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


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.



Argos Is Christmas …

When I was younger, I discovered the ‘Argos’ catalogue.

It was at my Grandparents house and it was a bloody revelation.

For those who don’t know what Argos is, imagine Amazon.com before Amazon.

A place where you can buy a huge array of products, all of which were featured in an annual catalogue which you could take home and peruse at your leisure.

[It’s also famous for little pens – now pencils – that you would have to use to fill in the forms to get the products when you went into the store. Pens/pencils that I would say everyone in England has ended up keeping at some point in their lives]

But for me, it only had 2 uses …

1. To get a glimpse at the future of technology.

2. To choose what I really, really wanted for my birthday/christmas.

Every time I visited my grandparents, I would run to where they kept the Argos catalogue and spend hours going through all the pages, gazing lovingly at digital watches, calculators, the emergence of hand held ‘electronic’ games and – eventually – computers.

Every year the catalogue came out, I would be see the advances of tech in front of my eyes.

But more than that, for the right money – I could have it.

Of course I – nor my parents – had the right money except maybe at Christmas, but a boy could dream … and boy did I.

I still remember the excitement the first time I saw Astro Wars … a handheld version of the video game Galaxian

It was like the impossible dream.

A full sized video game shrunk into a small box.

What sort of weird wizardry was this???

I still remember how a bunch of us at school saw it at the same time and we all knew it was the ‘must have’ present for the year.

I was incredibly lucky to get it that year … and while it was a bit crap, I still utterly loved it because to me, that was cutting edge tech.

[As an aside, I just discovered it cost £28 in 1980 – the equivalent of £100 today, so I am utterly gobsmacked I got it given my parents would have had to have saved up for months to afford that. So thank you Mum and Dad, I never realized it was that pricey]

Anyway, the reason I say all this is that Argos have recently digitized all their old catalogues.

And while you may ask yourself, “why?” and “why would anyone care?” you’d be wrong … because if you’re a person of a certain age, the Argos catalogue was not a book of products available for purchase, it was a place of imagination and possibilities and while the stuff inside the late 70’s/early 80’s catalogues are full of the sort of tat even a ‘Everything for £1’ store, would turn their noses up at, looking through them all again, I can honestly say it ignited the excitement I had back then.

Truly.

And yes, that means I really have spent hours trawling through them all.

Again.

And what’s more, I don’t care how sad that makes me.

It was a magical journey down nostalgia lane.

More specifically, nostalgia that was specific to my life, not just everyone else’s.

America may have had Disneyland.

But us kids in Britain had the Argos catalogue.

You can explore the history of 40+ English imaginations, here and you can see why I think the Argos Christmas campaign – which links to the nostalgia theme of the old catalogues – is already the winner of 2019, below.



Strategy Is A Direction, Not A Shopping List …

I am getting fed up of hearing strategy talked about in terms of a process.

Of course, there is one, but it seems people seem to value the process more than what it is supposed to deliver.

Which is clarity and direction.

Something that will change the behaviour of the brand/business from the very next day.

Something that will help create a clear position in culture, not just in the category.

Something that will contribute value, loyalty and appeal to the audience that will move them forward.

Something that is focused on the long-term, not just the next quarter.

That’s it.

That’s all strategy is.

And yet, I am meeting so many people who are getting lost in the process or worse, getting lost in the word ‘strategy’ … saying nothing can be done without it being deeply involved at every step – and I mean ‘every’ step – of the process.

Now don’t get me wrong, thinking and expertise is important – but to imply that only someone with the word ‘strategy’ in their title can do it, is wrong.

Actually, it’s insulting … especially when you consider that so much of the magic happens when you invite people who see the World differently to the party.

But it’s happening.

I’m seeing it everywhere.

And what it’s doing is creating so many strands to the strategy discipline, they’re getting in the way of each other.

That might be good for the agency fee, but not great for the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying these strands of strategy don’t have value – of course they do – but in many areas, it’s not actually strategy … it’s not delivering on any of the 4 areas listed above … it’s simply helping push along the process of the output to get to a [allegedly] more effective result.

