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

Age Is Attitude …

I’m old.

In fact by adland rules, I’m a bloody dinosaur.

That’s not because I’m switched off to contemporary culture – quite the opposite – but because the industry is ageist to the core.

The reality is anyone at my age tends to face an interesting dilemma in terms of how they are perceived …

Be old but think young and the industry sees you as a try-hard.

Be old and act old and the industry sees you as past-it.

Both things are wrong of course and it’s one of the reasons I always loved Wieden because they valued creativity rather than devaluing age. Of course, you have to keep the flow of new, exciting, dangerous talent coming into the place … but in my experience, when people have an open mind, the young learn from the old and vice versa and the end result is something even more potent than it would have otherwise been.

But maybe that’s just me trying to post rationalise my value.

The thing is, as I get older, I don’t want to subscribe to the ‘life’ I am supposed to have.

That doesn’t mean I aspire to living a long-term midlife crisis any more than I want to spend my time gardening, drinking wine or playing golf … if people want to do that, that’s fine, but I want to indulge in the things that continue to fascinate, intrigue and challenge me.

I wrote about this once before, but the best and worst thing about growing older is that you are continually discovering things you want to explore – in fact, the more you explore, the more you discover additional things you want to explore – but underpinning all this is the unshakable knowledge the time you have to do it is more limited than ever and so there will be paths that will be unexplored.

That’s quite the mindfuck.

Years ago a man I met said, “you know you’re getting old when you can’t feasibly double your age”.

At the time I remember laughing but now I’m in that situation, it’s confronting.

I have so much I want to do. See. Try. Explore.

Then there’s the things like seeing my son forge his own path.

While spending more time with my beloved wife.

More memories. Less dreams.

The idea that time is getting shorter can really fuck you up.

And that’s why for me, it’s about trying to ensure my family life a life of fulfillment.

I don’t want to subscribe to irrelevance.

Sure, one day I might be regarded as that for companies, but this is not about them – but me.

My Mum always had a desire live at the speed of contemporary culture.

She didn’t want to feel she was left behind.

That didn’t mean she did things she didn’t want to do, but she also didn’t want to live in a bubble where her context for life was far removed from the realities of life so she was open to the new and actively explored it … not in the bullshit way advertising portrays it, but in her interest in culture, from comedians and artists to music and politics.

That’s an amazing lesson to be taught – one I wholly subscribe to – which is why I think the industry is missing the point when it labels people over 40 as over-the hill. For me, rather than judge individuals by their physical; age, they should judge them by what they bring … what they challenge … what they change … because it’s the one’s who refuse to be labelled who can make exciting things happen.


Variety Is Not The Spice Of Life, But The Essence Of It …

As I’ve written many times, my parents drilled into me that a life of fulfillment is much more valuable than a life of contentment.

As I’ve also written many times, I didn’t realise what this really meant until I hit my late 30’s.

And yet, despite that, I seemed to have embraced their philosophy in how I was living my life, including who I hired.

Put simply, I gave always valued someone who lived an interesting life more than someone who lived an interesting advertising life.

You’d think the two are connected, but that’s not always the case.

And that’s why I liked – and still like – people who have tried stuff.

It almost doesn’t matter if it worked out or not, the key is they’ve tried things and can recognise why it all turned out as it did.

Even if that’s about acknowledging the importance of luck.

So people who have travelled, worked in different industries, toured in a band, studied contemporary art, been arrested, written a fanzine, graffiti’d the hell out of things, created stuff – even if that’s kids beds – will always be initially more attractive to me than someone who studied advertising, worked in advertising and made advertising.

That doesn’t mean people who live an ‘ad-life’ aren’t good or valuable – of course they are – but I genuinely believe the more experiences you have, the more you will contribute to ideas that don’t just differentiate themselves from the usual ad noise, but offer a point of view that is undeniably infectious creatively and culturally.

Because as Peter Ustinov, the great actor, once said …

“People who reach the top of the tree are those who haven’t got the qualifications to detain them at the bottom”.

But here’s the thing …

While I am celebrating ‘generalists’, this is more than just someone who flitters from one thing to another.

I’m talking about those who commit to something. Throw themselves into what they do. Are seriously wounded when it goes wrong but have it open doors to something new they may never have considered without.

