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


Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

So a few weeks ago, in a Starbucks in Epping, I saw this man …

For those who don’t know who he is, it’s music icon Rod Stewart.

I appreciate his best days as a singer are over but the fact he’s 74, still has hit albums and sold out concerts and looks pretty much like he did 40 years ago, means he can look back on his life as pretty bloody successful.

There’s lots of stories about Mr Stewart.

His love life.

His happy feud/rivalry with Elton John.

His tightness.

But what isn’t talked about much is his love of his family.

I saw it when he walked into Starbucks.

In came his wife and a bunch of his kids – young and old – and they all sat together, chatting … laughing and sharing coffee and croissants.

I know this is something we see everyday, all around the World, but there was something lovely in seeing an international Rock Star act like the doting father and husband he obviously is.

I’m not denying he has made some pretty shit mistakes in the past … but without wishing to defend that … sometimes good people make bad mistakes and whatever happened in the past, at least he seems to remember what is truly important.

Nothing says this more than an interview he gave this year …

I don’t know about you, but I think this is wonderful.

It’s also weird his brothers and sisters are NINETY YEARS OLD.

But what I love most is that it is apparent for all his wealth, he feels his family is what truly makes him rich.

Even his ex-wife, Rachel Hunter, doesn’t really have a bad word to say about him.

Their divorce wasn’t because of infidelity, it was because she was young and after 13 years of him being a doting husband, she felt she wanted to go out and live more.

And even then, she – and he – made sure everything was both amicable and respectful.

The reason I’m saying this is because work/life balance is under greater pressure than ever.

Sure companies are talking about it more than ever before, but in the main, what they really mean is ‘it’s important to have a home life but make sure you do your work first’.

I also accept, it’s much easier to have work/life balance when you’re a multi, multi millionaire because when Mr Stewart was starting out, he was so in debt, his manager and record company pushed him to go out on tour so he missed a lot of his oldest kids early years.

But here’s the thing.

If we all appreciate that work/life balance is important [even if that is simply because it makes you more effective at work] and mental health has become an issue that has been accepted as a real issue, how come this isn’t included in any procurement demands from clients or agencies?

Maybe it is, but I haven’t heard about any.

I have heard of contracts that demand female representation.

And I have heard of contracts that demand people of color inclusion.

But nothing on mental health or work/life balance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that issues of gender and background are being forced into contracts [but I’m so sad this is what it took to have it happen] but what about making sure these people are looked after once they are there?

Why isn’t that part of the deal?

Why is that not a key criteria of what we are all talking about?

Why is that something shareholders don’t demand of the companies they invest in?

I think we can all guess, but if you’re still not sure, head over to Corporate Gaslighting and read what some people have discovered are some of the reasons why.

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Self Awareness Stops You Being Self Stupid …

So I was talking at event recently about ‘loyalty’ and mentioned how when the Amazon Dash button came out, one of my clients was ecstatic.

In their mind, it meant they were going to see sales grow because instead of having to risk a shopper buying a competitive brand, they would press the button and the sale would be there’s guaranteed.

In my talk, I went on to say how I told the client that was great in theory, but there were 3 things they had to think about.

1. The real winner is always going to be Amazon.

2. It was going to be a huge race to see who could get the most ‘buttons’ into homes.

3. The result would be the destruction of their hardly fought – and expensively bought – premium brand value status.

At the end, a gentleman asked me why I thought turning a brand into a commodity was a bad idea as it meant more sales and that meant more money for the brand and the shareholders.

I must admit, I was quite taken aback by this response and pointed out that being a commodity might generate more sales, but it loses profitability and – more scarily – leaves you open to a competitor deciding to either launch a price war or disrupt the market with a new product.

He wasn’t convinced and kept going on about commodity value and how soon all brands will end up following that route.

I must admit I was a bit rude to him so after the event, I sought him out to have a chat.

Turned out he worked for a car insurance company and highlighted his category was driven purely by price.

When I asked him what he meant, he said:

“As long as your company name is generally known in a generally good light, you will get business”.

It took all my strength not to laugh in his face, so instead I simply replied,

“So you do believe in brand value or you wouldn’t care if the company name was generally known in a generally good light”.

You could see him look confused, so I decided to just finish the job off by saying …

“And if you believe everything is a commodity, why are you wearing an expensive watch when a Timex does the same job?”

He smiled a ‘fuck you’ smile at me, said goodbye then left.

It was a good evening.



