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


If You Know Who You Are, You Don’t Have To Say Much About Yourself …

A while back, I wrote about a chef we met on a research project for Tabasco, who said something that had a big effect on me …

“The more confident the chef, the more simply your dish”.

I love this.

It captures so much in so few words.

As you will be able to tell from this blog, I find it hard to be succinct in pretty much everything and anything I do.

I spend ages thinking about things … what is important, what isn’t, what might be that I haven’t thought about yet and what I just want to try to see what comes out the other side.

This is incredibly annoying for almost everyone. Including myself.

But after I’ve messed about with it all and got an idea about where my energy lies, I can eventually get things down to their bare essential – by which I mean reduce it down to the most important thing I need others to understand and feel.

I must admit, I used to give myself a really hard time on how long this process took – especially when I could see others pull it off in the blink of an eye – but the reality is it takes a lot of hard work to be simple and rigour means what you do is right rather than just fast.

I say all this because I recently came across Apple’s marketing philosophy from 1977.

Look at that.

LOOK AT IT!!!

One page. One single little page.

Now I know some will claim it is simplistic.

Or it features words that people may not get, like ‘impute’.

But when you read it – which at one single page, means you definitely will – you quickly understand the 3 essential values that the brand stands for, believes in and values.

They give a fuck about their audience.

They are brutally focused on what they do.

They place great value on how they communicate themselves.

But there’s a couple of other things.

One is they openly talk about ‘creativity’.

To do that in 1977 is amazing.

To do that in 1977 when you are in the computer business, is almost unheard of.

But what I like is they link creativity with professional.

Because not only does it mean Apple don’t see these as being mutually exclusive – which was definitely not a commonly held belief back then, maybe even now – but it’s a clue to the work they want to be known for.

Not creativity for creativities sake, but how they look at the world.

What being professional looks like to them.
What the values of being professional means to them
What the word professional represents in terms of how you live and act.

And given they placed huge importance in understanding their audience, it meant they could do work that moved away from the typical suit and tie, business communication of the day and make work that spoke human to human … acknowledging the creativity in all of us and talking about human values not just corporate efficiency.

And if that wasn’t enough, there is one more thing I love about all this.

They talk about how, if they do it right, their customers will feel about Apple and their products.

Not a bunch of words … but emotion.

Of course this is all very obvious, but there are way too many clients who try to define the exact words they want people to play back to them.

Generic … overly-defined … corporate-talk … words.

It’s as if their bonus is linked directly to the quantity of words a focus group plays back to them.

Which is probably the exact reason why they do it.

But Apple in 1977 didn’t follow that path – and still don’t – because they, like NIKE and countless other brands who have a huge influence in culture, appreciate the simpler you are, the more powerful you become.



Why Car Ads Are Killing The Car Category …

I wrote about an old car ad recently, but I recently saw another one that reinforced how far that category of advertising has fallen over the years.

Look at it.

Ridiculous.

Noticeable.

Full of charm and character.

Pretty much sums up the 2CV.

When was the last time you saw a car ad like that?

Hell, when was the last time you saw any car ad that made you give a shit, fullstop?

Sure there’s Wieden’s – and one of my absolute faves – Born of Fire for Chrysler and BBH’s wonderful Audi Clowns … but they are the absolute exception in a World dominated with ‘aspirational lifestyle’ imagery, topped with a bland, meaningless version of Just Do It as an endline.

It’s so sad because cars offer so much more than status and lifestyle.

And yet, that seems to be all car manufacturers want to spout – which is weird for a whole host of reasons.

One is that the future of the category is under severe threat by a generation who not only favour other options, but are increasingly not even bothering to learn to drive.

Second is the World is waking up to the environmental damage cars do and yet the infrastructure for the alternative – electric vehicles – is still insanely poor.

Finally is the fact that companies are actively pushing to lower salaries and full-time staff while increasing zero hour contracts, so who the hell do they think will be able to afford the cars they make anyway?

All in all, the category is crying out for someone who will disrupt the industry.

From ownership to running costs to marketing and everything in-between.

There’s a couple of companies exploring the possibilities … Volvo in particular are being pragmatic in these spaces … but even that might not be enough when the car manufacturers talk to the same [old] people, in the same places, with the same premise.

The last time I saw a long term brand idea for a car manufacturer that genuinely injected freshness and authenticity into the category through their work was Crispin’s ‘Mini’ … and that was back in 2002!!!

