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


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.

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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.



Building A Positive Office Culture Is Easy …

There is so much written about building an office culture.

There’s been books written on it.

Films written about it.

And consultants earning a fortune from it.

And I get it, because a good office culture is bloody important.

In the past I thought it was just about the people in the organisation rather than the organisation itself … but thanks to my experiences at HHCL, cynic and Wieden, I realise it’s as much about what the company stands for and how it behaves as it is the people they hire.

But recently I saw something that boils it all down to a very simple essence.

An essence that would mean those books would become pamphlets … those movies would become ads and those consultants become unemployed.

And why? I hear you ask.

Well, because the answer is simply this …

Can you see it?

It’s 4 words.

DON’T. BE. A. DICK.

OK … OK … I appreciate this might appear hypocritical coming from me, but that’s all it takes.

Don’t be a dick means respecting your colleagues.

Don’t be a dick means respecting everyones standards.

Don’t be a dick means respecting that everyone is trying to get to a good place.

Don’t be a dick is the simplest articulation of how to build a positive office culture.

Not just in terms of pleasantries.

Not just in terms of togetherness.

But in terms of the work you do as an individual and as a group.

It’s easy to get.

It can apply to every person in every situation.

It defines the standards of behaviour you should expect and give … from personal interaction to collaboration to making work.

It’s bloody brilliant.

So next time someone asks if they should hire a consultant to improve the office culture, just look them in the eye and say, “Don’t be a dick”.



Differentiation …

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be writing a lot about differentiation, including a theory that suggests that while it continues to be vitally important for brands, the way they are going about it is utterly, utterly wrong.

But day 2 of post writing in a New Year is far too early to lay down such heavy subject matters so instead I’ll leave you with this …

Now I admit I stole this photo from a friends Facebook update, but I love it.

Window cleaning from men in kilts.

Bloody genius.

Differentiating while making a statement about sexism in culture all at the same time.

Though I appreciate that second part might be me attributing reasons they might not have had.

But there is something magical in the ridiculousness of it all, something that makes you smile and actually want to have them come over to your place to wash your windows.

And yet it still feels better than the way a lot of big companies approach differentiation.

Maybe it’s because they seem to own the madness of it – laughing with the audience rather than have them laugh at them with statements like ‘no peeking’ – whereas other organizations try and justify their differentiation-for-the-sake-of-differentiation in serious overtones … trying to imply their small and insignificant improvement is the second coming of Christ.

So here’s to the Men In Kilts for reminding us that being serious about what you do doesn’t mean you have to serious about who you are.



Creativity Without Bruises And Scars Is Not Great Creativity …

A while back – when I was running The Kennedys – I told the guys about how hard it is to make great work.

Ironically, the issue was less about the expression of creativity – though there is always difficulties in that – but in actually getting your precious idea through all the gatekeepers/processes/people without it being impeded, diluted or impacted.

Now don’t get me wrong, being pushed to be better is always good, but it appears we now live in times where the goal of others seems to be the reverse.

Sanitization.

Blandness.

Ego/Career management.

Or as my dear friend George once said:

“Creativity today is a client going to the doctor, telling them their expertise is wrong and then prescribing their own medicine.”

Of course people are entitled to their opinion.

Of course ad industry creativity needs to be commercial creativity.

But right now, it appears many clients version of ‘commercial’ is to either communicate what they want people to care about [regardless if they care about it, or believe it] or to say things where absolutely no one can ever be offended because what they want to communicate makes beige look bold.

And because adland – or should I say some within adland – has sold the value of creativity down the river in favour of making fees from process and production, the entire industries ‘creativity’ is being called into question.

What has happened to wanting to make work that makes culture take notice?

What has happened to wanting to making work others wished they had made?

What has happened to wanting to make work that changes entire categories?

Yes, I know there are some that still fly the flag of great work – but not many and not always consistently – and what’s worse is that we, as an industry, have contributed to this situation but what really gets to me … what really pisses me off … is that I feel we are continuing to pander to the wishes and demands of the organisations we are supposed to help, the organisations who – for whatever reason – are undermining our industries value and long-term future.

