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


Is Innovation The Fast Track To Corporate Fucking Stupidity?

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about how so many of the great ideas I’ve seen have come from the minds of designers rather than adfolk.

Where so many in my industry look to create eye-candy, designers are approaching their task in terms of solving the clients fundamental problem in the best and most visually interesting way.

There’s a lesson for many of us to learn in that.

However it’s not all great for designers.

Like that Pepsi bullshit from years back, there’s still examples where designers are taking the piss more than a catheter.

For the latest example, may I present to you Vodafone.

Whether we like them or not, our lives are very dependent on the telecommunications industry.

Sure, we might not use their service to make phonecalls anymore, but our smartphone addiction means we need their data so we can instragram our food at every possible moment.

Now obviously the telco industry doesn’t like being seen as just a ‘service provider’.

Part of that might be because of corporate ego, but the main reason is likely to be that for them to grow, they need to be regarded as an innovation company … someone who creates the future as much as serves it.

Whether you think that’s bollocks or not is up to you, but the reason I’m saying it is because that’s kind of the explanation Vodafone used for creating their new logo.

“What new logo?” I hear you cry.

This one …

“No Rob …” you reply, “… you’ve made a mistake, that’s the old logo”.

Oh no it isn’t folks, that’s the new one.

No seriously.

I swear to God.

Oh hang on, I don’t believe in God … OK, I swear on my heart.

Still don’t believe me?

OK, if you want absolute proof, here’s the old logo for comparison.

“But … but isn’t that basically the old logo just with the colours inverted?”, you stutter.

Well, I would agree with that assessment however we would both be wrong because apparently it is a new logo and, when you hear how the people at Vodafone describe it, it represents a new dawn for the company and it’s role and goal in society.

Here’s Ben Macintosh, Vodafone Australia’s customer business director …

“The changes represent the company’s ability to ‘innovate for the future ‘and supply choice for customers. The wants and needs of our customers have changed, and with that we’ve changed too. We challenge the status quo and push the boundaries to give people something that they won’t find anywhere else.”

I swear to god this is not an April Fool.

This really is their new logo and Ben Macintosh really did say that.

Look, I get Apple generated billions in extra revenue by simply adding a small ‘s’ to their otherwise near-identical product but this is a whole different scale of idiocy.

For me, there’s only 2 possible scenarios …

Either the branding company [which, let’s be honest, is not a design company] are fucking delusional or Vodafone is.

Whatever the truth, if I was a shareholder in the former I’d be buying more shares in them for their ability to charge millions for taking 10 minutes to literally invert the colours of their clients existing logos and if the latter, I’d be selling my shares as fast as I could possibly get rid of the worthless bastards.

On the bright side, I’m about to make a fortune as a branding consultant and my 1997 copy of Microsoft Paint.

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If You Want To Learn Insight, Listen To A Criminal …

I work in an industry that spends billions of dollars per year looking for insight.

You’d think for all that cash you’d discover some absolute corkers – but we don’t.

There’s a whole host of reasons for that.

Part of it is because this industry still mistakes insight for what people do as opposed to why.

Part of it is because some clients believe some insights may stop sales opportunity rather than open it up. [Hence the rise of ‘global human truths’ despite their fatal flaw of ignoring the importance of local context]

Part of it is because some believe that unless an insight is positive, the work will be negative. [Which is obviously bollocks, unless you use insights literally rather than laterally and even then, that doesn’t mean the work has to come out like that]

Part of it is because some in the research industry act like the legal industry and realize there is more money in keeping the question going than actually answering the question.

There’s a whole bunch of reasons, and while I believe insights can come from anywhere – I still believe those that reveal people’s beliefs, motivations and behaviours are often the most powerful of them all.

As anyone who has ever worked with/for me will know, I call these ‘dirty little secrets’, because in my experience, they tend to reveal far more than just why people do things, but the circumstances that led to this belief.

It’s not easy … it’s not always perfect … it always requires other work to validate, explore or exclude it … but I will continually push my lovely colleagues to investigate and discover, because when you reveal a dirty little secret, you are already on the road to making work that will be different and powerful.

The reason I say this is because I recently read about Ponzi-scheme King, Bernie Madoff.

While he comes across as a cold, calculated, sociopath … his intellect can’t be disputed.

When asked how he pulled off the biggest financial fraud in history, he said this …

“I succeeded because when you offer people a deal that’s too good to be true, they never want to look too hard into the facts. They say it’s because of trust. I say it’s because of greed.”

There’s a lot of truth in those 2 sentences.

There’s a lot of creative opportunity in those 2 sentences.

