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


Stop Making Excuses …

Two years ago, after a project I started called America In The Raw, I was giving a talk when an attendee – a senior marketing exec – asked how I could help them better understand African American culture.

After pointing out they were asking a WHITE, BRITISH male who had only been living in the country for over a year, I said the best thing he could do was hire some young African Americans and put them in positions of power.

To be fair to him, he was genuinely appreciative and enlightened by my suggestion.

To be unfair to him, it was another example of the oppression people of colour continually face from those who are too blind, ignorant, prejudiced or lazy to stop their ways.

Recently I discovered a friend of mine – who is African American – missed out on a promotion because “there were some concerns over his ability to lead” … despite the fact he has successfully led a team for almost 10 years.

If this industry wants a chance of staying alive then may I suggest we stop obsessively inventing ‘processes, language & proprietary tools’ [that generally ends up making exactly the same work we’ve been making for years or, in some cases, makes it even worse] and start giving talent who doesn’t look, think or act like the incumbent a chance to actually move us forward culturally, creatively and commercially.

Without judgement. Without barriers. Just encouragement and thanks.

Rant over.



Creativity Is About Lateral Leaps, Not Literal Execution …

So while going through my photos, I found this screen grab from Dave Trott …

To be honest, I wrote about this a couple of years ago but if it was relevant then, it seems even more relevant now.

There is more and more work that just seems to be a literal execution of the client brief.

Not even the agency brief … but the clients.

Literal.

Contrived.

Feature focused.

I can’t help but feel their strategy is to bore people into submission, and while it may be argued this approach is working – probably because all the competition are following the same thing – the reality is the value of the brand gets diluted and so the long term success of the brand ends up being based on factors like price or distribution.

Of course, price and distribution always have and always will play a critical role in a brands success, but the inherent value of it is elevated hugely when you are in a position that people actively want it and seek it out. Yet, as I wrote a while back, it appears many brand managers are only focused on sales today without any consideration for the sustainable value of the brand tomorrow and if you are constantly harvesting your good will, eventually it will run out.

The big issue is so many marketers still think people are waiting for them to advertise.

That they are sat on the edge of their seat waiting to hear from them and buy from them.

That they have nothing better to do and all that they do do, is based on rational logic.

This approach says far more about the people behind the brands than the people they hope will buy from them and while I appreciate creativity requires a leap of faith – something some marketing folk weirdly feel is an act of corporate irresponsibility – the fact is society respond to [authentic] emotion far more than rational argument, at least in terms of communication, and so if they want their brand to move forward, the only thing that can counter spend, heritage and distribution is to embrace creativity and to do that properly, it means being Lateral, not literal.



Sometimes Quiet Is The Most Powerful …

Well I’m back.

The good news is it’s already the last day of the first full week back at work.

How good is that?

Well it’s probably too good, so let’s end it on a low.

I mean high.

I mean … oh who cares …

One of the things I’ve loved about British comedy is their ability to be utterly poignant.

I’ve written about this before but recently I was reminded of a scene in the last season of Blackadder that really got to me.

It’s from Blackadder Goes Forth … the series about WW1 … and it’s the final scene of the final show, as they are about to climb over the safety of their bunker to face certain death.

It’s not exactly the sort of scene you would expect in a comedy, and it’s not played for laughs, instead it captures the honor and bravery of the men and women who gave their lives for others wellbeing.

But as the scene ends, it crossfades to something else … something that both captures the tragedy of war, the futility of war and the sadness of war. It’s quite an amazing scene – especially given it’s quiet simplicity – and yet it works, which is even more remarkable given it was never in the script.

Originally the final scene was going to show the cast being gunned down and end – as previous seasons had – with their deaths, but a combination of factors meant the footage they took was so bad that it was almost unusable.

Without much time before the show had to be aired, they came up with an idea that didn’t require a rewrite or even new footage and yet it became one of the most famous and powerful conclusions to any show in British history.

As I have said before, sometimes the most powerful moments of creativity are born from adversity but when you know what you want to communicate, the reward can be something quite magical. Different … but maybe even more magical.