I’m not saying we should be arrogant.

Or rude.

Or forget why clients hire us.

But come on, why be a doctor when we let the patient diagnose themselves, which is why I absolutely loved this piece by the phenomenal Dave Trott.

At the beginning of this post, I wrote about how I had taught The Kennedy’s that great creativity doesn’t come without bruises and scars … well, if we still want to stand a chance of making the work that shows how brilliant we can be, then we better be prepared to fight harder for it, because being the punching bag is hurting everyone … us, our clients, our audiences.



Social Media That Is Actually Social …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with social media.

Actually I should rephrase that …

For a long time I’ve had a problem with people who claim social media is all that matters.

Part of it is because too many companies have approached it as free media.

Part of it is because too many agencies have approached it like it’s a magazine.

Part of it is because ultimately, everything can be social, not just things on certain platforms.

And that’s why, for all the hype it gets, the amount of social media campaigns that have actually been truly social [as in, gained traction and awareness beyond their core audience eco-system] is relatively small.

Please note I’ve said ‘campaigns’, not one-off tweets … which, apart from the fact the idea of a ‘campaign’ on social is kind of an oxymoron … makes it even smaller.

And then if you add ‘successful’ to that group of criteria, it gets even smaller … with arguably only Ice Bucket Challenge and #MeToo being worthy of acclaim, which, let’s not forget, were both causes dedicated to righting human wrongs.

Which is why I have fallen in love with this social media campaign from Doncaster County Council for naming their 2 new grit-spreading trucks.

Please read it.

Read all of it.

I know it’s super-long but I guarantee you will love it.

Every single line and suggestion.

For me, it’s single-handedly the best social media campaign of 2017.

No, seriously … because a conversation from Doncaster County Council about their Road Gritters achieved over seven million impressions in 48 hours.

Seven. Bloody. Million.

I love this campaign for so, so many reasons.

I love that they treated their audience with a brain.

“We would like your name suggestions for two of our new gritting vehicles, please. Keep em clean and be original – we’d prefer not to spend the next few days trawling through responses of Gritty McGritface and Gary Gritter. 🙄”

I love that the people running it were empowered to respond to negative comments with wit and focus rather than – as is the norm – to back down and beg for forgiveness when someone challenges them.

“For those who say the council shouldn’t be wasting their money on this, we say getting the community interested and engaged in how their town runs is a good thing”

I love there mischief and humor with lines including …

“When you look at your grandchildren, what side of history do you want to tell them you were on? #DoncasterGrittingWorldCup”

But most of all, I love that one of the winning names was …

Gritsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Anti-Slip Machiney

… proving there is justice in the World.

Yet again, we see a campaign from an organisation that doesn’t have ‘social media experts’ dictating their approach being more successful than the output of an entire industry who claim to be the most informed people in their field.

Why?

Well, as much as I have met some truly brilliant social media strategists in my time, the fact is the vast majority fail because they forget the importance of understanding one key element in creating a social media campaign.

People.

Look, it’s not just the social media industry that is making this mistake, everyone in communication is … preferring to rely on data than some good, old-fashioned, get-in-the-weeds exploration and discovery.

This is not some anti-data rant, it’s just in our quest to drive speed and efficiencies, we are walking away from understanding the texture that makes any data worthwhile … the stuff that helps you develop ideas that feels it comes from the culture rather than an observer of it.

The Doncaster County Council campaign should serve as a reminder everyone about how to make great comms.

In these days where it seems the emphasis is on the platform, the reality is we’re all still trying to connect with humans so spending time to really understand how they think and do stuff is still the key to making ideas that makes a difference.

Not purely in terms of optimizating effectiveness, but in terms of how people feel, think and act.

You know, the stuff that makes sustainable differences to companies rather than this short-termism we have all fallen victims to because to quote John Le Carre, a desk is a dangerous place to view the World..



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.