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


Appetite For Destruction … The Advertising Edition

So I had a lovely time in Spain and now I’m ready to go hit Cannes.

I haven’t been there for over 12 years and I have to be honest, I’ve been very very OK with that.

While I have always enjoyed the talks they have, the other stuff has driven me nuts.

Pretending to be rockstars. Acting like animals. Just demonstrating a total lack of self-awareness.

Of course not everyone is like that and it’s always nice to catch up with old friends from around the World, but in my experience, I saw far too many people who were cliches of the industry so I am hoping with all my heart that has disappeared in my time away.

What I am looking forward to is the presentation we are giving on behalf of WARC.

As you know, the wonderful Mr Weigel and I started a planning school about a year ago.

While not a huge amount has happened, it is happening and the lovely/stupid [delete as appropriate] people at WARC invited us to give a talk about dangerous strategy.

To be honest, it’s quite a big subject to cover in 45 minutes so we’re going to focus on why every strategy needs more chaos in it.

Within this subject there will be all manner of unpacking. From the need to spend time in the real world, to the ridiculousness of what brand owners think passes for insight to why being interesting is literally the new right.

I hope it will be enjoyable for the people attending – I know Martin won’t disappoint – but it’s a great honour for me to be doing a project with probably the best planner in the biz right now … at the most prestigious event in the ad calendar …. with an organization dedicated to helping make smarter work rather than just smarter decks.

Then again, if they all agreed to be publicly associated with me, maybe they’re not as smart as we all think they are.

That, or Martin is doing it to use me as the physical manifestation of chaos.

Devious sod.

Come and say hi if you’re there or avoid me like the plague.

Back posting rubbish on Friday.

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It’s Time …

When Mum died, I inherited the family home.

Despite having not lived there for 20 years, it was still very important place to me.

Not just because Mum left it to me.

Not because my Mum still lived there.

But because it’s where I lived for all of my life – until I moved to Australia – and so the memories in those 4 walls were full of everything important to me from my first 25 years of life.

I have to be honest, the first reaction I had was to hire a security guard and keep things exactly as they were because the thought of selling it was just not going to happen.

Slowly I came round to the idea that a security guard was a bit extreme so I started – slowly – thinking about renting it out.

The thing was, when we had estate agents come check it out, they highlighted that having not been renovated for over 40 years, it needed some major work.

This was really hard for me because by saying it needed renovating, I heard it as ‘the house is not good enough’ … which I then interpreted as ‘the house my Mum loved and lived in, wasn’t good enough for others’.

Of course that’s not what they meant, but my emotions – and need to protect my Mum’s legacy – were very high at that point..

And if that was challenging for me, it got even harder when it got to clearing the house.

We spent a couple of weeks going through photos and possessions so we could identify everything we wanted to give to charity.

While Mum didn’t have expensive things, there were some lovely items which is why the worst thing – almost as bad as losing my Mum – was when I saw the charity people come by with bins and throw everything into them … no care, no consideration, no nothing.

And when I heard them literally smash my Mum and Dad’s wardrobes to smithereens – the things that had held their cliothes for 40 years – I had to leave the house as it was all too much.

But out of this darkness came an idea … an idea that I felt would honour my Mum in terms of the life she lived and the values she believed in.

We found a fantastic set of builders and had the house refurbished from top to bottom.

Removed all the wallpaper.
Plastering all the walls.
New paint everywhere.
New Kitchen.
New Bathroom.
New flooring.
New carpets.
New front door.
Some structural change in the house.

At the end, it was basically a new house and yet with the warmth and love of the old, as exemplified by this note that I wrote in the garage …

But that was only part of paying homage to Mum…

The next step was to find a young family who would love to live there, but couldn’t afford it.

You see our plan was to subsidize the rent – and maintain the gardens my parents loved so much – so a young family would have a chance to raise their kids in the beautiful environment my family gave me.

Of course, when my family bought the house – back in 1970 – the area was very different to what it is today, but zoom forward 40 years and it’s seen as very desirable. Not because it’s posh, but because it’s safe, has a strong community and great schools for all.

To this day, I’m so grateful my Mum and Dad were able to find £100 more than the other buyer or who knows where I would have ended up.

Anyway, by pure chance, we found a family who were sort-of connected to someone Mum once worked with. That was perfect, as it felt even more connected to her.

But what was even better was the mother of this family was Italian, like my Mum.

