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


Let Them Learn, Don’t Teach …

As many of you know, I spent 5 years trying to pass a bunch of teacher qualification so I could one day be a lecturer at MIT.

It should have taken 2.

And while I [eventually] passed and have done the odd lesson here and there, the reality is I find the whole thing very difficult.

Part of that is because I’m a bit thick, part of that is because the students I’ve worked with are ridiculously smart [one is 21 and re-engineering the pace maker for fucks sake] … but the other part is that so much of the ‘higher education industry’ seems to be focused on teaching, rather than on helping students learn.

Of course, both of those are interconnected, but for me, it’s about the core motivation.

If it’s about ‘teaching’ … then your focus is communicating the curriculum within the time allowed.

If it’s about ‘learning’ … then your focus is on enabling the students to grasp concepts that they can then use with their own free will.

I am absolutely in the latter camp, which is why I’ve found MIT a bit of a struggle and why I’ve found The Kennedys such a joy.

Of course it doesn’t help there are systems in place where the students ‘grade’ the teacher.

Seriously, how stupid is that?

I appreciate there’s some bad teachers out there, but to give students the authority to pass judgement based on their experience is ridiculous.

Of course, in a perfect world they would be able to do this objectively, but as we all know, so much commentary these days is from a subjective point of view so you could be a great teacher who is given a bad grade by students simply because you didn’t give them the grades they desired because they didn’t warrant them.

Now I’ve made a distinction between higher education and more junior – but that’s not to say they don’t suffer the same issues – but the reason I write this is because of that article at the top of this post.

Despite the author inferring they found it educational and inspirational, I’m not sure that approach would be allowed today.

I appreciate it is fairly radical, but handled correctly, it not only helps students learn, but it opens a debate that would help them truly understand.

To me, that is what education is about …

Giving students the tools to challenge, destroy and liberate stuff … because if we don’t give them that, what hope has society to move forward, let alone stand up against those who wish to do us harm?



When We Put Our Heads Up Our Asses …

So this is hard for me because it not only involves an agency I like very much – Droga5 – but it also involves a number of personal friends.

So over the past few months, there’s been a campaign for Email marketing platform, MailChimp.

Not that you’d know it, because the campaign has been about creating seemingly random ads for things with names that kind-of sound like MailChimp but never actually say it.

Hence we’ve had all sorts of things like FailChips and SnailPrimps placed all around NYC.

And why?

Because when the brand sponsored the hit podcast ‘Serial’, someone in the promo mispronounced the brand as “MailKimp” and Droga5 thought that could be a fun way to advertise the brand.

That’s right, spend a shitload of cash doing a bunch of things that never actually mentions the brand name or relates to what the brand does.

This is how a Mailchimp exec explains it …

“We used mispronunciation as a creative device to inspire all kinds of different executions, knowing that people would be curious about what they were seeing and search for more information”.

What?

WHAT?

Now I accept there is a good chance I might be wrong, but are people that curious?

Do people give a flying fuck about this sort of thing?

Maybe they do, which means I can’t help but wonder how they felt when they discovered what it was really all about.

Were they pissed off they’ve just been part of a marketing scam?

Or maybe they ended up being massively disappointed by what they discovered it all to be about.

Or did they go, “Wow, that’s amazing” and immediately sign up for their service, even if they didn’t need it.

I have a feeling it’s not that likely to be the last option.

Don’t get me wrong, I know people love to ‘discover’ stuff, but I’m not so sure that means they love discovering they’ve just been had.

All of this feels like the people behind the campaign either watched one too many bad spy movies or took Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘tipping point’ a tad too literally.

But it gets worse.

Much worse … because this ‘strategy’ of mispronouncing the brand name – according to the credits released with the campaign – required 7 strategists.

SEVEN.

What did they do?

What is the bloody strategy in any of this?

I appreciate that sometimes the biggest insight is there isn’t one … but even then, you don’t need 7 strategists. Hell, even if you were doing a campaign to solve world hunger, you wouldn’t need seven strategists.

