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


Photographic Planning: A Picture Tells A Thousand Presentations …

One of the best things about moving to America was that we were able to bring most of the stuff we had in storage around the World back to one place for the first time in over 15 years.

While opening boxes upon boxes of DVD documentaries was a bit heartbreaking given they are now all available online for free, there was some delight and one of those was getting my hands back on this …

Sign of the Times is a brilliant book by photographer Martin Parr.

Martin Parr is one of Britain’s most significant photographers, best known for his sharp eye and cheeky sense of humour.

Over his 30+ career, he has focused on capturing ordinary people doing ordinary things and because of this, he has become known as a social commentator and recorder of Britain’s finely nuanced class system.

In the 90’s, the BBC aired a documentary called Signs of the Times.

In some respects it was an early version of reality television … a fly-on-the-wall documentary that aimed to document the personal tastes of people in their British homes.

50 people were chosen from 2000 applicants with a real focus on capturing a diverse range of ages, races, genders and social backgrounds.

Anyway, from that show came the book and anyone who grew up in the 90’s in the UK who sees it will resonate with so much of it.

Not just in terms of the aesthetic, but the energy, values and priorities of the times.

I’ve long been fascinated with this approach – we even did a similar type of project at Wieden in Shanghai – because for me, it not only helps communicate who we’re talking to in ways others can truly connect to but – because of the contextual lens – it provides additional insight into how the audience lives and what they value.

It’s why it was so important for me to make a coffee table book of photographs from our recent America In The Raw study, because while some probably saw it as an indulgence – especially given you needed to see the accompanying presentation to truly understand what we found and what we think brands can/should do – my view is that without it, you can’t truly connect to the stories that shaped our thinking and then all we’ll end up with is a deck rather than the influence for change.

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Stop Pushing Percentages And Start Celebrating Possibilities …

One of the things I’ve always hated is reading planning decks filled with charts and graphs.

Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to ensure your strategy is grounded in truth, but pages and pages of data and percentages says you lack confidence in what you’re saying rather than you have a conviction for it.

There are so many tips and tricks to ‘presenting’ strategy – of which I’ll be talking about some of them at the upcoming HOALA conference in Amsterdam – but having a story that takes the audience on the journey of your strategy in a way that both excites and informs is the absolute basic requirement.

Excites … because if the recipient doesn’t see the potential for what’s in it for them, then there’s no point presenting.

Informs … because if they don’t see it baked in reality, then they will regard all you’re doing as trying to sell fantasy.

I’ve seen far too many presentations that only deliver on one of those attributes and the reality is the work either never gets made or you wish it never was made and that’s why getting someone to buy your strategy requires real thought and ‘beating up’ before you commit anything to paper/powerpoint/keynote/film because as Ronald Reagan said, if you’re explaining, you’re losing.



Thank You For Pretending To Pay Attention …

So I was listening to the radio recently when an ad for Charles Schwab – the investment people – came on.

And do you know what the message was?

‘We really listen to what you’re saying’.

Now I understand the importance of listening [believe it or not] but is that really the big reason to use Charles Schwab?

Isn’t that one of the basic bloody pre-requisites of being a good financial advisor?

What next, ‘we always check our biro’s are working so you can sign all our paperwork’.

I get financial institutions don’t want to commit to actually saying they make you any money – or even selling you a policy in your interests rather than theirs – but come on, isn’t this just a bit insulting?

Not only that, it smacks of a company that is only hearing what they want you to say rather than what you’re actually saying.

What’s your point of view on the financial markets?

What’s your point of view on money?

What’s your point of view on cryptocurrency?

Tell me anything, except when you come into my home, you’re listening.



A Picture Tells A Thousand Data Points …

One of the things I love is hearing anecdotes of how people got companies to do things they initially didn’t want to do.

It is particularly of interest to me when those anecdotes are based around creative approaches to achieving their goal.