And while outsiders may see all this as random acts of experimentation, is actually a continuous stream of fulfillment because the people who do this stuff know the more they live, the more they have to offer.

Or to paraphrase Mr Ustinov, the more you explore, the more see what’s possible.

If It’s Not Fun Making It, What’s The Point Of Making It?

I recently read an article about companies that really made an impact on me.

It wasn’t exposing any new theory or methodology.

It wasn’t connected to any particular campaign or individual.

It wasn’t even something I didn’t know, to be honest.

But it just hit the point of what makes good work culture and good work really clearly.


I’m not talking about foosball tables or free food.

It’s not artificial or contrived, it’s embedded in how you work and what you make.

It’s the thing that makes coming into work each day exciting and enjoyable.

Where taking a chance is celebrated.

Where individuality is held in the highest esteem.

Where creating anything is filled with electricity and laughter.

Where being serious about what you do and why you’re doing it doesn’t mean having to be serious about how you do it.

It’s the best thing I’ve read about agency culture in a long, long time, made better by the fact it was written by Mark Wnek – a creative director who, by his own admission, was known for being able to start a fight in an empty house.

Every single person should read it. Especially if you’re a CEO.


Class creates change. Hype creates headlines.

I work in an industry that loves to make big deals out of everything.

Literally everything.

And yet, how many of those things were still being talked about a month later?

Or maybe a week?

Or even the next day?

The reality is that for all the work that claims to be revolutionary in its thinking/execution, the reality is few seem to be.

And the same is with agencies.

While it is difficult, the reality is any agency can hit the ad jackpot at least once in their life.

Maybe it’s a Super Bowl spot … or a Cannes award … or just something utterly, utterly brilliant/fun/funny/emotional … but for me, the true test of greatness is not about having done it once, but having done it on a consistent basis.

I don’t mean in terms of getting a headline in the industry press – however nice that is – I’m talking about capturing the mood and imagination of a nation.

Years ago I met someone who kept telling me about the time they ‘achieved something big’ in their career.

What they were talking about was admirable and certainly worthy of feeling proud about, however this thing was 15 years in the past.


Don’t get me wrong, the person in question should absolutely feel they achieved something few do because they did … but if you are living 15 years in the past, you’ll never be able to move on into the future.

And that’s why one of the best bits of advice I ever got was to always be known for something in every job you have.

It doesn’t matter if you did something amazing over a decade ago, be known for having done something good things in the present.

Whether I have done that is questionable, but that advice has meant I have always gone into new adventures with the desire to make a difference. That should sound obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people try and live off their past.

So for me, it’s always about trying to find something I can improve, impact or instill … something that will last longer than my time there.

Now I appreciate you can easily fall into some post-rationalisation of achievement, because – let’s face it – when you’re judging yourself you’re rarely hard on yourself, but most people accept nothing worth doing comes easy so if they see you as having consistently done positive things wherever you have worked, it not only separates you from the lucky ‘one-off’s’, it lets you look at your career in terms of what it can still be, not just what it was.


Weigel Isn’t Bad …

Martin Weigel.

The professor.

The planners planner.

The miserable bastard that never returns your emails.

Well he might be all of those things, but to me, he’s my mate.

What’s more, I think I’m his mate too – which means he’s not nearly as clever as everyone thinks he is.

But the reality is, he has his place as one of the best because he is. That simple.

Not just because he’s as smart as shit … but underpinning his intellectual ramblings are very simple, but powerful, beliefs that benefit everyone he is interacting with.

I say this because I recently heard his answer to the question, ‘What should a planner do and care about?’ to which he responded with this …

That’s it.

4 lines.

But those 4 lines cover so much.

Vision. Creativity [Not advertising]. Innovation. Cultural Resonance. Ambition. Action. Focus.

In other words, strategy that is designed to liberate rather than play nicely with others.

It’s what makes him so good and the work he does so great.

I should hate him, but I can’t …

And it’s not just because I bloody love his bloody lovely other half.

The reason I say this is that one of the things I’ve been shocked about in America is the standard of planning.

There … I’ve said it.

No, it’s not because I’m a snobby Brit.

No, it’s not because I don’t understand the cultural differences.

It’s because a lot of it is bad.

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what is out there and in many cases it’s either strategy that the individual has used for pretty much every client they’ve worked on regardless of the situation, or at worst, it’s a snappy worded version of the client brief.