WHAT IS GOING ON!?

I love Droga5 and I massively respect my friends who were involved in this campaign, but this all smacks of early dotcom advertising and we know what happened to the majority of those brands.

Actually I’m wrong, because at least those ads focused on people remembering the name.

This isn’t advertising, it’s anti-advertising and while the industry might think that’s something cool and worthy of aspiring too, in the real World – or at least The Guardian – they know it’s a great advertisement for saying our industry has its head up it’s own ass.



Among The Bullshit, There Are Nuggets …

OK, I openly admit that is the worst post title ever.

But hang in there.

The reason I said it is because – let’s be honest – our industry can talk a lot of shite.

Not only that, we can – and often do – spend an inordinate amount of time ‘discussing’ stuff that should be pretty simple and obvious to solve/decide.

I have a friend who found himself spending 2 years of his life – TWO YEARS – sitting in various meeting rooms around the World, listening to his clients discuss whether the word “refreshing” should be included in their brand onion.

For a water brand.

No, seriously.

Even after doing this job for almost 30 years, I still haven’t been able to work out if the mind-numbingly relentless monotone of discussion is due to internal politics or individuals who realise that stopping decisions actually generates greater revenue.

However, while the way many go about this stuff can be rightfully ridiculed, the reality is the issues being discussed are often important – at least from a brand perspective – which is why the next time someone say’s brand hierarchy is a load of bollocks, show them this …

Just make sure you then don’t spend 2 years discussing what the right bloody answer is.



Lazy Or Stupid?

So recently, I saw this ad in Shanghai …

Can you see the problem?

Have another look?

Yes … apart from the words CAR FREE DAY, they’ve literally used Lorem Ipsum for the rest of the text.

And for those who don’t know what Lorem Ipsum is … it’s dummy text used by the advertising and printing industry when space has to be left for copy but it hasn’t been written yet.

Now I appreciate we’re in China so there’s a small possibility the people behind the ad didn’t speak English so didn’t realise the difference.

But I have to be honest, I don’t really believe that.

And even if it was true, what about the people who commissioned the work?

Seriously, this might be one of the laziest/stupidest things I’ve seen in a long, long time.

This is an amazing country that is developing at an incredible rate but when I see stuff like this, I am reminded so much of it’s progress is based on the aesthetic because under the surface ‘good enough, is good enough’ still permeates so much of what passes as standards.



Lazy Disruption …

Right now, in supermarkets across super-conservative Singapore, is this …

Yep … that’s a real thing.

The product originates from the UK but – unsurprisingly – had it’s advertising banned there on the grounds of indecency.

[Which is why I’m kind of scared what they mean by 100% natural]

The fact it has been able to run this sort of thing in Singapore highlights the authorities there are either ultra-naive or super-broadminded.

Given the Red Dot Nation is not renowned for its liberalness – despite things like this getting through the system – I assume the introduction of a hoverboard in the visual convinced the powers-that-be that this was a genuine ad for a brand celebrating an active lifestyle.

Idiots.

But not quite as idiotic as the immature boys/expat wankers who’ll buy the stuff thinking they’re being witty. On the positive, the moment they’re seen with a can, they’ll be more hated than a Nottingham Forest owner. And trust me, that’s seriously hated.



Baby Chair Manufacturers Make Donald Trump Look Like A Labrador Puppy …

I’ve written a lot about my hatred of pushchair companies.

How they try and sell their seat-on-wheels as a fashion item or a bloody 4×4 vehicle.

But now iCandy – one of the worst offenders – have decided to fuck me over by releasing this:

I know my hatred is bordering on irrational but I hate this so much.

I hate the name.

MiChair. MICHAIR.

Apart from it being utter bollocks, why can’t they spell it properly.

Oh I know why, because by making the ‘i’ in MiCHAIR lowercase, they think it makes it sound like it’s some kind of next-gen product when all it is, IS A FUCKING HIGHCHAIR FOR A BABY.

Then I hate the Dad in the photo.