Behind Every Clean Process, Is A Mass Of Messy

I love chaos.

Always have.

In fact, my approach to work can be summed up in 3 words.

Culture. Chaos. Creativity.

And yet, I do appreciate the importance of some sort of process … some sort of systematic thinking in terms of approach … because ultimately we are in the commercial creativity business, so we need some guide rails to ensure we’re heading in the right direction, even if I am removing any specific destination.

Where things go wrong is when people care more about the process than what the process is supposed to create.

Where systematic thinking goes from direction to dictation.

That’s when things go wrong.

That’s when potential and ambition are killed in the quest for control.

But here’s the thing …

For all the processes talked about.

For all the proprietary tools hyped.

The system agencies tend to end up adopting – even when they’re hidden inside a beautifully constructed, clearly planned out, client facing framework – is this.

This is not a criticism.

To get to somewhere new … somewhere interesting and intriguing … you have to take a leap of faith at some point, even in the most well-organised, well thought-out of processes.

Some people don’t like admitting that.

Some people don’t want the pragmatism of creativity to overshadow the ego of their process.

Some people don’t even want to accept creativity rarely follows a straight line through the entire process.

And yet it is creativities ability to solve problems in lateral ways that makes it so valuable and powerful, which is why for me, those who are comfortable with uncomfortable are the ones who create the most enduring ideas for brands, business and culture.

And the ones who aren’t?

Well they tend to be the ones who use words like operationalize or optimise or codify or, the old classic, ‘proprietary tools and processes’ a lot … the ones who want to feel in control, despite the fact what they’re actually saying is they want to replicate creativity rather than ignite it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s always some element of process in any development of creativity – whatever form that manifests – but there’s also messiness and chaos and to remove that, not make room for that or go around that is either a lie or an act against the incredibly infectious possibilities of creativity.

As Martin and I said at Cannes, chaos creates what order can’t.



Variety Is The Spice Of Life …

I saw this person on the tube recently.

I don’t know who they are.

I accept I have no right to talk about fashion or shoes.

But a pair of brown crocs with some glittered-up stones glued to them feels the sort of things by a Blue Peter host would have come up with circa 1982.

What makes it even more confusing is they were carrying an LV bag.

And while I haven’t seen such an odd pairing since I saw Cate Blanchett and her husband, I have to say I loved it.

It was quirky.

It was individual.

It was the sort of thing that pushes ‘fashion’ and could either crash and burn or open up a new chapter of it. And given we live in a world that tends to play safely in the middle, the people on the edges are the ones we should be looking at and celebrating.

When Martin and I did our Cannes talk for Warc, we talked about ‘the edge effect’.

It’s a genuine term – associated more with nature than planning – but the point is still valid. If you want to move brands forward, play to where culture is heading not where it is and to do that, seek out the people on the edges not smack bang in the centre.

_________________________________________________

UPDATE:

Since I wrote this post, I discovered these shoes weren’t the work of a children’s TV presenter, some Pritt Stick glue, some stones from the garden and a couple of tubes of glitter but a real live bloody shoe designer.

Christopher Kane to be precise.

And what’s more, they cost £325.

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE POUNDS.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Suddenly my wifi cup, remote control ball and basically 99% of everything I’ve ever bought looks a wise investment in comparison.

So to Mr Kane, your career might be done but you made me feel better about myself.Ta.



Careful. Your Data Is Showing …

The big conversation in marketing right now is around data.

So it should be, it’s insanely valuable and important.

But the irony is, while it can absolutely help us have deeper understanding about our audiences behaviour and habits – information that can lead to more powerful and valuable creativity – it’s alarming how many companies who claim to be experts in this field express themselves in ways that are the opposite of it.

Here are 2 ads I saw in Cannes …

Really?

You think that is going to convince people the data and technology you have is going to lead to better work?

You think that represents the language of your audience?

Sure, I know it’s Cannes and so there is a certain sort of person who is attending there at that moment – but they’re still bloody human.

Quite frankly, this is more an ad for celebrating ‘the old way’ rather than the new.

As Martin and I said in our presentation – if companies think creativity can be reduced to an engineering problem, then they don’t understand how society actually works.

Sure … you want consistency if you’re doing surgery.

Or making rockets.

Or producing food.

But society as a whole, is a mish-mash of complications and hypocrisy.

A group where their passions extend to far more than what they transact with … but how it integrates with their life.

Their fashion. Their music. Their games. Their language and imagery. Their context.

