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


Stop Thinking Like Engineers …

This is a topic that I’ve been bothered by for a very long time.

I touched on it last week in the post about my recent webinar for WARC.

It also formed part of the presentation I did with the amazing Martin Weigel at Cannes in 2019 … also for WARC.

Frankly, I’m seeing far too much work that is literal.

Literal in the problem.
Literal in the strategy.
Literal in the execution.

It’s like all the work is repackaging the client brief and just adding some fancy words, a bit of a gloss and that’s it.

No real understanding of the culture around the category.
No real distinctive expression of the brand behind the work.
No real lateral leaps in the creativity to make people give a shit.

It’s dot-to-dot communication based on lowest common denominator logic … and while I get it will pass research processes and client stakeholders without much pushback … what’s it actually doing for anyone?

Few will remember it.
Even fewer will respond to it.
And no one feels good at the end of it.

Don’t get me wrong, we have to make work that makes a difference for our clients.

I get that.

But that means finding out the real problem we need to solve rather than the solution we want to sell. Means finding out what how the subculture really uses the category in their life versus how the client would like them to use it. Means allowing the creatives to solve the problem we’ve identified rather than dictating the answer. Means being resonant, not relevant. Means having a point of view. Means dreaming of what it could be rather than what it already is. And – most of all – means letting people feel rather than just be told.

It’s why you remember Dancing Pony over that Vodafone spot.

Because while I’m sure both overcame all manner of research obstacles and client stakeholders requirements, there is one thing one campaign remembered, and it’s what Martin once said:

“You can be as relevant as hell and still be boring as fuck”.



Stop Thinking Your Audience Is Stupid And Start Realising They Just Don’t Care …

So recently I saw the above scoreline posted by a sports platform.

8-0 is a pretty emphatic win.

But then I saw the sports platform in question had stated FCB had won.

No shit sherlock, even the amazing Stevie Wonder could see that!

And it’s this sort of state-the-obvious statement that reveals so much about the state of research, clients and agencies.

Because somewhere along the line, a bad research company has told a bad client that they need to order their poor agency to put a state-the-obvious fact within their carefully crafted piece of communication because there’s a 0.000001% chance the message they want to convey is not quite clear enough.

That, or because the client wants to ‘own’ a particular word in their category – and it will be evaluated by post campaign research – they want to make sure they say it as many times as possible to increase the odds … regardless of the fact that in the real world. no one ever uses the words ‘vitality’ or ‘efficacy’.

ARGHHHHHH!

Years ago I watched a documentary called Z-Channel about the early days of cable television.

One of the networks, Z-Channel, was very avant-garde … playing programs featuring all manner of obscure content.

When asked why, they said this:

“Too many play to the lowest common denominator. We want to play to the highest”.

If only more research, clients and agencies remembered that, then maybe we would make more work that respected the audience and aimed to enthral, inform and entertain them rather than bore them into submission via work that treats them like village idiots.



There’s Pretentious. And Then There’s This …

Watch this.

Watch it all the way through.

And if you can genuinely guess who it’s for before the end – or even which category – then you are either an absolutely twisted bastard or … nope, just a twisted bastard.

Did you?

If you didn’t, go back and do it.

EVERY SECOND OF IT.

Seriously, what the fucking fuck eh?

I mean, maybe it could be a contrived bank ad.

Or some bullshit life insurance company.

But Subway.

SUBWAY!!!???

That said, I do admire how they identified and expressed so many of the little things young boys do as they grow up.

Not necessarily the perv stuff, but definitely the hygienically questionable.

Which is appropriate, given this 2016 piece from Brazil, is definitely questionable.

I can’t help but feel the people behind this, should have studied this chart before they went off and made this piece of insanity.

Seriously, this is the sort of stuff that gives advertising people a bad name.

That we’re out of touch and out of our minds.

And not in a good way.

Thank god we have Uncommon’s brilliant B&Q work to remind people we can be good. We can be really, really good.

Or how people of a certain age react to having a £1 Viennetta after 25 years.

But my god, this Subway ‘thing’ is bad.

Like destroy-the-industry bad.

And while I appreciate different cultures have different ways of communicating. And brands can be seen very differently by different cultures … this is Subway.

The 6″/Foot long sandwich makers.

