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


The Past Is An Indicator, Not A Fact …

Have a look at that article.

It’s not that long ago really is it, and yet the fortunes of Apple are beyond comprehension.

Probably even beyond what Steve Jobs imagined … though I doubt, if he was alive, he would admit that.

But while the iMac was much more successful than the journalist suggested it would be … its greatest achievements were re-introducing Apple to the world, positioning them as a real alternative to Microsoft and creating a platform for the brand and products to keep rising.

Now it would be easy to laugh at how wrong the journalist was with their article, but the reality is most people in the industry at that time thought that about Apple.

However the reason had less to do with the launch of the iMac and more about the recent history of the brand.

The choices.
The decisions.
The products.

But in doing that, they highlighted four of the great mistakes so many still make:

1. Immediately skeptical of anyone trying to do something new.
2. Believed the standard for success had been set by the market leader.
3. Evaluated products against current audience needs, not future audience needs.
4. Forgot how much truly great marketing can make people give a shit.

I say this because our industry often operates like this journalist.

Basing our point of view on ‘facts’ that reflect what has happened rather than what is going to happen.

Now I get why … what we do costs a lot of money and has a lot of implications and so clients rightfully want to minimise their exposure to risk as much as they can.

But despite this focus on certainty, we still see missteps and failures every single day, largely down to us – and clients – evaluating everything by the same 3 mistakes the journalist did towards iMac back in 1998.

This is not to suggest we should ignore what clients need.

Nor is it that we should disregard costs.

It is simply a reminder that if we only judge/plan/justify/execute through the lens of the rear-view mirror, the only thing we can be certain of is we will be going in the opposite direction to culture and success.



Art Writes New Rules …

One of the things I love about this industry is our way of re-writing rules.

I don’t mean that in terms of post-rationalisation.

I don’t mean that in terms of rebellion.

I mean it in terms of letting creativity take us to new places.

That said, I think a lot of people forget this.

Clients and colleagues.

Specifically the one’s who encourage work to go where others have gone before.

Or where the brand has previously been.

Or just killing ideas before they’ve had a chance to start to evolve.

Of course I appreciate what we do has a lot of implications on our clients business.

That to get it wrong has serious ramifications.

But – and it’s a big but – doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t move you forward.

The opposite in fact.

They know this.

We know this.

And yet I hear words like ‘optimisation’ far more than I do ‘creativity’ these days.

Now I get it, you want to get every bit of value from something that you can, but our obsession with models and processes just limits our ability to invent and move forward.

Please don’t think I’m discounting the value of experience.

There’s a lot to be said for it.

But basing the future purely on what has happened in the past – specifically your individual past – is not experience, it’s blinkered.

Case in point.

Mouldy Whopper.

Here was a campaign that was attempting to do something differently. But rather than be curious about how it would be received, industry people – the same folks who are supposed to be pushing for creativity – were violently writing it off from the beginning. And when I pointed out that no one really knew what the campaign was trying to achieve – I copped it too.

Hell, I didn’t even like it very much, but I appreciated they were doing something different and evidence showed it was getting people to talk about preservatives in food – which was a positive for BK – so at the very least there were something positive in that. But then a senior industry person challenged me – said it was only people in the bubble of adland doing that – so when I proved he was wrong, he just disappeared. Happy to throw out personal opinion but not happy to be shown it was just his personal opinion. And that was my issue, we didn’t know how it would go. We had thoughts, we had opinions but we didn’t give it the time to see how it played out and apparently, it did pretty well by a whole range of metrics.

Of course, the great irony is that when you do have a brand that believes creativity can move things forward in unexpected ways, then you get accused of your job being easy.

I can’t tell you the amount of times people said to me, “it can’t be hard working on NIKE, they love being creative”.

Of course, the people who say this have never worked on NIKE and tend to be the first to criticise anything they think is ‘too creative’.

My god, when Da Da Ding came out, the wave of, “I don’t get it”, “it’s indulgent” was amazing.

But not as amazing as the fact that a lot of the abuse came from white men not based in India.

But I digress.

I love creativity.

I use that word specifically as I see it as being much bigger than advertising.

At least in terms of where the inspiration can come from and how it can be applied.

I am in awe when I see ideas taking shape. Things I never imagined coming together in the aim of changing something rather than just communicating it.

One of my greatest joys was running The Kennedys, because I saw that in possible its purest form.

From making takeaway coffee cups into dog frisbees to re=programming Street Fighter to represent the lessons they’d learnt over the previous year … was epic.

Sure, sometimes it was scary, frustrating and painful.

Sure, there were arguments, walk-outs and moods.

But as I wrote before, great work leaves scars and while that doesn’t mean it can’t be an exciting journey to be going on, it will have many twists and turns.

Or it will if you are pushing things enough.