If you remove this from the process, you are simply creating the answer you want, not the answer that actually stands a chance of moving cultural behavior and attitudes for the long term, not just the short.

Or said another way, making brands successful in ways culture wants to stick with.

As I said, data has a huge and valuable role to play in all this.

I’m fortunate to have an extremely good data partner at R/GA … someone who not only knows what she’s doing, but appreciates it means nothing if it doesn’t help create better work.

And that’s the thing … great data doesn’t want the spotlight.

I see too much work where the brief seems to have been ‘show this data point’.

Or worse, too many briefs where it is the data point.

Great data – like great PR – is, in a lot of ways, invisible.

It liberates creativity rather than dictates it.

Revealing opportunities to think laterally not literally.

Helps you make work that reaches audience in more powerful ways.

Whether that’s where you play or how you play.

Put simply, data is an incredibly important part of modern marketing but – and this is where many people fall down – it can’t do it all.

It needs help to help make great work.

It can guide … it can reveal … it can lead … it can do so much, but it can’t do everything.

For data to truly show its full potential, it needs the nuances of culture added to it. Not purely for scalability, but for resonance.

As I’ve said many times, we need to stop looking to be relevant and start wanting to be resonant.

Making work that feels it was born from inside the culture, not from an observer.

Or said another way, work that doesn’t patronise, condescend or bore people.

Are you listening IBM and Neilsen?

Data with culture opens up more possibilities for creativity.

Allowing ideas to grow and go in places we might never have imagined.

Ideas that feel so right to the audience rather than explain why they should feel that way.



As Bad As Monday Morning May Be, At Least You’re Not As Bad As This …

Yes, that’s me.

It’s not totally random because a few weeks ago, the planning department at R/GA held an impromptu Elton John party.

Though I’m not quite sure why we did it to be honest.

Anyway, we went to town with it …

Elton glasses … Elton inspired drinks … Elton boa’s … Elton masks … even an Elton John impersonator.

I’m not sure which was my favourite part of fake Elton’s performance.

On one hand, it was pretty hilarious when he loudly announced through the PA system “Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Elton John to the stage” and then we saw the post room door [which was doubling as his dressing room] rattling madly as he tried to get out without realizing he had to press the unlock button.

Though – all things considered – I probably prefer the moment he ran out of Elton John songs and decided to start singing The Proclaimers. [See the video below]

But back to that photo …

While you might think the sight of me on a stepladder wearing an Elton John mask is the worst thing you can imagine, let me remind you of the time I wore a mask of the Queen for my first ever photo with my son.

See, nowhere near as bad.

That said, I acknowledge it is pretty tragic which means – in comparison – your Monday is far less horrific.

You’re welcome.



Mischief Makers …

So last month, it was my birthday.

Because it was my first birthday in the UK for 25 years – not to mention R/GA – I decided to do something a bit special [read: daft] that culminated in me sending this all office email the day before my big day.

Yes, I really did buy that many Monster Munch and so while I thought I was going to have the last laugh on my birthday, my wonderful team decided to trump me by making me this cake.

What you are looking at is a Strawberry Jam Sandwich cake.

Literally layers and layers of jam sandwiches.

Despite having the sugar content that could bring all dinosaurs at once – it was strangely tasty – though I did only manage a slither, which the pricks took great delight in videoing.

And yet this act of evil genius was very moving to me.

While some might think I’m mad because what they did was an act of hatred – an attempt at murder – I see it differently.

Maybe it’s because in addition to the cake, I was given a bunch of cards and presents [Highlights include: Erika’s 1.25 liter of Diet Coke, Severine’s ‘Shut The Fuck Up’ bell, Ed and Rob’s test pressing of their new album and the teams ‘complaint letter’ to HR all about me ] … but even without any of those things, their act of birthday evil [or, as one person called it, the presentation of a white trash cake] was, for me, a demonstration of giving a shit which left me feeling very touched.

I’ve been super fortunate with the teams I’ve worked with.

Almost universally, they have been a bunch of brilliant people blessed with exceptional talent.

OK, not all of them … but overall, they’ve all been amazing even though they have also been mischievous shits. Which is why one day – and I appreciate no one would ever want this to actually happen – I’d love to have a party where everyone who has had the misfortune to work with me, comes along.

Not so they can compare war stories – though there would be a lot of those – but because in the main, they have made me a better person for the experience and I would want to thank them.

Even for Jam Sandwich birthday cakes.

Jesus, who am I?!!!