In other words, it’s short-term tuning rather than long term creating.

Adding obstacles rather than taking them away.

Or said more cynically, it’s more tactics than strategy.

Doesn’t have to be.

Not everyone is doing that.

Not everyone thinks like that.

But my god, it seems there is a lot of it about … and when you look at the amount of work that is being produced because of it, you have to admit that while there’s a lot of optimization, there’s not a lot of distinctive, magnetic energy.



When Media And Messaging Go Stupid …

So I’m away tomorrow so this is the last post of the week.

I know … what an early gift eh?

Well let’s see if you still feel that way after you’ve read it.

So recently – in the Fulham Broadway tube station – I saw this …

I know, it’s an innocuous little ad.

Harmless even.

What on earth could I find wrong with it?

Well a lot really,

Let’s start with this ad being in Fulham Broadway Tube Station.

I don’t know if any of you have see that station, but it’s this:

Yes … it’s on a street.

A busy street.

A busy street with no waterway conveniently located.

At least no waterway located within a few minutes walk so you could change your choice of transportation.

Why?

Why spend money on that?

Yeah ,., I know someone will say it’s because passengers from Fulham may catch another tube in a place where a ‘Thames Clipper’ is possible, but come on, if that’s the case do it in the fucking station where that is likely to happen.

But then there’s the actual ad.

I absolutely loathe ‘best kept secret’ type messaging.

Apart from the fact it is ensuring all the customers of Thames Clipper who may actually think it is the best kept secret are now about to be inundated by new passengers stealing their seat and general calmness of commute [because yes, advertising does work] this doesn’t tell you in any way WHY it’s the best kept secret?

Is it the tranquility of the trip?

The speed of the journey?

The price? [Let me tell you, it’s definitely NOT the price]

The timetable?

The locations you can get to?

The views?

The history of the buildings on the embankment?

The seats?

TELL ME, JUST WHY THE HELL IS IT LONDON’S BEST KEPT SECRET?

There are so so many different ways they could have handled this campaign … beautiful, inventive, charismatic ways … ways that could have made someone think twice about the darkness of the tube or the traffic jamming experience of the bus … ways that would have given the Thames Clipper a personality that out charmed even TFL … but no, instead they went with a poster of an old, white male who looks like he works in the city using a quote that says absolutely nothing about the experience in places where you are literally miles from being able to engage with it even if you wanted to.

Thank God I’m not here tomorrow, because I need a lie down.



Independence Vs Ownership Explained …

David Lee Roth once stated “whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness, didn’t know where to shop”.

I get it … money is epic and makes life easier and – superficially – happier.

But what he didn’t say is that “there’s no amount of money that makes being miserable, worthwhile”.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t know it.

Maybe it’s because he didn’t want to admit it.

But given how he has talked about his toxic time in Van Halen, I am pretty sure he’d agree now … because while there are many benefits to independence [and ownership for that matter, but that’s a post for another day], the one that is the most valuable personally, professionally, creatively, commercially and collaboratively is the ability to be honest with your colleagues and clients.

Utterly honest.

It might not always be the most comfortable meeting – especially if you’ve been an asshole and tried to fuck them over and then beg forgiveness later – but it will always get to a stronger outcome.

After all, they say ‘honesty is the best policy’ for a reason.

Happy weekend.



Anything Is Easy If You Don’t Want It To Last

I am unashamedly a believer in brand.

I know there is a huge amount of talk about its commercial value, but – like the talk about whether we need ‘insights’ – there is plenty of evidence to suggest it continues to drive companies growth and revenue.

And while there are accademics, like Byron Sharp, who have proven people are far less loyal than they claim, the fact remains that loyalty – whether emotional or transactional – has significant value in building sustainable success for a brand.

But here’s the thing many brand owners forget.

To stand any chance of loyalty from your audience you need to be loyal to them.

Continuously.