And that’s what this post is about, because recently I read a story about John Kosh.

John was the creative director of Apple.

Not the tech company, but The Beatles.

John Lennon loved him and at 23, he found himself art directing the cover of their iconic album, Abbey Road.

What many people fail to realise is the band name was no where on the cover.

And while John had logic behind that decision, many in the industry thought differently.

Especially at their record company, EMI.

In fact, the only reason it ended up happening is that timing was so tight that it was allowed to slip through before anyone else could stop it.

Another example of chaos creating what order can’t.

What a story eh?

And before anyone starts saying I’m wrong …

I’m not saying the decision to remove the bands name from the cover made the album successful. This was The Beatles after all – the biggest, most successful band of all time – so it was always going to sell by the bucketload. However I am saying the decision to remove the bands name from the album cover helped make it iconic … which arguably, helped make it even more successful.

Not to mention make the zebra crossing on Abbey Road one of the busiest in the World.



Knowing Who You Are Means You Know Where You Can Go …

After my post about Nike/Jordan, here’s another.

But before we get there … I need to take you on a little story.

Years ago, Wieden Tokyo were doing some research for Tabasco Sauce.

As part of the adventure, we went to the American south and interviewed chefs from the region.

One of them told us something that had a huge impact on me.

“The more confident the chef, the more simple your dish”

I love it.

For me, it communicates everything about belief and confidence.

Saying and doing exactly what needs to be said and done and not a sentence more.

Sadly this is a lesson that seems to have been forgotten.

Nowadays, companies have endless pages of terminologies, explanations and behaviours … often to disguise the fact that they don’t really know who they are or what they are here for.

I recently met a Venture Capitalist who told me the biggest mistake companies make is not knowing what business they’re in.

They think one thing but are something else.

And by not knowing this they undermine their present and their future.

However recently I saw something that showed me a company who ‘gets it’.

A company who has always ‘got it’.

Similar to the Apple memo I wrote about recently, this is a celebration of knowing who you are.

As you will have already worked out – mainly because I said it in the first line of this post – it’s NIKE.

Look at this document from the 70’s, entitled ‘Principals’.

One page.

Clarity and direction.

Fight and function.

All you need to know about what how the company behaves, what it values and what it believes …

I love it.

I love how it is so simple yet says so much.

I love how it acknowledges what it can control and what it can’t.

I love how it conveys the attitude of the brand through the battle it is undertaking.

I love how it celebrates the ugly reality of hunger, ambition and commitment while also advocating integrity and responsibility.

But most of all, I love how it acknowledges that they’ll make money as a byproduct of what they do rather than that being the focus.

And while they don’t mention the words ‘sport’ or ‘athlete’ anywhere in this page, it’s not hard to see what they are describing are the principals of building a team.

One that has a common goal, a common fight and a common belief and reliance on each other.

All on a single page.

Which is still their single page [albeit with an updated swoosh]

Because they are confident in know who they are and what they are about.

In these days where companies churn out endless pages about who they are … endless statements about what they do … endless updates to their terminologies, platforms and positioning statements, I find it interesting the companies that attract the most loyalty from audiences and the most jealousy from corporations are the ones who have been fiercely consistent about who they are, what they believe and what they stand for.

All expressed succinctly, yet passionately.

From Apple. To Nike. To Wieden.

Because the more confident the company, the less they need to say about themselves.



Apple Lets Out Your Creative Side.

So before I left LA, I bought a new iPad.

Please note the words, “I bought”.

Yes, Bazza, Rodi and David were all too tight to give me one.

Pricks.

Anyway … one thing I found interesting about shopping at Apple in LA was that the people who worked were quite different to those I found in other markets like Shanghai or Singapore.

Sure, they were as knowledgable and – generally – as polite and [semi] helpful as their continental cousins, but they were all a bit Stepford Wives … that is if Stepford Wives looked like LA Hipsters rather than Virginia housewives.

But there was an exception, this guy.

Yes, that really is a genuine Apple staff member.

Now maybe he’s wearing pajama trousers and a cycle helmet because he woke up late for work and had to rush on his fixie [it’s almost certain he has a fixie] to get to Manhattan Beach on time.

Or maybe he’s fell off his bike a week ago, bumped his head and was rushed to hospital so now he is better prepared for either a bike accident or being put in a hospital bed.

But whatever the reason, I have to say he was a breath of fresh air to the kale-consuming Mr and Ms Perfect’s in the store and I was kinda disappointed he didn’t serve me.

Or I was until I saw he was wearing a ‘please notice me’ red iWatch strap, had tattoos and walked around the store like he was Mick Jagger on stage and then realised he wasn’t a victim of circumstance, but one of those people you meet all the time in LA … a ‘slash’ person.

Waitress/Model.

Barman/Actor.

Apple Retail Store Representative/Rockstar.