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


Little Things Make The Difference …

In Asia, hand cleanliness is almost an obsession.

People even eat their sandwiches and burgers with knives and forks to avoid having to pick them up.

OK, so maybe that’s the case everywhere and I’m just showing my common Nottingham roots … but I still find it fascinating.

Everywhere you go, there’s hand sanitisers.

I’m not just talking in hospitals, I’m talking restaurants and all sorts of other places.

Recently, I saw this on my wife’s bag.

Yep, it’s a portable hand sanitiser.

But I’m not saying this because it highlights how long we’ve been in Asia, I’m saying it because making a product that can attach easily to a bag is an act of simple genius.

For a culture that doesn’t want to just wash their hands, but have them truly germ free … this little idea has big appeal.

Sure, there’s other products on the market that do a similar thing, but having something that attaches to your bag gives a peace of mind that wipes hidden in your bag, just can’t do. Plus being permanently on display helps advertise the brand to all who see it. Nice.

I’ve said for a while that I feel designers are doing things in more interesting ways than ad agencies and ultimately that’s down to one simple difference of approach.

Designers want to solve problems whereas ad agencies want to communicate problems.

Not all agencies are like this.

Not all agency employees are like this.

But right now, the design industry is kicking our ass and I swear it’s because we are holding on to remuneration models that reward ‘the old ways’ rather than finding ways to get paid for what we are truly capable of if given the freedom to do it.

[That and the fact adlands creative department hiring policy is still primarily based on art and copy rather than embracing different types of creative people/thinkers/doers]

We will have to wake up soon, otherwise the bullshit we churn out for Cannes – that we claim is ‘creative problem solving’ will become the benchmark for our standards and when that happens, we may as well pack up and go home.

But I have faith it can be done, if only because I saw The Kennedys Shanghai consistently solve problems in imaginative and innovative and intriguing ways for 9 months.



Credit Where Credit Is Due …

One of the things that has always bugged me about adland is the ad ‘credit list’.

Sometimes you’ll read about a one-off print ad that has a longer credit list than a bloody movie.

Seriously.

Look, I get the importance of having your name on things – this is an industry obsessed with that – but it kind of gets ridiculous when people are mentioned because they put the stamp on the invitation for the client launch.

That’s why I always loved that Mother credited everything as Mother.

Sure, you could claim it robbed those involved in the making of the work from getting the credit they deserved – but I can tell you for a fact, there’s no way those people would be anonymous for long.

Of course the worst is when people take credit for things they didn’t really do.

Or big themselves up to make it sound like they were instrumental in what was created.

With that, I want to tell you a story that I heard from my friend – and creative extroidinatire – Kash Sree.

A long time ago – in the 80’s to be precise – there was a phenomenal writer called Richard Cook.

The creative director he worked for was notorious for not giving credit to the people who deserved it and had left Richard’s name off numerous previous pieces of well received work.

One lunch, the creative director handed Richard an ad and asked him to write some copy for it before he got back.

Richard – in a demonstration of his talent – wrote the piece over his lunch break.

It’s the ad at the top of this post.

The ad went on to win countless awards.

In an award-obsessed industry, Richard wasn’t exactly surprised that the creative director yet again denied Richard had anything to do with the work. So Richard unleashed his weapon.

He simply stated if anyone needed proof that he was responsible for the ad, they should read the first letter of every paragraph of the copy.

I’ll save you the bother. It spelled out ‘Richard Cook wrote this’.

Genius.



If You’re Going To Hijack, Do Something Interesting …

The ‘hijack’ strategy is now being used by so many brands that you have to ask if it’s even effective anymore.

OK, so when it’s done really well, it still has the power to impress … but so many brands are now doing it in such a half-baked way [often relying on the occasion to make the impact rather than the work] that a lot doesn’t even make a dent.

What’s even more annoying is this trend for brands to enter debates with no other purpose than to push their own agenda.

They don’t contribute to the debate.

They don’t add to the debate.

They don’t even care about the debate.

It’s all take, take, take … even though the media loves to claim “the brand is taking a stand about issues facing society”.

I’m looking at you Dove and your #AlternativeFacts ad … even though you’re far from being the only guilty party.

However there’s some brands who at least have the decency to make their exploitation amusing.

Sure, you could say Dove did that with the ad I’ve just criticised them for … but lets be honest, they’re not exactly known for going outside of their lane in terms of topicality and even though they could have easily turned this into a legitimate ad about their product credentials, they chose to go for the lowest common denominator. Possibly because it’s also award season soon. Possibly.

