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


What Adland Needs To Learn From Oprah …

Adland talks a lot about diversity and inclusion.

It talks about wanting to make a difference.

But while I appreciate the intentions are genuine, the actions often aren’t.

Too many superficial acts designed to make us look good without actually doing much good.

Self-indulgent acts that are designed to change nothing but make us feel like heroes.

Pieces of work that tell people what they already know so we can claim we are ‘living our purpose’ at the next global conference get together where the loudest applause is for ourselves.

I wrote about this recently when I found out Cocoa Girl – the magazine for little girls of colour in the UK – was the FIRST magazine for little girls of colour in the UK.

The first!!!

Well here’s another example of how poor we are as an industry following through on what we so loudly and proudly claim.

The top of this post features one of the 26 billboards Oprah has purchased around Louisville, in the US.

For those who don’t know the story of Breanna Taylor, you can read it here … but in simple terms, it’s another case of US Police racism that resulted in another innocent African American being murdered with – initially – no implication on the officers involved.

[And then, after a huge protests, the officers involved were arrested but ended up facing a fraction of the justice they deserved … meaning it was another insult to the Taylor family]

This is a case that has shaken America and beyond.

This is a case that needed pressure putting on the authorities to investigate rather than look in another direction.

This is a case that showed again the deep disadvantage people of colour have in America and all over.

What Oprah did is amazing but I can’t help but think adland could have done this.

Should have done this.

But we didn’t.

And while I am pointing fingers at us, I’m also pointing them at myself … because if we are serious about D&I, it’s about doing things that are in the best interests of the people we want to connect with rather than making it all about what is easiest for us.

Or said another way:

We have to commit … rather than just show interest.

Go out of our way … rather than make others go out of theirs.

What this brilliant act by Oprah reminds me is that creative and cultural inspiration does not come from just looking at ourselves. If we want to survive, we can only do that by letting more diversity in and letting them thrive on their terms rather than ours.



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.



Happy Birthday Dad …

Today would be my Dad’s 82nd birthday.

That means he’s been gone 22 years.

In a few years, I will have lived longer without him in my life than in it.

Yes, I know that he is still in my life, but I just find that fact so hard to deal with.

I live in fear that one day, I will only think of him when a significant date occurs.

That he will become a figure of my past, rather than my present.

Of course I don’t believe that will really happen, but to be coming up to the point where I will have spent more of my life without him in it, is really tough to take.

What’s worse is he died just as my life was getting started.

The only thing he knew – mainly because he and Mum pushed me to continue with my plans, despite his stroke – was that I moved to Australia.

While both my parents missed me so much, they were adamant I had to go.

I had planned it for a long time.

They saw it as an opportunity and an adventure for me.

And they also – and rightfully – knew that if I didn’t go, I’d never go.

Of course there was nothing wrong with where I was.

I loved – and continue to love – Nottingham. But both my parents knew the possibilities for me outside of my home city were probably bigger than were in it, and they just wanted me to have a chance of exploring what it could – regardless what turned out.

That’s unconditional love.

A level of support and encouragement that – now I am a father – takes my breath away.

Oh the things I wish I could talk to my Dad about.

The adventures – good and stupid – I’d love to discuss with him.

I think he would be proud. He might raise his eyebrows at a few things, but I think he would be happy with the choices and decisions I’ve made.

He would love to meet Jill.

He would be delighted to meet Otis.

He would be thrilled to know my friendship with Paul is still rock solid.

He may even be happy to meet Rosie – the most well travelled cat in the universe – despite never really liking cats.

And when I was to tell him that journey to Australia led to me living in countless other countries – including Shanghai – he would be so happy.

He always found China fascinating.

Part of it was because back then, China was still an unknown quantity.

A huge place that was kind-of invisible to the World.

For me to have lived there … had for his grandson to be born there … would be a topic of conversation for years.

And I would love it.

Watching his eyes twinkle with curiosity.

Watching his brow wrinkle as he processed my responses.

Watching his smile as he held Otis and said, “Ni Hao” as if a local.

Oh Dad, I wish you were here.

What I’d give for one more conversation, one more hug.

What happened that night in Hong Kong is still etched in my heart … but I want more.

I’m greedy, but you were gone too soon.

For you, for Mum and for me.

Happy 82nd birthday Dad, I know none of us believed in God, but I do hope one day we can have that conversation.

Love you.

Give Mum a big kiss from me too.

Rx

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When You Only Serve Those Above You, You Become The Enemy Of Those Around You …

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a police officer.

I was OBSESSED with becoming a police officer.

I read books. I talked to the coppers on the street. I looked up to them literally and metaphorically.

And while I absolutely believe the Police do an important job that is often undervalued, I also think the system they are made to operate in encourages behaviour that is not representative of the values and standards we have all been told they follow.

That is not a justification for wrongdoing – if they do the crime, then they should experience the full force of the law with absolutely no leniency whatsoever – however as police wrongdoing is happening on such a consistent basis all around the World, it does suggest the environment they are being asked to work within, is contributing to the situation in some way.

Which is why I found this comment on twitter interesting …

Now, I would imagine it was said with mischief in the eye … but there is truth in it.

Because where the Police are supposed to protect us, they have evolved into something that often feels more about controlling us … often for the good of the wealthy or the powerful.

I can’t imagine how difficult the job is … it must be a thankless task, especially with government leaders encouraging them to execute aggressive action rather than community integration … but something is obviously broken deep within.

