definitely encountered his agencies work before, I had not encountered him.

I wish I hadn’t.

Not because he’s an arrogant dick.

Not because he cares more about money than creativity.

Not even because he has let all his success go to his head.

But because he’s good.

As in really good.

Not just in his talent – which is obvious – but as a person.

He’s a charming, smart, funny and – wonderfully – self depreciating.

He has built, arguably, the most exciting agency in London right now and yet the prick is still generous, open, passionate and welcoming.

I have achieved 0.2% of what he has and I’m a miserable, egotistical dick …

Hell, even my partner-in-crime, Mr Weigel, fell under Nils spell … which means he’s either a witch, a hypnotist or just one of those absolutely talented wankers who you are genuinely happy for the success they are achieving because they’re building and earning it the right way.

With the work.

That said, I’ve heard there are some in the industry who hate him.

As in really, really hate him.

I can only assume they’re jealous about what he [and Lucy and Natalie] have created and are creating and – more importantly – how they’re actually going about doing it …

I don’t blame them, I want to hate him too … and while I could focus on the fact his laugh is a bit like David Brent’s and I’m not as keen on their Guardian work as most of their other stuff [though, to be fair, it’s more the line than the work]… the fact is, there are people you meet in this life – and I’ve been fortunate to have met and worked with a few – where you realise all their achievements aren’t because they’re political, self-publisiising, manipulative, ego-driven, cold and calulated assholes, but because they’re extremely talented and hard-working in a way that means they were always destined to exist at a different altitude to the rest of us.

No wonder he called them Uncommon.

Bastard.



When Media And Messaging Go Stupid …

So I’m away tomorrow so this is the last post of the week.

I know … what an early gift eh?

Well let’s see if you still feel that way after you’ve read it.

So recently – in the Fulham Broadway tube station – I saw this …

I know, it’s an innocuous little ad.

Harmless even.

What on earth could I find wrong with it?

Well a lot really,

Let’s start with this ad being in Fulham Broadway Tube Station.

I don’t know if any of you have see that station, but it’s this:

Yes … it’s on a street.

A busy street.

A busy street with no waterway conveniently located.

At least no waterway located within a few minutes walk so you could change your choice of transportation.

Why?

Why spend money on that?

Yeah ,., I know someone will say it’s because passengers from Fulham may catch another tube in a place where a ‘Thames Clipper’ is possible, but come on, if that’s the case do it in the fucking station where that is likely to happen.

But then there’s the actual ad.

I absolutely loathe ‘best kept secret’ type messaging.

Apart from the fact it is ensuring all the customers of Thames Clipper who may actually think it is the best kept secret are now about to be inundated by new passengers stealing their seat and general calmness of commute [because yes, advertising does work] this doesn’t tell you in any way WHY it’s the best kept secret?

Is it the tranquility of the trip?

The speed of the journey?

The price? [Let me tell you, it’s definitely NOT the price]

The timetable?

The locations you can get to?

The views?

The history of the buildings on the embankment?

The seats?

TELL ME, JUST WHY THE HELL IS IT LONDON’S BEST KEPT SECRET?

There are so so many different ways they could have handled this campaign … beautiful, inventive, charismatic ways … ways that could have made someone think twice about the darkness of the tube or the traffic jamming experience of the bus … ways that would have given the Thames Clipper a personality that out charmed even TFL … but no, instead they went with a poster of an old, white male who looks like he works in the city using a quote that says absolutely nothing about the experience in places where you are literally miles from being able to engage with it even if you wanted to.

Thank God I’m not here tomorrow, because I need a lie down.



Aspirational Averageness …

This is kind of an addition to the post I wrote a week or so ago.

You see I recently read a business magazine and almost every article – and I mean EVERY article – had a story about a company that was obviously trying to position themselves as ‘against the ordinary’.

Now while I appreciate anti-ordinary can be manifested in many ways, I couldn’t help but think that all the brands featured were selling products that were the epitome of ordinary.

Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Ordinary is both misunderstood and underrated which is why I think it would be great if a company actually embraced and celebrated that’s what they did … however in the context of the companies featured in the magazine, they were suggesting that what they did elevated them beyond all comparison.

I get why they would want to do this.

I get the commercial value of being seen to do this.

But if you’re going to claim it, your products and brands should demonstrate it and in the great majority of the companies featured in the magazine, the absolute opposite was true.

There are probably a ton of reasons for this.

From the ego of management to the job protection strategies of the people below them to the revenue fear of the agencies they work with … but that still doesn’t escape the fact the stuff they made was about as bland as a beige Volvo.

To paraphrase that old joke, isn’t it disappointing the people who know how to create extraordinary products and brands decided to end up making beige and boring instead.