And that’s why I like this idea from Chinese teabag brand, inWE …

Yes, they are jumping on a bandwagon.

Yes, they are trying to gain free publicity from it.

But at no point do they try and claim it is some sort of political statement, which allows you to enjoy it for exactly what it is.

A bit of fun.

And the irony of this is it makes the brand far more likeable than all those others who try to hijack a cause or occasion to show they care.

Because most don’t, not in a way where they will sacrifice their profit for their cause.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe in the power of ‘brand purpose’.

But saying you care and committing to it are – sadly – very different things which is why it’s kind of refreshing to find a brand who isn’t trying to claim it’s saving the World but simply having some fun with what they do.

Which some would argue is a ‘brand purpose’ … but then they tend to also be the sort of folks that call humans, brands.

They’re not. They’re humans.



Is Women’s Day In Danger Of Becoming Earth Hour?

Let me start by saying that Women’s Day – and Earth Hour – shine a light on very serious issues.

Issues that should be on top of everyones mind without the need for a reminder.

I also want to say that I appreciate everything has to start from somewhere – but I’m genuinely concerned that Women’s Day will end up going the same way as Earth Hour … where society thinks if they engage on the day, then they’ve done all they need to do for the rest of the year.

I’ve written about this in the past.

While this approach is a great way to ignite a social debate about very serious issues, they often end up – at best – only having a 24 hour impact or, at worst, becoming a superficial celebration of a specific day.

Earth Hour have struggled to combat this … as demonstrated by them adding ‘+’ symbol to their logo … but it will take more than that to maintain an interest for the general population.

But at least Earth Hour has been interpreted by society as a commitment to helping the environment, because I’m not sure the same level of clarity can be said of Women’s Day.

Just recently I heard of a company who honoured the females in their company with a range of gifts consisting of an oven, a quilt and a set of pots and pans to name but a few.

I know for a fact they didn’t mean it to be offensive … quite the opposite … but this highlights how many people/companies have totally misunderstood what Women’s Day is actually about and why it is important.

To further highlight the issue, I heard that some guys wanted to start a ‘Man’s Day’.

These were intelligent, Worldly men – not Neanderthals – and if you spoke to them about equality, they’d be passionately behind it, and yet they didn’t see how their suggestion would completely undermine the importance of this day for the females in their company.

And that’s my worry.

Because equality is a fucking important thing.

Something that requires more than a day of awareness … but if that is the route we need to go down to try and ensure the debate is not allowed to be placed in the shadows, then we must at least ensure the purpose of the day is clear because frankly, while it’s fun that Burger King renamed their Shanghai store for the day, it means little if the only reason they did it was for superficial topicality.

I’m not saying that’s why they did it, but momentarily changing your brand name or giving out gender reinforcing gifts highlights that the real purpose of Women’s Day could be in danger of becoming as superficial as adding a Q&A element to the Ms World competition.



Simple Advertising Is Great Advertising …

I’m 46.

I’m a husband.

And a father.

I supposedly hold down a senior job at a highly respected company.

I have responsibilities … mortgages and a bunch of other things ‘older people’ should have.

And yet despite all that, when I saw this ad for Hot Wheels, I totally got what they were saying.

Oh Hot Wheels.

When I was a kid, they were the toy cars to have.

Matchbox made the practical but Hot Wheels made the sexy.

The daring.

The souped up.

The ‘fuck, that looks cool’.

Kids who were good at maths would play with Matchbox but kids who could play the guitar would have Hot Wheels.

I must admit, I am shocked at all this emotion coming out of me despite the fact I haven’t bought – or played with – a toy car for at least 36 years. And that’s why I love this ad so much, because in an instant – and without showing any product whatsoever – I get it.

I totally get it.

Given this ad appeared on a motorway, I am assuming Hot Wheels actually want to target people like me.

Their goal being to awaken my memories of their brilliant toy cars and introduce my kids to them.

It could be because a while back I read Hot Wheels was a billion dollar company under threat.

Not from other toy car competitors, but because parents didn’t know how to play toy cars with their children. Especially Mum’s with boys.

[Don’t call me sexist, this is what they said]

Whatever the truth is, this ad worked for me.

It not only reminded me how much I loved Hot Wheels, it made me want to play with them with Otis. Which all goes to show that while the features of a brand can be copied, it’s spirit and values are always unique.