That Was The Year That Was …

So this is it, the last post of 2019.

Congratulations, you made it.

Yes, I know it’s early given there is still a couple of weeks to go in the year – including the inaugural R/GA London Planner Pie-Off – but despite what you may all think, I’ve had a big year and quite frankly, I need a rest from here as much as you do.

When I look at 2019, it’s been pretty good.

Of course there have been a few sad events – my dear Aunt Silvana dying and Justin’s wonderful wife, Ella – but overall, things have been positive.

Even the Beijing Hotel incident was amusing.

But most of all, the fact my family are good, healthy and happy makes it a good year, especially when you think of all the changes that have happened in our lives.

For Otis in particular, he has embraced all of it like a champion and watching him have his first day at ‘proper school’ made me feel incredibly emotional and very, very proud.

Quite frankly, the fact we have managed to stay in the same country for over 12 months is something we feel like celebrating – but not as much as my bank managers is doing – and we’re super excited that we have bought our first family home, even if we’ve not yet moved into it and it meant saying goodbye to the home I spent the first 25 years of my life in.

In fact ‘settling in’ has been a great plus of 2019.

We have a house, cars, some friends and finally feel part of a community … I’ve got to be honest, it’s a lovely feeling … and while I know there will be other changes in our life at some point in the future, this is a time I’m eternally grateful for.

There’s other stuff I’m grateful for too …

Without doubt, doing the Warc talk at Cannes with Martin was a wonderful highlight.

We were quite nervous about it but it seemed to have gone down well and I will always remember it and for that, we owe a debt to the wonderful Mercedes – Martin’s fiancé – who told us to get on with doing our school because she was sick to death of hearing us talk about doing more things together.

Love you Mercedes! And Martin. But more Mercedes.

Another thing – which is a bit weird, but seems to have helped some people – is when I wrote my post about being bullied at work. The response was phenomenal which led to Corporate Gaslighting. And while the amount of stories people are sending in – or agreeing to have published – on there has reduced, I know it has helped some people and I am happy I did it and will continue to do it.

Then there’s the fact I’ve been able to spend a bunch of time visiting China.

I love that place. In fact I would regard it as my ‘home’, despite having left there over 2 years ago.

To be able to spend so much time there and be energized by the city while connecting to new – and old – clients, has been magnificent.

Talking of returning to old things, having Otis’ beloved Elodie visit from LA was awesome.

Seeing them fall into their old, caring friendship was wonderful.

As I have said previously, taking him away from her was one of the hardest things about leaving LA – and while I know distance makes things harder, technology has obviously allowed their friendship to continue, which is the best ad for tech I can think of.

While I understand being emotional about Otis and Elodie being back together, I was surprised how emotional I felt when I went back to LA – especially when I visited Otis’ old kindergarten – but I suppose even the shortest time living in a place, leaves its mark on you.

There’s a bunch of other stuff I’m grateful for this year …

Nottingham Forest … for actually making me start to believe again.

I know it will end in tears, but it’s a nice feeling all the same.

There there’s the Brian May Guitar I bought after only 35 years of waiting.

Seeing Rod Stewart and Concorde were nice, as was getting a comment from Queen producer, Mack, and his son on the post I wrote about Freddie Mercury going to a birthday party dressed in the outfit he wore for the ‘It’s A Hard Life’ video.

That the gods of metal, Metallica, decided to extend the project that I’m doing for them for another THREE YEARS was a major plus. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I’m doing for them or if they like what I’m doing for them, but it keeps Otis in free Metallica t-shirts, so it’s worth doing.

I also got a bunch of new people in my life that I did not know previously.

From the brilliant students at the Brixton Finishing School, to the talented – but totally bonkers – creatives of Dayoung, Mike and Sam and not forgetting the wonderful Joel, Erika, Amar, Megan, Ed and Hannah who all stupidly decided to become members of the delightfully talented gang of planners at R/GA.

Before I end this utterly boring – but important [for me] post, I just want to say thank you to 3 more people.