So while I hate looking backward and think most of the industries problems are because they are obsessed with ‘progressing’ through the rear view mirror, where car ads are concerned, they might do themselves a favour if they chose reverse gear.



Maybe The Thing Making Us Be Apart Is The Thing That Can Bring Us Together …

So today, I start working from home due to the devastating spread of corona virus.

As someone who has lived through SARS, avian and swine flu, you’d think I would be fine with it … but the way the government and media have responded, I have to say has left me on edge.

It feels like 28 Days Later – as we hide, hoping the invisible virus won’t get us while looking suspiciously at anyone who is outside or has a casual sneeze.

Personally I don’t think the government are taking it seriously enough.

I also think a lot of people are being way too blase about it.

But what’s worse is that while many of us are going to be inconvenienced, the elderly, the homeless, the single parents, the temporary workers, the unemployed and the small business owners are going to face a horrific time and no one seems to be creating plans for how they can cope.

I’m addition, it’s showing the worst of society.

From that fat, lying, cheating bastard who is the President of America – to the rapid increase in gun purchase in the USA [seriously, WTF?] to the disgusting locust like behaviour going on in across supermarkets all over the World.

I tell you what, any of these people who ever negatively judged immigrants, refugees or boat people better not do that from now on.

Though what’s the betting they’ll claim their situation is different.

I guess they’re right.

Refugees, migrants and boat people are trying not to die. They’re just trying to continue living in comfort and wipe their arse with 3-ply.

But through it all there have been signs of humanity showing their best side.

Coming together.

Uniting.

Looking out for others.

From the wonderful singing that is happening on balconies across Italy to Waitrose making sure all small business suppliers are paid the next day to LVMH doing this …

Given there are some companies you’d expect to jump to societies help who are acting like absolute wankers, it’s even more amazing LVMH are acting so swiftly and generously.

When this all passes, some companies will discover profit before people ends up costing them profit and people.

It’s a strange time but we will get through it – but what will make it better is if we can find ways to help those who feel left behind.

I’m working on something and there’s options already in place for the elderly – like this – but if you have more ideas, please let me know.

Most of all, look after yourself.

So far, 2020 has a lot to improve on.



They Don’t Write Copy Like This Anymore …

… and they should, even if it’s about a terrible football team in an outer suburb.

Have a look at this …

How good is that?

No corporate, bland, fake-aspirational rubbish here … nope, just the sort of language a West Ham supporting, Dagenham-residing away-ground visiting fan would spout to their mates day in and day out.

Hell, it even talks about another brand [Persil], cheating the system, pub crawls, beer, alternative transport, violence and derogatory names for the are they come from. [Dagenham dustbin]

All this in a car ad. It’s amazing.

Given we live in an age where data is supposed to be able to tell us everything we need to know about a specific audience so we can create highly targeted communication just for them, this ad is more targeted than anything I’ve seen recently. And there’s two reasons for that …

The first is they acknowledge the role of the car is to transport people to-and-from locations. They don’t claim – as is the current fashion – that owning that car should be considered the pinnacle of their existence and achievements, it is simply a great way to go on journey’s to destinations where something they love takes place.

Refreshing.

The second is because instead of speaking in current favoured style of ‘corporate faceless brand to generic, middle-of-the-road, mass market audience who all aspire to live the same generic, bland aspirational lifestyle as one another’ … this speaks in the voice of ‘travelling footie fan to travelling footie fan’.

Our industry likes to talk a lot about authenticity, but it seems we have forgotten what that actually means.

This ad works because it speaks in the voice of where the car was [then] made and who [then] made the car.

Dagenham.

A proud, working class town where West Ham football club was the central pillar that fed the dreams, community and escape for the area … which is why even the endline, ‘spirit of the terraces’ is brilliant.

Of course it’s too ‘bloke’ focused and linking driving and drinking is never a smart thing to do – let alone the ‘service station fracas’ but when I – a Nottingham Forest supporting, West Ham hating bloke – see that ad, I feel something … imagine something … and that’s far more than I can say for most car advertising I’m exposed to these days.

And while the Ford Cortina was always designed to be a working class wagon, this ad makes it aspirational.

Not in terms of promising you a faceless, sophisticated life of beige bland … but because it owns who it is and is proud of it.

As I wrote a while back, when you own who you are, not only does it mean no one can own you, but you find you attract rather than have to continually chase.

Given the standard of current Ford ad, maybe they could do with going back to Dagenham.



