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


James Blunt Might Be Becoming My New Hero …

I know … I know … I really did write that blog post header.

And yes, I really am talking about James Blunt, the man that can make a choir on Songs Of Praise [is that still going] look like Black Sabbath in their prime.

But don’t forget, this is a guy who is disarmingly self aware.

A guy who uses his self-depreciation to turn you from a hater into a fan.

OK, not a fan of his music but – as I wrote here – a fan of who he is.

And recently I saw something that just makes me like him more …

Yep, that’s James Blunt on Tinder.

A man who people think has got laid more than a $2 crack whore in a room of drunk and horny jocks.

OK, so getting laid a lot is part of the ‘rock star’ cliche, but I still find this move to be brilliant.

Not just because he has found a way to make money from his perception.

Not just because he partnered with platform that is the epitome of his perception.

But because he has shown that when you deal with the commentary others have about you directly, you don’t just rob them of their ammunition, you give yourself a chance to change that perception.

I’ve talked about this a lot – I called it the 8-Mile strategy, after the Eminem movie, specifically the end rap battle at 6 minutes 40 seconds – but it’s also something else I wrote about.

The power of unplanned planning.

Unplanned is where a brand speaks in seemingly obvious terms.

Not in terms of what they do, but in terms of what people think you do.

For example, when Scalextric – the model car racing brand – embraced the perception the only reason men want their little boys playing with Scalextric is because it gives them an excuse to play it for themselves.

Did you click on the link?

Seriously, you should – it not only demonstrates what I’m blathering on about, it’s a great ad.

Great because it’s funny. Great because it’s relatable. Great because it doesn’t fall into marketing bullshit.

Can you tell I really, really like it?

So why do I think this approach works when the industry is seemingly so obsessed with talking about bigger purpose stuff?

Because in my opinion, it’s easier to nudge people’s perception of you if you talk in the context of how they already view you rather than spending millions trying to convince them that who you are is totally different to what they believe or are willing to accept.

It is, in some ways, the ultimate demonstration of honesty.

A lot of brands could learn from that.

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Finally, Something Useful On This Blog …

Yes it’s a national holiday in America and yes, I said there would be no post today … but the thought of you not having your daily dose of my blog joy broke my heart so I am doing this for you.

I know, I should be knighted.

Ahem.

Anyway, the wonderful Mark Sareff has written a book.

I’ve written about Mark before because apart from being whip smart, he’s also one of the nicest people on the planet.

[Though I appreciate being being one of my friends and mentors may undermine that declaration a bit]

Anyway, while Mark may not be the best known names in planning, he is – in my opinion – the best planner in the industry and so anything by him is going to be interesting and useful and that is exactly what his book is.

It’s full of fantastic strategy nuggets of awesomeness based on real-world experiences.

It’s fun and quick to read and best of all, it’s free so if you are at all interested in smart thinking without the intellectual bullshit, then download it here … it just may be the first useful thing I’ve ever done for anyone on here.

Right, back to my holiday.



Why A Bin Is Better Than Earth Hour …

I’ve written about my skepticism of Earth Hour.

And while I appreciate any bit of good is good, I feel the problem with Earth Hour is that it lets people off the hook for the remainder of the year just because they turned their lights off for a few hours on a single day.

Recently I saw this …

Yes, it’s a bin.

A simple bin in the airport.

But what I love about it is the fact it says LANDFILL, rather than rubbish.

Maybe this is nothing new – maybe this is just a byproduct of having lived in China for the past 7 years – but by ensuring I knew exactly what was going to happen to what I put inside it, it made me look at what I was doing.

I’d like to think I give a shit about the environment, but I can honestly say that bin had a stronger effect on me than Earth Hour. Not only that, but that bin won’t let me off the hook for the rest of the year. It will be there – every time I pass it – reminding me that my choices will determine how much I poison the planet.

The other thing this does is highlight my big problem with adland … which is that it loves to communicate problems rather than solve them.

When a bin [and let’s remember, this is not the first time this has happened] produces more effective solutions than much of adland – and certainly what adland awards at shows like Cannes – maybe it’s time to re-evaluate what we view is creativity.

Please don’t think I am pissing on the power of communication or ignoring the importance of craft and exploration – of course I’m not – but for an industry that celebrates the freedom of creativity, it’s amazing how limited we are in our execution of it.

Of course part of that is our ego – because not only do we like to think that we can solve all the problems of the universe, but we feel simply ‘renaming’ something is beneath our creative brilliance, despite it potentially being more effective than a Worldwide campaign asking us to turn our lights off for the night.

I think this is why I loved Fearless Girl and Mr Parking Ticket Nerd because at the end of the day, they have understood our industry is at it’s most powerful when we’re at the creative end of business rather than the business end of creativity.



Create Ideas Not Advertising …

Remember when I was about to leave Wieden and I wrote a post about some of the work I had loved being a part of over the past 7 years?

Remember how I said there were some other campaigns I was super excited about but couldn’t talk about them because they hadn’t come out?

No, I didn’t think you would [dicks!] … but the point of this post is one of those campaigns has just launched and I love it.

There’s so many reasons why it warms the cockles of my heart.

It’s fun.

It’s insanely diverse in its execution.

But most of all, an idea rather than an ad idea.

I’ve talked about this for years. For me, the best thing we can do is identify the problem, create a solution and then use comms to tell as many people as possible about this ‘new thing’. Sadly, the majority of advertising still is based on identifying the problem then spending millions of dollars telling everyone about the problem.

But what is ‘this’, I hear you cry. This …

What you’re looking at are plasters [or, now I’m in America, bandaids] for kids.

They were developed by us for NIKE to celebrate Children’s Day.

5 years ago the reason parents didn’t want their kids to play sport is because they wanted them to study their school books. Fortunately that is less of an issue now [but still an issue] but what we discovered is there’s a new barrier and that is that parents worry their kids will get hurt. This is more than just a physical element – it’s tied up to a whole host of complex issues parents are going through, from not wanting to give them the pressure they went through to also wanting to prepare them for the insane competition they will face in life – but what we saw was an opportunity to enable kids to show their parents that sports makes them rather than hurts them.

So we made a product.

A plaster/bandaid.

A plaster/bandaid that actually isn’t about protecting the injuries kids get from playing sport but a badge of honor for playing the sport they love. A badge of honor that lets their parents know they are being awesome for letting their kids compete and that what they get out of it are far more than bumps and bruises.

We made this product.

We developed a whole range – with the cultural context and vernacular of each specific sport embedded into the design.

Then we created advertising with them. About them.

Billboards that you can take the product from.

Films that talk about the beauty of pure play.

Posters that you can collect and use.

Comic books where the images on the plasters form the story. 

And best of all, Nike had them in their stores.

Lots of them.

For kids to have, use and show their parents.

And best of all, it was real. They made tens of thousands of packets of them.

It’s not scam. It’s solving a problem in the most creative of ways.

And even though they waited till I’d left to launch it, I still love it.

Hell, even Forbes loves it. [Though the article is a bit pants]

So to everyone at Wieden Shanghai, especially the guys who were the real instigators of it [I know who you are] not to mention Steve, Andy and PT at NIKE, congratulations, it’s brilliant and I’m so happy and proud of you.

Only took 7 years … hahaha.



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.