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


Timing Is Everything …

A while back, I wrote about WeWork.

Or more specifically, how the Messiah complex of one of the founders led to him ultimately screwing the company up with an ill-advised planned IPO.

Of course, as is the way with corporate-insanity – especially when you label your company a ‘tech’ company, even if it isn’t – he walked away for failure with a huge pay-cheque, which means being a start-up founder is even more lucrative after the job than it is for a football manager, which blows my mind.

[Though apparently it was not enough, because one of the founders, Adam Neumann, is suing Softbank for ‘abuse of power’ … when in reality, the only case they really have is Softbank giving them so much cash and praise, it led to Adam gaining a Messiah-complex]

Full disclosure, I did some work for WeWork when they first started.

I met Miguel – one of the ‘normal’ founders – and found him, and his ideas for the company both interesting and exciting.

And for a while it was.

They were tapping into a need that wasn’t being met by traditional office lease companies.

They invested in building a WeWork community because they recognised the commercial attraction of it.

They identified ways to profit from giving ‘start ups’ and ‘independent workers’ the sorts of benefits only people in more traditional employment enjoyed.
But then three things happened:

+ They realised the flaw in their business model because they signed long term property leases but had short term tenants.

+ To get long term tenants, they had to appeal to corporates who could screw them down on price, adding further pressure to their position.

+ To counter corporate price negotiation, they re-positioned themselves as ‘masters of igniting corporate culture and efficiency’ – which, at best, was marginally true and at worst, was plainly rubbish … because ultimately they were a contemporary office space leasing company.

Sure they offered more than some of their competitors.

Sure they were incorporating logistics into their offering.

But fundamentally, they sold space in buildings for others to work in.

I’m not knocking that, there’s a lot of very successful businesses who do it.

And I genuinely think the original WeWork idea was a good one – albeit with commercial flaws – but when ego, ambition and cash-flow pressure come together, they can make a pretty deadly combination, which the World – and employees of WeWork – discovered when the IPO forced them to open their books to the World.

However, I can’t help but think if Adam Neumann had waited just 6 months longer before announcing the IPO, he may have discovered WeWork was so in demand by companies wanting to reimagine their office approach post COVID-19, that investors may have overlooked all of his blatant exploitation and delusion.

I’m so glad he didn’t.



When Marketing Goes Bonkers …

So at the time of writing this post, we are all still in quarantine at home.

That means we are all still on endless zoom calls – where the only ‘entertainment’ we get is choosing some ‘crazy’ background, which – if I’m being honest – got old within 5 minutes of it happening so is now at near death levels of annoying.

But don’t worry, I’ve found something that is even worse.

This …

Yep, it’s Banana Republic rebranding their scarves as ‘video chat accessories’.

Seriously, what the fuck!?

What next, cups being sold as ‘video chat objects d’art’?

Or maybe pens being rebranded as ‘video chat conversation markers’?

Or even posters being pushed as ‘video chat mood enhancers’?

ARGHHHHHHHH!

The worst thing is I can imagine a planner coming up with something like this.

You know the sort, the ones who sell toothpaste as ‘smile architects’ or some other bollocks.

Look, I get in these tough times, they want to exploit any opportunity to drive some revenue … but it’s just shit isn’t it?

It’s also bollocks.

Because if they were going to sell any video chat accessories, surely they would be better off selling trousers or skirts because if anyone is like me, they’ve been wearing nothing but shorts for the last 6 weeks.

Banana Republic. You slipped on your own banana skin with this one.



Unperfectly Perfect …

So last week, the disgustingly talented Nils Leonard posted this on his instagram.

I have to say, I love it.

Sure, it’s for Mothers Day that affords more creative licence in terms of how a brand expresses themselves, but given Chanel has only celebrated elegance and perfection for years, it’s a huge leap.

Apparently it was drawn by a Chanel employees daughter on a ‘bring your kids to work’ day.

I can’t imagine how much money this saved them in terms of ad agency costs.

Though of course, this is less about being cheapskates and more the changing face of luxury.

For too long the category has been a closed shop.

It dictated terms, rejected new entrants and ruled by an iron fist.

Cold. Clinical. Aloof. Exclusive.

But the shift has been happening.

The rules of luxury are changing.

And while the establishment may look down at brands like Supreme as nothing more than expensive hype, the reality is the new generation of luxury buyers feel differently.

They don’t want to be part of the old rules, they want luxury to reflect them and how they live.

Personal. Emotional. Ridiculous and audacious. Human. Fun. A new definition of perfection.

And with brands like Mr Ji and Gucci both embracing this change and driving it … it will be interesting to see how many other luxury brands start stretching the boundaries of who they are and who they associate with moving forward.

Though I accept there’s a good chance they’ll just do what they’ve always done – especially with designers – and just try and buy the brands/people who are making waves.

Then assimilate them into their system.

