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

Give Me Something To Believe In …
July 20, 2017, 6:15 am
Filed under: Comment

Over the years of this blog, I’ve written a bunch of stuff about ad agencies.




But among the rabble, there’s been a few where I’ve celebrated when an agency has taken a stance about it’s own standards and beliefs.

There was the classic ad Chiat Day put out after losing a pitch.

Or the AMV internal memo that was sent out to stop forgetting the standards of work.

Or the ‘revolution’ manifesto that HHCL wrote when they were in their pomp, punk prime.

Or the time we destroyed cynic’s cash cow to allow us to rebuild the company we loved.

But what is interesting with all these things is they appear after they realized they’d undermined their greatest weapon – their creativity – in a bid to be more profitable or to win another client or to keep a present client happy.

No bitching about clients.

No throwing stones at the competition.

A moment of self-reflection that offered scary clarity.

Of course money makes the World go round, but the older I get the more I realize that the moment you don’t care how you get it or what you spend it on means the quality of work commences its downhill trajectory. And while that doesn’t mean an agency will go bust [there’ll always be clients who choose price over quality] it does mean they will see their greatest talent walk out the door. And then, when that happens, you have lost all your value and been reduced to ‘supplier’ status.

Over the years there have been agencies who have realized this and fought against it.

Not just the oldies that I’ve mentioned above, but some of the new and exciting like Droga5 and Adam & Eve.

And lets not forget my beloved Wieden+Kennedy who – despite the odd wobble – fight for their lives to retain their standards and values in all they do.

But the thing is few actually come out and say they realized they made a mistake anymore.

Everything is kept inside their four walls and the only way you know something happened is through the work they then go on to create.

To be fair, that’s probably the wisest response but there is something powerful in someone acknowledging their faults and how they are going to make changes that move them forward.

For me that honesty is liberating. Exciting.

The reason for all this is that I recently read an ad that Fallon put out years and years ago.

It’s different to what I’ve talked about in this post because it wasn’t about where they had fucked up, but more about who they were going to be, because this ad talks about their philosophy … a philosophy that was the foundation of some of the best advertising ever produced.

If they put that out today – even if I didn’t know anything about them – I’d want to work for them, because while the proof of the pudding is in the eating, we shouldn’t forget most people want someone or something to believe in.

[Read it properly here]

The Truth Is Hard To Find …

Many years ago, I was in a meeting where a client was using their ‘data’ to explain why they wouldn’t be going with our idea.

At the heart of the clients issue was the fact they felt the audience we were going to engage was too niche and they wanted to go as broad as possible.

Putting aside the fact you should never have a target audience of ‘everyone’ – not to mention the fact by targeting the core of a culture, you find they pull the broader culture up with them – what we hated was the client was [incorrectly] using data to hide behind their fear.

Up steps Andy.

“Have you ever used a prostitute?”

Unsurprisingly, the client denied this strenuously.

“That’s interesting …”, said my evil ex-colleague, “… because for the oldest industry in the World, I’ve never met anyone who admitted to using them.”

Of course what he was trying to say is that what people say, isn’t always what they really think or do – especially when there is so much evidence to prove it if you’re just willing to look under some rocks – and while we didn’t win that particular argument with that particular client, it does highlight an important point that I believe is becoming even more difficult today.

It’s hard to find the truth.

I don’t mean that purely in terms of just exploring it – though that’s fucking tough – I mean it in terms of the client often being unwilling to accept it or, more specifically, admit it.

OK, so part of our job is to find a way to make that happen however sometimes – and it feels increasingly so – there’s a blinkered approach to discussing truth, where the corporately agreed narrative is more important than the facts.

There’s a bunch of reasons for this … job security, insecurity, a lack of corporate diversity – both in terms of culture, lifestyle and opinion – and an attitude where middle management believe they are only empowered to say ‘no’ … but fundamentally, we are entering a period where the biggest thing holding a brand back is their reluctance to know who, and what, their audience are really about.

Oh they know the general stuff.

How much they earn.

How much they buy.

What their family consists of.

But get to anything where you understand how this audience thinks or does stuff … and it’s more bland than a James Blunt album.

“They like spending time with their family”.

“They don’t like cleaning, but it makes them feel they’re being a good parent.”

“Safety and security are important for them”.

Nothing highlights this like the recent election results we’ve had.




Sure, some people saw the signs, but the vast majority – with their traditional, designed-for-convenient-answers methodologies, chose to ignore them – preferring to stick to the pre-agreed narrative. And given I heard this quote by Geoff Norcott recently noted …

“Voting conservative is like buying a James Blunt album. You know for a fact millions of people do it, but you never meet anyone who admits to it.”

… it seems things haven’t changed that much from Andy’s observation.

Though I’d argue talking about James Blunt is worse than talking about prostitues.

But then I would say that wouldn’t I.

New York’s Pain Is Your Gain …
July 17, 2017, 5:46 am
Filed under: Comment

… so there won’t be any post today.

Now that might be as good a start to the week as a national holiday.

Unfortunately for you, normal service returns tomorrow.

[Don’t worry Andy, Pete and Katerina, I’m in and out in 12 hours so you’re safe. For this time]

Alphabet Genocide …
July 10, 2017, 6:20 am
Filed under: A Bit Of Inspiration, America, Comment, Culture

When you move countries, you miss a bunch of stuff from home.

I wrote about this a while back – but having moved to LA, I have discovered something I miss that I never even considered before.


Yep, it’s the letter u.

For some reason, America seem to have some sort of vendetta towards it and have tried to commit ‘alphabetical genocide’ to wipe it out forever.