For the past 4 years we have had this arrangement and everyone has been happy.

But now it is time for a bit of a change.

Not because I want to become a bastard landlord, but because I’m now living in the UK and things are different.

You see part of the reason I wanted to keep the house – apart from the obvious – was that it gave me roots here. It meant I was still connected to where I grew up. That I mattered.

It’s kind-of similar to why we bought a bench for Otis at his school in LA.

Having spent the last 24 years out of England, the house represented a connection to my heritage and that was important.

But now I’m back … and while I don’t know how long for, I see it in terms of long-term rather than short.

On the day before Mum died, she told me she was sorry she wasn’t going to be able to leave me much.

I told her not to think like that and reminded her the love she and Dad gave me made me rich beyond my dreams.

But on top of that, I reminded her she was generously going to leave me her house … a house in a wonderful area … so she could relax knowing she had given her son more than he could ever have imagined.

And that’s why I am ready to let the house go.

Not – as you may think – because I am ready to move forward.

The truth is, I will always miss her and want her in my life.

The reason is because I see a way to use the house to reinforce the role my parents had – and have – in my life.

You see the one thing my parents would have loved to do is help me have a home of my own.

While I have been incredibly fortunate to do this without their assistance, I know that their dream would have been to contribute to that.

Of course they did with the love and support they gave me in life, but to them, providing some cash to do it would have made them feel so happy.

So that’s what they are going to do.

While we are happy in London, the truth is my wife and son need to be surrounded by nature.

Nothing reinforced this than our trip to the farm recently.

So we want to find a home a bit outside of London.

A home Otis can truly settle in.

A home that is our home.

Of course we don’t want to unsettle the tenants and will do all I can to help them – as well as give them as much time as they need to work out what’s next – but selling the house allows us to use that money to help my parents fulfill their dream.

We are incredibly fortunate to be in this position.

We are incredibly grateful to be in this position.

But the idea to have a place that is – for want of a better phrase – our forever home, is hugely enticing.

It will let us put down roots.

Connect to the community in ways we have never done previously.

Build rather than live.

This might sound dramatic and I am not saying we have had it tough in any of the other places we’ve lived or houses we’ve had … but we have also never been in a place where we saw ourselves for the long-term.

Because of that, we have always been looking to what’s next rather than maybe enjoying the moment as much as we could or should.

Of course this isn’t going to happen overnight, but to come to this point of decision represents a landmark for my family and for my grief which is why I am so happy to be home and so happy to look forwards with more security, regardless what the future may bring.

Given my birthday is tomorrow, that’s possibly the best present anyone could have.



What Do You Call Someone Who Loves Lots Of Brands …
June 10, 2019, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, Advertising, Attitude & Aptitude, Brand, Culture, Loyalty

I’m back and I survived.

Not sure if Portland did, but I am fine and that’s all that matters.

And yes, I can be a little prince because it’s my birthday in 2 days time so I can act anyway I choose.

Ahem.

But before I write a sycophantic birthday post, let’s get to writing some rubbish loosely-based planning post instead.

The holy grail for brands is to have someone only buy their brand.

Doesn’t matter about price.

Doesn’t matter about features.

Doesn’t matter about availability.

A loyal person is a blindly blinkered person.

Of course it’s all bollocks because people buy a bunch of brands … and while they may have their preferred choice – emotionally or commercially – they rarely limit themselves to just one name.

It does happen … such as Yorkshire Tea for example, or – errrrm – Birkenstocks … but it’s not as often as many marketers like to think.

So does this mean brand advertising is a waste of money?

Of course not.

Apart from the fact we are seeing more and more people make their choices on what a brand believes, the fact is there’s a shitload of choice out there and you better be one of the ones people are thinking about or associate strongly with in specific categories or you’re dead before you’re started.

Anyway, this has nothing to do with the point of this post because what I want to write about is this lady that I saw on the tube a couple of weeks ago.

Look at that drink in her hand …

Starbucks cup.

In a Prêt sleeve.

That contains a tea bag from god knows where.

I have to be honest, I would love to know which of those 3 came first.

Is she a recycler?

Is she a hoarder?

Is she just weird?

Whatever the answer, while many may say she is brand disloyal … she might just actually be one of the most brand loyal people on the planet.



When Is An Orange A Lemon?

