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


Marketing To The Religious Right …

Over the years I’ve written about some strange beliefs some strange people have.

For strange people, read overly religious, bigoted individuals.

First there was the gum that claimed to stop you masturbating.

Then there was the soap that made you a virgin again.

Well if that wasn’t weird enough, I recently saw this …

Now that is some headline.

It’s a headline that commands your attention.

It’s a headline that demands you delve deeper.

And when I did, I discovered that – similar to TBWA’s current approach to disruption – I left feeling more repulsed than attracted to the cause or the topic. Have a read of this …

I have read this a few times.

And even now – as I read it again – I come away shaking my head in utter dismay and disarray.

Because while I appreciate the authors beliefs are her beliefs [even though I find them unbelievably condescending, patronizing and judgmental] I also think she is fundamentally wrong because I’m pretty sure the main thing young men look for in young women is a pulse.

I’m not saying that’s right but neither is this sort of blinkered bollocks.

But here’s the thing, as blinkered bollocks as this may be … there’s a bunch of people who not only believe this, but live by it. And our industry needs to acknowledge this reality, because while we can judge all we like in our personal opinions, we have to keep an open and curious mind to what’s going on in our professional lives, because real life is a damn sight more complex, twisted and confusing than the nicely curated versions of what’s going that we like to present to the World.

If great communication is about resonance rather than relevance, then knowing the weird is way more important than knowing the convention.

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Standards Not Speed …

So while I was at Deutsch, the brilliant WARC – for reasons that I don’t quite understand – asked me to contribute to their paper regarding the future of strategy.

To be honest, these sort of things tend to do my head in because ultimately, when you’re talking about the future – you can say anything you like and no one can say you’re wrong until the future is the present.

However as WARC are ace [present contributor excluded] and a bunch of my much smarter friends were also going to be a part of it … I happily agreed, even though my version of ‘the future of strategy’ has ended up being less about what we can be and more about how we should be looking to the past for how we should be doing it.

You see I worry that, as a discipline, we’re working more down to a speed than up to a quality.

I get it … the competitive landscape means clients and agencies want more stuff in less time for cheaper prices … but it’s a false economy because if our job is about opening possibilities for the clients we partner with, the only way we can truly recognize the creative opportunities for them – whatever they may be – is if we really understand culture.

Not just the big or functional things, but the nuances of attitude and behaviour.

And while we now have many ways of doing this, I don’t think many make up for good, old fashioned, rigor.

Not just in what we do, but who we get to do it.

I’ve seen too many people interpret data without truly understanding data.

I’ve seen too many people think they’re the audience when they’re the opposite of it.

I’ve seen too many people think focus groups reflect reality as opposed to exploring reality.

I’ve seen too many people evaluate culture from outsider positions, rather than insider understanding.

I’ve seen too many people think society doesn’t know what they want when most of the time, they just don’t know how to express it.

Rigor changes everything.

The level of understanding. The ability to see what’s possible. The quality of the creative response.

It’s something I worry we are sacrificing in our bid to keep up with what we think clients want.

And while speed is a competitive advantage, quality builds sustainable change and we should never just focus on the quick fixes because that is ultimately running to stand still.

If our industry is to get back to where we deserve, we have to do what’s right and that’s more than just doing the job, it’s doing the job with knowledgable and dangerous minds. It’s why Martin Weigel and I started our school and why I wrote this as my ‘future of strategy’.

PLANNING IS AN OUTDOOR JOB

So WARC asked me to write a piece on the importance of spending time outside the office.

Not in the quest for a decent lunchtime sandwich, but to better understand what’s going on in people’s lives.

In some ways, it’s kind-of horrifying to be asked to do this because it should be bloody obvious. Even the author John Le Carre, understood it with his famous quote, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the World”.

And yet, it seems fewer and fewer planners spend much time in the real World, preferring to observe it from the comfort of a research report and google search.

Look I get we live in times where we can access incredible amounts of data.

And I appreciate in this competitive World, things need to happen quicker than ever before.

But – and it’s a big but – spending time outside the bubble of adland is also a necessity.

Not just for planners … but for the clients you’re working with and the audience you’re unleashing your creativity on.

When I first joined Deutsch, I wanted to understand what the hell was going on with American youth so I sent 3 of my colleagues – Maya, Armando and Leigh [along with Sarah, a photographer and co-supported back at HQ by the wonderful Kelsey] backpacking across the US to spend about a month in some of America’s most opposite cities.

Specifically, the richest/poorest … fastest growing/shrinking … most/least diverse.

The only stipulation I gave them was a bit of advice my Mum once gave me, ‘be interested in what others are interested in’.

And so off they went.

