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


There Is No Normal, But There Is A Hell Of A Lot Of Ordinary …

One of the things I hate is when I hear someone say ‘normal’ in relation to people.

What are they going on about?

There is no such thing as normal.

There may be habits or tastes or behaviours that are common, but that doesn’t make the people undertaking them, normal.

Ordinary perhaps … but not normal.

Our industry is obsessed with trying to sell mass.

I get it – clients want to reach as many people as possible – but while it sounds more efficient for a clients marketing investment if you talk about people in terms of ‘normal’, it doesn’t mean it is more effective.

If anything, quite the opposite.

As I have said countless times, we need to stop thinking relevance is the win and start aiming for resonance.

Of course to do that, you have to be comfortable with uncomfortable – and that’s why I think we’ll be seeing terms like ‘normal’ and ‘relevance’ for decades to come.

Until most of us don’t exist anymore.

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A Little Bit Of Nice To End The Week …

There are 2 reasons for the title of this post.

The main one is that I’m ending the week on a nice story.

And when I say ‘nice’, I mean it … it’s not me ranting about some revenge I’ve finally unleashed on someone after 30 years.

I know … who the hell am I?!

The other reason is that I’m having a little break so you get a ‘long weekend’ of blog post freedom as I’m not back till Tuesday.

Enjoy it, it might not happen again for a long time.

But back to the main reason for this being nice …

England has a terrible history in terms of inclusion.

Hell, it has a terrible history in a lot of things.

And while the World is a massive, massive shit-show right now, there are moments where faith is restored.

Case in point is what the Bank of England have done with the design of the new £50 note …

For those of you who don’t know who Turing was, read this.

Put simply, he not only was a brilliantly clever man, he played a huge role in the Allies victory in World War 2.

And yet despite all this, he was treated despicably simply for being gay.

And while you could argue this gesture of acknowledgement is too little, too late – and it is – the way they did it is the perfect tribute to the man.

An act that shows how he did things, not just what he did.

A gesture of beautiful nerd resonance.



When Naming Strategies Aren’t A Strategy …

A brand name can make a huge difference to the success of a brand.

Don’t get me wrong, the product has to be good or none of it matters – but the brand name does have an impact on performance.

Maybe this is why I have seen so many companies talk about their ‘naming strategy’ process … even though most of them then come back and say their first stage of the process has resulted in 10,000+ names.

TEN THOUSAND!!!

What sort of strategy – a process designed to ultimately create sacrifice – delivers 10,000 options?

But I digress.

While names can evoke all manner of feelings and emotions, there is a whole host that shows the imagination of a dead badger.

I wrote about how Singapore in particular is good/bad with their ‘say what you see’ approach to naming brands, products and stores … but there is a type of brand name that drives me even more crazy than the obviousness favoured in Asia and it’s the crash-together name.

Crash Together?

Yeah … where a brand takes 2 separate words roughly associated with the category and smashes them together.

There’s a bunch of these, such as Playtex, but I saw one recently that was bottom-of-the-barrel scraping …

Pregnacare.

PREGNACARE!!!

Christ, is that really the best they could do?

I get being pregnant is both wonderful and fearful, but Pregnacare is the most clinical name you could get.

It captures none of the wonderful and just hints of the fearful.

Plus it doesn’t – in any way – explain what it actually is, which given they’ve decided to go all mechanical in name choice, seems a rather ridiciulous situation.

I get naming is hard.

I get naming isn’t the be-all and end-all of a brands success.

But if you want to be seen as some sort of friend to anyone who is pregnant – which, judging by the photo, Pregnacare do – then you might want to choose 2 words that when smashed together, don’t sound like a visit to an upmarket gynecologist.



Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?

So a few weeks ago, in a Starbucks in Epping, I saw this man …

For those who don’t know who he is, it’s music icon Rod Stewart.

I appreciate his best days as a singer are over but the fact he’s 74, still has hit albums and sold out concerts and looks pretty much like he did 40 years ago, means he can look back on his life as pretty bloody successful.

There’s lots of stories about Mr Stewart.

His love life.

His happy feud/rivalry with Elton John.

His tightness.

But what isn’t talked about much is his love of his family.

I saw it when he walked into Starbucks.

In came his wife and a bunch of his kids – young and old – and they all sat together, chatting … laughing and sharing coffee and croissants.

I know this is something we see everyday, all around the World, but there was something lovely in seeing an international Rock Star act like the doting father and husband he obviously is.

I’m not denying he has made some pretty shit mistakes in the past … but without wishing to defend that … sometimes good people make bad mistakes and whatever happened in the past, at least he seems to remember what is truly important.

Nothing says this more than an interview he gave this year …

I don’t know about you, but I think this is wonderful.

It’s also weird his brothers and sisters are NINETY YEARS OLD.

But what I love most is that it is apparent for all his wealth, he feels his family is what truly makes him rich.

Even his ex-wife, Rachel Hunter, doesn’t really have a bad word to say about him.

Their divorce wasn’t because of infidelity, it was because she was young and after 13 years of him being a doting husband, she felt she wanted to go out and live more.

And even then, she – and he – made sure everything was both amicable and respectful.

The reason I’m saying this is because work/life balance is under greater pressure than ever.

Sure companies are talking about it more than ever before, but in the main, what they really mean is ‘it’s important to have a home life but make sure you do your work first’.

I also accept, it’s much easier to have work/life balance when you’re a multi, multi millionaire because when Mr Stewart was starting out, he was so in debt, his manager and record company pushed him to go out on tour so he missed a lot of his oldest kids early years.

But here’s the thing.

If we all appreciate that work/life balance is important [even if that is simply because it makes you more effective at work] and mental health has become an issue that has been accepted as a real issue, how come this isn’t included in any procurement demands from clients or agencies?

