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


What Planners And Police/Military Interrogators Could Have Learned From My Mum …

For a long time, I’ve talked about the importance of empathy.

In fact I regard it as the most important trait I look for in a planner.

That’s right, empathy … not curiosity.

As my Mum used to say, ‘being interested in what others are interested in’ is the foundation of forging real understanding … understanding that lets you gain real insight that leads to work that doesn’t just resonate, but is both authentic and sincere to the core.

I recently took my team through the original ‘Thank You Mom’ work I was involved with at Wieden for P&G.

In essence, there were 2 roles the planning departments of W+K had.

The first was to find a point of view for P&G’s Olympic sponsorship that was authentic rather than falling into that trap of being ‘the proud sponsor of razor blades for athletes’ etc etc.

However, once it had been identified that P&G could genuinely claim to helping the Mum’s of athletic hopefuls in their role of being supportive Mum’s, the rest of our job was to ensure the work we produced was authentic to the regions we were going to cover … the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

It took a long time, a lot of meeting, watching, listening and chatting [in fact the little film I made from it all to help the client and creatives really understand our Mum’s is still one of the best things I made at Wieden] but it made all the difference because while some elements of the film may be lost to viewers of other nations [ie: Westerners thought the Chinese Mum who watched her child win via a TV in her home did it because she couldn’t afford to go to the event, when the reality is we had learned parents wouldn’t attend key events for fear of afraid of adding extra pressure to their beloved child with their presence] the fact is those within each culture we featured connected to the little nuances we were able to reveal which led to work that felt part of the culture rather than just being an observer of it.

The reason I am saying all this is because I recently read an amazing article about interrogation techniques, or more specifically, how the interrogation techniques favoured by the Police and military are wrong.

Now I am not suggesting interrogation techniques are anything similar to how we find out our insights about people … but the learnings are.

You see what a team of scientists discovered is that rather than intimidating individuals in the hope of getting them to reveal their information, the secret was to show genuine empathy towards them.

Not in what they did or tried to do.

Not in their cause or their ideology.

But in why all of it was important to them.

In essence, they discovered empathy – rather than intimidation – was the closest thing we have to a truth serum.

Or said another way, be interested in what others are interested in.

Another reason [for me] to say Thank you Mom.

[Read the article here]

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Creativity Can Find A Way …

One of the things that bothers me about my industry is how they always talk about creativity when most of what they create is advertising.Of course advertising has creativity within it – sometimes, incredibly creativity – but often, the approach is to communicate the problem rather than solve the problem.

OK, so there are occasions when the biggest problem is a lack of awareness, but that is most definitely the exception rather than the rule.

I’ve written and talked about this so much over the years.

From my PSFK talk back in 2009 to my distain of Cannes scam to my adoration of designers and an absolute shedload in-between … and yet I continue to see briefs where the goal was obviously to ‘make an ad’ rather than ‘create a difference’.

This is not purely the agencies fault, in many cases it comes from the client.

Sometimes it’s because they need to support the retailers.

Sometimes it’s because their KPI’s are based on executional delivery.

Sometimes it’s because it would affect their remuneration structure with their agencies.

Sometimes it’s because they are not empowered to do anything different.

Sometimes it’s because they don’t actually care about solving, just producing.

And yet even in some of those approaches, there’s an opportunity to create a solution rather than make some noise if only they’d asked the right questions.

A while back, I had a client that briefed us on an ad campaign.

Got to admit, as much as I love them, it kind-of annoyed the hell out of me.

For me, that was like going to the doctor and diagnosing your own illness and solution.

So we asked why they wanted the campaign and they said they needed parents to let their kids do sport which was hard as they were worried their precious [only] child may get hurt.

And so we said, “If we can find a way to get parents to feel good about letting their kids do sport, are you open to it?”And when they said ‘yes’, it gave us the right to create bandaids that worked as badges of honor and comic books celebrating the power of sport.