Look at him …

They might think he looks young, relaxed and good looking – the sort that holds down an uber-successful job in the city – but I just think he’s a smug fuck who is sleeping with his secretary. Probably in the marital bed when his wife is out at her sisters.

And don’t get me started on that kitchen.

Oh you just know the client demanded it to look clean and contemporary because that reflects ‘the brands values and aesthetic’ or some other contrived marketing buzzword bullshit.

And the irony is, by doing that, it highlights how much bollocks this all is because anyone with a kid will tell you that regardless how immaculate a place may be when you start to feed your child, the moment you try and put food in their mouth, the entire room will resemble a war zone within 3 seconds flat.

But I can even overlook all that compared to the worst bit … the line.

LIVE EVERY MOMENT. LOVE EVERY STEP.

What the fuck?

Seriously, what the fuck?

Love every moment of what? Feeding your kid?

Are you insane?

Unless that chair can strap a kid in like their Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs, you’ll never live every moment … you’ll be too busy trying to avoid it.

And then there’s that LOVE EVERY STEP.

Maybe they mean it in terms of how the chair adapts to the different life stages of the kid, but even if it does [which I totally made up, by the way] IT’S A CHAIR … IT CAN’T GO ANYWHERE SO WHY ARE YOU USING WORDS LIKE STEPS???

OK … OK … I need to take a deep, deep breath but I hate how these companies try to exploit the love we have for our kids by making us feel that we are not treating them well unless we put them in some pretend designer bollocks.

To be quite honest, that strategy – while sadly effective – is utterly evil because what they’re saying is it’s the stuff you put around your baby that is more important than the way you actually treat them.

Bastards.

I would absolutely love to know how many of the people behind this are parents.

Then I’d love to know how many have called their kids Tarquin or Apple-Baby-Boo.

I don’t know why knowing their kids name would be important, but I’d just like to know.

Because I’m angry. And irrational. And just really, really fed up of how these companies are turning kids into a fucking accessory for certain parents to show off how fucking rich and stylish they are.

Though I admit, if Birkenstock did a high chair, I’d be there with fucking bells on.

ARGHHHHHHHH!

[I’ll be better by tomorrow. Promise. Well, semi-promise]



Sometimes The Audience Finds You …

So I recently read an article on the UK distributors of Danish store, Tiger.

Tiger is often referred to as ‘Posh Poundland’ as it sells all manner of stuff.

Anyway, in 2005, a husband and wife – with no business experience whatsoever – decided to pour all the money they had into buying the rights for the brand in the UK.

They openly admit it was very difficult and they made many mistakes but 11 years later, they sold it for an estimated 40+ million pounds.

So far so good, but what really interested me was something they said at the end of the interview …

How brilliant is that.

It’s also a great lesson in thinking about your audience.

Too often, our industry defines audiences by the segment we believe are the most likely to want to buy our brand/product.

While that makes perfect sense, the problem is we are often end up being pretty generalistic in who we define our audience to be … often because our clients are petrified of putting limitations on their sales potential. The other problem with this broad audience approach is that it tends to end up being the audience for the whole category, which means we end up pitting ourselves directly against our competition.

What I love about this Tiger example is – albeit by lucky accident – they realised their was a very specific segment who were attracted to this product. A segment that liked it for reasons beyond what was expected, and yet was something that actively drove them to buy.

Now I admit it takes balls to do this.

It also takes absolute honesty.

And confidence.

But when defining audiences, it’s always worth remembering the motivations for purchase are often very different to what we would like to think they are. Of course we know this, but when in front of a client, it’s amazing how often we either temporarily forget or simply choose to ignore.

By being absolutely open to who could/should be interested in our clients brands, we not only stand the chance of making work that truly resonates with a particular segment, but one that automatically differentiates you from the countless competitors all trying to steal your share, which is why I still love the V&A London museum ad from the 80’s, where Saatchi’s [in their absolute pomp] realised the thing people liked most about the place was the cafe, which led to them running ad’s with the bravest ‘endline’ you may ever see …