First is the wonderful Paula Bloodworth not only got engaged – to a man from Nottingham no less [hahahaha] but she got asked to move to Portland to run strategy for NIKE globally at Wieden.

She will be brilliant.

More than people know – and they already know she will be brilliant.

I have had – and have – the great privilege of being able to call Paula a friend. I’ve worked with her, argued with her, laughed with her and caused havoc with her and through it all, her talent and humanity has shone through.

Wieden are very lucky to have her. Nike are very lucky to have her. I am very lucky to be able to call her a friend.

Second is the brilliant Severine Bavon.

Sev has been a part of my team from the beginning and this month she leaves us to strike out on her own.

Not as a freelancer … but to start a company that offers a new model for creativity and strategy for agencies and clients.

I’ve said many times that everyone should start their own company at some point and I am incredibly thrilled and proud that she is going to do just that.

Of course I’m going to miss her.

She’s brilliant, tenacious, smart and a million things I am not.

But I believe a bosses job is to help their people go on to bigger and better things. Bigger and better things they may never have imagined. Bigger and better things where they are chosen for who they are not just what they do.

And while I don’t think I did anything specific to help Sev make this decision, I have a vested interest in watching her do her thing and cheering her as she does it.

Which she will.

Sev, thank you for everything … believe in your talent, follow your gut, burn everything down that stands in your way.

So that leaves the final person … and as usual, it’s anyone and everyone who has written or visited this blog.

Ranting. Arguing. Swearing. Complaining. Caring. Debating.

It’s all meant a lot to me and after this length of time of writing basically the same 5 posts over and over again, I don’t take it for granted that you pop by and pass on your wisdom/insults.

I hope you all have a great festive season and may 2020 be epic.

Hopefully not as epic as I hope mine will be, but epic all the same.

I’m off to Australia for some sun and warmth and I’ll see you on Jan 6th cold, miserable and wondering how the holiday season passed by so fast.

Ta-ra.



There’s Models And Then There’s Models …

I consider what I’m about to tell you an early Christmas present.

Not for you, but for me.

You see a few weeks ago, one of the creatives at R/GA was walking down the road when he was stopped in his tracks as he saw this …

Now you may be wondering what is so shocking about a back of a van featuring 2 weird looking men starring into space with a lilting triffid like plant behind them?

Well I agree with you, except those 2 weird looking men starring into space with a triffid like plant behind them are my colleagues – Eduardo and Ed.

As you can tell from the absolutely horrific photo and pose, neither knew this photo was being taken – nor did they give their permission for the image to be taken, used or plastered on the back of a corporate horticultural company van – but I am so glad it happened … and while they are trying to get some sort of response from the company who did this, I keep telling them that on the positive, they can say now say they’re models, which is a damn sight better than saying they work for a creative company in creative company cliche, Shoreditch.

Sometimes, accidents are the best thing that can happen to you.



Premium Disaster …

So before I begin with my post, I have some good news …

This will be the last post for 13 days.

THIRTEEN!

I’m in China all next week and then when I return, I’m having 3 days off – of which one of them is to celebrate Otis’ 5th birthday!

Five. Can’t believe it.

Anyway, I know I’ve just made your impending weekend more enjoyable so have fun and see you when I’m back on the 12th … though there will be a special birthday post the day before for my little one.

So now back to the post …

One of the things I hate is when a client mistakes being premium priced for meaning they have premium customers.

That just isn’t true, even more so now with the access to finance. Seriously, it’s like banks deny the 2008 crash never happened. Mind you, when you’re bailed out by the public, it didn’t.

Anyway …

Being premium priced – especially when the brand is in a mainstream marketing and comparing themself to mainstream competitors – simply means you cost more.

There may be reasons for that cost premium.

Great and valid reasons … but that doesn’t mean the audience who are buying the products are more sophisticated or educated.

If anything, it might be the opposite.

Some may be doing it to overcome their insecurities.

Some may be doing it to satisfy their delusional ego.

Some may be doing it because it represents something they’ve worked – and work – hard for and want to protect or defend or nurture.