Recently I heard one that I think is of particular brilliance.

While the move towards electric cars is inevitable, the reality is that unless manufacturers make their cars highly desirable – in terms of appearance, function and excitement – it’s going to be a slow sell.

Let’s face it, Tesla’s success has little to do with how they’re powered and more to do with the fact it borrows from the sort of ‘future tech’ we were sold in cartoons as little kids.

Silent? Check.

Gull wing doors? Check.

Central computer screen? Check.

Self driving abilities? Check.

Hyper-speed button? Check … even though they call it ‘insane’.

But as cool as this all is – and it is – the reality is it comes at a price that most car manufacturers can’t get away with, so they have to try and find ways to offer desirability but at a lower unit price.

Which leads to this story I heard recently …

Because of the batteries needed to power the new generation of electric cars, the reality is most cars will be designed to be slightly taller to accommodate them. In turn, what this means is that to stop the cars looking slightly weird, they require bigger wheels – which adds a huge cost to the manufacturing process.

So the story I heard is that the designer of one of these cars was being told by his board that they would not sanction the bigger wheels as the price was too high.

He tried all manner of ways to get them to change their mind, but they felt it was a purely aesthetic issue and one they could live with.

So as a final act of desperation, he decided to do a presentation to the board about the importance of perspective.

In his presentation, he showed 2 pictures.

This …

And this …

The top he said would be how their car would look with the smaller, cheaper wheels.

The bottom would be how their car would look with the bigger, more expensive wheels.

Or said another way, one would look weird, one would look normal.

Apparently the board smiled.

Then approved his recommendation.

The reason I’m saying this is that we live in times where there appears – at least to me – an over-reliance on data to explain/decide/justify everything.

Of course data is important, but unless you do something with it that your audience can relate to, it’s pointless. And that’s why I love the above story so much because what the electric car designer did, was remind us how visual storytelling can influence or frame an argument in in ways data alone can’t always achieve.

Worth remembering next time you are writing a deck and filling it with a 100 pages of data explanation.



Weigel Isn’t Bad …

Martin Weigel.

The professor.

The planners planner.

The miserable bastard that never returns your emails.

Well he might be all of those things, but to me, he’s my mate.

What’s more, I think I’m his mate too – which means he’s not nearly as clever as everyone thinks he is.

But the reality is, he has his place as one of the best because he is. That simple.

Not just because he’s as smart as shit … but underpinning his intellectual ramblings are very simple, but powerful, beliefs that benefit everyone he is interacting with.

I say this because I recently heard his answer to the question, ‘What should a planner do and care about?’ to which he responded with this …

That’s it.

4 lines.

But those 4 lines cover so much.

Vision. Creativity [Not advertising]. Innovation. Cultural Resonance. Ambition. Action. Focus.

In other words, strategy that is designed to liberate rather than play nicely with others.

It’s what makes him so good and the work he does so great.

I should hate him, but I can’t …

And it’s not just because I bloody love his bloody lovely other half.

The reason I say this is that one of the things I’ve been shocked about in America is the standard of planning.

There … I’ve said it.

No, it’s not because I’m a snobby Brit.

No, it’s not because I don’t understand the cultural differences.

It’s because a lot of it is bad.

I’ve spent a lot of time exploring what is out there and in many cases it’s either strategy that the individual has used for pretty much every client they’ve worked on regardless of the situation, or at worst, it’s a snappy worded version of the client brief.

Or just bad taglines that say nothing and mean nothing.

In other words, packaging rather than planning.

Now of course there are some epic planners here – I am fortunate to have a bunch who work with me and there’s a bunch who I wish would work with me – but there has been a bunch who I’ve met/spoken to who have just underwhelmed.

I recently met one who said their main approach to strategy was ‘owning the social platform’.

I had to ask 3 times if I had heard right, and I had.

And when I said they weren’t the sort of planner I wanted in my team, he said I didn’t know what I was doing.