Maybe it is, but I haven’t heard about any.

I have heard of contracts that demand female representation.

And I have heard of contracts that demand people of color inclusion.

But nothing on mental health or work/life balance.

Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that issues of gender and background are being forced into contracts [but I’m so sad this is what it took to have it happen] but what about making sure these people are looked after once they are there?

Why isn’t that part of the deal?

Why is that not a key criteria of what we are all talking about?

Why is that something shareholders don’t demand of the companies they invest in?

I think we can all guess, but if you’re still not sure, head over to Corporate Gaslighting and read what some people have discovered are some of the reasons why.



You Never Forget Those Who Never Let You Be Forgotten …

Many years ago I wrote a post called pivotal people.

It was about those individuals who have an incredible impact on how your life turns out.

I’m not talking about family or friends.

I’m not even talking about relationships that last years.

I’m talking about interactions – whether for 10 minutes or a decade – that changes the course of how you live.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few of these people come into my life – most recently Maya, Bree and Chelsea – and it is important to me they all know the impact they have had – and continue to have – on who I am and what I do.

A long time ago, I decided the best way to show this was to write to them all and say thank you.

Weeks passed without a word from anyone so I emailed one of the recipients to check they had received the letter.

He responded saying he had and wanted to know if I was dying.

Yep … my heartfelt gratitude was met with the general consensus that I must have a terminal illness.

Thankfully I nipped that misconception in the bud, and while the people I wrote to still didn’t really know how to react [to the words in my letter, not the fact I wasn’t dying] the reality is I wasn’t looking for any sort of response or gratitude, I just wanted them to know.

Why?

Because in my experience, the people who go out of their way to help you in this way, do it because they see something in you that maybe you don’t even see.

They want to see you grow because they give a shit about your wellbeing.

But better yet, they do it for no self-serving reason, they just believe in you and who you can be.

It is – in my opinion – one of the most beautiful acts someone can do for another person and yet, in many cases, the people helping don’t even realize the impact they’ve had on you.

I’m writing this because I recently read an interview with the footballer Ian Wright.

He was asked ‘what did he owe his parents’ and he said he owed them nothing as he had done everything for them. He said the person he owed the most was his old school teacher, Mr Pigden.

Looking into it, I learned a story of love, belief and standards.

A story that celebrates teaching in its most powerful form.

Not for grades. But for preparing someone for a fuller life.

You can read the article here, but watch the video, it’s incredibly moving.

You don’t have to be a teacher to be Mr Pigden to someone.

I hope you have recognized yours and act in the same way to someone else.



The Best Part Of Me Isn’t Me …

A few weeks ago, Otis – my son – graduated from preschool.

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t quite get the preschool graduation thing.

Yes it’s a sort-of school, but it’s basically long playtime where you get to piss about with your mates – which is a bit like working in adland, but with less alcohol. Hopefully.

Anyway, whatever it is, Otis graduated which means the next stage is him embarking on his journey of real education.

I can’t believe it.

It seems only 5 minutes ago he was born.

But there he was … graduating for the first time in his life.

I don’t mind telling you I look at my little boy with such pride and love.

He has gone through a lot …

Living in 3 radically different countries – exemplified by the above photo shows him born in Shanghai, starting preschool in LA and finishing it all in London – saying goodbye to people of huge significance in his life, having to start things over again and again, watching his Dad crumble after seeing his beloved mum die, going through an operation … and yet through it all, he has approached life with a sense of optimism, mischief, happiness and curiosity that would put many older people to shame.

Part of this is because he’s just a loving and compassionate kid. Part of this is because he has family who bloody adore him. But part of this is the insane kindness and generosity that people around the world have shown him simply because they have watched him grow through my billions of social media pics.

The reality is Otis has brought more to my life than I could ever have imagined.

Not just in terms of love and happiness … but also in terms of lessons for life.

He has made everything unquestionably richer for both his amazing Mum and me and so as I tried not to cry as I watched him get his significant – but utterly pointless – certificate, I felt insanely proud of him.

Not for what he has achieved, but for who he is.

Congratulations Otis, you’re an epic little boy.



It’s Not Big. It’s Not Clever. But It’s A Bit Funny …

So Cannes sent out a ‘wrap up’ of things learnt from this years festival.

There was a lot of talk about authenticity and audience … great, intelligent speakers with genuinely fascinating perspectives on how we get closer to audiences without them just feeling like ‘the data told us what to say and how to do it’.

Again, this is not an anti-data thing. Far from it.

But for creativity to infiltrate, invigorate and ultimately move culture and business forwards, it needs to be resonant to the audience [and the brand] rather than be some semi-relevant message that has been designed to actively disregard the very things that makes us human.

For that I mean the messiness, hypocrisy, fears, complexity, loves, passions, habits and nuance of how we think, what we think and how we live … the stuff that gives us individuality … the stuff that is very different to just focusing on transactional data points that have ultimately been designed to give specific answers to specific questions that forgets the importance of context.

Great data folks understand the need for this.

Great planning folks understand the need for data.

Sadly, we still treat them as an either/or, which highlights our industry seems to be more focused on the ego of power and control rather than what can liberate the most interesting creativity. Ironically, while I think my attitude shows me in the most professional light that I’ve ever been, I recently got called a ‘corporate anarchist’ – which kind of reinforces my point – however all this is immaterial, because imagine the utter disappointment of the people who spoke their brilliance at Cannes and discovered in the wrap up, almost half the pages dedicated to this subject come from a ranty, sweary Nottingham lad.

Their loss.

The industries shame.

My unbelievable, unashamedly wonderful gain.