Marcus Brown …

For all the shit I get on this blog, it has served me well.

I’ve learned things.

I’ve been put right on things.

I’ve learned my view on things can drastically change over the years.

But one thing I treasure most of all – even more than the daily abuse I cop – is how this blog has brought new people into my life.

One of those is Marcus Brown.

I’ve known Marcus for over 10 years.

It all started when he stupidly wrote a comment on this blog.

And while I’ve only ever met him once – last year – we have talked a lot via email and video.

I think he would agree that we have both experienced some personal highs and lows over the years we have known each other – because life works like that – but through it all Marcus has kept me entertained and on my toes with his infectious, brilliant, madness.

I don’t mean that in a mean way.

In fact, it’s the highest compliment I can give.

Hell, I can’t think of many people who could inspire me to make a crowd of ad students say hello to Sacrum, a character he created or contribute to iPod singing … another idea he brought to life.

Marcus is one of those people, everyone roots for.

He’s creative, dynamic, full of character and compassion … which is why I was so consistently disappointed an industry that talks about valuing creativity consistently overlooked or devalued his talent.

Without going into too much detail, I know this affected Marcus as well.

He had so much he had to offer … so much he wanted to do … but time and time again, his creativity was challenged or questioned. Not from the perspective of wanting to understand things more clearly, but from devaluing what he had to offer.

Which is why the last few years have been so rewarding.

For him … and for me, watching him.

Because Marcus has found his voice … his purpose … his calling.

He proudly calls himself a Performance Artist … because that’s what he is.

Don’t take my word for it, even Forbes – the business magazine – says so.

But not all is quite as it seems.

You see while Marcus is indeed a Performance Artist, he’s also an author.

You see he has written a book called ‘A Wicked Pack of Cards’.

And it’s brilliant.

I’m not saying this because I’m kinda in it [He stupidly asked me to write a review, which is the pic at the top of this post] but because it makes you think, imagine, feel and question.

It’s one of those books that you think about well after you’ve finished it …

I loved it and I fully encourage people to experience it for themselves.

You can buy it here.

Which brings me back to this blog …

You see, by continuously writing my rubbish, I’ve been able to meet and follow people I would otherwise never have known.

In Marcus’ case, I’ve been able to see how life has changed for a talented, kind, generous man. Where once his life was full of challenges, now it is bursting with happiness … from the love of his life to the time of his life … and I can think of few people who deserve it more.

Watching him create, invent, stretch his boundaries and being prolific in his expression is both inspiring and exciting which is why I can’t wait to see what his mind gets up to next.



Valentine’s Day Is A Moment, But The Future Is Forever …

One of the things that frustrates me is when companies talk loudly and proudly about their ambition but then follow it up with, “but we have to take baby steps to get there”.

The only thing that annoys me more is when agency folk say the work they’ve made isn’t great, but it does, “push the client a bit further than they were before”.

Look, I get it … there are many implications to what we do, but as much as this ‘softly, softly’ approach may sound like it makes sense, it often ends up being counter-productive.

Being slightly better than where you were means nothing if everyone around you is taking huge strides forward.

But of course, just blindly rushing ahead often ends up with people getting burnt … just like planning your progress while constantly looking through the rear-view mirror.

At some point, you have to take a leap.

A step-change from what is known and established to something that changes how you, your audience and your competitors look at what is possible.

For me, this is what innovation truly is about, not micro-improvements designed to keep a company or product up to date with what the category and their competitors are doing.

I get for the company involved, that may feel like a big step – and for them, maybe it is – but it’s not really moving them ahead, it’s just keeping them closer behind the people leading – and owning – change.

To make it worse, culture don’t really care how big a step it was for you, they care about what’s in it for them – so if it’s not done to move them forward, you’re basically putting the ‘no’ in innovation.

So how do you leap forward without falling?

Well, on one level, you can’t.

Innovation of any kind runs the risk of failure … that is inherent to anything that is trying to dramatically move forward.

However you can improve the odds of success.

I’m not just talking about having an open attitude towards failure … where you look at it as a way to learn and progress rather than to lose due to unnecessary risk.

I’m talking about the power of insight.

Insight gets a bad rap these days.

Some of it is because a lot of things people claim are insight are anything but.

However I have been noticing an increase in the number of people using the Henry Ford quote of, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d say a faster horse” … to basically try and undermine the value of insight.