I don’t mean to make work that exploits even more people, but to make work for [say, a bank] that can build the sort of conversation that gives them a real chance to prove they have their customers best interests at heart.

But it won’t happen because too many clients think ‘negative insights’ leads to negative work [which is utter bullshit] and most banks already know what Mr Maddoff said, because that’s how they continue to screw the taxpayer out of cash to line their own pockets.

Shame, because a financial institution that decided to be utterly transparent and then communicated, “the reason we tell you everything is we don’t want you to blame us for anything” might be quite a refreshing change.



You Know How Boring Adland Is Becoming When A Leaflet Is The Best Thing I’ve Seen In Ages …

If you’re wondering what the photo above is, it’s an insert that was placed in the X-Ray machine trays that you place your electronic items in at airports.

In other words, it’s a paper insert in a plastic tray.

And yet it’s the most fun piece of advertising I’ve seen in ages.

OK, so part of the reason I like it so much is because the standard of advertising right now is pretty poor, but the other part is that whoever was behind it, understood what the brand – in this case, Narcos – was all about.

The cheekiness of advertising a TV show about drug smuggling at the very place in an airport that is designed to stop them, is brilliant.

Yes, you may say it’s obvious … but there’s many obvious things that don’t get made because ‘ambient media’ doesn’t have the reach of mainstream broadcast or the targeting of digital.

And yet this paper insert in a plastic tray made me smile.

Made me take a photograph of it.

Made me write about it.

And while the reach of this blog is about 5 people, that’s still better than 99% of campaigns churned out in the mainstream world.

I admit I’ve always been a sucker for good ambient media stuff.

Sure, it got a bit mad there for a while … where it was less about extending the spirit and purpose of the brand in interesting and relevant places and more about just putting ads wherever you could get away with … but when it’s done right, well thought out ‘brand experiences’ can have an impact that is bigger and better than many multi million dollar ad campaigns.

So to whoever did it, thank you … you reminded me that creativity is more than just what you do, but where you do it.



Inspired By …

My whole family are connected to the law.

Not the bullshit, sharp-suit, high-charging wankers we hear so much about these days, but the guys fighting for genuine justice.

My father in particular hated what the legal industry had become … from being a discipline that fought for justice to one that now tries to keep problems going so they can keep charging exorbitant fees.

So what has that got to do with the picture of these Gummy Pandas.

Well, I saw these in a local Starbucks and I just thought how mad this was allowed to exist.

We all know it’s a take on Gummy Bears.

We all know they’re trying to steal business from Gummy Bears.

We all know they’re trying to make people think they’re getting Gummy Bears.

OK, so it’s a bloody sweet that you don’t really pay much attention to … but if this was a person, it would be identity theft and yet companies continue to pay huge amounts to law firms to protect their hard work when anyone can set up what is basically a duplicate brand by simply changing a letter or – in the case of Uncle Martian – not even putting in that effort.

Anyway, the real reason I’m writing this is because I wanted an excuse to link to my favorite ever Amazon reviews for [Sugar Free] Gummy Bears and I assure you, it’s way, waaaaay, waaaaaaaaay more enjoyable than this post.



Speak In A Way Culture Can Hear …

I know this week has been a week of super short, super bad posts – even by my standards – but today I end the week on a longer and more serious note.

A few weeks ago, the country singer Glen Campbell died.

Despite sharing the same surname, I have never shown any interest in this singer/songwriter because basically, I hate country music.

Sure, I knew a couple of his songs, but if you’d asked me who sang them, I would have not been able to tell you in a million years.

So why am I writing about his death?

Well, when he died, a friend of mine – who is a massive music guy – wrote on his Facebook about Glen Campbell’s life and there was one bit that really hit me which was how he dealt with being diagnosed with Alzheimers.

Rather than retire quietly, he stepped up his workload.

Not to capitalize on his illness or end his career on a high … but because music was something he loved and he wanted to enjoy it before he forgot it.

And he was forgetting it.

He needed a teleprompter on stage to help him remember the lyrics to his songs.

He needed to be reminded that some members of his band were his very own children.

But that’s not the thing that hit me, it was the fact that he wrote a song about his illness called, ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’.

To be honest, just hearing he had done that reminded me of the poem Clive James wrote about his impending death. A post that was extra significant at the time because I was about to fly to England to be with my Mum for her impending heart operation – an operation that sadly didn’t work.

As many of you know, I’ve written a lot about death.

Not because I particularly like the subject, but because I believe not talking about it can do us far more harm.

It’s never a comfortable topic to discuss, but I know my denial of my Fathers situation led to me experiencing 10 years of pain.