Are all Police bad?

Of course not, just like criminals don’t follow the cultural or economic stereotypes the media, government and white people like to present us with.

And while blaming individuals or entire groups of people may make us feel better … safer … superior … more in control … the reality is so much of what goes on is because of the systemic and institutionalised systems so many people have to live and work within. Until that is accepted, investigated and fundamentally changed – rather than brushed aside as some sort of ‘liberal nonsense’ – we’re going to continue experiencing this pain, and quite frankly too many people have needlessly died and too many families have been needlessly destroyed to not accept there is a problem.

However much that puts the people in control in fear.

However much that shines a light on what we’ve all been complicit in creating.

However much that means governments become scared of the people rather than vice versa.



Which Came First: The Dumbing Down Of Marketing Or Creativity?

Above is a point of sale sign from a local supermarket.

Look at it.

LOOK AT IT!!!

What a pile of utter shite.

Noticeable for it’s stupidity rather than it’s inspiration.

The sort of stuff you would expect from a 5 year old writing jokes for a Christmas Cracker, than a company with well paid staff, responsible for the commercial growth of an organisation.

So who is to blame?

Well there are many who should feel a sense of shame – from ad agencies to research companies to clients – however when I think of who started this horribleness to begin, I can’t help but feel it was at the hands of the marketing department.

Of course even they are not totally to blame.

The C-Suite, with their demands and expectations have a lot to answer for … almost as much as the investors, who say they want the companies they invest in to be good companies but they better make increasing profits every quarter.

But what I found fascinating coming back to Western markets from Asian – specifically China – was how little ambition there really was.

Oh companies would talk about it – wax lyrical about it – but when you delved a little deeper, you saw there wasn’t much there.

Instead the focus was far more about defending rather than growing, corporate convenience rather than customer understanding, explaining rather than communicating and short-term conformity rather than long term change.

But of course, ad agencies need to take their blame for this situation as well.

Too many doing whatever clients want rather than what they need.

Profiting from process over creativity.

Celebrating speed over substance.

What makes it worse is some think this leads to good work.

Effective work. Using ‘proof’ that ignores the myriad of small, separate elements that combine to drive success so they can place themselves on a self-appointed pedestal.

But there are some who have a bit more self-awareness.

Who know what they’re doing is not as good as it could be.

Or should be.

But rather than face their responsibility in all of this, they blame others for how this came about … turning to questionable research that is based on a few tweets, a couple of chats around the agency or claims every single person on the planet can have their attitudes and behaviours characterised by a singular colour or some other bollocks.

And from this, they will claim the public don’t care about smart stuff.

That they ‘don’t understand’ good ideas and writing.

They they’re simply not interested in creativity and ideas.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

Bullshit.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m absolutely over it.

I’m over the focus on the lowest common denominator.

Let’s face it, life would be pretty horrible and boring if that is how we really operated … and contrary to popular belief, we don’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t elements of predictability in what we do, but to ignore the nuance … to suggest everything we aspire to is exactly the same, delivered via an identical approach … is just plain bullshit.

But here’s the kicker, because more clients and agencies seems to be adopting this approach.

White labelling, phoned-in solutions with a cool sounding names that actively destroys any sense of differentiation and distinctiveness of their brand from countless competitors while also directly insulting the intelligence of the customers they rely on to survive.

I get it’s less hassle to just agree with clients.

I get that having income coming in right now is very important.

I get that a single point-of-sale sign is not going to change the world.

But when we are willing to allow our standards to be determined by how quick we can make money, then all we’re doing is ensuring the long-term value of our industry – and the talented people in it or wanting to be in it – dies even more quickly.

And that’s why I am also over people being quick to piss on anyone trying to do something different.

Claiming it’s self indulgent.

Labelling it a failure before it’s even run.

Saying it won’t appeal to the audience … despite not knowing the brand, the brief, the audience or how people actually think or act outside of some hypothetical customer journey / strategic framework of convenience.

And yet, when you look at the brands, the work and the agencies who consistently resonate deeply and authentically with culture and drive long-term loyalty, growth and profit – it’s the usual suspects and a few newbies, like Nils and the fabulous folks at Uncommon.

Yes our job is to help our clients achieve more than they hoped. Yes our job is to attract rather than repel. But our job is also to help build the future for our clients … influencing, shaping and – sometimes – forcing dramatic change even before the masses are quite ready for it, which means doing work that challenges and provokes for all the right reasons … sometimes asking questions of the audience rather than boring them into beige submission.

And while I acknowledge there are risks in all of that, I personally believe it is far riskier to dumb everything down to it’s lowest common denominator, because every single thing we love, respect and covet has come from someone or something doing something different.

Whether that’s an idea, a product, a story or a new way of looking at the World … it has come from people who understood who we are but take us further than we imagined, pushing the journey and the story with every new chapter of what they create.

They could have taken the easy route.
They could have focused on optimising the rewards.
They could have spent their time ‘removing friction from the transactional process’.

But they didn’t. Or at least, they didn’t just focus on that.

They embraced the risk to create something bigger and more unexpectedly resonant.

Or should I say unexpectedly resonant by those judging them, because they knew exactly where they were going.

And this is why the people who are so quick to dismiss anyone trying to do something new need to understand their actions say far more about who they are and what they value than anything else. And in an industry that is fighting for its life, I put my faith in those using creativity to change the game rather than those who just talk about violation of some old rules.