Why Trust Is The Single Most Important Word In Business …

One of the things that makes me smile is when I hear – or read – Western articles talking about how things like iPay will change the way people spend/transact forever.

The reason for my amusement is not just because this has been happening in China for at least 2 years, but that iPay is a massively inferior product when compared to something like Wechat wallet.

Now, to be fair, lots has been written about Wechat.

From how it has become a hub for almost every aspect of daily life in China – from messaging, to ordering food and taxis to spending, borrowing, investing or sending money – right through to it’s ability, in 2016, to transact more mobile payments in 14 days that eBay & Amazon did globally in an entire year.

[UPDATE: During the 2017 Chinese New Year, Wechat say 46 BILLION red packets [envelopes with money] were sent through their app over the 7 day holiday period. This represents 5 times the volume that occurred in 2016]

And all that is true and fascinating … but unless you live here, I don’t think anyone can truly grasp the way China has embraced technology based spending.

What makes it even more amazing is that prior to Wechat, China tended to be quite protective in how they used their money.

They were one of the slowest nations to embrace internet banking.

There’s millions upon millions of people who still won’t put their money in a bank.

And yet Wechat has come about and despite not being a bank, if has fundamentally changed consumer habits and sentiment regarding their cash.

Which has fundamentally changed retail habits and sentiment regarding how they offer service to their customers.

So how did they do it?

Well, there’s a bunch of reasons.

Without doubt one is they appeal to a different generation to those who were there before.

A generation brought up in the digital age.

A generation who have a ‘I want it now’ mentality.

But it’s more than that.

You see Wechat’s genius was they refused to take any advertising for years.

In a nation where making money is everything, Wechat resisted the lure of ‘easy cash’.

This might not seem a massive thing, but to the people here, it felt like they’d found a brand that actually cared about them.

A brand that wouldn’t sell them out to line their own pocket.

This gave Wechat an integrity few brands could ever hope to achieve – especially in such a limited period of time and in a place as suspicious as China – so when they launched their ‘wallet feature’, there was no doubt people would embrace it because the level of trust in them was so high.

Of course there’s many other reasons for their success – and arguably, Wechat did this so they could ultimately win the long game with advertisers and partners – but with so many brands talking about ‘changing behaviour and perceptions’, it’s worth remembering part of Wechat’s success is as much because of what they didn’t do, as it is what they did.



Sometimes Crazy Is The Most Sensible Thing In The World …

So a while back I saw this weird looking thing being advertised everywhere.

It’s that thing at the top of this page.

At first, I was captivated … it looked like the ultimate gadget.

And then, on closer inspection, I realised it literally did nothing.

That’s right …

No wifi.

No bluetooth.

No nothing.

Just a bunch of buttons and balls to press, roll and click.

Seriously, who would need this shit?

People with game controller addiction?

People with pen clicking obsession?

People with nothing better to do?

And then I saw the manufacturers had created this terrible video to help explain things …

Look, I know the ‘fidget cube’ is relatively cheap … but contrary to the video’s claims, ‘fidgeting’ is not actually an addiction and so you have to ask if people really need something like this over – say – ‘tapping their foot’ repeatedly.

So I bought one.

And you know what … it’s fucking amazing.

I know … I know … my taste is hardly the barometer for mass acceptance, but remember, I am saying positive things about something that literally has no wifi, bluetooth or web access and I’m a guy that has bought robot balls and a mug that will digitally tell me what I’m drinking even though I CAN TASTE WHAT I AM DRINKING.

I’ve bought loads of them now.

In multiple colours.

And while that may make me look a fucking idiot, the fact is there’s a valuable lesson in all this.

No, it’s not that ‘Rob spends his money on tat’ [though that is also a learning] it’s the fact that if someone had told me about it, I’d have dismissed it as ridiculous.

An over-engineered solution to a problem that isn’t really a problem.

And yet the reality is, I didn’t just buy it … I use it all the time and I truly feel it has helped me focus more.

I know that sounds mad and I swear I have no commercial interests in it … but on top of everything, it reinforced a lesson I have continually pushed upon The Kennedys, which is never kill an idea until you’ve tried it.

Never.

Not just because you may find it actually could end up being something awesome, but even if it doesn’t, it often opens up doors of opportunity you never would have seen before.

The older I get, the more I realise ‘try before you kill’ is one of the most important lessons you can learn.

Especially for planners.

Especially for planners who want to help create something that can change something.

Even if it ends up being something people ridicule.

Until they try it.