Or just bad taglines that say nothing and mean nothing.

In other words, packaging rather than planning.

Now of course there are some epic planners here – I am fortunate to have a bunch who work with me and there’s a bunch who I wish would work with me – but there has been a bunch who I’ve met/spoken to who have just underwhelmed.

I recently met one who said their main approach to strategy was ‘owning the social platform’.

I had to ask 3 times if I had heard right, and I had.

And when I said they weren’t the sort of planner I wanted in my team, he said I didn’t know what I was doing.

OK, there’s probably more than an element of truth in that, but even my worst planner skills is better than that.

And yet this individual was a senior planner in a good agency.

In other words, he was responsible for helping brands decide the direction they were going to invest millions of dollars in.


The World has gone mad.

There is a craft to planning.

You can’t outsource it all to data and media.

Of course those people have a place – and an important one at that – but the hard work is still done by those who realize it’s not about the ad, but the direction, tension and opportunity for the brand and culture.

The one’s who can think of ideas that aren’t really just an executional idea.

Which is why we need more Weigel’s than Gary V’s.

Because flash means nothing if it doesn’t address what I now call, Weigel’s ‘Four Principals Of Worthiness’.


The Beauty Of Madness …

Last week, Nike dropped an ad.

A 3+ minute ad.


Well yes they are because it’s the most magical 3+ minute ad you will see in a long, long time.

I know you might say I’m biased because [1] it’s Nike [2] it’s by Wieden and [3] my beloved ex-collegue, Paula Bloodworth, worked on it … but I’m not saying it for those reasons, I’m saying it because it’s sheer gloriousness.


You watch it and you are sucked in. You’re smiling, laughing, nodding, relating.

Whether it’s how outsiders see different parts of London to the madness some young athletes have to go through to be noticed.

There’s so much to love about it … though I have to say my favorite parts are definitely the female footballer, the ice-hockey player and the guy at the end on the bike who swipes the ball away.

Brilliant casting, writing, everything.

An ad that shows how great advertising can be when it’s injected with madness, authenticity and originality. Not to mention fun. Not in terms of what the ad is – though it’s full of that – but in terms of feeling how much fun everyone had making it.

An ad that not only shows the elasticity of NIKE’s brand voice, but their ability to be culturally authentic while staying true to who the brand actually is.

Right there is why Wieden is so fucking good.

It’s not just that they’ve made an ad people around the World will love – even if they won’t understand it all – it’s that they’ve made an ad that people in London will truly get.

An ad that is for them.

About them.

Bursting with all the swagger, humour and contrast that makes that city what it is.

I’m sure they knew they had something special at the very beginning but when it started actually coming together, they must have got super excited.

And nervous.

I remember going through all those emotions when we were creating Blackcurrant Tango.

But as I’ve said before, the best feeling in adland is when you think a piece of your work is going to be either amazing or a disaster

Nothing in-between.

Because it means whatever happens, it’s going to make a statement.

And this ad does.

Without doubt it is my favorite NIKE spot in a while [acknowledging a huge amount of them of late have been extra good] and I’m so happy for all my friends who were a part of it.

In fact the only thing wrong is when they say ‘Nothing Beats A Londoner’ when we all know a Nottinghamer can.



Lessons For Marketing …

In the old days of marketing, the attitude was 'always have new news'.

Of course, the reality is constantly having new news is almost impossible – especially news that actually means something to the majority rather than the boardroom – but this attitude has seemingly stood the test of time, despite the fact it arguably does more harm to the brand than good.

[Lufthansa take note]

And that's why I passionately believe one of the most important lessons for marketing is knowing when to speak and when not too.

I appreciate many will disagree – especially those who indulge in self-indulgent, ego-messages via social media – but in a World where we are constantly bombarded with noise, adding to it doesn't seem to be the smartest move, especially if your way of 'getting attention' is becoming more and more exaggerated while claiming it to be based in truth.

[Lufthansa take note]

Is there a way to communicate on an on-going basis?

Of course. The simple rule being ‘talk about the stuff your audience cares about rather than what you want them to care about’, but for all the research available to us, I’m still shocked how few brands really understand this … mainly because they still think they’re in a battle for share of voice rather than share of give-a-shit.