It’s not good enough to simply offer discounts and early access.

Sure, that can help, but audiences know exactly why you’re doing it.

Real loyalty – by which I mean there is an almost irrational connection to a brand – is born from brands acting in ways that prove why people should care and keep believing in you.

Behaviour not just words.

Progress over the comfort of repetition.

Authenticity not just chasing popularity.

Telling beautiful stories not just spouting facts or contrived ‘ads’.

As I said, there are some marketers who say none of this matters in a world where digital enables them to have ‘direct to consumer’ relationships at a fraction of the cost of brand building.

I get it. It’s quick and it can be powerful which explains why every day there seems to be a new company claiming it will disrupt the category.

But where they go wrong is not realising disruption without distinction [ie: brand building] doesn’t create long term sustainable value, it just creates new commoditization.

In such an extremely competitive, highly-pressured, fast moving world, I would argue that brand has never been so important to stand a chance of having a stronger future.

And while this might all sound hypocritical given I work for a company who is trying to invent the future of marketing – which includes building new ways to have D2C relationships for clients, finding new ways to interact with subcultures through digital and passionately believes in disrupting categories – the fact is we never do this without an obsessive focus on the authenticity of the brand and how we can help it create the future culture wants to follow rather than just exploiting the offers of the present.

For me, the real issue is we are seeing is companies wanting all the good bits of brand loyalty without much of the effort, for which I leave them with this story I heard when living in China.

The successful farmer plants their seeds and nurtures them in the knowledge that when it comes time to harvest, their crop is bigger and healthier. It takes time, but it is always worth it.



It’s Time To Say Goodbye …

So the time has come to close the door on the house I grew up in for one final time.

I’ve written the reasons for why this is happening in the past – as I have the reasons why the house was, and always will be, be so important to me – but it is the beginning of a new chapter for my family and my Mum and Dad would be so happy.

Anyway, we went to visit her one final time.

While the garden remained pretty much as my parents left it – thanks to us having a gardener visit every fortnight for the past 4 years [and we’ve taken a couple of things from there to plant in our new home so we will forever be connected] – going into the actual house was a very different feeling.

Part of it was because there was nothing in it.

No furniture.

No people.

No noise.

And so the overall effect was the house felt smaller … more fragile … and yet, as I walked through each room, there were so many emotions going through me.

As I watched my son run through the place holding his toys, I could see me – probably at his age – doing the same.

I saw where my Raleigh Grifter was waiting for me in 1989, on Christmas day.

I could see where my Dad – and then Mum – would sit in the lounge, on their rocking chair.

I could hear my Dad shouting ‘it’s ready’ from the kitchen our Saturday Beefburger was ready for scoffing down.

I could see my old clock radio when I was in the ‘small bedroom’ and my big stereo when I got ‘upgraded’ to the bigger room.

I could see the bed Mum and Dad slept in … where I would sit by them and chat throughout my time in the house.

Mum and Dad’s bedroom was especially poignant to me.

Regardless what happens in the future, it will always be ‘their room’ as they used for the entire time they were alive [and I was around].

Below is a photo of their empty bedroom that I took.

I’ve superimposed another photo of Otis that I took on the day after Mum died.

He’d just flown with his Mum overnight from Shanghai and he’s lying on the side Mum used to sleep on, looking at a painting of a mother and her child that hung above her bed.

He never got to meet her in person – he was supposed to a couple of weeks later when she recovered from her operation.

Alas it didn’t work out that way which is why this photo is so precious to me and why I feel, in a weird way, they did get to be together – hugging each other tight – if only for a second.

Another thing that got me, was when I went to the garage.

When we were having the house refurbished because we wanted to help a family live in a good area, we wrote a message on the wall about how much that house meant to us.

Well, when we checked at the weekend, we saw the tenants had left their own note and I have to say – it got to me because while my life is moving on, it was built in those 4 walls and I hope it does the same for anyone and everyone who lives there.

Thank you Mum.

Thank you Dad.

Thank you house … you will always be treasured.