And while my Mum died unexpectedly, she had made sure that it was something we talked about in general terms and then – as an act of love that is almost impossible to comprehend – she quietly made arrangements to ensure that if she did not get through the operation, the legal ramifications of her passing would not add extra burden to my broken heart.

I must admit, I initially found it hard to think that she had done this for me.

Of course I recognised it as an act of love but as she had once told me that she was scared of dying alone, I imagined her fears would have become even stronger while she was preparing all these things for me.

I’ve got to be honest, it’s only writing this that has made me realise that regardless the nervousness Mum was feeling, she would also have had a sense of contentment that she was able to do this for me.

That’s a level of love that has literally made me tear up while I am writing this which reinforces why I am so, so glad that she knew I was with her when the worse moment happened.

I write all this because I hope Glen Campbell’s family will one day feel the same sense of love when they read the lyrics to his sons, ‘I’m not gonna miss you’.

I can’t imagine how it must have felt hearing this song for the first time – especially as his Alzheimers had only just been diagnosed – but in time, I truly hope they can see past the pain and feel the love of someone who, at their darkest hour, wanted them to know how much he loved them.

I’m still here, but yet I’m gone
I don’t play guitar or sing my songs
They never defined who I am
The man that loves you ’til the end
You’re the last person I will love
You’re the last face I will recall
And best of all, I’m not gonna miss you
Not gonna miss you
I’m never gonna hold you like I did
Or say I love you to the kids
You’re never gonna see it in my eyes
It’s not gonna hurt me when you cry
I’m never gonna know what you go through
All the things I say or do
All the hurt and all the pain
One thing selfishly remains
I’m not gonna miss you
I’m not gonna miss you

It those lyrics haven’t affected you, then you’re not human.

Which leads to a point I’d like to make about advertising.

No, really …

As you will have worked out by now, I am an emotional bloke.

Of course that doesn’t mean I don’t value intelligence or information or data, it’s just that if our learnings aren’t conveyed in a way that captures how our audience actually feels, it becomes ‘cold’ to me.

Part of this is because I believe our job is to connect to culture, part of this is because I believe creativity should push and provoke … but mostly, it’s because I believe the best work connects to audiences on a much deeper level than the superficial.

Put simply, it feels like it’s come from inside the culture rather than from someone observing it.

And that’s why Glen Campbell’s song is so powerful to me … because even though I hate country music, when I read his lyrics, I was reminded that great work talks in a way you powerfully feel rather than passively rationalize.

Thank you for the lesson Glen.



The State Of Advertising Is In A State …

I’m back.

Did you miss me?

No, didn’t think so …

Anyway, a friend of mine recently wrote an article in the UK edition of Campaign Magazine about the state of outdoor advertising.

He made many good points – from the fact it’s now been relegated to ‘out of home’ categorisation to so much of it ignoring the basic principles of static communication by shoving so many words on it, you get the impression it’s a print ad, just repurposed for outdoor.

But for me, his point was not just about outdoor, but advertising as a whole.

Have a look at this ad by BBH London.

Nice isn’t it.

It ran in 1997 [I think]

Now look at this ad.

Same product.

Same agency.

Even the same line.

Horrible isn’t it.

OK, it’s not horrible by todays standards, but when you compare it to the ad they made 20 years earlier, it is.

And what’s with that ‘beautifully designed’ copy?

As if a car manufacturer would choose to make an ‘ugly designed’ car.

In the last 20 years, the standard of creativity has been severely dented.

Oh sure, Cannes is out there celebrating winners left, right and centre but there’s 2 flaws in their praise:

1. So much of it is scam.

2. The rest of it is niche.

But here’s the thing, the quality inside ad agencies has not diminished – if anything, it has improved – and let’s not forget, both of these ads were done by BBH … one of the all time greats … so I can only assume the shift downwards is being caused by clients focused on satisfying their ego rather than intriguing their audience.

Which makes me question whether clients understand what advertising is and how it actually works … because it seems they are of the belief the masses are sat at home waiting for them to tell them what they should care about so they can run out at the earliest opportunity and make the purchase.

Of course I know that’s not true and of course, I know there are some amazing clients out there – because I’ve worked with them – but maybe this madness is because clients are more focused on the words/phrases played back in their post campaign research analysis [ie: beautifully designed] rather than aiming for society be intrigued, excited or hungry for their brand.

In other words, for all the research and data we have on audiences, there’s far too much emphasis on what brands want people to care about them rather than understanding – and connecting to them – on what they actually care about.

So to Audi, please get back to communicating driver to driver, because not only is this ‘brand to consumer’ approach not working, it’s making you look like every other bland car brand in the category and that kind of defeats the purpose of investing millions of dollars in marketing.



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.