But as I’ve talked about for years, if someone couldn’t tell from that quote that people wanted to get from A-to-B faster than they currently are able to do, then they’re a fucking idiot.

Sure, there is a lot of work to do to get from ‘speed of mobility’ to the creation of the motor vehicle, but the foundation of what people are looking for is right there for all to see.

Or hear.

Contrary to what many say, I personally believe people do know what they want … they just don’t know how to express it.

It might be said in hidden ways.

Or through actions written off as stupidity.

Or via behaviours that push against tradition.

Or with associations that feel random or misunderstood.

Or simply the core of a subculture inventing their own approaches.

It could be anything.

Which is why I believe our job is to listen, explore and investigate … recognize the clues culture expresses through their secret codes so you can work with your creative friends to translate this into something that defines something new.

Creates step change not a degree of change.

Reveals a new possibility rather than remakes something old.

Basically resonates with the speed and direction of culture, rather than tries to be relevant to the present rules.

And while that may indeed still fail or just require a shitload of hard work to evolve the idea into something infectious or – eventually – inevitable, it means you are leading change rather than being shaped because of it, which has the potential to change your future in ways no one could ever imagine.

Of course, the problem is not just that many people claim to want pragmatism but insist on micro-progress based on established behaviours, rules and habits … there’s the issue that some people evaluate something that challenges convention by the standards of what is already in place – ignoring the fact the idea they are evaluating it against has been given literally decades to hone their offering and establish their role.

Or said another way, some people happily kill something before it has been given the chance to be something, because they’re basing it on what they think rather than translating the codes of what culture want.

Like Blockbusters, who passed on Netflix.

Or Nokia who dismissed the threat of the Apple iPhone.

Or VW who basically laughed at Tesla and their electric car.

And while I accept anyone who wants create the future – rather than have it created for them – has a lot of obstacles to jump, there is good news.

Because for those who have competitors who believe progress only comes through refining and optimizing what they already have, they have been given the gift of time to create something that redefines the rules.

Leapfrogs established behaviours.

Create a new set of standards and expectations.

Because the only way to counter money, heritage and distribution is to innovate past it, in the knowledge that you know you’ve found something interesting when everyone feels the impact of your pragmatism …

Like a lightbulb compared to an optimised candle.
___________________________________________________________________________

Before I go, to ensure I leave you in the Valentine’s Day spirit, here’s what love is in the modern age – as described by the wonderful Amelia – who DID give me permission to post this, so keep your insults to yourself.

Got to be honest, I’m glad I am married because if I wasn’t, I’d either end up single or in jail.

And yes John, I did say prosperity instead of posterity. Deal with it!



Own Your Truth …

When I was in Sydney at Christmas, I fell ill.

I know you may feel that is karma, but it was pretty shitty.

So after going to the doctors, I went to the local chemist and it is there I saw this …

Proud To Be Cheap.

Words you don’t hear very often.

Either because everyone is trying to come across as ‘aspirational and premium’ or they’re repositioning price to mean ‘smart and discerning’.

And yet, not only did those 4 words stand out from everything else, they made me smile.

It owned its truth.

It said exactly what it was.

It was, quite literally, proud to be cheap.

There is something incredibly refreshing about that.

But more than that, there is something incredibly valuable about that.

Not just because – as I mentioned earlier – it stands out.

Nor is it because it allows them to minimize their investment in store experience.

[Though, the service I got was brilliant, and not just because I was expecting shite]

And not even because by saying it, they rob the competition from trying to diss them for it.

The reason I think it’s valuable is because it immediately feels more inclusive and approachable than so many of the ego brands out there and so attracts a certain sort of customer rather than trying to constantly chase or seduce them.

It’s a bit like Dolly Parton [yes, I’m going there].

She is very self depreciating …

When she said, “It takes a lot of money to be this cheap”, she was proudly owning who she was and accepting her tastes were not what society likes.

OK, so she was talking about her cheapens from the sense she has a lot of money whereas this chemist is talking about themselves from the perspective they don’t cost a lot of money … but owning their truth has immediately separated themselves from the sea of competition.

Years ago I wrote about an approach to strategy that I had which I called unplanning.

I’ve talked about this a lot – from James Blunt to Eminem – but really this about authenticity.

Knowing who you are.

Being true to who you are.

Living by the values that shaped who you are.

And accepting that in a World where brands are often shaped more by what the competition force you to do than what you want to do, by being yourself you will be different.