But whatever the reason, the vast majority of people who choose these brands are, in the main, everyday people who justify the price premium because they offer something additionally appealing – be it professional, functional or emotional.

There is nothing wrong with this.

There is nothing unappealing about this.

In fact, it is an amazing, given we are talking about people making decisions that cost them more because something is so important to them.

And yet so many marketers want to feel their customers are the wealthiest and most discerning of all, ignoring the fact that if that were true, then their product wouldn’t be premium priced, because for the wealthy, it would be cheap.

I recently had a meeting with someone from a mainstream, mass market brand who tried to convince me their customers were the 1%, despite all evidence proving otherwise. They also tried to claim their marketing was ‘high-brow’ as it meant only the wealthy would truly ‘grt it’.

That’s right, they were suggesting intelligence was linked to wealth.

I know a lot of people may believe that, but even if it were true – which it isn’t – they are mistaking wealth for opportunity … which I appreciate is becoming more and more influenced more by being able to afford a private education given governments are underfunding state options, ignoring the fact an educated population creates greater possibilities for the entire nation.

I digress.

Again.

Sorry, it’s just these are subjects that make me so angry and upset.

Anyway, I cannot tell you how much fun I had putting them right … how much I enjoyed explaining to them that their audience were far more in line with average household income than the 1% … but at the end of the day, I know it was all in vain because every single day, I look at ads and see ‘premium priced’ brands acting like their customer base are better than everyone else, which ultimately demonstrates marketing is less about understanding your audience and more about comforting the boardroom ego.



WTF?

OK … so the posts so far this week have been pretty serious – at least by my standards – so to make sure no one thinks this is going to become the norm [and let’s face it, no one thinks that] I thought I’d end the week on a low.

Near my office is a cafe.

It’s very similar to Jamaica Blue, the cafe I used to go to daily when I was at Wieden+Kennedy … in so much as it sells food that looks OK but basically tastes like boiling hot cardboard and – despite me going in there every day, eating the same thing every day – the staff never remember what I have and have all the warmth of a limp salad.

You may be wondering why I go in there then?

And the answer is because I’m lazy and pathetic.

However there are 2 other reasons … reasons that even the mighty shite that was Jamaica Blue couldn’t muster.

One is that they charge me a different amount for the same thing every single day.

EVERY SINGLE DAY.

It’s not a huge amount different, but it’s different and the only reason I don’t tell them is that I get quite excited wondering what it will be each day.

Not only that, it’s still not as shit as my last week at Wieden, when I went into Jamaica Blue and discovered that they had been overcharging me for my breakfast for 7 years.

SEVEN FUCKING YEARS.

But the other reason is that my local London cafe has food combinations that even the weirdest experience in China couldn’t match. And I’m talking about a country that once put a piece of broccoli on some ice cream as they couldn’t find a leaf of mint.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about this …

Watercress.

WATERCRESS.

Not only is it the most pointless, tasteless accompaniment to the delicious carbs of pasta and cheese … you have to wonder who the hell would want it as a tasteless accompaniment to the delicious carbs of pasta and cheese.

Maybe it’s like my old Diet Tango campaign … created to offset the guilt of your bad food weaknesses … but surely, if that’s the case, they could have offered something more comprehensive.

A whole salad perhaps?

Whatever the reasons, the fact is that regardless what prices they charge … whatever mouth-melting temperature they serve their food at … whatever alternative cardboard simulation they have on display … I’ll still find myself going in there, handing them my money and then hating myself for it while also feeling strangely comforted by it all.

Which means the post I wrote about brand loyalty a while back missed one vital characteristic.

Because while I stated that true brand loyalty is when you have an almost irrational connection to a brand so you do whatever you can to have it or be associated with it [regardless of cost, access or competition] there is an alternative situation when someone feels they are not worthy of having something decent so actively make choices to choose things they don’t really like or value because they feel that is all they deserve.

Let’s call this self spite loyalty … and given my love of Jamaica Blue, Birkenstocks, Queen and countless other rubbish things, I seem to have it in droves.

Happy weekend.