There’s no place in the World where they are considered servants to humanities quest for progress and understanding. Though I must admit I would love to shake the hand of whoever sold this Subway idea to the client – as well as the client who approved it.

Not because I want to congratulate them on pulling off something so stupid, but because I want to wish them luck trying to get their next job.



A Dictatorship Is Not A Community …

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had 2 very unpleasant interactions with LinkedIn.

The first was when I discovered my personal account had been blocked by them.

No warning.
No reason.
Just blocked.

I had to look on Google to find out how I could get in contact with them, and after discovering that I had to submit proof of my ID – they got back to me to say that someone had found a post I’d written offensive due to it’s adult content … and as they felt it contravened some LinkedIn policy I’d never heard of, they needed me to apologise to them before they would reinstate me.

Now I appreciate the image I chose was provocative, however it was not just for shock value … it was part of a presentation/post I was giving about the terrible, sexist, bullying behaviour men subject women to in the work place every single day – so I found it remarkable they ignored the context – which was clear – and just banned me and demanded an apology.

I told them I refused to apologise because it’s a genuine presentation about a genuine issue … however, as they appeared to be OK with that sort of behaviour, I would report them to the workplace commission for equal rights as well as the #MeToo organisation.

Unsuprisingly they reinstated my account saying ‘they appreciate I wasn’t trying to be offensive’, despite having previously said they agreed with whoever complained about my post and – contrary to most legal protocols – regarded me guilty, even though they had not sought any information or context about the post from the person being accused.

But pathetic and annoying but that was nothing compared to what was yet to come.

So a week later – which seems a very strange coincidence – the Corporate Gaslighting LinkedIn account was banned.

Again no warning. No explanation. Just banned.

So I went through the same thing and then they got back to me with this …

Yep, the issue is simply the account is under Corporate Gaslighting’s name rather than my own – despite all contact details are.

But here’s where it gets even more annoying.

“Due to the nature of this account, we won’t be able to remove the restriction and/or merge this account with another one.”

That’s right.

It’s blocked. Forever.

Not because they couldn’t link it to my account but because they didn’t want to. Because of the ‘nature’ of the account.

And this is where I’m confused because surely the nature of the account is perfect for LinkedIn?

In fact, when I read the LinkedIn ‘purpose’, which states:

‘Connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful’

… then I can’t think of a more perfect partner for LinkedIn.

But no. They don’t want it.

It’s fine to have shady recruiters taking money from their clients to spam anyone they can get to. It’s fine to have men use their site to hit on women. It’s fine to pretend you’re a z-grade shrink with a guaranteed answer to everything you could ever wish for. It’s fine to allow ‘members’ to spout blatant lies about their achievements or sales tools. It’s fine to have people use the platform to talk about the conformity of professional appearance … but it’s not OK to have someone who is dedicated to helping professionals being systematically undermined by bad leaders, because the way I filled in their form is a violation of the LinkedIn User Agreement and Professional Community Policies.

I’ll tell you what’s a violation – LinkedIn’s claims they are a community. That they want to help people succeed. That they want to connect people together.

LinkedIn wants everyone to follow their orders. What they have decided is right. What works in their best interests. And if for some reason that doesn’t happen, then they let their god complex run riot – before hiding behind anonymous people and policies that don’t allow for context or conversation … just a brazen and contrived ‘computer says no’ guilty verdict, with all the humanity and consideration of an ATM machine.

Dear LinkedIn. You are in danger of becoming the absolute opposite of what you claim to be about, because if you were, you’d have created your own version of Corporate Gaslighting, but no, you’d rather just ban it. But then, when you’re paying your CEO almost $14,000,000 per year, I appreciate the last thing you’d ever want to do is to take any sort of stand against any sort of professional misconduct, for fear of alienating the companies who allow your CEO to be paid such an obscene amount.

Linkedin has incredible potential to be a real force for good.

Not just for corporations, but employees too.

It could influence real, positive change.
It could drive shifts in values, attitudes and rewards.
It could challenge the rules of what ‘professionalism’ supposedly means and looks like in the modern age.
It could help shape the future of work in ways that benefit all.

And while some could say they are doing this in their own way, the past few weeks have suggested to me their focus is on keeping the C-Suite happy rather than helping people create a new version of the C-Suite.