A month later and they were back with experiences that had challenged them on deeply personal levels. Stuff that was incredibly uncomfortable to witness and experience.

But they also came back with stories that changed the way they looked at what was going on in America. Stories that added colour and context to how people live… stories that filled the gaps between data and research reports … stories that made them laugh, cry, despair and feel excited with what’s going on in the shadows of society.

No nice hotel rooms. No fancy travel. Just a month listening and learning straight from the mouths, lives and streets of youth. No wonder we called it America in The Raw.

We are all better for the experience.

Better planners, better department, better agency.

Better at helping our clients understand their audiences more intimately.

Better at identifying creative opportunities that would otherwise not reveal themselves.

Better at making work that stops telling people what to think and starts resonating with how people are thinking.

Of course, nothing in this approach is new.

Nor is necessary to go to such extremes to get cultural understanding and nuance.

But given how few planners seem to get the time – or have the inclination to get out into the real World – I hope this serves as a gentle reminder that planning is an outside job, because in a World while clients want agencies to help them stand out from the competition, the real opportunity is to help brands truly resonate with their audience… and as great as sitting in a nice office can be, you’ll never achieve that – or the creativity that can come from it – if you’re sat behind a desk.

You may wonder how you get your agency or client to pay for you to do this?

Well – apart from the fact it doesn’t cost anywhere near what they may think – you just need to point out the commercial value of having a level of intimacy with culture that few others will ever have. Plus there’s the fact this understanding leads to more interesting creativity with more powerful results.

But as I said, it doesn’t have to be this huge, formal thing, it should just be a natural part of how you do your job which is why if you’re a planning head, you should push your team to get out the door and if you’re a junior planner, you should push your boss to let you out the door.

It will change your life. And career.



Welcome To Inauthenticity …

I’ve written about Gary Vee before.

And while I admire his ability to promote himself – and don’t deny his considerable entrepreneurial spirit – I feel he is entering that dangerous area where he’s starting to blindly believe his own voice, without any sense of objectivity.

Now there’s many successful people who are like that, but given he preaches on a platform of self awareness, I find this new chapter of his ego particularly unpleasant to witness.

What has raised my ire?

This …

Yep, he has launched his own range of sneakers.

Sneakers!

What the fuck?

Apart from maybe watching sport or having once ridden a skateboard, what credibility has he got to do that?

I could maybe accept it he had got some fantastic – and credible – people to help create them, but that is never mentioned at all.

Of course not, because even if that is the case, I doubt his ego would allow it.

And maybe that’s why he wants people in marketing and entrepreneurship to support him rather than athletes … despite the fact they’re made to look like the bastard love-child of Adidas and K-Swiss.

That’s right, it’s not enough for Mr Vaynerchuk to create a pair of ‘sneakers’ that’s been influenced/plagarised by one credible sports brand, he wants to double influence/plagarise … which kind of sums him up through and through.

Seriously, anyone who buys a pair of these is basically anti-sport and pro-asshole.



When Marketing Goes Mad …

I found this photo in my old files.

It’s about 12+ years old.

But based on what the sticker says, it shouldn’t matter should it?

Except it does, because it’s bollocks, especially where technology is concerned even though Moore’s Law is coming to an end.

While I appreciate the World moves so fast that many people just want to have something that they can rely on forever, any brand that promises lifelong relevance is either utterly delusional or a bigger conman than Bernie Madoff.

When will brands learn great marketing isn’t about fabrication but authenticity,



Devil In The Details …

I appreciate me – and this blog – being back, constitutes the worst Monday ever, but deal with it.

Hong Kong was as it always is … busy, noisy, energetic, proud, flamboyant.

Fuck I miss Asia.

Well, I miss lots about Asia, but one of the things I don’t is the bullshit bank advertising.

Where every company tries to convey how prestigious they are and – as a byproduct – how aspirational their customers are, even though what they show is the sort of tacky success you tend to see in a z-grade reality show contestants house.

Case in point this stuff from UOB Bank.

Introducing Singapore’s first diamond embellished, metal card.

No, seriously.

What a load of bollocks.

But what does ‘diamond embellished’ even mean?

Is it that minute square in the card … to the right of the chip?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha, I think it is, because nothing says success like having a credit card with some cheap ass specks of diamond that even Ratners jewelers would turn their noses up at.

But it gets better …

By ‘better’, I obviously mean worse.

Because not only have they launched a credit card for the most insanely idiotic and egotistical customer on the planet – or at least Singapore – they’ve shown their true tacky colours by making one of the worst copy mistakes I’ve seen in ages to accompany the cards launch.

“For those who value exclusivity in its most extinguished form”.

Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Dickheads.

I love it, because nothing says class and sophistication like a lack of basic language skills.

Now while I’d love to extinguish the people who came up with this card and who want this card, I think leaving things exactly as they are is a much better solution … because not only does it make the people at the bank look the sad, shallow, idiotic wankers they are, it also ensures anyone who pulls this card out looks the sort of pathetic, egotistical, insecure and unsophisticated asshole they truly are.

That’s what I call a WIN:WIN in my book.

I will always love and miss Asia with all my heart, but I will always hate the lazy, contrived, aspirational bullshit that the marketing departments of so many companies continue to peddle.



Money Doesn’t Buy You Class …

For all the shit I get about my fashion, music and gadget tastes, at least it comes from a place of actually liking and valuing the stuff.

The reason I say this is that a while back, I wrote a bunch of posts about vulgar displays of wealth.

I talked about a Merc that had been covered in diamonds.

And a gated community that wouldn’t let anyone – even family members – enter without a prior appointment.

And a TV that cost over US$130,000.

In all cases, it says more about the ego/stupidity of the creator than any positive influence they so desperately seek from those around them.

[That’s why from an ad perspective, I still think the Bentley approach beat the ‘classic’ David Ogilvy Rolls Royce approach, despite the ridiculously good headline]

But as much as we know there’s far worse than the things I highlighted above, I recently was sent a picture of possibly the most vulgar display or wealth – and taste – I’ve ever seen.

Even worse than the choices of the entire Kardashian family put together.

This …

Yes, it’s a Lamborghini.

With a huge, unsubtle Supreme sticker on the door.

Topped off with – in what is an act of genius or a mental health issue – a Peppa Pig head.

WHAT?

WHY?

Isn’t the Lamborghini enough?

Has owning a supercar become so mainstream that you have to put the logo of a skateboard brand on it to make it look cool?

Even if that is the case – and Supreme are an amazing case study for both the new rules of luxury and fan management [as covered in our America In The Raw book/presentation] – what the hell does Peppa Pig add?

Is it because it shows you have so much money you literally don’t give a shit what people think about you?

Is it because it lets you show you have so much cash you can piss on the sort of thing most people could only dream of owning by covering it in the sort of thing they don’t want to own.

Or is it because Peppa Pig is the biggest diva of all of them?

Whatever the reason, the owner deserves either the gold medal for money madness or a chair in the face … though to be honest, given they make me almost look financially responsible, maybe I should be shaking them by the hand,



Don’t Fall In Love With Your Own Voice …

So I know that the first reaction most people will have reading the title of this post is, “Pot. Kettle. Black.”

And I get it, I can talk. A lot.

But the thing is, in actual client meetings, I’m much more surgical.

There’s a couple of reasons for this.

The first is I am genuinely interested to hear what others in the room think.

The second is it allows me the time to truly consider my point of view in consideration of all we’ve heard.

And thirdly, I can ensure my POV has the opportunity to be shaped by others perspectives that I may not have considered.

However there are 2 occasions where I don’t follow these rules.

The first is when the room requires some sort of ignition to commence debate.

I know we live in times where everyone seems to have a point of view on everything, but there are occasions when silence happens and when it does, my role is to kick things off so a topic finds its natural rhythm and momentum with the rest of the attendees.

The other time I enter the fray earlier is when we have the self-appointed expert.

Now as I’ve said many times, I’m a huge fan of ‘intelligent naivety’ … people who experience/situation affords them a unique perspective on a subject matter, despite not being employed or trained in it.

For example, years ago when I was working with Dreamworks to define what ‘entertainment’ was, one of the people we invited who had a fascinating perspective, was a mother of 8 kids who regarded anything that kept her kids quiet and still for 15 minutes was the pinnacle of entertainment.

But I’m not talking about these folk.

The beauty of them is they tend to speak very much from their personal perspective, situation and experience and never try to claim their opinion is valid for a different set of circumstances.

I’m talking about the people who don’t understand that their perspective is simply their perspective rather than something that is universal and can be transported to others.

The millionaires who talk about what it’s like to be a kid in a low income home, based on what their kid likes.

The ad folk who talk about what life is like in the suburbs because they read an article about it in The Guardian.

The white guys who talk about understanding what it’s like to be an African American because they aren’t racists.

The men who tell women what they want because “my Mum was one”.

The businessmen who talk about what an ad should look like because they know business.

And while those people absolutely have a right to an opinion, they need to be reminded it’s just that – an opinion, not a fact – because if you let them talk incessantly, they don’t just have the ability to derail a meeting, they have the ability to get otherwise sane people to agree to decisions that are utterly car-crash. Remember Pepsi?