Don’t get me wrong, if we had done a TV campaign it would have been a brilliant TV campaign.

But by asking a simple question, it allowed creativity rather than advertising to be the solution.

Or said another way, it opened possibilities rather than closed them off.

The reason for all this is that I recently saw a brilliant creative solution to slowing traffic down.

This is something that has been done in many ways over the years, including the brilliant Speed Dial by Colenso [video here] … but this was something even simpler.

This.

[Or if you’re too lazy to click on the link, the picture at the top of this post serves as a clue]

Now I know you might argue that once you know it’s not ‘real’ people won’t slow down, but I’d challenge that given the way the brain works.

But regardless, I will be interested to see what the data says after it has been in operation a while, but compared to a multi-million dollar ad campaign, or even the prices of stationing a copper there with a speed gun, I’m guessing it will be more effective.

And that is why our industry has to truly embrace creativity rather than just want to make ads.



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.



It’s A Fine Line Between Surviving And Thriving …

I’ve survived my first week.

Or I think I have … maybe they are just preparing to tell me to go back to China at the end of the day.

Talking of China [subtle eh] …

Just before I left Shanghai, I was asked if I would write an article about my 7 years in China.

Originally it was meant to be an overview of my experience and what I felt the industry could learn from it. As that sounded far too hard/pompous/wanky, I chose to ignore the brief and write something else.

Given I would always encourage someone who has the opportunity – and interest – to go to China, I thought it might be worth me posting on here, if only for the fact it saves me having to write something new which means I won’t give the impression to my new employer and colleagues that all I do is write blog posts and plan my holidays. Ahem.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I’m a cliché.

I have succumbed to the classic ‘7 year itch’ … except instead of walking away from a wonderful wife and son, I’m walking away from a wonderful country and company.

Yep, I’m leaving China and Wieden+Kennedy.

So if they’re so wonderful, why am I leaving?

Well it’s not because I’m having a midlife crisis – where my head has been turned by something that is ultimately going to lead me to destruction – it’s for a whole host of painfully sensible reasons.

But that’s not what this article is about because Mumbrella asked me to write about my time in China … a kind-of ‘what I’ve learnt and what are the implications for the industry moving forward’ type-of-thing.

The trouble is, I know those things tend to ignite the same sense of dread as hearing a colleague ask, “do you want to hear about my dream?”, so I’ve decided to ignore the brief and write a love letter instead.

I’ve absolutely loved my 7 years in China.

In fact I’d go as far as to say it has been one of the best times of my life – both personally and professionally.

Sure, a big part of that is because of Wieden, my clients and the fact my awesome son was born here … but the whole experience has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Being able to see the huge shifts that have gone on first-hand feels like a total privilege.

I’m not just talking about the obvious stuff, but things like creativity, cultural diversity and technology.

Few things will ever make me as happy as being able to tell the West there’s areas where China is literally miles ahead of them … areas they were convinced they were dominant in.

China did that for me.

Of course there’s been challenges along the way … brands who prefer convenient answers over doing the right thing and a general attitude of good enough is good enough to name but two … but overall, it’s been an incredible and special time.

I’ve had a chance to do things I never thought I’d ever be able to do.

I’ve worked on projects with brands I will forever be proud to be a part of.

I’ve made friends with people who I will always want to be close to.

I’ve re-learnt almost everything I thought I knew.

And on top of all that, I’ve seen an industry start to realise what it is capable of being on it’s own terms, not others.

Not bad for a bald bloke from Nottingham.

Now, anyone who knows me is probably freaking out how positive this article is, so I’ll leave you with 7 things [one for each year I’ve been here] that I hope the industry will stop doing.

This is not because I want to my cultivate a grumpy-bastard image, but because as much as things have improved over the years, the industry is in a fragile state and if we don’t keep pushing forward we could start slipping backwards.