Of course I never write it like that [just like I will always spell doughnut, d-o-u-g-h-n-u-t and I will always use an ‘s’, not a ‘z’], but every single time I have used the English way of writing a ‘u’ word with the ‘u’, I get a note saying ‘you know in America we spell it without the u’.

Yes America, I do know that and while I am incredibly grateful for the hospitality and generosity you have shown towards me and my family, I will never spell a word without a ‘u’, I will never a high-five and I most certainly will never call football, soccer.

What’s weird is I was never this much of a dick in China. OK, I was – but not about this sort of thing – which has taught me that nothing makes you more British than living in a country that claims to speak English. I dread to think how I’ll react when Otis starts adopting more Americanisms … or as Andy said, more Californiaisms, which – even US citizens say – is the lowest of the low.

Taking The Piss, Literally …

I survived my first July 4th.

To be honest, it wasn’t that difficult given it was basically spending the day eating hamburgers wrapped in stars and stripes napkins.

In fact, I’m quite looking forward to next years already.

Anyway, when I lived in Sydney, there was this myth about someone called ‘trough boy’.

The legend goes that during the Mardi Gras festival, he would wrap himself in clingfilm, lie in the trough of pub urinal and beg people to piss all over him.

I never found out if it was true, but I bring this up because recently – while seeing George at Google – I saw this in their toilets. [Sorry, I mean ‘bathrooms’]

Now you might be wondering what I’m talking about – and I accept it’s not nearly as cool as the million other posts I’ve written about toilets – but what struck me was the high level of branding on this anti-splash toilet aid.

OK, so it works on a similar principal to the ‘fly’ that a Swedish airport painted on their urinals so men would aim their piss at it rather than let it fly all over the place [which was costing them a fortune in cleaning bills] but I must admit seeing their brand name proudly embossed on their product feels strange.

Actually scrap that, what feels weird is their name/logo looks like it suits a tech company more than a hygiene company … which says more about my prejudices than it does about them.

And so I decided to look into them and found out AirWorks is a product, not a brand and it’s made by a company called Hospeco who – if you look at their website – have an image much more in keeping with what I would imagine them to be.

And where am I going with all this?

Well, as normal, nowhere except to say in a world where brands are absolutely petrified of incurring any negative commentary from society, imagine being a brand where your objective is to literally have society piss on you.

If that wouldn’t lead to the greatest creative work ever, I don’t know what would.

When You Run Out Of Reasons To Believe …

Reasons To Believe, or RTB for short.

Of course they’re super important, but a few years ago, I realized that clients felt they were important for different reasons than agencies.

For us, it’s about proof. Something tangible we can use to help build our ideas off.

Of course it’s best when it’s something unique, but as long as it’s true, that will do.

But for clients, it’s different.

Sure, they know it helps sell their product to their audience, but it’s also important to them for self-validation reasons.

Imagine you’d spent 3 years of your life making Post-It notes slightly more sticky. You’d want to feel that was worth it wouldn’t you … so when an agency comes back with an idea that doesn’t focus on the importance of ‘stickiness’, you’d feel all your hard work was wasted. So you’d push back.

And back.

And back again.

And even though it leads to fucking awful advertising, you’d be happy because for you, this isn’t about selling the product, it’s about you feeling less shit that a proportion of your life was spent on making a piece of paper slightly more sticky.

I experienced this quite recently – when I was in China.

For weeks we had issues with a client on a particular idea before we discovered he was the person behind the design of a small element of the brand and he felt we were ignoring it … which translated to him feeling we were ignoring him.

Ego can be a great thing.

It can give you the impetus to push you forward. Try new things. Explore new standards.

It can also fuck you up.

Make you lose sight of the bigger picture. Or any picture for that matter.

Which is probably what happened to the guys who had to do the packaging for the brown packing tape.

And why I love the absolutely correct comment from Mike Jennings [courtesy of John Dodds]

If that wasn’t enough, here’s something else to blow your mind.

I am on holiday on Monday for 2 days.

A work holiday and a national holiday.

Bet you thought my days of free holiday blagging were over, didn’t you.

Well you thought wrong, because it is July 4th … a day I will soon grow to love.

And with that, I’ll see you Wednesday y’all.

America Is Modern History …

So I’ve already written how much I’m enjoying LA.

That doesn’t mean it’s better than China, just different.

I say that because there’s a huge amount of things about China I miss.

People. [Or at least some of them]
Clients. [Or at least some of them]
Culture. [Nearly all of it]

But there’s one thing I miss in its entirety and that’s how China deals with money.

More specifically, how China has embraced technology to enable people to transact their cash.

Of course, part of this is because China LOVES getting people to spend money and so the easier they make it, the easier it will be to get people to do it but then America – a land the Middle Kingdom copied in terms of capitalistic tendencies – is supposed to be a ‘spend society’ so I’m absolutely shocked how backwards they are in terms of embracing technology for finance.

Everywhere I go … everything I buy … can only be obtained with a credit card or a cheque.

A fucking cheque.


Oh yes, there’s the odd ‘Apple Pay’ option, but as we all know, that’s a piece of crap – especially compared to WeChat – so basically I’m in a situation where for the first time in literally 20 years, I am using cheque books.

At first, I thought they were joking, then I opened my bank account and they sent me 6 cheque books “to get me started”.

Six!!! Hahahahaha.

Thank God I was a pre-existing AMEX customer so I could get a local card otherwise – given the way America only offers you credit if you’re wildly in debt – I’d have to buy a bloody newspaper with a cheque.

The World may laugh at QR codes, but China has shown how they can be used to change the way people behave and transact with money forever. If America wants to be great again, modernizing their approach to money might be a good first step.