Wow, look at me talking about fashion. And luxury. Who Am I?



Knowing Who You Are Means You Know Where You Can Go …

After my post about Nike/Jordan, here’s another.

But before we get there … I need to take you on a little story.

Years ago, Wieden Tokyo were doing some research for Tabasco Sauce.

As part of the adventure, we went to the American south and interviewed chefs from the region.

One of them told us something that had a huge impact on me.

“The more confident the chef, the more simple your dish”

I love it.

For me, it communicates everything about belief and confidence.

Saying and doing exactly what needs to be said and done and not a sentence more.

Sadly this is a lesson that seems to have been forgotten.

Nowadays, companies have endless pages of terminologies, explanations and behaviours … often to disguise the fact that they don’t really know who they are or what they are here for.

I recently met a Venture Capitalist who told me the biggest mistake companies make is not knowing what business they’re in.

They think one thing but are something else.

And by not knowing this they undermine their present and their future.

However recently I saw something that showed me a company who ‘gets it’.

A company who has always ‘got it’.

Similar to the Apple memo I wrote about recently, this is a celebration of knowing who you are.

As you will have already worked out – mainly because I said it in the first line of this post – it’s NIKE.

Look at this document from the 70’s, entitled ‘Principals’.

One page.

Clarity and direction.

Fight and function.

All you need to know about what how the company behaves, what it values and what it believes …

I love it.

I love how it is so simple yet says so much.

I love how it acknowledges what it can control and what it can’t.

I love how it conveys the attitude of the brand through the battle it is undertaking.

I love how it celebrates the ugly reality of hunger, ambition and commitment while also advocating integrity and responsibility.

But most of all, I love how it acknowledges that they’ll make money as a byproduct of what they do rather than that being the focus.

And while they don’t mention the words ‘sport’ or ‘athlete’ anywhere in this page, it’s not hard to see what they are describing are the principals of building a team.

One that has a common goal, a common fight and a common belief and reliance on each other.

All on a single page.

Which is still their single page [albeit with an updated swoosh]

Because they are confident in know who they are and what they are about.

In these days where companies churn out endless pages about who they are … endless statements about what they do … endless updates to their terminologies, platforms and positioning statements, I find it interesting the companies that attract the most loyalty from audiences and the most jealousy from corporations are the ones who have been fiercely consistent about who they are, what they believe and what they stand for.

All expressed succinctly, yet passionately.

From Apple. To Nike. To Wieden.

Because the more confident the company, the less they need to say about themselves.



Saying You Care Means Nothing If Your Actions Show You Don’t …

One of the things that has shocked me since coming back to England is the amount of gambling that goes on here.

Not just in terms of people actually doing it, but brands trying to get people to do it.

It’s everywhere.

Football shirts. High Streets. Apps. TV shows.

I know it shouldn’t really shock me as there has been so much written about it in the papers, but the sheer volume has blown me away.

Another thing that has blown me away – for equally bad reason – is the way the gambling companies are trying to portray themselves as good citizens.

That all their ads say, ‘When the fun stops, stop’ – or some variant of it – might sound like they care, but apart from the fact there’s countless stories of them actively encouraging people who are demonstrating the have a problem with gambling to keep going, it makes no sense.

Because the moment you realise gambling has stopped being fun, you’re pretty likely to be in the grip of addiction.

Or said another way, it’s too late.

Once upon a time, I was in that place.

I was young and the amount of money we’re talking is minute … but I was in a full-on addiction to fruit machines.

I was still a student and working part time as a pot washer, and within seconds of receiving my weekly pay packet, I’d be feeding all of it into a fruit machine.

Occasionally I would win big (£25) but most of the time I’d spend my weeks earnings within minutes – leaving me without a penny.

Now I’m lucky, I was able to stop – mainly because credit was not readily available back then, because if it was, who knows what shit I would have got myself into – but I can still remember how much I hated myself when I lost but how excited I was when I was about to begin.

And yet, despite knowing what I was doing to myself, I was unable to stop myself for months.

While I would not wish that on anyone, it was a hugely valuable lesson.

It taught me I have an addictive personality and helped me to manage what I do and don’t expose myself too.

Sure, I buy a shitload of pointless gadgets, crap t-shirts, guitars and Birkenstocks. But it’s also why I haven’t tried any alcohol since my last taste 34 years ago, why I’ve never tried any drugs and why I never tried smoking – though that one was easier, as I’ve always hated the smell.

I do believe that people have to take some responsibility for the decisions and actions they take – but addiction is something we have to accept, skirts the rules of logic.

You become helpless and need controlled.

And given the impact certain addictions can have on people is loss of health and/or loss of livelihood and family … having a note in small letters at the end of an ad that has spent 29 of the 30 seconds celebrating the excitement and glamour of gaming – and then puts all the burden of managing addiction on the victim – seems pretty shit.