It’s a shame, because the whole industry is begging for some sort of major change but instead, they not only prefer to keep things exactly the same … they are using their power to ensure it does.

If you – or someone you know – are having your confidence systematically undermined, by colleagues … you are not alone. There is help out there. Not at Linkedin.com but at TheyTriedToKillMeButI.Live



The Fine Line Between Victory And Vulgarity …

Let me start by saying I have a lot of respect for Charles and Maurice Saatchi.

What they did … the legacy they created … is, even now, amazing.

Their agency was responsible for so many of the ads that went on to define my childhood – both in good and bad ways – however, as I got older and entered the industry, I started to understand just how audacious they were in terms of what they thought the ad industry could be. And do.

Back then, their mantra was ‘Nothing Is Impossible’.

And they certainly lived up to it.

But while this led to some truly incredible work, it also led to the brothers ultimate downfall when they tried – amazingly and brilliantly – to buy Midland Bank.

There have been many reasons written about why their plan didn’t work out … and what happened subsequently … but I have to say, I’d imagine working for them at the time – with their sheer confidence, swagger and ambition – would have felt pretty intoxicating.

However this post isn’t about that, it’s about what happens when, in your quest to keep moving forward, you lose your values or self awareness and end up being a caricature of what you once were.

I’ve seen it happen.

I once worked with an advertising great who ended up believing everything they did was great, simply because they did it.

It didn’t take long before they were phoning in their work.

Not caring about what was going on around them.

Saying whatever they wanted because they believed whatever they said was wanted.

It was pretty tragic and I remember a very horrible conversation between us, where I said he had become the beast he had been obsessed with slaying.

It didn’t go well for me.

And, within a year, it didn’t go well for him … when his deluded arrogance took a step too far and his actions and behaviors couldn’t be ignored any longer.

Nowadays I occasionally see him spouting racist shit about immigration and foreign workers, which I find even more shocking given he spent so many years living across the World, not to mention – if rumours are to be believed – doing unspeakable things with certain people when he was in Asia.

But this isn’t a post about an old, short-lived, delusional colleague – nor it is to suggest the Saatchi brothers are anything like my old, delusional colleague … however this is about the moment [at least for me] when the Saatchi brothers revealed they may have not grown with the times, but were lost in old times.

This.

It was early Jan, 1990.

Saatchi was – I believe – the biggest agency in the World.

And the World was changing.

The party of the 80’s was over and everyone was trying to work out what the next decade had in store. One thing that had already started to happen was the fall of communism.

Protests had been happening throughout 1989 and they continued to gain momentum when, in November of that year, The Berlin Wall – a symbol of Communist/Western ideals – fell.

And it was on that wall Saatchi had placed that ad.

Not on the Western side, but the Eastern.

It wasn’t up for long, but they paid to have it there.

A way of showing their mantra.

An act of deliberate provocation for shock value.

An attempt to keep the spirit of 80’s excess alive.

A claim it was welcoming East German’s to independence and choice.

But the problem was, it wasn’t the 80’s anymore and so it came off as an act of commercial vulgarity. An act of cynical shamelessness to try and capture the headlines. And suddenly, the agency that could do no wrong suddenly went from being audacious to trying too hard.

Or said another way, Saatchi’s were trying to hold on to the past rather than lead the future.

Can you imagine an agency doing that now?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still plenty of them out there that have a complete lack of self awareness … not to mention another bunch whose entire business model appears to be ‘doing things first’ … regardless of its value to culture, creativity or commerce … however I doubt even those guys would think doing this would be a good idea today.

Or at least I hope not.

And that’s why I believe a positioning is not as good as a point of view.

Because positioning’s are set in stone.

They don’t move with the times … they stand firm, shouting their same tune regardless of what is going on. But a point of view is different. There’s flex in that. It lets you express what you believe, but how you express it is shaped by what is going on around it.

There’s longevity in a point of view.

There’s resonance in a point of view.

There’s less need to shock, because you always speak what others are trying to say.

Saatchi’s continue to do great work.

Saatchi’s continues to be filled with great people.

But I’ll always wonder what they could have been if they’d not crossed the line from audacious to caricature.

You can read the story of the Berlin Wall ad, here.