[Yes, I appreciate there’s more than 7, but hey, this is new, optimistic LA version of me. Ahem]

1. No more decks saying ‘China is big’. Everyone knows that. Even a myopic Trump supporter living in Boise, Idaho knows that. And while I’m at it, can Westerners stop throwing the word ‘Confucius’ on every 3rd slide.

2. The clichés of casting. Seriously, if an alien landed here and watched the ads, they’d never know this is a country with incredible diversity and nuance.

3. Please, please, please no more toilet paper ads acting like it’s a symbol of status and sophistication. It’s not. It’s something you clean your arse with.

4. You might not believe it, but there’s more ways to connect to culture than HTML5. Honestly.

5. To the planners who act like they’re academic intellectuals … stop! You’re not fooling anyone and you’re undermining a discipline that needs to be recognised for uncovering exciting creative opportunities, not spouting shit read from a business magazine.

6. Stop with the scam. It’s embarrassing and it is killing the industry for all of us. We all know who does it and I don’t give a shit if they’ve paid for a small store in Wuhan to run their ‘idea’, it’s still bullshit.

7. I know they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it isn’t. It’s lazy and sells the industry short – not just financially, but creatively. There’s a bunch of incredibly talented people here who given the space and time, will reward us with something new and great.

That’s it. Not that hard really…

So with that I say thank you China.

I leave a better person than I came and I’m going to bloody miss you.



Zàijiàn My Beloved China …
May 16, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, China, Chinese Culture, Comment, Love

I know I said there’d be no more posts for a month, but I leave China today, so deal with it.

I’ve said all I want to say about how wonderful and magical a time I’ve had here.

If you’re ever given the opportunity to visit or work – do it – it will change your World.

To sign off, I want to leave you with a little film.

Every day – for the past 7 years – as I walked to work, I would stop off at Starbucks at The Centre building in the Former French Concession.

Over the years, most of the time directly outside the window where I would be supping my latte, I would see all manner of people doing all manner of things … from walking dogs to undertaking rather interesting approaches to exercise.

There were a few people in particular that always seemed to be there and I started videoing them and adding music to their routine.

It’s important you know I never did this to mock them – far from it – I did it because they were part of the reason my 7 years in China was utterly wonderful and I will miss them – and the country – more than anyone could ever imagine.

Goodbye Shanghai. Hello LA.

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It’s Been An Honour …

After 7 years, today is my last day at Wieden+Kennedy.

Just as traumatic is that in 6 days, it will be my last day in China.

Or said another way, it will be my last day living in Asia-Pacific after 22 amazing years.

There’s honestly too much to say.

Too many memories to write about.

Too many people to thank and talk about.

So instead I’ll just say it has been the time of my life.

An amazing, spectacular, wonderful adventure both personally and professionally.

From marriage and babies to being part of work that defined World Cups and Olympics.

Wow.

It’s absolutely fair to say I will miss every bit of it but I’ll take the memories because it means I had the experience and for that I am truly grateful.

Now, because we’re in the middle of mad moving mode, this blog will be on a little hiatus for a few weeks.

Probably about a month. [Though we all know there’ll be the odd post here and there]

On the bright side, when it’s back – probably sometime in June, in time for my birthday [ha] – you’ll get to read posts that won’t just be about planning, but how I don’t understand how to make anything in America work.

I honestly think I’m going to find it harder to acclimatise to America than I ever did to China.

Hell, I can’t even order a cup of coffee without getting confused about their cup sizes.

So with that I want to sign off with a few little thank-you’s.

The reality is a huge amount of people made my time here amazing, however there’s some who had an even bigger influence and I want to call them out because the adventure I had – and am about to embark on – literally wouldn’t have been possible without them.