So as you read this, I’ll be on a plane to Portland …

While this is good news for you as I’ll be away the whole of the week, it’s terrible news for my friends at NIKE and Wieden+Kennedy as I’ll be poking my head in their lives and business for the next 5 days.

To help everyone either celebrate or commiserate over this news, let me leave you with a very short post.

I saw the above ad on the underground recently …

What. The. Fuck?

I get it’s a nice looking razor … I get some people may even want to buy it because it’s a nice looking razor … but what the hell is the point of that copy?

Seriously, what are they trying to achieve with it?

In advertising, there is a phrase called ‘see say’ … where the copy, or voice over, explains what’s being shown, despite the fact that in the main, the person looking at the communication can see perfectly well what it is.

I’ve never understood why it continues to happen – just like I’ve never understood why people do presentations then read exactly what’s on the screen – but this ad is taking things to a whole new level, or should I say depth.

What pains me more is that Boots originally were a Nottingham company so I feel some sort of responsibility to their actions and behaviours … even though they’re no longer English and quite frankly, my attitude is more mental than sentimental.

What next, fruit ads that have copy explaining the fruit you’re looking at what its colour is?

If our industry is about helping brands resonate with culture, our work seems to suggest we’re either saying people are stupid or brand managers are.

Good job I’m going to hippyville so I can calm down before I explode.

See you in a week … where it will only be 2 days till my birthday.

[Hint Hint]



Chapters Help Us Move Forward. Books Change Our Direction.

I left Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai 2 years ago this month.

I have very special memories of my time there and these two people – Leon and Carina [both circled in the photo above, which was a gift from my planning team when I left W+K, even though they forgot to put Debi in there] – played a big part in that.

Sure they were pains in the ass and opinionated as all fuck [though Carina did it in a much nicer way than Leon ever could] but it was – and still is – an honour to be able to say they were on “our team”.

Now – by pure coincidence – they’re both moving onto their next adventure and that will mean there will be no more of my mob infecting the place [though I did find Chris, even if he got away with never having to work with me] so I just want to say thank you to them for all they did for me, the team and – most importantly – the work.

Their loss is a big one for everyone but no one could be anything but excited and happy for the bigger and better things they’re about to do.

So to Leon and Carina, go have a shitload of fun … but please make sure you hide stickers throughout the office before you leave.



Consolation Prize …

I have talked about my love of Martin Parr before, which is why you can imagine my excitement when I thought I was going to pull off the ultimate collaboration between him and my side project with the masters of metal.

For absolutely fair reason, it sadly didn’t come off, but I did get a nice gift as a way of thanks … which ironically, makes me only wish it had worked out even more.

When I pitched the idea, I was asked why I thought it was a good idea.

I said I didn’t, I just thought it was interesting and sometimes, that’s all we have to go on.

The best thing with working with people who only think creatively is they totally get that … that sometimes, the intrigue of an idea is more important than the actual outcome – even if it ends up not being what you quite hoped.

I get why we all look for certainty in what we do. There’s a lot riding on it … money, employment, business … but the problem with certainty is that it is built on compromise and convenience, where the outcome is safe rather than alive.

It’s why Martin’s Weigel’s wonderful case for chaos is such an important read.

I have long been an advocate of this approach.

While it can scare people, the reality is chaos can create what order can’t and when we are all looking for ways to infect, infiltrate and shape culture, the best way to do it is to offer them something they find interesting and resonant, rather than boring and right.



The Many Faces Of Beautiful …

I’ve written how mental Gucci have been in the past few years in both their fashion and their marketing – though on this last point, it’s been quite refreshing from the up-itself-image-bollocks the fashion industry tends to perpetuate.

However I recently saw an ad for their lipstick that is making me think they’re doing more than just trying to superficially differentiate from the competition.

Yes brands like Dove have celebrated ‘real beauty’ before – though they also sold skin whitening products so you know that their intentions for female empowerment are not entirely true – but it’s rare for a high end fashion brand to do such a thing, especially in such dramatic fashion.

You see even though Dove celebrated women of all shapes and sizes, they tended to all be classically beautiful … however here is Gucci, doubling own on celebrating the beauty of the imperfect by showing what my American friends would say is a ‘British smile’.

We will have to see if they are truly going to push this agenda but in an industry so superficial they can make a puddle look like an ocean, this is a step in the right direction in helping women celebrate their own beauty, not someone else’s definition of it.