OK, there’s probably more than an element of truth in that, but even my worst planner skills is better than that.

And yet this individual was a senior planner in a good agency.

In other words, he was responsible for helping brands decide the direction they were going to invest millions of dollars in.

MILLIONS!

The World has gone mad.

There is a craft to planning.

You can’t outsource it all to data and media.

Of course those people have a place – and an important one at that – but the hard work is still done by those who realize it’s not about the ad, but the direction, tension and opportunity for the brand and culture.

The one’s who can think of ideas that aren’t really just an executional idea.

Which is why we need more Weigel’s than Gary V’s.

Because flash means nothing if it doesn’t address what I now call, Weigel’s ‘Four Principals Of Worthiness’.



Lessons For Marketing …

In the old days of marketing, the attitude was 'always have new news'.

Of course, the reality is constantly having new news is almost impossible – especially news that actually means something to the majority rather than the boardroom – but this attitude has seemingly stood the test of time, despite the fact it arguably does more harm to the brand than good.

[Lufthansa take note]

And that's why I passionately believe one of the most important lessons for marketing is knowing when to speak and when not too.

I appreciate many will disagree – especially those who indulge in self-indulgent, ego-messages via social media – but in a World where we are constantly bombarded with noise, adding to it doesn't seem to be the smartest move, especially if your way of 'getting attention' is becoming more and more exaggerated while claiming it to be based in truth.

[Lufthansa take note]

Is there a way to communicate on an on-going basis?

Of course. The simple rule being ‘talk about the stuff your audience cares about rather than what you want them to care about’, but for all the research available to us, I’m still shocked how few brands really understand this … mainly because they still think they’re in a battle for share of voice rather than share of give-a-shit.



Forewarned Is Forearmed…

Just before we started cynic, we got our hands on as many agencies creds decks as we could get. The point was we wanted to see how our ‘competition’ were positioning themselves so we could both learn about who they were and ensure what we did was not going to mimic anything that had already said or done.

We needn’t of worried.

The reality was the vast majority of agency creds all said the same thing.

Literally … the same thing.

Bar the logo in the bottom left/right hand corner and the case studies they showed, they all talked about how many offices they had, how many people they employed, their propriety tools, their effectiveness [which often was very questionable] and their management team.

And it went on.

And on and on and on …

Excessively long, contrived, mundane, corporate monotone, egotism aside … what shocked us most was how few talked about the value they placed on the quality of the work and their philosophy behind what made good work happen.

So when we came to creating our creds, the first page anyone saw was the image at the top of this post.

[For the record, it wasn’t that exact image, that’s my instagram ‘square’ pic of the 9 individual pieces of artwork that we had around the office that I only recently got my hands back on. Thanks Billy]

Now I am not denying it was a bit confronting.

And now – with experienced eyes – it smacks of trying a too hard to be noticed and different.

But the purpose of it was three-fold.

1 We wanted to ensure no one could mistake us for anyone else.

2 We wanted to make sure our work always represented our beliefs.

[Because we had read too many creds where the words didn’t match the output – indicating they were either delusionists or illusionists]

3 We wanted clients to know the majority of people they wanted to engage with, wanted them to leave them alone.

Part of that was because they had a ‘blanket’ approach to targeting – despite claiming otherwise.

Part of that was because they had a superficial/egotistical attitude towards why people would care.

Part of that was because they saw work simply as communication rather than building something bigger.

And while cynic has been dead for 8 years, I look at that image and think it’s still pretty relevant, which is pretty tragic, especially when you think about all the research, processes and tools adland likes to ‘big itself’ up about.

And that’s why I suggest to anyone looking to change agencies that before you make any decision – you should ask to see their creds.

Of course that shouldn’t be the only reason you choose a job, but seeing how they present themselves to others is possibly the quickest way to see what reality is truly like … especially when you filter it through the body of work they actually ended up putting out into the World.