My wonderful planning team. Past and present. Every day was a genuine fucking honour. The awesome Kennedys. It was seriously the professional highlight of my last 12 months. Thank you. And that definitely includes you Juni. Kel Hook. For hiring me. You changed my life and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. Jason White. Thank you for supporting me even when I caused destruction. John Rowe. For being brilliant in every possible way and making my time at W+K Tokyo so good, I never wanted to leave. NIKE. I know that might sound corporate toady, but as I have nothing to gain from saying it, it means it is true. 99.7% of every person I met or worked with at Wieden+Kennedy worldwide … whether they are still here or long gone. Martin Weigel. You’re a cantankerous, warm hearted, brilliant man. Just propose to Mercedes and get on with it. Whiteside. Because you’re awesome and funny and humble and deserve so much and yet are happy with what you have. Clare Pickens. I love you. I literally fucking love you. [But stop cutting your hair because it makes you look shit] Sandi Hildreth. For being awesome and gorgeous and loving the same sort of rubbish music as me. Claudia Valderrama. For looking out for me even though you told me I was a “pain in the ass”. W&W, Azsa, Arlene and Max … for making sure I stay excited – and in awe – about the birth of amazing ideas. Gerber, for somehow – and I’m not sure how – influencing me to get tattoos. I came here with none, I leave with not enough. Simon Pestridge. Thank you for everything. In many ways, you changed my career and opportunities. You’re more than a great client, but a friend. Kim Papworth. For that talk that was totally worth the wait. Luhr. For being Luhr. Stech. For making your 6 months here, the most exciting 6 months for me full stop. David Terry and Paul Colman for trying really hard to be ‘alpha-males’ but actually being fucking sweethearts. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. Joe Staples. He won’t understand why, which is why. MJ. No, not Micheal Jackson or Michal Jordan, but Matthew Jung … for being a phenomenal Nike and Converse client who backed us to do the best work we can do every-single-time. Karrelle. For pretending to still be British when he’s basically American. Steve Tsoi for still welcoming me to the table even though I never made life easy for you or your team. Scott Silverman. You had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be here. Chris Jaques. You also had nothing to do with China, but if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have had the platform to show others what I could do. What I could be. Dan Wieden. For not actually firing me even though you said, “You’re fired” every time you saw me. And starting a place that is so special amongst special companies. Xiaoli. For everything you have done for us, but most specifically for the love and care you have shown my son. China … for being so important to global business that you gave me access and exposure to the sort of senior leadership few in the World will ever get to experience. The amazing, warm, slightly crazy people of China. I will absolutely miss everything about your unique ways. Except the spitting and the plane delays. And finally – and most importantly – my beloved Jill, Otis and Rosie. Without you guys, none of this other stuff would have mattered.

OK, the Gwyneth Paltrow bollocks is over … and to prove it, have a look at this.

Do you know what it is?

That’s right, it’s one of the 600 stickers I have had made that I have spent the last 5 weeks hiding throughout the refurbished Wieden+Kennedy Shanghai office. And I mean ‘throughout’ … including various W+K hangouts, like Baker & Spice, Jamaica Blue and Little Catch.

That should make their life a pain in the ass for a few years.

It will be like I’ve never gone.

And with that, it’s time to go.

It’s been a lot of fun. Time for an adventure in LA. God help us all.



A Look Back At 7 Years …

As I have 2 days left of working at Wieden, I thought I’d put up some of the films [some are case studies because I can’t find the actual spot online] that I’ve either had something to do with or happened on my watch while at W+K Shanghai.

To be honest, there’s loads more – including 3 campaigns that haven’t come out yet, of which one is particularly exciting – but I appreciate how indulgent this post is already.

So with that – and in no particular order – here we go …

Converse Lyrics

NIKE Mr Sun

Fiat 500 La Vita E Bella – with thanks to my Mum

NIKE Temple Of Deadly Quickness

P&G Best Job

NIKE Find Your Greatness

Jeep Built Free

Jordan Winning Moment

Heineken Curiosity Pays

NIKE Epic Step

Spotify Japan Music Changes Us

As I said, there’s a bunch more stuff I could put up, but when I look back at this – especially in relation to where China/Asia advertising traditionally sits – I nod and, to paraphrase Phil Knight from the W+K global credentials film, say “It’s not bad”.